Day 21 – Lucknow to Agra

Iv’e had to re write this communique because I impetuously deleted it!

So here I go again.

This last day of the rally is now a formality, the travel to Agra to the Taj Mahal where it all ends. A 340km ride on a super highway, apparently the best in all India. A private road. 8 lanes.

So it turned out to be. The first time that what we were told was actually so for the entire rally. It was odd as normally we do not rally on good roads. But this is basically a “slip trip” a fill In day to get us into Agra and under the finish line banner.

But 340 k’s is still a long drive, to be completed by 1.00pm, especially if the start is at 9.00am. And Denise doesn’t do high speed.

It was required that we go through a passage control, fuel up and be at MTC in due time. Not too much fuel as the car cannot contain too much fuel in the shipping container home.

We worked it all out and hit the road.

All the other competitors tore past us in the early part of this trip as the road was good and sort of left Denise in the dust as she sped along at 114 k’s.

The road rolled on out before us, neat new concrete roads, on and on. There were few cars or trucks on this super highway. Amazing. Billions worth of roads yet no users.

Always hot and sticky with windows down we raced forward.

Steve was concerned not only to get in on time but to have sufficient fuel. At this speed Denise was using a lot more fuel and fuel stations were far and few between.

Then as Agra came close and we manoeuvred through the now crowded back roads keeping a close eye on both time and the fuel needle. It was close as suddenly the finish line and blow up banner appeared. Denise coughed whilst Steve cut the ignition and coasted the last few meters to be under the banner. In fact got a couple of bystanders to push.

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A welcome mat at the hotel laid out in coloured rice grains.

Photos. Smiles, congratulations.

We were told that the arrival time was not crucial and it didn’t matter if we didn’t clock in?! Huh?

Immediately, after this we coasted down to the hotel a couple of hundred meters to the hotel car park to get our belongings out, and then take the cars to a loading base not far away, so that they could be delivered back to their respective home countries.

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The first glimpse of the Taj Mahal from the hotel room.
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King of the road, and everything.

Denise wasn’t quite out of fuel so spluttered back up the road ready for transit.

Some time ago before we left Delhi, we had asked Mr Singh to get some more parts for Denise. A rack and pinion steering box, window rubbers, window trims and slides.

I had sent Mr Singh a whatsapp message to be at this hotel in Agra at 1.00pm on Thursday 21.

21?  Where did that come from. It was the 11th for gods sake.

So naturally he was not there.

Quick frantic phone calls to ask if he could bring the parts so that we could stow these in the car before the container closed.

He said he would. It would take 4 hours!

Some of the temples surrounding the Taj.

The famous tomb and marble configurations. The marble is a veneer over brick construction, if you want to know. Beautiful to behold!

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The minarets are built 2 degrees out of plumb, so that in an earthquake they would fall outward so as not tho damage the edifice.

We then headed into the bar for a well deserved drink. All the competitors slapping each other’s backs, congratulations!

It was abundantly noticeable that for the first time during this rally that competitors had dropped their guard. They became quite pally. Like the race is over, no need to treat you like a competitor anymore. Odd. Or maybe not?

This evening was prize giving night at the final dinner.

Most prepared themselves after long hot showers and cleaning up, to dress up in Indian style clothes. Maharajas. Turbans and special coats and headdress.

One couldn’t recognise these people anymore.

It was fun and we sat down at our tables to watch a film produced by the official photographer, Gerard Brown.

A montage of photos taken throughout the event showing the antics of various drivers and cars in sometime awkward situations. A reminder of some of the difficulties, hardships and funnier moments.

Then onto the prize giving.

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Finalist photos

Lots of jubilation to those that achieved greatness.

Steve and I were third in our class, and we were awarded a silver medal. We were actually 16th overall.

Not so much to be proud of but, there you are.

So a lovely meal. Much chatter over our experiences with other competitors and the evening wore on to a natural conclusion.

Shaking of hands and goodbyes as the next morning we would all be heading home, some quite early.

This has been the hardest and most tortuous rally that we have undertaken. The degree of difficulty, climatic conditions, road configuration and surface, or the lack of.

A true rally of endurance for car and drivers and navigators.

The highlights were the floods in Shimla and the flight to see Mt Everest in the Himalayas.

The most memorable was the conditions in Kathmandu. Appalling.

Thank you to those that followed our exploits and who made supporting comments. It was always good to get your messages.

Cheers. Signing off now, until the next time.

Steve and Corgi.

Day 20 – Chitwan to Lucknow

A new starting procedure was prepared, for the purpose of getting across the border without crowding the immigration and customs offices, on both sides.

Commencing at 6.30am the cars would leave at 6 minute intervals.

