We ride a sccoter
27.12.2016 - 30.12.2016 30 °C
Day 10 - Tuesday 27/12/16 - Pondicherry
Not a completely lost day. We dragged ourselves into an auto and took a trip into White Town. R100 each way.
We spent much of the afternoon sitting on a bench on Beach Road watching the waves roll in from the Bay of Bengal and the constant flow of traffic. We managed to find a shady bench all to ourselves and this combined with the sea breeze helped to revive the spirits a little.
A walk away from the beach revealed some nice old French colonial buildings which had been or were in the process of being turned into very expensive and highly sought after hotels. Inquiries indicated no vacancies until half way through January. Disappointing but expected.
We found the Governor's residence and beautiful Barathi Park and then moved on to a bakery located just across the canal. The coffee machine had broken down but the pastries were very tasty. That is until we started walking away and my stomach was suddenly griped and twisted into all sorts of uncomfortable shapes.
We headed back to Villa Sentosa and I for one spent a most uncomfortable night.
Day 11 - Wednesday 28/12/16 - Pondicherry
Infirmity haunts us. Carol still has the flu and I suspect that I am about to succumb. Some days you just don't want to get out of bed!
However, Carol did make the effort fairly late in the day and took a trip into town again. This time on the local bus. She had no idea where it was going and she eventually got turfed out at the depot.
She spent some more time on the sea front and headed back to yesterday's bakery for some more of those yummy pastries. She brought one home in case I wanted it but, in view of yesterday's episode, I declined.
We had a go at the in house TV the other night. I virtually had to reprogramme it to get it going, but when I did, we couldn't find anything in English. So we switched it off and I read Carol some Charles Dickens essays. It's funny, this stuff was written more than 200 years ago, but it is incisive, witty and much of it is still relevant today, and always will be, I think. And it takes on a new dimension when you read it out loud.
My dear old Daddy would be very happy to know that I have well and truly caught 'Charlie fever.'
Day 12 - Thursday 29/12/16 - Pondicherry
We were inclined to stay in bed again and feel sorry for ourselves today as well.
However we finally got up in the afternoon and started walking into town. And we both started to feel better. We ended up walking all the way into town (its only about 2.5 km). On the way we tried to get change for some of our R2000 notes at various banks but were told that that was not possible. They didn't want to know my debit card and we got the same reception at two ATMs, after which we gave up.
This 'demonetisation' experiment may be good for India in the long run but it's a pain in the proverbial for us simple tourists and I should imagine for the locals as well. Basically, as I understand it, in a literally overnight action the Government withdrew all the old high and intermediate notes from circulation and now just issues new 2000, 500, 100, 50, 20 and 10s. The only way you can cash up any of the older large notes is to put them into a bank account. The idea seems to be that everybody should have a bank account and that accordingly, their finances will be more transparent, tax evasion will be harder and the 'cash economy' will be done away with.
I say 'best of luck', but I don't imagine that the habits and customs of hundreds or maybe thousands of years are going to go away just like that.
The big problem at the moment is that because the government's action had to be done in secrecy, they haven't had time to print enough of the smaller denomination notes, so everybody is jealously hanging on to what they have got. Try paying a R100 auto fare with a R2000 note! You won't if you know what's good for you. The poor driver would be lucky to take R1000 all day and the last thing he needs is to use up his float on one fare. It's the same in the shops. Everybody is after any small change which you might have accumulated. Even the R1, 2 and 5 coins.
Just for the record, we are working on an exchange rate of about R40 to the Oz $. We reckon that's about right after you subtract the taxes and bank charges etc.
Anyway, just as we were despairing of getting any more small denomination notes, we did a deal with a motor scooter hire wallah (R750 for 2.5 days) and rode away with a fistful of 100s in change. Actually Carol was the negotiator and she did vey well. She got a rate of R300 a day whereas all the other hire guys wanted R400. It remains to be seen if the vehicle will last mechanically for the 2.5 days!
So what do I think of riding a scooter in India? Pretty hairy but lots of fun. I guess there are some basic road rules but I haven't worked out what they are yet. They drive on the left side of the road most of the time, unless they decide to keep right for a while. You don't give way to pedestrians unless it is absolutely necessary. Everybody gives way to cows. And that's about it!
