Day 104 – Moradabad to Chisapani (287 km)
India to Nepal
It is always exciting to wake up knowing that you’ll be arriving in a new country later that day. Without even stopping for breakfast, we loaded up the bikes, where we discovered that perhaps it hadn’t been the wisest of moves to park the bikes under a mango tree in full blossom, as the rain and nectar had covered our bikes, leaving them quite sticky to sit on. With over 200 km still to drive, as well as a border crossing, we were keen to get going, and we had soon left Moradabad behind us.
The signs of regular rainfall were all around us, with fertile fields on every side, the land seemingly bursting with a fecund frenzy. Wide, brightly coloured trucks continued to make overtaking a hazard, as well as the usual selection of erstwhile animals braving the roads, the water buffalos looking like a squat, lumpy parody of a cow sculpted from dark clay, and pigs making a comeback, having been last seen by us in Zambia. It seemed amazing that of all the countries to have past through, it was India, “the world’s largest democracy” (as the billboards lining the roads proudly proclaimed), that we had whizzed through in just a few days. We had skirted North around most of the madness of the big cities, yet even so, its colourful, chaotic, capriciously contradictory nature could not be hidden. As we covered the last few kilometres to the border, it was with some sadness that we passed on our way, knowing that we had barely scratched the surface of all that India has to offer.
We arrived at the border town and filled up with petrol, but ran into some problems trying to find the actual border itself. We took the turnoff that was signposted as the border, but were soon driving along a barely paved section of road that meandered off into the woods. We turned around and asked for directions, but we were pointed back the way we came. Somewhat bemused, we returned to the path, which soon took us through the gates of a school. Yet amazingly, this was actually still the correct route, and soon we were driving along a canal towards a massive line of horse drawn carts leading across a dam wall. We snuck into the queue and drove along squeezed between hordes of people also making their way to the border post on the other side of the dam. Things did not bode well for a quick crossing, as there must have been hundreds of people making the crossing.
On the other side, we soon discovered an amazing fact: India and Nepal have an open border, and no-one even needs to have a passport to cross, at least we never saw any of the other travellers producing any paper-work. We, however, had no such concession, and we were directed to a small office, where a friendly customs agent joked with us while his silent partner took down our bike details. The whole process, including immigrations, took about an hour, and with a final round of tea, we jumped on the bikes, and made for our next destination: Nepal.
Across the border, we ended up driving right past the immigrations office, and only a frantically waving man chasing after us stopped us from driving off into the distance. We back tracked to the customs kiosk (office is really too grand a word for the setup they had), and handed over our passports for inspection. This seemed to take an inordinate amount of time for a simple stamp, and as we waited, clouds that had been building on the horizon for the last couple of hours began to issue gentle warnings of impending drenchings. After about half an hour, we were free to go on to customs, where we encountered a serious problem. Carnets are issued with ten pages in them, and we have now used eight of them. We know for a fact that Malaysia and Singapore require a page each, which means that we have none to spare. Our research had indicated that Nepal did not require one, but it appears that the customs officials hadn’t read the memo. After some worried discussions, we came up with a surprisingly easy option: they would be willing to let us through using a photocopy of one of the blank pages. I doubt this would have passed muster in most of the countries that we have been through, but considering how little traffic this border post gets, these guys were willing to roll with it. And so with our dodgy photocopies on hand, we were free to go.
As always, the change in scenery seemed to be stark and immediate. Although we had had trees lining the road on the Indian side, now we were entering true forests. The very air seemed perfumed as if the earlier showers had rained down peach nectar instead of mere water. The road itself had been raised a few metres above the ground on either side, which meant that when we drove through the occasional clearings, we were treated to stunning vistas on either side. The road itself lead parallel to a range of mountains to the North, and the whole area is very sparsely populated. We passed the occasional settlement, but these seemed merely carved from the edge of the forest, which stretched off behind the houses as far as the eyes could see, probably all the way to the distant slopes. The road surfaces were pretty good, and we managed to make fantastic time, especially compared to the traffic on the Indian roads, which would have made even Stephen Hawking in his motorized wheelchair lose his cool.
It was riding along in this glorious setting that we had our closest call to date. Shan had been overtaking a truck at about 80 km/h, and due to the most unfortunate of positioning, she and the young woman riding her bicycle across the road completely failed to see each other, and so as she passed the truck, she took out the front wheel of the bike, and sent the women sprawling on the road. I was driving behind her and saw it all. We slammed on breaks and went back to see if the woman was alright. By the time we got there, she was back on her feet, and seemed in a bit of shock. We asked if she was ok, but her English didn’t seem to be able to handle that, and she just shook her head. We weren’t sure if this meant “No, I’m fine”, or “I’m about to kick your ass”. By this time a decent sized crowd (or perhaps mob) had come running from some of the nearby houses. After a few words with the lady, they told us that she was fine, and we were free to go. We would have liked to be of assistance, but with no real way of communicating, we took her at her word, and headed on our way.
A bit shaken up by how close that had been (if Shan had been half a second later, she would have smashed straight into the girl herself), we started to look for a place to stop for the night. After another hour or so of riding, we came to a small town situated right by a huge river, with a massive suspension bridge arching high above the water below. The town itself was tiny, and the choice of hotels was one of four, all next to each other. We pulled up to one of them, and after checking out the admittedly Spartan room, unloaded our stuff. I took a quick walk down to the bridge. The setting was like something out of a movie, towering mountains on either side, children playing in the clear water down below, and the sun painting the skies in pinks and oranges. Many of the locals were also out enjoying the evening air, and when Dad joined me, we were soon tailed by a group of fascinated children, with just enough English to know how to ask for money, but not, it seems, enough to understand the word “no”.
Supper was Dal Wat, which we found out later is a staple in Nepal, often eaten for breakfast and lunch, and consisting of rice, a lentil soup as a sauce, some curried vegetables, usually potato and cauliflower and, in this case, given our location next to the river, some spicy fried fish. By the time we finished our meal, it was completely dark, and with the nightlife of the town largely comprised of bats, we called in for an early night.