The home stretch

June 10th, 2010

Hi All, Pooja here. After asking each other countless times ” Are we there yet?” we finally made it to Delhi on 6 June 2010 . It took us 51 days to travel through 15 countries and we completed our journey at 5:00 pm at Qutub Minar, Delhi. The journey from the Nepal – India border to Delhi took the following course.

Kanpur Connection – After stopping in Gorakhpur for 1 night we headed to Kanpur via Lucknow. The drive was tiring because the traffic was appalling! It took some time to get used to oncoming vehicles on our side of the road. Overtaking an army of trucks, which wanted to drive in the fast lane at a speed of 50kmph was not easy either. However, within an hour or so we got used to the mayhem and started enjoying the drive. In Kanpur we met with Mr Vinit Jain, who sponsored the jerry cans for our trip. He made our stay in Kanpur memorable with his hospitality and presented us with a beautiful painting, which he made himself along with a poem that he printed on a card.

During our stay we attended the Rotary club meeting, where we were felicitated by the members and were given an opportunity to speak about our trip. Times of India, Kanpur did a feature on us as did other local newspapers. I must admit that giving interviews is not nerve racking but posing for pictures reminded me of the day Tushar and I got married ( photographers with big camera lenses directing our poses:)

Taj Mahal, Agra – We arrived in Agra the next day and I got a wonderful surprise. I was expecting my mother to come to Qutub Minar,Delhi where we would finish our journey but she came all the way to Agra a day before. At night we all drove around the city in the hope of seeing the Taj Mahal at night but were told that due to security reasons, the Taj is not lit at night. Back at the hotel, for the first time in the trip I sat next to the pool side restaurant and ordered a cold coffee ( oh! the joy of a nice smelling hotel.. courtesy my sister’s friend). That night was very special because we were 1 day away from completing what we had set out to achieve 51 days back.

6 June 2010 – We were joined by Tushar’s family in Agra on the 6th and before we set off for Delhi, we visited the Taj Mahal. At the Taj parking a guy came up to us with a newspaper in his hand and said to Tushar ” is this you sir?” ( a write up about our trip and our picture was in the local newspaper). It was the first time we got spotted and its not happened since:) . On way to Delhi we stopped in Palwal for lunch, which was organised by Octave events. The local media was present and we got an opportunity to speak about our cause.

5:00 pm Qutub Minar, New Delhi – 6 June 2010 – After 1,500 litres of petrol, 51 days, 15 countries, 9 timezones and lots of exciting experiences we finally switched off our engine at 5:00 pm at Qutub Minar. Its really difficult to express how we felt at that time. All I can say is that we couldn’t believe that the car that we drove in London was with us in Delhi…it was surreal. There were lots of people and reporters at the venue to welcome us and it took us a while to realize that Goofy, Tushar and I had arrived in Delhi in one piece:)

Media - One of the reasons why I have focussed on the media coverage in this blog is that we are trying our best to raise awareness about the reasons behind our journey. ” For the love of Dogs and Animals” and ” For the love of Driving and Discovery”. We featured on Zee News, Star News, Sahara, CNEB and also came live on India TV. Media is a great way to raise awareness about charitable/social causes and hopefully we have managed to motivate some people to tie their personal interest of sports/adventure/arts with a social cause. ( One thing Tushar and I figured out is that sometimes the media may not be interested in the charitable aspect and one has to keep on reminding them not to edit the parts that are really important in the context of the journey)

Friendicoes – Tushar and I visited Friendicoes yesterday. We met Mr Gautam Bharat, co founder of Friendicoes who showed us around the Defence Colony shelter in Delhi. He told us that at any one time they look after 1,000 animals at the Delhi and Gurgaon sanctuary. They never refuse treatment to an animal ( a camel was recently treated and released at a sanctuary…so its not just dogs and other pets that are cared for at Friendicoes). We are still in the process of raising funds for Friendicoes ( a part of the donation raised has already been transferred to them) and we will be giving them all the donations received by the end of June. If anyone would like to contribute please click on the Donate Now link on our website or alternatively cheques can be made in the name of Friendicoes SECA, which can be couriered or collected.

This is not Good bye – Thank you all for your support and encouragement throughout our journey. Tushar and I have been keeping very busy these past few days with the homecoming but will continue to update the blogs. We will now start focusing towards writing a book and are hoping that a publishing house will take interest in our journey and publish our book.

