As we left the Mahabodhi temple, we decided to drive back to our guesthouse to enjoy a nice breakfast and pack our stuff. Or so we thought… Due to a bus forcing us to take a different turn on to a very tiny one way road we managed to get ourselves lost in a big maze that was the living area where hardly any tourists came. We maneuvered our rickshaws through tiny streets, muddy pools and piles of planks that covered sewage area which our rickshaws would fit barely. It was impossible to turn in these narrow alleys that were filled with cows and people who were going about their daily routine, cleaning their clothes and looking at us confused. We were confident that we were going in the right direction and that we would soon be back on the regular roads. Instead, both rickshaws scratched a scooter (no biggie!) and we ended up totally lost in an open grass field far far away from where we should be.
The grass looked wet and there was a lot of mud all over because of heavy rainfall. Eager to keep on going and try it anyway, Jeroen got the first rickshaw stuck in the mud. Raymond applied all the tricks he had learned from watching the Dakar Rally for over 10 years, but nothing worked. Finally, after ten minutes of failing miserably and getting the rickshaw only deeper in the mud, a friendly Indian-looking man approached us. He said: “Ja dat gaat zo niet lukken he! Bovendien zijn jullie aardig dichtbij, jullie moeten alleen totaal de andere kant op”. “Ja klopt, we zijn totaal verkeerd gegaan” we replied. Wait whut?! We’re talking Dutch with this man?!
Out of all places, we ran into this guy from Surinam (although he looked pretty Indian) who had lived in The Netherlands for a few years and spoke perfectly well Dutch and had decided he wanted to run a farm in India on the outer skirts of this town. He provided us with some planks and extra manpower to get the rickshaw out of the mud. We thanked the man and tried to go back the same way we came. Probably startled by what just happened, we somehow managed in that seemingly one way road to get separated from each other. Like REALLY?! It’s like an incarnation of Roronoa Zorro took control of the other team. After losing to rock, paper, scissors Joep went back to look for the others while Jeroen and Paul stayed back at the rickshaw, only for him to never return again. Just what the hell is happening *?#!!*?? After fifteen minutes Jeroen was the next one to lose and went back into the neighborhood to look for Joep and the others. He came across a familiar looking Indian guy who told them he had seen Joep jump on the back of a motorbike. What?! Unsure if to believe him, Jeroen and Paul decided it must be true, because everything in this morning seemed to have been crazy and they drove back to the bar leaving everyone behind.
As they arrived at the bar, smiles appeared on their faces as it turned out the other three were already there enjoying a hot coffee! A few minutes later, Joep arrived on the back of a motorcycle and the group was complete again! We’re still unsure what happened, but the bar had pancakes with bacon, cheese, bananas, apple, honey, nutella…, basically everything you can think of. The owner of the bar asked whether we wanted to have our rickshaws checked by two of his friends (who were also mechanics), and we decided that wasn’t a bad idea. After all, we needed to make up for the lost kilometers and we couldn’t afford to experience any more breakdowns. While the mechanics worked, we filled our stomachs and as soon as the rickshaws were ready we hit the road.
We were up since three that morning and already awake for eight hours, yet not gotten anywhere. We decided that after today we were going to have a long sleep, because already we were falling asleep. During the next hours we managed to cover quite a large distance and then it was decision time. There were vastly different routes to choose. One would go inland, through highly populated states and cities full of majestic structures to visit. The other route would go down South first and then take us along the coast with tribes and fisher villages and a big lake we would need to cross. We decided to take the latter one as we felt we didn’t have time for all those cities anyway and the idea of the sea and nature really attracted us at that moment. So we went LEFT and continued driving for some hours still. With the darkness already settled in for a while we were only 30 kilometers away from our final destination! But then it happened… the clutch cable snapped.
Stranded in a village even google had a hard time finding with rain pouring all over us. Locals came from everywhere to look at the spectacle which consisted of us messing around with the vehicles. We were so damn close, but yet so far. It saddened us. Luckily, the Indian people were as friendly as ever and even with the rain, they wanted to help us out. It was extremely hard to communicate with them, but all of a sudden one shouted something to the other bystanders. Immediately people started to run off in different directions in what seemed to bring the whole village in uproar. It was a magnificent show to see. They returned later with all sorts of cables of different sizes. We did not quite understand what was going on, but it was clear everybody was trying really hard to get our rickshaw working again!
At some point Raymond deemed the clutch almost fixed, but he needed one more thing. The one person that had been steering the whole village to his hand seemed to understand and took Raymond by the hand and both set off in the darkness. It could’ve been a beautiful ending for a movie: seeing the large silhouette of Raymond and the tiny silhouette of the Indian man walk hand in hand in the rain towards a big light and then take a turn and disappear out of sight.
In the mean time we had no luck finding a place to sleep as there was no hotel of sorts and of what we could understand it was illegal for the people to take in/host foreigners as a service for the night. Bastiaan and Jesse had been scouting all the nearby villages for a place to stay, but their efforts weren’t rewarded. They pinpointed our new destination to the closest city 20 kilometers away. One hour and a makeshift clutch cable later, we were finally able to drive to: Dhanbad! We found a decent hotel on the upper level of a large shopping mall, which could best be described as a level from the game ‘Bioshock’. And it got even better, as Bastiaan spotted a Domino’s Pizza store which was still open! Of course we had to negotiate for half an hour with the hotel manager to get two decent rooms for reasonable prices, but after a looooooong day the spicy pizza with western toppings tasted delicious. Tired as we were, we all fell asleep within seconds after hitting the bed and totally overslept the next morning.
