Orson’s Travel Blog

Moto-travels

Goa, India

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March ’05

With the sunny beaches of Goa just across the Arabian Sea, I made this my target for a quickie visit. I arranged for the rental of a bike via the internet and upon my arrival in Goa, my hosts were waiting for me at the airport. A one hour trip through a maze of Goan roads led us to the home base. A sort of biker’s country club for Europeans visiting Goa.

Now, mind you, while in Goa, there’s a wide variety of two wheelers you can choose from. there’s the modern Honda Hero single cylinder as well as a Yamaha single cylinder bike. A plethora of scooters or mopeds to choose from. But, if you’re going to maintain your biker credo in Goa, anyone who is anyone at all will choose the Royal Enfield Bullet (pictured below). Yes, the mighty Bombay Busa…the Bangalore Bandit…the Goan Gixer…the…well, you get the picture. This is the two wheeled weapon of choice in the Indian sub-continent. With 24 raw, earth pawing horsepower at its disposal, other two wheelers quiver in fear in its presence. Nothing else even comes close for maintaining that all important cache of cool amongst the rabble. Its exhaust note alone announces to other two wheelers to move aside, here comes a *real* bike.

Unfortunately, its fearsome influence ends with the two wheeled set…for in India…might makes right. The bigger you are, the bigger the chunk of pavement you’re entitled to. Where in the states and Europe, ultra powerful sportbikes dice and slice through traffic, here, the roles are reversed. Trucks and buses rule the asphalt with a heavy hand, often times occupying the center of the road leaving cars, bikes and rikshaws to scurry for the shoulders for whatever morsel of road remains. The big rigs aren’t shy about taking what they assume to be rightfully theirs. As such, you ride extremely defensively. As soon as you see a lumbering juggernaut bearing down on you, you immediately assume the submissive “paws in the air” posture by diving for the 6 inches of asphalt left for you on the shoulder. As the behemoth roars by you whisper a silent,”thank you Mr. truck driver for not impaling me on you front grill”, then you continue on your journey

My first day was just a half day so, I spent it learning some of the main streets around Goa then, I headed to the beach! The temperature was a balmy 80 degrees and humid. The water temperature was perfect! Not to warm not too cold. Just right. While lying on a lounge chair, gazing askance at topless European women, I found I had too easily succumbed to Goa’s relaxed charms.

Dealing with a new set of traffic rules was just part of it. The Enfield sports right foot shifting and left foot braking. On top of that, the shifting pattern is one up, three down. Just like the latest GP bikes then :biggrin Now, imagine trying to learn this new shifting and braking system while in a foreign land. I’m not the most prolific writer when it comes to painting a picture with words to describe something. The only thing that I can imagine that would come close to describing the experience is that, it was like trying to ride a bike on Pluto while wearing full scuba gear. It felt that awkward. Many times I would stab at the rear brake only to discover, to my horror, that I had just shifted up two gears rather than slow myself down. Other times, I would be pawing at the shiftlever, trying to find neutral, only to look down and see my foot uselessly trying to toe up the brake lever :rolleye What was euphimistically termed the front brake was actually a front deccelerator. It didn’t actually stop your forward progress, it merely slowed you down before impact with whatever you were slowing down for. You soon found out that the rear drum brake was your lifeline. If only I could remember to stop stomping on the gear shifter in panic stops.

Oh, yah. Then remember you gotta drive on the left. Mercifully, with the poor road conditions and the harried traffic situation described above, I never got going too fast. A sense of pride & accomplishment overcame me whenever I reached 3rd gear. Selecting 4th gear teleported you into an unchartered dimension. A realm where angels feared to tread…inhabited by mad dogs and even madder Englishmen waiting to accost any unassuming newbie biker brave enough to enter their domain.

While all this bike and traffic learning was going on, I was also travelling. On the second day, I rode to far northern Goa to see Fort Tiracol. Originally built by a local ruler, it was taken over by the Portuguese when they colonized this coast in the 16th century. The beaches in northern Goa are less crowded than in south Goa making things a whole lot more pleasant. All the roads in Goa were single lane width asphalt. Center stripe? Hah! Shirley you jest!

Here is a pic from Fort Tiracol.

Coming back from Fort Tiracol, I stopped to take a picture of local fishermen fishing in the Tiracol River. The shadowy figure in the foreground is a street urchin who tried to strong arm me into giving up a few Rupees.

Waiting for the ferry to cross the Tiracol river. As the ferry approached the landing, the captain made a stab at the landing but, the river current dragged the boat on by, nescessitating a second attempt 🙂 I don’t know why I was laughing. I was about to put my life in his hands. We boarded and prepared for the journey but, the boat crew walked off to the nearby snack kiosk for a break. So much for a schedule. When they came back on board, I noticed that one crewman took his position down below to resume bailing. Always comforting to know they have someone assigned to bailing duties. Thankfully, it was but a five minute journey to the other side.

