|for sale||Photobucket||home||product reviews||RBJ - youtube||S.E.E.C|
|Tony's Himalaya Trip 2015|
So my deposit was made and the next job was to acquire a visa, having asked regular travellers to India at work for guidance I was pointed in the direction of VFS global. This was a far more daunting prospect than booking my trip and so it came to pass on my first attempt I had selected the wrong button and ended up travelling 2 hours by tube to central London to a VFS office, only to be told at reception that because I was an airline worker I needed a letter from my employer reassure the Indian Authorities that I wasn’t going to work while I was in their country. Anyone who knows me will know that chance would be a fine thing! Round 2 was infinitely more successful in that I managed to tick the correct box regarding the visa issuing office and, with the relevant letter from my employer, left the offices of VFS Hounslow with a receipt for my passport while it winged its way off to have my visa inserted.
Of course as time ticked by it became apparent that my funds were going to come up short and so it was then that Memsarb dug deep and unbeknownst to her she was to help pay the balance of my trip and that was my birthday prezzie. All that was left now was to acquire an international driving license from the post office, in this the 21 st century this document is a gem looking like something from the dark ages. Now I had my flight details and while getting my license in Terminal 3 I took the opportunity to wangle a cheeky upgrade for my flight on 26 th September to Dubai with Emirates then onto Delhi.
At 02.45 on 27 th September we arrived into the chaos of Delhi airport and passport control. Having been travelling for 20hrs I wasn’t feeling my best but I had to think on my feet as rather than “this being where my preparation pays off”, it was where I discovered I had yet another “permit” to fill in but without the requisite scribe. Borrowing a pen from yet another flustered traveller of foreign dissent I attempted to fill in the relevant fields only for my pen to be snatched mid-form as she left the counter to join the queue for passport control. Three times this happened and so it was then, as I approached a sleepy passport official with my permit filled in with a rainbow of different coloured biro hoping for the best, the rest of my party of whom I had yet to be introduced to made frantic waves and gesticulations in my direction as they were all waiting for me.
Welcome to India!
Once through the terminal we went head to head with the bun fight of porters and cabbies. Transport had been laid on but that didn’t stop us being accosted at every opportunity. Porters attempted to prize luggage from peoples grips with varying degrees of success as we were escorted by our guide to a concourse where he called the taxis that had already been arranged. It was at this time the opportunity arose for those with more than one piece of luggage to become reacquainted with their possessions as porters had carried them to the 4 corners of the terminal and on their retrieval had to pay for the privilege. Once shoe-horned into a diddy taxi with bags strapped precariously to the roof, we joined the Delhi Grand Prix for about 20 minutes to a hotel for us to recuperate, and to wait for our train (to Kalka’s) departure. We watched the sun come up and wow what an assault on the senses! From the constant din of horns in traffic, people sleeping on rooftops amongst monkeys, heat and humidity, I already loved this place.
Thrown together while having a brew the introductions began:
While our bags arrived in style by cab we walked to Delhi Station for the next leg of our journey as so to embrace the ambiance of the city, taking care to avoid cattle/monkey/dog poo and tuk-tuks, you get the idea. Once we had been escorted to the correct platform by our guide we then waited for the porters to deliver our fit to busting bags balanced precariously on their heads for the princely sum of 100 rupees (about £1). Once our train pulled into the station a piece of A4 stuck to the outside of the carriage let us know where we were to sit and very pleasant it was too with India’s finest cuisine being served with tea all included. Four hours later and we pulled into Kalka station after passing some extremely grim slums in the shadows of some very 21 st century architecture. The train for Shimla had been held for the train from Delhi because it got in late so needless to say our reserved seats were no longer reserved and the occupants obviously didn’t speak English. The train was packed, with me and Marg still on the platform, bags in hand, I saw the guard at the back of the train wave a green flag intuitively. I glanced to the front of the train and there a driver at the front of the train waved back and whistles were blown . Looking further down the train to a carriage with no queue I ran down the platform just as the train started to move, threw my bag into the carriage and stood half in, half out the carriage door and just as I started to relax and take in my surroundings the female Irish lilt of Margaret barked “take my bag, take my bag!” I managed to pull her and her bag onto the train just as it had run out of platform. This carriage was also packed, Marg was offered a seat by a charming young man whilst I made do with one foot in the hole in the floor toilet and one out, the aroma was over powering but was preferable to the locals hanging from various escarpments especially in the tunnels.
