A story of knowing when to just go with the flow.
I always get fed up with the UK winter and thought that this year I would make an effort to get out another riding trip in a more favourable climate. So when a friend said that they were thinking about organising an off road trip down the Ho Chi Minh Trail I jump at it. First 2 weeks in March perfect. Then Alex from Nomadic Knights dropped me an e-mail announcing he would be running the ‘India’s Lost World’ trip again and asked if I fancied it? To my dismay I found the 2 trips would just overlap. After studying a map and a calendar I reckon I could possibly do both and only miss the first day’s riding on Alex’s trip. The distance from the airport I would finish my first trip in Vietnam to Guwahati in India, the airport the 2nd trip started from was not that far or so I thought? So the plan was hatched.
But to get from Vietnam to India would turn into a 4 flight journey seeing me going all the way back to Abu Dhabi via Bangkok then on to Delhi before finally arriving in Guwahati, the capital of Assam. So I checked in at Vietnam and found a very efficient and helpful check in desk who asked for my final destination, I explained my trip expecting that I would have to collect my bags at every transfer, but to my surprise I was assured I could check in my bags all the way to Delhi and just collect them for the final internal flight. Well that sounded great if not a little worrying as some of my connections were a little tight. But with my bag checked in and happy with the documentation, off I went.
I have been on a few trips now but never completely on my own. This is not too big a deal other than you have no one to agree or check with that you are in the right place at the right time. Well the trip was going fine, the transfers were timed perfectly, Vientiane in Vietnam to Bangkok, then on to Abu Dhabi and out to Delhi perfect or so I thought. I listened very carefully to which bag carousel I should be collecting my bag from in Delhi and made my way there and waited… sure enough others from my flight turned up, the bags kept coming and people were collecting them, but still no sight of mine then the carousel stopped and I was on my own with no bag.
So I looked around and finally found a man that seemed to understand the situation, he took me to a desk where forms were filled and details taken which was all well and good if you were just going on holiday, but my bag was a central part of my trip, no biking gear… no biking. So I had to make the decision to either stay in Delhi and wait for my bag or continue to Guwahati and hope my bag would catch up with me. I opted to continue as I’d paid for the flight. This had now eaten into my time between flights. And time was now a little short, so I asked how to get to the terminal for the Guwahati flight, I was directed to a bus stop, this was unexpected. Thankfully having some rupees left from a previous trip I decided to grab the bus and wait to exchange some dollars for rupees until Guwahati. So with a ticket purchased I boarded the bus which even displayed the correct terminal destination.
We set off into the Delhi traffic, I was struggling to get to grips with the time zones I had crossed, and I was anxiously trying to work out how long it was before my next flight left and whether my bus trip would be finished by then? I figured I would just be okay and started to relax, the bus had now turned onto a bus lane and we were making good progress. I stood at the front so I could get a decent view, I started feeling good looking out at what we would normally call the madness of India when I could see a truck coming against the flow of traffic and in the bus lane, well this is near normal in India so I started to try to work how this would be worked out between the bus and truck.
The bus driver did not seem overly concerned and did not change speed or position and neither did the truck driver. I took a good look at our driver only to realise he was on his phone so I shouted at him, but he just turned and looked at me. He must have then seen the terror on my face and at the last minute looked ahead and seeing our impending doom, he swerved and braked hard but it was too late, we crashed and the bus lost a front wheel and for those not holding on tight it was quite a shock. So I disembarked, luckily now with just my hand luggage so I opted to continue to try and make my next flight. A passing van stopped and the driver gestured for me to get in. With things going as they were I thought this was a bold decision to make but given the options it seemed like a no-brainer. Five minutes later I am at the check in desk, on time and all checked in. All I had to do now was work out what to do when I arrived in Guwahati.
