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Greetings from the Himalayas

Discussion in 'Roads, Touring, Journeys, and Travel' started by peter-reebok, Jul 22, 2009.

  1. So, I managed to get there, and last week even managed the main objective, Khardung la, at 5603M the (supposed) highest motorable road in the world.

    There will be a full story when I return inc pics, but for those contemplating this trip - JUST DO IT!.

    The traffic and roads are 'interesting' but the scenery is just so amazing.

    So long for now - off to meet the Dalai Lama
  2. are you riding with marcus??
  3. Hey Peter, great to hear from you. That must just about be the trip of a lifetime......
  4. must be freezing
  5. Hi pete can't wait to see the pics......hope to catch up with you for a beer or two while you are still over here and hear some of your stories

    cheers stewy :)
  6. Here are links to a couple of photos - took almost 2000!.

    I didnt ride with Marcus - wasnt planning too - went with Ferris wheels - and no regrets either - While we were there - Wheels of India group (german?) didnt get to do Khardung La - because a) Taiwanese nationals werent allowed - 2 in group, b) they forgot to organise the outer line permits, or c) the bikes werent up to it.

    They werent happy campers!.

    A lot happens behind the scenes - the operators earn their $$

    And I had big trouble with Indian SIM cards - so had no ph to contact anyone while I was there for a week or two.

    Sorry Stew and GRRL, I missed you guys - hope the treatment is making headway.
    anyways - until I load the rest of the pics to Photobucket or similar - here are a few teasers.




    Full ride report coming - but jobs I neglected whilst I was away are calling first.
  7. Some fargin fantastic shots there Pete. I remember you posting about doing this ages ago. We chatted about it. Good to see you made it. I will get there, its inevatable, just need my son to grow a few years yet, so he can hold on tight enough without falling off :grin:
  8. Spose I will have to start telling the story

    Part 1.
    Note - If I offend anyone, it is unintentional, and I am happy to make corrections if this happens. LET me know, I am really approachable - yeah really!.

    So I started off with much trepidation, aware that my own skills would be tested, and without not really knowing what I would encounter.
    It is one thing to do research, but it is only real when you are on the ground. Something that no amount of research would assist.
    Did we have the right gear?
    Am I too old for this?
    Oh shit - What have I got myself into.!

    Flight over was uneventful, but the leg from Singapore to India was a gentle reminder that I was not in Kansas anymore, as the plane filled up with people from very different places, and I became a little more reserved as I realised I was the foreigner now, and had better show respect.
    There were a few people on the flight that were on the same tour as me, and I tried to pick them as we went along.
    The tour shirt was a dead give away in one circumstance, as was the helmet and 'lost' expression on another.

    When we were awaiting baggage collection, it became obvious who was in our group, and we managed to assemble and be introduced to beauracracy at a higher plane than we had seen before. We were still in a calm mood, so was not a problem. One official wanted an address for our stay in India. Apparently 'Hotel in Delhi' qualifies as an answer, She was happy, as the box was filled in on our paperwork.
    Exiting into the arrivals hall, we were struck with the heat, noise and smells of another country. Not overpowering, but definitely different.
    Amazingly, no one got lost, and we loaded onto the bus for the trip to the hotel and our first encounter with India.
    Nothing too confronting on the trip, except the heat, and the constant exhortations to drink more water. Hit the hotel, straight to the bar and meet some of the others. Hope I belong with these people, gunna be together for 3 weeks. hmmm.
    All notions of this dispelled immediately - good bunch of people, and from diverse backgrounds. Hit the sack late, but sleep well until the alarm rings. Early.

    Day 2.
    An early rise, today we catch the train to Chandigarh to collect the bikes. Bus stops well short of the station, as at 5:30 am, the traffic is gridlocked. Off the bus and hoof it to the station. Now we get to see the raw India, with people urinating and defecating on the footpaths, sleeping on traffic islands, and just everywhere. My first introduction to the sheer number of people in India, and overwhelming. The train station is even more densely packed, and we realise that the train is leaving from another platform, so we run a bit more then relax. I must say that for all the confusion and chaos, everything is organised, and our names are on the passenger list posted on the carriages, and we easily find our seats. Time to sit back and take it all in.
    Breakfast is provided, and while this is happening, we are introduced to the notion of 'people jobs' in India. With such a population, one of the focuses is on employing people, so we see this in action, with jobs being 'split' into many jobs, giving more people a chance to do meaningful work. ie, one person to hand out cups, one person to hand out water, one person to hand out hot water for tea, one to hand out breakfast etc.

    After experiencing the scenery for a couple of hours, it was time to leave the train, and venture out into the carpark, where our next transport awaited - the bikes. At this point we noticed the guards with guns at the station. Soon to be almost a permanent fixture around us.

