Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Canadian Touch Down

Thirty-eight hours after leaving our hotel room in Delhi, we arrived home in Tweed. We didn't encounter any animals on the roads, everyone kept to their own lanes,and there wasn't any garbage burning on our front lawn.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Home Cold Home

We've just landed in Green Bay after canceled/delayed flights and changing airlines at O'Hare. We hope our luggage catches up with us later today. Good to be home despite the cold and blowing snow. Namaste!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

All Peoples Home Going

The remaining Butt Busters are whiling away a quiet Sunday afternoon before heading to the airport at 2000 (we are going to the airport earlier than usual due to reports of increased security at all international airports in India). RA and I will be departing at 0055 tomorrow morning while Ross and Jean leave at 0655. We’ve just gone for a leisurely walk in “our neighborhood” with a stop at McDonald's for lunch. We still have a couple of Kingfisher beers in the kitchen fridge to drink with dinner tonight before we leave the White House Hotel for the third and final time. We have survived Incredible India without too many scars (mostly mental) and will attempt a summary of our journey when we get home. See you on the other side................................

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Lazing at the Lagoon

11-21/27-08

The Lazy Lagoon boutique resort was our home for six nights as we continued our R&R in the south of India. The days melted away in the heat and humidity of tropical Goa, a Portuguese enclave on the Indian sub-continent until 1961.

Goa’s pace is not as hectic as other places we have been in India with less aggressive drivers, less horn honking and people with a good sense of humor. When we weren’t sleeping, eating, or swimming in the pool, we managed a little low key sightseeing. The Saturday night flea market was quite impressive and we discovered where many of the British hippies have been all these years--living in Goa selling jewelry, crafts and tatooing the white tourists from northern climes. We also visited Old Goa and its fine collection of Portuguese churches, basilicas and the desiccated body of St. Francis Xavier. On Wednesday morning we did our last bit of shopping at the huge weekly flea market in Anjuna. If you want it, they have it there in spades. RA is still sporting some henna faux-tattoos and a few more bangles for her wrist. It is here that Ross and I had an impromptu competition. Men would approach us and tell us we had some soap in our ear and then offer to clean the wax out of our ears; Ross won with seven offers to my three!!

On Sunday night we went to a restaurant that that touted the music of Dr. Andy and his friends from England. Little did we know that we were attending the weekly “Gathering of the Clans”--all the Brit ex-pats in the area. The music was eclectic and enjoyable as was the people watching, The smell of ganja was thick in the air as we left the party around 2200.

A few days later Ross decided to check out the local Haircutting Saloon/Barbour Shop; haircut IR80 (US$1.60) and beard trim IR50 (US$1.00). It sounded like a good idea so RA and I walked down to the shop and were soon sitting in the chairs. RA got a hair trim and a head massage while I ended up with a haircut, beard trim and an Ayurvedic head and back massage with who knows what kind of oils and other liquids poured on my head. Total bill (with tip) for both of us: IR750 (US$15.00)!

Ravi, our room wallah, surprised us each day with some very innovative “towel art”--swans, palm trees, flowers, a tortoise. The Lazy Lagoon was the perfect place for decompressing--good food, comfortable digs, and a very friendly and accommodating staff.

Our last night/morning in Goa was tempered by the reports of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai. We left a little early for the airport assuming stepped up security, but everything went smoothly and we were soon winging our way back to Delhi.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

In Delhi

We have arrived safely in Delhi--flight on IndiGo was fine on an Airbus 320A. We will be leaving on the 1st--RA and I straight to Chicago and Jean and Ross to Toronto via London. We'll be lying low here and repacking for the trip home.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Update

Just a quick note to let you know that we are in Goa which is about 650 km south of Mumbai and are flying to Delhi today so we are out of the line of fire.

Flight home is scheduled for December 1st so will be keeping a low profile till then.

Can't help thinking that after surviving the perils of motorcycling, food poisoning and being crushed by crowds, it would be a real b.....ch to be blown up on the last day here!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Whew!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Sorry for the posts being out of chronilogical order but we haven't had Internet for a few days and Steve is ahead of me on writing.

We made it! After five weeks, one day and four hours, we parked the four remaining bikes in front of the White House Hotel in Delhi where it had all began. A huge sigh of relief could be heard around the globe and particularly in the bar that evening.

Jim Shaw had been right. India is not a place for the faint of heart or weak of stomach. It is also not a place to ride 3,744 kilometers on a motorcycle. But we did have a most excellent adventure with enough stories and pictures to bore you folks to tears for years.

Here’s some of the oddities/highlights:

Road Signs:
If married, divorce speed
Caution and care make accidents rare
No race, no rally. Enjoy our beautiful valley.
Kill time, save life.
This in the most dangerous country in the world for driving!

Sanjay and Mukesh Dictionary:
They spoke better English then we spoke Hindi but we were often amused by the literal translations.
Jumping road - bumpy
Good looking - nice view
Bad speaking - rude
Mad talking - angry
All peoples - everybody
Feeded - having eaten
King house - palace
Money house - bank
Shirted people - Ruth Ann, the retired English teacher, used this term one day when taking a picture of us all in our new custom-made Buttbuster
t-shirts.

Update:

Brian & Harlene flew back to Canada where Brian is receiving further treatment in an Ottawa hospital.
Bill & Helmut flew to southern India to see a paper machine from Domtar and will be flying home via Calcutta near the end of November.
Steve, Ruth Ann, Ross and I flew down to Cochin in the south for some r & r in two beautiful villas in the Backwaters then took an overnight train to Goa for some sightseeing and tanning before flying back to Delhi then home on December 1st.

Last Gasp

After visiting the Taj Mahal, which will always be one of the highlights of the trip, we took in the Agra Fort built in 1573 by Moghul conquerer Akbar the Great. It is another huge edifice with many buildings housing the treasury, the emperor and the harem of 5000!. The Peacock Throne, encrusted in diamonds, rubies and emeralds and famous from the Shahs era in Iran, was created here and ended up in Persia when the fort was sacked in 1739. Next rock stop was the Baby Taj, another tomb of an Akbar follower. This one is unique as it was designed and built by the interred resident’s daughter and therefore is quite feminine with a pavilion on its roof rather than a dome.

From Agra, we headed south to Jaipur, the Pink City and last stop on our itinerary. Bill and Helmut had headed back to Delhi and from there were flying south to see a paper mill so now we were four. To our surprise and amazement, we found ourselves on a paved road! It was actually a four lane highway! Delighted, we promptly twisted the throttles up to a heady 90 kph (55 mph) and blasted down the road only to be met shortly by a truck coming towards us in our lane! Yikes! All that asphalt euphoria had temporarily blinded us to the fact we were still in India where it’s much easier to go the wrong way down a divided highway than to have to go all the way over to the other lane and cross over again later.

Jaipur was another really pleasant surprise. More modern in many respects such as sidewalks and glass fronted stores; more civilized traffic with signal lights and road signs; and McDonalds! Naturally, we had to visit the obligatory rocks: Hawa Mahal, know as the Palace of the Winds, a five story high but only one room deep palace built to allow the ladies of the court watch street processions behind the 593 screened windows without being seen. It has been beautifully maintained with pink domes frosted in white plaster which make them look like giant ice cream scoops. The principal palace is still inhabited by the royal family and so is beautifully maintained with a museum open to the public. It houses such diverse objects as sedan chairs and the largest silver urns in the world which were used to transport water from the Ganges to England in 1901 when the maharajah went for the coronation of King Edward VII. Adjacent to the palace is an astronomical observatory built in 1728 which functions to this day tracking the movement of stars and planets and telling time with a 27 meter high sun dial! This while we were still in loin cloths in North America! What happened?!

While definitely more modern, we still encountered camels hauling huge loads down the main streets and elephant caravans lumbering along with their handlers high atop on a wooden platform. Of course, we had to check out the local market and it was there that Ruth Ann and I found beautiful embroidered and appliqu├ęd fabrics. After a few trips up and down the stalls casing the joint, we settled on a shop with a beautiful table runner embroidered with elephants to begin negotiations. Most shops in India have benches or places for the women to squat (which is the normal position) as purchasing is a lengthy affair. It starts with inquiring as to your country of origin, progresses to the extreme high quality of their goods, followed by their exceptional low price (which is only available to you because you are the first customer of the day regardless of what time you're there), and ending with a sale and pictures being taken, business cards exchanged and the fear that someday they will wind up on our doorstep in Tweed! This was our last stop and so with cautious anticipation, we turned north to Delhi.

The Adventure Continues--we Goa

11-20/21-08

We’ve been on two-wheelers, in rickshaws, tuk tuks, cars, vans, small SUVs, and planes on this trip, so that left trains as an unused form of transportation. An overnight journey from Cochin to Goa would get us started on the way back to
Delhi and take care of a night’s lodging at the same time. The Indian Railways employ 1.6 million people and is the world’s largest single employer; it was time to check it out.

Our train did not leave until 2235 and the hotel had a check-out time of 1100, so we had a lot of time to fill. The resort was nice enough to offer us a comfortable room and place to freshen up before heading for the train station. We did a lot of reading, spent some time on the internet and had a leisurely lunch before heading into town. As there was not a safe place to store our luggage at the station, we paid the driver an extra $3 to keep our belongings in his car while we had a long dinner at Pizza Hut.

The station was packed with travelers coming and going, especially hundreds of bare-foot pilgrims all dressed in dark blue clothing. There were few places to sit, but we managed to snag four seats that we had to defend whenever any one of us left for a few minutes. The Rajdhani Express pulled into the station at 2230 as advertised; we quickly boarded and were moving by 2238; the express trains do not stop a lot, and when they do, they spend minimal time in the station.

We were traveling second class and did not know exactly what to expect regarding our accommodations so were very pleased to feel the cool air in the car when we boarded. The coaches are set up with a four berth cabin on one side and an open two bed berth (upper and lower) across the aisle. RA and Jean took the top bunks while Ross and I converted the seats into our beds. There was a small fold down table between us and we all had reading lights, blankets, pillows, and sheets. Cozy but comfortable with a sliding door that locked, we all felt quite secure as we rocked and swayed our way to Goa through the coastal darkness.

