Retrospective: an Indian road diary

Ahead of us are 2500 kilometres across India - from the Nepalese border in the North to Kerala in the South. 2500 kilometres on roads that are better than the Russian roads (all roads are messured in "Russian standard"), but even though the roads are fine, one has to remember that they are also full of people, cows, richshaws, dogs, bikes, motorbikes, trucks and busses, and actually a car now and then. The following text never made it to the blog when it should have, but if you want to read about life on the road, this is a ten days road diary from when we enter India until we reach Bangalore where we met friends and family.

Day 1, the 5th of December 2007:
We cross the Indian border at sunset after paying a rediculously small "bakshish" (bribe) to the border officer so that he won't look through the bus. Maria meets a Canadian couple and ask if they want a lift to Gorakphur which they gladly accept. In a small village we buy some food to cook in the bus and the Canadians buy some whisky and rum. A big crowd is gathering while Maria and I are buying the vegetables. Staring and pointing. Coming from Nepal this intruding curiosity is overwhelming, but I am soon to learn that this is India; nosy and curious people everywhere. Not to mention that we don't really blend into the landscape around us in a big grey bus with pale faces peeking out behind blue curtains. While we are buying food a young boy asks if we want to park at the local policestation for the night. His father is the police officer. During our trip we have parked at a hospital, outside a convent, on a practise ground for a driving school (we came after dark and didn't realise until we woke up and saw all the cars driving round us) and at a parking lot for a 24-hours open supermarket. Sleeping at a police station will be a good contribution for our list over strange places to park. We accept.

Day 2:
We get up late and eat the rest of the bread we bought in Pokhara at the German Bakery. The Canadians get off at Gorakhpur, but we continue driving until it gets dark. Finding a place for a bus with a toilet near by is hard - in India there are mostly only "open air" toilets which would be fine if there weren't always a gang of people staring at you as soon you get out of the bus. The roads are extremely busy with people and cows everywhere. We are in one of the most populous state of India, Uttar pradesh, which might explain all the people, but it doesn't explain why the trucks are driving in the middle of the road and the feeling of almost crashing into them every time they pass us. After a bit of searching we park at a bus station which has a public toilet. As usual tens of people are surrounding our bus, just staring. Some of them knock on the door and wants to see the interior. Something breaks and Morten asks a boy where to put it. He just points at the ground. Some minutes later he says enthusiasticly "India is great". We don't know yet. Afterwards we eat dal, rice and chapati at a very local and a bit dodgy cafe. The expression "Indian Roulette" is a good way to explain the risks our stomachs might go through every time we have a meal, but it seems we all have survived the Indian's food bullets for this time. Most of us were struck by the Nepalese ones.

Day 3:
Getting up early (at 7) to get to Varanasi after eating some bananas for breakfast. After a while we find a decent looking restaurant along the road and eat lunch. We arrive at Varanasi around three o'clock and without any problems we find a hotel described in lonely planet as a place for overlanders (we are not the only ones, but we might have the only 12 metre long bus). We manage to squeese the bus into the parking lot and some of us get a room at the hotel and some stay in the bus. The hotel has everything; swimming pool, internet, massage, good food so there is no reason to leave the hotel this evening (the trick is to look for a semi-expencive hotel where they usually have a parking lot), but we agree to get up at 5:30 to take a boat trip on Ganges at sunrise.

Day 4:
After the boattrip and some shopping (a new inverter for electricity and new mirrors since they get knocked off the bus every now and then when meeting trucks). The people left on the bus are: Bjørn Kjetil, Martin, Maria, Morten and me (Cecilie). Ingrid and Torkild will take the train to Kerala and scout for good places to park the bus. Anders, Andreas and Guro are all back in Norway. The bus feels empty and we think someone is missing quite often, but it is easier to count to five than ten. We park after an hour driving at a nice truck stop with a good restaurant. Maria makes gløgg and we see "Nightmare before christmas". It doesn't feel like christmas though in +25 celcius.

Day 5:
Getting up at seven again eating breakfast in the bus. Maria and I found some cheese in Varanasi which makes us think about a good, Norwegian breakfast even though the toast doesn't really recemble kneip. Today we cross the border to a new state, Madhya pradesh which according to the guidebook is less populated and the people are more educated. The landscape changes into hills, plateaus, red earth and trees. Some monkeys are running around along the road. Occationly the roads are empty which until now has been unthinkable. A boy runs over the road and is almost hit by our bus. I think about what we have heard - if a person or a cow are hit by a car, apparently a mob will come and lynch you, so if the unlikely situation should happen, we just have to drive to the nearest policestation without stopping. We find a quite expencive hotel (by Indian standards) and park our bus there for 500 rupees and get access to toilet, shower and electricty.

