17th to 21th January
Friday 17 January
Since we went to sleep early, we get up without problems before sunrise. The weather is very wet, there is fog on all the valley. Today, we decided to go to Gorakhpur, some 130km away, where Jamil, Shakil’s brother, will host us. And also we have to pass the border, so we leave as early as possible in the morning. We cross the border very easily! even to fast, we did not get the exit stamp of Nepal. So we go back to get it.
In India, our first objective is to find a local SIM card, without being too much reaped off. At the border it’s not possible, but 20km later, we find it in a small village. It takes 5 minutes to buy the card, but it’s already too much. Mick, who had stayed near the bikes, is already in the middle of a crowd. In fact, here, as soon as we stop, there are a few people coming to see. After a couple of minutes, 3, 5, 10, 20 people arrive. And soon after, you’re in a middle of dozens of people staring at you, touching the bicycles. So next rule for India: don’t stop more than 3 minutes.
For lunch, we want to eat some sandwich, we have bread and delicious cheese! but we soon are surrounded. So the cheese will be for later. We stop quickly in a restaurant, a little away from the main road, and from villages. The road is pretty good. But the traffic is totally crazy. Many times, we have to jump out of the road because a car or truck coming in the opposite direction is passing another vehicle, and as he is bigger he won’t stop. And in addition he horned to tell you he is the stronger! And when we arrive to the city of Gorakhpur, it’s even worse. There is absolutely no rule. At the intersection, just go where there is room, don’t think of being nice to others. It’s common to see cows strolling or sitting in the middle of the road, or a moto coming in the wrong direction in the middle of your lane, or people just walking in the middle.
But finally we arrive, for sunset. Jamil leaves in a house a little protected from the traffic and noise. Like yesterday, we are treated super good. It’s not hard to fall asleep after dinner, and such an epic day on the road.
Saturday 18 January
Today, we rest in Gorakhpur. It has rained the whole night and morning. Now, the streets are transformed into ponds, with mud everywhere. We enjoy some time here to update our log book, and summary of visits. However, given the poor internet connection, we still cannot update the website. It-s now two weeks, since we left China, that we have not had a correct internet connection. In the afternoon, we try the cybercafés, and to get internet through the simcard. But with no success at all.
Sunday 19 January
We stay one more day in Gorakhpur, enjoying some more rest and free time to visit the city. Gorakhpur’s main touristic spot is the Gorakhnot temple, for the Hindu God of the same name. We go there by autorickshaw, the famous green and yellow tricycle built on a motorbike (rickshaw is the original tricycle propulsed by bicycle). Here, the autorickshaws work as buses rather than taxis: they have a fixed route, and fare. And of course, the rickshaw is filled as much as possible. On the way back, we were 13 inside!
As it is currently the festival of Makar Sankranti, the surroundings of the temple are quite animated: there are hundreds of small shops selling sweets, snacks, and a fair with attractions. A lot of shooting stands, several Ferris wheel (turning very fast), some small trains, lottery,! but the installations are quite rusty and do not look very trustworthy. And also there is a Maut Ka Kuaa: it’s like a small arena, with wooden walls, orlikea giant barrel. In fact it looks like a giant barrel. The walls are nearly vertical, and the show is motorbikes turning around, using the centrifugal force to stay on the wall. Of course the pilot also shows his skills to keep turning on the walls, without hands, sitting in various positions, ! And as it is not crazy enough, they bring cars to this arena. The cars are really small and old, looking like Fiat Panda. And surprisingly enough, they are able to climb and stay on the walls, till the drivers of both cars can shake hands. That’s totally crazy!
After these emotions, we eat some local food, Chaat (a kind of potato donut, prepared with beans, onions, spice, sauces), and Kaja (a sweet kind of bread, with a lot of liquid sugar on it, that is traditionally offered by the wife to be to her husband on the wedding day).
