Thursday, Dec. 26, 7:35AM
Song: Territorial Pissings, Nirvana
We did remarkably well on our push to the border by Christmas, pedaling to our limits (70-90km) every day for 9 of 10 consecutive days, leaving the last 40km for an easy Christmas Eve. The plan was to spend a couple days here in Mahendra Negaf, a decent size border town on the Nepali side, where we hoped to have some internet and a chance to rest up and relax for the holiday and before India. We are here now, relaxing somewhat, but the events leading to now were not at all as we could have anticipated.
I didn’t write for the last 3 days on the road due to exhaustion. We all have been pretty sick with digestive issues (ahem), except for Cara who suffered through it earlier on the month, hence had a bit more fortitude to overcome whatever we ate, ironically, in Rihar, Village of the Year. We’ve had a pleasant enough journey, but the days all had a similar tune: wake up at daybreak, bike till lunch time, eat Dal Bhat, bike till dusk, check-into a tiny guest house, wash up, eat Dal Bhat, repeat.
I’m sad to report that I’m sick of Dal Bhat. This shift occurred at the onset of my illness, I guess by bad association. We were actually loving it moer and more each time, as I think my three cohorts still do, but I’ve just had enough. 45 days, 90 meals of Dal Bhat. Bring on the Indian cuisine!
In Rihar I stocked-up on sweets, a half kg of the yummy powdered sugar-covered ones I mentioned before, but sadly (and also due to my ill association), I couldn’t eat them. As Christmas was approaching I imagined myself Saint Nick on wheels, and gave them out to the kids across the countryside whenever I stopped and they came to say Hi. I honestly can’t imagine a response of any more unfettered joy, intrigue and anticipation from the kids if I was a bearded fat man with reindeer over the tall cycling American curiosity that I am. My having a small token to give made this role ever more rewarding.
Closing near the border city we called our Indian friends Cab and Jaspal to coordinate meeting up for our Northern India road trip, and got invited to accompany them to a wedding in Punjab. The only catch: we’d have to book-it, as the wedding was in 2 days (today, actually), and we would have had to cross the border on Christmas Eve and take a 12 hour night bus (which is against our rule of thumb), to meet in Delhi to head North on an 8-hour car ride with them to get there in time. It wold have been a crunch, but we decided to forgo our laid-back holiday on the border for Adventure.
Things did NOT go as expected. We arrived at the Nepali border crossing and they checked us out of the country. As we walked back to our bikes with stamped passports in hand, they shut the gates behind us. The sun set and was gone. We then had to ride 1-2km on a road that can only described as Nowhere. It was pitch black, but swarming with evening traffic. The dirt road was terrible, dangerous, uneven, rocky — my chain fell off 3 times. This road was indeed Nowhere, as it belonged neither to Nepal or India, and we weren’t yet at the Indian border, if we made it there at all. In parts, there was a worn-in dirt bike path along side of the road, but it too was harrowing, as it was only wide enough for a single bike but traffic went in both directions. Also, it was elevated, so if you fell off (which was easy for us as our handlebars have so much sway with all the baggage) you would either topple down a cascade of rocks into the river to our right, or fall 3 feet down into the craggy dirt road on the left. I was to too tired and unsteady to brave the path for long. We finally made it to the Indian border. And it was Closed.
We were stuck with no Country. The officer who needed to sign our paperwork had left for the night and lived 5km away, in India. We asked if there was any way we could get him to come back, expecting to pay a bribe (which they had to do coming-in from Indian last time), as we could not go back to Nepal. The Nepali border guy should Not have stamped us out if he knew India would be closed. But I think this is all part of the games that Immigration officers like to play, like the penalty he also charged me for not having a Departure slip (which I never got). After our pleading and explaining that this was our Christmas Eve, we had to meet our friends in Delhi the next morning to go to a wedding, and that it wasn’t our fault that Nepal let us exit if we couldn’t get into India, he handed us the immigration paperwork to fill out. A Christmas miracle?!
Cara cannot find her Passport. The zipper of its containing compartment was half-open, surely large enough for it to jump out, especially on that horrid road. For 2 hours we scoured the entire stretch of road by flashlight, us, the Indian police, the Nepali police. On bike, by motorcycle and Jeep. It was gone.
Since then we’ve spent countless hours with police, at border offices, crossing into India and then back, getting Visa extensions, putting ads on the radio, calling Embassies. Cara has to go all the way back to Kathmandu to get a new passport, and Nepali visa, and Indian Visa, and the US Embassy is closed for the next 5 days due to the Christmas holidays so we’re here for a week. Jamey and I will stay here on the border with the girls’ bikes and luggage, at the Hotel Sweet Dreams, which, to us, is the Ritz. (Funny, as I write this, a mouse scampers across the Carpet – yeah, we have the carpeted room baby!) Seriously, we’re in the nicest suite here, I’m eating Eggs for breakfast (whoo hoo!), we have always-on power due to generators, and a private bathroom with western toilet. Funny thing is, we miss the squat toilet! I won’t get into too much detail, but we’ve agreed that it’s easier when you’re squatting than sitting, and the TP is just a bother. How’s that for a total 180? We got our Christmas Eve and Christmas dinners here at the hotel — room service. And I’m getting into the habit of pressing our buzzer and ordering beers. Kick butt!
Jamey and I will spend the week catching-up on internet (it’s been almost 2 weeks!), troubleshooting our problematic bike chains (which have been coming off too regularly), eating Dosas, and hopefully gong on safari in the nearby Wildlife Preserve. Bonnie will accompany Cara on the 12-hour bus journey to Kathmandu as she too needs consular services (no more passport pages), and we’ll hopefully meet-up and ship out in under a week.
Can you believe, on my day off, that I was up at 7:30am? Now it’s finally internet time! See you online! Hot coffee and cold showers, Anthony