SO! We are here and we are alive! We have had a few near misses and hair-raising experiences, but we are healthy and loving it still!
Last time we wrote we had only just bought Shanti (the motorcycle) so we have a lot to catch you guys up on!
Our first day on the bike was very memorable, we got a puncture! We were going about 65km/hr when there was a strange noise and the bike started fishtailing over the road. Joss (in his brilliance) was able to keep control and he brought the bike to a stop on the side of the road, narrowly avoiding a tree! Ironically there was a puncture repair place 100m down the road so we were saved as we didn't have a spare or the tools to fix it. We finally made it to Bikaner as it got dark and were very relieved to have a cold shower as the day was very hot, long and exhausting. The second day there we went to the Rat Temple, which is literally crawling with Holy rats. You have to take your shoes off and therefore you step through rat shit for the remainder of your time there! Mmmmm yummy! But we saw the lucky white rat so it was worth it!
After Bikaner we rode to Bathinda which is in the state of Punjab. It was so amazing to cross the Punjab border after being in Rajasthan for so long - it immediately became green and full of life. It was so nice to ride in the shade of trees for a change and not have sand blowing in our faces as much.We were shown a hotel in Bathinda by some Indian men we had met at a chai stop and then had dinner and drinks with them but it started turning a bit weird when one anounced he was the mayor, and then they tried to get us drunk and crack on to me... yeah we felt really uncomfortable. We had 2 hours sleep and then packed our things and left at 4am in the morning!
We fought our way into Amritsar that afternoon, there was so much traffic, especially around the Golden Temple which was where we stayed. The hotel was really crappy and dark, but we were so tired we had some lunch and then fell asleep for the rest of the day. The next day we rode 30km away to Attari and enjoyed the spectacle of the Border Ceremony between India and Pakistan - it was hilarious! There is a huge stadium built at the border, with both countries represented on each side; the Indian side was absolutely packed with thousands of colourfuly dressed people and the Pakistani side was pretty quiet with only men dressed very blandly - a huge difference. Each side was revved up by an MC and then the soldiers came out and had a yelling/singing-for-the-longest-time competition! Then they marched down the road with oversized steps till they reached the border where they stared and scowled at each other till the flags were lowered and everyone marched back and it was over. The most hilarious thing though was the crowd; they were yelling and doing mexican (or Indian) waves and punching the air.... hehe I bought a little Indian flag and tried to join in every now and again! That same night we returned to Amritsar and visited the Golden Temple. We had to cover our heads to be able to enter the temple grounds and leave our shoes at a shoe locker then walk through a shallow pool of Holy water to wash our feet before entering. The temple was amazing and sits in the middle of a large lake, it is completely covered in gold and we saw it at night so it was lit up beautifully. The surrounding temple buildings are all marble and you have to walk around in a clockwise direction. On one side is the commmunity dining hall where they provide free food for around 30000 pilgrims and travellers each day. We joined the throngs and sat 'Oliver' style in long lines to receive our food. After eating we were given the grand tour of the kitchens by a friendly Sikh volunteer; the pots were big enough to cook a full-body human stew! Joss even gave a helping hand and dished out Dhal to the pilgrims which he enjoyed as a way of giving and helping instead of giving money to beggars.
We left Amritsar the next day and had to take the biggest detour on our way to McLeod Ganj as a bridge had collapsed on the highway. The road was basically just dust and it was hard work dodging rocks and holes and other vehicles all fighting for the same narrow road. The road had started to become more hilly and we could see mountains in the distance; a very different sight. And then there was water! - big rivers flowing through the valleys and winding around the hills. Shortly after the detour we came across a beautiful waterfall near a chai stop and Joss was feeling so dirty and hot that he couldn't resist jumping in! A few people thought it was a bit funny, but it was one of the best things that had happened so far, being submerged in cool water and washing off so much dust. The road up to McLeod Ganj was so steep, Shanti stalled a few times and it was hard going with the packs on, but the view was astounding, it felt like we were in a different country! Sarah saw snow for the first time on the tops of the Himalayas in the distance! Riding into McLeod was like entering Little Tibet, such a change in the people faces and dress. On our first day in McLeod we decided to go see the Dalai Lama's house and monastery, and whilst we were there we chanced upon seeing him return home from Austria. He waved and smiled form the car and the Tibetans bowed as he passed. We also signed up to go see him give a talk, but didnt hang around too long as you couldnt actually see him, he was on a tv screen, and we couldnt understand what he was saying as he was speaking in Tibetan, the translation in Korean over the load speakers, and we had a FM radio with the english translation but reception was bad. We stayed in McLeod for the first couple of nights but then found a more quieter place up the hill in Dharamkot. In Dharamkot our hotel had a terrace that looked right out into the valley. Next door to us we met an Aussie girl Clare (from Norwood would you believe!), Lex from London and Sean from South Africa. This was a relief as Dharamkot is full of Israeli's. Not that we have a problem with them, the ones we have met are really nice, it's just that they are not very social as they all speak Hebrew and forget you don't understand a word they are saying! We took Shanti to the meachanics as the little 'cats nipple' thing that fits on the accelerator cable had come off, only a 10rupee job to fix, but it ended up costing 3000 rupee as many other things needed replacing. We also needed to get a new piston and block so Joss had to ride around doing 40km/hr for 500km's to run the bike in! It was once again nice to meet a group of like-minded people and we spent many enjoyable days together, not doing much really, just relaxing! On one day though, Sean took us to some hot springs 30km away from McLeod. We did a day trip on the bikes as Joss had run Shanti in, and Sean rode our bike and said it felt really good. (Sean and Lex both travel on Enfields) We had such a lovely day walking through villages to the hot springs, they ended being too hot and we could only stay in for like 5 minutes. More appealing was the river, that we ate lunch by and floated down in the rapids. On the way back to the bikes we saw some Indian men catching fish in the river and jumping off a large boulder into the water. We jumped in quick as anything, and had some fun! This spot was much deeper (Sean tested it - he's pretty tall!) so was better to actually swim in.
