“Good brakes, good horn and good luck”

The title of this entry this has been quoted to us by locals and really does sum up driving in India. While we have commented on the challenges of other driving environments, this one has been by far the most difficult for us to ride in with the profusion of vehicles, people and animals to contend with. It requires the most concentration and effort on our part, to be alert to all the challenges. After a long day’s riding, we are both pretty shattered at the last stage which inevitably ends in rush hour town or city traffic to get to our hotel. The casual way drivers almost never look behind them, in traffic or pulling out, brings into play the the first element, “good brakes”. Many vehicles do not have mirrors, or in the case of motorcycles and mopeds they are turned inwards to get through narrower gaps between other vehicles. Whoever is behind has the responsibility to stop in time, like on the ski slope, regardless of the actions of those in front, although I believe that the majority of Hindu gods must work in the Collision Avoidance Division as it seems to me miraculous that, for all the frenzied weaving and overtaking, we have not witnessed a single accident, seen the results of yes, but not a single collision take place which I find amazing and returns me to my reference to the Collision Avoidance Division as I can find no other logical explanation.

The second phrase ‘good horn’ relates to the usage of your horn to announce both your presence and your intentions. The person or vehicle being hooted at almost never reacts in any way – they seem to take it as an indication that the person hooting has seen them and will take appropriate action to avoid them. Those of you who have seen any Indian traffic videos or been here will know that bus and truck horns, are loud and multi tone and we want them for Streak and Storm! Unfortunately, horns are an overused commodity here and are used without hesitation for, sometimes, no apparent reason, purely because they can, setting the wrong example to the younger generation. We have been informed that those who return from Delhi or Mumbai tend to have suffered a decline in driving standards and ability. It must be said that all the noise is the only manifestation of what we might consider back home as road rage. Drivers are extremely pushy and some are aggressive as they navigate or force their way through traffic, but we have not seen any road rage. Is road rage a cultural thing that does not occur here, because all the elements that would kick it off back home exist all the time on the roads in India.

‘Good luck’ the third phrase of Indian driving and in my mind probably the most important. Without this I am not sure that I would venture onto the road here. It has worked for us and many others and long may it continue for all concerned.

Some observations that we have made while we have been here:

COW > BUS > TRUCK > RICKSHAW > CAR > TUK TUK > MOTORBIKE > PEDESTRIAN > DOG, these are our subjective views based on observations on the importance of road users and as such the priority they are afforded by others. Not sure where elephant fits, but probably towards to front of the list.

Helmets are compulsory and no more than two people allowed on a motorbike, but this yet has to be fully adopted in Delhi, let alone the rest of the country.

I suspect that most Indians who are killed in road accidents die with surprised looks on their faces if something goes wrong as they appear not to comprehend the danger of some of their actions.

Unlike Iran where some people go the wrong way round the roundabout, here everyone does it.

Dual carriage way means dual driving directions in all lanes.

Green leafed branches stuck in the back of a vehicle, plus a few brick or rocks placed one to two meters behind a vehicle indicate it has broken down. The rocks are left behind when the vehicle departs.

Broken down trucks are left where they stop and not pulled to the side of the road, usually in our experience because one or more rear axles are now parallel to the truck body.

There are absolutely no warnings of roadworks, just vehicles and people working with no protection from traffic.

– Anthony

Imphal – our gateway to Myanmar

We are lucky to have found a hotel with a room available for 4 nights in a row. For some strange reason, every single hotel in Imphal is overbooked. Once again, although the hotel told us they had a room available when we called to book, when we checked in, they said they only had a room for one night then they would shift us to another hotel for the other nights. “No we don’t want to move” I suddenly said. “Oh!! Let me see…. Ok, that’s fine, you can stay.”

We are not sure why this city of half a million has such a shortage of hotel rooms. Is it because Myanmar is opening up? It will be interesting to see how much traffic goes that way when we go. Or is it because all the hotels handle their bookings as casually as we’ve witnessed, overbooking, people not turning up as they don’t take credit cards to confirm bookings, hotels changing confirmed bookings without notifying customers. It’s a mess. This evening, we met up with part of our group and we were the only ones who had a bed for tomorrow night. All the hotels are booked. When we got back to our hotel, I found 7 rooms for them!!

