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Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by joshuwaa, May 9, 2017.
good to see you got it sorted, but yeah, bastards those VISA people are!
Day 117 to 135 – Sost to Islamabad – Pakistan
An odd start to the day getting accosted and checked over by a plain clothes official in the hotel dining room. We had to make some copies of our Visa pages in our passports before he was satisfied. Today it was just Me, Martin and Xenia Oki having left early in the morning. Karimabad was the goal, only a short ride but we had a few stops planned, lots of photos to take, and easing back in to riding was a good idea after 7 days of almost none.
The roads did not disappoint, incredible scenery all around, some of the tallest mountains in the world are in this region and it shows. We were already at 3,000m and the mountain ranges lining the road were towering over us. The Chinese have put a lot of effort into opening up and maintaining the roads here for trade, so it made for awesome riding. The people were surprising the whole way, always waving from their bikes, 3 grown men on one tiny bike waving away and grinning at us was not expected at all. I nearly fell off the bike laughing as one guy rode passed, dancing from the back of his friends bike.
We made our first stop of the day at Hussaini to see the suspension bridge, it’s incredible, at least 100m long spanning the gap over the fast flowing Hunza River. It wouldn’t be so bad if it didn’t look like it was built by 5 drunk guys who found some wood and steel cable and decided to make a shortcut home. The wooden planks are evenly spaced at “1 Human” width apart and the handrail cable only secured enough to give it a good 2 meters slack. I went out heading for the other side very cautiously but the further out, the more it swayed, I realised even if I did keep my nerve enough to get all the way across, I had to come back again. We ventured far enough on to get some nice pictures then teetered back solid ground again. Mission accomplished.
Back up on the road we got a coffee from our new friend. He really was a friend too, he was so happy to meet people, he serves pretty much everyone coming to the bridge; little stones line his shop with messages written on, and stickers from travellers on his doors.
We got to Karimabad a few hours later after more amazing riding and views. We were aiming for a hotel we’d heard about in the hills above the town, Eagles Nest, though we didn’t realise quite how high it was. The tiny road leading up the hill twisted it’s way around villages for an age, very steep, slippery with gravel and some very sharp hairpins. The rooms were pretty expensive for our normal hotel budget so we grabbed a triple room to share the cost. Connecting back to the internet properly for the first time in over a week was nice, China blocks so much it made it impossible to work properly.
In the morning Martin and Xenia left and headed North to a valley they wanted to explore. I hung around until lunch time making the most of the calm and internet after China, then headed South toward Gilgit. Only a short ride on some more amazing roads, but ended up circling around in the rain for an hour searching for a hotel, not planning ahead wasn’t a great idea. The president was staying in a hotel in town which didn’t help things with police and security everywhere. I tried a bunch of hotels, put off most by the prices, much higher than I’d expected of Pakistan, some of the places the locals pointed me too weren’t even allowed to take foreigners. So I resigned myself to the cheapest I’d come across, still the most expensive I’d used for 3 months.
A little stroll around the town and try and get a SIM card, a very lengthy process in Pakistan, but the guy in the store waived all the formalities and got me one straight away. It meant he put his neck on the line, since if I do anything bad, it’s his name on the paperwork, but he was so happy to help a traveller and have a good chat. We spoke about how Pakistan is portrayed by western media and what my experience was like so far. A lot of people seem painfully aware of what most westerners think of their country, and they’re trying so hard to change it, bit by bit.
I packed up nice and early to get on the road, hoping to make it to Islamabad in 1 day, a long way but I was ready for a nice long ride on some great roads. It didn’t really work out that way though. A few locals had told me to take the shortcut road through Naran instead of the main Karokaram Highway, it was much shorter on the map, and should have less traffic since the trucks take the main road. A few hours later, freezing my ass and hands off on the top of a very high pass and soaking wet in the snow, I regretted listening to them. The pass should have been beautiful and quiet, instead it was foggy so I couldn’t see anything and lots of roadworks diverted me onto long slippery muddy stretches.
I made it to Naran a little pissed off and cold, at least I was dry by then, my gear did a good job of keeping the water on the outside. I found a decently cheap hotel, with a room full of flies and got unpacked to another surprise. My remaining half bottle of emergency whiskey I’d bought in Kyrgyzstan had spilled in my bag, now everything stunk of alcohol, in a country where alcohol is illegal for locals. I spent an hour cleaning everything and left it to dry while I went for some food. The town seemed to be a big destination for Pakistani holiday makers so it was packed with touristy shops, flashing lights and, thankfully, good food. They didn’t seem to quite have the power situation sorted though, one minute the hotel across the road would go dark, then when it came back up, the restaurant next door would go dark, rinse and repeat all evening.
The scenery changed a lot in the next days riding, it started to get very green and very hot, almost tropical trees around the road and covering the hills. I was making good progress toward Islamabad until I made a wrong turn and rode for 30 minutes down a road that was a dead end to me. It entered into part of the Kashmir region that is disputed between India and Pakistan and I would need a permit to enter. I was pretty hot and bothered so the border guard was really getting on my nerves, I was trying to understand why I couldn’t pass and he was being anything but helpful, shouting at one point, ignoring me another. I turned around and had a break to cool down, literally and mentally, chatting to a shop owner and some kids. I figured out a new route and set off on some small village roads, course correcting.
I spotted a little place for lunch on the road and pulled up to see what they had. I’m in the habit now of just walking into the kitchens and asking to see dishes, it’s much easier than trying to ask, the dishes vary so much under the same name. Does the Biryani have chillis in it or not, is the dal a spicy one or not, is the meat on the bone or not. This way, I can just go by what looks good, they’re usually happy to have the weird foreign biker wandering around anyway. I sat down to eat and a guy who just pulled up in a car asked if he could join me with his dad and little brother. We chatted a while about my trip and his life, he had been between jobs for a while and was driving his brother back from Cadet college for a family gathering. When we left he offered to pay for my meal, I refused about 5 times, as you should in this part of the world, to separate genuine offers from politeness but he insisted, so he paid the whole thing, I was honestly humbled, not a lot of money for me on this trip, but significant enough for him with no income.
Somewhere along the main Karakorum Highway I took a wrong turn again, my GPS did it’s derpy best and gave me a more direct route into Islamabad, through the villages and back roads. It turned out to be the right choice anyway. The road was tiny, one car wide in most places, winding through villages and farm land all the way through to Islamabad. I found out later it also let me avoid a bunch of armed escorts that you would usually have to follow on the main road, score!
Riding into Islamabad was beautiful, my accidental road brought me over the hills at the back of the city, so I was winding down the mountain looking out over the city at sunset. I did not expect however, that it would look like Milton Keynes, with more Mosques. It’s a purpose built city so all the roads are straight and wide, the grids and blocks well placed and thought out, and it’s a doddle to navigate. It’s also very modern, and western-isms are creeping in, just down the road from my hotel was a Hardee’s burger place and a Subway. This was not at all the city I was expecting.
I headed over to the Visa agency the next day to get my India Visa application started. It took a lot of running back and forth printing various things out, photocopying this and that and getting enough currency to pay the fees. Once that was in there was nothing else to do, my passport was tied up with them for anything between 5 and 15 days. I could potentially travel on a photocopy of my passport but it wasn’t certain whether it would be a problem or not. I decided to stick around until my passport was ready with the Visa, I needed a break and had plenty to do. My hotel wasn’t as cheap as I’d like but it had air conditioning and internet.
Left alone for too long
Ten days later I had my visa! I had to go for a little interview at the Indian High Commission, they asked about the trip and what I was doing in India. They also wanted to know why I needed “Multiple Entries” and I listed out my 6 entries I would need, they said they would see what they could do as it wasn’t normal at this office. What they could do was ignore me entirely and give me a “Double Entry” instead. Bugger. I spent the afternoon re-planning India to make it work with only two entries, since I’m flying to a few places in Asia in November and December, that will have to happen from Nepal now and a trip to Sri Lanka will be much more difficult.
