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Entered India, 12th September 2000
Exchange Rate: 1USD = 40 Rupees
Fuel: 1 Litre = 40 Rupees
Camping: Didn’t camp.
Pension/Hotel/Hostel: from 300/double (Ramnagar, Corbett National Park) to 1200/double (Delhi)
Road conditions: The surface varies from very good to the worst ‘sealed’ road I have ever seen. Traffic is bad everywhere, and very dangerous driving practices.
Speed limits: As fast as you dare. Like Pakistan, traffic the real limitation.
Border crossings from the west: Only at Amritsar
Toll roads near border crossings: The only border crossing from Pakistan is near Lahore. There is a toll road, but motorcycles are not allowed on it, which is normal for all Asian countries.
Food & Drink: 1.5L water 15Rp, 250ml Coke 10Rp, 650ml Beer 70-90Rp, Main Meal 50-100Rp (Rice, Chicken, Bread)
I only saw the North Western corner of India on this leg of my trip, and I have to say that the experience was better than I expected. I had expected to see poverty and filth, which is so often portrayed in the media. Yes there was some, but the India I saw is a far more wealthy and advanced country than Pakistan, and more expensive. I am told by other bikers that the rest of India is not as nice, and in fact some were disgusted by what they saw. I didn’t hear any good reports of Varanasi, Hinduisms holiest city. This where all Hindus aspire to be cremated and have there remains thrown in the Ganges river. These cremations are not as complete as in the west, and the charred remains are thrown into the river, where they float off to be reincarnated (they believe) somewhere downstream. Considering that this river is already badly polluted with over 250,000 times the recommended maximum level of raw sewerage, you would imagine that people would avoid it like the plague, but in fact they bath in it and drink the water because it is a holy river, and they are spiritually cleansing themselves. As you can imagine, hepatitis and other serious diseases are rampant here.
The first stop was Amritsar, just over the Pakistan border. This is a dusty hot town, but it holds the Sikhs holiest site, the Golden Temple, which is very impressive. This temple was recently re-clad with gold donated by wealthy Sikhs around the world. Sikhs are easily identified by the huge turbans they wear, and they must never remove them in public. This is one reason why it would be hard for the government to enforce a helmet law, though with the size of the turbans, they probably wouldn’t need a helmet!
After arriving at Amritsar, I was surprised to meet up with the group I met on the KKH. I thought they would be long gone. They had been there for a few days, and I think they were relishing being out of Muslim countries (IE the beer was flowing again). We were staying in a hotel close to the railway station, called the Grand Hotel. The only thing Grand about it was the price, and I could only afford a non-air conditioned room. This room had virtually no ventilation, as it was designed to have ducted air conditioning, but it must have broken down long ago. It was HOT! I stayed there two nights, and was glad to move on. I walked around Amritsar for some time looking for an ATM that would work with a VISA or MAESTRO/MASTERCARD, but none worked for me. I found out later that there is one near the Golden Palace that works, but I had already gone to a bank and manually withdraw money, a service for which they charged me 200Rp.
Whilst walking around, I discovered one of the ‘quaint’ habits within India. They seem to have designated streets to urinate on the fences. Walking along one street, the stench was overpowering. I saw several men just walk up and start urinating on the fence, in full view of the world going by. I encountered the same thing in Delhi and several other towns.
From here, one of the group went off down to the Rajasthan province, and the other four of us headed north for the mountains towards Manali. Cuan (the South African) and I blasted ahead of the other two, and didn’t even see the turn off to Dharmasala, where the Dali Lama has set up his Tibetan Government in exile. I always stop every hour or so for everyone to regroup, but they other two never turned up. We both back tracked to where we saw them last, expecting that one of them had a puncture, but they weren’t anywhere to be seen. We both believed our destination for the day was Mandi, but the other two decided to stay the night in Dharmasala. We eventually made contact again by email, and agreed to meet again in Kathmandu, Nepal, in about 10 days.
Because of the time lost waiting and backtracking, we didn’t make Mandi, and the heavens started to open up on us just as we arrived at a small attractive town in the hills called Jogindernagar. We quickly found a hotel, and missed the heavy downpour by literally seconds after unloading the bikes. We were both keen to have a beer or three, but the hotel didn’t have any. I remembered passing a beer store on the way through the town, but it was absolutely pouring rain by then. The hotel manager said to wait 10 minutes and it would stop. I’m used to tropical rain, and I didn’t think it was going to stop anytime soon. I waited 20 minutes anyhow, but it was still pouring. I was determined to get some beer, so I went out in the pouring rain with a motocross helmet and a jacket that isn’t waterproof, and got suitably drenched, but I had the beer. You have to get your priorities right!
