After seeing India’s largest tourist attraction, it was time for us to plan our exit from the country. We’d originally wanted to visit Kashmir in the far north and experience the huge plains and barren mountains, but the timing just didn’t work. The distances are so vast and the traffic so tedious, that we wouldn’t have made it during the summer time. Anytime after that and it all becomes next-level difficult. We’d seen some mountains and experienced some bad roads in Sikkim and we would be in the heart of the Himalayas soon, once in Nepal. So all we needed was a nice route from Agra into Nepal. How hard could that be?
One golden rule we follow in India is to avoid major cities, in fact as many cities as possible. Agra has an expressway to one place worth avoiding, Delhi. Once you are on the Agra ring road, you could carry on straight and be in Delhi in a few hours. We wanted to peel off and head north but all the routing said no, not possible. I looked at the map and could see the link road I wanted but I’d have to salmon down it. As if anyone doesn’t go the wrong way down streets in India. I even considered cutting off the fuel about 1km away from it in case anyone asked what I was doing….broken down! The only other way to go directly north was to drive through the centre of Agra and cross underneath the ring road. That would be indescribably hellish. So which idiot designed that road layout?
Zipping along the wide and empty ring road we slowed down to find our slightly illegal exit. There it was, the slip road. A tree, a little hut, a barrier and a POLICEMAN. This was the first time we’d actually seen some kind of traffic control (policemen are used instead of traffic lights in most places….and ignored usually). I considered our original plan, then considered a bribe, then realised it would be quicker to continue and come off at the next exit instead. So we were stuck on the road to Delhi and quickly learned why our turn-off had been blocked. The expressway was a toll road, and for the first time, this included 2-wheelers. Not a gap in the armco or a tiny track anywhere on the roadside where a scooter could pop on and off. We were captive. The resulting long detour was not pleasant and just encouraged us to push on further than we’d planned. The towns were dusty and horrible and we couldn’t find anywhere we wanted to eat or stay. Add some Indian road rage into the mix and that put us all the way into the town of Ramnagar.
Ramnagar sits next to the somewhat famous Jim Corbett National Park. Jim was apparently the dude who was often commissioned to hunt and kill man-eating large cats early in the 20th century. I’m not sure if he enjoyed it, because he later became a keen conservationist and photographer. Subsequently he played a large part in creating this national reserve in north India. You’ll be glad to know he didn’t call it Jim Corbett NP; that became the new name after he died. Timing seeming to be our weakest skill meant that the park was pretty much closed. There were a couple of bits you could get in, but you wouldn’t really see much of anything. Additionally some tourists had been swept to their deaths a few days earlier at a river crossing. Like a lot of these tourist destinations, the authorities go a bit too far after an accident. Their logic must be: if we stay closed no one can get hurt. So the park was a no go. Ace!
So Nickiy decided we could potter along the perimeter the next day to see a few villages, have lunch somewhere then potter back. We’d be able to look into the park and we’d have only 13km to go along the road and back again. It sounded like a nice day out! We’d be back by mid afternoon. So we headed along this road across a couple of river fords and into a nice little place run by a local fella and his Finnish wife. They had built a real sauna on their deck which overlooked the rice fields. In the other direction were the hills of the park. They were also mostly closed up for the monsoon season so we ate what they had and drank real coffee. Once we’d been shown his collection of original Marvel comics, we could see black clouds gathering back towards Ramnagar. We should go, I said and eventually we eased ourselves away and headed back towards town for fear of getting stuck along this dead-end road. We got back to the widest river crossing….holy shit! There was a barrier across the road and a deafening roar coming from the brown river beyond it. Traffic was queued on our side and, in the distance, across at the other side. We had ridden through this easily only about an hour or so earlier. It had been only a few inches deep. It had risen by a meter and was now perhaps 200m wide. That’d be a flash flood from rain in the hills of the park! It wasn’t even raining where we stood, slack-jawed staring at it.
There was nothing to do but wait for it to drop. So we hung around in the jungle drinking tea and slapping mosquitoes hoping it would return to a gentle trickle. It didn’t. Each time we returned to check on it, it was marginally lower and people in large vehicles were attempting to cross it, with mixed success. One fat Indian decided he’d sit on Stein for a selfie and I had to shout at him. His reply was “hey, I’d let you drive my car”. I growled back “Is your car 40 years old? Can you get parts for it? Don’t touch my fucking bike.” Nickiy diffused the situation as best as she could.
So now we were faced with another pressure: darkness. At the rate of level drop, it might just be passable at sunset. Otherwise we’d have to stay somewhere without any of anything. I certainly wasn’t equipped to cross it in the dark. An old man (who wasn’t crossing) said to me “DON’T LOOK AT THE WATER”. Christ! Some locals offered to take the bike across on a tractor for a fee (in the scoop probably). I told them to go away (don’t touch my fucking bike). To them everything was amusing and a great spectacle, however it looked fairly serious to me. The cross flow was very fast and you couldn’t see through the mud. The road was concrete underneath but it had potholes and seams I wouldn’t be able to dodge. Plus if you went too far to the left you were off the edge of the causeway. And if you went too far right you were off the edge and sailing merrily downstream. None of this was ideal.
Finally steeling ourselves (including a change in footwear) I got ready to cross. But everyone wanted the upstream side and approaching traffic would be hard to avoid in the middle of a river! The force of the river was easy to spot: it took 3 people to push each scooter through and hold it upright. The sun set so I set off, Nickiy walking and filming in her inimitable style. It was pretty fucking scary and I felt like I was more likely to fall than stay upright. As I focused sternly on staying straight and leaning into the flow, the water mesmerised me. The old man’s mantra snapped me out of my mini-daze and I looked to the shore, keeping the revs high and letting the bike just bump over anything it wanted. To our amazement, we made it through and out the other side. Nickiy clambered on and we began our run home. Once again though, I’d broken the primary rule: Never leave the house without riding equipment for all conditions. Stupid, stupid, stupid! Our short 26km day trip had taken us from mid-morning to night time. I find sunglasses don’t work very well at night and the clear goggles were back in Ramnagar. So we rode carefully but keenly enough to avoid still being out when it became pitch black. The jungly, insect-laden air bombarded us with huge flying beasts which were in turn removed from our eyeballs by bucket-loads of stinging dust. As if the planets aligned especially for this outing, we then hit a huge carnival on the road into town. The road was a sea of families (that I couldn’t see) all enjoying rides (that I couldn’t see) and eating from stalls (I couldn’t see) whilst being nudged by oncoming scooters (that I also couldn’t see). We’d spent over 5 hours waiting to cross that river and finally got back to our lodgings at 19:40.
Over dinner, we told the owner about our day. He said, that’s the river crossing where the student tourists died. Aaah.