Thursday, September 30, 2010

36 Hours To Go

Final preparations are now underway, last minute items being crammed into tank bags, and anti-malarial tablets being swallowed.  Boarding passes are printed (hopefully), and taxis booked. 

In 48 hours time, we will be landing at Dum Dum airport to face the crush of Calcutta and to meet Rasul the mechanic/guide/translator. 

Better hope he is a great mechanic, seeing as he doesn't speak any English and has never travelled beyond greater New Delhi.

Currency Controls

For those of you planning on taking some INR to India, please change the plan.  The Indian government has currency control restrictions in place, and any INR that you have in your possession may be forfeit at immigration.  There are a heap of ATMs available in Calcutta, and you can use your Visa/Mastercard in them to get cash on arrival (Diners or Amex : good luck...)   Please take special note that your card is unlikely to work in India unless has the PLUS logo on the reverse side. This logo replaces the old CIRRUS /MAESTRO logo, and is three triangles to the left of the word ‘PLUS’.  You will still be able to use your normal Visa/Mastercard in shops, banks, etc – it just won’t work in the ATM network for cash withdrawals.

Survival Hindi

Just a few key phrases that might make the first day or two a little more doable.  I have used the phonetic spelling, so simply say it as it is read.

vegetarian - shaka hari
i am a vegetarian - mer shaka hari ho
yes - ha
no – neh he
thank you - danyawad
hello - namaste
goodbye – albeda
hotel – ehotal
restaurant - bhojinaalay
market - bharjard
help – mahdud
my name is – merah nahm he
can you - up cusa te he
please show me – keah ahb muja de cusa te he
broken – too tah
i am sick - mare be madh who
doctor – chickitsk
hot – garm
cold - tahnt
massage – mahlish
rice – chowgood (no kidding)
bread – roti
chicken – chicken
i must go - muji jana cha he
toilet - chow char lay
where is the - ga hung he
air conditioning – whahtan coolan
air conditioner - lair condishnad
alcohol – shirrab
beer – bearrd
whisky – whisky

NOTE – for questions: subject comes first, then the question
Eg: where is the restaurant is “restaurant where is the”
And spoken: “bhojinaalay ga hung he”

From Jason...

Afternoon all and welcome to my personal hell……

I have been working over the last few years (trust me it feels that way) to generate some detailed mappage and systems out of Tony’s initial high level tour plan.

We are in for an _interesting_ experience in terms of the roads (loose usage of the term) & finding our way through Nepal. There are several areas where Google Maps can’t actually generate a route… Had to do a fair bit of research on those ones to ensure we can actually find our way. A certain ‘highway’ on the way into Kathmandu turns into a ‘dirt track’ but I found numerous sites that talk about motorbike treks across that track and some comments about people that have done it in October and they got through OK.

I will be sending another email with the initial map pack, it’s a word document some 13.5Mb big so some of you may not get it as your ISP/mail server may not allow files that big  Please email me if you don’t get it this afternoon, and check your SPAM folders as well

In addition to the maps we are all going to need to have some form of GPS co-ordinate type ability…. All of the maps have Latitude, Longitude reference markers for the overnight rally points.

For those of you not full bottle on GPS & Lat/Long type stuff we need to get a baseline of knowledge into your heads as these Lat/Long references are for when it goes wrong and we need everyone to understand how to use them. Most of us are taking an iPhone, I have reviewed about 6 different apps in the vain attempt to get GPS maps onto the phones so they work without 3G, no luck for Nepal

The best option is an app called OffMaps, it costs $2.49 and allows you to download a detailed maps, and even a customised one of Delhi  The main benefit is that you can type in a Lat/Long marker off the printed maps and it will drop a pin and show you where you are in reference to that location…. Gents, this isn’t really optional, you need it! If you need help with the app downloading the maps, please let me know, you should be up for ~500mb worth of maps so make sure your on a wi-fi link