We missed the 0600 tea/coffee serving, but were up and about for the 0800 breakfast omelet with bread, butter and jam, mango juice and hot water for tea (Ross had his own instant coffee packet, so got his caffeine fix).

The washrooms were at the ends of the car and had a western toilet on one side and squat toilet on the other (straight shot from both to the tracks below). There was running water in the sink along with soft soap and a paper towel dispenser that never was empty; we did have to bring our own toilet paper.

We met a very engaging young artist from Rajasthan who bunked across the aisle from us and spent a couple of hours talking to him. He seemed to represent the new face of India with his laptop, iPhone (he was talking to his Swiss girlfriend on Skype), and excellent English.

Upon debarking from the train, Jean stood in line and got a pre-paid taxi for us (at less than half the price the hotel quoted us) and we were off to for our six day sojourn at a boutique hotel in North Goa. Our taxi driver was borderline insane and with no working horn brought back memories of our time on two wheels just a few short weeks ago. I sat in the front with the driver and soon discovered that my seat was not attached to the floor! When I went to buckle my seat belt there was only an eight inch remnant of the belt that threatened to blow in my face so RA grabbed it. Soon, during a particularly violent maneuver, she was left with that bit of belt in her hand! Incredible India is still doing its thing as we near the end of our nine weeks here.

Southern Comfort

11-13-08

Today was the beginning of our journey south for a little R&R before heading home to a North American winter.

It was about a thirty minute drive to the domestic airport in Delhi and not knowing what to expect we went out a little early to make sure everything went well. The procedures are a little different than they are back home. After getting our boarding passes, we proceeded to security screening for our checked baggage. After going through the x-ray machine each of the checked bags had a plastic band cinched tight around it by a machine on the conveyor belt. This was to show that the bags had been screened and also helped to secure them from petty thievery. It was welcome to us as we had no way to lock our duffle bags. From there we proceeded to personal and carry-on screening. Each carry-on bag had to have a tag on it that was then stamped to show it had been screened.

The three hour flight on jetlite’s Boeing 737 was uneventful and we landed to hot and humid weather¬¬¬ in Kochi (Cochin) in Kerala state, the area once know as the Malabar Coast.

11-14-08

After over an hour of walking around Ernakulam we took the ferry to Fort Cochin (fare was INR 2.5=US$0.05)! We visited the Dutch cemetery, the St. Francis Church (where was Vasco da Gama was buried for 14 years after his death in Kochi), and the Chinese fishing nets. These are tall spindly looking devices that drop a net into the water just off shore by rotating a framework that is controlled by balancing against large stones on ropes that act as counterweights. The Chinese introduced them here in the 1400s and they are still being used at high tide by the locals.

This coast has been home to Chinese, Portuguese, Dutch, British, Jews, Muslims, and Syrian Christians. There are mosques, churches, synagogues, and temples scattered around this part of southern India.

11-15-08

Market day--we spent several hours wandering the large market area where everything imaginable is for sale. We found the vegetable area probably the most interesting--lots of hustle and bustle as produce was being unloaded and put on display.

11-16-08

Back to Fort Cochin to visit two places that were closed on Friday: the Pardesi Synagogue in Jew Town and the nearby Mattancherry Palace. We also stopped and removed our shoes in order to visit a large Jain temple where hundreds of pigeons were being fed by the monks.

We had a filling lunch at the Brunton Boatyard Hotel’s outdoor waterside restaurant. We enjoyed watching the busy waterway traffic while enjoying the cool breeze off Vembanad Lake.

The ferry trip back to the mainland was a little disconcerting as the passenger load definitely exceeded the maximum by probably at least 50%. It looked like a subway car in NYC at rush hour.

11-17/20-08

An hour’s drive from the hustle and bustle of Ernakulam brought us to the Cherai Beach Resort on Vypeen Island. Upon arrival we each received a fresh coconut with a straw sticking out of it so we could have a refreshing welcome drink. The resort is made up of individual cottages scattered around small lagoons connected by narrow foot bridges. Hammocks and swings dot the grounds for the guests use and enjoyment. Most of the cottages are built over the water and have thatched roofs. Our particular units were newer than some of the others and had a/c in the bedroom while the bathroom was not air conditioned and a bit more open to nature. We met a British couple whose dwelling had a palm tree growing through the roof of their patio with another sprouting up through the middle of their bathroom!

The resort is on a narrow stretch of land between the Arabian Sea and the local backwaters that are dotted with Chinese fishing nets and canals connecting the rivers and lakes of this Venice-like area of the southwestern Indian coast state of Kerala. We could watch the sunrise from our front patio and then walk across the three meter wide blacktop road to the beach and watch the sunset. The waters of the Arabian Sea are quite warm and made for a pleasant swimming experience as we bobbed on the swells before they broke on to the beautiful sandy beach. We spent four hours one morning on a backwater boat trip in a large wooden canoe complete with plastic chairs for our seating comfort and punters fore and aft for a smooth, quiet tour. We visited a small village complete with an impressive Catholic church, Dutch chapel, ruins of a Portuguese church, and the remnants of the oldest European building in India--a Portuguese fort. It seemed a bit strange to see women in saris genuflecting in front of Christ on the cross.

Our favorite dining experience at the resort was the nightly barbeque served alfresco. Every water glass had protruding from it a napkin folded to resemble a peacock. When RA tried to replicate the origami in starched cotton, one of the waiters deftly demonstrated the art. The menu was simple with a choice of chicken, fish or tiger prawns--or a mixture of your choice. The marinades they used made everything absolutely yummy and the grilled veggies topped it all off nicely. An interesting note about the alcoholic beverages served there; beer appeared on the bill as “Special Juice” and a bottle of wine as “Candlelight Dinner.” Huh!?

Our three nights there were probably the most laid back of this Indian adventure and will not soon be forgotten.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Canadian Special

The smallest gesture can soothe spirits. In Jaipur we were on a “Steve” walking tour of the city encountering the usual merchants who wanted to sell of their wares. In front of one of the city gates, we came upon two men and a woman stringing rose and marigold garlands. Locals buy these garlands to offer to the deities of shrines scattered throughout the city. It was late morning and these three were nearly through stringing for the day. One of the men turned toward Jean and me, picked up two rose buds, and, smiling, handed one to each of us. He expected nothing: Roses never smelled so sweet!

With lightened hearts, we continued our walk through the bazaar and came upon some table runners we were sure would be great for our tables. The bargaining and smart talk began. When Ross and Steve finally determined where we were, we had already sealed the deal with Pepsis. As we drank our sodas, Dev, the merchant, began to tell us all of the special crafts in India: cloth, silver, inlay, and the list went on. He turned to Jean and asked her what was special about Canada. Jean looked at me, flummoxed--unusual for her. I was no help since I was a poseur--a USAer posing as a Canadian. But Ross, always in the game and never at a loss for anything replied, “Special about Canada? Ground beef, 99 cents a pound!”

P.S. Please, S & M, would you identify yourselves more specifically. Thank you.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Two Gandhis

11--11-08

Today we spent several hours touring two Gandhi museums: the Indira Gandhi Memorial Museum and the Gandhi Smriti.

The first is located in Indira Gandhi’s former home in a lovely section of Delhi near the seat of government. In addition to hundreds of well-captioned photographs, newspaper clippings, and gifts from foreign dignitaries, we saw the blood stained sari she was wearing when she was gunned down by her bodyguards in her garden in 1984. The path she was walking down is now covered with a crystal surface with a clear glass portion showing where she fell.

Part of the museum is devoted to her son Rajiv who became prime minister after his mother was assassinated. He too lost his life in a terrorist bombing in 1991 and the remains of the clothes and shoes he was wearing is on display. Very sobering stuff.

The Gandhi Smriti is a memorial to Mahatma Gandhi, the father of independent India. It was here that he spent the last 144 days of his life before being shot to death as he walked to pray with many of his followers. We followed a path of concrete footsteps to the spot where he lost his life in 1948. The extensive and detailed museum finally gave us Gandhi overload (four hours of museums will do that to you) before we headed back to the hotel. It was interesting and informative day.

Monday, November 10, 2008

FWIW II

Gas stations usually have a diesel pump in one part of the station and the petrol pump elsewhere. The bikes swarm around the petrol pump while the chase vehicle does its thing with Jean checking to make sure that the pump has been zeroed and then doling out the money from the fuel kitty we all contribute to. On two occasions all operations at the station came to a halt. The diesel powered generator that powers everything has run out of fuel. One time a little diesel was hand pumped into a can to get things going again; another time, a little diesel fuel was siphoned from a tractor that was sitting there.

Fog lines. Some of the roads have fog lines painted along the edge of the driving surface to aid in night driving and in times of reduced visibility. Two times on this trip my observations of the fog lines made me chuckle inside my helmet. The first time happened when we were in the mountains. Part of the road had caved away down the mountain side so most of our lane was gone. The fog line painter faithfully followed the edge of the road
giving us a lane that was about two feet wide at the caved in area! The second incident occurred at a spot where there was a three foot wide pot hole on the edge of the pavement. The fog line painter here decided to include the pot hole inside his line so painted around the outside of the hole to give the road a nice rounded extension. About a kilometer down the road he repeated his artistry.

War and Peace

Here is my take on the last several days…………..

11-1-08
It should have been a walk in the park--only 125 km from Gwalior to Agra on a four lane road. First of all, the four lane looked as though it had been under construction for several years and the traveling surface kept switching from one side to other, depending on where the pavement was. Eventually the road became a bona fide four lane highway along with the previously mentioned subsets of traffic coming towards us in both the passing lane and the left shoulder. No time to relax!

About 30 km south of Agra the scariest event of the trip happened. The traffic was blocked in both directions on the four lane--in our lane was a farm tractor with large trailer parked across the road. The traffic on the other side of the median was also blocked and there was a large crowd of people on the other side of the road block. RA saw a stone fly and we all rode off the road to make an end run around the trailer. I muttered under my breath, “Let’s get out of here!” I’ve heard too much about crowds and what can happen here or anywhere when mob mentality takes over. Ross got ahead of Jean and followed a car over the obstruction, a large fire hose stretched completely across the highway, but not before someone threw a hand full of dirt in his face. As I came around the end of the trailer I saw several people pulling Jean off her bike and begin pummeling her, after she too had dirt thrown in her face. I stopped my bike and got off as quickly as I could and was prepared to rush into the fray to rescue Jean. Ross was coming back from the other direction and the unruly mob melted back into the rest of the crowd on the road. Ross and I are bigger than the average Indian and I am sure we looked formidable with our helmets and riding gear. As Ross and I got Jean’s bike up and running, RA was calming Jean and we all remounted bounced over the hose despite some telling us we could not pass. I think we were all prepared to run over anyone who got it our way.