We met a couple of crazy Israeli guys in Dharamkot who had heard about a paragliding course in Bir that you could supposedly enrol in. It was pretty cheap, like only 1500 rps and lasted for a week but that was about all he knew. so we decided it was on our way so we would stop and check it out. Once in Bir we tried to find out more information but it was very limited. We spoke with some professional pilots from Europe and they said that they wouldn't trust learning from an Indian and their equiptment is dodgy. One man who worked with the Tourism department rang an instructor but he was in Delhi and would be a couple of days away. So considering all this (and the fact a tourist died recently from not being strapped in properly by his instructor on a tandem flight) - we decided to move on.
Riding through the Kullu valley on the way to Kesol was one of the most beautiful rides. The road followed a river all the way and at times there were huge cliffs on one side and sheer drops on the other. We nearly didn't make it! It had gotten dark and we were still 30kms away from Kesol but we decided to keep going, there was nowhere to stop. Our headlight slowly got dimmer and eventually the bike stopped, the battery was dead! We were on a hill with a drop on one side into the river and it was pitch black. Joss tried turning the bike around and roll-starting her but as the road was so narrow it was difficult to manage the weight and scary. We got to the bottom of the hill and discovered we could start her but then as soon as we turned on the light she would die. Sarah was flashing a tiny flashlight around so that oncoming cars and trucks could see us (and slightly freaking out!) We eventually found our small maglight and decided to sticky-tape it to the front of the bike and ride like this to Kesol as we didn't have many other options! Thankfully we got there alive! Joss drove really slow and we just got off the road everytime another vehicle came along. And we thought trucks were scary usually! Anyway, we got to Kesol and found a guesthouse with its own private hot spring! It was open air so we could enjoy this crisp nights and starlit sky. One day as we were walking to the mechanic (yes, we stop at a mechanic every town we are in!) we saw a tiny puppy just about to get run over by a bus. Joss quickly stepped into action and rescued her from a grim death. Safely on the side of the road we took her in our arms and fell in love - with an Indian dog. We thought, "Hmmm, I wonder if we could keep her...?" and just like the thought that led to buying a motorcycle, we pursued it! We named her Sunderi as she is ver beautiful! (in Hindi) We bought some powdered milk and oats to feed her and a little bowl for water and food and a shoulder bag to keep her in! She fell asleep immediately in the bag, curled up at the bottom, awww! We gave her a bath as she needed a wash and when we fed her she gulped it down so fast! Our first day on the bike she slept on Sarah's lap and this is how she travelled for the first few weeks.
We headed to Naggar to meet Duda and Drika who we had become friends with in Pushkar. We stayed at a family home kinda guesthouse, which was really lovely as the kids adored Sunderi and she was becoming more comfortable with us. From Naggar we rode to Manali which is a very Indian-touristy hot spot. We decided to stay a couple km's out in Vashist, on the other side of the river. In Vashist we had amazing views of the mountains , it was cold and overcast most of the time we were there. We would see clouds covering the mountains and then when they cleared they left behind the whitest sheet of snow. The next day we conquered Rohtang Pass on Shanti, it is 13 050 feet above sea level and was quite a difficult ride up there. It was really cold so we rugged up as much as possible and Sarah even hired some gumboots to go over her two pairs of toe-socks! On the way it started snowing and Sarah couldn't quite believe it, Joss had to point out what it was! The further up we climbed, the more snow we saw, we even passed big icicles hanging from rock ledges alongside the road. When we got there we had a mandatory cup of chai to de-thaw and then enjoyed playing in the snow. (see photos for picture detail!) Such an amazing day, a "Happy Day' as we would say! Once realising how much time we had before we had to be in Mumbai to meet Bodhi (our friend from Adelaide coming over for 2 months!) we started heading South.
On our way from Manali to Mandi the carborator was playing up and we had to stop on the side of the road. An Indian man on a 150cc scooter stopped also as he had run out of petrol. We offered some of ours and after the boys had siphoned some out he offered to tow us to the nearest mechanic 20kms away.....tow us?! SO, this man on his little scooter towed all four of us (bike and dog included) and 30kilos of luggage! It was hair-raising - even more scary than the flat battery experience! It was dark and once again sheer drops to imminent death! Every now and then the rope would go slack and then pull the bike in one direction, we nearly lost control a few times! Oh and the standard Indian traffic (mayhem) coming at you from both direction! But we survived, and Sunderi was asleep the whole time the little Angel! The cost of repairs was ironically 20 rps and this got us to Mandi.
After we left Mandi we saw an Enfield parked at a restaurant on the highway that was obviously packed up for foreigners. We decided to stop and say hello and met Erez and Nina from Israel. They were going the same direction as us so we teamed up and rode together towards Chandigargh. The first night we stopped at a hotel beside the highway with magnificent views from our balcony and got to know our new travelling companions. They had met each other in Kesol and were also planning to go to Delhi and then down South some way. The next two days were spent on the road together and it was really nice to be travelling in a bigger group; with two bikes for spare parts, and double the knowledge and experience. Upon approaching Delhi it became very exciting; the National capital of India.
To be continued in the next blog....
Still missing and loving you all,
Lots of Love,
Sarah and Josiah xoxo