Following some 30 hours of travel from New Zealand, we arrived in Mumbai jaded but glad to have escaped the confines of the man-made atmosphere that modern air travel now promotes. Our journey from the airport through the hectic busy streets to collect our rental vehicle reminded me of why I love India so much! The smells (not all nice), the sounds (all of them loud), and the sights (so typically Indian) all combined to re-vitalised our weary mood. Lally was incredulous at daily life passing by the open window of our tiny dilapidated Maruti taxi as it barged its way amongst the colossal Tatas’ and Ashok Leylands’ that keep this nation fed and watered.
We had two meetings within the first two hours of arrival but thankfully our hosts were keen to meet our needs; we made some valuable introductions and friends. Getting behind the wheel again to muddle our way towards the Taj Mahal Hotel gave me feelings of ‘deja vu’ reminding me of working here previously with John Brown. In retrospect, I am not sure I was aware of how much I learned in those years working with one of the most particular and exacting, indeed (some would say) awkward, rally organiser’s of the time; I am hugely indebted to John and Johanna for their faith in me and the many opportunities I was offered. With an outside temperature of nearly 40 centigrade, entering the cool, welcoming and restrained interior of the hotel was, I felt, like stepping back in time to the days of the Raj. With orderly peace, and quiet voices, we were offered a cool drink before being ushered to our immaculate room where our dusty, travel-stained, bags were already waiting. We showered and changed before an evening meal of delicious Indian fare washed down with a grateful glass of wine. After returning to our room with full stomachs, sleep was not an effort.
Our first full day coping with India and all its foibles reminded me why one needs to have a long fuse and a gentle demeanour. Even getting, what Europeans’ might call, simple tasks completed seems to require multiple signatures and authorisations; this may of course be a residue of the British Raj. Lally inspected competing hotels while I organised ‘phone SIM cards and a ‘Dongal’; a device using telephone signal allowing connection to the internet.
Studying road behaviour I have come to conclusion that most ‘regulations’ are simply advisories and that certainly headlights, motorcycle helmets and any form of indication to let other know your intentions are considered accessories; however, the horn is mandatory and should be used repeatedly at every opportunity! We chuckled our way across the city ensconced in the rear of a beautifully dented Indian built Fiat taxi sharply drawing breath on numerous occasions although the whole sensational display all happens at between 4 and 17 mph!
Lally spent the following days moving around the city, inspecting an assortment of hotels, venues and restaurants in an effort to find something with an Indian flavour yet European quality. Visiting prospective venues and attractions is a time-consuming task and one needs to be conscious of the Indian predilection for agreeing to anything and everything even if your request cannot possibly be fulfilled. I began work on the vehicle, firstly, buying simple tools to enable me to fit tripmeter and satellite tracking systems. We had found a perfect stretch of road close to the hotel and decided to get up early on Sunday morning to calibrate the tripmeter before the daily mayhem developed. With this done and still very little pandemonium on the roads we took the opportunity to begin ‘roadbooking’ the route out of the city. This is one aspect of India that I must impress on anyone wishing to join us, you will need to get used to early starts. There is a window of 3 hours between 6am and 9am when reasonable progress can be made after which the wheels grind almost to a halt and the horror begins; although it is a good-natured ‘horror’ and a worthwhile experience.