Sunday, 13 June 2010

A night in the Jail - Genesis of the Commonwealth Challenge Part 3

This was the moment on the last trip in India that really got me thinking about doing something grand. If none of this happened I very much doubt that I would be in the exciting situation that I am the now. So to better understand why I thought about taking on this challenge do read on.

There I was, the sun had long since set and from the complete darkness of night I had arrived. In front was a foreboding vision. A man dressed in half army, half causal uniform, with a hat distinguishing him as someone of importance. He spoke to me in Hindi which I translated as, "this is where he wanted me to put Pinny". The shine off the large sharp, silver bayonet on top of his antique riffle hung over his shoulder made the instructions all the clearer. I dismounted Pinny and was directed towards a brightly lit room. Now how had I got myself into this situation......

It was at that moment that a conversation that I had had with a young man, a few days earlier came to mind. I was in my usual routine of asking for directions. It was midday and comfortably warm. I had not long left Bobasa, near the Nepal border and was heading east across the north of India. I was disappointed that I was not heading into Nepal. The riots and trouble that had closed the border would go on for days yet. It wouldn't be till much later that I would found out that this was almost a monthly tradition. It was bad timing for me though.

The problem was I found out that I was going the wrong way. I was way off the distance I needed to cover that day and I had run out of Indian rupees. I had spent them all at the border anticipating being in Nepal by then. I only had four pounds worth left. There nearest ATM was 150 miles away. This meant there was no time for delays. With my hand drawn map I discussed a possible shorter route, though the young man wasn't so confident that this was a suitable way to go. "There is jungle, wild animals and robbers this way," he said. I gave a shrug, I had become used to been told that further down the road that there was danger, only for it to never show.

Then he said "Is time precious or life precious?" Now this could have led to a very in-depth conversation. I would have loved to have had time to argue both the pros and cons of both. Sharply I answered "time". He directed me and I was off on my own again. Off to face the danger. This was just my attitude to the tour from the start. Rarely believe local information about risks, never turn back, always go forwards and usually risks are worth taking.

As I had predicted I never did come across the dangerous robbers. However the wild animals and the jungle were most certainly real. As I trundled along this route the normal crazy traffic disappeared. I was alone and surrounded in dense jungle. Bizarrely the road wasn't empty. Stretches were full of monkeys and I was acting like some kind of Tarzan shepherd dispersing huge packs of them. I must have seen at least three hundred monkeys in under an hour. It then dawned on me that India was the inspiration for the story the Jungle book. I remembered a particularly mean tiger. To settle me nerves I randomly came across a WWF sign with an image of a huge tiger filling the sign.

I picked up the pace. Even though the tarmac road had descended to nothing but a dirt path. If it wasn't for the actions of a small boy a few days earlier there would have been no way that Pinny could have taken the beating that the jungle trail was throwing at us.

I was glad that two days after leaving Agra and the magnificent Taj Mahal I had been stopped by the most unsuspecting character. He was like one of the many children I had past so far, riding their way to big for them bike, though maybe a bit more podgy. They would normally stare at me with curiosity. Some might even start a conversation, "Hello, name? country? age?" With that done they would say "nice to meet me" and be on their way.

This one was different. He spotted straight away the state the Pinny's back wheel was in. Though it was that bad it was hard not to notice. It was in a ridiculous state. Made much worse by the attempts I had made trying to repair it myself. This boy did something different and for some reason I listened to him. He ordered me to slow down. So I did. The next town of Khatima was close and from what I understood was that this boy was going to help me find someone to fix Pinny.

The bicycle is a very important method of transport in India. The roads are full of them, simple single speed solid bikes. So it's no surprise to find out that each town has a number of bicycle "shops". I had tried to visit them to solve Pinny's pains myself. The sexy looks of Pinny had dazzled the mechanics and all I got was usually a nice chat and a tea. But this boy did the talking for me. He bought me a tea and explained the situation. I hadn't even said a word to him. The first mechanic gave the usual dazzled expression. Never mind the boy took me to another. Result! The boy got the wheel repaired, not only that he paid for it. A boy younger than fourteen had solved Pinny's problems, paid for it and asked for nothing more than my name and country. I was amazed.

This was not the only time this had happened. The night before I rolled into a town called Kancjar. As usual I was taking risks and riding at night. But by the time I had got to this town I was getting a bit concerned. The traffic was crazy. I could not see in front due to the driver refusing to dip their lights and I didn't dare look to see what was behind. I decided to stop and check where I was going. A man came to my aid, he would not let me go ahead, too dangerous. Instead he took me to a hotel. He was a priest, he sorted my hotel. I don't think the owner liked the looked of my filthy pollution tan and if it wasn’t for the actions of the priest I wouldn’t have been allowed to stay. He even bought me dinner and then blessed my meal and said he would pray for me everyday of my trip. (Did I now have god on my side?)

As I entered the brightly lit room I wondered if the many faces I could see behind the thick rusted bars were cursing their gods for their situation. I had arrived at a large prison. The police had caught me cycling at night, stopped me and would not let me continue. Though my visit to this place I must say was a bit different to the other guests. Inside the brightly lit room was man I had met an hour earlier. He was the warden the Gov'ner of this prison. This was my first time ever to a prison and I was a guest of the Gov. He was another Indian man that would not let me continue during the night. I found out rightly so. Only a few months earlier a Germany tourist had been robbed and stabbed on this very road.

I explained my lack of money and need of an ATM. Before I knew it I was being escorted down the dark road at full speed to the prison by two jeeps and a motorbike. Surely this would be better that the tent for the night.

It was it was amazing. I settled in for a night of sky TV and awesome food and chat with the Gov. He was a good man and gave me a good insight into India. I had the best night sleep so far. Pinny even had her own guard! Best hotel so far, I highly recommend staying in an Indian prison.

To be Continued.

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