Show me the money: July 31
I woke up feeling pretty good after a nice sleep in our private room. It was considerably cooler than the dorm which was a major factor in my better sleep. Today I would go meet Ayan at the airport and finalize the rest of the paperwork as well as pay for our shipping. I knew it was going to be a process but I didn't think it would last until 1 in the morning.
I spent the morning writing up my blog posts from Kyrgyzstan, and then caught a cab to the airport. He ended up going to the wrong building, and after some arguing that was not understood by either side because I don't speak Russian and he didn't speak English, we found the right building. I found Ayan in the Asia freight office and he explained that it was going to be more expensive than the already extremely expensive quote he gave us before. Our bikes were taller than expected and the billable weight was going to be 200 kg more than the quote he gave previously. I nervously asked him what the damage was going to be and after some negotiating with the chief he came back with a quote that was 800 dollars more than the previous! I was a bit flabbergasted and felt trapped at this point. Our bikes were already in the loading bay waiting to get put on the airplane. I kicked myself because we could have very easily made our bikes shorter, but we were under the impression it would be by actual weight so we didn't bother.
I told him that was way more than we had anticipated and we might not be able to pay that. He translated to the chief, and then asked what we could pay. I said we had expected to pay around 6000 because that was what the quote was for. Ayan and the chief argued for a bit while I worried about how much this ridiculous shipping process was going to cost. They came back with 6300, and said they weren't making any money which I later concluded that they were deducting their cut of the bribe money. I think everyone in the process had their fingers in some extra cash at our expense.
Waiting to figure out what we need to do
All customs stuff was done but it was expected that we pay with cash. I had been expecting to just swipe our 3 credit cards and boom we are out of there, but instead it became a much lengthier process. There is a specific machine that a company must possess in Kazakhstan in order to scan credit cards. Somehow they are supposed to stop the corruption that appears to be at every level of society. Asia freight doesn't have one of these scanners and after driving to the bank and spending an hour talking with the officials there they informed me that they could not charge the cards and transfer money to the Asia freight accounts. This left 2 options. Try and withdraw over 6000 dollars in tenge from ATMs or try a wire transfer.
We drove back to the airport and I called Michael and James. A wire transfer was going to take at least three days to process from our banks back home and by that time our bikes and ourselves would hopefully be in India. Each wire transfer would also cost an additional 50 bucks each. That left us with only one option. Withdraw 6300 bucks from an ATM. Ayan informed me that this was quite normal in Kazakhstan. No one trusts digital money, and it's not insured by the banks so when people get their pay check they go withdraw all of it from an ATM and keep it in a safe place. Unfortunately for us our banks don't operate that way at all and James had a limit of 500 a day to withdraw. Michael had a limit of 2000 and I had a limit of 5000. Figuring that out and changing our card limits took another couple hours because it was the middle of the night back home, and we had to wait for the few people manning the phones in the middle of the night.
Now that we had changed our limits it was time to go find an ATM that hopefully pumped out USD but if not Tenge would do. Not a single airport atm would give me more than about 100 dollars, and I was getting charged 5 bucks for every withdrawal. This was quickly becoming the most frustrating and ass backward process of payment I have ever seen. Michael successfully found an atm that he withdrew 2000 dollars worth of Tenge from so we went towards the hostel to see if I could use it as well. In the process of trying the 30 or so previous atms at the airport I had managed to put a hold on my card so I called the bank and spent another 30 minutes explaining what I was doing and getting the hold taken off. They also informed me that although I could withdraw 5000 I could only do it in chunks of 500 at a time. Good god. Just another ridiculous road block to step around. We found the ATM and began withdrawing chunks of Tenge worth 500 bucks. I got to around 2500 before my bank put another hold on my card. We all walked back to the hostel for wifi and spend another 30 minutes on the phone before walking back to the ATM and withdrawing the rest of the money. We stuck together in a pack so that we would be more intimidating. Ayan was pretty hesitant about staying at a single ATM for very long, and it made me wonder how often robbery might be around Almaty. By the time we made it back to the hostel with all the money it was 1230, and everyone was exhausted. We counted out the money a few times with Ayan and then said our farewells.
Stacks of Tenge
Throughout the whole process I had got to know Ayan pretty well. We had discussed everything from corruption to philosophy and I greatly enjoyed his company. Talking with him opened a window to what it is like to live in Kazakhstan, and it was incredibly interesting. He also was a very moral character and despised the corruption. When we came back to the airport a guy wouldn’t let us into the building compound without paying 20 Tenge. Ayan seemed embarrassed and upset that I had witnessed this encounter. After spending all day together he also explained that our customs bill of almost $500 was bribes to the customs officials to get it done in time. Needless to say by the end of the day we were pretty good friends and he offered to take us to a Russian bath the next day. It was something he insisted we had to experience before we left the soviet countries so we happily agreed and then finally passed out after a ridiculous day.
Steamy Nights: August 1st
I won't go into much detail about our day. It was fairly standard. Our motorcycles were packed, at the airport and the running around from the night before left us fairly tired. We slept a little late and walked around the city. We found Linpopo, an outdoors store and were excited to buy some gear that we'll need for India. However the prices were well out of our price range and we left without buying a thing. We ate lunch at a Turkish restaurant and were gifted 3 turkish teas (served in the standard tea glass) that brought us back to our time in Turkey. We went back to the hostel and hung around with the other patrons.
The night before, Ayan had invited us to a Russian bath house. We were ecstatic to give it a try. My brother, Robert, who visited Russia in high school with an orphanage program called Camp Siberia, had highly recommended Russian baths (called Banyas) by saying it was a must do. We weren't in Russia, but we were in a country that had been part of the USSR and that was good enough for us. Ayan told us he'd meet us at the hostel at 7pm.
We met Frank and Sam, two travelers from London, the day before. They'd invited us to dinner that night but we had to refuse due to the consuming act of paying for our shipment. Therefore we returned the favor and invited them to join us at the Russian bath. Ayan picked us up, along with his two friends Johnboy and V (nicknames) and took us to the public Russian bath house. On our way to the Banya, Ayan told us that all men were equal at the baths (he gave us an example by saying a Private could slap a General on the ass without consequence), no women were allowed, it's a time for male bonding, nearly everyone is naked, anything is allowed as long as it makes you feel comfortable and the heat is "like hell". Sounded awesome to us.