    Time for a quick debrief, and a lesson in starting the Enfield. My normal commute is a 1800cc cruiser, so it was with some amusement I anticipated the power of the Enfield. Not to worry, as its light weight more than made up for it. I had been told that one reason for its popularity is the low speeds achieved in India. Its agility made up for lower power. Proved to be more than adequate in practice too. Nice and easy to do feet up U circles, gears are on opposite side, and upside down, more worried about rear brake position, now left foot.
    The Enfield is a bike from the early 1950's that has persisted because it is very appropriate for Indian conditions. Low revving, plenty of torque, suited to the slogging type of pace that is required. Right hand gear change, one up, 3 down, left foot rear brake (drum) and the hand contorls are in the normal places. Able to be repaired on the side of the road, and Enfield repair places are everywhere we went - meaning spares are as well. Essentially unchanged for 50 years.
    After some practice, it was time to get onto the road proper, with a stop for fuel first. First impression - the heat - Only five minutes, and I am soaked in sweat, and looking for water. We stumbled our way to Shimla, with a stop for lunch on the way.
    The traffic was explained to us as a shoal of fishes. That way, vehicles can leave and join the 'stream' of traffic at will, and people just make way for them. The horn as a warning device was explained, and we all dropped our 'western' horn habits and embraced its use - enthusiastically. One beep for 'here I am' and one more for ' and I'm coming thru'. Seems to work, so when in rome......
    I am amazed at how many lanes of traffic you can fit on a 2 lane road, and at how few accidents there are in proportion to the traffic. Could teach a few Australians about being aware!.
    We all made it to Shimla, with no incidents - but a few close calls. The traffic in Shimla caused a few raised eyebrows amongst us. Never seen so much traffic, and we were all finding MANY false neutrals in the Enfield gearbox, occasionally a gear. We were warned about staying too long at a stop with the clutch held in, and obviously unfamiliar with the bikes made a few mistakes, a few stalls, and keeping a watchful eye for the others and any turns were a source of concern. Few sprinkles of rain, but not enough to concern us. Had time to go for a short walk to get my bearings.A few drinks with dinner (bring on the Kingfisher) and a veritable feast were well received. BIG sleeps for us all. Maybe the big hurdles were over. yeah right.

    Day 3. Shimla to Mandi
    After a warning (prothetic) that the second day of riding is when the accidents happen, we had three incidents. I managed to hit a TATA truck, after winding up the speed on successive twisty corners, I managed to exceed my skill levels, and make contact with the truck, which was headed towards me. Simply, I ran wide, and we made low speed contact. Cosmetic damage to the bike, more to my ego, but on our way again quickly. Roadside attractions appeared, although to the locals, they were just normal events and businesses. Things like elephants, cows, landslides, a mixture of road conditions. We we also starting to look forward to things like chai breaks, as a reason to stop and discuss the things we had seen.
    A few stops for water, and I was beginning to appreciate the camelbak, as I was sweating so much, my clothes were sodden after only an hour of riding.
    The traffic in Mandi was worse than Shimla, or the strets were more narrow - a total eye opener for me, as the streets were narrow and ancient, and filled with pedestrians, cars and bikes.
    How they didn't make contact was a miracle to me, but gave me hope that if I followed suit, things would be ok. In what was to be a recurring theme for me, the bright colours of the sari's drew my attention. My opinion is that the sari is a very elegant form of dress, and practical at the same time.
    Most of us had mastered the art of finding neutral, and were more at home with the bike.
    Our quarters for the night were with the Maharajah of Mandi, in his guest residence. The Maharajah's used to 'own' their part of India, and when the privy purse was abolished, many found themselves penniless, with no income, but still with grand residences to maintain. The Maharajah of Mandi was one of these, and sold much property to ensure he could retain at least some semblance of the grand life. The current Maharajah was an elderly gentleman, in some poor health, but agreed to breakfast with us the following day. He kept us entertained with stories and riddles. He was indeed a gentleman. The premises had spent better years, but was not crumbling either. It retained enough hints of previous opulence to let the mind wander and imagine what life would have been like a hundred years ago. A walk around the town provided many photo opportunities, and a chance to let the Indian way of life seep in to your bones.
    Followed by a grand dinner, it seemed we were getting our share of the lavish life as well. Retiring to our rooms, we were brought back down to earth with the realisation that we could either sleep, or have the aircon on, but not both.
    The beauracracy worked here too, with most bags delivered to the wrong rooms. But there was nothing wrong with the service, with everyone wanting to assist or please us.
    John and Todd established themselves as the jokers in the pack, outdoing each other successively with various pranks. This was to continue for the duration of the trip, keeping us all on our toes and amused. John shocked us all at dinner by announcing that he had never ridden a motorcycle before this trip, just a 125cc scooter. Whilst we were amazed that he had made it this far, we were concerned for the rest of the trip, everyone taking turns to 'mother' his riding, in anticipation of the big incident that fortunately didnt come.

    Day 4 Mandi to Manali

    We were all up early, all eager to get started again, and thankful that we survived the last 2 days.

