“I think I’m going to cry!”, Mass says as he sit’s across the table from me.
We’re into the 2nd week of our bike trip and our 3rd Indian State – Madhya Pradesh. After a morning ride we’ve pulled over after spotting what looks like a spot to grab some food in the middle of the Yawal Wildlife Sanctuary….a big open shelter with a laminated sign displaying some dishes and open beers.
We walk in and sit down. A few guys come over to us, all smiles, and the one in the middle does the talking. Our Hindi still isn’t up to much and none of these guys seem to speak any English. “Could we buy some food?”, I ask the guy in the middle. He looks at me puzzled and shrugs his shoulders.
I glance around the couple of other empty tables under the roof searching for a menu but can’t spot anything. Mass gets up and walks back to the entrance. “Do you have that?”, Mass asks and points to one of the dishes on the entrance sign. The 3 guys talk between themselves and then nod their heads in a ‘yes’ and Mass comes back to the table.
“What did you order?”, I ask
“Tandoori Chicken, I think”, Mass replies.
We already have a bit of food in our bags, but wanted the break and a bit of sun-shelter more than anything. We sit, take a drink, and chat for a bit before I see that Mass has trailed off….
“Oh No!”, he says and I realise that he’s now looking past me back to the entrance.
I turn around and see a boy of about 12 chasing 3 chickens around the front of the entrance. The chickens are moving fast and all 3 dart inside with the boy chasing not far behind. Me and Mass both watch a death race between the boy and the 3 birds to see which 2 will be the lucky ones (today) and which one is about to be our dinner!
They boy catches one of the birds, takes it to the kitchen in the back, and we hear the squawking suddenly stop. “…Seriously, this may be the last time I eat another chicken after that”, Mass says.
An hour later, we have tandoori brought to the table, along with the 3 guys who took our order, the 2 guys in the kitchen, the kid who caught the chicken, and the 2 guys who went into town on a bike to buy the tandoori spices to make sure everything was ok. “Really good!”, I say after taking a bite with a thumbs up and they chat between each other and move away from the table.
The ‘snack’ has set us back for the day in terms of time and after driving through the pretty stunning park, we could tell we were about to break rule number 1 – No driving in the dark!
It’s amazing just how fast the temperature can drop as soon as the sun sinks under the horizon. We pull over, shivering to grab some extra layers out of our bag and check the map for a spot to stay for the night. We’re getting pretty good at this now…..we’ve already been burned a couple of times with hotels and guesthouses marked on the online map but do not seem to exist when we arrive at the destination. One of our new rules is that, when searching for a place to stop, the road or small town must have a little cluster of options around it to increase our odds that at least some of the places may exist :-)
We settle on the town of Khargone, and make our way, carefully, through the dark roads. A few failed stops at non-existent guesthouses, and then we spot our first sign of somewhere to get a bed for the night – the Hotel Swastik
After years of the British education system and Western TV and films, which has left a deep association of the Swastik symbol to Nazi Germany…it still jumps out a bit even after a year of traveling around Asia where it is far more commonly seen – a symbol in both Hindiusm and Buddhism religions.
We park up and head inside, we’re both a bit groggy and cold, and the couple of guys behind the counter (Apart from the odd occasion while on the bike, in all these towns, I really can’t remember seeing a single woman working since I’ve been in India yet…it all seems to be guys in the shops and guesthouses) don’t seem to be in any rush to get us checked in. They have a strong staring game, and seem to want to get us to fill out every form they can find behind the counter. They all seemed to be for the same thing and require the same information (passport number, address, visa reference, point of next destination etc.) but I’m too tired to question it and just refill the same info for both me and Mass.
Finally we get shown to the room to crash. We stick a random episode of ‘Game of Thrones’ on the laptop, and just try and chill for an hour or so before heading out for some food….we’re both exhausted.
30 minutes later, we hear a knock on the door……it’s the 2 guys from reception again. They’ve found another form online which they’ve printed off and really want us to fill in! “Ok, we’ll bring it down when we come out”, Mass says. They don’t seem to understand and come into the room a bit further……We just give in, and I start writing my passport number down for the 4th or 5th time while the 2 guys chat to each other while pointing at some of our stuff in the room.
We hand the forms back and they leave. 30 minutes later another knock on the door. “God!”, both me and Mass say in unison. We open the door to see a third guy with a mop. “Cleaning”, he says and cranks his head to try to look past me, over my shoulder, into the room through the open crack of the door.
