Day 17 – Mysore

Saturday, April 27th, 2013

We decided to head to Mysore (150km) from Bangalore to see the Maharaja’s Palace. We made arrangements with the driver that collected us from the airport and under his advisement, set out for another early start.

With fresh eyes and in the light of day, Bangalore still presented as a far more evolved, clean and organised city than I had imagined. Well at least that’s how it appeared from the comfort of a car as we made our way south west.

There were cafe chains promoting coffee and far less roadside rubbish than we had been welcomed with in rural towns. Hospitals looked like places you would consider being admitted, as opposed to running in fear from. Air-conditioned shopping malls with western style cinemas promoting the latest movies sprinkled the highway.

We were most certainly experiencing our first real Indian city and it had none of the squalor I had prepared myself for. Perhaps it was the district we were in, M G Road still has the hint of austerity of a colonial past.

The road from Bangalore to Mysore was a well surfaced road and we made good time. Our first stop was a 9th century temple at the village of Srirangapathna. Our driver waited in the car while we navigated the approach to the temple amidst a crowd of local tourists and touts peddling their wares. As is required at all temples, we removed our shoes and left them with the men that mind them. No photographs are permitted inside the temple.

The stone underfoot is a cool and welcome reprieve from the scorching heat. It has a massaging effect on the soles of the feet and reminds me what sensory marvels our feet actually are. A physical connection slowly manifests with each step.

The temple has granite pillars carved with care and skill using trabiated construction methods. Chris and I ponder the logistics, organisation and talent required to create this grand place of worship without the help of the machinery we rely upon so heavily today. The most they probably relied on was an elephant.

Purposefully placed around the periphery are small rooms that house the Gods, some only visible through tiny peep holes that people push and shove to see through.

Pushing and shoving is something one must become accustomed to in India, it’s just how they roll. No malice and no second glance, just the momentum to maintain as crowds and queues surge forward. There is no order and courtesy as we know it, the masses afford no pause for personal space. Space is a communal vessel navigated by deftly occupying whatever piece of it comes your way.

Our next stop is the summer palace adorned with the most intricate artwork decorating nearly every wall and representing courageous battles. Yet again, the cool of the building comes as a surprise as the temperature soars outside. A true testament to the skill applied to designing space centuries ago. It seems to have been lost through the ages, or at least it’s value has, as we build so many poor solutions today in the name of economic rationalisation. In fairness, this is a palace built for a king and most probably required the manpower and attention of almost every male citizen. It is indeed a beauty and as you navigate it you can imagine it alive with activity and spirit.

We hit Chamundeshwari Temple at Chamundi Hill in time for local worship and felt very much part of it as we queued and flowed with the onslaught of people seeking blessings and bearing gifts for the gods. Again shoeless, we navigate the puddles and slosh on the floor – not quite the same feeling as the last temple, more like am I standing in water or saliva? The view overlooking the town is amazing and Carol gets asked to pose with some local policemen who are taking in the sights. I was just a plus one white girl thrown into the mix. It’s so funny in India you are constantly asked to appear in photos with locals. The introduction is fairly typical – “What is your country?” / “What is your name?” / “What do you think of my country?”

We stopped for lunch at a western style hotel that has a kitsch exhibit of cardboard cut out cricket players in the foyer and imported wine on the menu. So I break my promise of no more wine in India and order a glass of French wine and a lamb steak burger. Today is a special day, it is Carol & Chris’s 25th wedding anniversary. We raise a toast to them and their family.

After lunch we finally head to the Maharaja Palace. A splendiferous and amazing building with arches, grandiose tiles, gaudy colours and artworks adorning the walls. A real homage to the richness of a bygone era. It is definitely over the top and full of fabulousness.

Elephant and Camel rides are on offer around the palace grounds.

At 4.30pm we reconnect with our driver and head back to Bangalore.

It’s an early night for all after another big day.

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Go, go, Goa….

Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013

Amazing portuguese architecture awaited us in gorgeous Goa! Adam and I have had a few strolls around Panjim and Old Goa and everything is lush and green. The temperature is a cozy 33 degrees…welcome back sweat!!! The Mondovi hotel we staying in was the first built here and the building is quite stunning, featuring a diesel driven elevator! I finally managed to lose my little zip-lock purse, this time with nobody returning it! Seems like I am a hopeless case in that regards, as my team members already returned my sunnys (which broke today), drivers license and iPhone (fell out of Uggi)!!! Fingers crossed that is the end of this, but I don’t think so! We went out seeking out Panjim’s hottest bar last night but to our surprise it had burnt down due to doggy wiring, how ironic! Tomorrow we are off to India’s 2nd highest waterfall and then to a spice plantation!!! After that its off to party central, Baga….got my dancing shoes polished already and will keep you posted! Cheers Markus

