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Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by Chick on the Chook, Feb 18, 2016.
What a girl, what a trip you're doing with my favorite bike XT250!!
Good luck on you!
Cant wait for your next report.. :)
I've been cutting and pasting the place names into Google maps to follow your tracks... What a awesome trip!!
All the best for the next leg..
I’m back! It took a while but I’m riding again and so I’m writing again too
June 29 2016
On the road again. Finally after 3 weeks of family time and 3 weeks of waiting for my passport I’m back on the bike. And what a first day it was. First some local riders came by to say goodbye and escorted me all the way out of Kathmandu city. Thank you Merina and Dipesh! The road to the border should be easy… Well, maybe not... I’m not sure if I missed a turnoff or if my gps just likes taking roads that are more under construction than not… The bonus however was stunning views of the valley, and some off road practice. Usually I try to take gravel roads, but today I wanted to cross the border, before they close so I had to be fast. Riding through a massive downpour I managed to reach it just in time. Time for the familiar routine with the 4 offices. All the offices were straight out of a book. Little shacks with men drinking tea, playing cards and mainly doing nothing. I was send from office to office as numerable men needed to sign and stamp. I appointed a soldier the task of looking after my bike and walked through rows of trucks, carts pulled by oxxes and piles of border crossing goods to be legally released into the next country. Back in India, where the roads often vanish but the people never do (literally a highway goes from tar to dust every second kilometre!). In this area hotels seemed to be scarce so I needed to do a long stretch in the dark on roads that couldn’t even de called roads. Luckily a friendly local then guided me around the next town to find a hotel. Drenched in sweat and utterly exhausted, but with the biggest smile on my face I fell back on the double bed. The mosquitoes and honking traffic couldn’t even bother me, I was happy, I was on the road again!
June 30 2016
This morning I found myself on a highway, an actual proper highway. Two lanes each way with green in the middle to separate them! With flat land all around it almost felt like I was back in the Netherlands… Almost, until 4 cows leisurely crossed the road and 500 meters later the road entered a village, tuktuks were coming at me on the wrong way of the road and finally the tarmac turned into a pothole infested rocky gravel track. Yep, still in India. The rest of the day was a race against the clock. The 350 kilometers to Varanasi were a sequence of perfect tar and horrible gravel and I made it only just before dark. I was pushing to reach Varanasi because a university friend of mine was here with one of her friends. The last kilometre went through alleyways narrower than my arm span. With much honking, pushing the cows to the side and scraping the panniers on the walls and against peoples legs I made my sweaty way to the guesthouse. But it was all worth it! On trips like this it’s such a gift to spend time with people you know, people who know you! We just sat and talked until 2 AM and it was awesome.
July 1 2016
Tourist time, we first explored the old city by foot. Varanasi is the most holy city of India, the Ganga a holy river. Therefore many people want to be cremated on the side of the water. We watched the rituals of openly burning the bodies. It’s a cultural experience unlike anything else! Especially seeing people bath in the river in which the ashes of some 300 bodies a day are spread… It’s a practice we, with our western minds, can’t quite wrap our heads around! We strayed passed temples and through the alleys. The greatest benefit of these narrow places is the lack of traffic. Just being able to stroll around and have a conversation without constant honking or taxis pushing their mirrors in your back, it was so nice! At night we took a boat trip to watch the sunset ceremony from the river. It looked like the entire Indian tourist scene had the same idea. Our boat was tied onto the next boat and as we were taking pictures of the ceremony our neighbours were taking just as many pictures of us! The day was finalised with some amazing curries on the rooftop of the hotel, overlooking the city and the river.
July 2 2016
The alarm went off at 3.43 after a mere 4 hours of sleep. Initially cursing the decision to go on a sunrise boat trip, but I did manage to get up and get dressed. The boat trip, and the sunrise ceremony were definitely worth the early start. This time it was much less crowded, making for a more authentic experience. Unfortunately after breakfast our ways parted. Some local bikers came to meet and they escorted me out of the city, such a thoughtful gesture! This time a 280 km stretch of highway and highway-ish roads took me to Lucknow. Here, another group of local bikers were awaiting me. I met Vartika and Atul before when they were on a trip. They were kind enough to introduce me to their riding friends who provided a full itinerary for my coming two weeks, perfect! Vartika then put together a night time city tour. Wow, Lucknow is an impressive city with beautiful architecture. Such a shame my schedule doesn’t allow more sightseeing here! We ended with some street food delicacies at an overly packed market place at 1 AM in the morning. The Muslim population was still fasting during the day, so life happened at night. Everyone, from babies to grandmas, everyone was on the streets, eating, buying, socialising and just generally creating absolute chaos blocking the roads. Just when I thought we’d seen it all a man pulled down his pants, squatted and disposed of his number 2 in the open suer… Ah well, I guess it’s not that different from what the cows and dogs leave behind! Another memorable day on this trip, for which many thanks to Vartika and Atul and the man who pulled down his pants
July 3 2016
Delhi 560 is what the sign said. Ouch, this was going to be a long day! Today I got well acquainted with the Indian highways. As one could have expected there was very little order. The trucks would usually hang around in the right lane (the fast lane dedicated for overtaking) and the motorbikes (with mostly helmetless riders) would usually be faster than the trucks on the left shoulder. But as this is India these are mere generalisations, there are more exceptions then rules! Also, in every town there is a major intersection crossing the highway, all that has wheels, feet, paws or hoofs will cross in every direction. At one such intersection a tractor drove passed, pulling a continues wheelie because the trailer it was pulling was way far too heavy. This all happened while the rulers of the road, the cows, lounged in the middle of the madness. As I neared Delhi Vartika had informed some other lady riders of my arrival. One of them spontaneous offered me a bed. It was now getting dark and with the guidance of my phone’s gps I made my way through Delhi traffic. Then a car came from behind me, braked so hard next to me that its wheels locked up before overtaking and gesturing me to pull over. What the hell was I doing wrong?!? I had no idea what was going on, but the indicating, honking and waving of the passengers suddenly appeared more cheerful than alarming. When they got out of the car a couple fired a range of questions at me. “Where are you riding from?” “Where are you from?” “Where are you going?” She then mentioned they were round the world riders too. Aha, now it all makes sense! Totally in shock by the complete coincidence we talked for a while before parting ways with the promise to meet tomorrow. A final few kilometres now lead me to Sarah’s house. We talked the night away at her apartment with 4 girls, 4 riders talking about bikes and travel. I immediately felt at home.
