Day 9: In the tea fields
We've reached Darjeeling, the worlds tea capital and for hours we've been driving with fields of tea on either side of us.
According to some sources
, Darjeeling produces 10 million Kg of Tea. In the year 2000, exports of tea produced in Darjeeling earned the country more than USD 30 million
. Tea production is the pride of Darjeeling, with nearly 50% of the inhabitants of the district engaged in some form or other with it's production.
This is the India me and Ivan wanted to see, not miles and miles of endless smooth tarmac, the NH5 and nothing but lorries. We've driven (or been driven) for days and seen very little of what we came to see. I don't think we've seen any temples, or at least we've not stopped and looked at any and it's occurred to me that, although we came to India to see the country we can only really go home with stories relating to the roads.
Nick is at the wheel again, despite his promises and he's still looking totally exhausted, even after my deliberate sabotage of his early wake up call this morning.
By mid-morning, Ivan and I had forced him to pull over so we could take a piss (yeah it's got to the point where he is even arguing about whether we should get out and take a piss, for fear of 'losing the race' - what a nutjob) and we went for a walk in the tea fields of Darjeeling.
For the first time in a long time, I must admit that I felt free and on holiday.
After making a stand against this crazy race, I finally felt like we were on a journey and not heading for a destination.
As Ivan and me walked through the tea plantation and Nick passed out by the side of the road, it dawned on me.
We had done this all wrong and I was partly to blame for backing the whole scheme in the first place. I hope Ivan finds it in himself to forgive me for backing that lunatic.
Day 9: Breakfast
We'd been on the roads about an hour and a half, when me and Ivan started hankering for some nosh.
Most mornings up til now, Ivan and I would just wait. We'd wait, we'd grin and we'd bear a little hunger, but today was going to be different.
Seeing a tiny row of shops on the side of the road Ivan said
"Stop the Rickshaw"
Nick reluctantly dropped the anchor and we pulled in for breakfast, cooked by this geezer.
We've been on the road for more than a week, and this is the first time we've had breakfast.
As we sat inside, thin greasy pancakes and curry slipping down us, Nick sat outside in the rickshaw "guarding" it like he always did. As if anyone would do anything!
That was another thing that had got to me and Ivan. Nick had been totally paranoid about the rickshaw getting stolen for some reason! It was strange.
Anyway, he sat there, moaning about 'losing the lead' as usual when the Blunderbuss crew flew past. Nick got superbly agitated.
Me and Ivan ordered another pancake.
Day 9: Rumours
He couldn't resist it.
We saddled up and took to the road with the pack of three that had been in the hotel with us. I was quite looking forward to doin a bit of time with the guys and just taking it easy, but as soon as we moved off, Nick had to shoot out in front to prove how much of a man he was.
Even after everything that's happened, it's still not registered that our team do not want
to race, and still he goes on trying to prove himself. It's sad to watch.
The rumour going around is that the Rajasthan Raiders
have made it to Darjeeling. Who the hell are they!? Are they our mystery team
? It's doubtful that it is, as rumour has it that they shot off the night before the cricket match, so they couldn't possibly have overtaken us where they did, cos logically they would have been in front the whole way.
We had hoped that this news might pacify Nick but it's done quite the opposite. He's now taken to arguing that if we had really wanted to win we would have forgone sleep totally and drove every night through the night!
Day 9: Sabotage
To get me back in the rickshaw yesterday, Nick promised that he would stay out of the driving seat for a while and he'd calm down, and for the rest of the day he did, just throwing out insults along the way.
This morning at about 3am he was up, 2 hours or so after we'd actually hit the sack, wanting to hit the road. I knew it was too good to last.
"Get up" Get up!" He said, ready to go
"Fuck off" I thought. No doubt he's gonna take the wheel all day as usual so I'm gonna force him to sleep.
Ivan refused to get up and I feigned sleep for a couple of minutes, then after that, I was so tired it didn't matter anyway.
We got up at 6:30 and me and Ivan dawdled along to the Rickshaw for another day on the road.
Nick was waiting in the drivers seat ready to go.
Day 8: A night in Mulda
I don't know what time we pulled into Mulda. It had been a hard day and we were all beasted.
Ivan at the wheel shot past the hotel we were looking for, where the gang of three were parked outside. I think it was the fact that Mulda had the first bit of flat tarmac that we'd seen all day and Ivan was so impressed that he had his foot to the floor.
We managed to overshoot it on the way back too and when we finally pulled in, the place was a pretty cramped and hot but we chowed down on some hotel food and knocked it on the head.
The atmosphere in the room is pretty awful. Me and Ivan are stickin together and we're unhappy to say the least.
Day 8: 6:30PM - Welcome to The Moon
Just when you thought the road couldn't get any worse it takes a further nosedive. The road is no longer just deep potholes one after the next but is now more like a series of boulders over which a convoy of lorries and us have been pogoing all the way.
We've been bouncing around now for a good few hours on a surface that is as hostile as the surface of the moon and no betterl suited for life.
The back of the rickshaw is a little bit like sitting on a particularly aggressive rodeo horse
"Did we buy a tyre spanner?" I ask lookin down at the surface of the road and our tiny tyres bashing around.
"Good thing I prayed to God this morning" I lied
Day 8: 6:20PM - The current standings
With this crazy traffic on the only road to Darjeeling the bar has been lowered by most of the teams for distance. It seems that everyone is headed for Mulda, 250km short of Sikillim, our originally planned destination. The current estimated standings as calculated by text look like this
1 - Calamity Crew
2 - Dosaboys
3,4,5 - Yanks, Punkah Pelham, Blunderbuss
6 - Shrimpers
7 - The Germans
I'll be honest with you though. Yesterday the league table meant a lot more to me than it does now. After the events of today I find myself wishing we hadn't bothered at all. Some things are just more important than where we end up.
Like where we've been.
Day 8: 5:30PM - Jam
The traffic has just stopped totally in the road and we are backed up as far as the eye can see. There is MILES of traffic. Rumour has it that a lorry has crashed into a petrol tanker up ahead. That's four serious crashes we've seen today, including one fatality.
