Deep in the Moroccan Sahara bordering Algiers

Tuesday, 1 March 2011


The Indian/Nepali border town of Sonali was rather confusing, with the customs check point secluded and nestling in between two sari shops.  We drove straight past it, only to find ourselves hotly pursued by a worried customs official shouting at us to ‘Stop!’ as we drove down the high street.  The man behind the customs desk started flicking through our now rather full and busy looking passports.  He was amazed at the number of stamps we had collected and asked what we did for a living to be able to afford all this travelling.  Not wanting to go into our private finances, Alan replied.  ‘Nothing!’  The customs man looked shocked.  
‘Nothing?’  He quizzed.  With passports and vehicle carnet stamped, we left the customs.
The Nepali side was easy and was completed without any hitches.  Just across the Nepali border we had completed 12,464 miles, through 13 countries, in 7 months, had 5 broken springs, replaced 1 fan belt, had 5 punctures, 3 oil changes and used 519 gallons of diesel!
Nepal like India was a stunningly beautiful country.  It was an endless spectacle of undulating hills, covered with a carpet of terraced, cultivated plateaus.   Roads clung precariously to the valley walls at the bottom of which flowed fast milky green rivers.  Small villages were scattered along the roads, many of which seemed to be barely clinging onto life.  The occupants looked ragged and poor and their wooden houses looked old and tired.  Some families made a living by offering refreshments to travellers.
Our Sherpa was ‘home’ and was pulling up the foothills of the Himalayas in style.  We thought back to the person who told us the week before we left England that our Sherpa wouldn’t even make it to Dover!  We believe that we are the only people to have taken a Sherpa van to Nepal.
Just a few miles outside Kathmandu, we spotted the new Dalima Resort, and as it was getting dark we decided to camp in the car park for the night.  This was the easiest way to travel, to find a restaurant for dinner, then ask permission to park up for the night.  We were never refused. The place was empty except for a security guard, who kept saluting our every move, and the manager who welcomed us to eat in his brand new restaurant.
It was an impressive sight, built on a 4-tiered garden terrace, with small cottage accommodation on the uppermost terrace.  The chicken curry and rice tasted good, but Alan’s Coka Cola was warm!  He called the manager and asked for it to be changed for a cold one.  The manager apologized, saying that he couldn’t give him a cold one as the fridges didn’t have electricity during the day, only at night.  We thought no more of his explaination and having eaten our fill, retired to our Sherpa for the night.
The following morning we were both very unwell, with stomach cramps, diarrhoea and feeling nauseous, but we pushed on the few miles to Kathmandu.  By the time we made it to Kathmandu, we were in such a state with our illness that we didn’t even have the energy to haggle with the first hotel manager we met.  He charged us an extortionate NRs 300 per night.  Just to park in the car park!  For that we couldn’t even use the toilet when we needed.  We had caught a bad bought of Guardia, from the incorrectly kept food at the Dalima resort.   Having bought a course of Flagyl at the local chemist, we were soon on the mend.  This was the only illness we experienced during our 12 month drive.
Walking through Kathmandu can only be likened to walking back in time.  ancient rustic timber framed buildings overhung, crowded dusty narrow streets, lined with hawkers of all descriptions.  The hawkers not only catered for the tourists, but for the locals.  Foods, handmade pots, crafted shoes, Yak’s wool jumpers, and a whole range of hippie attire.  As we walked through the very dry dusty streets, getting increasingly sore throats, a middle aged Nepali man tapped us on the shoulders.  
‘Hash.  You wanna buy hash?’ He quizzed in a rather strange way.  Of course his hash was a cheaper price and a far superior grade than all his counterparts on the streets.  …we carried on walking.  With renewed appetites the best meal we had in Kathmandu was a huge buffalo steak at the Everest Steak House.  Highly recommended.
Having recovered from our illness and feeling fighting fit, we went back to the hotel to try and argue the price of the car park down.  The hotel manager was having none of it, but somebody from the Swiss Medical Centre just across the street overheard us and invited us to stay free of charge in their car park.  This we did for a week while we explored Kathmandu.  We wanted to take our Sherpa into Durbar Square for a photo shoot, but this was not possible.  So we drove  to the nearby Buraktapur, which also had a Durbur Square, but with fewer tourists, and we were allowed right into the middle of the Square for a photo shoot.  Incredibly, some English tourists walked right past our UK registered Sherpa without noticing!  Then an American came up to us and looked at our list of countries painted on the side of our Sherpa and said, 
‘Gee, how’d ya git through Eye ran?’ (Iran)
A drive into the foot hills to see the Himalayan mountain range was a must, so drove North from Buraktapur to the Tibetan/Chinese border and the “Friendship Bridge.”  The Himalayas were truly stunning, but we couldn’t decide which peak was Everest.  Each peak was snow capped, crisp and clear, standing proud and poking into the heavens above.  It was one of those tranquil awesome sights that you just had to sit and soak up in silence.
At the Tibetan/Chinese border we were allowed to travel no further.  It was a reported US$175 per day for a vehicle pass and a Chinese chaperone.  We weren’t even allowed to walk onto the “Friendship Bridge” which didn’t seem very friendly to me!   We had to be content with a night spent at the Tibetan/Chinese border.  The following morning we stopped at another impressive looking restaurant.  I played safe and ordered porridge.  I’m rather fussy about my porridge.  I like it thick with creamy hot milk poured over the top.  When it arrived, it looked perfect. But having eaten a few mouthfuls, I thought it had an unusually crunchy texture. On closer inspection, to my horror I discovered weevils wriggling in my porridge and swimming in my creamy buffalo milk!  I sent it back, asking the chef to do it again.  He did just that, but with fewer weevils!  I haven’t eaten porridge since.
On our way out of Nepal, we stopped over in Royal Chitwan National Park.  The Tiger Tops resort wanted to charge us US$50 per night to park up in their grounds, but Ganesh, who had just opened the “Tiny Shop” invited us to stay on his property.  Ganesh was just starting a backpackers stop over, with meals and guides into the park.  He had a row of small rooms to cater for the budget travelers like us.  Ganesh charged only a fraction of the price of Tiger Tops and only Rs75 per meal cooked by his wife, compared to the Rs300 at Tiger Tops.  We were squeezed into his garden, where we stayed for 4 days.  Ganesh was born in the park and knew all the animals and places to see them.  He was very knowledgeable.  It was a quiet time for the park and we had Ganesh’s undivided attention.  He took us for walks in the park, where we saw Hog Deer, Golden Pheasants, Paradise Fly Catchers, Rhino, Vultures, Mongoose, and we even identified footprints at a watering hole of Tiger, Rhino, Civet Cat, monkey, and Sloth Bear.  Ganesh took us on an elephant ride where we saw Rhino and almost saw a tiger.  The elephant ride was rather uncomfortable as we had to sit astride the 3 tonne male tusker, but it was an excellent way to see the animals as they didn’t seem to see us only the elephant.  The elephant of course posed no threat to any of the animals and we were amazed at just how sure footed and steady it was, climbing up and down steep banks and across some deep rivers.  Another day we were taken on a canoe ride and spotted 3 Caracol on the riverbank. Alan kept wobbling the canoe, which was rather worrying.  It was a fantastic few days.  We were so impressed with Ganesh, that when we came to pay, we doubled the bill.  A first for us, but we felt it was worth every penny.
Feet from the Chinese border in Nepal. Chinese hills in background.

