Good Energy

The guys at Good Energy have been really supportive and excited about the expedition, so much so that they have made a contribution which allows me to keep the blog regularly updated during the expedition, so they and everyone else can follow the journey. Good Energy supplies 100% renewable electricity sourced from wind, water, sun and sustainable biomass. CO2 from coal-fired electricity generation is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions in the world. Switch your electricity supply to Good Energy using this link and not only will you be supporting the pioneering community of independent green generators, but for every sign up they get they’ll make another donation to help get the bus around the world. It helps you cut your personal CO2 emissions, helps them grow a great business, and helps me get round the world.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

The Good, The Bad, and the Oily

India is 5h30 ahead of GMT. Not six hours, not five, but five and a half. It’s a classic example of Indian attitude to the rest of the world. What with a large part of the world living here, what need is there to follow the accepted international norms elsewhere. India can set its own norms.

Some engine parts you can find the world over. I chose a merc for this journey because you can find Mercedes everywhere. Not in India. The dealership quoted me 10 days and €2000 for a set of pistons (a more usual price might be €200). I’d visited Mercedes when I was in Pune, to ask for sponsorship. Their big enthusiasm quickly waned into unanswered calls, and I did think at the time, that the understated sign that said “Mercedes-Benz, India” in that familiar reassuring font and colours, should really say “Mercedes-Benz, but India”.

A merc oil filter is, in most countries, like a dollar bill. Maybe not commonplace, but seek and you shall find. Not in India. They don’t have mercs, they have Tata’s. You want a Tata filter and you have a choice from original (made by Tata), branded aftermarket (made by someone else who knows what their doing), or non-branded (made by neanderthals with a big stick). None of them fit.

By complete coincidence Tata licensed the rights to my OM364 engine from Mercedes years ago, modified it slightly and stuck it in the most common vehicle on the road in Northern India. The 407.

Helpful to a degree, but the modifications affected the parts I needed (like the oil filter) so back to square one. It looked like the only option was to cut down a similar piston so it would fit.
Eventually the speculation about weather cutting pistons down would work was put to bed when Amitoj from Paulco Autoparts located the right pistons (albeit non-branded neanderthal ones) in Agra. The casting quality was terrible, the anodising looks like it’s been done by primary school kids, but they are undoubtedly the right size. Criticism aside, it’s worth praising Amitoj for achieving what in 3 days no other spare parts shop managed, and believe me they tried.

So with pistons in hand the story passes to Deshanka and Sanjay, my mechanics. By this stage I’d already been living in the side street next to their workshop/cupboard for 5 days with no engine in my bus, and jacked up so the shower wouldn’t drain.

Deshanka was feeling the pressure of the other mechanics who all told me he wasn’t up to the job of rebuilding my engine. This need to prove himself made him rush and bodge the rebuild at times, so I watchfully checked almost every bolt he put back in. Good mechanics aren’t the ones that know how to rebuild an engine, they all know that. They are the ones that take their time to think things through, look at the parts and bolts and be assured that they are putting back together according to a design and reason.

Sure enough the timing was 180degrees out and it wouldn’t start. The pump came off, we turned the crank and put it back on. Fired first time. All good. For now. Time will reveal any other rushed jobs Deshanka has done as they work lose, and bring me to a halt. On balance I think probably none.

Deshanka is 27 and Sanjay his apprentice is 22, both from the north of India, migrants to Delhi in search of work. I saw their poverty first hand. No money to put fuel in the borrowed motorbike, only 2 sets of clothes, they didn’t wash before eating and the whole neighbourhood had a cough which I too now have. They slept in their workshop and when the bench was full of my engine parts they slept on the floor with the mice. As soon as they got any cash they got wasted.

When I paid them $100 for 4 days work, they were ecstatic, and promptly spent a fair portion of it on food and beer, for us all, smuggling me into their workshop where the other mechanics couldn’t see us getting blind drunk.

Once again I’ve discovered yet another India. Within the borders of this country is an arrogant nuclear super power, a third world agricultural nation, a paralysing bureaucracy, a corrupt police state, a massive military machine, a bi-polar tourist industry, a hyper-materialistic middle class, a nation criminalised by their poverty and under-education, and an alcoholic urban slum. It’s hard to like or dislike India because all these countries are India. And strangely each one is largely oblivious to the other countries living superimposed over it. The only thing these India’s have in common is the kindness and generosity of their citizens.

I ask a foreign journalist here what the government does to help people. There are schemes to provide the super-poor with work and cheap rice, but on the whole the most an average indian can hope to get from the government is that it leaves them well alone.

I’ve got my passport now, and I’m off. Delhi is less than 400km away from the Nepalese border. One day's drive. But I have to wait till the end of the week to set off. Even a totalitarian Maoist regime seems attractive after 5 months here. Thanks India, it’s been real. After everything you’ve done, there is no way I will ever love you, but somehow, even though I should, I can’t quite bring myself to hate you.


  1. This blog post is quite moving. I think only very few people can truly understand where you're coming from with it -- though you're unique in your experience here. I'm happy things have worked out for you -- finally! -- and you're on your way.

  2. very well written stor , loved the start n it is quite true...njy ur stay here

  3. Excellent! Man this blog-post deserves to be published in the "opinion coloumns" of the newspapers.We all are fed up the anachronistic laws in our country but i hope this will change if people like you puts something in the heads of our govt.(if it ever goes in).
    I bet u wud have been awarded (Abroad)and may be jailed (in India) if u had made a documentary film on all these experiences.
    Good luck!


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