Thai Ride

29 May

Greetings. I am in Bangkok, just about acclimatised to the heat and humidity. The first few days here I couldn’t leave the hotel room for 5 minutes without looking like I had just had a shower. Rehydration salts have become part of my daily diet; as has Chang the local beer thanks to Jennie my friend from university with whom I have spent the last 2 and a half weeks with.

We stayed in Bangkok for a few nights, wandering round the bars and restaurants and even visiting a few of the sights while we were here. Then we hopped on a bus up to the north of Thailand, Chiang Mai, thinking that it may be a little cooler and the riding superior to the south. The bus was a treat in itself compared to India, air conditioning, comfy seats, a loo and films showing. In Chiang Mai Jennie bought a bike (her bike in England needed some work and had to tackle the coast to coast tour a few days after she arrived back) and the next day we set off in the direction of Chiang Rai near the border with Laos and Myanmar. The riding was pretty nice, generally flat, smooth tarmac and plenty of places to stop. We also had a couple of stunning days climbing and descending through knobbly tree covered hills, crossing rivers and cycling through vast plantations of litchi (the best I have ever eaten).  It took us 5 days to reach Chiang Rai, not an impressive speed but a nice speed to cruise at, it was her holiday from work after all.

After a couple of days we hopped on a bus back down to Bangkok after a trip to the white wat, a Thai temple designed by a local artist. Most of the wats in Thailand look pretty similar; gaudy gold and red affairs, admittedly with nice patterns on them but not to my taste. The white one however is one of the most interesting religious buildings I have seen, using similar sharp swirls as the traditional temple but all in white and silver and a distinctly gothic feel, lots of skulls, bones and 2 huge statues brandishing weapons at the entrance. Definitely worth the ride away from the bus station on a massive busy road.

On our return to Bangkok we hopped on a bus taking us 2 hours south east of the city and then a ferry 12km out to Koh Si Chan, a small island mainly frequented by Thai’s for a weekend getaway. It was a very relaxing little place where we rented a scooter and rode to little beaches, up to high points for nice views and to the many seafood restaurants that it is famous for. After a few days and a trip to a smaller island we reluctantly pushed ourselves back to the sprawl of Bangkok to get a few things sorted, like selling Jennie’s bike, backing up my photos for her to safeguard in England and last night Jennie got on a plane back to England.

So tomorrow my trip will again go back to frugality after being treated to nice hotels, good food and beer daily. I will also have to get used to my own company again after a period of constant company and plenty of chums in Pokhara. I am excited though; I feel ready to get moving again, I am keen to ride and have even fattened up a little bit (relatively speaking). I have new countries to explore, new people to meet and most excitingly new food to try. The food here is vastly different to India and Nepal and gets me excited everyday. I see things that I have never seen before in my life but still haven’t had time to try them yet. But I will save some of the culinary delights I have tried for my next post.

So tomorrow the compas will be pointing east, to Cambodia. The rough plan is to tour Cambodia, maybe ride along the seaside for a breeze, then aim north, up the narrow, hilly strip that is Laos to cross into Vietnam and then ride down to the South zig-zagging my way across the map. But that is a rough plan, we will see what transpires. I hope everyone is well at home. It’s nice to hear that the ladies at Tynwald are still reading about my adventures. I will try and keep you more up to date whilst I am here after a sojourn in Nepal. And James, Happy Birthday for the other day!

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Goodbye Nepal

9 May

Hello everyone. So it has been a long time since I wrote last. You may have realised that I am back from trekking and not stuck somewhere in the Himalayas.  I will start where I left off, at the start of my trek.

Rosanna and I left or guest house and I had my first taste of walking with my backpack full of clothes, sleeping bag and dried foods to the bus station where we I got my first good view of the mountains.  On the first day we picked up a Swiss guy, Jerome,  who walked with us for the next 10 days. Life on the trek generally started at about 6 in the morning in order o get nice clear views of the mountains, and walk before it got too hot (not a problem later). Normally we would walk for 4-6 hours with short breaks to eat food or refill our water bottles. Then we would arrive at a village where we would get a room and eat dahl baht (rice, lentils and veg) and then sleep early ready for the next day. That was pretty much the daily routine, get up eat, walk, eat, and sleep. It might not sound very interesting, but when you are surrounded by lots of big mountains,  glacial rivers, yaks and big birds circling in the sky there isn’t much more you want to do. It took us 9 days to reach the ‘world’s highest pass’ , the Thorung La, at 5416m and then another 4 days to Tatopani for some hot springs and one final climb to Poon Hill where I watched the sun rise illuminating a backdrop of mountains. I would go into more detail about the scenery, but you can see for yourself when I buy an card reader and upload photos (my camera cable has gone astray).

