Editor: Jaap Horst
They had hit a large boulder, which was in their path, not noticing it as he glanced behind to check on his co- competitors. The car had jumped into the air on impact, and came crashing down with both the front and rear left-hand brakes jammed on. The rock had hit the left rear wheel square on and somehow moved the rear axle backwards on that side, on inspection Walter saw that the paint was flaking off halfway along the left axle tube, he decided that the rock had bent the axle backwards which would take up any slack in the brake cables pulling them on hard, the rear wheel no longer looked central in the wheel arch, it was definitely pushed back. Walter decided the axle was bent and they could not carry out repairs locally as the parts were not available.
That's when I got the call with a little desperation in his voice and a little apologetic that he had damaged the car, he described the problems over a poor satellite phone link, I was not entirely sure that the axle was bent it sounded more like chassis damage, as to bend the axle the chassis or spring would have to move as well, but Walter said that everything looked in order except the axle. It was Saturday. Ivan was away until Monday I couldn't make the decision on my own, but Walter's request to come out and repair the car sounded desperate and they where in need of our help, and although they decided to keep moving they would have to travel at a much slower pace.
The weekend seemed to take forever wondering to the extent of the damage it didn't quite seem right that only the axle tube could be bent, wondering about travelling to the far east and carrying car parts through customs etc. Monday came soon enough and I jumped on Ivan with Walter's desperate tale, he responded as expected with a barrage of questions all, which I had asked my self over the weekend. The decision was made, to travel as arranged to meet the team in Kathmandu Nepal with a spare axle tube, half shaft, (incase that was bent too) and a differential housing, as that may have been damaged, travel plans were made, a few extra tools organised a couple of visits to the doctor's surgery for inoculations and I was all set. The plan was to fly out on Friday, arriving on Saturday, which was the day that cars would arrive into Kathmandu.
Then out of the blue another phone call, this time from an American on what only can be described as the worst phone connection ever, some of his words never came across at all most were distorted, the message was, after much repeating that the right-hand rear spring mounting had broken off and the car was undrivable. Walter and Fritz were waiting for a truck to haul them to the border; their problems were desperate, as they were located on top of the Himalayas in an open car with no heater, and the freezing night approaching.
Our problems were on a quite different level, how to repair a broken rear cross member. The rear cross member on a type 40 is like most other Bugatti's: it's fixed together when the chassis is assembled and cannot be simply removed and replaced. A way had to be found which would enable us to remove the old damaged cross member, a fairly easy job, and replace it by not using the standard method of shrinking the spring mounting lugs onto the end of the cross tube. Another tea break design meeting and a special cross member was taking shape, we had no stock of spring lugs so two were fabricated from solid lumps of steel, turned, bored, drilled, milled and then welded together, one end would be shrunk on as standard, the other end was made so that it could be welded on, once the tube was pushed through the chassis, after the damaged cross member was unbolted, cut through and removed. The only problem was that it weighed about 56 lb's so with the axle spares I would have to carry around 120lb of spares onto the plane, in the end it was too heavy for hand luggage and it all went into the hold and cost $200 excess baggage.
With all the spares wrapped up and still warm from welding, a bag packed, tickets and money, I was off down the motorway to the airport. My thoughts were not as you might think, about what I might find, but to whom I just left, Tim in the machine shop making parts with no more than a few sketches solving problems as he goes, all done at a pace to suit the urgent situation, Steve & Tim D fitting "red hot" lumps of metal onto tubes which required several tons of pressure on the press to push them on, John B, Graham, and Ivan with all their ideas and help, John A in the office trying to find a seat on a fully booked air line, sorting visas, hotel bookings, currency etc.etc. If Walter and Fritz had any idea what has just been done in a couple of days they need not have worried, ---IVAN DUTTON LTD--- was on the job and help was coming.
The motorway as usual was jammed solid, it was a good thing we left with plenty of time, at the end of the jam was the airport, bags checked in, excess baggage paid, a book to read, a fond farewell to a worried but confident Pat, a hug to son Steve, and I'm gone, past the x-ray machine (I wonder what they would have thought to an axle tube etc. If it could be carried on, John B said they would arrest me for carrying parts for a super gun, I'll never know -or will I).
The plane was late taking off, about half an hour but the captain assured us that they would make up the time, our first stop would be Frankfurt, then onto Dubai, finally to Kathmandu, I sat next to a young Ghurkha soldier going home on leave, he hadn't been home for three years so was pleased to be on his way, he told me quite a lot about Nepal, mainly about the hill country where he lived, he didn't like the city and never spoke much about it and said I won't like it either. Frankfurt came and went, it was dark outside and could have been any airport in the world, we were late leaving as some Ghurkhas' had got lost and had to be found, a frequent problem I was to experience later. A very short night and Dubai arrived, all you could see from the plane was sand and more sand then some white houses with lots of sand around them, the pilot certainly saved some time with his landing procedure, free from the constraints of a busy international airport he literally dropped from 30,000 ft like a dive bomber I found it a thrill, but there were others that thought the plane was going to crash.
After a safe landing we all shuffled off the plane (a Boeing 757) and walked straight into an inferno, at 7.30 am it was 90 's, the air condition buses were a pleasure, even after a few minutes of that heat, the trip to the terminal saw lots of construction workers building a massive airport complex, they start early, and work until midday to avoid the worst of the sun, I'm glad we never arrived in the afternoon. I couldn't see why they needed a bigger airport as there is nothing but sand and coastline, no obvious Hotels along the beaches, no major city or ancient buildings nothing much except sand, it wasn't until I arrived in duty free that I saw what the attraction is, Gold lots of it, people buying the stuff like there was no tomorrow, expensive cars raffled at $150 a ticket and delivered to your door if you won one, the gold could be bought as normal, an item at a time, or handfuls by weight, there were at least three people I saw buying pounds of it for cash, their money belts were being emptied on the counter. They called the plane early as we still had time to make up, while waiting in the departure lounge, I got talking to a fire inspector travelling to Kathmandu he said the other attraction to Dubai is cheap fuel for the smaller airlines, and looking around the airport I didn't see one major airline, so perhaps he was right.
So here we are back on the plane and waiting ----you guessed it the Ghurkha's are missing again, more delays, a half hour goes by and we are still sitting on the tarmac, at last a police van arrives with the missing passengers, and we are off to our final destination. Apparently the soldiers were trying to get out of the airport after being directed to the transit lounge so they were being questioned by the police, they just didn't understand the rules about transit passengers.
I am now sitting by the window, swapping places with Yan my Ghurkha friend, he needs to talk to his palls across the isle and I much prefer the window seat. I've never flown over so much uninhabited land before, mile after a mile of nothing just desert, barren mountains empty valleys, no sign of life or even a trace of habitation. With perfectly clear skies you can see for miles, looking down you can see dried up river beds, worn down mountain tops, sand dunes that look as big as mountains, and it goes on for hours. Eventually you can see some signs of life, a track just visible, then a bigger track or is it a small road then it's definitely a road, then a farm with buildings clustered around a small patch of green, it must be an oasis, eventually civilisation arrives, farm after farm, villages, small towns appear, we are now travelling across India, the last country to cross before Nepal. I start to think about repairing the car.
I hope they can get to Kathmandu with enough time to fix the axle and get going on time, as they must have experienced some heavy time penalties by now. We heard they were running up near the front when they hit the rock. The plan must be to get them going again with all the repairs done, a service for the little Bugatti, and a rest for the crew, a new lease of life so they can catch up as much lost time as they can. India is a very large country to cross, I was thinking it will soon end but no it goes on for hours, more roads, houses etc., now the odd city, in the distance a power station, a rail line, some rivers with barges, its surprising what you can see at 30,000 feet. Eventually the pilot tells us we are approaching our destination and I start to search the horizon to catch a glimpse of the Himalayas, tough luck when we are high enough I'm on the wrong side of the plane when we turn we are to low. My first sight of Nepal is of valleys filled with tumbling waterfalls, the hills covered in trees, some of the hills push right through the clouds and they are all very steep, the occasional clearing on the slopes has a scattering of terraced fields, each group of fields has a small building or two, perhaps their farms, the workers must be tough as the slopes on them hills are nearly vertical. We are now flying in a valley, bumping along the turbulent air as we pass through clouds; those hills I first saw must at least be at 5,000 feet or more, as Kathmandu is 4,000 feet above sea level. We now swing into a much wider valley and the first building is a tall chimney, then another their are dozens of them, each one is a brick kiln, with their own pile of red bricks beside the drying sheds. It seems that the valley is a rich source of suitable brick clay. The airport runway must be the shortest ever, as soon as the planes touched down full reverse thrust came on hard, with the brakes on full I could hear the tire's screeching over the roar of the Rolls Royce jet engines, luggage flew everywhere, peoples belonging slid along under the seats, overhead bins popped open and it started to rain hand luggage, as reverse thrust came off we started to turn left with the brakes hard on still, I saw the end of the tarmac as the plane swung round at right-angles to the runway, where it ended was a steep slope dropping away 50 feet or more, the plane was now starting to tip as the wing dipped even lower to the ground, at last the plane straightened up and I saw crowds waving from the spectators balcony on the airport buildings, I reckon they were waiting for the plane to go right off the runway. Sooner or later I'm sure it will.
