Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Bad luck. Or is it?

Almora, Uttaranchal, 31'110 km

The mood is bad for this entry. By the time I left Kathmandu, I was pretty keen to get back on the road and get some nice riding in the Himalayan hills of Uttaranchal and Himachal Pradesh. It turned out that instead of enjoying the spring in those valleys, I ended up stuck in the stifling heat of the pre-monsoon in a shit-hole of Uttaranchal's lower plains. My bike has failed on me again.

I had made some good time across the Terai to reach the border with India, completing my north-east to south-west crossing of Nepal. From Kathmandu that's 700 km under a scorching sun, the temperature hovering in the low 40's at mid-day. At that time North India (and Nepal's Terai) was suffering a heat wave that brings the temperature to 45 in Delhi and even 51 in Jaisalmeer! Not too bad though, as I was looking forward to gaining some altitude soon after crossing the border. My bike on the other hand started to behave a little strange when starting it up.. which cast dark memories of my earlier ride into North India last December. Hoping for just some bad temper due to the heat, I kept going quietly and crossed easily the ramshackle mess that is the border between Nepal and India. By then it was getting late and much cooler, as I was heading north right into the mountains. The road to Nainital (a hip hill resort) is very nice, windy with a very good blacktop, but the heavy traffic didn't really allow me to enjoy it very much. In fact, I was following this guy on a vespa and couldn't quite catch up with him, because he was recklessly passing truck and buses in the most risky places. Eventually there was a long stretch of straight road and I passed him easily - only to hear my engine suddenly die out of the next curve. I pulled over to the side of the road, and as I was cursing heavily on my bike, the vespa dude parked in the middle of the road and walked to me asking what was wrong. I told him my bike broke down, so he offered me the only help he could, handing out a tole of charas. It sure would have helped me, but it was certainly no cure for my engine.

I freewheeled it back into the next town down the hill (which happened to be Kathgodam, last train station before the mountains), checked into the first hotel I found and pulled out my multimeter: sure enough, the freaking ignition coil had broke - again. Now I was a bit devastated because I had it replaced by a reinforced one after it had happen twice before, in Siberia and in India last November. There must be some other reason for it to fail, and if I don't find out why it could happen again anytime. I can't have spare parts sent over every couple months at considerable expense. It's just ridiculous.

But in the mean time, I had no choice but to order the new part. I didn't want to have it FedEx'd to this lousy town, so the logical choice was Delhi, just like I did 6 months ago. But I had to do a round trip to Delhi, 300 km away, and all the trains until the end of June are fully booked. And I remembered the hassle at the DHL bureau last time, so I tried to be smart: there's this Swiss woman, Cecilia, riding a BMW and gone trekking while I was in Kathmandu. She's supposed to follow me a few days later, just about time for the package to arrive, so I asked her if she would bring it to me. It said it was fine, so I rushed the package so that she wouldn't have to wait for it. Meanwhile I took a bus and went to the hills to escape the miserable conditions in Kathgodam: it's hot, humid, noisy and polluted, the hotel room is shabby and expensive. In fact, everything seems to be double he normal price, while there is absolutely nothing to do there.

After all the wrecked buses I've seen in Nepal, I wasn't keen to take a ride, but apart from the (not much safer) shared jeeps, there's no other means of leaving the place. It turned out that the biggest danger was sitting between the window and a sick Indian.. First stop was in Nainital, the famous hill station. So famous indeed that it is crowded with thousands of noisy, stupid and arrogant upper-middle class Indian tourists (like every upper-middle class tourist in the world, that's the effect of globalization I guess). They're all pretty well off, showing by the size of the SUVs they're driving and the nice clothes their spoilt kids are wearing. All this inflates the price in ridiculous proportions, so I took my guide book and decided to leave for Kausani, a very quiet place, and then Almora. It is supposed to be touristy but fortunately, all the Israelis gathered in that place a little away to enjoy the influence of the locally grown plants. The town itself is therefore pretty nice and quiet, and at 1800m quite a bit cooler.

Meanwhile Cecilia sent me a message that she got the package but she would be 2 days late, and then finally that she would leave Kathmandu 1 week later than I thought! So I end up being stranded 2 weeks in the North India plains in June, certainly the last place you want to be in. The worse is that there's nothing I can do and I just have to wait. I went back to Nainital just to find a bookstore where I could buy a couple books to spend the next few days (of all things, the Lord of the Rings that I wanted to read again anyway). Because of the heat, the conditions in the high valleys of Himachal Pardesh were I was heading were just perfect, but now the rain is coming and the monsoon is looming not far away.. just what I wanted to avoid. If at least I can fix my bike and keep going!


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