I intended to do some riding back to the North of Pakistan once I had my visa to see some things I had passed by in my rush to get to Islamabad. Though a combination of small illness, laziness and the promise of very poor roads with armed escorts meant I didn’t leave Islamabad at all in sixteen days! I was sick of sitting still by the end of it though, I’d blogged, planned, watched TV, played games, read a book, eaten at all the local places and basically ruined a hotel room in that time. Time to move on toward India!
24/08/17 to 11/09/17
It's been a while. I've been very busy riding in the north of India, not much internet here either. I'm in Manali now, enjoying beer and good food and laughing at the very over the top hippies that take over this place.
I've been riding with Martin and Xenia for about 3 weeks now. We crossed the Wagha Border to India and stayed in Amrtisar a couple of days in Jugadus hostel, saw the golden temple and tried to get used to speaking to other people again. We hardly met any foreigners or travellers in Pakistan so arriving at a hostel and town full of back packers was very odd.
We set off on our little planned loop up through Jammu to Srinagar and had a day off on a very odd house boat. Then headed toward the more challenging roads on the way to Kargil, no real incidents, just enjoying the scenery getting more beautiful, the traffic less and the road dustier. From Kargil we went for a 2 day jaunt down Zanskar valley, only about half way, going further would have required carrying a lot of fuel unfortunately. We found a nice spot to camp and headed back to Kargil the next day. Very weird for me, I hate doubling back on myself, I'd rather take a longer route if I have to go back somewhere, just so it's different.
Kargil to Leh was some of the best roads I'd ridden, nice clean tarmac almost all day, up and down valleys and small easy passes. A few days off in Leh getting permits for the next set of valleys and stocking up for camping for 2 nights, not being sure what we'd find.
We climbed Khardung La pass supposedly the "highest road in the world", it is not, not even the highest one in Ladakh, it's 5300m but advertised at 5600m, dodgy. It is damn high though, and very very busy, even at the very end of season now. Not many people were going down the other side though so it got very quiet after that. Some very peaceful riding toward the cold desert near Hunder, we failed to camp though, all the flat ground was taken up with villages, we did find a dirt cheap hotel though so not too bad.
We also did a hand over of Bacon at the top of Khardung La, he's travelling with me now for a few months, it was an emotional parting. (For the unaware: http://advrider.com/index.php?threa...r-mascot-relay-bacons-journey.287919/page-116)
Next day we headed to Pangong Lake, some very rough roads to get there, not the typical tourist route going along the back of the mountains instead of coming from Leh. You need to be paying attention all the time though, the roads are just over 1 car wide so anything coming toward you is really coming toward you. A cold but very peaceful evening by the lake after a tough day. We made it back to Leh the following day on some more great roads, since it's the tourist route, and over the actual highest road in the region at ~5370m.
There was a death in the group though. I fucked up the straps holding the guitar and he flew off and dragged behind the bike for a few hundred meters. We held a funeral service and camp fire cremation 2 days later camping at Tso Miriri. He made it all the way from Uralsk, Kazahkstan to here, much further than I thought he ever would, a very well travelled guitar.
From Leh to Tso Miriri took us a very long day on mostly rough roads, a couple of very close crashes and my shitty Shinko front tyre, it has giant blocks but grips better and more consistently on tarmac than it does on loose stuff. No more incidents though and some trekking across sand and down a very unused path to find a nice secluded camp by the shore of the lake. A very very cold night followed, we think it dropped to about -10 and in my 3 season sleeping bag and ventilated tent I was freezing my ass off. Even my remaining whiskey didn't really help.
We took the back route back from Tso Miriri onto the Leh Manali highway, over some very rough roads, rougher than any on the Pamir on I think, a bit of a challenge but easier without a guitar bouncing around on the back
The Leh to Manali highway is a weird one. Some parts of fresh tarmac with very wide roads and open turns to get up to 70mph but then a huge pot hole appears, we think one car managed to puncture his engine on one, smoke was billowing everywhere. Then it suddenly changes into very rough tracks, even up and down mountains, it's like they just forgot to tarmac some parts. It was stunning views all day though, incredible places to ride through, when you could look up from the road anyway.
The Gota Loops were utterly stunning, over 30 sharp twisty turns descending about 600m, there was almost no traffic in the late afternoon so I had a blast flying down them. I'd happily go back just for those.
Another very cold night but we found a little hut hotel behind a restaurant in Sarchu, a town of roadside cafes basically. Us 3 in there warmed it up nicely and had a good nights sleep, though it was -7c when we woke up. The guy who ran the little place was a little eccentric and didn'tspeak English but he managed to get across that he wanted to join us on the bikes for 15km. We tentatively agreed and gave him a lift to what must have been his job at a bridge project, an odd start to the day. We made it to some fuel, after 350 miles, I carried an extra 6 litres with me and was surprised I made it without running out, I think some very economical riding helped, which consisted of just not braking anymore.
What followed was I think the top 3 best roads I've ever ridden on, all in one day. Nothing particularly special about them, just some perfect stretches of road with some amazing scenery, I couldn't capture them in photo or video, but I'm sure riders know what I mean. One was only short stretch down a valley toward an opening at the end that looked completely fake, like a backdrop for a movie. Another led through a long stream of villages, just very wide open road without much traffic, an hours riding passed by in no time on roads like that. Then the last was the best, coming down the Rhotang pass, one of the most stunning sights I've ever seen from the top, looking right down on the town with huge mountains further along and the road winding down the mountain underneath me. It seemed to go on forever, turn after turn, when you thought you were about at the bottom it would twist around the mountain and there be another series of corners. Awesome end to the day.
We've been in Manali a few days now and I'm staying a few more, there's internet and nice food, and the hotel is pretty cheap for what it is. Martin and Xenia head south from here and I think I'll be heading east to Nepal so we'll split after about 5 weeks together, hopefully we'll bump into each other in Australia next year.
Day 136 to 142 – Islamabad to Jammu -India!
Finally the day to leave Islamabad, it didn’t start very well though. I got packed up, gear on and bike loaded, then realised the battery was entirely flat. I suspect some kids turned on the heated grips the night before, they were very interested in the bike and tend to poke around it. Luckily Martin and Xenia were staying right across the road, and Martin has jump leads, so 15 minutes later I was back in action.
I headed off alone to Lahore, Martin and Xenia would catch me up the next day. A long and boring run to the city where the traffic turned to absolute hell. There might be 4 lanes painted on the road, but anything goes; if there’s a 10cm gap, somebody will be in it in seconds. You just have to get super aggressive and don’t let up at all. At one point the traffic stopped for a train crossing and the chaos leveled up to maximum. Everyone just kept pushing forward into every gap, going left around the traffic onto the dirt, if that was blocked they’d just go further left, despite the fact the road was only wide enough for 4 cars at the level crossing. If there was an inch forward to be made, you can be sure they’d fight tooth and nail to get there, even if it meant going 3 inches sideways. In 40 degree heat it was hell, slowly melting into a puddle of sweat and angry. I was utterly spent by the time I made it to the hostel.
I had Déjà vu of the hostel when I got there, it was a very weird feeling, I’d read about it in at least 4 blogs or books of other travellers since it’s the only real hostel in Lahore. It always seemed so far away and adventurous, now I was here I just wanted some water and to cool off, the trip very rarely feels adventurous in the moment.
Unfortunately, because it’s the only hostel in town and because it’s cheap, there’s not a lot to it. I had a horrendous night, melting in the heat and hardly sleeping so decided to move to a cheap hotel in the morning. There wasn’t even any other travellers there to chat to, it may be very cheap, but it comes at the cost of sleep, I’m no hardy traveller.
