And so we flew to India 🙂 Delhi to be precise. We almost missed our connecting flight from Paris, since the one from Bulgaria arrived late, and then there were the super inefficient single que security checks and a bus between terminals that was slower than a snail. Our gate was closed, but we ran towards it anyways. The staff there were super nice. The walkie-talkie confirmed that the plane was late and still refuelling, so the lady ran with us down the gangway, heels clacketing, and personally delivered us to the stewardess, seconds before she shut the door. Phew!
We’d read that Karol Bagh as the place to go for motorcycles in Delhi, so we’d booked a hostel just off Main Bazaar Road close by. It just so happened that this was also the place for backpackers on a shoestring budget. Perfect for us!
Our Room Mate 😉
It took a bit of getting used to how to deal with touts and how to recognise when someone was just hanging out to practise their English, which was a nice little window into their life. The colourful hustle and bustle of the streets was quite fun and no one really bumps into anyone despite all the odds! But it was also exhausting, so many impressions in one day, so come evening, we were ready to collapse.
We’d found a local restaurant that had loads of people coming and going, a sign that the food there was safe to eat. It was yum too 🙂 But after the second day, I was suffering from Delhi Belly anyways. Bummer. Well, if nothing goes in, nothing can come out, so I just didn’t eat all day. Over the next few days my diet consisted of Hobnobs and a daring plain rice dish in the evenings, after which we’d run back to the hostel where we had a toilet, just in case.
Little did we know that we’d arrived during the Dussehra festival. Almost every day that wasn’t a weekend day, it was a public holiday. So organising the bikes would take a little longer than expected… and were thrown straight into Indian festival madness.
During the day we’d bought some actual Indian clothes.
And I decided to wear them to the local park, where they’d set up a huge tent. Inside was a stage with a Lord Rama statue and monks performing a ceremony to the beat of a bunch of drummers. Streams of people walked past, craning their neck to see. Some stopped a while to watch for longer.
Not daring to eat any of the street food outside, we moved on. We’d spotted a giant effigy of a man across the big road and the crowds had gathered. It would be lit soon! Drummers went past and back and the huge flock of kids would scream “Bomb! Bomb!” and run back a bit: The guys had lit massive grenade style firecrackers that would blow your legs and ears off, if you were too close.
The kids flocked around us, wanting their picture taken, asking what English questions they could remember from class and wanting to shake our hands. They were all obsessed with my blue hair. The older the kids, the better their English. It seems here they really want to learn in class. The younger and poorer ones were a little shy but a handshake still fascinated them. When it got too pushy, the mothers told them to calm down, and then joined the questioning and handshaking, just as curious. It was lots of fun.
Luckily the effigy was lit before it all got too exhausting. I wanted to take a picture as the flames started licking their way up. Yeah right! It went up in a huge explosion of petrol and fireworks!
Over the next couple of days we went to Karol Bagh market. It’s a street lined with small motorcycle shops that have spilled the bikes out into the street.
Really I wanted an Enfield. But a few price enquiries soon made it clear, that we could get two Bajaj or Hero Honda bikes for one decent, not-falling-apart-immediately Bullet. The Bajaj Avenger looked pretty cool, cruiser style. But it looked quite heavy for its cc. Would it be able to drag itself up steep, gravely mountain bends? And I’d said I wanted a little toss-around bike that I could easily handle on bad roads. So the bike of choice became the Pulsar 220 (the most cc you can get it with).
It’s a little sporty bike and could seriously do with losing that insecty front faring. I’d replace the light with a nice, old school round one too. Oh well, looks aside, it’s a brilliant little bike! And we’re told that anyone will be able to fix it anywhere these days, even in the mountains, where Enfield is still the most popular choice.
The first day was spent going from shop to shop, sussing out any Pulsar 220 they had and what they were asking for them. We were facing a dilemma. In the mountains they wouldn’t have spares for the newest models. So 2013 was out of the question. But in India bikes age fast, as they are used so much and not looked after too well and four years old is OLD!
And then there was the cash dilemma. We’d left our leathers in Bulgaria and needed to buy some sort of safe motorcycle jacket. (The idea being that we could just leave it on the bike, and if it got nicked, oh well, its not our precious leathers.) But all my cards had not worked in the shop. So we needed to get cash for bikes and Jackets. But cash machines only allow you to draw 10,000 a day! Which meant using every single one of our cards to get all the cash we needed together. Only some were blocked.
