Crossing back into India things began to change, this was West Bengal, somewhere I’d been before, somewhere I knew I liked and somewhere I hadn’t planned on spending much time. But for the first time this trip the bike was making the decisions, the battery was continuing to run down and at the cross roads of Siliguri where Frank and Petra would head north for Darjeeling and I would continue east through the eye of the needle, threading between Bhutan and Bangladesh, there was barely enough juice to start the engine. Making the decision took all of a few seconds, continue east into the remotest reaches of India on a sick bike or ride with great company to Darjeeling a familiar place of cool climates and semi westernised luxury nestled in the mountains and tea plantations. Tea drinking it was. As Frank describes it, these pockets of relative normality within a sea of madness are like being on the couch – easy, comfortable, safe but eventually boring. However with the bike playing silly buggers, being on the couch while trying to fix it was exactly where I wanted to be.
Diwali was in full swing, there seems to be a festival of some description every other day in India but this one sits at the top of the pile, imagine Christmas, New Year, Bon Fire Night and a hundred other celebrations all rolled into one. Walking the steep streets of Darjeeling with Petra in search for a hotel, doorways and staircases were illuminated by small clay oil lamps, fireworks were shooting over head if we were lucky but mostly they were rocketing down the streets and falling from roof tops right past our heads and kids were letting of fire crackers with so little regard for safety it was as if they wanted to grow up looking like Abu Hamza.
Coming out to the bike the following morning the street was scattered with a thousand firework carcasses. I’d spent the night trawling the forums for possible easy fixes and had convinced myself it was just a dodgy fuse that needed changing. Frank insisted that would be too easy and most likely the stator or reg/rec was shot, he’s the eternal optimist. To my mind the evidence – it was taking 3 days to run flat and the volt meter showed good charge while the bike was cold, progressively falling as the bike heated up suggested the charging system was fine and something while warm was acting as a current draw, something like a hairline crack in the fuse, I hoped blindly. It was a case of making the evidence fit the easy problem and I was sticking to it, plus without a multimeter there was no way to test anything else. Along the way people had told me that when a problem arises you’re never on your own for long, fortunately so far I hadn’t had to test the theory but I’d always liked to believe it, working away in the street I was amazed at just how quick help arrived, the bike had only been part disassembled for a matter of minutes when Gatty appeared. Not only was he a top bloke with would you believe it a multimeter poking out of his pocket but was also the owner of the first motorbike rental and tour company in Darjeeling with a bar and garage equipped with a battery charger just 3 doors down the street and could recommend a good electrician and mechanic if switching the fuse didn’t work. I really couldn’t believe my luck. For anyone who finds them self in a similar pickle you can find Gatty at Gatty’s Bar at the top of the hill above the square, ask around everyone seemingly knows him.
Gatty was in a hurry as there was a tour leaving that morning but before he went gave me directions to the mechanics and left the multimeter. Switching out the fuse I took a test ride to the mechanics to see if it had worked, unsurprisingly it hadn’t and as there wasn’t much else to trouble shoot that day until the battery had been charged overnight the afternoon was spent hanging around drinking tea and watching the guys strip down and rebuild bikes out on the street with basic and homemade tools. Diwali was still going strong and the following day was a national holiday, almost everything including the mechanics was shut, it was back to problem solving solo in the street with the wiring diagram in one hand and the multimeter in the other, I really didn’t have a clue what I was doing but was determined. The stator, the reg rec and the battery all checked out fine, the reg rec was a little out of spec to the manual but just as I reached to scratch my head Gatty appeared again and called the electrician, he gave it the OK. I stripped out some old wiring and checked the rest for obvious problems, changed all the fuses again, cleaned out the connectors and in the midst of all this an old, happy and slightly pissed local appeared and gave the bike and me a blessing from one of the many Hindu gods, switching his hand and glazed gaze repeatedly from the bike to the sky he uttered some incomprehensible words of sanctification. Once the bike was reassembled and running the problem was solved, I’ve still no idea how but my moneys on divine intervention from Ganesh, the god of travel. Thank you my elephant faced friend.
Between filling my face tea drinking and cake eating, two of the main past times in Darjeeling, I went back to the garage and had them fit a switch on the headlight. There are 2 reasons for this. Firstly, in India you can drive like a lunatic and no one bats an eye lid, but ride a bike with your headlight on during the day and every man and his goat feels the need to wave frantically at you like your heads on fire, in fact I saw a holy man with a bowl of fire on his head and he drew less attention than me with my headlight on. Secondly, it means less draw on the battery and if the problem reappeared gave an extra days riding before finding a charger. Originally I’d planned on just taking out the bulb but realised that might hamper my ability to ride at night, with the sun setting at 4pm and the roads expected to deteriorate this was almost inevitable. Turned out it was a stroke of genius as the next two weeks were spent rocking up to most towns well after sunset, towns in the seven sisters, the lesser travelled and often forgotten north east states, the land of the head hunters. A place which proves India is a continent trying to be a country and a place which restored my love of India. The next blog will tell you all about it….