15 September 2011
Much has taken place over the last few days. Below, we try to summarize it. Day 3: Started early in the morning on Day 3, out of Boingagon, Meghalaya. First day driving with the rising sun. Feels great. Invigorating. Music blasting with Kings of Leon (“Only Seventeen”). It felt good to be on the road. We’re leading the pack of 4 into the west; our general direction for the trip. 1 hour in, Chai break: our first shot for the day. Many more to follow. The crowds gather and take a look at us and the rickshaws, more at us. It usually gets uncomfortable, but on this day, it felt just fine. We got the chais and then an old man follows Mark, our Irish man, to hand him 70 rupees or so. It was weird, because of the state of the man. He was wearing a skirt (wizaar) and a white undershirt and not begging, but giving money away. It wasn’t right. After a lot of back and forth we realized that he had actually meant for us to have a safe trip, and asked that his money bless us on our journey. Very kind, very deep, very… India. Nevertheless, Mark didn’t take the money, but thanked him for his kindness. Fill up the tank with some petrol. What a corrosive smell that is, and I think it is killing us slowly here every time we fill up our tank. Off we go. 20 minutes later, stop when we realize we had not put on our petrol tank cap. Petrol has been leaking, and the beast sputters and rumbles at 40km/h and then comes to a stop. We find the cap on the top of our rickshaw (luckily) and screw it back on. Amateurs. Drive on. Into a town where everyone seems to be riding a bicycle with tons of bananas to sell. We stop in a little town to meet Bikram, Tariq’s little Indian friend, and buy bananas. The bananas are not the focus of this blog post. Bikram on the other hand scores high for “peculiar things that happen to you when in India”. Tariq, naively, surrendered his local phone number to Bikram when he asked nicely. Four hours later as we are driving into Siliguri in West Bengal, the thread of messages begins. Bikram has told his family about Tariq and he has readily become their main topic for all meals. The brief meeting of souls was, as Bikram put it so poetically, like “rain falling in the desert“. Bikram, the little Indian poet. The road to Siliguri (our stop for the evening) was ridiculous. Oh, and we had to take our rickshaw for a lunch break, because of crazy bridges that we crossed and funny noises. Always funny noises coming out of “she who cannot be named”. Difficult driving, but we got into a rhythm now and we seem to be finding our zen mindset when on the road. Into Siliguri we drove and into the Air View Hotel, where our rooms had sit down potties and a huge opening over our room doors which meant the hallway was part of our room. Good times. Take a quick shower. Drop down to the pharmacy for some much needed shampoo (haven’t used it for a couple of days already). We enter the pharmacy and find out through the pharmacist that a local doctor is a diabetologist. Grab his number from Tanjay the pharmacist, and arrange an interview for the next hour. Dr. Shaka Sen is a local diabetologist who works with diabetes patients on education, prevention and treatment. We meet him at his local office and have a video interview with him about diabetes in India, his thoughts on the main causes, his advice to Indians with diabetes, and his feelings about greater cooperation with the GCC on combating diabetes. It was a great interview, and we hope to share it with everyone as part of our campaign to raise awareness about diabetes, leading up to World Diabetes Day. Head over for a quick meal. Paneer. Pakora. Roti. Vegetable Pulao. Amazing food. Full stomachs. Full day. Hit the haystack with loads still to do, but no energy to do it. Distance covered: 300km (massive). Day 4: We leave Siliguri early again. It’s been raining all night. Our rickshaw top is soft and loose, so it has collected all of that water so we’re wet again at 6am. Drive off. We hit up some beautiful country roads, with a good 80km of beautiful one-way lanes. Hisham S. is driving, and Hisham A. + Tariq fall asleep in the back. Imagine. We’ve come a long way from Day 1, when we weren’t sure where the indicator lights were on this thing. Now the boys are comfortable enough to get some shut-eye in it. The beast has become a part of us, and us a part of her, and whenever she gets hurt, we hurt too. Around 11 or 12 noon our engine fails again, and when we stop we realize our spark plug came off completely. Tape it back on and continue on to Araria where we aimed to have lunch. The Blue Camels arrive and start looking for an auto-rickshaw repair shop, and we chance upon one little 8 year old mechanic. Show him the new spark plug we bought plus the spark plug cable. Make sounds that resemble the beast sputtering and then dying. He understands. Gets to it. Tens of persons arrive to witness this spectacle. 