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On the road . December 2007 . India and Nepal

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Broad Band Café, Taj Mahal East Gate Road, Agra 16-12-07
At a standstill

We have certainly had our fair share of 'being stranded' during this trip but we never thought for a moment that it would be in India and that it would also be so unclear as to when we can depart for new frontiers. But that's just how wrong you can be, because we are still in Agra and waiting quite impatiently for me to get fit enough to cycle on. It has been 6 weeks, 1 day and 7 hours, but who's counting, and though it's colossally frustrating: waiting for your body to heal itself and not knowing when that might be, we are pretty well succeeding in keeping ourselves occupied.

Our justifiable web design business is a definite hit which is great for us and the people we are doing business for. In a nutshell, is based on one simple principle: the belief that whoever you are, wherever you are, you should be able to afford to have a web site. We would like to make our specialty 'helping customers from countries where internet is not as developed as the western world.' And while the world-wide rumour has been spread that India is this up and coming power, has the same business approach as first world countries and areas like Bangalore and Mumbai are thriving from computer and internet based businesses, the majority of the country is way behind the mark. Having internet at home is only for a small percentage of the population and many businesses have to go to an café to check their emails. That is, when the server is up, the electricity is running or a virus hasn't caused the computer to go awol. Additionally, most of these services are confined to machines from the early nineties that grind away, agonizingly slow, on telephone line connections.

Basically, I have left the wheeling and dealing to Ali up until now. But on the few occasions that I have sat in on a consultation with the client I have been blown away by some of their work ethics. Not turning up for an appointment without a word of sorry is one thing but getting up from the table during business discussions because you have to pray is another. These cultural differences in mind, we decided to employ a representative who works on a commission basis. Mr Deep, as he is nicknamed, is not only trustworthy but unbelievably enthusiastic about the whole business prospect. The most important thing for us is, we will no longer have to deal direct with the customer. Though still in its teething stages, we hope to have the work process settled and a few test cases completed before we leave Agra.

Part of the family... almost
We have become intertwined with the everyday life of Agra. Well, at least along the streets that we walk up and down daily and at the places we frequent time and time again. Our stay is probably somewhere between twenty to fourty times longer than the average tourist and so we are now known in local circles. We have also met some very, very nice and interesting people; the people we come in contact with everyday.

The guy from our favourite, though not the most reliable, internet café due to viruses, power cuts and server problems; our still favourite restaurant (Treat); the cycle-rickshaw boys outside Hotel Sheela who are always in for a talk and a bit of joking around; our samosa salesmen at the corner - six please; Mr. Deep and his ever smiling neighbour/owner of the premises; the tea man opposite behind his wooden bench; his brother -well at least we think it is his brother - the auto-rickshaw driver; his one eyed colleague; the old fellow with his nuts and chippies who raises his hands above his head to greet us every time we pass, even if we don't buy any of his delicious, though very spicy goods; the road-working women, colourfully clad in silk saris, who smile and say hello every time we cycle past on our exercise routine; their young children playing in the sand who also wave enthusiastically; the guys from the internet cafe next to Shanti Lodge, the auto-rickshaw men opposite Saroj Restaurant, who know there's no need to tout with us; the owner and our beautiful smiling little friend of Saroj itself, where we end up for breakfast every day.

And then of course there's the shopkeepers, strangers, rickshaw drivers, cyclists, family men and other people who constantly ask 'are you alright now madam?' or 'how are you sir (also calling me 'sir' because they don't know the word madam?) They all show interest in us: the couple that have been, quite strangely, hanging out for so long in western Uttar Pradesh.

Turned Tables
When a few days stay-over becomes fourty-four days, it is a long extension in anyone's book and we need to move on. I guess we have seen a truer picture of local life than most travellers. Ali, who wanted to abort our Indian trip almost a week into it, now says he will depart with a better feeling than if he hadn't had such a prolonged stay in Agra. I don't agree, amongst the pleasantries which, as far as I'm concerned, would happen almost anywhere in the world under the same circumstances, I have witnessed some atrociously unfair and horrible acts. They are so deep seated in the structure of Indian culture that I know these will always be issues and are unlikely to change. Two incidents in particular still sadden me to tears and I don't want to write about them. What will say is this: on both occasions, I was so impelled to become involved and to stop what was going on that I cannot understand why other, so called human beings, don't possess the same virtues. It scares me so sincerely that these people can publicly behave in such a merciless fashion without anyone standing up and shouting 'this is wrong!'

