Saturday, 26 July 2014

The stampeding Hindu’s

So how was I to know I was entering the "Gatway to God" and the biggest festival of the year in Haridwar? Oops! 

The Kanwar Yatra is an annual pilgrimage in the name of the Hindu god Shiva. The devotees leave their hometowns either on foot, by bike, motorbike or truck and head for Haridwar to collect holy water from the river Ganges which they then carry back to their hometowns. Since the 1990s the festival has gained a massive following and now attracts hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from the surrounding states. 

Wikipedia states
During festivals, Haridwar is packed to bursting and beyond. Stampedes are a regular occurrence, with 21 killed in 2003 and 5 killed in 2010; the bridges across the Ganges are the most dangerous spot.

I realised something was going on as I left Shimla on my 8 hour ride through 180kms of busy winding jungle roads.  I came across hundreds of monkeys, signs warning me of wild elephants and several people dressed in orange! They were mostly barefooted and carrying water containers over their shoulders. There were also several motorbikes with orange flags and pit stops for them all the way along the route blasting music. On arrival, I was hot and tired and Rishikesh was full. No room at the Inns! Finally I found a place that was twice my budget but available. There was nothing left to do but to peel off the sopping wet gear and get in the shower.

The roads were already busy by the time I left at 7.30am.  I was in a good mood and felt I had time to stop and take a couple of photos of the orange people.  It was all going well until I hit what I thought was a bottle neck. OK so I have dealt with these before. Just inch forward bit by bit.  If they give you an inch then TAKE IT! I would be on an open road within half an hour I thought.

This was not the case! 

Working my way through I came to a small clearing.  Was this the beginning of the end? It looked hopeful. I followed the flow of motorbikes only to find myself in a field and once again heading for a bottle neck. Is this really the road? I wasn't sure but anything is possible in India so I kept going, wondering what was causing all the fuss up ahead. 

 First a river crossing, then a steep rocky incline, followed by a muddy bank that people were manhandling their bikes over. This was followed by a train track and a small gap in the fence which 100s of bikers were trying to get through. OK so not the road (Turns out I had got myself caught up in the flow of people taking a short cut and trying to cut off the corner of the road) but maybe after this I would be clear (I'll upload some great video footage when I can).

I went for it and felt happy to make it up the bank in one go although I had help on hand if I had
needed it as I was surrounded by people ready to grab me (or anyone else who fell). Still I was pleased! This off roading is not so easy with so much luggage and on tip toes I can tell you!! Particularly when you can’t gun it (if in doubt throttle it) as there are people all around you and you have to inch your way through every obstacle! The stiffling heat wasn't helping but at last I was through…….Or so I thought! This was becoming a full on enduro race and if it hadn't been for the heat and the uncertainty of when I would get out , it would have been great fun. In fact at this stage it really was a pleasure pain situation.

The beginning of the chaos
From there I hit the road. It was crazy busy but once again I thought it would end soon and I would be free and on my way to complete my 145 miles for the day and make it to Rudaipur. Unfortunately the roads just got worse and worse. I was surrounded and there was no way you could even walk through the chaos. People on foot just stood amongst the thousands of motorbikes waiting to inch forward with the rest of us. Both ways were going nowhere fast. I was heading for the bridge over the Gangy and things were going from bad to worse. The heat was baking and my litre of water had gone. I had taken my jacket and helmet off and switched Rhonda off so she didn't over heat or lose battery life from all the stopping and starting. It was time to get off and push. Every inch was a win and it took 8 hours to get over that bridge. I wanted to fall. I couldn't stand any longer I was bright red and feeling faint. Of course everyone was staring at me wondering what the hell a white woman was doing in the middle of this chaos and with so much gear and clothing! One guy offered to help me push although he could not speak any English but he could clearly see I needed help. If I had fainted I would would have been in serious trouble. There was no way anyone was going to get me out of there. 

Aside from the traffic there were regular stampedes to deal with. Suddenly you would hear whistles and shouting and then, coming in the opposite direction would be hundreds of runners. These guys were jumping over cars, smashing windscreens and just forcing their way through. It was terrifying because they would grab you as they passed or just force you off your feet. I had no energy to hold myself up and had to grab hold of Rhonda while this guy steadied her for me! These were the scariest moments. The noise was deafening and the threat of being trampled was very real.  I felt extremely vulnerable.