With the plane rolling to a stop, I could see the airport service vehicles approaching, but there seemed to be something not quite normal, the baggage trolleys instead of being pulled by a small tractor had two men struggling to pull three of them, their struggling turned into a squabble, as one slipped over and his partner still pulling like mad ran him over and he got stuck under the trolley, after a lot of arm waiving they both carried on with no harm done. The truck that supplies the catering arrived but that also was not what you usually see, the first thing I noticed was the smoke billowing from the exhaust, thick and black, it also poured from under the cab, out of the doors, and through where the windscreen should have been, when the truck stopped alongside the plane the doors flew open and at least eight men came rolling out, before long we where surround by dozens of men, and not one of them had any uniform, they just looked like they came of the streets. I thought their must be someone important onboard to generate all this staff, but it seemed that they all had a job, even if it took thee men to one suitcase, it kept them all busy doing something.
As I stepped onto the stairs out of the plane, I felt the warm humid heat of the tropics, it had just been raining and the air smelt like it does after a rainstorm on a summer's day. I walked the short distance to the terminal buildings following all the other passengers into the door marked arrivals, there was a large sign marked nationals and half the passengers disappeared, the rest of us sort of stopped as there were no other signs to direct us, there was a long desk across the other side of the hall with around six people behind it, but they didn't seem to be interested in anybody but each other, arguing between themselves, anyway I thought I'd go there as this was the only place left to try . I was spot on, this was the desk for arrivals with no visas, as we had filled in forms given to us on the plane this was going to be a simple process, wrong, the head guy on the end of the desk waved me over and took my form, he started crossing bits out violently with a thick felt tip pen, every time he ran his pen across the form he moaned, when he got to the end he asked me for a picture to stick on it, I said I didn't have one, but theirs was one on my passport, he said he wanted one for the visa form, which now looked like a three year old nursery school painting, as he continued to strike at it with his felt tip, I protested, he insisted, we were getting nowhere, as there are no photo machines in the airport and I couldn't remove my passport picture I asked him what I could do, he said if I gave him an extra fifty dollars (visa fee fifteen dollars) he would find me a picture to put on the form, this was my first encounter with official corruption, as the queue behind was now getting longer, I conceded, and gave him the money, and moved onto the next position along the desk. I watched as he placed the 15 dollars in one draw and the 50 dollars in another, I was starting to think of what I was going to be asked next but fortunately all went smoothly along all six points, each official stamping or writing over a stamp, everything could have been done by one person but it took six, this I was to find was the Nepalese way, if there is a job going, then it has to be shared by as many people as possible. As I left the end of the desk, I overheard someone at the other end arguing about a picture, I laughed to myself and moved onto the baggage hall, this was all in the same hall as arrivals, which was separated by the long desk, the baggage came along very quickly, and I saw my spare parts parcel with much relief, after collecting the parts I waited for my bag, the carousel must have jammed up at least a dozen times before my bag came round, it was at least a half an hour coming, I was told by a grinning local that if you wanted your bags quickly you went round the back of the conveyer and sorted your own just like he did, it was too late now but I did have a look, and there they were sorting out bags while the operators repaired the carousel, dozens of passengers had been waiting for ages not knowing that their bags could be collected from a pile the other side of the wall.
I wrestled a luggage trolley from a tangled mess of twisted and wheel less lumps of bent iron, piled up in one corner, loaded my parcel and bag and headed out of the green channel, half way down the green channel I noticed it was also the red channel as there was no dividing fence between the two signs, also missing were customs officers, just a corridor with no doors, leading to the main exit, the signs were there only to look good, I later heard that gold smuggling is a problem in Kathmandu, so rather than have the regular customs officer they have plain clothes' men wandering amongst the passengers, and when they catch a smuggler they take his gold and send him home on the next plane, the gold gets dispersed amongst the airport staff who apparently only work at their jobs for three years, and then let someone else have a go at getting rich.
I walked out of the building with some relief, only to be met by what can only be described as a mob of hundreds of people all waiving and shouting, I turned around to see if that important person had walked out with me, but no I was on my own, and they were shouting at me, I'm glad there was a policeman standing between me and them. As he stepped towards me they followed close behind him, when he turned round they scurried back, just like the kids game what's the time mister wolf. Just about now my luggage trolley gave up, a wheel jammed solidly and my stuff fell off in front of all these people, just as I bent down to start collecting up my bag, this guy came up and asked if he could help, I said I had arranged to be picked up by my hotel, the YAK and YETI, he pointed to a tiny sign on a stick in amongst twenty others all being waved furiously, I beckoned the sign over complete with its pair of hands as that is all I could see among all the crowds, then a terrible thought came over me, will all the signs come at once and will I get squashed in the stampede. From behind came a hand and grabbed my suitcase, then another grabbed the part's parcel, the suitcase soon disappeared into the crowd, the parts didn't go anywhere weighing over 200 lb, the carrying strap I'd made jerked tight, and a small brown person hit the tarmac, his legs were still running even though he was flat on his face, I realised that I had nothing too loose, my bag had now gone for good, but I must hang onto the parts at all costs, I grabbed at the strap and soon hauled the still wriggling young boy back towards me, as he turned to face me he screamed "YAK and YETI" and started a tug of war which he had no chance of winning, just as I was about to grab him by the throat, this guy in a suit came over apologising, he was from my hotel and began swiping this kid about the head, apparently the hotel staff don't like mixing in the crowd so they arrange for these helpers to do the sign waving and the bag carrying, they don't pay them, its left for the passengers to give them tips, as the best hotels have the biggest tippers the competition is high to be chosen by them, so over enthusiasm rules, get the job done at all costs.
I'm now on the hotel mini bus waiting in the car park for another passenger to arrive before we leave, I'd paid off the porters and am now looking around the car park, everywhere I look the cars are 20 year old Japanese models Toyota's, Dotson's, Nissan's, all small four door saloons. There is the odd younger car but not many. As we leave and get onto the main road, the vehicles we follow are definitely different, there are" three wheeled" vans with a small diesel engine of perhaps two cylinders, with a canvas rear body, inside there sits about eight passengers, this you might think is a reasonable description of a lightweight bus, until I tell you that the whole thing is no longer than a Mini and the wheels are smaller than the wheels on a bricklayers' wheel barrow, they all seem to be a million years old and belch black smoke so bad that when following one you have difficulty in seeing where you are going, as we proceeded into heavier traffic the first thing that was unusual is the amount of use of the horn, every time you came upon another vehicle, be it car, bike, motor bike, or bus, they seemed to sound their horn, the traffic became thicker as we progressed into the city, it got so bad we were hardly moving, it still didn't stop the continuous hooters, every car, bikes, etc., endlessly beeping.
The city roads seemed to be continuously full, with all this fussy, smoky, dusty, traffic; it was a relief to pull into the hotel courtyard. There a doorman escorted me into the reception, insisting that my luggage will be taken care of, I felt that something special was happening at the hotel, the atmosphere was tingling, all of a sudden a dusty character arrived into the hotel lobby, this was one of the early crews to arrive in Kathmandu, they should have gone to the conference centre and left their cars there, but this crew decided, like several others, to come straight to the hotel. They were greeted by someone waiting for them with great enthusiasm, for someone to cross China the way they had they deserved every praise possible.