Mat buying local cuisine from food vendor at one of the 18 stations on way to Shimla
Toy train from Kalka finally arrives in Shimla after 5hrs, 103 tunnels, 24 bridges and 18 stations.
The next morning we awake in the very pleasant hotel overlooking the spectacular hillside town of Shimla. After Breakfast we have a briefing and introductions to our team, this consists of:
The rest of the day was spent sightseeing and changing money with my new roomy and before you knew it, it was beer o’clock. Whilst soaking up the atmosphere we watched with equal measure of amusement and amazement as a dozen or so labourers erected a telegraph pole using nothing more than a pick axe and rope. This pole being erected in one of the busiest tourist spots in the Himalayas is swaying randomly as these men shout frantically and accusingly at each other trying to drop their charge into its shallow hole. After a couple of beers this was as funny as f### and I said as much in the evening when we all met up once again for dinner, however no one could beat Mat who went to a Temple with Gareth and had his glasses nicked off his face by a monkey. While the monkey made his escape a vendor took a handful of his produce and threw it to the ground to distract the monkey enough for Mat to retrieve his glasses. Of course Mat had to then pay the vendor for his trouble and so the more cynical of us assumed their partnership in crime was complete.
Pole dancing Indian style.
Today was the day we had been waiting for, our 2007 Enfield Bullet 500 were prepped and ready to go and so it was that (after another 3 course breakfast) we hit the streets of Shimla .
Silver Dream Racer aka 'SDR'
One of the reasons I chose Blazing Trails as a company to do my trip was you were actively encouraged to ride solo rather than in some convoy but with the safety blanket of having an experienced organisation discreetly shadowing you from afar. That said on my first ride out of the hotel grounds and into the traffic of Shimla I was fortunate to be behind my roomy that set a good pace and navigated us successfully on our way to Himachal Pradesh. The rhythm of the trip was set as follows; a chai stop late morning super seeded by a lunch stop and then if required yet another chai stop to bunch everyone back up together before arrival at your destination that evening. The whole experience was very well managed so routes could be adjusted depending on how progress was being made, if progress was good, little excursions into remoter areas were added and if progress was slower, routes were tweaked to ensure we made our destination on time.
After an hour or two I had hoped to be more competent on “SDR” but I was finding it more difficult than expected. The only time I had ridden a bike with a right foot gear change and therefore a left foot rear brake was when my late step father passed away and I got to ride his Vellocette MAC to take it for sale, otherwise it was purely a diet of modern conventional bikes. I could cope reasonably well with the lack of performance, the throttle being more of an audio control rather than a means by which the bike accelerated and the brakes did install a reasonable amount of retardation, it was the gearbox that was my (almost literally) Achilles heel. With more neutrals than Switzerland it was a complete lottery as to which, if any gear was selected. That was of course if I was actually attempting to change gear using the gearbox and not the rear break as I did on many occasions. Reassuringly over lunch everyone was having similar issues all except Neil who was inconspicuous in his silence , it was later to come to light Neil was the proud owner of an Enfield Bullet back in the UK, just one of his many bikes as he genuinely didn’t know how many bikes he had.
After lunch normal service was resumed with more fantastic roads the surface of which could change from gravel to tarmac, to concrete to dirt and back all in one corner. The only issue I had with SDR was a snapped throttle cable which was quickly change by our mechanics Jamal and Javed. It was while they were rerouting my throttle cable I decided to relieve myself against a tree much to their objections , it transpired this tree was some kind of shrine and should I wish relieve myself in the future I was to use the road like everybody else - oops!
Look out for the drummer with no drum as we leave amongst a little parade.
On arrival at our destination (Mandi) we were informed that our residence for the night was once the Mah Haraja’s Palace and guest of honour at dinner was to be none other than the Mah Haraja himself. Educated at Oxford (we had so much in common) this now 87 year old was very pro British and very entertaining with his tails of London Soho in the swinging 60s, however his party piece was puzzles and games that no one could do justice to, as we were all knackered after a long days riding.