For those of you without an iPhone, 2 options, buy the cheapest GPS unit you can find, I saw little ones in OfficeWorks for under $100 but make sure you can enter a Lat/Long co-ordinate in the form of 27.702, 85.317 (Kathmandu) or make sure you buddy op with someone with an iPhone…

The maps should be self explanatory, I have a Google account and can modify the route/images as required. Link to the map is

Slight Hiccup

Please see below information from Mohit at Smart Motors in Delhi:

“n one thing more i have to tell actually from 20th of this month transport is stoped in delhi till 14th of oct this is coz of the common wealth games in india so we will be sending the bikes through train its costing me like rs 36000 for sendind but i can bear rs1000 more the main part is to send the bikes from calcuta railway station to the hotel where you people will be staying for this we have two either you people can go n collect the bikes from the railway station my mechanic will be their or you have to pay fot the truck in which we have to load the bikes from the railway to the hotel in calcuta where you will be atayin”

I have advised Mohit that we will meet Rahul (the mechanic) at the hotel at 5:30pm on Sat 02/10/10 and go to the train freight yard with him to unload the bikes. We will then need to ride them back to the hotel for the night, and leave for Farakka the following morning.

Unfortunately this does expose riders to a risk that I had hoped to avoid. Dum Dum (Calcutta) airport is 20km north of Calcutta CBD, and the Heritage Hotel is quite nearby. This strategy was designed to get us out of Calcutta reasonably easily and avoid the horrendous traffic. As it now stands, your first experience of riding in Calcutta will be peak hour traffic in one of the most congested cities in the world. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it actually is. Staying together or even in close proximity is almost impossible in Indian cities, and finding addresses can be an exercise in frustration even for cab drivers when streets are often unsignposted and buildings rarely have numbers. Not to mention the added stress of riding unfamiliar bikes in very challenging conditions.

Working on it .... Any ideas?

Bachon Ka Ghar Orphanage

Based in the Daryaganj district of Old Delhi, Bachon Ka Ghar is an orphanage for Islamic girls, between the ages of 6 and 18 years. The large majority of the girls residing in Bachon Ka Ghar are either paternal or maternal orphans, although some have lost both parents.

Children residing in Bachon Ka Ghar are not available for adoption. Rather, all the girls are registered with the local authorities, and remain in the orphanage until they are 18 years of age. Once they reach this age, those girls who are paternal orphans are returned to their mothers. Until the age of 18 years, all girls are encouraged to attend local schools.

The building that houses the orphanage has capacity for approximately 85-95 girls. In May 2007 when staff from the A.R.C. Worldwide Trust visited, the orphanage was near full capacity. The general conditions of the orphanage are tidy, however, the building itself would benefit from some minor repair work, particularly to the bathroom area and shared common space areas.

Being an orphanage for Muslim girls, A.R.C. Worldwide was informed that Bachon Ka Ghar does receive some financial support from the Iranian Embassy. However, the majority of the funding required to operate the orphanage is obtained through voluntary donations from the local community. All donations and gifts are accepted, including clothes, shoes, books and toys. School supplies, including books, stationary and school uniforms, in addition to donations of food, are often in need.

If you are interested in providing a donation to the Bachon Ka Ghar Orphanage for Girls, please contact the Orphanage directly


As you set about your preparations over the next four weeks, you may wish to consider the following documentation.

Docs coming with you:
Passport (with multiple entry visa stamp)
All flight itineraries and confirmations
Hotel booking confirmation for 1st night in Calcutta
Drivers license and international driving permit
Insurance policy number and their international medivac number
Several spare passport photos
$25 USD cash for the Nepalese visa
Map pack (Jason is providing this for everyone, including way points)
+ Everyone else’s Indian SIM number (will exchange in Calcutta)
Please colour copy everything once and give the copies to another rider for safekeeping.

