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November 2, 2006

Into India

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LOCATION: Varanasi, India
Longitude: N: 25.34°
Latitude: E: 082.98°
Miles from Singapore: 5261

At the Nepal immigration office, just before crossing over into India, I met a middle aged Brit on a 'visa run' from India to Nepal. Seeing as he'd lived in India for several years I took him up on an offer of advice for my intended route to Mumbai. When I asked him what his take was on Indian people, he replied, "Oh, they're are 99.9% the same as the Nepalese". I should have taken note of the raised eyebrows of the nearby Nepalese immigration officer who overhead this remark, but at the time I didn't attach much significance to it. It was only later the same day after nearly getting mugged that I realized what a load of nonsense the Brit had told me.

India is about as full-on as it gets. The road I'm currently using to cut south west across the country has a good surface, and the traffic, though chaotic in the big towns, is tolerable elsewhere. But it's the people that I'm experiencing the biggest learning curve with. While an solicited smile and an offer of assistance in Nepal would be no strings attached, in India there is nearly always a hidden agenda. If I ask where a place to stay is for example I instantly have a 'new best friend' who will attach himself to me like glue and personally 'escort' me to somewhere I would have found quite easily myself given just the information as requested. The upshot of this involuntary liaison is a demand for a hefty commission and constant badgering until some rupees are handed over. Sometimes its actually worth it to have the assistance of one of these middle men just to get something done. In the Post Office here in Varanasi I spent what seemed like the entire morning trying to get information from the clerks behind the counter as to the process for sending a parcel to Mumbai. After 30-minutes I gave up and turning in desperation to the tout who had first offered his services when I'd first walked in (and I'd vehemently refused at the time). For 100 rupees (around $2.50 USD) he simply marched straight through the 'No Entry' door leading to the restricted area behind the counters and planted my box (all 12 kgs of it!) in the lap of a clerk who was in the middle of serving someone else at the time. But within 3-minutes the process was completed and I was able to escape and get on with the rest of my day.

Another thing I'm learning is that unlike in the rest of SE Asia the availability of small, cheap guesthouses and hotels in the smaller towns is non existent. Such accommodation options are limited to the larger towns and cities often located several hundred kilometres apart. This wouldn't be a problem if it were possible to camp, but as I found out on my first night this is a no-no also...

I was stuck between two towns towards the end of the day so I decided to ride until dark so no one could see me camp. Just as the last light was fading I veer off into a stand of trees a few hundred metres from the road - a perfect camping spot in normal circumstances. But as I start to take the panniers off the bike some movement catches my eye in the rice field to the right and sure enough a guy stands up and saunters over. Before too long two more appear from nowhere and wander over for a gawp at the gear. With this sudden unplanned company I decide on reflection to abandon the idea to camp here and head on down the road instead.

As I prepare to leave one of the guys asked for cigarette. Alarm bells instantly start ringing as this is classic international speak for, 'don't bother answering as you're about to get robbed anyway'. I start walking back towards the road. They follow. One of them then asks for a pen, but I again I don't reply and get on the bike so I can get away from them faster. They start running after me and begin shouting. Realizing that they'll overtake me before the safety of the road and other witnesses I stop and turn to face my pursuers. Fortunately my recently acquired Nepalese 'Khukuri' knife is near to hand and the simple action of unsheathing and holding this very formidable blade high above my head and yelling blue murder at them does the trick of stopping them in their tracks. Wide eyed in surprise they back off and vanish into the night.

This one bad experience was followed rather quickly by another attempted robbery the following evening outside the hotel I intended staying at. So while I have met some friendly individuals along the way who have even offered assistance if I get into trouble, the combination of these early negative encounters along with being immersed at ground level into the general melee of human struggle that is India has rocked me back on my heels somewhat. Today is therefore a rest day here in the city of 'Varanasi' to regain my composure behind the securit of the walled compound of a hotel and reattach smile-clips that have temporarily been dislodged. Tomorrow I start a fairly grueling schedule of 160+km days to reach Mumbai by the 16th.

Varanasi, the city of 'Shiva' dates back to 1400BC and as such is one of the oldest living cities in the world. It is also one of the holiest cities in India. Hindu pilgrims come to wash away all their sins in the ''Ganges'' river and many to die here, since expiring here offers ''Moksha'' - liberation from the cycle of birth and death. However the river is so polluted from the corpses that are throw into it as well as it being used as a sewage outlet for the 240 million people who live on its banks that it's a wonder that anyone walks away from it alive. Perhaps it's an auspicious place to die whether you like it or not.


Posted on November 2, 2006 6:18 AM


Hello Jason,

Note to self.....'no sleeping in fields in India!' Thanks for passing that tid bit along. You can honestly say that your trip has been interesting. Glad you had the khukuri knife with you. Your trip is going to make an amazing book.....movie?

Just want you to know that we are thinking of you and hoping you'll stay safe. Best of luck on the Arabian Sea.

Craig, Michelle and Baby Bean (To be)

Posted by: Craig & Michelle [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 6, 2006 5:00 PM