So a lot of the next two days was spent calling banks, transferring money between accounts online and running from ATM to ATM to draw all the cash we needed. An unexpected nightmare! All card suppliers always boast how you can use their card to pay anywhere in the world. But in my experience their systems don’t work with the shops systems (even as close to home as Turkey) so just expect to have to use cash wherever you go.
The next day we came back and settled for two 2011s from the back of this workshop’s shed. Yes, they’d been standing a long time, but the double deal fits our budget (80,000Rs for both). Most importantly, the engines sounded better than most we’d seen all day. We watched another customer haggle like mad for his purchase, but that was far beyond our skills.
So instead we said we’d pay the eighty if they fixed everything we wanted them to fix first. Here they leave the bike dirty and shoddy as is. Once sold to a customer they’ll polish and fix the bare minimum the customer will let them get away with. So inspected the bikes and wrote a long list of things to repair and replace (broken indicators, oil change, stuck-on brakes, snapped off side stand….). The next day was another bank holiday, but the shop promised to open as soon as they were legally allowed after lunch and get the bikes ready for us.
The next afternoon we were back and watched the mechanic finish off the works and do the oil change (he’d waited with that so we couldn’t later say it wasn’t done). By the evening all was done, so we exchanged cash for paperwork.
You need a registration certificate, which comes in the form of a little credit card style plastic card. You also need forms 29 & 30. These are the No Obligation Certificate, signed by the Indian owner, allowing you to sell the bike on later. As a foreigner you cannot legally own a bike. So it remains the legal property of the original owner (and any insurance pay-out if its stolen goes to them, leaving it in their discretion to give you the money). But that’s ok, as long as we can “own” rather than expensively rent a bike. And a copy of passport and visa.
We were good to go and to be honest they were getting a bit fed up with us demanding all those things to be fixed and we were getting a little annoyed having to tell them again and again to sort things properly. Sounds dramatic, but really it wasn’t bad at all, just a little wiff in the air. They had a sign giving commission prices on the wall and now they demanded one. But we protested, saying that was part of the agreed price. And we reminded them we hadn’t haggled. So the charge was dropped. Good on them.
(In India there are all sorts of commissions, charges, taxes and fees for basically nothing. It’s just a word that means they can add extra to the price, so they will try.)
When we set off, my bike kept cutting out! At first I thought I was being an idiot. New bike and all, maybe I was letting the clutch come too fast? But it soon turned out to be an electrical short, as soon as you turn the steering wheel! Red faced the mechanic and the shop owners were back. It was dark by now, so they fumbled with the cables by the torch lights from their mobile phones.
The bike had a big white 7 on its windscreen. I’m starting to think this name is jinxed, so we quickly peeled it off. Soon after the problem was fixed (or the cables were wriggled into a position where they wouldn’t short) and we were off.
You can just see where the 7 was….
Assured the bikes were insured on the shop’s policy for 15 days, we rode back to the hostel, to return tomorrow and sort our own insurance. In the morning my bike wouldn’t start, so we bump started it on the busy Main Bazaar Road. Back at the bike shop it turned out the ignition is a little temperamental and sometimes you have to turn the key off and on several times. Oh well, as long as it runs….
A quick trip to the local insurance office to get third-party insurance and that’s us sorted. You pay for a whole year (less is not possible) and the 700Rs includes a mysterious “commission” of about $3. The insurance is on the bike, not the rider, so we should be able to sell that on too. Finally the Pollution Certificate: you get that from a little hut at the petrol station. They stick a rod in the exhaust and measure some values. If it’s under the super high legal limits, you’re good to go. And its only 60p for 4 months.
The insurance sorted, we were finally free and on the road again. We returned to the hostel one last time and would spend the day sorting a few things. We needed chains to lock the bikes, rain pants for Aidan, a mosquito net, Indian sim cards and various other things we hadn’t bothered bringing on the plane. The next morning we left super early to negotiate Delhi traffic madness before the roads became completely clogged. We rode past cow feeding stations and just opening markets and shops, dodging rickshaws, tuck tucks, trucks and scooters and broke free of the city heading north into the Himalayas 🙂