Saturday, October 16, 2010

A special post script

Its so hard not to fall in love with all of these kids at Bachchon Ka Ghar.  We have decided to sponsor one of the kids ourselves, and Sania Kamal (immediately to my right in the photo) has joined our family in addition to Rory, India and Theravajeevan in Sri Lanka.  We would like to encourage anyone else who has the inclination to sponsor one of the kids to contact the orphanage directly.  Please email me for details.

Bachchon Ka Ghar Orphanage

The finale of our Tandoori Tour occurred yesterday witht he presentation of a cheque to Mr Faizal, the Vice Chairman at the Bachchon Ka Ghar orphanage.  We rode the motorcycles to the orphanage, and were met by the Board of Directors, staff and hordes of neatly dressed children.  Some of the kids placed garlands made from fresh carnations around our necks and we were invited to tour the orphanage facilities. 
Unlike Western orphanages, Indian orphanages also provide a temporary 'respite' facility for parents who cannot care for their kids.  At present, Bachchon Ka Ghar caters to 230 kids (110 boys and 80 girls). 
It quickly becomes evident on walking around the orphanage that the place is very basic but spotlessly clean.  Kids sleep in cramped 50-bed dormitories with the beds separated by a few inches.  There is no personal space, but very little is needed for their meagre possessions.
The dining hall consisted of a large room with benches running down either side.  Kids eat in shifts and have their food served on tin trays with tin utensils.  All were extremely clean and hygenic.
The final cheque that we presented was in two instalments and was for $13,250 / 578,445Rp.  This represents 15% of Bachchon Ka Ghar's annual operating expenses - including facilities, staff, food and all other expenses.  We verified this from their annual report, and also satisfied ourselves that all of the appropriate governance and financial structures are in place to ensure that the funds will be appropriately discharged.  The second instalment will be delivered by a Trade Commissioner from the Department of State Development on completion of the first stage of work.
Special thanks are offered to the sponsors who contributed to this donation - including
Blue Zoo
Elders Home Loans
TnT Finance
Bowen Buchbinder Vilensky Lawyers
Rotary Club of Mundaring
Elders Real Estate Kwinana
Toms Kitchen
Ice Impressions
Taurus Homes
Star 3 Media
CxO
(along with numerous friends, family and clients).

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Taj Mahal

We traded the bikes for a comfortable minivan to travel down to Agra and view the Taj Mahal.  There was no way we could face another 500km round trip on the bikes so soon after finishing the India/Nepal tour. 
There is a reason why the Taj Mahal is one of the wonders of the world.  It eclipses the Vatican in sheer beauty, and the first sight as you enter the outer walls via the west gate is breathtaking.
Shah Jahan constructed the Taj Mahal as a mausoleum for his 2nd (and favourite) wife, Mumtaz and spent 45 million rupees on it 300 years ago.  Imagine the cost in today's money.  It took 20,000 people 22 years to build it.
This is one of the most international buildings in the world, using overseers from Italy, fresco carvers from Iran and Persia, teak foundations from elsewhere in the world, tapestries from Iran, etc.  The Shah as determined to build an absolutely irreplaceable monument that offered the best from anywhere in the world. 
The building is absolutelty symmetrical from any viewpoint.  To achieve this, the minarets needed to lean outwards to preserve the correct persective (and to prevent them falling on the main building in the event of a catastrophe).  Every design element has an odd number so that one is situated in the middle and the others radiate outwards symmetrically. 

Notice the size of the people on the concourse.  This gives a sense of scale for the building.  even the marble cladding on the exterior of the building is 7 inches thick.  Because they didn't have cranes to assist with construction, the labourers built a ramp to reach the top of the dome.  The ramp was 2km long.


This is the view of the west gate (the gate to paradise).  The Taj has three gates.  One was used by the public, one by the Shah, and the other was never used as it represented the gate to paradise, to be used only on the death of the Shah.  He was eventually entombed in a coffin next to Mumtaz, but the Shah's son did not take the Shah through the west gate as a final act of defiance against his father.


Even the marble screens that surrounds the tomb of Mumtaz took 3000 people 8 years to carve. It is amazingly intricate, and each panel is a precise replica of the others. The marble is hand carved and set with precious and semi-precious stones that glitter when illuminated.


 
Artisans preserve the old skill of craving marble and inserting semi precious stones.

Mosque enroute to Agra

The sights along the side of the road can chnage from slum to opulence in an instant in India.  The mosque shown in these photos is surrounded by a shanty town of tin sheds and has people sifting through garbage.  Trucks roar past on a major road, and the entire atmosphere is one of chaos.  As soon as you step through the doors of the mosque though, the sounds is lost and people are sitting in peaceful contemplation. 


Riding in India is a dirty business

Cleaning our faces at the end of each few hours required some serious scrubbing, as the combination of dust, diesel fumes and pollution caked our faces and clothes with a black grime.
Whisky was used to cleanse our insides ...