Nick is stressed out again. He wanted to make Darjeeling tonight, a feat which would be pretty impossible even without this traffic and he's started babbling again.
Oh well I thought it was too good to last.
Ivan and I get out the rickshaw and go for a walk to get away from him. We figure he can't cause much damage/death in this traffic so we leave him to it and go lookin for the cause of the jam.
Day 8: 3:40PM - Tracks of death
Nick has just pointed out the huge gouges which appear sporadically in the tarmac. These lines, which look like deep scars, are often 10s of metres in length and show where lorries wiped out.
They are disturbingly frequent along this stretch of road...
Nick appears to have chilled out a bit. I think the sleep has done him some good.
Day 8: 3:30PM - UNloved
We are 4km from Bangladesh in our rickshaw that's been pimped to look like a UN humanitarian vehicle. Earlier on, Nick was chattin to a local and the guy asked if we were with the UN. Nick replied that we weren't and the guy let out what he really thought
"UN." he said "Not very nice people"
And there i was thinkin we'd be welcome wherever we go!
Day 8: Sign of the day
"Make Love Not Babies"
Good to know that someone else skipped those lessons at school then...
Day 8: Losers and proud
The rambling of Nick in the last hour has been pretty sad.
Me and Ivan have phased his voice out because he has basically spent the last hour slagging us off. Occasionally I tune in and he's saying something pretty downbeat like
"You're a pair of spineless pussies. Next time I'll find a team who want to win and I'll get to the end in 4 days."
I think this attitude sums him up really. His attitude has been all me me me for the last few days. I will win. The team is nothing. It's all me and my winning. But at the same time, he's seeking our validation, going on about what a good driver he is. What a sad man he has grown up to be.
Ivan at the wheel does actually drive like my gran but right now I appreciate the caution
...and the EXTRA bonus is that Ivan's driving is winding Nick RIGHT up!
Keep hittin the brakes there Ivan!
Day 8: Standoff
"Get back in the Rickshaw Andy!" I heard Ivan shouting behind me.
They'd pulled out into the road and were driving up behind me.
"It's over lads" I said back, "I'm going to Calcutta"
A half-full water bottle wizzed by a metre behind me.
"Get back in the car shithead"
Nick's voice. I ignored it and carried on walking. As far as I was concerned Nick was in no fit state to drive but was too far gone to realise it.
The rickshaw crawled up behind and Nick got out and crossed the road to my side.
"What's wrong with my driving?!" he said
"You've got a race to win Nick," I said, "so why don't you get back in the ride and go win it on your own. I'm out."
"Why aint you coming?"
"Hasn't it entered your thick head, Nick? Someone has just died back there. DEAD. That was a result of dangerous driving. The thing that you're doing now yeah..."
"Who cares man!?" he screamed back "300 people die a day on Indian roads. They're just Indians man. It's just another one. So what if just another one dies?"
That was all I needed to hear.
"You're fucking sick mate. Get back in the rickshaw and go kill yourself an Indian. I've got nothing more to do with this."
I turned tail and walked.
I felt a hand grab the strap of my bag. Clenching my fists I turned around fully expecting to have to lay one on him.
"I've seen too many people die." he said as if absolving himself, "this just hasn't affected me the way it has you man. Get in the rickshaw"
"They're not obstacles put there for you to avoid Nick. They're people. Real Living Breathing People."
This guy sickened me by this point. His racist remarks from earlier had told me what he really thought.
"They're only Indian" he had said. "One more wouldn't matter" and "If they had any brain cells they wouldn't have so many accidents." and the other comments I wrote in my mini-notebook. Fucking sick bastard.
I was ashamed to be associated with him at all and this whole incident got me wondering - do ALL white people resort to racism when they are tired and frustrated? Do English-speakers, frusrated by their own
lack of linguistic dexterity assume ignorance on the part of their hosts?
Nick has acted like an arsehole and insulted the Indians non-stop for the past few days and frankly it sickens me to hear this shit. It isn't funny, it's just ignorant. It's not as though he has made any effort to try to learn Hindi.
"Alright then," he said, handing over the keys, "You can drive. I'll sit in the back"
I knew this was gonna sting him and he'd still be backseat driving.
Ivan looked over and said I should come back in for the team. This whole thing was set up by the two of us and I certainly am not going to get back in on Nick's advice. But Ivan is a different matter. He's a sound guy.
"Sit in the back and shut the fuck up for a while and I might think about it"
The standoff was tense but finally Nick acknowledged that he did actually feel tired, and let Ivan take the controls.
In the back he sat there, wide awake and backseat driving. He slagged us both off for being pussies and said we'd both lost our nerve.
He kept ranting that we were all losers and we ignored him until finally he got bored and fell asleep.
He was absolutely fucked.
What a tosser.
Day 8: The Showdown
An hour down the road after driving away at speed from death we stopped for fuel.
My nerves were shot.
Me and Ivan had been getting more and more concerned by Nicks mental state and his driving was getting too impulsive. Just yesterday, coming down the Kolkotta Bridge he made a last second reaction swerve at speed and narrowly avoided a pedestrian
We got out of the rickshaw and I made my mind up. I was out.
I spoke to Ivan and said that I no longer wanted to be part of Nick's ego trip. In the state he was in he was going to kill someone and I didn't want to be there when he did.
It was over.
"Are you ready" Nick said, gesturing at the rickshaw.
"Ready as I've ever been Nick" I said as I undid the bungee cord holding the bags in.
"What are you doin?"
"I'm going home. You're a danger to yourself and others Nick and I don't want to be here when someone comes through your windshield"
"What the fuck are you talking about?!"
"You know what I'm talking about Nick. Look at yourself. You're knackered mate and in no fit state to drive."
"But I'm the best driver we have! How do you expect to win without me!?!"
"I don't care if we win any more Nick. You have to be alive to win anyway"
"What the hell are you talking about? Yesterday you were the one who wanted to win more than anyone else!"
