Autobiography - DilipBam.com http://dilipbam.com/autobiography.html Fri, 20 Oct 2017 02:31:21 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb Across the Sahara Desert on Kinetic Honda scooter. Chapter 1 http://dilipbam.com/autobiography/278-across-the-sahara-desert-on-kinetic-honda-scooter-chapter-1.html http://dilipbam.com/autobiography/278-across-the-sahara-desert-on-kinetic-honda-scooter-chapter-1.html

Honda’s 0peration SAHARA ATTACK !

Prologue – what is it about?

This is probably the most arduous and dangerous two wheeler journey ever made by anybody anywhere in the world, and definitely NEVER BEFORE (or since) by any Indian for sure. Though not listed in the Guinness Book of World Records, it is a World Record. NOBODY IN THE WORLD HAD EVER BEFORE RIDDEN AN UNGEARED SMALL-WHEELED 100 cc SCOOTER ACROSS THE WORLD’s LARGEST DESERT = The SAHARA DESERT in North Africa, 7000 km west from India. The Sahara desert is THREE TIMES LARGER THAN THE WHOLE OF INDiA! The reason why this event is not listed in the Guinness Book is given at the end, in the last chapter of this story.

I have called this journey most arduous and dangerous. Yet the danger was not the kind of traffic accident danger that you encounter on the roads and highways in India or elsewhere in the civilized inhabited world. Or even the danger of mountain roads like Ladakh=Landslides & Rockfalls; and Mizoram (where 0ncoming traffic keeps to drivers side, that is to the right side, not to the left, as in the rest of India. This is bkoz the road – say from Kolasib to Aizawl the capital of Mizoram, and further south to Lungleih – is very narrow, just wide enough to let two Buses pass, so both the opposing drivers steer to their own side=driver side (Right hand side). 0ne side is a mountain wall just 0ne inch from the bus body, and other side is a sheer drop of hundreds of feet just an inch beyond the front wheels of the bus, WHiCH I COULD SEE! Make sure your driver is MiZO, udderwise you are dead!

Eh? What about bikes? Sorry I dunn0! I dinn drive bike in Mizoram. The terrain of Mizoram is the LUSHAi HiLLs. The characteristics of the Lushai Hills is that they are very sharp cones and very sharp valleys, with the valley floor being almost V-shaped, with hardly in flat land. Yet they are all inhabited by people because there is much rain and vegetation.

Of course, in the Sahara desert there was no danger of falling off a cliff or skidding off a road or of any kind of accident happening! Where we were going, accidents were impossible. For accident to happen there must be other people and other vehicles competing for road space. But in the Sahara – there were no other people, no other vehicles, flat terrain and no road. So accident was impossible.

The only possibility was of simply falling down in the soft sand – which was also OK, bkoz there would be no injury. Why no injury? Bkoz the sand was as soft as a mattress, the KiHo (bike) speed would be: not more than 10 kph, so no chance of injury of any kind. But falls would cause waste of time, and delay. Yet, reaching destination before dark was critical. Being in the desert after dark WiTH HEADLiGHTs ON, meant inviting Tuaregs ! And Tuaregs have only one profession==LOOT-MAAR! (Loot=Rob; Maar=Kill). What else can anyone do in the desert to stay alive and make a living?

In Loot-Maar, the Tuaregs don’t 0perate like Indians who First Loot, then maybe Maar. Tuaregs are 0pposite: They first Maar and then Loot. So, since they have already Looted your water & your camel (or car or scooter or whatever transport was under you), they just vanish in the desert without bothering to finish the job knowing nobody would follow them – bkoz nobody COULD follow them bkoz nobody WOULD follow them bkoz there is NOBODY! The CUNT IN YOU US sandstorm in the Sahara wipes out tracks within minutes! Without water and transport one cannot survive in the Sahara even for a day! So the chance of staying alive after a Tuareg attack was ZERO!

Beginning from Casablanca in Morocco (Northwest Africa), our ride=route would take us East along the northern coast of Morocco [also known as EL MAROC], cross over into Algeria and drive along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea up to Algiers, the Capital of Algeria. From Casablanca to Algiers is about 1000 km. From Algiers we would make a 90 degree right turn and head due south: 2500 km across the whole of Algeria – cross into Republic of Niger and another 1500 km across Niger and into Nigeria, and drive another 1000 km from the Northern tip of Nigeria to its southern tip, ending at Lagos, the Capital of Nigeria.

The dangers were many: Political unrest and Sectarian strife was rife in Algeria in 1991 – street shootouts were common. Getting shot was par for the course. The terrain was daunting. There was no road – only sand – for a thousand miles in any direction.

Compared to this, our own Thar desert in Rajasthan in India is a garden. I have been to the THAR desert many times: Bikaner – Jaisalmer – Sam – Barmer – even Tanot (on Thursday 7.March.2013, where the real same dunes are, places we associate with the desert.

 

This is at Tanot, 140 km by road from Jaisalmer, far west, near the Pakistan border. See some plants on & around the dune? No such thing in Sahara – not even a blade of grass!

Jaisalmer being considered the heart of the desert can hardly be equated with the Sahara – There is a lake in Jaisalmer, named GADESAR Lake, where I actually did boating in March 2003and again in March 2013! How can you call it a desert when there is enough water, not only for drinking, bathing and washing you asshole, but even has a lake big enough to do boating – many boats at a time!

There are many deserts in the world: In Australia, 66% of Australia is desert, but yet, nobody calls Australia a desert cunt ree. There is desert in South Amerika, in Chile, named Atacama Desert, but it is very small, and can be crossed without dying. There is desert in USA, in Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico, and some so-called badlands in Nebraska and the Dakotas, also in the USA. Yet all these deserts combined would still not be even half of SAHARA! In Asia, there is the Gobi desert in Northern China and the Takla Makan desert in western China. Even the Gobi desert and the Takla Makan desert are nothing compared to the SAHARA, which is the largest, most isolated and most dangerous desert in the world.

In the sands of the SAHARA, there is not a single blade of grass as far as the eye can see. No habitation. No signboards. No markers. No people. No guidance.….and also No Water! Nothing! Remember, this was1991 that is 22 years ago! There were No mobile phones. No GPS. No GPRS. No internet. No Google Maps. Nothing! All we had, to show us direction, was a compass – same as what Columbus had in 1492 – five hundred years ago!

If at all one came across people, they would be Tuaregs – the tribes that live in the desert – and they are mostly unfriendly. Tuaregs are born in the desert, live in the desert and die in the desert. They do not believe in nationality: Algeria, Libya, Sudan, Chad, Niger, Mali or Mauritania; Tuaregs believe that wherever there is desert, it is their land. Indeed, in the desert there are no marked international boundaries. No rivers or creeks (Sir Creek?). No mountains or hills to mark borders. Only SAND DUNES which keep SHiFTiNG! Tuaregs are also always SHiFTiNG like the sand dunes, and do not recognize any authority except their own, and they back it up with AK47s! They shoot first and ask questions afterwards!

It was @ December 1991 that we set out to create a world record. I was living in Pune (in Western India, a hundred miles=160 km south-east of Bombay, now called Mumbai). I was making a modest living testing bikes for Car & Bike Magazine as well as teaching as visiting faculty at an MBA institute in Pune, India, named IMDR==Institute of Management Development & Research, which is the oldest MBA institute in Pune established in 1974.

WHAT RECORD AND WHY?

Honda Motor Co of Japan had partnered with Kinetic Engg. Co. of Pune to produce India's first automatic (Variomatic=ungeared=without gears) scooter named KiNETiC HONDA (=KiHo), which also was the first two-wheeler in India to have self start. Starting production @ 1986, this scooter had become very popular in India and sales were soaring. Japan had become a very expensive country, so Honda was making this scooter in India & trying to sell this Indian Made Japanese Scooter in Nigeria, Africa's most populous country, oil rich and hence a big market.

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dilipbam@gmail.com (Dilip Bam) Autobiography Thu, 20 Jun 2013 15:08:56 +0000
Across the Sahara Desert on Kinetic Honda scooter. Chapter 2 http://dilipbam.com/autobiography/277-across-the-sahara-desert-on-kinetic-honda-scooter-chapter-2.html http://dilipbam.com/autobiography/277-across-the-sahara-desert-on-kinetic-honda-scooter-chapter-2.html

MY AFFAiR WITH THE KiHo: The Goa Ride!>>

I was the first person to publish KiHo Road Test Report in Car&Bike International magazine (now defunct) in 1987, over a quarter century ago, and four years before the SAHARA trip. For the test I had rode the KiHo from Pune to Goa and back in mid 1987 (petrol paid by the magazine which was run by Adil Jal Darukhanawala – who currently heads Zigwheels of the Times of India group), which was quite an adventure in more ways than one, and I went thru the greatest coincidence in my life.

Riding from Pune, myself single seat on the KiHo, and two friends, Vijay Lay Lay, Editor of long since defunct Poona Digest magazine & Sanjay DaNaiT (not DaKaiT) fotograffer of Poona Digest, dubble seat on 2-stroke, 100cc, Kawasaki-Bajaj KB100 (which I had tested before this KiHo) and around the same time Hero Honda had launched the original ekonomi bike CD100, with the tag line : FiLL IT. SHUT IT. FORGET IT.

We were supposed to stay in Sanjay DaNaiT’s unicle’s house in Goa, whose name & address I dinn0. This was my first trip to Goa. It was 31st May 1987. Tomoro, 1st June 1987, Goa was getting statehood. Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was coming to Goa. Security would be tight at borders etc. etc. I did not have bike papers. At that age who thinks? How to cross border? They were especially strict in Goa bkoz of Rajiv’s visit. I was apprehensive.

I have been to Goa many times AFTER that. I always prefer to go by NH17,

which is the Bombay – Goa, Konkan road, rather than go by NH4, which is

the Bomby – Pune – Bangalore highway, which today is six lane & fast but

extremely boring. There is no life on NH4. It is built for people in a hurry,

for people who simply want to finish their work Kwik Lee Like Bruce Lee

and get back to their miserable cloistered CORPORATE DOG existence and

die of high blood pressure induced coronary thrombosis in a high class

company paid CORPRATE hospital.

There are many entry points into Goa from the north. If you stick to NH17

you will enter Goa thru Patradevi, but there are udder entry points such as

via the Terekhol fort which is almost on the coast, or via Dodamarg. This

was our first trip to Goa on bike, so we stuck to NH17. We did not know any

udder route.

There was a long queue of vehicles at the Maharashtra – Goa border. I

parked my KiHo on the side and walked to the checkpost. I saw that the cops

were really checking the papers quite strictly. But I had no papers!

Whattodo? My friends just crossed the border and rode off into Goa without

bothering about me.