The hotel staff where not quite sure what to do with me, there was a special desk for rally crews to sign in and they thought I was part of a crew, I told them that I was only here to deliver part to a broken car, and that totally confused them, eventually we got sorted and my luggage, and spare parts were escorted to my room. I passed the rally check in on my way and enquired as to the whereabouts of car number three, the answer was a little vague, they heard that it was broken down on the other side of the border and had no idea of its location.
Here I was laying on my hotel bed relived that I'd arrived, complete with spare parts and all, and I don't know if I have a car to fix or not, I started to work out a plan of action to get to the border and recover the car from China, I would need a truck, a translator, and possibly a visa to enter China, all this and more would have to be arranged if the car was stuck in China. I decided to tackle those problems tomorrow (Sunday) if Walter never turned up tonight.
The hotel was grand, I couldn't be more satisfied, my room was air-conditioned and as advertised deluxe, after showering, I phoned home to Pat to say I'd arrived safely. I was keen to get downstairs to eat something other than aeroplane food, and of course to hear if anybody had heard from Walter and Fritz, I decided that the bar would be the best place to get information, if I had travelled across China, only stopping in poor hotels at best, my first stop would be the bar of a civilised hotel. Well I found them all right, there must have been four or five crews all talking between themselves or to visitors, I heard one group speaking English so I asked of Walter's car, they said it had a broken chassis and they were waiting for a truck to bring them in to Nepal, I had also heard that bit about a truck but that was three days ago, and what's this about a broken chassis, they explained that they where some way ahead of the rest of the cars and their information was a little old, they suggested that I waited for a later car which may have more up to date news.
Several cars later and still no recent news, I started to talk to people about a rescue mission into China, I was just about to start taking the rescue plan seriously when another crew arrived, I questioned them like all the others, this time the news was better they had actually seen them loading the car on a truck yesterday in China, but they had also encountered landslides which the trucks wouldn't drive by for fear of dropping down the mountainside. They also said that there where trucks waiting at the Nepalese boarder to haul any cars to Kathmandu, I gave up the rescue plan then and there, I knew from then on that what Walter said to me," I'll see you in Kathmandu" would happen, all I had to do was wait.
While I waited, I was wondering about this broken chassis that almost every crew had mentioned, where they getting mixed up, or did the car have a problem we hadn't prepared for. I had a choice of three restaurants in the hotel; one was a buffet, one with a waiter service and one, which only served local vegetarian food. I chose the buffet, it was cheaper, and if I found anything I liked I could go back for more and go back I did it was excellent food and very well prepared and presented. Full up I strolled into the bar and caught up on the new arrivals, several crews had now confirmed that the little Bugatti was on its way and the best estimated time to arrive was about midnight. I found a very comfortable chair in the hotel foyer where I could keep an eye on the entrance road leading into the hotel car park, with a glass of beer regularly refreshed by some very attentive staff I sat and waited. It was about nine o'clock and dark when this rather battered old truck pulled up halfway down the entrance road, I thought it can't be them as it wasn't big enough, just then a tall figure walked from behind the truck body, he can't be local, I said to myself, as all the natives are only about four feet tall, then I saw a reflection of light from a pair of glasses, I was now off my seat and making for the door as I recognised Fritz through the hotel window.
He staggered towards me stretching and shacking his legs, then he saw who it was walking towards him, he shouted as loud as he could "our angel" as he grabbed hold of me with both arms almost breaking my ribs in a vice like a bear hug, a cloud of dust engulfed us both, after a bit more hugging and back patting I looked around for Walter, I saw him climbing from the truck cab, as he walked towards me, that familiar grin broke the dust on his face, I don't think he had smiled for days and I couldn't think of any reason why he would want to, their situation was desperate, but they had made it to civilisation. Walters greeting although just as sincere as Fritz was more sedate, a double handshake vigorously applied and equally dusty.
Welcomes over, we started to talk about the problems with the car, Walter was talking about retiring from the rally as he thought the damage was so bad, he described the crack in the chassis, and then wondered why I looked a little surprised, when I told him that we had made parts to repair the rear cross member and the chassis repairs had not been on my agenda. I had decided that whatever the problems the car had, I could fix them, you can't go on a breakdown job like this one without being very confident of your own abilities, Walter and Fritz however are not mechanics, and after some hours in a beaten up old truck with a busted car, they seemed a little dejected. I told them then and there that their problems are simple, and it would take some hard work but the job could be done and they would continue the rally on time. All that hot air didn't do the trick, they said I would have to see the broken chassis before I could say how long it would take. The only job was to get the car out of the truck, and as the driver and his mate needed to get home we moved the truck under some streetlights to get it out. Every thing you touched on the truck was covered with a thick layer of fine grey dust, It got everywhere, the Nepalese driver eventually got the tailboard undone, it was lashed on with about a mile of old rope, the tailboard dropped down with a crash as yet another huge cloud of dust billowed from the back of the trucks canvas cover, they had loaded the car into the truck using a gravel bank and some short planks of wood, the truck deck was now 4 feet off the ground and the planks of thin wood would be far to steep. We had now attracted quite a crowd, (this was going to be a regular occurrence, every time something unusual happens dozens of people arrive to watch and help) in amongst them were the hotel security guards and with the help of the hotel deputy manager, they took off to look for some suitable ramps, I clambered up into the truck to see if I could see the damage, but it was far to dark, the car was covered with so much dust that it had lost its black colour, and now looked totally grey, the guards soon came back with a huge steel channel about 20 feet long and perfect for a ramp, we placed it on the back of the truck, they then stood there waiting for something to happen, not being too pushy I asked when they could fetch the other one, and they all started to answer me back at the same time with lots of arm waiving and broken English. You have to take charge of these people if you want something done, because if you don't they will stand there and argue forever, so I shouted stop, and they stopped and listened, were is the other ramp I asked again, the tallest answered, their is no more, I asked if they could find something that might make a ramp, anything strong and long will do, the same time I was having my chat with the natives so was Walter and Fritz, but with a different group, both groups seemed to take off in entirely different directions which I thought must be a good idea to improve our chances of getting a ramp of some kind. After about ten minutes, a loud grunting and groaning gang of men came shuffling towards us, it was both groups surrounding what looked like a large section of railing fence, it turned out to be a heavy gate made of large steel bars and very heavy, there must have been 15 men struggling with it, the trouble was that its about 8 feet square and way too short, we asked them to place it at the back of the truck to see how short it was, if we used all the timber in the truck we might be able to increase its length a little Fritz suggested. By this time Walter was getting a bit frustrated, he decided that the hotel bar was going to be a much better place to be right now, and gave us a look that said, you get the bloody thing out I'm going for a drink, (at least that's what it looked like to me) with that he turned and left us too it, Fritz and I looked a bit uncertain about the way these ramps looked, the gate was still too short even with all the planks on it, but we decided to give it a try, I climbed up into the truck again and started the engine, a huge cloud of stinking smoke drifted around me and I thought the car was on fire, I stopped the engine and took a look around, I couldn't see any flames and the smell was not so strong now, I restarted the engine and their was that smell again, I soon realised that it was the exhaust fumes trapped inside the truck that made the smell so intense, but I didn't recognise the smell, then it dawned on me, it was the poor quality fuel that we had been warned about, in this case it smelt like diesel and paraffin probably mixed with petrol, as petrol is very expensive and all the other fuels are cheaper, they make the petrol go further by adding anything cheap that burns, all I can say is it really stinks bad. I started to drive the car off the end of the truck, I can't see much so I rely on Fritz to wave me on, their are also 50 other wavers as everybody is now a helper, as the car moves down the ramp the gate slips off the truck, I felt it slipping and quickly selected reverse gear, and get the car back inside, as the gate crashes to the floor, I climb down, pleased to be away from the fumes, my eyes are streaming and my throat stings, we decide to tie the gate to the truck so it can't slip, and I have another go, this time the gate falls away again, and the car crashes onto the truck floor, resting on its sump guard with its front wheels hanging in the air, as I had made the sump guard to withstand a small nuclear explosion, I knew the car was undamaged, the problem now was how to get the car back into the truck, the guards came to the rescue, they crowded around the front of the car and just picked it up and pushed it back in, It was as easy as that, when I checked the rope that was supposed to be holding the gate to the truck, I found one end just wound around a hook and not tied at all, (never rely on the natives, no matter how willing they are, to do anything that's important, they just don't take things seriously). With the rope tied up tight we try again, every thing holds up this time, but the gate ramp is too short, and the car bottoms on the gearbox guard and will not move any further down the ramp. It's now time for Fritz to show his colours, with a bellow he orders everybody to stop trying and to leave it until tomorrow, (well he didn't quite say that, as I can't print the real words) everybody, including me, stood to attention, and there was silence for the first time for two hours, he ordered the helpers to take the ramps down, we would try again tomorrow, they did just that with no arguing or arm waving, it was all done in a flash. We took the keys from the truck cab so the driver and his mate would have to stay the night, we were warned it was quite possible for them not to be there in the morning if we didn't take precautions, and that was it, the first attempt to unload the car was a failure and we would have to get it off some other way tomorrow.
