Saturday, October 16, 2010
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.
Friday, October 15, 2010
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.
Thursday, October 14, 2010
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.
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.
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.
Sunday, October 10, 2010
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.
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
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.
Thursday, October 7, 2010
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 ......
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.
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.
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,
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
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.
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
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).
It’s a new day, it’s a new dawn, it’s a new life for me, and I’m 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 couldn’t 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!
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.
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. Jeff’s accident could have been far worse without the body armour.
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.