After an unsuccessful tiger-spotting excursion to Panna National Reserve we returned to Khajuraho. Our hotel's massage guy, JP, asked us if we'd like a massage. "Actually, we'd like to rent a motorcycle." JP, almost as if he was expecting us to say that, calmly said that he could arrange that. We then started the bargaining process. After paying 300R at an established rental shop in Udaipur, I settled for 500R.
The waiter at our restaurant that evening also struck up a conversation with us. When we told him we had no luck spotting any tigers at Panna that day, he surprised us by saying "No foreigner has seen a tiger at Panna in 3 years". I wondered if we had been scammed by the entire Panna staff and our hotel, but a flickr search when I returned home showed that there are a few tigers left there. He then asked the same question as JP did, "what do you want to do tomorrow?" Same answer, "We're going to rent a motorbike". The waiter replied, "Impossible! No one will rent a motorbike to you in Khajuraho."
My eyebrows raised, but before I could say anything he blurted out in a quieter voice, "but I could rent you mine. How much would you pay?"
This conversation had so much "India" in it. Nothing's impossible if you have a few rupees. It could be downright illegal and immoral but there's nothing that a couple hundred rupees won't make legal and moral.
The next day we ate a fairly substantial breakfast, bought a few cookies, and stuffed some leftover bananas in our pack. We also crammed in my camera, tripod, Lonely Planet book, notebook, and some toilet paper. We met JP at 9:00AM and he handed me the keys to the bike, but without the helmets we asked for. He said, "it's okay, no one wears helmets." I kind of laughed. What can you do?
He left and I jumped on the bike and familiarized myself with the control. A kid appeared and switched from trying to get me to see his shop to telling me how to work the motorbike. I asked him if he drove one since he looked about 8 years old. JP had incorrectly instructed me that neutral was reached by shifting downwards but it was actually the opposite to both my bike back in Calgary and the one I used in Udaipur. I was further suspicious of the bike and grew increasingly frustrated when it repeatedly stalled moments after putting it in gear. All this while a crowd of 10 adults had gathered around me and the same kid was really getting on my nerves with comments like "I don't think you can drive. Indian traffic is very difficult. I don't think you know how to drive a motorbike." Donna, who had just been watching the entire time, later told me, "I saw you getting more and more irritated and could see that you were about to blow. I thought of warning the kid to stop, but thought it might be entertaining to see what would happen." What happened was after his comments ceased to be at all constructive I turned and yelled in his face, "You know, why don't you just shut up!"
After a couple more times of demonstrating how easily the bike stalled to the crowd of onlookers, I checked the gas tank and discovered that it was only filled with about 100 mL of gas. Oh, that could be the problem.
Some of the comments from the crowd included, "It's a very old bike, it is not good, you should take my rickshaw." Even though it wasn't a very old bike and they had an obvious selfish motivation, they did have a point. There was no way a rickshaw could go where we were going though. They couldn't go off road, and even if they could, we'd likely end up taking a "detour" to the rickshaw driver's cousin's silk shop.
The fact that JP had siphoned the tank dry before giving it to me didn't boost my confidence. One of the more helpful comments was to quickly ride off after kick-starting the bike and before it stalled. I did, and managed a quick ride up and down the street. It rode great when it was running so I decided it was probably reliable enough. It did boost our confidence that this bike was JP's friend's and not just a rental so it was probably cared for and the chain probably won't fall off like the Udaipur rental bike. Another helpful comment was the advice to purchase only 3 litres of gas because there was no need to buy more than we needed. They figured we'd get 35 km/L. I also really didn't want to search for another motorbike so Donna hopped on and we rode down the block to put in 200 R of gas. It cost us a total of 700 R for the rental and the gas. The bike ended up being cheaper to rent than the 300 R Udaipur bike plus an additional 775R of gas. We drove this one far less, about 21 km each way. During breaks on our ride, I opened the gas tank to take a peak inside to ensure that the gas gauge wasn't lying to us. The speedometer had about a 30% error according to the GPS, maybe to make the rider feel like he's going faster than he actually is.
Our route was perfect. Each waypoint was only about five minutes from the previous and Donna did a perfect job of navigating with the GPS after a brief tutorial. The road we took was freshly paved and had little to no traffic. It couldn't have been more ideal conditions. If the road was any wider there surely would have been transport trucks and buses. We passed five or so little villages that stretched no bigger than 50 to 100 meters along the road. We stopped at one to take a photo of two men lifting wheat from the roof to the ground. A group of children gathered around us and urged me to read a couple of English paragraphs from their school textbook.
