Thursday, January 14, 2016

India - Unexpected eastern India

That's how you look after just one day on the road in India, below you can see what causes it...
Our visit to the West Bengal and the Meghalaya province of India had already shown that, on paper at least, India might pretend to be one country, but in reality is far from it. The landscapes had changed, the people had changed when we entered West Bengal and even the language had changed once we rode into the Meghalaya province. Now that we had entered the eastern part of the Assam province, it felt like we had crossed a border again and rode into another country altogether. We all felt we should have headed east earlier as eastern India was for us the best part of this big country. The small enclave in the north east bordered by Nepal, China, Bangladesh and Myanmar should be a country in its own right. It doesn't feel like India at all. In western India we had been warned the east was an area of political unrest... and we did ran into problems... and had a run-in with the Indian military too. But man was it beautiful!

Wherever we went on this trip, we were told about how dangerous the next country would be, only to find that when we were actually there, it was quite different than what we had been told. The problem with this, no doubt, well meant advice is that we can't assess if the person giving the advice has actually been there or if its exaggerated hear-say. West Bengal, Meghalaya and Assam turned out to be the most beautiful places of India we have seen. Places we would love to come back to... The same goes for the Punjab, and to a lesser extend the area around Manali (as it's too touristic for our liking). Assam is beautiful. Small villages, lots of green, water buffalos everywhere and even the odd elephant thrown in for good measure. Yet we made little photos... we were enjoying ourselves too much I suppose. The people living in Assam are from Mongolian descent and have a language of their own which does not sound like Hindi at all.

32,000 km through these conditions before the chain signalled
it had seen better days, is pretty damn good! The chain

actually looks worse than it was and went on for another
3,000 km without a problem or frequent adjustment
At the end of the day, entering Dimapur, a sudden loud bang from the Yamaha signalled we had a problem. The chain, which had taken us from The Netherlands via Turkey, Russia and China to India was worn but still running smoothly, yet that seemed to be where the bang came from. At the hotel, I removed the front sprocket cover, expecting to find some grit in there maybe... but found a front sprocket which had lost all its teeth...! How did that happen? Don't get me wrong, 32,000 km is pretty damn good, especially as a large part of this had been off-road through the hell of Kazakhstan where the chains and sprockets were running in sand for days, followed by the just as badly chain wrecking gravel kingdom called Kyrgyzstan. The many many long and dusty so called 'roadworks' of India hadn't done it any good either, nor had the mud clogging in Georgia, but... there had hardly been any warning signs!

To me, this is a real whiz kid. Forget the smart-app brigade; this is the real deal. This guy can actually make things... with his hands... without a computer!
On Saturday night, everyone has gone home but Vijay stayed behind
just to help us out!
Of course this happens in a part of the world where the XT is once again unknown... and just a couple of days before we were about to enter a mandatory guided tour through Myanmar... To make it more interesting the Yamaha XT660R front sprocket is unique to that model only... A 15T front sprocket in 520 size is not available in India, the local bike mechanics told me. 'Armed' with a 14T sprocket and the old Yamaha sprocket, which resembled more a belt pulley than a sprocket, I went looking for a guy with a lathe. The friendly people from Hotel Lake Shilloi were very helpful. 'We go by bike' he said, which found me riding pillion on the back of a 150cc bike, no helmet, no riding gear, through busy Dimapur in India... The guy with the lathe couldn't work out what I wanted, which was simple enough: cut the remaining teeth off the old sprocket, the centre out of the new one and then weld the new outer over the old inner. The language barrier proved too big. A young bloke, seemingly a teenager, did understand what I wanted, explained it to the lathe operator and we were in business... until we found the JT sprocket so incredibly hard that he couldn't do anything with it. His tools were blueing up badly while he only scratched the sprocket... 'Heat it up and let it cool down slowly' I said, which he did but still couldn't cut through it. Now what?

The young guy stepped in again, fired up an old welder by poking two bare wires directly into the main fuses(!) try that in a workshop under Australian Health and Safety practices(!) and ran such a high current through the welding rod that he burned through the sprocket and in doing so removed the outer part of the JT sprocket. He then ran a weld along the centre of the new sprocket to soften the steel. As we were stil in India... this guy was welding on the ground, outside, on .... flip-flops! No welding gloves, no protective gear and nothing but just a part of a welding helmet. The welding splatters where huge, due to the high current, and bouncing over his bare feet...! Cutting the centre out of the new sprocket was next and went relatively easy. The main problem was he didn't have a cutting tool small enough but worked around that problem too by doing it in stages. All the time there was this big beaming smile, he was clearly enjoying that he could fix the problem. The JT sprocket was next but still proved too hard for any cutting tool. Then I remembered JT makes their sprockets out of C49 carbon steel... It made me realise how hard these sprockets are and the hell they had been through to get them to wear at all. The only thing to do was use a grinding stone and try to get it as round as possible. I saw images of wobbling sprockets as, to be honest, this guy was trying to do an impossible job, with impossible tools (or lack thereof) and under impossible conditions. 