July 4 2016
After a short night I got ready to leave. I needed to buy some rain pants and learned there was a Decathlon (not sure you all know but this is a cheap, yet quality sports and adventure store which is massively popular in Europe). Ow my, it will be heaven to walk around there for a bit! As Sarah works for Royal Enfield she had a range of bikes at her house. Bhavna got on one and I, for a change, left the chook chaser and mounted a Royal Enfield Bullet. Two girls and two big bop-bop-bopping bikes then cruised through the outskirts of Delhi to indulge in some European retail. After our shopping fix Sarah invited us for lunch at Royal Enfield headquarters. Clearly there was no way I was leaving Delhi today! And so it happened that on a regular Tuesday I was queuing up for Indian food with two other riding girls in a slick looking office building with motorcycles parked inside, in front of the cafeteria. It was decided that we would have a riders’ get-together that night with some Royal Enfield people and the RTW couple…
As this party is about to kick off while I’m writing this, you’ll hear all about it in the next update! It might actually take a while again before I can post anything. I’m now heading into the Himalayas and will have no phone reception and no internet. So hold on for some amazing stories and probably even better pictures!
And for those of you who want to see some of the beauty of Nepal have a look here :)
Thanks for the update. The pics on the link are fantastic.
Serious kilometres per day - for India. Well done and keep up the reports please
You are my hero!!! Thank you for sharing, I know how hard it is to share stories when on the road. I'll be following your footsteps soon. Hope the universe will allow us to meet during my ride so we can compare our XT250's good and bad stories. Good luck on your trek north into China and the "stans" towards Russia. Please do not hesitate to let me know if if you need any help, even a little contribution towards fuel..... OR, a night at a campground or cheap motel )
Thank you all for the kind words and support. I really value your positivity! Its a bit long this time as I haven't had internet before.... Sorry!
Just picking up where I left off last time…
July 4 2016 part 2
Bike enthusiasts and beer. Somehow we managed to have more riding girls at the get-together then guys. Ow yeah! Naturally most of the conversation was around travelling and bikes. The highlight of the evening was a heated, hour long, discussion about the reliability of the Royal Enfield and the future of the brand. With my 1 hour Royal Enfield experience of today, my contribution didn’t go much passed that I love the look of these machines!
July 5 2016
The plan was to leave around 6 AM to reach Manali today. But last night’s Hoegaarden beers kept me in bed a bit longer. After a goodbye breakfast, many pictures, hugs and the promise that we will meet again I had to leave Sarah, Hema and Bhavna behind. For two nights and a day Sarah’s apartment, with the “normal” commodities like a fridge and kitchen, really felt like home. But now I set the gps for manali and hit the road. Obstacle one, cross Delhi in morning rush hour… My expectation (read: my fear to be stuck for 4 hours…) was in no way met. After just over one hour I’d successfully completed the cross city adventure. From here onwards it was a lot of highway, some close encounters with crossing pedestrians and a lot of sweating before reaching the Himalayan foothills. Ow yeah, twisties again! By now it was clear that reaching Manali today was out of the question, instead I set out for Shimla. Sarah had put me in touch with Vijai, the organiser of the Himalayan rallies. He kindly invited me to stay with him and his family for the night. The beautiful meal, interesting company and hot shower after this sweaty and later rainy ride were nothing short of luxurious.
July 6 2016
For the next stretch of roads a couple of permits were required. However, today was a public holiday, of which of course I wasn’t aware. Therefore I stayed another day and night surrounded by motorbike talk and rally merchandise. We checked out the bike, installed some much needed handguards and had more amazing food. There was also time, and internet, to Skype with my grandmas and parents. The whole family was so excited to see me! And even more excited about my announcement to be with them for Christmas. The 21st century makes travelling so much easier and more comfortable. The rest of the day I dedicated to writing. And here is a first, I’m writing a book. So for all of you who want to know about my travels from before I started this blog. It will be possible!
