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Delhi – The end

June 10, 2012
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So here it is, the final post in this tale of cycling adventure.

Trying to write about the emotions I felt over those last few days while sitting here in my living room will not do it justice, so I will instead copy out what I wrote in my journal on my flight home from Delhi.

Thank you to all who have read and followed the blog – it has been a truly rewarding experience to write it, and I hope its been enjoyable to read.

xxx

This is the end, my only friend, the end
1st Septmber 2011, Delhi

So, here it is, my final entry. I’ve been thinking about this for a while. I knew it would be on the plane (which it is) but I wasn’t sure how I’d feel. I’m actually a little drunk, so that’s probably having an effect. Not to the counter though – I’m so excited about what’s to come. I’ve lost all bad feeling about what I’m leaving behind. Not that I’m sad about leaving – I’m excited by the prospect that ‘life goes on’.

I look out of the window – we’re above Uzbekistan now – and I look at the scale of the earth and I try to tell myself ‘you cycled all this’ and I feel nothing. Not pride, not awe, not a thing. I don’t know why really. Am I numb to it? Sometimes I think I must be missing some kind of emotion inside – devoid of some kind of deep seated emotion that makes me feel like this is a once in a lifetime experience. Why do I feel nothing for what I’ve done? Maybe its the nature of doing – it becomes you. So to step out and think ‘holy fuck’ is not like you would think. The world is still the world. Tesco’s never left. People still die. Nothing you did has changed anything. Maybe nothing ever changes. Maybe I never change.

I can begin to relate to that feeling they say you get when nothing excites you anymore. You’ve seen a lot, so less and less is inspiring – like Christmas when you grow up. Maybe this journey has exposed me to so much that the ‘old life’ I had before this journey now has it’s place. You grow and grow through your experiences, and are able to look back on them all with a sense of clarity and a sense of how you’ve grown. The more you are exposed to the more you understand, and lose nothing.

Maybe I’m wrong – maybe I’ll walk off the plane and it will all hit me and I’ll be knocked sideways with shock. (part of me hopes for this – I know it won’t happen). All I do know now is, I did this, this is my life. I have seen some of the world, as my day to day life. I have lived like this and it has felt as normal as going to work in the morning. I feel more comfortable in the world as a result. Delhi was quite shit, as a place and as an end to the adventure, but I didn’t expect anything less, and in that sense its nature of just being as it always is and will be is the perfect way for me to end my adventure – the dream of a creshendo or some idyllic high is not the real life of the road that has made it the adventure that it was.

For all the darker characteristics of Indian culture that Delhi exhibited – deceit, discourtesy, distrust – I did enjoy it. Lots of beer and curry, and some souvenirs ( a table drum to be precise! ) kept me pre-occupied. That and packing up my bike and organising my stuff and thinking about how my beard will be received back at home. Before I knew it I was at the airport, receiving my exit stamp and sitting in an air conditioned departure lounge in a dirty tshirt and flip flops, wondering where my bike is and what just happened.

(written after a little snooze and a little sobering up)

I guess its not that I’m dead inside at all. What it is, really, is the nature of slow travel. It becomes so normal, the day to day life of moving on the road, that there’s no shock to the system anymore. Nothing to make you sit up in that instant and go ‘wow, what a ride!!’ That’s the beauty and the curse. The beauty is the normality of it all and truly living as if you are a man in the world. The curse is you never can take a step out to look at it all. It’s so big, but you only see a tiny part of it at a time. you adjust, and you carry on. I’m about to enter into a new normality – that’s when the real shock will strike. I will have to readjust to not moving and focus on a few things for a prolonged perioid, as opposed to seeing many things fly by every day. That’s the real test. Staying put in the real world is harder than cycling around it.

So, in summary:

This journey has been an eye opening experience beyond anything I could have anticipated before I set off. The hard times (and there were many of them) were the most valuable of all the experiences. I overcame challenges concerning fitness, emotions, motivation, developing my strengths and facing my weaknesses, while understanding a little more of the complex makeup of the world.

The most valuable aspect of this trip has been to do with my relationship with Julian. The hard times that we endured together, and understanding what it takes to live in such proximity to someone for such a prolonged period, has been my greatest realisation. When you share everything you see with only one person every single day, you cant help but create acute abrasion. The hard days together were some of the toughest days of the road, and being in a position where you have to deal with them then and there leads you to understand a little more the emotional balance of friendship. Sharing this with him, and learning what it is made from, is something that I truly thank him for.

I also thank the difficulty of each climb, for making me more determined to overcome it. I thank the warmth of all the people we met, to show me how to be unconditionally supportive and welcoming to any person. I thank the unconditional support of my family and friends, without whom I would have flown home from Germany.

I love my bike. I cherish the freedom it brings and the opportunity it provides to be a disarmed ambler of the world. I will be back on it one day for sure.

As my new friend sitting next to me on the plane says, the most important thing is to live on based on what you’ve learned from your experiences in life, not to forget them and keep them with you, living a life of richness and of balance. This is what Mathias always said, and this is what I will strive to do. Work hard, stay healthy, and most of all anything is possible if you really want it.

Thank you bike, thank you world.

