You're doing what?!?

Driving the length of India in a vehicle least suitable for the task!


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Day 14 – the end, in so many ways

With a lot of miles to cover, and wanting to get out of the city before it woke up, we left at 6am, in the dark. Although all of Brian’s lights now worked, they were still pathetically weak and ineffectual at actually lighting the road in front of you. It was my turn to drive, and as I was navigating my way through the cobbled and shattered streets, at the last minute I just noticed a dark line running the entire width of the road. I’m guessing the girls noticed it at the same time too as all three of us let out a simultaneous ‘Aaaaggh’! Slamming on the completely ineffectual brakes, waiting to reach this thing that I could not make out, but we all knew was bad news. It was a deep crack / pothole that ran across the road, and we crashed over / through it sending us and all our contents (including 7+ new duvet covers we had purchased in the market the night before) flying into the air. Pulling Brian over to the side of the road, I got out, expecting to find punctured tyres or even worse, broken suspension, but thank God, we were fine.

Once back on the national highway, we initially made good progress, but within 10km of the city the roadworks started, with long, randomly spaced sections down to one carriageway of either sand or rough, rutted hardcore. At one point, a lorry going at full speed was coming straight for us, flashing his lights and leaning on his air horns. With a bank of sand and rubble directly to my left I had nowhere to go, so brought Brian to a standstill and sat there awaiting our fate, at the last minute the lorry swerved onto the rubble at ‘his’ side of the road, rocking Brian with the ‘backdraught’. As well as being incredibly uncomfortable to drive on, to stop it shaking Brian to pieces we had to go slowly, so our prediction, based upon the great roads we had experienced over the previous 3 days that 285 km would be doable was in doubt. It was also incredibly cold, and Tracy sat in the back inside her sleeping bag, only undoing the hood for this picture. We did however see our first wild peacocks though, which is something I had been looking forward to since arriving in India, and a real highlight for me.

 

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Roadworks

 

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Roadworks

 

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Yep, it was cold!

 

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A peacock 🙂

 

Eventually the roadworks ended and with the sun up, driving became a more pleasant experience. By around 08:30am we had covered approximately 80km of the journey and approaching a school on the outskirts of a village I spotted the usual speed bumps they place outside and slowed down to what would normally be a suitable speed, but these bumps were brutal, and we bounced like mad. Having cleared them I twisted the throttle, and there was a momentary gurgle and the engine died. We pushed Brian to the side of the road, I opened the engine bay, and immediately thought that something looked ‘different’, but started to look for the normal things that might have worked loose, like the fuel line or spark plug lead. At that point another team came past out of the blue and pulled over for a chat and to assist. As we all looked at the engine I asked Clair to pull the starting handle to check for a spark, and when she did so the engine hit the ground, one of the 2 engine mounting brackets had sheared off, our engine had fallen out. Being in the middle of nowhere, although none of us had any mobile signal, we exchanged numbers with the other team, and they left us, saying they would stop in the next village and try to send a mechanic back to us.

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The 2 arrows should meet!

 

As always on this trip, within minutes of stopping we were surrounded by a crowd of people who were both bemused and excited by our presence, including a group of children from the school across the road. Perhaps because we were in the middle of nowhere, and quite possibly the first westerners they had ever spoken to, the language barrier here was complete, even with the children, which was a surprise as their English was normally quite good, so we were getting nowhere fast trying to explain our predicament, and seek assistance. Eventually a man arrived on a motorbike who seemed to understand what assistance we needed, but we couldn’t understand how he was proposing we got Brian to a mechanic, or a mechanic to Brian. Not knowing if he was expecting me to go to the next village with him on his motorbike, we all stayed put and eventually he disappeared off, arriving back 10 minutes later in a pickup truck. After a lot of pointing, hand gestures and head wobbling, we established that he wanted to tow Brian to the next village / town, so with the help of the assembled crowd we lifted Brian’s front wheel onto the tailgate, and tied him in. To check that nothing fell off him during the journey, I stood in the back of the pickup to keep an eye on the road behind.

