HTML From Blog Template Moto-Hike: Run From The Sun: January 2006

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

 

I ran and ran and ran to Iran...........

It finally happened!
After nearly 8 months of investigation, planning, emailing, visiting embassies and getting nightmare tales of refusal from other travellers, we've got the magic stamp!
Our passports now proudly display a 15 day Iran tourist visa and it only cost $370 USD for the privilege. Yeah, you read that right. All in, including the $35 USD fee per visa charged by the travel agency in Shiraz ( www.key2persia.com ), it works out about $185 each. Ouch.
Anyway, its done now and should be the last big paperwork/visa/shipping hassle we have to deal with on our way home.
Our escape from Islamabad was not without drama. In fact we created quite a drama at one point, but i'll come to that later...
We spent one night on the outskirts of Peshawar, trying to remain as inconspicuous as possible after the American bombing mission nearby on the 13th. It turned out we needn't have worried too much, as the subject never came up and, as usual, the hospitality of our Pakistani hosts was of the highest level.
We set off the next morning planning on a long-days ride as we wanted to clear the 'tribal areas', famed for not being too welcoming to foreigners.
About 40km's down the Indus highway from Peshawar we passed through Kohat, a major centre in the tribal areas and a place best avoided according to our guidebook. It seemed we were in luck though as we approached a tunnel that indicated a new route bypassing the town.
A few hundred metres from the tunnel mouth we were signalled to stop by three guys. We normally don't stop, but this was a rather frantic and serious stopping request, so i obliged.
The guy went on to explain in iffy English that motorcycles were banned from using the tunnel and we'd have to use the old road through the mountains and the town. Rory had other ideas......
"Just go!"
I expressed my concern about this plan of action, but before we'd really discussed anything we were heading towards the tunnel at great speed....
Past 1 guard who jumped out in the road in front of us
Past another
Into the tunnel
Out of the tunnel
To be greeted by a very large number of guards, some with guns.
I kept the throttle wide open. Stopping wasn't really going to help now, so running was the best policy.
A couple of km's down the road i noticed flashing lights in my mirrors and then Rory disappeared. A few seconds later i slowed down and turned around to go find him.
I found him and about 20 guards in half a dozen cars and pickups with flashing lights and sirens blaring.
The Project Manager of the tunnel turned up in rather a bad mood. It wasn't as bad as mine though and i let rip at Rory, "You *$&^@*@# Idiot!!"
The Project Manager looked rather sternly at me thinking i was shouting at him.
"Not you, HIM!!!" I explained.
The dressing down from mister manager included some classics including, "I couldn't care less if you were George $%^&-ing Bush!"
"I'm going to make sure the police throw the book at you, deport you!"
"Forget about your bikes, i'll bloody burn them!"
Harsh words indeed and pretty scary at the time as we didn't know who these guys were or what authority they had.
In the mean time we called the British High Commission in Islamabad and luckily for us they had good relations with the chief of police in the area.
Mister Manager disappeared off promising to return with a firing squad and two body bags. Thankfully that was the last we saw of him.
After more waiting around the tunnel company's attorney turned up and took our particulars. He was accompanied by a reporter friend who started snapping and took down the story from the guards and us.
After more messing around and a visit from the plod we were eventually sent on our way.
Apparently the story would be circulating in four national papers the next day!
We set of early again the next day hoping to make up some lost ground and to get to Zobh by nightfall. The road to Zobh had restricted access and required a permit, which we didn't have, but we'd spoken to an English chap in Islamabad who gave us hope. Charles had passed that way a couple of weeks before and said the road was fine and he'd had no hassle, easy.
60km's down the road, just as we started to head into the mountains we were met by some guys in a sooty van with a snazzy blue light.
"Where permit?"
"Err, we left it at home, the dog ate it!"
etc. etc. as those well used homework excuses came flooding back.
"You not go here, very dangerous road, terrorist area!"
We knew that was it as far as using this road went. We knew the area was considered dodgy and is rather close to the Afghan border, but from our point of view it halved the journey time and meant we could be in a 'safe area'(ie. one under full goverment control) by nightfall, which was surely better.