24/08 – 29/08 – The final stretch

June 10, 2012
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Leaving Rishikesh I was really excited about the last stint on the saddle. I had just over a week until I was set to pack up my bike into a box and get a taxi to Delhi airport. With 450km to go, I have the opportunity to take a detour and really soak up the hills before I get onto the plains and into the Delhi throng.
My road will take me up into the hills, heading east out of Rishikish and aiming for Srinagar (not Srinagar in Kashmir, unfortunately). The road was quiet and warm and had a nice steady climb as I followed the Ganges closer and closer to its source.
A little out of Rishikesh my path was crossed by another cycle tourist – but this one was a travelling Yogi, making his pilgrimage from Kashmir to Mumbai via Armritsar. His bike was a raggedy affair – more of an antique show piece adorned with trinkets than a bicycle worthy of the distance he was planning. All he carried was a blanket and a bottle of water – cleary lucking in on temple hospitality and turning yoga tricks for a bit of change on his way. He stopped me and asked if I fancied a smoke – I found it very hard to refuse. We sat at the roadside while he loaded his large pipe with hash and we sat and had a smoke while he explained me his route and then proceeded to demonstrate to me some of his yoga moves – which were blindingly impressive. Half way through our encounter I had the feeling this may turn into a money request but I had barely enough to buy my last dinners to Delhi, seeing as there was no ATM in Rishikesh. he seemed satisfied with the offer of a pack of biscuits and we wished eachother well before we pedalled off in opposite directions.
The day was drawing to a close but the heat wasn’t letting up. I took the opportunity where I could to refresh in the natural showers that cascaded over the road as it meandered up the valley, keeping an eye out as I went for a flat bit of land that I could camp on for the night – but pickings were slim.
The last bend of the day was the biggest washpoint of the road, with truck loads of people washing themselves and their vehicles. There was a hive of activity around the water source, which was a little inconvenient as I spotted a flat patch on the roof of a concrete out building just down from the road among the jungle. I tried in vain to slip down there unawares, and while I was setting up a growing group of kids were peering from above and throwing stones to get my attention. They did indeed get my attention, but they got the picture when I started throwing stones back and told them to bugger off in my best Hindi.
That night was one of the most memorable in India. The overgrowth was enough that I couldnt hear let alone see the road, and it was cleared infront of my tent to afford me a view across the Ganges valley as if it was my own. It was hot but there was a breeze, and I could sleep with my tent door open as long as the incense I had bought from Rishikesh was kept burning through the night. I felt like a jungle warrior.
That morning I arose to a huge traffic jam on the road above – a landslide had fallen in the night some 400m from where I was sleeping. I brished off the thoughts of if it had come down 400m nearer and proceeded to weave my way through the traffic. I got to the front of the queue to see pedestrians and bikers chancing it across the perilous section of road as rocks and dust continued to fall. Two police, apparantly in control, waved traffic through when they thought it was safe – of course it was never safe. I took my chances with the pedesetrians and peddled in excitement as stones and pebbles fell around me.
The next section of road flew down back to the river and I crossed into another valley by lunch, taking time to enjoy another the first lunch curry stop. The road continued up into Srinagar, which I took the pleasure of lunch number 2, before the long meandering climb to Pauri. This climb was the memory that I hold dear to me one year on, for the beauty, adventure and prime of life fitness that I had on that day. The road was fantastic in every aspect – it meandered endlessly up the wide valley towards Pauri, which you could see on the other side of the valley high up in the clouds. you could just make out the road as it headed towards the town. I put on the tunes and slowly climbed, feeling the buzz of pushing and pushing as I climbed up through the jungle, feeling totally alive and for the first time really relishing the climb.
I rolled in Pauri victorious just before sunset, and set about buying bananas and onions and getting ready to head out of town and try and find another flat spot of land to camp. I timed my exit from town just as the school run was at its peak, which lead to me being stopped by a young girl and her mum on a scooter, who offered for me to stay in their place for the night. Being late in the day, and with the offer of my first experience of hospitality in India, I invariably jumped at the offer. ‘great!’ she said. ‘my house is just up there’ and pointed out of sight pretty much to the top of the mountain.
After a long and hard push up the hill (after climbing all day, now I was exhausted) we finally reached her house, which was in the grounds of the Pauri University. Her father was a university lecturer, but was blind, hence the local residency to his workplace.
Shiaddha and her family welcomed me in with open arms, offering me a shower ( I was in dire need) and some great food. We chatted into the night about India and Pauri and her fathers job until I could barely keep my eyes open. Bed was very welcome.
The next morning Shiaddha convinved me to stay the morning and gave me a tour of the university and the town. We visited a temple with not to welcoming moneys, who packed up and chased me out of the compound. God damn monkeys.
By 1 oclock I was keen to get moving, the clouds were coming in so I hit the road. The climb continued for a little until I reached the pass, at which point the clouds cleared and all the climbing over the last two days opened up as the road dissappeared under my wheels. I couldnt help but shreek with glee as I steamed down the jungle mountain.
The day continued much the same, save for when I stopped in a town for curry lunch to see that the sleeving of my rear gear cable had split beyond repair. I tried in vain to fix it, with splints and tape, to no avail. All the male population of the village descended on me thinking themselves as bike mechanics, but on to his credit managed to patch it up just enough to give me half my gears back, which was a relief seeing as I would be climbing up and over the valley to get onto the plains.
Night was drawing in, and I had the usual conundrum of no flat land to camp. I tried to hide in a cave but was spotted by four guys on scooters – not that its an issue, I just didnt want word to spread I was around. I continued on, the sun having set half an hour ago and it getting too dark to see unaided. I got desperate and took shelter in a bus stop, thinking that it would be pretty inactive over night. I waited there for a while for the last few bus runs to run by, and then set up camp in the shelter, using my groundsheet to block the entrance so passing headlights wouldnt peer in and wake me. Worked a charm, and despite the occasional rumble of trucks hurtling 5 feet from my head throughout the night, I slept undisturbed.
The next day I knew would be my last in the hills, so I took my time to enjoy the view and take it in, climbing the last 20km over the whole morning. I hit the final descent and got into Kotdwara for lunch time, and the heat increased to 40 degrees, along with the traffic.
The next two days were really grim, and not the way to end the trip as I had intended. At the same time I had anticipated this, as the road into Delhi was always going to be tortuous. It certainly didnt disappoint. Endlessly straight and congested, I consumed the fumes of trucks and buses for two long sweaty days. I made camp in a half cut field of barley, sweating the night through and feeling a little anticlimactic as to the last night in my tent. My spirits were lifted by a friendly farmer in the morning who took pity on me with tea after he saw I had slept in his field, which got me early and on the road for my last day on the bike, into Delhi and cycling along endless highway into India’s choking heart, for the end of the road.