    After being treated like kings at breakfast, we were off, John spending some time with Gaffer tape and a plastic bag and turning his video camera into a helmet cam.
    It had been raining during the night, and we all donned our wet weather gear in anticipation of rain to come. Whilst it threatened, and started to rain, it was gentle, and decided to stay dry. The roads started to open out, and begin to be cut deep into the hillsides, with the drops becoming bigger. We came upon a hydro power station, and they are always impressive to watch for a while.
    About this time we began to be confident enough not to ride in packs, and tour in a strung out group.
    This was to set the scene for the rest of the trip, with some people almost on 'power runs', some stopping frequently for photos or a rest, and others dawdling along soaking in the scenery.
    At the chai stop, there was a suspension bridge that we could not resist riding over, because we could.
    The roads tended to vary a lot in their quality, with some unmade sections introducing us to dirt and gravel roads, our first landslide, and small towns.

    Lunch was near a shawl business, that managed to sell us all a KULLU hat, as well as numerous shawls. They showed us how they weaved the shawls, and the amount of time and effort that went into each shawl. Interestingly, the main street was full of wild marijuana growing on the side of the road in the middle of the township. Whilst we were looking at this, India showed us the first of many speed humps in the road, catching some of us by surprise. This was also about the time we all got comfortable with passing the traffic, some taking more risks than others. We were all enjoying the riding now.

    We made it into Manali late in the afternoon, finding the hotel with varying degrees of success. The beer was cold, we were hot, and we had started to climb, higher and higher, and needed a rest. Tomorrow was to be a rest day, wandering Manali, river rafting, or parasailing.
    I again attempted to make my phone work, but wishing wasnt working. Emailed the Ph company and got back cryptic messages saying that my sim card would not work - hell I knew that - getting frustrated now.
    Some more emails, and I managed to get them to agree to get a local provider to bring a fresh sim card to me. When he arrived, he needed copies of passport, visa, drivers licence, all of which I had copies, and I was soon able to get in touch with my family and ensure them I was ok. I had bought the sim card before arrival, and whilst it was cheap calls - it was a major hassle until In could get it to work. Turns out the problem was that the initial provider in India registered more than one card with the number, invalidating the other cards.
    yes - it works, but we were heading for 10 days without ph coverage, so a moot point.

    Stayed up late - after a big banquet meal - and took some photos of the bikes in the car park using the natural light only - I was happy with the results at least.
  9. Part 2 - the push to Leh

    Day 5 - Rest day in Manali

    Idle into Manali for a look at the shops, and their wares. Quite taken with the Singing bowls, and prayer wheels - Will buy some of these for souvenirs. Quite relaxing to walk amongst the shops and see what they have. Find myself quite able to just sit and watch the world go by. Went for a walk to an older temple - charming, but since I could not fully comprehend its significance, it probably did not mean as much as it should. I mounted an assault on the local ATM - and joined the queue, where I had to try all my cards a few times before it would read one of them. Ok, now I have spending money. Took a tuk-tuk to the temple, but was taken on a ride PAST the temple, and ended up at a second temple, in Old Manali. Old Manali is quite different, being on the other side of the river, and featuring older housing and areas. The difference in the street widths, housing styles, and population is quite marked. A lot of wild Marijuana is grown around old Manali, and the type of people that it attracts are quite different.

    Almost like a flashback to the 70's, but with an edge. Never felt threatened, but was not the comfortable easy style of Manali proper. Walked back to 'new' Manali, and found the temple I was looking for originally. Interestingly, it was surrounded by almost a fun fair, with vendors, beggars, and attractions for tourists. One of the attractions were snake charmers, and I found myself seated, holding two cobras and a python. Of course, then you have to pay for this privilege, and the negotiations started. back and forth, until agreement was reached. All done quite happily, no sign of any edge to the discussion, which was perhaps a hint that we were becoming accustomed to the Indian way of commerce. Or I am too soft! There were Yak photo opportunities available, as well as trampolines (?) and various other kids activities that I would not have normally associated with a temple. And plenty of goods for sale.
    Apparently there are normally dancing bears and other politically incorrect activities, but the authorities are trying to curb these, and it appears that they are starting to succeed.
    A refreshing day.

    Day 6
    Manali to Keylong
    Today we start seeing the mountains properly, with snow caps. And the mountain roads.Today was about 75% dirt,sand and mud. A real learning experience for me, as my off road experience is very limited. By the end of the day, I even started to stand up on the pegs, although I didnt quite get the hang of the using the rear brake at the same time. In a recurring theme, listening to others experience was the key here for me. Difficult if you barge in - much easier if you obey a few simple rules. cover the rear brake, forget the front brake, let the back of the bike dance a little, use acceleration to straighten it out. If you look around, you start seeing things that colour your experience, like trucks in the river, (been there a long time) abandoned, after supposedly running off the edge of the road. Trucks and cars bogged up to the axles (or worse). The sheer drops to
    the side if you forget!. The first step could be 3000 or 4000 metres!. At one stage, I managed to pass a huge traffic jam, because at a corner, there was a glue pot of mud about 2 feet deep. The bike and I managed to ride past slowly, without too much drama, although it did not seem like it at the time. 200 feet later - dry as again, and we just kept going.
    Quite a few people dropped their bikes in the mud/sand today.
    First river crossings today as well. The Border Roads org had a backhoe clearing the larger rocks away from the roadway under the river, and there were plenty of people in cars and trucks waiting for someone else to
    have a go. We were all a bit tentative, but the two most gung-ho people made it across, so I decided better now than later and had a go as well. kept the feet up, bike in first gear, covered the rear brake, and just went thru,almost too easily. One by one we all made it, but the tour group organiser, who has made this trip over 40 times, made a bold statement
    to one of the couples, and offered to take the pillion over with him, and show them how it was done.