Lahore is a pretty crazy town, it felt much more like what I expected from a Pakistani city, wandering around and there’s a million things happening all the time. The traffic is insane, people just flying everywhere, animals sauntering through it all. Tiny streets crisscross everywhere with little dark stalls filled with everything you can imagine. Whole streets of metal workers, another street specialising in plastic chairs and nothing else, fabric streets and everything else. The best way to walk around is to just walk blindly, people tend to not want to crash and will just avoid you. It takes some getting used to, just wandering slowly across 8 manic lanes of traffic, but it works. This was more like what I was expecting Islamabad to be like, a crazy mess of people, not the purpose built city.
We headed off in the evening for the famous border ceremony between India and Pakistan. A 30 minute taxi ride to the border area and then a short walk from the car park. It felt something like entering Disney Land, lots of people walking up the fenced road with music playing toward what was essentially a stadium surrounding the border gates. The ceremony happens at every opening and closing of the border, with lots of gesturing, marching and kicking by the guards on each side. It all seems to be in good fun, you can see them occasionally cracking smiles at each other, the crowd of hundreds of people go absolutely nuts though, and the music is turned up to full to drown out the other side. We got very patriotic for Pakistan when the guy behind us bought flags for his family and gave us one too.
The next morning we headed to the border again, with the intention of crossing this time, not spectating. A simple process compared to most border we’d been too, lots of writing, guards copying our details in a million different large books. Then we were in India! A very weird feeling, it hasn’t quite sunk in that I’m riding on that spot on the map, the big triangle that always made me think of dirt and chaos and somewhere I’d never like visiting. Now I’m here I can’t wait to get started.
We tried a couple of places before finding a nice hostel that had parking for the bikes and a reasonable price. It was full of travellers, lots of them coming and going in the 3 days we spent there. It was very odd for us, we’d spent a long time with no other foreigners, let alone travellers. We met a few in Osh and Tajikistan, but they tended to be other overlanders, these guys were backpackers or holiday makers, or just plain hippies. It took a little while to remember how to even talk to people like that, without asking how their car or bike is doing, or what their route is.
We took a some time sight seeing in our few days off, visiting the Golden Temple one evening with some other guys from the hostel. A pretty incredible place, and surprisingly peaceful for a place utterly packed with people. A huge and very golden temple sits at the centre of the lake, where thousands of people constantly walk clockwise around the edge, some taking a dip in the holy water. The temple is also home to the worlds largest free kitchen, feeding anywhere between 50,000 and 100,000 people per day. It’s an incredible sight to behold, the constant stream of people going in and coming out show how efficient it is. It is almost entirely run by volunteers, preparing the food, dishing it out, cleaning up afterwards and keeping people coming and going smoothly.
On Day 142 we made the run from Amritsar to Jammu, fighting with the traffic and heat to get out of the city. The traffic is so chaotic Xenia ended up being knocked off her bike twice by tuk tuks squeezing into gaps and just pushing her over, not being able to touch the floor from her bike doesn’t help. We made it, sweaty and frustrated onto the highway and had a nice easy run the rest of the way. It took us a long time to find the hostel though, we knew we were in the right spot, there was a German 4×4 on the street but we couldn’t see any signs. We were about to leave for somewhere else when a woman came out and pointed us in the right direction. Up 3 flights of stairs was a little house, with a spare room to sleep in filled with kids toys. We looked at each other skeptically as she told us she had spare mattresses for sleeping and dinner wouldn’t be long. The skepticism vanished though when we asked for the price and she looked at us confused, “free, of course”. Turns out it wasn’t a hostel, just a family offering their home for overlanders. The tone completely changed after that, they were inviting us into their home and giving us dinner, for no more than being overlanders. We had an amazing night laughing with the German owners of the 4×4 and the couple and their daughter.
12/09/17 – 18/09/17
Cool to see another update! Some fantastic locations, Nicely written and photographed, Bacon! Rock n roll burning guitars... Got it all really
Quick update while I'm working on the blog.
Made it to Nepal! Sat in Pokhara now after 10 days almost constant riding, very worn out and this is the perfect place for a rest, nice food, cheap comfy bed perfect weather.
After a 7 day break I rode out from Manali alone, splitting with Martin and Xenia I headed south first on some terrible roads and it got hot, dusty and busy. So I went north again, into the mountains of Uttarakhand. They were absolutely stunning. 4 days of magic, just great winding roads, jungle surroundings, little towns and villages everywhere, easy fuel, cheap food and hotels. I had a blast.
Then back down onto the plains to cross the border to Nepal, completely without incident, very easy process, the border is really busy but almost entirely locals, who don't need any visas or checks so the officials were ready and waiting for me. I headed north again into mountains, hoping for more of the same as Uttarakhand. The roads weren't great though, very rough and dangerous with gravel and holes everywhere. The people were interesting though, I'm sure most of them had never met a foreigner, and certainly not one as tall as me, I got gawked at A LOT. The food and hotels were still cheap though so it was well worth the diversion. What wasn't worth the diversion was the worst road I have ever ridden to date. Hours of mud, sand, bull dust huge holes all with sheer drops off a cliff. Not very fun when you're not looking for it. I came out unscathed, but Donkey took a good beating.
The next morning the battery was flat too, some prick had turned on the heated grips sometime in the morning and flattened it. It took 2 hours wandering town to find a solution, a guy with a truck battery I could hook up to the bike to jump it, while he held the copper down with his fingers...
Very fast roads back on the plains to Butwal for a night, then up to Pokhara and straight for a burger and a beer.
I got a slow puncture too, I didn't notice all day until the tyre was flat on me. Feeling like an idiot I pumped back up and rode the 1 mile left into a town with a hotel. Diwali was the next day so almost everything would be closed. I woke in the morning to find the tyre had only lost 4psi though, and it didn't lose anymore all day! No idea what's going on with it, but it's hardly losing any now. It's been 24 hours since I last checked so I'll see how much it's lost now. I can't find any holes, hear anything or see any bubbles when I covered it in water, though admittedly not well.
A couple of videos from the roads. One great road, one not so great:
Day 143 to 157 – North India loop
19/09/2017 – 03/10/2017
We left the lovely family in Jammu after a nice breakfast and hit the road, still humbled after an unexpected free nights sleep and food. The traffic didn’t treat us as kindly though, slowing us on the thin, bumpy roads. The road into the mountains had two lanes, but one was completely full of trucks, all queuing to get onto the mountain roads, they went on for miles and miles, reminded me of the M20 when the Chunnel gets delayed, they must wait here for days at a time. We started losing patience when the road was entirely blocked with trucks though, the driving stupidity was getting off the scale. The oncoming lane was backed up and moving slowly for a few miles, lots of trucks had decided overtaking the queue was a good idea, which is ridiculous because they can’t get back in lane so the whole road is now blocked. This snowballs, because once the road is blocked, trucks further back decide to make use of the empty lane to overtake, but they can’t get back in either. Nobody seems phased by this chaos and we spent about an hour trying to filter through. We learned that if there’s a gap in the road, an Indian will be in it within seconds, it’s mental, and normal.
Lunch with a view
We arrived in Srinagar in darkness, much later than we’d hoped. Indian driving is dangerous enough to navigate even when you can see them coming, small bikes with no lights, cars pulling out into your lane side on, people overtaking with zero room, all makes for very “pucker’d” riding. We found our self a houseboat out of the hundreds on the lake and settled in for the night.
Day 144 was houseboat day, we only left for a 10 minute walk for lunch, otherwise sitting around using the terrible internet, enjoying the sunset from the boat and building up some energy ready for a few days on crazy roads.
The next day the crazy roads of the Himalayas wasted no time in getting started, with some long stretches of very rough, dusty, thin roads packed with trucks and sheer drops. Very nerve racking to drive on, rocks hidden under the dust bouncing us left and right while you’re trying to squeeze by a truck. We passed without incident though, once you ignore the fact there’s 1000m drop 30cm away you can treat it like any other rough road and we bounced along, uncomfortably, stopping now and then to admire and capture the views.