Getting to Imphal, we both felt a sense of achievement. We have been on the road 4 months to the day, travelled 15,400kms and survived riding in India unscathed. We are no great off road riders, but we are quite happy with how we feel we handled the last couple of days when we got quite a few bad patches of dirt and potholes. The timing was perfect, hopefully preparing us for Myanmar. Luckily, the traffic was pretty light on the mountain roads, so we didn’t have so much mad traffic to deal with on top of the road conditions.

We had travelled 125kms in just under 5 hours and arrived in time for lunch. After we checked into our hotel room, we suddenly felt extremely drained. The stress of surviving Indian roads and the emotional struggle we’ve dealt with understanding India had totally drained us. Time for lunch at the hotel, followed by an afternoon nap for a couple of hours.

Our luck has continued as it started raining that evening and for the following 2 days. We are so lucky we left Kohima when we did….!!! I would not have enjoyed riding to and from Kohima in the rain in the mud, over slippery rocks, through water filled potholes and round slippery hairpin bends, up and down the mountains, like the others in our Myanmar group had to contend with.

We have enjoyed the last couple of days. Catching up on emails, blog, recharging, washing, sleeping, bike maintenance, fixing my brake fluid reservoir which still has cracks in it as my poor jacket can testify as it is covered in splashed red brake oil 😦 and reading the local newspapers. They are always such a treat. Reading what is obviously important locally such as states wanting autonomy, finding out that 50 per cent of all the lpg cylinders are defective as they have leaky valves, and the English expressions they use such as ‘an incident happening in the wee hours’. In addition to ‘lakhs’, a unit equal to 100,000 but represented as “1,00,000” I now know about ‘crore’ which is equal to 10 million and written “1,00,00,000”.

In addition to a shortage of hotels rooms, an embargo on petrol for 1000 hours was announced yesterday. It is the result of what is called a bandh here, a form of protest, declared in the adjoining district to Imphal. It is interesting to learn that during a bandh, the political party or community declaring it expects the public to stay home and businesses to shut.

Luckily, we refueled on our way into Imphal so we only need a few litres to top up the tanks. I made a couple of trips from our hotel to some ladies sitting on the side of the road selling black-market petrol in old water bottles, filled our red fuel container, topped up the bikes and refilled while Anthony went looking for more gasket silicone sealant for my brake fluid reservoir.

We have now met our whole group – it was good to see Kristjan again! There will be 11 of us and we both feel it will be a great bunch of guys to travel with.

We had our last Indian meal this evening. Once again, it was absolutely delicious. The food has been consistently fantastic, from the smallest roadside shack to full restaurants. Over dinner, we discussed our time in India:

– would we have travelled by bike in India had we known how stressful we would find it – no
– would we ever consider returning and travelling by bike here again – most likely not
– do we feel we finally understand India – still not
– are we glad we came to India – absolutely
– will we miss aspects of India – absolutely

As is always the case, the people we connected with made this whole trip worthwhile. We met some very very special people.

Although I have to admit to a touch of trepidation at the thought of the first 2 days which we know will be hard and long, we are both really excited and looking forward to this next phase, discovering Myanmar!!! We expect to be out of touch until we reach Thailand on the 11th November.

After 4 months on the road, still happy, healthy and enjoying this adventure.  Can't believe Anthony turns 60 in a week!!

After 4 months on the road, still happy, healthy and enjoying this adventure. Can’t believe Anthony turns 60 in a week!!

Thank you again for all your support – it really is lovely to know you are travelling with us and we appreciate every comment and question we receive, either via the blog or privately. We expect to be out of touch until reach Thailand on 11th November.

– Anne

Guwahati to Imphal – twists and turns

For the last three weeks, our journey from Delhi to Guwahati, which has covered some 2,000 kms, has been on flat and mostly straight roads. This is because we have travelled in the floodplains of Ganges and then the Bramaputra and their respective tributaries. We will now start to climb into the hills to the south of Guwahati for the last 500km through India to our jump off point to enter Myanmar, the town of Imphal. Although, with a population of 470,000, you probably cannot call it a town. We will start to experience sharp bends, which are great on a motorcycle, provided you have an idea of the road surface and who or what may be on your side of the road around the next corner. Here neither of those certainties exist, so caution needs to be exercised.