He directed us back to the Indus Highway and explained we should go and stay in Dera Ghazi Khan and then leave early in the morning to hit Quetta by nightfall. So we did.
Only problem being that when we reached D. G. Khan we were promptly ejected from all the hotels! Apparently the government had decreed that no foreigners are allowed to stay in the city or within a 30km radius as Al Quaeda were operating in the area. Doh!!!
The result of this being a 56km night ride east across the Indus to Mussaffabargh where we were allowed to stay. Thankyou mister sooty van copper!
We decided we'd had enough of all this rubbish and we'd nail it to Quetta the next day, a run of 550km's through the mountains.
Rising early we departed not long after sunrise. Blasting along the flat and straight roads of the 'no-go' area we started to climb into the mountains of the Suleiman range by about 9am. After the stopping fiascos of the last couple of days we planned to only stop where we had plenty of time to see oncoming vehicles, or hide. Getting turned around from this road would mean a huge detour almost via Karachi!
The road into the mountains was one of the gnarliest we'd ridden, with very tight hairpins around blind bends and 'variable' road surface. To be honest we like the dodgy surface, the bikes are made for these conditions and its a lot of fun.
After a great ride up to about 1300m altitude we reached the high plains where we were stopped at a military checkpoint.
During our ride through Kashmir and up the Karakoram Highway we'd stopped and registered at checkpoints frequently so we weren't too worried. Unfortunately this was for a different reason....
Eric Saue, who we met in Amritsar, had spoken of being given a Police escort along large parts of his route through Pakistan. We really didn't need this, we can travel much faster along the rough roads than jeeps etc, so we definately wouldn't make it to Quetta by nightfall.
After a lot of waiting around and many requests to leave we were eventually told we could go alone! Seems they couldn't muster a guard. This cost us just over an hour and we could have really done with it.......
We flew along the next section of flat, smooth, empty roads across the high plains, cruising at about 110kmh for ages. This abruptly came to an end as the road suddenly ran out. The surface become broken tarmac and gravel, with a choice of alternative tracks through the desert that now surrounded us. Slower going, but a lot of fun!
About 70km's of this followed and we relished the opportunity to give the bikes a good work-out.
The road returned to flat, smooth and straight across the barren lunar-esque landscape. We went as fast as we could hoping to get to Quetta by dark, with the temperature dropping quickly and the wind getting up.
We made a decision to find a hotel about 80km's from Quetta, as it was getting serously cold and there was real frostbite potential.
Unfortunately the only town we came to was basically full of smugglers selling dodgy Iranian petrol and the only hotel wasn't actually a hotel! We settled for a cup of tea and a roasting wood stove to heat us up for the dark ride ahead.
We were truly granted a miracle as the road ahead featured cats-eyes, first we'd seen since Islamabad! This may not seem like a big-deal, but our lights are a bit rubbish and Pakistani drivers dont understand the dipped beam concept. The cats-eyes allowed us to cruise at about 80/90kmh and we arrived in Quetta in just over an hour.
The hotel we'd planned on staying in turned out to be more pricey than we expected, but it seemed very secure and we were exhausted, so we went for it.
The Iran Consulate was our goal in Quetta, or liberating our visas from it. We turned up expecting an easy procedure, only to find out from a Spanish couple that due to new rules(bird-flu in Turkey) we had to have a medical! We spent the afternoon collecting new passport photos and anxiously awaiting our test results. I always have passport photo issues(i normally look like a serial killer) and the bloodtest had left me looking a little pasty. This time i'd look like a hungry vampire!
Im very pleased to say that we both came up clean for a whole host of nasty diseases.
Yesterday involved abstract, freestyle queueing at the embassy for hours. I really had no clue what was going on, but eventually we got to the counter and confirmed they'd received our approval number from Tehran. This was a massive relief as the Spanish couple had been stuck there for five days waiting for this to come through.
So there it is. We leave for Iran in the morning, a 600 km blast across the desert to the land of CHEAP petrol. A couple of years ago it was 7p a litre, but ive heard its gone up. Even if its tripled its still going to save us a fortune every day, woo hoo!
Don't forget to enter the competition to win a new Yamaha XT660x plus runners-up prizes of Karrimor bags and goodies.
Just Text " KARRIMOR " to 60999

