Archive | January, 2013
24 Jan

Hello. I am writing from Aizawl, the capital of Mizoram state. I have just had a stroll around town, with lots of climbing as it occupies a very steep ridge.

So I left you after my frolicking in Cherrapunji. I had planned to take a road that cut across a large chunk of cycling to Jowai, however the road on my map didn’t exist. In fact this road map of India that I thought would be a godsend when I found it in Darjeeling is actually pretty inaccurate, with roads not on it, some not existing and the distances often way off the mark. Anyway the ride back toward Shillong was excellent and I got to enjoy the views more as it was predominantly uphill.

I forgot to mention about the food in Meghalaya, it was remarkably different from the rest of India. Ok, so it was always served with rice, but most people ate beef and pork. The meat was stewed and very lightly spiced and normally served with some kind of vegetable dish or sometimes fresh tomatoes or cucumber. I tried a few different local specialties such as pork intestines (tripe) which was fine but a bit chewy, a smelly green puree that I had no idea what it was and my favourite was finely copped pigs head.

So after a shortcut over Shillong peak that avoided the city I rode towards Silchar in Assam. The going was slow; my legs had clearly turned soft on the plains and I had a lingering cold that produced an abundance of mucus which made things harder. I think my main problem was attitude though. I wasn’t finding the right rhythm and taking the hills in a steady rhythm rather mashing my pedals too slowly. Going slow is no real problem though, that is one of the joys of traveling by bike, I pick my own pace. Obviously I don’t want to waste too much time when there is more to see, but I don’t want to push myself constantly but to enjoy the process. So I dawdled along only doing 30km some days and lingering at nice view points or camp spots.

One eventful moment, it must have been just before Silchar was when I came across some buffalo on the road. Normally this is no problem, just carry on cycling and they pay you no attention. As you can probably guess that wasn’t what happened this time. One, I’m guessing a female, took a disliking to me as I approached (maybe the noise, maybe the smell), it stared at me and started making noises. So I stopped and waited. It started coming towards me so I backed up a bit and waited. The attention of the biggest one, I’m guessing male, was now aroused and took the same stance as the other. Eventually the rest of the herd moved on and only the bull stayed. I took my chance building up speed and following a motorbike safely past him but the noise of me coming spooked the rest of the them which started a little stampede. So it was I found myself squeaking my silly horn and inadvertently corralling buffalos until after about a 200m dash they found a place to bundle off the road and I was free to go on.

Before I reached Mizoram I cycled through the South of Assam. The morning I arrived I was taken to the police station to have my details taken. Sometimes this is a frustrating experience of waiting around, getting taken to another branch and then a grumpy superintendent tells me to be careful. Often there is a bit of a jovial atmosphere of having the foreigner in their area. They always feel like a lads club, blokes hanging around not doing too much, chatting and smoking; the one is Assam even had a badminton court. There is occasionally a woman on a typewriter or serving tea. That morning in Assam was one of the better experiences , I got free tea and a selection of little sweets and pastries to eat there and they bought me a packed lunch of bread jam and cake. And after posing for many photos I got one for myself with one of their guns.

Well I have had a days R and R here in Aizawl and fixed my handle bar bag which the bumpy roads broke and am ready to set off or my last 3 weeks. Tomorrow I will leave towards Imphal, in Manipur which looks like it is going to be a hard 500km ride over very hilly terrain. Wish me luck.

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Teas and Tribes

10 Jan

Hello one and all. I write from Cherrapunji, also known as Sorah. It is the rainiest place on Earth, but luckily most of the rain falls in the monsoon season so I have remained dry.

I left Darjeeling after a long break away from the bike facing a nice descent down the 2000m that I got a bus up. The descent down into the plains of West Bengal was nice, however the roads were busy with tourist jeeps and the road conditions slowed me down. I couldn’t truly appreciate it either knowing that I hadn’t put the effort in to get up there. It was a nice relief to get down to a bit of warmth after the cold air up in the clouds.

The roads were flat all the way to Assam, but nice, through pleasant tea plantations. It was a welcome change to be back in my tent again after civilisation and found I found a few nice camp sites; one in a forest and the other by a river. I went to Dhubri, a pretty standard large Indian town to watch some football (on TV) and spend to New Year’s Eve close to a ready supply of alcohol and people. After a couple of days there I went to get the 12 o’clock ferry to Fakirganj, but it no longer runs, so had to wait for the one at 3. While waiting I ran into a protest for women’s rights sparked by the recent brutal rape of a woman on a bus in Delhi which has been in the news recently . It was nice to chat to some of the women, especially a teacher of English language and had a little debate about whether a banner saying ‘Hang the rapist’s’ was a progressive step.