After cleaning up again, I found the crew in the bar chatting to other drivers, they were all passing on the day's experiences, some seemed quite tough and some sounded like they were on a shopping trip, one lady I spoke to vowed she would never enter China again, she found the country and its people unpleasant, and was glad to be out. Some other crew had enjoyed their journey so far, and would willingly cross China again, but not right at this moment. Walter and Fritz were happy to eat bar food and chat, rather than go to the restaurant, several crews had decided to visit a local bar called Tom and Jerry's, so not to miss out I went along with them. The bar was poor, dirty and smelly, after a few drinks and some more chatting, tiredness started to creep up on Walter Fritz and me, a couple of others felt the same, so we found a cab and went back to the hotel for some rest.
I had arranged to meet Walter for breakfast at eight, that's when the restaurant opened for the rally competitors, after eating we went in search of the truck and its driver, they were where we left them the night before, and they seemed glad to see us, we told them that we are going to look for a place to unload the car, we would be back in about fifteen minutes, it was decided that we walk around the block to see if we could find a garage or some place that has a ramp, after a while we came upon a house with a very steep driveway down to a garage. I said to Walter if we could drive the truck down to the level bottom, it would make the ramps less steep. Walter walked around the house trying to get somebody up, after constantly ringing the doorbell somebody answered, it seemed that we got this fellow out of bed as he never had many clothes on, but with Walters excellent English, he got permission to try and unload the car. I had already walked back up the drive, double checking the plan, it all looked good, as I turned round and looked up the road a large elephant was walking towards me, and when I say large I mean large, it was the largest elephant I have ever seen, It had a driver and two passengers. The couple taking a ride were tourists going off for a trip to the hills, and the elephant seemed to be in a hurry to get there, the road it was walking along was a wide city road, but jumbo took up one whole side as it zig zagged along swishing its tail and trunk from side to side, its tail was under full control even though jumbo can't see it, ever time a motorbike tried to pass, its tail would swing out aimed directly at the riders head, the riders would either have to duck, brake or drive around, as driving around was difficult, as oncoming traffic was a problem, one guy had three attempts to get his timing right, every time the tail stopped him, I watched as on the forth time he seemed to have got it, watching it swing from left to right, the tail by the way is about five feet long and a good three inches thick, with could best be described as a yard broom in its end, you could only imagine what damage it could inflict, well the motorbike rider was about to find out, as the tail moved away to clear his path he accelerated, the tail only made half a swing, and soon caught the bike up, with a swing from the hips the tail gained a little extra length and speed, it hit the rider squarely on the back of his helmet, the force knocked his helmet forward over his eyes, causing him to wobble as he struggled to regain control and lift up his helmet, I immediately saw the next obstacle, the trunk, what further trouble would jumbo cause, the elephant must have had some experience of wayward traffic as he swung his trunk round to protect his flank, the bike passed on by, and jumbo swung his trunk high with a triumphant wave. All this action was missed by its passengers and driver, as all they can see is more elephant when they look down.
I would have liked to have followed jumbo around the city all day, but we still had a car to unload. A bit further down the road a building site provided a supply of timber planks which would make good ramps, we now made our way back to the hotel finding a pathway through the back streets to the hotel garden entrance, it was in these back streets that I saw my first sight of the poverty and filth in Kathmandu, I thought the sight of a woman cooking a meal on an open fire was something people did, an alfresco breakfast sounds like a good idea in this climate, it wasn't until I noticed the child behind her, under a shelter made from sticks and paper, this was their home, their kitchen. The source of food, toilet, and everything else was the street. I was to see more of this later, but the first sights were difficult to handle.
We arrived back at the hotel car park only to find the driver and his mate gone off to eat, as we waited for them to return I remember thinking about the elephant and his game with the motor cycles, I started to chuckle out loud, Walter turned to me and looked worried, I'm not sure if it was me he was worried about or the lack of truck drivers, eventually they returned and we told them about our driveway, and our supply of ramps, the driver and his mate spoke very poor English and they seemed quite concerned about the location of the house, we all climbed into the truck and drove out of the hotel grounds, when we got to the main road we were stopped by a policeman, and the truck driver became very agitated, Walter realised there was some kind of problem and climbed out to talk to the policeman, it seems that trucks can't drive on some streets in the city especially those around the Kings' palace, all the roads leading to our unloading house were palace roads as we then called them, there was probably another route to the house, but as we only walked one way there, we would have to find another route, the traffic was starting to build up again, and finding your way too somewhere you're not quite sure of, with a driver who can hardly speak your language, in difficult traffic conditions, was turning into a drama, at times there was all three passengers telling the driver which way to go, and in all different directions, and in at least three languages, eventually we found our street, we pulled up outside the house to tell the driver what we wanted. From then onwards events sort of took over, Walter and I sort of lost control, the all too familiar crowd soon gathered round, as the house owner had informed his whole family that there was a Peking to Paris rally car arriving at his house to unload, they made a crowd and the rest of Kathmandu seemed to arrive. The truck was now in place at the bottom of the drive way, and we pulled the large steel ramp from the truck, we explained the best we could, that we needed some help to get the timber from up the street, but we gave up and went ourselves, we collected several strong boards and struggled back to the truck, through the crowd and down the driveway, what should be a calm and steady job seemed to take on an air of desperation, it must have been all the people, and all the arm waiving and shouting going on all the time that puts you off, when you ask for some help they stand back, when you need help they only offer advice.
Eventually the car came out of the truck amid a cloud of dust and smoke, Walter decided that he was going straight to the hotel and asked if I would tidy up, he thanked the house owner, then left for the safety of the hotel, all of a sudden I was alone with about fifty natives, a truck down a hole, a pile of timber, and a driver who had not been paid, the driver started waiving his hands and jabbering on about money, I told him he would get paid back at the hotel, but we would have to clear up here first, from then onwards I got plenty of help, we had the timber back in place in no time, I walked up the drive to stop the traffic to let the truck reverse out into the street, its then two policemen walked up, the locals seem to be very frightened of the police force, and they soon moved away to let them through, they came up to me and asked what was going on, I told them my story, but they asked, where was the rally car? They were not too happy to let the truck out onto the street, as this was another palace road, the crowd now started to get even bigger, and was starting to drift onto the street, one policeman turned to see the hazard and growled an order, at least ten people leapt back on the path in an instant, I then started to worry about what the police could do if they had a hold on the public like that. I tried all sorts of ways to explain what I was trying to do but the police didn't seem to understand, It was then that a bystander whispered in my ear the word Dollars, I looked at him, then looked at the policeman, thought about the airport officer, and reached for my wallet, it was all very open, I paid them twenty US Dollars and they sprang into action, the crowd was dispersed, the traffic stopped, the truck waved out, and we were on our way with a salute from the police and cheers from the remaining crowd. The truck driver and his mate were laughing out loud now, their laughter seemed to be directed at me, and I could not find out why, anyway they were happy and we were out of that muddle. We arrived at the hotel to find Fritz and Walter looking at the car and its contents.