July 7 2016
Madhu, Vijai’s wife, was quite the host and had tea ready at 7 AM. I loaded all my belongings on the bike, had some breakfast and, after some big hugs and many thank you’s, was ready to hit the road. The hills were stunning, I stopped so many times to take pictures. Once I came around the corner and on the side of the road, munching on a carcass was an enormous vulture! He must have been at least a meter tall! I stopped and pulled out the camera, but at the very moment I had him in focus he flew away (so sorry, no pics). The encounter was very impressive nevertheless! Further along the road I went up to a pass, the entire climb was off road. Good to see some gravel for a change! The destination for today was Manali. A town famous as the gate to the Himalayas and the start of the famous Manali-Leh highway. A bike-pilgrimage every Indian biker has to do at least once. The town showed it, everywhere the sound of Enfields, and more bike shops then I’ve seen in the entire India. When unpacking I noticed a bolt from the luggage rack missing. The gravel must have taken its toll… A little trip to one of the Royal Enfield enthusiast mechanics supplied me with a replacement. I decided to check all the bolts, just to be sure. Lucky I did so, because another one, usually hidden under the plastic faring, was nowhere to be found. Oops! One more trip to my new friend and this was also solved. The bike was ready for the Indian pilgrimage!
July 8 2016
Today would be a shorter day so I allowed myself a sleep in. Waking up, looking out of the window, there was the view of the mountains and a river below. There is no way you can stay in bed with that! I needed to get on the road asap. With all the necessary permits in hand I set out for Rohtang Pass. It was an amazing ride, the views were better than I could ever imagine. Enormous mountains, rugged rocks, bright green grass, green trees, blue sky and snow on the peaks in the distance. Wow. The average speed must have been 15 km/h from all the picture stops… but it was so beautiful. On the other side of the pass there was hardly any traffic any more, most tourists only went to the top and go back. This also explains the lack of a road on this side. The typical Indian road-gravel-road-gravel sequence lead down the pass and then meandered along the river. I was entirely mesmerised by the surroundings. On the banks of the river I spotted a campsite, perfect! I pitched my tent, blew up my bed and enjoyed the light of the setting sun on the snow-capped mountains. I didn’t think life could be better, until I was filling my plate with camp dinner when someone tapped my shoulder. Next to me stood one of my friends from Kathmandu! Totally surprised to see each other here we caught up on our last few weeks of travel over a great vegetarian Indian dinner.
July 9 2016
I was woken up by the sound of 15 Royal Enfield engines heating up. Not too bad, unfortunately it came with a good dose of exhaust fumes, which made me crawl out of my tent quite quickly. After breakfast and packing I hit the road. The scenery was stunning, literally out of this world. The sun was playing with the diversely coloured mountains, making for a real spectacle. The road was sometimes tar, sometimes gravel, some water crossings, some peaks to climb and then again rivers to follow in the valleys. My destination for today was a lake called Tsokar. The road leading to the lake seemed smooth and uneventful, I focussed my attention on the scenery instead of the tarmac… Then I was brutally reminded that you can’t take anything for granted. At the top of a small hill I was too late to spot a huge pothole, spanning the entire width of the road. My front wheel got through alright but the back end of the bike, with all the luggage, got launched. When the wheel came down I had a good few wobbles before finding balance again. Phewww, that was close. I vowed to be more careful from now on. At the lake was a small village where I pitched my tent. The view, the lake in the distance, snow-capped mountains and a setting sun. I advise you go see it for yourself one day, because words and pictures don’t do mother nature justice in this part of the world.
July 10 2016
After a very cold night my neighbours woke me up with hot tea, such a treat! The tent was packed and the bike loaded up. Destination, Tso Moriri. Another, bigger lake. The road I took was mainly gravel and provided a good challenge after weeks of tar. As yesterday the scenery was as from a postcard. Along the gravel road stood big white tents the local nomads live in. Sometimes they would sell tea or food to us travellers. At one of these tea stall a group of French bikers was having a break. We talked for a while and learned we were heading in the same direction. During the day we frequently crossed paths. Now the nature was already incredible before I learned there were hot springs in this area. Going slow it was easy to spot the tell-tale smell of sulphur. And there it was, in the middle of mountains and sand, a perfect little hot spring. A had a quick dip, with a million dollar view, before completing the road to the next lake. The lake perfectly reflected the stunning mountainous surroundings and the blue sky, it was picture perfect. Upon arrival in the village the French bikers had arranged that I could pitch my tent at the camp they were staying. Unfortunately I wasn’t the best of company, my head felt as if it was about to burst into 1000 pieces… When the camp owner, a mountaineer, heard of my physical struggles he immediately send me to the hospital to get oxygen. The lake was at 4595 meters altitude and maybe I wasn’t acclimatised enough yet. The oxygen didn’t do the trick, so the entire camp population now became concerned with my well-being. Various remedies were suggested, but for the time being I opted for garlic soup, good food and a lot of water. When at the end of the night nothing had changed a doctor explained what might be the cause. It didn’t sound good… I agreed to follow his advise which among other things was drinking heaps of water. What followed was a long cold night with still a splitting head ache and getting out of my tent to well…. Get rid of this water again. Ah the perks of travelling…
July 11 2016
The next morning again the sound, and smell of many bike engines penetrated the thin layers of nylon between me and the outside world. Luckily my head felt a little less heavy. At breakfast I was capable of holding a conversation with the Frenchies, however bending down to pack the tent was still rather uncomfortable. Let’s get to a lower altitude and get rid of this! The road to Leh was typically Indian, shiny new tarmac interspersed with stretches of pothole infested gravel. But the view made up for any discomfort. I reached Leh and as I was looking for some internet (There is no cell phone reception for me here) A girl with long black hair and a bike jacket caught my attention. It was one of the biker girls I’d met when I first entered India! What a coincidence! Later, when sitting down for tea with the man who arranged my permits (you need permits to enter many places as it is a border area) another familiar face showed up. One of the men I met at the Royal Enfield office last week also just arrived in Leh. We discussed the stunning ride and the pros and cons of the new Royal Enfield Hymalayan bike, a hot topic around Leh these days. Then I went to spend the rest of the evening with the friend from Kathmandu. Never would I have expected to have such a busy social schedule while travelling!