Docs staying at home (copies) with a friend who can take a call 24x7:
Passport (with multiple entry visa stamp)
All flight itineraries and confirmations
Hotel booking confirmation for 1st night in Calcutta
Drivers license and international driving permit
Insurance company, policy number and their international medivac number
Several spare passport photos
Recent will (forms from post office if you don’t already have one)
Power of attorney (forms from post office if you don’t already have one)

Why bother?
Quoting from Lonely Planet, etc re eastern plains of Nepal:
“power outages are the norm”
“fuel shops run dry all the time”
“many people in the countryside are still armed and travellers may be asked to make a ‘donation’”
“the risk is high in the former Maoist areas to the east of the country”
“rarely a day goes by without seeing a serious accident”
“drivers drive with little care for their own safety or others”
“overtaking is an act of brinkmanship with no room for error”

On the bright side, we will be travelling during Navami, a time when many animals are sacrificed and their blood is sprinkled on car wheels to ensure a safe journey. ‘Cause that’s bound to help...

And remember, if you do need to get out, the National Carrier currently has only four working aircraft

Seriously though, good documentation can be the difference between minor misfortune and total disaster for adventure travel. It’s worth spending a little time to get it right.

Notes re Altitude Sickness

Definition of High Altitude
- High Altitude: 1500 - 3500 m (5000 - 11500 ft)
- Very High Altitude: 3500 - 5500 m (11500 - 18000 ft)
- Extreme Altitude: above 5500 m
The Body’s reaction to altitude
Certain normal physiologic changes occur in every person who goes to altitude:
- Hyperventilation (breathing faster, deeper, or both)
- Shortness of breath during exertion
- Changed breathing pattern at night
- Awakening frequently at night
- Increased urination

As one ascends through the atmosphere, every breath contains fewer and fewer molecules of oxygen. One must work harder to obtain oxygen, by breathing faster and deeper. This is particularly noticeable with exertion, such as walking uphill. Being out of breath with exertion is normal, as long as the sensation of shortness of breath resolves rapidly with rest. The increase in breathing is critical. It is therefore important to avoid anything that will decrease breathing, e.g. alcohol and certain drugs. Despite the increased breathing, attaining normal blood levels of oxygen is not possible at high altitude.

Cheyne stokes breathing
Persistent increased breathing results in reduction of carbon dioxide in the blood, a metabolic waste product that is removed by the lungs. The build-up of carbon dioxide in the blood is the key signal to the brain that it is time to breathe, so if it is low, the drive to breathe is blunted (the lack of oxygen is a much weaker signal, and acts as an ultimate safety valve). As long as you are awake it isn't much trouble to consciously breathe, but at night an odd breathing pattern develops due to a back-and-forth balancing act between these two respiratory triggers. Periodic breathing consists of cycles of normal breathing which gradually slows, breath-holding, and a brief recovery period of accelerated breathing.

This is not altitude sickness. The breath-holding may last up to 10-15 seconds. This is not altitude sickness. It may improve slightly with acclimatization, but does not usually resolve until descent. Periodic breathing can cause a lot of anxiety:
- In the person who wakes up during the breath-holding phase and knows he has stopped breathing.
- In the person who wakes up in the post-breath-holding hyperventilation (recovery) phase and thinks he's short of breath and has High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE).
- In the person who wakes up and realizes his neighbor has stopped breathing.
In the first two cases waiting a few moments will establish a normal breathing pattern. In the final case, the sleeping neighbour will eventually take a breath, though periodic breathing cycles will likely continue until he or she is awake. If periodic breathing symptoms are troublesome, a medication called acetazolamide may be helpful.

Dramatic changes take place in the body's chemistry and fluid balance during acclimatization. The osmotic center, which detects the "concentration" of the blood, gets reset so that the blood is more concentrated. This results in an altitude diuresis as the kidneys excrete more fluid. The reason for this reset is not understood, though it has the effect of increasing the hematocrit (concentration of red blood cells) and perhaps improving the blood's oxygen-carrying ability somewhat; it also counteracts the tendency for edema formation. It is normal at altitude to be urinating more than usual. If you are not, you may be dehydrated, or you may not be acclimatizing well.