Thursday, October 14, 2010

New Delhi's Red Fort

Some of the Islamic architecture is stunning, with soaring columns and intricate carvings and frescos.


Border crossing and the home run to Delhi

The border crossing at Mahendranagar is a stubble of rock and a congo line of trucks, cars, bicycles and horse/buffalo drawn carts.  Nepalese emmigration was as easy as a stamp in the passport; Indian immigration was the usual mess of forms and conflicting information.  It was interesting to see the distress of a couple of backpackers who had managed to get past Nepalese emmigration without a stamp in their passport only to be told by the Indians that they couldn't do anything without the stamp.  This wouldn't normally be a problem - except that the two border posts are about 2km apart in no man's land with just broken rock for a road.  It was going to be a long and gruelling walk back for them.


As soon as we were across the border and in India again , we stopped for breakfast in preparation for the indian road system and its psychotic occupants.

With full bellys we hit the road to see how close we could get to Delhi that day. 
I had my first fall of the tour when we pulled over to sample some aloo bhaji from a stand under a large tree on the side of the road.  As I swung my leg off the bike, it hit my luggage bag and toppled the whole bike over on top of me.  Ty was pulling in behind me, and I glimpsed the glee on his face as he saw my bike go down.  I would have been in for some extended teasing, however he was laughing so hard that his concentration lapsed and his front wheel went out from under him on the loose surface.  He ended up tumbling off his own bike and we sat sprawled in the dirt together.
Despite pot holes and wrong turns, we found ourselves within reach of Delhi for nightfall and made the decision to press on.  Brad had managed to secure some accomodation for us at the Delhi Sheraton and this was a powerful incentive as opposed to spending another night in some minus two star roadside hotel.  Despite the traffic chaos of Delhi we arrived at 9:30pm to finish the Tandoori Tour.

The run to the border

Having caught up and rejoined the group on the following morning, we decided to have a massive day in the saddle to try an get back on schedule.  Welding and repairs were out of the way early and we were on the road by mid morning.  On previous days we had averaged speeds of about 20km per hour over the day due to poor roads, breakdowns and general fatigue.  A full day should have seen us travel about 200km in ten hours. 
Small Maoist cells still try it on in some of the small townships by blocking the road and soliciting 'donations'.  We simply road around many of these without stopping.  On one occasion where they had strung red tape across the road; we roared up on the bikes and said "up, up, quick up".  They were quite surprised, and actually did it - giving us enough time to belt off up the road and leaving a few bewildered locals who were fishing in their pockets for cash.
We were pleased (and astonished) to find smooth and flat roads where we could really open the bikes up (well, to 90km pr hour) and we made good time all day.  So much so that we found ourselves at the border as dusk fell.  Jeff and Brad were despatched to find alternative lodgings after our intended hotel proved unsatisfactory.  They located somewhere that was an improvement - even though the rooms were filled with bugs, the bed linen bore the stains from many previous occupants, and the bus station offered a chorus of horns from 3am onwards.  Certainly not one of the better night's sleep that we have had, and needed a bath in aeroguard before sleep.

Unscheduled stop in Baliban

The road out of Pokara started well with broad sweeping corners and lovely tight hairpin bends as it followed the course of the Chitwan River.  As the afternoon wore on, the road conditions deteriorated until we were all fighting fatigue and broken equipment.  The group had become separated by nightfall, with four riders about 50km ahead of the rest of the group.  Jason hit a brick wall sometime after dark and simply couldn't go any further.  His bike had been problematic, with two bnroken subframes causing it to be very unstable and  difficult to control.
It was unfortunate that this coincided with our arrival in the township of Baliban.  Arriving late at night to a town that is in complete darkness except for cooking fires, large groups of men roaming around, and derelict buildings everywhere didn't inspire confidence.  It was a measure of Jason's fatigue that we found ourselves with little choice but to seek accomodation.  Ty and Brad waited out of town until we sourced somewhere to stay that would also allow the bikes in the lobby for safety overnight.  Simply getting the bikes inside was a mission, as they needed to go up a dusty and badly rutted ramp to get to the hotel front entrance (which was just a tin roller door).  Describing the rooms as 'basic' would be very generous.