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Day 16 – Transiting to Bangalore

Monday, April 22nd, 2013

Today is a transit day as we make the 4 hour car journey from Shillong to Guwahati airport, followed by a 3 hour flight from Guwahati to Bangalore. As we climb our way back down the 100km’s of winding road, it seems unfathomable that just 2 days ago we did this very same route, ascending into Shillong in a Tuk Tuk. As we descend Kaitlyn points out some Tuk Tuk’s from the rally making their final ascent to the finish line. Carol recognises one of the teams and I keep my eyes peeled in the fortuitous event that we might spot ‘The White Tiger’. Mere moments pass and as the traffic progresses at a snails pace I see the hint of green emerge in the oncoming traffic, Benn at the helm with a mask of fabric protecting him from inhaling toxic exhaust fumes. We manage a high five out the car window as our paths cross for the last time on our Indian tour.

I observe the landscape one last time before the high pitched onslaught of horns amidst a traffic jam abruptly ends my nostalgic reflections. I never want to hear a damn horn again, it’s sending me troppo. 7 days and 2 major cities of horns to go.

We meet Rama at the airport, he is also heading to Bangalore, to visit his mother. He greets us with heartfelt, joyous sentiment and confesses to immediately engaging a masseur as soon as we returned from the root bridge hike. Good move. I’m feeling fine, but as a seasoned hiker I know it’s day 2 that gets you.

Guwahati airport has all the usual security checks that are all so familiar with everything from purchasing a local SIM card to checking into a hotel in India. Nothing is without an abundance of forms and passport/visa checks. Some processes even requiring your father or husbands name as part of your identification. As an unmarried woman in her mid 40’s, I don’t think my father would be of much use to the Indian government. In fact I’m not sure he’s of much use to anyone, I’ll confer with Rosie on that point.

I booked our airfares off the Internet some months ago with Indigo Air. I was a bit concerned about flying a budget airline in India, but as it turns out its been fine – much more civilised than Australia’s Jetstar or Tiger Airways – perhaps it’s just a better calibre of passenger.

We landed at Bangalore and made our way to our hotel. It’s dark, but from what I can see the city is much tidier and more orderly than the chaos I had envisaged. Lets see what tomorrow brings.

Day 15 – Hiking Day – Root Bridges

Monday, April 22nd, 2013

After 13 days in a Tuk Tuk our legs are like lead and possibly in jeopardy of DVT, the logical thing to do is to get them moving.

Our friends Rama and Rakesh from team ‘Chutney Chungas’ told us of some amazing root bridges in Cherrapunji, 56km from Shillong. They sounded interesting, so we set about looking into a day trip. We visited the tourist information office and learned that the Cherrapunji Holiday Resort arranges guides. We booked a driver and the plan was hatched, another 6.00am start.

It’s not like we haven’t spent enough time on the road. That’s the thing about travel, you create your journey through your efforts and the sacrifices you are prepared to make in etching out your memories.

Unfortunately Carol and Kaitlyn got food poisoning and were sick throughout the night and unable to join us. We think the culprit was the soup at our hotel as Chris was also feeling questionable, but soldiered on hoping for the best.

The Alpine Continental hotel has a few disconcerting factors. There is an overall dampness that permeates all the corridors and rooms. There is the stale stench of urine that wafts up from the lower floors and unfortunately hits hardest just as you approach the dining hall. Lastly, yet again Kaitlyn and I have landed the room (347) that smells like a sewer, clearly issues with the pipes. On the upside it’s well located and the staff are friendly and helpful.

Today Adam and Markus are off to Guwahati, en route to Goa, so it’s just Chris and I from our crew.

The road from Shillong to Cherrapunji is a narrow, continuous winding road that spans 56km. At about 25km’s, I was starting to feel ill. An empty stomach and those endless turns weren’t agreeing with me. Poor Chris had to throw up. Oh dear! -Things were turning pear shaped rather suddenly.

I think we were all relieved when we made it to the resort. A fantastic eco lodge, perched high atop the valley and mountain ranges with spectacular views. We ordered coffee and breakfast and settled our tummies while we waited for our guide. If you are ever in this region, I would definitely consider an overnight stay at the Cherrapunji Holiday Resort. The staff and owner are warm, welcoming and generous with their knowledge.

Ebenezer, a small, gentle man with kind eyes was assigned to guide us. We agreed to try for the 14km return hike and reassess after we could establish how everyone was coping. A hiking group at a nearby table warned us that it was a tough hike and to take plenty of water.