So while my friends rode thru the border check post, I turned back not sure

what I should do. So I turned back and left the road a hundred meters before

the border check-post and went into the fields and bushes thru open kuccha

land and somehow came to some road inside Goa, and made my way into

Panaji thru Candolim via the Betim ferry. There was no Mandovi bridge

then. Or maybe Mandovi bridge was built but it fell and many people died. It

was also in the Bombay papers at that time. The only way to cross the

Mandovi in 1987 was by the Betim ferry.

But I had lost kontakt with my friends on the KB100. This was 1987. There

were no mobile phones then, remember? And quite possibly some of you

guys reading this now also might not have been around.

Petrol at that time cost one-tenth of what it costs today,

I had given Rs.500/- to Sanjay DaNaiT for collective spending at the

beginning of the trip & didn’t have much munny on me, maybe about

Rs.80/- and I dinn0 whatt0d0! I was in a strange state, strange town, for the

first time, not knowing anybody and without much munny on me. Anyway I

parked the KiHo at a waterfront Bar named Avanti and ordered Feni and

Bangda fry (Bangda is the most popular fish in Goa. In English it is known

as Macarel).

A peg of Feni at that time (31.May.1987) cost only Rs.1.25 inklooding the

soda. Today it costs @ 10times of that bkoz of state taxes. Balls to

statehood! Who wants statehood? Taxes go up and prices go up. If the

whole cunt ree was a Union Territory taxes would be much less and prices

cheap. I had a few Fenis and found a room for Rs.40/- in George’s hotel

adjacent to Avanti Bar and went to sleep.

About tomorrow we’ll see tomorrow I thought. Feni increases confidence.

Goa was not so touristy then. And there was hardly any Hoo-Ha about Rajiv

Gandhi’s arrival tomor0. That’s Goan SUSEGAAD for You! They are like

thatt 0nllly !

 

Due to my getting separated from my friends and my delicate financial and petrol condition, I had decided that I would take a ride to Fort Aguada in the morning, ride around as much as my finances would allow, and head east for Belgaum via the Ponda – Molem – Londa route. Belgaum is the nearest Karnataka town from Goa, where my grandparents lived. They were then still alive and ticking, but not kicking. I had enough munny to get me to Belgaum. I would borrow money from my grandfather in Belgaum and get back to Poona. This is what I decided before going to sleep.

Next morning I went to Fort Aguada like I had planned. Roamed around Candolim, checked out “O’Coqueir0”, the top restaurant in Goa, where Charles Sobhraj apparently staged his own re-arrest. Where Inspektor Zende walks into “O’Coqueir0” and says, “Charles Sobhraj, I presume?” “O’Coqueir0” still exists (2011), and I think has been taken over by the Taj Group. Best Garlick Prawn I ever ate was at “O’Coqueir0”, though not on this trip (I had no munny) but many years later! And the most expensive!

And why did Charles Sobhraj escape from prison if he wanted to get re-arrested? Actually Charles was in Tihar Jail in Delhi serving time for some offences he had committed in India, and having completed his sentence, was to be released since there were no other charges against him in India.

Point is: He was wanted for Murder in Thigh Land. He was accused in a murder that had happened in Thigh Land some 18 years ago. If he was freed by the court in India, the Indian Police (not court) was obliged (under international treaty) to deliver Charles Sobhraj to Thailand Police to face trial for murder.

If he got arrested for Jailbreak, he would be tried and Jailed again in India for two years. Thus he would be in Jail in India when Thailand Murder charge against him would complete 20 years. Under the Laws of Thigh Land called STATUTE OF LiMiTATiONs, you cannot charge a man for a crime committed more than 20 years ago. If Charles Sobhraj would not have escaped from Jail, he would be released as a free man in India when two years were still remaining to complete 20 years from the murder charge in Thigh Land, and then the Indian police would have to arrest him and deport him to Thigh Land to face murder charge there bkoz there exists an extradition treaty between India and Thigh Land. But if 20 years had passed then Charles Sobhraj could even go back to Thigh Land as a free man and live there and do business there. That is why he did the jailbreak & re-arrest drama. But there is no such STATUTE OF LiMiTATiONs Law in India, which I think is very bad. The way our so-called democracy – which is actually a Corrupt-0-Cracy – is structured, it is actually a cunt ree “Of the Govt., For the Govt., By the Govt.” This is what Anna Hazare is fighting against today.

Coming back to my Goa caper and KiHo test, 0n my way back from Fort Aguada I had given a lift to a guy. His name is Apollo Fernandez, a very common name in Goa. I remember this name even today though more than a quarter century has passed since then. This is bkoz I had a classmate in XLRI 1971-73 named Apollo Fernandez. So the name stuck in my mind. While riding pillion with me, we got talking. He was very curious about the KiHo. He had never seen such a bike before. I told him it was the first KiHo in Goa and that I was from Poona (not yet Pune) and was testing the bike for the magazine. I also told him my story of how I had got separated from my friends and how & where (George’s Hotel) I stayed last night etc. I also told him that my friends were riding a KB100. He got off on the Candolim side of the Betim ferry. He did some work and later came to Panaji main square below the church on a hill, which has the famous Kamat restaurant where I always eat. This is where a Police Station is also located.

I dropped Apollo Fernandez at Betim and went to George’s Hotel (where I had stayed last night) to collect my backpack, cleared the bill and decided to have 0ne drink before heading for Belgaum via Ponda – Molem - Londa. So I went into an adjoining bar having transparent glass windows and sat near one window and ordered a drink of Nariyal Feni & ‘goti-ka-soda’.

GOTi-KA-SODA is the only proven soda in the world in which the pressure of carbon dioxide from inside, presses the GOTi (glass marble) into the neck of the bottle from inside, and the internal pressure from the carbon dioxide inside keeps it stuck there. All other glass soda bottles use crimped tin caps with cork lining. Today’s PET soda bottles use PET bottles and threaded HDPE caps.

Meanwhile Apollo Fernandez, the guy whom I had dropped off at Betim Ferry, came to Panjim main square and probably walked past the police station and saw the Pune Registered KB100 parked in front of it. KB100 was also recently launched and was as yet a rare sight. As he was looking at the bike, Vijay Lay Lay & Sanjay Da-Na-iT came out of the polis station where they had gone to enquire if any idi0T named Dilip Bam had come to enquire about them, as per normal practice that anyone having confidence in polis would do.

But Dilip Bam is not a normal person and he has never been to a polis station except in handcuffs – but that’s a different story. Anyway when Sanjay DaNaiT mounted the KB100 to start it, this guy Apollo Fernandez told them that he was given a lift by Dilip Bam on KiHo and that Dilip Bam had stayed in George’s Hotel nearby and would be soon leaving for Belgaum. So Vijay & Sanjay quickly went to George’s Hotel hoping to catch me. But the guy at the counter told them that I had paid and left a short while ago. So as they were walking back to their bike they passed by the window where I was sitting and I saw them. I quickly got up to run after them, but seeing my quick moves to run, the Bar 0wner caught my collar behind my neck bkoz he thot I was trying to run away without paying for the drink. There was no time for explanation so I somehow managed to drag him to the door of the bar and shout at my friends. They heard me and turned back.

We all sat in the Bar and had more drinks and I then told my story to the Bar 0wner as Sanjay & Vijay also told their side of the story. Anyway we were united again and the rest of the trip went as planned. We stayed on in Goa for a couple of days and returned to Pune.

The KiHo performed beautifully throughout the journey. The Test Report came out very well. The starting lines in my test report in Car & Bike magazine a quarter century ag0 began: “The ride from Ponda to Londa on Kinetic Honda is one of the most enjoyable, serene, silent and picturesque rides in India”. Adil Jal Darukhanawala was very happy. He paid me Rs.500/- extra for the KiHo Test Report! 500/- in 1987 was worth 15000/- today.

I (rather, my wife) fell in love with the KiHo and wanted one. I didn’t have much munny. At that time the top people in Kinetic Honda Motor Limited (KHML) were Japanese. They had an Indian Sales Manager named Satish Moorjani. Luckily I knew him from before. We had both worked for TATA EXPORTs Ltd. ten years ago (1977) and operated from inside the TATA showroom (the largest showroom in the country at that time) at Shivsagar Estate, Worli, Bombay-400 018. So I managed to get a brand new KiHo at 50% price, which was a big deal a quarter century ago.

Kinetic Honda became very popular and was a hit with females. It really gave much freedom and mobility to the Indian middle-class females. Five years down the line, KHML had become so successful, that they started making plans to export Indian made KiHos to Nigeria, the most populous cunt ree in Africa and an OiL exporter==big market.

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dilipbam@gmail.com (Dilip Bam) Autobiography Thu, 20 Jun 2013 15:00:29 +0000
Across the Sahara Desert on Kinetic Honda scooter. Chapter 3 http://dilipbam.com/autobiography/276-across-the-sahara-desert-on-kinetic-honda-scooter-chapter-3.html http://dilipbam.com/autobiography/276-across-the-sahara-desert-on-kinetic-honda-scooter-chapter-3.html

How to sell a product?

By media hype of course! But what are you going to hype? You have to ACHiEVE something, DO something extra-ordinary, or HAVE something extra-ordinary which people ASPiRE to, which can be hyped, which whets people's desires, resulting in sales and deliver profits=munny! Why did Austria (in Europe) born Arnold Shivajinagar (==Schwarzenegger) become governor of California in USA? Bcoz he was Mr. Universe for many years which was hyped as hero in many Hollywood movies and he made much munny. He had (and still has) a body which every human male aspires to have and every human female wants to mate with as per Law of Nature. This was proved in Arnold Schwarznegger’s first movie: CONAN THE BARBARiAN ! That is his USP=Unique Selling Proposition. Why did the Indian Reality TV Show Bigg Boss pay Pamela Anderson five million dollars to appear on the show? Bcoz she has the ultimate body every human female aspires to have and every male aspires to mate with, which was hyped in the TV show BAYWATCH.

Thus it was Adil Jal Darukhanawala who sold the idea to Honda Motor Co that a team of Indians do a world record event on an Indian Made Japanese Scooter, which could be hyped in Nigeria to boost the sales of Kinetic Honda scooter in Nigeria.

WHY ME? I have to thank Adil Jal Darukhanawala, the then (1991) Editor of Car & Bike magazine for giving me the chance to risk my life in this foolhardy venture. I also have to thank Honda Motor Co. & Kinetic for thinking up this crazy idea for media hype.

PREPARATiONs? I am sure you have heard of Michelin Tyres. What you definitely don’t know and probably don’t even NEED to know (bkoz of google earth / google maps and udder googlifications, mobile phone, GPS, SatNav etc.) is that in those days Michelin used to print the best and most detailed hard copy maps of the various cunt rees of the SAHARA desert.

