Friday, July 27, 2007

Eager to leave

RR journal - June 24, Still Kolkata

16km-231km (mileage reading)

The flag-off is at noon and we’re upset about that. We would have liked to leave early in the morning and covered as much as distance as we could before it got too hot. Instead, our first journey with Saira will begin in searing heat. But even that can’t keep our spirits low for long. We tuck all our things into Saira, fitting them as best as we could. We knew we’d get better at this (and we have). The rest of the morning is spent chatting with the teams and recording audio and exchanging boasts. Our team is a big favourite with all the newspapers and television channels. They all want to know more about the only Indian team participating in the event. I try to fade to the background a bit, being from a media organisation and all that, but my size makes that difficult, I realised.


Akshay and Shez decide that the journey should start with me behind the wheel. It’s quite an honour and means a lot to me. I think they could tell by the manic smile I wore the rest of the day till we left. At the flag-off, we were in the lead and I was super glad that we didn’t stall, like many of the teams did. Tom’s words from two nights before were at the back of my mind: “Most of the accidents happen in the first ten minutes, even before the journey has fully started.” And that did happen with a lot of people. But our Saira was a star; she purred blissfully and kept us in the lead behind the traffic marshall who was leading us out of the city. The going out of the city was good, especially with Kolkata’s autorickshaw drivers giving us a resounding applause when our convoy stopped for fuel and they saw we were up to.
But before we were too far out of the city, we realised that three teams that were planning to take the India route to Manali (as opposed to going through Nepal like us) were travelling in the wrong direction. We flagged them down, and set them on the right track. That was our first rescue. Just a little later we ran into Barnaby and Jamie, the Orient Express. They were already having a spot of trouble with their rickshaws and had discovered that they were out of cash and their ATM cards weren’t working. We spotted them some money and helped them along their way, our second rescue. We didn’t know then that this would be the trend for most of the journey.
Once we escaped the city traffic, our drive was beautiful and our spirits were high. We all drove Saira for a bit and we reached Krishnanagar by six in the evening. We decided to go on to Behrampore, which in hindsight was not a very smart decision, since we ended up driving in the night for a bit. But, as darkness descended, we ran into more autos (Andy was having trouble with his rickshaw and we found the convoy of three he was part of by the side of the road. After some driving tips, we were back on the road) and we travelled through the night in a bright little caravan. In Behrampore, we found the same hotel where some of the teams had reached before us, and dinner was a lively affair, with everyone comparing notes on their first day of driving a rickshaw and the size of the blisters on their left hands, which they use to change gears.

cross posted on teesra

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