The competition was more or less over and crossing a border was a difficult task to undertake at anytime, let alone set a time to have it done.

We departed at 7.19am. Still cool and looking forward to some better roads, seeing that this is a transit day in essence.

But it was not to be. Time controls had been abandoned and changed to passage controls, just to ensure that all competitors were to get through the borders.

“Hot and sticky” were soon back again with windows open in an effort to keep cool.

It was a 470km day so with all the goings on over borders etc. it was going to be a looong day.

Last night we had to change the rear wheels, as the tyres had worn flat, over the past 3000 odd kms.

The fronts were down too but it shows the wear on roads like this. These tyres had served us on the P to P for nearly 13000kms without showing hardly any wear.

At the border it was bedlam. Chaos. A mess of cars trucks bikes tractors people motorbikes, all endeavouring to get through at once. The untuned orchestra of car horns interspersed with loud celebratory music through huge speakers mounted on tractors shattered the air.

The quest to find the respective offices of both the immigration and customs offices was on. These turned out to be little cubicles  with a small sign “Immigration” and Customs, not in the same building but in the same vicinity. On both sides of an indescribable border.

What a mess. Nearly two hours waiting for someone to stamp our passports etc.

Once done, back in the throng of everyway traffic, there was no one checking to see if we were in fact allowed through!

So again into the rage of traffic that is now India. Trucks backed up at the border wanting entry to Nepal for some 14 kms.

We still had 300kms to go.

The ERA had again discovered roadways that displayed the worst of conditions. Rather than have a good clean run into Lucknow, we had to endure more if the same despicable roads.

The last PC left us with 200kms to go.

The afternoon was coming to an early end due to the smoke/pollution engulfing the sun now a red dot in the sky.

Now the roads, freeways had been created for us. Long straight roads that permitted good speeds. But the truck traffic was very heavy. Here the trucks drive in the right hand lanes allowing passing by fast traffic on the “inside” lane.

Watching for cows and dogs and motorbikes at all times. Then darkness. Some vehicles with lights, some not, some full beam, some vehicles driving toward you on your side, without lights!

Wow. Concentration is paramount, then navigating at night when landmarks can’t be observed.

We followed the route book to the best possible way. Cannot get lost in this city at night.

We made destination without fault at 6.50pm.

Whacked!!!!!

Beautiful hotel, Vivanta by Taj.

Nice to see in the morning.  It was too late to see in the evening, though it was all lit up with fairy lights.

Bed, then Morning!! Suddenly.

Day 16 – Pokhara to Kathmandu

Pokhara seemed like a quiet little settlement, not small and the hotel we stayed at was simple yet elegant.

Was good to have good beds to rest in. It was the first night in Nepal and the first time that beef was on the menu.

Cows aren’t as sacred here as in India.

The surprise scene from our hotel at Pokhara of the Himalayas. Made us optimistic to get to Kathmandu.

We had left Denise parked after the days’ work checking the normal bits and pieces.

Our horn had cut out and Steve spent a couple of hours finding why. A fuse? A loose wire? Need to be sure. The set button on the Monit trip meter also stopped working. Important to change the inter mileage when needed.

The horn is an essential tool here. Like it used to be in NZ 60 years ago when rounding corners on unsealed roads. Here the horn goes almost full time. Car drivers react to it like it’s a demand for space. They mostly react. The music from the multitude of horn tones is deafening, and continuous.

We stayed in the hotel for dinner, and it seems that it was the wise thing to do. The steak bars/eateries served what looked like steak but was “not very nice”. Disappointing for those that partook. Considering that the only cows that we see along the road are somewhat boney and wormey is it any wonder? There are no beef cattle farmed here.

Some drama with the Polish team members in the bar, who, were very friendly when you got to know them, took exception to being told by a Brit that they would be beaten in the next P to P. Lots of drink consumed and the Brit was put into the pool. Even the bar manager who tried to intervene was put into the pool.

Good fun and no hard feelings.

Then to bed.

Some awoke with weary eyes and hangovers but we were all ready to go again. You really need to be fully alert when driving on these roads!!!

Looking forward to the not too long distance to travel, 211kms. Heading to the reason why most of us took on this challenge.

Once again on the road it commenced with the juddering of the road surface, river stone roads pretending to be highways. Where there was seal it was broken and potholed. From then on we got the firm impression that this was going to be hard. 211kms in a day is not far and our destination time in was to be 5.56 pm. Something was afoot!

Well it was hard. The roads didn’t get better and the truck and motorbike traffic became heavier. All heading for the capital.

The days program had us stopping for a passage control at a place called Kurintar.