"That was yesterday Nick. Has it not sunk in that someone has died today?"
"So what?" he said, "300 people a day die on Indian Roads. What does another matter? We've got a race to win. Get in the Rickshaw"
This was too much. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I turned and walked away. As I walked across the petrol station forecourt Nick shouted after me
"So what's happened Andy? When did you lose your balls?"
Without even bothering to look back I said, "What happened to YOU Nick? When did you lose your mind?"
As I walked across the forecourt, as far as I was concerned I was not a member of the Dosa Boys. For me the race was over and I felt a great weight lift off my shoulders as I started to plan how I was gonna kill the next 2 weeks in Kolkotta.
Day 8: In the vehicle of a maniac
Some time back I wrote that Nick drove like a boy racer who had never learnt to come second
How important that observation was I didn't realise at the time.
Nick is driving like a maniac at the moment. He's swerving all over the place and repeating himself like a broken record.
His lack of sleep manifests itself like drunkeness at the wheel and he IS dangerous at the moment. It just hasn't occured to him that in the back we might be a little concerned even though both of us have told him to slow down a bit. He's a hazard out here and is slaloming around pedestrians as though they are just obstacles put out for him on a rickshaw obstacle course.
Earlier on he said,
"If Indians rubbed two brain cells together they would make decent roads. They are pretty basic people with the intelligence of a rat"
This was very disappointing. I'm Vietnamese and pretty sensitive to racism and to hear Nick saying this was very sad. Ivan saw me write this into my little secret blog book and we both looked at each other and shook our heads.
Is this REALLY what Kiwis are like? I don't want to generalise like he's just done, but he HAS to realise that he's representing New Zealand here and he's just slagged off all of India and everyone that's helped us out all this way. What a wanker.
The death back there has had quite the opposite effect on him than you would have expected and instead of taking more care he's driving like even more of a twat, and everything that comes out of his mouth is an attempt to get us to validate his behaviour.
"What did you think of that?", "If we drive through the night we'll win. Yeah that's what we'll do. What do you think? Should we drive through the night?"
Each time I just keep tight lipped. I won't approve anything he says because he is going to kill someone if he keeps driving like this I don't want to be part of it.
He won't listen to us and he won't let go control of the front seat. He's completely obsessed.
Fuck it, this is too much. This cunt is going to run someone over and blame us I can see it coming.
I'm out of here.
Day 8: A happy man
"So Nick, someone's died behind us just as you wished
" I said, "You happy now?"
"Yeah I am" he said with a smile on his face.
"You are a sick cunt Nick and you have to sort that shit out"
Nick at the helm, we sped through India, leaving death behind us. I knew then that I was riding with a madman
It seems that one of those psycho buses ploughed through a 3 wheeled cyclist (the type with the flat rack on the back that you always see goats tied down on).
As he overtook another vehicle he pulled in a bit sharp and a bit early, and didn't see the cyclist, smashing straight into the back of him.
"He knocked his head off. The bus went straight over the back of the rickshaw and right through the man, and when he finally stopped, the back wheels were on top of the bike."
Shit. That was 20m behind us.
Day 8: 9:00AM - Fatality
We've witnessed our first fatality of the trip on the road to Krishnagar. We just stopped off in a village for about a minute so that Nick could light a fag. He can't light on the move because of the winds that blow through the sides.
As he lit up, leaning on the roof of the rickshaw he said
"Shit. Someone has just been run over back there."
The next few seconds were like something out of a dream.
Me and Ivan were in the back of the rickshaw.
The whole village just seemed to stop, momentarily transfixed by the proximity of death then, almost in slow motion everyone started running towards the scene behind us.
From the inside of the stationery Dosamobil the scene was really surreal. Me and Ivan didn't look back, Nick took a drag on his cigarette. Through the windshield and out of the sides Indians poured past us, running and screaming, not even noticing us. The feeling of a whole village running by in one direction made it feel like we were moving forwards, but their anguished screams ripped through me as they went by.
Nick chucked his cigarette on the floor, jumped in the drivers seat, and drove away through the advancing chaos.
Day 8: Some very worrying stuff
Nick has been talking a lot of shite this morning.
He is so tired at the wheel he's just been repeating himself and I don't know if he's aware of what he's saying. Needless to say, me and Ivan don't feel too safe in the back here, while Nick rants on and on about "the race" and how he would love to take the rickshaw back to Cochin if we make it to the end.
It's actually pretty dull in the rickshaw at the moment, Ivan is glued to his book and I've phased Nicks voice out of my range of hearing as he has just droned on
"So do you think we're gonna win?" about 100 times this morning. He also keeps going on and on about the Mongol Rally and about how he's gonna win that.
More worrying though is a brief conversation we've just had
"I hope that there's an accident behind us or something." he said, "That will hold up any of the other drivers behind us. eh? eh?! what do you think?"
"I think you're a sick bastard Nick"
He's taking this WAY more seriously than I thought was possible and that statement has confirmed what I first thought. The guy at the wheel has lost sight of why we're here.
Day 8: The death line
We stayed in some cheap shithole last night after driving around Calcutta for ages trying to avoid getting killed and as usual we set off pretty early.
The potholes on the road out of Calcutta are not particularly deep but they are very wide. Looking from one side of a typical pothole to the other on this road is not unlike contemplating a channel crossing, but with perhaps a bit more turbulence and nausea thrown in. Taking the outer rim of one of these circuits, Nick shouted out
"Here comes the Death Line!"
I knew exactly what he was talking about as he swerved the Dosamobil at the last minute out of the way of a red bus, hurtling towards us like a comet.
I have a theory about buses in India, based on our experience of them.,
I think that basically they are colour-coded according to the type of driver at the wheel.
I think that green is assigned to any bus driver who has passed their driving test or perhaps has even been on a bus once in their life in any capacity. Green buses account for only 2 of the buses that have nearly killed us today.