Of course it was Saturday afternoon, the shop was closing up, everyone but him had gone home by then and yet he was still working away getting my problem fixed. And he did fix it too! His welding was impeccable, the sprocket of course not perfectly round and wobbling but he had done the impossible! Problem then was I didn't have a wallet on me... in the haste to find him I had simply forgotten to take it with me. The man from the hotel, Mr Along, who had stayed with me all the time(!) and made the photos of the welding too as I had forgotten my camera, payed for the work and I asked him to give the young guy a bonus too... which all in all worked out at US$13,- Unbelievable India! The centre of the sprocket had slightly shrunk due to the heat treatment and proved difficult to fit over the splines of the output shaft, but in the end did. Mike made a sigh of relief and slowly moved his bike back and forth, to find all was running smoothly. This is for sure a sprocket we will always cherish! A big thank you to Vijay for helping us out!

As the sprocket wasn't perfectly round, the chain slack was all over the place. How much of an effect that would have on chain wear was unknown, so I opted to leave the old chain, which had already done 32,000 gruelling km on there for now and keep the cheap Indian made one as a spare. The Yamaha would make it to Myanmar though, but our problems were far from over... The front sprocket of the Bonneville turned out to be hardly any better than the Yamaha... The teeth had worn razor sharp and yet I had 4,000 km to do before I could get a new one. There is no 525 sprocket in India I was told, so no option of doing the same thing we did on the Yamaha... At the time of writing I have yet to find a solution...

More problems had developed during the day, as we were about to find out. 4WDs Claire and Emiel's 'unknown' infections, which they had picked up in Iran somewhere, and which they thought at the time were just a mozzie bite and had several doctors they visited along the way stumped as to exactly what it was, had suddenly grown and pus was coming out of it. They needed surgery of some sort. Meanwhile Vince had developed bad stomach problems and was in no state to ride his bike at all... While we had one day to spare before our Myanmar tour started, I had hoped to have that day just before the border. With the benefit of hindsight though, an extra day in Dimapur is much better than being a day extra in Moreh...

Super Speed it says at the bumper... right... maximum of these things is about 40 km/hr... on a flat straight road and without a head wind!
Walking out of the hotel at 9 that night, just to get something to eat, we found the streets empty... There was no-one. Everything was closed, no little restaurants or even street vendors. The military were holding court at every street corner, fully armed and seemingly ready for battle. Simply asking them what was going on resulted in an explosive reaction of one of the more trigger-happy ones. Being in shorts, having a pale complexion and being about 30 cm taller than the average local should have given him enough info to realise I was perhaps not a local, yet he decided to start yelling at me in the local language... I have no idea what he said but any form of communication with this level of arrogance was pointless anyway so I turned around and left, upon which he found it necessary to yell some more... whatever. And then they wonder why the locals don't like the military...

Vince responded well to the drugs for his stomach but Claire and Emiel headed for a hospital. We waited for an hour or so as the plan had been to travel together to the border. When the news came that it was all going to take a couple of hours more at the hospital, which would mean riding well into in the dark, we decided to continue towards the border. After all Emiel and Claire are in a Landcruiser, with all sorts of protection around them and plenty of lights while we are on bikes. It turned out to be a good decision as we found some seriously chopped up roads, and still arrived at the hotel in the dark.

The ride south/east towards the border with Myanmar was a beautiful part of India. If this was the forebode of things to come then Myanmar would be a beauty! Roughly 7 weeks in india had come to an end. A trip with many ups and downs, a trip which I wouldn't have liked to miss but at the same time didn't really have a desire to come back to at the time. Since then a little time has passed... and I'm beginning to develop a slight urge to get back there one day... Can't explain why as it doesn't make any sense, but I would still like to do it... Our last night in India was at the border, where there are plenty of hotels but don't expect luxury. Shared bathroom, if you can call them that, and surrounded by Indians who seem to have nothing better to do than gurgle their throats as loud as they can... at 4 in the morning! Crossing the border into Myanmar is next, be prepared to be amazed!

The last overnight stop in India