The palace of Mandi; our room for the night.
Another 3 course breakfast taken care of in the grandeurs surroundings of the dining room and we were saddling up and heading for the Dhauladhar Range, seen off by the smartly dressed staff from the hotel.
Neil getting his race face on (far left) while the staff wait patiently for tips that never came.
In the Clip above keep an eye out for the truck that has left the road and is being winched back up for salvage
The rule of the road is might is right on Indian roads and so being on a motorcycle we are pretty low on the food chain out here. Another little foible is the habit of putting bus stops on many of the hairpin bends, the logic being that it’s one of the few places the buses go slow enough for passengers to embark and disembark. It was on one such hairpin with a bus picking up passengers that a lorry overtaking said bus on my side of the road forced me onto the dirt. Now many years of off-road experience meant this was nothing to be concerned about as I would simply square the corner off using a little back brake, force the bike back onto the road proper and all would be well. That was until the back brake I was employing transpired in my haste to in fact be the gear lever so instead of the retardation I was expecting a false neutral was selected and in my now blind panic stabbed ham fistedly at the front brake with the inevitable consequence of the front end of my bike skidding away and me tumbling to a halt. The usual check whilst laying face down in the dirt ensued, wiggle toes, check. Wiggle fingers, check. Move limbs, check. Happy days, disaster averted I’m still in the game. Now to check out SDR: but for a broken front brake lever and a missing indicator she had bounced remarkably well and after a couple of kicks the engine thudded back into life with no leaks and just a little gravel rash. I was not the only one to come a cropper today as my roomy Johnny had hit a pot hole the size of Luxembourg and put his back out even though he had remained sunny side up.
Johnny pre his whoopsa daisy.
Our destination that evening was McLeod Ganj, the home of the exiled Dalai Lama. On arrival at our accommodation it transpired our rooms had been let to a group of school girls so we did what we did best; sat drinking beers so kindly supplied by Brummy Dave while Adam the grown-up went with the very apologetic hotel manager to peruse alternative arrangements. An hour or so passed and with the beers flowing nicely Adam returned unimpressed and persuaded the reluctant manager to evict his staff from their apartment accommodation opposite so we could take residence. The apartments were fine and we soon showered ready to hit the bars of McLeod Ganj when Gareth in the apartment opposite produced a bottle of duty free which he suggested we help him with out on his balcony. Not wishing to be impolite Johnny and myself took up his offer and with Mat had one of the most entertaining evenings of the trip. Now stick with me, Gareth and Mats balcony over looked a school playground where local kids had broken in and were playing cricket. Clearly seen from their balcony but not from anywhere else due to its vertical advantage, Mat (with his umpires hat -yes really) started to umpire. Now the street below was quite busy and people were starting to become aware of these four piss heads cheering and clapping at nothing in particular, especially the one in the strange hat who was making all sorts of gesticulations with his arms looking to all intense and purposes like he was directing traffic. The fun was stopped abruptly when the cricket bat snapped and while we were desperately trying to come up with a way of taking over a tray of Pimms, Margaret knocked and invited us to dinner with herself Neil, Mike and Liz. The restaurant chosen was Italian and a fine Pizza was had by all but the highlight was the specialty which due to the restaurant not having a license was bottles of beer wrapped in old newspaper.
Myself and Nitro Neil on our way to McLeod Ganj via Dhauladhar Range and Dharamsala.
Looking down on McLeod Ganj from the village.
McLeod Ganj was another day off the bikes which was unfortunate as I was really enjoying the riding of the last two days. It was probably for the best for Johnny and his dodgy spice rack, as he was walking around looking like he had soiled himself. Mat wasn’t much better, (as someone who had a bad back anyway) his gait was more that of the Tin Man from Wizard of OZ and he was only able to turn round from his ankles. As we left breakfast we came across Jamal and Javed giving the bikes a once over, we went over for a chat and I requested a little less play in my rear brake lever while Gareth requested they address the wailing Johnny Weissmuller (Tarzan circa 1960) impression his rear hub was making every time it was employed.
Johnny at the Tibetan Memorial outside the Dalai lama Temple.