I actually feel down-right cheated. I arrived in India full of hope and excitement for a land of exotic mysticism and friendliness. I also hung on to the belief that things would get better when Ali was ready to catch a bus directly out of the country. So in quite an ironic turning of the tables, my persistence to remain, which consequently resulted in us getting stuck here in the first place, has also lightened Ali's initially dark outlook on this country. He even goes so far as to say: 'sometimes you go somewhere and you find something else worth more than what you expected to find. He's referring to Agra, but if there is anything I have gained here, it's a constant knot in my stomach. I'm happy that he believes his experiences here are worth more than the marble mausoleum it is synonymous for. For me though, there's more beauty elsewhere on this planet.

A piece from Ali about what Son didn't want to write about
Friday the 14th...

SInce the last excerpt, our world has changed slightly, we have moved hotel, organised the promo-kit and business cards for our Indian representative of justifiable web design and have finally travelled out of Agra on several occasions on our bicycles. Practice so to say. We can't wait to get on with our life on the road and the last week wasn't really the best. As Son explained earlier, we had one very bad day this week: Let's call it Friday the 14th.

As usual over the past couple of weeks, we have ventured out in the morning to have our breakfast at Saroj Restaurant: a tiny little but very friendly place. It's only a few hundred meters away from Hotel Sheela, where we've been for 6 weeks. Saroj is on the first floor on the main road from east to west Taj Ganj, and when I say road, I mean it's as wide as two auto-rickshaws passing each other. Imagine then an extra buffalo or two, a few pedestrians and some motorcycles, and you can picture the mayhem. Well, that's where we eat our breakfast: it's outside, although it's rather cold in the morning now. There is always something to see and everything around the place keeps us visually occupied for hours.

And so did the dog family across the road. Mum and two puppies: always scratching for food in the rubbish collection area next to the hotel, playing with one another, Mum teaching her kids to be tough. We've seen them grow up, these puppies, in the last couple of weeks and have always been entertained by their funny behaviour. But not today. As soon as we sit down at our usual table, I see our brown little friend lying on the road surface below, blood surrounding her; she's dead. There has been an accident, but no one from the ever present rickshaw drivers, shop keepers or hotel owners cares enough to, at least, take care of removing to blood stained body of the little animal away from the street and their (tourist) businesses. Just leave the dead animal there for everybody to see, right smack bang on the pedestrian strip, lying in prime position to get squashed even more. What is most upsetting is, the Mother and her other pup are sitting right next to the body, not knowing what the heck has happened: she is especially confused and is wondering why her child isn't getting up. Only when Son shouts out in a very candid manner about the apparent lack of respect, the overall heartless and apathetic nature of these people does the restaurant owner confront the people downstairs to do something about it. But only when the daily street cleaner, someone low enough on the caste ladder to carry out such a task, comes along to pick up her little body, is our little friend removed from the street and our sight. But not our mind.

When we get back to our hotel, we decide to cycle out of town for a 20 kilometres practice ride; we come back; work on the computer a bit in our room and then decide to settle on the terrace with a pot of coffee to add some finishing touches to the websites we have been designing. The sun is out and this afternoon there is nobody at all at the restaurant, which makes for a nice and peaceful environment. The owner is sitting in the driveway reading his paper, the restaurant manager is sitting next to him doing goodness knows what (which is about the same thing he has been doing for the last 6 weeks!) and the kitchen staff are hanging around as per usual waiting for some more customers.

