Saturday, 5 May 2012

Intro to India

The morning after viewing Bhuddhas birthplace we got up and had breakfast (at 3 foxes again), and then headed towards the border with India.

Parked at the guesthouse. I almost ripped off one of their doors getting out of there...

On the Nepal side finding immigration was easy, we got our passports stamped. Then the process of finding out what to do with carnets for the bikes... In the immigration office they pointed us to the building nextdoor which was the tourist info center, we got in there and a lady got up and went to get someone else for us. When that person got there they didn't know what the carnet was for, so we asked where customs was, which took them a while to explain...

We left the bikes at immigration and went to the "Customs Agent" office, first at the help desk door, where they told us to go to the next door, and then we were directed to an office next to it with lots of people sitting around. At first they told us we had to go to immigration and get the stamp, and I explained multiple times that we already had and eventually they believed us once they saw the stamp in the Athe carnets around but they all just kind of sat and didn't do much. Eventually someone arrived who was the carnet expert, they informed us we had to have photocopies of the passport, and that we should bring the bikes over to customs... We set off back inside Nepal (note: you can wander ANYWHERE on land borders) to go to the green building with a photocopier, got our copies, and then went back to customs with the bikes. The carnet expert got us to fill in the book with the details, and then he started stamping, and then he said we had to run and follow him to the customs office (what?) before they went on lunch. We walked through a field of trucks to get there, and it was a long slient process to gain a signature on each carnet, then back out to the bikes to make sure they'd signed the right thing. This would be the slowest carnet processing I'd have seen for at least the next hour of my life...


Immediatly the border is more crazy than Nepal. There are shops scattered everywhere right up to the official border, in the middle are two small shopfronts for immigration and customs. After fighting the traffic which seemed to go everywhere here we got to Immigration were we filled in an entry form, got our visas stamped, and filled in the carnet details in a small notebook. This wasn't customs so I figured there would be a lot of double entry for carnet details.

Then it was time for customs. We had to travel back up the road slightly and get across with the bikes. However, while we were at immigration the Nepali side of the border went to lunch, this left a long line of trucks up the road. And because there was a long line of trucks everyone in cars decided to use half the other lane to get up the side of the trucks, and then because all the cars had almost blocked the lanes then all the bikes came up and filled in the rest of the space available. All I had to do was get through a small gap over to the customs office, Drew could fit on the vespa, but my bike was too wide. Then the police started telling people to reverse to get out of the way of a truck going into india, so I had to get off the road and let some traffic pass for a while.

I was stuck here for ages. Customs was below the red sign on the left, the big orange truck was blocked by a car...

Eventually there was a small gap between the southbound traffic, the northbound cars, and the trucks and I made it across! What an effort, it was like frogger but much more annoying and without the spare lives. Inside customs we had another introduction to indian efficiancy. First, you go inside with your carnet, where some guy fills all the details into a book and fills in half the carnet information, and then stamps some of it. Then you go outside to the big customs cheif I guess, where he signs it and the carnet is handed back.

All up I think it took us 3 hours at the border.

After we got away from the border area and the long lines of parked trucks the road queitened down and finally, finnnnnaallllyy, I was on a straight semi-flat road where you could keep some speed up. There were some cars/trucks pushing you out the lane, but nothing to mean yet. This was the most enjoyable part of India so far! Hopefully between towns elsewhere It's like this. We stopped at a small shop where the owner was very friendly, we attacted a small crowd who looked at the bikes. And we got to see quite a few chickens killed...

We got to Gorakphur, which is a town of 600000 people but it's very compact. The traffic and buildings don't really pick up until you get close. Then of course it gets nuts. We stayed in a hotel that seems to be filled with lots of business travellers, and some very grumpy staff. At first there was a problem with where to park the bikes, a serious problem. I've no idea why. They told me to park in one spot (Where I couldn't open my luggage) then I was told to move it to another spot, but apparently that was ever so slightly in the wrong spot so I had to move forward again, we kept asking to verify where exactly they wanted us to move, but each time they would tell us to go somewhere, and then say that was wrong and we had to move it again... Wow. How hard can parking be? As Drew noted they were precious about where to put these vehicles, but garbage can go anywhere in the parking area, anywhere you like (I helped contribute too).

