Guest post: The Indian Head Tilt

My (I like to think) long-awaited ‘A Vagabond’s Guide to Travel in India’ series is all written and just awaiting upload. And, as a primer, today’s post is a guest post on the most vital aspect of any communication in India – The Indian head tilt, also known as the Indian head wobble.

I would have struggled to sum up what the gesture indicates, but Arthur, who originally wrote the piece for The Listserve lottery, has done a fantastic job. I inquired with him as to whether he minded my passing on his brilliant summation to a few more people, and he happily agreed.

Here then, without further ado, is Arthur:

You just landed in India. You’re a bit stressed: it’s absolutely normal. But let me just tell you a simple thing, and everything will go just fine. In a matter of days, the Indian in you will be fully awakened.

The head tilt. Continue reading

A Short Word on How I (hope to) Review

I put a lot of thought into why I wanted to write this blog and what I hoped to accomplish with it. What could I offer that couldn’t already be found elsewhere? What did I feel was lacking from other, similar blogs?

In terms of travel advice, what I had to offer was my own unique experience. And what I felt was most lacking from other blogs was context. Narrative travel blogs typically lack raw details of how they did what they were writing about – how they set things up, how much activities cost – while review type blogs lacked details of the sort of experience one might expect from the activities or places they were reviewing.

Keeping that in mind, I hoped to write my own blog with a broader perspective. Continue reading

The Journey ‘Home’

In the end, I ended up selling Hrithik to a local tour company in Darjeeling. I liked that. It meant that he’d go on to see the Nepalese mountain roads, even if I would not (at least not this time around. Mark my words, I will ride those fuckers eventually).

After 2 and a half months together, I bid farewell to my beloved Hrithik.

The end of the trip went by in a blur; driving to Tiger Hill to watch the sun rise over the peaks of the Himalayas (which was awesome), selling the bikes, arranging flights, heading back into Patna and parting ways with Pete. . .while I left for Canada he continued on to Thailand. Continue reading

A Perfect Day in Darjeeling

I’ve mentioned before that a stunning photo does not necessarily indicate an awesome experience. That statement works both ways.

No photo can accurately sum up the day I had on April 21st of the year 2012. It was perfect, for too many tiny reasons that just do not translate well to pixels (though I suppose these words are also technically pixels. Or are they? My god I am not not good with computers). It doesn’t even make a good story, really (which doesn’t really say much for the quality of the post to follow). Nothing particularly epic occurred. It was just a lovely day.

It started off with the best pancakes I’d ever had, courtesy of Sonam’s kitchen. Continue reading

The Restorative Effects of Mountain Roads on Mood and Health

The road to Darjeeling is fucking stunning. The days of travel leading up to it (if fading in and out of consciousness during a raging fever can be consider ‘travel’) had been marked largely by worry and depression but, as we rounded a turn to catch our first glimpse of green on the twisting road to the former British hill station, my joy came right back to me. I was delighted to find that it hadn’t gone too far.

I wish I’d some pictures of the sharp switchback roads leading to Darjeeling but stopping in the middle of them is probably frowned upon by the traffic coming up behind you.

My spirits continued to rise as we did. As we cleared the first town at the mountain’s base mist rolled up through the long trunks of the shadowed forest below to crawl lazily across the road before us, shining silver in the afternoon sun. Its rays broke through the canopy above in slivers that created for us the illusion we were riding through thin walls of light. The roads began to twist and turn and rise at alarmingly sharp angles and steep degrees but I don’t remember feeling afraid or nervous. . .just highly, unwaveringly focused as I struggled to negotiate the 350 lb bike, intent on not stalling out in the middle of one of the hairpin switchbacks, relieved to no longer be in a hospital or hotel bed with sickness wrapped around me like a thick, clammy blanket. Continue reading

Joy Swing

As I’d picked up my bike early into my Indian wanders, I’d yet to travel in India by train. A couple posts back, I described the anarchy that is an Indian railway crossing. In Patna, I learned crossings have NOTHING on another process involving railways: obtaining a ticket.

