Jan 2014

Asia, Blog

DISCUSSION 27 Comments

Fork Me: A Drive Across India – Part 1

The distance from Hampi, India, to the Nepalese border is 2,200 kilometers, approximately the distance from Phoenix to Seattle. The plan was to drive to Nepal for the short trekking season, and then return to India later to explore the North.

“It’s only 2,200 kilometers,” I reassuringly reported to Sheena. “We’ll be yodeling in the Himalayas in three days, tops.” Stupid, stupid, stupid. If we had the power of premonition we would still have Lennon, the Pontiac Aztec would never have seen the light of day, and I would still have the will to live. But we don’t, and so we began the drive across India, blindly walking straight into the field of rakes.

We left Hampi on roads having a medium number of potholes, which was annoying, and which were criss-crossed by a greater than average number of speed bumps, which was also annoying. For half of the day we pushed the limits of the road, which is to say that we crawled along at a three-legged turtle’s pace.

“Says here we’ll reach National Highway 7 by around lunchtime,” I said, swiping our Garmin with my finger. Sheena shot me a look as if to say, you’d better hope so, you sonofabitch, or you’ve cuddled your last cuddle. By lunchtime we reached National Highway 7, just as expertly predicted, whereupon we stopped at a humble roadside shack for lunch and were shocked when an Ausrian-registered Volkswagen LT40 overlanding truck pulled up next to us carrying none other than our soon-to-be road tripping BFFs, Regina and David—the first and only other overlanders we’d met in India—suckers.

After lunch we parted ways, Nacho being überly faster than Bluff (David and Regina’s truck) on open highways, and we hoped to meet again. Several minutes later everything went to hell, a milestone recognized by virtue of National HWY 7 changing from a four lane proper highway into a two lane wasteland matched only in dishevelment by the streets of Hiroshima circa 1945. As we sailed off of the end of the pavement and into the rubble field, Nacho’s oil pan smashed against the edge of a bomb crater. I pulled over to check that the oil pan hadn’t split—it hadn’t—and we continued on our way, albeit at a snail’s pace, crawling all over both lanes to reduce the impact of falling into the holes formerly known as road. Bluff soon passed us.

As the hours ticked by my wits began to falter. The highway was a parade of overloaded trucks with inventive paint jobs which, every few kilometers, piled up behind and then overtook their comrades who had sustained broken axles or rolled over—those poor impatient souls who drove too fast through the crater field. The driving conditions deteriorated throughout the day, while the scant driving skills possessed by the nation’s motorists evaporated altogether. Cars drove on the wrong side of the road—even when a center divider was present—and trucks and motorcycles entered the roadway without signaling or even looking first, causing me to repeatedly slam on the brakes and think very bad thoughts.

On a particularly straight and excessively potholed section of road on which we crept along at around 10kph, we happened upon a motorcycle cop coming in our direction. Seeing our white faces, his pupils turned to dollar signs and he flipped around, rode up next to Sheena’s window, and attempted not to fall over at such a low rate of speed. He pointed to the roadside, prompting me to let out a stifled laugh—not a funny laugh, but a laugh that let anyone within earshot know that this road had taken away my desire to live, and with it any care of what would happen to me if I lost control and hacked up an Indian motorcycle cop with my Bear Grylls special edition machete.

“Well hello good officer, it’s a wonderfully wonderful day out here on your amazing National Highway 7, now don’t you agree?” A fluent English speaker would match this to my tone and realize that I was a man with no fear, a desperate man. A suicide bomber. He didn’t speak English, save for a few choice words.

“You license.”

“Why yes of course I have a license. And good for you for checking. Is there anything else I can do for you?”

“You license!”

“Now, as you’ll recall, I just explained to you that I indeed do have a license. If you think I’m going to give it to you, well then you’re terribly mistaken.”

“She license,” he said, pointing to Sheena.

“This pretty little lady here is my passenger. And as you’re well aware, passengers aren’t required to have licenses. Isn’t that about right?” This was easy enough, but I wanted so badly to punch this man in his big, dumb, mustachioed face.

“She license. SHE LICENSE!” He was clearly getting mad.

