Over the next few days of exploring Bangalore I find a huge pyramid-shaped meditation temple full of people espousing the virtues of keeping a clean, uncluttered mind to create a clean uncluttered environment. I consider the irony of the concept of a clean uncluttered India during the next couple of hours as I pootle the bike through Bangalore’s tiny backstreets. I get completely lost in the Islamic quarter where dirt and clutter take on an inconceivable new level. Crippled cows and old Imams jostle with steel fabricators while impossibly overloaded hand-carts engage in a pitch battle with the donkeys dragging steel girders and smoking tuk-tuks on streets cemented together with compacted cow dung. Yet again the senses are overcome with noxious amazements. But Bangalore is a city of contrast and Vijay’s walking tour of the Lalbagh botanical gardens was just the tonic I needed. His knowledge of the flora and forna of India is remarkable, but his knowledge of Indian history is truly astounding. He talks with great passion and authority about historical cause and effect over the last couple of centuries in India. One of my favourite stories was the British colonialists building the Indian post-office network; no village in India is more the 3km from a post-office, that’s an impressive piece of logistics considering the size of this country. The British empire builders were concerned about the amount of man-hours lost to Malaria so they used the post offices to distribute free tonic water to the entire population to eradicate Malaria (quinine kills Malaria parasites), but of course, the British being British, they couldn’t take their tonic water on its own so they invented Bombay Gin with juniper berries as a mixer! One of the best tonics for me was meeting an erudite and educated bunch of locals on Vijay’s walking tour who were equally confused and disturbed by the level of rubbish and dirt in most parts of the country, but they admitted that their view was in the minority and the culture of drop it wherever you feel like is going to be difficult to dilute amongst a population of 1.3 billion people who have grown up defenestrating their defecation! I spent a couple of hours on a Saturday afternoon looking around the brain museum in the Human Brain Tissue Repository at the Indian National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences and was kindly shown around the various brains by one of the university professors. He showed me some brains which had suffered severe head trauma from cricket balls and motorbike crashes … must remember to keep the head inside the helmet at all times, and avoid contact with the road and other vehicles and stray balls!
A couple of days before Brett, Lawrence and David arrived from Hampi I found Bangalore’s KTM service centre and asked them if they could help us do a small amount of servicing on our bikes. The mechanics were a bit confused at my request because our bikes are not available in India, the largest capacity KTM available here at the moment is 390cc. Brett and David have 690s and I’ve got an 1190 so I said just lend us some space and we’ll do the work. I don’t think they really understood what they were going to get and were completely bemused when four huge dirty touring bikes rolled in, argued our way to them giving us the use of a ramp and service corner at the back of their workshop and set about taking bits of our bikes apart. Brett took his whole fuelling system apart to find the misfire problem, David took his electrics apart to diagnose the issue with his non-flashing indicators (yes, we had already changed the relay twice), Lawrence changed the oil in his BMW and seeing as my big beast was running like a sewing machine I just helped the others a bit and polished my helmet!
The next day after some protracted discussions about routes we headed for some sight-seeing in the form of the Belum caves and the “Indian Grand Canyon” just South of Kurnool, which is a couple of hundred km South of Hyderabad. Brett, David and I found the caves which turned out to the hottest, sweatiest, stuffed-full-of-excited-school-kids-est caves I ever descended. We were hoping for some climatic respite from the 34°C sweatiness above ground but found ourselves dripping even more as the humidity underground reached Swedish sauna levels. On our return to the relative coolness of the surface David thought that a bit of wild-camping by the Indian Grand Canyon was a good plan so we followed Google maps’ idea of a road to the edge of the canyon. By road Google really meant a slightly beaten down goat track which follows an abstract path through the slightly less beaten down surrounding semi-desert. We found a “camp site” which appeared to be purpose built for us with a small raised concrete platform. The large wooden posts sticking skywards at each corner formed a perfect way to suspend my hammock, and the concrete platform made a great cooking area. Having purchased some provisions we made a very agreeable egg, veg, pasta dinner followed by more eggs in the morning. A somewhat annoyed Lawrence and Marcus arrived late at night having followed the GPS pin we sent them although I can see that negotiating the goat tracks in the dark would be quite an unpleasant experience for them. Sleeping under the stars at the edge of a canyon is hard to describe but the overriding memory more noisy than tranquil. Even in the middle of the countryside India is loud; the crickets, birds, dogs, monkeys and distant temples ensure that sleep is somewhat sporadic. Thank Vishnu for earplugs!