“What goes up must come down” and more importantly “What goes down must come up”. As we descended down a mountain of stairs into the valley, skirting small collections of 3-5 houses, I’m pretty sure we were all thinking the same thing – “we have to make it back up”.

The bridges are moulded and formed over centuries from tree roots. They are quite spectacular. They provide the means to cross over the river and rock pools that flow below. They are powerfully engaging and their agedness and purposefulness instantly command respect. I am always in awe of century old trees, I gently stroke them hoping for some of their wisdom.

http://www.atlasobscura.com/places/root-bridges-cherrapungee

We made it to the double root bridge where village children were washing and swimming in the rock pools. We rested and spent a good 30 minutes soaking in the atmosphere and the uniqueness of this natural wonder.

Unfortunately Rakesh had hurt his calf muscle and didn’t think it was wise to continue on the longer route. I think Rama was relieved. Rakesh & Rama are 2 Indian’s who live in the US and work in IT. There’s a real warmth to them as a pair and as individuals. Rakesh has a quiet confidence and calm about him and Rama is a bounding ball of joy.

Chris was happy to return as his stomach was still dicy and nausea imminent. All that stood between us and our lift home was a 3km incline of stairs. Everyone did well, all things considered. Rama had only gone to bed at 3.00am, so with 3 hours sleep and not much training, I think he put in a sterling effort. It was like the 1000 steps on steroids. The return incline seemed like it was never going to end.

Along the trail of stairs I came across 2 young girls playing cricket on the path and shared my orange and chocolate with them. I love when language affords no barriers and just a mutual desire to connect with another person allows you to converse without words. Just with smiles, gestures and a mutual desire to be understood. Carol had prepared goodie bags the day before and as usual they were full of just the right things.

On the subject of cricket I happened upon some IPL on TV and I must say I never dreamed it possible, but the Indians have sexed up cricket. Pretty reporters make silly jokes in sexy outfits and flirt with the players while they interview them. I’ve never seen cricket look so much fun.

The winding road home was no easier than on the approach and I found myself feeling nauseous again. We returned around 5.00pm to find Carol & Kaitlyn depleted and weary, having not left the room all day.

It was an early night with a few dry biscuits for dinner. Tomorrow we head to Bangalore.

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Day 14 – Shillong – The Celebration

Sunday, April 21st, 2013

After 2 weeks of waking at 4.50am, a sleep-in was out of the question, our body clocks were tuned to the rising of the sun. By 6am I rose and showered and spent some time checking messages from home.

By 7.30 everyone was up and showered and ready in the breakfast hall. We shared toast and coffee and started planning our root bridge hike 56km’s away in Cherrapungee.

Carol, Kaitlyn and I hit the shops in search of a few toiletry’s and enjoyed watching the city vendors open and begin unfolding their wares.

I managed to kiss goodbye my shoes that were dying a slow death over the conditions of the last 14 days and pick up a new pair. They give you chocolate bars as change in India if they don’t have small coins. I’m loving this. I actually tried to resist this on occasion, but they’re quite insistent that you take the chocolate. We have found all the people we have dealt with to be incredibly honest. I’ve mistakenly overpaid on 2 occasions and both times the shop assistant has pointed out my mistake and returned my money.

At 11.00am we set out to take our Tuk Tuk’s to the finish line – The Pinewood Hotel. We got to chat to other teams checking-in. Markus partied the night before at the hotel and managed to return as captain of the soccer team. He had a game starting at 11.00am so Adam and I saw Uggi off and bid her farewell. We rolled in as team #20.

The leader board was showing 4 teams having officially withdrawn, reasons as follows:

“One member had a seizure and died for some time. Went home for MRI scan after CPR”

“Projectile stuff from both ends. Went home after 3 days in hospital”

“Started pissing blood and went home”

“Got scared and went home and got sand in their fannies”

I think the Adventurists coined the last quote on behalf of 3 scared English boys that didn’t make it out of Cochin.

A lot of Tuk Tuk’s were in a lot worse shape than ours and seemed to have had much more trouble. I think in the scheme of things we had a comfortable run, if you count 12 hours a day in a Tuk Tuk on Indian roads as comfortable.

We went along to support the boys in the soccer match against the locals. As we made our way, we came across a military show. It had an amazing display of synchronised motorbike riding and tricks. It was awesome. Just the encouragement we need to take our motorbike riding to the next level. Shillong has a huge military presence and soldiers armed with machine guns man hotels and events.

The boys weren’t faring too well. They were a straggly bunch compared to the more organised and uniformed locals. There were a few decent players that were the glue of the team and a lot of other guys running a little lost around the field.

