Friday, December 14, 2012

My Worst Nightmare

Welcome to Nepal
Crossing from India to Nepal, the border crossing was a fairly straight forward affair although I did the usual walk around in circles to find the relevant buildings, get the necessary stamps & so on. On the plus side, the Indian customs guys fed me lunch. The queue of trucks on both sides was huge so I felt rather privileged to skip between the lanes on the bike and get through sooner than the rest.

First thing I notice about Nepal. Quiet. Yes there's still the sound of cars and people but something is missing. Horns! I did mention before Indians use horns constantly, usually for no good reason but here in Nepal its silent by comparison and I like it a lot.

Crossing borders things often change, language, cars, driving habits, cultures and so on. The faces change here too. Most people here have Mongolian features, although many of the Indian looks remain.

In in a good mood now and optimistic about how much ground I can cover in a day. I'm going to attempt to drive to Kathmandu in one go but realise that as I'm a bit late to get through the border, Pokhara, around 140km from border is more realistic or so I think.
The road is quite twisty and fairly slow. Dodging around occasional pothole slows down my progress and I decide it best to stop as its getting dark. I barely made 40km before the sun goes down but find a small cheap hotel in the hills. The bed may have been hard but the beer soothed me enough to sleep well.

Next day I reach Pokhara and like the look of the place. I think it best to crash here for the night too. It took 5 hours to travel 120kms. Another 120 to Kathmandu is out of the question. So much for optimism. despite this, the scenery is wonderful and I don't really care how long it takes.

Posh hotel by the lake
The countryside here is stunning, the places much cleaner, the traffic is no where near as aggressive as India. Guess its all easy from here perhaps?

Pokhora is lovely town with a lake nearby. This is the kind of place for treckers, adventure seekers, world travellers or hippies. Lots of backpacker accommodation with some great cheap hotels. I decide to do something different and stay in an expensive hotel. $80 for the night. Well sometimes you need to!

Next day I'm off to Kathmandu through some amazing scenery and stunning views of the snow covered peaks of the Himalayas along the way. The traffic is fairly light compared to my experiences of the past few weeks, chugging along happily I'm in a zone of contentment. Then I hit the climb to Kathmandu and the truck convoys.

Himalayas in the distance

It took around 2 hours to negotiate the lines of trucks coming and going. The rough surface and potholes tested my slow riding skills to the full. I had driven across half the world and was not going to drop my bike here on the last 100km of this stage. This thought started to take me over and I was now getting worried I'd jinxed my safety and a crash was inevitable. I had to shake this from my thoughts and focus on getting there safely. No mad overtaking, squeezing in between oncoming Tata's as if I was invincible. None of that. But yet, I was still driving in India mode and ignoring my own advice. 

Happy to Arrive safely
Thankfully, I made it to Kathmandu Guest House in one piece  I'd just ridden 19,866 kilometres through Europe and Asia. I had a feeling of achievement, all this way and to date no crash.

The next part is easy, fly to Bangkok and continue down to Australia. All I have to do is pack up the bike in a crate, pay the money and fly over myself.

Packing the bike to fly to Thailand
The bike is shipped airfreight, in a wooden crate. In the sticky dark warehouse at Kathmandu airport I disassemble some parts to make it smaller. Remove the front wheel and check to ensure all is well. My baby is wrapped up and safe to go. Next time I see it will be in Thailand.

Relaxed and ready to fly tomorrow I have a small celebration that I've completed phase one of my journey. I will catch up on some chores, upload tons of video, back up all my video files to one place and send it back to Australia just in case something breaks. Normally I keep my back up files and computer in different places but this time I've put everything in the same bag so that I can work with it on the plane.

Whilst in India last week I'd received the terrible news that my Dad had passed away. He had died after being ill with cancer. I flew back to UK a few months ago especially, as I wanted to spend time with him whilst he was mobile. Whilst on this trip, in Turkey I made the most wonderful and horrible phone call to chat with my Dad. I knew this would be the last time we would speak. I knew this before I picked up the phone. We had a short chat and said good bye. I got absolutely pissed that night.

I would change my flight plan for Bangkok and instead head back to Scotland for the funeral then return to my travels afterwards. First I had to get to Kathmandu where I could fly out. I knew my dad was going to die and tried not to dwell on it. For now I had a mission to complete. My dad would have gone nuts at me if I'd cut the trip short, so I had to just get on with it for now.

Next day, I'm up and heading for the airport. For the first time in months I'm travelling without my bike, in a small white Suzuki taxi among the congested madness of Kathmandu. The taxi driver agrees 300 Nepalese rupee. When we arrive at the airport he changes his mind and raises the price to 400. Whilst disputing this and pulling wads of crumpled worthless notes from my pockets, trying to keep an eye on my bags at the same time in the chaos of an airport where taxis and people are buzzing around me, I give him 300 and try to relax, picking up all my bags, 1,2, 3. OK all good now as I walk to the terminal building. Then in horror I realise I don't have my laptop bag! I left it on the floor of the taxi!