Indian/Nepali border nestled between 2 sari shops!

Into Nepal.

Local transport.

A Sadu in Kathmandu.

Swayamnbhu Nath Kathmandu.

A local in kathmandu.

Sherpie in Bhakatpur.

The Himalayas.

"Sherpie" in the "Himalayas" ...get it?


En route to Jaipur, we stopped at Amber, to visit the rather splendid Amber Fort built in 1592 on a hill overlooking the town which was once the ancient capital of Jaipur State.  We parked up and watched the elephant taxis arriving carrying their breakfast of dried grass in their trunks.  The elephants were the main mode of transport carrying tourists up the steep hill to the fort.  We went and bought our tickets from the booking office, which cost 400Rs (£5) and we were given elephant number 10.  Her name was Powan and she was a sprightly 25 years old.  I rather thought she looked fed up of the whole scene, having to ferry tourists up and down the steep hill many times a day.  Her eyes looked sad.  She was draped in a large piece of red floral material, on top of which perched our seats.  The driver had the best seat, sitting astride her neck.  We climbed aboard from an elephant stand and set off up the hill. John the photographer shouted, 
‘One photo, 100Rs, ready for when you return.’  We agreed and he took our photo.  It was a very steep climb and took about 20 minutes to complete.  As we reached the top we were amazingly met by John, waiving our photo in his hand!  Now that was what you called an express service.  At the top and at the entrance to the fort, the doormen wanted too much money for allowing 
us to take our cameras inside.  If we didn’t pay we would have to leave them in what looked like a very unsafe place outside.  We refused and they refused to let us in.  It was stalemate.  We climbed aboard Powan again and made our way back down the hill.  Near the bottom Powan started swinging her trunk about, accidentally knocking my flip-flop from my foot.  I called to an Indian passerby,  
‘My flip-flop, I’ve dropped it.’  Pointing to where it lay.  The Gandhi look alike just stood staring at the situation.  I tapped the driver on the shoulder half expecting him to have to climb down from Powan to retrieve my flip-flop.  With just one word from the driver Powan stopped, reversed until she was level with my shoe, then sort of pirouetted on the spot and picked up my flip-flop with her trunk and gave it to the driver.
Later whilst we sat in the our Sherpa deciding what to do next, a very scruffy, longhaired, bearded man came up to us, to say ‘Hello.’  He didn’t beg for money and I thought he was drunk as he reeked of alcohol.  He walked away, only to return a few moments later.  He had forgotten to tell us about the dancing ladies.  
‘Very good dancing ladies.’  He told us, then walked off!
In India there are an unusually high number of roaming cows.  They wonder at leisure all over the road eating any rubbish they can find.  Newspapers, discarded vegetable matter and any other food, and cardboard.  They are natures recycling plants on legs.  I asked one Indian where did they all come from?  He told us that people in India own cows, like Westerners own dogs.  They keep them for their milk and that whilst they wonder around all day, they all know where they live and return home at night.  They were ‘homing cows!’  A cow is a sacred animal in India and must not be harmed or killed and as a result is accommodated and respected by all Indians.
In Jaipur we decided to visit the Zoo.  It was a large Zoo with a wide variety of animals. They had a rather large crocodile collection and we were lucky enough to see them getting fed.  As we stood watching another visitor coolly told us that only two days ago, one of the big males had escaped and managed to break his way into the enclosure next door, where he attacked, killed and half ate one of the rare Blue Cows.  The keeper found the gruesome remains the following morning.  It was time to move on.
It was while in Jaipur that we met a rather special Hindu, whose philosophy on life was to have a profound effect on our lives.  Cheetan was a tall and handsome Prison Governor, who we came to call our Guru.  He told us that knowledge comes only from within, and not from books, which hold only information.  It’s what you do with information, which makes it knowledge. He believed that everyone’s destiny was pre-ordained and that there was little point dwelling on the past, which cannot be changed, or the future, which has yet to happen.  One should be concerned with the ‘now.’  He told us that everyone has a soul at different levels of awareness and that wrappings are shed as awareness grows.  He said that people all over the world are fed garbage by governments and the media and waste so much time and money on petty pointless rules and regulations. 
‘Wisdom is not taught in schools any more.’  He told us.  ‘The children are just taught to regurgitate mostly false information.’ We had many deep conversations with Cheetan.  His philosophy made such sense.  Cheetan confirmed and strengthened what we knew deep within.  He also gave us inner strength to stand up and be different and to make a stand against the West’s false and plastic throwaway society that was on the slippery slope to self-destruction.
It was December in Jaipur and the temperature was a humid 85°F. As we stood in the sweltering heat, we were looking for something that might cool us down.  I saw a shop advertising ice cream, just what we needed, so I went to investigate.  I was astounded by the shopkeeper’s reply.  
‘Oh no ma’am.  It is now winter.  I am not selling ice-cream!’
‘Why don’t we get a tok-tok rickshaw to the main market?’  I said to Alan.  We flagged one down.  It was driven by an old wizened, toothless man, who when we asked how much, he promptly told us the right price of 30Rs.  We climbed aboard his tok-tok, which must have been as old as him.  It was rusty, full of holes and clattered, coughed and spluttered as we mingled with the Jaipur traffic.  The extent of the rust was rather worrying.  Whilst this guy was old, he wasn’t taking any nonsense from the other motorists.  This became apparent when someone tried to cut him up, causing him to take evasive action.  Gripped by road-rage, like someone possessed the old man clattered down a gear and lurched his tok-tok forward in hot pursuit, weaving and ducking a diving around any vehicle that dared to get in his way, whilst waiving and shouting at the accused.  We had a most entertaining drive for 30Rs.  At our destination he turned to us and asked with a wide toothless grin,  
‘Good ride, you enjoy?’  
‘Yes.’ We told him, glad that we were still in one piece.  
‘I’m 65 years old and in good health.  I’m strong.’  He added, squeezing his matchstick arms.  He certainly had a strong will.  No doubt of that.
Back in Delhi, it was the Sikh Tri-Centenary celebrations.  Sikhs from all over the world came home to celebrate 300 years of their relatively new religion.  It was a carnival atmosphere, with floats carrying the Sikh religious leaders, free food and refreshments, followed by dancing horses, camels, and elephants.  One elephant led the procession and Alan was invited to sit on it through the streets of Delhi.  As we stood and watched, we became engulfed by a sea of bright orange turbans. Everyone was very friendly and kept giving us food and milk shakes.  A couple of elderly Sikhs became attached to us, inviting us to be part of the final celebrations.  They showed us around a marquee, which was a flurry of activity.  Huge vats of dhal and other vegetable dishes were being cooked and groups of women were making unleavened bread.  For some reason unknown to us, we were guests of honor and were given seats on the stage where the holy Sikh book was carried on beside us in front of hundreds of people.  One Sikh called Satnim even invited us to go and meet his friend Sonia Gandhi, but Alan declined adding later that he didn’t want to sit and listen to a load of old political drivel!
India was a fabulous place and we can’t wait to return.  In India, people accepted you for what you were and not what they thought you should be.  Unlike the West, you are not judged by your wealth or looks, but your wisdom.  India encourages you to contemplate things that really matter and to accept that everyone can be different, yet the same.  This helps us to understand who we are and to accept that none of us are better than the next, but just different.
Elephant taxis arriving at the Amber Fort.

