overland-underwater.com - A charity drive from the UK to New Zealand
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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

It's Christmas...!!!

Written by Alex Towns. Uploaded 4 March 2006.

India, Country 15, Diary entry 25th-28th Dec 2005, Total distance in India: 7064 KM

Deck the halls with boughs of holly, Fa la la la la, la la la la. Tis the season to be jolly, Fa la la la la, la la la la

Ho Ho Ho...

Christmas morning 2005. Unfortunately I think our night time manoeuvres had successfully thrown Father Christmas off our scent as even he hadn't managed to find us in Muzaffarhaga. I was just glad we were waking up in a relatively clean hotel rather than the hovel we first stopped off at - "That's disgusting" is all Martin said whilst inspecting the toilet! No matter, we had a fall back plan and a forwarding address in Delhi arranged where Maz & Martin's brothers were arriving in a few days time, both assuming the role of Santa's helper. Todays agenda was a leisurely breakfast then the last 100km or so to the Jim Corbett National Park to bag ourselves a tiger (on film of course!)

After meeting up with Martin we waited the customary hour for breakfast to arrive, I'm just glad none of these places are ever busy, before having a look at the damage on his car in the daylight. Although cosmetically pretty bad we all agreed the outcome could have been far worse and re-iterated to ourselves yet again not to drive at night. The bits of car we'd recovered for Martin were beyond repair and were relegated to the bin. But hey it was Christmas, so with a brave face on events we set off in earnest for the National Park.

Inspecting the damage to Martin's car

Roads in India we were quickly finding out are quite simply the worst so far out of the 15 countries we've visited to date. When there is tarmac, there are numerous pot holes and the strip in this area regularly shrinks down to a single lane and it's survival of the BIGGEST when negotiating on coming traffic. I'm extremely glad we fitted the extra air horn as it was getting a thorough work out. If the road surface itself wasn't challenging enough, the roads are the main thorough fair for anything and everything with wheels or legs to move from A to B. Dogs, people, buses, bicycles, trucks, jeeps, bullock carts, tractors, cars, elephants, camels, chickens, motorbikes, rickshaws (pedal & motor). I may have forgotten one or two but you get the picture.

Everything believes they have right of way no matter whether they are in front, behind, coming towards you, on the correct side of the road or joining from a side road. The result is complete chaos with horns sounding continually and makes for extremely stressful and tiresome driving as you simple don't know what anyone is going to do. We worked out if you prefixed "I want" before every move they made, it would give you some idea of the selfish and simply ignorant driving style that we encountered. "I want to overtake" so the truck coming the opposite direction would pull out right in front of you to overtake whatever was in front of them and not give a damn that you were there and he was actually heading straight for you in your own lane. Needless to say not only the horn but the brakes were getting a good work out too!

As we made precious little distance and time was ticking, the afternoon safari was looking less likely, but we might just catch the sunset. Avoiding one moron in the road I hit the brakes and thought I heard a familiar but bad sound coming from the wheel - bugger..! I tentatively tried the brakes again and sure enough there was a grating sound which normally means only one thing - the brake pads have worn through and are scraping on the discs! @rse. Pulling over and checking my fears were confirmed. On the left wheel the pads had simply disintegrated and the right wheel looked like following suite!

Now imagine the situation, just 6,000km ago we'd changed the pads for our spares in Iran (Martin had used his a little earlier). A little later in Pakistan I'd changed the front discs as they were down to some thing like 26mm (stamped on them was 'minimum thickness 32mm!') at no small expense. At the time Toyota correctly identified the pads were 'non-Toyota' and said they should be changed, but as I'd literally only just changed them I checked the remaining thickness for myself and as there was still plenty of pad left, kept them in. Although indeed non-Toyota, we'd bought them from a reputable 4x4 supplier in UK so wrongly assumed they'd be up for the job. Our last pair of Toyota pads did us a good 24,000km so we'd expected to get at least half that. We'd just left Land Cruiser friendly Pakistan and now in India had yet to spot a single Cruiser! To make matters worse, in only 2 days time Martin's brother was arriving with a pair of pads for each of us in his luggage to replenish our spares.