The taxi's driven off and in my sudden insanity I'm shouting at everyone, "My bag, the taxi's got my fuckin bag" The police at the front of the building put their hands on their guns and wacth this nutter throwing his yellow bag across the road. I'm freaked out, pacing across the road to arrivals, wandering in circles wondering what to do. I've just lost all my video from the first 2 months of my trip and people are telling me to calm down.

For the first time in years I really felt overwhelmed, so much I could cry for my mum. I was in such panic state of mind that I tried to cry to see if it would ease the pain, but it never came. I'm now turning to incredible anger. I was angry at the most incompetent idiot on this planet. How could I leave my bag, the most important one in a $500 taxi. I kept saying out loud in an attempt to overcome my rage and utter stupidity, " I'm so fuckin stupid, I'm so fuckin stupid"!

Nothing works and I have to realise my laptop and all files are gone. I have to check-in before its too late and pass the police again. They don't like me and try to make it difficult. I'm taking no shit and they know it. I drop my bags at check in and now have an hour to figure something out. I could call the taxi company! But the taxi's here don't have nice little signs stating company ethos and licence numbers. I have no idea taxi number either, did it have one at all? All I could remember was a partial website address pasted on the back doors. I called the hotel from where I'd left. I called my friends here, and in India. Everyone tried to calm me. Rajesh, a freind in Kathmandu dropped over to the airport to help me, but what could he do. My computer was gone, my files gone. I had to climb on board an aircraft. Rajesh assured me all would be good. I had to quickly accept my loss, grow up and move on.

So, sitting on the plane feeling really low and with prospect of my fathers funeral looming wasn't a great experience. This was a nightmare!

Will I ever see it again?

Monday, December 3, 2012

How to test your brakes

India is an amazing place full of wonderful people places sights and sounds. However one big thing seems to have dominated my thoughts. Traffic!

Heading down the new 3 lane toll road between Delhi and Agra is a breeze. Three lanes of smooth perfect bitumen with lane markings and everything. The road is deserted apart from occasional herd of goats led across by a young shepherd or a crowd of people crossing to go to the adjoining field or even the occasional truck chugging along at  their own merry pace at one with the world.

This is slightly different to the dual carriageway of the other day where a sleepy Tata truck driver nearly cleaned me up for good. I learned that an open road in India does not give you licence to drive as fast as you want. Just because three lanes are clear of all traffic doesn't guarantee safety. It is expected at all times for a truck to simply pull onto the road and head all the way across to the right hand lane to catch any speeding motorcycles. I don't think I've ever hit the brakes so hard at such high speed from 150 to 10 kph in about 50 metres. I'm sure the back wheel was off the ground. My arse was off the seat. I was glad I'd had been to the toilet not too long before or it could have been very messy.

With the fright, and enough adrenaline to invade a small country in my blood, I aimed to kill this careless retard but as I came around could see the truck driver was oblivious as to why this abusive nutter in a white helmet suddenly appeared in front of his cab.  I gave up as there was no point trying to convince this guy he was an idiot. Instead I realised I'm the idiot for expecting to drive normally in this place.

Since leaving Scotland some months ago I'd seen one small crash in Istanbul.
In India, (not to mention the piles of wrecks by the side of the road) in the space of one week I'd seen around 7 or 8 recent crashes, most of which spilled arguing drivers, passengers and their families onto the road causing even more traffic chaos.  I've also had around 4 near misses myself, mostly from oncoming traffic wanting to push me of the road.

An oncoming truck brushed the side of my panniers. I've had to stop dead in front of a huge bus, swerve around suicidal pedestrians whilst avoiding the potholes and other oncoming traffic to stay alive. In the dark it becomes a whole new challenge. Like a mad video game of avoiding potholes, cows and other obstacles whilst  trying to see where the road actually is. With no markings, cats eyes or signs.

You realise that the high speed trucks coming towards you really are on your side of the road. No bonus points are given for avoiding the strange religious stationary figure of a man who simply stands in the middle of the road awaiting death. No extra time for getting away from the drunk truck behind you. None of that. Simply surviving the road is enough to win the game.

I haven't mentioned the horns yet. Beep beep bloody beep. They beep horns to say they're passing, the beep to say they can't get passed, they beep to say they have just passed, they beep for no reason. Horns beeping behind me to tell me to get out of the way, even when its obvious I cant go anywhere. Beep beep bloody beep! Yes this happens in many countries, but not to the extent here. One guy to my side was beeping in a traffic jam. Through his open window I asked him what this achieves, (well it was more like "whats the fuckin point you idiot") he glanced at me, looked back to the traffic in front and held the horn button again!