Don’t look down. No really, you end veering toward the edge when you do
Arriving at Kargil, we didn’t see much reason for concern in the people in this area, it’s the closest town to the line of control between India and Pakistan for the long disputed region of Kashmir. We’d heard from people to be careful and it’s a dangerous area, there was some shooting between forces here not long ago, and the UN is still here observing the ceasefire, but we saw no sign of it, or any animosity. It was very obvious we were back in a Muslim area though and it did feel more Pakistani than Indian at times, especially the lack of easily available alcohol.
A quick start in the morning to head down Zanskar valley, we planned to camp after 150km so we’d have enough fuel to get back again the next day. It feels weird riding down a road, knowing you’re coming back the same way, almost a waste of time, the trip is always moving forward, always to new places, so purposely repeating an area just feels wrong. It was very worth it though, no traffic, just a rough road leading to more and more wilderness. The road was rough in places, but nothing, my bash plate on the bottom of the bike did take a couple of big hits, adding some more bruises to it. It made for good fun though, rough enough for a challenge, but not enough to cause problems, especially when the road becomes a river, not running across it, running along it.
Admiring the Glaciers of Zanskar
We found a nice spot to camp in the late afternoon and set up for cold night. My stove was not happy, the pump refused to be a pump and wouldn’t pressurise the petrol, I spent 20 minutes cleaning and oiling it, without much success, and resorted to using Martin and Xenias stove for dinner. Camping with them made me feel a little inadequate, I don’t carry much stuff for camping but I’m usually pretty comfortable. They are luxury campers. They have chairs and a little table, a wash pot, a box of spices and a bunch of other stuff that means they can happily camp for 3 or 4 days in one place without wanting for anything. I even borrowed their picnic blanket for some extra warmth in the night. What I didn’t need was the spider that crawled inside the tent and down the wall then disappeared. To this day I still do not know where he went, I never found him alive or dead, but he certainly didn’t help me sleep.
The next day was just the reverse, except a small detour to a quite unimpressive monastery, the drizzle didn’t help the mood. We got back to Kargil for another night and got off to Leh in the morning. Almost all day on nice tarmac with incredible sharp mountain ranges getting taller and taller the deeper we got into the Himalayas. The road wound through the mountains with very shallow climbs, always cutting back on itself to give us lots of great panoramas of the road and villages; which themselves changed very fast too, outside of Kargil they turned into typical road side stops with no discernible features. All of a sudden, like we had crossed a border, the Islamic look and feel vanished and Buddhism appeared, prayer flags and wheels in the towns and lots of colour.
The road back down Zanskar
We rolled into a hotel in Leh and I immediately went on a beer hunt, we’d been dry for 4 days in the Islamic towns, too long with such hard work. Walking around town I bumped into “The Shonas”, two girls on bicycles we’d met at the border crossing between Pakistan and India. We knew they were coming this route but the chances were still pretty slim! We met up with them and another cyclist for dinner and chatted away with pizzas and beer, luxury items for us in this region. I always enjoy meeting up with other travellers on the road. People can have such hugely different experiences in the same countries, especially between cyclists and motorcyclists.
Leh high street, very touristy for us
We spent 2 days chilling out in Leh, eating good food again, drinking some beers and catching up on blogs, as well as getting permits for the next few days ride.
Kardung La was the next goal, they call it the “highest road in the world” it’s not, though hardly small at 5300m, but it does bring in the tourists. All the tourists. When we got to the top it was crammed with people, queuing to take photos with the signs there. It must be absolutly rammed here in the height of the season. We took our photos and marvelled at the views, then headed over the pass and down the other side, unlike the tourists who turn around back to Leh.
Not Visible: The queue of people waiting to take photos
We failed at finding somewhere to camp for the night all the land was either mountain, sand or a village, and ended up in a weird half finished empty hotel for dirt cheap. We took the back road to Pangong Lake that someone had told us about to avoid having to go back via Leh. Some very rough sections of no road at all, just bouncing across big rocks in a dry river bed, then we rejoined the main road. Despite the tight turns and pot holes everywhere we saw a handful of Indian guys riding Harley’s of all things. There roads are full of tourists on motorbikes here too, Leh is a perfect spot to fly in, rent a bike and ride around the area, but they’re generally on Royal Enfields, not Harley’s.
It looks empty but it’s not easy to find a camp spot out of sight here. It’s called the Cold Desert
After a bit of searching and scoping out, we found a nice spot to camp right on the shore of the lake, hidden from the road and the wind. Xenia cooked a nice veg curry, determined not to let me eat my instant noodles again, my low food standards offend her. The temperature really dropped in the night though and I was glad for the picnic blanket again. Being at such a high altitude (4300m here) gives you some seriously trippy dreams to, as well as waking you up occasionally when your body forgets to breath faster to compensate for the low oxygen.
Home for the night
Beans on toast for breakfast was amazing, lovely and warm, and I think my first since the UK. I tried to help dig out a car that was stuck in the sand not far away while Martin and Xenia finished packing, but had to leave them to it, they were well and truly buried, they might still be there. Then we hit the road that doubled back on yesterdays ride for a bit before climbing a lot. This was another “Highest road in the world” at 5375m it was certainly the highest I’d ever been, and probably ever will be, though the challenge of them was now wearing off, we’d tackled a lot of “highests” and they started to seem like big hills.
It was more of a challenge for the guitar though, after I stopped to put on a jacket and take a drink, I didn’t tie down the guitar properly. So 10 minutes later I stopped when I heard a noise behind me at 40mph and the guitar wasn’t there, he was swinging along, dragged by the netting that usually hold him on. He’d transformed himself into a folding guitar by repeatedly pounding the road. I also managed to lose a roll of tools, the tool tube that had been missing a lid for 2 months spit it’s contents somewhere along the road, probably up a very bumpy steep section that tipped the end downwards. Luckily there was only really 2 spanners in there that I actually need, the rest was spares and extras.
It’s not supposed to look like that
Another day off in Leh getting some energy back after 3 quite long days, then we were off again heading south to Tso Miriri, a high altitude lake. The roads over these passes are almost always spectacular, they’re carved into the side of the mountains and just take the path of least resistance around them, so you end up climbing back and forth getting panoramas of the the road and towns behind you all the way up, and the road ahead on the way down. There was very little in the way of civilization on this road unlike the others, and we stopped at almost the only place we’d seen with food, a military compound, we asked if we could eat at the cafe at the gates and they waved us in, we’re still not sure if we were meant to be there or not, but they didn’t seem bothered.
Coming down the actual highest road we’d been on
We made it to the lake and took some time finding a spot to camp. Passed the last village the road seemed to just dissolve into the sands, so we figured there wouldn’t be much traffic and pitched up on the lakeside. My stove was working nicely again after some TLC so we cooked dinner and prepared the ceremony. We decided a cremation at 4500m was a perfect way to say goodbye to the guitar, and he kept us warm as the sun went down. I surprised myself how sad I was watching the guitar burn, it’d been a constant source of entertainment for me, amusement for locals and amazement for other travellers for 3 months.
The temperature dropped massively in the night, easily below freezing and none of us slept very well, but we got on the road back the way we came for a little while. Then we turned off to cut back to the Leh-Manali highway and the road got really rough, slowing us a lot. Bouncing along at 20mph gives you a lot of time to appreciate the landscape though, and there really was nothing here, which isn’t as common as you’d think up here. There’s almost always small villages dotted along the road or settlements visible somewhere. We eventually got back to the highway in the afternoon and the almost immaculate wide tarmac. It felt great to open the throttle wide for the first time in weeks, until the hidden dips showed themselves. The road rose up a little now and again for a water tunnel, usually not too much of a problem, but on the other side of one was a huge pothole. I was certain I’d wrecked the wheel when I hit it, and must have been totally airborne for a little while too. Do not recommend. I slowed somewhat after that, not trusting the road at all.