    Guess what happened? yep - found a larger rock with the front wheel, and tipped sideways into the water. Many hands pulled the bike and people out, and we all remarked on the subtle irony of the situation. Once again, listening to others tell how, and then putting into practice was all that was required. Glad I had my ears in operation that day.
    We all made it to the hotel in Keylong, where the Kingfisher made its appearance again, followed by the drink of choice, Old Monk Rum. The directions were a bit loose to the hotel, and a few of us, myself included, managed to ride around the town 2-3 times before we found the hotel.
    The accomodations were basic, but the service was enthusiastic and fine, resulting in a very pleasurable stay for all. Again, the higher mountains
    were visible in the distance, tempting us again.
    We went up to 4000 m height today, before descending to sleep.

    Day 7 Keylong to Sarchu
    Supposedly an easy day. Which it was for those not already suffering from Altitude Sickness. For me, I realised halfway thru the day that AMS was getting to me, so took a break from riding and a walk. AMS manifests itself in many ways, including headaches and nausea, but what I got was disorientation. Just felt weird, and realised I was making a few decisions about my riding that were not logical. Best to take a short break than ride off the edge.
    The going was slow for most of the day, with a continuation of the need for concentration on the road conditions. again - mostly dirt/gravel/sand.
    Must be getting used to the bike in the dirt, had a few slides in the corners, and emerged with a grin.
    Wouldnt have done that a week ago!.
    Quite a few more water crossings (ice melt, not rivers), and plenty of snow and ice. More passes, Barachla, glaciers etc. The scenery is just unreal, and the sad realisation that the time here is fleeting. Would be good to have more than a few days to soak it in.Accomodation tonight was a tent hotel.
    But with style!.
    The tents are 2 bedders, with camp beds, an ensuite with porcelain facilities under canvas. Not the warmest or most stable, but intriguing, and substantial effort was made for us.
    There was a separate dining tent, with full facilities, although there was the need for more beer, LOL. Once again, we had been very lucky with
    the weather, and whilst the clouds closed in, not even a hint of rain. The cold made its presence felt.
    As we snuggled under the blankets dressed in our full gear, we were told we were not in the cold part yet, and to prepare for tomorrow.

    Day 8 Sarchu to Leh.
    Big day, 270 klm to do today, at at yesterdays rate, we will arrive in Leh in the dark - not our preferred option.
    7 am start, hot water brought to the tents in a bucket. The clouds had closed in even more, the mist had settled, and the surrounding mountains were covered in snow. It had also started to rain. Looks like a long day.
    The roads were a mixture of everything experienced so far, but the water crossings were bigger and more frequent. The rain subsided, and we could enjoy the scenery. The landscape was more stark, mostly rocky, with less vegetation. There was one particular water crossing that wasnt deeper than the others, but much longer. Trucks were battling it, as we rode up, and a few riders fell victim to it, because you couldnt always take the preferred route, as there was a truck inching its way forward at that spot. Jim has been on a few of these trips, but fell victim to inattention, and stalled his bike in the middle of the water. once you have a few unsuccessful goes at trying to start an Enfield, it gets even harder. The cold saps your energy, and once you lack energy, it is almost impossible to get going again. I stayed back to help Jim, as he had lost all his energy. He was stuffed. Not a young bloke either. Worth it though, as Jim helped me out many times with my dirt riding style in the days to come. As a relative novice to off road, I needed all the help I could get.
    Morning Chai at Pang, then onward and upward. We came upon some long plains (60 km long) where the road was under repair. The end result is that we had to take a diversion, but there seemed to be 5 or 6 different diversions at once. In the end it didnt matter which one we took, or made our own, as they all ended up in the same place. We chose one that appeared to run parallel to the existing road, reasoning that if we kept the road in sight, we couldnt get too lost. The plain was long, flat, sandy with the occasional sharp turns required to miss the bulldust. Sometimes the bulldust was 2-3 feet thick, which caught out people. I had been listening to the 'experts' and took a route thru the bulldust that used wheel ruts of prev trucks/cars. My reasoning was to minimise the thickness of the bulldust. Happy to survive it without falling off, although there were times that a save was more lucky than skilled. Managed to ride thru the dirt at 60 kmh, which was 3-4 times the speed of other days.
    On to the 'normal roads' where landslides again dominated the ride, letting us bunch up again into something resembling a group. I must commend the BRO in clearing these rather quickly. In Aust, there would be a royal commission before clearing work began, and a 2 yr delay. In India, a few hrs fixed almost everything.
    The Gata Loops came up, and we all relished the bitumen (mostly) and some corners that had no sudden drops for a change. All too soon they were over, and a look down revealed how many trucks and buses we had
    passed on the way up - Lots - we must all be hoons!.
    Onward - and up over Taglang la - 17800 feet, 2nd highest pass in the world, where it started snowing again, and we savoured our achievements in staying alive.
    Another 60km of dirt then some tar. and absolutely superb river scenery.
    the Indus Valley is an oasis after the rest of the day, and looked quite serene. The geology changed again, to reddish purple formations that jutted out from the side of the road. The roads were some of the best we had been on, and it was almost sad to stop to take pictures.
    Thru a miltary post - for kilometres - then on to Leh. I had problems with the directions to the hotel, but got there just the same.
    India changes regularly, and there is no way to keep up with the changes from year to year - hotels move, roads change, signs appear/disapear. Even rivers change their course! I later realised that this was the reason for the poor directions - and there does not seem to be a way to get over it either. Best to start flexible, and remain so. I was learning some calm. I held my tongue, and after the realisations, was glad I did.
    The last 2 days, I have taken hundreds of photos, and the scenery amazes me how it can change completely in a few short miles. The colours are surreal, and almost look like they are retouched. Anyone who has done this trip understands, but the average punter doesnt.
    We were to spend some time in Leh, and we all enjoyed
    every bit of it.
  10. Part 3