A Hindu shrine/temple on the way back from Fort Tiracol. Goa is crawling with westerners on all manner of two wheeled conveyances so, I didn’t stick out like a sore thumb when I stopped to take pictures.

After a long hot day fighting my way thru Indian traffic, I found myself lured back to the beaches again for a swim and a late lunch. I didn’t have a bad meal the whole time I was there. Excellent seafood currys would burn the roof of my head off. Even the biryani rice set my head to smoldering. Good stuff.

The road along the Mandovi River. There were billions and billions of palm trees in Goa. They must have been invented here.

Approaching Candolim Beach. This is about the typical width of a Goan road. Even the main roads were this wide. Now imagine trucks, buses, cars, cows, rikshaws and a billion scooters.

Another Hindu mini shrine.

Goa is nestled between the Arabian Sea to the west and the western Ghats mountains to the east. Naturally, I assumed if there’s mountains, there must be curves so, off I went in search of some twisties. My destination was an “eco-resort” type place nestled up high in the mountains.

Here’s a picture from high in the western Ghats. When I say high, I mean they rise something like 2500′. The traffic lessened substantially as I left the coast, allowing me to enjoy myself in the curves. I still had to be on the lookout for the occassional pot hole while monkeys chastized me from the trees.

Looking down on a water reservoir during the climb into the Ghats.

The Ghats were a nice change but, the eco-resort was a little to tranquil for my liking. I soon found myself wishing I was back on the beach. After a day exploring the mountains, I headed back to the coast.

Here’s a river crossing coming down from the Ghats.

Another aspect of riding in India was all the animals. Cows and oxen were left to roam freely, many snoozing along the roadside, oblivious to the roaring traffic or even on some beaches right in amongst the sunbathing tourists. Also dogs, pigs and occasional monkeys…all with an innate sense of how traffic operates. I never saw one road kill the whole time I was there. They seemed well versed in the ways of traffic. I took a bit of pride that I managed to motivate one sleepy dog to his feet with my Enfield backfiring under decceleration. The monkeys were camera shy. Never hanging around if I tried to stop and take a picture. Prolly cuz they’re hunted for food? Dunno. The monkeys had limbs out of proportion with their bodies. If you stood on their toes and held their hands overhead, they’d prolly measure close to 6 feet!

I forgot to mention the tea! I’ve read that the thing Indians living in the west miss the most about India is being able to enjoy real tea. Now, I’m a huge coffee lover. Grew up drinking the stuff…the darker & stronger, the better it is. However, I could quit coffee cold turkey if I could have the tea they drink in India. They had this variety called masala tea that they brewed with ground ginger in it. Mmmmm It was dark and strong like a cup of coffee and the ginger gave it a spiciness that tingled and cooled your throat as it went down. Absolutely tasty stuff

The bike I rented was a 2004 model Enfield Bullet. Surprisingly, it lacked a front disk brake that I jealously observed on some other Enfields. I saw all different types of modified Enfields. Bobbed, chopped, even a home made enduro Enfield. I didn’t see any cafe racer Enfields though. Probably due to the fact that the state of the roads doesn’t really allow enough speed for the aerodynamics to kick in

Here is a bobbed version I saw on the side of the road.

The Enfield, though not very fast, was a blast to ride. It reeks 1950’s bike credo. As I mentioned before, the brakes weren’t GP caliber. Oh, sure…if you squeezed the brake lever long enough, eventually, you’d come to a stop. Pouring on the coals by grabbing a handful of throttle elicited an “inna minute” response. It took it’s time getting up to speed. It seemed happiest chugging along at about 55 / 60 mph. The exhaust note was old school..a very cool sounding thump thump. I can see why they called them “one lungers”. There’s an ethereal human-like quality to a single cylinder bike. Maybe it’s because the steady thumping exhaust note so closely mimics the beating of a human heart. Laboring up a hill made it seem even more like a living being. As I said, considering the road & traffic conditions, it was probably a good thing I couldn’t go very fast.

the people were super friendly and eager to please. In fact, sometimes a bit TOO eager. Sometimes, I’d stop to ask directions and even before I could ask where it is I wanted to go, they would already be pointing somewhere. I soon developed a system where I’d ask 3 times. If 2 of the 3 responses matched, that’s the way I’d go 🙂

After one last dip in the sea, it was time to turn the bike back in and head for the airport. One week was much too short. I can see why the hippies found this place to their liking. It’s so laid back and the natives are so friendly, it’s easy to see why so many have stayed. I saw many Willie Nelson aged hippies who must have come here 30 years ago and just never went home. A charming place that’s just like, totally groovy. I can see myself going back. I met a Dutch couple who had just finished a 6 week tour of southern India on an Enfield. The German I rented the bike from, moves up to northern India during the monsoon season and runs tours of the Himalayas. Sounds tempting 🙂

One last shot of another Hindu temple.

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