We arrived at the Banya and were given sandals and a sheet. We entered the locker room, locked up our clothes and other valuables, wrapped ourselves in the sheets, dawned our bath hats and headed downstairs to the bath. We were greeted by 20-30 men walking around the tiled floor. There were showers, clear pools of water, tile beds, a steam room (called the "girls sauna" by Ayan) and a sauna. We had no idea what we were doing so we followed Ayan, V and Johnboy's lead. We took a shower to regulate our temperature and "warmed up". Then we headed to the first round of the Sauna.
James and I wearing hats to protect our ears from burning
The sauna was hot, but not unlike any other sauna I'd been in. We sat on the top bench, where it's the hottest, and thought we were pretty tough for being able to handle the heat. We lasted ~5 minutes before leaving the sauna and jumping in one of the pools. The pool had ice cold water and we quenched our steaming bodies in it. We had completed round 1 of 4. Ayan told us that each round must be hotter and more "hellish" than the last and that round 1 was for babies (there was in fact a 4 or 5 year old boy in the sauna with us).
After letting our temperatures regulate for a couple minutes, we headed back into the sauna. Ayan immediately poured 3 cups of water onto the giant heap of hot rocks. Steam rose and I felt my eyes start to burn. I swallowed my pride and sat on the lower bench. I could barely keep my eyes open due to the heat. It was HOT. Ayan left the sauna and returned wearing gloves and carrying two "brooms" (wood oak branches with leaves still attached that had been soaking in boiling water for 15 minutes). It was time for the real heat. Frank volunteered to go first. He lay face down on the top bench and Ayan gently beat him with the brooms. He started at the legs and moved towards his head, moving the brooms faster while hitting Frank harder. It looked painful. After 1 or 2 minutes Frank tapped out, left the sauna and jumped in the ice cold pool. James was next. Instead of laying down, James stood and faced the rocks. Ayan started beating him with the brooms. After a couple minutes I could tell Ayan was getting tired, any sort of movement in the sauna was miserable enough and I can't understand how he was able to stand and beat us with the brooms. After 2 or 3 minutes of beating James, Ayan tapped out and called James a machine for being able to withstand the heat. By the time James was out of the Sauna we'd all had too much heat. We left and jumped into the ice cold pool.
We all (James, Graham, Sam, Frank and myself) felt like we were losing too much moisture through our sweat and we needed some water. We took a break, went to the locker room and drank some water. It was time for round 3. We entered the sauna and this time Johnboy escorted us. He tossed a few more cups of water onto the rocks and started to beat Sam with the brooms. After Sam it was my turn. I stood up and immediately had to close my eyes due to the heat, it felt like they would fry if I opened them. Johnboy tossed another cup of water onto the rocks and I felt the wave of heat enter my lungs. It was difficult to breathe. He started beating me with the brooms. The brooms pushed the hot air past my skin and seemed to increase the temperature by at least 15-20 degrees. My skin felt like it was on fire. I almost started laughing because I was so ridiculously hot. After a minute or two I started to have difficulty breathing, I couldn't speak when Johnboy asked if I was okay. I nodded to him and motioned to keep going. But I tapped out almost immediately. I couldn't handle it anymore. I stumbled out of the Sauna and jumped into the ice cold pool. It was shocking. I've never felt such a difference in body temperature. My breathe was taken away and I almost immediately started shivering. I hopped out of the pool and walked up to the locker room. I left the room and met up with the rest of the group who were sitting at a table in the bar.
Sam, Frank and Ayan (left to right)
Ayan ordered beer and food for us. We were naked except for our sheets, sitting around the table eating dried fish, cheese, and sausage wrapped in pastries, drinking beer and talking. It was male bonding at its finest. We discussed Kazakh culture, the USSR, US politics, England, the WWE (Ayan did not understand why it existed, we couldn't provide him an answer), and a few other subjects. Suddenly it was 11pm. The bar closed and we left the Banya.
We headed back towards the hostel and Ayan and Johnboy joined us for a couple more beers. They bought the beer, refusing to let us pay, and we entered the hostel. Guess who was there? Gali, shot out of his seat and gave Graham, James and I each giant hugs. We were worried we wouldn't see him before we left and were ecstatic we'd get to say bye. We spent the next couple hours with Ayan, Johnboy, Gali, Frank and Sam drinking beer and laughing. It was awesome for Graham, James and I to have the people who helped and influenced us the most in Kazakhstan (Ayan and Gali) all together in the place we were staying. We were finally told to quiet down and go to bed around 2am. We had to wake up for our flight at 4:30. We said our goodbyes, gave giant thank you hugs and headed to bed. The Banya, being able to see Gali and knowing we would be leaving for new adventures in India the next morning made it a fantastic day.
Into the Jungle: August 2nd
I awoke when Michael's alarm started blaring at around 4:30. I forced myself out of bed and began packing what remained of my clothes and belongings into the small duffle and backpack. We had gone to bed 2 hours before though with how I felt I might as well not have slept at all. We packed up and headed out of the hostel to meet the friendly looking taxi driver who awaited us. We arrived at the airport and after a bit of wandering and lots of yawns we managed to get checked in. The passport control line was moving incredibly slow and the mixture of cheese, fish, salty milk ball, beer and lack of sleep caught up to me while we were waiting. After three dashes to the bathroom to empty my churning stomach we finally made it to the front of the line. The reason for the wait became very apparent as the airport employee was moving about as fast as we were and would take a break every few seconds to yawn or rest his eyes. Security went by much more smoothly and it wasn't long before we were boarding the plane, as excited to get a chance to sleep more as we were to finally be on our way to India.
The flight passed very uneventfully with all of us getting solid naps in and enjoying a surprisingly good breakfast. When we disembarked we were met with, to our surprise, a very mellow and relatively empty airport. Passport control was easy, although the customs agent seemed to be very snappy and a bit aggressive about giving orders to Graham and Michael. I had a much more pleasant agent who began to jovially sing a song about "visas on arrival" while he checked my passport and took my finger prints. Once past passport control we collected our bags, withdrew money and found a surprisingly well priced book store where we all purchased a new book. We then headed to the metro to make our way to the air B&B we had booked.