My mother works very hard for us every day. She cooks delicious and nutritious meals. She is very beautiful and healthy. My father never quarrels or beats her.
Meanwhile Donna was snapping away with her camera and the pictures turned out really candid because she held it by her waist and just looked through the LCD. A few minutes later a man started chatting with us. Turns out he was a teacher at the school across the street. He invited us for a quick tour since lunch hour didn't end for another 25 minutes. We took him up on it only after bluntly asking if he was going to ask us for money for this tour. Sadly, we'd learned to be distrustful of anyone using the word "tour" because it was a rare occasion when the people offered anything for free with no strings attached. Being this far off the tourist trail, it turned out to be one of these occasions and thankfully they didn't seem to take our question as rude.
The school was pretty cool to see. The students were grades 7, 8 and 9. There were only 3 very small rooms with about 50 children in each. They were all sitting quietly on the cement floor in neat rows. When we entered one of the classrooms, all the students stood. The children were all well behaved. The teacher explained that the government provides free education for all and his biggest challenge is to convince all the village kids to go to school. Some do not see the value in education when they know they will be farmers. That was a good point and a difficult argument to counter. The farming parents are also opposed to "wasting" their kids time in schools.
We were introduced to the other teachers, who each taught a couple subjects, and the town's mayor who was overseeing a construction project right beside the school. While talking to the teacher, I found myself struggling to understand his speech but didn't want to undermine his credibility as an English teacher in front of his students by asking him to repeat himself. So I answered his questions like a politician, briefly touching on the subject then talking about a related subject.
We left five minutes before class resumed and thanked them for their time. We just loved it. Rural life and small villages is how 75% of Indians live and this was a nice sample of it.
We resumed our ride and soon got on our dirt path on one side of a dry man-made earth canal. 15 minutes later we got to a cool aqueduct and bridge that allowed our canal to pass over a river. Cool. This wasn't the dam project from the previous confluence hunter's dead end, we were about 3 km downriver from the dam.
We soon got off the bike and Donna steered our 1 km walk to the confluence. Google Earth images of this area were extremely low resolution (it's not anymore) and it looked like forest but I thought that to be unlikely in India. It was pretty barren farm land but we tried sticking to paths since we weren't sure if any of it could be damaged by our footsteps.
The confluence itself was right near a small hut in front of a 100 meter square farm of lush green garden with four scarecrows. We were really fortunate in the placement of the confluence since we didn't have to leave the path or enter the garden to get the all zeros. The accuracy was only 9 meters and that's about how far we were from the hut. I thought it would be amazing if the confluence was inside the actual hut.
Just as we were taking the confluence photos some farmers started yelling at us from across their garden field. I said "Nameste" (hello) back and gave a wave but quickly finished the pictures in case we were soon to be chased out. Donna, who was paying more attention to them, told me they didn't seem too excited so we relaxed a bit and ended up taking a couple tripod self portrait shots at the site.
Even though we saw that no one was in the hut, we didn't get any closer to take a peak inside because the farmers were watching us. I didn't want to overstay our welcome and have them start questioning us so we left.
We passed them on our return route and saw that they were rigging up a pair of bulls with a yoke. One mentioned for us to come over then motioned for us to take a path 90° from where we intended to go. All right, we'll just do it and not act lost. Just keep following that path until they're out of sight then use the GPS to find our way back. It was only a few minutes later that I noticed Donna seemed to be showing signs of dehydration and exhaustion so we found a nice shady tree to sit under and had our banana and cookie snacks as well as a bunch of water. It was probably close to 30°C in the sun and there weren't too many trees that offered shade. We enjoyed our first experience of outdoor privacy together and relaxed in the fresh air. We were both very happy.
We returned to the bike and Donna took a video of me riding and crossing the dry canal. The ride back was relaxing and uneventful and we made a quick pit stop at our hotel since Donna had developed a major headache and seemed feverish. We then used the bike to check out Khajuraho's southern group of temples.
Before paying JP for the bike, a kid of about 8, who said he was 12, asked how much we rented the bike for. "2000R" I lied to him. "Oh, I could have rented it to you for 1000R with a discount to 800." "You're quite the businessman" Donna told him. "I am not businessman." He said matter-of-factly.
This was a pretty fun and easy confluence. It was highlighted by the numerous wonderful characters we met through the day.