Daily life can be hard in Nepal

Lovely Nepalese Kids

Mates on a mountain

Sunday, October 10, 2010

A sad ending to the evening in Pokhara

Pokhara is a stunning little city that is ringed by dramatic rocky peaks covered in snow.  the anapurna range is black rocks and makes a sensational contrast for the white snow.  Our hotel for the night (Fishtail Lodge) was accessible only by a hand drawn pontoon across a lake, and is so sympathetic to the environment that it is completely invisible from the banks of the river.
A lovely dinner in Pokara turned sour when we witnessed a motorcyclist try to run from a police blockade.  Sadly, he didn't see a parked black car and ran straight into the back of it.  No helmet and no protective gear guaranteed significant injuries.  As is so often the case in this part of the world, a large crowd gathered and were quite content to simply watch the chap bleed to death.  No one offered any form of assistance, including the Police. 
We organised a taxi to take the chap to the hospital.  The Pokhara Hospital is somewhere that I hope none of us ever need.  arrival at the hospital was met with polite disinterest, and the triage nurses were attempting to simply pull the injured chap from the car to get him on a gurney.  It took a combination of cajoling and threatening to get them to find and fit a neck brace.  His clothes were cut away with a pair of rusty shears before treatment could start.  Eventually an orthopaedic surgeon arrived, and wasn't able to get any reflex response below the waist.  A cat scan was required but the machine was broken (surprise, surprise).  We left as they were trying to arrange a transfer to another hospital.  Given the standard of the ambulances and the roads, his chances are not good.
This is a good reminder of how carelessly life is treated here, and that quite a simple incident can have tragic consequences given the lack of medical care.

Cable cars and animal sacrifices

The road from Kathmandu to Pokara is a killer (in the literal sense).  Carved precariously out of the side of the mountain, it is deeply rutted and washed away.  Rock falls are common, almost as common as accidents.  You would think that local drivers would show real caution on a treacherous road like this, but they careen down the hills at great speed by bus, truck and 4-wheel drive.  All are in an apalling state of repair, and passing fatal accidents is depresssingly common.
The fun really starts once you get to the  base of the mountain though.  Curving through the range and following the path of the Chitwan river, the road is an endless series of tight corners and sweeping bends.  The road surface is better than anything else we have seen in Nepal, and it is great to really open the bikes up for a while.  It takes all day in the saddle to reach Manakamana by nightfall - however it has been an exhilarating experience.  Dave  Moore was the only on to take a spill, coming unseated whilst riding through a spillway.  The curface was mossy underneath the water and the bike simply vanished from underneath him.  Dave is a seasoned offroad rider though, and was back up in a minute or two and ready to carry on.
Manakamana is stuck on a hillside across from a temple of the same name.  Our visit coincided with the 8th day of the waning moon.  This day is auspicious to many Hindi people, and the bring an animal sacrifice to the temple to be blessed with fertility and good fortune (hmm, are they linked?)  The entry prices show adults at 350Rp return, children at 150Rp return, and animals at 250Rp one way.  These guys don't get to come back down the mountain.
A cable car takes you across the river and then up an impossibly steep climb to the top of the mountain.  Once at the top, the ground falls away and the cable car leaps across a deep valley to the next peak.  Exiting the cable car station, we need to climb still higher on steps through a lovely little township until we reach the temple at the summit.  This is really quite etereal and would not have looked any different in the middle ages.  The temple is swathed in smoke for a dozen large braziers, people are ringing huge brass bells all around - and we are certainly the only western faces.  The 'blesssing' action occurs around the back of the temple, and we follow a group of devotees leading their offerings to sacrifice.  The sacrifice yard is tiled and about 6m square.  The entire yard is carpeted in a slippery mat of bright red blood that also extends some way up the walls. 

We watch as a goat is led into the yard, wild eyed because it can smell the blood and perhaps its fate as well.  The priest is very calm and clinical.   He simply picks up the goat and raises it above his shoulders.  It is slammed to the grouond with an audible thud, the neck is twisted back, and one sweep of an impossibly sharp blade severs the entire head.  Jason wasn't quite quick enough to dodge a fountain of blood from a chicken that was next, and now has a permanent reminder of the event on his good t-shirt.
Leaving for Pokara this afternoon.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Arrival in Kathmandu

Well, we had everything thrown at us in one day yesterday.
We didnt get away from Hetauda until mid afternoon .
The road from Hetauda to Kathmandu started out magnificently.  Tight hairpin bends that just went up and up and up, through the cloud layer, then up and up and up some more.  Stopped at a lovely village on the top of a mountain, and played with a heap of kids.  All of them are so cute and sneak up for a cuddle.  A quick swig of a pepsi bottle let us top it up with possibly the worst whisky ever manufactured, but at least it provided some internal warmth.  The hairpin bends continued for hours, with sheer drops off the outside and no safety margin at all.  Speeds quite low though, with the bikes rarely hitting 40kph as the corners come at you too fast.  Everyone was in really high spirits and each stop was a minor celebration.
Sadly, as it got dark, things started to go downhill very quickly (not in a geographical sense).  In the space of half an hour, the road deteriorated to little more than a goat track, corners washed away and very deep ruts to navigate.  As central asian freight tends to move at night, the road became congested with Tata's; and this generated solid walls of dust.  This was the most challenging riding conditions yet, and everyone was very conscious that 'getting it wrong' left no margin for error at all. 
The harsh conditions took their toll on the bikes as well, with constant breakdowns.  the engins have been fine, but the frames are just not coping with this.  Both Daves have broken subframes again, Brad's clutch has given up, electrics are intermittent, and two of the bikes need to be kick started or pushed to get going once we stop. 
It got much more dangerous when Ty's lights gave out as well, and the last three hours were in darkness.  Thank goodness for the old head lamp that he bought before leaving Perth.  With this strapped to his helmet and a flashing LED lamp on the back of his jacket, we limped into Kathmandu.
It took nearly 9 hours to cover the 190km to Kathmandu.  Everyone is tired, sore, blistered, and there have been some flared tempers. The team dynamic is good though, and we understand and let stuff slide, rather than respond.  This means you get to blow off steam and then 'rejoin the group' withou any issues (it's a guy thing).
Stayed in the Hyatt in Kathmandu last night.  Expensive - but we all really needed a break with a shower and a chance to feel human again.  I had a bath, and then a shower straight afterwards where I scrubbed to get all the dirt and dust out of places it had no right to be.  Despite that, I looked at the towel afterwards and it was a lovely shade of dark grey.
Despite the dangers and hard physical conditions, everyone was exhilarated to make it to Kathmandu last night (at 11pm), and all felt very much alive and a sense of achievement. 
Need to carry out repairs this morning, then off to Pokhara this afternoon.