Your bus is painted blue if you have failed your test or if you've never driven before (note that the Dosamobil is also blue and I've failed my test 3 times...) Blue buses make up about 25 of the near misses registered.
Red, the colour of London buses, are given to you if you've been released from a mental institution
or from prison on driving-related offences. I imagine it's easier to clean the blood off if you paint it this colour.
On wingman duty today I have made a point of shouting out the colour and Nick takes the appropriate action...
Day 7: I smell and look like a tramp
Nick had his first shower of the trip last night but I skipped due to the pretty sizeable cockroach in the bathtub and I'm sort of regretting it now. I've been sweating all day in the back and I smell like a tramp. Sacrificing most of my clothes to keep the weight of the Dosamobil down has meant I also look like one.
I'm not sure I've seen Nick in more than 2 different shirts either and he looks a tiny bit erm...rugged with his beardy stubble and manky brown T-shirt.
Ivan spend most of the day with his hat over his eyes but is a lot cleaner than the rest of us.
Nick has taken 3 roadside shits which I have obviously photographed (you can find them on Ivan's flickr site
if you are really desperate...) but we're still working on the money shot of an emerging turd. We'll try again tomorrow...
Oh and he's also got his nob out and waved it in Ivan's face. I'll be sleeping with one eye open tonight...
Day 7: 10:07PM - City Pollution
I hope the traffic calms down and that nick gets enough sleep soon - my lungs are starting to corrode.
Earlier on today we saw this landrover filled to bursting with locals on the highway. There were also 6 people on the rear bumper and 4 clinging to each side. Ivan, being renowned for his financial acumen and money-saving tendencies said
"I hope they got that half-price"
After the bribe this morning in Orissa, me and Nick were really paranoid it would happen all the way up Orissa and over lunch at the A1 plaza we discussed what we'd do if it happened again.
"Don't be silly lads" Ivan said, "you're just blowing it out of all proportion it won't happen again"
I had heard only bad things about Orissa up til this point and was pretty sure we would get hassled all the way through Orissa. Ivan, the professional gambler had only one thing to say
"Want to put a bet on that?"
We're now in West Bengal and we didn't get asked for a single bribe more. I haven't paid my stake though. Don't tell him!
Day 7: Update on curry and the state of the Dosa Boys digestive systems
So far not one of the Dosa Boys has crapped themselves and we've maintained a steady diet of Thalis, currys and of course dosas!
Usually breakfast is a hotel thing followed by loads of healthy packets of curry flavoured crisps and biscuits for the rest of the day and, if we see one, lunch at the A1 Plaza, an identikit chain of motorway curry stations for filling up on gas (in more ways than one)
I'll usually chow down to some local grub for dinner from some street dude in a ritualistic gastronomic Russian Roulette while Nick usually just passes out from exhaustion and Ivan will stuff his face in the hotel.
So far so good.
Day 7: Something a bit strange happening in the team
We figure that the other lads have taken the cut out route and we've thrown away all the work we put in today. They'll be 60km ahead on clear roads having wasted no time here.
If that's the case we will have slipped into at least fourth place, probably behind the pack of three and I estimate that we have 3 days of increasingly difficult roads as we head to the hills. 2 days will be spent on pretty much the only road through West Bengal and I reckon that will be a test of speed, wits and discipline to try to keep it together. I think the roads are going to get a lot worse.
After that Darjeeling is a steep climb. According to the guidebook the trip up the road to Darjeeling would take a Jeep 6 hours. We may need to retune the rickshaw for climbing but I reckon that a day should be put aside just for the home stretch.
From what we hear that last bit is a real test of nerve with hairpin bends, mental psychotic tourist buses and 4x4s with sheer drops on either side.
That could be a laugh....
So this race to the finish is getting rather tense actually.
I gotta say though that one thing is bothering me at this point.
I think that Nick is losing his mind.
He is bloody exhausted. Every time he opens his mouth he only talks about winning "the race" - he's bloody well lost it! The "race" is a thing he seems to have talked himself into. At first I was up for it, all I want to do is cane the shit out of a rickshaw, but he seems intent on winning at any cost. He is a mess.
Take a look at him in the photo above and you can see him takin a really runny shit in Calcutta. But if you look at his face, he's FUCKED. He can barely stand up and earlier on, driving down the Calcutta Bridge he nearly ran this guy over. His eyes had closed on the wheel and he took a major last minute swerve to avoid the guy.
I bet if you asked him he wouldn't remember. He just drives and reacts and drives and has not even NOTICED the fact he's in India for a while.
The fact that I haven't been ALLOWED to drive the rickshaw that me and Ivan put together in the first place by him is really pissing me off too. Who the fuck does he think he is! He grabs the drivers seat whenever he wants but me and Ivan are too laid back to say anything but it's pissing me and Ivan off quite a bit.
It's as though we're on Nicks Ego Trip.
Now where the hell is Ivan!? He's been gone about 4 hours! I'm off to have dinner at some random backstreet cafe...
Day 7: 9:00PM
Haha! I've just seen a taxi go by who had replaced his headlights with red, green and blue flashing LED disco lights! He can't see bugger all in front of him but can get out any time he likes and throw impromptu parties with the people he runs over!
Day 7: 8:00PM - Estimated standings
From texts with other teams I think that Calamity Crew will reach where we intended to go to tonight and it's anyone's guess which route the Gang of 3 will take, but I think that they'll stop in Calcutta for the night. There's no ring roadaround it or any form of easy bypass.
I estimate the present standings as
1 - Calamity Crew
2 - Shrimpers
3,4,5 - The Gang of 3
6 - The Dosa Boys or Mystery Team (no-one has seen them)
7 - The Germans
The Rickshaw - I LOVE 'EM!
If I can say one thing about the Rickshaw, the thing that makes it so good has got to be it's simplicity.
With the turning circle of a ballerina and a chassis made of reinforced cardboard the moves you can pull in this badboy are immense! With some of the craziness we've been doing to it, Diesel in the engine, off-road mayhem etc I'm really rather impressed that it's held together at all, and that we haven't written it off completely or at least rolled it over! Those 3 wheels are surprisingly stable!