I was desperate to see what damage their was to the car, I knew the impact was on the near side rear, I could see that the rear wheel was not quite central in the wheel arch, but I could not see any chassis damage, it was then that Walter waved me over to the other side of the car, that's where the damage was, a large crack in an area of chassis which is not totally covered by the body, so it's easy to see, the chassis was almost broken through, and when you pushed down on the back of the car, the crack opened up. I was amazed that the car had travelled some distance in the condition it was in, the car generally, apart from being covered in dust only looked a little battered, due to an argument with a large rock in China. The crack in the chassis had been got at by a Chinese welder somewhere in Tibet, his attempts to repair the damage had only made matters worse, their was a piece of metal tacked onto the inside of the chassis and lots of messy welding on the outside, this would all have to be cleaned off before we could repair the chassis. I was still puzzled why the chassis had broken at all, so crawled under the back of the car for a closer look, I could see the paint cracks on the axle tube that Walter had described over the phone, and it certainly looked a little bent, I knew the axle couldn't bend backwards without the spring failing to keep the axle in place, so I now inspected the nearside spring, everything looked sound until I looked even closer at the pin that holds the axle to the spring, and there it was, the fault that caused all the problems. When the wheel had hit the rock, it had broke the spring like I suspected, but in a most unusual way, the spring is made up of lots of layers of steel strips, each one a little longer than the next one, the last one has an eye formed on one end and is attached to the axle, the other ends of all the strips are fixed to the chassis. The main leaf is the one with the eye on its end, and this is the most important leaf, if it breaks off, the axle is not fixed to the car any longer, causing all sorts of problems, by some kind of luck the eye had only broken partially, allowing the axle to move backwards a little, but still supporting the car, this in its self was a miracle, as what usually happens is when the spring snaps it breaks the eye clean off, as their is nothing to hold the axle on, it swings backwards, it would then pull on the brakes on this side of the car, which would probably snap the brake cables, the axle would then be free to swing under the car, snapping the prop shaft on its way, the speed of the car and the road surface, would determine the extent of the total amount of damage, it could be a major repair or a complete wreck, if the axle had broke totally loose then the rally would have certainly been over for the little Bugatti and its crew.
But miracles do happen, the bush in the end of the spring was jamming in the broken eye preventing the axle from falling out, it had allowed the axle to move enough to bend, but no further, it was letting the axle move enough to flex the chassis on the other side of the car, that's what had caused the fracture. If Walter had seen the broken spring and replaced it, (There was a spare on board) the chassis would have held together, but owing to the nature of the break it was difficult to see, even for me in a hotel car park, for someone somewhere on a mountain, on an unmade road, at high altitude, it must have been impossible. Walters plan to drive slowly to Kathmandu, I think was the correct decision, it might have been a long way, but there was no other choice given the circumstances.
Our next task was to get the car repaired and back on the road, a fellow competitor on the rally also had a few repairs to make to his car, and had a connection with Mercedes back home, he had made a phone call some days earlier to see if there was any Mercedes dealers in Kathmandu, he was informed that Mercedes had recently appointed a dealership with workshop facilities, and there would be enough space for up to five cars to be repaired on their arrival. We were due to meet the manager of the dealership in a nearby hotel called the Sharpe at ten o'clock, we waited until ten past ten with no sign of the manager, the receptionist phoned him at his home and relayed our urgent requests, he said he would be there soon, soon was another ten minutes, eventually he turned up at the same time as three or more other crews wanting to share the workshop space, we all crammed into his small office to get instructions to find the workshop. Another ten minutes passed and we still had no address, the guy spoke fairly good English, but changed the subject every time we mentioned workshop space, after things started to get a little heated we found their was no workshop, and no tools or equipment. We had wasted the whole morning for nothing, Walter and I left that office feeling a little deflated, we spoke to hotel Sharpe's receptionist as he had been helpful earlier, he knew of a garage where large cars can be repaired, which had good facilities, but it was the other side of the city, we decided that rather than drive the car to this place we would take a cab to get some idea of the equipment they had. The receptionist found us a cab and marked the location on a map for the driver to follow he seemed to know exactly were to go, as we drove deeper into the city we experience our first real sights of this odd place, they drive on the left of the road, or at least there supposed to, they have roundabouts and one way streets, pedestrian crossings, traffic lights and all the normal things you would find back home in England, but somehow the Nepalese have either forgotten or changed the rules of driving, everything is confusion, if the right-hand side of the road looks free, then they go down it, the same with roundabouts, clockwise anticlockwise, they take the shortest route, traffic lights mean very little, most of the bulbs have blown, and any given pair never work in order, as for the people on foot, well they take their chance, the accepted way is to simply walk straight out into the traffic, they do not make eye contact with any driver but side step cars, bikes, with abandon. Amazingly enough it all works, the traffic keeps moving, slowly at times, but move it do, all you can do as passenger in a taxi is laugh, and hang on. We move into a dirtier part of the city now the housing is poor, buildings are collapsing, but they still have families living inside, the shops are less well stocked, I see a man skinning a goat, he has gutted the animal on the side of the road as their is no cleaner place, there is another man working close by, he's cutting up meat and throwing it into a large pot of steaming liquid, their is a poor looking dog feeding on the goats entrails which lay across the road. I now spot a new breed of vehicle I've not seen before, It's of agricultural purpose, the power source is a rotovator, that's a two-wheeled tractor commonly seen on small vegetable farms anywhere in the world, it has long handles which a worker would steer as he walked behind, in Kathmandu the rotating digging blades have been removed, and a draw bar installed, attached to this is a four-wheeled trailer, which the driver sits on to steer from, the engine is a small diesel unit which pumps out the same black smoke as everything else, there are now dozens of these little tractors some loaded high with vegetable of all kinds. They are heading to and coming from the local distribution centre, or at least they transferred the goods onto bicycles or ported by Sherpas. We are now driving past several shops that are selling car parts etc., perhaps this is were the car repair centre of Kathmandu is located, we make a turn off the main road as we get closer to the mark on our map, we take another turn now and the road gets smaller, this seems to be the case wherever you go, you can be driving down a busy broad road, and then you turn off, then turn again and you're in a tiny dirt road full of rubbish and junk, our road ends in a place for depositing old trucks, with no sign of a garage, of any kind, we get out and ask some men standing nearby, they start the standard arm waving procedure, Walter looks at me for some kind of guidance, but I am as helpless as he is, times running out fast and still no garage. We travel back to our hotel, in a hope that we might find something on the way back or someone there may be able to help, the passage back is just the same as going busy, smoky, dusty, and no garages, not even a sign, what do they do to fix all these cars.
Back at the hotel we tell Fritz of our bad news, they go into the hotel to ask for help, they come out several minutes later with a positive smile, the girl on reception phoned a Toyota dealer she knew, they said they have room for us to repair our car, as they already have a rally car being repaired there now, we knew we had found our workshop.
The next problem was to get the car to the garage at the other side of town, it's supposed to be about 4 miles, but I'm beginning not to believe anybody anymore. With the crack in the chassis so bad and the poor condition of most of the roads, it's certain that the car won't make it, I must think of a way to solve the problem, like so many problems to solve the answer is usually simple, I over adjusted the offside rear damper, this effectively locked the damper solid, which then supported the weight of the car instead of the spring holding it up, Walter looks at me in amazement, he didn't say a word, but I think I know what he is thinking, how far could he have gone if he had thought of that, could he have crossed the high passes over the Himalayas on his own wheels, and made it to Kathmandu without assistance. We will never know the answer to that question, but I think Walter has a good idea on what might have happened, I just grin and get on with things there's no need to say anything, Fritz and I travel in a cab and Walter follows, the suspension holds up and we reach the Toyota garage. We have now used up over half a day to get to this garage. We are greeted at the barrier of the garage yard by the manager, who welcomes us most warmly, we tell him that we require a workshop bay, where there are lights so we can work over night, power to run grinding and welding equipment, and security if we leave the premises at any time, he said yes to every request, except the welding equipment, they usually get theirs done at a place down the road he said, and suggested we do the same, we explained that the car will be in pieces and we couldn't possibly drive it, so the welder must come to us, he said he would arrange this and all seemed well.