In retrospect we think we know what happened. We are not sure about the purpose of the hose--probably as simple as someone wanting to water his field with a four lane road in between his field and the water source. We think some vehicles had crossed the hose and either actually damaged it or made the people think it had been damaged; at the point we crossed it, part of the hose was fully “inflated” and part of it was flat. We also think that the trouble had started on the other side of the road and spilled over to our side. We will never know exactly what happened, but to see the mob mentality take over and attack an innocent by- passer will be forever etched into my mind. The image of Jean being dragged off her bike into the dirt is the darkest of this trip.

The Howard Park Avenue was our refuge from the afternoon’s happenings and from the rooftop we got our first glimpse of the Taj--the main dome and couple of the minarets. Looking down on the rooftop of the school below us we saw several brown monkeys making their way towards the hotel and the swimming pool on the ground floor. We also saw a man with another monkey on a leash (larger and lankier with long legs and a long prehensile tail) climbing up the metal grill work near the pool and onto the rooftop. It was the monkey guard!! The leashed monkey ran off the intruders and while he was eating his reward the human biped took potshots with a sling shot at the invaders.

11-2-08

A day off for most of us as we relaxed, napped and swam in the pool. Harlene came down from Delhi on the train and she and Helmut and Bill visited the Taj Mahal. RuthAnn and I walked over to the Taj to get the lay of the land and check out the entry gates. The whole complex is surrounded by tall stone walls so no close view of the main reason for our trip to India.

11-3-08

It was about a 15 minute walk to the ticket window and the lines that were quickly forming just before sunrise. After paying a little over $16/person and passing through strict security, we were on the grounds. Our first glimpse of the Taj Mahal in the early morning light was breathtaking. After two hours of wandering the grounds, taking pictures from every possible angle, and watching the complex grow whiter and whiter with the rising sun, we headed back to the hotel for a much needed breakfast.

11-04-08
A full day of sight seeing visiting the tomb if Itimad-ud-Daulah (the Baby Taj), the Agra Fort and viewing the back side of the Taj Mahal from the Yamuna River.

11-05-08

Our last full day in Agra was actually spent in Fatehpur Sikri, a walled city built in the late 1500’s out of red sandstone by the Emperor Akbar. It was abandoned soon after its construction due to a lack of water at the site. We also visited the impressive Jami Masjid, a huge mosque just outside the walls of Fatehpur Sikri.

11-6/8-08

Jaipur, the Pink City, was our home for three days while we got a taste of another Indian state, that of Rajasthan. We did a self guided tour of parts of the old city. Climbing to the top of the Ishwar Lat, a tall minaret, gave us a great view of the old city and some of the other sites we would visit in the next two days including the City Palace Museum, the Jantar Mantar ( an incredible array of astronomical instruments made of stone and brick), and the Hawa Mahal ( a five story high structure, but only one room deep) full of peep holes that allowed the ladies of the harem to see what was going on in the street below without being seen by the public. The “Palace of Winds” is the current icon for the city and appears on virtually any tourist publication touting Jaipur. Many camels and decorated elephants plied the streets of Jaipur. It is here that Ross and I “lost” our wives to a fabric vendor in one of the bazaars. When we discovered them, they were knee deep in piles of fabric bargaining like mad. As the price came down to about a dollar separating the two sides, a round of Pepsi-Colas sealed the deal.

11-9-08

This was our last day on the bikes as we scooted up the four-lane (sustained speeds of 70-80 km/h!!) toll road to Delhi. The smog was very thick (we did not envy the runners in the Delhi half-marathon that day) and we find ourselves back at the familiar White House Hotel.

We rode approximately 2300 miles in India and Nepal in the last five weeks and are very happy to be back safely. We could have kept the bikes for two more weeks, but felt that our biking adventure should come to an end at this time.

What will we do with our remaining time? On the 13th we are flying to the south of India to Kochi (Cochin) where we will spend about a week exploring the beaches, back waters, and tea plantations there. An overnight train ride will take us north to Goa where we have booked a week in a resort. We will then fly back to Delhi before ending our India adventure on December first.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Beauty After the Beasts

They say time heals and so does a five star hotel, a hot shower, and good wishes from friends. Thanks for all the inspiration. So as I left off, the adventure continues .......in Agra.

The Taj Mahal was one of the primary reasons for coming back to India, as we couldn't get this far north on our last trip, and we weren't disappointed. We had been advised to go at sunrise as the marble takes on the hues of the early morning light so off we trekked at 6:00AM. Even at that early hour, there was quite a long line already formed of both tourists and touts so we had to run the gauntlet of goods and services.

Security was extremely tight as In this country of poverty and filth, they are trying to blow up one of the most beautiful buildings in the world that draws the most tourist revenue. I just don't get it. They confiscated our local newspaper, my banana, Ross beaded seat cover (which we had hoped to take a picture of for advertising purposes) and Mr. HAPPY. They probably thought he was a terrorist from some puppet regime. So stripped of all our weapons, we went through the massive gates, crossed a courtyard, went through a portal and there was the most incredibly beautiful Taj.

What strikes you first is the perfect symmetry of the architecture and grounds. Everything is masterfully balanced: the large dome in the middle, the two matching minarets on each side, the mosque and matching guest house off to each side and the beautiful waterway, separating perfectly placed junipers on either side, and reflecting the mausoleum. And everything is so clean! It really is breathtaking. We just stood in awe and watched the facade change from a warm golden glow to a bright white shine as the sun rose in the sky. Naturally we had to do the photo thing and took turns posing on the bench (famous for Princess Diana) with the Taj in the background.

Gradually, we made our way up the walkway to the mausoleum itself and now we can see the beautiful marble inlaid with semi precious stones like lapis lazuli, mother of pearl, onyx, etc. to make vases of flowers. Around the actual sarcophagi, is a marble lattice screen on top of a marble wall with bas relief flowers which are translucent under the guides penlight. No wonder it took 20,000 men over twenty years to build it for Mumtaz Mahal, favourite wife of Shah Jahan who died shortly after giving birth to her fourteenth child in 1631. I'd say she earned it! And we've certainly worked hard to get here but it was worth it.

Ruth Ann had fun with a group of sari ladies, admiring their unusual earrings which wound around the back of their ears. They're equally curious about her and openly stare at her Packers cap, short hair, and giant husband. We have so many great pictures of these hardy women wrapped up in bright, beautiful fabrics, sporting lots of dark gold jewelery and with painted feet, hair parts and the obligatory dot. They are our bright spot.

Updates

Brian is doing better and he and Harlene will probably be flying back to Canada within the week.
Harlene came down by train to Agra for the day to see the Taj.
Bill wanted to visit a paper mill in southern India so he and Helmut are in Delhi waiting to fly out.
Steve, Ruth Ann, Ross & I are on our way to Jaipur, the pink city to see some more rocks.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Hosers!

Where do I begin to tell the story of the last 10 days? There have been some incredible highs but also some really bad lows-so low in fact, that I could not find any inspiration to write. So for those who wrote wondering “What’s up?” here goes.

From Varanasi and the Ganges, the roads were terrible! Large sections of payment were missing, the air was thick with desert dust, the villages were horribly congested and the stench of burning garbage filled the air. The narrower roads meant that it was even more treacherous trying to pass lumbering trucks because just as you would pull out to pass them, they would move over to pass some animal or cart and now you're almost forced off the road on the opposite side! Or you pass quickly, only to find some massive pothole waiting as you pull back in. The rough surface is also bone jarring. These bikes are fairly comfortable, but even my ample padding doesn't cushion the constant impacts.

Our next attraction is in Khajuraho-erotic temple sculptures inspired by the Indian Kama Sutra although based on the current battered state of our bodies, we won’t be emulating them for awhile! The temples are beautifully situated and well preserved in a huge park-like setting. As always though, we are constantly pestered by pushy peddlers, beggars and drivers who are drawn to our white skin like magnets and who often follow us for ages repeating their pitch over and over again. It is very wearing.

Dave McQueeney asked if we had found any truth in the statement that India had 10 races, 100 languages and 1000 gods and we certainly have. The predominant religion is Hindu, practiced by about 85% of the people including Sanjay and Mukesh (which means we avoid stopping in Muslim areas). They recently celebrated Diwaili, the festival of lights, commemorating the return of Rama, the seventh incarnation of Vishnu and star of some of the erotic sculptures. Candles were everywhere including in and around the hotel swimming pool, firecrackers exploded with abandon and strings of lights hung from rooftops. It is a time for family and sweets and we felt sorry that our guys couldn't be home so we invited them to join us for the celebration.

Two hundred kilometres west and a full days ride, brought us to Gwalior, the site of a very imposing pile of rocks, as Bill fondly refers to them. It’s a fort that sprawls over 3 kilometres on a hilltop overlooking the city. It houses 6 palaces, 3 temples, cisterns and more recently, a public school. It is fascinating, with tales of Moghul emperors and their many wives; of British domination; and maharajah dynasties. The next day, we visited the palace of one of the oldest ruling maharajahs, and were amused by the over-the-top opulence on display: chandeliers weighing tons; a toy train on the dining table used to deliver cigars and liquors to guests; and a crystal staircase-all of which were in need of a good cleaning (like everything else here!).

We were looking forward to the next stop-Agra and the Taj Mahal. The day didn't start well. As I passed a bus, several passengers threw their garbage (banana peels, etc.) out the window landing in my lap. The four lane we had been promised turned out to be another work in progress and we had to do it in the dirt.