Ta-ra a bit!

Chris

Sunday, January 15, 2006

 

Christmas till Birthday


The live Aid song had been echoing around my helmet for the week before Christmas, compensation for not having to brave Christmas shopping in England. I think my brain has reconised a lack of repetitive festive music! I don't know many of the words so have blended it with Cliff Richards 'mistletoe and wine'. Worryingly I remember all the words to that one, 'A time for giving and sharing'. The only thing Chris and I share is the smell of too many days on the road without a shower. Our socks now sleep outside, as they need the space to walk around. In any case we are worried they may attract mice. I keep a spare pair of warm clean socks in the bottom of my sleeping bag for the colder nights we have been experiencing, the only problem is, as usual with my socks I have managed to loose one of them.


Let me lift off where Chris finished, Christmas eve was a blur.....
Having no access to alcohol due to a local election taking place, we soon found ourselves bargaining with the owner of a local restaurant. Feeling slightly embarrassed by having one of his customers on his knees pleading for a bottle of cider, he let us drink under the proviso we hid the bottles under the table...... This arrangement worked well until the 5th or 6th bottle when I became confused and began hiding my full glass of cider under the table, drinking from the bottle.
We spent the evening in the company of ....erm...people...... I do remember one quite vividly. An enlightened Australian who 'saw ghosts' they came to her in the middle of the night, sat on her then asked her where to go? Sounds weird, well it is, she however was pretty down to earth and wasn't pulling our legs....
After studying under a Tibetan Lama she now sends them outside to a portal... Maybe she was on drugs afer all. Trying to understand I explained that, whilst in India, I have seen a lot of goats and will now send them to a portaloo..

Christmas day was great, Chris and I exchanged presents, I then went and exchanged his present for something I wanted 'the Dalai Lama's auto-biography' which Chris then exchanged and read before I had a chance to read the back cover. Christmas dinner was spent overlooking the Himalaya on a little picnic spot we found. We ate spinach tart, cheese and biscuits, drank fresh apple juice and listened to Chris' Northern Soul collection. Whilst missing our family's we rather liked being able to walk around without feeling bloated and too warm. Chris has spent quite a few Christmas' away from home due to his skiing career, this was my first.
We had been on the bikes everyday pretty much for 3 weeks and enjoyed the break.
We headed off to Amritsar on the NW boarder of India/Pakistan, the Punjabis were great and we spent a lovely evening marvelling at the Golden Temple. I think we both marvelled at it because we had no idea what was happening. The protocol of taking our shoes and socks off and walking around gave us cold feet but we were uplifted by the groovy live music they provided with a guy sat crosslegged randomly conducting with a fly swat.
Our socks had not run off on our return and we went back to our hostel to eat with a Norwegian scientist traveling in the opposite direction to us. He was riding an identical bike to ours, thus confirming we all made a great choice in selecting our Yamaha TTR 600's, we all felt very clever.....
The next day it took me 45minutes to get my bike started...Doh, and thus began the decline in my bikes ability to start without a jump start


**Boarder guard gets to know 'Stan'**

We missed the famous boarder patrol opening, the only passage between the two countries, because we are lazy and were not prepared to get up at 4 in the morning to join the 2000 Indians who shout obscenities at the equally large gathering of Pakistanis on the other side. Our crossing passed without incident apart from one official insisting to go through my wallet... He took 10 euros out and told me he would keep it as he collects foreign money. Strange he didn't want any of the Vietnam Dong or Cambodian money left loitering in my back pocket! The tables were turned when he left his office and I found 500 rupees by his desk (as luck would have it almost a perfect exchange rate). I spent the next ten minutes worried I may get my hands cut off.

We spent the next couple of days at the SOS village in Lahore, a huge city with infinite possibilities to get completely lost. We had to tow my bike through part of it due to my inability to get it started... That was very scary.
The village is set up exactly the same as all the other SOS's around the world with 10-15 children sharing a house, there was a school next door that as well as schooling the orphan children intergrates them with other children in the community. Big thanks to everyone at SOS for having us, Chris and I really enjoyed playing with the kids all day. Lahore SOS is the National head office so they were very busy trying to deal with hundreds if not thousands of recently orphaned kids coming down from Kashmir. They are temporarily being housed in Lahore while SOS and other NGOs work to build new homes for them in their own communities. SOS intend to build four new villages in Kashmir in the next 2 years.
We spent a great evening at the SOS youth home which houses boys aged fourteen and up. At this age (in Pakistan) they are segregated from the girls and housed in what reminded me of boarding school, a very happy place and it was great to eat beef again!!!


