A month ago I returned from my second journey to Indian's Himalaya range, now I'm searching for informations about Africa trip (Cape Town to Prague), which will take place next year, and I decided to write few words about my journey to India, maybe somebody will like it and find useful.
First of all, sorry for my english
. I'm from ex-czechoslovakia, I'm Slovakian, but I live in Czech republic close to Prague city. My first journey to India started about 2 years ago and lasted about 5 months. That time I travelled mostly by bus, train and jeep trough Himalayan areas from east to west: Darjeeling, Sikkim, Nepal, Ladakh, Kashmeer, Himachal pradesh. At the end of my journey I decided to buy a motorcycle - I never rode a bike before except my driving license test, so I bought a small one - Pulsar 150cc. Great bike, anyway, I rode from capital from Ladakh - Leh - to Kashmeer (Srinagar) and then down to Dharamsala (to be precise , McLeojd Ganj). It was crazy journey for me, I was not thinking too much (fortunately) before I set of the route. I spent amazing 2 weeks on the way - of course distance is just 1000 km, but the road (if you can call it like that) was rough and I was nowhere to rush.
After 2 years from first trip, I had a short vacation from my work. My first thorough was to go back to India. Decision was very spontanous (tha same af for the first time), so after 1 week from my decision I was in India again, breathing terrible air in New Delhi, trying to find first bus out of this crazy city. Here is a short story of my 1 month adventure:
New Delhi :
Oh my, this city is definitely not for me. I'm standing in front of the airport, taxi drivers are getting crazy when I'm walking to the bus station. Taxi to the city center cost about 400-500 Rupees, but by bus it's just 50, this is advantage if you know the place. First time I was here, I took a taxi, because everybody told me there is no bus to the city
nice welcome to India.
In the city center, near the Counaught place, I;'m searching for a bus operator, which will take me to Dharamsala, McLeojd Ganj, where my journey begins. The city looks terrible - almost all streets are under the constructions. Commonwealth games - important sport event - will take place in Delhi in October 2010 and the government had a great idea - let's renew the streets, roads and pavements! I do not know if they can do it on time, it looks impossible to me... But at least there is a work for everybody. Men , women, children, everybody is working together. I found the bus operator, bought the ticket and next 12 hours I spent in quite terrible night bus.
McLeojd Ganj - searching for a bike
Next morning we (me and some other tourist form Izrael
) are exiting the bus at new bus station in McLeojd Ganj. I was here before, but somehow I cannot remember the place, hmmm. Ok, it's new bus station. The rain is hard so 4 of us take a taxi , for jus t a60 rupees together. That's something suspicious to me , and of course the taxi sopt after 200 metres - we are at the city square
. That was easy 60 rupees indeed, my fault.
I found cheap guesthouse - there is a great choise of rooms, but quality differs. My one, the Om guesthouse, has a room for 100 Rupees, good price for bed, I don't need fancy things like shower or so
. I drop my heavy backpack and in few minutes I'm in the streets searching for a bike. This is something pretty easy in India - usualy it';s enough to ask local people. And yes, after 2 hours of walking I have my bike - Pulsar 150 cc, which looks great, almost new tyres and chain. For 20.000 rupees it's mine!!! I prefer to buy-sold system rather than rent, last time it was like that too.
From McLeojd Ganj to Udhampur the road is not very pleasant. Until Pathankot it's not that bad – the road is narrow and there are little villages where you can stop and have some meal in little restaurants called Dhabas. You can also have a Coca Cola everywhere – oh yes, I admire Coca Cola management, they are everywhere, I personaly use coke when I have a stomach problems – this drink really kills everything in your stomach! Pathankot is the plase where bad things started. From Pathankot to Samba there is so called HIGHWAY, which means the road is wider and crazy drivers became even more crazy. They dont care too much about the others, at least not for a first glance. Main problem is dust, smoke and terrible smell, but I know that this is India as always was. After short lunch break I decided to take a 'shortcut'. From Samba there is a hilly road to Udhampur, I want to avoid big city od Jammu. Well, good idea, but only if it's not raining – the road is sometime unpaved and I remember my last journey via this shortcut – I was pushing bike trough the mug with my legs 30 centimeters in it. This time I enjoied nice ride, but there is quite amount of trucks on the way anyway. In the evening, the rain started, but local bike guys, which joined me just before the city, took me to the hotel in Udahmpur. They did not want any money (eh, I did not offer, but believe me, if they expect money they will ask you), and I was happy to have a room. Big cocroach, which shared room with me, vanished in the morning, I hope he had a nice night. There was not muchg to see in the city, but my beloved destination is Ladakh, so I don't care too much...