A section of the Gata Loops
The Gata loops were incredible, from the top the road is sprawled out below, dozens of hairpins within about 2 miles of road. Almost totally empty of traffic too, I had great fun, and a nice way to end the day. We found a little shack to stay in on a restaurant strip, and I had a really surreal evening. I found myself reading my book in the lounge/restaurant/shop, lying on the mats lining the shack walls, holding my feet near the stove in the middle of the room, and it felt totally normal, just reading my book waiting for dinner. It wasn’t until I looked around at the situation I realised how odd it was, and actually felt like a traveller. It only happens now and again, doing things everyday I would have considered weird 6 months ago desensitises me a bit, and now and again flashes of realisation make me realise where I am.
Me and Martin warming up waiting for breakfast
An early start in the morning, it dropped to around -10 in the night but our little shack kept us warm enough for a good nights sleep. We bumped into the Swiss truck again on the road, I last saw them in Pakistan about a month ago so it was very odd to bump into them up here, them coming the other way. Most of the morning was spent trying to use the throttle as little as possible, saving fuel. The run from Leh to Tso Miriri and down to the next fuel on the map was about 300 miles. I’d taken some extra fuel but it would still be tight, so I was riding very “economically” which basically means don’t brake, keep any momentum you have, which was actually quite fun on these mountain roads.
Coming down the Rhotang pass
The rest of the day was on some of the best roads I’ve ever ridden, wide open, sweeping corners, very little traffic, usually good surface. Very, very fun after all the rough roads. The Rhotang pass was something else too, getting up it wasn’t pleasant with most of the road still being built, but at the top the view was incredible. Looking down to the valley almost 2000m below, and you can see almost all of the road that would take us there, and see it getting greener and greener as you descend from the very dry altitudes.
Made it! And there’s trees and stuff!
We got into Manali in the evening and found a hotel after a bit of searching. It wasn’t easy even riding around the town, super steep tiny roads take you directly in front of the shops with people everywhere, tuktuks flying around and cows humping in the middle of the road, nearly killing Xenia. The smells took me by surprise too, I didn’t realise the lack of scents at high altitude, but coming down the hill and into town the pine trees smelled amazing, the town did not…
Blog for the jungle mountains in India, some amazing days riding and totally unexpected from this region - 04/10/17 – 18/10/17
Day 158 to 172 – Manali to Champawat, Uttarakhand, India
Rest days in Manali were great, after 2 weeks of very basic living in the mountains. Me, Martin and Xenia spent most days drifting between one cafe or another on the laptops. Almost every day I said “I might leave tomorrow” only to decide not to in the morning, still feeling like I needed rest before I went back to “On The Road” mode. The food was the best “western” food I’d had for a long time, certainly the most choice anyway. I love the food in most countries I’ve been to and I’m happy to change my diet to wherever I am at the time, but having a choice again makes relaxing all the easier. The super friendly stray dogs wandering around the cafes helped too. Come 7pm we’d meet up to go somewhere different for dinner with The Shonas, they’d made it down from Leh to Manali at the same time as us, we’d taken detours and while they’d been working hard cycling over the passes in a straighter route. Everything being so cheap really encouraged me to stick around too, it was only costing about £15 per day for eating 3 meals out and the hotel, not buying fuel everyday really helps.
Eating some bacon for the first time in a long time. With Bacon the pig
Getting back on the road was very odd after riding in such weird conditions for the last 2 weeks, followed by 7 days of not riding at all. Back in traffic, people and humidity I was getting frustrated pretty quick. Tight roads with lots of traffic and potholes makes for no fun at all. A crash also didn’t help my mood, thankfully it was very slow and uneventful, but still a crash. I had cautiously rolled over a thick pile of mud in the road which coated the tyres, so the sharp turn right after it did not go well. The bike wouldn’t stop turning and I ended up skidding, completely sideways, with the bars at full left lock. I shifted my weight to try and bring it around again and it worked, swinging all the way back but then even further out the other way, spinning me 180 and pirouetting to the floor. I ended up sat on the right hand side of the bike in the middle of the road shrugging to myself and realising I’d just had my first ever crash and it was pretty pathetic.
I got the bike back upright easy enough since it was facing downhill, I checked the brakes and pushed it down to the petrol station 50m ahead. I wasn’t hurt at all, maybe tweaked my wrist holding on, but I don’t think I actually even touched the floor, since I ended up sitting on bikes side. I thought I’d better take a break and compose myself before I got on the road again though, and give the bike a good check in the mean time. Turns out the gear lever took the brunt of the weight and, in the small slide against the ground, had been bent upwards. I got the tools out and used the height adjuster to correct for it, that would do for now until I could bend pieces back into shape properly. Other than that nothing was really touched, all the bars and guards did their job perfectly.
A little foggy across the forests
Bumping into The Shonas on the road lifted my spirits, they were having a tough time back in the humidity and traffic too and we had a good laugh at how deaf they were getting from all the car horns. The amazing sunset over the misty hills helped too, all the haze over the jungle made it very mystical and gave everything a very peachy glow. Getting to Shimla wasn’t too hard, but getting around it was crazy, it’s built on such steep hills that the roads make no sense at all, and it was getting dark. Multiple times I ran into pedestrian areas I couldn’t get through and got told “you can’t get there from here”. I gave up on my hostel plans, since they all seemed to be impossible to get to, and found a hotel. I think I circled the entire town 3 times, not a simple thing with all the hills in the way.
As soon as I parked up outside the hotel and got my bags inside I got to work on the gear lever. I knew if I had a break I’d end up leaving it till morning and if there was something seriously wrong I wanted to be able to form a plan to fix it the next day. Changing gear for the rest of the day after the crash had been very difficult, especially shifting down, it would get stuck between gears and I’d have to stamp on the pedal to shift it; I was really worried the shift rod or something else had bent inside the engine. I took the lever apart and checked everything over and nothing was majorly broken except a washer that “technically” holds the lever to the bike, but the tension in the arm means it won’t fall off. I bent a few bits back in to shape using bricks and patience and crossed my fingers, I couldn’t check if it worked until riding in the morning. It was made weirder by being photographed and watched the entire time by 8 people, fascinated by me and the bike but otherwise refusing to interact with me at all. Maybe they could sense my mood and weren’t keen to be in the way of it.
I was a celebrity again while packing the bike in the morning, being filmed on phones, one person actually spoke to me. Though I was sour with them again after someone literally grabbed me by the arm and spun around, then posed for a photo, no asking, not even eye contact, just grab and go. No thanks, screw you guys I’m outta here. A massive sigh of relief as I pulled out of the car park and down the street, the gear changes were smooth as ever and seemed back to normal. Success! Keeping the good mood going I found fuel and a working ATM all withing about 200m of the hotel. Great start to the day, fuel, cash and a working bike. Some more crappy frustrating roads in the morning gave way to an awesome afternoon. The traffic cleared, the road got better and monkeys appeared! Scattering along the road as I came by not knowing what the hell the weird shaped noisy thing was. I literally shouted “MONKEEEEYS!” every single time, even if I was mid-way through singing. Not sure they appreciated my pointing and staring, I knew how they felt…
I got to Nahan and wandered about looking for a hotel, getting stared at just as much, especially as I pulled up and took my helmet off, it wouldn’t take long for a crowd to gather. I was feeling more tired than I should for such a short day and I was really feeling the heat so I paid extra for AC and collapsed on the bed. 2 hours later I woke up wondering what the hell happended and feeling like crap. I don’t ever take naps, let alone accidental ones, I knew something was up so I went down and booked the room for the next day too, giving myself some time to recover a bit.