July 12 2016
Today’s ride lead over the highest motorable road in the world, KardungLa Pass. At 18380 feet, or 5606 metres, it also seemed to be the most photographed road sign in the world. Everyone wanted a good snap of themselves in the thinnest air their motorised vehicle would ever take them. The effects of the thin air on the bike were less positive. I had to push start it down the rocky/gravelly slope to descend again. And let’s not even talk about the sounds coming out of the exhaust! There are many army bases around Ladakh, every time I passed the sleeping guards would suddenly be looking around alarmed… All because my cute tiny bike was backfiring like nothing I’ve ever heard before! On the other side of the pass lays Nubra valley. While stopping for some amazing pics of the mountains reflected in a pond I got to know a film crew. They were doing a video on the Ladakh region. We talked and they invited me to stay at the guesthouse with them. It became a very pleasant night with interesting conversation, loads of good food and India’s only exported rum (Old monk, its actually very good!)
July 13 2016
After a pleasant night in a soft bed and a warm shower in the morning I spend some more time with the filmmakers. It’s amazing the interactions you have and the people you meet on the road! But then I set out on my own again. Back towards Leh but this time over WariLa Pass. Since this is not the highest road in the world there were considerably less tourists, but the landscape was nothing short of amazing. A gravel road meandered through the valley, up and over the mountain. As I was descending the road got more and more challenging, big boulders and loose gravel in hairpin turns made it a real challenge. Just when I noticed this would be the last of the challenging corners I lost focus, went over a big rock and found the bike on its right side. Hmmm now what… In the distance a car was approaching. I decided to ask them for help, rather than unloading all the bags in the middle of the road. At first they were reluctant, asking when the next one was coming. Only when I explained three times I really was alone, did they jump out of the car and were suddenly more than eager to help put the rubber side down. Back in Leh I treated myself to a good dinner and managed to get in touch with Juha (the Finnish bike traveller I’d travelled with before). We met up and stayed at a hostel, reachable through narrow alleyways with open sewers, always fun to navigate!
July 12 2016
Somehow we managed to have a dorm full of bike travelling westerners. Our 3 roommates were doing the classic Indian thing, touring on a Royal Enfield. We decided to visit a Buddhist festival together. A special ceremony, a celebration only put on once every twelve years, was held on our way out of Leh. Perfect. It appeared to be the place to be for everyone, old, young, Indian, western everyone was there. The crowds were pushing to get into the monastery! Inside we could only catch glimpses of the masked dance and other age old traditions. It was impressive to witness, however I felt a lot more comfortable once we left the crowds and hit the road again. Together Juha and I followed the rivers through the valleys and meandered up the passes. Towards the end of the afternoon it was time to say goodbye again. He went to visit some lakes while I continued south bound. As I reached the gravel and sandy roads leading to Manali it began to rain. Mud and sand weight down the bike even more. Not eager to ride in the dark, I decided to call it a day and camp next to some typical, local, white tents.
July 14 2016
The night was cold and despite having a good sleeping bag my toes remained frozen. To warm up in the morning I decided to get some tea from one of the tents/ shops/ restaurants. A group of French bikers had just arrived and were curious about my trip. We shared our stories and experiences. As we all got ready to ride again we brushed the topic of female riders. They told me the Royal Enfield Women’s Odyssey (the first all women group to visit Ladakh) would come passed soon. No way, I thought it wouldn’t be possible to meet them! Sarah, the girl who hosted me in Delhi was leading the group, and soon enough I spotted her. Standing up on a Himalayan bike, bright coloured helmet, long hair from under it and ripping down the mountain. That could only be her. She was with Adriana, a Columbian Enduro champion and both were super surprised to see me. We sat down for tea as one by one the other girls arrived. We all talked about riding, about how it changes us and how it empowers us. It was such an opportunity to meet all these girls, really an inspiring bunch. As the girls geared up to go to Leh, I then set out the other way, for Manali. It was a race against the clock to make it before dark, but I really enjoyed the riding. With 100 km to go I had 2.5 hours before sunset. Normally that would be easy, but these 100 km included 30km of gravel and a high pass, with loads of rocky bits and tricky turns. It all went well until I reached about 3 hairpins from the top. The road became sealed but with that came a cloud of thick fog. Visibility went down to about 15 meters and it also started to rain. It was hard to get my bearing in this sea of white, but I realised that I had passed the top and things would only go down from here. This felt like a releive, until it became clear that what I remembered to be the smoothest of tar roads had been destroyed by the elements. Landslides had taken big bites out of the road, layers of mud now covered the tar and rocks had come down to form immense obstacles. All of this needed to be navigated with this very limited visibility. It soon got dark as my average speed decreased rapidly. If I would have encountered this 6 months ago I would have freaked out. But now I was cool calm and collected. Took it slow, didn’t worry and simply found a safe route down to Manali. After a while I encountered some other traffic, like a serpent of Christmas lights in the fog we all zigzagged down to civilisation. Once there I just wanted a soft bed, good food and a hot shower. I found all in the guesthouse I’d stayed before. They even upgraded my room for free and brought my dinner to my room. While watching The Long Way Round I relished my burger. Happy to be safe and warm!