Then, just 40 kms. from Agra, we came upon some stopped traffic. There was a large crowd of people on the other side of the road yelling and burning stuff and then suddenly someone drove a tractor across our lane blocking it. We saw a car pull out and around to get away and Ross yelled “Let’s get out of here!” (With all the recent bombings and agitation, we’re a little nervous.) He pulled around and a bunch of men spotted him and threw handfuls of sand in his face. He managed to keep going but I wasn’t as lucky. They ran at me and pulled me and the bike to the ground while some threw sand in my face and others pounded my back (thank goodness for body armour!) It was the scariest moment of my life! I started screaming “I’m a woman! I’m a woman!” (Foolishly thinking chivalry might kick in.) Steve and Ross rushed towards me and they finally took off. Ruth Ann managed to get me focused enough to get up and on my bike and we took off. Talking to Sanjay and Mukesh later, they think they were trying to bring water across the highway by hose and so they blocked the traffic without explanation. The bike suffered some minor damage and I’ve got some colourful bruises but nothing serious. Needless to say, this experience has done nothing to enhance my opinion of this country and that’s why I’ve found it difficult write. Thanks for all your expressions of concern.

The adventure continues.......................

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Holy City to Holy Wow

It’s been over a week since we’ve posted so here goes a summary of the past eight days.

10-24-08

We discovered a McDonald’s next to our hotel in Varanasi and just had to check out the local menu. No beef, but Chicken Maharaja Mac headed the menu along with several other veg and non-veg (chicken) options including Mexican and Chinese. The smell of vegetable oil and the taste of the fries was 100% North American.

10-25-08

It would be a two day drive to Khajuraho (435 km) so we set sights on an overnight in Rewa. The Maharaja Hotel filled the bill with its one star shining brightly in the garish pink back lighted sign across the front of the building. We have a new hotel rating system based on Motel Six with that chain being perfect at a score of 6.0; according to RA the Maharaja was 1.3!

Part of the ride today was on a four lane road which normally would be easier than the one/two lane roads, but that is not always the case. The road surface is usually better on the divided carriageway, but the Indians use it quite differently. For one thing, it is not unusual to meet traffic going the opposite direction in the fast lane! Tractors, motorcycles, cars etc. Whenever the road passes through a town, the town spills out into the road and occupies most of the left lane with tuk-tuks, trucks, market stalls etc. So the top speed on the four lane is still only 80 km/h and sometimes that does not feel safe considering all the stuff on the road and that which may dart out suddenly from either side.

10-26-08

Khajuraho. A small village by Indian standards (pop 20000), but with more than enough temples to go around. Here we see the Kama Sutra in stone as most of the Indo-Aryan structures are loaded with two elements: women and sex. We get a sneak peak the first night we are there by attending the very well done sound and light show. The next morning we enter the grounds again to see the place in m more detail. After a couple of hours of craning our necks and taking lots of pictures we end up in a tree house for lunch at the Blue Sky Restaurant. What a great way to see the temples and eat at the same time. When we want more beer or soda we just pull on the rope that “rings” a wooden bell that beckons our waiter.

We have treated ourselves to a five star resort here in Khajuraho complete with large swimming pool and very attentive staff. Clean towels twice a day, an excellent restaurant, and internet access for 30 rupees/hour. RA has been educating us with her Word-A-Day calendar and one of the young waiters quickly scoops up the word of the day when we leave it at the breakfast table.

Diwali (Hindu festival of lights) is celebrated during our three night stay here. Lights are strung all over the buildings and it reminds us of a snowless Christmas. All the hotels guests are invited to see the fireworks in the garden behind the hotel one night and we oblige. Sweets and sparklers are handed out and we comment on all the butter and oil lamps lining the walls, pool edge, and on small rafts floating in the pool. Soon the fireworks start--what a show!
Glowing embers fall into the crowd, strings of fire crackers explode at our feet, and sometimes the fireworks take a horizontal trajectory instead of a vertical one. We slowly retreat to the other side of the pool feeling safer with a body of water between us and the colorful exploding display. One errant rocket starts a fire in the vegetable garden reminding us of Moses and the burning bush.

10-30-08

Today’s 290 km equals the longest on our Butt Buster adventure and we bed down at the Sun Beam Hotel in Gwalior for a little over US$30/room. We latch on to a wi-fi connection and watch Obama’s thirty minute commercial on You Tube.

10-31-08

The impressive hilltop Gwalior Fort (3 km long) and the Man Singh Palace inside its walls occupies most of the morning before we motored over to the Jai Vilas Palace, home to the Scindia line of maharajas. Tremendous opulence in a land of abject poverty. Incredible India (the current epithet of Indian tourism) never ceases to amaze us; this applies to the historical sites we have seen and to the things we see as we bounce along on our Bullets.

Next stop: Agra and the Taj Mahal.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Update

We have some information that we were not at liberty to post prior to today. Brian and Harlene were involved in a single vehicle accident on October 7th, our second day on the road, between Corbett Park and Nainital. Brian was transferred to the hospital in Delhi where he is receiving care. We remained with them for three days and at Harlene's urging, continued on. We are in regular contact with her and will see them next week.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Back to India

Oh what a beautiful morning, oh what a beautiful day! We left Kathmandu early in the morning to avoid the heavy traffic and headed south to the border. It was another glorious day as they all have been with temperatures in the upper 70s and blue skies.

We chose the long way down so we could have one last ride through the mountains. It was the right choice! The road was narrow and winding and there was very little traffic so we were able to relax a little and enjoy the spectacular vistas. It seemed that everywhere you looked, something was growing. The mountain slopes have been neatly terraced to make use of every bit of land and they were all full of lush crops ready to pick. Cabbage, radishes, rice, mustard seed, corn, peppers all grew in abundance and their variety of colour gave the valleys and mountainsides a checker-board look. In the small villages we rode through, people were busy packing vegetables into sacks, husking corn or drying cobs by hanging them in bunches from their eaves. Flowers blossomed everywhere and Ruth Ann, our resident horticulturist, was in her element.

This is one of the highest roads in the Himalayas, summiting at over 8000 feet and often we could see deep down into the valleys where the road snaked its way up and down. It was right out of a motorcycle magazine! At one point, I was leading and pulled over quickly and was able to get a shot of each rider and they rounded the curve into view. If they turn out, Ill post them to the blog.

All good things must come to an end and all too soon we reached the Indian border where we faced a huge traffic jam, broken roads and Indian immigration. The office was a table set up in an alcove just off the street and the officious official took great pains examining our passports and writing in a huge ledger while making small talk leading up to a request for some currency from our countries. Ruth Ann dug up some US coins and even some Canadian coins she had acquired during her visit to Tweed. While I carefully explained what each one (quarter, dime and penny) was and pointed out the portrait of the Queen, he inquired as to whether we had some paper money. Apparently, he was more of an extortionist then a numismatist!

After crossing the border, we had a long, dusty ride on a terrible road which really slowed us down so we didn't arrive in Chopra till dark. Unfortunately, when we got there, all the hotels were full due to some celebration. The next city was 75 kms away. We spoke to our bike rental agent in Delhi and he talked to the hotel, resulting in them putting mats and pillows down on their filthy confere nce room floor where we spent the night for the grand sum of 1500 rupees ($37Cdn).for all of us.

So we're back in Incredible India, as the ads say. And it is: incredibly busy, incredibly dirty, and incredibly entrepreneurial. Everyone is trying to make a rupee and so we are dogged constantly, specially in tourist areas such as we're in at the moment enjoying all the luxuries of a five star hotel to make up for the previous night.

Varanasi is another very holy city, this time for the Hindus where they come to bathe in the Ganges River or die and be cremated on it's banks. We took a row boat to watch the sun rise on the Ganges and saw tea lights floating down the river in the early dawn light. Hundreds of pilgrims lined the shore doing their ablutions among the dead bodies of people and animals. Several big birds were perched on the floating carcass of a dead cow and Ross named it An Avian Dinner Cruise = - (

Respite in Varanasi

10-23-08

We were all up and about shortly after 0600; with no breakfast available until 0900, we decided to depart Chopra, but not until
we made a hotel reservation in Varanasi. An earlier start would also ease the traffic situation. We’d gone about two km when one of the aggressive pedal rickshaws whacked RuthAnn’s saddle bag and sent her sprawling onto the street. She bounced right up with the damage to the bike being a bent right foot peg and a loose mirror. When Mukesh bent the peg back it broke off; soon a new one was mounted and off we went. We pushed hard to get out of the bad pot-holed roads and the state of Bihar which doesn’t seem to have a good stretch of road in it. Once we got to a road that had two lanes, sometimes even sporting a center line stripe, we made pretty good time. We arrived in Varanasi about1600 after covering 225 m. The Hotel Clark Varanasi is five star rated and we feel it is worth every penny we are spending.

1024-08

After sleeping in and taking a late breakfast, we are off to Sarnath to visit one the most important Buddhist sacred sites. It is here that Buddha preached his first major sermon to five followers in 528 BC and thus began one of the world’s great religions. The archaeological park contains many ruins from that time along with many more modern temples and monasteries.

10-25-08

We are in the hotel lobby at 0500 for a ride to the Ganges River to take a boat ride and to watch the sun come up over this polluted but holy river. One of our first sites is a human body floating near the shore, followed by bloated carcasses of a pig and a cow. We think we see the body of a child, but not sure if it real or not as we do see similar figures on shore that appear to be non-human. Many Hindus are bathing and washing clothes in the sewer-laden waters; we see the burning ghats and the newer electric crematorium. After ninety minutes of rowing up and down the river, we leave to the tape recorded warnings about pickpockets, touts, and other dangers that abound. Not only were we pestered by souvenir sellers on land, but also from boats on the river. The most original was two guys with a battery powered tv selling dvds of the river scenes. We decided that our memory was enough--dvd reminders are not necessary.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Over the Mountain and Through the Woods

10-21-08

We got an earlier than usual start to try to avoid the traffic--it worked to a degree and we were soon heading west for about 30 km before taking a left and heading south on the Tribhuvan Highway. This was a one-lane paved road that twisted and turned through the mountains south of Kathmandu. We had some great views of the Himalayas with the road topping out at 2480 meters (8210’). Deep valleys with terraced hillsides presenting many shades of green made for wonderful scenery. The lack of traffic and pollution also added to the enjoyment of the ride and this day is was one of the best of the trip to date. It took us about eight hours to cover the 140 km to Hetauda and the Hotel Seema.