Then there's the volume of traffic. When you get to a town, here's the rule - fill that space! If there's a gap, fill it. Even if its on the wrong side of the road, fill that space. As an example, I was at a rail crossing and on opposite sides of the closed gates, both opposing teams of trucks, cars, bikes, scooters, rickshaws and tuk tuks took over the whole width of the road. Like a rugby scrum ready for the off, when the gates opened, the opposing teams went at each other not realising the fact that if they'd kept to one side, they'd had all passed through easily. This was chaos and no one noticed apart from me.

Not that its always unpleasant of course, driving here can be fun but I think I'll be relieved to live long enough to see Nepal.

Enough of the rant for now.

So....ahem ... back to the trip...

I've had some great fun in Delhi with freinds and now I'm heading to Agra, one of India's most beautiful places. Not the town, its a dump. I mean the Taj Mahal. Absolutely amazing! Now I understand why people rave about this place. Despite the thousands of overweight middle aged camera clicking tourists, this really is a nice place to be. The beauty of the building and grounds, the magnificence of the construction and the wonderful atmosphere make this a must see. I join the queues of tourists and fit right in.

After Agra I head for Nepal and my last stop in this part of the world. The road will take me to Lucknow then up to the border where I cross near Butwal.

I might have mentioned before that border crossings can be exciting. There's a mix of trepidation, anxiety and enthusiasm. With the endless time wasting bureaucratic paperwork stamping procedures, anticipation of a new country to see, curiosity about the people and the culture. I often wonder, will the countryside suddenly change, will the people change?

Welcome Tonepal

In Europe, with no lines drawn, or checkpoints, crossing borders is barely noticeable.  At this border however, things do change quite rapidly. The people don't look Indian, most have Mongolian features, the countryside doesn't change too much but one thing is obvious to me. I seem to have gone deaf. No horns, beep, beep bloody beep! Apart from me, the traffic is much more sedate, calm almost by comparison.

Over the border I approach a roundabout and with my new found Indian driving skills, take the short cut across to the right hand side ignoring oncoming traffic, going around the wrong way. This may sound insane but I've often found this to be the safest way. If you try to go around the roundabout in the normal fashion, you're more likely to be run over from either side as you enter or try to leave. Cutting right across to the wrong side means all traffic is in front of you to veer around and you can clearly see the dangers. Honest! I've used this right hand turn method many times. If I was in Australia, the police helicopters and TV stations would be chasing me down the road. In Nepal, the constable at the roundabout can only complain by blowing his whistle in my mirrors. I might have to rethink this manoeuvre here!

I'm a bit sad to leave India as I've seen some beautiful sights, met some wonderful and kind people and generally had a great time.  Despite my concerns about receiving a TATA tattoo on my forehead, it really is somewhere we should all go at least once in our lifetimes. No doubt I'll be back, . I'll need to practice my new found driving skills.

Next: My Worst Nightmare comes true!

Some other images of India

Road to Manali

Tea Stop

Road to Kashmir


This little girl likes to pose for the camera




End of a good day

Typical response to a strange bike
Typical rail crossing in Utter Pradesh

Marriage Indian style
Luxury hotel in Delhi

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Bullets and batteries

Kashmir is on the border with Pakistan and has been undergoing continued troubles with insurgents blowing up things, usually people and the like in a protest for reasons I've forgotten. The TV in the hotel at breakfast broadcasts news across the screen under the newsreader that this morning man was shot and killed at the front of a hotel used by tourists in Srinagar. More here. Guess where I'm heading?

I've been reassured by all around me, this this is still OK  and after having survived Baluchistan without a Taliban incident a few weeks before, decide to Kashmir and the city of Srinagar in true adventurer spirit.

Srinagar traffic is as mental as the other mad cities in India. The rules of which I'm still trying to work out. I've become so used to the madness of it all, I shrug off the sight of half a cow on the road north. I did wonder where the other half was but this is India and it's best not to worry about sch things. No one else does.

Lake Dal houseboat
My room for the night is a boat, a house boat on lake Dal. The tourist people direct me to a landing where I meet the oarsman of a Shikara. Its turning dark and I'm feeling a bit stressed by the sheer numbers button pressing enthusiasts gathering around my bike. Some bloke I assume is the boat owner leads me to a parking spot nearby where my bike will be watched all night by guards. He disappears and I'm left with another guy to directs me to a Shikara with my baggage.

