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ABOUT THIS BLOG

In the summer of 2009, Nicolas Rapp decided to take a break from his Art Director job at The Associated Press to attempt a one-year overland travel around the world in a 1996 Toyota Land Cruiser. He was back in New York in February 2011 after traveling 15 months and 37,000 miles.

Visited countries

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MONTHLY ARCHIVES

THE ROUTE

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  • Calcutta to Dhaka: Can’t stop, won’t stop

    Posted on October 15th, 2010 Nicolas No comments
    Calcutta sidewalks.

    Calcutta sidewalks.

    I spend few days in Calcutta after getting the Bangladesh visa. I was relieved to get this document easily, as I am now always worried about possible problems on this front. The day after I applied, I go get my passport back at the embassy where a crowd of hundred of people surrounds officials screaming names and handing passports. Finally I get mine and now can take the time to visit the city.

    Colonial architecture in the BBD Bagh area of Calcutta.

    Colonial architecture in the BBD Bagh area of Calcutta.

    Friendly Calcutta is the thirst most populated city in India and feel even denser than Delhi or Mumbai. I take several walks in the city and can witness some nice example of British colonial architecture. Among the many stops, I see the Victoria memorial.

    Victoria Memorial.

    Victoria Memorial.

    Built to commemorate the diamond jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1901, the construction finished only twenty years after her death. The white marble of the building and its dome is a reminder of the Taj Mahal.

    Nakhoda Mosque.

    Nakhoda Mosque.

    Surrounding the Memorial, the Maidan is a vast park bringing memories of New York’s Central Park to me. The 3 km-long green lung offers a little bit of space against the density of the city itself. I also visit the impressive Nakhoda mosque which offers a nice view on the surrounding streets.

    The Maidan, Calcutta's Central Park.

    The Maidan, Calcutta's Central Park.

    Walking around the city is exhausting and I am glad to get back to the hotel every evening and have a drink and a meal there. For lunch, I also have a lot of chances to try the best examples of Indian food available. If you are there, try Amber Essence, 11 Waterloo St which I highly recommend.

    Street food in Calcutta's sidewalks.

    Street food in Calcutta's sidewalks.

    But it is time to go now, and I pack up for the next adventures. Leaving early morning, it takes me three hours to get to the Bangladesh border. Shortly before I get there, I notice that the truck begins to overheat.

    Every night, a drink and a meal at the Broadway Hotel.

    Every night, a drink and a meal at the Broadway Hotel.

    Checking out the engine, I notice I am loosing some water. I decide that the best place to take care of it will be in Dhaka, the country capital. So I continue on my way, and stop every fifty kilometers to replenish the radiator. Not much is available on the road in term of car repairs, and I absolutely need to go on and make it to Dhaka.

    Fishing in Bangladesh rivers.

    Fishing in Bangladesh rivers.

    It takes me two hours to cross the border, and no major problems there. I still have three hundred kilometers to cover to get to Dhaka after that. I am pretty stressed out by the over heating problem, and increase the frequency of my stops as I go. I also put the heat on in the cabin as it provides an additional outlet to the engine heat. It is already a really hot day, and I will get a cold in the following days as a result.

    Night is already falling and I am still far of Dhaka.

    Night is already falling and I am still far of Dhaka.

    The roads are pretty good, and there’s not much traffic in the west of the country. It seems that there’s not much population either ¬– comparatively to India – in this area. I checked few maps before I left, and there’s a mystery I still need to clarify. Some maps shows a road going over the Ganges River, some other don’t show any…

    Forcing my way into the boat to cross the river.

    Forcing my way into the boat to cross the river.

    When I arrive there, of course there’s no bridge, but many boats are taking trucks in for the crossing. There’s a long wait and they sell tickets on the city prior to arrival, but because everything is so unclear and I don’t have Bangladeshi currency, I just went on.

    Crossing the Ganges River.

    Crossing the Ganges River.

    Before rolling on the boat, I speak to a guy who tells me I can’t embark without a ticket. I ask him to get his boss, and while he is away, I just roll on the boat. When they are back, there are already trucks behind me, and movements will be impossible. They don’t have any other choice than to accept my 500 Indian Rupees, which is anyway generous.
    Night falls as I am crossing the river and after an hour, I attack the last portion of the trip. This will turn out to be the most difficult piece of driving I ever experienced. The traffic close to Dhaka is horrendous, and I stay stuck in traffic jam for hours. People are driving in the worst way I ever saw in the dozens of countries I crossed. The driving rules are nonexistent, and it is basically OK to bump into each other cars. I am glad I have a good front bumper, and the rear carrier and tire on the back somehow attenuate the shocks. It is just as being in another world, and I just turn up the volume of the stereo as a bicycle crash on my side and I carve a large hole in the flank of a bus with my front bumper. Nobody cares, nobody stops. On the other side of the street, a bus driver looses control of its vehicle. The 40 passengers fall from a bridge into a deep river. Most of them will die, as I will read in the newspaper the following day.

    One should avoid the city buses at all price as they just bump into you without pity.

    One should avoid the city buses at all price as they just bump into you without pity.

    I am exhausted when I arrive in Old Dhaka, and it still takes me a little bit to find a hotel where I can park the truck. I also locate an ATM and I am glad to have at least some cash in the pocket. I will spend the next few days at the “Hotel Royal Palace” where I get a non-AC room for US$15 a day. I will experience frequent power outage as I am in the country so I know not to count on the AC. Or on hot showers.

    Dense traffic in the streets of Dhaka.

    Dense traffic in the streets of Dhaka.

