The Himalayan Challenge
21 September - 11 October 2018
OCTOBER 4, 2018
Nainital to Bardia, Nepal
Border days can be busy so an early start was called for and as we ran out along the boating lake in the town centre some us couldn’t help think back to last month when we were rallying around Annecy on the Alpine Trial.
This was a lovely, cool and traffic free morning and on our way down the hill to the border, not only did we bid farewell to India for a few days but, according to the routebook, we also took leave of the hairpin bends, for 550km at least. Sure we’ll miss them both, but we’re consoling ourselves with the fact that this separation is not forever and anyway, the absence will surely make the heart grow fonder.
This was a day where our objective was getting through the border as efficiently as possible and as such there was no rally competition. A series of Passage Controls ensured that we all were on the right track. The busiest of these, was in the town of Khatima where John and Gill Cotton struggled to hear themselves think over the noise from a million blaring horns and chugging engines. Down here on the plains, India can be pretty visceral.
The Mahakili forms part of the border between India and Nepal and it was alongside a toll booth, on the banks of this river, where the days MTC was situated. In the 33°c heat and nigh on 100% humidity John Spiller and Rikki Proffit shuttled between the cars with time cards and toll tickets before sending them on their way to begin the border procedures.
These procedures seemed to involve a long and very precise set of operations indeed. Immigration was the first obstacle to overcome and thick ledgers going back many many years were filled out longhand with the name, the passport number and the visa number of each of the departing crews. Twice. Once in a well ventilated office with a ceiling fan and then again by the side of the road in an open shack with a metal roof.
Then we had to deal with customs. The very well rallied Matt Bryson, tried to shortcut some of this bureaucracy with an old ERA trick, showing them the letters, pointing to the numbers on the doors and telling them that he was on a rally but, this is India and procedures had be followed.
Out of curiosity, while we waited we asked to see some of the ledgers from 1997 when the Peking to Paris came through town but it appeared that the archivist was taking a lunch break and in any case we needed to press on.
Once we reached Nepal we found quite a contrast. Not only were the immigration and customs procedures much simpler and more streamlined, but the roads were a little less frantic and were partly populated with ox carts and pack horses.
The run to the night halt along these roads was an easy one through many villages and towns and over dozens of bridges but, the highlight of the journey for many was a river crossing some 12km from Tiger Tops Lodge.
Echoes of the Classic Safari were now everywhere, as we bumped along through a very rural landscape on unmade roads lined with mud brick dwellings and farm buildings. The rice harvest was well underway here and as the sun dipped and the shadows lengthened we found ourselves sharing the narrow roads with farm workers bearing impossibly large bundles of vegetation destined for the threshing shed on their heads.
Tonight the sounds of horns and engines had been replaced by those of the jungle but tomorrow we start climbing again. The Himalayan Challenge is about to start a new chapter.