Two bays away is a Morgan +Eight, with its rear suspension pushed through its floor, its front suspension shattered and all sorts of other small problems, this crew had been told in Peking that their car would never make it over the Himalayas, A wood-framed car with sports suspension may not seem to be a good choice for the task, but with determination they made it, all be it a little battered. I was told there were more than eight unrepairable cars spread across China, one of which didn't make it through the first day, so even if our little Bugatti and a sporty Morgan look a little battered, they will continue on their journey after a few repairs. After a double check of my first diagnosis, I inspect the whole car, while Fritz and Walter unload the equipment, apart from the damage I have already described earlier, the car was in good condition, the brakes would need adjusting a little, the clutch would need its release mechanism cleaned and re oiled, as it had collected plenty of dust making it a little sticky, I saw some battle scars on the protection plates I fitted, there are four all together, one under the engine, two under the gearboxes, and one wrapped around the rear axle, all had a couple of scrapes here and there, so they were doing their job well, the best surprise was the lack of oil leaks from the engine, I had taken a great deal of care to make the engine as oil tight as I possibly could, Bugatti's are notorious for oil leaks, as are many cars of the twenties, this was a potential problem, as we were warned that oil might be in short supply in some parts of China, oil consumption of a normal level would not be a problem, but a leaky engine would mean carrying oil which would take up valuable space, every time I tested the car prior to the rally, a new oil leak would appear, more work was always needed on the car, but you have to stop somewhere as money doesn't grow on trees. Walter said that he had only added to the engine a litre of oils all across China, so the work and head scratching was affective. This achievement was due to the clean air system I had invented and installed, it was working perfectly.
I soon started working on the rear axle, as the crew started preparing to lift of the body from the chassis, this job sounds more drastic than it is, as the floors are easily removed, and all the under floor storage boxes are lifted out, the bolts holding the body on are fairly easy to get at, Fritz thought they were difficult, and told me so in the best of English swear words, I only needed enough room to weld between the body and chassis, two inches would be fine, much to Fritz's relief, as he thought we were going to take the whole thing right off.
The welder turned up next, they had sent a Toyota van down to where he works and bought him and his equipment to us as they agreed, at last things were happening when people said they would happen, the welder was in his early twenties, but his gear was much older, It was an old oil cooled model that had seen better days, but it was the right size and he said it worked well, when I asked him for a welding mask, he passed me a pair of gas welding goggles, these are wholly inadequate for arc welding and would damage eyes very quickly, he said it was all he had, so we asked the manager to send someone out to buy one, and Walter would pay. As Fritz is an excellent organiser, I suggested he might arrange for an extension lead and an angle grinder, as we had found a power point not too far away, this he did willingly, in preference to laying on a very greasy garage floor, he also organised some cold coke which was delightful, I'm appreciating Fritz more and more by the hour.
We had now gathered our customary crowd, but this time they were all mechanics, and trying to help, they were very difficult to avoid, every time you stepped back you trod on somebody, when reaching for a spanner they would hand you one, never the right one of course, they just wanted to help, the next thing was tools missing, they hadn't taken them, only moved them. Fortunately they soon got fed up watching, and they started doing their own work, I'm glad we never let them help us, as all they seemed to do were hit things with a big hammer. I soon got the axle fixed, and then started removing the rear spring, none of these repairs were particularly difficult, but the conditions, being hot, and dirty, didn't make things easy, the toilet facilities were also disgusting to say the least, I avoided them like the plaque. Some of you might have worked out by now that today is Sunday, and what are all these people doing at work, well in Nepal the only national day off is Saturday, that is until next Tuesday when the local council attempt to vote in a two-day weekend break, I'm witnessing progress in the far east on a national scale, could you imagine what a dramatic change to our lives it would make if the western world reduced the working week to four, well its happening hear right now, at least for some people.
I now have the rear spring off and need an electric drill to drill out the long rivet that holds the leaves together, so that I can replace the damaged main leaf, one of my many assistance dashed off to find a hand drill, he soon comes back clutching a Japanese electric drill and a box of drill bits, I opened the box of bits and realised that they don't drill many holes in Kathmandu as the only drill they have, has been sharpened to drill the wrong direction. I had taken several tools from my own tool kit when I left home, and also some from my son's, fortunately I took a nine-millimetre drill from Stephens toolbox, which cut through the rivet as if it was butter, if it had been from my kit it would have taken all day to drill out. The extension lead that our audience provided caused quite a sensation, it was two strands of wire, with their ends bared and stuffed into the socket one end, and the other ends twisted around each other, no tape, no nothing, 240 volt's ready to step on, I held up these ends to show Fritz, and he quickly took some shots with his camera, the lead for the welder was going to be the same, we soon found some tape and made the ends fairly safe. With the spring almost fitted, half the repairs were almost complete. I had asked our welder to find me some strips of metal to reinforce the damaged chassis, he provided a tape measure and proceeded to measure the length and width of material needed, he had a poor command of English, but he seemed to know what I wanted, he has obviously made plenty of repairs of this nature, he disappeared to get the metal, by the time he returned the car was back on its wheels, the welder had exceeded my request ten times over, he not only had the perfect dimensions for the strip of metal, but he had formed it into almost the exact shape of the damaged rear chassis, and he had done this back at his own workshop without sight of the car, the work of this man had saved me hours of work, and the repairs were going to be strong and look good thanks to him. With the new welding mask, taped up extension leads, jacked up body, and the nicely made reinforcing plates, things were looking good to get the major jobs finished today, and with the body fitting back on tomorrow morning, we had only the service to carry out, and a good clean, it doesn't sound much if you say it quickly. The angle grinder, which the garage supplied, had only an abrasive cutting disc, and that was their only one, they don't last long when you grind with them, so I made use of its short life, on grinding away the lumpy bits of Chinese welding on the outside of the chassis, the nasty bracket stuck on the inside I cut out with a sharp chisel I had brought with me, I made two long clean cuts along the route of the crack, with a hacksaw, which would allow me to bend the chassis back in position, before welding.
I asked the garage welder for something to heat the chassis with, as it was impossible to straighten cold, he dashed off and came back with the biggest blowlamp I had ever seen, it must have held a half gallon of paraffin, the garage manager and his welder sat down and started the lighting up procedure. Fifteen minutes later they brought to me this monster roaring flames a foot long, I doubted whether it would be hot enough, but after all their efforts I had to try, as soon as I pointed it at the chassis it spat out a long flame of half-burnt paraffin, as we still had the fuel tank installed, which is only inches away from the repair sight I took the safe option and put the blow lamp down, pointing away from the car as it continued to belch fire like a flame thrower. I attempted to set the bent chassis straight again, but failed, the long pole I was using just bent under my efforts, as I walked away to find another cold coke, the garage welder came over with an oxy- propane welding set, this little gem had been stashed away in some hiding place for some reason I could not think of, perhaps oxygen or propane is difficult to get in Nepal, I soon had the chassis hot enough to bend back into shape, even with the bent pole.