Road from Udhampur to Srinagar is uh, uh, crowded. Indian tourists are travelling to Kashmeer for their pilgrimage to Amaranath, where 'shiva lingam' is present in one of the caves. It's raining all the day, I;m wet absolutely everywhere – who said I don't need another throusers ??? At least I change my sandals and not I'm riding in hiking shoes. There is another problem – amount of Indian soldiers is growing as I'm getting closer to Srinagar. Sometime I stop the bike and take a picture, but I know that on some places it's not allowed, I just don;t know where exactly. That's the base for one funny story (yeah, now it's funny) : I was taking pictures os Kashmeere valley, when 1 ambasador car (car for diplomats) stopped close to me, together with 2 jeeps full of soldiers. I was sure I'm in troubles, so I did very inocent face and when the big boss came to me asking "Any problem?" I just smiled and said "No no, I;m just taking the pictures" (clever indeed, but my camera is not very small to hide it quickly). So he started talking, about 10 soldiers with the guns in the circle around me. At the end, it was nothing wrong, he really wanted to help me if I had a problem with a bike. After casual questions
"Where are you from"
"What's your camera zoom"
"Are you riding alone??? Uh, why???..."
I'm driving trough the Patni Top, place of tourist interest, but it's raining hard and I don't want to stay there, it's cold and foggy place right now. Cars are usualy taking over me, I'm driving very slowly. Some of the Indian's cars are blocking my way because they want to have a photo with me, I'm getting a bit crazy when it happen too often, but there is nothing to do about it. In front of me I can see a long convoy of army trucks, maybe 100. There is a traffic jam everywhere, this is my timeand I'm taking over them. Well, at the end of colony there is army checkpoint, so I must show my passport, everybody is wondering where the hell the Slovekia is... until they find out, all trucks are taking over me once again. Situation like this is repeating many times, and after 10 hours of crazy driving, tired, but incredible happy that I'm still alive, I'm in Srinagar.
I'm so tired, that I agree with the price 400 Rupees for one night in houseboat – anyway it's not so much. Srinagar is famous for the Dal lake, which is quite big lake inside the city. There is incredible amount of houseboats on the lake, I have one just for me (normaly there can be 6-7 people easily). I remember my last visit to Srinagar – city was on fire, and I almost ran into the open fire in the street, many people died that day. This time, Srinagar is quite place, but I believe not for long. There is always problem in Kashmeer. I'm sitting on the roof top of house boat, the sun is touching the lake and I feel like in the heaven – except one thing – there is terrible boring young guy (my houseboat owner), who is trying to sell me some cashmneere shawls, carpets... and everything. Yeah, I remember, cashmeere people can be very persistent. Many little boats called 'shikaras' are crossing the lake with tourists heading for their houseboats.
Somewhere around Ganderbal
Next day, refreshed after sleeping in real bed, I decided to leave Srinagar. But just after 20 kms or so, it happened. It is a rainy day once again. The bridge over flooded water is made from iron, the truck in front of me stopped too quickly. I'm trying to avoid it, my only reflex is to press front break. Of course, the bridge is so slipery, that I'm ending in the crash barier. I remember this moment very clearly, 2 young guys of age between 12-15 are running to me and helping me to get the bike out of barrier. Bike seems to be ok, but I probably broke 2 fingers – unfortunately the thumb is one of them. But there is no time to think about it roght now, I must get off the bridge, the trucks are everywhere and it;s getting more dangerous. Finally, in the nearest village (jesu about 2 kms), I'm stopping in the motorcycle garage. Just now I understand how lucky I was, but I'm still not sure what to do. If my fingers are really broken, I'm done with a trip. In garage they looks quite surprised to see tourist on the bike, but the agree to help me. In the shop,l just few meters from garage, there is a little restaurant, but only meal they have is milk tea and some cookies. I have to sum it up, because I'm staring to write too much, I spend 2 days in this place, which was amazing oportunity to meet real cashmeere people and live with them (there was no guest house , so I slept in the shop). They are very friendly and helpful, at least most of them. All the next day I spent rubbing my hand with some magic cream from local doctor, speaking with my friend Umer, the shop owner and speaking with him again. There is not much else to do, but it was worth it. This young guy told me about actual political situation from his point of view, and believe me, I was pity for him. It's almost impossible to get aby job, so they are sitting and talking and thinking too much that's never good. In the evening there was a free food for Indian people, which are on the pilgrim to Amaranath, so I had a free meal too. Funny thing – the chief organizator has the same last name as I have, he was very pleased and I had to try everything from his kitchen. Uf, not again, but it was delicious.
