Breeding our own Mosquitos?

We had only left Pokhara that afternoon and we were already pining for the mountains. Our drive had taken us on a pretty twisty route through the hills with waterfalls and gorges before descending into the Terai, the plains of Nepal.   It was here the heat hit us. The thermometer rose rapidly and even at 6pm it was 35 degrees. It was getting dark so we decided to pull into a petrol station to camp. Unlike a few months ago, at that temperature we needed to have all the windows and hatches open to let what little breeze there was in. Not to worry we thought as we have great mosquito nets.   That evening though as we lay sweating in the heat all of us were bitten all over. The next morning there were hundreds of mosquitos in the truck, where had they come from? This seemed to repeat itself each night for the next few nights and no matter how careful we were they always seemed to be there in the morning. We sprayed the truck each morning before driving to kill them and were pretty confident this many were not getting through the nets. Were they breeding in our waste tank? We closed up all the plugs but still they came out. We had decided to drive to the Western end of Nepal to maximise the driving in Nepal and minimise it in India and we were glad we did as the road was good and traffic a lot lighter. Crossing the border was straight forward and whilst other vehicles were waiting to cross the bridge we were just waved through with them even unlocking the gates to let us across. The border guard proudly stated "we are open 24 hours for international visitors". Mind you the bridge is nearly 800metres long and is only just wide enough for the truck. I waited for a gap in the foot and motorbike passengers and flashed my lights to say that I was coming. To no avail nobody paid any notice and tried to cross anyway. Meeting in the middle of the bridge the foot and bicycles squeezed past, as for the motorbikes, well I wasn't reversing! After the relative calm of Nepal, we soon descended into the chaos of India. This is most evident from the driving where you need to be on constant alert to avoid either hitting something or someone hitting you. We had a lot of kilometres to cover to reach Amritsar so we're not too impressed when we were held up in a traffic jam for over an hour especially as the jam was caused by impatient drivers refusing to queue up and then consequently blocking everything as nobody could get through. In India they are building lots of new roads but for some reason they never seem to complete the bridges. It wasn't long until we hit the Grand Trunk Road. This was a modern motorway with three lanes so you would think that driving would be easier. Except everyone drives in whatever lane they wish regardless of speed so sometimes tractors are in the outside lans, sometimes in the inside land and sometimes people just straddle a couple of lanes to make life difficult for everyone. As we approached Amritsar it got hotter and hotter, hitting 42 degrees. We were only 50kms short of our destination but as it was getting dark we sort refuge in a petrol station again. They may not be the most glamorous spots but they are generally clean and the staff friendly. That night the heat broke. A storm came through with nice cooling winds and when we woke up in the morning it was a lot more bearable. The next morning we headed to Mrs Bhandari's Guest House. This is an overlanding institution as it's been looking after overlanders for 50 years. In fact Gilly had stayed here before 23 years ago when she had travelled to Asia on the back of a truck. It's a lovely place, a tranquil oasis in the outskirts of Amritsar and a great place for us to prepare for the next leg of the journey. We gladly parked our truck in the garden of the colonial guest house, there was even a pool to cool off in as the days heated up. You may recall we were in Amritsar a couple of months ago with Gilly's mum. As tempting as it was to just sit around in the guesthouse gardens we decided we still needed to go and see again some of the sights. The Golden Temple is just magnificent and especially when it is lit up at dusk so we headed down there to walk around the lake that it is set in, admiring the views and watching the locals who were either bathing, praying or also just out for a stroll. We also had to go back to Charming Chicken, a restaurant we had visited on our previous visit. It is a simple place but the food was just as juicy as the first time and we left very full. On our final day in Amritsar it was time to get ready for the next stage of our journey. For Gilly and the girls this meant packing as they would not be coming with the truck for the next few weeks. Instead they would be jetting off while I drive the truck across Pakistan and up the Karakoram Highway before hopefully us all meeting back up in China. For me it was time to load the truck with goodies so I would have everything I needed for the next few weeks. It will be strange driving alone and a bit stressful especially as I am still on the "wrong" side of the road for my steering wheel. I say I will be driving alone, we never did find out about those mosquitos. For the last few days they seem to have disappeared. I hope they are not coming along for the ride with me!