Goofy – Goofy was my dog in Delhi. She lived with my family for almost 13 years. I decided to name the car Goofy because I knew she would get us through all the challenges during our journey. Her spirit lives on in our Jeep and in our memories:) Goofy the Jeep is waiting to be shipped back to London. She has to travel to Bombay first though. Will fill you in about that soon.

Till next time…which will be soon

Thanks for reading

Pooja

Ab dilli door nahin (Delhi is not far now)

June 3rd, 2010

We have made it to INDIA! Thats right! No more border crossings, we have reached our home country and are over the moon. We arrived today afternoon from Nepal but not without a last minute hiccup. But more on that later. A bit about Nepal first.

Nepal for us was our entry back into civilization. After the remoteness of Tibet, the gravel roads, the extreme altitudes, the unhygienic conditions, the health problems etc. etc. Nepal was a welcome change. After doing the border crossing, we were back on the left side of the road. That took a bit of getting used to as 90% of the journey so far was on the right side of the road. Once we reached our hotel, the first thing we looked for in the room was the toilet. The room actually had a bathroom and a toilet, the bathroom had a shower, the shower had water and the water was hot! All boxes ticked. We were thrilled! It’s not that we have not seen all these facilities in bathrooms before, but coming from Tibet, it was a welcome change for us. Kathmandu is nothing like any place in Tibet. It is a bustling city full of cars and people, lots of streets with shops, vehicles blowing horns, traffic jams, pollution, basically just like any other big metropolitan. It felt great though. We also visited a salon where Pooja had a few hours to groom herself. (I too indulged in a bit of luxury and got a nice back and shoulder massage). It turned out that one of the guys at the salon named Anil was of Indian origin and he got really excited when we told him about our journey. He offered to show us around Kathmandu and we readily agreed. We are so lucky to keep meeting nice, friendly and helpful people:) So next morning he took us to Pashupati Nath, one of the most important temples in the country. It was a beautiful temple but extremely busy and in the absence of any queues or order, it can become a bit of a challenge to actually reach the main altar for worshipping.

We also visited an animal shelter in Kathmandu called Animal Nepal. The shelter was built a bit outside the city in a quiet area with nice views of Kathmandu. Mr Krishna Singh, the programme co-ordinator of the organisation, showed us around the facilities and explained the work they do. Animal Nepal like Friendicoes, is involved in rescuing stray dogs that are abandoned on the streets or dogs that are hit by vehicles on the road. Unfortunately, like Friendicoes, they too are short of funds as animal welfare is not a priority in Nepal. They are also lobbying to prevent the barbaric animal sacrifice in the name of religion in Nepal. We also got an opportunity to meet the Indian Ambassador to Nepal, Mr. Rakesh Sood and the First Secretary, Mrs Apoorva Srivastava who were very interested in knowing more about our journey and the cause.

From Kathmandu, we drove to a very famous forest area in Nepal called Chitwan National Park. Here we sat on the back of a female elephant called Ichchakali and went deep into the jungle in search of wild animals. Unfortunately, all we saw were a few monkeys and deer. But it was fun sitting on an elephant and going quietly into the woods. We learnt that the lifespan of elephants is similar to that of humans and to our amazement we also learnt that elephants can dig graves to bury a deceased fellow elephant and cover it with shurbs and bushes. Okay, these facts may be well known to you, but for me it was something totally new!

Not about the last minute hiccup. This morning, we left Chitwan and started driving towards the Nepal-India border called Sunauli. As you can imagine, we were in a great mood, everything was going as per plan and we were just smiling and enjoying the ride as we were getting closer and closer to the border. Then we reached a checkpost and an officer signalled for us to stop. He approached my window and asked if we are heading towards Sunauli. “Yes”, I said. “Maoists have burned 2 motorcycles ahead. Roads are closed and the border is closed. You cannot go much further.” he said. “Shit. Now what do we do”. I commented. My mind was filled with many things now. Will the border open today or not? Will our car attract the maoists and will we end up like the motorcyclists? Will we need to wait in Nepal for days? In any case, we were almost convinced that today we will not be able to go to India. We started driving ahead. Our plan was to keep driving closer and closer to the border till we reach the area where the police has actually closed the road and stay in a town which is closest to that point. The music was off, the conversations were off and the mood was off. Silently, I kept driving. Then a car ahead of us signalled for us to stop. “Oh god. Let them not be the maoists”. I whispered to myself. I stopped the car and 2 guys came out of the car and approached us. “Are you going to Sunauli?”, one of them asked. “Yes”, I said. “The border is closed. You cannot go much further. But we can tell you another border from where you can go to India.”, they said. That was a huge relief. Phew! These guys wanted to help us after we told them about what we are doing and where we are coming from. They removed all our worries and also invited us for a drink to their house. This is what I love about this trip. In a second, the dynamics change, the moods change, the routes change, the plans change, the conversations change and the directions change. So now we were following a car with two complete strangers who were leading us to their village for a drink with a promise to guide us to another border later. And indeed they did. We chatted with them for a few minutes in their nice little home in a small town of Nepal called Parasi.

Then we headed for this other border called Maheshpur. We reached the Nepal side of the border and were met by a “couple of cops”, they were indeed a couple. Both husband and wife were guarding the Nepalise checkpost together. They were amused at seeing our vehicle and not knowing much about what to do with us, they called their senior. The senior Inspector was I think woken up from a siesta as he came out of his office in a casual T-shirt and shorts. He was very courteous though and told us that this border crossing does not have a customs office and therefore, we cannot cross into India from here. When I insisted that we need to go today, he said we can go to the Indian side and try it out ourself. Knowing that India is only a few hundred metres away, how could we not give it a try? Both Pooja and I were like 2 little kids not wanting to accept a given fact. So we drove towards the Indian border at Maheshpur. From a distance, we saw the Indian flag and my heart skipped a beat. “There is our flag”, I said to Pooja. I drove faster and as we reached the barrier I stopped the car and admired the uniforms of the Indian border guards. My heart was beating faster now. I was getting emotional looking at India behind that barrier. I have gone to India numerous times by flight from London, but it never looked so inviting. We were finally at the gates of our home. Once we are past this barrier, everything and everyone will embrace us. But we would have to wait. The Indian border guards looked at us in disbelief when I told them about the journey. They told us the same thing that the Nepalise officer had said. There was no custom post at this border which meant they could not sign the vehicle into the country. They told us we could go at our own risk but if we did, it would become extremely difficult to ship Goofy back to UK. “Please dont mind, Sir”, said the Indian border guard and we took a U turn heading back towards Nepal. “This is a first. We never took a U-turn from any other country’s border post on this trip”, I said to Pooja. But it was not the mistake of the Indian border guards. It was our own fault that we went to a border post not meant for foreign vehicles. So we went back to the Nepalise border post where a good news awaited us. “Sunauli border is open”, the Inspector told us. I heaved a sigh of relief after hearing those sweet words. The Inspector invited us for some drinks in his office premises and later sent an escort on a motorbike with us. Another kind gesture by a stranger.

This time we reached Sunauli and it being a proper border post, we were faced with a huge board that said “Welcome to India”. We were back in business! We crossed the border and stepped into India. The custom process was a breeze after the officials saw Goofy and learned about our journey. We were offered drinks and in the meantime, the officers sorted out the paperwork for us. When we asked where we can find a good restaurant for Indian food, we were pointed back in the direction of Nepal. “In this area, good Indian food is available only in Nepal. You can leave your car here, walk to Nepal, eat lunch and walk back to India. “, they said. And so we did. So, for the second time that day, we again went back to Nepal from India, had a quick lunch and walked back to India.

Our co-ordinator in London pulled some strings and arranged a police escort for us to Gorakhpur from the border. I dont think it was needed, but we were so tired and the idea of a police car leading our way and clearing traffic to help us get to our destination quicker was very tempting. 3 police officers greeted us, sat in their car and sped towards Gorakhpur. It was difficult to catch up with them. I have never driven so fast in my life and Pooja was almost praying all the way. The result was that we reached Gorakhpur atleast an hour before we thought we would. We thanked the officers for their help and crashed into bed.

Today is our first night in India and I already feel that the journey is over. Atleast the challenges of a border crossing, the fun of not understanding a language, the curiosity while tasting foreign food, the uncertainty about spending the night in a new town and the confusion of counting a new currency are over. Stop.

Let’s not forget, the journey is not over yet. Tomorrow, we go to Kanpur. Day after to Agra and on Sunday the home run to Delhi. I want to enjoy the remaining few days as much as possible. I am going to try to take one day at a time just like I have always tried to do during this trip. But, as they say…

Ab dilli door nahin.

Tushar