July 16 2016
It was hard to leave the comfort of my nice room and soft bed, but Pakistan was waiting in a couple of days. I had to get going. Leaving Manali the traffic was quite bad. You’d think by now I’d be used to Indian traffic… But today the stopping in the middle of the road, turning without indicating, no working brake lights, driving on the wrong side of the road, opening car doors while driving, spitting from the busses… It really got on my nerves after the peace and quiet of the mountains. The highlight was when one lane was blocked by construction while a truck and a car, travelling in opposite directions, came to a bumper to bumper halt and argued for at least 5 minutes who would need to move…. All while the other traffic had to outwait their ego comparing attempts. Luckily the traffic eased a bit after this and I enjoyed riding through the mountains towards Amritsar. By 7 pm I passed a little restaurant/hotel. When I asked for a room they were totally surprised. But the young guys were more than eager to take care of their unexpected guest. To my room they brought water, mosquito repellent, soap, sheets and when it turned out the bathroom light didn’t work they spend an hour trying to fix it. Despite the horrible traffic I think I will miss India, the kindness and hospitality of the people and ohhh I will really miss the food!
Thanks Missrider! I can assure you we will meet! Some day, some place, I'm sure :) Very kind of you to offer help. At this point in time your open mental support is more then enough, but just the thought of it is worth a lot of money! So when are you getting on the road?
And here are the pictures to go with the many words!
Want to get updates more regularly? Just like the facebook page and they will show up in your news feed :)
Happy Riding my friends!
impressive. on all levels. major kudos to you.
July 17 2016
The ride to Amritsar was a sweaty one. It was humid and hot. As long as I could keep moving it was fine… But then all of a sudden the traffic was stopped. Three turban wearing policemen made grand gestures and planted metal fences on the road to stop us. There didn’t seem to be any reason, so the honking crowd soon went very impatient. Then news trickled down the rows of bikes that the state’s prime minister was about to pass, so all traffic had to wait. Not much later, many cars with sirens and more turban wearing police men zoomed passed the intersection. Slowly the sweat dripping traffic started to move again, what a relieve, airflow! I reached Amritsar and with a bit of googling found the hostel. Unfortunately, during my googling actions I forgot that the keys were in the bike and the headlight was on. Within 15 minutes I’d emptied the battery. Luckily a nearby motorbike shop could jumpstart the bike and I went around the corner to the hostel. It was a little piece of western inspired, wifi-enabled, air-conditioned, washing machine providing heaven. Later in the afternoon a second visit to the mechanics fired the bike up to ride to the border for the famous guard changing ceremony. It was a real extravaganza with flags, music, dancing and guards with funny hats. A unique spectacle worth a visit if you ever find yourself in the area. When reaching the car park again some tourists were taking a special interest in my bike. As soon as we started talking we realised we had many things in common. Two French families, overlanding in big RV’s, travelling the exact route I’m planning to take. Such a coincidence to run into each other here between these hundreds of people. It’s a very big but small world!
July 18 2016
A day off, a day to totally take advantage of the internet and upload all the amazing mountain views of the past weeks and the stories to go with them. I enjoyed sitting my ass down on a comfy couch for most of the day, as opposed to the rather unforgiving seat of my bike.
July 19 2016
In the morning I visited Amritsar’s famous Golden Temple. A beautiful complex, the heart of the Sikh religion. Hereafter I loaded my belongings on my bike and made my way to the border. I’d been warned, some people took 5 hours to cross this border… And, yes, more than a kilometre from the big gate it started with the first filling out of paperwork and showing documents. Then to immigration, there was literally no one there, I was the only person and all went pretty smooth. Now, customs, a bit more paperwork than usual, an actual vehicle check as I haven’t had since Australia, and more paperwork. Then when they should inspect the content of my bags an officer looked at the bike, walked over and poked in the pannier. “Tent, sleeping bag and mattress, should I open it?” “No, no, it’s ok…” He then points at the topbox. “Food and laptop” “ah yes, yes, let’s go inside, too hot out here” Clearly being a smiley blond female speeds up the customs process significantly. After satisfying all the officer’s curiosity about my trip I was free to go. Only an hour, not bad. When I got to the actual border I was a little disappointed. The guard that had been positioned there with so much ceremony the night before was nowhere to be found. Instead two soldiers, both in their sleeveless undershirt, were sitting under an umbrella. They checked my passport before gesturing to pass through the wide open gate. During the guard changing ceremony they make a big deal of opening this iron hurdle, but now everyone is just casually hanging out with their gates wide open…. I’m a bit disappointed. On the other side the formalities take even less time. The most memorable is the rhythmic ticking of the sweat dripping of the officers faces as 3 of them bend over my Carnet. No air con here! As I entered, two Pakistani bikers were waiting for me. What a way to be welcomed to a new country! We had a lovely lunch together before they showed me to the place I was staying.