Things to Avoid
Respiratory depression (the slowing down of breathing) can be caused by various medications, and may be a problem at altitude. The following medications can do this, and should never be used by someone who has symptoms of altitude illness:
- Alcohol
- Sleeping pills (acetazolamide is the sleeping tablet of choice at altitude)
- Narcotic pain medications in more than modest doses
Preventing Altitude Sickness
The key to avoiding altitude sickness is a gradual ascent that gives your body time to acclimatize (we are riding up, so ascent will be necessarily gradual). People acclimatize at different rates, so no absolute statements are possible, but in general, the following recommendations will keep most people from getting altitude sickness:
- If possible, you should spend at least one night at an intermediate elevation below 3000 meters.
- At altitudes above 3000 meters (10,000 feet), your sleeping elevation should not increase more than 300-500 meters (1000-1500 feet) per night.
- Every 1000 meters (3000 feet) you should spend a second night at the same elevation
As with all of this stuff, better too much information than not enough. It’s important to keep it in perspective, though. Whilst very few travellers explore the Eastern Plains of Nepal (lowlands); the routes near and around Kathmandu (higher altitude) are a well worn tourist trail visited by thousands of people every year.

Day 1

We arrive in Calcutta mid-afternoon at the Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Terminal, which is about 20km north of Calcutta. Given that several of the riders have never experienced third world traffic before (never mind homicidal Indians), I figured it might be sensible to grab a cab to a hotel somewhere near the terminal, have the bikes delivered there, and set off in the morning without trying to negotiate Calcutta traffic. This will allow us to do the bike walkaround that night, and to work out tank bag position, riding position, etc. It will also give us time to arrange local SIM cards and exchange numbers, etc.

Hopefully the roads will be a little less chaotic (hah ), and it will give everyone a little time to become accustomed to the bikes and to the roads on a back street somewhere the next morning. The idea is to make it to Farakka that first night (295km) so it will already be a challenging day with some of the worst traffic that we will encounter for the entire journey. No way to avoid it unfortunately, but the earlier that we get started the better as the roads in India tend to get really hairy by mid-morning.

Until we get well clear of Calcutta city boundary it will be sensible to stay as tightly bunched as possible. Hopefully you have all managed to grab a hi-vis vest from somewhere to make this a little easier. Once we are clear of the city, then spreading out won’t matter so long as everyone stays on Highway 34 (easier said than done) for the first day. As long as you stay on #34 and ask directions reasonably regularly, then we will all end up at a pre-nominated place in Farakka on the first night. If it all goes to crap, then a series of phone calls will sort things out.

Hopefully this paragraph is not needed, but for prangs, bingles and unplanned spontaneous dismounts:
- The riding buddy stops to help and SMS’s all others indicating whether:
minor (others keep going, we will catch up),
help (location is ..., please come back), or
major (all riders stop where they are and sit tight until they get a subsequent txt message).
- Remember; in India if someone other than you is injured in the accident and you are physically able, get on the back of the buddy’s bike and simply leave quickly. This one cannot be repeated enough – it is dangerous to stay/stop at the scene of an accident.

That’s a lot of warnings and cautions. The intent is not to worry anyone, rather to make sure we all have a safe and enjoyable time away. The frst day or two are always the riskiest, and if we all pull together for this time then the group will find its own rhythm very quickly. India can be an incredibly frustrating place to deal with, but has an enormous amount to offer if you approach everything with a smile and a shrug of the shoulders.

Packing List

A couple of people have asked me what to take. It's really up to you to decide what you will need for a trip of this duration, but I have located a pack list that we use when we go away. This list has worked for Jo and I in the past; whether it was a few weeks Laos, a month in summer China, or three months in Russia in winter.
Remember that the total weight cannot exceed 7kg for carry on. From the Air Asia website "The allowable baggage dimensions and weight for hand carry baggage is, one (1) item of baggage within the dimensions of 56cm X 36cm X 23cm and provided that it does not weigh more than 7kg. Such baggage must fit under the seat in front of you or in the enclosed storage compartment in the cabin. All guests are allowed only one (1) piece of hand carry baggage onboard provided that it does not exceed the dimensions of 56cm X 36cm X 23cm and does not weigh more than 7kg. Such baggage must fit under the seat in front of you or in an enclosed storage compartment in the cabin. Items determined by us to be of excessive weight or size or of an offensive nature will not be permitted onboard.”