Sightseeing it was then, me feeling a little fragile from last night’s over indulgence and my roomy not particularly mobile we decided against a trek and made our way to town for a beer and lunch. Up to now my philosophy with the beggars was such that as we were getting 100 rupees to the pound and the begging populace were happy with 10 or 20 rupees I would give freely and hopefully their positive attitude would be good karma for my trip. However on our way for beer and skittles a woman comes up to me with a baby and starts making gesticulations with her hand to her mouth like her baby is hungry, whilst in mid sentence and without breaking my stride I withdrew my already prepared begging money from my pocket and offered it to her. Shaking her head she then started to point toward a shop and making the same hand to mouth movements she had before. Now this was my queue to foxtrot Oscar but did I? NO, like a dick I followed her into the shop where she placed a large bag of dried milk and rice onto the counter. “Look at the baby look at the baby it’s huge” came the comments from Johnny stood in the shop door way pissing himself with laughter. He was quite right, this women was carrying George Dawes (Mat Lucas... Shooting Stars). As I turned my gaze back to the counter the contents were now gone as had the beggar and George Dawes and the shop keeper had run up the bill to 1000 rupees. “WTF.” Johnny was laughing so loud I thought he might flop out a lung. Turning to the shop keeper who was avoiding eye contact I said something along the lines of “You’re taking the piss” to which he just gave me the wobbly head and held out his hand.
After being scammed by Mata Harri and George it was definitely beer o’clock and so we made our way to “Cluster F### Square” (so named by our guides) to a bar and watched the world go by. Birds of a feather flock together and as we were still on our first pint when in walked Gareth and Mat who had been shopping. Having already purchased a hat in Shimla Mat the hat had once again bought 2 more that he was keen for us to try, while Gareth had bought a rug that had been crafted locally (This regardless of the Made in China label on the back).We whiled away the rest of the day eating the local cuisine drinking the local beers and watching the world go bye, the populist of which consisted of just 3 types of people, indigenous Indians, Tibetan monks and wasted European hippies, us four old gits would have looked more at home on Bournemouth seafront.
Gareths carpet delivery.
Looking out for Mata Hari and George in McLeod Ganj
Hurrah back on the bike and after a brief breakfast we were headed out of town to Chamba
Johnny was still feeling poorly and so decided to give bike riding a miss and travel in the support vehicle with Margaret, this despite a session with the Indian cricket teams physiotherapist the night before and religiously promising to carry out his exercises. This meant that Javed the younger of the two mechanics got to ride his bike as opposed to riding pillion with Jamal as he had done up to now. The Hotel in Chamba was of the usual high standard and so once we had freshened up for yet another fine meal it wasn’t long before the effects of a long day in the saddle was having its affect and an early night was called for.
The next day was a short ride to Khajjiar, arriving early enough to explore the market and its many temples. The morning in Khajjiar was spent visiting one of the Temples in what was obviously one of the biggest towns in the Himalayas and watching the locals play cricket.
They must have known I was coming as they’ve rolled out the red carpet.
No fear of "rain stopped play".
Back on the bikes but not for long as we stop for lunch.
After Lunch we made our way to just outside Dharamsala and our accommodation for the evening. Looking like a seventies tower block in appearance the Hotel had a fantastic terrace on which to drink beer and watch hang gliders whistle past. The only fly in the ointment was when we came to shower there was only cold water due to the hotel switching the hot off at 11am. Apparently this was due to the water being heated by solar panels and as to save energy for when there was more cloud. We didn’t have to wait long for fixer Adam to have a word with management and the problem was resolved with hot water for all. Bit of a strange meal that night, the format being more that of a school canteen, I guess this was because the more regular clientele are youth organisations and schools. Palatable none the less.
Up early today and after breakfast we head into the Kangra Valley
Kangra Fort en route to Rewalsar.
Arriving early once again gave us opportunity to explore the lake around Rewalsar surrounded by places of worship for Buddhists, Hindus and Sikhs and build up an appetite. Watching the monkeys around the temples was reminiscent of the Disney movie The Jungle Book and so I took some pictures which as I said elsewhere I’m rubbish at, therefore they came out rubbish and so not fit for showing.