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Loading

 

 

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Approximately 5km or so up the road we reached the next town, and we pulled up outside a mechanic’s workshop, and were immediately surrounded by another crowd of people, word had obviously got out that we were on our way. The mechanic immediately started working on making the engine work, but I was struggling to make myself understood that the bigger problem was the fact that it was hanging out. Eventually, through powers of mime I never knew I had in me, I managed to get the word ‘welding’ associated with the 2 pieces of metal that were no longer attached, and with an equally expert level of mime on their part, we established that “no welding possible here” was the answer. With no options left to us, the three of us agreed that another truck to the finish line was the only answer, hand gestures quickly got that message across, and an inappropriately small truck (smaller than the previous one) quickly arrived. While I was in the process of trying to explain that the vehicle was too small, and what would it cost to get suitable transport, another man appeared with better English, who stated that there was a welding option, so the crowd pushed us the 20yds maximum from the mechanic’s shop to the welding shop. Translating through the guy with some English, the welding shop boss (who incidentally had the hairiest ears any of us had ever seen) said it would take 3 hours, to which we said “too long”, so after a lot of discussion and head wobbling, his response was “1 hour, all good”. We had a big decision to make. It was now 10:30 and we had approximately 200km still to drive. We were confident that the welding could be completed within a hour but the bigger question was what damage had been done to the engine when it fell out, could that be fixed, and what else might go wrong in the sparsely populated semi desert terrain to come. We all wanted to drive Brian triumphantly through the finishing line, but with flights to catch early the following morning and no slack available for further contingencies, we all reluctantly accepted that there was no option. We needed another truck L. So, to add further insult & injury to Brian, the crowd physically picked him up and bashed and scraped him onto a truck only just wide enough, but not long enough to fit him.

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The following 200km just proved that our decision was the correct one, as there were very few villages, the ones we went through had no hotels or mechanics shops, and being close to the Pakistan border, the whole area was dominated by army bases and the road was full of army vehicles. Eventually, at about 15:30, we pulled in to the finish line at the Jawahar Niwas Palace hotel in Jaisalmer to much cheering and laughter from the 90+ teams that had already arrived. With the help of a dozen or so other team members, Brian was picked up off the truck placed gently on the ground, and pushed onto the finish podium. Our adventure was over.

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Arrival at the finish point

 

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We got there…..finally

That night, at the finish party we spoke to many other teams, many of whom had had no problems whatsoever with their rickshaws en route, but it was the numerous problems we had faced and what we had gone through to overcome them that held people’s interest and made them laugh, so perhaps Brian being rubbish added to, rather than detracted from our adventure. Either way, it was a truly amazing trip, made so by the landscape and in particular the people of India, the vast majority of whom were simply wonderful. The sat nav app on my phone recorded a total of 2,441 km travelled, and the majority of the time we were on a truck, it wasn’t switched on, so with some confidence I can say that we drove Brian well over 2,000km.

I am now home, so with proper internet connection I will add a final summary / conclusions blog in due course, and also add more photos and video once I’ve worked out how to do so. I apologise for the delays in uploading the blog entries but I had no idea just how limited Wi-Fi would be in India, even when staying in big hotels. Finally, may I take this opportunity to thank you for your kind and supportive comments on this blog and via personal messages, they meant a great deal to me. Also, for the generosity of the people who have donated to my Virgin Money Giving page to date, I am incredibly grateful. If you have found this blog interesting or amusing and you would like to make a donation to the charities I am supporting, please go to this web page by copying the following address into your browser: http://www.virginmoneygiving.com/JohnOsborne

Until the next adventure, with love and thanks, John x

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Day 13 – so this is what driving a working Rickshaw feels like!

As promised, the electrician arrived before 10am and fitted the new battery, we quickly loaded Brian up, said our farewells to the lovely people at the Ranakpur Hill Resort and got on the road.

Driving him that day was a dream, and apart for the symphony of rattles and squeaks that Brian had generated from day one (different ones starting at different speeds and therefore vibration frequencies) everything performed faultlessly. For the first time since we got him, we were able to cruise comfortably at 60kph, which confirmed what we had always suspected, that he had been underpowered compared to the other teams’ tuks we had bumped unto periodically en route, all of which had overtaken us and left us for dust. When, a little before the village of  Khod the engine started spluttering my heart sank, but a quick check in the engine bay confirmed that the spark plug lead had worked loose and once clicked back in place, everything worked just fine again.

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Driving a good rickshaw is fun

 

 

Driving on through the stunning countryside of Rajasthan, it was clear that we were in much more barren countryside, with fewer villages spaced farther apart, and mainly situated around rivers, which were all totally dry at this time of year.