The live refuse collectors, the "homing" cows.

Women making bread for the Sikh celebrations.

Cooks attending the Dahl for Sikh celebrations.

Camped on a beach in Goa. Sherpie in the middle.

Christmas Day with all other overlanders in Goa.

Having our evening shower.

Hampi temple complex.


Driving from Delhi Campsite to Agra, we came to a fork in the road.  With no indication as to which road we should take, we asked some people standing around.  
‘Agra, which road?’ My question was met with a myriad of glazed looks.  ‘Agra, Taj Mahal, which way?’ I repeated.  
‘Ah, Agra.  No, this no Agra, this Delhi.’ Came the reply. As if we didn’t know.  
‘Yes, this Delhi, but which way Agra?’  I repeated. 
‘No this Delhi.’ One insisted pointing at the ground by his feet for emphasis.  Over hearing our request, a very thin knowledgeable old man, without any teeth stepped forward from the crowd and offered to put us on the right road. He pointed precisely between the two roads, adding in a very definite tone, ‘Agra.’ 
 ‘Two tickets please.’  We asked the man in the ticket office of the Taj Mahal 
‘Fipty Rupees.’  Came the prompt reply from a man with a waggling head in the depths of the tiny ticket hut.  
’50 Rupees!’  Alan exclaimed.  ‘We were told it was only 15 Rupees.’  
‘Yes OK then, fipteen Rupees.’  He said rather sheepishly as a muffled laugh came from inside the ticket hut.  The Taj Mahal is a truly stunning building, magnificent from every conceivable angle.  The fact that it was built for the adoration of a woman, only deepens its beauty and splendour.  The story, which led to the existence to this awesome building, is rather sad. The construction of the Taj was started in 1631 after Mumtaz Mahal, wife of the Emperor Shah Jahan, died giving birth to their 14th child.  So distraught was the Emperor from losing his beloved wife after 17 years of blissful marriage, that he built the Taj Mahal as a token of his love to her. Built on the edge of the River Yammuna, it took 22 years to complete.  20,000 stone masons from afar afield as France, Italy, were under instruction of the main architect who was from Shiraz, Iran and whose name remains a mystery.  Ancient records refer to the semi precious materials used brought in from all over the world.  The marble walls are adorned with inlayed Ko’ranic inscriptions and floral designs, of which a flower could be composed of up to 48 pieces of precious stones. The four minarets, which stand 40.23 meters, lean outwards by 6°, so that in the event of an earthquake the towers will not fall onto the main building.  The finial was covered in 44,000 tolas of pure gold, which was plundered by the British troops in 1803.  No expense was spared to build what was to become the finest mausoleum ever created by man, much to the disgruntlement of the Shah’s subjects.   When the Taj was completed, it was agreed that the stonemasons could continue to live in houses they had built around the main entrance.  Generations later and stonemasons still live there and are employed to carry out renovation work, as well as providing stone inlay pieces for tourists.  The story doesn’t end there because Shah Jehan never recovered from the loss of his beloved wife.  So deep was his grief that the Shah locked himself away for five years.   For his own death he planned to build a mirror image of the Taj Mahal, in black on the opposite side of the River, but when his son and heir heard of this, he had the Shah deposed and imprisoned in the Red Fort, believing that he had gone mad.  It was in the Red Fort that the Shah spent the rest of his miserable days, looking out along the river at the final resting place of his beloved Mumtaz.
We left Agra and made our way towards Sariska Tiger Reserve.  The road out of Agra provided some sad sights.  We were appalled to see a number of magnificent Himalayan Bears, being goaded and prodded by men holding sticks and pulling a length of chain which was firmly fixed to a ring on the end of the bear’s nose.  These were so called ‘dancing bears’ which were illegal in India.  As we approached the bears the men forced them to ‘dance’ in our path, causing us to swerve to avoid them.  One bear was proving to be a handful and was fighting his handler.  I realized that being angry with the men would not be helpful.  They were only doing something that had been done for centuries, to put food on the table for their growing families.  In the past we all loved to see the performing animals in the travelling circuses and would not question for many years the fact that many of the circus animals were kept in degrading unhealthy conditions for our own pleasures.  
We stopped further down the road at a market to buy some provisions.  As we walked through the market I almost tripped over a man. His appearance I found most shocking. He was shuffling along in the dirty, dusty street on his back.  He had lost his toes and fingers and had deep festering raw wounds over at least 30% of his thin undernourished body.  All he wore was a loincloth and no one took any notice of him.  In fact the locals were more intrigued with my reaction to him, than with his awful situation.  As a Westerner it is almost impossible to comprehend how a man could exist under such conditions.  I felt helpless and very sad and walked away feeling I should have done something.  Such sights in India are common.
One section of the road to Sariska, went through the middle of what looked like a man made lake, with a couple of roof tops poking out of the water. We gingerly carried on, to discover the road had disappeared into the middle of the lake!  Not knowing how deep it was and unable to turn around as the road was too narrow, we decided to wait for another vehicle.  We didn’t wait long before a truck squeezed past us and we watched as he drove onwards over the hidden road.  We decided to follow, keeping to the path made by the truck.  At first the water didn’t seem that deep, until we saw the rear axle of the truck disappear under water.  Our poor Sherpa van was not an off road vehicle and we braced ourselves, fully expecting to get stuck. 
‘Oh no.’ I groaned.  We did make it to the other side, but only to be greeted by one almighty bang from under the van.  A rear back spring had snapped clean in half.  It was the first of six to break in India. We ended up having to have the main ones specially made which was very time consuming, frustrating, and costly by Indian standards.
At Sariska Tiger Reserve we decided to splash out and spend the night in the government run Tiger Den Hotel.  We asked the receptionist if he had a room.  After 20 minutes deliberation and much paper shuffling, he decided that a room was possible, but which one!  This posed a few more minutes deliberation and booking alterations, in what appeared to be an empty hotel. ‘What on earth is the problem?’  I quizzed, having stood for what seemed an interminably long time.  It had been a long day and we needed some rest.  ‘OK, I give you room 211.’  He said handing us the key to room 121.  We followed him to room 231, and crashed down on the bed almost immediately, only to be woken a few minutes later by what sounded like a dog whining at the balcony doors.  We ignored it, but the whining became more urgent accompanied by a forceful rattling of the doors.  Alan leaped out of bed and started to fill a bucket with some water.  
‘What are you doing?’ I mused.  ‘I’m going to get the little buggers.’  Retorted Alan.  
‘Wait. Let me help.’  I said half asleep and falling out of bed to fill another bucket up not knowing what would greet me the other side of the door.  We stood there poised by the doors then opened them at the same time as blindly throwing the water onto the balcony.  The monkeys scarpered, but one was too slow and got a liberal dousing of cold water.  He screeched the loudest.  In the kafuffle I ran out onto the balcony and trod in something wet and sticky.  It was the monkeys’ latrine!
We did eventually fall sleep.  The following day we saw a magnificent wild tiger, which came almost as close to us as the monkeys!
One of the naughty monkeys.

Taj Mahal.

Red Fort, Agra, India.

Taj Mahal, as seen form the Red Fort.

One the road in India.

Shooting a tiger with a shaky camera, Ranthambore Tiger Reserve.

Getting springs fixed in Sariska, India.

How many on a rickshaw?

Delhi campsite.