July 20 to July 25 2016
In Lahore I was hosted by a pretty special family. I’d been in touch with Zenith Irfan, a motorbike riding Pakistani girl, for a while. When she invited me to stay with her I knew we would have a great time. The kinship you instantly find with people who do similar things, think in similar ways and have similar riding experiences is just indescribable. Background, religion, upbringing, nationality, it all matters so little when you simple understand each other. We had many good conversations, made plans for our round the world trips and spend time as if we’d known each other for ages. Unfortunately, the first few days my stomach decided it had served me well for long enough. So the comforts of a real house were appreciated more than ever! When I recovered a bit, having access to a kitchen and supermarkets again I went wild and cooked my favourite foods. It was such a nice change from the constant moving of the last weeks.
While in Lahore I was taken on a cultural tour by some of the local bikers. We went to the mosque, my first time ever in a mosque. It was such a nice place, more a place for social gathering then to simply practice religion. We also went to a fort from the Mogul time. A fascinating building, with intricate ancient air-conditioning systems, secret escape tunnels and hidden staircases. Many of the rooms were beautifully decorated too. Hereafter they invited me for a beautiful home-cooked dinner.
If you are curious about Zenith, this is her page:
Picking up where I left off last week...
July 26 2016
It was time to leave Lahore, and all its great people, behind. Due to the incredible heat during the day I decided to leave early. At 6AM I started packing the bike, it was already too hot and humid to be comfortable and I was sweating like crazy. After a quick breakfast and many hugs I left Zenith, her mum and her brother and found myself back on the road again. It was almost 300km from Lahore to Islamabad. The road was a typical highway like the ones in India. What us westerners would call a highway through the fields, and when it enters a town you all have to slow down and watch out for the many donkey carts and pedestrians crossing the street. Overall the road was much better then in India, no potholes, no abrupt ends to the tarmac where you get launched into rocky gravel, no excessive amounts of dust and no people creating holes in the concrete barriers to walk across the road when you’re doing about 100km/h. All this relative safety made that I seriously opened the throttle and enjoyed moving forward more than ever. Until there was a policeman in the middle of my lane, gesturing me to pull over… Oh oh… He started explaining: “This is 50 km/h, you are doing 80. There is a sign. You will have to pay fine!!” Aj, after all this time is Asia I’ve totally stopped looking at any road signs. No one ever obeys them, so instead I watch the traffic and scout for dogs running across the road. I explain to the cop that I’m terribly sorry, that I didn’t see the sign. Then his superior comes over and he takes my passport and orders me to get in their van. Once I sit down his sturdy look is replaces by something I recognise as curiosity. “Are you on world tour?”. I start talking about my trip, explaining which countries I’ve visited, where I’m going next. They give me some water to drink and keep asking questions. Then it is decided that, for this time, I don’t have to pay the fine, as a welcome gift to Pakistan. Before they send me on my way again we have a photo shoot and the officer even gives me his badge with the flag to add to my sleeve. They don’t give me a fine, but they do give me a present. Not too bad! The rest of the road to Islamabad is easy. Upon arrival I find the hotel where two bikers from New Zealand, Asher and Mike, are staying. We are planning to cross China together, and have been sending messages back and forth for months. It’s good to finally meet!
July 27 2016
Yesterday we discussed the problems around obtaining a visa for China. When the guys went to apply they got rejected because they hadn’t been in Pakistan for 6 months. This rule is nowhere to be found on the website of the Chinese embassy, and when we contacted them previously it wasn’t mentioned. Today it was my turn, maybe I had more luck. But after going through all the security checks to get inside the embassy, filling out the paperwork and putting on my most innocent and diplomatic act, the result was disappointingly the same. No visa. We regrouped at a bakery called MJ’s with good wifi and good coffee to discuss what to do next. Everything was organised to cross China, even the deposits were paid… Asher sent out emails to everything and everyone who could possibly help. Our Chinese tour operator, the Chinese embassy in New Zealand, the New Zealand embassy for Pakistan etc etc. The Kiwis were waiting for replies from all of them. I now needed to do the same. Skype proves to be the greatest tool in these situations as I called to various offices in multiple countries. At the end of the day Asher and Mike received a letter of recommendation from their embassy, with which they could try to apply for the Chinese visa again in the morning. Rather discouraged with the situation we also started looking into alternatives, like going straight to Iran. But that means skipping the entire central Asia…
July 28 2016
If we have to go straight to Iran I have to extend my visa in for Pakistan. So this morning was spend sitting and waiting in an office to get a piece of paper. The office was said to open at 10 but the people only showed up at 11.30… With my piece of paper secured I went back to the hotel. Here Asher had good news. His application for the Chinese visa was accepted. So now I had to make sure to get a similar letter and then apply again. Immediately I jumped back on the bike and raced off to the Dutch Embassy. Some guards let me through 3 boom gates until I reached a big, heavy, solid metal gate. The guard asked if I was there to meet the ambassador, I explained that I would just like to talk to an employee, and asked where the reception was. He didn’t understand at all. After a few minutes however the gate was opened, I received a visitor pass and was let into the compound. A Dutch speaking man appeared and I explained my story, he then send for someone else to help me. A woman walked towards me, hand outstretched. “Hello adventurer! You thought it was better to take the back entrance?” Oops, that explains the 3 boom gates and the endless amounts of guards who were clueless what to do with me! I apologised and explained the situation. She agreed to type up a letter. Two hours later the letter was ready for me at the normal entrance of the embassy. But before I could take it I was asked to sit down in a small room. Half expecting a lecture for either the escapades earlier that afternoon or the safety of Pakistan for a woman travelling alone, I sat tight. A familiar face, the man who helped me before, also entered the room. “Don’t be nervous, I’m just curious about your trip, I’m planning a similar trip next year” Hahahah that was about the last thing I’d expected! Cheerfully I shared my story and supplied him with loads of advise, do’s and don’ts and contacts. Back at the hotel a forth rider had joined our little western settlement. Steve had been stuck between landslides in northern Pakistan for the last two days and was happy to be back in civilisation. Due to the absence of beer in Islamic Pakistan, we shared our stories and advise over mouth-watering fresh lemonades.
