Delhi & back to Chandigarh Wed 30 Mar – Wed 4 May 2011
As I type over a month has gone past most of it spent very boringly still getting "stuff done" in Delhi. Delhi's not the best place to hang around indefinitely -unless you're rich of course and living in air conditioned comfort!
The heat, the flies the dirt the poverty (particularly juxtaposed as it is which such affluence) is pretty hard to take. Majnu ka tilla - the Tibetan area where we stay has a lot of western tourists and thus inevitably a great many beggars - mainly kids and heavily disabled people- and (having shown ourselves early on to be soft touches) we are pursued up and down the fly blown lanes by a motley assortment of single limbed twisted people!
Would be almost funny if it wasn't so bloody awful. In a typical day we might take in the back streets of old Delhi where we always seem to be sent for car parts - very traditional, veiled ladies congested markets and then Khan market another car market just next to a very affluent area- designer shops, McDonalds and girls -OMG! - smoking in miniskirts. Just 5 km down the road and a totally different country. The only street kids you see in these areas are those begging or selling stuff!
One Indian acquaintance who had better be nameless asked us a lot of questions about how we finance our trip (we're used to this - the second most common area of interest after why we have no kids!) and we explained we live off around $300 a week -our rental income. He expressed astonishment -"no one here can live off so little." When I retorted that approximately 80 % of the population did he waved his hand airily "yes yes but that doesn't count I mean real people." Nice!
As well as car maintenance we got the camera sorted -well tried to. Over a year ago as our visa was running out we had to leave our camera behind as it was sent to Mumbai for repair by Olympus's service agent and took forever to come back. This time we planned to pick it up (and take the new Utough we'd bought in to be repaired -same problems -a blown circuit board - design fault with these camera maybe??) Anyway after several visits and a huge variety of excuses (it was locked in the cupboard and they had no key etc etc ) we finally got to the bottom of it. It had been lost /stolen when in their care. Eventually (much wrangling) they did give us a new one but we spent weeks hanging in Delhi sorting this out. In the meantime it took forever for our old (well only a year) camera to be repaired. We picked it up and whizzed off only for it to break again 3 days later!!! It's now been sent for repair to Mumbai AGAIN from Chandigarh. Olympus Has cost us 8 weeks of visa time - 4 this trip for a year ago. Not happy..again!
We also got caught up in a few festivals which closed businesses and shut down everything which further slowed progress. India being very diverse has a multitude of festivals but this one Ramanavami at which Hindus celebrate the birth of the god Rama was quite a big deal. Re-enactments of the Ramayana epic (in which Rama assisted by the monkey god Hanuman and his monkey army do battle with the forces of evil) take place all over, and we were accosted by a few "monkeys" in Majnu Ka Tilla! There were also various Sikh and Muslim holidays around this time which -though most people we asked couldn't explain what they were about - seemed to shut down a lot of businesses. This gave us a few wasted journeys through Delhi's chaotic traffic, which is truly diverse -elephants, bullock carts, juggernauts, porsches -you name it!!
On a far brighter less whining note we as ever have a number of people to thank for their generosity. As mentioned on the front of our site Mobil once again came to our aid by continuing to provide us with their excellent oil and a great goodie bag to boot! Thanks to Mr. Sandeep Khoran and Mr. Wasim Ahmad for all their help. www.mobil1.com
Huge thanks also to Mr. KG Satheesh and his colleague from Japan Mr.Shinmen Takeshi (both very charming gentlemen) of Kenwood for agreeing to give us a new stereo and speakers. The present one is still running but after 12 years we do feel we need an upgrade to keep up with technology -particularly after a bit of a pounding on the rough roads! See their web for more of their great products http://india.kenwood.com
We also stopped by Maxxis' showroom in Moti Nagar to pick up our final 2 tyres all 6 received now. Thanks so much to Yash and all his staff see their site: www.maxxis.com Congratulations also go to Maxxis for recently meeting the Indian standard for tyres. They had previously met the world standard but India have introduced a new local standard which tyres have to pass before they can be sold here.
Big thanks also to Mr. Sourabh Sharma of Bosch for promising us a new battery, again much appreciated. Check out Bosch's great products on their site www.boschindia.com Thanks also to Mr. Sanjay of Pushp (India) Ltd for sorting out all the stickers we need for our new sponsors and helping us fit them on the truck. It's looking positively crowded these days!
As mentioned before we have been trying for a while to ship some excess "stuff" back to the UK. This on the surface simple task has turned into a total nightmare - we must have sent 100s of emails and got scarcely a reply and the quotes we did get (from removal specialists) were really dear -way in excess of the worth of the items.
So after so much stress -we were thinking about just leaving it - we had a real win one afternoon finding 2 shippers, one in India and one in the UK. Mr. Vishal Malik of Safeocean E Logistics in Ludhiana www.soe.in (near Chandigarh where the boxes are stored better and better!) came back with a very good quote in 30 minutes …so why was it so hard for everyone else …they all asked for masses of information which we spent ages gathering and then disappeared into the ether and we never heard from them! Even better was Mr. William Goodwin of FCC (the Felixstowe Clearance Company) who very kindly agreed to store our stuff upon its arrival free of charge. William is a keen traveller himself and so very interested in our trip and he has gone out of his way to help us -we were very lucky to find him. See his site www.fxtcc.co.uk
The other excitement was when India won the world cup in cricket. This was amazing - from the roof top of our guest house in Majnu Ka Tilla we saw the firework displays over much of the city and heard the celebrations all night. Then came the Royal wedding. It's funny judging from comments on facebook (our window to the "real" world!) most people were sick of the sound of this. Obviously a lot of people - those who camped in Westminster for days etc etc -weren't but I don't seem to be FB friends with any of those! This made me think of how much Andrew I and the truck (!!) live in our own bubble! My dad emailed the day before and when in passing he mentioned "the wedding" I had no idea whose he was on about -thought I'd missed a family one! So all those who whinged about being sick of hearing about it should live our life get rid of the TV and hit the road!