I headed off in search of pampering and found myself a beauty parlour, think ‘Golden Nail’ and then drop your standards 3 fold. For the huge sum of $20 I got an eyebrow threading, manicure and pedicure, I feel human again. That was my first eyebrow threading and it was awesome, of course my sister Suzanne (the eyebrow police) will be sure to critique them.

So off we headed to the big bash. It seems they’re not great at getting Tuk Tuk’s roadworthy, but if the Adventurists can get one thing right it’s a party. Good vibe, great food and a local covers band to boot.

A number of trophies handed out and a lot of alcohol consumed. I hit the skids at 10pm as off hiking tomorrow.

Di

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Day 13 – Bongaigeon to Shillong (300km)

Saturday, April 20th, 2013

Day 13 – The Finish

I somehow forgot to set my alarm and Kaitlyn and I woke at 5.20am to Carols knock at our door. We quickly fell into our morning routine and were packed and on the road by 5.55am – awesome effort.

During the night we were all woken by the ferociousness of the thunderstorm. Rain pummelled and thunder roared. I’m fairly certain we were all thinking the same thing, ‘Did Markus put his clothes by the leaking window?’ – Just kidding, what we were really thinking was ‘We definitely don’t want to be driving in that’. By morning the storm had passed and we were on the road to another beautiful day.

We thought we’d seen pretty much everything India’s National Highways has to offer, until today when we came across an elephant travelling the wrong way down the NH31C.

Half a tribe were on the wrong side of a pothole puddle and got smothered with mud when a truck flew past, all good war wounds for credibility on the finishing line. Uggi’s hub caps are no longer their vibrant red, they’re splattered with mud.

So how did we fare:

– Our lungs are laced with a black mix of caustic fumes.
– Our skin has seen way too much sun and we’re all looking a bit like a leather boot
– Adam has fuel burns on his hands
– Our booty’s are in need of a massage
– My feet could be used for the lead dinosaur in Jurassic Park.
– I have the arms of a footballer. Forget push-ups try pulling the lever that starts Uggi 10 times a day and keeping her steady on unsurfaced roads.
– We’ve lost a large portion of our hearing from the screeching horns
– My eyesight was on the way out, but with the 20 tonnes of dust I’ve now got buried in them, that’s me done.

It’s amazing what happens to your body when you expose it to sun & wind for 13 days straight, 12 hours a day.

We originally planned to stay in Guwahati for the night, but were tracking so well we all agreed to carry on to Shillong. We filled up with our last container of fuel trying to work it so we return the Tuk Tuk with the one drop of fuel it was given to us with. We grabbed our last stash of snacks. I won’t miss those damn chip packets, I swear they must superglue them. One of the challenges of India, successfully opening chip packets without spilling their contents all over yourself.

Markus bought Uggi home around the hilly, winding road spanning from Guwahati to Shillong (100km) and all I could think of was Chatty Chitty Bang Bang …. “I think I can, I think I can…. Hill starts in a Tuk Tuk amidst peak hour traffic are no easy feat. Particularly when the little beast really doesn’t like hills, add altitude and we just about killed little Uggi.

We hadn’t counted on our hotel being at the top of a windy, steep hill and had to jump out and push the Tuk Tuk’s up the hill to the Alpine Continental Hotel. A bit flash compared to our previous digs. It’s peak season and finding 3 rooms in Shillong wasn’t easy, so we really had to take what we could get. Everyone’s grateful for a real bed as we’ve pretty much been sleeping on wood. The term mattress really doesn’t describe what we’ve been sleeping on. It hasn’t bothered me, l don’t mind the firmness. I have to say, I’ve been lucky and slept well the entire journey.

On 19/4 @ 5.00pm, 13 Days and 3500 kilometres later we have made it to Shillong and raised 1789 British Pounds for Frank Water who provide safe drinking water for India’s poorest communities. We have been welcomed and afforded enormous generosity by the beautiful people we have met along the way.

A huge thank you to all our friends and family who have supported us in so many ways leading up to this challenge. Sharing our adventure with you has been fun. Thank you to all those who generously donated.

Markus, Adam, Carol, Chris & Kaitlyn – thanks for sharing the ride.

Tally Ho my good friends
The End.

PS: Stay tuned for stories from the road and tonight’s finish party.

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Day 12 – Siliguri – Bongaigeon (292km)

Friday, April 19th, 2013

Day 12 – 4WD Day

There are some magical places that fill your soul with joy and elation, it’s such a powerful feeling it manifests itself physically and emotionally. The urgency with which this feeling rushes through you can only be described as spiritual.

That’s precisely how I felt this morning as we left the dusty roads of Siliguri behind and skirted our way through the foothills of the Himalayas. The winding roads and lush green forest guiding our way.

