Monday, 17 August 2009

Kathmandu, Nepal

After a thorough battering on Pakistan's roads, India's pot holed dirt track to the Nepal border proved too much for Pedro. He limped into Kathmandu leaving a trail of oil behind him. The oil leak had got so bad we were pouring in almost as much oil as petrol and even had to stop and buy more on our way into town.
Our plan was to find a hotel before it got dark and then track down a garage but Pedro had other ideas. One particularly steep and busy hill was too much for him, he died and refused to restart, causing a major traffic jam! Enter Sonam, who enlisted the help of some 20 or 30 people to push us up the hill to a safe stopping point. Then he helped us track down a garage. Much to our surprise we found there is a thriving VW scene in Nepal. Most of them were driven here by hippies in the 60's.

The garage crew were like a well oiled pit crew. They had Pedro jacked up, wheels off and checking everything in seconds. A compression test on the engine showed, err, none. So out it came for further investigation. I'd been driving for 5 days with virtually no brakes so I was delighted when they found a new master cylinder to fit, along with a new handbrake had become rather stretched from overuse when the footbrake wasn't enough.
Pedro's back end has been grounding out on every bump for the last few days. I suspected new shock absorbers were in order but hey just needed adjusting. He also had new rubber bushes, a new wheel bearing, new ball joints, a new clutch.

The mechanics father still works with his son in the garage despite his 70 years and did an expert job stripping the engine. Oil was leaking from around the "push rods" (forgive my lack of mechanical knowledge). They also replaced the piston rings while the engine was apart and cleaned everything.
Various members from the Nepal Beetle Users Group kept dropping by. They said they had heard from people at the border that a foreign Beetle had entered the country and had been looking out for us. One of the guys also told us they have been trying to plan a drive to Everest base camp for a long time because no Beetle has ever been driven there - Pedro will be the first!

Pedro was in the garage for 3 days but now drives like new! We were so lucky to make it as far as Kathmandu and we found Shantu Maharjhan and his father. True enthusiasts who went over Pedro with a fine tooth comb finding and fixing every little problem. The other Baja on the rally broke down in Kazahkstan where there was no help available and had to call it a day. I really feel for them, it could so easily have been the same story for us. I'm very grateful for the flower power generation driving their bugs here in the 60's and creating such a cool VW community here!

So after spending 3 days hanging around the garage and sorting paperwork for Tibet that left us just a few short hours for sight-seeing! We've been staying in the Thamel area which is a really cool area to hang out in. Loads of cheap shops selling hippie clothes, prayer flags, Tibetan singing bowls, Thanka's, rugs, tea and brand name trekking gear of dubious origin.

We only had time to visit one other area of the town so we chose Durbar square which is full of temples, shrines and touts trying to sell flutes, bags, necklaces, anything you want, or don't want really.

Beef is on the menu here but the cows still lounge around in the streets unmolested.

This ugly chap had people pushing things into his mouth, I'll refer back to the guide book later and find out what that was about.

One of the many bag sellers. I said I'd buy some if I could take her photo, so look out for one under the christmas tree this year!

The Thanka shop. Thanka's are beautiful, intricate paintings made by buddhist monks. I bought a couple of small ones so will post photos when I can take one that does justice to them!

Terai tours here have been very helpful in sorting out our paperwork for China. We are now all set to enter Tibet tomorrow morning. Our first stop will be Everest base camp. I'm guessing there won't be any internet access or mobile signal there so don't worry if you don't hear from us for a while.

Thursday, 13 August 2009


India had a lot to live up to after Pakistan but Lahore to Delhi in one day is a long drive. We arrived in Delhi late and got very lost in the slums. This is the part of India the tourist board doesn't want you to see and is pretty shocking. After seeing how the rickshaw owners sleep in squallid condiations, near naked on their rickshaws at the roadside, you can forgive the constant hustling for business.

Agra was more enjoyable, although we were beseiged by small children selling everything from water to Taj Mahal snow globes! We stayed in the Maya Guest house which was really lovely, relaxed and had an ecellent restaurant. As you can imagine we were both pretty road weary after the long drive so we decided to put on our glad rags and pose for pictures in front of the Taj as all the Indian families do. I wanted to take a photo of white teddy at the Taj too but security wouldn't let him in! He had to wait for us in the locker room, sorry James but he is safe and well and I will upload another photo soon.

We put in a lot of long driving days in India to try and get back on schedule for our pre-arranged China tour guide and we thought we were ging to manage it. Our only other stop in India was Varanasi where we took an early morning cruise along the Ganges. Actually "cruise" gives the wrong impression.....we were rowed along the Ganges in a leaky wooden boat in the early morning drizzle and mist. It was still fascinating to see the "ghats", the stepped areas along the river where the locals were out in force washing themselves and their clothes, praying and even burning their dead. We were told that when a person is burnt the ashes are then scattered in the river. If the person has died of leprosy or small pox it is considered a curse for bad karma in a previous life and they cannot receive the blessing of being burnt. Instead rocks are tied to the body and it is dropped in the centre of the river - except sometimes the rocks come loose and the body floats up! Oddly, and I didn't quite understand this one, a snake bite victim is tied to a log and floated downstream.