20/08 – 24/08 – Rishikesh – Yoga and birthdays

June 10, 2012
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Rishikesh has been earmarked on my map with a big DOWNTIME arrow since I inadvertently cashed in on not going to Kathmandu. I had almost a week to spare, and with my birthday coming up, it came at a good time to have a bit of a stretch off the saddle (although the last break I had was two days ago, I hadn’t really felt exerted enough to deserve it, but never mind).
Rishikesh is the home of Yoga, and the heaving number of thai-dye donned tourists confirmed it.I was in the land of the Yogi’s, of spine wrenching yoga, chillum smoking, orange togas, free-range cattle and alcoholic abstinence. Fresh juice and potato curry flowed through the streets like the cow pats after a monsoon downpour. I felt ready to embrace it though, as contrived and cliched as it might have felt at the time. But after one year of time on the saddle, you cant help but indulge in a bit of soul searching, and the inner hippy in me was yearning to relight the incense with its rightful backdrop.
I spent a bit of time on the first day searching for a good ashram, partly out of hesitation, partly because I had no idea what I was looking for. I ended up going for Anand Praksh Ashram, a little up the hill and out of town, away from the ‘omm’ ing throng of the riverside and a little more peaceful. Peaceful it was, but it had its fair share of omm’s. By the first day though, I had fully embraced the atmosphere that it had created around me.
I arrived at perfect time – just before lunch – and was greeted by bows and blessings as the ayuverdic food was served out by other guests. a prayer and a song was recited before tucking in to the rather fantastic food, and i got to know the other guests – most of whom were yoga practitioners of sorts on holiday to enrich their yoga lives. I envied the way they were able to translate this mode of living back to their daily lives – something that I knew at the time I could never achieve – and sitting here writing this now at my desk one year later – something I can confirm I didn’t.
Either way, I had a great time being introduced to the power of yoga by them and by the Ashram. Two yoga sessions a day (the first at 5 am and the second just before dinner) gave me more of a workout that I typically felt in a day on the saddle. By the end of the first session I felt like my legs had grown three inches and I had lost about 5 litres in sweat. I can see how it can become addictive, although i cant quite imagine doing it at home, as the setting for me felt such an intrinsic part of the experience. The yogi was soothing and in control, and pushed you without burning you out. It was relaxing at the same time as demanding. I would highly recommend it, and if I had time in my life now I would have kept it up. I bought several yoga books which I regret stay fairly unopened now on my shelf, but was quite absorbed by when I was there – something I put down to the absorbance of atmosphere as an intrinsic quality to really embracing new experience.

It was my birthday while I was there, and that fell in line conveniently with Vishnu. Chrissy, Corin (who bizarrely enough I remember from Nottingham) and the other guests in the ashram made me a surprise cake which was brilliant, and we all headed down to check out the Vishnu party in a temple by the river. It was a fitting end to a great and relaxing experience, one that I shall cherish as a valuable memory that I had away from the road.

When it came the time to leave, my burdened bicycle drew quite a bit of attention from the staff. I cant imagine they get many guests arriving on bikes, and before long they had told me the local press was on their way to give me an interview. I felt honoured to be interviewed, and it was quite a bizarre experience, seeing as the interviewer didn’t really speak much English and recorded pretty much everything I said to him incorrectly, including where I was from and where I had been. They took my picture and gave me a cheery farewell, before I pushed off with my newly balanced set of leg muscles, pendants and panniers full of incense into the Himalayan foothills.

18/08 – 20/08 – Chandigarh – Rishikesh – Eagerness gets the better of me

June 4, 2012
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I fly out of Chandigarh, excited by the prospect that i’m going to Kathmandu and fulfilling the trip to its full potential. It’s boiling hot of course, so I use this opportunity to cycle in a vest. I almost instantly regret this decision. I find the road heading out of the city and I stop for a quick lunch in a roadside curry café, and I instantly feel the heat. I wipe myself down and half my back comes off in my towel. The other diners in the café look on at me with great concern, and point out that my back is completely blistered. I didn’t feel a thing, and it still felt ok after I changed my clothes, but the lack of pain didn’t last. I put back on my baggy tshirt and douse it in water, feeling a little dampened now about my quick getaway.

Further adding to my bad start, I leave Punjab Haryana and am welcomed into Himichal Pradesh by hills and unpaved roads. Not what I want for 120km/day to Kathmandu. I curse and start to climb towards Nahan, stopping occasionally on the roadside to have a soak in the natural car washes along with several bus full’s of sweating Indian’s.

I reach Nahan around 4pm, having only done 60km. Thankfully from then on the rest of the day is down hill and I quickly make up 100km. Another 20km in this heat doesn’t feel that tempting, again putting a damper on the day, as I would have to make it up tomorrow. The heat really is a factor that I didn’t anticipate. Luckily around the 110 mark I stop at a temple, and gingerly ask if they have somewhere I can camp. They instantly offer me a bed, food, shower and a change of clothes. Result! A couple of the guys speak tiny English and we talk all night about English girls, whiskey and monkeys (their job working at the temple mostly entails keeping monkeys out of the shrine)

Over dinner conversation turns to my passport (just out of curiosity on their side – a nice change after the nosiness and demanding nature of people in Central Asia) I go to my bag to retrieve it and to my embarrassment and utter foolishness – its not there. They at first don’t believe me. I don’t believe it myself, but it’s actually not in my possession. I quickly think back to Chandigarh and I realise in my haste to leave the Air India office that I left it on the desk. Luckily – oh so luckily – I have the mobile number of the guy I dealt with in the office. I borrow one of the holy men’s phones and give him a call. ‘Oh my god, I have been trying to reach you all day! You left your passport in my office!’ thank god for that. I am relieved and devastated.

The holy men tell me there is a bus at 6am tomorrow that will take me direct into Chandigarh. They allow me to store my bike and all my belongings in the temple for the day so I can retrieve it. If it weren’t for them and their hospitality, I would have been cycling back, for sure putting an end to my eager plans to cycle to Kathmandu, although this episode had pretty much put them to bed anyway.

I rise early the next morning and jump on the bus back to Chandigarh, hot foot it to the office and retrieve my passport. I’m back with my bike by 4pm, totally relieved and able to carry on cycling, although on the bus I decided Kathmandu was not going to happen anymore. I was disappointed, but the relief eclipsed that feeling very quickly out of my mind.

I got on the road again and put in a ginger 40km to Paonta Sahib, settled down for a nice curry dinner, then headed out the other side of town and ducked down a small footpath for a camp spot, which turned out to be the hottest, sweatiest and most unpleasant of the trip. I did have fireflies to keep my company though. And prickly heat powder, which I owe a hell of a lot to!