Once on the boat I was confronted with a 2 hour ordeal of Indian curiosity with no escape. I was surrounded by a crowd and probed with questions, but it also meant free tea and snacks so I can’t complain too much. One guy, Baba Bhai, the main man on the boat, was very persistent in his offers for me to come and stay in his house. I didn’t want to be a burden and a nice quiet  camp by the river was appealing so refused the offer.  However when we landed it was already dark making it difficult to find a spot  so I accepted. What followed, after a quick snack at his (Piddha, made of rice flour which was almost exactly like a crumpet, but without butter unfortunately), was being paraded around the large village, visiting his friends and family and posing for countless photos. At around 8 I was taken to the local police station to register where a surly officer told me that I had to stay under police custody for the night because it was dangerous. I was made up a bed in one room of the police station, sharing it with one of the officers. I was reading in bed when he came and sat on the bench next to me and asked what my Kindle (ebook reader) was. When he proceeded to read one page aloud slowly and mispronounced I could barely suppress the giggles at such a strange bedtime story.

After a restless night plagued by mosquitoes attacking my face, an early morning and then being paraded around town for countless chais and snacks I finally managed to bid my farewell to the town and was seen off by about 150 people from the police station. After crossing another small river I found d myself in Meghalaya, a state that I had been really looking forward to. It lived up to my expectations as I began to cycle through quiet roads up the Garo hills. A few days of great riding followed through these ‘tribal regions’, but they were very dusty and my lack of climbing for the last few months left me pretty tired and grubby but happy. At one point the road completely changed into a building site. They are extending the road from a 1 or 2 lane road to a 4 lane one. It was inundated with big trucks and the surface was either compacted mud, covered in gravel or even bigger stones and was a really pain to ride on. So when 2 guys spoke to me from their jeep I asked where they were going, as they were heading to Nongstoin too I asked for a lift which they were more than happy to oblige with.

The ride to Nongstoin had a real party atmosphere, beer, whiskey and loud music. The music varied from strange versions of Christmas songs to happy hardcore, but I have to say that it was great to see that the road was terrible all the way and I was saving myself a couple of days slog so I joined in the singing with pleasure. After graciously refusing hospitality from them on arrival I searched for a lodge, with result, so went to the police station where a chap organized a room for me and gave me a free bottle of whiskey.

At the lodge I met a young group of Ayurvedic joint pain relief salesmen. These guys were heading to Shillong and urged me to come in the taxi with them as the road was bad, I tried to resist and to cycle but after an arm twisting I decided to give and ‘go with the flow’ Indian style. Once my bike was dismantled all 7 of us squeezed into the 4 seater car and the party began.  The 3 hour journey took most of the day what with all the breaks for food, toileting, wrestling and dancing. When we arrived I managed to find the smallest room in Shillong and just got all of my gear in.

Shillong was mildly interesting. Being the centre of British ruled Assam it had a nice park and lake to wander round made by a guy called Ward. I also checked out the archery type lottery that lots of people play there. Basically 10 guys continually fire arrows at a bale for 4 minutes, the ones that stick are counted and the last 2 digits become the winning number. Unfortunately my 25 pence flutter came to nothing.

I left Shillong a couple of days ago for Cherrapunji, a place I have wanted to visit for a couple of years now. Yesterday I went to the Nohkalikai falls, which were stunning. There was a great view from the ridge but I spent a few hours descending the small steep trail which I eventually lost and making my way to the clear blue pool at the bottom by any means necessary. Then clambering my way back up to the top. Exactly my idea of fun. Today I went to see the living bridges made out of tree roots which are stretched across valleys to make footpaths. These take lifetimes to make and last for hundreds of years. They were stunning, one of the most spectacular things I have seen and well worth the long arduous hike back up (over 3000 steps apparently).

So there you go, that is what I have been up to for the last few weeks. I have just over a month remaining on my visa which should give me plenty more time to explore the rest of the North East. From tomorrow I will be back on my steed and aiming for Tripura.

Photos have been updated and can be found here:  http://s1171.beta.photobucket.com/user/philb0412/library/