We also met some new and old friends. Jenny Gatien is a lovely French lady -who has spent the last 20 years building and running a school in rural Nepal. Some of her stories made my blood boil -i.e.) she was beaten up and thrown off her school for not giving "baksheesh" to the right people and many projects (there purely to help people) never got off the ground due to the need for a 40% pay off to government officials. Makes you sick! Meanwhile the people suffer. People like Jenny who keep going and don't throw the towel in in the face of such things are truly heroic.
We were also really pleased to see Penny again who arrived in an entourage with Monty & Wooster her Dalmatians, 2 street dog puppies Bubble and Snowy en route to a new life in Kashmir and her colleague Qayoom. As mentioned before Penny is an English lady who made the trip over by Land rover 3 years ago with her husband Brian and 3 dalmations. Sadly Brian and one of the dogs have since passed away -but the work Penny and Brian began together setting up a charity for street dogs in Fort Cochin continues see their site www.maddogstrust.com Incidentally Penny still offers free accommodation to volunteers with or without animal experience. It was great to see Penny again and she was even more of an attention grabber than our truck when she pulled up with all 4 dogs in tow!
Whilst a lot of locals were initially a bit scared of the 2 bigger dogs they were soon a big hit and (being well trained) pronounced "very polite!" Monty rather spoilt it though when -passing through a leafy outdoor area - he cocked his leg and peed over a statue of Ganesh the elephant god! They were asked to leave - you really can't pee on deities! Penny is also good pals with a "high up" here, an MP Ms Maneka Gandhi widow of Sanjay Gandhi and an active animal rights campaigner. She very kindly gave us all letters of support for our Pakistan visas addressed to the High Commissioner of Pakistan in Delhi. Penny wants to return to the UK for some fund raising activity so the plan is that she (and Monty and Wooster of course!) come with us. Don't hold out much hope, but it is a bit "who you know not what you know" here in India ….so no harm in trying!
Whilst Penny's 4 swelled the numbers, there are lots of really nice street dogs in the Majnu ka Tilla area which being Buddhist is no doubt a good place for them, kindness to all animals being a focus of Buddhism. One little dog had developed a bad rasping cough since we were last there and we managed to contact a vet who comes out to assist street dogs for free -so if you see a street dog in trouble in Delhi call Vivik on 09818144244. The organization he worked through Jaagruti (meaning awakening apparently) does loads of good work helping animals in Delhi, to see more of their work visit their site www.jaagruti.org Getting "little dog" to take his tablets was always a bit of a fiasco! First time Andrew had the element of surprise and he swallowed them quickly. Next day he'd learnt and showed his fangs! We ended up having to crush them all into milk and mush them up into a paste with biscuits before he'd consider taking them. Smart little dog!
Anyway, sadly the letter from Mrs. Gandhi doesn't seem to be working miracles and opening doors, as thus far we have been unable to secure a meeting with His Excellency - though we have to say his staff are all very polite and speak very good English! We have also not heard yet from Mobil in Pakistan as to whether they are able to assist us in applying for a business visa - another somewhat optimistic attempt we've kicked around. Update: 3 May 2011 -we today heard that being an American company they feel this publicity would be "unwise" at the moment due to OBL's demise so no dice!
Thus we are still stuck in visa limbo -what to do, what to do! We went onto the various overlander forums Thorntree, Horizons Unlimited et al -and the only suggestion which came up was to send the passports to the Pakistan embassy in Australia via courier and hope for the best! We met up with the French family we mentioned in our Kathmandu page (the ones travelling in a huge bus with 4 kids) and they'd successfully pulled this off getting their Pakistan visas remotely -so we've resolved to give it a go. After all what's to lose! Failing that we either return to Darwin and work for a while and apply from there or ship directly to Iran. Keep everything crossed for us! Now that OBL is no more we're not sure how that'll affect our chances. We'd got Abbottabad on our list of places to see too! Just think we could have caught him, tied him up in the back of the truck and got the 25 million bounty!
As I type (Wednesday May 4) we are back in Chandigarh once more enjoying the Dhande's hospitality (boy it's good to have ac in this heat!) It's too hot to do much by day but we went out to the Rose Garden in the evening -too late in the season for the roses but we enjoyed the lights at the water fountains -and saw a passing camel!
So today we're off to the post office to send our passports off to Canberra, and then to the fridge mechanic to try once more to sort out our fridge problems. Tomorrow we plan to set off on a round trip taking in the famous Golden Temple in Amritsar, the closing ceremony at the Wagah border (hopefully someday we'll get to see it from the other side!) and a few days in the hill station of Shimla -which should be blissfully cool - before we return to Delhi to meet up with our sponsors from Bosch and Kenwood again.