The metro experience began much more mellow than I expected and for the first of our three legs we had the pleasure of sitting back, reading and catching up on more sleep. When we exited the first station we were confronted with the hustle and bustle that we had all expected from New Delhi. The street outside was filled with a hectic combination of arto's (three wheel motorcycle taxi), bike taxis, buses, cars and people of all different shapes, sizes and dress. As we made our way across the street and into the central metro station of New Delhi we encountered an odd assortment of smells including food, piss and sweat . The metro station was even more hectic than the street outside with a mess of ticket lines stretching into the atrium. We placed ourselves at the end of one of the ticket lines and were promptly cut by numerous people. As we stood in line I realized how much taller we were than almost every other person in the crowded room. This realization brought an odd and slightly unsettling feeling that we stuck out like sore thumbs and were being watched as such, which we were. Despite being cut multiple times we eventually got our tickets and made our way to the security line. This was much more difficult than it sounds and required Graham plowing through a crowd of feisty old woman using his oversized duffle as a shield. After being hastily frisked and putting our bags through a scanner we were on our way to our second metro.
We waited for the second metro in a crowd of people and when the train arrived we had to force our way on. As the doors shut the security guard gave me one final shove so that my backpack wasn't squished in the closing doors. I faced a crowd of curious looking Indians all staring at me curiously. I had my back to the door and as we approached the next stop I could see a few people preparing to leave. As I was working out how I was going to let them past when the doors open and the entire crowd pushed forward. There was nothing I could do except be washed out of the metro by a crowd of laughing Indians. I re-entered and joined Michael and Graham. The next train was easy to catch and was relatively un-crowded, however it had an unsettling smell of vomit. As we entered I quickly realized that the smell most definitely originated from the slightly yellowish fluid that partially covered the floor and immediately regretted my choice of sandals. We finally arrived in Kalkaji, the section of the city were we had booked a guest house for the night. We exited the subway and attempted to call the host via the satellite phone. While Graham tried to call, Michael was mobbed by three curious kids who were intent on learning as much as they could about us. The satellite phone failed. We were hot, sweaty, hungry, tired and Michael was feeling under the weather or as he put it "worse than I've felt in a very long time." We followed the kids to a street where a few "artos" were waiting to pick people up. We hopped in and gave the guy an address and 15 minutes later we were standing in front of what would have been an impossible place for us to find ourselves.
We went inside and met our host Anmol who showed us our room than pointed us towards an excellent restaurant. The restaurant looked like a five star restaurant and we splurged on some coffees. The food was exactly what I had hoped for and more. It was similar to the Indian food in the U.S. but with more spice and a crazy number of flavors in each bite. We finished eating and headed back to our room. Michael was feeling pretty horrible and looked pretty pale. When we got to the room he immediately crawled into bed and was soon napping. Graham and I got caught up on a few things before joining Michael and putting on a good American movie: Red Dawn.
Graham enjoying the wifi at our room in Delhi
The Beginning... August 3rd
We woke up late. It was 9 o'clock by the time we got out of bed and began moving. We still didn't really know where we were and how to interact with our host, Anmol and his mother. It was a good spot but I felt a little awkward because I'd been sick the whole day before and wasn't out going.
We left our room around 10 and went to a small restaurant for breakfast. We didn't know ANY of the words on the menu (something we're getting quite used to) and ended up ordering a Thali. Turns out a Thali is a sample of all the dishes so it was a perfect thing for us to order. Everything was delicious, especially the Voda Dali, a yogurt that tasted like ice cream.
We finished breakfast and hailed an arto. After bargaining the arto down from 300 to 220 rupees, we hopped in and rode towards the airport where our bikes were.
I'm going to take a quick minute to try and describe what we saw from the arto. People, hundreds upon thousands of people, everywhere. Trash everywhere. Cows laying down in the middle of a 4 lane freeway. Slums built on the sidewalk. A child taking a number 2 on the side of the road. Babies walking around naked. Those were the parts that stood out as I was still trying to acclimate to the culture shock of Dehli. However the arto ride was over an hour long and as it continued I saw that there were very few people begging. There were people picking up plastic bottles for recycling (I'm sure there's some sort of incentive). The sidewalks were being swept despite the never ending amount of dirt and grime. People were moving. By no means do I think that a 1.5 hour arto ride could give me the slightest inclination of Dehli's current situation, but behind the trash and chaos, it seemed that people were working to better their environment.
We reached the Cargo station of the airport, walked up to the desk and handed the guard our Airway bill and passports. He issued us a pass and we entered the cargo portion of the airport. We asked a worker where KLM shipping was and we walked in that direction. We found another guard station, signed some papers and were let in. I remember saying, "Hell ya, if getting our bikes is this easy, I'll be stoked!" There wasn't any wood around, so I was unable to knock on it.
Graham sifting through papers at the cage like cargo entrance
From the guard station we walked to the counter and handed the lady our Airway bill. She took it and laughed slightly. She asked if we had our paperwork. No, we had the airway bill (that was enough in Belgium). She told us it would take us at least a week to get our bikes out if we did the paperwork ourselves. She called an agent and told us to wait.
2 hours later a man with a large beard and wearing a turbin (typical Sikh attire) showed up. His name was Gagandeep and he said he could get his bikes out of customs for us. The only hitch was, it would cost $250 per bike. Hell no, that was way too much. We got the price dropped to $100 per bike and decided we would use his help. He promised we would have our bikes out the next day and we wouldn't have to pay any more money (other than the handling fee of getting our bikes out of the warehouse).
After we agreed to Gagandeep's terms, he said it was lunch time (it was 2 o'clock). He took us to his office where he gave us some rice and a chicken leg a piece. It was delicious. From there we hopped in the car with one of his coworkers who took us to the New Customs House building near the airport. We provided the coworker with our passports and driving docs, for the first of at least 100 more times, and waited.
After waiting an hour or so, the coworker returned and said we had to receive a letter from the AAUI (Automobile Association of Upper India). The letter was needed because the Customs House needed verification that our bikes were indeed our bikes and that we would not sell them while we were in India. We already had our Carnets and they already stated that exact thing so we were upset at the need of this letter. We were especially upset when they were going to cost 10,000 rupee each (~$160). We argued and pleaded but they said there was no other way. We got in their car and spent the next 1.5 hours driving through Dehli trying to find the AAUI.
When we finally found it, we walked into a rundown building with no lights on. We found the officers desk and started talking with a M.K. Aggarwal. He was a no bullshit man and appeared to be highly annoyed by our presence. When we demanded to know why we had to pay for a letter that was just restating our Carnets he said it was just the way it was. All the signs were pointing towards this being a scam but before we could come to any decisions about what to do, Gagandeep's coworker whipped out 30,000 rupee and paid the man! Now we couldn't back out and we would have to reimburse Gagandeep the next day...
M.K. Aggarwal explained to us that he needed to email RAC (Royal Automobile Club based in London) and get verification that our Carnets were in fact our Carnets. He emailed RAC asking for verification and despite our warnings that RAC would not respond in a timely manner, he said he'd have our letters for us before lunch the next day.
