Thursday, October 9, 2008


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.