** Interrogation at the entrance to British Diplomatic Enclave**

From Lahore we headed North to Islamabad for a quick stop to celebrate New Year, that was the plan...
We could blame it on the bike and say because it was in need of repair we had to stay for five days but that would be a lie, really we stayed because we were made so welcome by the British embassy. Emma(Visa's) and Kevin (Narcotics) gave us their house, got us drunk, gave us cigars and we ate all their cheese...
They didn't know how to get rid of us. It was our first proper bed in months (actually I had a bed, Chris slept on the sofa claiming it was his 'natural habitat') We watched a lot of TV, Ricki Jervais' Extras ws the funnyiest series I have ever seen. Which reminds me Chris told Billy Connolly (see previous weblog) that he knew someone that worked with Ricki and he was a righ t*at...... I agreed with Billy and said I liked him, infact I agreed with everything Billy said, even when I didn't understand what he was saying...

** Camp 1 of rather a lot...**




With a bit of umm'ing and rr'ing we decided it wouldn't be bad taste to head North through area struck by the earthquake 3 months earlier. We took a kind of back road to the Karakoram Highway that passed through a place called Murrie, our first encounter with snow. About 40Km south of Muzaffarabad we happened upon the first full scale camp on our route. It was a Turkish Red crescent camp that houses around 2,500 people (approach 275 families). In an act of kindness we were invited to stay the night. We were shown around and gained an insight into the day to day operations of a camp of this scale. To say that Kashmir people are hospitable is an understatement, everyone was very friendly and welcoming, so welcoming that they fed us twice that evening, which left Chris in real pain (for days!).
It would be understandable for people to take offence to us as the British were responsible for splitting Kashmir in two halfs (Indian and Pakistani). You can understand their claim when the 'K' in Pakistan stands for Kashmir, but there was no resentment displayed to us. People were very interested in finding out how Pakistan is viewed in the UK and were worried that the media was distorting Pakistani people into being viewed as extremists and terrorists...
We left feeling guilty that we hadn't done anything significant to help but vowed to return on our way back to Islamabad, (Chris left still feeling bloated). Needless to say from then on we saw many, many camps.

The next night was spent at a Cuban field hospital. We were both very well and in no need of treatment but were invited in by a lovely Pakistani couple, although things could have turned out differently......
We had just driven through Chattar Plain on our way over the top of the pass when our first 'accident' struck. As accidents go it was fairly minor. A driver in a beat up old car (are there any others)slid on the ice and went straight into a truck coming in the opposite direction, I in turn went straight into the side of him.... I was traveling at about 5 mph and the bike was already on the ground when I hit the car, so no damage, plus I was fine. The only damage was a carton of orange juice exploded in my bag covering my dirty cloths in stickiness, and my beloved wooden scull (aka Stan) that was displayed on the front of the bike had broken into three parts. When asked by a policeman if I was alright I explained I was fine but 'had broken my scull in three places and was still missing 3 teeth'. He looked at me with a puzzled grin and waved me off with his highly polished stick
The couple we stayed with were very much in love and obviously respected each other. They were expecting there second child, their first having unfortunately died the previous winter. Chris and I were in total admiration of them and as Chris said 'they confirmed that not all men treat their wives badly out here'

In total we drove about 600Km North on the Karakoram Highway to Gilgit. To say it was cold is rather like asking if the pope wears a hat, at night it got down to -25 degrees (although we don't really know). The cold weather caused a phenomenon inside your helmet when without warning all the snot in your nose suddenly comes gushing out all over your screen...nice. We followed the route of the river Indus all the way with jaw dropping scenery and neck breaking cliffs at every turn. We were dealt a good card in the fact that that it was 'Eid', a Muslim holiday rather like Christmas, meaning not too many people were travelling. This gave us a chance to travel the Highway alone and marvel at Nanga Parbat, the 9th highest mountain in the world, in complete serenity.
After taking 4 days to travel up we made it back to Muzaffarabad in 2! On arrival it was getting dark and, having heard the Americans were in town and in possession of the best Philipino cooks around, we decided to call in and meet the troups. Now I knew Chris wasn't keen as throughout the trip everyone had been slagging them off, but I figured they will be cool, glad of friendly visitors....... They told us politely to sod off as it was 'against protocol'? Like they have protocol for two British bikers anyway. The encounter left a bad taste in our mouths, especially when in response to our reason for being there one of the officers couldn't hide his disdain for us and looking down his nose said "so you guys are just travelling around on bikes eh....That's all?" .... 3 days later the Americans bombed a village north of Peshawar, missing their intended target and killing 13 innocent civilians. I guess they are just killing people.... That's all