Some of the locals promenading round the lake.
View from my hotel room across the lake.
Leaving Rewalsar we head into dense forest until we reach the banks of the river Beas.
The chap in the 4x4 at the end of the clip in the lay by explained to us that he was from Nepal and how bad things had got since the Indian blockade. Apparently the Nepalese Government had accepted aid from China and as a reprisal India had stopped allowing supplies into Nepal. Indian tourists in Nepal had been attacked in revenge for the blockade and supplies of food and fuel were strictly limited.
While waiting for everyone to regroup we noticed some locals trying to coax a snake out from under a rock. You make your own entertainment out here.
Moments before Gareths run in with public transport.
Gareths handy work.
A day after we got back from India, Gareth posted a picture on Facebook of him holding up his hands to show his wrists, he had broken the left and fractured the right and soldiered on for the rest of the trip using only a brace and a handful of pain killers. Our final destination for the day was Manali and yet another beautiful hotel in which we had little apartments with a little veranda out onto gardens which was very handy for abandoning our now smelly bike kit.
Manali (Gateway to the high Himalayas) was another day off SDR to give the Mechanics a chance to service the bikes.
The Hotel was mere minutes away from the centre of town and so after normal service was resumed and the three course breakfast was consumed we made our way to town. On the way Gareth, Johnny and Mat booked into a spa for a massage as they were all feeling the effects of riding constantly for the last week. While the three amigos went to be fine tuned, I sat on my veranda reading when Mick and Liz came back shopping. They mentioned they had been recommended a restaurant for the evening and would we like to join them when Mick came up with a stroke of genius; A TukTuk race. Due to our disorganised manner we all departed to the restaurant at different times and so the race was booked for our return. The restaurant was very nice and the food was great then a local pulled up a stool, plugged in his guitar and proceeded to make a right bloody row. This was traditional folk music apparently, it was get the f### out of here music for us and so it was that the highlight of the day began “The Tuk Tuk Race”.
Everyone jostled for a tuk tuk and Johnny and I managed to blag one that had already turned round and was facing the correct way back down the hill. Gareth had already primed the drivers this was a winner takes all race just to add a little spice to proceedings. Now the hotel was only about 3 miles away so our driver getting the jump on the other 2 was quit a coup and the fact that there was only 2 of us in our tuk tuk as opposed to 3 in the other tuk tuks meant surely we couldn’t lose. For the first mile or so we systematically checked over our shoulders for any sign of competition and nothing. It was bit of an anti climax, then just as we thought it was all over 500yrds from the entrance to the hotel we saw a light in the distance. Closing all the time we urged our driver to go faster and faster and as we turned to enter the car park of the hotel the light closed until it was alongside and the tuk tuk from which it came block passed us into the car park. Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory we paid the successful driver then retired to the bar for a night cap and lick our wounds.
Our unsuccessful Tuk Tuk.
After yet another over indulgence at breakfast we hit the road for yet another outstanding residence in Chindi around 80km away. Joining us today was my roomy Johnny his first ride back on 2 wheels since day 2.
Johnny back in the saddle after a week in the back up truck (much to Margarets relief).
Shrine over looking a fantastic ribbon of road.
Having had a service the day before, I had high hopes of an improvement in performance for the SDR, especially with the gearbox. Now I had come to terms with the transmission being on my right foot not left and it also working in reverse to what I was used to in that instead of lifting the gear shift with your foot to change up the gearbox, you in fact pressed down. The technique employed up to now was to keep the bike in 2 nd , 3 rd and 4 th as much as was possible 5 th being far too tall and 1 st only useful for uphill starts. Changing up the gearbox was reasonably predictable but down shifts a complete lottery, alas post service nothing had changed. This wouldn’t have been an issue but for the last couple of miles when approaching our hotel for the night, we came upon an outstanding ribbon of newly laid tarmac that was switch back after switch back, uphill downhill .Settling on 3 rd gear I was dragging the foot pegs of SDR round corner after corner but struggling to accelerate uphill due to being in too high a gear really. A quick whiff of clutch encouraged what little ponies were left in the stable into forward motion and by the time I arrived at the next corner I had a reasonable turn of speed to plonk SDR back on her side dive through the apex and exit the corner. This process was adopted to avoid using the agricultural gearbox and all was well until in my mirror I saw Neil. Now Neil may have a Enfield Bullet at home, he may have raced classic motorcycles for donkeys and he may have travelled these roads before having had previous excursions with Blazing Trails but he was 70+ years old and there was no way he was getting past without a fight.