The morning was wet and much cooler, allowing me to get off with ease despite only 45 minutes sleep. I made the decision not to go all the way to Kathmandu the day before, which meant I had reverted back to me previous plan of rnr in Rishiskesh, which was now only 85km away.

The road to Rishikesh was relatively quiet and flat, with thick jungle and a host of angry monkeys. I got chased a fair few times, and one even lunged at me. I’m not sure what they were thinking when they saw me coming – a man on a big bicycle, but I didn’t hang around to find out. I narrowly out pedalled a pack of monkeys before my childish fascination with them turned into a distinct distrust and dislike for the little buggers.

Arriving in Rishikesh there were more monkeys than people, but they were a large degree tamer than before and more keen to pick pocket your fruit. I found a small ashram near the centre that wasn’t quite what I expected – just a small room in a largely empty complex, but it did for the night while I avoided the rain and ate more curry.

 

15/08 – 16/08 – Chandigarh: Corbusier’s vision for India

June 4, 2012
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So, finally after 9 months and three days since I returned from my cycle to Delhi, I finally have time to finish off the last three weeks of the blog and lay it to rest.

The last entry I made was for the 14th August, where I had just cycled into Chandigarh, after two days of being on my own in India having parted ways with Julian. The weather was searing and I was sunburned and drenched from the sporadic downpours that so well typified this monsoon season that we had the inevitability of ending up in, timing our trip as we did.

Chandigarh was near top of my list of places to visit on this trip, as it holds a huge significance to me in the form of its creator, Le Corbusier. Revolutionary at the time, The newly independent Indian power wanted to create a new city that was suggestive of a modern and contemporary growth for India. They searched far and wide for a European architect who could envision a new Indian urbanism manifest in the form of a garden city that were taking shape in Europe and the USA. Corbusier had a vision for a city of layers, divided up into precincts, that would reduce traffic congestion and improve living standards. His vision for a machine city for living was prototyped here, and it has equal significance in its success or failure to implement this type of urbanism into a chaotic system of India.

The first thing that struck me, and in hindsight it of course makes perfect sense, was the general level of affluence and middle class-ness about the place. All the houses in the precincts were neatly lined in pre determined rows. This western model inevitably meant they were expensive and catered for the bracket of India that considered themselves of a higher class than the rest.

I found the huge highway avenues that divided the precincts daunting and dull. Being straight lines this was inevitable, but they were peculiarly hard to navigate – fences lining the centre of the streets meant turning was impossible, and signposts in the city were only showing the directions of other districts – all of which were numbered. According to the map, precinct 23 was the centre, but it wasn’t next to 22 or 24 in the way I was headed. By the time I found it via many directions from locals, there was nothing there but expensive restaurants and equally expensive hotels. I was told I wouldn’t be able to find anything below 500 rupees for a night.

The price of accommodation didn’t help, and neither did the relentless rain on my first day (not that it mattered, as everything was shut for Indian Independence Day anyway) So I spent the entire first day pretty much riding rickshaws in the rain, sitting in underground internet cafes and eating KFC (which I justified as a social experiment – I was intrigued to see how far the wealthier classes of India would go to have a slice of Western Culture), drinking beer in my room and not actually doing anything.

I did have some time though to make some (rather naive) judgements on what I had seen of the city so far. Suffice to say, I wasn’t impressed. A machine for living, at the scale of a city, in an environment such as India, surely was doomed to failure before ground was broken. This totalitarian idea of Utopia cannot be applied here. The sectors are islands, the highways that criss cross the city are un passable monstrosities. I didn’t feel comfortable or able to move around without a car. I felt as if I would be marooned to my sector if I lived there.

Of course the next day, after my visit to the museum, I realised the intention of the highways – to reduce traffic and noise in the sectors themselves, thus giving a more pleasant living environment. The sectors were well planned, with lots of green space that cut through the overall master plan, framing the mountains to the north.

But still the city was dominated by these highways. The sidewalks, where there are any, are in muddy decline. Often you have to walk in the road, and there are few places to turn off or around, forcing poor rickshaw drivers a long way in the wrong direction before they can correct themselves into the appropriate cycle lane (of which there are plenty, pretty much unheard of anywhere else in India!)

The city seems to be at the mercy of the fence, depicting where you cant go. Such rules and control at urban scale has simply little effect than annoyance in India. People don’t follow the plan, but when the plan is unavoidable, it just makes for frustration and isolation. India simply isn’t ready for a city like this. I don’t think anyone is. The sporadic and spontaneous nature and beauty of sprawl and growth has been limited to highways and sectors that are equally unlivable.

I ventured up to the Capital Hill complex to see Corb’s specialities of Chandigarh – the Municipality and City Hall buildings. These were fantastic – a bustling concentration of administrative life that was contained in a typically Corbusian monolith, with a backdrop of overgrown jungle and monkeys. I managed to blag my way on to the roof, where lazy guards sat around drinking whiskey and watching out over the complex with sniper rifles. They offered for me to look down the barrel and made mock shooting noises. Didn’t feel me with confidence when I got off the roof.

Being an architectural tourist is exhausting. There was so much red tape to navigate in order to get into the municipality building, and just for a few photos. I didn’t like it. I didn’t like sitting around in Chandigarh much at all. I felt like I was waiting for something. Is this how it will be for the next three weeks? Cycle one day, wait two days, cycle two days, wait three days? Maybe in this time I can get to Kathmandu…. UHOH.

I planted the seed in my head, and before I knew it I was in the Air India office in Chandigarh changing my flights so I could cycle to Kathmandu.

Before I knew it it was done. I had changed my flights, giving me 15 days to cycle 1,500km to Kathmandu. 100km a day, no rest, or 120km a day and getting to Kathmandu a day early. It would be a tough ride, but I knew I could do it, and I was buzzing. So much so that as soon as the flight was confirmed, I was out the door and hitting the road hard east.

 

New beginnings

February 15, 2012
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Hey Everyone,

You can follow my continued adventures (in a slightly different format) at www.lonandon.wordpress.com . Theres also some other things to look at there so go and check it out.

cheers

Lon And On – www.lonandon.wordpress.com

Pokhara, Beni and Kathmandu – Volunteering and the end

February 6, 2012
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Tim said goodbye and left to do the Annapurna Trekking route on his touring bike leaving most of his gear behind at the hotel, as the route offers plenty of accommodation and eating stops.  I occupied myself by taking Nepali lessons with a man called Chet in a bid to improve my communication before the charity placement began.  I managed to get up to a decent conversational level, albeit with only 6 lessons, but with most people speaking infinitely better English it was difficult to improve on the basics I had.