We found friends and tireless kids back at the Turkish camp where we stayed for about 40 hours. We were hoping to help put up the new winter tents, but instead were put to 'work' with the Children as it was still Eid, doing the 'Hokie Pokie'. That's what they call the 'Hocie Cokey' out here, have you ever tried to do the whole song with more than 50 kids, it turns into a battle, a fierce battle.
All the children in the camp had just been given a present ranging from footballs to building blocks and within seconds the camp erupted into a huge game of volley ball with thousands of players and hundreds of balls. It led them to be introduced to basic 'Rugby' which in turn led them to injure each other........ me bad


On our way back we decided to visit 'Bagh' the town that three months previously was shaken to its foundations and was in the unlucky position of being at the epicenter of the quake. They were celebrating Eid when we arrived, slaughtering scores of cows and goats for the feast.
The town had been badly struck and there were wrecks of homes everywhere you turned. The aid workers were still busy building temporary accomodation and fixing the roads, accompanied by the thumping noise of helicopters travelling to and froe between the more cut off villages nearby. The roads, whilst OK, were incredibly difficult to travel with mud and ice added for a little fun!!


We have now returned to the bosom of the British Embassy, well actually Sandra (visa section), who unwittingly put us up after bumping into us at the 'British Club' planning an imminent departure to Quetta and then Iran..... Again we got delayed by the comfort offered to us here, Chris and I watch a whole 24 episode series of 'Lost', bloody great! Along with pizzas, steak and lashings of alcohol we are stronger than when we arrived. Our Birthdays were spent in two halfs, the first up until 4 am at the British club celebrating 'International night' (we could barely walk). Some guy succeeded in beating the odds of 1 woman to every 6 men and ended up having a threesome in the toilets, he has now felt the wrath of the committee and has been banned for life.... bet he's gutted. The second half, a Thai evening at Kevin and Emmas house with all their friends.

until next time, enjoy the bad weather, and your jobs, but don't forget to text 'KARRIOMOR' to 60999

Love and flowers

Rory and Chris

 

Hello people, welcome to 2006 we've passed the half-way point! We're very behind schedule with the updates and must apologise for ongoing computer nonsense. This should get us up to Christmas time with some photos from Pakistan loaded to the Galleries to the left.

We're in Milton Keynes,
I keep doing that,
We're in Islamabad, but the places are so similar its a bit difficult to feel your not in the dreaded MK. The fact that we're also on British soil doesn't help either. Well strictly speaking we are as we've been squatting in the British diplomatic enclave. Its weird being here after the impression you get of the place from the news, well maybe not the place, but normally when you hear people reporting from Islamabad its about terrorists or some other bonkers Islamist stuff and you expect the place to be like Beirut, well its not, its MK2!
The bikes we're a bit ill when we arrived so we luckily found the best mechanic in Pakistan(who spends most of his time tuning up Fireblades etc for rich ministers sons), spending 3 days before our trip up the Karakoram Highway at his workshop restoring them to their former 'just about running OK' state. Rory's bike wouldn't start without being towed 3 days of riding, it just didn't want to leave India, which brings me to......
INDIA!!!!!!!!

On my last instalment i was feeling a little less than positive about India. The cyclone left a load of Madras under chest deep water and it took 5 days for our bikes to arrive and clear customs. We went to the Royal Enfield factory and it was boring, plus their bikes were made of cheese and they wouldn't let us ride them, although this made sense with all the water and sandbags round the factory. Got a t-shirt though........

We found Madras a rather horrible city made far worse by the devastation caused by the cyclone. Getting out of the city was a relief and rollin again was definately what we needed.

Things started to look up as we got out into the countryside, rolling hills and palm trees signalled what we hadn't expected. As India is on its way(rapidly) to out-populating China as the worlds most full country, we didn't expect to be able to swing a cat. South East Asia was rammed with people and it was really difficult to find anywhere to camp in your own space, largely due to all the paddies(fields not irish). Campin in a big puddle sucks ass! India had plenty of room for campers like us. We'd become rather low on funds and needed to cut back on digs money and food. A diet of biscuits samosas and crisps was to keep us fed, with lashings of tea.
Our first camping night found us perched atop of a hill overlooking some valley or other, lovely, hmm lovely.

