September 23rd, we started out on an adventure of a lifetime - one we will never forget! We had a deadline--to cross the border of Nepal by the 2nd of October. We had nine days to make it! - From Bombay to Calcutta to Nepal!
We soon realized just how vast the distances were, and how unpredictable the road conditions were--every minute of sunlight was needed to drive. That first week was a crash course in driving and surviving on the road in some very remote areas of central India. It took us almost six weeks to cover over 6,000 miles in an exciting and unforgettable experience!
Our adventure begins!
DAD: Best and safest driver we know, Protector and Faithful Guardian Mechanic, Dhaba Inspector and Food Quality Control Expert!
DAVID: Co-pilot, Dad's second pair of eyes, Navigator, Right Hand Man, Night Watchman and Protector of the Van, our Live Comic Strip (Entertainment Department) Hotel Check Out Expert.
AND … Mom, Solomon, Bonita, Maria, Amaris, Leilani: Great Team Players, Moral Supporters, Prayer Warriors, Log Keepers, Photo Takers!
CHAPTER ONE: NEPAL OR BUST!
Behold, I will send an angel before thee, to keep thee in the way. (Exodus 23:20)
Adventure of a lifetime: Well to tell you about the adventures we've had over the last six weeks, it would take a small book to describe all that happened so I'll just recount the high lights. The Lord was with us all the way and when we didn't know where to go or what to do, He was always there to see us through. “I will send an Angel before you to keep you in the ay and bring you into the place I have prepared for you.” That was the promise He gave us before we started our trip and we held on to that through the rough spots.
DEADLINE: We had a deadline to meet, that of crossing the border by the 2nd of October. We started a little bit later than we had intended, leaving Bombay on the 23rd of September. We soon realized just how vast the distances were on that first leg of our journey, how the road conditions dictated our progress and time, and how very unpredictable they were. Road blockages of one kind or another often impeded our progress causing delays.
We found out that the fancy travel book we brought which had lots of beautiful photos of India only mentioned the highlights of the areas we were traveling through. The important details we needed at the time were missing, such as information on the smaller cities and towns and hotels, etc. I guess not too many tourists venture out to these areas where we were traveling through and I'm sure if we didn't look like aliens from an alien planet, we sure felt like it! Ha!
Well, that first week was a crash course in how to live and survive on the road in some very remote areas of central India. For the first several days the roads were good and we passed through some of the most beautiful countryside we've ever seen, with such vast contrasts of land forms, forests, mountains, fields rice paddies, wheat... We enjoyed looking at all God's beautiful creation, and were filled with awe at how blessed this country is with such vast, rich and fertile land. Unfortunately, the photos we took in no way captured the height or depth of all the beauty we saw, they only remain in our memories now.
The times of desperate prayer came at dusk when we needed to find a place of refuge and at times we found ourselves in the middle of nowhere and not knowing where to stay and no light to see our way clearly. We hadn't realized how long it would take us to travel such long distances and we had no idea of what we were going to find. But the Lord always led us to someone who could speak English or who could understand our Hindi and helped us to find a place for the night. He never failed us!
Driving into these little towns and villages at night was always a difficult time as the streets were so congested with people and animals and push carts, etc. And with the dim light and dusty air it was always very difficult to see, but God bless Dad, he is such a good careful driver, and we always made it safely to our destinations. Thankfully, David, too, was very needed as a co-driver in the front to help Dad see the way. I don't know what we would have done without him, he's been such a big blessing!
STATE OF MAHARASHTRA:
Sept 24, 25, 26: We traveled through the center of India, passing through the State of Maharashtra and entering into the State of Madya Predesh.
Those first days we enjoyed spectacular scenery, green fields everywhere with wheat, corn, tomatoes, banana trees, vineyards - a virtual paradise! We crossed over rivers and drove through forested mountains, all so peaceful and green and hardly a soul in sight! Gorgeous!
Sept 26th: We stopped for lunch at this dhaba as it was recommended by the locals. It wasn't “5 star” but the food was delicious and hot out of the pan!
STATE OF MADHYA PRADESH
Sept 27: Leaving Raipur in the early hours of the morning we drove for miles through fertile farmland, fields of rice paddies, through forests and up the ghats. We marveled at the greens fields that stretched as far as the eye could see.
STATE OF ORISSA:
We passed into the next state of Orissa with its miles of beautiful forests and breath-taking scenery and green mountains. There was very little traffic so we all enjoyed the ride.
Wherever we went we were a gazing stock, especially in those little towns where not too many foreigners travel. The people are usually shy, but most are very sweet and friendly and do the best they can to help us. They are curious and childlike.