As I started to weld the chassis, the two welders sat as close as they could, I'm sure they were waiting for me to mess up, I am sure that most of the mechanics thought we were totally mad and couldn't possibly be able to weld as well as repair cars. As I thought about what troubles we had, it dawned upon me why we had so much trouble finding a garage, the skills of these people are individual, one man can weld, another one repairs brakes, another cooling system problems, electrics, bodies, oil changes, etc. All these separate jobs not only carried out by different people, but at different locations, that's why we had so many strange looks when we asked for a garage, apart from the odd one or two like where we are, there are none, and even here you have different people doing their own job on a car, and when that's done another mechanic moves in and does his speciality, this carries on until a car is serviced or repaired. It also affects the help we get from our onlookers, if you ask the wrong guy to help in a subject he doesn't practise, then we get bad help, if we ask the resident expert a question he understands, it seems to work well, now you can see why these two welders, are waiting for me to start welding, as far as they're concerned, I can't be a mechanic and a welder. They are all set to jump in and take over, as soon as they see the welding rod stuck to the car they would be in like a shot, as I made the first stroke of the welding rod across the chassis, a stream of sparks fell to the floor, I turned to see them both, even closer now squatting down right by my side, determined to make a show I chose a long easy weld along the repair plate, three minutes later I stopped welding, I knew I had produced an attractive weld, they were waiting for me to chip of the slag to expose the fresh weld, one of them already had the chipping hammer, and passed it over, I gave the slag a light touch, and it crumbled off the weld, as only happens with a neat flat weld, there was a gleaming almost perfect weld, and as I turned again towards my inspectors, their mouths were wide open, their eyes wide, muttering something in their local tongue, and they moved back giving me more space to work, now I'm only a fair welder back home, but to these guys I was good. From then onwards the garage welder didn't leave my side, he was going to make sure that whatever I did he was going to watch and perhaps learn something, everything went well with the welding, I had not used an ark welder for some years now as they are virtually obsolete back home, but its like riding a bike you never forget. The chassis repairs went well, as expected, Walter was pleased now he knew he was going to get back into the rally without any further delays. The welding all done, and things tidied up at that end of the car, I start to help sort out the kit with Fritz, the lighting which the garage provided, was our usual two strands of cable, but this time suspended from the ceiling, with a very dim bulb installed, it was six feet higher than the car, and ten feet to one side, so it was practically useless. I said to Walter that we are way ahead of schedule, and would have plenty of time tomorrow to finish off, but he insisted he will carry on to fit one more body bolt, I wandered off to check on who was going to look after things tonight, most of the staff had gone home now, as the local electric supply is a little erratic nobody works after dark, their homes are very poorly light, and there are few street lamps, I stumble through the garage yard, until I come to a group of mechanics now with overalls off and ready to go home, they show me the boy who will be keeping watch on the cars tonight, he said that he would stay awake all night and make sure nobody touches anything. I'm not too happy with this young lad looking after things, and tell Walter my fears; he had stopped work by now and was cleaning up. As we made our way to the gate, Walter stopped at the gatehouse, there he found someone who knew the night watchman, and they went off to find him, he came back happy, and said he paid the watchman a little to make sure he does' a good job. We ask the gatehouse man if he could get us a cab, he said he would, and told us to follow him down the road as taxis will not come by here very often, we all walked along the side of the road, there was no pathway, just uneven dirt, the traffic consisted of mostly those rotovator type trailer things, trucks, and buses heading out of town, the dust and smoke made looking where you are going difficult, with the only lights coming from vehicles. We must have walked after this man for half a mile, and still no taxi, after a hard day I didn't need a long walk home. We came upon a cab, which had pulled over to let his passengers out, there seemed to be a problem over payment, as one of the two girls ran off in the direction of some houses, her friend soon followed as she found herself surrounded by foreigners, the first girl came back and paid the driver and we climbed in, our guide needed a lift into town so he squeezed on the back seat with Walter and me. We soon arrived at the hotel after dropping our guide off on the way, we arranged to meet in the bar, and then we would go to eat, that I was looking forward to as I had not eaten all day. As soon as I got in my room, I phoned Pat to tell her the day's news, I talked briefly about Kathmandu, and lots about the car and crew, I'm sure that she would have liked more news on where I was, and what things are like, but she got car talk as usual, I'm certain that she was happy If I was happy, and after a successful day repairing the car, I was happy, fortunately Stephen was home and I gave him all the news to relay back to Ivan and all the guys back at work, after exchanging goodbye's I called of, and then realised I had hardly talked to Pat, I'll have to make it up next time I call. Following a wonderful shower I dressed and hurried down to the bar, after a while Fritz and Walter joined me, we chatted with other crew about their problems and ours, about Kathmandu, and its traffic, its filth, and its smell, somebody chirps up and says the Delhi is far worse then here, I'm glad I'm not going to Delhi. After a few beers we went off to eat, and eat we did, with the appetite we had worked up the buffet restaurant was perfect. After eating we chatted and planned the next day, it was now a time to relax, have a drink or two and then off to bed.
I wake up at three o'clock a.m. with violent stomach pains, I've already heard of several crews complaining of severe diarrhoea, as they travelled across China, it seems to be something everybody gets sooner or later, when travelling the far east, and its now my turn. I spend the rest of the night sitting on the toilet seat taking Imodium, by 7.30 a.m. things are improving, the drugs are working, my stomach feels like its going to explode, but at least the urgency has gone out of the condition. I meet Walter at eight for breakfast, I sit at the table watching people eat, which makes me feel quite sick, I explain my condition to Walter and excuse myself, he is concerned about my condition when we meet a little later, and him being in the medical profession advised me to take care, drink plenty and keep taking the Imodium, if I get low on supplies he has plenty. Fritz is going to visit Kathmandu today to take his photographs, as we have carried out the serious jobs, and he has a commitment to take photographs, we can do without him today, he said he would find a few interesting places to visit if we get finished early, we take our journey through the city as though we've done it a hundred times, as we pass by the unusual sights, I try and take pictures, which are soon obstructed by passing traffic or people dodging cars. We arrive at the garage to be greeted by an even bigger crowd, all the staff had brought their families for a look at the cars, mums and dads, sons and daughter, uncles and aunts, all were there and of course welcome. I must admit even though my health was unsettled things are pleasantly relaxed today, with Walter putting the body back together, and me carrying out a very straightforward service, we soon had our work done, at three thirty pm, all we had to do was clean the car and drive back to the hotel, the garage proprietor had asked Walter if he would sign a letter which said that he had used their facilities and found them satisfactory, this of cause he was pleased to do so, and Walter asked if I could sign for Fritz as he wasn't present, when Walter went to pay his bill he was pleasantly surprised that he only was asked to pay the charge for the welder and the use of his equipment, and their was no charge for any other service, the garage owner asked if we could pose for a photograph at the front of the garage, with a few delightful young ladies, of course we were only too pleased to do so as by now with the car repaired, and clean nothing would be too difficult. We waved the mechanics and other garage staff a fond fair well as I drove the car to the hotel, I was a little reluctant to drive in the city with all its traffic but Walter insisted, he said that there could be a problem which I might discover if I was driving. Driving through Kathmandu's traffic is as bad as it sounds, fortunately the car is so different, and by now the odd rally car on the streets, has been a source of local amusement, the locals gave us a wide berth, eventually we had a motorcycle escort, with about fifteen bikes with grinning riders milling around, I wished I had an elephants tail attached to the car. After filling up with what looks and smells like good petrol, we make our way to the hotel to meet up with Fritz, for our tourist trip. With my work now over, and after taking some of Walters special high energy drinks he made for me, I feel good enough to take in a few of Kathmandu's sights. Fritz has with him a German driver of another car, and a very attractive German girl whose father has gone on a diplomatic visit in the city, we hire two cabs to take us to a temple, about two miles away, as we are running out of daylight the drivers are asked to be as quick as they can, that was a mistake, asking two young cab drivers to drive fast, was not a good idea, they actually raced through the streets swerving within inches of other cars and pedestrians, we are lucky to arrive safely, we ask them to wait as we made a quick trip around this unusual place, the next visit was a bazaar with hundreds of small shops, and small temple's every so often, we are within walking distance of our hotel so Fritz tells us, so we make our way back through all these narrow alleyways, which are as crowded as the busy roads.
Our journey took us past a street market, where hundreds of traders sell just about any thing, as long as you can carry it in on a bicycle. We came upon a disturbing sight, their was a pile of rotting waste on the side of the road, swept up by the recent rains, feeding off the refuse was two cows, several skinny dogs, and much to my disgust a woman, she was not just sifting through the rubbish but eating it, when she found something. I made enquiries later and was told this woman was one of the untouchables, a cast of people that are treated with less regard than a dog. Of all the nasty things I experienced, this was one of the worst. We make it back to the hotel I was exhausted, my legs were buckling, and I needed a long sit down, Fritz decided what we needed was a relaxing sauna, so we took advantage of the hotels excellent basement gym and sauna. Although the steam room was certainly good for my aching limbs, my digestive system was still upset, and the extra heat didn't help, I arranged to meet my friends for dinner a little later and left to rest in my cool air-conditioned room. I met Walter and Fritz as arranged, but decided to go back to my room, as I was still very tired, and I would have to be up in the morning to see them off, they were the first crew to leave Kathmandu being the oldest car left in the rally, I wished them a good evening and retired.
At six o'clock am on Tuesday morning the hotel lobby was full of rally crews, some were boarding buses, to take them to the conference centre, where the rally would restart, I would wish my crew a safe journey from the hotel, by seven o'clock I had turned down two offers to act as crew or co driver on the rest of the rally, they were desperate drivers who had lost a crew member due to sickness of some kind, or other problems. As I have no visas to travel through all the different countries, it was impossible, but I must admit I was very tempted. With last goodbye's done I stagger yet again to my hotel room, I have now drunk at least ten gallons of bottled water, or at least that's what it feels like, I settle in my cool room and doze off.
