Saturday 12 – Saturday 19 September 2009 Delhi – Nainital – Nepal.
As I write this time has passed and we're now in Nepal so this all seems long ago and far away! We finally set off after getting our new visas stamped only for the bolts to shear off our axel!! Having done well so far the car seemed to be going through a bad phase - maybe it just didn't want to leave India!
Anyway in a nut shell we got stuck at a little town called Ghazibad 30 odd kms out of Delhi. There we were helped by Ranjeet and the guys at "Friends' Motors" - they couldn't find the correct washers we needed but they tried very hard to do so and eventually they helped us track some down back in Delhi. As has happened so often in India they refused to take any money for all the help given us and we were inundated with offers to stay the night - Indian hospitality still continues to overwhelm! We headed back to Delhi for one more night and set off AGAIN the next morning after a stop at Toyota to fix the car! Again we stayed at the Tibetan colony and were made very welcome. From the roof top terrace we noticed that since our previous visit the river had risen by over 2 metres. A lot of the small huts from urban farmers were displaced and we saw people on small boats fishing in the river to retrieve belongings. Amazingly this is an annual event.
Previous to the minor drama with the car whilst waiting for our visas we had enjoyed a couple of days enforced r & r in Delhi. We took in India Gate an immense 42 metre high stone memorial in the city centre. This commemorates the war dead from various conflicts throughout the last century. Uniformed soldiers are on constant guard of the eternal flame and there is a "changing of the guard" type ceremony a few times a day. It was Sunday evening when we visited and the whole place was alive with picnicking families and various vendors catering to their needs.
We spent another night in Old Delhi having a look around Chandni Chowk. Whilst this is always a busy market area with Ramadan drawing to a close and the festival of Eid almost starting this predominantly Muslim area was absolutely frenetic. It was jam packed around the market with cycle rickshaws loading up parcels for delivery so there were walking traffic jams everywhere. The market area closed around us and just went on and on …apparently it reaches an even greater crescendo at the end of Ramadan - you can't be able to move then!
We had dinner at Karims. Dating from 1913 this Muslim restaurant - appropriately enough down a lane next to the Jama Masjid - is a Delhi institution now on its 3rd generation the initial proprietor was chef to the Mughal rulers within the red fort. Specialising in largely carnivorous food we enjoyed a good meat feast as a contrast to the largely veggie last few weeks!!
Delhi is quite a large confusing city to find your way around but somehow we managed to get around and had a few favourite parking spots. You don't have to leave your car to go shopping here - whenever you pull up at lights you are swamped by kids (and adults) selling everything from cold drinks to snacks to flowers /idols to books and magazines!
Before we left Delhi we paid a visit to Maxxis Tires Delhi showroom - this turned out to be very fortuitous as (see our front page) they very kindly agreed to sponsor us by providing a new set of tyres - thanks so much guys!
Raj Kumar Yadav the proprietor of the shop also treated us to an excellent vegetarian meal at Haldirams a popular Indian chain. Delicious!
So finally on Wednesday the 16th September we made it as far down the road from Delhi as we'd managed so far (about 60km!) to Garnmuktesar where we camped at a small hotel. Unfortunately just as we were going to bed they got out the lights and music and began filming a Bollywood movie - complete with singing dancing and a lot of noise!! Not a great night's sleep! It was amazing the next morning to see the contrast with Delhi - the local mode of transport for school and work runs and milk deliveries was the Buffalo cart and they were everywhere!
So on we drove to our final destination in India - this time at least - the hill town of Nainital. The drive there was pretty - winding roads climbing up the mountains. We rushed to get to the Tourist information office before it shut only to find it was shut for a 2 day holiday. This holiday remained a mystery as no one else seemed to be celebrating it or knew that it existed and we never found out which holiday it was!!
Founded by homesick colonials as it reminded them of the (UK) Lake District Nainital was a lovely town set picturesquely between the mountains and the Lake. Not many foreign tourists seem to make it out here - it is more popular with domestic holidaymakers - and they weren't too camping friendly at first so we got a couple of knock backs. Thankfully Balrampur House - the former summer residence of some grand looking Raj ruler originally dating from the 1800s but revamped in the 1930s - let us camp in their front garden. They also had a good restaurant decorated with numerous portraits of the man himself alongside various stuffed animal which he'd shot! Their website is www.balrampurhotels.com and it was an atmospheric place to stay. We especially like the beautiful garden where we sat in the sun to have breakfast.
Nainital was a great little town and we spent our last couple of days in India doing the tourist bit and relaxing. In the centre is a flat recreation area -which always seemed to have cricket and soccer matches going on. We later found out this was the site of a former landslide in 1880 where over 150 people were buried alive!
There was an interesting looking Mosque nearby - all lit up for Ramadan. It was built on a corner and so had a big façade and narrowed to a point. Along with a nearby Hindu temple this was destroyed in the landslide and re- built after 1880.
The Lake at the centre is a place of pilgrimage for Hindus - it is supposed to be where the green eye of the god Shiva's wife hit earth as it was cast down. We took a spin around the lake in one of the little row boats and it was really relaxing.
The Nainital Boat Club with sailing boats lined up was a bit of the Empire left over. We tried to go in for lunch but couldn't as Andrew was wearing shorts. The snotty sign on the door also reminded us that whilst maids could enter the club premises they were NEVER to leave the childrens' nursery area! These rules it was stressed were what kept the club's standards high. We gave it a wide berth so we didn't drag it down too much!
The town was set along one long street which you could walk or whizz along by cycle rickshaw. This was pretty touristy but once you turned into the back streets it was like walking into the past- lots of little stores balanced on the hillside.
The final morning we went on the cable car up 2270 metres to Snow View which had a panoramic view of the Himalayas. That's where we're heading next! Nainital was a great relaxing spot and surrounded by good walking tracks but as ever we were running out of time.
So on Saturday 19 September we drove on towards the border town of Banbassa our last stop in India. This tiny border was once considered to be off limits as the Nepali side - Mahendranagar - was a hot bed of Maoist activity. Hopefully it's ok these days. It is the end of the wet season and on the way we had to do some off road driving including a river crossing but we got through fine. At the end of the season apparently a lot of the roads are very damaged.
As we'd heard that getting diesel in Nepal could be a problem due to strikes and shortages we'd filled the long range tank that morning. This turned out to be a good move as when we tried to buy a bit to top up what we'd used just prior to crossing the border they were keeping it for locals only and refused to sell us any. Nepalese fuel is slightly cheaper than Indian (both work out at around 75 cents $Aus a litre) but this counts for nothing if you can't buy it!!
We got to the border but had to wait until the designated time (6pm) to cross. So we sat waiting as the other people crossing - Nepalese traders mainly - gathered in a variety of mainly horse drawn vehicles. A lot of them were searched by the border police but we sailed through. Whilst waiting we met an amazing guy from Switzerland who was crossing the border on foot. Sponsored by Nike he was raising money (8,000 Euros per peak) for a Swiss hospital in Nepal by running to the base camps of the world's highest mountain peaks. He'd come through Pakistan & India and was now heading to Nepal. He is supposed to send through his web link so we'll put it one if it ever materialises. Amazing!
So very sadly we waved goodbye to India - for a while at least - and drove over into Nepal. By the time we'd got everything stamped on the border - incidentally no bribes required here, better than much of SE Asia in this regard - it was getting dark. We had to go and bang on the back door of the Nepalese border guard's house and go into his kitchen where his wife was cooking to get our passports stamped. The most laid back border thus far!!
So at 8pm we drove on in the dark to find a parking spot for our first night in Nepal.