Monsoon smoko

Road hazards come in all forms

Whether it's a cow or a monkey, hitting it at speed will have similar consequences.

Bugs come in super sizes in Nepal

Barefoot at the blacksmith

Colours are astonishing

The kids are gorgeous - saying namaste

Fame (but no fortune)

We turned up at a shop in Hetuada to buy sunglasses, and the shop girl already knew about us.  She knew we were from Australia and were riding from Kolkata to Kathmandu and taking funds to an orphanage for girls. 
She knew this  because the story and a photo had run in the Nepali Times a few days ago.  Apparently it was newsworthy because no one really visits the eastern terai at all, and because no one donates funds to support girls.  Both worth a mention in the local rag.  Gavin is trying to get a copy for the folks at home.

Breakfast wherever you can get it

Our suntans are coming along nicely

Ty's snake

There was a young chap wandering around with a snake on his shoulder.  We all had a pat and a cuddle : and a chuckle at Dave Tenni's face when he was told that the chap had caught it in the garden a few minutes earlier.  Brad was last seen several blocks away (snake phobia)

Can you spot the hazard in this photo?

Making a dash for safety - Enfields coming through ...

Breakfast : corn cakes dipped in dahl

Ty standing in a village at the top of the world

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Kathmandu tonight ......

All good now. 

 

Mechanics were arrested on re-entering the nepalese border because they the border cops didn't believe that they were bringing us parts. 

 

An enfield is easily the most powerful and expensive type of bike in Nepal, and there is a thriving spare parts black market. Customs found enough spares for two bikes with Rasul (and they were on one bike) so assumed that they were trying to evade paying duty. This caused a three hour delay, and our hotel manager eventually had to go down and sort it out with the police by assuring them that there actually were six more enfields at his hotel (two if them broken). No bribe, no fine, no problem. 

 

Our challenge now is four hours of daylight to make a 4.5 hour journey where the last hour is so rough that it is only passable by motorcycle. Basically a muddy up-mountain track. 

 

Should be interesting.

 

Kathmandu tonight ......

 

Mechanics Missing in Action

We are experiencing some frustration as the mechanics took off to get parts at 6am today and haven't yet returned. No news, and we are wondering if they have come unstuck somewhere. 

Contingency planning now - both worried about them, and where to from here. 

 

7 October 2010

 

Discovered a casualty from the monsoonal squall yesterday. My waterproof pocket is not waterproof - and nor is the camera.

Will try to pick up a replacement in Kathmandu tonight.

 

Everyone well rested today and raring to go.

 

7 October 2010

We hit the road pretty early this morning as the intention was to make it to Kathmandu.

Breakfast was at a little stall outside a temple in the middle of nowhere.
We crowded into a little hut that had a big samovar on top of a coal fire. A  woman was cooking millet cakes in it (just millet and water) that were quite  hard and very dry. It was smoky inside, but a pleasant smell.

The rest of the morning was spent riding across the terai with bridge after bridge after bridge. Roads were mostly good with only one largish water crossing. Drenched but fun, and the blazing sun dried our clothes within a couple of km.

Later in the morning, the roads got us again with two bikes suffering broken  frames. We had to hunt around in several villages before we found someone  with a welder.

Once we left the Janakpur turnoff, the clouds started to roll in really  quickly. A few drops quickly turned into a monsoonal downpour. Visibility  dropped to a few meters, and the temperature went from uncomfortably hot to  freezing cold.

The group sought shelter except for ty (leading) and me (2nd position) who  missed them stopping. We carried on for about 40km in the downpour until we  were climbing into the mountains.

