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


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.


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.


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.