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Dry river bed

 

The national highway here was well surfaced, wide and not too busy so we made really good progress, and by mid-afternoon we arrived at the outskirts of the city of Jophpur, which we had always planned to spend some time in if possible. Although some way short of the half way point of our 2 day sprint to the finish line, with places to stay becoming harder to find, the roads in good order and with new found confidence in Brian’s abilities / reliability, we decided to find a hotel and spend some time exploring Jodhpur. That was no mean feat, as being a medieval city with tiny, winding ridiculously crowded cobbled streets resembling a Souk, Clair did a great job driving right into the heart of the city.

With the old walled city encircling the Mehrangarh hill fort, Jodhpur is simply stunning, and an overload to all your senses. It is also known as the ‘blue city’ and from the fort, which we spent the afternoon touring around, you can see that many of the houses are painted blue. There is some confusion as to the reason for this; some believe it was painted to mark the visit of Edward, Prince of Wales in the 19th Century (that was certainly the reason why Jaipur was painted pink) but others believe that it is related to the caste system, as the city is dominated by Brahmins, who paint their houses blue to denote dominance over lower castes. Either way, it made for some incredible views of the city from the fort, which again, the following pictures don’t do proper justice to:

 

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The fort

 

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The blue city

 

As we sat having dinner in a rooftop restaurant with views of the fort, we all pondered our final day, 286 km to the finish line, and the end of our adventure.

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A lovely backdrop for dinner


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Day 12 – into Rajasthan

Before breakfast I went out to Brian to see if the electrician had arrived, he hadn’t, and all enquires as to his whereabouts / potential arrival time just resulted in a flurry of head wobbling. This is perhaps the time to mention this very Indian trait. Neither a nod nor a shake, the Indian head wobble is a movement in all planes simultaneously, and can be slow, like someone stretching a stiff neck, or a frenetic wobble resembling shaking a rag doll. Either way, it means hello, goodbye, yes, no, maybe, probably not, thank you, and almost certainly a hundred other things, the sooner you learn not to rely on it meaning anything in particular, the less frustrated you will be.

Eventually the electrician arrived and took Brian away to be assessed, and we were told to wait by the pool, where they would come and find us to give us the verdict. When the midday checkout time came I went back to the car park to find out what was happening, only to find that the electrician had brought Brian back hours ago, and he needed a complete rewire, which would take a further day.

Even more frustrated at yet another pointless delay, we loaded Brian and decided to carry on with no electrics. We didn’t intend to drive at night, so lights weren’t important, but having no horn was a nightmare for Clair who had to negotiate her way out of city effectively invisible to other motorists and pedestrians.

Soon we were out on the open road, and being a high and hilly region, the landscape of Rajasthan was beautiful, and the roads relatively quiet, so that afternoon’s drive was a joy, especially with 4 gears to play with, all of which appeared in the correct position on the selection handle.

Around an hour into the journey, Tracy announced “I recognise this, I’ve been here before, and there’s a mill up the road”. Sure enough, a couple of km up the road we came across the mill, where a farmer was using a cow driven water wheel to irrigate his crops. Having taken pictures of him driving the cattle, he invited us to take a turn each, and he then took us into his farm building where he was pressing mustard and chilli oil, and sugar cane.

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With a destination in mind of somewhere between Ranakpur and Jodhpur, about 10km outside the former, Brian suddenly developed what sounded like a misfire (impossible on a single cylinder engine) and started belching blue smoke, so exasperated at yet another problem we pulled into the Jain temple as it was apparently magnificent. It didn’t disappoint at all, and the calm serenity of the place certainly put into perspective our mechanical woes. The photos below really don’t do justice to the splendour of this temple

We had deliberately parked Brian at the far end of the car park, away from the security guards as this was the only area that offered any shade. Unfortunately though, being away from security gave the temple’s resident thieves free reign to raid Brian. Arriving back at the car park, we saw some other visitors surrounding Brian clapping and making shooing noises, shortly followed by a number of monkeys running away. They had stolen all the snacks we had squirrelled away in Brian, and had also opened Tracy’s day bag and removed her bikini, the top was found immediately, but she initially thought they had stolen her bottoms, fortunately they hadn’t.