Honda Motor Co. gave us the best possible and latest large scale hard copy maps of the Sahara Desert that I have ever seen. I am the greatest Geographist in the world and my then boss Adil Jal Daurkhanawala gave me the maps and asked me to make out our route plan and schedule to be submitted to Mr. Shigeo Hirose, who was Managing Direktur of Kinetic Honda Motor Ltd. at that time in 1991==22 years ago.

We were a team of six men, two Kinetic Honda Scooters and one Mercedes Glendwagen GD240 Jeep, which was kindly lent to us for the purpose by Mr. Abhay Firodia, who is currently Chairman of Force Motors (earlier Bajaj Tempo Ltd - the creator of the ubiquitous Tempo, the only light goods carrier allowed to be produced in India during the restrictive days of popat idio0tic nehruvian socialism). Four of us (inklooding me) were to take turns at riding the scooters 6000 km across the WORLD's LARGEST SAHARA DESERT, which is three times the land area of the whole of Hindoostan (==Hindustan==India==Bharat).

 

At 44, I was the oldest of the team. There were four KiHo riders. The  youngest was a lad of just 16 or so it was claimed, not that it mattered. Plus there were two other riders: 0ne was 25 and another 34. . The fifth guy was to be the driver of the Jeep. The sixth guy, who spoke French, was to be the interpreter since nobody in the Francophone (formerly ruled by France) countries which we had to traverse through, speaks English. They either speak Arabic or French, which none of us except the interpreter spoke.

The Jeep, the two scooters (absolutely stock – no modifikations whatsoever), tools and some spare parts were put into a container and shipped by sea to Casablanca in Morocco, a country at the North-Western tip of the African Continent, about 9000 km west of India. The official name of Morocco is El Maroc.

FiNANCE? An expedition like this costs plenty of munny. But in those days of nehruvian popat socialism, getting DOLLARs for such a crazy & foolhardy idea was impossible. Today's Gen-Y in India just cannot comprehend this situation. Today Bigg Boss can pay five million dollars to Pamela Anderson for her assets & OoO0OMPH, but in those days you could not get even five dollars to buy life saving drugs for your dying father, and if the authorities could find even one dollar in your pocket or your home, you could be thrown in jail for seven years. That's what the LAW was (which is an ASS anyway) in those days of popat nehruvian socialism. Obviously Kinetic India would not be allowed by Bharat Sarkar (==Govt. of India) to pay, even if it could afford or wanted to. So the tab was picked up by Honda Motor Co of Japan. And I must thank Honda Motor Co. They provided for us very well.

ROUTE? The route we had to take was to start from Casablanca: Ride east 0ne thousand km along the Mediterranean coast to Algiers (locally known as Alger), the capital of Algeria, also on the Mediterranean coast. From Algiers on the Mediterranean coast make a 90-degree right turn and ride due south across three countries of the SAHARA DESERT: Algeria, Republic of Niger and Nigeria, into the Nigerian capital of Lagos on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean.

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dilipbam@gmail.com (Dilip Bam) Autobiography Thu, 20 Jun 2013 14:53:00 +0000
Across the Sahara Desert on Kinetic Honda scooter. Chapter 4 http://dilipbam.com/autobiography/275-across-the-sahara-desert-on-kinetic-honda-scooter-chapter-4.html http://dilipbam.com/autobiography/275-across-the-sahara-desert-on-kinetic-honda-scooter-chapter-4.html

Paris & Casablanca.

We took a flight from Bombay (==Mumbai, India) to Paris, capital of France. In Paris we had two objectives:

One: we had to get a visa for Republic of Niger. We already had visas for France, Morocco, Algeria and Nigeria which we got from the respective embassies in New Delhi. But Republic of Niger had no embassy in India at that time. So we could not have got Republic of Niger visa in India.

Indeed, as I understood at that time twenty-two years ago, Republic of Niger had no embassy anywhere in the world except in Paris (France) since the country just could not afford to maintain (and pay for) any embassy or staff. You see, Republic of Niger was, (at least at that time), one of the poorest countries of the world (even today it still is the 10th most poorest cunt ree in this hole world), about ten times poorer than (say) Bangladesh, which is one of the poorest countries in Asia. After Independence from France, Republic of Niger was ruled by a Dictator or a Coterie, and the country was governed from a building in Paris (France) which is now its embassy. That is why we had to stop in Paris to get the visa for Republic of Niger. Republic of Niger is in the heart of the Sahara Desert.

Two: we had to get information about the route conditions, and more important, about the current political situation, turmoil and violence in Algeria in 1991-92. The political turmoil and street violence conditions in Algeria were pretty bad at that time, something similar to what happened in Libya recently though not THAT bad, but bad enough to make riding across Algeria pretty dangerous. Honda had been participating in the PARiS--DAKAR Rally for some time now and had some knowledge of some part of the desert terrain. DAKAR is the capital of Senegal which is South-West of Algiers and the PARiS--DAKAR Rally followed a route considerably different from the one we were to take.

Our route was to go absolutely due south from Algiers, with much of it falling in Algeria where, to put it mildly, conditions were not very encouraging or re-assuring, or to put bluntly, very dangerous. We had a choice: We could chicken out and fly back to India from Paris and stay alive. The mission would have failed before it started. Before we left India there had been much pre-departure publicity, hoopla and media hype in India about our mission, and if we went back home without completing the journey, we would be branded as cowards for the rest of our life ! The six of us conferred and confabulated on this issue. FEAR IS THE KEY and a fear can be overcome only by a GREATER FEAR. For us, the fear of death was very real, but the fear of living the rest of our life in India as COWARDs, was an even GREATER FEAR. So, we did as Field Marshal Sam Maneckshaw famously said in 1971: "Bash-0n-Regardless " !

LANDiNG IN PARiS: Accompanying us on the Bombay (=Mumbai) to Paris flight was an officer from Honda Motor Co. His name was Mr. Sambomatsu. He would be our Chaperone till Algiers. Twenty-two years ago (1991) the Indian Techie with a Laptop hanging from his shoulder was not yet born. Infosys, Wipro and TCS were far away on the horizon. An Indian traveller to Europe and other developed cunt rees (and even some semi-developed cunt rees) was looked upon negatively as a POTENTiAL ILLEGAL IMMiGRANT. Even in Singapore & Malaysia (where I had been many times before 1991) I was always asked to show a confirmed return air-ticket and sufficient amount of US Dollars cash or travellers cheques to cover my stay, before the immigration officer stamped my passport and let me into the country.

It was worse in Paris. We were all six of us standing in the immigration queue. One Gendarmerie (as police are called in France) came to us and motioned us to get out of the queue and locked us in a glass cabin and went away, apparently to tell his superior that he had captured six POTENTiAL ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTs !

ENTER THE DRAGON: We were in the glass cabin about 15 minutes when Mr. Sambomatsu entered the immigration hall. He saw us in the cabin and came and tried to open the door. It was locked. He went to one immigration counter and spoke to the officer and pointed to us. The officer made a call on the intercom (there were no cell-phones then) and the cop who had locked us up promptly appeared and let us out. As the queue cleared out, Mr. Sambomatsu took out a huge wad of US hundred Dollar bills and slapped them on the immigration officer's table. Apparently Mr. Sambomatsu also spoke French. He said something to the immigration officer who quickly stamped our passports and we headed out of the airport.

We were in Paris for three days, which is the time it takes to get a Republic of Niger visa. On the fourth day we flew to Casablanca in Morocco.

PARiS 1991: We did the regular Paris tourist circuit: Arch de Triumph, which is a carbon copy of Delhi’s India Gate and not worth a visit. Eiffiel Tower, which is definitely worth a visit. For all of us Indians, it was the highest height we had ever climbed on a man-made structure until now. Moulin Rouge, which features the Folies Bergere, an open B00B dance (no bras and no halters – totally open as per Law of Nature) of 48 pairs (I am not sure about the number) of B00Bs in chorus. Every B00B presenter had to be five-foot-ten, White Anglo-Saxon Caucasian. It was the MOST hyped B00B show in the hole world at that time. It was definitely worth the visit and the munny at that time (1991) or any time. There was no internet, no google, no pornography, no facebook, no you tube, no mobile phones – no nothing. It was early December 1991 and it was damn cold in Paris, much more than I had expected.

CASABLANCA: We landed in Casablanca (Morocco) on 13.Dec.1991. All of us stayed at the El Kendara Hotel; drank at bar El Kendara; ate at restaurant El -Khaima, and had snacks at coffee shop El -Colibri. Mr. Sambomatsu was also there. We stayed in Casablanca for about a week. Honda has a large dealership there. Everyday we would go the dealer’s workshop and tinker with the scooters. We practiced how to remove the wheels, how to take out the tires, how to repair punctures. Dissemble and reassemble every part of the scooter. We were trained in repairing the scooter as best as possible in the week that was available.

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dilipbam@gmail.com (Dilip Bam) Autobiography Thu, 20 Jun 2013 14:47:02 +0000
Across the Sahara Desert on Kinetic Honda scooter. Chapter 5 http://dilipbam.com/autobiography/274-across-the-sahara-desert-on-kinetic-honda-scooter-chapter-5.html http://dilipbam.com/autobiography/274-across-the-sahara-desert-on-kinetic-honda-scooter-chapter-5.html

The Ride begins. Through Morocc0=EL Maroc !  

Finally the day arrived. We started our adventure. We had two KiHo scoots: 0ne was ’86 model, and the other was ’90 model, backed up by a Mercedes Benz Glendwagon GD240, 4x4 Jeep, courtesy Mr. Abhay Firodia of Bajaj Tempo Ltd.

 

At 10:00 a.m. on a very cold December morning, 19.December 1991, we started riding from Honda showroom at Casablanca headed for Algiers. It was bloody cold. Ice had formed on the scooter seat and panels as well as on the roof and hood of the Jeep. For an Indian like me who grew up and lived in the tropics, this was hell. I had no idea it would be so cold. Riding a scooter in this biting cold was torture. The tar road going east from Casablanca towards Algiers along the Mediterranean coast was of good quality. Traffic was thin and speed was possible, but the faster we drove the scooter, the colder we felt due to the freezing cold wind hitting us. Even though we were wearing gloves, our hands were freezing.

The first stop we made after leaving Casablanca was at FEZ, 305 km away. FEZ is the oldest town in Morocco. As we were entering FEZ, a couple of el-kiddos on mobikes latched on to us, yelling “Medina, Medina”. We thought they were inviting us for prayers. Later we found out that medina is the name of the city’s old quarter where the old bazaar is located. We dumped our luggage at an el-cheapo hotel in town and went to the medina with the kiddos.