Floating shops
The noise and chaos of the crowd disappear into the distance as I'm rowed across a small lake, we turn up a narrow opening and I'm presented with floating street city. Here there are shops, barbers, beauty parlours, lawyers, you name it, on both sides. We slowly meander through the gentle quiet traffic of other Shikara's going about their business. After 10 minutes we land at a landing adjoining several houseboats. Beautiful surroundings, beautiful boat and peace and quiet. Its rather cold now so a wood burning heater is a most welcome sight in my room. Long gone is the stress and noise of the street and I'm happy with these new surroundings.

The next day I'm going to head out on a gentle tour of the area by boat, or more correctly a Shikara as they're called. This turns out to be one of the most relaxing journeys possible. Gently meandering through the various parts of this lake, divided by small islands, vegetation  wildlife, trees, house boats is a great way to relax whilst enjoying the beautiful scenery around. This turns out to be a great place so I decide to stay another night or two. Although the is a Muslim area and alcohol is not allowed in public, you can still purchase beer and spirits in several small shops in town. I sneak some beer into my bag for the afternoon.

Shikara's for hire
Now thoroughly relaxed and ready to continue my journey, I'm going to head south to Delhi, then Agra and the Taj Mahal before heading further East and Nepal.

On the way south, whilst stopping to take photographs, my bike refuses to start, the battery dies. In same fashion as Jeroens died in Pakistan  mine does the same. Luckily Im on a hill and manage to bump start the bike to continue but its a long way back to Chandigarh and I will need to stop the engine at some point to put in some more fuel.

sick battery
There is something about driving a sick bike that although it runs OK  you know things are not right. The thought consumes you and all energies are aimed at getting it fixed, nothing else matters and the thought of being stuck on a dirty Kashmir highway isn't attractive. Another 50 km further on, the battery does something to the charging system, the bike computer goes mad and after many weird and wonderful flashing light on the dash, the bike stutters to a stop. Fuck!
All the things I worried about are coming true. Where on earth will I find a new battery here? As it turns out, right across the road about 100 metres away! There is a small battery shop by the road, mostly to support local agriculture but they have a small battery that may help. That'll do me!

Its not the right type and size, cant start the engine either but I can get a push by several volunteers  I should be able to reach a town or hotel for the night. The over priced wet cell battery is fitted, I'm given a push and I'm back on the road.

I'm a bit more relieved now and can feel safety of a hotel is possible not too far away in Hoshurpur. This keeps me happy for a bit and gives me more confidence in the bike, On the road I see a rare sign in in India, "McDonald's". I don't really eat at this place but the thought of real coffee and maybe some food I'm more familiar with forces me to make a quick stop. I pop in and get a quick feed leaving the bike running. Meanwhile, the wet cell battery decides to piss acid all down the internals of the bike, over the rear swinging arm and leave a puddle of sizzling acid on the ground. The bike is still running, and leaving my half eaten Chilly veggie burger" I jump on and head for a hotel before something else goes wrong.

All the good hotels in Hoshurpur are full and I end up in one which is needs a good wash, or a fire. Next day I'm off to Chandigarh again, this time for a new battery that works. The guys at the Ducati shop are trying to find one for me and provide several options when I arrive. They also feed me tea, being the nice guys they are. None of the batteries available are good enough so I'm off to Delhi, a city of 21 Million people. There has to be the right part here.

I have some friends in Delhi who offer to help. Manish and Prachi book me into a good hotel, bring beers over and take me out for tea. Next day we'll go battery hunting. Sure enough we get the part we're looking for on the other side of town at a bike workshop full of surprises. It doesn't look much from outside, in fact it looks fairly crap but hidden behind the steel doors and badly painted logo's  lies a haven of Triumph motorbikes. As these are as rare as hens teeth here I'm amazed that this guy has a few for sale, all brand new, various models. He even has a 1903 single cylinder Triumph which he is restoring.

New battery getting fitted
Now with the bike back to normal Im planning to continue south to Agra and the famous Taj Mahal before turning towards Nepal and my final part of this journey before Thailand.

How to test your brakes

Friday, November 9, 2012

Incredible India. Incredible brakes, Plaster and Vodafone

Rickshaw riding
So finally managed to get to the Wagah border and into India. This time its just David and myself, heading across to Amritsar  Jeroen arrives next day and we meet at the golden temple a few rounds of drinks and we're game enough to try out the cycle rickshaws ... ah bloody tourists!

David heads south to Goa on his BMW rickshaw, Jeroen heads to the KTM garage for the beginning of a new workshop adventure including the need for rickshaws now, and I head north.