Just as the sun broke through, the rear sprocket on tys bike gave up and we ground to a halt. It was a long and soggy wait for the rest to rejoin us an  hour or so later. We took off our boots while we waited as they were
pretty much full to the brim with water.The bike could not be fixed with our onboard supply of spares, so we
distributed luggage and people them limped into Hetauda for the might.Rasul and Monday (his assistant) cannibalized one of the other bikes and  rode back to reclaim the bike. Sadly, the required parts simply aren't
available here and they must leave at 5am to travel back across the border  into India, purchase the parts, and then ride all the way back to Hetauda to make the repair (round trip up to 5hrs). These guys are absolute heroes, there is nothing that is too much trouble for them and they can carry out a complete engine rebuild literally in the dirt on the side of the road.

Kathmandu tomorrow.

6 October 2010

We left Siliguri on 'national highway 31' (absolute disgrace) and could
barely manage some potholes that had no daylight at the bottom. It took 2
hours to cover the 27km to the Nepalese border.

We were all a little nervous about entering the eastern terai region as it
is known for fearsome torrential rivers, washed out roads, and general
lawlessness. Wow- precisely the opposite is true. The landscape is simply
stunning, with broad floodways that are almost dry at the moment and filled
with a flowering plant that stands head high and looks like snow on a stick.
There is a sea of this stuff everywhere you look, against a background of
the himalayas foothills.

The nepalese people are SO lovely. They are very striking looking and have
the most enormous smiles. Stopping anywhere brings a small crowd of curious
people. If there are kids around, then I whip out the iPhone and show them
some of rorys games. You should see their little faces light up,
sensational.

Stayed last night in itahari on the terai, and noted that we had not seen a
single western face since Calcutta and had spoken no English with locals
since the Nepalese border. Dinner in itahari was astonishingly bad. Constant
power outages (a feature of life in Nepal) and bad service made for an
unpleasant evening. Glad to go to bed.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Nepal border

Eastern Teria

At a welding shop to fix a broken chassis - again!

Pit stops every 50km

Sheltering from torential rain in a Nepalese family's house

Fuel stop, Eastern Terai

Blog pic



Our mechanics, Radul and Manjay

photo



Toy koalas and photos on the computer totally won the day :-)

6 October 2010 - update

Dave and Gavin have surfaced in Kathmandu and we will meet up with them
tomorrow. They made contact via Australian back up source.
Coms here are very difficult.

We have today driven through 50km's of absolutely driving rain. Tired but
feeling a great sense of achievement.

5 October 2010

All okay and safely across the Eastern Terai. Everyone stayed in the saddle
again today. Actually a lovely ride, and the Nepali people are brilliant. Have some
fantastic footage. The mechanics have been absolutely fantastic - so many broken frames and
shock absorber fixes. Staying at hehuada tonight and on to Kathmandu tomorrow.
Have lost Dave Moore and Gavin for 2 days. Will try to regroup in Kathmandu, otherwise will need to see them again in Delhi (hopefully all okay). Have made every attempt to contact them via all possible means to no avail. Comms is very very very difficult here.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

4 October 2010

Heading off to Nepalese border. 

At Kharkhibatta now. 

We may be out of contact for a day or two.   Phone and internet here are very challenging.

Road washouts have apparently been mostly repaired and we should get a clear run through to Janakpur today (fingers crossed).

4 October 2010

It’s a new day, its a new dawn, it’s a new life for me,  and  Im feeeeeeling sore!

Funny story.  Dave, Dave and Gav hopped in a rickshaw last night to grab a quick meal.  Nice to let someone else navigate the vagrancies of the traffic.  Their rickshaw rider set off down a slope but he couldnt stop the cart (something about mass and acceleration…..).  It ripped down the hill, then crashed into a small shop tipping them all out and knocking both the rickshaw and the shop over.  No one was hurt but a huge crowd gathered to stand around for some length of time and laugh.

We have decided to continue on our journey.  Another day to get to know the craziness of the Indian roadscape and culture, and each other The team is working well together , especially given some of us only shook hands recently. 

Mechanics earned their keep last night they have been a wise investment.

·       Dave M buckled wheel and later snapped frame.

·       Tony lost all oil

·       Ty new clutch

·       Jeff broken mirrors

·       Brad broken heaps……………

First 4 hours in the saddle took us 139 kms half way from Farraka to Siliguri (say that with an Indian accent for best effect).

There are an astonishing number of very serious accidents enroute none of them ours .  The truck drivers are public enemy #1.  Both Jason and I have been forced off the road several times today.

Ty skidded off too, but was okay.   These are by far the most challenging roads I have ever traversed by at least 1000 times (and there have been some shockers in the past). 

We all made it to Siliguri in one piece good bits and bad bits about today.  Challenging but doable.  Totally naffed!

3 October 2010 Update 3

10.30pm We are all still together and in one piece -absolute bloody miracle.

Brad came off the bike this afternoon.  Not too bad but thoughts were he may need to go home. He pressed on but travelled about 50km/2 hrs behind the lead due to injury.