Tiny town built right up to the river
The morning alarm was interesting, somebody was trying to kick down my door and shouting in Hindi, but with an almost jokey tone. I put some trousers on and hesistate opening the door, I don’t usually open a door for people kicking it but instinct said this guy wasn’t dangerous. Sure enough when I cracked the door open a bit, ready to slam it shut again, the guy saw my face and immedietly said “sorry! sorry!” and ran away. I guess he thought it was his friends room and got a shock when a 2m tall white guy answered. I still felt really rough in the morning and through lunch time so I booked another day in the room. It was cheap enough and there was plenty of shops and food within 2 minutes walk. I spent 2 days off just writing, watching movies and napping during the day. I’ve no idea what was actually wrong, but after that I was feeling fine again.
Wandering around Nahan, a very compact little
I decided to head back north again, into the mountains. They’re a lot slower but my only experience with the plains below them was flat, hot, dusty and busy. The mountain roads should be quieter and smaller, as long as I could find hotels and fuel I’d be fine. There was almost a whole day of dusty flat ground to cover first though, not helped by nearly entering a military area and having to divert an hour around it. I made it up to Barkot and knew I was going to have a good time. The final 2 hours of riding was on small twisting mountain roads, barely one lane wide, but with almost no traffic. There were little cafes every 10 miles or so, and fuel every 50. There were plenty of indian tourists up here rafting and trekking too so hotels were cheap and easy to come by.
Looking out over Barkot from the hotel
Day 170 was an almost perfect “trip day”. It’s a phrase I’ve been using when a day is an almost cliche day I imagined when planning the trip, days in Kazahkstan riding the Steppe for 13 hours for example, or today, riding through thick forests on a tiny road that wasn’t straight for more than 10ft at a time. I passed almost no traffic, through tiny villages mostly consisting of shacks of wood and plastic sheet. Crossing a huge damn, that I’m pretty sure I wasn’t meant to cross, but I distracted the guard with tales of being very lost and where I’d come from and he didn’t protest when I rode off. The guard on the other side of the damn went balistic as I came out though but I just rode on, no harm done, saved me a one hour detour too. No big bad surprises all day, just incredible views over the mountains again and again.
Tight twisty mountain roads
Some of the mountains blow my mind, they’re not really mountains any more, they’ve been tottaly reshaped by the people. They’re stepped into terraces from top to bottom, carved and sculpted to make them farmable, but not just small patches near a house, the entire mountain is carved out, and almost all of them are like that in some areas. I spent a long time staring at one particularly wide one from a good vantage point across the valley. It was huge and I couldn’t make out a sinlge point on it that hadn’t been touched. There were small villages dotted all over it, roads switching back and forth across it and small tracks between them. Any green area on it was terraces and being farmed, even along the top ridge there were buildings poking out everywhere and even a cell tower on the highest point. It was a weird feeling of being very remote in mountain jungle, yet there were people everywhere and signs of them everywhere too.
The hill that kept me interested for so long. Not a spot untouched
That night I spent a long time trying to decide a plan for the next few days. There was the option of going south back onto the plains toward Jim Corbett National Park where there are safaris to see wild tigers, elephants and rhinos. It sounded very romantic spotting Bengal Tigers, and it’s not every day that chance comes around. On the other hand, it was not cheap to do a 2 day safari, the recommended minimum to have even a small chance at spotting a tiger, the hotels in that area would be pricey too and it was back onto dusty busy plains again. The mountains had been so fantastic to ride and travel I wasn’t keen to give them up for a small expensive chance at seeing a tiger. Decided.
I knew I’d made the right call when the awesome roads and scenery continued the next day, though a little busier through some big towns. Rolling through the middle of one town the entire street would stop to stare as I passed, a little intimidating, especially when you then have to stop in the traffic. Only one short section of very deep mud through some construction work, otherwise I spent the day in a trance riding the roads and listening to Harry Potter. I finally finished all the books, I started them in Russia killing time on the very long boring roads. It means I’ve listened to Stephen Fry for a total of 125 hours over 4 months, through 7 countries, only ever when riding the bike; so the two are now pretty linked in my head, I heard each book in a different place and memories of one triggers the other now.
The odd bit of roadworks to slow me down for a few minutes, complete with deep mud for some fun
Arriving in town and finding a hotel cheap took some serious bargaining, going from around £35 to £10 when they realised I really was going to just find somewhere else for way cheaper. I spent a long time in the evening cursing the guy sitting in reception loudly clapping trying kill mosquitos. I eventually got annoyed enough to go out and tell him to just shut the damn door, then realised it wasn’t clapping, it was the bug zapper right outside my door killing them very loudly. Idiot. I went outside to meet the owner when he arrived back, he had asked for the keys to the bike and I assumed it was parked in the way of something, but I found him sitting on my bike with the side stand up. Not a good move, I was instantly ready to rage at him. I tried to be as polite as possible in saying “GET THE FUCK OFF MY BIKE!”. He asked again for the keys and held out his hand. I just said “No” and laughed like he was joking, but he said he was just going to ride around the car park and put it back, “what was the problem?”. He was so brazen I wasn’t sure whether to even be angry and he couldn’t comprehend why I wouldn’t just hand the keys over. We were just at such opposites I eventually just told him to get lost, put the lock on the bike and walked off.
The morning had a nice surprise, the GPS was dead and wouldn’t charge on the bike, something was up. I was at the petrol station when I noticed, with all the gear on and the bike loaded up, not a good time to go delving diagnosing a problem. I decided I didn’t need it for the day anyway, there’s not many roads in the mountains and I just needed to head directly south almost all day. That’s not always easy to do on mountain roads though, sometimes you spend two hours alternating between east and west around valleys to make your way south, never actually pointing south; so it’s just a case of keeping track of the switches. My phone GPS doesn’t work either so without the GPS unit I don’t know where I actually am, I just essentially have a paper map on my phone. I wrote down some towns from the map to keep as markers to know I was going the right way on the road and made it there without any real problem, a 20 minute detour after a mistake led me to a good lunch so it worked out nicely. I got the hotel and set about finding the problem, which took all of 20 seconds. I took the seat off and one of my expert electrical cable connections had come apart breaking the circuit for the GPS charger. One kid watched me, amazed, sealing it back up again with heat shrink and tape.
It’s a little dusty in here these days
I was almost out of the mountains now, heading south to the border with Nepal and this would be the last Indian town for a while until I return. It was bigger than the last few days but the hotels were just as cheap and easy with food everywhere. As I got into town a scooter rode up along side and started trying to pull me over, eventually just pulling in front of me, I was ready for a fight if they were trying anything until I saw they were smiling and waving. They wanted to know if I wanted any help and just rapidly fired questions at me about the trip and where I was staying, but forced to stop on the side of a busy road is not how to put me in a good mood, and my instincts were telling me not to trust a single word. They might be friendly but only because I was interesting and they were bored, not because they cared about travellers. When they invited me to join all their friends at their place for weed I just rode on, instinct said “nope, not a good plan”. Some part of me wondered why I didn’t just accept and have a weird evening, but I trust my instincts too much now, sometimes they’re wrong, but I’ve learned to listen to them.
Just more mountains
A weird evening being driven around town a bit by the hotel owner. With no internet in the hotel we had to go to his cousins cybercafe to do the “foreigner registration” and so I could get online. He was such a nice guy, I could chat to him all day, he seemed to resent being stuck looking after his fathers hotel but he was making the best of it and seemed to be surrounded by family in the whole town, pointing their stores out as we drove passed. In the night the town looked amazing, almost every building draped in lights for Diwali and fireworks going off everywhere, mostly from kids throwing them. Safety just is not a thing here.
A terrible photo but that’s almost every building in town in lights
It had been an awesome few days, it felt like a different world. The time just flowed by, riding the twisty mountains, not much English at all, no internet anywhere, simple food and very simple hotels. It was all just so easy though and so beautiful everywhere, ride all day, take in whatever I was seeing, stop whenever I was hungry, find a cheap hotel almost without trying. I wanted to carry on exploring, do another 4 days the opposite way a different route, but I was excited for a new country, so on to the Nepal border the next day.