The medina is a mind boggling maze of dingy decrepit buildings built over a thousand years ago, and looked it. The only vehicles allowed inside were mules and donkeys. It is something like our own Bhul-Bhullaiya of Lucknow, and we couldn’t have found our way out without the kidd0 guides. The shopkeepers were damn aggressive, and prices, to us Indians, were sky high. A leather Jacket we enquired about was selling at 1400 Moroccan Dirhams. At about four Indian Rupees to the Moroccan Dirham, that comes to Rs.5600/-. I could easily get the same thing in Agra or Kanpur for less than half that price. We also found 50 cc Hero Majestic type mopeds selling there for five times the Indian price.

We left FEZ early next morning, and after a brief halt for a two-bit, faltu lunch en route, arrived late at night at Oujda, the border town from where one crosses into Algeria. Oujda is 360 km from FEZ. We checked into Hotel Terminus, just outside Oujda railway station.

One of the KiHos was giving trouble, and it took us the whole of the next day, 21.Dec.1991, to set it right. The problem was with the reed valve and we had no spare reed. Our hunt round Oujda town for a reed yielded us a local mechanic who fabricated a makeshift reed out of FRP, and the scoot was mobile again.

We rushed to the border, hoping to cross it the same day, but by the time we got there the dept. that handled CARNETs (CARNET=Passport of Vehicle) had closed shop so we could not cross into Algeria. It was back to Oujda again and cool our heels for two days, because the border is closed on weekends: 21.Dec. was a Saturday, 22 was Sunday, and we could cross the border only on Monday 23.Dec.1991.

It took us the whole of Monday 23.December to cross the border, a distance of mere 50 meters: THE JOB IS NEVER DONE TiLL THE PAPERWORK IS COMPLETE! While the border formalities exiting from Morocco are comparatively organized (it took us from 09:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. to exit Morocco), the situation at the Algerian side was utter confusion, bordering on panic. The officials would close any counter at their whim (gone for prayer) leaving waiting passengers in a state of suspended animation. Pushing and shoving at counters was the rule. There was no queue jumping because there was no concept of queue. The Algerians are as bad as us. Yelling, screaming and abusing were common and the day wasn’t complete without a couple of fist fights – between passengers as well as between passengers and officials.

Relations between Morocco and Algeria were something like the Hindustan-Pakistan syndrome, the fact of both being islamik countries notwithstanding!

I found the common Algerian to be much more friendly and humble than the common Moroccan, probably because the Algerians had suffered for 30 years under so-called “socialism”, same like we suffered for 45 years from popat nehru to his dotter indira to his grandson rajiv, till Paisa Vasool Narsimha Rao happened in 1991. It also has to do with money. The Algerians were as poor as us, while the Moroccans were four times richer.

We made pretty slow progress. To mitigate our cold ride somewhat, we rode the scooters behind the Jeep, keeping as close to the Jeep as possible so that it would shield us from the cold wind. Making halts at RABAT, MEKNES, FES, TAZA and OUJDA, we reached TLEMCEN the Algerian border on the fourth day.

CROSSiNG THE BORDER: Getting across the border was a disaster. While getting out of Morocco was easy and simple, getting into Algeria was a torture. We had to fill in some forms in which we had to write our PROFESSiON. I wrote my profession as Teacher (which I was). I cannot remember what the others wrote, but I do remember that two of us wrote profession as JOURNALiST, since two of our team were salaried employees of Car&Bike magazine. I had been doing ROAD TESTs for the magazine for five years before that, but I was working on a “per-word” or “per-article” basis, not on a monthly salary basis. I was also teaching MBA students at IMDR, the oldest MBA institute in Pune. So I wrote my “profession” as teacher.

Journalists were a problem with the Algerian authorities. Journalists were an absolute no-no in Algeria, probably bkoz nosey journalists would report back in their home country about the horrible goings on in Algeria. So these two, our team leader, and the French speaking interpreter, were refused entry into Algeria at the land crossing border. Whattodo? Our fallback was Mr. Sambomatsu, but how to contact him? There were no mobile cellphones in those days, remember? It took us a whole day (much bribery and corruption - more than India) to cross the border. Four of us, along with our scooters and Jeep crossed into Algeria. The two who wrote profession as “Journalist” were sent back into Morocco. What happened to them and what they did we came to know only when we reached Algiers. They had taken a train back to Casablanca from Oujda and flew into Algiers on Christmas day 1991. In the profession column they wrote “student”, and got into Algeria without a hitch.

The four of us who were allowed into Algeria, finished the formalities and, riding two KiHos and one jeep, entered Algeria before dark on 23.December 1991, and headed for Marnia, 20 km away. We had thought we’d eat, check into a hotel and crash for the night. But during dinner the devil got into us and we decided to ride on to 0ran, 200 km away.

Excellent roads (the like of which did not exist in India at that time) and sparse traffic enabled us to hit 0ran around 21:00 pm, a minor checkpoint hassle on the way being solved by two packets of Marlboro cigarettes.

0ran town was already asleep and finding a hotel with a secure parking place was proving to be a problem. So we decided to bash-on-regardless and head for Algiers, the capital of Algeria, 500 km away.

The ride from 0ran to Algiers was the coldest and freezingest ride of my life, and we were totally unprepared for it. The temperature was zero or less than zero since we saw ice layers formed on car bonnets next morning. On one scoot, me and another rider took turns, each riding one hour at a time covering 65 km, while the other rested in the Jeep which was with us. The other scoot was ridden throughout (500 km) alone by a third rider to Algiers. Consequently he froze, and lay asleep for two days continuously after we hit Algiers around noon on Tuesday 24 December 1991.

All this time the four of us had no inkling as to what had happened to the two who were refused entry into Algeria. Yet Mr. Sambomatsu knew exactly where to catch us on the road before entering Algiers, and he did. And the two of our group who were refused entry at the border were with him, having reached before us. What they had done was, they had gone back to Rabat and taken a flight from Rabat to Algiers, this time not making the mistake of writing their profession as journalist.

Next day, Christmas 1991, we did some shopping (food only) in Algiers and some photography in a public park on a hilltop and generally relaxed. Tomorrow morning the clock would start ticking for us. So far we had been in very civilized places and travelled on excellent roads, and as we struck due south from Algiers, civilization would gradually thin out and human habitation would become sparser and sparser.

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dilipbam@gmail.com (Dilip Bam) Autobiography Thu, 20 Jun 2013 14:43:04 +0000
Across the Sahara Desert on Kinetic Honda scooter. Chapter 6 http://dilipbam.com/autobiography/273-across-the-sahara-desert-on-kinetic-honda-scooter-chapter-6.html http://dilipbam.com/autobiography/273-across-the-sahara-desert-on-kinetic-honda-scooter-chapter-6.html

0n our own

GOODBYE to Mr. SAMBOMATSU: He would leave us here and meet us again in Lagos, Nigeria, if we reached there alive. We still had thousands of km to ride through the most inhospitable dry terrain on earth, coping with islamik fundamentalists, professional brigands and Tribal Tuaregs, all carrying AK47s.

He gave us money (US$ cash) and excellent Michelin maps. He also gave us a Video Camera to record our journey for submitting to Guinness Book of World Records for being the “THE FiRST IN THE WORLD SAHARA DESERT CROSSiNG from the Mediterranean Sea to Atlantic Ocean ON UNGEARED SMALL WHEELED SCOOTER”.

On the designated day, two of us riding the scooters and four sitting in the Jeep, with Mr. Sambomatsu in a hired car rode to our goodbye point. We said our goodbyes and on 26.Dec.1991 Mr. Sambomatsu gave us our battle cry: He said, "Operation Sahara ATTACK begins - - BANZAi ! " which means exactly the same as what 0ur Field Marshal Sam Maneckshaw had said 20 years before, in 1971: BASH--ON--REGARDLESS !

ON OUR OWN: We rode out of Algiers on the morning of 26.Dec.1991 with some apprehension. It had rained the previous night, the roads were wet, a faint drizzle was on and it was bloody cold. But luck held out: the drizzle stopped and we were on our way.

We rode across the Atlas Mountains, which are made more of mud than stone and there are no sharp peaks like Himalayas or even Western Ghats around Pune in India. The roads were excellent, the traffic thin and the scooters behaving beautifully. We stopped for lunch at a dhaba in a town called Ksar El Boukhari, which probably means: Water owned by Boukhari.

Lunch consisted of “poulette roti” for others, and “sookhi roti” for Dilip Bam – bloody vegetarian idiot! The C-grade food cost 270 Dinars (then about Rs.375/-). At any equivalent place in India (22 years ago), same quantity of much better food would have cost one-third of that.

FOOD was a problem for all of us. For me it was a bigger problem than for the others of our group bcoz I was the only vegetarian. But there was no vegetarian food anywhere bcoz there is no vegetation anywhere around. Also, the food everywhere was bland & tasteless. There is no concept of taste, no spice, no masala, no garlic, no chilli - nothing. To me it was just "STUFF" to stuff-up your stomach so that at least you could shit tomorrow morning. The standard fare was "POULE-ROTTi". In French POULE means chicken and ROTTi means roasted. I had to become a non-vegetarian, udderwise I would not survive. It is not for religious reasons that I do not eat meat. I just don't like it. That is what it was like as far as food was concerned.

WHEN it comes to food, the Chinese are MASTERs. India comes second. Europeans & Anglo-Saxons come a poor third, while Original inhabitants of the SAHARA desert come last. Maybe the Eskimos are even more backward in food than the desert inhabitants, but I am not sure because I have not yet been to the North Pole.

We arrived in Laghouat, 416 km from Algiers at 17:30 pm, checked into Al Marhaba hotel and crashed for the night. It was still bloody cold, but thank god the rooms were centrally heated.

Apart from the heating, the hotel was the pits, as all hotels were, in the hole of socialist Algeria. The concept of “service” just doesn’t seem to exist. We paid 500 Dinars (=Rs.700/- in 1991) for a triple-bed room, of a quality which would not cost more than Rs.200/- in any equivalent town in Hindustan.

It was obvious that socialism had done more damage to Algeria in 30 years than it had done to Hindustan in 45. The roads were dominated by French brands – Cars, Trucks and Buses – Puegeot, Berliet, Citroen etc., interspersed with an occasional Benz or Volvo. Our own Indian Telco (now TATA Motors) had over a thousand TATA buses plying in Algeria at that time, but they were in service in a region we did not pass through. Two wheelers were almost non-existent, except for the odd Motobecane and Puegeot mopeds in the back alleys. These need no registration, tax or License, and are, without exception, very dirty and very badly maintained.

All petrol pumps were run by a single govt. monopoly called NAFTAL (short form of Napthalene?). Diesel is called GASOiL and petrol is called ESSENCE. In 1991 in Algeria, diesel was selling at the equivalent of two Rupees a liter and petrol at less than five Rupees a liter.

