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Indian Journal

8th May, Thursday. Chandigarh, Sector 35, Gravity Hotel. (Sector 35, Gravity Hotel sounds like the setting for a crime in a Science Fiction novel).

One pair of jeans, how did that happen? I only brought one pair of jeans with me, and no other trousers? Really? Yup, really.

Awaking from naps at 4 and 5pm in a panic - where am I? Then levels of realisation kick in, each step from home is a different magnitude of fear.

Unravelling mind asks me --

-- why am I doing this? I could be taking it easy at home, with a woman, with friends

-- why do I not have a guide book? It is difficult, impossible, lonely without one

-- I want to do this with someone, why am I alone? I'm lonely

-- the bike will break down and I will be stranded in the middle of nowhere

-- maybe I can stay in one place, where it is easy, for the rest of the trip

-- I'm going to run out of money

-- sheesh, a lot of stuff there. If I planned and did this, there must be a reason. I knew all this would happen, and that it would be hard - why do I always want to make things hard for myself? Well, plenty of time to think about that.

Memories of Delhi.

Little birds pecking at my hotel window for food every day. I never had any.

Eagles, everywhere.

Disillusionment with Par Ganj and tourists.

Bad thinking about the map and Indians.

What? Let me explain. Yesterday I went to explore Delhi, at noon, dressed in black. I found a small supermarket near my hotel (a first for me in India) which had aircon and seemed otherworldly, calm, quiet, clean, white, bright, whilst outside was dust and noise and chaos and burning sun. I bought water and some suncream. With some dismay I was unable to buy suncream stronger than factor 20, presumably such things deemed completely unnecessary here.

Then I walked for an hour, lost, very lost. Unknown to me I had imagined my hotel on the wrong side of the street, so walked upside down in my mind and on my map. Hysterical, lost, hot and confused I approached some men in a shack selling papers. They looked at my map and talked for a long time, each jabbing a finger at different points occasionally. The debate got heated and another man, from next door, was called over. More debate as I swayed in the sun and heat. Eventually the map was returned to me with a wobble of the head, the man pointed at a spot on the map. What does that even mean? I thought, deliriously. The discussion was over and they went back to lounging around in chairs as before.

Around me are dozens of cycle rickshaws, all of the drivers asleep under whatever they have for shade. I'll take a cycle rickshaw, I think. I wake up the oldest man I've seen in a long time, had I realised how old he was I would have chosen another. He takes a long time to wake up, thin as a rake, skin like leather, he doesn't smile as I point to Old Delhi Station (where I know my way from, or, think I do) on the map, but gestures me to get in. We set off at the slowest pace imaginable, each time he uses his full weight to propel us forward a foot he makes noise like he's wounded. Oh god, I think. I also chose the rickshaw with no covering, so the full sun beats down on me.

We make for a busy junction where hundreds of cars, bikes, mopeds and motorcycles are entangled in a huge chatoic mess. Horns blare as my driver slow as you like pushes into the middle of it and promptly gets stuck. More horns, everyone seems to be yelling at my driver, who placidly shrugs and waits. We move, by inches, through the junction and then freewheel down a slight hill for a while, then back into traffic, we hea down a sidestreet where improbable enormous glass sheets are being carried across the road in a slackstick Laurel and Hardy manner. The street narrow and we have to move aside street sellers and there's a liberal use of the driver's manual rubber-bulb horn, and the road is blocked by roadworks. We stare at it for quite some time befoe the driver with an air of the damned gets out and starts to push the rickshaw backwards (there's no room to turn). I offer to get out and help but he won't let me. Street sellers stare at me as I'm pushed backwards down the street, their expression unknowable.

I give him 100Rs, much too much, but hell, he deserves every Rupee.

Outside Old Delhi Station I drink risky street lime and water in a haze (the water comes from unknown sources).

Once hydrated and orientated, things got better. I explored the backstreets of Par Ganj that I never knew existed, just locals getting on with life, no tourists. I bought a nice shirt for 250Rs, drank juice, and came home for a nap.

Out again in the evening. Back round Par Ganj. Awful. Hateful even. Hassle and seeing what tourism and cash does to an area and the people in it. I almost ran away.

Found a fire burning and stood and watched as the fire bridge arrived and put it out. Next to the fire was a street toilet, half an inch deep in urine and smelling really quite special, I walked carefully to a 'urinal' and worried about the liquid levels sloshing over my sandalled feet.