10 minutes, 30 rupees (300 fils), a Bahrain pin and a photo get us a new spark plug and a much nicer “she who cannot be named”. Off we go, heading to Purnia. Tariq takes the helm, to drive “she who cannot be named” across pristine 3 lane highways, “with painted stripes on the road” as Hisham put it. 30 minutes in. Vrooooooooooom – vrum – vrum - …. – vrooooooom – vruuuum. Uh oh. Carburetor we think. And just continue pummeling down the high way, pushing the shaw on, and it continues to impress. Make it to Purnia, our first taste of Bihar cities, is an attack on the senses. Food smells, rickshaws, bicycles, police, crazy trucks and little Biharis are upon you once you enter Purnia. We find a hotel, thanks to some locals we find on the road. Give them a Bahrain postcard and their on their way. We check in, and then take the shaw to the garage for some much needed servicing (4 days in, and 12 breakdowns later, we still need to service her) . One crazy test drive later with Janju the Bihari almost stops my heart as he sears through traffic congested roads with a lawnmower-powered vehicle. Not fun. Later on in the evening, Tariq jumps up like a cheerleader while we were doing a check up on our shaw (tyre bolt tightening, petrol filling, stereo fixing, etc). He has his iPhone and he shows me the IDF Newsletter which he just received on his e-mail. We are one of the top five featured stories in the International Diabetes Federation newsletter targeted at the World Diabetes Day campaign. Make it back to the hotel, to relax and get a nice meal. Join the ‘Illegal Immigrants’ and ‘Rare Travels’ for a lovely dinner, and then pass out again, with much to do still. Distance covered: 240km Day 5: Start at 6am again. (did you know, that initially we had thought to ourselves ‘Gee, how nice would it be if we had a full sunrise to sunset drive one day?” and here we are pushing our shaws onto the road at 6am in the morning everyday. Drive onto the roads towards Begusarai in Bihar, onto a bridge that is built over the ganges. Beautiful she is, flowing like a mighty ocean. The scenes we have seen over the past few days have been breathtaking and no camera would do it justice; colors more vivid than any Photoshop paint pallet. Serene. Even when we breakdown, we take a moment to just bask in the scenery. After that, Hisham A. hits some nasty potholes over 40km. Bumpy. Painful. We then stop for a chai break, or was that before? Hmm… Too many chai breaks? Naah. Not possible. Ask our friends from “Rare Travels” or Duncan of Tazmania, they’ll confirm this statement. Then we stop to add fuel. Drive off again, I smell some petrol. Flashbacks. Noo!! Did we forget to put the cap back onto the fuel tank again?! Get out to check, and yes, that’s the case. This time though, we lost it. Nambi is quickly on it devising a lovely little alternative using the jerry can cover and tape. Lots of tape. Seems like the shaw likes tape, because whenever something goes wrong and she starts to sputter and rumble, black tape always soothes her and gets her humming back again. She is nice, she is that shaw that cannot be named. After lunch we start our 120km drive to Patna, our supposed stop for the evening. It’s 3 30 already. Sunset is only 3 hours away, or less. Nevertheless we stop for ice cream, soda and petrol. Off we go. Much road to cover. Goolge Maps, powered through Tariq’s iPhone, gets us driving alongside the Mother Ganges. It starts to get dark. Rain starts falling heavily. The beast has no lights, and the Biharis are driving like crazy. We’re still 70km away from Patna. What to do? We start looking for a hotel that is close by. Anywhere. We’re tired and don’t want to be driving on these crazy roads. Too many beeps, people, fast trucks, water buffalos, dogs, cows, dogs and other random stuff on the road. Please let this end. We continue this mad escapade for a good 45 minutes to an hour, when we finally find the motel off the road to the left. We’re tired, hungry, dirty and wet. Smiles greet us at the door. Paneer, chicken and paneer followed by 3 chais put me in a very mellow mood. Start writing this blog and as I am reaching the end I realize how much I have forgotten to mention. Distance covered: 275km India is beautiful. What has happened over the last few days cannot be put into words. But what can be, I have done over the past couple of paragraphs. Sorry, we haven’t posted more regularly. Our days have been hectic. Hopefully, we will get back in touch with you soon. Tomorrow we are off to Varanasi, holy city for the Hindus. We will rest a night there and experience the spirituality of the city, and hopefully hit Agra sometime early next week ☺ Adios amigos. Keep in touch. Muchachos love.
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