Taragoh Palace
I'm going to Dharamsala in the Himalayas and since my GPS has now totally died, have to navigate the old way. This means I get it wrong and spend two hours driving in the dark on twisty potholed roads. Not my favourite way to arrive, stressed and tired. However the stress disappears as soon as the nice turban wearing barman greets me, handing me a Kingfisher and a glass. I'm lucky enough to stay in a old palace now run as a hotel. The rooms resemble an old english style I last saw in the Lake district in England. All a bit posh really.

I have breakfast in a huge hall completely on my own, like royalty, sat at a long table whilst trying to work out how this place can possibly make a profit if there are no other guests. Turns out, it's not in season so my presence is rather unusual for this time of year.

Road to Manali
I'm heading for Manali through some beautiful valleys and incredible scenery. One thing is bothering me though. Vodafone advertisements are everywhere. On houses and garage doors mostly. I believe they have paid many people to paint their logo everywhere on any vertical surface that can be used for advertising space. I've also noticed that cement manufacturers seem important too. Don't know why I would need to know so much about availability of one type of cement or another but it seems the thing here. Cement and Vodafone.

The road to Manali is good and bad, there are occasional corners with bumps, bumps and bumps. I feel I'm hurting the bike but it seems to be OK. One thing is starting to bother me though, the chain is making some weird clicking noises. I'm trying to work out how this is happening as all seems good. I oil the chain well and it disappears for a bit.Yet the annoying click returns.  After much oil on hands, it turns out to be a weak link, it's worn and needs replaced. No problem I reckon as I have links, new chain and even spare sprockets with me. All I need is the chain split tool to do it with. A 5 minute job normally? This is a tool used to break the link and compress a new one. $30 from ebay. All bike shops would have one.

Workshop Manali
In Manali, no one has ever seen such a thing and I try to tell the mechanic, as he ignores me and reaches for his pliers "No way your going to take any links out with pliers" as he continues to look, confused that he cant find the link used on on the local Royal Enfield bikes. "These bikes can't use sprink links mate, they aren't strong enough" I explain for the third time.

So, I'm told by another Manila motorbike guy, "yes, KTM on road to Mandi has all the tools for you". Great, I'll head there, get it sorted and continue up to Kashmir as intended tomorrow.
I'm heading to Mandi but the chain link is now badly worn and making me worry that it could break at any moment. No big deal if I have a spare but I'm worrying that the chain may snap at any moment and totally destroy the engine as it spins outwards at high speed slicing through the crankcasings.

 I manage to reach the town where the small KTM dealer is. The boss tells the guys to make a start after I explain but they are tightening up the chain! "No no no. I don't need it tightened, I need a tool for this" They eventually get what I'm saying and waggle their head to indicate that "KTM workshop in Mandi has all the tools you need". I thank the guys anyway and head another 50kms towards Mandi where the sanctuary of a bike workshop with all the tools and technology awaits.
After 3 hours, going around in circles with no one knowing where KTM is, I head for a hotel on the outskirts of town and on the way pass the KTM shop, now closed for the night. Bugger!

Next day I'm in the new branded orange KTM workshop, promptly asking for the $30 chain tool. Blank faces from 4 of the guys there. They have no idea what I'm talking about so we all rummage through their nice new shiny KTM branded tool boxes. No joy. So after a few swear words and a coffee at local shop I decide its best to head the opposite way I wanted to go. South, to Chandigarh where everyone tells me, "ah yes there is BMW and Triumph workshops, they will have all the tools you need"

200kms south and I find the KTM workshop. Its huge and has hundreds of the small KTM Duke 200cc model lined up outside and in the showrooms. Guess what? Same result. They have never heard of such a tool and in my frustration I'm starting to wonder if this is a figment of my imagination so prove to them that such a thing exists on ebay using about $100 worth of roaming data on my phone to download a picture of the thing!
"Try Ducatti, they will have all the tools", they suggest. Great! Ducati do not make small bikes, they will have one surely.

I head to Ducatti shop and guess what? No chain tool!

Ducati workshop
I'm fed up with driving around and with the possible alternative of driving all the way south to Delhi just for this tool, decide to let the Ducati guys try to come up with a solution. I hear much banging of hammers and decide it's best not to look. In the meantime however, these guys get wind it's my birthday today and I'm presented with a garland of flowers and a birthday cake. They even get me lunch. How good is that! 7 hours later I have the chain, the link and sprockets replaced, not with the right tools, but the Ducati mechanics do their best with angle grinders, hammers and other ad-lib pieces of steel to finish the job. Not elegant but it works and I'm happy again.
India Times

After a couple of days in Chandigarh and even a newspaper interview which puts me on front page of the India Times, I'm off North to the place I've been keen to see for years. Kashmir.