I felt panic rise up several times. The heat was unbearable now. I just wanted to get out. Then a fight broke out near us and the crowd went wild. I just wanted to run. I was scared and I was trapped. A dangerous combination for a Welsh girl! 

The first bottle neck. 
Some guy next to me spoke English (at last) and said I should not be here as it was dangerous. “What do you suggest I do?” I said. " I cant get out". He suggested I take the next turn when I get there and hit the hotel about 500 yards down that road. He then changed his mind and said there was no way I would make it through and my only option was to keep going with the flow but it would take all day and night to get out. I wanted to cry. I wanted to scream. But what was the point!

Feeling helpless and defeated I wondered when there would be an end to this hell. The guy holding Rhonda said (through our new found translator) that he would help me get through somehow and then he would carry on and get his water from the river as was his duty. 

I could have kissed him. There was no way I was getting out of there alone. In fact it seemed impossible that we would get the bike through no matter how many people helped. We had no choice though. We had to try.  We forced our way slowly inch by inch over to a ditch where he got on Rhonda and started riding her over the rocks and through the mud (this shows how bad I was. No one has ridden Rhonda but me until now!) He had long legs and could steady her with me pushing and stopping him falling with what strength I had left. It wasn't easy as it was sloppy and often on a steep incline.

However, the ditch was no longer empty and it seemed every other bike was suddenly coming in the opposite direction. We forced and pushed and rammed our way through only to be greeted by another wave of stampeding runners. There was no stopping them and Rhonda was forced to the ground with me pinned to the wall as they trampled her in to the mud! As soon as they had stopped, the bikes tried to ride over her. I shouted for them to stop and eventually people helped to pick her up whilst the bikes kept on forcing their way through threatening to topple us over again! I spotted a policeman who was in the crowd. I shouted for him to help us! He looked as helpless as me and could not even make it over to us despite being meters away and brandishing a big stick. We were on our own.

It's not like it was an aggressive crowd. Just a force and a single mind with a single mission. To get through! It was like a wave that you could not reason with. All you could do was brace yourself.

Eventually we made it to the car park of the hotel which was blocked off by ropes and bollards. I pushed them out of the way and we were in! The relief was overwhelming. 

Although I was originally told the festival would go on for 15 days, I was relieved to later find that these days the main event just went on for 2 days. I asked if it would be possible for me to escape at 4am. I was told there was no way. Even if it was clear here I could get caught up in it all again later on down the road. I had to stay for 2 days and then it would be safe to leave.

I resigned myself to the safety of the hotel, listening to the deafening noise outside. At this stage I didn't know how I was going to pay the overinflated prices I was being charged as my card wouldn't work and I did not have enough money to cover it. I would deal with that later. First it was time to rest and check Rhonda over. She had got away with a broken clutch lever. Amazingly, nothing more.

After a shower, lots of water and some food, all that was left to do was put AC/DC on loud (as loud as
an apple mac will allow), wash my smalls and have a little dance to lighten the mood! I was out and that was worth celebrating!

By 10am the next morning the traffic and crowds were mostly cleared, allowing me to see clearly how small an area we had covered to fight our way through to that hotel and yet it had taken all our strength the day before. Most of the music had gone apart from one converted dump truck which blasted its tunes. A converted dump truck surrounded by aftermath.

I made my escape and headed for Rudrapor, just an hour from the Nepal border. The 130 miles was hard work. The roads were clear and I made good time but I was tired and not enjoying my ride at all. However, I got there with no problems and I have now decided to chill for a day before heading to Nepal. Time to catch up on some rest and prepare for country NO. 15.



26 comments:

  1. That all sounds... exciting... and not in a brilliant way!

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  2. Sounds like a massive drain both physically and mentally, Steph. Glad you're both okay and able to rest up a bit.

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    1. Thanks Paul. Well reseted now and ready for my ride to Nepal : 0 )

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  3. You are an inspiration to us who will do this in the future. Your courage and grit is awesome. Take care and God bless.