27th December 1991 morning we rode for El Golea (also known as El Meniaa). When we started at 09:00 a.m. there were sheets of ice formed on the scooter seats and dashboards as well as on the bonnet of the Jeep. It was so bloody cold that eyes were watering even before we began riding. The landscape began changing, green gradually changing to brown.

Around 14:30 p.m. we stopped by the road where in the middle of nowhere some locals were selling fossilized corrals found on land in the desert. Obviously, millions of years ago this place must have been under the sea. The corrals were very expensive so we did not buy any. Also we had no place to keep it since the Jeep was 0verfull with our stuff.

At this place we met some Germans who were going in the opposite direction (south to north) having already crossed the desert in cars. They looked at our puny KiHos and laughed, and said: “You can use your scooters to make a bonfire when you start freezing in the desert”. We were a bit unnerved, but pushed on nevertheless, covering 479 km and arriving at El Golea around dark, the KiHos still behaving very well.

El Golea was even more cold. All water was frozen to ice. Also, the place was full of bloody speed breakers – as if to remind us of home. By 08:00 a.m. on 28th December 1991 we left El Golea for In Salah, @ 500 km away. The landscape by now was very desolate. The road was pukka (tarred) but on both sides there was only sand as far as the eye could see. Wayside joints were very rare, say one in over 100 km. There were only two petrol pumps between El Golea and In Salah.

We saw a few cars on the road in both directions, as well as some bikes, but all the bikes were BiG geared bikes, 650 cc and 750 cc jobs, like Africa Twins and Teneries, mostly Hondas, BMWs and Suzukis. We encountered patches of sand drifts on the road which slowed us down. We got into In Salah @ 16:00 p.m. Now there was desert all around us.

We checked into Hotel Tidkelt at In Salah and did some work on the scooters, mainly change tires. So far we were riding on standard Indian road tires which would be useless in the soft, loose desert sand. We fitted knobby (motocross type) Japanese tires which we had carried with us. We also cleaned the plugs, carburetors and air filters.

Our next stop was Tamanghrasset, @ 700 km away. The road from In Salah to Tamanghraasset was quite good in most parts except about 100 km which was broken. Tamanghrasset was where civilization ends and is the ‘Jump-0ff’point, where the road ends, desert surface begins, and you have to drive only on sand – all kinds of sand – hard sand, soft sand, loose sand, and even QUiCKSAND! Luckily we did not encounter any quicksand, because if we had, we would have drowned in it, and you would not be reading this story!

There are only two small settlements between In Salah and Tamanghrasset where one could get water and maybe fuel. The one closer to In Salah is called Arak (also spelt Irak) and the further one is Ain Ecker. There is absolutely no habitation and / or vegetation apart from at these two places.

We left In Salah late morning 29th December 1991, planning for two or three days to reach Tamanghrasset. Not many travelers on the road, and whoever passed or crossed us were driving so fast for fear of the Tuaregs that it was impossible to communicate. We ourselves were also scared of Tuaregs, but were not yet shitting bricks because we had not heard of Tuareg attacks between In Salah and Tamanghrasset. In the event we rode non-stop to Arak, reaching there around 16:00 p.m. the same day.

We got water in Arak and drank it heartily. It tasted like Piss, but what the hell? Water is water. At that place I would have traded all the whiskey (and Rum and Gin and Vodka and Brandy and……) in the world for a liter of the muddy, brackish, almost salty WATER. There was a petrol pump at Arak, but sadly no petrol or diesel. Luckily we had spare fuel in jerry cans in our Jeep and we topped up all vehicles there.

There was a camping site at Arak and we considered crashing there for the night. We met some Anglo-Saxons (Gora) on big bikes who were indeed crashing there. I very much wanted to crash there for one or two days, because who the hell will ever get a chance again in life to live for a day in a place like Arak? There were also some mountains (part of the Hoggar – Ahaggar range), which I wanted to climb and trek around, but our bloody team leader was just pushing and pushing and yelling “Tourism not allowed!” so we didn’t park at Arak and just drove on.

Just before dark we encountered the broken portion of the road. It was tricky in patches, but the KiHos took it in their stride, thank god! The Benz of course kept on performing without any complaints.

We hit Ain Ecker around 20:30 (=8:30.pm), had cooked food consisting of boiled rice and tomato sauce, and some coffee, but couldn’t get any fuel so we again topped up the bikes out of our jerry cans and moved on.

We hit Tamanghrassett after nidnight and after much wandering around found Tahat Hotel and also managed to find a couple of rooms there and promptly crashed in.

Tamanghrasset was the END OF THE ROAD – Literally! Southwards from Tamanghrasset is what is called, “The Great South”, and just out of town, going south, is a check-post where all travelers entering THE GREAT SOUTH have to register their passports, vehicles, personal details, permanent address (for informing your next of kin should you disappear in the desert) and such other information which would help the authorities to publish a flowery obituary. The check-post was more commonly known as CHECKPOiNT CHARLiE.

The whole of 30th December we spent in Tamanghrasset, generally trying to pick up information about the conditions across the great south desert and especially about the mood of the Tuaregs! What we heard was that the Tuaregs were in a very ugly mood and banditry was rife in “The Piste”. The rate was about half a dozen cases of LOOT-MAAR (=Banditry=holdups) every day and people getting shot as well.

PiSTE is the French word for DESERT, and as we found out, the English equivalent of The Piste is “The Pits”. The great south is the absolute pits and the most inhospitable terrain I have ever come across.

We also met a young French female at the Tahat hotel communications room who was trying to send messages to the French Embassy in Algiers (for a new passport) as well as to her home in France (for money). She and her companion were robbed in the Piste and she was left with only the clothes she was wearing. The Tuaregs had taken their vehicle, belongings, money, passports – EVERYTHiNG! We also met the companions of a guy who had been shot and had been flown to Algiers for operation to save his life.

We talked to other travelers, both, those who had made it north (where we were now) across the Piste to Tamanghrasset, as well as those who were waiting to cross the great south. A lot of people had given up the idea of going south because of the fear of Tuaregs.

Now we were in a dilemma. Everyone in Tahat hotel was talking about the Tuareg brigands and we were getting more and more scared with every passing minute. We didn’t want to hear more stories about brigands so we checked out of Tahat hotel and moved into one camping site which the locals called KOMPiNG.

In order to get Tuaregs out of our minds we did some work on the scooters. Change oil, change spark plugs, clean carbs, change air filters, top up oil and petrol etc. not knowing whether at the end of it we would have the guts to go on or not.

Our greatest fear was that if we chickened out and went back without crossing the desert, then back home our IJJAT-KA-FALUDA would happen. This one factor prodded us on and we decided to do or die – BASH ON REGARDLESS!

Once we had decided to push on, we had to stockpile supplies for the onward journey: water, food and Fuel. I alone stayed in our KOMPiNG tent to write our story (I was the official chronicler as ordered by Adil Jal Darukhanawala – so I was busy writing) while the others went shopping for supplies.

While shopping for food – mostly cooked, ready to eat, canned food – they met some locals, north Algerians I suppose, who were also headed south across the Piste to the settlement named In Guezzam, the last frontier of Algeria. They said they had been across the Piste many times and knew the way. They said we could follow them. Our team leader had agreed to meet them at checkpoint Charlie at 04:00 a.m. the next day.

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dilipbam@gmail.com (Dilip Bam) Autobiography Thu, 20 Jun 2013 14:38:03 +0000
Across the Sahara Desert on Kinetic Honda scooter. Chapter 7 http://dilipbam.com/autobiography/272-across-the-sahara-desert-on-kinetic-honda-scooter-chapter-7.html http://dilipbam.com/autobiography/272-across-the-sahara-desert-on-kinetic-honda-scooter-chapter-7.html

Kidnapped in the Sahara desert!

So early morning on the last day of the last week of the last month of last year, i.e., 31st December 1991, saw us heading into the Great South.

To complete the paperwork and formalities at the CHECKPOiNT CHARLiE, there was a long queue of vehicles: mostly trucks and other four wheelers including cars, and a couple of huge 700 cc bikes. We were in the queue for almost two hours, maybe three. I was sitting in the Jeep in the front seat next to the driver writing about the scene. I was the official chronicler of this journey as specified by my boss: Adil Jal Darukhanawala.

Two of our guys were in front of the Jeep on their KiHos. The north Algerians whom our group had met yesterday while buying foodstuff were in front of the KiHos. There were four of them in two cars. Two of them were in a Puegeuot 504 and two were in a Mercedes 220, both in station wagon trim, not sedan. Station wagon trim has rectangular rear like the current (2009) Chevrolet Tavera and Toyota Qualis. They have three rows of transverse seats or two rows and empty space. In the desert, in this empty space, there is always a huge 100 liter drum of water.

Our so called “friends” in the 504 and 220 also had a water filled drum each in their cars. The deal with them was that they lead and we follow. As the queue inched along, my team leader who was at the wheel of our Jeep said “Dilip, why don’t you go and sit in their car, so that if we get separated, you can ask them to stop”.

It made sense, so I got down from our jeep, with my notebook in hand, walked to the Puegueot 504 which was in front of the Benz 220 and got into the back seat. Two guys were sitting in the front seats. They looked at me and nodded. There was no talking. I didn’t speak French or Arabic. They didn’t speak English. Conversation was not possible. I myself had never met or seen them before though my other group members had met them yesterday. That is why I was in their car.

There was a huge signboard at the Checkpoint which reads as follows. This is the only signboard in the whole of Algeria which is written both the French and in English.

1>YOU ARE NOW ENTERiNG THE GREAT SOUTH.

2>PLEASE DO NOT ENTER.

3>IF YOU DO, THE GOVT. OF ALGERiA WiLL NOT BE RESPONSiBLE FOR YOUR SAFETY AND SECURiTY IN ANY WAY.

4>THE TERRiTORY AHEAD IS PiSTE AND YOU ARE WARNED THAT THERE IS NO WATER, NO FOOD, NO HABiTATiON OR ANYTHiNG.

5>PLEASE FiLL IN THE FORMs HERE BEFORE ENTERiNG THE GREAT SOUTH.

At the checkpoint we submitted Xerox copies of our passports, filled in the requisite forms and moved on.

About a kilometer from the signboard, the road petered out and the surface on which we were traveling became pure natural desert sand with no road below it. The 504 in which I was, and the 220, were moving really fast – doing sixty plus. Even on the sand Our GD240 could have kept up with the two cars, but the KiHos could not go faster than 20 – 25.

Due to this the KiHos were falling behind and our GD240 Jeep had to stay with the KiHos. The gap between me sitting in the 504 and the KiHos was becoming too large and I was losing sight of them. The continuous sandstorm made visibility very poor.

I addressed the driver of the 504 in which I was sitting: “My friends – my friends” I said, pointing back at the struggling KiHos, motioning him to slow down.