“Me driver…she passenger…see? Me drive. She sit there and read book. No need license for read book. Understandy?”

“One thousand Rupee,” he demanded.

“Excuse me? Why?”

“One thousand Rupee!”

“I don’t think so. We have a long way to go, so leave us alone.” And at that he gave up and walked back to his bike without another word. Corruption. It might explain how Central India’s primary north-south corridor had been allowed to fall to ruins.

As evening neared and I dangled near the end of my desperate rope, having completed only 300km of slow and painful crawling, we saw a group of Indian men staring at something on the edge of the road much in the same way that they usually gather around and stare at us. As we passed we saw a car with its hood smashed in and a crumpled motorcycle in the road, its rider hunched over but alive, sitting in a pool of blood. Nobody did anything, the spectators just stood and stared.

Distracted by the scene we launched into another crater, smashing our oil pan for the umpteenth time. As darkness fell we found a petrol station, pulled into a corner, and cried ourselves to sleep.

Early morning coffee and oatmeal prepared us for another 12 hours of battle. I tied up our full trash bag and walked to the gas station attendant to see where I might throw it away, at which he motioned with his thumb to toss it over the wall. I said I’d rather not, but he enthusiastically encouraged me to pitch it over the wall—it’s the Indian System, he assured me. Instead I secured the bag to the front bumper and we departed into the post-apocalyptic mine field known as National HWY 7.

Around lunchtime we smashed our oil pan for the bazillionth time while abruptly dropping into a coffin-sized hole in the road, so I again pulled over to inspect it for splits. The formerly perfect rectangular prism had by now become a piece of mutant cauliflower, and had long since developed a leak around the crushed-in oil drain plug. I checked the oil level—a half quart low—and topped it up, got back in the car, and turned the key. The engine refused to start.

Reer reer reer…reer reer reer…reer reer reer…

“FORK!” (actual expletive disguised to maintain at-work readability)

“Oh my!” Sheena said under her breath. I don’t usually swear, so she knew this must be serious. And it was, after all, since this was a new engine for which I had virtually no spare parts, no experience, and no shop manual. I thought about it a little more.

“Fork, FORK!” Could I have added too much oil? Could the air filter be plugged from the endless kilometers of this dirt road incomprehensibly called a highway? I got out, crawled under the van, and readied myself to empty a half quart of oil out of the drain plug. I slowly unscrewed it, and before I knew it hot oil was pouring all over my hands and I couldn’t stop it.

“What the FORK!” I scream-whispered as my delicate hand skin began to melt. Stupid, stupid, stupid! I only had one quart of oil left with which to replenish this Exxon-Valdez! Just when all hope seemed lost I fumbled the plug back in, stopping the flow of molten lava. Soon enough, as always happens in India, a group of men emerged from the woodwork and formed a tight huddle around me as I wiped my scorched hands on an old t-shirt, removed the air filter, and went to work removing the thick mud from its creases.

While I worked, Sheena tidied up the house under the supervision of a deranged Indian man who continually stared at her with mean creeper eyes. She collected several empty plastic bottles and tucked them into the trash bag on the front bumper, an act which enraged the creepy man. He disgustedly followed her, grabbed the plastic bottles out of the trash, and flung them into the trees, and then stared at her like a deranged and infuriated maniac. Who does this woman think she is, coming into our country and exercising environmental consciousness?

Just as I put the finishing touches on the air filter who should arrive but David and Regina. They had stopped in Hyderabad to have their moto rack welded after a legally blind Indian driver had driven full-speed into them while they sat in a turn lane, but weren’t convinced that the welder knew what he was doing, so carried on. I told them we’d catch up in the evening and saw them on their way. As they left, Sheena ran over and informed me that we urgently had to leave, right this second, just throw your tools into the car and get us the hell out of here NOW! The creepy littering man was getting belligerent, and in her assessment we were now in a state of danger.

I threw everything inside, rubbed our Iranian prayer beads, and turned the key—salvation! Nacho roared to life and we sped away (at roughly 10kph) from the threatening gaze of the backwoods Indian creeper, undoubtedly mere seconds before he would have tried something foolish and caused me to turn my torque wrench into a weapon.