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    1. See you on the road in the future then Elmer! : 0 ) Look forward to it x

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  4. I'm often surprised at how few comments there are after each of your blogs. However, I can guarantee that there are legions of folk out there who, like me, have been following your adventure but not commenting. Today I have to comment. Absolutely well @@@@ing done! It's really hard being exhausted in a confusing and chaotic environment but you got through it. Believe me there are legions of us silent folk out here willing you on. Go girl.

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    1. What a lovely comment. So glad you took the time to do so. Thanks Eddy. Onwards to Nepal xxx

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    2. What a lovely comment. So glad you took the time to do so. Thanks Eddy. Onwards to Nepal xxx

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  5. Well done Steph, another epic step forward in your adventure. It never ceases to amaze me just how much strength a person has until they are faced with severe adversity...Running on adrenalin, topped off with fear can get people through the stickiest of moments. And, as the saying goes, what doesn't kill you will only make you stronger....You just built up more strength for the next part of your adventure....Keep pushing little Welsh lady, we are still right here with you ;-) - Ferret xxx

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    1. I'm on it Mr R. Primed and ready to hit the road again!! Glad to know you're still with me xx

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  6. So glad you are safe Steph. Rhonda too!
    As bad as this was.. this is the kind of experience that you will remember forever and a great tale for your grandkid(s) when the time comes. :)

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  7. das some crazy $hit girl!
    glad your ok
    you are one BA chick,,, Rhonda too

    xxx
    DD

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  8. Wow! I have just come across your blog. Very brave and inspiring.

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  9. When the going gets tough, the tough get going! You're one tough lady, Steph That a girl!

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  10. Welcome in NEPAL Steph Jeavons..........

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  11. Steph, I've followed you since day 1. This post had me most worried for you! Throughout reading it, I was thinking "I hope she's gonna be okay", then realised that as you posted it, you must be fine!
    Still, you had me nervous there for a minute. Did you get Rhonda's clutch lever sorted?
    Wishing you all the very best for your continued adventure. You're truly an inspiring woman

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    1. ha ha! Edge of the seat stuff eh? : 0 ) Yes clutch lever sorted thanks. Thanks very much xx

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  12. Hi Steph,
    Just watched your heading for Kargil video via YouTube. It was making my stomach churn just watching via video at some points!!!!! Brave or bonkers - the jury is out!!!! ;-)
    Big sis Kaz XXX
    PS I think you need a bit of both!! But definitely a job well done!!

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    1. Never was known as the sane one of the family!!! : 0 ) xxxx

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  13. To All of Steph's Followers,
    Steph's niece Abbey is trying to make a scrapbook for Steph of her journey, so we are making a request for any pictures or comments from anybody who has met/helped/encouraged/put up/ridden with Steph from the Ace Café through all the countries as she has been to & will get to. We are particularly interested in pics she may not have seen to give her something back when she gets home!
    Anybody with any contributions could you please send them to dkka.llefelys@btinternet.com with your name & when & where you met Steph & any stories you may have - keep it clean :-) !!!
    Many thanks & love to all
    Steph's big sister, Karen XX

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  14. Thanks for the comments everyone! Really enjoy reading them. Its so nice to have support xxxx

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  15. Yep, I'm still pillion as you put it, but feeling a little superfluous now you get so many positive comments. Looking forward to your Nepal adventures and beyond. John Fletcher, Hereford

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  16. Oh by the way, you won't need to write a book when you get back - just string together all your blogs (after correcting a couple of spelling bloomers) and publish!! John Fletcher

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    1. Thanks John. I know! Spelling not my strong point. My Mum will tell you that!!! : 0 )

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  17. I have also been following from day one. These blogs are better than an adventure book. Forget my question on the previous blog re the worst moment of your adventure, now we all know. I have been telling any bikers I meet about your adventure. I asked one of my YT subscribers who was also on the highest road rideable if he had come across you. He is travelling in a group of four and they are from Australia. Here is his video shot about the same time you were there.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LOg3IelDpWY&list=UUlYWunRIa6fpbB0SKASU9Qg
    Looking forward to the next episode. Good luck Steph.

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    1. Thanks for the comments and the link. I'll check it now while I have a half decent connection!

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