Our final days in India were to be spent in Delhi. So we left Jaisalmer on the morning of Monday on board a vehicle that traveled at a mind-boggling 80km/h most of the way, without a single breakdown. Back to civilization/technology. We were off to Jodhpur airport to board another vehicle that traveled at an even faster speed without breaking down (to our satisfaction and relief).
Arriving at the airport, we saw a number of teams that have also made the journey to Jodhpur airport to fly out to Delhi/Mumbai where they would be catching their connection flights back home. Most were leaving India. Few stayed behind to continue the adventure of discovering India.
Leaving Varanasi early Sunday morning was painful. It is such a great city, beautiful in its chaos, spiritual in its own soothing way, but most of all it is a city we saw very little of. To all visiting India, Varanasi should definitely be a stop on your itinerary.
I have now officially become the worst blogger. We have documented our trip in pictures and videos and lovely memories. They will be uploaded eventually :p In the meantime, let me walk you through the last four days of madness on the rickshaw run. To be honest though, last four days pale in difficulty to the first four days we had. Nevertheless, quite eventful and full of wonderful moments and people.
Wake up at 5am. Again. Get the packing done as quickly as possible. We have a long road ahead today. We're hoping to arrive in Agra tomorrow to witness the beauty of the Taj Mahal. So our itinerary for the day leads us towards Kanpur which is approximately 300km south east of Agra.
The illegal immigrants, rare travels and rick dangerous were with us through the last five days in a lovely little convoy, and so we pushed on from Varanasi, together once again. Only this time, our carburetor problems make us much of a burden, and we keep stopping every couple of kilometers, slowing down the convoy. After a quick caucus, the convoy agreed to the Blue Camels' request to be left behind at the mechanic's while they press ahead, with the intent of meeting each other later on in the day, somewhere down the road to Kanpur.
H2 quickly finds breakfast (some awesome spicy aloo matar, potatoes and green peas, with little rotis). We descend on it like a pack of wild dogs, as our mechanic, silent as a dead person, takes apart "she who cannot be named" and cleans her out. Fast forward 45 minutes, and we're on the road again, after taking photos and giving away Bahrain memorabilia to the crowd that were surrounding us at the garage.
Except for the 8 decibels of exhaust pipe banging to the bumper in the back, the beast was running smoothly. We're pushing 60km/h. That's terrific. We might be able to catch up with the convoy; we are after all, only 1 hour behind. Alas, things never go to plan, and 20 minutes into our rejuvenated ride on the beast our carburetor clonks again, and we slow down to a stop on the National Highway. We're not feeling so good right now. After a day of rest and service we thought she would be up to the task. We get out, figure our options. Allahabad is only 60km away. Let's get there and look for a mechanic. Again.
We arrive eventually in Allahabad, and some random dudes off the road start asking us to pay tax. We argue and plea with them, and eventually they let us through without tax. Mind you, it was Rs20 (200 fils/30 cents). It wasn't about money. It was principle. We're not paying, period.
Off we go towards where we were told there was a mechanic. After much explaining in broken english/hindi/sign language, the crowd makes way to Mr. Khamrej, who looks like a war veteran. He bids us to ride with him, to a place near by where he has a 'friend', who happens to know auto-rickshaws inside out. We arrive at said place, and said man descends upon "she who cannot be named", quickly diagnosing the problem and coming up with a solution. Solution: take apart the carburetor, fully! and clean everything including exhaust pipe and air filter.
2 hours and several chai-from-plastic-bags later, Khamrej invites us to his humble abode to share chai with him. This is a sign of respect and friendship, and although we are trailing the convoy by a good four hours by now, we take him up on the offer and proceed to his lovely little home. His son, Vitali, is a great character who speaks some English (oh, Khamrej doesn't speak any English, but somehow we still have some phone conversations that last over 3 minutes long) and shows us around the house and his cow. Yes, Vitali owns a cow. India.
Off we go, the beast sounds like she just came out of the showroom. It is a lovely feeling, this is. So we are flying down the highway, making up some wonderful time, as we bear down to Kanpur to hopefully meet the convoy. Hours and hours we drive, as always, into the sun. As we near Kanpur we check in with the rest of the convoy. They haven't found a place to stay yet. Somehow we lose connection with them and end up in McDonald's. Shame. We eat like the hungry Bahrainis we are, and continue to discuss our plans for the evening.
H2 almost convinced us to do a night ride to Agra. Luckily, the McMaharaja and McNuggets settled those feelings of adventure, and so we check into a nice little hotel down the road.
The convoy has separated. Rick Dangerous is actually on the road still, 180km outside Agra. The Illegal Immigrants and Rare Travels are 100km away from us. The camels are alone once again. And yet, as we put our heads down to sleep that night, none of us worried what the next day would present to us in challenges and rewards.
Distance covered: 330km
We need to make it to Agra today. Around 300km away, it is bound to be a long one.