I'm going to miss the Dosamobil when this is all over...
Day 7: Calcutta driving madness!
It's bloody chaos! So fast, so smoggy and without a moments rest. Today we've driven some awesome terrain, taking chicanes, done the main highways, pothole hell, driven through villages and now the craziest most dangerous roads I've ever seen!
It's madder than Saigon, where all the traffic is mopeds so you can easily maneuvre.
It's madder than Bangkok where most of the vehicles actually seem to obey some unwritten rules of the road, and it's madder than Kuwait where people just pay for their driving licenses before smashing their BMWs into lammposts and killing themselves, and it's even madder than Accra in Ghana where my first girlfriend got hit by a speeding car.
The roads are crowded, people criss-cross through the dense traffic, which just seem to hug each other. I am acutely aware of the fact that the combined weight of our vehicle and all it's contents weighs about 5ookg and that the buses that steam past us at about 100k weigh at least 10 times more than us and are travelling twice as fast.
It's like being a cockroach in a stampede. One wrong move and we will be dead.
Day 7: 7:27PM - SHIT! SHIT! SHIT! Calcutta...
We've missed our turn for the shortcut which would have but out Calcutta and delivered us onto the 34, north of the city and clear to Darjeeling. The shitter of it is that now we are in the middle of Calcutta and it is fucking mental.
I've been around the world and witnessed some stupid driving in my time but this takes the biscuit.
Cars, buses, bikes and trams vie with cows and rickshaws for any lane. It's all fair game and the juggernauts steam along at terrifying speeds pulling off maneuvres you expect from motorbikes! Stopping allowance is less than a foot and clearance of about an inch to the side on overtaking, which means that Wingman duties have nearly seen me lose my head more than once and my nerves are shot.
When you add in the current state of Nick (battered) this has led to some hair-raising, white-knuckle shit.
Nick is now asleep in the back cos the stress of this has taken it's toll. We asked a local engineer for directions and he's advised us to chill for a bit then head north. We've decided it best to leave Nick to sleep it off and let the traffic die down, which we reckon should be about 9:30pm, then take off to the outskirts of town, find the 34 and bed down for the night.
Ivan has gone off to the checkpoint hotel to see if there was anything we need to do. I'm sittin in the rickshaw, writing and makin sure Nick doesn't get raped or anything.
Day 7: 2:30PM - Sabotage!
We pulled into a service station together for a chat and fill-up and while we were talkin, one of the Shrimpers nabbed our keys from the ignition!
Jumpin in their ride, they took off. We jumped in the Dosmobil and Ivan sort of went
Scratching our heads, we looked at each other, tryin to work out who the hell took the keys out, when the lads yelled out
"Lookin for somethin boys....?"
The key went flyin out the back of the Shrimpmobil and they drove off up the 60 towards Calcutta as we searched the dusty road for our key. A great act of sabotage by the boys!
This is war...
Day 7: 2:15PM
We're leaking oil from somewhere
Day 7: 2:00PM - Another team on the 60
Nick has finally relinquished control of the wheel on the flat surface of National Highway 60. With Ivan at the wheel I looked out the back
"There's a rickshaw behind us! It's one of ours! But who are they!?"
The green rickshaw behind us was one we'd never seen before.
We'd never met The Shrimpers...
As they pulled alongside us we tried to catch up and work out how the hell these lads had got so far so fast and what they had planned.
Each side was lying through their teeth, us claiming to have not done much night driving, them saying that they stopped every night at 5pm. That's GOT to be bullshit if they are this far up! They then said they intended to stay in Calcutta tonight and we said we would too, even though we intend to turn off the highway 60km before and go to Bardhaman, 200km north of Calcutta and cut out Calcutta completely. Woah... Do I get extra points for that tongue-twisting alliteration or what!
The Calamity Crew seem to be claiming to be at Calcutta already from what we are getting from the Shrimpers, but that doesn't make a lot of sense. The other three teams are most likely to be smashing their rickshaws to smithereens right now in Pothole City somewhere behind us.
So the current standings look like this...
1 - The Calamity Crew
2 - The Shrimpers
3 - The Dosa Boys
4,5,6 - The Convoy of Three
7 - The Germans
Day 7: 12:30PM - The gravel pit
We had to make a choice between staying on the main road, the 5, which would lead to the 6 or to take a yellow road and save 60km. Not wanting to lose our lead we gambled on the yellow, which, other than the fact it was alternating lanes from one side of the dual carriageway to the other every kilometre was not too bad and Ivan took it at his usual Grandad speed.
Until the diversion.
The next hour was spent completely off-road through the worst potholes yet. They were so deep you'd go down one side and your ears would popfromthe altitude drop before coming back up again on the other side. I'd imagine that the potholes were so deep that they'd be indicated by their own set of contours on a map.
The gravel and chunks of stone that make up the foundations of the road are exposed. The road has effectively been disemboweled before us, the thin skin of tarmac seemingly having been spread in places with a butter knife.
By percentage, I'd say that there was more pothole than road when you looked.
Nick is furious that our lead is about to be wiped out
"Shit we should have stuck to the 5!" He yelled
It's with this that Nick's Mr Hyde side came out and he decided that, to make up the time, he'd better take the reins. He then proceeded to whip the shit out of, what was essentially an obstacle course.
The next hour was spent sandwiched between lorries bouncing up and down down til my teeth near rattled out of my head.
Nick took the road like a motocross driver, dipping and jumping all over the place.
Day 7: 8:20AM
We have just got a text from a team asking if anyone else was entering Orissa from Jaipur. What the hell!?! Orissa is TWO STATES away from Jaipur!! Jaipur is in Rajasthan on the Northwestern side of India, Orissa is on the South East.
So they've clearly made a cock-up but either way, I figure that this team has gone to Goa for New Year and probably went up to Rajasthan. They will make their way through Orchha and Khajuraho then, if they are to avoid Bihar, which is apparently full of bandits if rumours are to be believed, they should make their way south and hit come through Chattisgarh to Orissa.