Here we saw some of the most beautiful clear blue skies we've ever seen with huge billowing white clouds on every side. We marveled at the majestic beauty of this inspiring panoramic scene, and for hours feasted our eyes on the beauties of the Lord.
STATE OF WEST BENGAL:
On the fifth day we passed from Orissa State into West Bengal. That was the most rugged road test for us as well as for our little van. We found ourselves on some of the worst roads we have ever driven on and this was the national highway! In one day we drove 50 km in 12 hours due to the enormous potholes and the flooding.
So we backtracked and ended up going on country roads--if you can imagine that! That was the day we tried to cross a road that was submerged with flood water only about an hour from Calcutta, but trucks had turned over into the water and blocked the way. We had to turn around and go back the way we came and this is when we counted 1,188 trucks stopped with full cargoes, unable to move, waiting to cross the road! Can you imagine?! Thankfully, the van was small enough to turn around and go back on those very narrow roads in order to find another road to enter Calcutta from the north. Our time was ticking away and we needed to get going!
Every village we drove through was flying the Communist red flag and had big red sickles painted on every major building in the villages. Elections were in two days so there were loud speakers and political rallies going on. It was quite a scene!
We finally made it to Calcutta late afternoon on the 30th! It was one relief to be off those bad roads, but now we had the daunting prospect of driving through one of the most congested major cities we have ever been in--yes, worse than Bombay, and it was rush hour! Yikes! Yellow pollution hung in the air over the city and with the heat came lots of interesting smells. Masses of humanity were moving in every direction in every vehicle imaginable-thank the Lord for His protection and help all the way!
After driving for over two hours through a maze of city streets (and not finding too many people who spoke English or Hindi), we all gave a sigh of relief when we finally found a place to stay--the YMCA. There was no place to park the van near the YMCA so Art and Dave had to drive still another 45 minutes to find the home of friends where they stayed for the night.
Well, there were many interesting things to see in this big city, but time would not permit us as we had a deadline to make and we didn't have a minute to spare. The thing we enjoyed most here, even though short, was visiting with our dear friends and their children whom we have known for over 25 years. We spent a day with them and then packed our bags for the next leg of our journey
We hit the border of Orissa and Bengal and immediately the roads were unbelievably horrible! This national highway was so full of potholes we could only creep along a 4 km per hour at times and pray desperately for the wheels and engine, etc.
In West Bengal, red Communist flags were flying throughout every village we passed through and on their houses, stores, buildings and walls are painted the Russian hammer and sickle. It was election time and every village square had blaring loud speakers and crowds gathered around. We had very uneasy feelings in most of these places and hesitated to even take a photo!
On both sides of the road were wetlands and rice fields as far as the eye could see.
In Bengal, they had lots of little thatched roof huts, and men and boys were fishing in the muddy waterholes and in the rivers with poles, nets and traps. Arriving at our destination every nightfall was always a stressful time as it was so difficult to see. The air was usually filled with dust from the crowds of people, animals, carts, trucks and bikes, etc. Sometimes the villages looked so primitive we weren't sure if we would find a place to stay for the night. But to our great relief, we always found a place to stay.
It had been a very difficult year for the farmers in West Bengal. They had torrential rain and were flooded out three times. These rice paddies were completely underwater. The crop was ruined!
TRAIN RIDE TO SILIGURI:
Since we were short on time, we decided not to drive the van up north to Siliguri over questionable roads, as that could take too long. We decided to leave our van with our friends and take the train. So we packed into two taxis and headed for the center of town to pick up our train tickets. The roads were flooded in some areas knee deep. It was rush hour again, but we had good experienced taxi drivers. How they managed to stick together over the next two-hour drive in the midst of the flooded street during rush hour in the middle of Calcutta--I don't know, but they did! The Lord was with us! We had to catch our train!
Art was thankful for a break from driving and we enjoyed being together on the train. We bought blow-up pillows and fans at the train station and they really came in handy. We were supposed to arrive at 9:00 in the morning in Siliguri but due to flooding our train took nine extra hours. We were able to see the countryside and all the villages and flooded lands that stretched out in great distances on both sides. The rivers were so flooded and swollen and rushing under us that they must have been afraid the bridges could collapse. We prayed hard, especially at every river crossing. That became a long 21-hour trip.
We each had a berth to lay down on, so cleaned them with disinfectant and we all slept pretty well. Instead of arriving in the morning though, we were now arriving at dusk and again, it always difficult to find our way at this time of the day. Not only that, but we were all on foot, plus we needed to find out how to cross the border to Nepal!