Reflections on India

Lucy We entered India in Manipur and we had to be very careful for 2 days because there had been riots. When we drive along we saw some burnt out trucks, it was quite scary. Then we went to Kazaringa, we saw loads of rhinos while we were riding ELEPHANTS! There was a little elephant, just 10 months old, walking with the adults, he was adorable but very naughty and kept on trying to trip up the adults who had people riding on them. We saw a tiny baby rhino only 3 days. We then went to Varanassi, where we saw bodies burning which scared me a bit. But the people who died would have been happy as Varanasi is such a holy place. We bought a candle and flowers to float down the Ganges River, it looked like it was a reflection of the stars. We've seen some amazing animals in India. Indian ground squirrels are absolutely adorable, they are everywhere and I love to watch them and I communicate with them by twitching my nose. Cows in India are holy, so we saw them everywhere milling around. You are not allowed to eat beef, Daddy had to be very careful as they always stand in the middle of the road causing traffic jams. We saw 4 tigers in the national parks, one female tiger was being pursued by a male tiger when we saw her. She was wasn't very happy because he was big, we saw them cross the road together. Indian sweets have enough sugar in them to made English dentists faint but I LOVE them, they are absolutely delicious. My favourite gulub jammu, is a spongy cake ball swimming in sweet syrup. If you eat 2 you start to feel a bit sick because they so rich. I liked all the other types of sweets I tried too. Some of the Indian foods were a bit spicy but I loved butter nan, lassi and butter chicken. India was such a lovely place with such lovely people, they were kind. The men in Rajasthan had amazing moustaches really long and curly. We had a competition to spot the best one. Alisha If you like crazy drivers, spicy food, constantly loud horns, stunningly beautiful buildings and friendly people then India is the country for you. Like most countries, the good outweighs the bad. In India though the roads are goodish-badish but the driving is atrocious. My opinion is the worse the road, the worse the driving. Can you imagine walking across a crowded street dodging cycle rickshaws and tuk-tuks and then getting to the other side to check everyone else is following you. Its absolutely conkers and almonds and hazelnuts and pistachios and every other nuts you can think of. India though has many nice features, one being the many clothes and trinkets that are on sale. I really enjoyed looking at all the different patterned saris and scarves and I bought some lovely material to make some clothes with. The colours are amazing. It put me off sometimes, that every time you went anywhere near someone's shop they would leap up and say "Come into my shop" or "Many things cheap" or some thing along those lines and then when you went into there shop they would spread everything out and even if you didn't want those things you would feel bad that he had got them all out and buy something you didn't want or need. I really enjoyed bargaining with stall holders the trick is to start walking away and then they are eager to sell it to you. There are many beautiful sights in India. One being the Taj Mahal in Agra and seeing all the beautiful jewel flowers set into the marble walls. I also enjoyed the many different forts and palaces scattered throughout the country. After a bit they started to get boring but I turned them into stories for Lucy so she was happy. It was lovely to meet Granny and show her some of India and to meet Pratibha and Vineet who explained lots about India. I enjoyed and disliked India in turns but one way or another India is exhausting no matter which way you look at it. Gilly India, Oh India - you've made me laugh; you've made me cry; you've titilated my senses with your sights, smells and tastes; you've introduced me to amazing ancient cultures I'd never heard of; and you turned me into a foul-mouthed navvie. India is incredible, to quote their tourist office, but not always in the positive sense and definitely the most extreme country we've overlanded through. After backpacking in the country for many, many months years ago thought I would be less sensitive to the culture shock many foreigners experience. But I think it was the driving that tipped me over the edge, the chaos on some of the roads was shocking even for us. Frequently the actions of the road users prompted streams of incredulous expletives from Steve and I. It was like playing the most extreme driving computer game ever invented - cars; motorbikes; trucks; bikes; people - all in their thousands, funnelled into a narrow market with goods cluttering the sides of the road. Now add in the crazy bits: cows; naked monks; a corpse on a stretcher