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Notes from the border between Pakistan and India

The Pakistan / India border is a very fragile one. Both countries claim Kashmir as there own, killings are common, fighting is continuous and both refer to the other as ‘the enemy’. There is one border post on a 2000km border for crossing from one country to the other.

You can imagine the tension that a traveller feels when he approaches this border. The adrenaline that runs through his veins, muscles tort, eyes watching every move, ears listening for the trigger being cocked……

It’s the feelings I experience when watching horror films…. waiting for the blood to flow. What one doesn’t expect when you get to the border is a carnival atmosphere and circus enacted with school boy competitiveness. It’s more like a Disney cartoon.

It’s nuts!!! Who can kick the highest, who can make a single note without breathing for the longest, who can put up the flag the quickest. It happens every day. And it’s so friendly you’d think the two sides were best buddies. But underpinning all this frivolity is a deep undercurrent. To the North especially people are being killed in gun fights and both sides are blaming the other for explosions in cities – it’s a nasty situation.

So through border control you go and when you pop out the other side you a greeted by green lush foliage, birds flying – i wanted to go back and see if the grey Pakistani side had changed too? One thing remained the same – the friendliness of the people. 5k down the road we were at a wedding singing and dancing with the locals. The colours of the mens turbans intoxicated me, or was it the whisky they plied us with? Men wearing colour – I hadn’t seen this for some time now and it felt wonderful.

We then stayed at the golden temple for a night, I had to wear my first turban today. Thousands of people are welcomed to this temple every day. It doesn’t matter what your faith is, it doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, it doesn’t matter what colour you skin is. You are fed, watered (all prepared by volunteers), allowed to wash in the holy water (that others then choose to drink??) and then invited to sleep there. This is my kind of religion.

That feeling that I was in love reappeared – the country is sumptuous. One day later you can see a totally different side. Getting to the cities you pass through the slums where people are living in huts erected using sticks and polythene bags, sifting through rubbish to find food, or to collect enough plastic to sell to earn enough money to get food. People lying in the street sleeping – it’s getting warmer but it’s still very cold at night here. These people take hours to stop shaking the following morning. (Please please help by giving any spare change to ActionAid so they can help these people

The previous night we had a rat in the room which clambered up the curtains and jumped from point to point. Then there was the bed bugs. Biting and savaging our bodies. We’ve also had lizards which we welcome to keep the mozzies at bay and mould of the scariest nature – it’s tentacles could grab you and drag you to your doom??! Ergh…

You then enter the cities and the smog is unbelievable – it was like sucking an exhaust. Maybe worse. You could perhaps see 5m ahead and make out shapes up to 50m. Cars lights are like lazers in discos cutting through the smog like light sabers. The setting sun was snatched into the mist like a fish catching surface flies. I have a gas mask which is now blackened, we wore then all night… we even tried poking cigarette filters up our noses to filter the air.

This night I couldn’t sleep. The bugs were bigger than ever (everything is big here – the cows are frighteningly large like dinosaurs – truly, no joke. They are huge!!), they kept jumping on my face (the bugs not the cows), landing in my eyes sockets, into my beard and hair. I would grab them and crush them between my fingers with tremendous force making sure they didn’t bother me again. I guess I was a little used to them and i was sharing a room with Sander (my buddy from Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan and now again India), Nisa (Gorgeous Turkish girl with enough energy to power an India city – with no power cuts) and Aron (an Estonian who maintained the most caring and happy nature even when projectile vomiting) – so I didn’t want to switch on the light.

The next morning I dashed to the loo and then on the way out caught my reflection in the mirror. I had maggots in my beard and hair and on my face. My pillow and bed was covered with them. They had been dropping from some rotten woodwork just above my pillow. They hadn’t been jumping they’d been falling.

On a lighter note, when biking it is also typical for the people to stop and stare. They don’t speak. Eyes on us, they just stand there and watch. It made me a little uncomfortable as though we were supposed to entertain them. So that’s exactly what I did. I’d do a little jig, some juggling, whisk Nisa off her feet with some ballroom dancing, sing a song – then take Sanders cap and ask them for money. There reactions were hilarious. Some fled, some crossed there arms to protect themselves. But the majority just kept watching. We tried a second method of getting rid of them – swine flu. Bursting into coughs, sneezes, wiping our nose whilst apologising for bringing the flu into their country. It worked a treat!!! :o)

Explaining that Sander and I are Albanian brothers from the circus has also been fun. Sword swallowers, knife throwing (I only sometimes make mistakes). Or escaped criminals – bank robbers and murderers. Sander never fails to remind the local people that if the monkeys start falling out of the tree it’s too hot.

All in all I’m really enjoying India but am looking forward to cycling through the nature reserves in a couple of days after Agra and the Taj Mahal for some clean air and some peace and quiet.

More about Daniel’s epic bike ride at his blog.

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