Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Newspaper reading in India

I am staying in one place for a while, waiting for tires for the motorcycle. Indians love newspapers. And so do I. I get one every morning and I really get a kick out of reading it. Somehow the news here just gets presented in a way I find highly amusing. I thought I share some of these articles with you:

Spirit of times: Beer, there and everywhere
Recent studies point to India having some of metrics in the world, particularly when it comes to children; worse than sub-Saharan Africa, if you can stomach that. The adult population is not in great shape either. Word is getting around that South Asians are more prone to heart trouble at an earlier age than any other ethnic group. Not good news for rising, shining, poised, incredible India. But since we are intoxicated by our demographic dividend for the moment, lets not rain on that party.
Instead, mull over the imminent arrival in India of Budweiser and Burger King., calorific exemplars of American haute cuisine. As the humorist Dave Barry once wrote,"Without question, the greatest invention in the history of mankind is beer... the wheel was also a fine invention, but the wheel does not go nearly as well with pizza." Now that both American beer and pizza, or its cousin burger, have arrived hand in hand, expect hale and hearty Indians to protest "India Pois-on-ed!"
However, look at the bright side. Alcohol is avoidable, but if you are going to drink at all, wine and beer in moderate quantities are probably more recommended than harsher liquors. It's a travesty that liquor outlets in India are called wine and beer shops but they sell little of the said drinks. Instead they are stacked with hard stuff like whisky and rum, some of it of industrial grade that can test a cast-iron stomach.
Our beer consumption is piddly, which is why Budweiser and Heineken are hurrying to open the tap. India's beer market was worth an estimated $764.9 million in 2004, compared to China's 8.5 billion. Per capita consumption: China 20.3 liters; India 0.7 liters. Good news? Well, here the bad news: India is the world's biggest whisky market, 20% higher than second placed US home to Jack Daniels and Jim Beam. As someone observed, more scotch whisky is consumed in India than produced in Scotland.
On the other hand, our wine consumption is so negligible that one report put it at half a teaspoon per person per year. We probably drink more cough syrup than wine. By comparison, Canadians drink about 12.8 liters a year and the French soak up 55 liters.
Since foreign beer is here wine can't be to far behind. If anything, given the health benefits, it should be ahead. Already wineries from California and Washington are tripping across to get at the small but growing market.
So should we despair? The remarkable thing is Indian wines and beers have already made minor inroads in the west even with their limited production and exposure.
Beer barons took the easy route and bought breweries abroad, but our vintners have sweated it out to produce modest quantities of wine that are actually exported, even as domestic demand rises. In the US, Indian niche restaurants, such as Miami's Imlee and San Francisco's Dosa, pair their atypical menu with American And French wines. It would be in the spirit of the times if their American clientele got to drink Indian label, even as you imbibe theirs.

Cooker arm in brain, woman lives
Doctors remove 7-inch handle after five-hour surgery, repair fractured skull
On February 19, T. T. (40) was cooking the afternoon meal at her home when the pressure cooker burst. The enormous pressure flung the cooker lid at extremely high velocity at her face and the impact drove the handle through her right eye, up through the brain.
The velocity of the projectile was so high that the handle broke thorough the top of her skull and lodged under the skin. Referred by the local surgeon the Jehangir hospital T. was unconscious and barely alive, with the handle lodged firmly in her head and the lid prodtruding out of her eye cavity when she reached the hospital.
A group of surgeons undertook a five-hour-long surgery to save the lady. Rather astonishingly even for the doctors, T. has not only survived, but is recuperating and is able to move her limbs and obey commands to yawn or flick her surviving left eye open and shut.
The team of emergency staff was led by neuro-spine surgeon S. G. and assisted by plastic surgeon Sa. G. The initial emergency management was carried out by a team led by M. B., head of Jehangiri's emergency service.
G. and his team applied the time tested policy of airway, breathing an circulation or ventilator support to keep the patient stable. "Stabilising and rapidly creating a passageway for breathing were critical and a tracheotomy (surgery to create an opening of the trachea through the neck) was performed'" said Gandhi.
For conduction a CT Scan to find the level of penetration, the angle of gantry at the scan machine was changed to allow the patient in. The cooker handle had penetrated seven-and-half inches inside the skull.
Chances of long-term permanent neurological deficit ruled out any attempt to bring out the handle in one single attempt. Emergency craniotomy (or surgical opening of the skull to again access to the intracranial structures) was carried out by removing a portion of the brain scalp. " Swelling of the brain had led to continuous deterioration of the patient's condition", G. said, adding that after a five-hour-long ordeal, the team succeeded in removing the blood clots and the cooker handle and repaired the fractured skull.
T's right eye was completely shredded and restorative surgery was not an option due to lack of any visual potential. "The issue was to prevent any infection moving to the surviving eye. Now, there is chance of using prosthesis like a plastic eye as the damage has been kept minimal" said G.
After the surgery, the patient was moved to neuro ICU and monitored for 96 hours. She regained consciousness on February 23 and is now able to move her limbs and say short sentences.
Though baffled, G. suggested that T's recovery may be due to the fact that unlike a bullet the cooker's handle did not rotate once inside the body. " That might have reduced the damage to sensitive tissues," he said.