No photos were allowed during the process to get the bikes, but I was able to sneak this one of our favorite AAUI employee, Mr. A.K. Aggarwal
***If you're ever in need of a Carnet, we do not recommend working with RAC. They're good with communication up until you pay them. Then they stop responding and are highly unhelpful when help is actually needed. We thought we'd done our homework, but apparently this one slipped through the cracks.
By this time it was 7 o'clock and everything else was closed. Our work for the day was complete. We had done very little in terms of getting our bikes but Gagandeep's coworker told us she was 99.9% positive we would get our bikes the next day. We got an arto, observed similar things to what we saw on our way to the airport and were dropped off near Anmol's. We got a quick dinner at a nearby restaurant (another Thali) and decided to walk around a bit.
We came across a men's parlor and Graham and I decided to get a shave. Graham shaved his beard into a delightful mustache and I got a shave because my face needed it. I paid 70 rupees ($1.10) for my first ever straight razor shave. It was well worth it.
Anyone else see the Matthew McConnaughey resemblance?
Why do we need a letter? : August 4th
We woke up at Anmol’s place and prepared ourselves for what was inevitably going to be a long day, but by the end of it we should have our motorcycles. We were told that by 6 we should be riding free in India. We headed over to Southys and ordered 3 combo 2’s. These consisted of some kind of delicious yogurt with small crackly bread balls and a small fried donut thing in there as well. There was also a small spicy soup, a thing of roti (a grain somewhere between rice and couscous) that looked like an uncrustable, 2 different sauces for dipping, 2 more donut things, and a coffee. All for about 3 bucks and that is actually on the more expensive side.
Feeling full we headed to the Gagendeep’s office on an arto that we now insisted be on a meter after the tip yesterday. About an hour later we were dropped off somewhere near the office. We had our duffels and our back packs and the combination of 6 bags plus ourselves packed into the back of these tiny 3 wheeled taxi’s allowed us to no more than about 15 mph. After a bit of asking around we found the office and were told to hang out for awhile as we were still waiting on the letter from NOC. After waiting for about an hour and a half we decided to drive over to the office and put some pressure on them. Turns out they were waiting on a response to an email they sent RAC to verify our carnets were legit. Now everything makes sense. If they are waiting on an email back from RAC we might be here for another month. Of the multiple emails I have sent that miserable company only a couple have been replied to and only after a few weeks. I was not a good candidate to give them a call because I probably would have just yelled at them and pissed them off, so Michael gave them a call and 30 minutes later they said they were sending over what we needed.
An hour later we still had nothing in our hands and were getting increasingly frustrated. It was now almost 4 PM and the customs office closes at 5. We asked them what was taking so long and they gave us the letters that they had written up. This letter consisted of about 3 sentences and I was baffled as to why it should have taken an hour to write. Unfortunately we found a mistake in the letter and they had to write an entirely new one. This took another 30 minutes and in that 30 minutes it seemed that everyone in the office was either playing games on their cell phones or talking to each other doing absolutely nothing in particular.
We finally got the letters we needed and paid the ridiculous $160 each for our sheet of paper with 3 sentences on it and headed back to the customs office. I was still seething that we had to pay that much money for a letter that we pretty much already had from RAC. We got to the customs house and waited for about an hour before we ended up packing up and heading home. We were promised that tomorrow would be a long day but we would have our bikes. As we were leaving Gagendeep got out of the car and walked up to a smiley man and gave him a hug and then a wad of cash. It was a little peculiar because it was not a discreet exchange at all. They parted ways and we headed back to the office where we could catch an arto to the place we had booked that night. It was called Kuldeep’s guest house and had decent reviews online. It was on the main bazaar road which we discovered was quite the bustling street. When we were dropped off we were actually a little glad that we did not have the bikes. This was the last place we would want to park them overnight. There were people walking, riding bicycles, riding motorcycles, in arto’s, and rickshaws going in every which direction amongst the hundreds of shops on the narrow street. It was absolutely overwhelming and we just wanted to find where we were staying and grab a beer. After a bit of wandering around and asking people we finally found the place and it wasn’t that bad for 10 bucks a night. There was wifi and 3 beds. There wasn’t any toilet paper, and when you sat on the toilet your knees hit the wall in front of you but we couldn’t complain with the price. We dropped off our stuff in the room and headed out for food and beer. When we emerged from Kuldeep’s it had begun to pour rain. After about 10 seconds in the open we were completely soaked and massive puddles had begun to form in the alleyways that were filled with trash and turned brown with the sludge from the street. We tried our best to not step in the cest pools. We found a little shop to eat and tried authentic tikka masala, butter chicken, and…chicken fried rice for me. My stomach was feeling a bit off and I wanted to settle it down with a bunch of rice so I backed out on the Indian food for dinner.
Some friends to share a beer with
After we ate we walked back to a bar that advertised 95 rupee beers. When we walked in it was pretty packed with dudes. Like there were actually no girls in there. They ushered us upstairs where a band of sorts was playing local Indian music and seated us at a big booth by the window. The ‘band’ was a guy singing by the side of the stage and playing a drum, and 3 girls who were seated on the stage singing. It was quite an odd setup, but I liked the sounds they produced even if it was deafeningly loud. We grabbed some beers and it wasn’t long before the booth next to us moved into our booth to talk to us and tell us all the “very nice place” in India that we should go to. Between the extremely loud music and their strong accents I probably retained about a quarter of what they were saying, but almost every sentence ended in “it’s a very nice place.” A pretty obviously wasted guy kept coming up to us and giving us letters on napkins and saying that the whole world is friends. The guys at our table thought this was the most divine thing anyone has ever said and praised him repeatedly while we wondered if we had accidentally stumbled into a gay bar. We received about 4 napkin love letters and a few beers from our booth buddies before we decided to get the hell out of there. The relaxing beer that we were looking for turned out to be a similar experience to everything else in India so far, overwhelming, loud, and crowded. We fell asleep quickly after quite an exhausting day.
The Bitter Taste of Freedom: August 5
I awoke slowly in the comfort of the air conditioning, enjoying the warmth of my thin sleeping bag. Michael was doing pushups and complaining about how out of shape he was and Graham was getting out of the bathroom. We got up quickly realizing we were running low on time as we had to meet Gagandeep, our custom agent dude at 11:00. We went to the same place for breakfast as we had eaten dinner the night before and got a good "American Breakfast" of eggs, chicken?, toast, potatoes, juice and a coffee. We hurried back to check out of the hostel and caught a arto to take us to the airport. The arto we caught moved extremely slow (probably because of the 3 massive guys and their luggage crammed in the double seat) and we got to the custom office 30 minutes late.