I have to say that driving here is absolutely mad. It is the worst I've ever experienced. Trucks coming at you on the wrong side of the road on a blind corner, bikes nipping in and out, cars with young guys trying to run you down from behind. Horns beeping at all times of the day, cows wandering amongst the traffic to add to the mad random games. Incredible. In the 12 weeks on the road, I'd seen one small crash in Turkey. In India on the first week, I've seen about 6 or 7 that had just happened, ignoring the numerous wrecks left at the side of the road. I've been pushed into the gutter by a few buses and trucks and somehow managed to survive, either by luck, some off road skills, or incredible brakes. I've grown so used to it that I drive just like an Indian now. I hope I don't do this when I get to Australia. I will be chased by helicopters and will be shown on the 6 o clock news for being arrested.

Bullets and batteries

Thursday, November 1, 2012

No room at the Inn

We’re in Karachi and going to head north to Lahore and the Indian border. I have to admit, I’m a bit fed up with Pakistan and agree with David to head to India as soon as possible. This is not currently possible for Jeroen sadly, as his bike has been sick. The list of problems grows to include a slow puncture, overheating engine, faulty battery and charging system failing. I’m feeling a bit bad about heading off without him, but Jeroen is cool and insists he will sort a few things out prior to following us.

The target for the rest of us  today will be a place around 100kms south of Lahore, Okara. It looks nice on a map. The truth is slightly different. We can reach there before dark hopefully and be able to head straight for Indian border the following day. As always on this trip, that was the theory. Here’s what really happened:

last of the Murree beer
Martin & Richard on the KTM 650’s, David on the Beemer and my self head off fairly early around 6am. I’ve left Jeroen with the last of the Murree beer,since we had no idea what room he’s in it’s been left on his bike to heat up in morning sun. I do text him later so we’re not all bad.

We escape Karachi a lot lot easier than how we arrived, and for the first time in earnest we are without an escort thankfully. The road north is fairly straight forward and the usual routine of tea and fuel stops keep our bums from numbing out completely. The day drags on uneventfully and we start to think all is going to plan until late in the afternoon when we come across another mad traffic jam on one side of a dual carriageway. Following cars and bikes to diverting locals we change over to the opposite carriageway to make some progress through the usual chaos of people and cars going both ways. 

As we continue to struggle north a large crowd of men has gathered further on up the chaos and as I weave towards the road blockage I can see many of these guys have an attitude that isn't welcoming. Almost all at once, the large crowd comes towards me and the rest of the guys are behind me now, instinct says this isn’t right so I look to David who reads my mind and starts to turn also. I’m trying to look cool about it  but inside I’m not so calm. Watching my mirrors and the crowd around I’m plotting my master escape plan in case it turns really nasty for us. Luckily I never have to use my half-baked plan as we turn off the main highway relieved and calmed to be away from the madding crowd. We know we have to detour around this and manage to succeed despite the darkening sky and the familiar moans of “fucks sake, driving in the dark again” Were happy to be away from this madness for now.

Crowd gathering  Extract from video
We still have no idea what the crowd was about but David insists this is a tense situation and one he’s seen before in India when the mass hysteria takes over, the crowd looks for someone to blame for what we guess might have been a child’s road death or similar. In many cases the bystander pays for it and the blood thirsty crowd goes home refreshed and unpunished. 

Although I didn't notice at the time, David mentions these guys had some weapons.

Now relatively safely back n the road and within an hour of intended destination and hopefully a lovely hotel with nice clean sheets, cool refreshing beer, lovely food, a beautiful girl on reception to welcome our weary party to Okara. A clean bed would be nice at least.

No room at the Inn
We stop at the Pearl Inn hotel and David,volunteered by many of us to complete the room bargaining, sets  upon the reception whilst we wait for the results outside. As usual, we attract a large crowd of dirty looking pyjama wearing men, mostly young in 20’s or 30’s with dirty hands and need to poke and press all the bikes buttons. It’s difficult to stay relaxed in this situation but I’ve found its best to ignore as much as possible and answer the usual repeated questions with smile, “about $7000. Scotland.  Yes, Australia. From England. From Austria. Yes, to India” However this night is slightly different. We don’t know why but with the drama on the road just about an hour ago, the ever increasing crowd in the very dark dirty street of Okara outside this unfriendly looking hotel, we are all starting to feel anxious.

David squeezes his way through the crowd as I hand his salvaged bike key, over the top of some black heads which I removed earlier “so did we get some rooms”? I shout over the din of Pakistani noise, “No it’s full they say”!
This is a lie as the place is empty and there are several keys hanging up on the wall behind reception in the 1950’s way of doing things. I’m annoyed and poke my head in the door to say you’re all wankers but say nothing, stare at the hundreds of keys on the wall, look towards the line of moustache wearing puppets behind the counter and try to tell the one with the biggest moutache assuming hes the boss, I’m issed off. This has absolutely no effect on their dumb expressions as most people in this country look pissed off most of the time anyway.Walking to the bike, I’m secretly hoping the building burns own in the night and kills all these 1950’s pyjama wearing shitheads to death without granting them the usual 1000 virgins.

