Chris' 1994  R100GS/PD ULTIMATE JOURNEY Erin's 1997  F650

Living a Dream . . . 2 Live-N-Ride

Jan 30, 2000

The Taj, Ganges, and Entry to Nepal

-- Story by Chris --

Double Engine?  (My bike has 2-cylinders, one sticking out on each side)
Self-Start?  (all bikes in India are kick-start)
Diesel?  (Enfield motorcycles and most other vehicles)
Kilometers (per litre)?
All-India Tour?  (World Tour)
350cc?  (Enfield)

These are the questions we are barraged with every time we stop the bikes.  After awhile, we began answering the questions before they were asked.  The Indian's are a very curious bunch, and several times we were instructed by police to "move on", as we were creating a traffic jam with the crowds.  In addition, Indian's thought it was very important that we have a mission, and couldn't believe we were simply travelling for ourselves. 

We returned to Goa in mid-January to pick up my bike (repaired rotor), say hello to friends, send our tent and cooking supplies to Australia, then we bid farewell to Christian.   We loaded the bikes and headed 1,800kms north to Agra, 200km south of Delhi.  Agra is home to India's most visited tourist attraction, The Taj Mahal -- a gorgeous mausoleum that looks more like a palace.   It is considered one of the seven man-made wonders of the world.

The morning and evening temperatures in the north had dropped to the point that we broke out our fleece jackets -- the previous week we were roasting on a beach in Goa!!  In Agra, we met 2 other RTW motorcyclists (Tom & Kirstin) from Ireland/New Zealand -- they were on the side of the road and Tom was repairing his 2nd puncture of the day!  Tom is on a '93 R100GSPD (Great bike!!) and Kirstin is on a Yamaha XT600E.

The Taj Mahal

When we arrived in Agra, we discovered the price of admission to the Taj Mahal had skyrocketed just after the 1st of January from a mere 15rupees ($0.40) to an outlandish 500rupees ($12.50) for foreigners.  On Fridays in India admission to temples, palaces, and the Taj is FREE!  So, the 4 of us woke before dawn, and stumbled trough the darkness to the Taj.  It was about 5C/40F when we arrived, but warmed up nicely as the sun rose.  Dawn broke and we watched the Taj change colors in the morning light.  For sunset, we rode across the river to the beach behind the Taj (for a different view) and were joined by a 5th traveler.

Behind the Taj Mahal

After the Taj, the 4 of us traveled to Varanasi together.  Varanasi (also known as Benares) is a famous city along the Ganges River, the holiest city for Hindus.  This is where Hindus come to bathe/cleanse their souls, and where their families eventually bring them to be cremated at the edge of the river.  We went walking at night, and watched as several bodies were burned before our eyes.  The next morning we were again up at sunrise and in a small boat to take in the action on the banks of the Ganges at its busiest time of day.

Bathing in the Ganges

Riding in India was an incredible experience, and riding on the left side of the road is a piece of cake (now).  The road surface ranges from new asphalt with a white line (very rare) to a dirt/stone surface that feels more like riding over railway ties.  Concentration and accepting that you have no right to be on the road (as a motorbike) when approached by a bus/truck -- even in a blind curve -- is essential.  The backroads and small towns are scenic and flavorful, while the big cities and National Highways are pretty terrifying (we see multiple accidents everyday).

After more than 7 weeks, we prepared to leave India.  It was a fantastic experience to be in a country so different than what we were used to.  In the end, we were ready to leave as we were exhausted from dealing with the "day-to-day".  Someday we'd like to return to see the north, but for now we needed a break.

January 28th: we crossed the border at Sonauli (north of Varanasi) out of India and into Nepal in under 2 hours, though we could have saved a half hour if a border supervisor wasn't getting his hair-cut.  Oh well, at least it wasn't multiple days like when we entered India!  Unlike most border crossings, the border at Sonauli is unusual in that there is a town THROUGH the Indian border -- yup, passport control was wedged between a small grocery and a hardware store on one side of the street, and customs was down the road between a barber shop and a tea house.

We exited the customs office in Nepal as darkness settled in, and were immediately surrounded by hotel brokers and hashish salesmen.  We were still traveling with Tom and Kirstin, so the 4 of us shared a room in a dive for $2.50/night.  As we pulled into the hotel, we discovered a flat in my front tyre, and I found a shop to help with the repair at 8:00pm.  Puncture repair is a huge business in India/Nepal, and shops can be found in even the smallest of settlements.  Unfortunately their patches (2 small holes) wouldn't hold on my tubeless tire, so we threw in a spare tube that Tom was carrying.

Tom and Kirstin prepare our evening meal

Saturday morning, we headed out in the direction of Kathmandu where we wanted to be for Monday morning.  Tom wasn't feeling 100% as he was recovering from a minor spill in India, so we decided to cut the 250km trip into 2 days.  As we weren't in a hurry, we decided to follow a "short cut" barely visible on the map, but indicated on the GPS.  It looked like it would save us about 30kms, and we were keen to stay off the National Highways.

The road turned out to be unsealed -- unpaved.  It was a fantastic dirt/gravel road which took us through several small villages where they probably never saw foreigners or big motorcycles before.  It took us the better part of an hour to ride the 35kms, and when our road turned to asphalt, Erin discovered she had a puncture in her front tyre.  We pulled into a police compound to repair the inner tube, and as we were finishing, Tom confirmed he had a slow leak in his rear tyre and needed to attend to it.  Two hours later, both bikes were ready to hit the road.

You go Girl!

We eventually got on the National Highway and were all immediately impressed with the quality of the asphalt, the white line in the center, and the width of the paved shoulder -- all qualities which were lacking on most Indian roads.  The drivers here were even courteous when passing.  We found a small truck stop in the mountains, were we had a delicious lunch of dahl (lentil stew) and bhat (rice).  So far, we were really were impressed with Nepal.

Sunday morning we only had about 130kms to cover to get to Kathmandu, so we were looking forward to a leisurely ride through the mountains.  About 20kms shy of the capital, we stopped on the side of the road to appreciate the scenery.  Before we had our helmets off, a shiny red BMW R1100GS pulled up next to us.  I thought, wow, we're back in civilization and can maybe even get some spare parts -- As it turns out, this is the only modern BMW motorcycle in all of Nepal.  Introductions were made, and the 4 of us were invited to stay in a HUGE house for the few days we'd be in Kathmandu.  Bernd is a German ex-pat who has spent some time motorbiking in Africa.  His wife Melsa is Ethiopian/Eritrean, and a wonderful hostess.  They have been living in Nepal for about 1.5 years and may extend their stay after Bernd's contract is up next June.

We found a freight forwarder who could help us ship the bikes to Thailand, arranged to be back in a week, and headed off for our Himalayan Trek.

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