 

I visited a few of the projects operated by ICT’s Nepalese partner charity, Children’s Welfare Scheme and got a detailed schedule of what I would be doing in Beni where the ICT project was taking place.

 

I arrived in Beni a small town wedged in between mountains and the confluence of 2 rivers.  The market was a lot busier than I had imagined it would be and there was internet!  The small village I would stay in was a 20 minute walk alongside the river.  I would walk to and from Beni always tripping on the exposed rocks on the track, despite 2 months of practice I could never make the route without embarrassing myself, unlike the Nepali’s who would do it perfectly and in bare feet.

 

I was introduced to the team at the Rural Empowerment and Environment Centre (REEC), one of ICT’s benefactors.   Instantly I felt at home, Prakash, Raju, Krishna, Sabitri, Gauree, Dil Maya, Mahavir all made their absolute most to make me feel part of their family.  I spent Diwali with Krishnas family and received mala and tika (Necklace of flowers and red paste mark between the eyes) as an honourary member of the family.  We would watch the dancing exhibitions in the evening, keen children could be seen practicing in the weeks running up to the festival, it was a fantastic community atmosphere and I got involved and raised a few laughs with my dancing.

 

My main duties at the charity were to teach the employees basic English, play with the kids in the drop-in-centre and assist Krishna with overseeing the construction of a new drop-in centre just out of town.  Essentially the drop in centre functions as a fun/informal learning space with a small selection of toys and books run by a dedicated supervisor for young children who are forced into work by their parents.  I met a lot of the parents and their not evil, they live in very poor conditions and need all the income to sustain the low level they currently have.  Contrary to what I thought, many parents are happy to have the children take a few hours off work a day to come and muck around, shout and dance and generally act like kids.

 

I had so many great experiences in the drop in centre, all the kids come in various assortments of ill fitting filthy clothes their bodies full of marks and dirt yet they always have a smile plastered right across their faces.  In one session I taught them how to make paper boys and girls, I will never forget it, all of them fighting to use the limited scissors and pencils, I was in a state of panic for the duration hoping no one would lose an eye.  But the results were amazing and they proudly stuck them on the wall.

 

I’d also dance and sing with them, they were particularly fond of my dancing, mostly for laughing at but I enjoyed putting a smile on their faces.  One day many of the children didn’t show up and on subsequent days they weren’t there, I began to be concerned but later that day I found them in suitably ill-fitting school uniforms, they had been admitted to the local government school, a huge success.

 

Teaching English was also an adventure, talking English is one thing trying to teach it is another matter entirely.  Its natural to know where words go, irregular and regular verbs and little rules but trying to relay that to an audience that could not speak any English was a challenge for sure.  I developed simple ways of explaining things, always trying to ground what I was saying with Nepalese examples to try to help the understanding.  I mostly made up what I was going to teach, sometimes this worked really well other time it failed miserably, but it was all a learning curve for all parties involved.  I’ll never forget the feeling of satisfaction when it was obvious from peoples faces that they understood the concept.  I loved watching the students confidence and ability grow gradually.

 

The construction of the new drop-in -centre was of huge importance, the current building REEC occupied was crumbling and dark.  The new building designed for the purpose, bright and spacious and its where a lot of the donations you have given will go towards.  By the time I had left the first floor had been set, it will be a fair few months before the building is completed, I intend to go back to see everyone and see the new building in all its glory.

 

My great experiences didn’t end at REEC.  Throughout my time I camped in the grounds of a small hotel run by two brothers, most nights we’d sit and chat with each other, the eldest brother had attended cooking school and taught me how to cook some stonking dishes.

 

Towards the end of my time in Beni I embarked on the Annapurna circuit, renting a mountain bike from Pokhara and completing the entire circuit in 10days, a gruelling effort but breathtaking to see the mighty Annapurna range up close.

 

So it was of great sadness to me to leave all the great friends I had  made there, it had been a truly awesome experience, more than I could have hoped for.  But it was time for my rest to come to and end and mount the bike for the final furlong up to Kathmandu.

 

During my time in Beni I had made 3 separate trips to Kathmandu on a bus to get my rear wheel sorted out.  It was an international endeavour to get it to come together, I had to mail order a new rim from America, my parents had to buy spokes from a UK bike shop and courier them over and it all came together in a small bike workshop in Kathmandu.  So the ride there was a little monotonous and completely not as I had imagined it would be but I felt very happy to have achieved what I had set out to do 2 or so years ago.

 

So this is the end of this blog, man what a journey, we’re really glad you could join us on some of the adventures here.  I hope you have enjoyed it, we certainly enjoyed seeing it updated, possibly not the writing so much but it certainly worth it.

 

So go get that bike and go have yourself an adventure!

Rishikesh to Pokhara – Down in the lowlands

February 6, 2012
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My volunteering post had been confirmed, I would begin working at REEC (Rural Environment and Empowerment Centre) a small charity supported by ICT on the 10th of October.  Therefore any mountainous routes to the Nepalese border had to be shunned in favour of quicker lowland main roads, something I hate to do as I knew what would be in store, but sometimes needs must.

 

The first few hours out of Rishikesh were a dream, huge tarmac paths next to concretised river channels feeding into the mighty Ganges, it felt a bit like a tropical Eurovelo.  The route took us through dense forest with not a sole around out onto a main road replete with all India has to offer in that department.  Still in the forest the road was bareable, warning signs for wild elephants leaving us both in a constant head turn to spot one of the mighty beasts in the undergrowth.  Suddenly I hear a crack in the woodland and as I stop to take a closer look 2 huge grey faces can be seen in the dense foliage.  I quickly reach for my camera eager to get as close as possible without getting trampled (these guys don’t mess around and are constantly pissed off) as both of them look content to destroy everything around them at a safe distance.  Our excitement doesn’t go un noticed and before long a lorry stops and tells us to get away from the area very fast, with a quick snap and a good look were quickly on our way feeling pretty buzzed.