The trek has to be one of the nicest things I have done, I can’t recommend it highly enough to people. Not only are the views nice, the feeling of getting somewhere through your own steam is satisfying, but there is a nice community of people who you keep bumping into. Ok, so it’s not very remote, but it is easy to do; you don’t need a porter or a guide as the trail is good and accommodation is cheap and plentiful. They sting you on food, but that is why Rosanna and I took about 4kg of grub with us. If you get the chance then it is certainly an experience to remember.

Anyway that all ended about a month and a half ago now, since then I stayed put in the land of milk and honey, Pokhara. The plans to teach went out the window after a couple of weeks there along with the guilt of being lazy; I realised that I was staying in a nice place and I had made a nice circle of friends and that I didn’t want to move, so I didn’t. Over the last 8 months I had spent a lot of time by myself, lacking a lot of the travel experience that comes from meeting other travelers, so it was exactly what I wanted, to get to know people well, and have fun. My days consisted of playing cards, eating fairly plentifully (especially from the bakery), swimming, fishing on the lake, trying to build up my upper body and whiskey to mention a few. I even went for a few bike rides but was limited by a broken pedal until I arrived back here in Kathmandu.

Anyway a new beginning starts tomorrow when I fly to Bangkok. I am meeting my friend J there and we will travel together for the 3 weeks she has off work. I am very excited to reach South East Asia, somewhere completely new for me. But I am most excited about the food, especially from the street (which Nepal and NE India lacks). Anyway once again apologies for leaving it so long.

If you are interested I knocked together a video of a few sights from my trip which you can watch here:

 

Country number 14

11 Mar

Hello once again. As you may have guessed I am now in Nepal, where I have been for almost 4 weeks now. I rode across the flat plains which run along the south of the country. The plains were fine, the riding easy but the road (only 1) had quite heavy traffic. Nearing 6 months on the road and with a strong desire to get to Kathmandu and have a rest meant that I succumbed to the temptation of the bus instead of climbing a high pass to the city where I found a cheap room and kicked back.

I took a holiday-from-my-holiday and spent my first week pottering around the area of the city I was in, finding the tastiest (and often cheapest) eateries, readng the paper and giving my bike an overhaul. I completely stripped everything from the bike, cleaned and re-greased it and put it all back together again. I invested in a good bike and now after 6 months it has more than exceeded my expectations, no trouble at all despite the attsacks from bad roads, dust and moisture.

After reaching Kathmandu it was also nice to have some good conversations. I had missed the company and humour of other Westerners a bit during my North East India escapades (not that I didn’t enjoy speaking with the people there). In fact it was a little bit of a shock to the system seeing so many white people in the streets! Anyway, I lingered in Kathmandu for another week, rode my bicycle (very strange without the weight at first) around the city, taking in the main temples and went to a climbing wall for a bit of upper body exercise.

From Kathmandu I rode to the nexdt major tourist destination in Nepal, Pokhara, a city by a lake with views of the Himalaya and a very shanti (peacefull) atmosphere. I found an incredible good value room, 1 pound 50, for a comfy bed with attached bathroom and hot water, plus it is clean which is a bonus. At ‘Peace Full Guest House’ I met Rosanna, a German lass here to do some trekking for a few months. I had been toying with the idea of doing a trek seeing as Nepal is renowned for it’s treks and seeing as I have the time. I was reluctant to go with an organised tour though feeling that it would take something away form the experience, and didn’t want to hire my own guide, so when Rosanna was looking for someone to walk with (it’s not recommended to go alone) I decided to go with her.