Heading west we had to navigate Bangalore, which turned out to be a bit of a nightmare. The map shows the National Highway going straight through the city and onwards, but obviously this wasn't the case and we got thoroughly lost. Luckily we found a guy who was going the same way and followed him out of the city. This was after my bike overheated when stopped and then wouldn't start. We got surrounded very closely by about 100 men all taking turns to ask me the same questions, 'how big engine', 'what your country', 'what average fuel consumption', 'how much?', blah blah, etc, etc. Eventually i overheated..........

I got used to it after a couple of days and we just learned to stop in places where there wouldn't be many people, or i should say men as we only actually spoke to about half a dozen Indian women in our whole 3 week visit.


**Ebeneezer's Family**

An old chap called Ebeneezer started talking to us in some little town when we stopped to check our map(ps. lots of indians speak excellent english so its a doddle to travel there, although their directions are usually rubbish). He then invited us to his wife's wake who'd died the week before, which we found a little odd, but he was a nice old guy and really seemed to want us to go, so we did for a bit. It was more of a big gathering to celebrate her, a couple of hundred people were due, but we were early so had a natter with the family and some of their leper mates from the colony around the corner, then made our excuses and did one. weird but nice

We kept riding west towards Goa, visiting Hampi on the way. Its a hindu pilgrimage place with loads of old temples and cool rocks and rivers etc. Quite nice, spent a couple of hours there then left.




**Riding through some of Hampi's Temples**


We didn't really hang around anywhere for long, we were due in Dharamsala in the himalaya on 24th December and it was a seriously long way so we had to get a wriggle on.

Theres lots to tell, but its a bit dull for a while so i'll sum the next bit up.......
Goa's like Benidorm
We didn't actually spend anytime there really but passed through and it was bizzzzzeeeeee with package tourists in most of the areas. To the north and south end theres still some nice hippie types living the long-term. We got guided to a nice place called Gokarn by 2 germans on an enfield on our arrival, met a heavily-tattooed geordie gypsie hippie biker guy called Guy who directed us to a place in the north. A day and a half later we arrived in said place and bumped into Guy's mate Dean while buying a tin of Heinz baked beans(pricy but they tasted the nuts!). Dean and Guy had been riding Enfields around India + most of the world for the last 15 years. He gave us a lovely route through the 'Western Ghats' mountains into Rajastan, which was a highlight of our riding so far.

Part of this route took us through a place called Panjin. As usual we new nothing about this place as we can't really be bothered to read 'the travellers bible'(lonely planet, yawn).
Riding along the road we could see a massive valley floor with a huge lake, so we pulled off the road onto a large plateau perfect for taking pictures(said picture being at the top of this weblog entry). Riding back up to the road bit we saw a load of westerners pull up in jeeps and on bikes,
'what is this?'
we thinks
They're paragliders we soon find out as they start getting big parachutes out and leaping of the cliffs! Looks like fun. We started to have a natter with an english bloke, called dave. He knew an aweful lot about paragliders and soon we did too, on top of this though he knew a lot about the area. Freddie Mercury went to school here, ace! More importantly he mentioned Billy Connolly was in town(well, more of a village really). Now, both Rory and I were brought up in houses where billy was worshipped as a god so it was too much of an opportunity to miss.
We did the unthinkable,
we went to the hotel where he and crew were staying(shooting a movie) and had dinner. Rory managed to be stood next to billy in the queue for the buffet for about 5 minutes, but his eyes were transfixed by the trays of international cuisine, so he never noticed. Then billy left, doh!

'It was never meant to be mate', says i
But rory looked like the world was going to fall on his head in 2 minutes(or he wanted it to).
Gutted wasn't the word.
Luckily one of the supporting actors came over and we got talking. He mentioned billy had a day of the next day and we should come see him at breakfast.
We camped out with the para-loonies and went to meet Ranjit(actor guy) in the morning .
And Billy turned up! wooha. It was good fun as well, we all just sat around chatting, drinking tea, eating breakfast and laughing until lunchtime. Billy's into his bikes so we had a common interest and believe it or not(if you've watched Parkinson) we did easily as much talking as he did. So all in all it was a lot of fun for everyone involved, and then he bunged us some cash, even better!!!

