Blue Jumper Story

by Ant Stone on April 27, 2008

in India

One minute I turned the Enfield’s engine off to add to the silence of the moment an elephant and it’s baby heaved their shadows across the road, less than an hour later I was surrounded by a bus load of gibbering Indians, while to my side Reb lay on the dusty outer edge of a hairpin bend next to the spinning rear wheel of our stricken bike. One minute I was discussing Calvin Klein and Davidoff with a young Muslim, less than an hour later, without warning I was attacked from behind by a gibbering old man. One minute I’m flagged down by an ego-driven cop, less than an hour later I’m gibbering exaggerated scenarios at Reb, and we’re on the run. All this, in less than twenty-four hours. And twenty-fours before this? One minute I was staring Gandhi in the eyes, and less than an hour later I was discovering ancient hill tribes.

The delightfully nicknamed town of Ooty also bears the title, ‘Queen of the Hills’ and like all the other hill stations in this fascinating region, it owes it’s existence to us perfectly lovable Brits as a cool retreat from the formidable heat of the Indian summer. With the Enfield safely tucked away, Miss Reb and I took a whirlwind tour, with the first stop being the original reason for our visit. The Thread Garden of Ooty was etched on my pillions wish-list as far back as Christmas. If you hadn’t guessed, it’s a garden. Made of thread. So convincing are the tiny handwoven flowers, that wandering the length of the marquee began to remind me of when my parents used to drag me and Tetris down to the garden centre on a Sunday morning.

Another example of art imitating life was found at the other side of town, where to our surprise – and disappointment – Wax World had brilliantly recreated Bapu (Gandhi) himself, along with various other only-famous-to-Indians with the piece de resistance being a man slumped between his crumpled scooter and a bottle of beer, clutching his severed arm. He looked armless to me. Get it! Armless, harmless! Umm, yeah. Gandhi was pretty good. After a quick hug with the unnecessary hairy green mascot we sped off to the Tribal Research Museum for a fascinating insight into the various hill tribes of the Nilgiris.

Some of the tribes appeared almost African in appearance, and their primitive tools and living quarters could of easily convinced me they were. Despite everything, it’s the taxidermist that gets my vote, for giving me the sheer comedy that Wax World denied me. The sellotaped python was priceless. The day ended with a stop at the most impressive botanical gardens to date, a 160 year old beauty dappled in saris and families enjoying the bloom, and an anticlimactic 20 million year old fossil tree.

‘Snooty Ooty’ and the Nilgiris soon gave way to another Enfield epic. The journey towards Mysore found us swinging our gaze between the road signs hinting at tigers, deer and elephant and the shallow scorched scrublands of the region. The tiger looks set to elude me, if I have one Indian regret, it’s this. We were however stopped by the iconic gray show stoppers, an Indian elephant and it’s young kin blended for a mesmerising moment with the gray strip traversing the sanctuary. For us, and just two other vehicles it was a tremendous privilege. It was just outside the boundary to this sanctuary that a passenger bus asserted his assumed authority and clipped the back of our bike rack, luckily we were approaching the apex to a hairpin turn so the speed was minimal but the exhaust pipe painfully branded my once unblemished right shin. Thankfully, my dusty pillion flashed me a smile between yells of northern twang, at the predictable gathering of onlookers in the vain, unlikely hope that one of them would admit to being the oafish driver. After a festival of glares and head wobbles, and little harm done (other than to my manly pride), we turned our separate ways.

The day’s woes continued that evening after checking into a Mysore hotel we visited the cities Devaraja Market. The market is a blizzard of colour, as if daily life had been sucked into the narrow corridors lined with stalls peddling white jasmine, golden marigolds, royal green okra, spices, mounds of vibrant tika powder and the humble origin oils of your high streets most popular scents. My Eau de Backpacker was replaced by Davidoff Cool Water for just a fraction of the alcohol dilute version. The thing I least expected when we left through the exit archway was to lurch backwards into the flailing arms of a temper-ridden man in an over-sized, shaggy blue jumper. His yells were abusive, even in his native tongue and will remain a lifelong mystery to me, as no person dared come forward. I’ve since ruled a conclusion of mistaken identity and with condolences to his poorish existence, I forgive.

The night cap came when I tried to screech up Chamundi Hill but became lodged between the onward road and a foolish cop. He let me go under the proviso that I’d fetch my paperwork and illegitimate license – after he’d predictably tried to bribe me. However, there was no predicting your authors quick wit, and so it is, I have achieved a childhood ambition; I am, a fugitive. The savior for Mysore was the magnificent palace at it’s nucleus. It was impossible not to transport your thoughts to the role of the former Maharajah’s. The fine detail of the palace hallways spill out to a vast veranda overlooking a courtyard where his people would gather to hear the portly-one’s jubilant speeches. It was a building worthy of it’s palatial title and when seen within the radiant cityscape of a falling sun it ensured I left Mysore with beauty, not bitterness in mind.

The home straight of our 30 day tally saw us road weary and grime stained. The energy we mustered dropped us in the temples of Vellore and Tiruvannamalai before we mistakenly followed the LP’s glorification of the arts centre DakshinaChitra. A ghost town where soulless artisans sit idly within a potentially idyllic woodland setting; we were out of place, out of luck and the following day, out of time. The bike pulled up one last time, aside The Mechanic’s shack and after an hour of intense questioning and test rides we sheepishly grabbed the remainder of our bags and retreated to a poky hotel in Mamallapuram’s tourist quarters.

We ached from the loss of the Enfield, we ached from the journey and we also ached relief. To travel by bike was an unforgettable, all-access ticket to south India. It rammed open doors to dusty temple towns and lit up the faces of almost every charmer who crossed our path (except the old deaf man I nearly ran over at 60mph). At times it was hard, it was painful, it was a test of nerves and patience but it spliced brash with beauty, chaos with clarity and truth with the unknown. In that way, the Royal Enfield epitomises India in every possible way, and for that; I salute and, I forgive.


Site News: The potentially baffling title to this post owes it’s existence to a slang term from home. A few years ago a good friend of mine, Nath, spent fifteen long minutes exposing me and two friends to the never-ending, utterly dull tale of a forklift driver at his workplace, who coincidentally, was described as wearing a blue jumper – like my elderly assailant. Hence, all pointless stories are subsequently coined ‘Blue Jumper Stories‘. In other news, the photos page is back in business, I still have a few more to upload but I’m sure there’s enough to keep you occupied.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

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