A few choice words were spoken. How stupid of us to be caught out like this. Had we had our spare pads which we normally both carry, it would have been a 30min job and then back on the road. As it was we weren't going anywhere. Metal on metal would apart from ruining the new discs, not be able to stop our 4 tonne Cruiser and undoubtedly overheat and lead to a wheel fire. We needed a plan B. Jumping into Martin's car we headed back to the last town we'd past, hoping beyond hope that they might just have something suitable!

The spectators gather

The first stop wasn't very helpful, so we moved onto a little car parts hut and examined his vast array of brake pads - all three..! None were even close, at first glance at any rate. The car had attracted the normal group of gawpers, but one gentleman asked us in good English if we needed any help. After explaining our predicament he confirmed our fears that we wouldn't get such a part outside of the big cities and Delhi was still a days drive away (about 200km..!!) Taking a second look at the pads on offer I saw two options.

Option 1 Take the big pair of pads the car hut had and weld them onto the warn out metal backs of the buggered pads. That would give a similar breaking area and use the original mounting attachments of the old pad.

Option 2 Take the smaller pads, which already used a similar pin system to the Cruiser pads to mount them in the calliper. The problem here was that they were about 2cm too short, so only one pin would locate. There was also excess surrounding the pad which would need to be removed to give a similar shape to the Cruiser pads to then fit correctly in the mountings.

Pretty drastic! Before jumping in I wanted to make sure that the three pads on offer were all that was available in town. Our new friend offered to run me around on his motorbike and I'd soon seen for myself that this was it. On the way back we popped off into his office. He ran a language school to teach English, which is why he spoke such good English. We then picked up a pupil of his and I was treated to 3 on a bike! How many you can fit on a motorbike is a popular past time in these parts and we'd devised two categories. 1) overall numbers 2) total mass. So far the scores on the doors were:

Overall numbers: 6 broken down into 2 adults and 4 children Total mass: 4 adults

Time to make some brake pads. I'd opted for option 2, so first stop was to weld an extra bit of metal on the side of the small pads. Supervising as best I could, we visited the welder, a small shack with an oxy-acetylene torch. The first bit of metal he selected was far too thin, so with no common language I stopped him and insisted it needed to be thicker. After much ferreting about, a suitable bit of scrap was found about 7mm thick. Intrigued as to how they were going to cut it as there were no saws, out came a big mallet and chisel and he literally hammered his way through the steel - not the most precision engineering!

Sense would then suggest welding the bit on first before lining it up to drill the hole for the pin in the right place, but no not here. Out came a centre punch and the guy proceeded to whack it through the metal, which was doing little but misshaping it! I managed to stop him and suggested a drill would be better so the guy disappeared off to find a drill - or hammer the centre punch through out of sight. Next came the welding and given the 'workshop' he made a pretty good job of it. Of course when it came to measure it up against the remains of the old pad the holes weren't even close. After a bit of realigning the second attempt was passable so on with the second task of reshaping.

Fortunately we managed to find a workshop with an electric grinder so I set about re-modelling the new pads to at least resemble the required shape. After much grinding we headed back to the car parts hut clutching a brand new pair of Land Cruiser brake pads.. 'Made in India!' Martin was sat waiting with his feet up reading a book ignoring the gawpers who were still fascinated by his every turn of the page. We'd already taken Martin's brakes to pieces, which hadn't quite disintegrated but wouldn't last many more miles, so that we could try the newly made ones for size. They fitted perfectly!

Brake pads 'Made in India'

Whilst reassembling his brakes the English teacher arrived with tea for us, which was most kind as we'd gone the whole day since leaving Muzaffarhaga with no food or drink. Trying not to stare, I caught a glance at Martin who had noticed it too. The chap appeared to have painted his head black..!!?!? Now it wasn't as if he'd just dyed his hair or anything, he had a perfect painted fringe about an inch lower than his actual hair line and followed round his head like the hair piece of a lego man. If only I could have subtly taken a quick photo!