When Anne showed me the Google Earth images of our route to Imphal, it became apparent that 20 kms per hour is a good average speed for the day. The twists and turns and the slow trucks we are likely to encounter en-route makes braking the journey in three riding days sensible. I have delusions from time to time that we will be able to go faster. Reality has proved me wrong, but the best we have achieved is 25 kms per hour average, which on percentage basis is a good improvement, but does not reduce the long days’l riding enough. Three days it is.

We spend a leisurely morning at our hotel in Guwahati, recharging all our electrical equipment and uploading photos and videos to Dropbox, our online backup site. It is interesting how dependent we are on needing electricity to recharge the various items we have, although we do have capacity on the bikes to recharge during the day, but having cables in your jacket connecting to various items means we try to avoid this if possible. We also look out for good internet speed to upload video and photos, but often this requires us to buy 3G data packs for our local SIM cards as hotels are notoriously slow.

Heading out of town to the accompaniment of the occasional firework bangs as Diwali continues, we spot a brickworks and people working in what looks like a large field divided into sections by bricks. Here we discover women working making bricks, one at a time by hand, while children play and men mostly look on. It looks to be slow and laborious work, probably only rewarded by pay per brick. Judging by the nearby shacks, the families look like they live as well as work here.

Another brick factory, south of Forbesganj, India

Another brick factory, south of Forbesganj, India

Brick making in Assam, India

Brick making in Assam, India

Women working, men watching, kids playing - a common scenario here - India

Women working, men watching, kids playing – a common scenario here – India


As we left the brickworks, Anne who usually keeps me informed of what hazard to expect, said “Elephant!!!”‘ – well that was a new one, we had seen the right of way signs for elephants, but not the real thing. Here was a working elephant going about his business.

Look what's in my lane!!!! Out of Forbesganj, India

Look what’s in my lane!!!! Out of Forbesganj, India

We are heading for Nagaon, the first town on this section of the trip. We find a hotel room after a couple of abortive attempts. The management are very concerned at our motorbikes being outside, even with our covers and with locks. They try to convince us to push the bikes up a short flight of stairs, not understanding the weight of our bikes. Failing this, they arrange for the police to provide a security detail overnight. What concern for our bikes and, by extension, us!! Another personal connection with people in India which we had been looking for.

Our next overnight stop will be Kohima which, like Darjeeling, is perched high on hillsides some 1400 meters above sea level. We watched the temperature drop as we climbed and realised that we now find anything below 21.5 degrees Celsius cold! Over the last four months, we have been subjected to temperatures as high as 46.5 degrees with it normally being above 30 degrees, we have become accustomed to this. Our average speed is as predicted, 20km per hour as we twist and turn up the road on which water has created potholes and washouts. Kohima proves to be as difficult to navigate as Darjeeling was with roads running up and down the mountainside. Luckily our route is straight through town to our hotel, which is perched on the hillside on the road to Imphal, close to the cathedral whose bells we can hear in the morning. It has been a long time since we heard that sound.

As we have moved through this part of India, we started to notice schools named after Christian Saints, as we move deeper in to Assam we have started to see Churches as well. I had not realised that a sizeable Christian population existed. We have been used to Hindu and Muslim villages with an increasing Muslim percentage of the population as we got closer to Bangladesh. I presumed that the origins of Christianity here dated back to missionaries probably from around the time of the East India Company, but in fact Christianity can be traced back to the 6th century, before some European countries saw the introduction of Christianity. It is estimated that there are some 30 million Christians in India, the third largest religion in India.

What a treat to come across these elephants on our small country road in Assam, India

What a treat to come across these elephants on our small country road in Assam, India

More working elephants on our country road!!!  Assam, India

More working elephants on our country road!!! Assam, India

Lovina, the gorgeous hotel and restaurant owner where we had lunch 40kms north of Kohima, India

Lovina, the gorgeous hotel and restaurant owner where we had lunch 40kms north of Kohima, India

Typical village entrance gate in Nagaland, India

Typical village entrance gate in Nagaland, India

The view from our hotel in Kohima at 6am, shortly before we left for Imphal.