I finally got a handle on what kind of gas mileage we are getting with the bikes: a little over 74mpg!! Remember, though, that we are usually doing less than 60km/h and often times putting along at 30-40 km/h.

We all turned in early as the mountain riding had really worn us out. Little did we know what the 22nd had in mind for us……………….

Kat-man-doo

10-19-08

A leisurely breakfast at KC’s restaurant was followed by quickly arranging a tour of the city and flights to see Everest.

The tour was money well spent as we had a guide and a driver and it felt good to let someone else fight with the traffic. On our 8 hours away from the hotel we saw Swayambhunath (aka The Monkey Temple because of the monkeys that abound there) a large Buddhist temple set on a steep hill overlooking the city, Bodhnath (Boudha) one of the world’s largest stupas (a bell-shaped Buddhist religious structure), Pashupatinath Nepal’s most important Hindu temple and the location of the burning ghats (cremations) on the Bagmati River, and Bhaktapur a step back in time to see a traditionally important small city.

The trip back to the hotel was slow with traffic being gridlocked most of the way. We saw several young women traffic police trying to make order out of the chaos--we did not envy them inhaling all those fumes and dust.

10-20-08

Away at 0600 for the airport and our flight to see Everest. Buddha Air was our host with a petite female first-officer who did all the flying. I gave her an A as she knew how to fly smoothly and not ruffle any feathers in the passenger compartment. After take-off we did a couple of climbing circles to gain altitude out of the Kathmandu Valley. The Himalayas were nice and clear and the flight attendant went up and down the aisle to each seat and told us what peaks we were looking at. We all took turns going forward to get a look out of the cockpit windows. I chatted a bit with the captain and discovered that he had done his flight training in Texas. The aircraft was a Beechcraft 1900D with nearly 20000 hours on the airframe; at one time these were a workhorse on the American commuter scene. We got a great view of Everest towering about 3000 feet above our aircraft.

In the afternoon, some of us took a leisurely stroll down to the Durbar Square chock-a-block full of temples and other historical structures. We also saw Freak Street (Jochne) where the “enlightened” foreigners hung out before Kathmandu grew to be the metropolis it is today.

Flora and Roads

For those who are wondering what we look at along the road--when there is time--flowers and greenery are everywhere. Cana lilies grow in the compounds of the poorest, red and yellow are most common, occasionally salmon, and, less often, a yellow with a delicate salmon stripe. Pothos grows in pots all over and is used to decorate the table in "finer" restaurants. Marigolds are everywhere--in huge clumps in-ground and in patio pots; these are the flower of choice to decorate shrines and, strung into chains, to deck out wedding cars. Bougainvilla--the bright pink--grows in gardens and in some parks. Dahlias, hibiscus, geraniums--usually the orange/red color, zinnias and dianthus complete most garden scapes. What surprised me were the mums we saw growing in Tansen, Pokhara, and Kathmandu--perhaps because it is cooler there. There are many flowering bushes unmknown to me--but they are very beautiful. Banana trees and palm trees add their "greenness" to the picture. All of this competes with the dust and piles of garbage throughout the landscape.

Now for the roads--you probably have a good idea from Jean's and Steve's description
earlier on the blog--but I feel compelled to add my two bits. Potholes and dust slow
us way down, especially when we try to pass a vehicle going 15 klicks per hour and realize that we are headed for a pothole the size of the Grand Canyon or that a bus
with Mr. Tata's name is competing for the same pothole. We give way and regain our spot behind the diesel-fume-spewing-very-slow-moving vehicle, and are happy to be there, until the jockeying begins again. Most of the trucks and buses are colorfully decorated with signs painted on the front bumper proclaiming Slow Drive--Long Life
(Ross is convinced that that is not necessarily true here). Others claim to be Road King or Speed Control--40 kms per hour--which is way too fast. Bicycle rickshaws are small competition, but one plowed into my saddle bag yesterday and I went down. Fortunately I didn't see him coming (he came from the back) and so I was very relaxed and didn't hurt myself--and Mechanic Mukesh made short work of the repairs--a new headlight and rebending the foot peg. To get a real idea of the traffic, imagine any two-lane road that has bicycles, bicycle rickshaws, scooters, motorcycles, some cars--mainly taxis--vans--mainly used as small buses--big buses, big trucks, a few oxen, cows, goats, and dogs as well as people trying to walk in the street or across the street and you have a great picture of driving here. by ra

Thursday, October 23, 2008

A High Point

Kathmandu! The name conjures up images of mountains, climbers, and Sherpa guides so I wasn't prepared for this bustling metropolis of over a million people. As we fought our way into the city through the usual frenetic traffic, we passed huge, golden Buddhas, temples and high-rise modern buildings. Our hotel is in a tourist district full of schlock shops, outfitters and tour operators offering trekking, rafting, bus and city tours. Like Pokhora, there are tons of tourists, mainly young Europeans, all looking lean and fit so we blend right in with the crowd :-)

There was lots to do here so we booked a city tour for $20 each which lasted six hours and took in the Buddhist Monkey Temple, a Hindu shrine, and the walled city of Bhakapur dating from the twelfth century.

The Buddhist temples are huge domes that contain some relic of Buddha such as bone, hair or fingernail. They are sealed but on each compass point, there is an alcove containing a statue of Buddha where people go to pray. Incense fills the air and as does the sound of people ringing a bell to announce their arrival to the deity. Prayer wheels of all sizes line the perimeter and people walk along the row gently making them turn which sends the mantra carved on the wheel up to wherever. Above it all, multicoloured prayer flags fly in the breeze overhead like some used car lot also carrying their message on the wind.

Bhakapur was a huge walled city containing a royal palace and numerous temples including the highest one in Nepal. People still occupy the buildings and the narrow streets are filled with the daily life of shopping, gossiping and children playing. We are always amused at how the kids here make games and play with nothing more then stones or each other. Swings are popular but there isn't a Play Station in sight.

The most interesting but disturbing stop was at the Hindu shrine. Apparently, this one has the same importance to Hindus as Mecca has to Muslims. We were unable to enter certain areas but did catch a glimpse of a giant, brass bull that is revered as Shiva's ride. Then it was down to the ghats, steps leading down to a river, where we witnessed a cremation taking place. The body was wrapped in a shroud and placed on a stack of wood which was then set on fire using small kindling and gee. The males of the family sit behind a grate and watch while a worker completes this unsettling task. In the short time we were there, there were four cremations taking place. When they're complete, the ashes are swept into the river where children were merrily swimming and fishing! To break the somber mood, Bill said "Imagine when that guy goes home at night and his wife says 'Do you want to barbecue'?"

I had imagined that we would be able to see Mount Everest at 29,028 ft, from Kathmandu but it was not to be so we took a plane ride to within 5 nautical miles of the face and it was truly spectacular! Everest, known in Nepal as Sagarmatha, Goddess of the Sky and in Tibet as Jomolungma, Mother of the World, was named for an English surveyor in 1865. It wasn't until May 29, 1953 that Sir Edmund Hilliary, a Kiwi, and his Sherpa guide, Tenzing, were the recorded people to reach the summit. For a fascinating account of a doomed climb, get Into Thin Air by Jon Kakauer.

Road to Darjeeling is washed out and bridge to Sikkim is gone so tomorrow we head south, back to India.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Tansen-Pokhara-Gorkha-Kathmandu

10-15-08

Dawn in Tansen, RA and I got up with the sun to see the mountains this morning and they again obliged. Fog in the valley, a full moon setting and snow white peaks illuminated by the rising sun added another memory to this adventure. The do-it-all host at the hotel offered us masala tea which was a nice lead in to the typical breakfast of omelette and buttered toast with jam. He also brought RA some banana fritters which were shared amongst our fellow riders.

It was a great day for riding and the 135 km to Pokhara melted away. Deep, lush valleys with terraced rice fields, tumbling, milky, glacier-fed rivers made for great scenery. The road was dusty at times from all the dirt left over from landslides and soil washed on to the road from th monsoons. Rest stops often entail cleaning the dust from our eye-glasses and face shields along with the ever present glass bottle of Coca-Cola to wash the dust and diesel fumes from our throats. Coke is everywhere. At most rest stops there is a small mud/brick store selling soda and snacks. There is usually a small Coke labeled fridge (about the size of large picnic cooler) with soda and other things keeping cool inside. At one stop several bright yellow chicken feet shared space with the soda bottles.

10-16-08

Pokhara. A settlement by a lake, Fewa Tal, back-dropped by the Annapurna Range of the Himalayas. A tourist mecca full of trekking shops, internet cafes, and western style restaurants.
We had a nice breakfast on the rooftop restaurant of the Snowland Hotel before being informed that we had to vacate our rooms and move to another hotel down the street due to the early arrival of a group of trekkers who had to return to town because of illness.
We spent about two hours at the recently opened Gurkha Museum tracing the history of these great fighting men. Two of the docents were retired Gurkhas--very humble and charming men.

The mountain peaks are visible from almost any point in town,, but you can only see the tops. A trip to Sarangkot was needed to see more of the mountains so we arranged a car to take us to a viewpoint early the next day.

10-17-08

The wake-up knock came at 0430 and we were away in the dark at 0500 for Sarangkot which is about 2000 feet higher in elevation than Pokhara. We arrived at the viewing area before sunrise and were joined by 40-50 others. When the sun finally showed itself on the horizon it brought a stir from the crowd and soon the snow on the peaks began to glow white. A very impressive sight!

We still had to a little riding and 118 km later we were in Gorkha, a small mountain town. At our first rest stop some of us climbed up steep steps to a small temple. Jean and I went into the small temple separately and received a blessing from the holy man there. We each received our red forehead dot (a paste-like stuff with a few grains of rice in it) and a piece of fruit; Jean got a banana and I got an apple.

We had a bit of trouble finding a hotel and ended up in a “clean” but spartan hotel that cost us a total of 500 Nepali rupees ($6.33)! We hiked up the hill to eat dinner at our original hotel of choice. This place is cheap; RA and I each had a huge plate of chop-suey, a beer and a soda for another 500 rupees.