It was getting dark now, so with Martin's wheel back on we returned to Tinfish. Maz had been patiently waiting and although we'd given her the occasional update by text she'd been looked after by the guys running the cafe next to where we'd parked up. With head torch on I fitted the new pads, pumped the brakes and put the wheel back on. Time for a test drive - it worked, although it would be slow going as Tinfish wasn't going to 'Stop on a 6 pence.' What to do now? We were in the middle of nowhere, obviously the tigers were going to have to wait for another day, priority was to get to Delhi.

Although we keep saying don't drive at night, it is sometimes simply unavoidable. The next main town was about 40km away so we agreed to nurse the car there for the night. It was slow process but eventually after a few hours driving we arrived at Moradabad. We headed towards the railway station assuming that was as good as any place to find a hotel and after checking out a number of slums claiming to be hotels, found a fairly decent bed for the night and Maz negotiated a good rate. Absolutely knackered and desperate for a beer we searched out a restaurant and before long we were all tucking into an exceptional Christmas curry dinner with Kingfisher all round, the perfect end to an otherwise unforgettable Christmas Day!

A well earned beer

Everybody drives on Boxing Day, so after negotiating the thick chaotic traffic of Moradabad and getting a wee battle scar from a cycle rickshaw, we left for Delhi. The roads were the normal throng of man, beast and machine which made for some skilful driving as our new pads weren't exactly screeching us to a halt, so some expert horn blowing was called for. The 150 odd km to Delhi took most of the day. Surprisingly just outside of Delhi, we joined a dual carriageway which was devoid of all other traffic, if only we could go faster than the 50kph which we were restricting ourselves to.

On arrival on the outskirts of Delhi we were greeted by a flock of huge eagles circling the biggest pile/mountain of rubbish we'd ever seen. Travellers we'd met in Amritsar had told us that they couldn't wait to leave Delhi, so we were somewhat apprehensive by the sight. First objective was to find accommodation and following the advice of the ever trustful Lonely Planet we headed to the Tibetan quarter of town. Although there was a very welcoming feel to the place, it failed on two counts - no parking and no rooms! Into downtown Delhi and Connaught Place, but rooms here were expensive and still no parking.

Time for Maz to work her magic! At the YMCA Maz suggested we could park in their car park and set up camp for a few nights. (YMCA) "Oh no madam" (Maz) "Why not?" hesitation, (YMCA) "We've never done that before" - chink in the armour - much pleading - (YMCA) "You'll have to ask security" So round to security to ask the same question, but were bounced back to the manager. The chap at reception wasn't actually the manager, the manager had left already. Sensing defeat, but being persistent (Maz) "Well, please can you call the manager" and to all our surprise he did!

Maz explained to the manager over the phone what we were doing and why we wanted to camp then handed the phone back to the chap at reception. After a couple of dozen "Yes Sir", the receptionist hung up then said we could camp so long as we put it in writing to the secretary..!?!? A quick letter later, we were heading out for food after setting up camp in the YMCA car park - result..!

Normally when on holiday we couldn't understand why tourist go to western restaurants when they should be enjoying the local delicacies. Tonight however we made a bee line straight for western food - get it while you can! Well actually Mexican done in Tex Mex stylie with the waiters dressed up in suitably naff costumes to boot. Copious beers, nachos, beef fajitas and enchiladas later we rolled back to camp with the next day planned at Toyota for a few running repairs.

Waking in the morning we poked our heads out of the tents to be greeted by a load of people gathering on the grass in front of us for some kind of yoga class, although most were paying more attention to us rather than their instructor. A quick call round the nearest Toyota garages confirmed our suspicions that Land Cruisers were far from common in India. One garage told us that it would take two days just to get a delivery date! When pressed for an estimate they said it normally takes 4-6 weeks to ship from Japan..! Great..!!

