I still can't believe we got through in one piece! Today we had, if I was feeling charitable, an adventure. If I was feeling uncharitable then I would say that it was one of the scariest journeys I have ever made in my life. But we got through it due to my Sureshs' skill at driving and I saw sides of village India today that you simply don't see on a tour or a train window. Everyone has one adventure when they visit India. That is what makes it India.
After visiting Corbett we found that the monsoon increased in ferocity. We had an appointment to keep in Rishikesh over 400 miles away and decided to drive there in one go. The terrain between Corbett and Rishikesh, once you descend from the mountains, crosses the Gangetic plain which is as flat as a pancake. The problem being the run-off from the Himalayas which floods the plain like a tidal surge over sandflats. And we had to cross from one side to the other.
We first had to get out of Corbett National park and followed a bus as it crossed the flooded roads (see photo). But as we hit the flat terrain we saw that the country was taking more rain then it could handle. The paddyfields on either side of the road will filling to capacity and the water was sloshing from one paddyfield to the other blocking all traffic. Villagers would gather to watch cyclists brave the running water or simply roll up their trousers and wade across. Nut-brown children swam in the newly formed rivers and locals spread nets in the ditches to catch any fish that came their way.
Not far out of Ramnager we reached a town, Kandigah, that was completely flooded as the nearby river had burst its banks. The water reached above the doorsteps of the houses and villagers carried their belongings on their heads. Did we risk the village or go back the way we came? We decided to risk the village and called over a tractor that was dangling with farmworkers. For 200 rupees they agreed to tow us through the village. So we afixed a rope to our bumper and they pulled us through the cream-coloured water. Both Suresh, Phil and myself took off our socks, shoes and trousers because we had a feeling it was going to be a bumpy ride. We became anxious when the water reached as high as the windows. The the car started to leak and water came in through the sides we got nervous. We pulled our feet onto the seats just as water began to come up through the floor. Christ! Were we going to drown in this car!
But the tractor pulled us through and back onto solid ground. Then came the hard slog across the Gangetic plain to Haridwar and Rishikesh. Every hundred yards the bursting paddyfields spilled water across the road. Usually Suresh could just plough through splashing camel-carts and bicycle riders clutching umbrellas but about mid-day we met our final big obstacle. The road ahead was so flooded that it was impassable so a great queue of trucks, tongas, buffalo-carts and people blocked the way. Of course westerners sitting immobile in a car become noticeable and soon we were surrounded by mainly male villagers who chattered away and pointed at us. To our relief, Suresh came back and said there was a short-cut back there and a number of cars were taking it. We followed them into the backstreets of a small village and squeezed between the mud-huts followed by excited children. The short-cut consisted of taking a narrow road that was above the paddyfields and this we took with the farm-workers staring at us incredulously. But what happened to us next took some believing.
As Suresh ploughed along the trail a number of lumbering cows were slow to get out of the way. One got hit by the bumper and stumbled away lowing. This was bad enough but suddenly we felt a huge bang to the rear of the car. We turned around and saw a huge brahma bull had charged us. We could see its face as it backed up to have another go. The car wobbled but Suresh put his foot down and we screamed at him to get us out of here! This he did, and we were soon gratefuly back to the main road. Then we were on the road to Haridwar and the glorious sun came out to cheer up our day. Any thoughts of brahma bulls and flooding soon mentally filed away as pub stories that we would tell when we got home.