Updated: Jun 4, 2020
But the seed is planted and over the summer an onslaught of images on social media show that India is a treasure trove of majestic landscapes. Still I’m not convinced. My sister Claire is visiting from Australia in September and I have The Beast in Donegal in August and I’m still tired after Exp Africa. And then on the 28th June I’m on facebook and a post pops up looking for two team members to join Team Adventure Life. Oooh, there’s a conflict raging in my mind for well, maybe a minute and then I’m tapping out a message of interest with a short resume and before I can catch my breath to question my audacity, I’m signed up and on my way to India. The team is assembled from all around the world. Jay in New Zealand, Mike in Switzerland, Zane from South Africa and me from Ireland and Kirsten our media guru. Communications consist of one skype video call and a lot of whatsapp messages. I’m happy though that we all seem to be on the same page as regards our ambitions and race outlook and as the race approaches I get more and more excited until finally my bike is in it’s box and all the bags are packed and I’m on my way to the airport for an early morning flight to India via Istanbul.
Monday, September 11th.
Delhi and Agra
Heidi and Stephan, the race organisers, promised that Expedition India would be an adventure from the moment we arrived in Delhi and this certainly proved to be no exaggeration. My flight landed at 04:30. Jay, Mike and I had arranged to join a bus tour to the Taj Mahal at 06:30. Zane would unfortunately be arriving too late so he was going to have to look after himself for the day. Terence, Adventure Life’s CEO and the event photographer, was deported a couple of days before we arrived because his visa was not in order so queuing up at the immigration desks, I was a bit anxious that I had the right forms printed out. I joined the wrong queue first of all. It’s a bit confusing and there’s nobody to give you direction and then when I was in the right queue, it was only by chance that I realised I had to fill out another form before I reached the desk. The line was moving really slowly and it took at least an hour before I was through. I couldn’t get the wifi to work, I had my bike box and two bags and I wasn’t too sure how I was going to find anybody so it was a great relief when I walked through the arrivals door and heard Jay calling my name. He had arrived an hour earlier and was waiting for me with Jose, one of the volunteers. There was some panic that we were going to miss the bus to the Taj Mahal that was collecting us at the Centaur hotel so with no time for niceties, we were quickly bundled onto the shuttle bus with our bikes and away we went.
The first thing I noticed in Delhi was how warm and muggy it was. Monsoon season was here but the rain was in short supply and the humidity made the air heavy and oppressive. The next was the traffic and the endless cacophony of car horns. Over eight million cars - more than in India’s three other major cities combined - jostle for space on Delhi's roads. Impatient drivers use all available lane space and instead of slowing down when turning or approaching another vehicle, drivers blast their horns to warn others of their presence. They also honk violently at motorbikes, scooters, pedestrians, children, dogs, cows and anyone else unfortunate enough to be slower than them. The noise pollution is overwhelming!
Jay and I met Mike, who had arrived a day earlier, in the foyer of the Centaur hotel and also Murray from team BSB rangers and having left our bikes and bags in a safe corner of the hotel we were soon on the bus with mostly race volunteers to the Taj Mahal. The bus journey to Agra took about 3 hours. It didn’t seem that long. I think I must have slept ! The Taj Mahal is magnificent. So perfectly symmetrical and intricately carved, it’s hard to comprehend that it ‘only’ took 22 years to finish. As with most things in India though, the beauty and grandeur of the Taj Mahal contrasts sharply with the lack of sanitation outside the palace, the fetid smell that hangs in the air in places and the multitude of beggars and cripples who line the streets of Agra. We also visited the Agra fort and a workshop to see how the precious stones are carved followed by lunch and the bus ride back to Delhi. To avoid the infamous Delhi Belly we only drank bottled water.
The Taj Mahal:
Photo: Terence Vrugtman
Outside Agra Fort:
When we arrived back at the Centaur hotel, we caught up with Zane and Team Adventure Life was finally complete!! Tomorrow we were flying 650 km to Srinagar so we had to put stickers on our bike boxes and sort out our flights. Jay was on an early morning flight with the rest of the team a bit later and when we left for our own hotel it still wasn’t entirely clear what was happening to the bike boxes ….
Tuesday, September 12th.
Srinagar, Dal Lake
We woke a couple of hours before we were due at the airport. Jay was gone. Then we got a message that 3 of our bikes were still at the Centaur hotel and needed to be at the airport. Following a speedy breakfast with a very nice cup of tea and an even speedier checkout, we grabbed a taxi from outside the hotel, strapped Mike’s bike box to the top and did the customary negotiations for the fee. When we got to the Centaur hotel our bikes and Murray’s were the last ones there so we loaded them on top of two taxis and drove the short distance to the airport. There was lots of confusion at the check in desk because all the bikes had to be weighed and the excess charges paid for and then the bikes had to be taken to the oversize luggage. By the time all this was done our flight was nearly ready to leave and it was a mad rush through security where I lost Mike and Zane because I had to go through the women's section and I didn’t have my boarding pass so the guard made me go back out and get it from my bag which was waiting to go through the scanner which was the other side of a barrier and it took me ages. So when I was done I couldn’t see Mike or Zane and I just sprinted to the plane but I got there before them because I was in my seat when they got on the plane looking for me! After an hour or so we arrived in Srinagar airport. It’s a military airport with lots of soldiers and guns and photography is strictly prohibited. We had to fill in more forms, load the bike boxes onto a big lorry and then clamber onto the buses which would take us to Dal Lake. During colonial times the English were not allowed to buy land so they bought boats to holiday in and these house boats would be where we would sleep for the night.
We were taken across the lake to our house boat that we were sharing with the French team, Vaucluse Aventures Evasions, in the local Shikara boats. Very cool
After some tea and eggs and another boat trip around the lake to see the lotus flowers we had to get ready for the official opening ceremony which was a very prestigious event with the Minister of Tourism for the area and the CEO of J&K Bank in attendance. There was also a performance by some local Kashmiri musicians which was a big hit with the teams
Wednesday, September 13th.
Leg 1: Dal Lake prologue
We woke early (5 a.m) as we had arranged for one of the Shikara boats to take us via the water canals to the local vegetable market. It was a bit of a drag getting up so early but well worth the trouble. We bought tea and spices and chocolate from the very entertaining and persistent salesmen who would pitch up in their boats next to us.
Then it was back to the houseboat for breakfast of eggs and toast and a trip back across the lake for the short uphill hike to the Shankaracharya Temple. The temple is at a height of 300m and overlooks the city of Srinagar. It is dedicated to Lord Shiva and parts of it date from 200BC. To enter the top temple, we had to remove our shoes and then we were given a blessing from the temple priest. No photography was allowed.