All of a sudden all hell breaks loose. The owner runs into the garden with his newspaper rolled up above his head as if to flatten a fly; the manager is finally off his lazy arse, close behind him with a stick and the two hotel dogs are already at the place of commotion. Two guys rush from the kitchen and out into the garden as well, both armed with sticks, leaving us still in the dark as to what the f#%k is happening. Is it another monkey on the rampage? They are always hanging around and the dogs are trained to chase them out of here, but normally it doesn't take this much effort nor do they make this much noise. Then we see the 'culprit' of all the kafuffle: it's a fox! A beautiful specimen of an animal: full thick golden coat of fur without a trace of mange that all the local street dogs have, splendidly bushy bottlebrush tail and a slender but muscular body. But unfortunately for him he is a fox in the wrong place at the wrong time, because he is now being chased by two dogs and four humans with weapons! When he gets to the terrace where we are sitting, he sees no way out. He feels trapped and decides to face his enemies instead. It is now only about a meter away from us but his instinct tells him to concentrate on the danger coming from the other side. The fox is now totally surrounded by dogs and humans and instead of giving the animal time to turn around and get the hell out via the back of the restaurant, one of the staff decides it is time to teach the animal a lesson. He thumps the fox with his stick full in the face, making it fly in the air for more than a meter, where it drops against the tiled steps, bleeding from his mouth and paralysed with fear and pain. The look in his eyes shows he is in agony and it looks like the blow to his head will end up killing him. The boys already have their sticks raised again before both Son and I jump out towards the petrified animal and scream so hard for them to stop. By now everyone that wasn't in pursuit of the animal also comes out to see what is going on.

I can only just restrain myself of hitting the guy full in the face. What the hell is he thinking? Doing this to the poor animal? It is a wild animal: wild animals don't like hanging out with humans, let alone domesticated dogs. It was trapped and furthermore we are pretty certain is wasn't doing any harm at all: just passing down through the back of the hotel where there are a lot of trees and bushes. It was merely trying to get out! All the staff has gathered now and some people from the main street have wandered in as well. Son is yelling at the owner to get his dogs out of the area. The owner apologises twenty times, saying 'sorry, sorry, big mistake', but for us the damage has already been done.

Water is poured over the animal which makes him move but he doesn't have any motor coordination. He's in shock and has concussion. He stumbles, trying to get away from all these humans and of course the barking dogs. He stumbles again, falls against the table, stumbles back and trips over it's own legs, yet to bump into another table leg and fall over again. The animal is trying so hard to get away from it all, but it can't. One of the staff members, who is not such a clever waiter knew exactly what to do and places a piece of cloth over the eyes of the animal and with the help of a few others takes the fox to the car. In retrospect, the owner has promised us he'll take the fox to the vet. Whether this really happened or not, we are totally unsure of. By now Son has left the scene and is standing next to our room in total shock too. This is so unreal: these people can be so violent without batting an eyelid. They don't respect anything living, they simply don't respect life. This is India...

Anyway, we have now definitely seen enough of Hotel Sheela. Besides, Son doesn't want to go anywhere near the restaurant area again. She says she can still hear the sound of the stick hitting the animal and the see the suffering in the eyes of the fox as it lay stiffened before her feet. So, we start looking for another hotel and find one pretty easily enough for a little less cost with the added bonus of a television and hot shower. However, when we tell the owner later that evening that we are going to leave his hotel the next day, but are still intending to stay in Agra for a little while longer, he insists that, as his longest staying guests in history, we must stay at his other hotel. We say we will think about it. Son would like to have nothing more to do with the Sheela Hotels but I still have to have contact regarding the websites we are building. We eventually decide that the owner is sincere is his concern for what happened and really would like us to stay at his other hotel. We move to Hotel Sheela Inn just up the road.

Universal Cyber Café, Mahendranagar, Nepal, 31-12-07
(Agra to Mahendranagar (Nepal): 6 cycle days; 1 rest day; 368 km; 436 m)
Back on the road again ;-) ... :-)

Agra to Hathras (61 km; 103 m)
Hathras to Kasganj (74 km; 72 m)
Kasganj to Budaun (59 km; 62 m)
Budaun to Bareilly (50 km; 49 m)
Bareilly to Pilibhit (59 km; 59 m)
Pilibhit to Mahendranagar (67 km; 91 m)

We initially plan to go on Friday 21 however that gets pushed to Sunday 23 due to some extra business commitments. But that's final; we just have to leave and although there is a slight pain still lingering in my back, I have the feeling that the exercise will do it good. Saying goodbye to Agra will be a bit strange as we have met a lot of good people but also very exciting to finally be back on the road again after such a long time.

Last day arrangements and events that follow cause us to look forward to the departure date even more. Our post-office ordeal which sends me into bolistic screaming fits and that almost causes the customs officer to cry is enough to explain why.

