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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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