I kept an eye on our stuff while Graham went to find our contact in the customs house and Michael went to get some waters and snacks as we had a suspicion we'd be doing some waiting. Our suspicion was well founded and it didn't take long until we were led upstairs to a small, very hot and very busy room. The room had two rows of desks and a number of filing cabinets lining the walls. Every flat surface seemed to have folders haphazardly stacked with papers spilling out. We were told to wait, so we pulled up some chairs and got out our books. Our contact would come in occasionally and ask us for our passport or the occasional signature. Eventually we were told we would need to appear in front of the customs superintendent. Michael volunteered and ended up entering the superintendent's office, standing for a minute or two then exiting without saying a word or even really being engaged. Our customs agent brought us up to speed on the day's proceedings which was to have the same customs officer look at and sign our papers 3 times. This in itself was really grinding our gears, especially since it was the 3rd day of waiting and working to get our bikes released from customs. We picked up a quick lunch at the small cafeteria in the customs building for less than a dollar each before returning to the same, abominably hot, room.
It wasn't until 4:00 pm, when we thought another day had been wasted, that we were hurried out of the customs office and back to the cargo area. We finished up a few minor details than we were led to a loading dock. It wasn't long until our bikes were being fork lifted off the loading dock and onto the cargo staging area. A large crowd was beginning to gather as we began ripping off the packaging and re-attaching the batteries. The packing job had held true and everyone's bikes was in excellent shape. We weren't in the clear yet though and with the end of the day approaching quickly we had to hurry to get the bikes back to the customs office to get the final clearance.
Arriving back at the customs house we met the inspector who was to give the final check off on the bikes. With Graham's new Carnet de Passage we were confident that this would go quickly and smoothly and we'd be riding out soon enough. It was going very smoothly until we got to the model of the bike. Grahams bike was the only one that had a "KLR650" sticker on the plastic body work. Michael's tank had KLR written on it but nowhere on my bike did it say KLR or KLR650. Because I had replaced my gas tank and my plastic fairings had been painted over there was no marking on the bike that referred to it as a KLR. The technical designation of the bike which can be found on the chassis of the bike is KL650A. The A means that the bike was made for use in the USA and the "KL" is just Kawasaki's manufacturing model code. The custom inspector was not so willing to overlook this small technicality and we could tell he was about to put up a fight. Our custom agent took us to the side and mentioned that the inspector had suggested 300 USD for Michael and my bike would be enough to overlook the fact that neither explicitly said KLR650 on them. Declining the offer we headed back into the customs building to see what we could figure out. At this point it was approaching 8:00 pm and we were exhausted and quite frankly, we were pretty pissed off. Our customs agent pulled me aside and told me that he had gotten the bribe down to $150 for my bike only and his suggestion was to accept it and pay the bribe. Rejecting the offer would result in the bikes being held at the customs office for a few more days and as we had already burned 3 I grudgingly agreed. Just like that we received our stamped and signed carnets and were finally free to go.
The sticker on Graham's bike which made it passable to the inspector
As we pulled out of the airport with the goal of finding gas before our near empty gas tanks ran out we let out a few whoops, we were finally driving in India! The extremely hectic and intimidating traffic which we had previously only been passive bystanders of now swallowed us up. Filling up on gas we began to weave through the evening traffic towards our pre-booked hotel. Somehow we ended up going the wrong way down a freeway that had no on ramps or off ramps that provided an easy U-turn. Instead we had to exit the highway and drive the wrong way along a narrow service road with large trucks, cars and pedestrians barreling towards us head on until we reached a pedestrian bridge. We followed a small line of motorcycles up the winding handicap ramp and over the highway to the correct side of the bridge. As it grew later and later we arrived in the area where our guest house was located. We had given the host a call and she had said the house keeper would be awake and waiting for us if we needed any help finding the place. Unfortunately the place did not have an address on the outside and we did not have a phone to call the housekeeper. An hour or more of aimlessly driving around the same 3 or 4 blacks looking for the ghost of the house and asking numerous people, we were thoroughly frustrated. As we headed down an unexplored street we un-intentionally surrounded a car and cornered it in a blocked road. Michael hopped off his bike in an attempt to approach the car for assistance. In what we can only assume was fear, the car backed up into Michael's bike which was the only thing between him and freedom. Fortunately Michael's cry's stopped the driver and he somehow figured out we meant him no harm. He lent us his phone which allowed us to contact the house keeper and it wasn't long before the house keeper was leading us to the guest house on his scooter. Relieved and exhausted we parked the bikes, unpacked and quickly went inside to get some rest. India was quickly turning out to be the most difficult and frustrating of the places we had visited so far.
Asking for directions from a very spooked passerby
Karol Bagh: August 6th
We woke up and were feeling good. We all slept great and other than Graham's lingering cold we were feeling at least a bit better. Most importantly, we had our motorcycles and we were going to finally get out of Dehli. First things first, we had to go by Karol Bagh, a section of Dehli known for motorcycle maintenance and parts, to get a few things for our bikes.
The 17 km to Karol Bagh took us 1.5 hours. We were dipping, diving, dodging, and ducking our way through the traffic but we weren't getting anywhere fast. We found that there are no rules while driving in Dehli, if you can get away with something (not get hit) then you can do it. So we did. We cut people off, we stopped cross traffic by riding in front of a stream of artos, we nearly hit pedestrians, and we constantly overtook scooters and other motorcyclists. All while everyone else was trying to do the same to us. It's a blast. And since everyone else is doing it, there are no hard feelings. We saw a driver "accidently" bump a pedestrian, almost knocking him over. Instead of getting upset, they both looked at each other, smiled and continued on their way. It's like a giant game of chicken, two cars are vying for a spot and the person who doesn't get the spot is the person who flinches or backs down first. We aren't stupid about it, but I'm proud to say we don't back down often. If we did, we would never have made it to Karol Bagh.
We arrived around noon and were starving. We paid 195 rupee (just over 3 dollars) for three 1.5L waters, three cokes and six curry filled pastries. A surprisingly filling snack. While eating our food, a larger and larger crowd started to form around our motorcycles. We've gotten used to people asking questions and staring at our bikes, but this was beyond anything we'd experienced.