We were to have lunch here. It was a cable car tourist attraction that traversed some two kilometres up some very steep hills to the top, at which there was nothing to see. We had a passage control up there so it was mandatory. So back down. The ride was great. The day had been amended from a Time Control competition to a Passage Control situation and MYC, as competitors know it, was also downgraded to a PC.

The scenes from the cable car at Kurintar.

Checked out at the PC at the exit and back on the road.

This was the beginning of the “steps”, a road that never ceased to climb up the steep country for what turned out to be three hours of hard grind.

The trucks were nose to tail all the way with jams occurring every few k’s.

Passing was just a pot luck manoeuvre either inside or outside the rows upfront. The diesel fumes were choking.

Sometimes a truck would appear coming down toward us and we would squeeze between two nose to tail trucks going up. That’s the way they do it here. If you don’t drive like they do, you’d still be at the bottom of the hill. The car has not been damaged for those who wondered!

The heat, dust and fumes were overwhelming! It was just awful. Breathing became almost impossible and Steve wore a face mask to mitigate the problem. He coughed and spluttered all the time passing vehicles and, cursing.

The reader could honestly not imagine the scene.

Optimistically we were still looking forward to the mind-held destination, Kathmandu.

We both had impressions of what it would look like. Cool, clean with large snow laden mountains with the city at its feet.

When we arrived at the summit, the change of environment worsened. Instead of a serene city bounded by mountains it was a city packed with trucks cars and motor bikes travelling in all directions raising dust from the unkempt and unsealed road surfaces. It was a huge dust bowl.

The scene was horrific.

Although it was Saturday and the population was all about, the scene was chaotic. Most everyone wore masks. You could hardly see 100 meters ahead.

Navigation was now really important as taking a wrong turn here would be a disaster. It would be nigh impossible to make a u-turn, although in saying that, just turning would be the norm here. It takes time and no one would really care. Anything is possible, it’s the stress.

Our health was suffering badly. Coughing and spluttering was the norm now and we looked forward now to the sanctuary of the Hyatt Regency.

Expectations were that it may not be as good as imagined, but, it turned out to be a jewel set into beautiful grass and tree surrounds. The contrast could not have been greater. From such poverty in the streets to the luxury of this hotel.

We turned into the long driveway to the hotel proper and more or less abandoned the car at the door to get inside. Wow! What a trip!

How all of the cars arrive without suffering some sort of either mechanical or body damage is amazing.

The rooms at the hotel were very nice and the clean white cool sheets on the bed were a welcome sight.

A wholesome shower to rid the dust and grime from our bodies was welcome.

First, getting our clothes laundered. We’d been in them day after day for almost seven days. So that will be great.

Then a few drinks and dinner. Nobody stayed up long. The day had worn the most resilient teams down.

Denise is a dream to perform as she has.

Steve had prepared her for this trip to a standard that would allow the most strenuous imagined conditions. She battled these extreme conditions with alacrity.

What a girl. We depend on her solely to get us there. Walking or fixing her up on the roadside just isn’t an option. You would die on the process by asphyxiation! Truely, it’s that bad!

So now two days of r and r.

General maintenance to Denise, doing up the loose bits of anything that could have come loose and cleaning the filters. They were clogged with diesel and dust probably like our lungs.

We are supposed to fly over the Himalaya’s on Monday but cloud (or could it be dust?) is said to be in the way.

We will see.

Day 15 – Tiger resort to Pokhara

An early start to commence a long arduous day. 451 kms.

It turned out to be so.

We had to backtrack from the resort to the main road along a broken road that consisted of river stones interspersed with bumps and potholes. We woke at 5 to allow time for breakfast and to get the car ready. It was to take 45 mins back to the main road.

Early morning and the dust was still moist and it lay low.

Once underway it looked as though it would be an easy run but in a short while the road deteriorated and the trucks cars and people increased. Straight roads to start with, then onto the hills with long winding roads into the hills. And so it continued. On and on. The roads got worse, potholed tarmac with the edges hard and sharp. It tore at the tires and shook the car and it’s occupants severely. It’s not that you can just slow down. There is a time check to meet with loss of points if late. Denise didn’t complain though you could feel the pain. It was just atrocious.

On we rode through these conditions. Hot and dry then wet.

Dusk came early and we were expecting to come in at 17.35 hrs. We just couldn’t make it. There is 60 mins grace with 30 mins without penalty. We got in without the penalty.

Boy we were whacked. Dust covered dry and just stuffed. It’s not a straight 451 km ride. It’s endurance coupled with wit and quick thinking. Looking always for the best way through the road maze and ensuring that we were always on track. Mentally and physically exhausting.