    Day 9 - rest day in Leh
    Shopping/sightseeing - seem to be walking the same streets a few times, just to see what is what. Been told that the Tibetan markets are the go for Jewellery, so head for a few of these, and load up on singing bowls, prayer wheels, rings, earrings, brooches and bracelets - silver, and silver and turquoise for the jewellery. Almost seems like we are taking advantage of people with the prices compared to Australia, but I am sure we are probably paying above the mark for stuff anyway. Also bought some prayer flags to tie up for some deceased members of the family. Apparently, the flags are flown as high as you can, and the wind takes the message to the gods. Cant hurt!
    Spent a lot of time in one carpet shop - all of them have incredible carpets - with incredible prices. This one shop, I would have spent 2 hrs, over 4 visits. Because of the scarcity of tourists, they are anxious to do a deal. Couldnt bring myself to buy - something didnt feel right. Hope I dont spend the next year regretting it.
    Had an interesting time at the post office. There were some french women in the queue ahead of me - and they were bargaining hard for stamps. Not the price - they wanted BEAUTIFUL stamps. They were trying to make sure that every letter had different stamps on them, but the right stamps as well. I just wanted to send my postcards back to Australia. I must be more relaxed, as I had no problem waiting for a half hour until they got what they wanted. Caught up with a few of the others for lunch - a rooftop pizza restaurant. From the terrace, we could watch the other people, visitors and locals go about their business. A pleasant way to spend some time, and also to find out what others had bought. Some had had a real lash out - with much stuff. Others were a bit more reserved. By the end of the trip, everyone had somehow purchased more than what they intended, but less than they wanted.
    Lazy afternoon - tomorrow - the big one - Khardung la.

    Day 10 - Khardung La and Thikse Gompa.
    The morning ride was to Thikse Gompa, a very old monastery, perched high up on a hill, and a very rewarding place to visit. Plenty of stairs, and certainly not boring by any means. Very calming place. Whilst there, every time you enter part of the monastery, you must take off your shoes. Of course, shoelaces broke then, and after some hasty repairs, was able to continue. I had guessed that they would break soon, and had bought some more shoelaces in Manali - lucky I did. Was my bad karma catching up with me? Until then I was enjoying the place.
    After lunch, we commenced our journey to Khardung La, about 70 klm away. After a winding way thru the streets of Leh, we made our way thru the (clearly) poorer part of town and past the Peace Pagoda ( a present from Japanese interests in the 80's) toward Khardung La. We had no idea what to expect, except height, and whether the road conditions would allow us to complete what was our main objective.
    There is a large military presence almost everywhere, and I suppose that from a strategic point of view, every pass is important. It was actually an uneventful ride, but one that we would have blanched at a week ago. Clearly we had been prepared and trained for what we would encounter - Thanks Ferris Wheels. The scenery just kept getting more and more
    spectacular, although we werent sure when we would get there. And then we were there!.
    Not quite an anti climax, but I for one was expecting roads and conditions even more hazardous than we had already encountered. Maybe they were, but we handled them in our stride. We must have defied the critics and learnt something!
    What we found was a clearing and a welcome sign, and many more people!.
    If you stand on the top, you can see, India, Pakistan, and China from the one spot.
    It was a surprise to me how emotional it was when we were putting out the prayer flags. My wife and I lost two children in 1987, and the flags were for them. Just to let them know we havent forgotten them. The others must have had similar emotional ties to the flags they were putting out, as for an instant, we seemed to fall in a blubbering mess.
    But soon recovering - we had the compulsory group shot of our achievement, and quite a few more as well. We were all breathing well, but any effort soon produced puffing and huffing.
    There were a few silent tributes to friends and family, and it was time to back down the mountain and return to Leh.
    There are many curiosities at any tourist destination in India. Khardung La was no exception. At the TOP, you can hire a mountain bike to pedal your way down. And quite a few people were doing this to our surprise.
    A stop off at the Peace Pagoda was on the agenda if we desired.
    Once again we had been blessed with perfect weather. The group must have good karma! Certainly I have witnessed (and received help from ) everyone helping everyone else. Perhaps that was our reward. I would like to think so. Dinner that night was a BBQ in the courtyard, with tables and chairs, and a grand singalong, that got better with the amounts of Old Monk consumed. A few of the people have theatrical experience, and Ian kept us enthralled with his stirring rendition of the 'Man from ironbark". It also seems that the Eagles "Hotel California" album must be very high on the all time remembered albums list, as it made many an appearance during our trip. Kenny Roberts "The gambler" also deserved a mention. It was about this time that people seemed to notice Nigel wanted more chicken on the menu.Not sure what the other guests thought about us, but we had an excellent evening, joined by the staff when they clocked off for the night. There were a few well hidden, but sore heads the next morning.