The Golden Temple in Amritsar was high on our list of ‘Not to be missed’ and having found a small guest house car park to spend the night in our camper, we spent the rest of the day looking around the beautiful Sikh Temple.  Built in the 16thC the Temple stands in a ‘tank’ (or pool) of constantly changing fresh water, called ‘Amritsar,’ meaning “tank of nectar or immortality,” and although the water didn’t look that fresh to us, it was home to some huge fish.  The Sikhs welcome and encourage everyone to spend at least 3 days in the calm and thought-provoking atmosphere of the Temple grounds, and offer a free bed and food.  The Golden Temple is affectionately named because of its complete covering of gold leaf, which is said to weigh many tons. Glass boxes are placed around the grounds for visitors to donate any unwanted gold towards ongoing restoration. 
Instead of walking back to our camper, we decided to flag down our first cycle rickshaw.  Our peddler was old and thin and should have been taking life easy.  He wore a cut of worn out material wound around and tucked precariously around his waist and legs and on his feet were what looked like remnants of plastic flip flops.  Slung over his shoulder was another length of material, which he used to periodically to mop his sweating brow.   
‘Tourist Guest House, near the railway.’  We told him.  
‘OK.’  Came the reply, with the customary waggle of the head.  We assumed that he knew what he was doing!  We gingerly climbed aboard the rather rickety rickshaw and set off amongst the hustle and bustle of Amritsar traffic.   We passed cart stalls selling all manner of items, linen shops, restaurants, hardware shops, and sari shops.  We dodged around cows with a death wish, wandering aimlessly amongst the manic traffic.  Motor rickshaw drivers who weaved all over the road, and buses whose capacity for passengers seemed limitless, with ‘hanger’s on’ taking things a bit too far.  We pulled alongside one bus and just missed one of the passengers as she scrambled to a window, just in time to poke her head out and vomit down the side of the bus!  Thankfully, she missed us, but caught someone else.  
One shop caught my eye “Le Pâtisserie” which sold an array of interesting European pastries.  Our peddler was working hard and seemed to know all the short cuts, weaving, ducking and diving through the narrow jumble of busy streets.  He continued peddling once more passing “Le Pâtisserie.”   
‘That’s the second time I’ve seen that shop.’  I commented to Alan.  We both sat there silent trying to soak up the assault of sights, smells and sounds coming from all directions.   Some minutes later, after much peddling and brow mopping,  
‘That’s the third  time I’ve seen “Le Pâtisserie.”’  I told Alan, this time poking him to make sure he took notice of my observations.   Alan had had enough.  We had been on a 20-minute ride to cover what was only a 5-minute walk!  
‘We are just going round in bloody circles.’  Said Alan, as he lent forward to tap the shoulder of what was becoming an increasingly tired and dizzy rickshaw peddler.  ‘I’ve had enough of going round in circles.  You don’t know what you are doing.’  A heated exchange was now taking place, with neither party understanding the other, amidst a gathering crowd who seemed to think the incident most amusing.  I rather fancy that the cycle rickshaw peddler was on a bet.  A bet that he could take some foreigners around a said circuit at least three times before they noticed.
One day in Amritsar we had a puncture, but it was no problem, as within sight was a puncture repairman.  He sat on his hunches outside his dilapidated wooden hut surrounded by old tyres, blown up inner tubes, a water bath and a past its best compressor.   He didn’t understand any English, so we pointed to an obviously flat tyre and pointed to the tyre man to fix it.  Surely he would understand what we wanted, wouldn’t it?  No, he just sat there waggling his head.  We tried again, but to no avail.  A passer by who had overheard our efforts shouted something to him, where upon he jumped into action and mended our puncture, by sewing a patch on the sidewall of the tyre.  The tyre man’s neighbours had offered us some tea, though something a little stronger would have helped to soften the blow of watching our brand new tyre being assaulted with needle and thread.  Alan gave the tyre man another job.  He showed him how to check the tyre pressures with our fancy digital pressure gauge and told him what pressure was needed all round and left him to it while we finished our teas.  Ten minutes later tyres all pumped and teas finished, we set off on the road again, but the ride was so bumpy that it was making me feel very sick.  It had to be the tyres, so we stopped to check them out.  They were supposed to be 50psi, but each and every tyre was a different pressure, with readings ranging from 25psi to 85psi!  This was India where everything was no problem, which would test your patience to its limits.  We managed to deflate the tyres as necessary and the patch lasted the 11,000 miles back to England without any problems.  But when we took our Sherpa for its MoT test back in England, the tester almost had a heart attack when he saw the patch.  
‘Get that tyre off straight away.  It’s very dangerous and could blow at any minute.’  
‘Yeh, sure.’  We told him in a chilled out sort of way.  ‘No problem!’
One afternoon, whilst driving the trunk road we stopped at some roadside services.  Not the sort of sanitized services we have in the UK, but large and clean with plenty of parking spaces.  Next to where we parked was a young Indian snake charmer, who was perhaps no more than 8 years old and was charming a real cobra with a wooden flute.  As I knelt down to get a good photo, the snake turned and swayed in my direction.  It was time to go.
On the Aires was a large well furnished restaurant, which boasted a tasty menu.  We went in and sat down and thought it odd that we were the only customers in what was a very busy Aires.  The waiter came and gave Alan a menu and ignored me.  We made our order of chicken and rice, and 2 cold coffees with ice cream, then sat and waited.  The waiter returned and told us that he didn’t have chicken and rice, so Alan ordered another dish. 
‘No sir.  We don’t have that either.’  So we ordered yet another dish.
The waiter came with 2 drinks and to tell us that he didn’t have the last dish we ordered either.
‘Well what do you have?’  Asked Alan as he sipped his drink.  ‘And what is this?’
‘That is vanilla milkshake sir.’  Answered the waiter.
‘But I didn’t order vanilla milkshake, I ordered cold coffee and ice cream.’
The waiter looked at Alan with such a shocked expression and added.
‘What’s the matter?  Don’t you like vanilla milk shake?’
We were confronted with experiences like this throughout India, every day, which tested your limits of endurance, and pushed you, even if you didn’t want to go there to teeter to the very edge of your sanity.  If you were the type to get stressed and hot under the collar for anything that threatened to ruin the smooth running of your day, you would be very sadly disappointed in India, for India is like an unsolved puzzle.  You will never be able to make sense of it, however hard you try.  A seemingly chaotic order applies, which will always defeat your efforts of logic to beat it.  India changes the way you think, and the way you live your life forever.  The most striking difference is that Indians are accepting of their lot in life.  A tea boy seems to take great pride in making and delivering tea to thirsty people.  He realises that his job is important and a welcome addition to others in their day.  In the West making tea would be seen as a lowly job and not worthy of any respect.  In India it is a vital job, the stopping of which could bring the country to its knees.  We westerners can never accept the present.  We are always striving for bigger, better and more, regardless of the cost to others, the mark of a capitalist society.  Paradoxically, the majority of Indians have little or nothing compared to us, yet they are disproportionately happier than us.  This is the puzzle westerners have yet to solve.

