I spent some time in Delhi trying to figure out what's up. I wrote a post for ADV Rider where I explained some stuff about India without getting cultural at all. If you're not planning on visiting India, just skip this post. It will be update in the future as I learn more about motorcycles and India.
These are just some India tips, and it's free advice, so take it as that. I have a degree in Anthropology but it's been 12 years since I graduated. This is from hanging out in Karol Bragh, the motorcycle district of Delhi, and from talking to Indian bikers and actively asking for hints and complaints about foreign bikers. I've also gone on a great weekend ride with a local club. I'm killing time waiting for my Ducati to arrive from Australia but I'll probably get an Enfield while I wait. So listen to that, I'm offering advice that some of I haven't taken myself yet.
I plan on going back to update this as I get feedback, and I've only been here 2 weeks.
Indians aren't out to con you (anymore than your local population). The people who post on Indian motorcycle forums, ADV, and HU have great jobs. It's not like they're shopping you to an Indian motorcycle shop for 20 bucks. The help they do are just for the sake of helping strangers in a strange land. Like stopping when you see a motorcycle on the side of the road or picking up hitchhikers. 95% of the time, it's perfectly safe and you can usually spot the 5% of freaks pretty easily.
When an Indian from one of these forums volunteers to help you, you take away from his personal time. Many have a 6 day work week. Try not to be too demanding. Like I said, they're doing it to be friendly, not to make a quick buck. Show some common manners. If you make a date, keep it. I've heard that one a few times.
I already screwed this up because I arranged for a ride from the airport. I forgot about the dateline and told the guy I'd show on Monday (the day in California) and not Tuesday (same day in Delhi). He waited for me for four hours and I'm still very embarrassed by that. I've got no problem taking up my own time, but I don't like to infringe on other people's time.
I think part of the problem is many Indians speak English so people assume it's a Western Culture. It isn't. Indians barter so foreigners assume Indians are trying to rip you off. In one way, they are, but that's how it works. They expect you to haggle. It's like you're in a nationwide motorcycle swap for most everything. Does Nigel Norton really expect you to pay $600 for a piston? No - he's just throwing out a price to start with.
Shops with a storefront are less prone to haggle. It's still a vehicle and I haven't bought an Enfield yet, but I don't think it's as "used car salesmen" like it is in the US.
Indians don't have the cynicism or spite that I've seen in some of the western nations. If they do, they've been hiding it. I met an Indian who bought an Enfield as a favor for a North American two years ago. It still sits in his shop waiting. In my book, that's kind of pushing it and if the guy who had the bike bought reads this, you should send money to pay for and import it. The Indian who told me doesn't care at all. He's totally fine with it. How many people would buy a brand new bike and store it for two years (so far) at the request of an email buddy?
There's no road rage here, and traffic takes some time to get used to. Is Delhi the worst traffic in the world? I'm not sure yet.
RENTING AN ENFIELD
You can't rent an Enfield for a few days. Traffic here is some of the worst in the world and they expect that you'll drop it or crash. Odds are very good that you will. You need some basic first aid skills and you should really ride bitch for a day or two in traffic to figure out how it works.
You can't ride an Enfield like it's a BMW 650. It's a big ol' single that originated in the 1930s. They're torquey as hell but don't rev the hell out of them. When you do, there's problems. They weren't designed for that.
Those are the two main reasons why you can't rent an Enfield for a few days. There's no profit involved and they'll probably lose money because of the damage you'll do to their bike. Sure, there's people who push that and demand short rental but if the owner agrees it's because he's being friendly and to get you to shut up.
I've also heard stories of people renting a bike, then selling it! WTF? Why would you visit a foreign country and act that way? Would you do that at home? That's outright theft and just because you can leave without getting arrested doesn't make it right.
It's stories like those (damage, destroying) which is why rental shops often have high deposits. They'd really rather get their bike back, but visitors look at the bike as if it's an appliance. There are plenty of appliance bikes here and it won't rob you of your manhood (much) if you're on a 180cc.
BUYING AN ENFIELD
You can and can't. Baksheesh (aka a little palm greasing) covers a lot of things. Best bet is to get one in Nepal or work out the arranged buy back here.
India runs on bureaucracy. There's paperwork for everything. The simplest and cheapest way around it is to have a local "buy" it for you. From mobile phones to motorcycles.
As an example that happens a zillion times a day, a truck will swerve into oncoming traffic to avoid a pothole or a buffalo or for no reason, this makes a bus swerve, which makes a car swerve, which makes an auto rickshaw swerve, which makes a motorcycle swerve, which makes a bicycle swerve, which gets a pedestrian to move out of the way which gets a Sacred Cow involved so everyone stops. Except whoever is the smallest can fit through the holes in traffic (or on the sidewalk) so they will and the whole thing starts again.