Next day we pressed on through Mandi, and up to Manali. Most of the ride was great. We were in the foothills of the Himalayas in between Pakistan and Nepal, and most of the road was quite good. I don’t even recall many lunatic drivers, but then maybe I am becoming de-sensitised to bad drivers. I was starting to sneeze a lot, and Cuan had been feeling a little off for a couple of days. By the time we reached Manali, we both had a full on flu. I started coughing so hard and so often that I had sore stomach muscles. Cuan couldn’t stop sneezing, and the headaches and lethargy keep us in our hotel room for four days before we were well enough to travel again, though it took me weeks and a course of antibiotics to stop coughing. Manali is a very colourful city, with a spectacular backdrop of mountains and a fast flowing river of melted snow. It is a ski town in winter. It was quite cool, both daytime and nighttime, even though it was only mid September.
Further north from Manali is one of the highlights of northern India, the Ladakh area. This area is a highland desert with many Buddhist temples and rugged mountain ranges, and has close cultural ties with Tibet. It is popular for hiking, but is only accessible in the summer months because of snow and ice on the road. The capital of Ladakh is Leh. The Manali-Leh road is the second highest bus route in the world (3500m). I would have loved to go there, but with four days lost, that just wasn’t possible. This has convinced me that I must come back here again one day.
From Manali, we went down to Delhi, northern Rajasthan. This is the traffic that awaited us. It took over an hour to cover one kilometre, and it was HOT. We ended up removing our jackets and helmets otherwise we would have boiled in our own sweat. Navigating in Dehli is a nightmare, even with a GPS.
One of the reasons for coming to Delhi was to get a tyre and chain for the bike. I had been trying for the last 5000 km to find something suitable, but to no avail. Delhi proved no different. I jumped in an auto-rickshaw and was driven to all the motorcycle areas, but the biggest tyre I could get was a 100/90, a full 40mm narrower than what I’m supposed to have, but by now, I didn’t have a choice. Likewise with the chain. No Indian motorcycle uses a 520 chain, and I had to settle for industrial chain, which is non-O-ring, and inferior quality to motorcycle chain. I couldn’t even get a high quality motorcycle oil, so I settled for Pennzoil full synthetic car oil.
Delhi is a real surprise. It is relatively clean, ordered, good roads and traffic lights and plenty of western food available if you get sick of Indian. It is also a major air cargo centre. We had read on the internet that Aeroflot will fly your bike uncrated to Bangkok for about US$160. Unfortunately, they have tripled their rate since, so it no longer realistic, and Kathmandu is the better option via Thai Air. More on this in the Nepal page. The only way to SE Asia overland from India is via China. I was unable to get the bike into China without a ‘guide’ at US$150 a day and you go where they say and stay where they say, including inflated foreigner prices for meals and accomodation. Apart from the exorbitant cost, I wouldn’t travel anywhere with a guide at any price.
Not far from Delhi is Agra, a sprawling dusty polluted city that is also the home of the Taj Mahal, and other attractions such as the Red Fort.
You would have to have travelled in Pakistan and India to appreciate this sign. It says HORN PROHIBITED. This is at the Taj Mahal, but I wish they would post them on every street corner of every town in the country. It can become really annoying at times when particularly the trucks and buses sound their incredibly loud musical horns, often for now other reason than to show off. Rome has nothing on this place.
I’m sure I don’t have to tell you what this is. The incomparable Taj Mahal. Remarkable for its’ elegant simplicity, and the fact that it was built out of a mans love of his wife who died in childbirth.
After travelling 16000km without a single puncture, I had 5 in a matter of days. Here, I am at a roadside tyre shop getting one repaired. Somewhere in this crowd is my bike, as well as Cuan and his bike. This is typical of how we get mobbed whenever we stop. We are a real novelty to these people. As in Pakistan, this particular crowd started to obstruct traffic, and a cop came along weilding a huge cane, whacking everyone in reach. The look of terror on their faces said it all, as they dispersed within seconds. I carry everything I need to do them myself, but at only 30 rupees to fix the punctures, it was hard to justify doing it myself, and they vulcanise (burn) the patches on, which is better than the glue type I think.
Corbett National Park, near Ramnagar. We had come here in the hope of seeing a tiger in the wild. The lonely planet talked about ‘the season’, but we had no idea when the season was. It turns out that it is only open from November to June, so we couldn’t get in. This fellow trundled off into the forest, barging through bushes and saplings as though nothing was there. They are amazingly powerful creatures.
After our little disappointment of not being able to get into the park, we decided to head for the western border crossing of Nepal. There are similar National parks there too.
The township of Nainital in the mountains, built on a small lake. It was only about 30km off our route to Nepal, but it took 45 minutes to get there, and 45 to get back. Cuan and I were riding as hard as we dared, and we were having a ball. The road is very tight, and a lot of fun except for the frequent water streams across the road in the middle of a corner.
Nainital was ‘discovered’ by an Englishman in the 19th century, who likened it to the Lakes District in Northern England. I’ve been there, and I have to say that he must have been away from home too long. Although the lake is pretty, it is only about 2km long, and the water is like pea soup.
Hindu shrine at Nainital, in the mountains on the way towards Nepal.
Good luck bells in front of the shrine. The custom is to ring the bell for good luck before entering.
Go to Nepal