Sunday, January 15, 2006
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......
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.
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?'
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-
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.
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!!!!