Into India from Pakistan.

50 rupee bank note.

Golden Temple Amritsar, India.

On the road in India.

A young snake charmer.


We had just driven up the Khyber Pass in our Sherpa campervan with an armed guard and were now on our way home alone through the North West Frontier Province, Pakistan, skirting the border of Afghanistan.  We didn’t realize it at the time, but Pakistan was in the depths of a military coup and we shouldn’t have been there.  All credit to the security services and the Pakistani Police Force for ensuring that we were safe during our previous police escorts.  However, it seemed we slipped through the net when we ventured into the Afghan border areas just north of Quetta.  All we did was look on our map and chose the road from D.I. Khan to Quetta.  Little did we know that it would spark a massive international cover up, ensuring that we would never be able to tell our story.
It all started with the main road from DI Khan to Quetta being blocked by flooding, so we were directed by locals down a dirt track, which turned out to be 80 miles of rough dry river bed, each one of which we had to wade in to test the depth and move boulders aside, before taking the plunge and driving through.  It took us 11 hours to complete this part of the journey.  During this time we didn’t see a house, or an animal, just a group of men in a Toyota pick up, driving in the opposite direction, all carrying semi-automatics at the ready.  They looked a little bemused as to what a couple of lost tourists were doing in such a desolate place, but let us continue our journey. At one point the terrain was so rough that we thought we would be unable to make it in our non-4 X 4 campervan, but we pushed on as it was getting dark.  We finally reached tarmac at a very small checkpoint and started to rejoice.  Though not without being scrutinized by a rather shady group of armed men, who stood blocking the road ahead!  The men were friendly and insisted we had tea and biscuits. 
Under the cover of darkness we reached the small town of Zhob, and were promptly surrounded by locals, who for the first time during our stay made us feel uncomfortable.  Two policemen appeared from nowhere demanding to see our passports.  Then a man on a motorcycle intervened and said that everything was OK and did we need a hotel.  The whole of Zhob followed us to a small hotel in the center of town where the police insisted that we fill in some forms.  As we sat in the police room, the two windows and the doorway became a mass of inquisitive faces, all wanting to get a glimpse of us.  It was a little intimidating, given that most men in the area carried automatic weapons for their protection.
With our forms completed and passport details taken, we parked our Sherpa in the hotel car park and asked if we could buy some food.  The hotel didn’t have any food, but another young man offered to take us somewhere in town who would be able to cook us something to eat.  He was calm and gentle natured, explaining that he wanted to be a tourist guide and move out of Zhob.  His friend who tagged along was very different and took control of the conversation, making his views on politics and religion known to us in a very forceful manner.  He kept telling us that the West was bad, that Bush was bad and that he didn’t accept Blair, shaking his fists in the air for effect. 
‘Osama bin Laden and Islam for the world.’  He told us.  ‘Osama is my hero.’  He added.  When I started asking him questions about Osama, why was Osama his hero, and what had he done to be given the title hero, I understood that Osama had done much to help people in this area, building schools, etc and providing work and hope in an area that had little. On the way back to our Sherpa, the second young man mentioned bin Laden a number of times to others, making it obvious that he and the townsfolk knew bin Laden.  He was also very guarded about where he lived and what he did.
We believed at this time from information fed to us from the West, that bin Laden was a very wanted man and that the reward for his capture or location was standing at $5 million.  Not in the mood for tribal entertainments, we decided to leave very early the following morning.  
We made it to Quetta, the last main town before the Iranian border, and managed to find a Dawn newspaper, the English national paper of Pakistan.  In the paper was an article [More foreigners visit Afghan border areas.]  I read with interest and was horrified to see;
[Dera Ismail Khan, May 14:  More foreigners nationals have been noticed visiting the DI Khan and Tank areas lately for some unspecified reasons especially following the visit of two US consulate officers from Peshawar May 6. The two US consulate officials during their stay in DI Khan and Tank had met the commissioner and the political agent, South Waziristan.  The latest visit to this remote southern district of NWFP on Thursday was the Australian High Commissioner Mr Geoffrey Allen and his wife.]
We actually saw the Australian High Commissioner being driven past in a cream Mercedes, with a police entourage in Pashawar a couple of days previously.  What was he doing in an area that is a law unto itself?  The Afghani who told us who they were at the time, also told us that a Swiss Embassy offical was also visiting the area.  