Wake up at 5am. Get packed. We were out of bed and on the road in about 30 minutes, and out of Kanpur in about 45 minutes. Got lost a couple of times. Tariq's iPhone Google Maps is still not working as phone connection is clonking.
The convoy is ahead of us by 180km this morning. We push on, on the National Highway pushing 60km/h. This is becoming easy. The road is giving us space and we're making some good time. At around 12pm, we have already covered 200km of road. We sit down to chill and have some chai, even though it is sweltering hot outside.
We check up on the convoy. They are actually behind us!! The illegal immigrants ran into some carburetor problems. So we waited in the little tea place we were in, and lo and behold we are brought together with our lovely convoy made up of Nambi, Duncan, Mark, Candace and Mama Citlali. It's been less than 48h, but we miss them. It's good to see them.
We ride in convoy to Agra. Reach there. Check in. Quickly make it to Taj Mahal. This part cannot be put into words. You must visit this wonder of the world. It blew all of us away. We took some lovely photos and our tour guide enchanted us with tall tales of the building of this great palace and its history. It is magical being here, and at sunset. We just float around the Taj, talking, smiling, and bumping into other rickshaw run teams.
We meet a Bahraini, Houda Sangoor, who was in India for some conferences. Lovely bumping into a Bahraini so far away from home. She was shocked and amazed at what we were attempting, and wished us the very best of luck. God bless you, Houda.
The evening fizzles out into a nice dinner with the convoy and "You've Korma Be Joking", who are made up of 5 individuals on two different rickshaws. Fun times, indeed.
Distance covered: 273km
Up in the am. We make the hard decision of leaving the convoy once again, as we were hoping to get some video footage with the Taj Mahal as the backdrop. We head over to the opposite bank of the Yamuna River, and we get some great videos for World Diabetes Day, our sponsors, Standard Chartered Bank and Nonoo Exchange. La La and Vikcy, two lovely little Indians help us navigate the streets of Agra, and purchase some gifts and souvenirs.
Off we go again. We're late, leaving Agra. It's almost 12pm. We've got over 200km to cover. The beast however, is not daunted by such a feat, and impressively clocks the trip to Jaipur in less than 6 hours. Fantastico!
The convoy has settled into this lovely little hotel called Karni Niwas, where we join them. Have some dinner in the hotel, sit and chat. It becomes a long night. But that doesn't matter at this point, because The Blue Camels are sleeping in tomorrow and seeing the city + doing some diabetes interviews at local hospital plus medical college.
Distance covered: 240km
Wake up late. Have some eggs and head to the hospital for some interviews. The local hospital is packed to the brim. H1 and T-man navigate the crowd, try to pry away some doctors, but with no success.
Make it to the medical college and get some lovely interviews with some medical students.
Off we are for some touristy stuff, after we got some diabetes footage for World Diabetes Day campaign. We eat Pizza Hut first. Yummy.
Then move on to Amber Fort. We came here with no expectations, and this site blew us away. We almost started thinking "Taj Mahal ain't got nothing on this place". It's beautiful, serene and picturesque. We meet the Dubai team there. It's funny how their team name is "Right Place, Right Time", and we always bump into them on the road somewhere.
We leave Amber Fort and head to a local jewel wholesaler who rinsed us dry, but gave us some nice little trinkets in return. The jeweler, Shintu, later joins us at the Copper Chimney for a nice dinner meal.
It's been a long day, again, and tomorrow we push for the longest distance yet. To Jodhpur we go. They say it's around 350km. Ouch.
Distance covered: 0km
I will cover the story of today's ride to Jodhpur and tomorrow's ride to Jaisalmer in a later blog, hopefully published in the next few days. Tomorrow is the final push. The beast is sputtering and muttering, but we need her now more than ever. We're tired, dirty, broke and we want to sleep more than 5 hours.
Wish the camels luck. We'll need it.
Good night and god bless...
I am writing to you on the 17th of September, a lovely day by all measures. But yesterday must be documented, for its craziness has yet to be matched during this rickshaw run.
We wake up at 4 30am. I haven't done that since... wait. I haven't done that, period. Start packing frantically, as usual. We promise ourselves every night that we'd get all of our stuff packed and ready to go the next morning, but somehow that has not taken place on any of the mornings or evenings before.
Leave the room at 5 15am, to start packing our stuff on to the top of the beast and fill up our petrol tanks and tighten the bolts on our wheels. 5 30am, we're off. T has taken to the beast very nicely over the last few days and drove out this morning. Off we go. 10 minutes in, we hit a major traffic jam. T doesn't like it, so H1 takes "she who cannot be named" through side roads and over a bridge to a shortcut which helped us pass about 50 vehicles stuck in the traffic jam.
6 15am: still stuck in traffic. no way through. start driving on the wrong side of the road (which back home is the right side of the road), and squeeze through trucks and vehicles. Mostly, we are forced on to the wrong side of the road's dirt side. This feels real bad, and it doesn't look like its ending. We stop by a rickshaw going the other way. "How long is this traffic jam?", we ask. "A couple of kilometers behind me", he replies. Shocked and disappointed we try to take it meter by meter.