Monday 20 January
We get up for sunrise. After the breakfast prepared by the family, and a photo, we leave. Varanasi is 200km away, so we’ll reach it in two days. And we are lucky, there is a city just in the middle, Azamgarh. So we’ll sleep here tonight, after a rather easy day of bike. We still see the remnants of the rain two days ago: most of the streets are with mud, a very greasy mud (and also some trash from time to time). It’s harsh to start the day by crossing the city.
We follow the route we have drawn on Google Maps, in order to avoid the big highway. We are on small roads, crossing typical villages, and there is not a lot of traffic. So that’s really nice. We even meet an elephant on the road, with its master.
But slowly by slowly, the road becomes smaller, and the tarred part of the road narrower, until we arrive on a dirt trail. And the route we were following on the GPS does not exist in reality (first time Google Map is wrong). So now, let’s come back to the old and working technology of asking people our direction. First problem: we don’t pronounce Azamgarh correctly, no one understands where we want to go. Second problem: the locals don’t speak English, and seem to indicate any road, as we wish. After some turnarounds, we finally arrive to the Ghaghra river. We cross it on a typical floating bridge, where some enormous plastic containers serve as buoys. Once on the other side of the river, we get back on the route we had drawn.
The road is now under construction: they already put some stones, a little of sand and dirt, but did not tar yet. It’s extremely uncomfortable to cycle here. You have to focus all your attention to find an optimum path for the bike, while taking care of the vehicles coming in both directions. If you want to bike in India, you need to have very strong bikes (and panniers and so on!)! We finally arrive in Azamgarh, a little before sunset. The day has been long, much longer than expected. But the hotel we find has hot water and wifi, so all the comfort we need! in fact after asking the manager, we do not have permission for the wifi (as foreigners), and after trying in the bathroom, there is no hot water either.
Tuesday 21 January
We get up for sunrise. The night has been quite cold, and outside, there is a deep fog. After a short breakfast, we set up for Varanasi. The road today is a big road, so we don’t risk to get lost. We are in the fog till noon. Today, we feel the tiredness from yesterday. However, the day should not be so long. We have less than 100km to do, to arrive in Varanasi.
All day long, we have had the horns of the trucks, rickshaws, motos! passing us. And of course we had to slalom between the cycles, rickshaws, and dogs and cows taking the road for a playground. In fact, India is like tea. It’s a concentrate of everything (people, religion, spices, noise, !), and you need to dilute it in order to appreciate. We acquire a lot of experience in India, discover many things, but it is really tough. We will be happy to leave the country so that we can rest.
For our breaks we manage to hide from the road, in order to eat without precipitation…
We enter Varanasi in the beginning of the afternoon. We thought it would be like Gorakhpur. But I think we reached the summit of mess here. The road is under construction: full of mud everywhere, with people walking through. We have to push the bikes in this terrain, and finally escape it. The streets are totally overcrowded, by people walking where they want, bicycles, rickshaws (tracted by cycle or by moto), cars, motos, and of course dogs and cows. The cows are totally free, and eating the trash! maybe it is their function in the city, since they belong to no one, and are not milked. The roads are quite destroyed, with huge potholes, parts without tar, ! Dozens of times, we have been a few centimetres close to touch other vehicles, or we received small bumps. As Sandip (our guide on the next day) explained us, in India, you need three things to survive while driving: good brakes, good horn, and good luck!
We are delighted to see finally the Om Guest House, our place to stay tonight. We found this guest house thanks to Deev, a couchsurfer, who also arranged for us a visit of Varanasi tomorrow. We book a very cheap room. After lunch, shower, and some rest, we go to the station to buy our ticket for Delhi. We there by taxi rickshaw, we have enough of driving in this mess. It takes us one hour to do a few kilometres, because of the traffic, the road, and the rickshaw that has mechanical problems. And at the station, after one hour of going from window to window, it results that we have to come tomorrow to book the tickets. There is the bus station nearby, but we don’t have more success.
And here comes the video: