Days 226 & 227: 31/10/19 & 01/11/19
Location: Rampur, India & Suda, Nepal
Miles Driven: 89
It was finally time to leave New Delhi. We had mixed emotions about doing so; we were beyond ready to be moving on with our trip, but were very apprehensive about returning to those dreaded Indian roads and having to face the awful experience of driving again. Despite wanting to leave as soon as possible, we knew it was also important to take it slowly, so we limited ourselves to around 100 miles (or up to approx four hours) on the road each day, intending to cross into Nepal on the 2nd November.
Thankfully, our drive from Delhi had been relatively incident free – relative to Indian standards of course. For the majority of the time, we able to successfully avoid the countless hazards around us. However, periodically the traffic would build, and chaos would ensue. During this particular “relatively incident free” 90 mile drive, we had three emergency stops due to vehicles driving in the opposite direction to us on our side of the road, and knocked two men off of their moped as they decided to cut across us to turn right as we were crawling through traffic. We were going so slowly that it didn’t cause any harm to them, the moped or Natalie. All in all, it was a pretty good day on the road by Indian standards!
We arrived at the “Best View Hotel”, 12 miles from the south-west India/Nepal border mid-morning on the 1st, with the intention of having an afternoon off, and crossing the border the following day. We knew that in the past, at least a couple of overlanders had paid to sleep in their vehicles within the grounds of the hotel and use their facilities. However, the staff behind reception completely refused to let us stay. They initially claimed this was because the building was not a hotel (an argument that quickly fell apart when we pointed out the “hotel” sign behind them), and then claimed that they were fully booked that evening (the hotel was huge, and there wasn’t a single car in the car park other than ours). We asked to stay in our car, we asked to stay in a room, we offered more than double the price that we knew previous overlanders had paid to stay here. No, no, no, no, no. We gave up, and drove to the border (12 miles away), hoping that the crossing would be short and allow us enough time to find somewhere to stay in Nepal before dark.
All in all, the border crossing was pain free. With no restrictions of movement between India and Nepal, there were no queues to join, meaning that the crossing was a lot quicker than many of our previous countries.
So just like that, we said goodbye to India and hello to Nepal. We left the country with a sense of relief, but also with the apprehension that our time there was not yet entirely over – we need to re-enter from the eastern side of Nepal to get to the border with Myanmar. We could only hope that the north-east of India was so far away from where we had previously been, it might be entirely different.
Day 228: 02/11/19
Location: Bardia National Park, Nepal
Miles Driven: 101
Day one in Nepal, and our hopes and wishes that we were through the “bad bit” came crumbling down. Nepal was not an escape from the dangers, stresses and anxieties that had filled our last 9 weeks.
Having packed up our tent and other belongings, we set off fairly early intending to purchase a local sim card, and then drive 91 miles (approximately 3 hours) to Bardia National Park. Driving through the border-side town, something metal flew underneath the car. I noticed it, but shrugged it off, presuming it to be a drinks can getting caught in an odd way under the wheel. A few minutes later we arrived at the sim card shop. Walking past the front of the car, Chris spotted that one of the two “feet” to our roof-tent was sitting on the bumper. The feet attach the ladder for our roof-tent to our front bumper, meaning that we cannot use the tent without them. We had clearly forgotten to put them away when packing up that morning, and one of them was still sitting where Chris had left it when we folded the tent away. But where was the other one?! I thought back – maybe the tin can wasn’t a tin can after all.
We spent the next couple of hours driving back and forth the 3 mile stretch of road between where we had camped and the sim card shop, scouring the road and pavements for our missing tent foot. It wasn’t even 11 in the morning and our second disaster of the day smashed straight into us. A 4×4 was overtaking a car on the other side of the narrow road. Despite our beeping and flashing, it did not move off of our side of the road to let us through, instead, they continued driving, smashing our driver’s side wing mirror as a result. We pulled over to give them a good telling off, but it was pointless, they were already a speck of dust on the horizon.
After driving up and down multiple times, and finding nothing, we parked up to search the banks either side of the road on foot. Chris noticed a couple of guys collecting scrap metal and took over our remaining tent foot to ask them if they had seen it. The odds were somewhat in our favour – the guys had picked it up, and instantly took the foot out of their bag of treasures. Unfortunately though, it had been broken and was now in two pieces. Chris quickly took the two halves, said thank you, and walked away, ignoring the shouts from the men who were expecting him to pay them for something that belonged to us in the first place!
It was now nearly midday, and we hadn’t even started our 3 hour journey of the day. Deciding that we would sort out a sim card tomorrow, we set off – one broken wing mirror and one broken tent foot in tow.
Nepal is a country of few cars and roads. Cars are a relatively new concept here compared to the rest of the world – in 1956 our overlanding predecessors, “First Overland”, were the second ever people to drive a car into Kathmandu! There is one “main” road along the south of the country, and only a couple of other main roads in the middle of Nepal – connecting Pokhara, Kathmandu, and leading North into China.
Driving 45mph along the single carriageway southern road, a minibus was making a very slow attempt to overtake us. In the distance, we could see a motorbike coming towards us in the other direction on the opposite side of the road. Instead of speeding up to overtake us more quickly, or pulling back to give the motorbike room, the bus literally ploughed itself into the side of us. With a steep bank to our left, Chris had a split second to make the choice of swerve away from the bus which would likely send us off the road into the ditch, or stand our ground and steer into the bus that was driving into us. He chose the latter, and we spent the next few seconds (although it felt like an eternity) playing a high speed and highly dangerous game of dodgems with a bus that was doing its best to push us off the road. The bike went past and yet the bus was still steering into Natalie. It was absolutely terrifying. Thank goodness I was not driving, as my instinctual reaction of screaming and closing my eyes would have likely left us upside down in the ditch.
We stopped the car and rage overwhelmed us. The minibus had stopped too, and we ran over to it, shouting, screaming, swearing. A futile act that might have been at least cathartic had it not been for their reaction. If we’d been in a smaller car, or on a motorbike, we could have been killed. If Chris hadn’t have steered right to keep Natalie on the road, we could have been killed. If we had been driving any faster, we could have been killed. The 6 people sat on the front three seats of the minibus smiled at us and waggled their heads, “no problem sir” they said.
It didn’t take long after we had stopped for the crowds to start gathering around our car. The 30+ passengers of the 16 seater minibus poured out. Passing motorcyclists stopped to find out what was going on. Our rage quickly turned into fear. We were surrounded by people, completely outnumbered and wanted to get as far away from here as quickly as possible.
We drove to the next town and pulled over to calm down and check the damage. Once again we had been lucky (although this was down to Chris’ skilful driving more than luck). Other than a few new scrapes along the side of the car, we could not see any damage. We were both physically fine, apart from small cuts on Chris’ fingers (the window had been open so something must have scratched him during the crash). We weren’t stopped long before there was a knock on the window. The minibus had caught up with us, and wanted us to go with them to talk to the police about the accident that “we had caused”.
Quite frankly, we didn’t see the point in speaking to the police. We had not caused the accident, and we had our dash cam video to prove it. Natalie was not significantly damaged, and even if she was, the likelihood of gaining anything from an Nepal insurance claim was low – if they even had insurance that was. Our previous police encounter had taught us that it was unlikely any of them would be able to speak English, and highly likely that it would involve hours of waiting around and getting absolutely nothing done. The minibus had more damage than we had, but it was still working, and at that point we couldn’t really care less if it wasn’t. Maybe we would have felt differently had we not just spent the last nine weeks playing a brutal game of top trumps for the “worst day of the trip so far”. We (slightly hysterically) explained the accident, and a shortened version of the above to a kind police lady who could speak very little. “No police” we told her, “we do not want police”. She understood this, smiled at us and let us on our way.
For the remainder of our journey, we were stopped every 10-20 miles by different police checkpoints. Every single time we were told that we needed to go with them to a police station to file a report about an accident that we had caused. Every single time we told them that we had not caused the accident, we had a video to prove so, and that we did not want to file a report. The police let us go, and we drove on until we were stopped again.
Finally, after what felt like the longest day ever, we arrived at Mr B’s – a beautiful little guest house in the middle of Bardia National Park. We connected to the WiFi and received a message from Mathieu – a fellow overlander that we had joined forces with during our tour of China. Here came the final blow of yet another terrible day.
Mathieu had just crossed into Thailand. Officially, foreigners are supposed to have a permit and guide when taking a foreign vehicle into Thailand (much like in China), however this law has rarely been enforced since it was put into place in 2016. There is very limited information available as to how one actually gets a permit/guide and not a single person we had spoken to or read about had ever successfully done it. Mathieu had arrived at the Thailand border a couple of days ago to be told things were changing – from the 1st November (i.e. yesterday), the border guards would be enforcing this law.
After a terrible day this was the last thing we needed to hear – not only was Nepal proving to be just as difficult as India had been, we were potentially now stuck. If we were unable to get into Thailand, we only had one option: to drive back through India, all the way across to Mumbai (over 1000 miles away) in order to ship the car out of the Indian Subcontinent. Driving further east would not be an option if we could not get into Thailand, and all routes west involved driving through either China (where a visa must be applied for from your home country) or Iran (where it is close to impossible for British travellers to get a visa for). There was only one thing we could do: get into bed and hope tomorrow would be a better day.