10-18-08

The Prithvi Highway along the river Trish Nuli leads us to Kathmandu. The first part of the 150 kilometer journey takes us through high green mountains and along a deep gorge with many suspension bridges and small cable cars that the Nepalis use to cross the river. We thought the road would get better as we neared the biggest city in Nepal, but we were wrong. The road actually deteriorated and we were often chugging along in first gear at 20 km/h eating the diesel fumes of the slow moving trucks and buses. Our first hotel choice, the Kathmandu Guest House was fully booked, so we ended up a few short blocks away at the Excelsior Hotel; a mid-range hotel that costs $45/night. We are in the Thamel area of the city described as a tourist ghetto in the guide book. Lots of hotels, internet cafes, restaurants, and shops catering to every need of the foreign tourist. That’s ok with us as we feel like being a bit pampered. We have just returned from an excellent Italian dinner and are busy washing clothes and watching the BBC channel on the tv. We will probably be here for three nights--we are thinking of taking a flight over Mount Everest and some of the other Himalayan peaks. Tomorrow we will keep out feet firmly on the ground visiting some of the sights in this bustling and crowded city.

FWIW

Our bikes are Royal Enfield Bullet Machismo 500s; the phones we bought in Delhi are LG Bullet 285s.

Fuel in Nepal (probably mid-80s octane) costs about US$5.04 (100 NR/liter)

The fuel pumps here do not show the total cost of fuel dispensed, only the volume.

At our last gas stop, a Nepali lad about 10 years old asked me where I was from. When I told him America, he said he was from the USA too. He has lived in Baltimore, MD, for about 18 months and is back in Nepal for three months. His father is working in the US as a civil engineer.

One of the obstacles we have to avoid each day are piles of stuff along the road that spill out on to the road surface. Sand, gravel, stones, hay, etc. Other vehicles have usually flattened the edge of the pile so if you get a little close it is not too traumatic.

One day Ross and I ended up with different key fobs than we had the day before, so at a rest stop we exchanged keys. Despite different numbers on the keys, both worked in either bike.

Signal lights are not used a lot here, but some busses and trucks will turn on the right signal light to tell you that is ok to pass. One still must verify the clear path before overtaking and that the vehicle you are passing is not turning right! The trucks in Mexico do the same thing with the left signal light and the same precautions apply.

Beer choices for the past few days are: Everest, San Miguel, Tuborg, and Carlsberg. The beer comes in 650ml bottles so a healthy dose of drink.

Virtually 100% of the bikes here have substantial crash bars. There is usually a small extension on the outside top bar that allows the rider to hang things from the crash bars. Things seen hanging from the crash bars: plastic bags stuffed with who knows what, a briefcase, a motorcycle helmet, a large fish, a kid’s school backpack.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Breathtaking Beauty

What a difference a few days make! We headed north from Lumbini into the Himalayas and found some beautiful motorcycle roads. The tarmac is very good and wide enough in most places to allow for two way traffic. We still meet the occasional car passing a truck, passing a motorcyclist passing a pedestrian and have to head to the ditch but traffic is much lighter.

The mountains are beautiful. Softly rounded and lush green with many tropical plants such as banana trees and cactus. Glacial runoff forms rivers that snake through the valleys where rice grows in abundance. We ride higher and higher until we reach the village of Tansen and our hotel which is perched on a 3000 foot peak overlooking a valley and surrounded by other mountains. It is here that we get our first glimpse of the Annapurna Range and the spectacular snow-capped mountains. Just before supper, the hotel manager called us outside to watch the clouds dissipate and reveal the first peak. They call it the ¨fishtail¨ and it gleamed in the setting sun against a bright blue sky. Awesome! Gradually, others appeared until we could see the ¨Crown of the Himalayas¨. It was worth all the potholes!

The next day, we rode to Pokhora, an American knock-off full of trekkers and tourists so we enjoyed some good old North American cuisine like lasagna and bacon and eggs. A fascinating place was the Gurka Museum. I didn't realize that the Gurkas came from Nepal. They were, and still are, an elite fighting force for the British Army and have served in almost every conflict for the past almost 200 years including the Falklands and the Gulf war.

The high point here was a trip up the mountain at 5:00 AM to watch the sun rise over the mountains. Covered in snow and sharply peaked, they were gradually exposed by the morning light. It was breathtaking! Choruses of ooos and aahhs rose from the crowd gathered at the summit. No, not the tourists, the vendors assessing how much they could fleece us for! Now were on our way to Kathmandu and the granddaddy of them all-Mount Everest!

Some general stuff:

Hotels: We don't pre-book. Just arrive in a town and see whats available. Average cost is about $35 a night for a basic room with private bath and TV. Tonight, we re in a less than wonderful place but it is only $7 for the night so we cant complain too much. Our driver and mechanic get free accommodation most nights in the Drivers Dormitory.

Food: Lots of Indian and Chinese food. No salads or fruit! On the road, we have a bag of chips and pop for lunch then have our breakfast and dinner at the hotel.

Language: Not much English anywhere so rely on our driver to translate although his English isn't great either. Kids love to practice saying Hello then giggle like crazy. The standard greeting is to place ones hands together in front of your face, prayer fashion, then bow and say Namaste. Tikhah is OK and Jalo is Go. Thats pretty much all we need.

Security: Lots of police presence. We feel quite safe. Political climate appears stable.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Into Nepal

10-14-08

This is another sum up of a few days travel; Jean has covered some of this so it may be a little repetitive, but it is another viewpoint. When RuthAnn and I did our trans-Africa motorcycle trip in 1971, we both kept journals. If you read the journals back to back, you would think that we were on completely different trips and not sitting as rider and pillion on the same bike. So goes it……………

On Friday the 10th we left Haldwani with one goal in mind: to cross the border into Nepal. We rode out of Haldwani on a very nice shaded narrow road with little traffic; this is how we envisioned our travel here on the Indian subcontinent. We were making good time when, near the border, we stopped in a gaggle of buses and trucks and other vehicles; the bridge was out. A few kilometers of back tracking got us to a one lane paved road which soon turned into a one lane gravel/stone road. After approximately 15 km and two intact bridges we crossed the top of a dam and arrived in Banbasa, the Indian border post. After many papers were signed, stamped and delivered we bounced our way across the baseball sized stones that served as a road and lurched up on to the tarmac of Nepal.

After more paperwork and money changing, we were off down the Mahendra Highway to Mahendranagar and the Opera Hotel. Cold Carlsburg beers washed down the food on the menu that sported a counterfeit Pizza Hut logo and even had a “McDonals” section with veg and non-veg burgars. We covered a total of 132 km that day.

Saturday took us farther down the Mahendra highway, the best piece of tarmac to date on this adventure. Traffic was light and we saw many people harvesting rice from the small paddies along the road. Some were even brave enough to leave their rice on a cloth lying and drying in the road. Not sure if traffic traveling in that lane would miss the rice every time. Cows have given way to a type of water buffalo and lots of goats and sheep were being herded down the road. One big difference here in Nepal are the many military road blocks that we have to stop at and show paperwork. The Toyota is not a chase vehicle for us, but a lead vehicle. Sanjay and Mukesh have the paperwork for the bikes so it is Important for them to stop first at the checkpoints. We easily cover 225 km and sleep in Nepalganj at the Hotel Batika which has an excellent restaurant. The rooms are small and have what is becoming a standard bathroom: sink on one wall, toilet on another, and a showerhead sticking out of the third wall. No stall, no tub, no curtains, just a drain in the corner to take away the shower water. There are always flip-flops on a mat by the door to use when entering the bathroom when the floor is still wet.

I will mention here the switches that are in the rooms. All fans, lights, and outlets have separate switches. There are always some switches that appear to do nothing. At the Corbett Park I counted nearly thirty switches in our room and bathroom with only half of them controlling anything.

Before we reached Nepalganj we crossed the Karneli River with a very impressive suspension bridge. Two very tall cement towers located near one end of the bridge held the cables; very modern compared to the 40s/50s style cement bridges we had been crossing.

Lumbini was our next stop and we put in the second biggest day so far: 287 clicks. Most of the driving was on the plains and fairly flat, but we did have to cross a range of Himalayan foothills that was dotted with landslides from the recently ended monsoon rains. If the dirt and rock do not cover the road you just drive around the pile of debris; if the slide completely blocks the road, you flatten a section and just lurch over it. There is usually some water involved, so soon the trucks and buses make some great muddy ruts that are just the right width to allow a motorcycle to pass through. Our boots and riding suit pant legs got their first dose of mud today. We left the highway about 50 km from Lumbini and soon were on single lane roads that turned to dirt/stone which generated lots of dust. After about 6 km of eating dust, we were back on pavement and at our destination.

Lumbini is the birthplace of Buddha and a World Heritage site. We spent most of Tuesday, the 13th, at the site visiting his birthplace and some of the many temples and shrines that have been built there by Buddhist groups from all over the world. We met a young lady from Green Bay (her parents, Zirbells, taught in Green Bay) a Nepali family from Chicago, and Vietnamese people from California and Oregon. As they say, it is a small world. Buddha was born on a full moon, the 15th is the next full moon, so we were blessed with this connection to one of the great religious figures on earth.

Today, the 14th, was an easy day: 87 km to the mountain town of Tansen at about 4500 feet above sea level. About half of the trip was in the mountains with more landslides to negotiate. We climbed high above a very deep gorge on the Siddhartha Highway and arrived at the Srinagar Hotel in time for a lovely lunch on the patio overlooking the city and the valley.

From the gate to the hotel we can see the Annapurna Range of the Himalayas and they obliged by peaking out of the clouds near sunset.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Birthplace of Buddah

Lumbini is the birth place of Buddah, who was born here on a full moon in 623 B.C. And we were like the Magi traveling over field and fountain, moor and mountain, following yonder van. The fields were wonderful! Lush expanses of various grains, women in bright saris bent over working and children herding goats and buffalo. The mountains were hell! Narrow, twisting roads with mud and rock slides every few kilometers that we were forced to ride over, through or around while dodging oncoming traffic. To make matters worse, we suck in the diesel fumes and are covered in dust from our van and the trucks and buses. On our final stretch, we rode about 15 km on a very rough, broken road which took almost an hour to ride. Then, Eureka! A paved road! We get on the throttle and dash the last few miles.