The view from our hotel in Kohima at 6am, shortly before we left for Imphal.

On day three we arrive at the village of Mao, on the border of the state of Manipur. Here we complete entry formalities to the state which included our passports being stamped. The first time we have had our passports stamped at a state level. They also have an Ebola temperature test for foreigners, plus the obligatory ledger to fill in all our details. We felt that the village had a really good feel and we would have been happy to spend more time there, but the grey rain clouds forming to the north, reminds us that we should move on as mud roads are our least preferred surface.

Heading south of Kohima towards Imphal, India

Heading south of Kohima towards Imphal, India

Rice fields near Kohima, India

Rice fields near Kohima, India

Police border post at Mao,  Manipur - view from the police office

Police border post at Mao, Manipur – view from the police office

Ebola check mandatory formall foreignes at Mao, Manipur state, India

Ebola check mandatory formall foreignes at Mao, Manipur state, India

Police office at Mao, Manipur top right, where we got our passports stamped!

Police office at Mao, Manipur top right, where we got our passports stamped!

We had originally planned to spend four days in Kohima at our hotel. We had been promised a room with a view and balcony, but they gave it away to someone else for one night as we were staying for four then lied to us about what they promised. We cancelled the extra three nights and moved on to Imphal. This turned out be good for us as it meant we avoided the subsequent rain.

– Anthony

Diwali – Festival of Lights

From Alipurduar to Guwahati, we have 280kms to cover so we leave our hotel at 7.30 as we want to get to Guwahati early enough to get to our hotel and make the most of Diwali which starts from 6pm today!! We are out of Alipurduar in no time and ride into the morning mist, along the most beautiful countryside. The patchwork of colours and textures created by rice fields at different stages of maturation, giving farmers up to 4 crops a year, is a feast to our eyes. We keep stopping to admire them.

Rice fields in Assam

Rice fields in Assam


We love riding on these small country roads, through tiny quiet villages. Quiet villages in India I hear you ask?! Yes, it is Diwali today, a national holiday and these quiet roads are a real treat. People are preparing for Diwali.

Avoid hitting a cow at all cost in India!!

Avoid hitting a cow at all cost in India!!


Bhutanese truck at our roadside breakfast stop

Bhutanese truck at our roadside breakfast stop

So what is Diwali? Diwali, also known as Deepavali in other parts of South-east Asia and the Festival of Lights, is a 4 day festival, celebrated throughout India, to dispel darkness and lighten lives and is one of the biggest of all Hindu festivals. It celebrates the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil, and hope over despair. Being a festival of joy and light, it is celebrated with great enthusiasm and happiness. On Diwali night, Hindus dress up in new clothes or their best outfit, light up diyas (lamps and candles) inside and outside their home, and participate in prayers.

The much celebrated Kali Pooja of West Bengal is also celebrated in Guwahati and coincides with the Diwali Festival.

Kali is worshipped for her destructive mode. She initially went on a rampage, killing and destroying all evil men and demons in the world. But she got carried away. She only came to her senses when she realised she nearly killed her husband Shiv by putting her foot on him as he deliberately lay down in her path. She is terrifying to look at, furious, has 4 hands, dripping blood and dressed in human heads, one foot on Shiv, her tongue sticking out in shock and horror at realising what she was about to do and the destruction she was causing.

Kali, Diwali - Guwahati, India

Kali, Diwali – Guwahati, India


We will be in for a treat and I am really looking forward to this evening!!! That is why I am keen to arrive in Guwahati by mid-afternoon.

As we ride through the villages and small towns on our way to Guwahati, we come across many pandals, temporary temples, built just for Diwali celebrations tonight – some are huge and elaborate, other are tiny simple ones on a road junction – and many wooden boards lining the streets, with designs made of tiny holes – so it seems…

Pandal on our way to Guwahati

Pandal on our way to Guwahati

Riding past some of the decorations that will be lit up for Diwali, festival of lights, West Bengal

Riding past some of the decorations that will be lit up for Diwali, festival of lights, West Bengal

After checking into our hotel, quick shower and change, meet up with a driver we got the hotel to organise to take us around Guwahati to witness the various Diwali celebrations. The first thing we notice are the roadside ‘cutouts’ have come alive. And my goodness, are they alive!! We see flying butterflies, jumping fish, flashing flowers. They will be even more amazing at night…