    Day 11 - off to Kargil
    A long day - 230 klm to be covered, and the roads were a bit suspect. Ave speeds were not going to be high.The first 50 klm was tar, and lovely. But all too soon, that ended, and the tar disappeared to reveal rocks, dirt, bulldust, and some of the worse roads we had seen so far. We were almost shaken to bits, and it demanded full concentration for the entire way. There was plenty of fantastic scenery, and plenty of towns to stop for a cold drink.We caught up with a spanish motorcyclist with his french girlfriend, who had managed to get two punctures along the way. Of course, they carried enough spares to be able to mend the first one only!. They also had the misfortune to lose half of their luggage along the way. This included all of her clothes. She was left with what she was wearing only. Our support truck soon had them on their way, and they joined us at the hotel for some rest at the hotel, where we met a band of 3 Aussies on bikes that were also looking for civilised companionship. They were on 350cc Enfields, and heavily loaded as well. They did say that given their preferences, they would have opted for the 500's as the 350's had only marginally enough power. They had experienced surprisingly few dramas with their bikes, but were glad to be off them for a day or so. Our group had fared ok too, with only 3 people dropping their bikes today, with no discernible damage except to egos.
    The hotel was a bit of an eye opener for me. Would you believe no room numbers on the rooms? Apparently this only confuses people (?). Electricity is sometimes available we were told. And we could have hot water when next it appeared. There was a butchers shop across the street and I was amused by the lack of glass in windows, no flyscreens, etc. There was not even a sink. But the butcher did have a horse hair fly swat - to keep away the flies. People would go in to the shop, point to what they wanted, and he would chop/cut the piece up, and hand it to the buyer. Maybe we have it too good? We were also informed that the area, being Muslim, was 'dry', and no alcohol was available. But, we could buy rum from them if we were discreet. Service was poor, slow, with grunts for acknowledgement, and indifferent. They would inspect our money for any slight flaw and reject the notes out of hand for the slightest imperfection. Change appeared sometimes, but not always.
    However, we asked them for some snacks, and they produced the best tasting hot chips we had tasted for some time. Again and again.
    As the last few of our group rolled in, there was a surprise for Nigel. John and Todd had heard him complaining about the lack of chicken last night, and purchased a live chook for him along the way. While he was contemplating what to do with the chicken, they delivered it to the cooks, and Nigel had an extra course for dinner. His conclusion, very stringy, and tough. Laying days must have been over!. But the sauce was excellent.
    Dinner was by candlelight, as the electricity was not available. Power had been available at some stage, as we had hot water, so were clean and presentable for dinner.
    We were woken at 4:45 the following morning by the first call to prayer.
  11. Re: Part 3

    Loving every minute of this thread, thanks Peter.

    Confuses the staff perhaps? The numbers used in Hindi look quite similar to our Arabic numerals, except that some don't 'match up'. For example, the Hindi '5' looks for all the world like a 4. Just a guess.
  12. Part 4 - On to Srinagar