Turning his neck while he continued to drive, the driver glared at me and said, “Hah Hindu” and jerked his hand, motioning me to shut up. Apparently these people had no intention of slowing down or stopping.

While these people understood that I was concerned about getting separated from my friends, they didn’t care and kept going as fast as they could. Conversation was not possible since they didn’t understand a word of my language nor I a word of theirs, except “Hah Hindu” which was their way of saying shut up. In less than an hour I had lost sight of my friends and the KiHos, and at the speed the two cars were moving, there was no chance of the KiHos catching up.

Both the cars the 504 and the 220 were treading sand between 70 and 80 km per hour, going directly south.

I didn’t know what to do. If I had asked them to drop me off where we were right now, they probably would, at least that’s what I thought. But then what? What do I do? Just stand there in the middle of nowhere and hope (against hope?) that my friends would catch up with me? There was ‘Piste’ (sand) as far as eye could see which wasn’t very far – because of the bloody heavy sandstorm. There was no road or direction. Not a single tree or even a blade of grass. What was the chance that my team would catch up with me before dark or even come this way at all? They may not come this way. Even if they passed within 100 meters from me, they would never know where I was nor would I know they were passing by. How long could I survive? If I were to walk, which direction should I walk? How far? How long? Though it was daytime, the sun was invisible because of the sandstorm. All sense of direction was lost.

I was in the middle of nowhere which was actually somewhere, and I could keep going everywhere without reaching anywhere!

NO. Getting dropped off would be suicide. I kept quiet. The journey continued.

About five hours after leaving Tamanghrasset, the 220 had a flat tyre. Both cars stopped. I was sitting in the 504. All four got out of the cars. I also got out. One guy opened the boot (=dicky), dished out a Jack and handle and threw it at me. It was a mechanical screw jack.

“Hah Hindu” he yelled, looking at me and pointing at the flat tyre. It was obvious he wanted me to do the job. It was the rear left tyre of the 220. I put the jack under the rear axle and started turning the handle. As the jack took the load, instead of the car being raised, the jack was going into the sand. It was getting embedded in the sand. This was not going to work. I needed a hard flat board to spread the load. I looked in both the cars, both dickys, but couldn’t find anything suitable.

Meanwhile the four of them were just standing around intently watching me. I looked at them and said, “board – board” and moving my hands to suggest a flat board to keep under the jack. They just shook their head.

What now?

Ah! My notebook! At the checkpoint when I had walked out of our team’s GD240 Jeep to sit in the 504, I had my notebook with me. It was still there where I was sitting.

I opened the 504 and took my notebook. It was pretty thick and had a cardboard cover. I put it under the jack and tried again. Progress was very slow. I think it took almost an hour to get the wheel off the ground.

Anyway I fitted the spare wheel and lowered the car. Tightened all the nuts and put the flat wheel and all the tools in the boot (=dicky) of the 220, which was behind the 504.

None of these four guys lifted as much as a finger to help me in the wheel changing. This is not what I had expected. I had thought they would treat me as their guest. Apparently I was wrong. These guys weren’t even half decent. In fact, I felt they were downright hostile, but why?

The way my team leader had described our team’s interaction with them (I wasn’t with my team when they were shopping for supplies in Tamanghrasset), I had imagined they would be “friendly”, notwithstanding the fact that there could be no communication since we did not speak any common language.

I did not think of this at that time, but today, 22 years later it comes to my mind that their resentment could have been because of my 64 kg body weight. The lighter the vehicle, the lesser it gets stuck in the sand and the faster it can travel. I was slowing them down. I was their 64 kilo problem which they could do without.

As I shut the boot (=dicky) of the 220, the 504 moved off without me. The engine of the 220 started, I felt the gear being shoved. Were they planning to drive off without me?

I grabbed the rear door handle and opened it and barely managed to get in as the 220 moved off. I was convinced they wanted to leave me. I was a useless liability. If they had left me, I wouldn’t have lasted a day. I would just collapse with thirst and hunger. The continuous sandstorm would cover my body, and I would be lost without a trace. My dead body would not even rot, because rotting needs moisture (water) which just does not exist where I was.

It reminded me of Jim Taylor of the AXARA, with whom I had sailed in the Gulf of Thigh Land and the South China Sea SELLiNG HASHiSH IN ViETNAM IN 1973, eighteen years ago. In the Log Book of the Republic of Singapore Yacht Club (RSYC), Jim Taylor and the AXARA are recorded as: LOST AT SEA AND PRESUMED DEAD!

If I died here in the desert, there wouldn’t even be any record. My friends (the rest of the KiHo team from India), if they made it back alive, would go back to India and tell my parents: LOST IN THE DESERT AND PRESUMED DEAD. Story ends. Dilip Bam ends.

The drive across pure sand continued for the rest of the day. These people were definitely experienced. They were moving like they’d done this many times before. We had twice stopped briefly to drink water from the drum. I did not get down from the car I was sitting in. I was afraid they might again try to leave me in the desert. In any case I was sitting in the back seat and could just lean over the backrest and take water from the drum. Other than that we did not stop. Surprising thing, nobody urinated, even though we were drinking much water and temperature was close to zero. I suppose in the dry desert all water we drink goes out thru the skin pores.

On the way I saw dozens of abandoned cars. I wondered who owned them and why were they there? I couldn’t ask the other two guys in the car – language problem!

Sometime before dark we hit In Guezzam. This was the most desolate place I had ever been or seen, but as I found out later, there were much more desolate and more godforsaken places to see.

The cars stopped. Everybody got out of the cars and went to a café named Restaurant Yassine, the only restaurant in sight. I didn’t know what to do nor could I define my status in this group. I just followed them like a dog. They were the only humans I knew and they were my only link to the past and (I thought) my only link to my KiHo group.

They sat at one table. I joined them. They spoke among themselves and said something to the proprietor. He brought four plates of food. Each plate had a mound of boiled rice topped by chunks of meat and poured over by some dark red liquid. The rice I could recognize. The chunks of meat were probably camel and red liquid was probably some concoction made of camel’s blood.

They started eating. No food for me. They were totally ignoring me. One guy finished his food before the others, got up from his seat and addressed me: “Hindu” he said, and motioned me to follow as he walked out of the restaurant. I followed him.

He walked maybe 50 or 100 feet where the last building ended and went behind it. It was almost dark and there was nobody in sight.

He patted my buttocks and motioned his hands to indicate something like “give me”.

Eh? Did he want to fuck me? I had heard of the sexual proclivities of Arabs and their penchant for homosexuality. Indeed I had heard since childhood that Arabs are the greatest homosexuals in the world.

Did he find me attractive? Was I supposed to feel honored or disgusted? I am an absolute heterosexual and never had any homosexual proclivities. I thought this was payback time. After all they had ferried me five hundred kilometers across the most hostile terrain in the world fairly comfortably, and from the way they treated me when the tire went flat earlier in the day, as well as not offering me any food in the restaurant, it was obvious that I was definitely not in the “honored guest” category.

I looked at him and made a hands gesture like: “what?”

He again patted my buttocks. I thought this was it. I started unbuckling my belt so as to take off my pants so that he could get on with the job. I did not have the guts to refuse anything. There were four of them and they were local people. I didn’t know anybody or anything, nor spoke the ling0. I had no choice.

He stopped me and reached for my buttocks. This time he put his hand in my hip pocket and took out my wallet. He took everything out. There were some papers, a couple of hundred Rupee notes (bills) and a few ten Rupee notes.

He neither understood what currency it was nor its value. He threw everything on the ground and walked away. The wind was strong and all my papers and money were flying away. I ran behind the flying papers and managed to get everything back. This took a few minutes.

I walked back to Restaurant Yassine. The four had gone away so had both the cars: the 504 and the 220. I never saw them again. I didn’t know what to do, where to go, who to speak to, if at all anyone understood my language. Like a dumb0 I sat back at the same table on the same chair as I was earlier sitting with the other four. What was I supposed to do?

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dilipbam@gmail.com (Dilip Bam) Autobiography Thu, 20 Jun 2013 14:30:13 +0000
Across the Sahara Desert on Kinetic Honda scooter. Chapter 8 http://dilipbam.com/autobiography/271-across-the-sahara-desert-on-kinetic-honda-scooter-chapter-8.html http://dilipbam.com/autobiography/271-across-the-sahara-desert-on-kinetic-honda-scooter-chapter-8.html

Living as a Beggar in InGuezzam!

The people who had apparently KiDNAPPED me found that I was not worth kidnapping. I had no money, nothing at all. I was worthless. I was a liability.

All my clothes, money, passport, sleeping bag – everything, was left in our GD240 Jeep. At the checkpoint in the morning I had just walked into their 504 with my notebook and whatever clothes I was wearing. We were supposed to be friends traveling together as a group. They were supposed to be guiding us but for reasons I could not comprehend, they had abandoned us and I became the fall guy.

I had no money, or rather the couple of hundred Rupees that I had were worthless in this place as was proved when my kidnapper threw away my money a short while ago.

It was almost dark. People were disappearing into their homes or wherever they lived in this godforsaken place. It became dark. There were no people around.

 

It was probably closing time for restaurant Yassine. The owner, shorter than me but fairer, came to the table and said. “Hah Hindu” and motioned with his hands for me to get out. It was closing time.

I walked out. Minutes later Mr. Yassine came out, locked the door and left. There was nobody around. In Guezzam had gone to sleep. The desert was asleep.

It was cold. Temperature must have been zero or even less. For a tropical creature like me it was hell. I was wearing adequate clothing to survive inside our Jeep or inside the 220 in daytime. But here in the open, at night, with raging winds, the chill factor was killing. With a frame (height) of 174 cm (five-foot-eight) and a weight of 64 kg (140 pounds) I had hardly any fat on my body. Fat is essential for keeping out the cold. That is why tropicals are hardly ever fat while Americans and Europeans have fat. They need it.

What do I do?

Where do I sleep?

Is sleep possible?

What is sleep?

Security was hardly an issue. There was no threat from animals. There were no animals in this place except camels. And camels don’t eat or bother humans.

As to humans, I was worthless, as proved by my kidnappers, except maybe for homosexuals!

The biggest issue was temperature. Sleeping in the open, on the ground, without adequate clothing or bed, at temperatures below zero? Could I survive the night?

I looked around for garbage: discarded sheets of plastic wrappers, discarded newspapers, discarded paper wrappings – anything, to cover as much of my body as I possibly could.

Luckily I did find some plastics and some paper sheets. I decided to lean against the wall of restaurant Yassine, cover myself with paper and plastic as much as I could and spend the night. I felt exactly like a beggar sleeping on the footpaths (sidewalks) of Mumbai (Bombay).