The !ndian Posta! System

We catch an auto-rickshaw to the main branch in Agra, to be on the safe side and equipped with parcels and my sewing kit ready for the stitching job. All international parcels must be covered with white cloth and if need be, to save hours of price haggling, I'm prepared to do it myself. We arrive at what looks like a large shearing shed. We haven't a clue where to go, nor where we can find a "stitcher" for our boxes, but someone beckons us to walk behind the glassed-off counter ten deep with outstretched hands grasping letters, documents and money. There is one man and one 1990's style computer attached to a sticker printout to accommodate. We wander around aimlessly asking everyone we meet where we need to go. We see the sorting room, the parcel storage area, the security cage, offices and other sections which we are not really sure what their actual purpose is before a worker leads us back to the area behind the glass counter and tells us to sit. We do and we wait; about ten minutes to be precise. Just enough time to realise that we could be waiting for hours if we don't intervene.

Ali approaches the manager behind his desk adding up figures in a hand written ledger with a calculator and is rudely ignored. But he persists and towers over him for a few minutes until I'm eventually told to take the parcels to the guy serving the mass of Indian customage. My initial questions are "where can I get some cloth from and/or do they have someone to sew up our mail?" A few minutes of Hindi babble later with a colleague and I'm told it will cost 300 rupees for the stitching. I refuse point blank to pay this as it's more than double what you would normally pay and besides this is a supposed government organisation. In Pakistan they line the outside of the post offices. You can buy packaging, cloth, paper, envelopes, string, tape and they will also stitch it for you too. Here, in Agra, a major tourist hub and at the Central Post Office, there is nothing but some rip-off merchant trying to cash in on a couple of tourists. I am impolitely told. "I don't care about what you want to pay or not it is not my problem. You need to get the boxes stitched and supply us with your passport." Unfortunately, I don't have a passport with me, only a copy. At this remark he says. "No passport, no shipping!" He turns away from me and continues his business. I interrupt and tell him in a loud irate voice that he should give us some more respect because we are simply tourists asking for advice and all I want to know is where can we find some cloth from. He ignores me.

The passport issue is solved by going to the manager and showing him my colour copy, which after examining it in detail for about five minutes, he approves as okay. We leave the building to find some cloth on our own stream. As we pass through the back section, we ask the workers where we should go. It takes a while before they catch on but are told the market is our best bet. Finding a rickshaw driver is not difficult but choosing the old man in preference to the younger one is a bad mistake. He goes about as fast as we can walk and at one stage Ali has to get off and push to help him. His legs just aren't what they used to be and I sadly wonder what will happen to him when he simply can't pedal anymore. In the long run, we purchase enough white cloth for 30 rupees in total and are back in the post office behind the counter. There is now a man sitting at a wooden dining table on one side with a metal sign above him stating that this is the Foreign Parcels section.

As I am about to start my stitching work, we are told that we must open our already packaged parcels for a customs inspection. Firstly, we have never had to do this anywhere in our travels so far, not even in Pakistan, which always hits a nerve with Indian culture. Secondly and the point we linger on, even if we do, they refuse to supply us with selotape to re-seal it: saying once again "that's our problem, not theirs." They are a post office, for heavens sake, aren't they? The customs officer says "yes they are, but not a shop." I can see that it is going to be one hurdle after another. What if we had already stitched the parcel at one of the services near where we were staying. Would we have to rip it all open again for him to examine. He asks what is in the boxes and we tell him. When the word dvd's is mentioned he asks what is on the dvd's. Personally, I think it is none of his bloody business, but Ali tells him our personal photographs which we have taken during our travels. He says he will need to inspect the contents. The Post office doesn't even have a dvd player, so how on earth are they going to do that? After demanding that this man write his name and staff id number down for me as a reference and threatening to complain to anyone I could think of from the Indian Post to the Tourism Board, he decides to get the so called Chief Commissioner on the line. We go over the same ridiculous conversation. He says we are not permitted to send dvd's out of the country. It's a 100% examination he tells me and I tell him that I don't care and if he really wants to solve this issue then he'd better get himself down here so I can talk to him face to face. Of course he never shows up.