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With towns and villages sparsely distributed in this hilly terrain, in light of Brian’s latest issue, we decided to cut our losses and check into the first hotel we found past the temple, and by great good fortune that happened to be the Ranakpur Hill Resort, a big hotel that looked to be losing out to it’s newer and flashier neighbour, as it jut had one other resident that night. Soon after checking in, the girls decided to have a massage, and I was chatting to the lovely manager (yep, I’ve forgotten his name too!) explaining the challenge we were undertaking and the numerous problems we had had. He immediately got on the telephone and started making calls, then announced that a mechanic was on his way to help us. That evening myself, the mechanic, an auto electrician that he also brought along and 4 hotel staff, (including the manager) tinkered with Brian for over 3 hours, checking everything, drinking beer, and despite the almost total language barrier, laughing. The mechanic diagnosed and fixed a number of faults including a broken coil, and the electrician fixed all the wiring, but didn’t have a new battery available, though promised to deliver and fit a new one, from 2 villages away before 10am the following morning. For the first time since we were first given Brian, everything electrical worked, he started first time, and the engine sounded completely ‘right’. As the 3 of us drank Kingfisher looking at the dazzling array of stars, I felt more contented than I had for some time.

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Truly lovely people, who helped enormously

With circa 450km to the finish line and just 2 days in which to do it to make the finish party, it might just now be possible


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Day 11 – rest and repairs in Udaipur

Wanting to make the most of our day in Udaipur we agreed to meet for breakfast at 10:00am, and when my alarm went off after only a little over 4 hours sleep, I didn’t feel much like sightseeing, but stepping into the city soon changed my mind, as Udaipur is both beautiful and vibrant.

Based around Lake Pichola, and dominated by the sprawling City Palace, the city also contains 2 of the best hotels in world, including the Taj Palace in the centre of the lake, made famous in many films.

Returning back to our hotel after a full day, we met up with the Travel Manager to find out about Brian’s repairs, to be told that he had had his clutch and gearbox replaced, but that in the process of being bounced around on the back of a truck for 20 hours, his wiring loom had been cut, fusing everything. Annoyed that they hadn’t just got on and fixed everything in the day they had, he said he would bring the auto electrician back in the morning to speak to us about a solution, so yet more delays!

Udaipur is a beautiful city that I would recommend to anyone, but for me it was marred by the frustration of Brian


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Day 10 – a complete rethink

Mumbai is roughly half way on our journey in distance terms, although we have been advised that the roads are wider and better from Mumbai onwards, therefore progress should be quicker. However, it was now day 10 of the 14 day trip, and with 2 days effectively lost through mechanical breakdowns, trip, and we were never really going to make up for that lost time, even if Brian behaved himself, so we needed a rethink.

At a meeting late the night before at the hotel, it was agreed that in all reality, we would need to put Brian on a truck for a day, which due to their speed would effectively claw back 2 days on the road, which we had lost to date. After speaking to the hotel manager he suggested that we went to a large truck-stop where we might be able to hire a lorry; the only trouble with this was that it was a Sunday when most people don’t work, and the truck-stop was on the main Mumbia peninsula.

To avoid the worst of the traffic even on a Sunday, we agreed to be on the road about 5:30, and the hotel staff were very sweet, making us a packed breakfast, and as their same residents would be in bed, they allowed us to park directly outside reception to load up

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Outside the hotel

With my first stint to drive we headed off towards the centre of Mumbai, and although the roads were lit, the smog and haze still made visibility very poor. Deep down, I still kept the dream alive of driving the whole way, and I was hoping that if good progress was made, I may be able to convince Tracy and Clair to keep driving, but as we crossed the main bridge into the city, Brian started coughing and spluttering badly, the die was cast, we were on a truck. Worse than that we would now have to be carried even further on truck, as when we got to wherever we were going we would need to get him looked at, so probably another day’s delay. As such it was agreed that we should go to Udaipur, which was originally our planned third night’s stop outside of Mumbai, and according to Tracy who had visited before, a beautiful place to spend a day with Brian in the garage. All we had to do now was find a truck

Arriving roughly at the location mentioned by the hotel manager, we found ourselves at a huge lay-by beside a 3-lane road that was full of trucks with sleeping drivers. While Tracy and Clair went off to try to find someone to help, while I waited with Brian in case he need to be moved

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The layby

Eventually they came back with a chap who told us that the goods yard / weight station was a quarter of a mile further on, so we headed off there.