I bet they've seen LOADS of things. I'm sort of jealous...
Day 7: 7:30AM - Things that go bump in the night
The roads started to get really bad just before sunrise and we were hitting craters for an hour before the 5 decided to behave itself again.
Even with our thieved blanket, I had pretty much frozen solid by then, wingman duties meaning I had to lean out the window for the coldest part of the day.
Hopefully we're through the last of the breakdowns and the next few days we'll maintain fourth position or better. According to the text communication, Calamity Crew were 250km from Calcutta last night with the Shrimpers out in front of them. Nobody else has seen the Mystery Team and they have taken on a mythical status...
Day 7: 4:30AM
Resolved to push on ahead for once so we didn't have to play catch-up on the other teams at the end of the day like every other day.
The hotel wake-up call came at 4:30AM and Nick was raring to go. I was enthusiastic as ever but Ivan doesn't seem to be into this at all. Over the last few days, Ivan has been gettin understandably more grumpy as we have had less and less sleep.
Nick and I hauled his ass out of bed, nicked a blanket from the hotel cos it's so damn cold on the roads when the sun is out and set off, leaving a Dosa Boys card under the wipers of the other rickshaws. It was still dark, about 5AM and we knew that they would be up for a 5:30 call so we figured we had an hour on them.
With Nick at the wheel, we're caning up the road we still affectionately call the 5 (cos the map seems to think it is) and by the time the other teams get up we should have 50km on them at least.
One little blip with an air bubble in the fuel line didn't bother us too much. The sun is still somewhere round the horizon, it's freezin and we're on our way.
Day 7 here we come!
Day 6: 11:00PM - The President
We pulled in at The President which was on the side of the highway at 11PM where we saw the convoy of three, The Blunderbuss, Punkah and Pelham and the Yanks were parked outside. As usual we had been playing catchup through the day.
One mutton curry and dhal makhani later, seeing as the internet didn't work and we were absolutely exhausted we hit the sack, ready for an early start tomorrow.
Day 6: 10:30PM - Hazards
It was dark and both Ivan and I were looking out of the rickshaw as Nick to give Nick an extra two pairs of eyes as he drove through the night
"Cow!" I yelled
Ivan - "Dog!"
Me - "Old Woman!", Ivan -"Goat!", "Cyclist!", "Motorbike from the back!", "Bus!"
Every 10 seconds we'd have about 15 hazards and in the end we just decided not to bother...
Day 6: 8:30PM - Four lanes again
Oh thank Hanuman for that! Flat road at last!
Bloody hell that was hard...
Day 6: 6:30PM - Nick develops Jedi skills
Flippin' eck the roads in this state seem to have more visible cracks and bumps than Readers Wives magazine. What a difference this is from the flat expanse of pleasure that was National Highway 5, although according to our Indian-printed map, we are still on Highway 5!
For the last 3 hours we have been bumping and swerving wildly down the "road" trying to avoid the numerous potholes, and craters that seem to be take up more of the road than the tarmac.
It looks like Nick has started to really get a feel for the vehicle, not surprising really given that he has been behind the wheel for most of the drive. But he does appear to have acquired Jedi-like skills behind the wheel pulling off maneuvering feats and swerves that are really quite scary; last minute rolls and 180 degree flips. It's mental!
My back aches from all this bumping up and down.
We've just had our first taste of mountain driving too, as the land takes a turn upwards in Orissa for the first time after the flat expanses of Andhra Pradesh.
Alright so it wasn't a full-on mountain but in this tiny cardboard piece of crap it certainly felt that dangerous as I looked out of my side of the rickshaw at the drop of 20 or so metres down. Every time a lorry or speeding 4x4 thundered past with Nick still at full throttle, it became clear that Nick was taking this event very seriously indeed.
Day 6: 4:30PM
It's been winding roads through really claustrophobic villages for the last couple of hours.
Orissa is a completely different place to what we've experienced thus far. Where Andhra Pradesh was predominantly red and Tamil Nadu was mainly green and yellow, Orissa is very defintitely grey. With a poor first impression me and Nick are already paranoid, especially as everyone we've spoken to has said that Orissa is bandit country. From where we're sitting it certainly looks that way.
The 2nd poorest state in India, Orissa definitely looks the part Squatting men beg and women with hollow eyes line the roadside. I've just seen a guy on crutches asleep by the roadside.
Another state, another language too. The Orissans speak Oriyi and so far not a word of English. It's like we cross into a completely new country every time we cross a state line.
The Orissan state capital, Bhubaneshwar, witnessed one of the most significant battles in India's history in 262BC when the Mauryan Emporor Asoka, having massacred his Kalingan opponents, converted to Buddhism after seeing the horrors of war, and laid the foundations for one of the great empires of world history.
Day 6: Nick sees the light and decides to risk his life like the rest of us
Was never really sure why Nick brought his Motorcycle crash helmet. I mean what could POSSIBLY go wrong
Anyway here's a pic of him giving it away to a petrol station attendent who doesn't own a motorbike. Welcome to some REAL danger Nick!
Day 6: 3:10PM - Welcome to Orissa
We have just had to pay our first bribe, 200 Rupees at the entry to Orissa.
"You want to drive through Orissa? Have you got a special 'Orissa permit'?"
"No" said Nick, getting out all the papers for the vehicle
In the back, Ivan got out his wallet and pulled out 200Rs.
"Oh," said the guy in police uniform, "it seems everything is in order. Sorry for the inconvenience"
We drove off into the next state, leaving Andhra Pradesh behind. One of the drivers in our vehicle has no driving license.
Shortly after this checkpoint a sign by the side of the road read...
"Welcome to Orissa"
Day 6: 3:00PM - Dosa Boys fall off the end of the 5
I think we've just figured out what the Blunderbuss were on about.
We had assumed that they had fallen off the end of the 5 at Calcutta, but what they actually meant was that they had LITERALLY fallen off the end of National Highway 5.