I open the parcel to Mum and Dad and throw the contents at the Customs Officer, curtly explaining each piece. He picks up my hospital report from the MRI Scan and starts reading it. I snatch it from his hand saying it is absolutely none of his damned business what is written there and that he should pay more respect. He asks me why I'm so upset; has something happened to me. Well, if ever there was an excuse to let everything fly, this was it. I tell him how much I hate India. How despicable the people are, trying to rip me off every second they get. How discriminating it is. How the men treat me like shit. How the people in general only have concern for themselves. How inconsiderate they are on the roads are and that I got sick and got stuck in a place I loathe and can't wait to leave. How incompetent the whole country is. How intruding Indians are on the privacy of another. How filthy the country is. How archaic the system is where he is working and yet no-one does sod all about it except for brag to the rest of the world that India is somehow this up and coming power economy. He looks as though he's about to burst into tears. I start repacking the box and begin with my sewing task.

Ali fills in the forms which includes writing down the name of the novel I am sending to my sister. This is a supposedly modern post office in the country that 'self-proclaims' itself as the worlds greatest democracy! The rest of the procedure goes by with not much more being said except for when I have had enough of the woman who put wax seals on the stitching of my packages. She has been constantly pawing me with one hand while holding out the other for the last five minutes. I would like to know if it is normal to tip her and if so how much is it worth. The Customs officer replies: "You can pay 20 to 30 rupees, otherwise I will do it on your behalf." I say: "I don't want you to pay for anything on my behalf. That is not what I asked. I want to know if it is normal to tip the woman." He repeats what he just said. I ask: "Would an Indian pay the woman 20 -30 rupees for this?" Again, he says: "You can pay 20 to 30 rupees, otherwise I will do it on your behalf." I give up and hand over 20 rupees to a woman working in one very corrupt and archaic Indian governmental department.

The day comes soon enough and we get on the bikes both a little tentative about what the next few riding sessions will bring. Saying goodbye to every one takes us until almost 10.30 and then we wind our way out of Agra. First following the Yamanu river and then crossing it and heading out along some pretty bad roads. But I think our expectations are now so that if you give us 10 to 20cm of bitumen to weave around on next to the shoulder then we don't really mind if the rest of the road looks like the military have blasted it with a few rounds of automatic fire. The traffic is thick and furious for at least 20 kms. I only get a hit from one kid and almost squashed between a tractor tyre and parked car on the side of the road. Ali goes absolutely bananas at the driver. Probably because he saw exactly how close I was to getting severely hurt. I could only feel it. I was trying my best just to keep myself upright and on the tiny piece of road that the tractor had deemed sufficient for me; even when he had plenty of room on the other side.

Finally, we make it out into a more rural feel and a little more relaxing. Surrounded completely by potato, rice and vegetable farms is a lot more pleasant than the chaos of townships. I don't have too much trouble cycling along the flat paved roads at all. The bumpy roads give a little strain on my back but quite surprisingly it is holding up really well. We make Hathras (61km; 103m) by 16.30 but waste time trying to find a civilised hotel for a decent price. The Mayfair/Manaak Hotel offered disgraceful rooms at the disgraceful foreigner price of 500 rupees. A few footsteps up the road and on the opposite side, I manage to find someone who speaks English well enough to understand our predicament and directs us to Shilpa Guesthouse: apparently 200-300 rupees/per night. The rooms weren't much better and the guy also asks 500 rupees. We barter it down, along with a couple of French cyclists, Odile & Olivier , to 350 per room. Still a total rip-off, but there is little choice but to pay up.

Together, we trundle off to the restaurant, where I got the directions from in the first place and this is not a disappointment; local prices, delicious food, generous servings and friendly staff. Chat quite excitedly with Olivier and Odile all evening: exchanging info on Nepal and India. They have decided to throw their Indian plans out the window after just a few days and head straight for Thailand. Don't blame them one little bit. We, on the other hand, are really looking forward to entering Nepal. Wish I could say the same about spending our 12th Wedding Anniversary in a disgustingly grotty dive.

A perfect beginning
We watch Olivier and Odile depart in the direction we came from and don't envy them one little bit. Half an hour later and we are pedalling the other way out of town. The immaculately smooth surface the whole way up until 10kms from Kasganj is unanticipated but absolutely welcome. At this point it converts to a reasonable gravel track but slowly decays to potholed chaos, which lasts for only about 5 kms. I'm surprised that my back doesn't complain and it actually feels better for all the bumpy massaging. That is, until late that afternoon. The omnigel pain relieving cream that we purchase in the evening does wonders though and the next day I'm fine again. We are taking it really easy, breaking every 45 to 60 minutes, and only going between 50 and 70 kilometres each day.