 

Camping seems unlikely amongst the dense settlements organised around endless green fields plus the humidity would make camping uncomfortable so we try to find a cheap hotel (dharamsala).  We find one after collecting two ice cold beers from one of the many ’wine shops,’ your order is passed to you through the prison bars as no one is allowed in apart from the poor sole who has to remain trapped inside all day serving drunks.

 

We spent the next few days battling along the main roads trying not to let our tempers get the better of us.  In dusty, hot and hectic conditions its easy to become frustrated and angry but its part of the experience, even though it doesn’t get you anywhere.  Feeling tired, the only restbite for fresh lime juices and ATMs we made our way to the border eager to get into Nepal, a country known to be a little less intense than India.  We arrived at the border, the most lowkey of the trip, consisting of a table and a few disinterested guards, my well concealed hashish could have been in my hand for all the attention we received and we freely passed the check post as hordes of Nepalis and Indians drifted between the countries without hindrance.

 

It was a momentous occasion to enter Nepal, the original destination of the trip was tangibly close now, good reason to find a hotel, get some beers and celebrate with the friendly hotel owners, who were far removed from the off-putting stares of some Indians, despite taking advantage of our newness to the Nepali language and teaching us rude words instead of the name for the traditional dish.

 

Terai, or lowlands comprises roughly half of Nepal stretching from one end to the other and cutting the country in half lengthways.  The top half of Nepal is mountains, it has the highest concentration of plus 8000m peaks of any country.  But we would spend the next week or so pedalling along the only road, a straight monolith stretching from West to East.  Despite its lack of turns the road showed itself to be the lifeblood of the areas we passed through, people constantly on or around it, some busy working others sitting around watching the world go by.

 

Many houses were wooden tree houses on stilts nestled in the thick forest, people could be seen fishing in shallow ponds with makeshift nets and we would constantly pass giant bundles of sticks and grass trundling along the side of the road attached to the forehead of a hunched individual returning home with firewood and feed for the animals.

 

The vast expanses of woodland would have been perfect for camping were it not for the constant stream of kids somehow managing to find us even when we thought we were completely hidden.  On a couple of occasions you would wake to hear giggles from a group in the near distance and peering out of the tent the campsite would have been ransacked of anything that had been left out, including any rubbish.  After some shouting the stolen items were returned luckily but we soon learnt that it was best to keep everything out of sight of these light-fingered Nepalese.  In addition to some thieving children the humidity was pretty uncomfortable and every night we would try to camp near a water source in order to wash away the days sweat and try to cool off before the mosquitoes began munching at us.

 

After a few days of lowland riding it was time to turn up into the mountains towards Pokhara.  This route offered some spectacular and tough riding, Nepalese roads pitching up and down relentlessly, you never hold the altitude.  It was all worth it for the views of Machuppachure mountain or ‘fish tail’ as its known (the northern view has given it its name), forming part of the Annapurna range this mighty mountain sat above the clouds like a ghost.  After some more relentless climbing through the maturing rice fields we could see Pokhara sitting beneath next to Fewa lake.  The decent was sweet but a monumental explosion from my rear tyre revealed a shredded rim, the walls of which had become progressively thinner over the past year and had now given way.  So with only 5kms remaining I slung the bike into the back of a pick up and Tim rode behind towards the river side and a hotel with a hot shower.

 

17/09/2011 – 27/09/2011 – Kaza to Rishikesh

February 6, 2012
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There are some things you come to realise on a trip like this, some are worldy and wise (the population of a country should not be judged by their governments actions on the global stage) but some are a little more mundane.  For example if your bags arent packed the night before you leave, your probably not going to leave until late the next day, if at all.  An unpacked pannier breeds procrastination, perhaps i should stay another day, I could do with some more rest you think to yourself.  Or a personal favourite, I need to catch up on the blog which is perpetually in a state of lag.  Luckily, we did leave Kaza that day after lunch, mostly because if I didn’t then it would make getting to Dehra Dun to pick up some well-travelled parcels more of a tall order.

 

The deal was sweetened further as our first stop would be that evening in Tabo to visit a 1000 year old monastery only 30kms down the road.  We caught up with Loretta and Brad two solo cyclists who we’d met in Kaza and enjoyed beer and momo’s in the evening.  In the morning we ventured over to the small unassuming monastery in the centre of town.  Part of the appeal of Buddhist monasteries are that they are usually perched precariously atop hills, Tabo’s ground level offering was a little less impressive.  However,  the paintings and mud sculptures of colourful monsters and enlightened beings adorning every wall and darkened corners provided some entertainment, but the visit was short lived as a special guest was arriving and we had to leave.  We ended up outside sitting with a middle-aged American with a comb over trying to hark back to his bygone hippy lifestyle.  Endowed with a now discontinued 10 year Indian visa, we listened to him babble on about Buddhism.

 

Loretta joined Tim and I as we continued down into the Spiti Valley, riding a super light set up of only two rear bags and full of stories from her time living in Alaska and 2 years of solo bike travel, I was interested to find out more about her solo cycling experiences.  Leaving home over a year ago was a pretty big deal, venturing out into the unknown, swamped by the prospective distance, it was very scary, but that was accompanied by a friend.  To have done all that alone as a woman takes guts, especially when your route takes you through predominantly patriarchal countries, but Loretta shrugs it off saying she’s never felt really threatened.  In fact quite the opposite and in countries  where you would have suspected some trouble for women, Pakistan for instance, the red carpet was rolled out every time with nothing but respectful behaviour towards her.  She became an honorary male in many situations in addition to being able to interact with women as well, something we were certainly not able to do.

 

We passed a checkpoint later that day, handing over our permits for the region.  In such close proximity to Tibet/China, the area is relatively sensitive despite the officers relaxed demeanour.  After a day of cycling we were looking forward to getting to Nako and having some beers but it wouldn’t come as easily as we’d hoped, stopping to eat some momos (a staple Tibetan dish of dumplings) we’re told by an old man that its downhill to Nako.  This completely contradicts what other people have told us but late in the day we’re all happy to blindly take his word and discount the previous advice.   Around the corner the road steeply climbs from the riverside in a series of switchbacks scaling the entire surface of the megaliths, downhill it is not my friend and i daydreamed about going back to collect the old fool and marching him up the road.  Around the last bend and more climbing is ahead, this is quickly turning into a pass and the light is fading, beers in Nako seem less likely now.  With little option to camp, the sheer surface leading straight back down to the river we’re forced to push on.  We happen across an abandoned building at the road side still showing signs of its previous occupants.  Discarded tar stained clothes are littered everywhere, the old home of the ubiquitous road workers but the soft floor is perfect to rest on.