After negotiating our transport, it was time to fill up the tank. This was naturally confusing. The attendant gave us R250 worth of petrol according to the dial but wanted to charge us R 350. Needless to say, R100 notes are not so easy to obtain so we declined his request and just paid the R250.
Heading northwards to Villa Sentosa we caught sight of yesterday's bakery and decided to adjourn for a coffee and comfort stop. I parked the scooter, slipped the key in my pocket and ordered a coffee to die for. It was brilliant or maybe it had been such a long time since the last, in Chennai.
So back to our transport and bugger, where is the key? Not in the pockets, nor the money belt nor the backpack. So back to the bakery, but just before I get there, I look down and, there, lying on one of the bars of a grate over a less than hygienic drain was a key! It fitted the bike. Garnesh or some other god is looking after me. Apparently there are some 3.5 million gods in the Hindu pantheon. So thank you to the patron god of key losers. Maybe he/she can help us find the second key to the Golf when we get home.
The ride home was slow but exhilarating.
We were alarmed to read, in The Hindu, tonight, of another Indian Railways train crash up north. I think on one of the lines we were travelling on in 2010. Thankfully nobody perished but there was a large number of injured.
We will probably have to use the trains soon. It's a worry but what can you do? I shall pray to the patron god of train travellers.
Day 13 - Friday - 30/12/16 - Pondicherry
We rode downtown on our trusty scooter today. I felt I had pretty well mastered it when I discovered how to reliably operate the horn. All road users here delight in tooting (or ringing bells on push bikes) on a regular basis. Ie whenever you see a cow, pedestrian, any other vehicle, at all intersections, when you decide to travel on the wrong side of the road and just for the heck of it.
And when I discovered the manual choke, I was overjoyed. Now I was able to start the beast after perhaps only four attempts rather than a battery crushing ten or so tries.
We visited the Sacre Coeur Basilica and sat in on a very colourful, loud and well attended mass. They really enjoy their religion very seriously here, no matter what the creed.
We tried to get a meal at Pizza Hut but there was no power for the ovens so we had to move on. But then we actually found a delightful beachside cafe, called, believe it or not, 'Le Cafe' - very French, and we broke the food and coffee drought. After some more mechanised and foot exploration, there was more coffee and cake at the bakery which we had previously frequented. And the daylight was fading so, back to the hotel.
I had received an email from Lorna (Mogford) asking us to look out for a couple of Bike Friday riders. For those of you that do not have any idea what a Bike Friday is, here is a brief description (or you could google it an check out the website). Anyway, a Bike Friday is basically a hi tech light weight collapsible bike which folds down into a suit case so that you can take with you wherever you're want to ride. Like most folding bikes, Bike Fridays are distinguishable by their small wheels.
The small wheels would be my main worry about riding a Bike Friday in India. Let's face it, the roads are crap and are full of holes and other hazards. I think I have already mentioned cows and goats. Then there are elephants and possibly tigers (though we've never seen one) plenty of excrement and piles of rubbish, rubble and building materials (all of which we have seen, often).
But the real concern is the potholes. Some of them would almost swallow a Bike Friday whole and wreak havoc on wheels, tyres, tubes and frame and possibly the rider.
The bicycle wallah would probably be able to fix structural damage an even rebuild wheels and there are still heaps of doctors here for the rider, but you would need to bring a truck load of those little tyres and tubes because there's little chance of finding them here.
Here are a couple of pix of what generally passes for a push bike here.
A typical Indian bike, built for comfort, not speed and not for going up hills
check out those springs
They almost all have big, 28" wheels, no gears, rod rather than cable actuated brakes and saddles with sprung suspension that you have to see to believe. Oh, and the chains are usually rusty and nobody wears Lycra or a helmet. (Actually much of the last sentence would apply to certain Caves Beach and Newcastle riders!).
Apart from the rusty chains and the super suspended saddles, they look remarkably like the bikes I was riding when I was a kid in England 60, or so, years ago.
So I doff my hat to the Bike Friday riders, brave men, and I wish them well and will certainly say hello if we happen to see them.