Entering Kasganj (74km; 72m) is much the same as any other Indian city. First the roads get bad and then you'll start passing piles of dumped rubbish that obscure any side views. Pigs and cows along with the occasional donkey feed away on the rotting mess. The slums follow: one child is going to the toilet right next to me as his mother picks nits from his sister's head. Opposite, there's a woman somewhere inside an enormous bale of hay moving along the roadside while peanut and fruit sellers sit cross legged on top of their carts, sipping cups of chai and waiting for their next customer. Further on in town, men with samosas, onion bhajis, kachoris, and puri puffs swat the flies away from their wares. Wasps swarm the sweet sticky desserts and sugar blocks as do people to us when we stop to ask for directions. Within a matter of seconds, we are completely surrounded.

Unfortunately, no-one seems to have a clue about where anything is. Hotel names and restaurants are fabricated just to suit the moment; distances are an incomprehensible phenomenon and we often end up on a bit of a wild goose chase. Krishna Palace, recommended by Olivier and Odile, escapes our attention as we ride into Kasganj, mainly because we are expecting it to be on the other side of town and after 70 kms of cycling. Ali's speedometre only reads 66 kms and so we plunge on into the heart of town and local market area full of ambling pedestrians, rickshaws, bikes, small trucks, vans, tractors and cars: producing gridlock due to their obsessive nature of always trying to be first. As soon as a vehicle tries to overtake another in an obviously inappropriate place, everything comes to a standstill. Instead of rationally figuring it out, they all push, pedestrians included, into the nearest vacant space, won't budge and place their hand persistently on their horns. It's about this time that I would like to place my hands around their throats. And so the jam and tempers intensify. It is absolutely pathetic.

We eventually squeeze through and find ourselves cycling out of town, realising that the directions we have been given have lead us to a dhaba truck stop restaurant. Strangely enough, there are many eateries, offering no accommodation at all that call themselves a hotel. Has to be a misconstrued translation of the word, surely! We turn around and Ali is pretty pissed off by now, but we have no choice than to go back. This time we opt for the bypass to avoid another gridlock session and just before we meet a man on a motorcycle who seems to want to lead us to the hotel, a kid sticks his finger up my bum while riding past him. I stop and scream at him to come back and face me. Sensibly, he doesn't but an older man next to him, who saw the whole incident, biffs him good and proper around the head. Our self employed guide doesn't have a clue where he is going. To top it off, when we finally make it to Krishna Hotel, which is on the left, right at the start of town and a 100 metres from the arch leading into the market area, he wants money for his few hundred metres effort. I am really getting weary of these people not being able to carry out a single act of kindness without holding their bloody hand out for something afterwards. He doesn't get a cent.

The hotel is 300 rupees and better than last night though we do have the added extra of a mouse that insists on running across my hand in the middle of the night. Finding somewhere to eat, that looks even half appetising is difficult and when we ask for a "family restaurant" as they are so called in India, we are sent to Sheela Palace Restaurant. Of course, it doesn't exist. It never did. It is however a hotel that, if I don't judge it by the toilet facility in reception, appears half decent and rooms start at 250 rupees. Across the road and up a little is another called "Something" Guesthouse and Lodgings. So you are really spoilt for choice in this town. But we are not looking for a hotel at the moment. Food is on our mind and our pursuit ends up taking us half way across town to Campus Family Restaurant. Which is expensive for Indian standards but serves up semi-decent and above all hot food. We didn't see one other restaurant / inside eatery along the way which makes me wonder where the Kasganjians go out to eat. Maybe, we were just in the wrong area.

Incompetent !ndia
Leaving the next day, we both decide that a tip for the guy who seems to do all the work would be appropriate. Unbeknown to him he ruins any chance of good fortune by trying to overcharge us 60 rupees on the bill. It just never stops!

The weather is great but the road is worse today. A lot more unpaved patches but to give them credit, they are working on it. And in true Indian style: one group of guys is shovelling dirt and gravel from the bitumen surface recently pick axed clean. That means by hand then: a few swing the pick and prise the tar away while boys throw the pieces to the side of the road. On these semi cleared patches, another bunch of workers are haunched over with wooden scrubbing brushes in their hands, sweeping the surface clean ready for laying the bitumen. I get off to film the ludicrous work method and as I walk towards my bike an opportunistic road worker asks for 200 rupees. I wonder if he thought he would try his luck with a foreigner on Christmas Day? Interestingly enough, India doesn't even hint at celebrating this event and I have to say, along with Himalaya Herbal Products it's one of the plus points of this country.