So tomorrow I depart for the Annapurna Circuit trek. It is aro0und 250 km and takes in a pass of 5416m, so will be the highest I have ever been, on land. It is also my first trek, so I don’t really know what to expect, but this evening I have that nervy excited feeling that you get before starting something big, which is nice.

In a few weeks time I will write to tell you how it was, as for now I have to buy a couple more supplies and finish packing some of my bits into the cheap rucksack I picked up. And have a last beer for a while.

 

My way on the highway

13 Feb

Hello. So my experience in India is almost over. I am in Guwahati, the capital of Assam and this afternoon I be strapping my bike to the roof of an overnight bus to Siliguri, only a few km’s to the border of Nepal. Last time I wrote how I would be embarking on national highway 150 towards Imphal. It turned out to be quite an adventure.

I spent a day longer than anticipated in Aizawl fattening myself up on some smoked beef and tandoori chicken. As I rode out of the city I descended down into a valley with great views back up to the city. The roads like the rest of Mizoram were great, quite thin but had little traffic and were very smooth,  so I made good time.  After a couple of days I made it to the border of Manipur, unbeknown to me (the map was of little use on this road), where the road instantly crumbled away to a rocky track. It was here that I had my first fall off the bike.

Now don’t worry, I was only going slowly. I was trying to negotiate a ridge between two very deep furrows made by tyres. It was covered in very fine dust and slanted, as I was going over it the bike slipped out from underneath me but I managed to hop off and roll into a tyre track, only banging my head a little, but I was wearing a helmet so I just dusted myself off and carried on. However, when I decided to stop by the river bank and spend an afternoon washing clothes and sunbathing. I found out that I had smashed the screen on my Kindle. It was in my handlebar bag which had taken a bit of a blow. This is a bit of a pain that will mean I have to send it back probably. So I have been without good reading material since then.

Anyway the next day I got up and carried on a few kms and realised I had to cross the river. It was the choice between a rickety wire bridge with a dodgy climb up bamboo poles with nails in (while carrying my bike) or getting wet. Getting wet was the better options so I made 3 trips wading over and carrying my stuff. It was at the next village that I found out that was the the river Barrack and that I was in Manipur and that there wouldn’t be any restaurants for a long way. So I stocked up on glucose biscuits, noodles and petrol for my stove. And those were the staple of my diet for a few days until I found some lentils and rice, but no spices or salt. That was pretty much my diet for the 9 days, supplemented occasionally with  some weird Burmese fruit purees and odd snacks such as dried fish. Near the end of the ride I found the delights of powdered milk and some bananas to  supplement my diet. It felt strangely to be running on reserves in a sort of ascetic way.

I wasn’t eating enough calories for the amount of exercise I was doing but I was drinking lots of water. I could almost feel the little fat I had on my body being used but in a strange way it added to the feeling off adventure the road provided. For about 150 km the surface was terrible, thick patches of bog, big rocks and fine dust. I also took a 16km wrong turning on an even worse stretch of road. I spent my time riding and pushing up for hours or gently easing my way down slopes. It was really tough going, but it was worth it for the views and the isolation. Some days only 3 or 4 vehicles would pass me. The villages were always tiny, tucked down near a river or perched on precarious hills and it was not until close to Churachandpur that they had electricity.

All along the road were police checkpoints what with it being a place where a lot of heroin comes in from Burma, and because of separatist movements. I must have passed about 10 of them, each one noting my passport number, visa number, father’s names (why do they never ask for mother’s?) and a general questioning about what I was doing. They all seem pretty baffled about what I was doing. The first one even packed me a huge meal of omelets, bread and a big pot of jam (weighing a lot and wasn’t used again until Imphal!). The road improved greatly after Thanlon, but still had dodgy patches. On my final day I cruised down a nice long descent to C.C.pur and then felt the marvels of a level road for 70km to Imphal which I whizzed along with the incentive of a hot shower, Super Sunday football a cold beer. The cold beer wasn’t found as Manipur is a dry state like Nagaland and Mizoram, but I managed to find some whiskey instead.

When I first arrived in Imphal I was waved down by a guy from the Manipur Cycling Club and invited in. They were a group of cyclists working to try get cycle paths in their city, promote cycling and make bamboo bikes. They were nice guys and met up with them again so they could interview me, have a few drinks and hang out. So that was very pleasant indeed.