We soon stopped at another gas station for a fill up. I carried our trash bag over to the attendant and was again encouraged to throw it over the wall, which both enraged and flabbergasted me. They live in piles of garbage, and it’s all their own fault. I returned to Nacho, secured the garbage to the front bumper, and slammed the door.

“Am I out of my forking mind for wanting to responsibly dispose of this garbage?!” Sheena nervously twisted and pulled out a little bit of her hair, I seethed with rage, and we drove back into the mine field, slamming our oil pan on a concrete ledge as we pulled back onto India’s National Highway 7.


Click to read Part 2 >>

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  1. bob

    Crazy, Man….easy to laugh at your doings, from AFAR! And to think how I get ticked off over a couple drops on my driveway from my 87 Vanagon. Hope you make it! To ANYWHERE!!! ( I’ve got a Bentley manual if you ever need any info emailed to you.)

    Comment by bob on January 19, 2014 at 8:29 pm

  2. Forking hilarious and painful at the same time!

    Comment by Rich on January 19, 2014 at 8:30 pm

  3. Meta

    Wow, it looks like you have endured a lot in all these days. Even money says you will not make to Nepal before end of this week. :)

    Comment by Meta on January 19, 2014 at 8:37 pm

  4. Ernie

    I would say something but do not want to offend your world wide audience.
    Lets just play this little word game. Shithole. my daughter. shithole. glad you are out of there. shithole. dangerously ignorant. Atomic Bomb?Someone stop me before I offend someone. This country may be old but has a lot of growing up to do.

    Comment by Ernie on January 19, 2014 at 8:51 pm

  5. @Bob, thanks for the offer but I already have a Bentley manual, as well as a Haynes. Unfortunately they’re for the VW engine. I replaced the engine in Thailand with a Subaru. Great upgrade, but no supporting documentation.

    Comment by Brad on January 19, 2014 at 10:13 pm

  6. @Rich, you toured India on a motorcycle, right? I bet you have all kinds of stories to tell!

    Comment by Brad on January 19, 2014 at 10:16 pm

  7. I think we can rest assured that this post was not sponsored by the Indian Tourism Bureau, yes? Part of seeing the world includes seeing what you don’t acre to see again.

    Comment by Keith on January 19, 2014 at 10:17 pm

  8. @Ernie, if I seem nervous around you when we get home, it’s because I’ll be expecting you to kill me at any surprise moment ;) Oh, and didn’t you hear that India’s economy is meant to surpass the US by 2050? Ha! Not with these corrupt clowns running the show!

    Comment by Brad on January 19, 2014 at 10:17 pm

  9. lol if your writing career doesnt take off you could start a job as cartoon fork-jamming eye panelist

    That LT-40 is pretty bad ass.

    PS: Im sure you already have these by now but heres some PDFs of the Legacy shop manual which has the EJ25 you swapped in.


    Comment by James on January 19, 2014 at 10:29 pm

  10. @You’re the man, James. As you suspected I learned my lesson on this drive and collected all of the relevant PDF files. Now I’ll work on syndicating my eye-forker to some local newspapers and see if my cartooning career takes off…

    By the way, we’re looking forward to seeing you guys get back on the road soon!

    Comment by Brad on January 19, 2014 at 10:36 pm

  11. Sue

    Wow, those roads are unforgiving and looks like a mule would have been a better mode of transportation :( Poor Nacho, now having such a bruised undercarriage. Maybe an oil pan purchase would be wise about now.
    I really feel for you both having to deal with a creepy littering man who obviously did not have his medication that day. :) You are both brave and crazy and I just love reading your blog, only wish it were more often.
    Safe journey and hope the road improves quickly, before you all get swallowed up.
    much love

    Comment by Sue on January 19, 2014 at 11:40 pm

  12. @Brad, yes that motorcycle trip was one of the most psychologically difficult things we’ve ever done. I imagine it is considerably harder for you two in the van. I had respect for you guys before India…. that respect has quadrupled, seeing that you’ve been able to cope. We found it almost impossible to adequately explain to those who have not been to India how challenging it can be. You two are doing an excellent job expressing it. That young woman who refused to leave her hotel room is not an anomaly.