Initially the place was all but deserted, but the news that 3 stressed westerners, in a tuk tuk painted like a snail had arrived, people began turning up from all over the place, and soon we had a throng of people around us all talking at once, but no-one really knowing what was going on. Eventually a slick young chap with excellent English arrived, who someone had clearly called in to be a fixer for the deal.

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Doing the deal

Eventually a deal was done, we would be taken, along with Brian to Udaipur in approximately 12 hours. A truck arrived that was clearly too small to fit Brian on, but before we knew it the crowd had started the loading process, which was bedlam, as 100 chiefs and no braves, all barked contrary instructions simultaneously, resulting in damage to Brian and to the office roof! But after a lot of huffing a puffing, he was loaded. He still didn’t fit the truck, but a few lengths of loose, untied rope gave our local experts the confidence to say “fine fine”. The final twist was that the man who we had initially struck the deal with, and we thought would be our driver, took us straight around the corner and swapped with another drive, who didn’t speak a word of English, and had no idea how to get to Udaipir; what could possibly go wrong?

The early part of the journey, was pretty uneventful apart from watching some very nasty accidents in the highway, including a rickshaw flipping over and rolling over the driver, but the miles and hours passed waving at fellow road goers, with much joy and bemusement. As it started to get dark though, thinking we were near to Udaipur, I turned on the GPS app on my phone to see that Udaipur was actually 6 hours away, something had gone very wrong. That night has to go down as one of the most surreal in my life, sitting inside a tuk tuk, in the pitch darkness, being tossed around on the combined springs of the lorry and the rickshaw, bouncing off Brian’s metal frame. It was also so cold, I was wearing almost all of my clothes, even wearing Clair’s sleeping bag over my head.

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A comfortable night’s sleep in a rickshaw

We eventually arrived in Udaipur at 5am after a 20 hour journey. Tracy and Clair, spoke briefly to the travel manager at the hotel who agreed to arrange for Brian to be taken off the truck and fixed, I paid our driver, and fell into bed utterly shattered


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Day 9 – in Mumbai

Leaving again at first light, we made our way towards Mumbai, and arrived in the suburbs Navi Mumbai at around 8am. Although this suburb isn’t on the main peninsula itself, it is a transport link to the main city from the south, and as such traffic was already massively heavy. Having to make an urgent decision whether to carry on into the main city during the peak of rush hour to try and recover some sort of plan, the decision was taken that with Brian’s unreliability, he probably wouldn’t cope with it, and possibly neither would we either, so we drove to the hotel we originally planned to arrive at the night before.
We had always planned to stay at a nice hotel in Mumbai to get some washing done etc, and arriving at the Royal Tulip didn’t disappoint. Driving Brian up to the entrance barrier that led to the car park, the security guards really couldn’t believe what was happening, and despite trying to explain that we had a reservation they wouldn’t let us in. Very quickly the manager scurried out, and the situation became clearer, he wanted us to drive in through the service entrance, clearly he didn’t want 3 dishevelled and grubby looking westerners, driving a clapped out rickshaw past the restaurant, which was currently full of his guests taking breakfast

So, driving around the back of the building, we parked Brian in the underground car park, seemingly well away from any other guest’s cars, and right below a security camera.
After checking in, we made the decision to make the most of our enforced day in Mumbai, starting by taking the train to the southern tip of the peninsula, as we were all keen to experience the mayhem of the Indian railway system.
Having purchased our 2nd class tickets (£1.20 return for the 3 of us, for a 1hr plus journey!) we got onto a very quiet platform. The girls decided that they wanted the full experience, so chose not to travel in the female only carriage, but to travel in the mixed 2nd class carriage. The first few stops were absolutely fine, but when we reached a station that intersected with another line, the carriage filled up dramatically, and continued to do so from that point on. A bit like driving in India, it is impossible to describe in words what the crush was like. It didn’t seem possible that anyone else could fit it, as the majority of your body was pressed firm against someone else, but stop after stop they kept piling it. When we were well into the main city, and presumably near a major commerce area or intersection, a palpable tension built within the carriage, which I couldn’t initially understand, but as the train started to slow down, the reason became clear, a lot of people were planning to get off. Before the train even stopped at the platform, passengers started spewing out, and the commotion inside the carriage reached fever pitch, with shouting and shoving. We were staying on, but the wave of people flowing off the train en masse made it almost impossible not to be carried with them. What an amazing experience it was, especially hanging out of the open doors watching life go by, and arriving at Mumbai CST terminal a world heritage site. It wasn’t until we got back to the hotel that it dawned on us that we had taken the train on a Saturday, what must the crush be like on a weekday!
Mumbai itself was also a lovely surprise, much cleaner than I expected and with some beautiful colonial architecture. We stopped for a cocktail at the Taj Palace hotel, which was at the centre of the Mumbai terrorist attack a few years ago; it was very strange to think of the horrors that took place in such a beautiful place.