I wake sharply to the phone ringing, it's the hotel reception telling me to stay in my room as there is a call coming through from my friends. My mind now is racing, the call must be from Walter, who has now left some three hours ago, the phone rings again 15 minutes later, it's the hotel switchboard again, telling me to hold on for a connection, I wait for a while and then they say they will call back, the phone rings yet again, and yes its Walter calling from a village some fifty miles away, he has some kind of electrical fault, the amp meter is reading too high a reading for too long, the engine is misfiring, and losing power. They have made several inspections and have found nothing, except that the ignition coil is getting too hot. He has decided not to continue any further, as he may do some damage to his electrical system. They will wait for me to find them and attempt to make repairs. I dash to the reception, to get a cab to take me to the address that I have, everything is now urgent, as it will take me the same journey time as it took them to get where they are, I will not arrive there until two o'clock pm, if I leave right now, I'm told by the reception staff that the local cabs cannot travel outside the city limits, and I would have to hire a private car, I asked them to arrange one as quickly as they could, and I explained to them how urgently it was needed, half an hour later the reception assistant returned in a car, he introduced me to its driver and then he asked him if he new the place I had to travel to, he said he did, and then asked if we will be back tonight, I said I could not tell him, as I had no idea on how long it would take, the three of us stood there haggling over stupid things, until it come to a head, of course it was all about money, I said we would pay any reasonable price and would not want to see him out of pocket, we settled on one hundred dollars for the day, and extra if we stayed out overnight. At last we were on the road, it was now twelve o'clock, and the usual traffic jams just held things up all the more. Today's drive for the rally was a long one, travelling down the river valley dropping approximately two and a half thousand feet down into really hot and humid conditions, I had heard that part of the days drive would pass through a section of dense jungle, where there have been reports of attacks by bandits, I just hope Walter is not broken down anywhere near there. Once we get out of the city and into the country, I have a whole new outlook to Nepal, it's really a wonderful place, with tall and very steep hills covered with trees, there are waterfalls, rapids and wonderful views from the top of the Kathmandu plateau. We drive at an alarming pace dodging trucks as we wind down the twisting mountain roads, trucks are climbing up carrying all sorts of supplies from India, as this is the only road in from India, and most of Nepal's imports are by road, you can imagine the variety of goods on board all these trucks, but ever truck is exactly the same, they are all old "TATA"s made in India, most are barely able to climb the hills, and there are many which don't, as we swing around yet another sharp bend, a truck spewing out clouds of jet black smoke gradually climbs the hill in first gear as we come along side, a loud explosion is followed by a clang on the side of the car, my first thoughts were that we were being attacked by bandits, but when I glance back I could see a large pool of oil under the now stationary truck, the differential had exploded under the stress of climbing the slope, with what looked like a typically overloaded axle. We pass by several small settlements were the country people seemed to fit, when these same people move into the city, they and their habits won't mix, there are no toilets in the country, and here they are not very crowded, there are also no toilets in the city, but it is seriously overcrowded, I will leave the ensuing problem to your imagination, but I will tell you that the smell of Kathmandu is unmistakable, and you can't hide from it at all. The settlements are usually gathered around a source of work, as we are following a river, the work is mostly of gravel extraction, you would normally see some heavy equipment gouging great lumps from the earth, but not here, all you have is manpower, as the water level is now low after the monsoons, hundreds of men, women, and children are shovelling gravel, which has been naturally graded by the different speeds of the river as it meanders down the valley, on a sharp turn of the river there are only large boulders, polished smooth and round, these are carried by two men and placed in a barrow, the same two men would then charge at a ramp fitted to the rear of a truck, the rocks are then piled as high as the sides of the truck will allow. The next turn in the river is wide and slow, and there they dig out the finer stones and small pebbles, and so on down to fine white sand. The best bends are crowded with workers, the other not to good areas where the stone must be of the wrong size, you find a stone crushing machine, in the same area you find people sitting on the side of the road with hammers, smashing stones to the required size, with a neat pile of perfectly sized chips ready for collection by a passing truck, their shelter from the sun is a branch cut from a tree and stuck in the ground alongside their stone piles. I found Walter and Fritz parked outside a roadside restaurant, at least that's what the address said it was, in fact it was a tin shed selling fried goat and coke, the usual crowd had gathered, but this time more intense, the children seemed to be amazed rather than interested, Walter had made several attempts to correct the fault, he had changed the voltage regulator, ignition coil, and various other jobs but still had the problem. Now I'm not a very good auto electrician, but given the time and some testing equipment I can sort out most problems, but this one had got me beat, no matter what I tried it continued to over charge, I swapped components, (their was a comprehensive spare parts stock) checked wiring etc., but no luck, in the end I suggested to Walter that Fritz would have to disconcert the voltage regulator by reaching under the dash, and connecting up every two hours for ten minutes, unless he used his lights or electric fan. He could travel for days like this or until he could find an auto electrician, probably in Delhi, this they agreed to do, and after a short road test to check if the plan worked, I again said my goodbyes. I felt a little unsatisfied now as I could not cure the fault, and they had waited all day, I had sent them on their way, pulling off wires for god knows how long, and when you're not sure about electrics, you never know what's going to happen, but I could do no more I had checked everything that I could possibly think of, and that's the best I could do. I had a suspicion that the fault was in the dynamo, but as we carried no spare I could not swap it over, but only inspect it.
I travelled back to Kathmandu and chatted to my guide, and that three-hour journey with him, is where I got most of the facts and details from, he spoke good English, and was willing to chatter all afternoon. We got back to the hotel just before dark, and I paid him exactly what we agreed on before we left, I was so tired that if he had wanted more he would get it. Apart from one brief walk around the hotel grounds I stayed in my room resting, just drinking bottled water and not being able to eat. I constantly ran the electrical fault through my mind, trying to find a solution, so I could fax Walter and he could make repairs. The day came to go home, I had no idea as to what the fault was, and it was time to leave, my flight was early, I had to be at the airport at six o'clock to make the eight o'clock flight. My early cab ride through the streets of Kathmandu was the same as usual, dirty, crowded, and smelly, I shall never forget the smell. I arrived at the airport to be met by two very young boys, I decided if they can be up at dawn to earn a living carrying bags, they deserved to get my custom, It took both of them to struggle with my one bag, that's because I still had the differential case, and half shaft to bring home, I thought that it would be easier than having two items to collect on arrival. I was one of the first to arrive at the departure's desk, but there was no one in attendance, I could not find any officials anywhere, by seven thirty the desk opened and they started inspecting tickets, the attendant asked to see my departure tax receipt, I had no idea what he was talking about, but he soon told me what to do, leave the queue I was in and start another one at another desk he pointed to, but I explained there was nobody at that desk, he said there soon would be, off I went and started queuing, a line soon formed behind me, most people moaning about Nepalese total lack of organisation, but I was used to it now, I had spent most of the week getting nowhere fast, and already given in to the way these people work. The exit tax official appeared at seven thirty, and asked me for twenty thousand rupees (twenty pounds sterling), I told him that I had just given the last of my rupees to the two young baggage porters, and I had only dollars to pay him with, he worked it out to dollars, which I paid, he gave me a small receipt which I stuffed into my wallet. I then joined the departure queue, which by now is miles long, eventually I get to the front of the queue and show my exit tax receipt, this time all was well and I passed through to have my bags scanned before being loaded, a thought just came to me, that half shaft will look very peculiar as it passes under the x ray machine, and I remembered what John Berry had said back at work "they will think you are carrying parts of a super gun" on the first pass the attendant called the bag back, and I thought that was it, I'd be in jail before the days out, after three runs through and at least four people having a look, they let it through, they never asked me what it was, and didn't want to look inside. With a short wait in the departure lounge, we boarded the plane, as I sat and waited for take off I checked the contents of my pockets I found the exit tax receipt, it had on it 750 rupees, I had been had again. The flight home was a rerun of the flight out, except this time I was on the right side of the plane to see the Himalayas, it was a brilliant sunny morning and the mountains were gleaming with their white peaks bursting through the billowing clouds, and to see Everest was the icing on the cake of a memorable adventure. It was a long and tiring flight, and I staggered into arrivals at Gatwick, I was so pleased to see pat coming to greet me.
PS our little car survived the rally, and was the oldest car to finish, winning a special prize just for that. The electrical fault was the exhaust heat shield touching the main feed cable to the starter motor, not enough to create a total short, but enough to drain the system causing the generator to charge continuously. The winner of the rally was a 1942 Willis Jeep, driven by Phil Suttees and co driver John Bails, and a very well done to them.
a tale that happened in 1997 which was printed in Bugantics