    Nepal will be like a breath of fresh air. There is a great free camping spot in Pakhara, along the lake on Baidam Rd http://goo.gl/maps/xPUoY. Also there is a beautiful little campground further down the road in the entry to the next town. In Kathmandu, Shonas is the place to rent or buy any gear you will need for trekking. They are honest to a fault.

    Comment by Rich on January 20, 2014 at 1:17 am

  13. Carol

    Brad, this post is priceless….you made me laugh out loud, even though I felt bad for doing so because you’re obviously having a hell of a time right now. Somehow the worse the adventure gets for you, the better the reading gets for me/us…..is that bad?!! Hang in there!!

    Comment by Carol on January 20, 2014 at 4:20 am

  14. Grant

    Love reading about your trip I am new here thank you very much for the wealth of pictures and descriptions I have traveled a few roads like that But I understand your pain But FORK it all Nacho will make it an so will you good luck an safe passage on your travels

    Comment by Grant on January 20, 2014 at 5:04 am

  15. D.Whit

    Is there any possibility that you could offer a sacrifice to the bad roads of a bit of plate steel for a skid plate ?

    I’m not familiar with the Subaru . Exhaust still whole and attached ?

    Comment by D.Whit on January 20, 2014 at 7:03 am

  16. Mom

    Thank heaven for your logic and cool (dealing with corrupted cops and fixing Nacho in the worst of circumstances) and Sheena’s intuition (let’s get the fork out of here…NOW!). Both have saved you many times on your journey!

    I agree with the other comments: while you made me laugh by your words, the laughter was bitter-sweet. Nervously awaiting Part II….

    Comment by Mom on January 20, 2014 at 10:29 pm

  17. Valerie

    Oh my goodness gracious, I am so sorry that your pain has sent me into a fit a laughter with , just a bit, a bit, mind you of pee dribbling down my leg! So enjoy reading your blog, Sheena’s too. This one however, takes the cake! I am not completely selfish as I hope life on Hwy 7 got easier and less frustrating. Look forward the update! Be well, Valerie

    Comment by Valerie on January 21, 2014 at 12:29 am

  18. Scott

    This writeup was forking hillarious. I too have fallen for the removing molten oil trick. It is rare i can laugh out loud at something in cubi-hell. Thanks for making me laugh as i sit in my corporate prison wanting to take the steps you have.

    Comment by Scott on January 21, 2014 at 1:47 am

  19. Least I could do, Scott.

    Comment by Brad on January 21, 2014 at 3:02 am

  20. johngo

    Good call on checking the oil. After a Subaru conversion in my 86 Westy, the mechanic stated very clearly that one of the worst things you can do in a Suba-gon is adding too much oil. Doing so causes too much oil pressure, and all sorts of resulting mayhem.

    I have to say, I’m a little confused about the dating of your blog posts.
    At present you are in Istanbul, correct?
    It seems like your account of this long drive north in India over terrible roads happened at least a couple of months ago, right?

    Don’t get me wrong, it’s fine if you update your blog whenever you want to.

    I always enjoy your posts, and read completely through every one. You are a terrific writer.

    Comment by johngo on January 21, 2014 at 8:32 am

  21. @Johngo, astute observation about the timing. Indeed our blog does lag behind reality by a variable amount of time depending on our ability to produce blogs fast enough, internet connectivity, etc. It’s mostly a matter of so much stuff happening and us having to find the time to record it. Our Facebook page is up-to-the-minute though, so go there for real time news.

    Comment by Brad on January 21, 2014 at 1:50 pm

  22. johngo


    I had a roommate from India when I was in college.
    He was going on one time about how terrible the drivers were in India.
    I asked him, “so what’s the process for getting a drivers license there?”

    He laughed and said: “it’s really simple. You go down to the place that issues drivers license, pay the, ahem, fee, and they give you a license.”

    No drivers education. No actual test of your driving skills, just pay your money and get your license. Maybe that explains a few things…

    Comment by johngo on January 25, 2014 at 7:43 am

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  26. manohar

    map of India is wrong you have used a wrong map pls change it as the state of Kashmir is not show in it.

    Comment by manohar on February 12, 2014 at 8:37 pm

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