Riding round the next corner behind me Neil did the unthinkable on the short straight between corners, he successfully down shifted. “Cheat”. Accelerating away I was dust so drastic measures were called for, now Neil hated riding off-road so my tactic was to square the next corner off and run Neil onto the dirt that had collected on the outside of the corner. My block pass had worked but due to the steep uphill nature of the corner we were almost stationary by the time we had turned. Biting the bullet (not literally) I prodded at the gear shift for a lower gear only to be met by the usual metal on metal racket I was expecting, pulling the clutch in for a second time I prodded the transmission once more. Hurrah success 1 st gear selected ideal for my predicament accelerating as hard as possible I decided to leave 3 rd gear in the pot and see if I could keep Neil at bay using 2 nd. My lead was short lived as Neil came past me on the next short straight having successfully selected 3rd gear while I strained 2 nd hoping to make up time through the next corner. It was not to be Neil deftly danced down then up the gearbox and disappeared into the distance “cock”. Minutes later I pulled into the car park of the hotel, a very grand ex palace of the Raj of Chimla who had been ousted from Chimla by the British in the 19 th Century and so relocated to Chindi. The area was completely covered in pollen from the many trees that surrounded the hotel so giving everything a green hue, except a smug Neil who was stood in the car park waving me over so as to park next to him. We jabbered about our exploits like a couple of exited school girls until the others arrived then with our adrenaline levels back to normal made our way to our palatial accommodation. The rooms surrounded a croquet lawn that was built up on a terrace which due to the steepness of our surroundings was a tree top height at one end, which made it ideal for watching the many monkeys. Porters who met our arrival warned us about the monkeys, that they would pinch anything not nailed down. Oh and monkey attacks were up 30% so don’t make eye contact as it antagonizes them.
That evening’s meal was in the hotel which was all very civilized but the highlight was discovering a snooker room on the way. It was in the usual shabby chic style seen elsewhere in India but it was entertainment for us, that was until some up tight hotel manager turfed us out for having too much fun.
Wooden Temple on the way to Chail.
Indian Road sign!
A short ride today to Chail and once again Johnny decided to join us. After a brief ride down the usual twisting rural roads we entered the suburbs of Chail and the nearer we got to the Hotel the heavier the traffic became but as we had become familiar with our bikes the chaos on the roads wasn’t anywhere as intimidating as when we had left. Having left early we had the rest of the afternoon to shower and relax before starting our long journey home with a taxi booked for 3 o’clock. The toy train back to Kalka was booked for 4 o’clock but due to lack of take up was cancelled so we were rebooked on to the 5 o’clock which meant our transfer in Kalka onto the sleeper was going to be tight. Fortunately the trip back on the toy train was far less eventful than our arrival when I spent most of the trip with one foot in the toilet (no not the bowl). With our first class seats back to Kalka we even got fed and watered and made good enough time to get our sleeper to Delhi. The arrangements for the sleeper were 6 to a cabin and as there were 8 of us meant Johnny and I would be sharing with strangers. Johnny being an experienced train traveller checked the train manifest and it transpired that we only had to share with one other passenger, this lifted our spirits as we thought we might get some sleep. Our optimism was short lived when our cabin happened to be next to the toilet, Oh happy days passenger after passenger using the fascilities.
On arrival in Delhi we were once again collected by taxi and whisked off to the airport for the next leg of our journey to Dubai and onto Heathrow.
Many thanks to all the people I met during my trip. Travelling on my own you expect at least one knob jockey but everyone was just great. Some people get all spiritual about these sorts of trips but that’s just not my cup of tea, all I will say is I loved India. I have travelled quite extensively around the world having worked for an airline for the last 28 years and yet India was a shock to the senses. The sights, sounds, and smells but mainly the people, the people make India and I can’t wait to go back.
|©2015 John Muizelaar|