Namaste from Kathmandu – So we’ve made it alive and in one piece … and what an adventure.
We left Mamallapuram about 10 days ago in the pouring rain – weather proofed the rickshaw with a tarp and hit Chennai, where we got totally lost for hours, driving through huge puddles and getting soaked by spray from overtaking busses.
The Indian highway system was apparently completed in 2004, but no one told the highway builders, as many sections are still building sites. One evening we were pushing on as the sun went down, missed a diversion sign and fell off the motorway – it was all rather spooky and surreal, driving through desolate toll booths and off the end of the road into a field.
Motorway driving has its own rules – two lanes on each carriageway means you can drive either way on either side of the road – flashing your lights is obligatory, as is tooting your horn – but generally anything goes.
Food at the side of the road was always excellent – we’re not quite sure what any of it was, but if the stall or shack was busy we stopped – and never regretted it – always veggie though.
Minor accidents became a way of life, we managed to spread a guy’s shopping all over the road 😳 prang several peddle powered rickshaws, hit a bus, a parked jeep, a motorbike, have a near miss with an ambulance and have the canvas roof ripped off by a truck.
But we grew to love and admire the humble little tuk tuk, it really is the ultimate driving machine. No other vehicle can carry such a load (i.e. me) and be agile enough to weave its way at top speed through crowds of people, grid-locked traffic and towns that resemble farms yards.
We managed to loose several important bolts though – in fact, there wasn’t a day go by where a handful of bolts didn’t fall off. The exhaust was the first to go, then the engine mounts, the roof supports, the windscreen and finally the bolts that held the cab to the chassis. By Kathmandu we were rattling like a maraca.
At one point, near Cuttack, we were happily speeding along at 60km/h (~37mph), which is v. fast for a rickshaw, when the back wheels locked up – just as we were performing the simple task of overtaking a truck that was being undertaken by a bus travelling in the opposite direction on the wrong side of the road – i.e. normality. We eventually found a mechanic, who stripped the gearbox and clutch within five minutes, and had us back on the road in no time.
Finding a room for the night was always a mini adventure in itself. We learned quickly that if you tipped the bellboy for carrying your bags, you would get a visit from someone else bringing you towels, then again for soap, and toilet roll, and to check the air-con and just because we were foreigners and they wanted a tip for saying hello.
Most of the places we stayed were quite nice, but some were horrible – with bugs, without water, with blocked toilets – but what can you expect for less than a fiver a night.
After 5 days we left the highway behind for a bit of country driving in the smog covered fields around Calcutta. We kept coming across gangs of kids at road blocks asking for money to enter their village. We were told by some locals not to pay them, so we had endless fun running the road-blocks – sometimes straight through the middle, sometimes off road around them.
We eventually found Darjeeling, after a 3 hour, 75km mountain road – which was lovely – had a day off and then made a dash for the border.
The Nepal border was the typical mayhem that all border crossings are – not knowing where to go and what stamps to get from where. I eventually befriended a customs official who ran around for me as I sat sipping tea with his colleagues, and as Julie stood outside guarding the rickshaw.
Nepali driving standards are much worse than those in India. In India there were rules – Honk of the horn means I’m coming through; Flashing the lights means I’m coming towards you so move out of my way; Indicating right means you can pass me on the right, Indicating left means I’m turning right; and a shuggle of the hand out of the passenger window means let me in because there’s a truck coming towards me and if you don’t we’ll all be dead in a second.
The pecking order on Indian roads appeared to be (in order of importance): Cows, Busses, Trucks, Chickens, Cars, Motorbikes, Tuk Tuks, Dogs, Peddle Bikes and then Pedestrians.
But none of this stood in Nepal, it is a general free for all. The road is also called the pavement, the car park, the farm yard, the toilet, the bedroom and generally anything else they can think of, as long as it doesn’t involve motorised vehicles.
But we enjoyed every minute of it – we stopped off at the Chitwan Nature Reserve, where we spotted elephants, and then took the mountain road to Pokhara, which gave us a lovely afternoon off relaxing by the lakeside, overlooked by HUGE mountains.
And so on the afternoon of the fifteenth day of January two thousand and eight, we arrived in Kathmandu, where we’ve been celebrating quietly and responsibly with all the other rickshaw runners 😉
We’ve still to work out our final mileage, as the speedo broke at around 1000km (on Julies watch may I add) but other teams have been topping 4000km, so we should be around that too.
We’re going to miss our ickle ricky 🙁 but right now we’re off for more Momos … So get back to work – the lot of you.