covered with balloons; camel carts; a wedding procession with the groom on a horse with uniformed men with load speakers and lights balance on their heads and the rest of the family Bollywood dancing behind - if you can imagine it, we have probably seen it on the road in India. Everyone jostling for prime position, no one ever giving an inch, even if their progress slightly forward completely blocks both sides of the road so now no one can move at all. Amazingly though, this is generally done with no malice and general good humour, apart from by us, the incredulous foreigners who seem to think that driving should have some rules. Now imagine having everything that can honking their horns constantly and you start to get the idea. However, all in all the positives far outweigh the negatives. The friendly people, people all over the country were welcoming and curious about us. Even on Delhi's modern metro on every journey we had people striking up conversations and checking we knew where we were going. London Underground commuters could definitely learn a thing about being friendly to visitors from Delhi's riders. However we had to get used to getting stared at, wherever we went a group of men would gather around to watch our every move. It was a little disconcerting to start with especially if they didn't respond to a friendly "namaste" and just continued to stare but we soon got used to it. It was just genuine curiously as we saw groups gather around anything interesting. I think Steve got the worst of it whenever he was doing anything mechanical, he would emerge from the truck's underneath to find a group around him. We were lucky enough to visit some of India's best religious and historic places. I think my favourites were the caves at Ellora and Ajanta, amazing feats of faith and engineering from a time with little technology, and the forts of Rajasthan that rose from the surrounding desert and glowed orange in the setting sun. It is a country of huge diversity in our last week in the country in Delhi we saw modern, urban India with IT companies, women in good jobs and global connectivity. To huge areas of rural areas where small holding framers worked in their fields with their oxen and the women almost invisible in towns but constantly seen toiling in the fields. Homes are often without any toilets, so we frequently saw people defecating in the fields. However, even in the poorest rural areas we always saw the majority of kids very smart in their uniforms going off early to school. I think the times the variety surprised us the most was when they were side by side, juxtaposed next to each other - the large family living, cooking, sleeping under a makeshift shelter and begging on the traffic island on a multilane highway going to modern office blocks. Steve India - what can you say? It's crazy, chaotic and can drive you mad. But it's also beautiful with ancient cultures and wonderful (when they are not driving) people. India assaults your senses in every way and at every turn. The colours, the smells and the sights both beautiful and unbelievable. There is no escaping it and you just have to plunge right in and hope you come out the other side. We only realised after we left just how exhausted we were from our 10 weeks in India. In that time though we saw some amazing things from the cultural icons to amazing wildlife. From the floodplains, to the jungles, deserts and the mountains. From rural villages to cities of 20 million people. Who can not be impressed by the jaw dropping beauty of the Taj Mahal or the exquisite Golden Temple. The forts and history of proud Rajahstan were also a highlight. And seeing a tiger close up in the wild, well it doesn't get much better than that. India has it all and we didn't even get to explore the South of the country. The food was fantastic, we already loved Indian food before we arrived but experiencing it in India brought a whole new range of flavours to our palate. And the people, they are everywhere, but most of them are helpful, genuine and interested in what we were doing. Yes there are the touts and rip off merchants but you soon learn to see through them and even those interactions can be amusing. There is one thing I won't miss though and that's the traumatic driving. 7010kms of pure hell. Well maybe not all of it but it was certainly the most challenging driving we have done so far. Whilst the roads varied in quality it was the other drivers that were the biggest challenge most with no regard to their own safety. It certainly brought a new meaning to a Hazard Perception test. It was great to spend our last week with friends showing us their country. It meant we left on a real high with batteries recharged for the journey ahead. India is certainly incredible - in many different ways. It brings out all the emotions in you even ones you didn't know you had!