 

the inderground car park

  

Mumbai station

        

Gateway to India

 
On the way back to the hotel I stopped at the Levi store, as it was getting colder and I needed something other than shorts. All their jeans were long leg length, which I queried with the attentive staff member to which he replied “no problem sir, we adjust for your size in 1 hour”, I replied that it was now 8pm and I had to go to the hotel for dinner, and would be up very early, he responded with, “no problem sir, I bring to your hotel”. 2 hours later I had a call from reception saying a parcel had arrived, and there they were, a pair of Levi’s, adjusted to my length and delivered to my hotel, all for £20
We sat down to dinner to plan what on earth we do now!


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Day 8 – operation ‘make or break’

The morning of ‘operation make or break’ started and we were packed and ready to leave by first light, with me behind the wheel on the first driving stint. On our map, our route appeared to take is over a bridge to the next headland from which we would drive inland to the highway, but arriving at the start of the ‘bridge’ actually found us in the port / fishing dock at Jaigarh with local residents looking at us with bewilderment, which made us think we had gone very wrong. Just as we were about to turn around, we saw another Rickshaw Run team sitting in a chai shack looking equally

shocked to see us. It transpired that our bridge was actually a ferry, which luckily for us left in 10 minutes


Leaving the ferry last, behind the other team and a number of bemused locals, we were in our way to Mumbai. A couple of km down the road we saw the other team parked by the the side of the road with their engine bay open and sporting quizzical faces! It transpired that they had lost their fuel filler cap a number of days ago and had not bothered to replace it, and with just 1 litre of premixed fuel left, they thought they had run dry. We offered them a 5 litre can of our own, which they graciously declined, saying they would sort themselves out. Shortly afterwards they overtook us!

Brian wasn’t behaving very well, starting him after frequent stalls was very difficult (a frequent issue) the engine ‘juddered’ and felt very underpowered on any sort of incline, but gear selection at least wasn’t an issue for a change. Despite this we made good progress, even to the extent of me being pulled by the Police for a second time. Pulling in, to the flashes of a motorbike outrider’s ‘Blues & Twos’ I was expecting to be brought to to book for speeding, but I actually received a huge, beaming, cheesy grin, followed by “what is your name”, “where are you from” and “what are you doing”; he didn’t want to penalise me, he was just interested in what on earth 3 westerners were doing driving a rickshaw, pained as a snail through an area that sees few, if any tourists. Our contact ended with an even bigger grin, an Indian ‘wobbly head’ gesture and the lost in translation request “is there anything in can do for me”? Hearts lifted by this encounter we pressed on.

After 2 hours my driving shift was coming to an end and the search started for a suitable place for breakfast, dominated by the seemingly impossible task of finding coffee in India. I stopped in a small village in Ratnagan, pulling up outside a fruit and veg vendor’s stall, with a chai shack next door. Having found that would make a strong (but horrendously sweet) coffee, I was sitting back in my chair enjoying the caffeine and sugar rush when I noticed, out of the corner of my eye a rickshaw, painted like a snail being pushed past the doorway by a very grumpy looking man. I ran outside to confront him,and body language suggested that I had blocked his shop front and we weren’t welcome here, the faces of others around indicated that he may not have been the only one in the village to feel that way. Deciding that we should make a rapid exit, we settled up with the chai shop and jumped into Brian for a quick getaway, only to find that he wouldn’t start for anything. With a crowd building around us, we decided to push him out of the situation, which was fine until we met a small incline, and progress ground to a halt. Eventually a man appeared, who indicated that he was the village /town mechanic, and offered to help. Nursing Brian into his workshop, and despite the other work that was already in progress, he started work.
Very soon it became apparent that we had blown our head gasket, and after searching through his workshops to see if he had spares, he got to work preparing the cylinder block to make a good seal. Once completed, with some trepidation we asked him for the bill……. £1.50; he was given a very good tip and was thrilled!