After Imphal I rode up to Kohima, in Nagaland. The road was fine but quite busy with traffic, and a bit of a climb. I arrived and was looking for a hotel when I bumped into a guy who invited me to stay at his place, which I did. He was an interesting guy, he left his parents to become a monk at 15, but after 8month his parents found him. Later he got addicted to heroin for 6 years, but is now clean and married. He adopted or ‘bought’ as he put it from a woman who couldn’t afford to keep her (about 35 pounds if you were curious, like I was). Kohima was an alright place, there didn’t seem to be a great deal to do though, I did visit the World War 2 cemetery but that’s about it. I had a nice time staying with the guy though (I’ll leave him nameless).

After Kohima I cruised down to Dimapur, spent a couple of days loafing and got a bus to Guwahati. There was a very tense moment when one of my bags was pulled out from under the bus to be searched. Sandals, tea, bananas, map all came out then the stern officer points at a carrier bag which I opened to reveal a sealed bag of white powder. I had completely forgotten that I had bought some glucose powder on the NH 150 and the box got crushed. After a couple of minutes and close examination I was allowed to get back on the bus with a few chuckles and a sigh of relief from me.

And that about takes you up to date with what I have been doing. Tomorrow, if the road isn’t closed by the strike and my bus arrives I will be in Nepal. It should take me about a week to reach Kathmandu where I will have some fun for a while and then decide what I want to do. At the moment I am planning on teaching for a while somewhere.

I have uploaded a few photos, unfortunately my camera isn’t smart enough to do the views justice, but here they are: http://s1171.beta.photobucket.com/user/philb0412/library/

I have also updated the map on my Route page Route

 

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.

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/

Chilly Christmas

24 Dec

Hello, one and all, seasons greetings. I somehow deleted the first part of this before I published it yesterday, so this has been edited.

Last time I wrote I was heading towards Bodhgaya. Bodhgaya is of special importance to Buddhists as it was where the Buddha received Enlightenment under a Bodhi tree. I spent a few days relaxing, soaking up the atmosphere and hanging out with some other tourists. I found it interesting wandering round the temple complex with the sound of Buddhist chanting over a PA system, small monks playing around and impressive mandalas made out of butter a flour. I also managed to time my visits well for the free cup of tea and biscuits in the afternoon The place is town is also home to lots of impressive temples from Buddhist communities and a huge 25 meter Buddha statue which I wandered.

While in Bodhgaya I decided to head up to Darjeeling to spend Christmas somewhere cold, and where there would be  other tourists to share it with. When the time came to pack up my room and leave for the 600 km ride I had a change of heart and decided to see if there was a bus instead.  The scenery had been a bit monotonous and I didn’t want to feel under pressure to get  to Darjeeling before  Christmas. So I took my first shortcut to avoid cycling.

Anyway I got the bus and met a nice Aussie and Italian on it, so when we arrived owe found a place to stay together and then hung out for a few days. It was nice to have some good  company and conversation, however they have carried on to Sikkim now. I have been in Darjeeling for 5 days now; it is really cold unless the sun is out, thermal underwear definitely required. It has been nice to explore the zigzagging roads, finding new routes and shortcuts every day. I went to the zoo and the Himalayas Mountaineering Institute museum but mainly have just been wandering and eating. There is a host of good food here; I especially like the tiny restaurant in a little shack that can hold only 8 people at a squeeze that serves momos (rice flour dumplings filled with cabbage ginger and onion, they are steamed and served with a spicy dipping sauce.) And there is a reasonably nice pub, a rarity here.

Tomorrow I plan to start my Christmas day before dawn and watch the sun rise over the hills and illuminated the mountains, gorge myself on good food and drink a few beers at the pub. I’m sure I will meet some other guys to hang out with too. EDIT – I met an English guy last night and went to bed late so there was no chance of me watching the sunrise. I will watch it set instead, much more civilised. But yes, I have been eating a lot and even treated myself to 100 rupee cup of coffee this morning!

So Merry Christmas everyone, I hope you have a nice time celebrating.