Burning Ghat on the Ganges

The traffic has been a complete nightmare in India! The streets are filled with Tuk Tuks, rickshaws, bikes, motorbikes, cars and lorries and they all go where they want. There don't seem to be any rules of the road. It's not uncommon to be driving down a nice bit of dual carriageway and find traffic coming at you from the opposite direction! Sometimes this is because the traffic on the opposite carriageway has been diverted without any warning to those on the other side. Sometimes it seems they must be drunk or on drugs. You certainly have to keep your wits about you, especially in the cities. At railway crossings the traffic doesn't queue but pushes forward as much as possible on both sides of the road with bikes and rickshaws filling every available space. Then; when the barriers open you're facing the same situation on the opposite side of the crossing and have to fight your way through the traffic. It was at one of these crossings that Pedro's sump guard bent again and was dragging the ground so we had to stop, and block this free for all of traffic! I got out and started taking the sump guard off which was pretty difficult with a 5 deep crowd pressing around trying to see what I was doing. I found that the hardest thin in India, when ever we stopped the car would be mobbed with people pressing in from all sides, for the most part just blankly staring. There was never any malice, it was just a little difficult to cope with at times. Some of the guys did offer to help with the sump guard when they saw what I was doing though and it was soon bent back into shape and back on the car. The problem is that Pedro's rear suspension has suffered first on the rough roads in Pakistan and then on the bumpy Indian roads. He really needs new shock absorbers which we will find in Kathmandu.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Pakistan - biggest surprise of the trip so far!

The main road out of Loralai, a truck had gone off the "road" blocking traffic in both directions till the digger pulled it out!

Pakistan is hot, it's touched 50 degrees here which is absolutely draining!
It's dusty, the roads are non-existent.
I got food poisoning and found myself in Quetta hospital for 2 days.
Pedro suffered on the "roads" too, we had to drive through a river where the bridge was being constructed which bent the sump guard and damaged the car. It's been so hot that the brake pipes have actually melted.
Even if you can find an air-conditioned hotel you won't enjoy the cool air for long because of the regular power cuts!
Pakistan is a seriously harsh place to live! So why do I love it so much?

Melon sellers

There is such colour and diversity of life here. In Quetta brand new 4x4's share the streets with donkey carts, camel carts, tuk tuks, lorries and even the odd herd of sheep or goats can be seen being driven round the roundabouts.
The lorries are works of art, elaborately decorated like gypsy caravans.
They crawl along at a snails pace but who can mind being stuck behind something so beautiful.

Pedro with some of the colourful trucks.

Then there are the people. I almost didn't come to Pakistan because so many people gave me dire warnings about kidnappings, terrorists, bandits, tribal feuds and how much westerners are hated.
I think this is why Pakistan has been the biggest surprise. The people have been so unbelievably friendly and welcoming.

When I crossed the border from Iran I was immediately offered tea, the paperwork could wait, tea came first.
That's another thing, the little bits of Britishness that make you smile when you're away from home. In Pakistan they drive on the left and everything stops for tea and cricket.
Despite my reservations when I said I was English I always received a warm response. The British may have ruled over Pakistan but they also built all of the railways, bridges, schools and hospitals and this hasn't been forgotten.

The prettiest little girls in Pakistan.

Little did I know I was soon to experience one of these hospitals first hand as I went down with a bad case of food poisoning!
Becoming violently ill in the night, I was admitted to Quetta Christian Hospital for 2 days. The ward was hot with just ceiling fans for cooling and flies buzzing around.
As far as cleanliness goes it was probably on a level with Southampton General Hospital. I noted that all needles did come out of sealed, sterile packs.
The nurses were a lot nicer than the ones I met in Southampton general though and I was seen a lot quicker! IV fluids were given to me via a canula in the back of my hand along with antibiotics and pain killing injections.
One of the nurses, Sheenez, spoke excellent english. She's marrying her boyfriend in london and moving there next year!
The ladies in the ward were curious about me and Shenez translated, mostly they were saying I had beautiful skin and wanted to know what face cream I used!
And of course the first question all Pakistani women ask me "are you married?"

A lovely family I met.

Saying goodbye to my friends in the hospital I took one of the colourful tuk tuks to the hotel and was reunited with Pedro. I had been given police escorts since the Pakistan border, although kidnappings are rare, they take tourist safety very seriously.
They didn't seem concerned about my security in the hospital but insisted on escorting me out of the city. One of the guards sat in the car with me and kept touching my leg - so I slapped him and shouted at him if he touched me again he could get out of the car!
He didn't touch me again and the escort left me at the city limits declaring the road ahead safe.

I had originally planned to take a southerly route through Pakistan as I'd been advised that was the safest route but when the police asked me did I want to go south to Sukor or north through Loralai, I chose Loralai, partly beacause it looked a quicker, more direct route and partly just because I liked the name.

Every village I drove through on the way greeted me with smiles and waves. The final stretch of the road to Loralai took me through some stunning mountains, then I rounded a bend in the road and was flagged down at another police check point. My heart sank, I didn't really want another escort after the leg feeler!
All of the men were uniformed except one. Nasir approached my car window wearing light brown salwar kameez and aviator sunglasses - Pakistan Miami Vice!
He told me he was anxious because they expected me 2 hours earlier. I explained that Pedro is not a fast car and I also missed the first turning because he road signs weren't in English.
He asked if he could travel in the car with me, I was a little hesitant given my previous experience but agreed. Nasir was very considerate and respectful. He treated me like I was a princess and he was my bodyguard. Yes, I was quite taken with him and have been missing him since leaving Loralai but, as luck or fate would have it, he is coming to London in March to train with the Met Police for at least 6 months. . .

Lahore Mosque

Rica rejoined me in Lahore and we headed to the border where there is a nightly flag lowering ceremony involving much pomp and ceremony. Pakistan are on one side and India on the other both shouting support for their countries while the guards stamp, march and shout. It's great fun but of course Rica and I were supporting Pakistan.

Rica and I with one of the border guards at the flag ceremony

Oh yeah, I made the paper too!!