We stopped at a dry river bed to take in the glimpses of this beautiful mountain range. A herd of cattle emerged being guided through the rocky terrain. Children stopped intrigued by us. It was still early and I must say a magnificent start to the day.

We crossed many bridges with river beds exposed, still and lifeless, it’s the dry season. This brought back childhood memories, in my primary school years I spent a number of years pondering 3 things:

1. Did you really die if you hit the bottom after jumping in a dream?

2. What was a ‘Wing wong for a gooses bridle’?

Whenever we asked my father what something was that he didn’t want to explain, this was his answer. The fact that it is etched in my mind means he was either very lazy or we were asking some difficult questions.

3. What would be at the bottom of the ocean if it emptied, who would get all the treasures?

I loved playing marbles and I once dreamt that the ocean had in fact emptied and it ‘s floor was sprinkled with stonkers and cats eyes.

We’ve hit military territory with several army training bases. We saw much of the morning activities of the Indian services with men training in the exercise yard and heavy trucks leaving the base. The first base was signed “Indian Army, no better friend, no worse enemy”. The second base was signed “Ghurka – Blood and Guts”. Ironic that one of the most beautiful and tranquil places on earth is home to the place that trains men to kill.

We don’t often get breakfast at the hotel, as 5.30am is just too early for the kitchens. However, the Apollo Hotel had a 24 hour kitchen and no issue in preparing toast and coffee. I miss toast, haven’t had it for weeks. Our daytime food consists of whatever fruit and snacks we can source from roadside vendors.

Our first stop was a small village where Markus recharged his prepaid phone. The people were beautiful and friendly and one man thought Chris looked like Max Walker. It’s funny, the villagers all seem to refer to the old school cricketers such as Max Walker, Alan Border and even Sir Donald. I’ve heard Ricky Ponting mentioned twice and Shane Warne only once. Poor old Shane’s more famous for his sexscapades and shagging Liz.

After 120km’s of smooth sailing the road turned into a sludgy mix of mud, rock and potholes. Uggi got her first taste of 4WDing. Unsealed road for kilometres on end in a Tuk Tuk takes some mental strength and really isn’t that much fun, as pothole after pothole slows you to a snails pace. In my opinion, it’s easier to take as the driver rather than the passenger, as concentration commands your attention. As the passenger, all I can think is ‘When is this going to end?’

The landscape and people change again and it barely feels like the India one imagines. We are most certainly in the north. Roadside shops pop up crafting furniture and pots. This region is what I call “Rich/Poor”. Rich in spirit and pride. There is no wealth as we know it, but people are well groomed and have a sense of pride about themselves. Their eyes have a knowingness to them. They command respect. Everything feels richer when the dusty roadside is replaced with grass, the lush forest creeps up to the road and the traffic thins. There is no stench of rubbish littering the roadside and the mud brick houses sit perfectly with no extraneous bits of material needed to keep them standing. Elephants rest peacefully in the fields. I think we are passing through Utopia, a short and welcome reprieve from the chaos.

I was about to launch into a poetic description of these beautiful hay houses that have started to appear and consulted Adam on matters of materiality when he burst into laughter (the kind that says you stupid woman) and informs me they are haystacks not houses. Well I tell you they are darn big haystacks. On my fantastical journey, they will remain houses. I’m migrating the pink cows to live in this region and I’m bringing the Oompa Loompa’s here to retire.

Uggi broke down again, of course in one of the most remote areas we have passed through, she liked it so much she wanted to stay a bit longer. Markus and Adam inspected the usual suspect – the spark plug, but thought it looked ok. Chris checked the petrol filter, pulled the carby apart, checked the air filter and to cover all bets, changed the spark plug. Another fabulous fix from Chris Patterson and we’re off again.

A short way onwards, in search of fuel, a lovely man offered to grease the nipples on Uggi and half a tribe’s front suspension. A godsend really given the roads ahead. An unsolicited random act of kindness from another beautiful Indian.

We are now travelling on the NH 31C
Which has great stretches of good road in parts and then deteriorates into a 4WD lovers dream and a Tuk Tuk’s nightmare.

On another bad stretch of road we came across a village festival in full swing. People dressed in beautiful, bright garments, colourful tents erected and the lively sounds of spruikers and music emanating from the tented enclosure. The roadside was littered with food vendors and people making their way to and from the festival.

In these parts, and probably for the past 4 days, it’s not uncommon to see small minivans transporting people. Every possible inch of the vehicles exterior, including the roof, has someone hanging from it. It’s a sight to behold.

We arrived into Bongaigeon at about 6pm to a thriving hub of activity and a bigger township than we expected. It seemed odd as this place had the least available accommodation options. We had the Apollo Hotel book our rooms ahead as we had no luck on the phone with anyone speaking English at the few hotels available.