Click for bigness. A great Panoramic of one of the better views
Day 173 to 178 – Champawat to Pokhara, Nepal
Leaving India, Champawat by daylight
An easy ride to finsih off my first stint in India, down out of the hills from Champawat and into Nepal. The road wound down steadily along the side of the hills, giving some more incredible views all the way, though a little different this time. The mountains didn’t seem to just lower themselves and flatten out, at some point they just stopped dead and the plains stretched to the horizon. Soon enough I was down there on the plain, back in the heat and thicker air. It didn’t take long to get to the border town, but I had to do some circling around to find the road to actual border. It’s a tiny road lined with markets and shoppers that I wasn’t even sure led anywhere, it took me around the back of the town, over a few bumpy paths and to two small unassuming buildings that were India immigration and customs. I nearly rode straight by them, locals can pass without checks and I nearly followed them. There were a ton of them too, walking, cycling, families piled on small motorbikes, even a few horse and carts.
Simple paperwork for the passport stamp and customs, with some chai and biscuits thrown in while I waited and told my story to all the bored officials. Almost a mile through no mans land to the next town which is technically Nepal, though you wouldn’t know any different. Riding over the bridge/dam that crosses the wide river, the road is anything but wide though. It is exactly 1 van wide, I know because a van decided to come the other way while me and another couple of bikes were crossing and we only fit with some scraping and banging and poking my pannier through the railing to hang over the river.
I nearly rode passed the immigration building in Nepal too. It was just one of the houses like any other on a long street, with a small sign and even had a little front garden. A portly man sat behind a desk in this cramped living room with some chairs set in front of another smaller desk. He reminded me of a teacher, especially when he handed me some paperwork and snorted when I asked for a pen. I paid for the visa in USD, got my stamp and set off down the road to the customs house, which is much easier to spot. I pushed my way through the crowd queuing outside and stepped in the office, this is normal practice now, no matter what everone else is waiting for, my process will be very different, having the Carnet and a bike not from a neighbouring country. It’s easier to just look like you belong, walk into the office and flash the Carnet. I waited a while for someone to become free, and passed the time looking through the Carnet log book. Most countries east of Turkey have had some huge old book to log foreigners and their vehicles, it’s always slapped comically on the table with a puff of dust, the pages are yellowed and it always smells for some reason. I always try and look through for anyone I know, blogs of people I’ve read that I know came this way, or friends that have passed through recently. I found a couple in this one, Oki and Nora (https://youtube.com/adventurism) and it always feels odd, knowing they were sat in the same situation as me, in this strange little office in Nepal, quickly scrawling their details into this big book. It’s huge and only half full, with years and years of details about foreigners who passed this way with their vehicles, and mine will probably be there for years to come too.
The woman in the office had clearly seen a Carnet before but somehow how zero idea how to fill one out. I did my best, copying from what I’d seen other officials do, thankful I’d been watching closely at other borders. She stamped and signed wherever I pointed and that was that. Me and Donkey officially in Nepal. Though I had no idea where to go, I allow a lot of time for borders to go wrong so I never plan anything afterwards, it was only early afternoon but I decided a nice rest was in order. I rode a few miles on to Bhimdatta and circled around looking for a hotel. Feeling like Golidilocks I found a posh place with a pool that would cost me 3 nights budget for their cheapest room. Another hotel that was almost free but was dire even by my very low standards. The 3rd place on the edge of the town was the nice balance. I settled in with the wifi and noisy fan and chilled out all afternoon.
Modern lights and old fashioned candles
I left for a walk around the town in the evening, Diwali celebrations were in full swing and the town was lit up, literally, like christmas. It’s not a very beautiful town but with fairy lights up, candles in all the doorways, the sun setting and people wandering calmly around (a very stark contrast to India) it suited me fine. I walked almost 3 times around the town in different ways and settled on a small restaurant for some food and a celebration beer for making it to Nepal. On the way back to the hotel the town was only getting livelier, fireworks were going off everywhere, nobody else seemed to find it worrying that kids were setting off fireworks and people were throwing catherine wheels into the road so I tried not to either. People shouted as I passed and called out to me, which I’m used to, as the lone foreigner in the more remote towns. But I realised after the first couple they weren’t shouting “Hey, Mister” or “What is your country! Come with me”. They were shouting “Happy Diwali” and “Namaste friend”, with no expectation of me buying something or giving them something. I started returning them feeling much happier and calmer walking around this town at night then I ever did in India.
These were painted everywhere, usually at thresholds by whole families
Back to the hotel room, which was now quite full of life, the light in the bedroom was buzzing with flies and moths covering the wall black, I counted 8 large spiders in the bathroom, and one gecko, hunting them all down. I woke in the morning with someone banging frantically on the door, I opened it expecting a problem and he just wanted to know when I wanted breakfast. I wanted to sleep, not breakfast. He dragged me downstairs to speak to the owner and he explained that they were only waiting for me to leave and then all the staff would go back to their homes in the villages for the last 2 days of Diwali, no pressure then.
The road threw me a few surprises first thing, riding behind a bus getting ready to overtake it when a face appeared out the window and threw up all over the road and the side of the bus, not very encouraging for overtaking. Two minutes down the road from that was a swarm of monkeys covering the road, they started clearing at the last minute, with some of the babies running to the mothers who hugged them and glared at me as I passed, I felt like apologizing. The most surprising though, was a line of kids blocking the mountain road around a corner, holding a sign and some drums. They didn’t move as I rolled up, and I stopped next to another biker wondering what the hell was going on. I realized they were celebrating Diwali, though not sure why they decided to do it by stopping cars in the road. I was just wondering how to get out of it when a bus came up behind and they knew better than to get in the way of a bus. They parted and I shot through. The rest of the day there were countless others, some just a few kids easy to weave through, but others seemed determined to die. After passing a bunch of them I was getting annoyed and started a new tactic for getting through, slow a little so they see me, then accelerate toward them. The worst ones would hang on till the last second, then scatter, playing chicken. I had to brake hard for one suicidal line of kids but kept on at 2mph just pushing them out the way with the bike when they refused to move, I was not in the mood for a 50th singing session.
I stopped for lunch at a little quiet place, important when you get so much attention. They whole family were amazed by the foreigner and his giant bike who nearly had to crawl to fit through the door. They started asking questions but didn’t really speak English, one of the kids, only about eight started translating for them and me, him and his friend were the only ones that spoke English. A very odd lunch being watched by a family of twelve with a child translator.
The Lunch Family
The roads in the afternoon were badly surfaced, with small ruts running inline with the road, it makes the bike feel really unstable, slowly sliding me left and right. It felt like having a puncture, it got a lot worse and I actually checked the bike. Oh, a puncture. Bugger. I checked it over, pumped it up a bit but couldn’t find the hole anywhere, I pumped it up to 30psi, and jumped on, the town I was hoping to find a hotel in was only a couple of miles down the road anyway. I found it easy enough, pumped the tyre up some more and searched every millimeter of rubber and rim but couldn’t see, hear or feel anything. Just have to see how it holds over night. If it’s flat by the morning I might be in trouble, it’s the last day of Diwali and the hotel owner told me there wouldn’t be anywhere open to fix it. Thankfully the hotel was pretty nice and I’d be happy to have a day off there if needed, sitting on the balcony over the river.
Some very old UN vehicles. Guess they’ll just sit here forever more
A quick check in morning showed the tyre had only lost a little pressure overnight, it’s a puncture, but losing 4psi in 14 hours is nothing. The hotel was closed around me in the morning, I had to wake the owner to pay the bill and get out at all, it’s the last day of Diwali so pretty much everything would be closed. Fuel was the main problem, and after 80 miles there hadn’t been an open petrol station and I didn’t want to start the long stretch to the next village not knowing if I’d make it. I’d only seen 2 cars on the road in 4 hours, so there’d be nobody to save me if I did run out. Luckily there was a hotel that was half-open in town, a very drunk guy, 2 inches from my face explained where to go, while telling me I should come hang with them and celebrate. Which for all the young guys apparently means getting shitfaced and high at 2pm.