[….The foreigners in the area had the same destination, Zhob in Balochistan, which is situated near the Afghan border with Pakistan.  A non-metalled road connects Zhob with the Afghan province of Ghazni and has been frequently used by visitors both local and Afghans.  The road from DI Khan to Zhob, known as the Fort Sanderman Road…….is considered unsafe for travel without a proper armed escort.]
We did ask in Peshawar if we needed a permit and a guard to travel this road and we were told ‘No.’ We passed numerous police check points, and no one stopped us.
[Meanwhile, other foreign nationals were also in DI Khan at the same time…….Mr Alan] (my husband Alan) [and Ms Cendy] (they had miss spelled my name. Cindy) [……passed the night in their vehicle No S176 ESU (the registration was actually F176 ESU) within the Rose Hotel’s premises.]  The next part of the article shocked us    […… Some intelligence agency people said that somehow the foreigners seem to have discovered the hide-out of Osama bin Laden and a further probe was on.]  We were indeed right to assume that bin Laden was well known in the area.  Coming from the intelligence agency that this indeed was a secret hide out of bin Laden, then it must be fairly common knowledge.  Then why was he never captured?  The article also stated that US Commandos had been seen setting up a base in North Western parts of Pakistan in the early part of 1999.  What were US military doing there, preparing for the planned US invasion?
Alan decided to contact the British Embassy in Islamabad.
The British Embassy at first didn’t believe that we were even IN Pakistan and told us to get the very next flight out.  Leaving our vehicle in Pakistan we would have been faced with a whopping import duty bill.  So the British Embassy Warden was sent to collect us under armed guard and take us to a safe house, while the situation was investigated.
We stayed in the safe house for a week and were not allowed to venture anywhere without an armed guard and a driver.  During this time we were invited to a garden party for ex-pats where one of the American aid workers told me that he had had to move his office in Kandahar because Osama bin Laden had set up office next door!   I was gob smacked.  This man was supposedly the most wanted terrorist in the world, yet it was bordering almost common knowledge to where he was.   It didn’t make any sense.
At the end of the week in the safe house, we were offered an armed escort for the drive to the Iranian border.  We made it into Iran and back to the UK without any incident even though we had reason to believe that we were being watched.
On arrival back in the UK in 1999 following an article in one of the national tabloids calling for the capture of bin Laden, I telephoned Scotland Yard and told them our story.  I was given a number and told that they would probably want to interview myself, and my husband.  I never heard from Scotland Yard again.  We had found the hide out of the most wanted terrorist in the world, and Scotland Yard would only ‘probably’ want to come and interview us!   I wrote to the FBI and the CIA c/o the American Embassy London, telling them that we had a very interesting story about bin Laden.  I didn’t even receive an acknowledgement.  I then wrote to the FBI at the Pentagon, USA, but again I didn’t receive any acknowledgement.
Other national papers told me that our story wasn’t newsworthy enough!  I think that week Beckham had had a hair cut and there was a solar eclipse.
After 9-11, I contacted the BBC news desk who were reporting that Osama bin Laden was behind the attack and must be found.  They told me they didn’t want to know!
I then contacted the foreign editor of the Observer newspaper, which was stating that bin Laden might be hiding in Pakistan. He told me in a most rude manner that, ‘Bin Laden didn’t hide in Pakistan, but lived in Afghanistan in a cave!’  ..then slammed the receiver down before I even had chance to ask when he last visited Pakistan.
This naturally led me to question what is the truth.?
In the light of the later US and UK invasion of Afghanistan on the premise of ousting the Taliban and capturing bin Laden, I surmise that it would not be conducive for the British government to acknowledge us or our findings, given that they spent £millions of tax payer’s money on the invasion, the result of which was carnage to many more innocent people than Taliban members.  They didn’t find Osama bin Laden with their billions of £’s of high tech equipment and the manpower of supposedly the best armies in the world to do so.  However, two innocent tourists in a 10 year old campervan, on a tight budget, did easily stumble across one of the secret hideouts of the most wanted terrorists in the world.  
We have yet to receive a cent in reward money.  
I therefore;
I question the hunt for bin Laden. 
I question the $5 billion reward for his capture.  
I question the so-called war on terror, and the reasons behind it.  
If I question all this then I must also question the system that created this.  
Of course this is only my opinion, which is born from actual events and outcomes.  What else can I base my opinions on? 
80 miles of rough river bed along the Afghan border in Pakistan.