Now you see the thing about NH5 is that it is a lovely stretch of road. It's flat, it's straight, ocasionally it even has streetlights. We had assumed it went all the way to Calcutta just like this.
At about 3pm we were just bombing along, minding our own business when suddenly Nick slams the brakes on.
"What the fuck is this!?!"
The road had suddenly stopped. Where we were before driving on flat tarmac, the road builders seemed to have just given up at this point and suddenly the road just ended and turned into a dirt track with a foot deep drop just for good measure!
We later learnt that some of the other teams like the Raiders
came across this in the middle of the night and just flew off the end!
So the next thing we knew we were driving through an arse-end village with chickens running across the road! How the hell did that happen!?!
Day 6: 2:20PM - Texting the boys
We've been exchanging texts with Blunderbuss and the gang of 3, as well as Captain Chaos and the Calamity Crew
and it's quite cool trying to work out where they are.
We're pretty convinced that some of them aren't being entirely honest with their locations but we've just recieved a text from the Blunders saying,
"Have you fallen off the end of the 5 yet?"
They've GOT to be lying about that! National Highway 5 goes all the way to Calcutta and if they've fallen off the end of the 5 then they're sayin that, according to the roadsigns, they are anywhere between 600 and 1000km ahead of us, which is a day or two ahead!
Day 6: Commentary on the scenery of AP
The scenery has changed. At the southern tip of Andhra Pradesh the land was pretty barren, riddled with blocks of granite and quite humid.
As we went up through the centre the barren earth gave way to swathes of green paddy fields dotted with coconut trees, and now the rice has been replaced by a hilly landscape and expanses of dry land littered with circular bales of hay.
You can however, still tell we are in Andhra Pradesh because the soil is still a deep terracotta red.
The arid wind which carries red dust through the rickshaw and the fields of brown and grey suggest that AP is not a hospitable place to be in summer.
Day 6: 1:37PM - German motorbike
A Motorbike pulled up alongside us about 10 minutes ago, and the two riders spoke to us in German-accented English. These guys had decided to whack across India on a bike.
As they rode alongside us they told us that they had overtaken the Germans an hour and a half back.
Meanwhile, we've just been through a toll booth and the guy in it confirmed that 6 painted rickshaws have been through this way.
So we find ourselves chasing close behind the main pack but not last, and maintaining a fairly steady 55k.
What a comeback!
Day 6: 1:21PM - Out of fuel in the middle of the desert
The tank ran dry. We're in the middle of the desert.
The problem is that this thing doesn't have a fuel gauge so when it runs out of gas it just sort of sneaks up and bites you on the arse. In an unpleasant way. And cos the engine is new the fuel consumption rate has been changing.
One other thing is that you can't say "fill up the tank" and pay them for whatever they fill up. Before you fill up, you need to tell them how much you want, which involves having to work out how much space you've got in the tank, which we've been doing consistently badly.
I decided to try out the Lonely Planet phrases in the back of the book and flicked to the section marked "Telugu" at the top, the native dialect of Andhra Pradesh.
"Tumhala English yeta ka?"
I was greeted with a blank expression.
"Tumhala English yeta ka?" I said more slowly and a bit louder like a typical English person as though it would make him understand me better.
Then I looked back at my phrasebook and saw that the bloody title "Telugu" was at the bottom of the page and I had been attempting to talk to the guy in Marathi.
"Just fill her up" I said..
Day 6: 12.37PM - Roadkill
Middle of the left lane, black and white dog looking like it's asleep. Can't really tell if it's dead or not.
*looks out the back to check*
The lorry behind has just run over it's head.
I guess that settles that then...
Day 6: 11:40AM - Cow-pat fight
Stopped for a piss by the side of the road and I couldn't resist throwing cowpats at the other Dosa Boys.
Also I'd heard that cowpats burn well so I tried to light one just in case we ran out fuel again in the middle of this desert, or Nick ran out of cigarettes.
I can confirm that they don't actually burn that well at all, but refuse to divulge any information about their flavour on these pages...
Day 6: 10:30AM - The current standings
Ivan checked the web this morning and from the live text update we figure that, with The Germans
behind us we are now in 7th place.
Behind and in front are...
- The Shrimpers
- Captian Chaos
- Punkah Pelham, Blunderbuss and the Yanks
- Mystery Vehicle
- The Dosa Boys
- The Germans
Day 6: 10:08AM - A mystery rickshaw enters the race
We had a chai together with The Germans
while they ordered dosas for breakfast.
After that I went out and changed my first sparkplug. Our last one had started misfiring
While out there though, a rickskaw flew by with the rickshaw run sticker on it. It wasn't anyone we recognised and was completely unpimped.
Who the hell are they!? No-one else has reported being this far up the track except the people we know and it definitely wasn't any of the guys we met last night...
Day 6: 9:35AM A surprise meeting in a petrol station
Pulled into a petrol station beside NH5 and from behind us came a slightly accented voice,
It was The Germans
The fact that we've caught them up blows their myth that they had been firing ahead, as early indications would have suggested. Turns out that just before Salem the lads went off-road unintentionally and all 4 of them ended up sleeping on a farmers floor!
After that they had to get their ride across a river on a "ferry" (a glorified plank of wood)
It seems that on their map, Indian-printed, both major and minor roads were coloured white so they had spent most of the last few days traipsing through the back of beyond!
The funniest thing was their roofrack.
Attached only 6 days earlier in Cochin 1800km south west, the bolts holding this once proud roofrack/flagpole in had managed to rattle themselves loose. But the lads didn't bother to get it fixed up and instead had improvised by tying the bags directly to the roof and sticking the roofrack on top of the bags upside down!
A classic fix up lads!
The flag now droops limply from where it's jammed in between some bags and the team say that they would be happy just to get to the end with 4 people.
Day 6: 8:30AM - leaving Visakhapatnum
The other guys left about an hour before us - we really were just TOO mashed up to set off with them.