It is another early arrival in Budaun (59km; 62m) but it takes a good half hour traipsing through town finding the hotel and again meeting with suicidal traffic stunts. After deciding the Modern Guesthouse should be condemned for demolition, we resign to paying the 400 rupees for the smallest room we have had to date. It's also dirty and coming apart in every aspect. I almost fall over backwards when the guy at reception tells me that the Regency Hotel is only 5 years old. It's full of damp, has the most archaic fittings, all of which have been attached with the skill of a bumbling idiot. They just do not know how to erect anything in India; except of course for the decorative cow dung mounds and anything made of mud. That they are pretty good at and all praise goes to the women of India at this point. But when it comes to the buildings of India, they are in need of major structural repair even before the are finished. The bricks they use are poor quality; going by the damp rotted walls, the cement badly mixed; the paint is cheap and so is the labour. Nothing better than incompetent in every detail.

Jargan newspaper journalists storm our hotel room before we have had time to settle down and we find ourselves once again in the limelight in the following day's morning edition. Everyone waves us out of town the next day; it is obvious they have read the article in the newspaper.

If it is not one thing it's another: shitholes, ripoff merchants and cheapskates!
Today is a beautiful day again and the road well paved. For the first time in a very long time it is also marked with lines, not that the traffic obeys these boundaries. Same sort of landscapes, same looking villages, same crowds engulfing us every time we stop. Everyone is pretty friendly in the villages when they are not behind the wheel of a vehicle or handlebar of a bike. They still try and rip us off with most purchases though. If you are going to India (but why would you?) here's an indication of what things cost. It does vary greatly from state to state, but this will give you a starting point. Most of the time they ask double these prices. Many products like packaged snacks and toiletry items have a MRP (maximum retail price). Sometimes the actual price is less than this but anyway have your adding up skills up to scratch because you'll undoubtedly encounter shopkeepers who'll add considerable amounts of extra rupees solely for their pockets.


soft drink

1 litre
2 litre


10 - 15 rupees
20 rupees
7 - 10 rupees
10 - 12 rupees
20 rupees

60 - 80 rupees
75 - 85 rupees


oranges, apples

pakora / bhaji
bhujia / snacks

100 gram
per piece


5 - 6 rupees
8 for 10 rupees
2 rupees each
30 - 40 rupees
2 -4 rupees
(depending on size)
3 - 5 rupees
5 - 10 rupees






(at time of writing 100 Indian rupee = 1.51 Euro)

Bareilly (50km; 49m) has plenty of hotels at your disposal (several of them on Station Road), but they are expensive and appallingly crappy. Dirty, grimy damp ridden, falling apart excuses of accommodation that haven't seen an ounce of tender loving care in all of their lives. If you do happen to stay in Hotel Pathik (400 rupees), where we rested for the night, then we suggest that you don't eat the food there. It should have clicked when they used stale bread for the vegetable sandwich I ordered for lunch. Dinner is just awful and the raita dish actually off. Ali gets sick after eating the food and is plagued with the runs, eggy burps and stomach cramps the next day. I only pick a bit at it as I am the one who takes a mouthful of the raita and immediately spits it out on my plate. My appetite is diminished right there and then. They are able to make a decent cup of tea though that's all the place has really got going for it.

Last night in India...well at least we think
Bareilly to Pilibhit (58km; 59m)
Roads are not great and neither is Ali. We find Hotel Rama Palace easily and it really does appear to live up to it's name as a Palace on first sight: friendly staff; cleanish room; nice beds and clean sheets (the first we've had since Agra); hot shower, room service with an extensive menu; and television. What more could you ask for? Well, electricity would be good. It goes on and off like twinkling fairy lights on a Christmas tree. On second inspection, there is no hot water and that has to be delivered by bucket to the room; the pipe leading to the toilet bowl isn't connected properley and Ali gets a good dousing when he flushes the loo; we don't get to see one entire movie due to either electrivity going off or the cable falling out; strangely the telephone keeps ringing us but we are unable to ring out for room service; and in the end, our 600 rupee room is quickly discounted to 300 when Ali asks what we are actually paying for?

