Somewhere in the misty mountains

When you apply for the Richshaw Run you must also design the outside of your tuk tuk. Being fairly devoid of artistic skill, I made a boringly basic botch job of a template and hoped someone else would rise to the occasion. Luckily, they did. 

We – that’s a royal we – decided that we’d cover our ride in a London tube map and fill in the stations with the various villages, towns and cities along the way to Kerala. Despite the fact that within a day the beautiful white paint was covered in the Indian roadside, it was worth the time. It also manages to provide much laughter and amusement for the locals who emerge when we attempt to correctly spell their home town. Sometimes we even do.

Currently, at the start of day seven of the journey, we’ve added around 20 names to the side and it looks pretty great, if I do say so myself. We left Siliguri at a leisurely 9am and headed up the mountainside to Darjeeling where we’d decided to spend the day wandering around, meeting some people, and most importantly, getting Hugo’s wallet stolen by a bearded foreigner, I mean buying lots of tea. The pickpocket event was a bit of a drag on an otherwise extremely enjoyable city. As you might imagine Darjeeling is built falling down the side of a mountain and the restaurant we chose to dine at would have had a perfect view of the city and beyond. Sadly mist was at large and so we were somewhat hampered in that regard.

A somewhat eccentric, old, naturalised Indian woman informed us that the beautifully made stone central building was of English heritage and had been made only by Brits and out of British stone, which is hard to believe but astonishing if true. That being said, she then warned us not to talk to anyone except her friend Rahul, that we were fools to eat anything not cooked in one of two places she recommended, and never to go outside before 6.30 am here due to the violent gangs. . . Who knows how true her previous historical anecdotes were, we welcomed her conversation anyway. 

In the spirit of adventure we dangerously spurned her advice and left at 4.30 am the next day, attempting to catch a Himalayan sunrise and get an early start down the mountain. The mist lurked here and there but the views were still fairly spectacular!

On our final descent we then broke our speed record to go a massive 73 km/h at the base of the mountain (you’d be impressed if you’d driven one of these rickety contraptions). Sadly we must scared off any elephants that might have been around but that was probably a long shot. I’ll have to wait until Kerala!

A normal day for feet

That day we drove until dusk and traveled around 330km south – again, fairly impressive given the roads – crossing India’s 3rd largest bridge and landing in Farakka, just over the river Ganges. To give India its due, the Ganges is pretty big, well done, I was definitely impressed. It makes the river Thames look like a roadside stream in comparison. No pictures I’m afraid as it was a little bit dark. . . Not that we were driving at night again.

Amazingly friendly locals watching us ‘fix’ the tuk tuk…

The next day, having realised their engine was misfiring, we both stopped to find a mechanic and we took the time to fix or buy a new tyre to replace the now flat one we’d acquired the day before. After much confusion and a lot of head-wobbling and handshaking it was eventually discovered that it was beyond repair and so 300 rupees later (~£3.25) for a new inner tube and an hour of work we went back to the others.

Except they were gone and their phone was out of battery. Brilliant.

Head-wobbling: A side to side motion ranging from a single flick in one direction to multiple wobbles indicating many different communications. Examples include – ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘I haven’t a clue’ or ‘please get out of my way you annoying foreigner”

Given that we had no way to actually find them apart from physically trawling around the town looking for a mechanic who might still be fixing their tuk tuk, we decided they probably went on to Siuri, the next big town where we were due to stay the night, and so hit the road again.

Animals are absolutley everywhere here, but they love a photo or two

Now for me, one of the most tense moments every day is having to find a hotel that fulfills at least some of there criteria:

a) Fairly easy to get to b) Reasonably priced, it may be cheap but we’d prefer not to be ripped off c) Actually open to foreigners

Unless the other group (with infinite internet data) has actually found a place, we usually find ourselves stopping to talk to the locals who try to explain where the nearest hotel is. This is harder than it sounds. We’re incompetent when it comes to understanding Hindi, or any other native language for that matter, and even if they speak English, following directions in towns that all have signs written in Hindi is no easy task. We’re in a foreign land with people who have taken the time to learn our language and we still fail to understand what they mean half the time. As soon as they use a name of a place, obviously they’ll use the Hindi name, I’m immediately lost. I find it embarrassing and, possibly stupidly, think it’s my fault for not having a better ear for differentiating their tongue.

Eventually, we get to a (not so easy to find) reasonably priced hotel open to foreigners and complete the long sign in process that’s necessary for every hotel before a bite to eat and bed. Think multiple passport scans and signatures at every juncture.

It’s 4.25 in the morning, still no word from our companions. We’ve made it downstairs past the sleeping hotel nightwatchman and head to the tuk tuk and what do we see? A blue moustached vehicle parked right next to ours. Phew.

. . .Or maybe not Phew. Their engine still isn’t fixed. They need a spare part and no one seems to have one or know where one is. Push on and they’ll meet us at the beach, there isn’t a lot we can do here.

Theoretically on Indian roads you can average around 50 km/h and make fairly good time each day. The roads don’t agree with this theory. Road surfaces vary in drivability from gloriously straight, flat, heaven-like canvases to apparently impassable, constantly pot-holed roads from hell. After days and days of this extreme variation we hit the NH60 motorway.

It was a thing of beauty.

Nothing but smooth flat Tarmac as far as the eye could see and weather to match. Not a pot-hole in sight.

It was finally time to make some decent progress. We arrived four blissful hours later in Baleshwar on our way to a beach hotel with a couple of other tuk tuks we’d found on the way. No sign of our companions, but with beaches like this, that’s a worry for tomorrow.

6.30 am at the beach in Chandipur, West Bengal

Tuk tuk breakdown report: two flat tyres, a broken wheel, melted wires for the back left light and front main light, a carburettor clean, a spark plug fix, a swiped wing mirror, a broken main-frame, a busted back seat, a missing filter cap, a lost exhaust silencer (if we ever had it), faulty break lights and a broken exhaust mount between the two of us. Not bad for six days of driving!