Light display for Diwali in Guwahati

Light display for Diwali in Guwahati


Back of light display for Diwali in Guwahati

Back of light display for Diwali in Guwahati

Pandal for Diwali in Guwahati

Pandal for Diwali in Guwahati


Luckily we get to see the final touches being put on before the sun sets. People are buying offerings of flower garlands, fruit, tiny terra cotta bowls. As we had ridden today, we’d noticed so many people dragging massive banana branches. We had also seen many vendors selling lots of clay bowls. Now we knew what they were for: to decorate each each stand and home entrance, by framing them with a couple of branches which become candle stands. The tiny clay bowls are in fact oil lamps: they fill them with mustard oil, place a cloth wick to light the oil. Paths to homes, shop fronts, open and closed business were lined with dozens of oil lamps. Only the petrol stations didn’t have them thank goodness, although Anthony did spot one lone candle at one of them!!

Lighting the mustard oil lamps for Diwali, Guwahati

Lighting the mustard oil lamps for Diwali, Guwahati


Offerings seller for Diwali in Guwahati

Offerings seller for Diwali in Guwahati


Seller of flowers, offerings, and oil lamps for Diwali in Guwahati

Seller of flowers, offerings, and oil lamps for Diwali in Guwahati


Carefully selecting clay lamps for Diwali in Guwahati

Carefully selecting clay lamps for Diwali in Guwahati


The tiniest alley is beautifully decorated. Either with electric lights, but especially with a multitude of tiny burning oil lamps. It reminds us a little bit of our Christmas lights but here there is something a lot more meaningful. It is not simply about having the best decorations, but we feel a genuine celebration of their beliefs. We witness many people, all beautifully dressed, bringing offerings to the various temples, praying at the temples or pandals. From the pandals, we hear music, mostly drumming but we feel it is inappropriate for us to walk into them just as observers, as people are praying, so we listen from outside. We wish we could understand the meaning behind some of the pandal designs.

Pandal for Diwali in Guwahati

Pandal for Diwali in Guwahati

It was fantastic to have a driver who knew all the back streets of Guwahati. We would drive a little, stop, walk, listen, observe and enjoy. (It was the second time in India that we had a guide/driver, and it definitely made it a lot more enjoyable.) The atmosphere in the streets was definitely joyful and the celebrations sincere.

Light display over tiny street in Guwahati

Light display over tiny street in Guwahati

Every business had at least one oil lamp burning for Diwali in Guwahati

Every business had at least one oil lamp burning for Diwali in Guwahati


In addition to lights and music, there were fireworks – although they were more like crackers. They were mostly fun but at times, in one place in particular, I found those quite stressful as kids would throw tiny crackers around you and a dozen would go off all at once.

Here’s a video montage which Anthony took:

We were glad we listened to our driver at one point as we were ready to return to the hotel but he gently insisted we should see “Guwahati’s number one temple” – the Kamakhya temple, dedicated to Mother Goddess Kamakhya – the granter of desires – and one of the most venerated Shakti shrines in India. So off we head through an arch way to the temple. So we thought. But the road went on and on, it got darker and darker and the road kept climbing. Where did this hill come from?! We didn’t remember there being such hills when we first came here from Bhutan!! And it went further up. We stopped half way – what a view!! We could see so many colourful lights, hear crackers, see fireworks. We went to the temple. Again, it was full of worshipers and we felt like we were intruding.

Kamakhya Temple, Guwahati

Kamakhya Temple, Guwahati


What a wonderful experience Diwali was for us.

Ever since Siliguri, we have noticed a difference in the people. We have found a much gentler, open, smiling and maybe more content people than further west. We can definitely see the advantage of organised trips, staying in just a handful of places, spending longer in each. We do not have the luxury of unlimited time though as we have a deadline to get back to Australia by and still have a few miles to cover by then. But we are making the most of each place as best we can. And this Assam region has been beautiful and quite enjoyable (apart from the drivers still…!).

Heading to the hillier and more remote Kohima and Imphal next… Feeling excited with a touch of trepidation – will I be up to the state of the roads??

– Anne