His bike is pretty banged up he is too.  He was knocked out briefly and his  helmet and body armour dented, but has only sustained a deep graze to his arm. The mechanics will be working most of the night on his bike for tomorrow.

 

Everyone is physically and mentally trashed.T  he level of alertness and fitness has been vastly underestimated.  No one wants to bail out (tempting), but no one wants another day like today either.

 

3 October 2010 Update 2

The traffic here is aggressive beyond belief.  First bingle of the trip has already occurred.  Jeff was knocked off at about 60kmph by an Indian rider He is both shaken and stirred, but okay. 

A bit of tension around the situation.  Bike carrying 3 in total and one chap with a knife particularly upset.  Resolved the situation with the international peace keeper cash and departed with no major injuries, and the holiday fund  $200 down.  Lunch time and only ¼ of the way to Farakka which was estimated at just under 5 hours ride time!

Some of the lads were talking about discarding jackets due to the heat, however expectations have been reset.  Jeffs accident could have been far worse without the body armour. 

 

FW: 3 October 2010 Update

Perth to KL tick

KL to Calcutta tick

Bikes arrived tick

Too easy so far.

Our mechanics had a tough time checking into the hotel as no one believed they that some foreigners were going to pay them.

Calcutta traffic is complete chaos – a cacophony of blaring horns through the dust.

Our challenge as we depart will be to stay together, stay upright and stay in one piece.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

36 Hours To Go

Final preparations are now underway, last minute items being crammed into tank bags, and anti-malarial tablets being swallowed.  Boarding passes are printed (hopefully), and taxis booked. 

In 48 hours time, we will be landing at Dum Dum airport to face the crush of Calcutta and to meet Rasul the mechanic/guide/translator. 

Better hope he is a great mechanic, seeing as he doesn't speak any English and has never travelled beyond greater New Delhi.

Currency Controls

For those of you planning on taking some INR to India, please change the plan.  The Indian government has currency control restrictions in place, and any INR that you have in your possession may be forfeit at immigration.  There are a heap of ATMs available in Calcutta, and you can use your Visa/Mastercard in them to get cash on arrival (Diners or Amex : good luck...)   Please take special note that your card is unlikely to work in India unless has the PLUS logo on the reverse side. This logo replaces the old CIRRUS /MAESTRO logo, and is three triangles to the left of the word ‘PLUS’.  You will still be able to use your normal Visa/Mastercard in shops, banks, etc – it just won’t work in the ATM network for cash withdrawals.

Survival Hindi

Just a few key phrases that might make the first day or two a little more doable.  I have used the phonetic spelling, so simply say it as it is read.

vegetarian - shaka hari
i am a vegetarian - mer shaka hari ho
yes - ha
no – neh he
thank you - danyawad
hello - namaste
goodbye – albeda
hotel – ehotal
restaurant - bhojinaalay
market - bharjard
help – mahdud
my name is – merah nahm he
can you - up cusa te he
please show me – keah ahb muja de cusa te he
broken – too tah
i am sick - mare be madh who
doctor – chickitsk
hot – garm
cold - tahnt
massage – mahlish
rice – chowgood (no kidding)
bread – roti
chicken – chicken
i must go - muji jana cha he
toilet - chow char lay
where is the - ga hung he
air conditioning – whahtan coolan
air conditioner - lair condishnad
alcohol – shirrab
beer – bearrd
whisky – whisky

NOTE – for questions: subject comes first, then the question
Eg: where is the restaurant is “restaurant where is the”
And spoken: “bhojinaalay ga hung he”

From Jason...

Afternoon all and welcome to my personal hell……

I have been working over the last few years (trust me it feels that way) to generate some detailed mappage and systems out of Tony’s initial high level tour plan.

We are in for an _interesting_ experience in terms of the roads (loose usage of the term) & finding our way through Nepal. There are several areas where Google Maps can’t actually generate a route… Had to do a fair bit of research on those ones to ensure we can actually find our way. A certain ‘highway’ on the way into Kathmandu turns into a ‘dirt track’ but I found numerous sites that talk about motorbike treks across that track and some comments about people that have done it in October and they got through OK.

I will be sending another email with the initial map pack, it’s a word document some 13.5Mb big so some of you may not get it as your ISP/mail server may not allow files that big  Please email me if you don’t get it this afternoon, and check your SPAM folders as well

In addition to the maps we are all going to need to have some form of GPS co-ordinate type ability…. All of the maps have Latitude, Longitude reference markers for the overnight rally points.