Many Indian trains are booked weeks in advance. But for many routes the railways set a couple tickets aside as specific last minute buys; there are tickets designated only for foreigners, tickets set to be sold only 2 days before the journey. . .Pete and I were hoping to take advantage of this opportunity.

Unfortunately, so, it seemed, was the rest of Patna. Continue reading

Buddhist Technophiles and Cross-Cultural Pollination

Bodhgaya’s a temple town. Pretty much every country with a significant Buddhist population has set up a shrine here, the reason being the nearby Mahabodhi temple (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and its celebrity Bodhi tree, underneath which Gautama Buddha is said to have attained enlightenment.

The Mahabodhi Temple

Continue reading

Poor Timing in Jharkhand

Last post I promised a second story about being popular in India. Alas, this one isn’t quite as lol-worthy, and involves no stealth erotica photography. This instance I’m recounting as a reminder that timing doesn’t always work with us in life, and travel is sure as shit no exception to that rule.

As mentioned back in this post, I wiped out on my bike in Daltonganj. It wasn’t a terrible accident, just tiring, embarrassing and inconveniently timed. After I’d bandaged my shoulder and reclaimed my bruised pride back from the mildly bloodied dust I’d dropped it in, Pete and I rode into town to find some fruit to get our energy up for the ride ahead.

I was in a terrible mood. Beyond being sick and injured I was worried about how much longer I was going to be able to keep this up for. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I was even vaguely frightened of the possibility of actually shitting myself to death (not a terribly dignified death, that), or of losing consciousness on my bike and having a much more severe accident than a slow tumble into the dust (slightly more bad-ass but still not exactly desired outcome #1, if you know what I mean).

Which made it very difficult to muster up smiles for the crowd that was gathering around me as I sipped at my juice. Continue reading

The Novelty of a White Chick in a Tiger-less Tiger Reserve

I can see FOREVER.

The GPS was being a cock again. During the past 2 and a half months, our ‘Map my India’ navigational system had displayed some fairly prize moments of creative route creation (attempting to convince us a railroad was a highway and leading us through twisting alleys to the dead-end of someone’s cow-and-trash-inhabited backyard spring to mind) but we had by then caught on to its wily tricks. This particular day it was trying to convince us that Betla National Park was 450 km away. . .when it should have been 21.

It was for some reason suggesting that, as opposed to making a perfectly legal U-turn, we should instead go 300 km out of our way to change direction, drive PAST the place to which we were trying to get, then enter from the opposite side. When Pete and I defiantly ignored the route and made the turn off through a set of arches towards Betla, the GPS begrudgingly changed its ‘distance to destination’ reading from 441 km to 12, as though muttering, “. . .oh, yeah, OR you could go that way. You know, whatever. My way was real scenic and stuff is all. . . “ Continue reading

A Vagabond’s Guide to Driving in India:

The short version of this guide is simply, ‘don’t’. But, for those of you not dissuaded by cautionary warnings and sound, informed advice for maintaining your personal safety/sanity, below are some helpful tips I learned from my time on Indian roads.

Firstly, I should point out that I am no expert; not on Indian traffic laws and certainly not on motorcycles. I earned my license the summer prior to leaving for India and had, in total, approximately 4 months of riding experience behind me, gleaned from well paved roads in a quiet corner of Atlantic Canada. My 1984 Honda Magna (aka ‘Michael‘) had been just temperamental enough that I was familiar with stalling in public, how to get a bike going off a rolling start, and what it felt like to find out your ‘fuel low’ light doesn’t work by running out of gas 30 km shy of the middle of nowhere.

My advice will be (as all advice is, really) specific to my experience, which was riding a 2010 Royal Enfield Bullet Electra (aka ‘Hrithik’), over the course of 2 1/2 months, from the Northern town of Uttarkashi to the Eastern hill station of Darjeeling. I’ll get some actual, practical advice up on things like ‘buying a bike in India’ and ‘repairs along the road’ later as a part of a larger Indian resource post. . . .but, for now, one dozen general pointers for touring India by bike: Continue reading