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Final Statistics: Alex & Maz Total distance: 93,550km
Furthest Point: Rotorua, NZ Now settled in Sydney, Australia
Final Statistics: Martin Total distance: 79,698km
Furthest Point: Hobart, Australia Now settled in Bristol, UK

Accidental TV star, again

Written by Martin Pitwood. Uploaded 5 April 2006.

India, Country 15, Diary entry 7th-11th Feb 2006, Total distance in India: 7133km

The bathing ghats at VaranasiAfter witnessing the bizarre spectacle of two people physically fighting over ownership of a cowpat left in the middle of a city street, I got on the road once more heading towards my final sight in India - Varanasi. One goes here to see the River Ganges and all the most devoted Hindus ritually bathing, but I had been advised by Alex and Maz by email that the place was "capital shitepur" so the plan wasn't to stay long.

Anyone fancy a dip?It took me several hours to drive from Lucknow to Varanasi and I managed to get to the railway station on the outskirts of the city without getting too lost. By now I could recognise a few Hindi characters so I could follow signs like "the word that starts with something that looks a bit like a P" or whatever. Actually Varanasi looks like it starts with a "dIK" so that was easy to remember. The hotel Alex and Maz had recommended was very close to here but unfortunately full, so I chose another guest house mentioned on another overlander's website purely because I'd copied the GPS location and I knew they had a courtyard to park in. This is where I discovered the limits of my navigational skills, because despite having the GPS location to home in on, plus two street maps in my road atlas and Lonely Planet, I managed to get myself into a maze of ever-narrowing streets eventually becoming too narrow for my Land Cruiser to pass. A good reason they don't eat beefNot blessed with the greatest of common sense, the bicycle rickshaw drivers were piling their machines up behind me trying to get past but at the same time stopping me from reversing out. I tried reasoning with them, suggesting that if they move out of my way I can move out of theirs, but this fell on deaf ears. Getting quite frustrated at this stage, only one solution remained: reverse anyway and if they don't move then they get run over. It mostly worked and I only acquired a few new scratches on my paintwork but finally I was free. I back-tracked to the wider roads, decided to pay more attention to staying on the roads which had other large vehicles on them (some of which were not too much wider than the one I'd got stuck on) and finally homed in on the guest house. Things were looking up - the room was clean, cheap and secure, but it had taken me about 2 hours to get here from the railway station.

Who said cows can't walk down stairs?My experiences of Varanasi were similar to those reported by Alex and Maz so though I spent three nights there I didn't explore too much. I took the obligatory walk along the bathing ghats to see the turds floating by in the water and fight off the touts wanting to sell me boat rides (the idea of sitting in a rickety boat mere inches from that water did not appeal) and watched the cremations at the burning ghats which was quite an experience. I don't believe I had ever seen a real dead human body before but here they were just carrying them through the streets on brightly decorated stretchers making lots of noise down to the cremation area before setting them on fire. Quite different to how the death business works at home! Most of the rest of my time in Varanasi was spent trying to recover from the stomach bug I'd picked up before Khajuraho which was still lingering. I did a bit of internet and ate plainer food, even finding a western-run café where I could have a jacket potato with cheese and coleslaw - wonderful!

Leaving Varanasi was not quite such an ordeal as entering but still took me about an hour and a half to leave the city limits, my destination being Patna. The road from Lucknow to Varanasi had not been too bad, I could average about 50km/h, but unfortunately the road to Patna got worse and worse as I drove along it. For most of the way there were large potholes to dodge, then that turned into broken tarmac, then the road disappeared completely leaving a dirt road which hadn't coped with the large number of lorries too well and once again my suspension and my fillings were tested to the limit. I'd set off early from Varanasi but arriving at Patna I'd clocked up my worst day's driving of the entire trip to date - 250km covered in 9 hours without stops.

Pranav's villa on the GangesTo add insult to injury, my efforts to find a hotel in Patna were thwarted by the arrival of 20,000 youths in town for some big youth festival that was about to start the next day. The YHA was full, all the other budget hotels were full, the best I could find was one hotel that was prepared to suffer my presence for 800 rupees (3-4x normal budget hotel price) but I'd have to check out at 6am! Thanks for that. Patna is in the Bihar district of India and this region is infamous for its bandits so bush camping was not a sensible option, so I didn't know what to do, so I ate. I hadn't stopped for food all day so I decided that stopping at a restaurant would take priority and give me a chance to mull things over. I had tandoori chicken and mushroom masala which was very tasty and lifted my spirits, and when I came out to the car I found some very interested people examining the Land Cruiser.

It turned out that they were all friends who enjoy doing car rallies and had travelled extensively around northern India and Nepal in their own vehicles. We had a chat about the route our expedition is taking and then one of them asked me where I was staying the night. I explained my predicament and they said there was no problem, they had a spare apartment I could use for the night!!

The Ganges from Pranav's villaPranav was the kind owner of the apartment, which was in a block next to his riverside villa, from which he runs his TV production company. Not only did he offer me the apartment and secure parking for the night but he wanted to interview me for his TV programme "Millennium Mantras" which is shown on one of India's national TV channels at primetime one night a week! Of course I was happy to spread the word of our expedition and particularly encourage the Indian viewers to support the work of Care International in India and abroad even despite my aversion to video cameras. Pranav's villa has a beautiful garden overlooking the Ganges (don't look too closely though) and with flowerbeds and even his own Hindu temple, so the next morning we set up the cameras in the garden for the interview. Later Pranav showed me round his editing suite with all the latest digital equipment for the editing, but since the cameras were still analogue (they are very expensive to replace so most pro outfits are still using analogue) he was unable to make a copy of the interview for me on the spot, but has promised to send me a copy through the post. Once we receive it we'll make it available on the website!

The temple in Pranav's garden!One of the other guys I'd met was called Devesh and he was keen to show me his workplace; he works for the Bihar State Aids Control Society which is responsible for Aids awareness and education in the state of Bihar. He was very busy in the run-up to the youth festival where he would be running a stand to promote awareness of the disease and also conducting confidential Aids testing for those who wanted, but he said that actually many of the youths were better educated about the disease than the older people and the biggest problem they had to face was with migrant workers. Bihar is a very poor state so many of the men will travel to other parts of India for work and bring the disease back with them and pass it on to their families, and also being centrally located between Delhi and Calcutta there are a lot of truck drivers passing through. As we passed through the town Devesh pointed out to me many billboards promoting Aids awareness; all of these came from his office.

My visit to Patna had to be cut short at this point because I'd arranged to meet Alex and Maz on the outskirts of the city - the first time we'd seen each other in something like six weeks - ready for our final day's driving north out of India. After over seven weeks in India we'd all had such a mix of experiences. I was glad that I had met some more nice people in my final city of India to leave a good final impression of the country, but I was eager to move on to country 16 - Nepal.

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Comment from Ant
LOL - and I always thought you had a face for radio..!

;-)

can't wait to see it!
05 Apr 2006 @ 14:41:03

Comment from Hamid Omar
Dear Alex, Maz & Martin,

Have been following your diary - you people are still waayyy behind - do write a paragraph about where you are - you all can fill in the details later on - (time-wise Pakistan - so we say we are cominng in 10 mts - that could mean mts/hrsor 100 years! - what ever that means!) LOVE from all of here!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1

HO
05 Apr 2006 @ 18:07:16

Comment from Scooter & family
Hi guys, hope China is more fun than India seems to have been, great pics however, keep it coming.
08 Apr 2006 @ 12:40:46