Monday, February 26, 2007

On driving in India

I know this subject has been covered by everybody, but driving in India is such a big part of the experience I just feel I need to add my thoughts and comments as well.
There are no road rules in India! This was my first impression. Total chaos prevails. Now that I have been driving here for some time I have changed my mind somewhat. There are a few rules to traffic in India:
  1. Everything is allowed. Drive down the highway in the wrong direction, drive on any side of the road, u-turn everywhere including highways and so on. I think you get the picture.
  2. Honk your horn. This will guarantee you right of way. Hence there is no need to check for oncoming traffic when pulling into a road, just honk your horn first. Everybody else will then just get out of your way!
As you can imagine the topic of driving in India is always popular when I meet up with other motorcycle travelers. Some of them think that as with everything else in India, traffic is chaotic but in the end it works out just fine. I don't agree. I have seen a lot of accidents and I do think things would work better here if some simple rules were laid down and enforced by the authorities. But unfortunately this is not the case. So yes, chaos reigns and it is bound to get worse as the number of cars and motorcycles grows!
The worst breed of drivers are the motorcycle drivers. Here are some of the things that I have seen motorcycle drivers do:
  1. talk on the mobile while driving!
  2. write a text message on the mobile while driving!
  3. talk on the mobile while driving down the wrong way on a highway!
  4. talk on the mobile with a female passenger on the back who is also talking on the mobile and holding a baby in her arm!
I always drive with my headlights on. This seems to be a big problem for the whole male population of India. Everywhere I go very eager Indian males point out to me that my lights are on. They will pass me in hair raising maneuvers, come to a complete stop right in front of me only to point at my lights! Police will stop directing traffic to make the 'lights on' hand signal! So news flash to all Indian males: Yes I know my lights are on. I like it that way, because at least this way you will hopefully notice me!
Here is another thing I see every day: A lot of times I will be cruising along on my side of the road and then see myself confronted with an oncoming vehicle in my lane. The first reaction of this vehicle will not be to pull back or get out of the way, but to honk his horn! Yes, hello! You are in my lane and honking your horn is not going to improve the situation!
But then again I have to admit, it works. In the end I break or I get off the road. I guess I am not made out for this chicken game! But then judging by the number of car- and truck wrecks I see neither are a lot of the local drivers!
In the newspapers accidents are always referred to as 'mishaps'! Here is a typical newspaper article about such a mishap:"Seven dead in mishap: Seven persons died and more than 50 people were injured when the bus carrying them fell off a hilly road at Kalinga Ghat in Kandhamal district on Monday. The accident took place when the driver lost control over the bus while negotiating a downhill turn near Andharkota temple, about 13 km from G-Udayagirir, sources said."
When driving in India you get to see a lot of what is going on in rural India as well. Most roads will got through every village on the way. When you drive early in the morning as I do this means you will see a lot of man taking a dump by the side of the road, little pot of water for washing up afterwards in hand. But in plain sight of everybody who just so happens to drive by. Also during the course of the day, you will see a lot of men taking a piss all over the place. I have to say I find this pretty disgusting. Also I would like to point out, that you only see men doing this. No women! But I do assume Indian women have the same needs. So half the Indian population actually manages to do what is necessary while laking the proper sanitary installation without everybody noticing it. So what is wrong with Indian males?
While on the subject of disgusting habits: there is spitting! That has to be the worst! I hate passing buses, because you never know. Sure enough the other day I was passing a truck when a big, fat, slimy spat landed right on me! Disgusting!
All in all I find driving in India not a very enjoyable exercise. I love the fact that I get to see a lot of what is actually going on in India. But most of the time it is just a lot of work on a lot of really bad roads. And you never know what you are going to see next. You constantly have to be prepared for everything. The other day I was passing a bus on a two lane highway, only to come face to face with a big bull charging down the highway at full speed!

Friday, February 16, 2007

Catshit Coffee

Just a quick note from the road. I have just spent two wonderful days at the Rainforest Retreat near Madikeri. This fantastic place is an organic spice plantation in the rainforests of the Western Ghats. The plantation is run by Sujata and Anurag Goel who are very gracious hosts and inspiring people. I enjoyed my stay there very much. One morning we went for a short trek through the rainforest. Our guide kept picking up these animal dropping that looked like coffee beans. Sure enough there is apparently a feral cat in these mountains that feeds of the coffee beans and after having digested the edible exterior shell gets rid of the hard beans through its rear end. Apparently the coffee brewed with these beans is called Catshit Coffee and is supposed to be a delicacies craved the world over! Sujata however told us at the Rainforest Retreat they collect these droppings to use them as fertiliser on the coffee plants in the plantation. The coffee at the Raiforest Retreat is excellent but I think I would have passed had it been Catshit Coffee!