The next day, it rained pretty badly in the morning and Raymond had to search all around town for a proper clutch cable and a mechanic with the right skill to fix it. This delayed our departure a few hours, but honestly there was no one that minded, as we rested as much as we could. Around noon Raymond returned with a big smile on his face, as he had met one of the most friendly Indians thus far. The man had decided to close his shop that morning and miss out on some potential revenue, in order to drive Raymond all around town on the back of his motorcycle and to assist him in his search! They had asked several mechanics to help us out, but seven rejected the job honestly admitting that they didn’t know how to fix a clutch cable. It turned out to be a very specific skill and Raymond ultimately managed to convince the eighth mechanic to give it a try.
We got out of Dhanbad around three o’clock in the afternoon and after a while we found some muddy roads with holes: time for some fun! On these roads we couldn’t help ourselves but drive full speed while slipping, drifting around and bumping through the holes. At some point Paul’s bag fell out of the rickshaw, while only two meters further one of the speakers fell out too, causing the rickshaw to drive over it and totally destroy it. Luckily we recorded all this on video, so keep an eye out for the video blogs this winter! But yeah, we lost the speaker set we had build in ourselves.
After the setting of the sun, we found a pretty good hotel alongside the road in Purulia. It was still an early stop compared to our other driving days with only half of our required kilometers on the counter, but we decided to call it a day and give us some time to eat and relax properly. After a very nice meal which included the best kashmiri naan and butter chicken we had, we went up to our room to enjoy the wifi and well-earned rest. At some point however, strange noises came from the ventilation shafts in the room of Joep, Paul and Jeroen, which sounded like a screaming bird. What the hell was going on in this luxurious hotel? Thirty minutes and a lot of bird screams later, Joep wanted to go and ask reception what this thing could be. Even without his hearing devices, he would hear the bird screams and he was unable to sleep like this. At this point, he didn’t know yet that this was the doorbell that Jeroen, Paul and Bastiaan had been pushing all the time, while cracking themselves up in the hallway.
The next morning we got up early to cover a huge distance. We started off by crossing an elephant corridor (i.e. a nature reserve near the Dalma Wilfdlife Sanctuary) on the border of Jharkhand and West Bengal, where supposedly 140 to 150 elephants live freely in the wild. Even though we did not see any elephants, we thoroughly enjoyed driving through this outstanding natural beauty with hills and trees all around us. We set the ambitious goal to reach Puri in the evening, which was at about 500 km distance. To achieve this, we stayed on the main highway for the bigger part of the day, which as you can imagine can get kind of boring after a while, so we had to make some fun ourselves. We decided to do our Road Rage challenge (all six of us swapping from rickshaw while driving), played around by throwing nuts at each other, tried to sleep in the backseat, had some good and interesting talks, did some crazy dances during the obligatory refueling stops, and enjoyed the views of the beautiful Jharkhand province fields while driving a whole day on high speed. And during this extremely beautiful day, even the rickshaws made it without a hitch! Having covered more than 500 km, we finished in Puri and got ourselves a well-earned cold beer, which was actually the first beer since our departure from Shillong!
Just before we were ready to leave the next morning, we discovered some jerrycans were leaking gasoline. We made do with the still available, but ever declining, amount of ducktape and drove off. Our destination for the morning was Satapada, where we planned to load our rickshaws on a boat to cross the Chilika Lake and spot some dolphins in the meanwhile. We had been driving for a while, when some guy on a bike suddenly signed and shouted some incomprehensible words to us. We tried asking him what was up, and it seemed he wanted some cigarettes or money from us. He kept on driving alongside us for a few minutes, until Joep made a stop. Joep said he noticed that the truck that had driven past us, spilled some liquid on our rickshaw and wanted to check what happened. As we looked more closely, we spotted a small fish on our roof. What the…?! We picked up the small fish and gave it to the guy. He was just as confused as we were, giving us an opportunity to escape his questions and drive on.
The road to Satapada was pretty well-maintained, curvy and deserted, giving us ample opportunity to practice our drifting skills. We ended up at a place which was supposed to be a port and discovered that the boats we had in mind weren’t going to transport us to the other side of the lake. Joep tried to negotiate with some locals to transport our rickshaws on one of those big canoes, but it was a vain attempt. We had to use a big, commercial ferry boat to get us across. While waiting for the ferry, we ended up eating the most disgusting ice cream ever and Bastiaan managed to fall off a rock he was standing on. He hurt his hands and foot and was limping for a few days after, but luckily it was nothing too serious.
During the short but beautiful boat trip we did not see any dolphins. We did arrive safely at the other side of the lake and had about 6 hours left to get to Chatrapur. The roads here were outright perfect. We drove by some beautiful fields on deserted roads (except for some locals laughing and waving to us next to it) and the sun was shining! Jeroen and Raymond decided to climb up and sit on the roofs, while the others hang outside of the rickshaws and enjoyed the sun in their faces and the wind blazing through their hair. Could it get even better?
Up next: a rollercoaster through the mountains, misunderstandings lead to smashed mirrors and broken feet, and will the breakdowns return?
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