Neither of us have any fight in us and just let the guy in who has a look around the room before going into the bathroom for 2 minutes to swipe the floor and then disappearing again. This room doesn’t seem to have been cleaned for weeks beforehand…maybe the guy is just a big ‘Game of Thrones’ fan and heard there was a showing? :-)
We decide to head out and find a bit of food. I think with the combination of the long day of driving, and hassle at the guesthouse, we’re both over it for the night……just some food and sleep and then back on the road tomorrow. There didn’t seem to be any restaurants, so we settled on some snack shops. A few samosas, a fake Cadbury’s chocolate bar (together with a selfie with a guy in the queue in front of us), a weird small pink cake, and finally to a fruit stand on the way back to the guesthouse.
We get a few apples and an orange and while paying another guy at the stall, opens his hand containing a few green buds, “Ganja?”, he asks quietly and politely. I think this is the first time I’ve ever been offered weed at a fruit stall before. 2 very different food groups! “No thanks”, I say and we start heading back.
We play a bit of cat and mouse with a small group of 4 or 5 guys in front of us who desperately want to see what we’re doing but didn’t want to ask directly (they would slow down for us to catch up and we would slow down, when they sped up, we would speed up) and finally get back to our street.
“Hey!”, we hear a voice behind us. Mass and I turn around and spot an old guy walking towards us about 10 paces back.
He catches up to us and then suddenly a van pull up to our side from the opposite direction. We’re blocked in! The van door slides open and a police officer, with a stern face turns to face us from the inside of the van. “Where are you from?”, he asks, scowling at us
“What?”, one of us replies, still a bit shocked over the recent change in situation over the last 5 seconds.
“Where are you from?”
“Why haven’t you come to the police station”
“Why would we? Were we supposed to?”
“Where is your visa? Show me your visa?”, the guy barks. This guy seriously looks like a stereotypical cop with a ego-complex out of a movie!
“In the passport. In our guesthouse…it’s right up here on this road, you can come and we’ll show you.” We point up the road. There is an exchange between the guys and then the full group of us is on the way back to the guesthouse. The 3 guys at reception are waiting (I swear I think I see another form they’ve found for us to print out) but quickly get into a conversation with the group of police officers who are accompanying us.
“I’ll stay down here with this lot”, Mass says and I head up the stairs to get the passports. I immediately hear footsteps behind me as one of the police guys is following me up the stairs. I suppose it would be too much to ask that no-one else wanted to check out our room! I grab both the passports and start to lock up the door behind me just in time to see the stereotypical-movie cop make his way up the stairs, with the 2 hotel staff, the other police guy, and…….for whatever reason, the 3 backup guys who have also been called over, together with the sniffer dog.
“Open the door!”, The main cop demands.
“1, 2, 3, 4, …….8, 9”, I count, including the dog. I don’t think they’ve brought enough guys :-) All in the room a minute later we have our bags opened and searched through. I was under the distinct impression that nothing much was happening in this town tonight so they called the whole station over to check out what was going on in our room……at least the hotel staff had already gotten us acclimatised to it in some sort of way already…….and, on the plus side, the sniffer dog was gorgeous :-)
After 5-10 minutes everyone gradually moves out. “Come to the police station! Bring your passports!”, the bad movie cop demands, seemingly completely disappointed that nothing was found to bother us for a while longer.
And finally, 15 minutes later, some point shortly after midnight at Khargone town police station, me and Mass are presented with what looks like the 6th version of the same form we have filled out that day! “Passport photo”, the guy behind the desk asks and holds out his hand after we hand the form back.
The guy from the hotel, who has come along with us, seems to explain this to him and he grunts and wanders off to photocopy our passports.
And finally, we get out of the station and make it back to the guesthouse at the end of a very long night. We were in no mood to hang around the next day either and got on the bikes before the guys found any more forms for us to sign and continued on our Merry-way North.
The next few days we rode through and stopped in Jhalawar and Indore before arriving in Bundi.
“Did you see?”, Mass asks as we pull our bikes over next to a guesthouse on a tiny cobbled street in Bundi town, “Other Westerners!”
It was true, I almost had to double take when we were riding through the square and we caught our first sighting of other Westerners either travelling or holidaying out here.
We check out the guesthouse…..it’s incredible! Friendly staff, a nice rooftop restaurant with views of the castle and walls up on the nearby hill which shadowed the town, and a massive room, all for around £8 per night. We decided it may be a good time to take a day break from the driving and chill in Bundi for an extra day :-)
That night we found ourselves at another nearby rooftop bar and restaurant. Mass’ stomach was playing up a bit, and after curry being the nearly the only option for every meal of the day recently we were both grateful to find some western food on the menu.
Mass ordered a fruit salad…something light on the stomach, and then I saw his face change to horror as he took the first bite and realised that the fruit salad had curry spices sprinkled over the top of it! :-)
Batteries recharged, and we make our way up to our final destination for this week, The pink city of India – Jaipur. A few pics and episode 5 of the video blog to close off Week 51 :-)