I went for a wander around the town in the afternoon. What, from the main road, had initially looked like a row of shacks and couple of buildings making the town turned out to just be a rough facade. The main town had some very old looking buildings and cobbled warren streets, everyone was outside in celebration of Diwali, dancing in groups in the street, kids playing all over the place, old guys sat in doorways chatting. Every single person stopped to look at me as I passed, some said “Namaste” and “Happy Dwiali” others were just struck dumb by the giant foreigner walking around. I essentially halted Diwali as I passed and I wasn’t even on Donkey, usually the source of the wonder.
Lovely little town hidden away from the road
The tyre lost no more pressure overnight and with the petrol station back open I got an early start onto what people had told me was a “slightly rough road”. Half the people I spoke to said there was a bridge over the river 100km ahead, others said no bridge, both my maps said no bridge, but somebody told me it was only built 7 months ago. You can only take local advice to a point though and I wasn’t going to ride two days back without seeing the river for myself. The road got a little rough at first, just unpaved packed dirt, some slippery bits and some gargantuan speed bumps I had to stand off the bike to get over without getting stuck on top.
Well. Bugger. Guess I’m going down that.
Eventually I rounded the side of the mountain and got a good view down into the valley and the river, with a glorious concrete bridge spanning it. Then I saw the remainder of the road leading down to it, a steep sandy and rocky path switching back across the side of the mountain. Not so fun. I took it really slow, with the sheer drops on one side and such an uneven surface, then a little fist pump at the bottom riding toward the bridge.
I had an hour of peace on lovely tarmac along the floor of the valley before starting to the climb up again and the road turned to dust and broken concrete. The thick patches of dust could hide holes either by covering them or just casting shadows in the wrong direction so you don’t notice them until the last minute, ending in some stomach churning bangs on the bash plate or front wheel. It kept getting worse to the point I wasn’t sure I could even ride on it anymore. Some of the holes were so deep there was a risk of me actually getting stuck in one, beached on the exit. The whole road was covered width ways so there was no avoiding them and with a big drop on one side and Donkey bucking left and right there was nothing to do but go as slow and steady as possible, crawling for about an hour, continually smacking the bash plate and wincing. I was getting angrier the entire time, at the road, at the dust, at the setting sun putting a timer on me and at myself for choosing a stupid route.
A different kind of road hazard, he’s not dead, just indifferent
By the time the road turned back into just broken tarmac I was in a rush, I hadn’t seen any kind of hotel in hours and still had at least 2 hours ride to the next big town if the road was good with only about an hour of sunlight left. I was riding angry too, back on the tarmac I could give some back, not a good idea at all braking late into corners and accelerating hard out of them on a tight twisty road with a sheer drop one side. It did help me concentrate a lot though in my knackered state, I’d been riding 7 hours with barely any breaks and just needed to get some miles done and find a hotel.
Finding a hotel in the dark proved tricky too when they’re not marked, but with some help from locals I found a dirty musty room for the night. By the time I had a beer with dinner the anger was gone and I was laughing at myself, I had nobody else to blame and if I’d done my research I would have known how bad the road was and probably wouldn’t have even taken it. I was fine and Donkey would get his much needed TLC in Pokhara.
My lovely room for the evening. It was more humid inside than out
The morning was full of fun, checking a couple of things on the bike I noticed the heated grips on, I thought I’d caught it with my arm and thought nothing of it. When I was packed and fully geared up to leave I found the battery totally dead, the grips must have been on much longer. One of the guys stood around the bike most of the night and morning must have turned them on playing with things, a bunch of guys working at the hotel and their friends. Despite me telling them multiple times to please not touch the bike, and don’t sit on it without me there. I nearly lost it at the hotel owner when he said “nobody touched it” I bloody well saw you touch it a few times!
Being watched by a few people…
I started wandering between garages and parts shops in town looking for anyone with jump leads, but people weren’t all that keen to help, some people outright didn’t want to help, others just didn’t really understand what I wanted, even with a picture. After about an hour it became clear that nobody understood what jump starting was, it baffled me. There were bikes everywhere, they knew about battery charging but didn’t understand that you could go battery to battery. It didn’t help that the power was out in the town again like it does every few hours. Any place that did have battery charging was plugged in to the wall and they couldn’t grasp the idea of going battery to battery. It was infuriating after a while all I needed was two lengths of copper, preferably wrapped in rubber and after 4 motorcycle garages I was stumped. Then I finally got the idea through to a Honda mechanic and he took me around the corner to a little shack filled with huge truck batteries. Perfect. I pushed the bike through the middle of the town to it, getting even more stares than usual, and the kid running the place immediately started trying to remove the battery ignoring my protests. I had to literally grab his hands away from the battery before he seemed to even notice me. I tried in best sign language to explain a jump start and he looked confused. We dragged a truck battery outside, grabbed some copper and I motioned for him to connect the terminals. The now quite large crowd around us were shocked when the bike started straight up, as if a jump start was some new magic I’d shown them. That still baffles me.
I got on the road, and thankfully it was a much more chilled day after that, just cruising along on nice fast flat roads for the first time in a long time. A quick stop for lunch and I made it to Butwal just as it was getting dark, stumbled on the hotel area and had a pick of a bunch of them.
Another easy ride to Pokhara the next day, back into the hills and made it into town in time for a late lunch. It was glorious, I found the tourist district and it was packed with nice looking restaurants. A complete change from the last 2 weeks, a little overwhelming to drop in to such a massive amount of westerners, restaurants and coffee shops. Nobody staring either, nobody cared there was a big dirty foreigner walking around, except for quite how filthy I was. I realised after talking to a few people that I’ve now passed some sort of marker, when people see the bike they don’t assume I rode here, they assume I flew it here, or rented it in town and don’t think twice about it. When I tell them I rode here, they’re gobsmacked, most of them aren’t travellers and haven’t ever thought of a trip like it.
Looking over Pokhara
I found an amazing little hostel, out of the way down an alley, I nearly died with how comfy the beds were. Donkey got to park in a neighbours garden nice and safe. The staff were so friendly and welcoming my paranoid mental alarms went off that something must be wrong, but nope. After a few days there I realised they were totally genuine and ran by family and friends that loved what they did.
I went off to the lakeside for a walk around but hadn’t even considered how touristy it was here, so I was surprised to find little bars lining the waterfront. Utter bliss. I had only planned to stay here one night before heading to Kathmandu but with a cosy hostel and a chilled out town with lakeside bars I could stick around a while.
19/10/17 – 24/10/17
So for an up to date...update. I'm actually now in Vietnam!
I met back up with Martin and Xenia for a few days and we rode up Mustang Valley in Nepal. It was insanely challenging for me, and for Donkey. Not sure I would have gone had I known what it would be like. The bash plate took another serious beating and some of the sections were almost like trial biking. Standing up, almost stopped, jumping from rock to rock trying to keep balanced.
and a nice crash in some water:
Then I said goodbye to Nepal and headed back to India and Varanasi for a day and half sightseeing. It's an incredible place, glad I didn't miss it, like my initial plan would have.
I rode over to Kolkata in 2 fast days and stored the bike there with some friendly Indian Bike Club members. Hopefully they're looking after him well. I flew out to Ho Chi Minh city where I am right now.
I've been busy buying 2 motorbikes for me and my cousin to ride north to Hanoi. We only have 11 days which a lot of people have told me is insane, and a lot of riding, where others have told me 400km a day is possible, in about 9 hours. Well we only need to do 200 to easily make it, and I'm used to the long days, we'll be fine I'm sure.
After my cousin leaves and a friend has visited for some sightseeing I'm hoping to do some more riding in the North and maybe in Laos, before I return back to Donkey in maybe 6 weeks, maybe more.
Wow, great story so far. Enjoy India it’s an amusing place to ride & travel.
People & food are tops.