A small portion of the crowd that gathered around us
At least 20-30 people were around our bikes by the time we finished eating, just staring and occasionally pulling the throttle or pushing a button, but not speaking or asking us any questions. Two well dressed Indians approached us and began asking us questions in English. They said they were honored to be speaking to "such strong hearted and brave Americans," we told them we were honored to be in their beautiful country. They said Americans like us were the reason why America is the world's super power. That was taking it a bit far, but it was a good compliment. We asked them where we may be able to find good motorcycle tires and they led Graham and I (James stayed with the bikes) to an MRF motorcycle tire shop.
After walking through 2 foot wide alleys, crammed with motorcycle parts, trash, mud and people, we came upon the shop. I needed a rear tire and Graham needed a front. The rear was easy, it cost me 2,800 rupees ($44) and another 100 rupees ($1.60) to put it on (in the states it costs about $50 to have a tire put on). Graham's front tire wasn't so easy. Apparently nowhere in India, do 21" diameter tires exist. If we really wanted to get them, it would take 2-3 days and would cost a "fortune". Graham decided his tire would last until we left India.
As my rear tire was being switched, Graham and James took to trying to find the other parts we needed. We needed brake pads, a front sprocket and two USB chargers that hook up to our batteries. We found the chargers no problem.
Apparently, India does not get motorcycle specific parts often, therefore they make do with what they have. Instead of buying new brake pads, they glue new pad material onto the brakes. Instead of replacing a front sprocket fit for a specific bike, they cut out the center of the bike specific sprocket and weld it onto a new set of universal sprocket teeth. Unfortunately we weren't able to try either of these. The only brake pads we had were on our bikes and weren't entirely worn out. I tried to take off my front sprocket but with the tight quarters, large numbers of people and the heat/humidity, I became a sweaty frustrated mess in about 30 minutes and gave up.
We ended up leaving Karol Bagh without new brake pads, a sprocket or anything else we needed. We were entirely overwhelmed and flabbergasted by the sheer number of curious people. Trying to be friendly while ensuring our gear wasn't getting stolen was exhausting. In the end we had to be blunt and told everyone we had to leave.
It was 5:30 and we'd been told we should not drive past 5 due to drunk truck drivers. We weighed our options and decided we wouldn't be able to make it out of Dehli before it got dark (we'd been told that it would take 3-4 hours to exit the city). So, we decided to go back to the Air B&B we'd stayed at the night before. Now that we knew where it was, it wouldn't be too terrible to go back.
It took us 2 hours, through Dehli rush hour, to travel the 17km. But we finally made it and it felt amazing to escape from the crowds of people. We walked around the town and found a whole in the wall (how I'd describe the majority of restaurants in India) place for dinner. We went back to the room and were asleep by 10. All we did was drive through the city, buy a new tire and two chargers, yet we were exhausted. We were blown away by how hectic and chaotic everything seemed. To me, Karol Bagh was insanity. However we made it out, without anything being stolen, and we were sleeping in a comfortable bed. All in all, we were doing just fine.
A not too shabby dinner!
Peace out Delhi: August 7th
We woke up early and motivated after a good night sleep. Today we were finally getting out of Delhi and heading on our way! Michael and I wanted to rig up our new chargers so we spent an hour getting everything wired up on our bikes. I also did a quick duct tape job on my chain slider that keeps the chain from grinding through my swing arm. It was precariously close to ripping right off. We started up the bikes and pulled out of the gate. I realized I rigged my electronics to tight and the wire to my new charger popped when I twisted my handle bars. I’ll have to take another look at that later.
We triumphantly rode away and headed in a roundabout north direction to bypass the center of the city. We needed to find some WIFI before we left and there was a hotel that was rumored to have WIFI on the way out of town. It didn’t let us down and we spent the next hour or so calling and emailing embassies and organizations to see what we could do about our visas. We really want to get into Nepal if possible, but we have single entry visas and you have to fly into India to use an E-visa. The other visa requires more time, money, and patience than we have after the struggle of getting our bikes out. The other issue is that our visa expires the day before we are due to be crossing the border. Our date to get into Myanmar is September 1st, however our Indian visa expires on August 31st. We didn’t get an answer from anyone, but are hopeful that we will get some positive emails back.
Casual traffic. About half of the vehicles in this picture are honking
Not feeling any better about the visa situation we hopped back on the bikes to finally get out of the city. The traffic was insane, and we weaved our way through it as best we could. They love using the horn often and usually in longer bursts than necessary. Catching on to this we laid on our horns as we passed through tiny gaps and dodged various things in the road; cows, concrete blocks, and children. We eventually popped out onto the highway and passed one of the largest and smelliest piles of trash I have ever seen. It was at least 100 feet tall and a kilometer long. I couldn’t see how wide it was from the road but I assume it went for a ways because you could see the tents of a slum perched at the very top. We held our breath as long as we could but the smell lingered for the next couple miles.
We knew the highway was a toll road, but getting out of the city was a priority over avoiding tolls. To our delight when we got to the pay toll motorcycles were free. You didn’t even have to wait in line. We just rode right around the toll booth. It was a small victory for us and we relished it. We were now the fastest things on the highway and we zoomed around cars, 3 wheeled artos, and small motorcycles until we worked up an appetite. We stopped for lunch and the menu was entirely in Hindi. We said “masala” and “naan” to the waiter and he came back with some delicious food that I couldn’t tell you the proper name of.
After lunch we began to wonder if camping was going to be a possibility here. There were still signs of civilization as far as you could see and nowhere that seemed like a viable option for camp. I was out of money and needed to find an ATM. Luckily Michael’s map showed there was one in a town that was about the distance left in my tank. Hopefully we could get there and get gas, money, and possibly a place to stay. When we pulled into the town we instantly decided we would do none of the above. It was a train stop, and it seemed like the entire train emptied itself here. The buildings were crumbling, and the people were moving in every direction like a bunch of ants after you step on their little hill of sand. We drove through as quickly as we could and decided to risk running out of gas in hopes of finding something a little less hectic. About a mile down the road we found a nice hotel with decently clean rooms and a safe area for the bikes. We washed up a bit and ate some yellow dal ladka with naan for dinner. It was pretty spicy but quite good. James had a bit more trouble with it later that night though. We were exhausted from the heat and hectic driving all day and we passed out quickly.
