Harry and I often joke; “I get us in and he gets us out”. And It’s true! It is the way it unfolds, on our two previous trips, and now again.
I get us in …
I burrow in books and gawk at maps, for 10 months. I dig, in ever deepening layers, and bring to light – safe and unsafe states and provinces; – monsoons and snowfalls; – deserts and floodplains, deltas and rainforests; – the oldest religion and the most religions; – 330 million Hindu deities and 4000 Buddha, Jainism and Zoroastrianism; – a zillion independent hill tribes and as many kingdoms; – empires and colonialists, socialist utopias and military regimes; – an Aung San Syi Kui and a Pot Pol; – the most bombed country and a secret war; – the largest democracy and a quasi-civilian parliament; – good roads and bad roads; – visas and permits; – diseases and inoculations ….
And when I can’t bear it one moment longer, I step back and, mercifully, it comes together. I needle, – knit one, slip one, – together a route that fits us perfectly!
A route that bows and bends to rulers and rebels. A route that rises and falls with shapes and seasons. A route that twists and turns to glimpse, with luck, the tips of the Himalaya, a debating monk, worshipping bathers in the Ganges, a tattooed face, a long-necked lady, a hornbill festival, the course of the Irrawaddy River, a buffalo in a rice paddy, opium smoking men and hard working women, a floating village with fish pens AND MOST IMPORTANTLY a bowl of pig’s organ soup and coconut milk desert.
We name our journey. “If you meet the Buddha on the road … ?”
We hope … In northern India, to grip the foothills of the Himalaya, follow the Ganges, loop through its far-flung north-eastern state. Zigzag with a compulsory convoy through the newly opened Myanmar. Follow the northern border of Thailand and take a long-boat down the Mekong River. Slip down the long leg of Laos to the heart of Cambodia and double back to Thailand to cocktail on a beach.
Harry, however, WILL get us out …
He wakes up every morning, with a grin and a swagger. He makes sure we live to see another day!
Instinctively and I think, rather brilliantly, he courts the good and counters the bad.
See him in action; – he forges our way, with a hand on the horn, through potholed roads gridlocked with traffic; – he dons his ‘criminal hat’ and rigs our gear and secures our stuff; – he searches tirelessly at the end of each day for a perfect night’s campsite or rest , never expensive, always clean, always cosy; – he beats down the unscrupulous money changers and charms the bureaucrats; – he works an old directory to find a bike mechanic or hammers a weak internet signal to get those damn tyres through customs; – he stands our ground in a pulsating queue to that delicious kebab stand; he haggles with hand signals; he hawk-eyes our bikes for leaks and flaps and cracks AND MOST IMPORTANTLY he never gives up, never gives up … until our bikes are in shipping crates and we are on aeroplane seats … back home.
And today, as we sit, staring at our beautiful third route, stretched over 20,000 kilometres and 150 days, we can’t imagine a single bit of it.
Except the first five days in New Delhi …. the capital of a country with a sixth of the world’s population ….
! Can you hear the Din !