Raj Palace was basic but clean and our dinner was one of the nicest we’ve had. After 12 days of chicken, I’ve finally gone Vego. So that’s me – no beef, no wine!!

Di

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Day 11 – Malda to Siliguri (254km’s)

Thursday, April 18th, 2013

Day 11 – Teapot (Hole) Day

With thunderstorms throughout the night, we woke to the calm after the storm.

Markus unfortunately left his clothes near a leaking window and found them drenched. We bid farewell to The Golden Park, a nice clean hotel with good service and big rooms.

The temperature took a dramatic drop from the high 30’s that we have become accustomed to and we found ourselves trawling through the bottom of our packs to find our jackets. I am grateful that we are doing this in summer as its pretty damn cold in the back of the Tuk Tuk when the temperature drops and then you add the wind factor.

Today we used the plastic curtains that Adam painstakingly designed and installed for us. They worked perfectly to block a lot of the chilly wind and diffuse the dust and fumes that blow around, clinging to us like leeches. So thanks Adam, I think you should patent these.

This mornings drive marks a shift in both the features of the people and the landscape. A more rural experience, with poorer towns and less on offer from the small vendors we are so used to observing as we pass through the villages.

We saw people working the fields and as I always do, I envied the simplicity and value of their lives, every effort, each and every task purposeful and part of their survival.

The houses are now beginning to be crafted with mud brick and thatching. I did a double take as I saw a pink cow being led amidst the farmed paddocks. I felt like I was in some kind of fantastical fairy tale, but Adam assured me they are just the cows that produce strawberry milk.

We passed beautiful tea and pineapple plantations and the usual punters peeing on the roadside. I’ve been holding my lavatory needs for our fuel stops, a questionable decision given they vary from OK to downright putrid. All are squat toilets and the ones with no water fare the worst.

It’s hard to imagine the life of these villagers before the NH34 highway? Trucks and buses hurtle through these small towns like the out of control bus in the movie “Speed”. It’s a life and death challenge for these people to get from one side of the road to the other. The noise of the screeching horns is ear piercing and continuous.

The one thing you DON’T want to be in India, is a dog. They really are the most neglected and least valued form of life. We’ve seen many very aggressive, angry dogs barking and attacking. This is either a manifestation of their ill treatment or they are riddled with rabies.

What you DO want to be is a cow or a goat. We all know cows are sacred but goats seem to have a pretty good thing going on. In the main, they are pretty healthy looking and they seem to just cruise around the villages happily nibbling.

We came across a traffic jam in Dhakhola, probably the least friendly and dicy place we’ve passed through and really not all that bad – just lacking the smiles and welcomes of other towns. The traffic jam however held us up for 45 minutes.

Shortly onwards Adam started to feel a tremor in his sub-cockle region, fearing something wasn’t right. There just seemed to be an unusually large number of even more aggressive bus drivers hurtling towards us. Markus dodged them with skill and precision. Then we looked to our left and realised we had missed a diversion and were actually driving on the wrong side of the road into oncoming traffic. It’s one thing to do this knowingly, it’s a whole other level of danger to do it unknowingly. It’s a testament to how messed up this road system is that it took a good kilometre of dodging buses before Adam alerted us to our mistake. That’s how used we are to having traffic hurtling at us head on.

We took about 10.5 hours to cover approximately 253km’s, arriving in Siliguri at about 5.00pm. The Apollo Hotel was well setup and we began our nightly routine – shower, beer, dinner, route planning – bed! Ah – I hear you ponder, but when does she write the blog? Well my friends this entire blog has been authored from the back of a Tuk Tuk on an iPhone over some pretty hairy territory, surely that deserves a small donation for the people of India.
http://www.justgiving.com/teams/uggi

Each day as we load and unload our stash of luggage, I ponder what I could possibly dispense with? Not much given I’m off to Africa for 2 months. I have however been lugging around a travel pillow and each night I consider leaving it behind, just another thing to keep check of. But today this little gem afforded me a good snooze in the back of the Tuk Tuk. Yes, indeed it can be done. One deluxe air cushion for the butt and one foam cushion for the head.

Di

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Day 10 – Kirishnanagar to Malda (219km)

Wednesday, April 17th, 2013

Day 10 – Reality Bites

Today we continued on the ‘NH35 holeway’ struggling to average more than 25km per hour.

In the cool and quiet of the early morning, we began the day dodging meteorite sized potholes as the sun crept above the horizon. It almost felt like a scene from Mad Max. Amidst all the craziness, it wouldn’t have felt odd at all for Tina to appear in monolith form, bearing that signature stance she has that commands attention.