So we’re off to find another hotel, the second of only 3 places to stay in town. Once again the crowd disperses and reassembles at our new destination. Same results. No rooms for us. This is not good and the crowd still getting larger starts to bother all of us. There is one hope left so we get local tuk tuk driver to show us the way to the last hotel in Pakistan.

Another large crowd to welcome us
Once more, David takes the lead and heads inside to get our rooms sorted. Thankfully he succeeds this time at 1000 rupees per room. It’s a shithole and we know this but the ever increasing noise and size of the new crowd gathering makes us even more nervous than before.

The bikes are driven straight inside the small dirty courtyard of the dirty guest house whilst a dirty crowd of followers assist to shout directions to whoever is listening. We’re trying to get all bags off loaded and hide in our room until the din is calmed but this is not to be for now. 

Once inside our dingy disgusting dirty rooms were told the price is now 2500 rupees. The owner is chancing it and tries to increase this again, to which David finally loses his cool and explains in Glaswegian that they can fuck off, although he’s not from Glasgow so I’m impressed anyway.

It wasn’t just the horrendous noise from the hallway below from around one hundred dirty pyjama wearing locals, the dirt in the depressing rooms, the scare we had earlier at the road crash or the fact that it was dark and dirty and we were a long way from home this time with no police escort, the police don’t even know were here, but the almost tense atmosphere from the crowd, in and around the building that was bothering me.

I still have a half filled plastic bottle of Scotch whiskey from last nights hotel so offer some to David whilst we’re have a small conference to discuss how the fuck we arrived here. It’s disgusting and smells more of paint stripper but cocktail room service was not an option available. If it was, they’d probably get it wrong anyway.

Later, I can’t settle in my room as the noise from the floor below is bleeding through the small dirty windows of my room and in concern for my baby parked below I’m curious to see whats going on. Im nervous but the the young guys crowded around my bike are fairly friendly and simply pleased to see me. After usual questions for around 5 or 10 minute they ask me if i know cable TV?
Strange question but they then lead me to me a server room in this guest house with racks of electronic boxes with forty TV channels being repeated from satellite to local subscribers, all illegal of course. They also think it funny to show me internet porn showing naked blondes performing all various things whilst several of the crowd have their hands on their dicks over their pyjamas. I cant help but ask, “so would your Pakistani girl friend or  wife do this for you”?  to which the consensus is generally, “Oh no they would be killed for this” I felt like going for a shower but the room toilet is disgusting, I washed my hands and finished the rest of the shit whiskey feeling better that I was doing something illegal almost. I’ll keep the rest of my thoughts to myself.

Last guest house in Pakistan
I unpack my own mattress and sleeping bag as there is no way in hell I’m sleeping on any bed here and gain some comfort from the fact I’ll have no bed bugs crawling over me in the night. The paint stripper does its job and I’m sleeping like a cave dwelling Taliban dreaming of his promised virgins.

I’m up really early and step over some sleeping bodies to reach my bike. I don’t care if I wake them, they want to sleep in reception, that’s their problem. I’m over being polite to these people. We all rustle bags and load up all gear, start engines and we’re off much relieved after the anxiety and madness of the night before.

Last pose for pictures
At a tea stop we say our goodbyes to Martin and Richard who are heading to Lahore and the KKH further north. David and me are heading to India and the Wagah border. Meanwhile, further South, Jeroen and KTM leaves Karachi in a pick- up truck.

After and easy ride and very easy border crossing into India, we’re greeted by very smartly dressed girls, yes girls, we’d not seen any in ages and here we’re confronted with pretty young things in uniforms. We do see their hair and stare at something we’ve been denied for weeks for at least 1 or 2 seconds but unlike the pyjama wearing crowd to our West, we don’t lose control of ourselves, rape the fine young things and manage to have a civil conversation with many, one even brings us tea. Welcome to India, I hear and I nearly kissed the ground although I could have kissed the guards too, even the men but thought this is best left for prisoners fleeing the real Taliban’s clutches.

Jeroen is just behind us on a pickup truck with his bike. He can’t get the bike working for the remains of Pakistan and manages to push the ever troubled KTM Adventure the last 100m through the gates into the arms of India. “So undignified” he exclaims! I thought the bike was living up to its name but don’t mention this in case I get a smack.

Incredible India. Incredible brakes, Plaster and Vodafone

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Bomb blast and taking the long way round.

Burned out bus in Baluchistan
So here's the good news.
We're happy to be on the road heading for Quetta. Spirits are high and we happy to be moving.

