I don’t know why some people lie.
I was on a long one yesterday; over 90 miles. All was well until I turned north towards Jamshedpur. The road had got steadily narrower ever since Kolkata, but had been lovely and smooth throughout. It was probably getting a little too narrow by lunchtime; diving off the road to avoid overtaking lorries was already getting a bit old.
But I was going fine. About 90 kms still to go. I should have been OK to get to Jamshedpur just before the sun went down (which happens ridiculously early here; clearly yet another country of morning people).
Then it all fell apart. The tarmac cracked a little. A couple of holes appeared. Then more. The traffic slowed down and started to weave (a little iffy when it’s that narrow). After a while, you couldn’t even call it potholed any more; there was nothing flat to define where the holes weren’t.
Clunk, rattle, stop to clip the panniers back on the rack. Repeat endlessly. Grrr…
20 km later, a minor miracle. A road surfacing crew, and pristine tarmac beyond! Happy days!
10 km later, a stop for a drink. A man coming the other way in a car. He stops. We chat. He confirms that it’s about 60 km to Jamshedpur, and that there were about three hours of daylight left. Still tight, but on the beautiful new tarmac, it should be OK. I ask how the road is. The man confirms that the smooth track runs all the way to the city.
He lied. Big time.
Ten minutes down the road, I passed a decent-looking guesthouse. I could have stopped, but I knew I could make town, because I’d been told that the road was good. Half an hour down the road, the roadworks began. Potholes, followed by dusty gravel, followed by more of the ploughed surface I’d been struggling with before.
I rolled into Jamshedpur about an hour after dark. Looking like this:
I don’t think the lies are meant to be malicious. I think people here might just not like telling you bad news. I hope it’s just that, in any case. Because there’s a bit of a pattern developing.
It’s been a while since I arrived in India, after all. Why no updates? Well, there’s another fib involved in that. But first things first…
I arrived in Kolkata (Calcutta) in the very early hours of Tuesday morning. After a hair-raising introduction to Indian driving tactics in an antique Ambassador taxi (like the ones above), and a nice long sleep, I was up and about around lunchtime. As with everywhere else I go, I went straight out to have a look at town, and get a data SIM, so I could get some reliable internet access.
Tuesday was Republic Day, so most of the shops were shut. This was bad news. After a while, I found a little place plastered in advertising for a mobile phone company. The sort of place that had sorted me out with instantly-functioning SIMs in Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar. Great.
He sold top-ups, but not SIMs. The place across the road sold them. But not to foreigners. They said I’d have to go to an official store, for registration purposes. But the official stores were closed until Wednesday. This was my first inkling that it’s almost impossible for a travelling foreigner to get a working SIM card in India.
So, I went to have a look around town, and watch some cricket in the park. Which was nice.
Cutting a very long story short, two days later I finally had a SIM card in my phone. But, having been told when I purchased it, that it would be activated within two hours, it’s now over 50 hours, and it’s still not showing any sign of working. Another lie.
So, three official shops in three cities; one was closed, one sold me a duff card, one couldn’t help because the card was bought out of town (don’t ask why, it doesn’t make sense). Mind-boggling levels of bureaucratic nonsense.
While there’s only half a chance (at best) that I’ll get proper communications back before I get to Nepal, I’m pretty sure that there’s every chance that the roads will remain a bit interesting (at least away from the nice, smooth major highways).
On the plus side, there’s also every chance that I can continue to gorge myself on curry. Also, to add to the scary taxi drive, I’ve had the opportunity to get the more outdoor version of town-driving craziness on the back of a scooter and in a tuk-tuk (I know that’s the Thai word, but I can’t remember what they’re called here). The temperature’s about 5C cooler than Myanmar, too, so the riding is a little easier.
And, once again (and even including the fibbers, who seemed nice at the time), people here are really great. Not quite as smily as the South-East Asians, but friendly enough, and helpful with directions etc.
And they really seem to like bikes over here. The Beastlet is getting stared at, prodded and admired every time I stop for a drink. It’s getting a big head, which will only be truly justified if it continues not to break on the roads for another few hundred miles. It’s doing well so far, but I do worry a bit.
Anyway, until I stay somewhere else with wifi (wifi that actually works is a bit of a rarity), or until the SIM card miraculously activates (some hope!), that’s it from India for now. An interesting start.
It would be nice if things got just a little bit smoother, though. And if I could get a blog post with pictures uploaded in less than two hours…