For those of you not full bottle on GPS & Lat/Long type stuff we need to get a baseline of knowledge into your heads as these Lat/Long references are for when it goes wrong and we need everyone to understand how to use them. Most of us are taking an iPhone, I have reviewed about 6 different apps in the vain attempt to get GPS maps onto the phones so they work without 3G, no luck for Nepal

The best option is an app called OffMaps, it costs $2.49 and allows you to download a detailed maps, and even a customised one of Delhi  The main benefit is that you can type in a Lat/Long marker off the printed maps and it will drop a pin and show you where you are in reference to that location…. Gents, this isn’t really optional, you need it! If you need help with the app downloading the maps, please let me know, you should be up for ~500mb worth of maps so make sure your on a wi-fi link

For those of you without an iPhone, 2 options, buy the cheapest GPS unit you can find, I saw little ones in OfficeWorks for under $100 but make sure you can enter a Lat/Long co-ordinate in the form of 27.702, 85.317 (Kathmandu) or make sure you buddy op with someone with an iPhone…

The maps should be self explanatory, I have a Google account and can modify the route/images as required. Link to the map is http://maps.google.com.au/maps/ms?hl=en&ie=UTF8&oe=UTF-8&msa=0&msid=117221679705874252560.000490b05fd128f469e1a&z=6

Slight Hiccup

Please see below information from Mohit at Smart Motors in Delhi:

“n one thing more i have to tell actually from 20th of this month transport is stoped in delhi till 14th of oct this is coz of the common wealth games in india so we will be sending the bikes through train its costing me like rs 36000 for sendind but i can bear rs1000 more the main part is to send the bikes from calcuta railway station to the hotel where you people will be staying for this we have two either you people can go n collect the bikes from the railway station my mechanic will be their or you have to pay fot the truck in which we have to load the bikes from the railway to the hotel in calcuta where you will be atayin”

I have advised Mohit that we will meet Rahul (the mechanic) at the hotel at 5:30pm on Sat 02/10/10 and go to the train freight yard with him to unload the bikes. We will then need to ride them back to the hotel for the night, and leave for Farakka the following morning.

Unfortunately this does expose riders to a risk that I had hoped to avoid. Dum Dum (Calcutta) airport is 20km north of Calcutta CBD, and the Heritage Hotel is quite nearby. This strategy was designed to get us out of Calcutta reasonably easily and avoid the horrendous traffic. As it now stands, your first experience of riding in Calcutta will be peak hour traffic in one of the most congested cities in the world. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it actually is. Staying together or even in close proximity is almost impossible in Indian cities, and finding addresses can be an exercise in frustration even for cab drivers when streets are often unsignposted and buildings rarely have numbers. Not to mention the added stress of riding unfamiliar bikes in very challenging conditions.

Working on it .... Any ideas?

Bachon Ka Ghar Orphanage

Based in the Daryaganj district of Old Delhi, Bachon Ka Ghar is an orphanage for Islamic girls, between the ages of 6 and 18 years. The large majority of the girls residing in Bachon Ka Ghar are either paternal or maternal orphans, although some have lost both parents.

Children residing in Bachon Ka Ghar are not available for adoption. Rather, all the girls are registered with the local authorities, and remain in the orphanage until they are 18 years of age. Once they reach this age, those girls who are paternal orphans are returned to their mothers. Until the age of 18 years, all girls are encouraged to attend local schools.

The building that houses the orphanage has capacity for approximately 85-95 girls. In May 2007 when staff from the A.R.C. Worldwide Trust visited, the orphanage was near full capacity. The general conditions of the orphanage are tidy, however, the building itself would benefit from some minor repair work, particularly to the bathroom area and shared common space areas.

Being an orphanage for Muslim girls, A.R.C. Worldwide was informed that Bachon Ka Ghar does receive some financial support from the Iranian Embassy. However, the majority of the funding required to operate the orphanage is obtained through voluntary donations from the local community. All donations and gifts are accepted, including clothes, shoes, books and toys. School supplies, including books, stationary and school uniforms, in addition to donations of food, are often in need.

If you are interested in providing a donation to the Bachon Ka Ghar Orphanage for Girls, please contact the Orphanage directly

Preparations

As you set about your preparations over the next four weeks, you may wish to consider the following documentation.

Docs coming with you:
Passport (with multiple entry visa stamp)
All flight itineraries and confirmations
Hotel booking confirmation for 1st night in Calcutta
Drivers license and international driving permit
Insurance policy number and their international medivac number
Several spare passport photos
$25 USD cash for the Nepalese visa
Map pack (Jason is providing this for everyone, including way points)
+ Everyone else’s Indian SIM number (will exchange in Calcutta)
Please colour copy everything once and give the copies to another rider for safekeeping.