There was no time to take photos as we sped though the winding roads and villages looking always to ensure we didn’t miss a turn.

That’s our intro to Nepal.

We are looking forward to seeing what we really came for.

Day 14 – Nainital to Bardia Park

To Bardia Park, the route instructions said that after a short stint of hairpin bends, that the road would be straight for 500kms.

They were true to their word. Except, that surface would not be flat!

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Dam en-route to border.

There were few photos to be taken as the scenes were the same wherever we went. Lots of agriculture and hard working people working the land. Hardly photographic material. Miles of it. Townships interspersed were bustling and the traffic chaos the same.

Then into the immigration office at the India border. 500 meters from the Nepal border.

Immigration office and Nepal Border

Passport stamping and recording then another office for the carnage de passage to allow the car to exit-and to enter the respective countries. What a mess in respect of the office and the surrounding areas. Could be the worst place that you’ve ever visited. Rubbish, dust and heat. We had to endure some two hours going through the officialdom.

Bah!

Then onward over the straights of Nepal. Much better roads through lush countryside. Tropical. Not what I had ever thought.

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Scenery.

The people look slightly different and the attitude much better. Lots of smiles and waves. Not something you can take a photo of whilst travelling.

But the driving? Not the same , likely worse.

A number of our team had altercations with other vehicles. Bumps, dents , broken mirrors and doors an fenders damaged.

Our hotel was at a place called Tiger resort in Bardia. Late dusty and hot. Really cheap and simple. Hard beds and cold water. The only saving grace, aircon.

At Tiger Resort.

Dinner. guess?

Early to bed then, don’t remember.

 

Day 13 – Rudraprayag to Nainital

It’s the last night in India before we cross the border into Nepal.

Both of us had a good nights sleep.

Breakfast was very basic. The rally began at 9.00am. Too late in my view, but for some who celebrated cheerfully into the evening it was probably a godsend. The hotel is a dry pub so knowingly some members stocked up at a previous location and consumed their booty at this place. They drank with great gusto, more than if it had been available. So they became very happy very quickly. Warm beer? Yuk.

We had no intention of drinking especially because we were tired from the concentration of driving but also that the next day required the same diligence. It’s too dangerous in our view to get onto the roads with a distorted mindset.

Anyway we got underway on a better road surface but a boring route. There was no time for looking out of the window with interval driving instruction almost every 1 to 2 kms. Couldn’t/didn’t take any photos. Besides there being not much to look at or see.

The first regulatory of the day was cancelled and the instructions to get to our accommodation was flawed so we received new route guidance.

We got to the hotel absolutely stuffed. We drive like crazy (not stupidly) only to be told that the time for getting in had been extended by 30 minutes. Even this was only just enough for us to get in before time.

Stressful and draining!

When we get to the hotel our room is some distance away and about down 110 steps. Doesn’t sound much but boy, after a hard day?

 

Day 12 – Rishikesh to Rudraprayag

The travel today was 160kms.

So because it was a short ride (yeah right) we commenced the journey @ ten o’clock.

We had difficulty getting to the accommodation last night i.e. we got lost, but we found the digs a little disappointing but the food was good..

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Steve making his lunch for the day. Looks good.

It was said the night before that the roads would be better today, but they tell lies. It was again a terribly rough road for most of the way.

A regularity section was first up with two speed changes. It’s difficult as the roads are public roads and not closed and changing speeds is in itself difficult to monitor.

We got in early by twelve seconds, too fast.

Good ride though.

Then on to the end of that section and took the roughest road they could find.

Still we headed onward and made the trip more interesting by pushing the limits and driving like they do. The horn if used often and for long periods did the trick of moving the traffic, play hardball and front up to these crazy drivers.

It was an enjoyable ride and Denise purred along not complaining at all. She bounced and jumped all over but reacted positively to driver demands.

Scenes of the Ganges and surrounds.

Rough, but we passed everyone on the roads including the rally teams, buses and trucks.

We were first in at the hotel. So we got a park right outside the door.

Dog tired. Concentration is paramount to a successful drive. Covered in dust and buggered.

Some photos of “the boys” on the Himalayan Challenge.

Steve gave the car a once over but all was well with her. We sat in the lobby for a while before heading to the room for a very welcome hot shower and clean up. Yesterday’s hotel had no hot water and was disappointing for room cleanliness.

This one was a lot better for cleanliness but old-fashioned. The TV for instance is one of those cathode ray tubes. But there is wifi.

Dinner tonight is accompanied by a “command performance”.

As it turned out many participant brought beer whiskey and gin with them. It’s a pub with no grog on this region so no drinks for us.

Early to bed and we’ll be fresh for a good start.