July 29 2016
First things first, the Chinese embassy. The visas for Asher and Mike were ready for pick-up. Two down, one to go. Anxiously I waited until it was my turn to go to the window. With my fingers crossed I handed the paperwork, with the letter on top, through the slide in the window. She looked through it all, talked to her colleague, looked through it again and then said: “Pick up next week” Yes! I did a little inward victory dance and joined the boys again. Both of them now had their passports back, with visas in them. We couldn’t quite believe it! They were ready to take off and explore the mountainous north of Pakistan. We will meet again some time before the border. I went back to the hotel, just in time to catch Steve before he took off. We wished each other a great trip and made sure to stay in touch over Facebook. One more hug and he was on his way too.
July 30 & 31 2016
The weekend was mainly a waiting game in Islamabad. It is the capital of Pakistan, a surprisingly modern city with wide roads, organised in a grid system, modern shopping malls, sport fields and playgrounds. Contrary to all expectations, Pakistan is the most modern place I’ve visited since Thailand. The people are incredibly helpful and very curious about the bike and the trip. The country is nothing like it is portrayed in the Western media. I should be able to pick up my passport on Monday. So now I spend my days relaxing, reading, writing, sorting photos, enjoying the wifi access and doing some minor work on the bike. I can’t wait to get on the road again and explore the natural beauty of the north of Pakistan next week.
Chantal - lovely to meet you, share a lemonade, stories and details of what lies ahead. I'm still in awe of your trip, resourcefulness, strength of character and irrepressibly positive attitude. Great to hear you are experiencing the legendary Pakistani hospitality that I and all the travellers before us received. Thanks for the shout out. I'm now safely in New Delhi removing my engine for rebuild. Ride safe Chick on the Chook Chaser and enjoy the mountains & beyond in wonderful Central Asia.
Apologies for the long wait! Internet availability has been scares after leaving Islamabad. However I'm aiming to bring you guys up to speed with the latest developments soon enough :)
August 1 2016
New week, new month, new destination. I went to the embassy to pick up the China visa. There it was, a nice sticker with 10 days entry into China. Yes! That was as much as the day could go to plan, from here it all went a bit pear shaped. The embassy doesn’t have proper parking space so I parked in some gravel, between high grass. As I manoeuvred out, the vegetation caught on the bike and put it gently on its side. No issue in itself, but unfortunately it didn’t start anymore. After a few attempts I’d emptied the already weak battery, push starting now was the only option. Unfortunately the road was entirely flat and even though some locals did their best Usain Bolt impression behind my bike, it just didn’t gain enough speed to get the engine going. Eventually with the help of 4 guys and a 70CC motorbike I got it going. I quickly decided to change my original plan and first hunt down a new battery. No luck in the first shop. On the way to the second shop I stop to fuel up, and again it won’t start. However now I’m on a busy road, so within a minute the crowd swells to 25 staring men. Luckily a policeman passes by, he speaks good English and makes it his mission to help me out. He gets a mechanic to look at my bike. My request to get some cables, or another battery, and jump start the bike is bluntly ignored. A young mechanic arrives at the scene. By tapping some wire on the electrodes he diagnoses the battery is fine, but some other electrical part is broken. I try to convey my story, tell him the battery is flat and all we need to do is either push it real fast or get it jump started, and get a new battery. Again my mechanical knowledge, and knowledge of my own bike is totally disregarded. But before he rips the part out of my bike I can, via the English speaking policeman, get the message across that I want his boss to check. The crowd has now reached a head count of 50ish and traffic is hardly moving past. Five minutes later an older man is being escorted through the gaping faces and stretches out his hand. He proceeds to push the start button on the bike and within a second confirms my story, flat battery. The young mechanic, bursting with confidence until a second ago, starts to retreat. However, before he disappears of the scene, his boss calls him back and orders him to push to get my bike started. Under helmetless police escort and with the help of 4 guys we get the bike going. We go all over the neighbourhood to hunt down a battery. At shop number 5 they are certain they can find the battery and fix the problem. The owner of the shop speaks perfect English, appears to be a foreign bike collector and also builds bikes and cars. After a good few hours of showing me pictures of all his designs the men have the bike going again. Ready to head up north the next day.
