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Across the Sahara Desert on Kinetic Honda scooter. Chapter 10

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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?

You are here: Autobiography Across the Sahara Desert on Kinetic Honda scooter. Chapter 10

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