Bill often makes jokes about going to see another pile of rocks and that’s just what this turns out to be. This is a World Heritage site and is primarily an archaeological dig in progress. The main attractions are a stone marking the place where he was born, a tree his mother held and a pool in which the baby Buddha was bathed. For us the real attraction is people watching. There are monks in their saffron robes, people from all over the world, beggars and believers. We strolled around the grounds and visited several of the many temples built by various countries. These are beautiful, peaceful places with many images of Buddha. Tucked away beside the Nuns Temple, we found the Pilgrims Rest Cottage Restaurant where we enjoyed some cold drinks and listened to the ancient owner give a history of the Temple. On our way out of the grounds, a little girl about four years old, latched onto Ross and kept singing him a song over and over. He melted and made his first contribution of baksheesh. She then moved on to Steve and it was really cute to see this tiny waif walking along side this big, tall guy and the two of them singing together. Naturally, she got another donation.

Thanks for all your comments on the blog. We love reading them!

To answer Wayne's question: We are not using our GPSs for several reasons: First, we just follow our van which is a lot easier then trying to navigate on our own. Secondly, riding requires such strong concentration that you really can’t take your eyes off the road for a second so the GPS would be too distracting. Third, we’re in Nepal and we don’t have those maps.

Nepal!

Leaving Nainital, we headed down the mountains to Haldwani where we spent two luxurious days at a Comfort Inn. There, we enjoyed a very modern room with flat screen TV and endless toilet paper-a commodity much taken for granted prior to this trip!

From there, we continued on our way to Nepal. Traffic thinned out somewhat and the road surface improved slightly. We actually started to relax a bit for the first time and enjoy the countryside. Homes are mainly thatched roof huts clustered in small communities with lots of goats, sheep, oxen and kids. There are constant reminders of the recent monsoons. Wide swaths of land have been reduced to sandy river beds full of rocks and debris. Parts of the road are washed away and large rocks on the edge are the only warning signs. At one point, the bridge we needed to cross was washed away and we had to turn back and detour around to another crossing. This turned out to be another little adventure as we took a very narrow road through several tiny villages which were interesting to see close up. We rode alongside a river, crossing it twice on small bridges, then the road got progressively worse until at one point, I stopped a the bottom of a sand dune unsure how to proceed. It was at that point I was passed by two saris and a turban on a 125cc so I screwed up my courage and blasted after them.

The road soon ended and we found ourselves at the border to Nepal! First we had to sign out at the Indian Immigration where we met a girl from Siberia and later, a guy from Elliot Lake, Ontario rode up on an old Enfield. Talk about diversity! Then we went about a kilometer and passed through Nepal Immigration after paying about $50 each.

We’ve now been here two days and are really enjoying the riding. The pavement is very good or as our driver, Sanjay says “No more jumping road”. The Himalayas are on our left as we ride through a long, lush valley. There is a huge military/police presence and we are forced to stop about every 10 kilometers to show our papers. The people are very curious about us and at one rest stop, we attracted quite a crowd of men and boys including one old fellow with only two long teeth, slightly off centre, dressed in a sarong who, for some reason, decided to remove it and display his loin cloth. They called him Nepal Superman but it wasn’t readily apparent how he got that nickname. Anyway, everyone had a good laugh and we got some great people pictures.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

A Ride in the Park

There are purported to be 164 tigers in the Corbet Tiger Sanctuary. We saw two. They were in the souvenir shop. But we did have an interesting jeep ride through the park and saw lots of black faced monkeys and white spotted deer, not exactly novel when living in rural Ontario.

We did enjoy our three days in the park where we swam in a beautiful pool, walked along the rivers edge and enjoyed lots of Indian food. The real high point, literally, was an elephant ride. Because we are here right after monsoon season, the park is still quite wet so we couldn't go on an elephant safari but we could do an Elephant Joy Ride down the main road so we opted for that. Each elephant carried four of us on a table-like platform and they lumbered along making for a pleasant swaying motion. Their handlers sat behind their ears with a vicious looking pick and steered them with their feet. Before leaving, we saw all the trappings for a government officials wedding-4 bands, tons of flowers, thousands of lights, 2 elephants at the gate, and men in various uniforms some white with red turbans. Talk about excess! It brought home, once again, the huge disparity between the classes.

Then it was off to Nainital, a city in the Himalayas, where the British used to go to cool off during the hot summer months. Now that we re away from the cities, the traffic has thinned out and we actually enjoyed the 152 km ride. We find that the best practice is to ride about 20 – 30 kph; slow almost to a stop at the edge of the road when we meet oncoming trucks; and stay close to the chase van in towns where he can clear a path. Fortunately we could relax a bit and take in the scenery which was absolutely breathtaking! We climbed up 6,000 feet along twisty, narrow roads through dense forests but, surprisingly, several types of cactus. Bougainvillea grows wild and there were other beautiful flowers. Naturally, cows are everywhere and rounding corners must be done slowly because one never knows what hazard awaits around the bend-cow, people, pile of ruble, or road out. We re becoming quite proficient motocross riders!

Nainital is a city built on the mountain so the buildings cascade down to a beautiful lake where small rowboats with a seat for two make like gondolas. Unfortunately, we had to take a less then satisfactory hotel so we got to use our sleeping bag liners for the first (and hopefully, last) time. Dinner was Chinese food and breakfast was toast and tea. We are really trying hard not to get sick so are staying away from salads and cold food which limits the menu.

The bikes are running as well as can be expected with this primitive technology, as Ross calls it, They do handle really well in all the dirt, mud and water we encounter and are reasonably comfortable, considering we re riding them for 10 hours a day even if we don't do that many miles. Our mechanic is right there if there are any problems and even turns the bikes around and faces them in the direction of travel when we stop for a break. I m hoping he ll fit in my suitcase!

The India Buttbusters 2008

Thursday, October 9, 2008

FYI

The latest post is always at the top. Jean and I both posted today; Jean a few minutes after me. Our posts were written earlier in the week when we did not have internet access, so you got coverage of several days in one post.

We are currently in Haldwani, India and will get to Nepal tomorrow. We spent more time in the Himalayan foothills than we had planned with one night in Nainital by a lake at an elevation of 6400 feet.

As to beer, we've had Kingfisher, Sandpiper, and here in Haldwani, Royal Challenge is king. We all added minutes to our phones today even though they will not work in Nepal. RA and I have Nepalese visas good for 15 days; the others will be getting theirs at the border. We must pay 50 rupees up front for every day we will spend in Nepal; if we miss our exit time, it will double to 100 rupees on upon our departure.

Yikes! Bikes!

OH, MY, GOD!!!! The last 24 hours have been the absolute wildest time I have ever spent on a motorcycle in my 500,000 km experience!

It started yesterday morning when our bikes were delivered to our hotel. Crowds gathered around to see these 7 brand new, shiny Royal Enfield motorcycles(made in India) lined up amidst the dust and dirt of Delhi. Arun, the owner, had each of us ride down the street and back to test the bikes and ourselves and we all returned unscathed and satisfied with our mounts. Ruth Ann and I were especially pleased to find that we could flat-foot them once we wrenched the bikes off their side stands. Our mechanic, Mukesh, made last minute adjustments to mirrors and kick starters and then we were off.

We have a support van, driven by Sanjay and our mechanic,, Mukesh who will service and wash the bikes every evening and ride one if someone wants to travel in the van for whatever reason. The cost of such luxury? Mukesh $110 each for the whole two months. Sanjay and the van $286 each for the same period.

So we re off! We all line up and follow Mukesh first to the gas station where we fill the tanks for about $15 (gas is about $1.25 litre). Now we have to get out of town. Traffic is totally unbelievable! First- it is extremely heavy. Second- there are no lanes. Horns are honking everywhere. But there is a system to this chaos which we had noticed when walking, and now we move up from pedestrians (who are the lowest on the rung) to motorcyclists who are above bicycles, rickshaw cabs, tut tuts and scooters but are below cars and, the kings of the road. trucks. Cows, oxen, monkeys and dogs fit in where they can.

Trying to stay together, we dodge between all the aforementioned sundry vehicles with only centimeters to spare. People are so close to each other, one family had their children shake hands with Ruth Ann during a brief stop. Speaking of Ruth Ann, its really funny to see the look on peoples faces when they realize theres a woman riding. Women here all wear saris and ride side saddle so we re a big surprise. Men do an about face then tell the other two men on the bike and they all turn and look. The women, on the other hand, give us shy smiles as we make eye contact from across the globe.

Steve got up close and personal with a tut tut and stopped briefly to retrieve his leg. Other than than, we managed to get out of town where the traffic only thinned marginally but the speeds increased to about 60kph (40mph). Now that might not sound like much, but picture going down a two lane road where you re having to pass pedestrians, bicycles, tut tuts and numerous oxen-drawn carts while coming toward you are cars passing buses or trucks. Yikes! The worst scenario is when the trucks are passing the buses. Then the on-coming traffic, that would be us, have to hit the ditch and ride along there until its clear to get back up on the road. Now I m not a dirt rider, so hitting soft, deep sand the first time was pretty scary but I remembered to power out so probably hit about 150 kph as I blasted back onto the road only to have to brake hard to avoid hitting someone. This happened numerous times.

The other totally freaky thing was road diversions. We would be on a four lane divided highway (I use all these terms loosely. More like two country roads separated by a mound of sand) when we would be shunted onto the other road. Then we would be driving against traffic on the curb! People would flash their lights signaling us to get over as far as we could. Naturally, we tried to oblige providing there was a shoulder we could ride on.

I could go on ad nausea but suffice it to say that after riding 280 kms in 10 hours, the last three in the dark, we arrived quite shaken but intact. We are now staying at the Corbett Tiger Reserve for a few days – taking in copious amounts of alcohol to fuel the next leg of our journey. As for the tigers? They ll be a piece of cake compared to those trucks!

We're On Our Way

Monday 10-6-08

I am writing this Monday evening before we begin our push into Nepal tomorrow morning. This will be a quick summary of the events since Thursday night.

On Friday the third, we had a busy day getting the final bike rental details worked out, hitting an ATM at Citibank downtown as we needed to put down half of the rental agreement in cash, and buying mobile phones that will work all over India and can also be used to call home. After a nice dinner at our favorite restaurant, we all adjourned to our rooms in Delhi. We are being accompanied by a chase vehicle with a driver/mechanic and a second mechanic riding shotgun to keep things running smoothly.