Day 6:
Today we saw an elephant for the first time. It was suddenly just there - enormous compared to the small man on top - by the road in a village. In an intimate encounter with a truck, the mirror fell off, but did not break and was soon back on place.

Day 7:
We are driving through Kipling land and a new state: Maharashrtra. There are signs like "Kipling restaurant and Bar" and pictures of Mogwli and Baloo on big boards are telling us we are defintly in the woods where Mogwli grew up. It does feel like being a part of this story as we are surrounded by old, old trees and long alleys with monkeys running along the road. A monkey is sitting on a stone with the legs hanging down like a small child as to reassure us of our common heritage. Just 30 kilometres away there is a national park with some of Indias last tigers wandering around. Who knows, maybe we will see a lost tiger today? In Nagpur there are signs in the midst of the road attempting to teach us some lessons of driving to fast. "Impatient on road - patient in hospital" or "Better late in this world than first in that world", not to mention the truth in "Reach home in peace, not in pieces." Through India there has always been a crowd gathering around the bus, sometimes they are cheering and Morten claims that he feels like a rock star when paying road tax. This is later confirmed when a boy comes to the bus and asks for our autographs. Life as a rock star is hard. A new two-lane highway is partly finished making the road at times extremely good but also at times very humpy and the double bed in the back of the bus falls down. Obviously we are coming a bit too early, in a year's time the same route will take half the time on the super new highway.

Day 8:
Tired eyes and Morten has a hangover after staying up half the night with a road engineer drinking whisky and beer. The night before we parked at a bar and restaurant and had a couple of beers and some other experiences with a man that was just a bit too curios when we were going to the toilet. But we keep to the schedule and get up at seven as usual. The landscape changes as does the food and the written language (this is where the 70's aestetics has gotten its inspiration for sure) as we drive into a new state, Andryha Pradesh. Even the colour of the soil seems to be changing from deep red to yellow and brown and people seem to be getting poorer again. For the first time we are stopped at the police check point. They ask how many people we are and confirm our answer by saying " ahh, two ladies and three people". Afterwards we have a cup of tea and a silent conversation in four plastic chairs together with the officer in charge. It takes two hours and later a new stop is required when one of the bus' front tires punctures in the middle of nowhere. With (too much?)help from some people in the usual crowd (17 at the most) and our own good skills, a new tire is put on and we are ready to drive again after one and a half hour. In the evening we park at a Rajehstan dhaba (cafe/truckstop) and is soon adopted by the owner. It is not everyday a bus with foreigners stop at his dhaba.

Day 9:
Someone is knocking on the door at 7.30 telling us that tea is ready. They are all up waiting for us at the dhaba and after some personal hygiene we all drink some tea. But the food seems to be far away, or maybe they just want us to stay as long as possible? At 10.30 we can finaly leave after a good Rajahstan breakfast consisting of rice porridge and parathaka (bread with herbs and potato this time). The heat is getting closer as we drive further south and so are the snakes. As we sit and talk, a snake suddenly comes from nowhere and snake its way between Martin's legs before anyone notices. This turns out to be a good thing realizing that it is poisenous snake and that we were "velly, velly lucky". From now on we all look a bit more to the ground when walking around. When driving through Hyderabad one is again remained of the huge contrasts in this country. A commercial board is telling us that we can get swimming pool, 24 hours security, supermarket, children's playground, parking space and laundry service if we buy an appartment in a super modern complex. This seems centuries away from the reality one see along the road and in the Indian countryside. In search for an A1 (an Indian truck stop chain with showers, good food and toilets), we drive after dark, but have to give up searching for one. We park at a dhaba with "open air" toilet instead.

Day 10, the 14th of December:
A bit afraid of repeating the late departure from yesterday, we say no to tea and breakfast at the dhaba we stayed overnight. The owner must have thought that one cannot drive without ones morning tea, and soon after we get five small plastic cups with tea and milk to go for free. It has been a hot, humid night and after just 20 kilometetres we pass an A1, but since we are certain to reach Bangalore tonight (one day earlier than expected!)a shower is yet not required. The traffic consist of new, smart cars and old trucks. Later we reach Bangalore and rent an aparment with four bedrooms. Three friends from Norway are waiting for us there and we relax for a couple of days after many days on the road before we take the final stretch to Kerala.