We set off at 7am, with Nick at the wheel. He don't look too good at the moment. As usual we spent about one and a half hours trying to find our way out of the town, which wiped out all our hard work from the night before and put us way in the rear again.
Day 6: 6:30AM - Shitting in the mosquito den
We got up after 3 hours of sleep and I woke up covered in mosquitoes.
Needing a shit I found myself maneuvering from butt-cheek to butt-cheek doing a jedi dance of death on the kazzi while slapping my bare arse, only to pull away with bits of mosquito body and drops of my bum-blood all over my palms.
A truly harrowing experience.
Day 6: Last nights night drive - lunatic lorrys after sundown
The apathy in road direction coherence was most clearly illustrated by this one incident.
We were driving along and I leaned out the window to do wingman duties.
"Lorry coming in fast!" I shouted and pulled my head back in to avoid losing it.
10 seconds later it hadn't passed yet
"What happened to the lorry?" asked Nick
"Oh." I said, "He just decided to change lanes and overtake us by going in the other road instead."
Sure enough, when we looked across the dual carriageway this maniac and his fully-loaded lorry was pulling up alongside us but STRAIGHT into the oncoming traffic in the other lane!
Now we had assumed that the reason that a driver would do this was practical, to allow them the opportunity to turn right at the next turning, rather than just for a laugh.
How wrong we were...
At the next gap in the central reservation the lorry whipped his wheel round and pulled in right behind us!
We shit ourselves and Nick pulled over to let the guy drive off into the distance, swaying violently as he went.
Day 6: Last nights night drive with the new extra light
Last nights night drive was amazing. After midnight, with insomniac euphoria kicking in the danger was heightened and Nick at the wheel seemed impervious to the biting cold.
I had pretty much put all my clothes on and Ivn was under his flimsy travel towel shivering.
We later found out that at the front, where Nick usually was, you didn't get NEARLY as much of the windchill that you got at the back. The wind seemed to traverse the windshield and make it's way round to the back seats where it would rip any warmth away from me and Ivan leaving us painfully cold.
I was hung out the window playing wingman, looking out through the blackness at headlights making their way towards us. I would shout out warnings to Nick of approaching hazards, cos in his mirror all he could see was headlights of varying sizes and it wasn't ever obvious what the hell it was or how far it was away.
To tell the truth though, I couldn't really make out much more looking directly into the headlights either, as I would just get blinded by them so I would shout out something like,
"Car coming in 10 seconds!"
...and a Lorry would thunder past half a minute later. Doh!
We saw some pretty mad driving too.
In addition to the fact that so many vehicles travel with no lights on at all and people and cyclists are invisible until you're 20cm away from them, there are also the riles of Indian roads to deal with.
The further north we go the less coherent the rules are and I wonder why there is even a central reservation at all. Both sides of the dual carriageway are fair game for vehicles who want to travel in any direction it seems.
As I write, there is a rickshaw going up the other road parallel to us in the middle of the other side of the road and coming head-on towards us is a pretty constant stream of traffic. I've become so immune to this phenomenon that I just carry on as if nothing unusual is happening, but at night this issue is a tiny bit more scary!
Any time we went to overtake last night we pulled out and found ourselves staring into the grille of an oncoming lorry. It's quite funny on the one hand, but a bit annoying on the other and completely
scary in all cases!
Day 5/6: 3:00AM - We've caught up!
We arrived in Visakhapatnum at about 2am and trawled up and down trying to find the bloody hotel that the other three teams were at. I didn't particularly think it mattered that we were with them as it was 3 in the morning anyway but the others were adamant that we stay at that hotel.
This meant that we ended up combing the back alleys of this Indian port town of Northeastern Andhra Pradesh, our rickshaw getting chased by dogs, looking for a hotel with no map and no idea of what the place was called.
In the end, in despair we paid a rickshaw driver to take us to the place, which we found, to no-ones surprise was in completely the opposite direction to the route we were taking.
Ivan deceided to jump out and ride with the rickshaw driver and I stayed in the Dosamobil to see if Nick could keep up.
As usual, we'd managed to find ourselves caught behind the Damon Hill of Rickshaws and Ivan peeled away, caning through red lights and taking turns so fast me and Nick winced. The bloody rickshaw went up on 2 wheels so many times! Nick still has a long way to go to be able to match skills like that!
The hotel was on the outskirts of town on the beach road and overlooked the Bay of Bengal. It was bloody expensive too and seemed to have no protection against the legions of mosquitoes, but at that time in the morning I was so knackered I didn't even care.
Total distance travelled so far: 1700km
Day 5: 8:15PM
We estimate that we are about 6 hours from the place where the other 3 teams have camped down for the night. That's Blunderbuss, Punkah & Pelham
and the Yanks.
The sun has gone down but we've decided to drive on through the night and put that new light through it's paces
Day 5: 4:00PM - Back on the road at last!!!
We've spent most of the last 2 days either broken down or being repaired and I'm hoping that's the last of it.
We've had a new light attached and the engine has been "tuned for speed" says our Indian mechanic. What the hell that's supposed to mean is a little bit of a mystery to me, but I'm preparing for lift off...
Let's hit the road!
Day 5: 12:00 noon - Enough is enough
The engine is cutting out at higher speeds so we can't get any faster than 50k. We've pulled into Vijaywada and Nick's decided that enough is enough, so we're getting a full service in a backstreet Rickshaw repair yard that is chock-full of busted up yellow rickshaws.
As usual, the mechanics have asked if they could use our toolkit. Like most auto-repair shops and garages out here they don't have their own tools, which never ceases to amaze me. Whenever we pull in for a repair, they either ask for our toolkit or run off down the road to borrow a spanner off someone else!
It didn't take long for the mechanic to smell the diesel. The carburetor's gone again so that needs to be changed and we're getting another light attached so that those night drives aren't quite
As usual, all proceedings have drawn a massive crowd of locals even watching over my shoulder while I write.
Ivan's sat on a deckchair performing some magic tricks to the local kids and Nick is sorting everything rickshaw out. I'm going to go around a take some photos of those sand-drawings on the floor.