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