I chose a backstreet diner at random and ordered Daal Makhani and paratha. Was good, 160Rs including Boondi, raita, onion and lime, and a coke, but difficult to eat. The large Sikh that ran the place sat watching Guru Nanak TV whilst occasionally glancing over to see how I was managing.

Back to the hotel and the grasping, grabbing room boy (middle-aged man) Rosie, whom I dislike. Constantly trying to extract money from me. I see the bill for beer, 150Rs, so I say, 'Oh, beer is 150?'. He looks angry and says yes. I give him 200Rs and tell him to keep the change, generous, yes, I think to myself. The next beer, a little later arrives. This is 183Rs and the bill now has a new tax on it. He wants this and the 50Rs tip. When I question the tax he gets angry and yells at me that the last bill was the same (he took it away). I give in, I can't be bothered with this man and his grasping horribleness.

Sleepless night then. I slept and hour to the noise of what sounded like breaking glass in the room above me. 5.45am, time to get up, I've had maybe two hours sleep. Perfect condition to start my road trip.

The only people up at this time are cleaners and security guards and they give me a jolly send-off, play fighting and taking photos for me. I wave as I ride off but they've already turned away.

Sunrise. Delhi is still asleep. It's misty. I roar out of the silent city, goosebumps, and the widest of smiles.

The Grand Trunk Road.

The imaginatively named Grand Trunk Road is long, straight, dusty and long. All manner of traffic is passed and passes me, though I'm one of the faster moving vehicles (as I'm relentlessly breaking the speed limit). What is the speed limit? I'm not sure but the fact that I'm overtaking everything makes me think it's not very high. Sometimes I slow down and everything roars past me, horns blaring. It slowly dawns on me that the horn, essentially, means, 'I'm coming past you, please don't veer to the side'. I get used to employing it as I overtake frighteningly overloaded trucks, as I pass I look in the cabin and there always seems to be a heated group discussion going on.

I stop for fuel and a break, I can't get my petrol cap off, or back on. I have to ask for help. The attendant stares at me with disappointment. I park up and sit down at the dhaba next door, order a drink. The owner, a Sikh, wants to talk about the economy in the UK. He seems disappointed that I don't know much about it. 'Well then, would you like the visit the temple at the back?' he asks. I think about it, but decline, I'm not sure why. He looked hurt and I learnt a lesson.

An hour later and the bike just stops. Dusty road, no village, no people, just endless road in both directions. It's very hot.

I try to remain calm. I deduce that it's an electrical problem as there are no lights, horn, etc. I open up the fuse box with some difficulty and peer at the fuses. One is kind of only half connected. I pull it out and stare at it, looks fine. I get the bag of spares out and look through the fuses, find a matching one, and swap it out anyway. The fuse casing won't close now, it won't lock, it just kind of hangs open. I gaffer it closed and try the bike. ROAR, LIFE! Feeling like a manly man for the first time in India, I get back on the road. I'm so happy that it's hard to express.

So after five hours I arrive in Chandigarh. Green, leafy avenues, pretty. I'll just ride around until I see a hotel, I think, there are probably hundreds. Right?

An hour later and I want to cry. Chandigarh is a lot bigger than I expected and I've seen no hotels. Then I happen across a block full of them. They look a bit posh. In the lobby of the first they stare at me open-mouthed, there's a fountain in reception. I'm covered in dust and probably smell. The cheapest room was 3000Rs a night, which is way over budget. As I leave the doorman points down the road to some cheaper hotels, which include the lovely Hotel Gravity, for 1000Rs a night. Still over budget but hey, I have a TV and air con.

Today I spent that, plus 500 on fuel, 650 on food and drink, 200 on better sunblock, 100 on miscellaneous, oh, and then 300 more on food. Equals 2700Rs, which is 700Rs over budget. Hopefully I'll find somewhere cheap to stay For a few days soon.

I then spent the night blowing the budget further by going to the Wild West Pub and drinking three beers. On the way home, tipsy I suppose, I bought a street-food grilled vegetable sandwich for a few rupees made by a child. Some advice here, if you ever see a child selling 'grilled vegetable sandwiches' on the streets of India, politely decline.

Destination: Shimla, tomorrow.