7 15am: still stuck in traffic. We've gotten better at threading in and out of traffic. The trucks horns are getting really loud, or our tempers and patience have started to wear out. Come to a dirt road on the right, pushed over by a truck blaring its horn at us. We now realize, our convoy of the "illegal immigrants", "rare travels" and "Rick Dangerous II) has been divided up in the traffic. I decide to push on anyway. There is no reason to wait behind; we'll meet each other in a couple of kilometers down the road. I decide to take on the septic water puddle in front of us, and splash some around inside. 4 motorcycles come our way. I dodge all but one, with some professional driving. The motorcycle falls over on its side, cushioned by all the bags the guy is carrying. He runs after us. Gets to us, obviously, since we were in insane traffic. Pulls me by my t-shirt, I tell him to relax, he just pulls me all the way to his bike and asks me to pull it up with him. Not bad, I think, for a guy I just crashed into. Off we are again, glad that didn't escalate any further.
8 15am: still stuck in traffic.
9 15am: kind of get out of it and drive at an average 20km an hour for a while.
Hit some open road. H2 has taken the helm after we stopped for biscuits and sprite. 20 minutes in, the other team's battery falls out of car. We stop, tie it back on with rope. H1 drops sunglasses as we take off. No time to stop for it again. Keep on shawing (lucky we got cheap ones from bab al bahrain). 10 minutes later H2 realizes he forgot his sunglasses on top of the other team's rickshaw. Stop to look. It's gone. We're feeling down. Add insult to injury. H2 then drives a motorbike off the road which then bumps (more like nudges) a bicycle that is off road. We feel terrible. We slow down. They look okay. We drive on. No time to stop.
12pm: Realize we have just over 200km to cover. Decide to stop for lunch. Hit up some stretch of highway where our carberator starts acting up on us again. Doesn't look good anymore. And here we were this morning thinking it was going to be a nice easy day of driving.
Stop for lunch. More dal. Roti. Everyone is silent. Somber moods. Actually, it was more like exhaustion. Everyone has just had the longest 5 days of driving, and here we are pushing on Day 6, and it's just getting to everyone, I think. Dubai team comes zooming through the dhaba (rest stop) we're in and tell us of their crazy welding escapade with some locals this morning. Everything seems to be falling apart on their rickshaw, and yet here they are making good time. Kudos, honestly. It lifts our spirits as we see their jubilant smiles and hear their funny stories.
Off we go. We're making some good speed on this open stretch of highway. Averaging around 40km/h. At this point on the rickshaw run, that feels fantastic. Our carberator is still acting up, and we're stopping every 20km or so to just let it rest for a minute, before pushing for another 20km. Somehow we're still feeling good. It's 3 30pm. We have 2 or 3 hours of sunlight left and 95km to go. We might actually make it to Varanasi.
It's 5 30pm now, we're 40km out now. So close. We're seeing grey and sometimes black clouds ahead of us. Thunder starts to rumble, lighting bolts start to shatter the sky. And in India, when it rains, IT POURS! Down it comes, in a constant curtain of water. Our wiper is weak, it's getting dark, our google maps on T's iphone has died (no battery). We're starting to feel a bit desperate again.
It gets darker and darker as we drive along. H2 is doing really well so far. Thank god he has his prescription glasses on. H1 and T man are in the back with their heads out, guiding him through the rain, the ditches, past trucks, and between them. The rain is soaking us. We are all wet, cold and tired.
The driving continues. The rain keeps on coming. The trucks that are passing us barely see us, as we have no tail lights. Our headlamp light is also out, and all we have are the orange ‘danger’ indicators on. Not good.
H2 perseveres through this gigantic monsoon shower and guides us and the shaw to a final toll booth right before Varnasi. It’s still raining, but we step outside anyway (we’re soaked all the way through at this point) and just stand around and pat each other on the back. One team missing. Rare Travels seems to have taken a wrong turn at some point. They’re not with us. A quick phone call and we decide to go ahead, and meet them in the city later on.
Head through the toll booth, where we pay no toll (is it because we’re foreigners, or because we’re driving lawnmowers?). Drive on. We expect a sign to say Varanasi soon. None materialize, and so we stop again to ask for directions. The guy is speaking Hindi, shouting mostly, but his hand gestures make us believe that Varanasi is straight ahead under the bridge to the right.
1 hour later, we’re in the middle of Varanasi. H2 is still driving. He’s done very well this evening. Thanks to his courage and grit we are standing here in the middle of Varanasi. All the hotels we called so far are booked. Somehow, that doesn’t bother us. We are where we thought we wouldn’t be a couple of hours ago. That’s great.
An hour after that we found two decent hotels. We book a triple room in Hotel Haifa, Varnasi, Uttar Pradesh, India.
It’s been a long day. We’re sore and tired. Grab a bite. We crash to bed very quickly, to have one of the best sleeps we’ve had so far this trip (9 hours!!!).
Distance covered: 330km