Pot hole after pothole, truck after polluting truck, the reality of our endeavour kicks in. A huge, overloaded truck spewing toxic black smoke from its side overtakes us, leaving us suffocated in his putrid fumes and blinded by smoke. We are reminded that we are the most insignificant motorised vehicle on the Indian highway. Though motorbikes are smaller, their manoeuvrability and speed gives them a higher ranking in the vehicle pecking order. I’ve done my damnedest for the plight of the Tuk Tuk to command respect from the bullies of the highway and in 10 days of driving have bought 2 oncoming trucks to a grinding halt as they tried to push us out of our lane.

Ironically, a large proportion of trucks have “Obey Road Rules” splashed across their rear. The best I’ve seen is a truck with “God bless you” painted on the front and “Good Luck” painted on the back. Some even have rear mud flaps with “Good” on the left and “Luck” on the right. This is probably the most useful message to prepare you for your time on the Indian roads. Nearly all trucks have “Horn Please” or “Blow Horn” clearly signed on the rear of their vehicles.

A truck has just sped past us bearing the phrase “Slow Drive, Long Life”. How about a little less professing and a little more doing!

Lets talk Bling! These truckers love to pimp their vehicles. Generally the whole front cab has been painted with a well thought out scheme to give an individual flavour to yet another branded factory vehicle. Many go to great lengths painting the diesel tank and tailgate. If they actually still have a windscreen you may find an assortment of tassels and dangling adornments carefully placed around it. Some adhere a coloured sticker system that makes it look like a smashed windscreen. How they can see through this web of brightness I have no idea.

With hundreds of kilometres of pothole laden road, the battle between truck and Tuk Tuk is like a cat and mouse game. The trucks do well on the particularly bad sections of road with big wheels and at least a hint of suspension, while the Tuk Tuk is almost bought to a grinding halt trying to push through. When small good sections of road present themselves, we go full throttle trying to gain some kilometres. This is where it is possible to leave the trucks behind as their overloaded vehicles constrict them. And so the cat and mouse chase becomes part of the days driving.

West Bengal has banned 2 stroke engines, so all the Tuk Tuks run on gas. Poor Uggi keeps losing one of the bolts that keeps the exhaust in place and we needed to restock. If you’re planning on driving a Tuk Tuk across India, take your own bolts – not easy to source. The beauty of these maintenance stops is the intrigue of, and interaction with the locals. We are always sure to draw an interested crowd. People in rural India are pleasant and kind. I have not felt unsafe or threatened, quite the opposite. I have enjoyed all the beautiful people who have taken an interest in our journey and stopped to chat. I have enjoyed watching village life like a voyeur catching glimpses of daily life.

We had planned to try to get our Tuk Tuk’s serviced in Bharumpur (90km’s) into our days drive, however after 2 failed attempts at trying to find a mechanic, Chris decided he would do the service himself. We arrived at our hotel at around 3.00pm and the guys got started. By 6.00pm as night was imminent they were still hard at it. We had 2 different model Tuk Tuks and ours didn’t have a manual. Half of our paperwork and manual were missing from our pack. Sterling effort from the boys.

We ran into team ‘Chutney Chunga’s” and swapped stories.

Another soul enriching day.

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Day 9 – Chandipur – krishnanagari (375km)

Tuesday, April 16th, 2013

Day 9 – In the dark of the night

We awoke this morning to the coolness of a fresh sea breeze, coupled with lightening and the smell of imminent rain. A refreshing change from the subarctic air conditioning we’ve been sleeping in.

The restaurant waiter agreed to open the kitchen at 5.45am to serve us coffee before we hit the road. Like everything associated with checking in and out of an Indian hotel, this took longer than expected. Coffee is served white with way too much milk, way too much sugar and not much in the way of flavour. We requested it black with no sugar. The no sugar request almost always garners a baffled expression. Indians like their drinks sweet. The caffeine hit is a welcome start to prepare one for the 12 hours ahead on the chaotic, death trap that is the Indian roads.

Today we bid farewell to our friend, the ocean, and drove by the morning village activities. I will miss the ocean, it has bought us calm and reprieve at the end of long days on the road. It’s quite beautiful in the cool of the morning to watch the village wake. It begins slowly with fruit vendors displaying their wares and cyclists and rickshaw riders claim the roads before the onslaught of automated vehicles squeeze them out to the edges. I’ve painted a calm and tranquil picture and its true unless you happen across market day – the village traffic then becomes worse than the NH 5 as you find yourself squeezing between a rickshaw and an ox while trying not to stall as you navigate the crowds of people moving in all directions and vendors with their wares spilling onto the roadside. Essentially it’s like a mosh pit, you have to move with the flow of the mayhem. Too slow and you bring the organised chaos to a grinding halt, too quick and you’ll kill a cow or a villager – neither is a situation you will navigate your way out of in a hurry.