Back on the road and running well, we attempted to make up the circa 1hr we had lost on the latest repair. The closer we got to Mumbai, the worse the pollution got, and there was an increasing haze / smog in the air that your could taste, and tightened your chest. Throughout the trip we had worn buffs and face masks to filter out the terrible dust that got into everything, but this was different. Clair and Tracy came into the trip with bad colds and coughs, which I had picked up inevitably due to proximity, but now we were all coughing dreadfully, and washing out our buffs at the end of each day left a horrible black and sandy sludge, which made you feel even more sorry for the poor people who eke out a living besides India’s roads.

By our mid afternoon scheduled driver change we had up the lost time due to the cylinder head repair, but it was still possible that we would make the Mumbai suburbs by sunset. However, just as Tracy was about to pull out from our changeover stop at Kolad, a local man pointed out to us that we had a flat front tyre; fortunately there was a tyre repair shack across the road, but it meant yet more delays on such a critical day, exacerbated by the fact that everything is done by hand in India. Now 2 hours + behind schedule, Tracy pulled back onto the national highway 66 toward Mumbai with the light fading fast.

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Fixing our puncture, the Indian way

Counting down the miles and villages / towns towards our goal, and with heavy goods traffic increasing the closer we got to Mumbai, it soon became apparent that we were not going to make the suburbs before darkness. With 2 of our 3 front lights not working, and the remaining one throwing out little more light than an old dynamo light on a pushbike, Tracy did an amazing job driving on in darkness. With the smog, being blinded by badly adjusted oncoming headlights if they had any on at all, no road markings, massive potholes that appeared out of nowhere, and the insane driving here, although Tracy was happy to continue, Clair and I made the call that it was too dangerous to continue, so we pulled into a roadside motel at Kasu, approximately 60km or 1.5 hours from our goal for the day. As we sat for dinner that evening very little was said, but we all knew that our chances of completing this challenge fully were now very low, or finished

287km in the day, not enough!

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Driving at dusk in the pre Mumbai smog


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Day 7 – ‘make or break’ plans are set

As we gradually move further north, it is amazing how things are changing. The mornings are now noticeably colder, and you need more than just a t-shirt and shorts to be comfortable, which was more than enough in Cochin. Now, the morning driving stint is in demand, as the fairing and windscreen protects you from a lot from the chilly breeze, from which the 2 rear passengers have no shelter. In addition, the flora is also changing, with palm trees now gradually giving way to broad leaf deciduous trees.

With Brian now functioning normally, the plan was to get back onto the main coastal highway (NH66 and NH17) but we were also keen to stay beside the sea one more time if possible, as it would be our last opportunity before heading inland for Mumbai and the push north.

Although this gave us the opportunity to stay in some lovely locations (albeit we had some duds too) the downside is that getting to and from the coast and the coastal national highway is a long drag over winding, hilly terrain that eats up time and tires out Brian. Today was no exception, by late afternoon we knew we would have to start making our way to the coast, so a quick check of Tracy’s lonely planet book from 5 years ago, identified a Government run holiday resort in Ganpatipule, which was within hitting distance, and was recommended, albeit they described it then as being ‘tired’ or in need to modernisation. Well, they certainly weren’t wrong, and another 5 years of ‘tiredness’ has definitely been added since that review. Another 3 rickshaws from another team arrived shortly after us and promptly turned around and left, the rooms were that vile. Fortunately though, we just caught the sunset and before it got too dark we were all able to go for a final swim in the sea.

Over dinner we finalised our plan for dealing with the traffic of Mumbai and the risks associated with Gujarat; the plans was as follows:

The next morning we would leave at first light and really push out all the stops to get to the southern suburbs of Mumbai before sunset where we would find a hotel. Knowing that the major roads around the city would have street lights, we could drive around the city before sunrise, not having to rely solely on Brian’s pathetically weak headlights. This would allow us to leave the hotel at 5am and get round the city before rush hour. Having done this we could then push on, hopefully clearing most of Gujarat, the worst parts in particular before we needed to stop.