    Day 12 Kargil to Srinagar
    The start of the day was really intense traffic, with trucks, buses, cars and people competing for the space on the roads. There were also a number of speed humps to catch out the unwary, and of course, cows in all the places you wouldn't expect.
    The military again made its presence felt, and I started to understand that almost all public works are carried out by the military, or under military supervision, so more military can mean more roadworks etc.
    The roads weren't too bad, and compared to the dirt roads leading into Kargil, the tar roads on the way out were almost heavenly. Not to say that all of the roads were good, patches were very trying.
    On one uphill section, I managed to pass about 10 buses in a long conga line around the hills, and I didn't feel threatened by the drivers at all, you just needed to watch out for yourself. Some opportunities are fleeting- pass em while you can.
    And there are the signs warning you that you are under enemy observation. A reminder of the Kargil war of 1999.
    The Zoji La Pass was intense, treacherous, and slow. Very steep downhill, I managed to fall into step with Jim, as our speeds dropped to 5-10 kmh. Very good practice for dirt riding, and I was determined to do this without putting a foot down. About 20 klm of extreme concentration, but I managed to keep both feet on the footpegs the whole way thru. Not sure how the rear brake is standing up, but has been my lifeline!. After that Pass, the roads were much better. We passed trucks and buses in large numbers. All indications that it was a major highway. The bus drivers certainly earn their money!.
    We stopped at Drass for morning chai, a town that proclaims its status as the 'second coldest inhabited place on earth' The coldest is Siberia.
    Temps at Drass have reached minus 64 celsius, which explains the slower pace of the village. They must spend long periods of time eking out survival in the winter. No need to hurry.
    The chai was good, and we were caught up by the group of riders from a german group of riders that had a solemn appearance, something we have not encountered before. Turns out that they had not succeeded in getting to Khardung La, for reasons that were confusing , and changing. They were not happy campers, and privately blamed their tour leaders. For all the obvious reasons I will not name the group!.
    The reasons sounded like excuses for bad planning, so we made small talk, and moved on. I know we had Khardung La as a major objective, so would have been disappointed if we did not reach it. In the scope of things, the trip was about much more than Khardung La, so maybe it's importance as a focus is overstated. It was after all, one afternoon in a 3 week trip.
    Soon after Drass, we encountered good roads, smooth flowing curves, and higher speeds. We were to stop for lunch at Sonomarg, but we were too early for everyone, so decided to press on. There was a lot of traffic at Sonomarg, as various religious pilgrimages made their way thru the town. Certainly brightly coloured, their transport was always filled with happy faces.
    We left Sonomarg, enlightened by the carnival atmosphere, at a fast clip. Considering in the fist few days, we felt 60kmh was fast on the Enfields, 90kmh felt like warp speed. Maybe we were too confident, as 2 corners later, Todd and I came upon one of our crew on the side of the road, with the bike on its side in the middle of the road. We thought he had had a terrible accident, but it seemed that he had just exceeded the available grip levels when cornering on a crest, and the bike dug in a footpeg and threw him off.
    He didn't escape unscathed, and whilst the bike had superficial damage only, he was nursing what could have been a broken collarbone.
    We had a nurse with us, and plenty of medication, and Gilli made sure we did the right things until the support truck arrived. The damage to Ian is still the subject of some medical attention, but he returned to riding in a day, with the help of painkillers. No broken bones though.
    The protective gear saved him from major skin removal, and hearty thanks to Draggin Jeans were sent!
    I managed to form a group with Trevor, Ro and Todd and we proceeded at a fast, but reserved pace for the rest of the day. Being experienced riders, it was easy to fall into a rhythm, and anticipate what they would do at each obstacle or changing condition. In between surges, I stopped frequently to take pictures, rapidly finding a system to stop, take a pic and restart without losing much pace. I wasn't quite confident enough to take pics whilst riding, but had a go anyway. None of those shots were much good, so abandoned that as a strategy. The tankbag seemed to be the best place for the camera.
    And so into Srinagar. We formed up as a group, and played follow the leader in the traffic until we reached the spot where we were to park our bikes for the next few days. We had ridden around half the lake, so knew roughly where we were headed. We boarded a small boat, that looked to me like a cross between a barge and a canoe. These are called shikaras, and are lavishly decorated and appointed, with reclining beds and shade awnings. These were to take us to our houseboats. The houseboats were so much better than we had been anticipating, being an oasis of charm, luxury and 20's chic. Full of timber, chandeliers, and antique furniture, they looked heavenly. I have got to say that the houseboats also had probably the best food as well. Almost as soon as we boarded, the trading shikaras came up to the edge of the boats, and implored us to buy from their wares. And they had almost everything you could ask for, legal and illegal. Would be very easy to turn feral in Srinagar and never emerge.
  13. awesome reading and great adventure, ps my wife says you look like a identical twin to bruce george the snake buster guy on animal planet :LOL:
  14. Part 5

    Day 13 - Rest day in Srinagar

    Visit to the Botanic Gardens. Quite peaceful in gardens, Hot, but peaceful. ALL the work is done manually, down to the guy with a push lawnmower to do the lawns.
    Well laid out, maintained at higher standard than gardens seen elsewhere in India so far. It has been there for hundreds of years, and some of the trees are just majestic.
    We received some history lessons about the gardens, and the stories of long ago times were reflected in some of the garden features, including the remnants of a bridge and road in the middle of Dal Lake.
    Afterwards we went to a carpet outlet, where we received some instruction on what to look for in a carpet, and how they were made. The amount of labour intensive industries in India is harder for us westerners to reconcile, hearing that a carpet may take a family 2-5 years to complete is as much as my imagination can bear, since the family still has to support itself during that time period.
    Again, different culture, different timeframes. Australias history has only been recorded for 200 yrs, we are obviously working to shorter timeframes!.
    After a magnificent display of carpets, we duly sat and haggled for the ones we wanted, reaching agreement, and wondering how much we really paid for them!. Australians are at an obnvious disadvantage when it comes to haggling, as it is not an activity we do on a daily basis. These guys do it all their lives. I bought a carpet, and it arrived shortly after I got home, so they were tru to their word. My wife went from 'Why did you buy a carpet' to 'why didnt you buy a bigger one, that is beautiful!'
    We went back to the houseboat for lunch, where we settled in to watch the MotoGP, before heading off for more attractions. We all were shocked to hear that Mark Webber had actually won a F1 race (news highlights of past week) and could be seen shaking our heads in disbelief. He has been consistently challenging, but we did not think it would happen.!
    We all went on a cruise around Dal Lake, watching the people have a pleasant sunday afternoon, and then proceeded to a few more shops, with hawkers sidling alongside every few minutes trying to sell their wares, from cold drinks, to money changing, everything seems to be available on the water.
    First stop was a paper machet workshop, where we were amazed at the finished article. Nothing like we made at Kindergarten. This was at a differents cale of workmanship, and they are really craftsman, although, once again, it is very labour intensive. The biggest shock to me was the finishined article. The decoration is very complex, beautiful, and desirable. Not sure how I could get it home without breaking it, so didnt buy anything.
    Next top was to a wood carvers, where I wanted a cigar box. The prices were too high for me. The workmanship was first rate, but not in my price range!
    We retired for the night back to the houseboat, for another night of indulgence and luxury. I could get used to this!.