I was resigned to my fate. This was New-Years-Eve, 31st December 1991. And here I was in pitch dark, in the middle of the Sahara Desert, with no money, no friends or acquaintances, no communication, no food, no water, temperature below zero, and just one wall to lean against and no walls to protect me from the raging cold winds, and hoping to be still alive tomorrow morning in this godforsaken place!

I thought of my KiHo group. Where were they? It occurred to me that they just wouldn’t be able make it in as much time as me and my kidnappers did in the 504 and the 220. We were almost flying at 60-80 kmpH, while the KiHos just couldn’t do more than 15 or 20. We had covered almost 500 km in @ 14 hours. The KiHos just wouldn’t be able to do it.

How I passed the night I don’t remember. What I do remember is that a lifetime passed during the night. I thought of things that I had never thought before: Parents (both were alive then), children, wife, extended family & friends. Things I used to take for granted.

Right now, I could not even take tomorrow morning for granted!

Somehow the night passed. Dawn – daylight happened. I was still alive. People stirred. The wheel of life began turning again.

In time, restaurant Yassine opened. People trickled in and out. I was sitting on the floor, just by the side of the entry door of restaurant Yassine. People might have thought I was a beggar. I sure looked like one, and wouldn’t mind if someone threw a Dinar or Dirham or Dollar at me.

I hadn’t eaten for more than 24 hours. The last I ate was a very early morning breakfast before joining the queue at Checkpoint Charlie leaving
Tamanghrasset yesterday. Until now my mind was more engrossed in matters of immediate survival, as in: “How to survive till the next possible meal?”

Inside restaurant Yassine there was food. Even boiled rice with boiled chunks of camel meat topped with camel blood is food. That is what Tuaregs eat and have been eating since Tuaregs began.

But I couldn’t go in. Mr. Yassine had already thrown me out last night and without money how could I go in? My credibility was zero.

About three hours into daylight I stood up. It was New Years Day 1992, January 1st! I had to try and make some contact somewhere. What about my KiHo friends? Where to enquire? Is there any govt. here? Is there any police?

I walked around. Tried to talk to people, but language was a problem. Somehow I managed to get to the Police Station, a hundred meters from restaurant Yassine. In French, the police are called Gendarmerie. I tried to explain to them my predicament. I don’t know how much they understood, but in any case they were of no help at that time.

I wandered around. The whole settlement of In Guezzam in January 1992 wouldn’t be more than a hundred meters long and not more than 30 meters wide. Restaurant Yassine appeared to be the focal point of social interaction in InGuezzam. There was also a petrol pump, and there was always a lineup of vehicles waiting to fill up.

Occasionally a car or two would pull up near restaurant Yassine and their occupants would go and eat in the restaurant. Almost all of them appeared to be white Europeans – exact nationalities I couldn’t make out because they were not speaking English.

I stuck around restaurant Yassine hoping some English speakers would arrive. I was lucky. Around noon or after that, two Nissan Power Wagon mini trucks, with winches fitted on their front fenders drove up. Four males and two females, all white, got out and made their way to Yassine. They were talking among themselves and they were speaking ENGLiSH! From their accent I could make out that they were Austraa-ilian, the double aa giving indication of their identity.

I followed them and accosted them before they entered restaurant Yassine.

“Austraailian?”, I asked.

“Yeah” one guy answered.

“May I join you?” I asked as all walked towards restaurant Yassine.

“Sure”, he said.

I tagged along. At least if I entered with a paying group, Mr. Yassine would not throw me out – hopefully!

Six of them and myself, sat at one table. I told them my story. They said I could eat what I want. They would pay for it. I ate like I didn’t know when or where my next meal was coming from.

These people had just crossed over into Algeria from Republic of Niger, coming from south and going north where we had come from.

I told them about how I got separated from my KiHo friends and about the Tuareg attacks and the Tuareg scare that was doing the rounds in Tamanghrasset.

One among this group spoke French. She agreed to go with me to the Gendarmerie (police) station. She and another female accompanied me to the station where I had been not very long ago but could not communicate. She explained my situation to the Gendarmerie in French.

They said they were on wireless, and none of their wireless contacts nor travelers arriving from the north had seen “Ein khat-khat et dwi petit-moto” in the Piste. ‘Ein khat-khat’ in French meant “0ne ‘4x4’ (a reference to our GD240 Glendwagen Jeep) and ‘dwi petit-moto’ meant our ‘two KiHos.’

I was pretty depressed. We came back to restaurant Yassine. The Australians were ready to leave. There was no hotel or living accommodation in InGuezzam. Local people had their own place to sleep while travelers slept in their cars. In any case In Guezzam was hardly a tourist paradise and people would stop only to fill up – food, water and fuel – and move on.

I wasn’t sure what I should do?

Should I go North with the Australians to look for my KiHo friends? I asked them. They said sure. There was space in their two Nissans. In the desert, travelers always help each other. But they were not sure we would definitely cross the path of my KiHo friends. There was no really ‘marked’ path and people could be correctly going towards their respective destinations in opposite directions without seeing each other, the continuous sandstorm adding to the invisibility factor.

Or should I go south, and try to get to Lagos, which was our final destination? How would I cross borders? I had no passport nor any money nor any protection against the wind nor any sleeping gear? Everything was left in our GD240 Jeep.

I decided to stay on in In Guezzam, at least till tomorrow. Live one day – or one night – at a time.

The Australians left. There was still many hours of daylight left. If one has to anyway sleep in the car, why not cover as much distance as possible while there is still daylight to get out of this godforsaken terrain?

I sat on the ground near restaurant Yassine, not like a beggar at its door but a few feet away, near enough to hear people speak so that if I heard people speaking English I could make out the language and speak with them.

In the event no other English speaking group came that day. I had had a substantial lunch, so food-wise I could survive another night, but what about the cold?

I carefully looked for more plastic sheets, large newspaper sheets and such other material which I could cover myself with, sleeping in the open at night in the howling freezing desert. Since I had started my rubbish collection fairly early in the day today, I got a lot of suitable stuff. Tonight would be slightly less miserable than last night – hopefully. I had collected more suitable garbage than yesterday. I remembered the rag-pickers back home in Mumbai (then Bombay) India.

The Bombay rag pickers were economically a level above me: They sold the rags for money. They earned money by selling rags. I couldn’t sell the rags I collected even if there were buyers. I needed them for survival – Tonight, Now! Besides, who would like to buy rubbish in the middle of the desert?

Darkness fell across the land. People thinned out. Mr. Yassine closed and left. The place became empty. I leaned against the wall wrapped in paper and plastic. Another night in the open. At least I was still alive.

The night passed. How? I dunn0! Can’t remember. It was 22 years ago!

What I do remember is: shitting in the desert. I had a full lunch yesterday. Obviously I had to shit. I walked away from the settlement, maybe 50 feet. Going any further would be dangerous. One could lose sight of the settlement and get lost in the desert. Human direction senses go awry in the sandstorm when visibility is hardly 20 or 25 feet. When I thought I was reasonably alone, I lowered my pants and let go. What about cleaning my ass?

Aha! What is sand for? God given cleaning agent!

The next day, 2nd January 1992 was more or less the same. A Finnish group arrived around noon, speaking a mixture of English and Finnish. I spoke to them. They asked me to join them in Yassine. I did.

I told them my story. They were going south. They had come from Tamanghrasset and they had seen the KiHos and our Jeep on the way.

I was elated. My KiHo group was alive and progressing.

“How far behind would they be?” I asked the Finns.

“Not very far, but the scooters are really slow and getting stuck. At best they could reach In Guezzam tomorrow.

The Finns paid the total bill including what I ate, and moved on.

Another lunch. Another day survived. I was alive. How long could this go on? Hopefully: not very long. The Finnish group had seen my friends and the KiHos. They should arrive tomorrow.

I was looking at spending another night in the open. I started looking for better quality garbage to cover myself for the night. I collected whatever I thought would be useful – plastic sheets, large newspaper sheets, large wrappers, whatever – and kept the stuff against the wall of restaurant Yassine.

Night came. People thinned out, vanished. Yassine closed up. All became quiet. I slept: Like a Bombay beggar rolled up in newspaper and plastic. I was becoming good at this. This was my third night as a beggar in In Guezzam.

January 3rd 1992 dawned. I had survived another night in the open. As I said, there was a roof but no walls to protect me from the howling winds. I stirred. People started appearing. Yassine opened.

I got up, walked around, mingled. Looking for English speakers arriving from the North and going south who might have seen my KiHo group. The best place to catch desert news in this part of the Sahara was restaurant Yassine. I stuck around.

Two Land Rovers drove up. Land Rover is a typical British Marquee! These people had to be British. Six people, all white Europeans got out and made their way to restaurant Yassine speaking English!

I said to them, “You British?”

“Ya” 0ne of them answered.

“May I join you?” I asked.

“Sure” was the reply. I sat with them.

Before I could say anything, one of them asked me, “You Indian? You the guy who got separated from your Indian friends driving those scooters?”

“Ya” I said, “How do you know?”

“We crossed them about two hours ago, but they will take longer, maybe another hour or two. We stopped and spoke with them. They told us about you”.

I was thrilled. I would meet my friends soon. They were alive. So was I.

The Brits ordered some food. I also ate. We chatted. They left and joined the line of vehicles waiting to fill fuel. I joined them to continue chatting in English.

The queue for filling fuel was quite long and moving slowly. It took very long: Maybe an hour, maybe two. 0ur turn came and we filled up.

The Land Rover guys were ready to leave. It was not yet noon, and they could drive another six to seven hours before dark. Nobody wastes daylight in the desert except maybe Tuaregs.

 

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dilipbam@gmail.com (Dilip Bam) Autobiography Thu, 20 Jun 2013 14:24:50 +0000
Across the Sahara Desert on Kinetic Honda scooter. Chapter 9 http://dilipbam.com/autobiography/270-across-the-sahara-desert-on-kinetic-honda-scooter-chapter-9.html http://dilipbam.com/autobiography/270-across-the-sahara-desert-on-kinetic-honda-scooter-chapter-9.html

Salvation!

As we were saying goodbyes, my KiHo friends appeared on the horizon. Behind them was our GD 240. For me, this was Salvation!

“There they are” I said, sounding like Henry Morton Stanley who, two hundred years ago, after locating Dr. Livingstone in the densest jungle in the Congo in Africa asked him, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”

They waited till my KiHo friends caught up. We all chatted for a short while and the Land Rovers left. United again, all six of us went back to restaurant Yassine.

I told them how I survived, which was not very different from how they had survived the past three nights. They had a small tent in which four could sleep very tightly, almost on top of each other, which was most welcome since it was so bloody cold. The other two slept inside the GD240. The only difference was that they were prepared for what was expected while I had to face the unexpected.

We finished our meal. We had to move on. We joined the queue for fuel. Since the others had driven more than 400 km over the ‘Piste’ from Tamanghrasset, it was now my turn to drive one of the scooters.