Monday, February 12, 2007

Goa India: 'Just when you thought you got out, it pulls you back in!'

Goa is a great place to relax and think things over. I got here at the end of October, which is really the beginning of the season. There are hardly any tourists around and the beach shacks are only just now being built. The beach is still nice and empty and every now and then there is still a little rain in the late afternoon. Leftovers from the monsoon which had lingered here longer than usual this year.
November brought visitors from Switzerland: my parents and later my brother showed to check up on me. We had a wonderful time. We went jogging every morning on the beautiful Varca beach, which is just perfect for that. Unfortunately my parent's jogging shoes got stolen and doing it barefoot proofed a little difficult in the end. The days passed way too quickly and soon I was alone again.
I left Varca beach and moved a little further South to Cavelossim. Same long stretch of beach but different crowd. Here I seemed to have landed in little Switzerland! With all the people I met I had trouble finding time to read my books. Nudi and my parents had brought lots of reading material and I was really keen on getting some reading done. I did manage to read ‘Der Weltensammler’. A novel by Ilija Trojanow based on the travels of Richard Bourton. I loved this book.
Beginning of December brought a halt to the leisurely beach life. I went back to Benaulim where I met up with Khim. The plan was to spend a couple of weeks doing maintenance on the bike and splitting up our equipment.
First thing on the list of maintenance work was taking of the swing arm and checking the kardan. The bike really sounds pretty bad and we were afraid the kardan might be going. But it was a false alarm. The kardan looked just fine.
Next we removed the gearbox. There had been a slow leak around the output shaft. We thought we might need to change the seal. But again, false alarm. A re-tightening of the screws did the job.
Next we wanted to have a look at the rear shock. It seemed to have too much play at the bottom socket. We fixed that by putting in a new bearing and we were about to remount the shock when we noticed that the spring was broken! Bummer! Where to get a replacement? While we were pondering this question we tried in vain to straighten out my front end. If you have followed our trip, you will remember that I run into a truck on the KKH in Pakistan. Some nifty workers straightened the front forks again and I was able to drive to India, but something was definitely still bent and we needed a more permanent solution. After bending and re-bending the steering wheel and the triple tree, we finally gave up and decided to just get replacement parts.
So with the rear shock, the triple tree, steering wheel and front forks the list of parts kept growing. Then there was the problem of camping equipment. I needed a tent, a cooking stove, cooking gear and a couple of other things, which we only had one of. Plus Christmas was coming up. So I decided to fly home for Christmas!
After Christmas I showed up in Goa with 40 kilos of spare parts in my luggage. I had been really worried about getting stopped at customs. But nobody looked. Ten days later the bike was like new: new front end, new back spring, new oil! I was ready to hit the road. My first stop was Patnem beach only 50 kilometers farther south. There I met up with some friends whom I had made on the trip to here. First there was Anders and Laurent, two bikers we had met in the Kyrgyz embassy in Almaty. Through them I got to know some other bikers who were also hanging out in Patem. It was great swapping stories and just talking. Also in Patnem were Ute and Andreas whom we had met in Northern Pakistan. Even though it was great hanging out I was keen on getting on the road. So one Monday morning I packed the bike and was about the ride off, when the handle for the front break just broke in lots of small little pieces! Bummer! My attempt at fixing it with liquid metal failed utterly and so I resigned myself to some more beach rest while waiting for parts. Finally another then days later I did make it out of Goa.
I managed to get two days of riding in and landed in Hampi. But the bike sounded really bad! This was really getting to me but there was nothing for it but trying to figure out what was wrong this time. It sounded like it might be the drive-shaft. This was unlikely, since as you remember we had just checked that. Nevertheless I took it off again and sure enough it was ok. This was actually bad news, because that meant it was probably a problem with the transmission. Draining the oil from there confirmed this suspicion. Hampi is a great place, if you are a tourist and want to see ruins from an old Hindu empire. It is not such a good place to be when trying to fix a transmission. So I decided to drive back to Benaulim in Goa, where Khim was still hanging out and where there is a lot more infrastructure. I can't tell you how glad I was when I made it there! Say what you will about BMW's, but they always get you there!
Khim did a great job on the transmission. Turns out the small bearing on the output-shaft had gone bad. On the second attempt we managed to fix it and now the bike runs really smooth. So guess what: Tomorrow I will try to set out again. I am really curious to see how far I get this time around.

Hampi, India pictures slideshow