Here's the bad news.
Quetta is the place where a Scottish guy had his head removed back in April. I'm trying not to think about it but can't help to worry again when we pass the remains of a bus in which  18 people heading for the Iran border we're murdered just recently.

We keep making jokes about Taliban, being abducted and held to ransom often to break the monotony. But I think in the back of our mind we really are slightly bothered even if no one admits it. The Taliban won't be interested in tourists surely but the police are convinced we are a risk. At the last checkpoint before the city of Quetta, the police guys mentioned that 2 people are killed everyday here, usually police. The police car driver waves his arm and beeps the horn to gesture everyone is ready to go and  to stay close by. Ok let's move then!

Our destination is a hotel is on the outskirts of the town but the police driver has been told by someone we want to visit the bazaar in the centre of the city! Just what we wanted to do, parade through the centre of a dangerous city with the local police then go shopping for herbs and spices after 8 hours ride Of course, that would be great thanks constable. 

Our destination hotel
Since arriving in Pakistan We keep hearing, "It's dangerous for you, we must go quickly" or " You must not go out at night, its dangerous for you". So here we are plodding along in full sight of the entire population of Quetta as its getting dark, trundling along at such a slow pace we feel we are in a funeral cortege  I've noticed most of us are wearing lots of black so that's convenient. Everyone else in the streets are staring at the infidels arriving. Just staring. Am I paranoid, or is that bearded guy phoning some gun toting Taliban waiting at the ambush ahead? 

 Jeroens bike is overheating again and he explains this in his usual persuasive banging on bonnets and shouting at "You fucking idiots, your making us a target"! They seem to take this well, all things considered, and bring around another police car which has a good second gear, this speeds up our procession and helps to cool Jeroen and his overheating engine. It's now dark and everyone is nervous. To add to my excitement, the fuel warning light reminds me I'm about to run out soon and be left at the side of road as fresh meat but thankfully after around an hour we arrive at our hotel and are relatively safe in the fenced grounds of the Gardenia resort just before the bike dies.

The place is OK  offers hot showers , a real toilet and WiFi  Great! More importantly, beer is available so I'm happy. So happy in fact, the dripping tap which I use as a shower to clean my toes doesn't bother me. The lack of any toilet paper makes me snigger, I shrug off the fact that although the the WiFi is quick , it isn't connected to anywhere outside the hotel. Ah well we have cold beer on its way, nothing will bother me then. We've driven into one of the worlds most dangerous cities so running water, WiFi and a clean bum doesn't bother me, I'm happy i still have a bum and use it to support my beer drinking activities later that night.

So next day were looking to get out of town as soon as possible but Pakistan has other ideas. We need a letter of permission to drive to Lahore, and just to make it interesting, the road is closed.

Dave and Richard head off to get some cash from the bank, get a permit to drive out of Quetta and hopefully come back with their heads still on. The rest of us take advantage to carry out some maintenance on the bikes and our mental health.

When David & Richard return they have some good and bad news.

The good news - We got the permit to travel from Quetta.
The bad news. - We have to go via Karachi!

Apparently it's too dangerous to take the more direct sensible route, a diversion of 1500kms south is whats needed

By now, we're not really phased by anything Pakistan bureaucracy can throw at us and happily get on our way. What we didn't know is that whilst we were driving through the city, some nutter blew up a bus killing a child and injuring 16 in the city centre. This is no place for a holiday.

 The northern part of road to Karachi is beautiful  amazing scenery of sharp golden mountains  dark brown rock formations, excellent roads and the never ending friendly people of the countryside welcoming foreigners to their land along the way. 

I can now understand how rock stars and celebrities can get pretty used to this. I've waved to a million smiling people today. 

The day is long and we've relaxed into a routine, stopping for photographs and occasional drink. Perhaps being careless with daylight  we arrive in  the outskirts of Karachi in the dark. The route on David & Jeroens GPS Sat nav's agree to take us direct route to the hotel. The traffic is absolutely crazy and the heat and congestion force us to take a 5 minute break. Jeroens bike decides it's had enough and stalls. So here we are in a busy busy part of town, our popularity hasn't weaned yet and around 50 people circle our group. One kind man even feeds Martin and me with some pastry. What lovely people live here, or so we believe. 

When we do get to our hotel, we're made aware that last week local police abandoned a week long fire fight in this same suburb in which we'd stopped for refreshments and snacks.

In addition to avoiding, toll roads, ferries and even gravel roads, why don't Garmin add a function to the GPS unit for travellers to avoid dangerous Mafia controlled suburbs as well?

No room at the Inn.

Some pics from the day.

Another burnt out vehicle

View from Karachi hotel

Richard and Martins pad.

Karachi hotel