Of course pedestrians, bikes, motorcycles, and animals walk across roads or stop and make chaos into chaos. You know those scenes in war movies, where two guys are in a foxhole and there's a firefight and shelling and they're sitting there calmly talking? It sort of works like that. So much danger but it's controlled in a weird way. But people are going to get killed.
The roads are some of the worst pothole ridden bits in the world, but there's still Ferraris (and at least one McLaren) that drive on them.
Get use to rinsing your ass with a cup of water and squatting. You might want to try this at home first. I haven't been to the spots where people use dirt or leaves (yet), but I plan on taking a cup of water with me.
There are some of the richest and poorest people in the world here. Four out of ten on Forbes Top Earners are Indian. The middle class is about 300 million! People who post on the internet are more of the middle class type, so show a little class yourself. Telemarketer jokes are like shooting fish in a barrel. Those calls are paid for by yourselves and if you live in the US, it's our government giving tax breaks for off-shoring. Good for the world, bad for US citizens.
Random questions I've been asked by Westerners and Indians.
The country doesn't have an odd smell (Delhi was much nicer with much cleaner air than Sacramento with all the California fires).
There's not leper beggars with maggoty dead babies hitting you up for change while Mother Theresa looks on.
You will see dead people.
The streets are mostly paved.
There's a lot of beautiful girls.
Whiskey and vodka ain't the best, but Kingfisher is good beer (and cheap).
There's not a lot of whitey and people here are curious and very open about asking questions. My sarcastic handlebar moustache gets a lot of attention.
Even Indians buy bottles of water.
I'm epileptic and found my anti-seizure prescription for not much more than my Kaiser co-payment. It's not a common drug and a weird dose and it was next day which is the fastest I've had it filled in the US (often it's a 2 or 3 day wait). I had a pharmaceutical friend check them out and they're legit. I brought plenty with me but better safe than sorry. I think folks with weird prescriptions won't have a problem.
There's a difference between Western perfect and Indian "close enough". I'm working with that idea because I'd like to do some re-pops of some vintage European/British iron. Oh boy, has that opened up trouble on vintage Ducati lists.
It's hot but I'm from the Central Valley of California so 105F/40C doesn't bother me.
Oh yeah, just like everyone else in the world, people get generalizations from movies. Western women put out whether that's true or not. I've heard from many a Western girl that they don't wander the streets alone. Not from fear of being raped, but from the non-stop harassment. I talked to a blonde haired girl with full-sleeve tattoos from the California Bay Area who tried to hide herself with a burka.
I think that mostly covers the questions I had, and the questions people have asked me about India. I hope it helps. Sorry it's a thesis but I can be a wordy bastard. Feel free to rip it apart (if you can read it). Like I said, I plan on going back to make corrections.
Yesterday Jennifer and I wandered the streets of Delhi and made friends drawn in by the moustache. It totally caught me off guard how many people stop me and say "nice moustache" or at least point and laugh (in a good way).
Jennifer took me to a Mexican restaurant called Rodeo. The bar has saddles instead of stools. We sat at a table and tequila shots to go with the Sandpiper beer. We had enchiladas and nachos with freshly made chips and salsa. It was surprisingly good. Not the best but decent and in California you get snobby about Mexican food. It's Ernesto's quality. Like I said, not the best but not bad. Still way better than the Mexican food you get in the midwest (not counting Chicago).
They had a weird taste in music and the first song I heard was "Who let the dogs out". There was also a bite from the nachos that had the licorice taste of fennel in it. They cook other non-Mexican food so I guess some got scooped up into the nacho seasonings.
We went to a couple bookstores looking for a book on Indian World War II history but no luck. Indians fought mostly for the Allies with the largest volunteer army in history. They kicked ass against Rommel's Afrika Korps and helped retake Italy.
But they were still a British colony and it stuck in the craw of being a colony but fighting for freedom. The "enemy of an enemy is my friend' came into play so they had a much smaller (but not insignificant) Axis force. I also want a general book on India history because I'm not a complete world war history geek.
We looked for Jennifer's friend, a Korean punk rocker, but we found out he went back to Korea two days ago. I'll still find the Indian punk scene. I know they're out there somewhere.
Next was looking for anti-seizure drugs for me. I should have enough of an overlap in prescriptions that will allow for the screwy postal service of shipping anything overseas. But I want extra just in case. We went to a few places looking and I ordered some. We'll go back today to see if it worked.