Worst day ever: August 8th
As my convulsions from the last bout of puking began to fade, I let myself relax onto the cold tile floor of the bathroom. It was 6 in the morning and unlike the previous episodes of the drive heaves I could feel myself growing more and more comfortable and my mind finally slipping in and out sleep. I finally managed the strength to pull myself back to my pad and finally get some sleep. The morning went by quickly as I was periodically woken to drink more water, try to get some naan down and move up to the now vacant bed. After a bit of complaining we managed to get the water running in our room again. The water had cut out earlier in the morning in a very unfortunate turn of events that prevented the smells of sickness from being flushed away with the vomit. Graham and Michael were having a slightly better morning, though it was by no means good. The hotel attendant showed her true colors by abusing those under her and trying to scam them into paying extra for a very subpar breakfast.
The rest of the day passed uneventfully with us hanging out in the hotel as I rested and regained my strength. A few episodes of Sherlock helped the day past more quickly and it wasn't long before night was falling. Unfortunately as night fell, the party began. A band set up directly below the balcony of our room and began playing. The music was very drum heavy and was not as enjoyable as one would have hoped. As an early night's sleep was now no longer possible we watched another episode before going our own ways to pass the time until the band was finished and sleep would once again be possible. A number of other not fun things happened as well including the death of a loved ones grandpa and some relationship struggles... overall it was a very bad day and when silence finally fell we were all greatly relieved and quickly embraced sleep.
Back on the Road! August 9th
Get me out of here! I was fed up with the hotel and ready to get on the road. As much as we loved the live music, over priced food (that made James sick), and the strange receptionist, it was time to leave. We woke up, packed and left. It was raining as we rode away, but I was ecstatic to be back on the road. We were on our way to Shimla, a town in the foothills of the Himalayas, and hopefully away from any major crowds.
After an hour of riding through towns and cities, we finally started to climb. As we got higher, the scenery started to change. Spectacularly green hills, wispy clouds and few cars to worry about. The sun was almost peaking through the clouds and we were loving every second of riding through the winding mountain roads. Even when the traffic started, it was a blast bobbing and weaving between cars, buses, artos, trucks, and pedestrians. The fun factor started to dip a little once the monsoon rains rolled in and were instantly drenched, but we were still riding and it still felt great. Until a bus driver really pissed me off.
I've described driving in India as being a giant game of chicken, but what happens when it's a bus vs a motorcycle and the bus driver is an idiot? Well, in my case, the motorcycle loses. We were driving through a small town going ~30mph when a bus pulled out onto the road 30 feet in front of me. I tried to slow down as quickly as I could but the rain had made my brakes weak. There was no way to avoid hitting the front end of the bus, which was now perpendicular to the road, so I swerved to the side and tried to fit between the bus and a parked car. I would've made it, except just as I was passing the bus, the driver decided to pull forward even more and side swiped the rear end of my motorcycle. I was only going ~20 mph at this point, but the collision threw me off balance and I was the closest I've ever been to downing my bike. After realizing what had happened, I yelled in frustration and fear then kept driving. I'd lost at chicken and I was ready to get off the road.
We made it to Shimla, the old summer British Capitol of India, just as the rain started again. Shimla is known for being a beautiful town perched along a 12km long ridge near the foothills of the Himalaya. Unfortunately, we couldn't see any of the scenery as we drove through the town due to the dense fog and rain, but it wasn't hard to imagine that we were in an amazing spot. After accidently driving through some pedestrian only roads, we found a small restaurant that would work to keep us from getting more wet. Although at this point we were already soaked so it didn't matter much. We ordered Pan Butter Masala, Chai and Naan. It was delicious, except James still had the lingering taste of Yellow Dal Ladka in his mouth and he couldn't get much down.
Once the rain subsided, we left the restaurant in search of a hotel and almost immediately found Hotel Giirwall. A two story building with a small outdoor parking area for our motorcycles. We looked at the room, paid and began unloading all of our gear into the room. We showered, hung our wet clothes to dry, and left to explore the city.
We walked through Mall road, bought a tour book of India, searched for a store that sold Kurdas (traditional Indian attire), got Pizza Hut (in the hopes it would help James's stomach), and watched the sunset over the hills. We didn't have to worry about the bikes and for the first time in India, we were able to play tourist. Fortunately (or unfortunately depending on your perception), we're visiting India in the middle of monsoon season. This means, heavy rains, potential flooding, landslides and any other water induced problems, however it also means, less tourists and cheaper prices. We saw 3 or 4 other non-Indian travelers, but the large majority (99.9%) were Indian tourists, enjoying a holiday. After a couple hours of strolling through the town, we headed back to our room. All in all, it was my favorite day in India thus far. We got away from the crowds and I felt like I could finally breathe again.
Sunset in Shimla
Kurtas, clouds, and golf: August 10th
We woke up feeling refreshed and ready to explore Shimla a bit before heading over to Naldehra to try and go golfing. There is a gold course there that is over 100 years old that was built by the British Vice of India when Shimla was the capital. It is meant to be an incredibly beautiful area and relaxing with some golf sounded like an awesome way to cool the nerves after our first week in India.
First we wanted to pick up some stuff in town though so we headed into the mall area of Shimla to see what we could bargain. We decided that the best way to figure out the prices and not get ripped off is to go to at least 3 different stores and see what they offer. Then you have 3 to compete against each other and you get a better idea of what price you can probably get them down to. Using this technique we got 3 umbrellas, 2 polo shirts for golf, 3 cigars, an ulu (traditional Himachal hat), a bolt for James’ bike Jolene, and 3 custom tailored kurta and pajamas.
The kurta and pajama is a traditional Indian dress that consists of a shirt that extends almost to your knees and then loose fitting pants called pajamas. We have seen them everywhere and they look incredibly comfortable so we had been on the lookout to try and buy some. While we were walking around asking about them the best option seemed to be to get them custom made. This sounded like a pretty awesome idea and we ended up actually getting them for cheaper than we were aiming for! Our custom fit kurta and pajamas cost about 15 bucks and they said they would have them ready the next day.
Lunch above the market
We left the market area feeling pretty successful and ready to go play a round of golf. A taxi ended up being more expensive than we thought because it was rush hour, so we hopped on our bikes and jumped right into the middle of the congestion. We didn’t have our boxes on so we squeezed through the tiniest of spaces much easier and it didn’t take too long to make it out of the congested city. The rest of the drive there was absolutely stunning. We drove in and out of the clouds as the road winded around the side of a steep mountain. We would get brief glimpses of green valleys and more steep green mountains receding into the clouds in the distance.