The floor numbering in this hotel has yet another system for yet another country. This time we have a ground floor (which is unnamed), then 1st floor with rooms 001 to 010, then 2nd floor with rooms 101 to 110, then 3rd floor with rooms 201 to 210... I was quite confused when trying to find my room (208) on the second floor...

That night we headed past all the street resturants next to the drains filled with sewage (it smelt like it whatever it was). Touts zeroed in on us pretty quick, asking us to come to their resturant. Eventually one from Hotel Sunrise found us, they had a rooftop resturant which was away from the street at least. We went up there to have a look and stayed anyway.

Food is cheap here! I had vege kofta (there's not a huge amount of power to keep meat cold here) with 4 chappatis for about $1.05, and it was really good. Beer is slightly expensive at $3.10 for a 650mL bottle. Bottled water is about 20c/L.

Gorakphur at street level...

From the rooftop restaurant at Hotel Sunrise. What a noisy mess. The railway is big building in the back.

Looking the other way.

The next morning we ate breakfast at our hotel (Paneer and Aloo Parathras, very good!) and noticed the  tout that got us into Hotel Sunrise for dinner the night before was also working in this hotel! We asked him and he works two jobs, morning to afternoon at one, then goes to the other to work into the night.

Then it was time to set off towards Varanassi! It was 200km from Gorakphur.

This cable was powering a drill. It had several taped together sections and it took a bit of jiggling about to get working.
However... About 40km in we hit a very rough patch of road which broke the Vespa again. The rear suspension had broken again so we headed to the nearest bike shop and they got to repairing it right away...

Removing the fuel tank to get at the top of the suspension for re-welding.
 There are a lot of Vespas in India so they're used to working on them.

The offending part (the round object). The top nut on the suspension had gone through this, it held the spring down.
It was off to the nearby welding shop to get the shock welded up, and the body work welded for more strength.

Sleeping Vespa.

Welding safety in India.

Rubbish by the side of the road.

Goat eating the rubbish.

Trying to pay for what they did. The mechanic didn't want to take any money. I think the total ended up around $20 for all the work and welding, but the money had to be forced on the guy!
Since we had a delay during the day once we got riding again we would try to find a hotel on the way to Varanasi. Unfortunately there isn't a lot of choice. Since neither of us know what the local word for Hotel looks like we may have past a lot of them. We found one that looked shiny and new but they told us they were full (which may not be true...).

We got to Ghazipur and started asking around for hotels, and they were all directing us towards the train station (which is where you find them I guess). We found one fancy looking place and checked the price, $12 for a fan cooled room. Excellent. It had a shower and western toilet, neither of which worked very well, but they were there at least.

We think we were one of the first westerners to stay there. The manager wanted to make sure we were happy with everything in his own Indian way, when we got luggage off the bike they refused to let us take bags and had someone follow us around everywhere. A bit tiring and we don't need it, but hey, they had staff members almost pouring out of the place and they needed to do something.

According to the manager a lot of the hotels would have told us that they were full because we were foreigners and they wouldn't want to do the paperwork that the police required. Well that's the first time I've run into that. But they kept our passports and kept asking questions all night, eventually we had to sign a form in triplicate that had a space for our Indian address on it, which we didn't have. Very confusing, but I think the form was for business travellers and not for tourists. Who knows, maybe there will be issues when leaving India now.

Of course, then there was the problem of where to park the bikes. First they opened up this small door and told me to ride in there. I pointed out that my bike was in fact wider than the door, and there was a lot of thinking but eventually I said I wouldn't bother and I'd just park on the street, but then they found a gate and opened it and I parked in there. No idea if it was part of the hotel or not. Drew got to park the Vespa in a small hallway... somehow. They did give us a 101% guarantee that our bikes would be safe.

In the morning when I got my bike out I found switches had been played with, and the trip meter reset, and then I noted there were two kids in the yard where I parked. At least all my fuel was still there.

The road to the train station in Ghazipur.
Next time, Varanasi, and Touts.

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