Docs staying at home (copies) with a friend who can take a call 24x7:
Passport (with multiple entry visa stamp)
All flight itineraries and confirmations
Hotel booking confirmation for 1st night in Calcutta
Drivers license and international driving permit
Insurance company, policy number and their international medivac number
Several spare passport photos
Recent will (forms from post office if you don’t already have one)
Power of attorney (forms from post office if you don’t already have one)

Why bother?
Quoting from Lonely Planet, etc re eastern plains of Nepal:
“power outages are the norm”
“fuel shops run dry all the time”
“many people in the countryside are still armed and travellers may be asked to make a ‘donation’”
“the risk is high in the former Maoist areas to the east of the country”
“rarely a day goes by without seeing a serious accident”
“drivers drive with little care for their own safety or others”
“overtaking is an act of brinkmanship with no room for error”

On the bright side, we will be travelling during Navami, a time when many animals are sacrificed and their blood is sprinkled on car wheels to ensure a safe journey. ‘Cause that’s bound to help...

And remember, if you do need to get out, the National Carrier currently has only four working aircraft

Seriously though, good documentation can be the difference between minor misfortune and total disaster for adventure travel. It’s worth spending a little time to get it right.

Notes re Altitude Sickness

Definition of High Altitude
- High Altitude: 1500 - 3500 m (5000 - 11500 ft)
- Very High Altitude: 3500 - 5500 m (11500 - 18000 ft)
- Extreme Altitude: above 5500 m
The Body’s reaction to altitude
Certain normal physiologic changes occur in every person who goes to altitude:
- Hyperventilation (breathing faster, deeper, or both)
- Shortness of breath during exertion
- Changed breathing pattern at night
- Awakening frequently at night
- Increased urination

As one ascends through the atmosphere, every breath contains fewer and fewer molecules of oxygen. One must work harder to obtain oxygen, by breathing faster and deeper. This is particularly noticeable with exertion, such as walking uphill. Being out of breath with exertion is normal, as long as the sensation of shortness of breath resolves rapidly with rest. The increase in breathing is critical. It is therefore important to avoid anything that will decrease breathing, e.g. alcohol and certain drugs. Despite the increased breathing, attaining normal blood levels of oxygen is not possible at high altitude.

Cheyne stokes breathing
Persistent increased breathing results in reduction of carbon dioxide in the blood, a metabolic waste product that is removed by the lungs. The build-up of carbon dioxide in the blood is the key signal to the brain that it is time to breathe, so if it is low, the drive to breathe is blunted (the lack of oxygen is a much weaker signal, and acts as an ultimate safety valve). As long as you are awake it isn't much trouble to consciously breathe, but at night an odd breathing pattern develops due to a back-and-forth balancing act between these two respiratory triggers. Periodic breathing consists of cycles of normal breathing which gradually slows, breath-holding, and a brief recovery period of accelerated breathing.

This is not altitude sickness. The breath-holding may last up to 10-15 seconds. This is not altitude sickness. It may improve slightly with acclimatization, but does not usually resolve until descent. Periodic breathing can cause a lot of anxiety:
- In the person who wakes up during the breath-holding phase and knows he has stopped breathing.
- In the person who wakes up in the post-breath-holding hyperventilation (recovery) phase and thinks he's short of breath and has High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE).
- In the person who wakes up and realizes his neighbor has stopped breathing.
In the first two cases waiting a few moments will establish a normal breathing pattern. In the final case, the sleeping neighbour will eventually take a breath, though periodic breathing cycles will likely continue until he or she is awake. If periodic breathing symptoms are troublesome, a medication called acetazolamide may be helpful.

Dramatic changes take place in the body's chemistry and fluid balance during acclimatization. The osmotic center, which detects the "concentration" of the blood, gets reset so that the blood is more concentrated. This results in an altitude diuresis as the kidneys excrete more fluid. The reason for this reset is not understood, though it has the effect of increasing the hematocrit (concentration of red blood cells) and perhaps improving the blood's oxygen-carrying ability somewhat; it also counteracts the tendency for edema formation. It is normal at altitude to be urinating more than usual. If you are not, you may be dehydrated, or you may not be acclimatizing well.

Things to Avoid
Respiratory depression (the slowing down of breathing) can be caused by various medications, and may be a problem at altitude. The following medications can do this, and should never be used by someone who has symptoms of altitude illness:
- Alcohol
- Sleeping pills (acetazolamide is the sleeping tablet of choice at altitude)
- Narcotic pain medications in more than modest doses
Preventing Altitude Sickness
The key to avoiding altitude sickness is a gradual ascent that gives your body time to acclimatize (we are riding up, so ascent will be necessarily gradual). People acclimatize at different rates, so no absolute statements are possible, but in general, the following recommendations will keep most people from getting altitude sickness:
- If possible, you should spend at least one night at an intermediate elevation below 3000 meters.
- At altitudes above 3000 meters (10,000 feet), your sleeping elevation should not increase more than 300-500 meters (1000-1500 feet) per night.
- Every 1000 meters (3000 feet) you should spend a second night at the same elevation
As with all of this stuff, better too much information than not enough. It’s important to keep it in perspective, though. Whilst very few travellers explore the Eastern Plains of Nepal (lowlands); the routes near and around Kathmandu (higher altitude) are a well worn tourist trail visited by thousands of people every year.