More river beds.

Off roading in our Sherpa.

Tarmac at last near the Afghan border, Pakistan.

Locals stop us going any further!

The track leading to nowhere.


Having driven down from the Karakorum Highway, we were heading for the next major town of Peshawar, just a few miles from the Khyber Pass, the gateway to Afghanistan.  Just outside Peshawar, the traffic came to a standstill.  In the distance we could just make out a railway crossing with the barriers down.  As we patiently waited in the traditional English way, (Pakistan drives same side as UK) we watched in amazement as vehicles fed up of waiting on the left side of the road, started clogging up the right side of the road.  Alan turned to a coach driver who was now alongside us on the wrong side of the road facing the wrong way and asked, 
‘Tell me what happens when the train has gone and the barriers are lifted and traffic coming the other way has the road blocked by you?’ The coach driver smiled.  
‘This is Pakistan.’ Came the reply and added as an afterthought.  ‘Don’t you have railway crossings in England?’  
‘Of course we have railway crossings in England.’  Alan told him.  ‘We invented them!’  
We found The Tourist Inn Motel in Peshawar and parked up in the grounds.  The motel was offering jeep trips up the Khyber Pass, but being very independent we wanted to take our Sherpa.  To do this we had to have a vehicle pass and an armed guard, both quite easily obtained from the Political Agent’s Office at a cost of RS100 (£2).  Our armed guard’s name was Puja, who carried a machine gun and knew only four words of English.    Puja took care of our safety and presented our paperwork at the frequent checkpoints.  Part of our journey out of Peshawar was through the huge Afghan refugee camp, which started back in the 70’s when the Russians invaded Afghanistan and sent Afghanis fleeing from their homeland into neighboring Pakistan.  The camp looked full to bursting point holding over a million refugees and was growing daily as Afghans were now fleeing the harsh rule of the Taliban.  I tried to imagine the feeling of being forced out of your homeland into a strange country that doesn’t really want you, to live in some awful camp, with very basic necessities.  The faces of these people spoke volumes.  Despair, loss of dignity, little hope.   
Apart from a couple of photo stops, we snaked up the winding road without incident to the brow of the Khyber Pass, where Puja motioned us to stop.  
‘Taliban.’  He told us, as he sat in the passenger’s seat fingering the trigger of his AK45.  He sat nervously scanning the surrounds for any possible threats.  We couldn’t see any threat, only a rugged vista of the Suleiman Ranges that is the Khyber Pass.  We had stopped at Michni Checkpost, high on the range with a stunning view of the Durand Line, better known as the Khyber Railway on the right, built by the British during the 1920s.  Ahead beyond the pass was Afghanistan a troubled country of tribal warfare.  
As we sat soaking up the tense atmosphere on a crisp but warm day, I couldn’t help noticing along the left of the pass and in full view of a police check point, a steady though sparse line of men almost bent double under the weight of some cripplingly heavy items.
‘Who?’ I asked Puja. 
‘Smugglers.’  He told me with a surprised look on his face. Didn’t I know?
We were astonished to see these men staggering up the rocky terrain away from the roads humping all manner of household items fridges and televisions in the most torturous method on their backs.  Smuggling was a thriving industry, a necessity it seemed through the Khyber Pass, all to do of course with evading taxes, only these smugglers were passively encouraged.  Goods brought into Pakistan from as far away as Karachi, were driven up into Afghanistan and then smuggled straight back into Pakistan, laboriously, item by item, paradoxically avoiding crippling taxes.  It was like something out of comedy sketch, with heavily overloaded, yet highly decorated Bedford trucks trundling into Afghanistan, the contents of which were then strapped to the backs of men who staggered back into Pakistan, as the empty trucks returned to Pakistan for another load!  The lucky ones were smuggling Chinese bicycles and had devised a system where they tied two bicycles to a third, which they freewheeled down the hills of the Khyber Pass.  They were paid Rupees 50 (£1) per bicycle. 
I watched as the men, not all of them young, staggered over rocky and unforgiving terrain.  Why couldn’t they hitch a lift back on the empty trucks instead of walking all that way?  It was a strange set up born from need, yet convoluted in its execution.  