    Day 14 - Back on the bikes - onward to Patnitop.

    Back on the bikes, and whislt we were not looking forward to the traffic, we all welcomed the chance to move on. The traffic was indeed madness, but we all made it out of town ok, although one person left without turning the fuel tap on, causing some momentary problems. We have coined a new term for the traffic. We call it Extreme Commuting, and if it is ever an olympic sport, India is sure to pick up a gold medal. I enjoyed it, the analysis of the traffic flow, the quick decisions, and the thrill of achieveing those few precious metres of space!.
    The speeds were higher, and of course, so was the risk. What a way to wake up!.
    We regrouped at a cricket bat factory, where significant numbers of bats were made by hand. Not sure how technically correct the bats were, but they demonstrated significant spring and finish to impress us all. Most of the work is done by eye, so you would ned to pick carefully before selecting a weapon for the field. No two bats would be the same.
    There were stands of willow everywhere, and the region is known for this product, with shops and factories producing these at a prodigious rate.
    Lunch was different again, signs emerging we were in a different part of India. Once again, we were the main attraction whenever we stopped, with hawkers being replaced by streams of beggars. We started to see some of the 'manufactured' beggars, which considering we are talking about children here, breaks your heart. How do you have sympathy for the 'damaged' child when the handler is so heartless? And the handlersare always present, making sure that the beggars earn their keep.

    Off again, with instructions as to the route, which would take on a few turns, as there was rumours of a few bridges out, and the way forward likely to have a few changes as the day unfolded. Once again, I was grateful for the services of the tour people, which ensured we didnt get lost. We basically regrouped every few corners, or hours as circumstances required. The road conditions varied considerably, with good roads preceded by patches of what could only be described as unconstructed roads, puddles, potholes big enough to swallow trucks, and in every town, chaos in terms of the traffic.
    Apparently it is quite ok to stop in the middle of the road if you see someone you want to talk to, throw the door open, and leave the car in the middle of the road while you discuss the weather. Or do a U turn without loking, drive on the wrong side of the road, or walk across the road without looking.
    About this time, John burned out his second clutch, prompting a few lessons in its use the next day.
    To my eyes, The areas that were predominently Muslim have not progressed at the same rate as the rest of India. There seems to be a lack of personal pride in these areas. Most of India has a rubbish problem, but these areas seem to have it worse. I apologise for being judgemental, but it seems like they are waiting for someone else to take responsibility. There was little scenery to justify pictures, and there appeared to be more poverty in these regions.
    One of the highlights was a 2.5km tunnel, which I would have loved to take some photos of the entrance/exit, but since it is a high military zone, this is not allowed. It is an engineering feat for a country such as India, and the fact that it is well kept and maintined is due solely to the army presence, so it is not all bad news. The roads around the tunnel were hily, and generally in good condition, and obviously supply routes for the army. The number of trucks testament to this. Many flowing corners, but not at high speed, as the conditions and surfaces changed very often. But you can have a play with many of the corners, passing and overtaking being the game of choice.
    The last few km of road up to Patnitop were just glorious, and if you could make an Enfield sing, we were making operas of the this part. Asked to describe the traffic, we used the term 'lemmings'. India needs every one of its claimed 6 million gods!. Patnitop is a town so small it is not even on a map, and we were warned about going past it. But as we filtered in one by one, it was clear that no one had misread the directions. The fog rolled in as we drank some more Kingfisher beer, and you could identify the sound of a lone Enfield from a few miles away, as the stragglers trickled in.
    The hotel was not finished (!) but of a high standard. Dinner was even graced with some Australian red wine, although the price was steep!
  15. Sounds like a fantastic trip. If you dont mind me asking, roughly what sort of overall budget is a trip like this?

    Definatly on my to do list!
  16. I spent 10k overall inc ALL costs. (airfares, gifts, carpets, gear, jewellery etc)
    Some others have done this privately, and spent less than 5k. I had that options and went with Ferris Wheels for the support. Happy I made that decision.
  17. Thanks, thats about what i was guessing, time to start saving some pennies!
  18. Far out brussel sprout! I can see the appeal of avoiding the Indian bureaucracy, not taking luggage on the bike, back-up support etc. though.

    5k for an independent trip of this length would be pretty generous if you are prepared to sleep a little rough and eat with the locals.