Martin asks for a touch up paint job

Talking over the phone about these things is never easy, so we decided to head for the main Toyota garage and talk to someone face to face. We found it without too much trouble and I asked to speak to the service manager. After explaining what we were up to and our predicament Mr Pandita of Galaxy Toyota said they would do everything possible to locate our brake pads and look after us as best they could. Before long both cars were in the service workshop and being stripped down as we'd both opted for new front pads and skimmed discs as the non-Toyota pads had badly scored the discs on both cars.

After a bit of excitement as they didn't have the correct tool to undo the bearing nut and Martin wasn't aware it's pretty common practice to just tap it off with a hammer and chisel, the technicians and twenty onlookers were making good progress. We kept asking for news on the pads and in true Indian style they were coming, but apart from that no one could give any further details. Time ticked on and we'd resigned ourselves to another day at the hands of Toyota. Progress slowed but the number of onlookers increased. There was another moment of excitement when Tinfish bent and broke the hydraulic trolley jack whilst they were trying to place the axle stands, these are heavy beasts!

Lunch at Toyota

Martin's first disc went off for skimming and then they started on mine. If only I had a camera when they pulled out the make shift brake pads! "NON TOYOTA..!!!" - no made in India! It caused much commotion and everyone, his dog and best friend came for a look and a laugh. Trying to keep momentum we continued to remind the technicians they were supposed to be working on the cars as we needed them fixed today as we were doing a taxi run to the airport tomorrow. Just when time looked like defeating us a chap finally turned up with two pairs of genuine Toyota brake pads - hooray. The race was on to finish before knocking off time.

Discs skimmed, a few worn bearings replaced, re-greased, reassembled, spanking new pads in place, a quick dab of paint with a rag on Martin's exposed metal battle scars, an oil change for Tinfish, tyres rotated and all that was needed was a test drive and car wash. Both cars passed the test drive and got a good washing down, but on backing Tinfish off the car wash there was a horrible scraping noise coming from a rear wheel. Wheel quickly off and a bit of metal had been accidentally bent so that it caught and rubbed in reverse. It was soon tapped back into place, so about an hour after closing both cars were passed fit and ready to continue their journey. A BIG thanks goes to the guys at Galaxy Toyota who pulled out all the stops. Lessons learned by the team always use genuine Toyota brake parts and keep spares..!!

The team who pulled out the stops

With our stop on a dime brakes put straight into service we got back to our camp at the YMCA and headed out for food - hmmm what do we fancy tonight.. Chinese. After another beer n fud extravaganza we noticed they were putting big stage lights up in the restaurant. On leaving we were confronted by an entire film crew setting up outside and waiting patiently for the last people (us) to leave the restaurant before they could start filming some Bollywood movie. There was quite a gathering. We didn't hang around as it was already late and tomorrow we had some new passengers arriving, Damien and Richard.

In the morning we repacked then repacked the cars again to make a tiny bit of space for the brothers, although I was still unsure where everything would go. We then bade farewell to the YMCA as we'd decided it was a little unfair for the brothers to spend their first night in India in a car park and set off for the airport. With no signs at all, we were thankful for the GPS until the first sign appeared at about the same time as you could see the planes landing. They then directed you about four times around the airport until we eventually arrived at the car park.

Walking up to the international terminal, there was a familiar face trying to take stock of his new surroundings. Maz's brother Damien our Santa's helper had arrived with bags of pressies and supplies from home - Yippee. It was great to see him and with an hour or two to wait until Richard's flight landed we went back to the cafe by the car park for breakfast, curry of course - welcome to India!

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Comment from Ant
that toilet must have been disgusting to repel Martin, i saw the bathroom in the Uni digs...!

hang on - bodged car servicing, dodgy driving scratches and scrapes, curry for breakfast - it's university days all over again!!!

btw, 10 weeks behind again ... ;o)
06 Mar 2006 @ 15:54:44