Trying to decide what to do in the clubhouse
By the time we got to the golf course the clouds had really moved in. The course sits at 7,400 feet and the clouds are already low during the monsoon so we were completely enveloped. We walked into the clubhouse soaked from the rain and looking a bit shabby. The receptionist was a bit skeptical of us and asked us what our handicap was. I don’t play golf enough to have a handicap, but I got the idea that he was going to judge us pretty hard so I said +3, which is pretty much a pro. Michael was a little more honest and said +20 and James followed suit. The receptionist was quite pompous and informed us that usually he doesn’t allow beginners to play on the course. We looked out the window and there were ten local kids hitting balls around that did not appear to be to the status he seemed to hold. He seemed to ignore this though and told us we could grab some tea and coffee because we wouldn’t be able to play in these clouds. We tried to insist that we would at least try to play but he ignored us. He also said it would be about $40 to play 9 holes. That was over double what we had been informed it would cost so we were a little irritated.
The first tee is just out of view
We drank our tea and watched the clouds get thicker until you couldn’t see more than 50 feet. I hated to admit it, but the guy might be right about not being able to play in these clouds. We would have no idea where the hole even was. Feeling defeated we left the clubhouse and rode back to Shimla. Along the way we had a bit of a battle with a car that was determined to pass us. He would pass us, or more likely pull up next to us and squish us off the road. Then he would get stuck in traffic and we would squeeze through the cracks only for him to do it all over again once the traffic opened up a bit. This became a honking battle and we would all blare our horns as we passed.
When we made it back to Shimla we headed to the Indian Tea House for dinner. We had had a good cheap breakfast there and liked the atmosphere of the place. Food in India is insanely cheap and we all gorged ourselves with a total bill less than $10. We walked down the mall a little bit farther and found a grungy little bar to grab a beer. They had a strange game playing on the TV that looked like some sort of wrestling combined with tag. It is called Kabbadi and I am still unsure of the rules. It appeared that one guy would try and tag someone on the other team and then run back to his side of the field. The other team would then tackle him before he made it back to his side. It was strange looking, but looked pretty fun to play. We tried to smoke our cigars but they were damp from the humidity and would not stay lit. All in all it was a successful day and it felt good to go to sleep knowing a custom Kurta awaited us tomorrow morning.
Monkeying Around: August 11
I awoke sleepily and looked around, for the first time I could see out the window and even better, I could see blue sky and sunlight. We eventually got moving and headed back to our favorite food spot in Shimla, the Indian Tea house. A cup of coffee, some "Jam toast," and a delicious tomato and egg omelet and I was ready for the day. During breakfast a cloud had settled onto the ridge on which Shimla sits and now loomed above us. We exited the tea house and headed upwards towards the cloud. Somewhere in the cloud, at the top of the ridge was the Jakhu temple. We hiked up steep winding streets and eventually left the city behind for lush forest. A sign at the bottom of the hill had challenged someone of our age to make the hike in under 30 minutes. We did it in 18 minutes and arrived at the base of a huge orange statue sweaty and slightly out of breathe. The temple and statue looked out across the city and winding valleys dotted with houses, roads and appartments. We wandered the temple for a bit taking pictures and enjoying the entertainment of the monkeys.
Michael found a particularly cute mother and baby and began to take some video. The mother grew wary of the extra attention and growled at him. Changing location Michael continued to record the baby's cute antics. The mother barred her teeth, made a half charge towards Michael and hissed angrily. Michael jumped and prepared to run but once the mother backed off he got back to getting the good footage. He had pushed his luck a bit too far however, and once the mother took notice for this 3rd time she got angry. This time the charge continued around the corner and up the sidewalk. Michael turned on his heels and sprinted towards Graham and me. As he approached we realized the monkey was still in hot pursuit and we turned and joined him. Fortunately the mother decided she had sufficiently intimidated us and stopped shortly thereafter.
Smiling for a pic at the the entrance to Jakhu temple
Michael running from an Angry mama monkey
We descended the ridge and after a quick stop at the book store, headed towards the clothing shop to collect our finished kurta and pajama's. We arrived at the shop and tried on our fresh new clothes. They fit perfectly and were everything we dreamed they would be. On top of making us look really, really good they were full of pockets and extremely comfortable. We drank some tea and took pictures with everyone who had helped us out. We said our goodbyes and headed to get some food before making our way back to the hotel.
Once we were back at the hotel we packed up our boxes and prepared for what was looking to be a very rainy ride. After a lengthy checkout process we were ready to make some miles and departed Shimla. Rain and mist followed us down the mountains making the driving somewhat more sketchier but adding to the mysterious feel of the mountains. The roads were less congested than most we had experienced and the winding roads were extremely fun to carve. The roads themselves were in relatively good shape minus a few potholes, however, the rainy season had created numerous minor mud and rock slides. We all had to stay on our toes to avoid the slides which ranged from a few pebbles to massive boulders completely blocking the road. As evening fell we wanted to get off the road as visibility was already poor and we had been warned of drunk drivers so we stopped at the first guest house we saw. We got a tasty dinner and a cheap room and settled in for the night.
After dinner we were approached by some very friendly guys who asked if we would like to drink some tea with them. We joined them in the small guest house garage and sat down on crates. None of our friends spoke much or any English so we conversed via phones and sign language. We shared some laughs over funny internet videos and attempted to learn as much about our new friends as we could. They were staying at the Shim temple which was just up the road and invited us to visit the temple. So we hopped in their friends car and after a short drive in which we almost collided with one of the landslide we arrived at a series of small buildings. The temple was a small structure with a series of shrines inside. Outside were people sitting on a tarp being fed rice and a soup-like mixture. We were introduced to a number of men and guided up to another small room with a fire slowly burning in the center. The temples seemed to serve as a kind of home for any and all who are Hindi, offering them food and a place to sleep.
We were given a tour of the temple and given some food and water from the Ganges which is thought to be sacred. We ate cross legged on the tarp using our hand to scoop the rice mixture into our mouths. As we ate, a very drunk man arrived at the temple and was served food. After a few minutes of trying to distinguish what he was saying he was ushered out of the temple, though not before attempting to take our shoes. Our friends enthusiastically pointed out that the plants surrounding the temple were Marijuana plants and showed us a truck full of the plants. We returned to the small room with the fire and enjoyed everyone's company while they passed around a never ending stream of joints. They provided us with some delicious tea and one of the men spoke better English so we conversed with him. While we were conversing Michael and Graham spotted a massive spider in the corner and kept a warry eye on it for the rest of the evening. We eventually were driven back to the guest house through extremely thick fog that prevented us from seeing more than 10 feet in front of the car. We made it with no incident though and were soon fast asleep in our room.