August 2 2016
I decide to do a quick oil change before hitting the mountains. At 8 AM I’m kneeling next to the Chook Chaser, trying very hard to unscrew the bolt to fill up the oil. It doesn’t move, no matter what I do. The spanner just gives way before the bolt does. Some men come over to lend a helping hand. After another few failed attempts I decide we need a socket to loosen the bolt, the spanner is only stripping it and worsening the issue at this point. Luckily one of the men knows a mechanic just around the corner. I can borrow the 14 socket, change the oil under the scrutiny of 5 Pakistani men and finish my “quick oil change” 2 hours later. I throw the gear on the bike and get going, out of the city, into the countryside. Just before reaching the start of the famous Karakorum Highway I get stopped by the police. “No mam, you can not go this way, you go back and follow main road, too dangerous here.” The road seemed like any other road, and it made little sense to send me back 20km if the highway was only 10km further. However, this logic didn’t seem to work. Detour it was. I followed the main road and there it was, the start of the Karakorum Highway. One of the prospected highlights of the trip. I followed the road up, here it was still quite flat and unimpressive, but the further north I got, the more hills started appearing. With all the delays of this morning there was no way to make it to where I planned to go. So around 6PM I decided to call it a day, found a small hotel on the side of the road and called that home for the night.
August 3 2016
Should I stay or should I go? I really wanted to get to the mountains and enjoy the most impressive scenery of Pakistan. But one of the Pakistani delicacies I ate yesterday had plans to keep me in close proximity to the toilet. Not again! Some emergency meds, and a few more hours of sleep should do the trick. And they did, I packed and started riding. After about half an hour I passed a check post. The men were really friendly but they didn’t want me to leave without a police escort. Many people had come through here before, none of them needed an escort. It was all a bit odd but they seemed pretty genuine. Then my police escort showed up, helmetless on a 70cc bike, no gun and no English. “You follow this man, he escort for safety” Ah yeah sure. Together we crawled up the mountain, his idea of safety must have been to cap my top speed at 30km/h. Sometimes I had to put a foot down in the corner just to stay upright. If this continued I would reach Gilgit, today’s destination, at 2 AM in the morning. Now that would be unsafe! One hour and 20km in second gear later, my first bodyguard was replaced by two men on a 125CC bike, one of them had a gun and even spoke English. They reached top speeds of a staggering 45km/h but had more interest in stopping to have tea than actually moving forward. I agreed to tea. They proudly declared that this was one of Pakistan’s safest regions. The perfect opportunity to explain that I had another 250km to cover today, which, with all these police escorts, seemed nearly impossible. As they had basically put the words in my mouth it was hard for them to deny that I would be perfectly fine and safe, riding on my own. They agreed to escort me to their village and from there I could go alone. We finished our teas and hit the road for real, now with a loud siren and speeds of over 80km/h, we were flying past trucks and through villages. That’s what I call a police escort! We shook hands and they gave me their phone number, if anyone said I needed an escort they would make sure to explain I am perfectly capable of travelling alone. That was that. The rest of the day I cruised, at my own speed, through valleys and up mountains. The scenery was stunning and all the kids waved at this weird, big, foreign bike flying past. The most dangerous were the inhabitants of the many honey producing beehives. One of them actually found its way into my jacket and managed to sting my neck. I rode up a pass, where it was freezing cold, and later dropped close to 3000 meter into a 43 degree Celcius dry heat. What a change! Here the Karakorum highway and I were reunited. It was a stunning 120km ride, meandering along the river, to reach Gilgit just before dark.
August 4 2016
Last night I met up with Mike. Since we were both heading to the Chinese border we might as well ride together. Other overlanders had told us that Naltan valley, not far from Gilgit, was an absolute must see. We decided to wait out the hottest hours of the day before leaving the city. Riding in the shade of the enormous mountains we followed the river up the valley. As the road went from tar to gravel, and from wide to narrow, the views became more and more impressive. Yellowish brown cliff faces and a grey-blue river raging through them. At this point the road became quite challenging, rocky with big boulders it went up and down. I struggled to steer my heavy loaded bike in the right direction as the front wheel lifted off on the uphills. As we reached Naltan village we were welcomed by a fellow overlander, a German guy by the name of Max. We had planned to continue to a lake. But the villagers confirmed the road to the lake was even worse than the one we had just concurred. We decided to bunk up, three in a room in the village, and ride to the lake tomorrow morning.
August 5 2016
To make this supposedly challenging ride a bit easier we took of all the luggage. It was such fun, being able to throw the bike around and just have a play. There were some river crossing, some rocky and hilly bits and some serious gravel. It was good fun, probably the best off-roading I’ve done. And the reward at the end of it was two beautiful lakes. The landscape here in Northern Pakistan is just out of this world, enormous mountains and stunning views. After gaping at the landscape for a bit we turned around and made our way back to pick up the luggage. Once we made it back to the Karakorum highway Max and Mike and I parted ways. We shared some last tips and tricks and then hit the beautiful highway. Our plan for today was to camp near the Hoppar glacier. On the way there we had to register at several checkpoints. Here we learned that Asher, Mike’s mate, was just ahead of us. Through Hoppar valley Mike chased him down while I took my time on the gravel. Just before the glacier I found the two guys, surrounded by a flock of curious local boys. After they all had a good look at us and the bikes we hopped back on and found a little hotel we could camp next to. That was it for the day, the glacier was on the books for tomorrow.
Glad to hear fom you again - I nearly got nervous sbout the long silence....
Great report. Funny you ran into Leonie and Peter from Amsterdam. They stayed at my house in Los Angeles on their way from Mexico to Canada. Keep posting!
Thanks for the update. Always ready to read your report. Have fun.
Enjoying your adventure, thanks for writing
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enjoying this adventure ! Thanks for sharing it with us