A Different Side of India

The neon signs blazed down from the modern office blocks with global names such as Google, IBM and even my former firm PwC, well dressed people rushed passed clearly very busy. Looking around the smart restaurants and cafes were busy with people chatting or talking on the latest smart phones. There was no rubbish anywhere and certainly no cows. Were we still in India? It seemed more like Dubai or Singapore but yes we were still in India. This was the modern face of India built on the back of the economic boom. Just 20 years ago Gurgaon was a town just outside Delhi. Now it was a modern booming city that had merged with the urban sprawl of Delhi which it was connected to by a busy modern metro that was to come in very handy. Vineet and Pratibha, our good friends from Moscow, had flown in for a week to show us some of Delhi. Being keen food connoisseurs, a part of this was sharing some of the delights of Indian food. Snapping myself out of my trance of being amazed at the setting, our first stop was a wonderful Parsi restaurants where we got to sample a variety of new and different flavours. The previous evening they had invited us to Vineet's parents flat where we spent a delightful evening catching up and hearing more about Indian history and culture. We were also served the most wonderful home cooking and it was a lovely evening meeting Vineet's parents and hearing about their fascinating lives. We were spending the week at the smart Bristol Hotel in Gurgaon. Initially selected due to its large car park it was a delightful comfortable hotel which made a great base for the week and where we were warmly welcomed by the management who took a keen interest in our trip (more on this later). Not all of the week though was spent in the modern side of India. Over the centuries many different invaders have built their new capitals in Delhi. One of these were the Afghan invaders who arrived in the 12th Century who built a beautiful city best know for the towering Qutb Minar. This is in the South of Delhi and was easy to visit from where we were staying and made for a great afternoon visit. It was Gilly's mum's last day with us and was a wonderful complex to wander around. The following day we threw ourselves back into "real" India. Pratibha's cousin, Mohit, had a wedding invitation business in Old Delhi and had offered to show us around the maze of alleys and streets in this hectic part of town. It was wonderful to visit him at his business in the heart of Old Delhi. Weddings are very big business in India and his printing business made beautiful wedding invitations, gift bags and other things.   After showing us his business Mohit took us out into the narrow streets and into the barrage of sound, noise and smells that is India. Each area had shops that specialised in different things; opticians, stationers, hardware, wedding invitations etc. It was a riot of colour but for lunch Vineet had us retreating to a wonderful old merchant's haweli (mansion) that had been turned into a boutique hotel and restaurant serving the most delicious mouthwatering food. Heading to the rooftop after lunch to admire the view we were amazed at how tranquil things were at rooftop level. We could watch people peacefully flying their pigeons well above the melee below. On our last night in Delhi we met Lena, another old friend from Moscow who was now working in Delhi, together with her husband Spencer for another wonderful meal. This time the flavours were from South India and again we left feeling very full and our tastebuds suitable titilated. It is over 10 years since we saw Lena and it was lovely to catch up and see her again and meet Spencer. As I mentioned, the Bristol Hotel were wonderful hosts during our stay and we had enjoyed a delightful chat at the beginning of the week with the general manager and his team over coffee and some delicious Indian snacks. However there was to be more. The General Manager had persuade us to meet an Indian news agency so we spent a morning being filmed and interviewed. It all felt slightly strange and I am sure our acting skills are dreadful but it was nice to see the interest in our trip. We are aware that the video has been shared by a number of news sources in India. If you want to see it, it's in the link below. That was not our only media involvement of the day as straight afterwards we were interviewed for a blog on what's interesting in Gurgaon. It wasn't just a week of having a good time though as we also had things to organise. The good news is we were all issued with our Chinese visas. However, as is often the case, it's one step forward and one step back. To get to China we were going to have to retrace our steps through Myanmar. Unfortunately we were informed that the route to the Chinese border in Myanmar is currently closed to foreigners due to insurgency in Shan State and we may not be given permission to cross in April. This is a real blow as this was effectively our only route out of India. The border between Nepal and China is closed and we don't want to ship out of India but the only other way is to cross Pakistan to China so we have plenty to think about over the next few weeks. On arriving back in Gugaron our first job had been to pick up the truck. When I had left it various parts had been removed at the front to allow for the windscreen to be fitted. As the windscreen was fitted differently to the MAN trucks in India, I had left the garage with the mechanics scratching their heads but assuring me it would not be a problem. Well I needn't have worried as they had done a great job fixing the new windscreen and sun visor. We also took the opportunity of being somewhere with everything available to fully restock the truck. It's amazing how being able to buy the little luxury things like balsamic vinegar, gravy powder and chicken, without watching it been killed in front of you, can give you so much satisfaction. It was a wonderful week and we are so grateful that Vineet and Pratibha took the time to come and visit us. We left Delhi on a high, now we just had to navigate our way through a city of 25 million people in the truck. In the end it wasn't too bad and we arrived just short of the border with Nepal. What we hadn't realised with all the socialising, eating and work was how exhausted we were. As we cross into Nepal things should be quieter and we can relax to build up the energy to go trekking in the mountains.