On Saturday morning the bikes were delivered to the hotel and after a two block test ride on the bikes, the India Butt Busters were in launch mode.

Mechanic Mukesh led on a bike with Sanjay herding us from the back with a Toyota SUV. They did a good job keeping us together and many of our previous night’s worries went out the window as we fit into the giant, three dimensional jigsaw puzzle that is Delhi traffic. It was noon when we started out and the temps were in the 90s, so we were all soon drenched in sweat as we zigged and zagged our way out of town. At one point a tut tut (moto rickshaw) and I literally got tangled up. My right leg was trapped between the two vehicles with my crash bars wedged into his frame. Sanjay was soon there to pull the back of the bike away from the tut tut, but the bike was still stuck. After lots of pushing and pulling I was free with virtually no damage to the bike other than few scratches on the crash bar, a tiny dent in the tank, and a floppy mirror that eventually fell off. I caught the mirror and jammed it into my partially open jacket as I bounced across a stone and dirt “diversion” while dodging an on coming farm tractor.

Organized chaos is how I characterize the traffic here. If you follow the “rules” you will be ok. The Number One Rule: your size determines the pecking order; honor anything bigger than you. Number Two: announce yourself with your horn. We probably all honked our horns more on Saturday than we have in the last ten years!!

I think we all took the road shoulder more than once in the 180 miles we rode on our first day. Unfortunately, the shoulders are not that user friendly. Sometimes it is dirt and rock, other times powdery soil or sand, punctuated with whoop-de-doos. Sometimes the road is no longer paved and the tarmac begins off to your left, so you bounce over and start again. One diversion got us onto one side of a four lane, but we missed the crossover to get back on our side of the road and we were now riding the wrong way on a four lane divided highway!! But this is not an unusual thing here--you often meet other motorized vehicles bucking traffic; it is a subset of traffic that exists and you must take that into account with the mix of traffic that is moving in the same direction you are. We had a few close ones: Jean felt a pedestrian’s hand glance off her hand on the left grip and Bill brushed an oncoming truck with his shoulder and felt the lug nuts of the front wheel on the side of his leg.

Due to a communication glitch with our drivers and their boss, we ran out of daylight about 55 kilometers from our destination. We now had to factor night driving in to the equation. A lot of the vehicles you could see in daylight now became invisible, and cows, carts, bicycles, pedestrians and who knows what else do not have lights. The oncoming traffic blinds you and you hold your course and follow the taillight of the bike in front of you. Forty kilometers per hour (25 mph) is the absolute maximum and we were probably average about 30 kph. We eventually got the chase vehicle to lead as he could see the obstructions in the road with two headlights much better than we could with the bikes. After dark, the cows which were upright earlier now sleep on road to add to the mix, The most interesting road kill we saw was a monkey.

We finally arrived at our destination near the Corbett Tiger Refuge and settled into a very nice resort. The day was hot and dusty, and we all looked like we had just come in from working in a coal mine; the pollution and road grime was evident on all of our faces.

We all hope not to repeat the mistake of night riding again; we knew it was a no-no, but circumstances sometimes trump common sense. This time we were successful and we hope that the first day out will be the worst of the trip, but time will tell. The learning curve was steep and we are looking forward to entering Nepal tomorrow afternoon.

While here at the Corbett River View Retreat along the Kosi River north of Ramnagar, we have taken a “jeep” tour into the park to look for tigers (did not see any but saw lots of deer and monkeys) and an elephant “joy ride” for an hour along the road south of our hotel.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

More Delhi Sights

The rest of the group arrived last night and we stayed up until 2:30 talking.
After our hotel breakfast, we read the blog. We enjoy ¨reading¨ from you, so please keep the comments coming.
In the early afternoon, we set off in two taxis to see the largest mosque in Delhi. On the way there, we passed a local family on a cycle: dad was driving, a small child was asleep on the tank, and mom was holding a baby. All were colorfully dressed, but only the dad had a helmet on--mom and kids were free of any safety gear. Jean snapped a photo out the car window and we told them how beautiful they were. They smiled and the mom said thank you. The mosque was crowded and closed to us, but the visitors were definitely in a holiday mood. Food vendors sold every kind of food imaginable.
From the mosque we visited Humayun´s Tomb--a precursor of the Taj Mahal. Then it was off to an archeological park--tons of ruins--but now a World Heritage site, so in the process of being restored/preserved.
One more day here in Delhi, then we hope to hit the road. ra

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Tour of Old Delhi

.We began another hot, humid day with breakfast at the hotel's open- air roof top restaurant before meeting our guide for a tour of Old Delhi. Our driver/guide was a Sikh, so our first stop was a Sikh temple (gurdwara) where we checked our shoes (like a coat check) and washed our hands before having an audience with a man who gave us a twenty minute lecture about Sikhism. He then took us into the temple and to the "soup kitchen" where people were mass producing chapatis and cooking in a huge wok type cooking vessel. Ross and Jean and I looked really cute in our bright orange head scarves (RuthAnn had the forethought to bring a scarf of her own).

On to the Red Fort; an imposing red sandstone structure built in the mid-1600's by the Mughal Shah Jahan. Here is where the flag of independent India was raised for the first time in 1947.

The group will be made whole about midnight tonight when the other four members of our group fly in from Kolkata (Calcutta). Tomorrow is a holiday (anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi's birth) so we will be cooling our heels prior to finalizing bike delivery, driver and mechanic for the chase vehicle and buying cell phones on Friday. We are planning to negotiate our way out of town on Saturday morning. We have been watching with interest the traffic here and are getting pretty good at being pedestrians! The mix of traffic operates within inches of each other and the corners and sides of most vehicles have scars to prove it.

Please keep the comments coming--we enjoy hearing from you. sr

P.S. Steve P. and other political activists: We have all voted--Canadians and Americans.
Not to worry, Steve--be sure to do your part;o) ra

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Touch Down!

Arrived in New Delhi at 8:00PM after a 13 hours, 41 minutes, 55 seconds wheels up to wheels down according to our pilot, Steve. Flight was quite uneventful as we slept through most of it and arrived ready to drink Kingfishers. Had to negotiate for a taxi and ended up paying 310 rupees approx. $7.50 for all 4 plus bags and a 40 minute ride to our hotel. Staying at the White House, not George´s, which is spotless and included a wonderful full breakfast of eggs and Bhaji Puri, a spicy sauce with vegetables and fried bread. RA says we´ll probably look like that fat, round bread by the time we leave-if we´re lucky! Jean

The weather is hot, humid, but--so far--not impossible. The drive in from the airport was interesting. We were packed into an Ambassador--a local brand--
sort of like a Hillman--three in the back--Ross in the front--six of our eight bags
in the trunk--windows open and breathing in dust and diesel. But it was good because we were brought directly to the hotel and the reservations we had made Province-side were good. Now Steve and I have to snag some cash and we are going to try to get some cell phones to use here amongst the eight of us. So far, so good. Be good, FP--see you in Dec. ra

Sunday, September 28, 2008

On The Way

We are finally enroute; waiting for our plane in Green Bay. We'll have a five hour layover at O'Hare before meeting up with Jean and Ross who are coming from Toronto. The past few days have been quite busy winterizing the bikes, cars, and garden; that is a hard thing to do when the temps are in the 70s and 80s, but we will probably return to cold and snow on December 1st.

The flight from Chicago leaves at 7:15 this evening and we will be in Delhi about 15 hours after we take off; India is 10.5 hours ahead of us here in the midwest, Nepal +10:45.

The blog address has been widely distributed to friends and family--please feel free to comment--this will be a two way street.

Next stop: Injuh!!

sr

Friday, September 19, 2008

Trial Packing Session

We attacked the mound of stuff in my office and started filling our packing cubes tonight. It appears that everything will fit quite well. We each have a waterproof 50 liter Ortlieb zip duffle that can be fastened to the passenger seat of the bike with Rok Straps. We have a couple simple cloth duffle bags that we will put everything in to lessen the possibility of puncturing the waterproof duffles in the cargo hold of the airplane. We also learned tonight that we will probably have a sag wagon, so that makes packing a little easier though we will stick with what we have done so far.

We took our first dose of Dukoral tonight (a live vaccine that you take orally to prevent diarrhea; we had to buy this in Canada and keep it cool while we transported it home) and will do the second dose next Friday. What fun Friday nights we are having!

We got $100 worth of Indian rupees this week; now, we have to move some money around to various accounts to cover expenses while we are gone and we will be ready to launch.

In the last week we have spent two evenings with two young Indian women who are working here in Green Bay. They were delightful company and gave us a bit of insight into Indian society and culture. The more we read and find out about India, the more amazing the place is. Who would have thouhgt that there were French speaking areas and pockets of Christian Syrians?

Monday, September 15, 2008

Visas in Chicago

RuthAnn and I drove to Chicago last Monday night-ended up staying out near O'Hare as there were a couple of conventions in town and not only were hotels scarce, they were expensive.

On Tuesday morning we dropped off our passports at Travisa, the third party that processes all the paperwork for the Indian Consulate. We wanted to get permission to enter Sikkim (a restricted area) and the receptionist said that we had to do that in Delhi on our arrival there. That was the last thing we wanted to do, so hoofed over to the consulate to see what we could find out. There we got the proper forms that had to be filled out in duplicate along with more passport pictures. Stops at Staples and AAA got us the copies and pictures; we got off our feet at a Starbuck's and filled out the forms. After a little shopping we heading back to Travisa to pick up our passports. We finally got out of there about 7 pm and drove back out to the hotel. The next morning we had to repeat the whole drill at the Nepalese Consulate, but not before making color copies of our passports and Indian visas. Back to the Indian Consulate where the Vice Consul said he would process the Slkkim foms that day, but we had to go back to Travisa to pay them first before they would process them. Once that was done and a nice lunch eaten we took a boat trip on the Chicago River to relax a bit. In the late afternoon we headed back to the Nepalese Consulate where we met a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer who was going back to Nepal for the first time since he left in 1964! The passports finally appeared a little after 5 pm; back to Travisa to wait for the Sikkim permits. The permits finally showed up about 7 pm and we were very relieved to have accomplished all of our goals in Chicago. It was a long ride home; time to finish many last minute details before our departure on the 28th. sr