Then it was back to a bar that Jennifer said is the only bar in Delhi that she'll go to alone. The waitstaff asked if we're married since we're both westerners. This gets asked a lot and it's easiest to just say yes. Sometimes Jennifer will say no just to rile people up. Most of this is in Hindi so I don't catch most of it. Pretty much the only hindi I catch is "nice moustache".
If there's one thing I learned about India, it's show up with a sarcastic handlebar moustache. We bought some moustache wax which really impressed the people in the store. They thought I was someone famous so I'm going to take this stache to Bollywood and see if I can be an extra in a movie.
I regret not bringing the shirt my lawyer got me. It's a yellow shirt with red print that says "Moustache rides, 25 cents".
Finally we took a rickshaw running on CNG, compressed natural gas, back to my hotel.
There was a flurry of emails and I think my Ducati will be shipped to Delhi. Very nice.
sObby showed up and many beers were drank. His phone also plays mp3s, so we heard "Sweet Home Alabama" which was a fitting way to end a strange day.
The first thing I heard when I showed up, by the custom's officer no less, was, "That's a handsome moustache you have, sir!"
I show up after 28 hours or so of travel time. Everyone has horror stories about anything that more than 10 miles from them so you mostly hear the worst.
At my Go Away! party, I hear about Brian's dad who went to India and had his luggage stolen at the airport, was ripped off by the cabbie and then was ripped off by police. Instead, I show up, use the phone for a 5 rupee call, paid with a 100 rupee bill and was given 115 back in change. I was trying to figure out what the scam was but it was an honest mistake.
sObby, a guy I met on a vintage motorcycle forum, picks me up and buys me and my friend Jennifer dinner and about 8 beers. I shared my absinthe and a duty free bottle of Glenlivet with them.
Jennifer is a kooky girl I know from San Francisco who works for a pharmaceutical company. She's taking a long vacation from work. I met her and her first husband Matt in the mopar world. There's not many people who like the a-bodies (Darts, Valiants, early Barracudas) but they do too. Matt was the mechanic for Jello Biafra of the Dead Kennedys and does a great impression of him.
sObby gets me a hotel in the motorcycle district. I spend my time wandering around and am not surrounded by lepers and beggars which is what people told me to expect. The weather here is better than Sacramento and the air is cleaner. Of course, Sacramento is surrounded by fires and in the last few weeks there's been days that look foggy but it's smoke.
Just about everyone I've met has been super friendly but maybe they're just laughing at the goofball with a World War One fighter pilot moustache and a Ducati Beveltech t-shirt.
In order to take a motorcycle to India you need a piece of paper called a carnet. The carnet just says I'm not going to leave my bike in India and flood the 45 year old Italian motorcycle market.
My bike was registered in Australia and I had to jump through major hoops to get it registered and plated in California. Then pay a non-refundable $750 for the carnet application, which is only available in Canada. They don't issue one in the US and people in the US don't know what one is anyway.
The carnet people wanted a letter of credit from my bank for Canadian $5,000. That shouldn't be a problem since I've had an unused letter of credit for US$10,000 for years. My bank, the Golden One Credit Union, freaked out and thought I was pulling a scam. They wouldn't touch it but they did stall on telling me. I found out at 4:30pm on the Thursday before I left they wouldn't tell the Canadians that I had credit with them.
I spent most of Friday bank shopping but no one would give me a letter of credit with a new account. I pulled all my money out of Golden1 and opened an account with Wachovia mostly because they were really friendly. They still couldn't help me but they didn't leave me hanging.
Yes, this is way more than anyone should read. I say skip all this and check back later.
My bike is in Melbourne where Bob Brown just rebuilt the engine. He's been storing it in his shop for 3 years and another good guy Ralph was arranging shipping. I hadn't been able to get ahold of Ralph for a while and I was getting concerned. I found out he spent a few weeks in a hospital in Ecuador, then time in a Florida hospital and finally back to a Melbourne hospital where he's at now.
sObby tells me to ship the bike to Delhi because there might be problems bringing it in. India doesn't allow you to bring bikes in that are older than 3 years but maybe with some baksheesh it might work.
My sister Cary has to transfer Canadian 5,000 to a non-interest bearing account to make up for Golden One not willing to let Canada know I have a line of credit.
I just got email from the shipper in Melbourne saying that he can't ship the bike since it wasn't brought to Australia on a carnet. I'm sure there's ways around this but I think I've reached a stopping point. The bike named itself Christine and once again proved that no good deed goes unpunished. Sorry Ralph, sorry Bob and sorry Tony the shipper.
I'm going to buy a Royal Enfield 350 and try to figure out where I can store my Ducati in Melboure so it'll be out of Bob's hair. I'll figure out how to ship it to a non carnet nation (which is most nations) later.
It was a juggling match and I'm a worse juggler than a musician (which says a lot).