There were a million things that could go wrong, but this was our only chance of ensuring we reached the finish line in time without many further days of risky driving: the next 2 days would be critical

237 km, not a bad day


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Day 6 – the push to Mumbai begins

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Our ‘bungalow’

As well as being India’s smallest state and possibly it’s prettiest one too, Goa also has the most unfriendly residents of any we have travelled through so far. Everywhere else, the riders / drivers and passengers of virtually every motorbike or car that overtakes us either stare, mouth open in disbelief, or grin, cheer and wave with delight, often slowing numerous times so that they can overtake us again and again to repeat the process. There is none of this in Goa. I can only presume the reason for this is that with Goa being the number 1 holiday / ‘party’ destination in the country, the Goans are fed up with seeing westerners driving around on their roads, perhaps not a group of exhausted, slightly bedraggled folk driving a clapped-out rickshaw painted like a snail, but almost certainly the plethora of guys riding beautiful Royal Enfield motorbikes around wearing little more than shorts, ray ban aviators and a girlfriend / wife on the back similarly attired.

As our final taste of Goa, we decided to take a detour for lunch to Anjuman beach which we heard had a good local market. After many hard miles getting there, what we found was a huge Ministry of Sound dance stage overlooking the beach, and cafes full of wasted and wired tourists, with waiters saying “you from England, lovely jubbly”. It was all very tragic and sad, but we weren’t sad to be leaving Goa

Our objective that afternoon was to get as far up the coast as we could and stay anywhere we found, but by mid afternoon it was clear that Brian really wasn’t well, and with a sticking throttle randomly making the engine rev like mad, and only 1st and 4th gears readily available, he needed urgent attention. Unfortunately, we were very much ‘in the sticks’, with villages few and far between, all tiny, and everyone we asked “you know auto mechanic?” saw us being sent in different directions with no joy. Eventually, with the day drawing in fast, we decided to head towards a ‘beach resort’ symbol on the map, which we hoped would find us accommodation at the least, and ideally a mechanic too. Unfortunately, the resort turned out to be nothing more than a car park by a very pretty beach, so no use whatsoever, but there was a rickshaw there, so we took the opportunity to ask the driver for help. After much discussion with his local chums, eventually a young lad jumped into Brian saying he would take us to someone. Having little option we followed his directions and eventually pulled into a tiny workshop. The diminutive man (sorry, I did ask his name but forgot to write it down) immediately got to work on Brian, and within 30 minutes he handed me the key to test him out; he was like new. Relieved that we had a fix we now had to urgently find a bed for the night, as the light was fading fast. The young lad said he could help us with that too, saying his brother had some beach bungalows that were clean, had electricity, hot water and wifi, they sounded perfect so we said yes. After taking us down a maze of tiny dirt paths the 3 of us had no idea where we were, so we were now committed. After what seemed like an age we turned off the track into a sandy clearing in the palm trees, and in front of us were half a dozen shacks with palm matting walls.

Basic was one way to describe these huts, but they were as clean as they could be and the owner and his wife were charming. That evening we talked about plans for tackling the vast city of Mumbai and it’s huge traffic jams, but we also had to talk about Gujarat, as the organisers of the rickshaw run had warned us all against travelling through it generally, and certain towns / cities in particular, due to a number of attacks by ‘bandits’. The main trouble with that news was that passing through that area was by far the quickest route, and due to the delays we had already experienced, we couldn’t afford the considerable extra time and miles to bypass it

Zipping myself up in my sleeping bag in little more than (in Clair’s words) “a laundry basket”, I prepared myself for a fitful night’s sleep being attacked by every critter known to man, but it actually wasn’t all that bad . The main issue was being woken up numerous times by a pack of dogs fighting outside, but also, at around 3am I was woken by a large ‘crunch’ from a plastic bag I had left on the floor. If whatever made that noise fell off the ceiling, it was heavy, or if it scuttled into it from the floor, it was big; I didn’t turn on my head torch to find out which!

143 km from Goa to Sheroda (the nearest village to wherever it was we ended up for the night) not a great day


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Day 5 – and relax

Our hotel in Goa was a little slice of paradise and a much needed break from the effort, grime and chaos of the open road.

As well as recharging our batteries, we also took the opportunity to  have Brian serviced by a local mechanic, Max.  While I was having a massage from an Indian version of Borat, Tracy and Clair went to collect Brian from the garage, but unable to negotiate an acceptable price for a taxi, started to walk, realising the walk was way longer than they expected, a local stranger offered them both a lift pillion on his motorbike, unfortunately no photos of this exist 😦

I will really miss this lovely hotel, but we need to push on, next stop Mumbai