Thursday, January 17, 2008

Varanasi and beyond

So far, the most time we’ve spent in a given location has been approximately 24 hours, in Agra… and then we got to Varanasi, and spent almost an entire two days there! And Varanasi is a fascinating place, a Hindu cultural and religious center, but we had been planning on spending just a few hours there to see the people at the river-side Ghats… So, what happened? First, we had made plans to meet up with Tommy (the one remaining Chapati Chaser) in Varanasi, but his rickshaw continued to have an unimaginable litany of problems, so he ended up being delayed by half a day… But that didn’t actually slow us down, as by then we were already committed to spending an extra day in Varanasi as the Dave’s (Lott and Logan) were in no mood to just get out of bed, let alone get into a rickshaw, as they were recovering from food poisoning… Finally, on Tuesday (Jan 15), we seemed ready to go, but needed to go by a service station to finish some repairs on Tommy’s car, which was, of course, promised to be a quick operation, and ended up lasting from 9AM till 3PM! But, late Tuesday afternoon, we were finally set to go!

Our 'door'

So, what did Cyrus and I do in Varanasi, while not bed-ridden or struggling with a mal-functioning rickshaw? Well, aside from gazing at the spectacle of, I’m not sure what, that is Varanasi, we did a few productive things: bought a few blankets to make it a bit warmer in the rickshaws before reaching the Nepali mountains, I built a ‘door’ in ours, out of plastic and duct tape to shield against the wind a little better, and having learned our lesson from the day before, when Cyrus and Logan’s rickshaw died from a dirty sparkplug, I picked up a pair of spare spark plugs… Back to Tuesday: having left Varanasi, we had a rather reasonable goal of reaching the famous Buddhist shrine of Bodhgaya (where Buddhism originated). This was a fairly reasonable 250 km away, so we were well on our way, even with a late start… until about 7PM, when our rickshaw promptly died. Having now learned from the local mechanics that most rickshaw problems are caused by either the gas supply system or the spark plug, we didn’t waste any time in taking our old spark plug out, and replacing it with one of the spares. This worked great… for a couple of hours, when the rickshaw died again… This time we managed to verify that the fuel was, in fact getting delivered, the carburetor was spotlessly clean, the air filter was clean… and the spark plug? Well, we didn’t have to check that since we just replaced it, right? Having exhausted all the options we could think of (and watching Logan fall asleep in his rickshaw as the clock wound past midnight), we gave up and decided to simply tow the rickshaw to the next town and deal with it in the morning.

The hole in the piston!

In the morning, we first discovered some good news: there was an actual Bajaj dealership/service center just across the street from our hotel! Then we found some bad news: for all the things that are wrong with the state of Bihar, they have gotten some things right: 2 stroke rickshaws (like ours) are not sold in Bihar, which is great for the environment, but not so great for us, since this means our mechanic doesn’t generally deal with rickshaws like ours and doesn’t have a lot of spare parts for it available. And then, we found the really bad news: the reason our rickshaw had stopped running was that there now was a sizeable hole in our piston! Rewinding, it quickly became apparent that the spare spark plugs I had purchased did not fit our engine, and after pounding on the piston for about two hours, the spark plug had burst a hole in it… (Lesson learned: just because the guy at the shop swears that he knows what he’s doing and that the spark plug you had asked for will fit your engine, don’t believe him! Double check then! And triple check again, before actually installing the sparkplug!). On the bright side, we finally knew what the problem was and could start trying to solve it – the service center, of course, did not have the specific part we needed, but eventually found a similar one that fit, and over 4 hours and 1600 Rupees (~$50) later, our rickshaw was alive again! This, finally (finally!) allowed us to get back on the road, and by 5:30, we reached Bodhgaya.
The temple at night

This was largely the end of the adventure for the day, as we simply went sight-seeing visiting the famous temple, getting immersed in a sea of Buddhist monks from every corner of the universe that were there (I hear Buddha’s actual birthday is this week, so it must be an especially busy time). Thursday, with a three-rickshaw caravan fully intact once more, we were finally able to get an early start to the day (left at 6:15 AM) and head off towards Darjeeling and the Nepalese border!

As I’m typing this, the caravan is somewhere on the way to Darjeeling, I however, split off from them just before 1 in the afternoon in order to go to Dehli for a former co-worker’s wedding reception on Saturday (so I don’t really know how far they’ve gone, but I suspect I would’ve heard by now if something had gone seriously wrong). Sunday, fly back from Dehli to Darjeeling and meet back up with the crew! Currently, sitting in my hotel room in Patna, the capital of Bihar, and a wholly unremarkable city – will try to find some sights to see early tomorrow before catching a flight to Dehli in the evening, where I meet up with Michelle again, and we’re both off to the reception on Saturday, assuming everything goes to plan!


Lin said...

hey Dave/s, sorry to hear about the stomach trouble. If it's a case of traveler's diarrhea, I highly recommend getting your hands on some Ciprofloxacin. It's a miracle drug and will have your system cleared up in no time. It's also super cheap in India. Just write it down on a piece of paper and bring it to a drug store.

b mathew said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
b mathew said...

makes mental note for next time I go to the honda dealership* :-)

Great blogging btw, I'm thoroughly enjoying the updates. - good luck!