 

Nako sits ahead amidst a sea of mountains, colourful prayer flags point us towards the monastery but first stop is another monster breakfast of aloo parantha (bread filled with potato), omelette and vegetable curry.  Set above terraced fields Nako was a beautiful unassuming village and far more impressive than Tabo, we spent a little time in the monastery before starting the mega descent down towards Pooh, an unfortunately named town which only seemed to sell building materials.  Following a dusty road along the river, the road was taking us out of the mountains that we’d called home for over a month towards the plains.

 

The mighty Kinnaur Kailash mountain loomed above and we were keen to get a better look.  Turning off the main road and feeling a little uneasy about leaving the main route, the deadline to pick up my new thermarest before its shipped back to the UK fast approaching, and begin to hail down lorries for a lift up to a view point.  After a few unsuccessful attempts we pay a taxi and load all 3 bikes for the bumpy road up past the district capital Recong Peo onto Kalpa a small village dominated by wooden houses and subtle red flowers.  We’re dropped at a hotel and make our way to the roof terrace, across the valley Kinnaur Kailash sits shrouded in white mist.  We eat some food and the prospect of some beers on the terrace wins out over getting back on the bikes.

 

Slowly the hills become smaller and before we know it we’re back in the insanity of India proper, everything is ten times louder, dustier, smellier and busier.  I’ve dreaded this moment since leaving the mental shit storm 2 months ago, back in the ’real’ India its actually not so bad Himachal Pradesh seems to borrow some of the good parts of Northern India, people are friendly and smiley and theres still some hills to enjoy.

 

I decide to push on ahead leaving the other two, with 3 days remaining and 250km to cover to the FedEx depot in Dehra Dun, I’m feeling the pressure to get big distances and don’t want to feel like I’m pulling the others along.  The route peels off the main road and I’m back in the serenity of a quiet track leading up into the green mountains. India surprises again, one moment your amongst the mayhem of rickshaws and cows wandering across the road the next your completely alone pedalling up a track with no sound other than the crunch of the tyres.

 

A young kid stops to ask if I have any rolling papers, I oblige and in return for my generosity he gives me a small lump of black hash.  The climbing is sweaty and despite the amazing scenery I feel preoccupied with time pressure, kilometre calculations and slow progress swirling around under my drenched brow.  A lift begins to seem like a good option and I flag down a flat bed truck filled with aggregate, “To Rohru?” I ask to which I’m told yes and so load my bike onto the building material for the 40km journey.  Unfortunately the driver pulls to a halt 5kms down the road at his building site and im promptly left at the side of the road with the end of the day fast approaching.  I make it to what seems to be the top of the hill just as it gets dark and secure a cheap room after protesting the managers assumption that I was a rich tourist and so should pay more.

 

Surely enough the road began to descend the next morning towards Rohru passing hordes of school children making their way to class.  Rohru is really busy and the stress of the road gets the better of me, shouting and swearing at traffic and almost hitting an old man who reversed into me were not my finest moments of the trip.  I decide to try to channel my angers towards FedEx, who being a global delivery powerhouse were ironically  unable to deliver the packages to the intended address meaning  I have to traipse across the better part of Northern India in order to retrieve them.

 

In a rare moment of relative calm I did manage to meet two old men, grinning from ear to ear from the car windows.  In 2 weeks they told me they would retire from their jobs and return to a more relaxed lifestyle hence the smiles, they offered to help but short of dropping me in Dehra Dun they couldn’t really do anything for me, or so I thought.  Arriving in ….. a huge road sign hung over the road and confirmed my worst fears, the distances on the map were completely wrong, Dehra Dun lay over 100km further than I had estimated with a huge climb in between.  To make things worse my intended route was a no go, a huge military facility lied ahead and foreigners were not able to pass.  I slumped at the side of the road trying to work out what was best, a familiar voice came from behind me and the two men I’d met earlier came into view.  I told them my woes and they told me there was an alternative route un marked on my map that would take me to my destination without having to climb.

 

Armed with a new route following the river downstream I was pumped up and ready to tackle the final furlong.  The track was stunning, taking me through remote villages and lush green mountains covered in terraced fields.  I camped in the dark after 8 hours of cycling finding a small cramped spot just above the road, tired, I prayed I wouldn’t be discovered.  No one came past and the only sounds I heard that evening was the humming unison of the areas insects.  Tomorrow was going to be a huge day, I planned to wake at 6 in order to tackle the final 125km, most of which would be off road.

Morning came and progress was good, I pumped the bike up any small inclines, slow travel is enjoyable but sometimes a large target gets the endorphins pumping through your veins.  After a sweaty morning the dusty track I’d raced along the day before was met by a smooth tarmac highway and arriving in Dehra Dun later that day seemed achievable.  The remaining 50kms were a bit of a blur, completely shattered and having done 100km before lunch I felt completely disconnected from my surroundings.

 

I arrived in a Dehra Dun feeling glad to have arrived yet the FedEx depot proved to be illusive.  Armed only with the memory of google maps I frantically passed up and down the main road frustrated that time was ticking by.  With 40minutes remaining till closing I found the correct area and was pointed to an unmarked building.  Inside the airy expanse of the office I came face to face with the man who’d made my life ten times harder and managed to hold back a torrent of abuse.  Armed with my new thermarest (essential for a comfortable nights sleep) and various maps and water purification tablets I found a small room in a hotel that must have been a prison in a former life and slumped on the small bed in a pokey room after 9 hours of cycling.

 

The next day I cycled the remaining 50 kms to Rishikesh, a lonely planet ‘must see’, it sits on the banks of the Ganges and therefore has enormous religious importance as well as being the Yoga capital of India, if not the world.  Wandering around in the afternoon, a familiar face cycled past, Tim had just arrived having cycled the same route.  Now I had someone to celebrate the anniversary of the trip with and we had a slap up curry and then went on hairy rickshaw ride out of town to the nearest alcohol vendor 30minutes away (the holiness of Rishikesh makes selling alcohol illegal) and bought a big box of alcohol to wash down with some of the finest Charas I have ever smoked.