I feel like I am getting the flu, Ali has been on an off the toilet all night and Benazir Bhutto has been assassinated. We decide to stay an extra day. Tomorrow 29 December 2007... Nepal here we finally come.

Welcome to Nepal... have a cuppa tea
It's an early rise, quick breakfast and we are off. It feels oh, so great to know we are leaving India today. Apart from all the hotels shortcomings hotel Rama Palace has been one of the nicest places we've stayed in and the management and staff have been extremely friendly and obliging.

Like most of the journey since Budaun it winds past massive brick factories and sugar cane farms. It's harvest time and a sweet smell crossed between grass and molasses fills the air, as does the thick smoke from machines used to squeeze the syrup out of the cane. It's quieter on the roads than we have experienced to date, though still enough traffic to create havoc every now and again. And they are still persistant about their horns. The surface swaps continually between being not so great to pretty good. We are just 4 kilometres from Banbasa and the border crossing when we stop at a bridge and are invited back for a cup of coffee from the local Hartland family. It's early enough and besides they say they know a shortcut to the border from their farm. We are welcomed ever so warmly and it seems quite ironic on our last day to meet such friendly people. They offer cake and biscuits and what we don't eat is packed up into a bag including some oranges and chocolate for our journey. It's really sweet of them.

They organise one of their workers to escort us to the border and we travel along pathways skirting in between the farmland and along a canal for a number of kilometres before hitting the main (in name more than actuality) road again. It's tropical green here and quite peaceful and the faces of the people are changing ever so slightly. You need to cross over a bridge along a tiny path complete with trolley tracks and lots of foot passengers. Our guide can dart in and out no problems but with loaded bikes it's easy to get stuck behind some slow moving traffic. Goodness knows how a truck manages to get through. We hit the Indian immigration point just before 2.30pm and it's a simple filling in of forms and ledgers and a couple of stamps and we are off along a stretch of road that truly epitomises the consequence of being in no-man's land. It's not a road at all!

We almost miss immigration on the Nepalese side. A larger Tourist Information sign overwhelms the rust coloured board pointing out the official office. The procedure is relaxed, quick and efficient and we even get a cup of tea given to us as well. Very pleasant.

Gaddachauki Border Crossing (Open 24 hours, every day of the week). Everything processed in no more than 15 minutes for a 60 day single entry visa at a cost of $US30. Application form and immigration forms given but you need to supply one pass photo. And here's a nice surprise: If you leave Nepal after a stay of longer than 15 days in a Nepalese visa year (January to December), then you can re-enter the country and get a 30 day visa free of charge.

At the check post we are simply waved on and hear the words "Welcome to Nepal" coming from one of the guards. No bureaucratic huff and puff from self-important officials wanting to flaunt their power around. The ride down the road into Nepal feels good. I stop to film the green surrounding rice fields and we meet another cycling couple heading towards India but we don't have to warn them of the hell journey ahead. They have already heard and plan to catch a train to Delhi before flying out.

Mahendranagar (66km; 91m) is about 5 km's from the check post and by the time we reach Hotel Sweet Dream, India is well and truly dripping away. The only reminiscent sign is the horn honking, coming exclusively from Indian vehicles. The hotel room is 500 NR (95 NR = 1 euro) and probably one of the more expensive choices but it's fine for our first night in Nepal. It's a massive airy bright space with clean sheets and eiderdowns; the steaming hot water sprays out of the shower rosette towards you and not in every other direction; food is good and cheap and we can even drink a beer without feeling like we are committing a crime; and most importantly, the staff are very friendly. We eat, drink, shower and sleep like babies. I notice that my ears are ringing because it is so much quieter here than what we are used to. Only the occasional horn and I've already told you who's responsible for that.

We will spend two nights in Mahendranagar in order to get this uploaded in time for New Year because there is probably little chance of internetting before we reach Pokhara, about 550kms from here. Our plan is to travel through the West Terai along the Mahendra Highway, stopping off in Royal Bardia National Park for a few nights. We would both like to take this opportunity then to wish all our family, friends, fellow travellers and avid followers of our travels through this site a Very Happy, Healthy and Prosperous 2008. Cheers to you all!

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