My intended plan was to meet the taxi that Alex had arranged through Lovely, Alex’s right hand man, and that would take me on the 4-5 hour journey to catch up with them. But since I have no riding gear I knew that wasn’t an option and I needed to find a hotel for at least the night and try and contact Alex. We landed and since I had no bag to collect I thought I would have time to get some money changed and get a much needed SIM card as UK phones don’t work in Assam. With only one place to get currency, I asked to change 300 dollars which would see me right. Only to be told the most I could have was 70 dollars changed due to the new rules or that’s what I was told. So with my cash I left to try and find my taxi. Well walking out into the heat and light I was met by some 50 taxis all waving but I could not see one with a name board with my name on as planned. I walked around for 10 minutes until the reality sunk in, this was yet another hurdle to tackle. I looked around to pick one of the many taxi drivers, when one grabbed my eye, he had his arms folded talking to another man but in his hand I could see a piece of paper. For some reason I just knew he was my man, I walked across to him and pointed to the paper, which he then unrolled… bingo it had my name on it. So now all I had to do was explain to him we were not off all the way to meet the group only to a hotel nearby to wait whilst my bag turned up. How hard could this be? His English was equal to my Indian, but after lots of pointing and hand waving I finally got him to take me to the only address I had which is where the group had set off from on their first day with a hope that they had both a room and someone that could speak English.
On the trip to the hotel I thought I would collect some bits like toothpaste and a phone charger and try for a SIM card. Stopping at a market a charger and toiletries were bought but the SIM card seemed like I was asking for the impossible. After trying 4-5 places I found a big phone shop with a guy who could speak English who explained that the SIM card thing was not going to happen, or not for a minimum of 48 hours anyway. So we left without a SIM and finally arrived at the hotel and luckily they had a room which was perfect.
However I still needed a phone to contact people and be contacted about the whereabouts of my bag. I’m not sure how it came about other than sheer desperation, but I asked for my taxi driver’s phone… which he passed to me I removed his SIM card and asked to borrow it and he seemed ok with that. He did as it turned out have two phones which is not unusual it seems in Assam. I asked him to put his second phone number in my now working phone, so I now had his number so I could call him to take me for my bag when it arrived. Where else in the world could you get into a taxi and take the man’s SIM card and keep it?
So I grabbed a bit of food and a beer and turned in early, it had been quite a day. I was just falling asleep when the room phone rang, I answered, still more asleep than awake. It was the front desk making sure I was ok and if I wanted breakfast in the morning. I agreed I was and I was then asked what I wanted, I said just some toast and a couple of fried eggs. To that there was no immediate answer, so I repeated myself, twice. The man on the other end of the phone said “toast and fried eggs” I said yes that would be fine. Again he just said “fried eggs” I said yes that will be fine and put the phone down.
I am always up early and like a good coffee in the morning but that is rarely found in India so I always have to hand a few proper Yorkshire tea bags, so I went in pursuit of some hot water. This was found in the kitchen area without too much fuss.
I found myself a nice seat and table and waited for my toast and fried eggs to join me. A few minutes passed and the guy turned up with a tray, on it were three plates covered in tinfoil. You know at Christmas when you get presents in front of the tree you try to work out what it could be, well I looked at the foil covered plates in the same way. I could not spot which one would be the eggs, so I did the uncovering of what I thought would be the toast, then on to the next two bowls. The first bowl revealed a banana so the second bowl must be my fried eggs, so I removed the foil and there they were, two boiled then lightly spiced deep fat fried eggs! WTF could I say or do? Just as I had asked? I just burst out laughing and put some day-glow jam on my toast, this was not what I had hoped for, I peeled and ate my banana but I was left unfulfilled, so I took an egg and cut it in two with my jam covered knife, it did not look all that good but I thought well I will give it a go. It was not that bad at all, in fact I added more jam to the second one! I sat and pondered whether I should have taken them to task over the eggs but thought just roll with it and the thought of the next person who ordered a fried egg… or was I that next person? And are there others out there with exactly the same tale?
It all ended well, my bag turned up and I met up with the rest of the group a day later than planned. I got to the hotel in Tezpur to be met by Alex who had not received any of my messages and what had happened… he just laughed and said “welcome to India… you do know what it’s like here”.
PAUL’S ADVENTURE TIP
Always keep the tea bags* in your hand luggage. *Yorkshire tea preferably.
ABOUT ‘ADVENTURER’S TALES’
A compilation of recollections in celebration of 10 years of Adventure Ashram, ‘Adventurer’s Tales’ is a true celebration of a decade of purposeful adventure by our charity partner Adventure Ashram, a small but mighty charity.
Complete with some great adventure tips, it not only provides handy pointers for when out ‘on the road’, but also some thought-provoking insights into the heart and spirit of adventure. Written with humour, passion and integrity, this wonderful book is a fine tribute to 10 years of Adventure Ashram. Click here to buy a copy.
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