We set off to the next town and bought some monster horns designed for trucks that make an ace-
"AAAARRRROOOOOOOOOOGGAAA!!!!!!!!"
noise
They're so big we had to strap them to the jerry-cans on the side of the bikes, cool though they look like anti-tank guns. Pleased with or new weapons we made a very noisy exit from the town and headed merrily north

Billy jinxed us

About 100 km's down the road a hit a pretty big pothole and my shock absorber exploded leaving me bouncing down the road doing my best Zebedee impression. Arse.......

We changed route to head for another dreaded city, Pune(which is probably where you talk to all your tele-banking Indian folk as most of India's call centres are located there), as we'd been given a name and a rough address by some blokey with a roadside mechanic shack. About 50k's later we arrived in the right area of Pune and looked for this guys shop. It was late and we counldn't find it so instead we stopped at 'A1 Shock-Absorber Repairs', seemed like a good bet.

*Lesson learned*

Indian mechanics are(largely) skilled in butchery, or they must be as thats what they did to my bike.

Several stressful hours later i had a sort of reassembled bike and a big bag of nuts and bolts they failed to find the right holes for. Oh and the shock now had some electricians tape wrapped round it

Rory had found a hotel with parking nearby so we got unpacked and started to make a 'plan'. This involved sticking my bike on a train to Delhi and getting a new shock pipe and rebuild kit sent from the UK. Dull

Next morning i decided to have a wander around the garages nearby to try a last ditch effort to get it repaired in town. Amazingly enough i walked straight across the road from the hotel into the first mechanics shop, to find an imported Honda motorcross bike. You don't get imported bikes in India(unless they're nicked) as the import duty is 500% of the value!

It turned out this was the guy we were looking for!

Charma, as well as being a famous motorcrosser, is also an actor and stuntman, obviously. His mechanic/protege/apprentice rang him up and he promised to come down and assess the situation. Due to impossibility of getting bits from abroad he'd had to do the same repair to his bike on numerous occasions. He sent me off to strip the shock from my bike and i returned it an hour or so later. He went off and by 9 o'clock i had a newly rebuilt shock with a new braided hydraulic hose(the bit that blew up) and refilled with nitrogen!

In the mean-time a really big bloke called 'Papu' had decided to befriend us. Papu had the biggest wad of cash i've ever seen in his pocket and seemed to be treated with massive respect by everybody. It turned out he was the local 'money-lender' and general big cheese. He found us very entertaining for some reason and decided to buy us lots of tea and lollies, then bottles of whisky then buy us a massive feast of a dinner and then paid for our stay in the hotel!

In the middle of this weird freebie Charma turned up and took Rory outside for a 'little word in yer ear son'.....

"Papu's a friend of mine, but be very careful, he can turn. I've personally seen him in a fight with 7 men and him win."

Rory neglected to tell me about this and we continued to arse about. Luckily he didn't turn and everybody's still got their own teeth.

We left to head through Rajastan, 'the desert state', in the morning.


I'd never been to a desert before and this wasn't really looking like i'd imagined it, no sand dunes etc., but I guess the enormous number of camels would give it desert status! I find camels highly amusing animals, nature produces some bizarre products
Rajastan was great. The people were ace, which is usually the case with country folk wherever we go. We'd stop, people would give us tea and have a natter, but all in a very un-intimidating and easy going way, which is amazing as, as usual there were regularly crowds of about 50 people having a nosy at the aliens from england.

One particularly nice evening was spent camping with a bunch of farmers out in the sticks. We sat around the campfire drinking tea and chatting in vague 'hinglisgh'. One of the guys, who was the first we met when he turned up and started to help Rory fix his bike, had the biggest permanent grin i'll ever see. He was an old-ish chap with incredible silver hair. I can see his face very clearly in my mind and thinking of it makes me smile a lot. Good chaps, all of them. The next morning they came to wake us up and took us to their village for breakfast and lashings of tea.

We continued through Rajastan via Jaipur with more similar meetings with lovely farmer types.


After Rajastan we enter Punjab, home of most of India's Sikhs, where the foggy and icy mornings we'd encontered in Rajastan continued. We found our strangest camp in Punjab when we set up on the lawn of a Sikh 'Marriage Palace'!. This coincided with the GPS unit going bonkers just as we could have done with it giving us an idea of our altitude as we entered Himachal Pradesh and the Himalayan foothills.