We lined up the scooters in the queue for fuel where I had lined up with the Land Rovers couple of hours ago.

People in the desert always fill full tank bkoz dunn0 when or where the next petrol pump might be.

I was sitting astride my KiHo. Ahead of me was a car. When its turn came, the pump attendant shoved the pump filler nozzle into the tank opening and started talking with me while petrol was filling into the tank. He was an absolutely black Negro, not an Arab nor Tuareg. Surprisingly he spoke English. How come a black African is a petrol station attendant (which is what Dhirubhai Ambani was in Yemen) in Tuareg land? Tuaregs are the same color as Indians, brown, not black. This black man had never seen a small wheeled scooter in In Guezzam. He was asking questions in English. Where was I from? Which scooter was this? And such other questions. In hindsight, I guess he was either Nigerian or Ghanian, both ex-British colonies where people speak English.

While we were talking, the tank of the car in front of me got full and fuel started overflowing and falling to the ground which the attendant couldn’t see because he was looking at me behind the car and was talking to me.

Seeing fuel spilling I yelled, “Fuel is overflowing”.

He turned back. Switched off the filler and said, “IT DOESN’T MATTER. IT IS NOT WATER”.

What a contrast from the situation back home in India where water is free and petrol costs more than milk! Here in the desert, water was hundred times more precious than petrol!

We filled up all our vehicles. We also filled up our Jerry Cans: water as well as diesel for the GD240 Jeep and petrol for the KiHos, and moved on. We still had about five hours of daylight.

Our next destination was Arlit, about 250 km south, in the Republic of Niger, one of the poorest countries in the world, yet which has 5% of the world’s Uranium.

This part of our journey entailed crossing the border from Algeria into The Republic of Niger and proved to be the most difficult part, terrain-wise.

I had been riding the KiHos since starting from Casablanca (Morocco) up to Tamanghrasset, up to which place there were tarred roads. I had not yet ridden the KiHos on pure sand like my friends had, between Tamanghrasset and In Guezzam. South from Tamanghrasset there was no road, just pure sand. That is why, while I covered the 500 odd km in the car (with the people who kidnapped me) in one day, the KiHos had taken more than three days (and three nights) to cover the same distance.

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dilipbam@gmail.com (Dilip Bam) Autobiography Thu, 20 Jun 2013 14:17:39 +0000
Across the Sahara Desert on Kinetic Honda scooter. Chapter 10 http://dilipbam.com/autobiography/269-across-the-sahara-desert-on-kinetic-honda-scooter-chapter-10.html http://dilipbam.com/autobiography/269-across-the-sahara-desert-on-kinetic-honda-scooter-chapter-10.html

Leaving InGuezzam (also known as Ayn Qazzam): 3rd January 1992.Crossing from Algeria into Republic of Niger.

We had to first make our way to Borne, about 17 km south of InGuezzam. Borne is where Algeria ends. After which there is NO-MANs-LAND till Assamakka, another 20 km south, where Republic of Niger begins.

There was paperwork to be done at Borne. We had to get EXiT stamps of Algeria on our passports for the Guiness record entry. The sand was softest from InGuezzam to Borne and it took us almost six hours to cover the 17 km. At two places, the GD240 Jeep got stuck and we had to do the SAND-CHANNEL-DiGGiNG-ROUTiNE to get our Jeep out, which took an hour each time.

When we had left Tamanghrasset on the morning of 31st December 1991 (four days ago), the signboard at the checkpoint had said nothing about the Tauregs, which is what was scaring the shits outta us and all other travelers.

How can any govt. admit in writing that such a large tract of its territory is controlled by brigands? The govt. of Algeria brands them as brigands and outlaws them, but does not have the capacity or the wherewithal to suppress them or control them, nor the ability or desire to integrate them into the mainstream.

This seems to be exactly what is happening today in the Dantewada region of Bastar in India’s Chhattisgarh state in 2013, exactly 22 years later. The tribals have been living on the land since thousands of years. Even Emperor Ashoka 2300 years ago, the father of this Indian Hindu Nation, never dispossessed them of their land in his time since they were on that land before him, and they were Hindu, same as the Emperor. That is the beauty of Hinduism: It integrates and unites, while islam, with all its pretense of standardization, uniformity, inclusivity, and the concept of ummah, divides and kills, more than unites.

THERE are two types of people who live in this Maghreb region. (Maghreb in Arabic means west).
1>BEDOUiNs.
2>TUAREGs.

While BEDOUiNs are richer and live mostly in the northern parts of Algeria, north of the Atlas Mountains, and are fairer in skin color, though not as fair as European Anglo-Saxons , TUAREGs are darker and are the real original inhabitants of the desert.

Tuaregs are born in the desert, live in the desert and die in the desert. In the desert there is only ONE source of survival== CAMEL. The Tuaregs drink CAMEL milk, ride on CAMEL, eat CAMEL, wear clothes made of CAMEL skin and live in tents made of CAMEL skin. Their whole life is based on CAMEL.

Tuaregs are nominally islamik, but their islam seems to be different from Bedouin islam.

The failure of the Algerian govt. to integrate Tuaregs into the mainstream is a classic case of islamik casteism, the failure of islam’s Ummah agenda.

Algeria was not at all a tourist friendly country at that time in 1991, or even today in 2012. There was much sectarian violence. Street shootouts and gun battles were common and widespread. Petty corruption was endemic. For any favor they did, and knowing we were Hindu (in the Maghreb region of islam, which consists of over a dozen North African islamik countries, even muslims from Hindustan are known as Hindu), they would ask for Audiotapes of Hindi film songs, especially Mithun Chakravarty songs like ‘Jimmy-Jimmy’, which was extremely popular in the Maghreb at that time.

We had not done any research on the political and social scenario in Algeria bkoz there was no source of data. There was no internet. No mobile phones. No Google. No Wikipedia. No GoogleEarth. No GoogleMaps. Nothing!

Even for getting a landline phone connexion in India, you needed a minister’s recommendation. Not that you could get any data on phone.

TV was only Doordarshan, which was nothing but Bharat-Sarkar-Darshan! Print newspapers carried hardly any news of faraway Algeria. India had hardly any trade with Algeria, except maybe oil. But it made more sense to buy oil from the gulf bkoz gulf is much nearer and hence transport is cheaper.

Tuaregs do not believe in the idea of Nation states. They abhor the idea of people forming governments, taking hold of a map, drawing lines across it and claiming those lands enclosed within those lines as their national territory. The very concept of ‘border’ is anathema to the Tuaregs.

Tall, lean and hungry with shiny fiery eyes, the Tuareg today feels boxed in, and is fighting a losing battle against so called govt., who he thinks have boxed him within borders.

Thus, the Tuaregs were hitting at who ever and whatever they could, travelers like us included. They asked no questions, gave no quarter and took whatever they could lay their hands on. For transport they used cars wherever cars could go and camels where cars could not go, backed by the now universal AK47!

The great south, the desert, called ‘Piste’ in French, is an ocean of sand. I have sailed in the South China Sea with Loey Ah Chee, and know a thing or two about boats and 0ceans, and 0nly in the Sahara did I understand why Camel is called Ship of the Desert. Till now I only thought of the phrase as a figure of speech. Now I know it is a physical reality. 0nly those who have sailed in the 0cean as well as been in the Sahara can understand or appreciate this. And in the whole world today there wouldn’t be more than TEN people who have done both==sailed in the 0cean as well as travelled across the Sahara. 0nly they can know. I know bkoz I have done both.

Riding across the Piste, one really got pissed. Sandstorms would begin, as if on cue, at 08:00 a.m. and continue up to dusk. The scooters would get stuck in the sand and had to be manually pushed, and many times had to be actually lifted by hand and carried as a load. It was the first time in my life (as well as of others) when we actually had to lift up and carry the 100 kg scooters like luggage. This was extremely tough and physically taxing aspect of the whole journey.

 

Even our Benz GD240 Jeep got stuck in the sand many times and even the 4x4 (four-wheel-drive) was not effective. Each time the jeep got stuck in sand, we had to dig under the tires (we had shovels), shove four sand channels, each weighing 20-kilograms under each of the four tires, and drive the Jeep out. All this time it was bloody cold and the sandstorm would be raging, filling every hole in the body with infernal sand, the most hurtful being the eyes.

     

Eating was canned food, and drinking water had been carried in the Jeep. Spare fuel too.

We were headed for Borne, the most God Forsaken settlement I have ever seen in my life. It is the most desolate and most isolated clump of human habitation on earth. Navigation across the Piste was by guiding pillars embedded in the desert at intervals of every few km. Navigation was tricky. The pillars only marked direction, not the state of the sand underneath. So if you travel too close to the pillars you might find yourself stuck in the sand.

For direction, we had to keep going south, and the only navigation aid we had in 1992 was a COMPASS, exactly the same device Columbus had in 1492 exactly, 500 years ago!

 

The trick therefore, was keep the pillars in sight (not always visible because of the bloody sandstorms when visibility would be less than 10 meters), keeping in mind the color of the sand beneath you, because the surface color can give you a pretty good idea of the hardness or softness of the sand underneath it.

Traveling at night was an absolute no-no, because you just cannot fulfill either of the above two conditions. Switching on the headlights would be an absolute disaster because the lights would be a dead giveaway for the waiting Tuaregs with their AK47s.

For the night, what we had to do was: Around dusk, just before dark when we could still see, find a patch of hard sand and decide on a parking spot for the night. At that spot note the odometer reading and drive exactly two km arrow straight (lock the steering) and stop. Since it was not yet totally dark, eat our dinner, which was just opening the canned stuff and eating. There was no question of cooking. After dinner, wait for it to become completely pitch dark, and then reverse exactly two km by odometer (arrow straight - steering locked) without any lights and park for the night, so that if the Tuaregs had seen us parked before dark when we were visible, and marked our spot, if they attacked that spot after dark, we would not be where the Tuaregs had marked us to be, but two km away. And night visibility was zero, at least for us. I dunn0 if Tuaregs can see in the dark.

We assumed that Tuareg’s eyesight would be as good (or as bad) as ours, and if we can’t see at night, neither could they. Whatever the reason: whether it was our surreptitious reversing in the dark or pure luck, we escaped Tuareg attack throughout.

I have been to Jodhpur, Bikaner, Jaisalmer and Barmer in Rajasthan, in our own Thar Desert, many times since then. Compared to the Sahara desert, Jaisalmer is a garden. There is even a lake in Jaisalmer called GADESAR, not far from the fort. In Gadesar, boating happens. I did boating in Gadesar Lake in March 2003 and again in March 2013. Imagine a lake in Tamanghrasset or In Guezzam?

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dilipbam@gmail.com (Dilip Bam) Autobiography Thu, 20 Jun 2013 13:58:05 +0000