Our drive up to the Khyber Pass was unforgettable and without problems, until we entered back into Peshawar, where we became caught up in a rather unfortunate little incident.  We were driving along a dual carriage way on the inside lane and Alan stuck his hand out of the window to indicate that he was overtaking a donkey cart.  No one in Pakistan used vehicle indicators, instead they seemed to re-wire such lights to make their vehicles more decorative.  As Alan signaled, he noticed a Toyota car in the distance behind us.  Knowing that he had time to pull out, he made his move, but the Toyota driver had other ideas and speeded up to our bumper blowing his horn, flashing his lights and intimidating us.  Alan gave him the finger thinking that it might quieten him down.  Unfortunately it had totally the opposite effect.  Road rage it seemed was a global problem.  As we pulled back the Toyota driver came up alongside us and could be seen shaking his fists and shouting angrily.  I just hoped that he didn’t have a gun!   In an attempt to lose him Alan made a sharp left turn, which gave us a short reprieve, but a few blocks down the road he caught us up again and carried on the pursuit with renewed fervor.  This chap wasn’t friendly and I sheepishly looked to our armed guard for some guidance.  It was then the Toyota nutter abruptly pulled up in front of us, causing us to skid to a halt.  Alan jumped out, closely followed by our armed guard, and me.  The Toyota nutter was a well dressed, over fed, fat bastard and spoke very good English and I hated him from the minute I saw him.  
‘Why didn’t you use your indicators?  You didn’t use your indicators and you gave obscene gestures to my brother.  No one gives obscene gestures to my brother.’ He said shaking with rage and waiving his finger provocatively in Alan’s face.  His brother an equally well dressed man and positively skinny, probably due to his big brother ensuring that he had the larger portions, timidly stood in his brother’s shadow, with a ‘Don’t look at me I’m invisible’ expression on his face.  
‘Actually, I did indicate, I stuck my hand out of the window, but you chose to speed up and I gave the finger to you and not your brother.’  Retorted Alan.   
‘How dare you do this?’  Said the nutter gearing his self up ready to strike the first blow.  ‘I’ve travelled the world and everyone uses their indicators.’  ‘No they don’t.’ I chelped, as I bravely positioned myself between Alan and the nutter.  ‘I’ve yet to see anyone use their indicators in Pakistan.’  
‘Darling, let me handle this.’  Interrupted Alan as he protectively brushed me aside.  For just a moment the possessed Toyota nutter stood lost for words with a look that said, ‘Can’t you keep your wife under control?’  He turned to his brother for some back up.  Support was not forthcoming.  His skinny brother remained silent and invisible.  We were now attracting quite a fast growing audience, with pedestrians and road users unable to overcome the urge to stop and see what all the commotion was about.  
‘You made obscene gestures to my brother…’  He was some rich kid having a major tantrum. I was expected him to start stamping his feet and roll around on the ground because he wasn’t getting his own way, but with my camera in hand ready to capture the moment, he sadly disappointed me.  The whole scene was beginning to turn ugly, mainly due to the Toyota nutter not having a sense of humour.  Our armed guard put his hand on Alan’s chest and gestured for us all to get back in the Sherpa and go.  As we did we left the Toyota nutter chuntering on to an unsympathetic audience, who were walking off and leaving him and his brother to it.  Our armed guard summed it all up with one gesture.  ‘He was mad!’  Of our 6 weeks in Pakistan, the Toyota nutter was the only hostile person we had the misfortune to meet.
Pakistan was a fabulous place for those who had the guts to try it and I am glad that we were not influenced by unfounded western precautions and preconceptions which would have totally spoilt our visit by creating barriers.  I realized that there are many people in the West, who spread rumors about other countries, of which they know nothing about, nor have ever visited, even calling themselves “experts.”  In the West we have become so reliant on these “experts” that we fail to even try and see things for ourselves, in the process failing to see anything at all.  It is this ignorance that creates religious and cultural barriers, often denying us wonderful friendships and adventures.
Peshawar market. Pakistan.

Peshawar town Pakistan.

Police check point up the Khyber Pass. Pakistan.

Sherpie and our guard up the Khyber Pass.

The Khyber Pass, Afghanistan in background.

Khyber Pass.

1,000 Afghani note.

Smugglers up the Khyber Pass.

3 local boys came to say hello.