    The following day, I decide it is time to take care of the truck, and I find a shop close to the hotel. I spend twelve hours there as there are many things to fix. There are seven holes in the radiator, and I have to bring it to an aluminum welder (US$12). Someone looks into the AC system which is down since Iran. A guy fixes the diverse cosmetic damages caused by the crazy driving of yesterday (US$4). Another man fixes the truck corner lenses which I broke in the accident in Honduras. It is amazing how he does that. With knives heated on a kerosene fire, he cuts the old plastic lenses, and mold a new one to replace it (US$ 5). The whole day I supervise the work and have many cup of tea with the boss of the shop. Bangladesh seems to be a good place to fix your car. Let’s see how long it last.

    Street food, Dhaka.

    Street food, Dhaka.

    The days after all this work is done, I spend time visiting Old Dhaka. The major problem is this crazy never-ending traffic jam which makes every movement very difficult. Going anywhere would take hours, even on a Tuk-Tuk, as the traffic is so dense they can’t even go through. So I stick to destinations I can make by foot. I am able to buy some clothes so I can look like a normal human being when I go speak to customs officials. I still drag the same clothes from the beginning of the trip, and some of them are in really bad shape. On the sidewalk of the city, it is possible to buy all kind of U.S. brand-name clothes, mostly overruns from the city factories.
    Lastly, I visit the customs authorities of the city to get information about my car shipment to Southeast Asia. People are very nice there, and I leave the building with the cell phone number of a very high-ranked officer, which should help when I am in Chittagong doing the shipping paperwork. This is my next destination. After I pack the car for this other bit of travel, I will come back to Dhaka and spend a little bit more time here.

  • The road to Calcutta

    Posted on October 8th, 2010 Nicolas No comments
    You can’t get bored on the road as you see the strangest equipages.

    You can’t get bored on the road as you see the strangest equipages.

    Leaving Hampi.

    Leaving Hampi.

    From Hampi to the eastern side of India, it is not a region well known for travelers. In fact, not many tourists are to be seen on the road. Officially, there’s not much to see there, except maybe Hyderabad, which I chose to avoid as I am not looking forward to the craziness of Indian hyper populated cities. I use mostly secondary roads, and the progress can be slow. Roads are bad at places, with many of potholes, so I find myself in driving conditions that remind me a little of Africa.

    Laundry in the river.

    Laundry in the river.

    People are driving in an incredible dangerous way, not paying attention to any rules with vehicles in terrible shape. It is understood that the battery should be saved, so many people don’t use headlights at night except when they get close to you. Between Mumbai and Calcutta, I may have seen three people using their turn signal. And Indian drivers don’t need any rearview mirrors. In fact they often just keep it folded to save space.

    The center of India is dedicated to agriculture.

    The center of India is dedicated to agriculture.

    I avoid driving at night when people seem to think it is OK to drive even faster.
    From Hampi I go east and avoid Hyderabad, passing south of the city. Then, as I get closer to the coast I go north toward Calcutta. In the first part of this leg I slept at gas stations along the way where I only get moderate rest and wake up with ten people watching me. Everybody is very nice, and as I said in my previous post, very curious about my adventures. The only problem is that I notice that little things tend to disappear as keeping control of the crowd can be tricky. Once, as I stop to get gas, someone even took off with my tank cap forcing me to hunt a new one in the nearby city.

    The main mode of transportation in India’s smallest towns, the tuk-tuk.

    The main mode of transportation in India’s smallest towns, the tuk-tuk.

    The area stands out with pretty landscape of rolling plantations. Lot of cows around, as always, but also I can now spot pigs, which I didn’t see since a long time as they are nowhere to be seen in Muslim countries. How ironic, I am now as surprise to see pigs than I was to see elephants in Africa.
    You see a lot of misery around, and at best people live in a really low quality of life. It is very different from Central America where people enjoy a minimum of comfort, or at least some decent place to live.
    Once I get on the coast, I stop in various places going north, including Visakhapatnam or Gopalpur. I pay hotels to let me use their parking lots. There, I get more privacy and can relax a bit. Things should be similar in Bangladesh where the population density should be even higher.

    A lot more rain on the eastern regions of India.

    A lot more rain on the eastern regions of India.

    I am still surprised at the fact that most people don’t speak English and communication can be difficult. There are no signs on the road and have to keep asking people for direction.

    Night is falling, time to find a place to spend the night…

    Night is falling, time to find a place to spend the night…

    Food is sometimes difficult to find outside of populated areas and I have to use my canned reserves to avoid not-so-seducing meals. When eating in places along the road, I mostly stick to vegetarian food, which I consider safer. But even so, an insect encrusted vegetable curry is not necessary appetizing.

    At highway’s toll booths, employees can never decide if I have to pay or not.

    At highway’s toll booths, employees can never decide if I have to pay or not.

    Finally I make it to Calcutta and I can enjoy the diversity of restaurant and try to gain back the lost weight. I check in at the “Broadway” a very old school hotel where I can get a minimum of luxury for US$10 a night. No hot showers still, but real showers at least.

    The traffic is always intense in big cities. Here, Calcutta.

    The traffic is always intense in big cities. Here, Calcutta.

    The first thing I do when I arrive in the city is to go to the Bangladesh embassy to apply for a visa. That should be ready in two days for the amount of US$35. Meanwhile, I will spend time in the city and explore the crowded and narrow streets.

    Welcome to Calcutta.

    Welcome to Calcutta.

    When I will be ready to leave, it should be two hours of driving to the Bangladesh border. From there, I expect slightly worst roads and a five hours drive to Dhaka, the country capital.

    At the “Broadway Hotel” Sit-down toilets and cold shower available.

    At the “Broadway Hotel” Sit-down toilets and cold shower available.