Entering the Himalaya region was extremely exciting and a lifelong dream. It really is amazing to see how this gigantic mountain range just folds up from the flat plains for hundreds of kilometres to the south. Around every bend were more and more mountains and valleys and rivers and gorges and waterfalls and trucks. Forgot to mention, India is full of gazillions of massive trucks. They're everywhere and they're all beautifully decorated. You see a ridiculous number of overturned trucks. Trucks there carry loads that are at least three times what would be allowed in the UK. You see lots of crashed ones as well. We use our 'aaarrrroooooooggaa' horns to fool them into thinking we're big trucks going faster so they get out of the way, a bit. You still get forced of the road by an overtaking truck about once every hour, but you get used to it and become prepared to 'give way'!

Our destination was Dharamsala, the home of 'the Tibetan Government in Exile' and his holiness The Dalai Lama, plus the biggest community of refugees from Tibet.

It took a couple of days to get there on the twisty mountain roads, but as we got higher the sun got brighter and the air got clearer and life got sunnier in general.

The Tibetans actually live in McLeod Ganj which is about 10k's up a steep and twisty road above Dharamsala. We discovered this after our initial inquiries with people in Dharamsala found A, noone who'd ever heard of SOS and B, no Tibetans. As we didn't have an address or a working phone number things were a little fraught until we stopped for a nibble to eat and a quick consultation of the Lonely Planet book.

Our eventual arrival at the TCV (Tibetan Children's Village) was met with a great fanfair, not!

Due to Christmas Holidays a lot of the staff and children were elsewhere and it seemed the message regarding our arrival had never got through. Consequently the village director got rather a shock when two englishmen on motorbikes came knocking on his door!

The TCV complex is very different to the other SOS Villages we've visited, largely due to the unique situation that brings its inhabitants. Basically its absolutely enormous looking after upto 2000 children at a time.

I was aware of the 'Tibet Question' before our trip, but spending time at the TCV and in Mcleod Ganj really gave me a feel for the struggle. Its quite incredible talking to the kids(and adults) about how they arrived in India. Basically most Tibetans fleeing the Chinese occupation of their country choose to cross the mountains on foot in winter, as they're worried about the heat in India!

What was truly astounding and a great reflection of the strength and mindset of these people was how they reflected upon their journeys. They all describe it as extremely scary, but fundamentally as the most incredible experience of their lives. They don't whinge or complain about their hardship which leaves many of with missing fingers etc from frostbite. I think a lot of their spirit comes from their utter devotion to the teachings of the Dalai Lama, a frankly astounding human who i've come to respect enormously..

Although we never actually met him there is a strangely relaxing atmosphere in the whole town and i can understand why the Tibetans are so keen to be close to him. I don't know how the whole reincarntion thing works or understand some of the more 'magical' aspects of Tibetan Buddhism, but i know the Dalai Lama is a very wise man who keeps hope alive in the hearts of his people. He's getting to be an old man now and i'm sure the long term fate of Tibet and its people will be decided outside of this lifetime. This poses many problems as the last Panchen Lama(second spiritual leader) to be chosen in 1995 was kidnapped by the Chinese government and has never been seen since!

Our visit to the Village was very different to previous ones as after being showed around by the director we were left to our own devices to stroll around and chat with people. There's such a great community feeling there with everyone helping each other to make the best of their lives, emphasised by the huge mural above the playground saying,'OTHERS BEFORE SELF'.

As usual we left feeling humbled by the extraordinary people we'd met and generally feeling glad to live in a world thats not just full of baddies, but real goodies as well.

I hope they get to go home one day.......



We spent our Christmas Eve enjoying a couple of quite beers in town celebrating with a mixed bunch of travellers, locals and psychic mediums and got up for a different style of Christmas day than we're accustomed to. But i'll stop there for now to let Rory pick up the tale of our exodus to Pakistan in a few days.

Until then check out the new photos from India and Pakistan in the galleries to the left, should give you the gist of where we've been and what we've been up to...

The Competition is now running until the 31st of March, so if you fancy winning that brand new Yamaha XT660x, get texting KARRIMOR to 60999 and get some pennies for the kids of SOS Children's Villages

Hope you're having a great 2006!!!!

Chris

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