Today we found oranges and sourced a fresh stash of apples and bananas. Poor Uggi blew another spark plug and the bolt that holds the battery casing together went a miss. With no spare bolt, Chris cleverly secured it with a cable tie and we all headed off for the NH60, the NH5 ‘s poorer cousin.

One might be mistaken for thinking the NH60 had endured an earthquake. It has a large zig zagging crack right down the centre of the left lane, adding yet another layer of danger to the days journey. Uggi’s wheels are pretty small and the entire stability of the vehicle doesn’t take well to hitting that crack. In attempting to avoid it, you risk being wiped out by any number of vehicles overtaking on your left or right unannounced, not to mention the ones coming straight at you. Truck drivers in West Bengal are a little more polite, if they know you are trying to overtake, they’ll wave you through. Today Markus was kindly waved through by a truck driver directly into an oncoming bus, yeh! thanks for that.

If we were playing a computer game, and it feels like we are – then today we’ve advanced a level. Markus’ unwavering Indian calm went out the window. With a few expletives and some serious honking, we endured an onslaught of trucks hurtling toward us with their high pitched screechy horns blasting, for a good few hours. I think the Indian roads could well be used as an interrogation tactic. The prisoner will be driven around India until he relents.

Seeking reprieve, we decided a lunch break was in order. Chris in the lead Tuk Tuk guided us into a roadside restaurant that had a bakery and supermarket, the only western style shops we have come across in all our travels. It was pure bliss as they had refrigerated chocolate and the supermarket was air-conditioned. Thank you Temp Store.

We had a lot of discussion last night about the route we should take and ended up agreeing to skirt the edges of Kolkatta. What we hadn’t counted on was Tuk Tuks not being permitted on the NH6 Toll. Despite language barriers, this was made abundantly clear as 7 uniformed toll guards advanced toward us, shaking their heads and saying ‘No Auto’. Alrighty then, 7 of you are in agreement about this, so I guess there’s no room to move. I am dismayed that rules such as this are so strongly enforced, yet infringements such as speed and travelling in the wrong direction down a national highway don’t get a bat of an eyelid form the authorities. In fact, the only vehicle I’ve seen travelling faster than a bus is a police vehicle, and I can positively assure you, without a glimmer of a doubt that they weren’t chasing a motorist.

So, we are at the Toll Booth with 2 lanes of traffic advancing in a single direction towards us and the toll booth guards are pointing to a road on our left, running parallel below us. Great we have another option, but how do we get to that road? Oh yes of coarse we turn around, advance into oncoming traffic and back track 500 metres to the exit ramp. The funny thing was that none of us batted an eyelid at this suggestion, and off we went happily into oncoming traffic. We’d barely made it a kilometre on our new road when the police signalled with a very stern finger and expression for us to pull over. You’re kidding me right, with all the life threatening mania going down on these roads, you want to apprehend 3 foreigners in a Tuk Tuk for a licence check? A silly waste of everyone’s time.

Shortly onwards we hit the NH 34, which Adam has aptly named ‘National holeway 34’. This highway has potholes that look like meteorites have been pummelled into the road. Markus and Chris navigated this section of road and I don’t envy them, it was a tough stretch. Literally pothole after pothole, the size of 2 truck tyres. I’d hate to be on this road in wet conditions, how you’d navigate potholes filled with water is anyone’s guess. We were later than expected and had taken about 12 hours to do 375km and daylight was beginning to die, a bit like our car lights. Adam and I, passengers in the back, enquired as to whether Markus had the head lights on, ‘Yep’ the big German replied, “It just has to get darker to see them”. We weren’t seeing any light and with trucks and buses hurtling at us en masse I insisted we pull over and review the situation. I’m fine signing up to drive a Tuk Tuk across India, I’m even OK getting my motorbike license to do so, but driving with these mentally deranged motorists in a Tuk Tuk at night with no lights is one step further than I’m prepared to take it. It was Chris to the rescue again quickly using gaffa to secure a spare light he’d brought from home, and onwards we went in the dark of the night with only faith to guide us. We had light, but now our horn didn’t work. There’s one thing you don’t want to lose in India and that’s your horn. We had to decide horn or light – we went with light.

We arrived safely at Hotel Haveli a little after 7.00pm to find a bar and Chivers Regal whiskey. Well Hello India, somebody drinks. We had a great night with Carol enjoying Pina Colada’s and I the Chivers. These are the rewards for surviving yet another day.

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