The List

Triangle bandage
Burn gel
Size 24 needle/sutures
Antiseptic handwash
Latex gloves
Light stick

Two pair of lightweight synthetic long pants with zip off lowers
One pair of wet weather pants with thermal lining
One pair of long thermal underwear
One pair of long sleeve thermal top
One pair of shirt sleeve thermal top
One t-shirt
Two long sleeve lightweight synthetic shirts
One bike jacket with body armour and zip out thermal lining
Three pairs socks and jocks
Sunglasses and cap
Bike gloves and boots
Pac mocs (if you have them)
Micro wet weather kit

Cable ties
Gaff tape
Small multi tool (with no blade)

General Kit
Tank bag and waterproof cover
Sleeping bag and/or liner
Kidney belt (if needed)
Mobile phone and charger Camera, charger and plenty of SD cards
Small locks and thin stainless steel cable
GPS if required
Toothpaste, brush, razor and deodorantTea bags or favourite coffee
no sugar, it’s just not a good idea to be trying to take any white powder through border crossings, yes it will all get sorted out okay in the end, but who needs the hassle and delay.

Document set
Credit card and unlinked spare card with another rider
Passport and and copies with another rider
Insurance policy papers and copies with another rider
Maps (inc group map)
Consider will and power of attorney left with someone at home
(group all items that must be declared at airport checks into one pocket for easy access and to save unpacking everything)

Motorcycle Rental Options

Motorcycle Rental

Final summary of Indian bike hire below (and table in next post)

All rental options require 20000Rs ($509) deposit, refundable on return of motorcycle.
This is to ensure that the bikes are not sold in Nepal (where they are worth more apparently).
General consensus is Option 2, with the guide/mechanic along for the whole trip.
He will tune/repair the bikes each night, and full safety check each morning.
The hire agency for Option 2 is Smart Motors ( )
1743/55, Hari Singh Nalwa Street Nai Wala, New Delhi, Delhi 110005, India
011 4504 2943

'Safety' Barriers

Nepalese Snow Pass

Nepalese Mountain Pass

Someone else has been this crazy

Caught up with a guy who has just recently come back from the same trip that we are taking.  He said altitude sickness got to them all in varying degrees and one of the team bailed out.  He found the Rohtang Pass to be the most treacherous part of his trip (photos following).  No worries re bike mechanics though. One of the Lee Enfields in his team bent a valve, and a crowd stopped to help. The whipped the head off on the side of the road, bashed the valve straight with a hammer, reassembled it, and it actually ran fine thereafter. I’ll be buggered.

