My bike is getting fairly tired by this point - riding it out of the multistorey car park is much more difficult than anticipated, since it's on a hill. My bike does not like hills. After a few tries, a few stalls, a few rollings down the hill backwards, I end up turning around and going for a kilometer or so in the other direction to get a run up, and this finally works (just about). Then I hit a traffic jam. Indian traffic jams aren't much fun at the best of times, but with a bike that really doesn't like mornings (I'm not so partial either) it's pretty stressful. It's a proper jam, we'll move maybe 10m, then stop for a few minutes. As the line moves forward the 10m, I stall (surprise surprise) and immediately the driver behind me starts beeping like crazy, shouting 'HELLO SIR, GO GO!' behind me. It's fairly obvious when a bike stalls - you have to kick start it again (several times if you're on my bike!), and the traffic had once again stopped 10m ahead. *BEEEP BEEEEP BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP* 'HELLOOOO! HELLO! SIR! SIR! COME ON GO GO GO! SIR!' Yeah, thanks for that. Wouldn't want to be 10m behind a stationary car. I was fairly close to calmly getting off the bike, putting it on the centre stand in the middle of the road, and going to talk to the driver. Managed to restrain myself. I finally get out onto the open road.
After a few hours I notice an Indian on the side of the road having problems with his bike. I'm not sure I can help, but stop anyway - his chain has come off and the pliers I've bought come in handy. We end up riding the same way for a while and Vikrant demands I come to stay the night at his house in a small village called Barmana. It's proper rural India - no running water, the mother making chipatis over a small wood fire, the milk we drink and ghee we eat is from their cow. I'm welcomed into their home as one of their own, get stuffed with food and get told I'm a 'great man' for helping Vikrant with his bike.
With a friend of his who's a teacher we walk around and up to the local temple, and then have a clandestine beer (their parents would disapprove, although they are both 25+. Interestingly their fathers drink, but don't allow the sons to. Of course the women of any age have no chance). Drinking in India doesn't seem to be a relaxed, social thing - in fact it seems the actual drinking isn't even done for pleasure; each glass is guzzled away as quickly as it's poured, to get maximum 'effect'. It's like being 16 again.
The next morning I try to get going early, but I keep being offered things and being introduced to new family members. I also get an invitation to his brother's wedding (brother is an all-purpose word for male relative, so I'm not actually sure what relation it was) which I duly accept, it's in a week's time. It's all very nice, but I'm a little nervous about getting going - I want to get to Manali before dark and it's a fairly long ride. It doesn't help that when I try to get going there's a problem with the bike, so someone calls a mechanic and I have to wait around for ages, and then have lunch. So it's 1pm before I set off, and I just ride non-stop, getting to manali just before dark. I'm pretty frazzled when I arrive, so it's nice to find a very pleasant guest house with hot water and beer. Cue contented sigh. I end up not doing much for the next few days, except going on a few walks. Oh, and this:
I head down for the wedding, and am once again received with delight. There is a small ceremony that evening, and then a bigger celebration the next morning with full-on dress, a band and dancing, and then we head off in the car (much to my surprise!) to a ceremony in the bride's village, several hours away. Whisky is consumed on the way. More ceremonies, more music, a huge buffet, another whisky.
I go for a walk with a few friends of Vikran, and the idea they have of the West is... well, inaccurate to say the least. One person asks me how many girlfriends I have, on answering none they were visibly shocked, several refusing to believe me. One guy actually believed that women in London walk around the streets in bikinis. He was eager to learn though, asking me many questions about western culture, saying 'this is what I know, what I've been told - teach me, tell me how I'm wrong'.
**Rant warning** Vikran comes over to tell me not to drink any more whisky - I've only had 2, but he's not drinking so I figure I should be a good guest. 10 minutes later and I find him necking neat gin, 30 minutes later and he's staggering around singing. Hrmph. He's also ignoring me and I'm being bombarded by (mainly drunk) people asking me where I'm from; it's getting pretty boring. Indians as a rule don't understand privacy/solitude, or being quiet and being the centre of attention for many hours at a time is pretty much my own personal hell. One guy asks me who my favourite musician is, doesn't wait for an answer, tells me his is Shakira and proceeds to wail the first few bars of 'hips don't lie' - and then does it all again, literally a dozen times. I'm no where near drunk enough for this. I start getting pretty grumpy; am still getting pinched and pulled in 7 directions at once, people demanding I dance so they can take pictures of me, singing terribly, asking me questions. I slip out to go for a walk, but get followed by some people who talk non-stop, and then end up trying to show me pornography (what the hell? how am I supposed to react to that? to be enthusiastic? I guess they weren't expecting a bitter laugh and a 'jesus christ' followed by me walking off, but I really don't see what their goal was). I'm in a really bad mood by this point, and walk for a fair amount of time to find some peace. When I get back everyone thinks I've been throwing up because I'm so drunk (I can't quite express how frustrating it is being totally sober and surrounded by drunks accusing you of being more drunk than them). I try to sit in the corner and read a book - HA! - and spend most of the rest of the night resisting demands for me to dance. I generally love dancing, but I'm in such a bad mood and pretend I'm not feeling well. Not that that deters them. I suppose I can't deny there was a degree of spite in not dancing too. I'll spare you my gloomy ruminations on humanity from the evening - suffice to say it was a low moment of the trip.
The next morning there is more music, more food, more ceremonies, and then we head back. I was hoping to get back early to head to Dharamsala, but we get back to Barmana in the early evening. It seems my insistence that I'm ill has come true, and I feel pretty awful. I feel a lot happier being back in the village though, and get a bit of time to myself. Vikrant gives me some medicine, and then tells me I should get up early the next morning in order to throw up. I decline... I'm feeling better by the morning anyway. I leave with mixed feelings; loving the simple village life and the welcome I'm given, but realising these people are at the core the same as any other, which I find depressing. Still, I'm fond of the family, and when I'm invited back I say I'll try - truthfully.
A pleasant day's ride and I'm in Mcleod Ganj, a Tibetan community for refugees fleeing their homeland, and the home of the Dalai Lama and Tibetan Government in exile. And that's that. Here end my bikey adventures. It's a nice place, and I've been here a while - think I needed a rest!