 

I’d like to have said that I went to Yoga and meditation class and started my path to enlightenment but I felt lacklustre to get involved in anything, preferring to slump on the balcony and try to recoup some energy.  We did manage to pull ourselves away from the sedentary lifestyle and soaked up the calmness sitting next to the Ganges, which despite being close to the source was a huge expanse of water so large it passed by as a smooth blanket of grey water.  The main strip was dominated by tourist trappings, completely disconnected from the remote landscape of the previous two months.  The roads lined with religious pilgrims dressed in orange robes, a large proportion of which speak perfect English and earn and decent wage requesting money for photographs.

 

6/09/2011 – 17/09/2011 Leh to Kaza – One of the highest mountain roads in the world

January 14, 2012
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The Indus valley, the bedrock of many civilizations and a river we had followed in Pakistan and now closer to the source in Ladakh, India was left behind for the last time.  The rocky valley feeding into the Indus was tighter and more challenging to ride, but the area began to feel more remote and more as I had expected of this road.  Dhabas (Indian restaurants) became more sparse, the only buildings tight sets of Tibetan houses with  huge stacks of cut and dried grass sitting outside, animal feed for winter carefully collected in bundles for storage.

Huge slabs of dark rock erupted from the floor at sharp angles, further along Gompas sat up high on the rock outcrops.  We camped next to a group of sheep herders who became the proud owners of my broken sleeping mat, having picked up a cheap Chinese imitation in Leh, in the morning they are busy vaccinating the animals against BSE as we pack up.

Tanglang La pass sat towering above us at 5300m, fully loaded this was going to be more tough than Khardung La (5358m) we’d completed without baggage a few days back.  The first section wasn’t too tough, slight breathlessness above 4500m as the huge switchbacks winded up the mountain always obscuring the final summit marked by colourful prayer flags.  Thoughts of relieving myself of the considerable library I’ve amassed and letting them fall to the valley floor did pass my mind, every kilo at this attitude is like lead weight, your body struggles to provide the muscles with the sufficient oxygen you need filling your body with lactic acid.

A huge sigh of relieve at the top, the climb was tougher than expected, most the day had been spent edging up, resting at the side of the road and taking in the scenery, it was a short windswept descent into a sparse high altitude plain, Morei Plains.  A huge expanse of dusty red and lime green mountains, road building forcing drivers to forge their own paths across the mass, creating a dense tapestry of intertwined tracks.  A remote area with no settlements except small encampments made from discarded tarp and old oil cans, occupied by Southern Indians and Nepalese road workers these groups live a hard life away from their families in challenging conditions working hard to turn the highway into one continuous strip of smooth tarmac.

After a short descent into Pang, a roadside village consisting of a  double row of tent structures acting as restaurants and hotels all run by excited Ladakhi’s eager to secure your business, we begin to ascend through a rock theme park of spewing landforms, turrets and tunnels.  This place has to be one of the strangest I’ve ever visited – a psychedelic wonderland, rock formations straight from Albert Hoffmann himself.  As the sun set, the weather got colder and rain fell making the river crossings that much colder, on the way we met a couple of Indian cycle tourists who’d come from the south to spread their cycling for peace message, one told us excitedly that We must go to Malana! as you can roll your own hash.  We made the summit in the dark and settled for a small patch to camp right at the top – 5000m, the highest I’ve ever camped, it was surprisingly comfortable considering how exposed you are this high, the only problem that the stove sometimes cut out.

At the top of Baralacha La pass the following day, a passing driver confirms that the track heading away from the road towards the horizon is a trekking trail to Chandra Tal, a high altitude lake and somewhere I was very interested in visiting.  Having seen this route on the map, temptation for adventure –  7 days of wilderness without any proper villages obscured any issue we had of not having enough food and we begun the track full of adrenaline.  The first obstacle, a huge expanse of boulders roughly 500m wide, an un-rideable river bed started the pragmatic wheels turning in the brain and we begun to question A).  The feasibility of completing this route in a decent amount of time and B).  Whether any of it was actually cyclable.  We sat on the open plain flanked by rows of huge snow capped mountains on either side and decided that the route was only suitable if you had a horse, an unloaded bicycle or just a backpack and walking shoes.  Slightly dejected we made the return journey back to the safety of the tarmac road, a route for another time.

After a week of hard riding, the desire to sit around and be lazy grew stronger but we were still a few days away from the first stop in Kaza.  Feeling a little weary of mountain roads – despite how beautiful they are, it can be easy to slip into a non-plussed attitude about the surroundings especially when the beauty is there 24/7.  The ideal solution would be to transport yourself into the heart of hectic Dehli for an afternoon I’m sure the desire to be in the mountains would quickly recharge.  Unfortunately this isn’t  possible, the next best thing however is a pannier full of cold crisp beers clinking away as you descend down the road to find camp in the cool heat of the setting sun.

Descending from Baralacha La the valley had shifted from stark rock to lush alpine, a thick aroma of pine emanating from everywhere.  Tired and a little weary, the road difficult to cycle due to a high concentration of boulders leading up to Kunzum La, the entrance to the Spiti Valley.  These stretches really test your patience, it requires a lot of concentration and physical exertion to ride the bike in such difficult circumstances especially when all you want to do is rest.  Luckily we reached the base of the pass filled up on plates of Thali (Mixed curry plate) and started up the 20 switchbacks of decent track.

Spiti valley brought a fresh palate of colours, yellow from the numerous tree-planting initiatives there and newly built houses in Tibetan style with blue window frames.  The valley felt more wealthy than previous places, the new construction, the lack of rubbish, people appeared to be well-nourished and the friendly mentality of the Ladakhi’s was firmly back.  The ride past gompas and rock formations but all I could think about was having a day off in Kaza and how painfully slow to arrive it was.  Finally we made it and got our permit to ride further in the valley out of the way. It was time to start munching mo-mos (Tibetan dumplings) and Chow mein to recoup some energy, the bike safely out of sight on the balcony.