General Travel Info

Sometimes the road conditions are as tough as off-road riding. Royal Enfield motorcycles are heavy (dry weight 160kg), this trip is for the experienced Rider.
In the mountains the distance travelled each day is governed largely by the altitude of the passes we have to cross. On the plains, the distance travelled each day is governed largely by the distance between main centres.
Expedition planning by its very nature has to be dynamic.
As a rider you should be aware that the conditions in which we ride will at times be tough. Of course there are endless smooth, rolling miles of road, which never cease to delight.
Stretches of highway are broken, badly pot-holed, muddy, rocky and possibly icy. Long sections are often little more than loose un-rolled stone. The seasons are damaging to roads all over the sub-continent and we may be riding before maintenance and repair work for the coming season has begun.
Traffic in India follows a different set of rules to those you will have experienced. Overloaded trucks will not give way when overtaking other overloaded trucks and may well force you off the road. If you are not constantly evaluating possible ‘escape routes’, you are not concentrating.
Riding wide round obscured corners is a definite No No! Landslides, huge rocks, smashed trucks - or no road at all, are just a few of the possible encroachers of the road you hoped to ride.
Cows - the most Holy of animals, auto-rickshaws, trucks and buses all can appear – at speed, out of side turnings and without having ‘looked right’. Turning signals are not to be trusted and riding too close to the vehicle in front is an accident waiting to happen. Hazard Awareness takes on a whole new meaning when riding in India.
Standing-On-The-Pegs is a riding style to adopt at times, sometimes for a few kilometers, it’s tiring and has to be practised.
At times we'll have to ride through streams across the road; some stretches may be 50 metres wide. Monsoon rains and ice-melt often cover stretches of hill and mountain roads, shallow water on round boulders, can very be very slippery. We all face these obstacles and with a few 'wet runs' you can master the technique. Riding slowly and accurately with plenty of revs keeps the engine alive and gets most riders through, at worst with wet boots!
In the north of India we can ride through hot sunshine, rain and freezing snow in the space of a few hours, suitable clothes should always be carried in your tank bag. In some parts the sun can be very hot. It’s important to cover yourself well – head and neck cover is very important to help prevent heat-stroke.
Some riding days are short perhaps only 50 or 100km, other days can be long at 250kms. We will schedule down time to give riders a rest and mechanics a chance to adjust and repair the motorcycles.
Wherever and whenever possible, I want you to be comfortable.
Whilst travelling in the sub-continent there will sometimes be uncomfortable stays, it's in the nature of travel in Asia. But whenever possible I will try to find us comfortable and clean accommodation.  It’s not wise to sleep ‘rough’ in India and certainly not in thick remote forests, contrary to popular belief there are wild animals out there that may find you and eat you!   :-)

General Travel Data

Travel list now seems to be finalised at 8 confirmed.
Nepalese visas can be purchased at the border easily for approx $25AUD, but Indian visas must be purchased well before departure. The consulate staff are hopelessly inefficient, get it wrong repeatedly, and the whole process can be quite frustrating. Before my last trip to India earlier this year, I had to sign a statutory declaration to certify that I was not (nor had I ever been) a Bangladeshi national. It must have been the passport photo that worried them ?-)
If you haven’t already got one, then give some thought to a tankbag with magnetic attachment, and then try to pack 2 week’s worth of crap into said tankbag. Keep in mind that you will get both quite cold in the Himalayas and bloody hot and sticky in Calcutta/Delhi.

Water purification tablets are a must, unless you agree to ride at the back the whole time. No one wants to follow a mobile mud slide.Found great deal on the Scala Rider bike-bike intercom if anyone is interested. On the open road, the Q2 easily gets 500m range, but that drops back to about 100m in the city. The unit allows riders to receive GPS voice instructions, communicate with other riders or with the passenger on the back seat, conduct calls on a bluetooth equipped phone and connect to an MP3 player or listen to the embedded FM radio (all at the same time). It is also full duplex, so you can have a ‘real’ conversation, rather than waiting for the other party to speak before you, which makes for a very stilted conversation. Talk time is supposed to be 8 hours. The unit fits to the helmet in less than 5 minutes and is quite unobtrusive. The only major drawback is the $599 price tag. but an Australian eBay supplier (thecuffman: ), sells the Q2 at two for $459 + postage with full Australian warranty.
Whilst I have heaps of photos from past trips (Round Europe, Thailand-Laos, Sri Lanka, Romania-Russia, Croatia-Bosnia, etc) it has always pissed me off having to choose between stopping every 2 minutes for a photo or just carrying on and hoping to remember the scene. It is a real trade off and we have often wished that we had stopped to take the photo. If course, stopping means helmet and gloves off, dismount, fiddling around with the camera, and then the whole process in reverse. Previously the helmet camera approach only offered 640x480 resolution, and was only really suitable for uTube quality type video and quite impossible to put on the big screen for mates. You can now get the Lots of people have commented that it is great with both helmet and handlebar mount, east to clip on and off, and no wires or cords to worry about. It can also record about 8 hours of video on one card. It can be ordered it from if you are interested.