Luckily for me, my fingers were not broken, and I'm on the way again. It's getting colder as I climb up in altitude, some places are still covered with snow. It's raining again, but I bought 'waterproof' throusers. They were not waterproof at all, after 1 hour or so I cuted them when I climber on the bike. They helper a bit, but I was frozen after few hours of riding trough the great green places of Cashmeer. Here I realized what is true traveling, staying with local people in unknown places, rather than comfortable hotels or guesthouses at the most turistic atractions. I was independant traveller and yet fully dependant on their help and sometime also their mercy. They never refused to help me and once again I confirmed my opinion – in India , everything is possible. When I came to Sonamarg, things in my head changed a bit
. Sonamarg is thanks to glaciers and skiing areals very popular tourist place, but I was unable to cross the Zoji La pass, which is few kilometers after the city. Pass was closed due to heavy rains. I'm getting small room with hot shower!!!! but for incredible cost – 1000 Rupees. Everything is full, Yatris (Indians pilgrimage) are everywhere, but so far I did not met any non indian tourists. I'm making a phone call home, I skiped the accident info, there is no way they could help me, so why to make them wory. Unfortunately, my mom is something like a sensibil and she knew I have something with my hand. It does not surprise me, it is always like that. I;m having breakfast + lunch and dinner in one meal – I was not hungry all the day.
I'm really pity I don't have any gloves, my hands are freezing during the ride. And tomorrow, if god allows, I have to cross the Zoji La pass... I'm not sleeping very well, I can clearly remember my last visit to Zoji La pass.
Zoji La pass
After all, it's not that bat, but most of the time I ride on gear 1, mud is everywhere and I'm somehow balancing over the unpaved road until I reach 3500m, which is Zoji la pass top altitude. Crazy trucks drivers are here of course, but I'm getting used to it. I can see few trucks are lying on the side or roof, wort of all is to fall down of the road. The sides of the road are not fixed, so landslides are very common. This is main problem on Leh-Srinagar highway, landslides, and if you are unlucky, you can spant few hours or days waiting until somebody clear the road. This time it was just fine.
After Zoji La, the countryside is very different. I can see arid mountains, there is less green pastures and yet more army technics. Now I'm very close to Line of Control – which is something like a border to Pakistan (or better say area occupied by Pakistan – Baltistan). I'm saying hello to motorcycle group riding on most famous bikes in India – Enfields. They are heavily loaded, but confortable with side paneers. I have my backpack on the back all the time.
Lunch breakfast in Drass – coolest place in India – is more than welcome for me. Last time I spent a night here, but I'm in hurry to go to Ladakh again. Just for info, there is a record in temperature drop in Drass – minus 60 degrees Celsia. I don't understand how they can survive, there is not any heating in the rooms.
After another hours of beautiful ride between great naked mountains, in the valleys and close to flooded rivers, I'm in the city, which is visual border between Ladakh and Cashmeer. The Kargil city is not very nice, but it's important crossroad for me. One way is heading to capital of Ladakh – Leh, while another is heading to Padum in Zanskar. I want to go to Zanskar badly, but after some research I decided not to. It's about 500 kilometers there and back, the road is very rough and there is no petrol station on the way. I'm sad, but decided – I cannot even repair flat tyre, so this is too risky for me. Maybe next time, with somebody else. This decision was very important,I will explain later.
I sometime feel tension over this place, the Kargil city is the only place which Pakistany troops atacked with atrilery and many people died. The bridges over the river are controled by army, you cannot take a pictures on some places, but army guys are very helpful and responsive. I;m glad to continue next day to Ladakh.
Mulbekh is great place, not mention the ride from Kargil to Mulbekh. This is Ladakh as I know it. Arid mountains with just a few trees along the rivers or streams. Incredible friendly, but shy people, which speak Ladaki – language similar to Tibetan. I know olny few words, but it's always good to try speak it, you can get much closer. The road is paved for few kilometers, then unpaved for the same lenght, but it's fun and sunny, oh that's great great great. In Ladakh there is so many culturaly interesting places, meditation caves where biggest sages of tibetan buddhism were meditating – such as Padmasambhava, Naropa ... Just before Mulbekh you can have a break in Foker place with plenty of caves. You can stay there overnight, that's magic isn't it?
Mulbekh itself is a nice little village along the road, and is widely known because of 5m rock carved statue of future buddha Maitreia which is few centuries old. There is a little gompa (monastery) just under the rock, at the place is called Chamba.
Uf, I have to take a break from writing, I;'m just cutious if you like it. Again, my english is ehm, not great
Some photos from last journey :
India 2010 | Fotografické cestopisy
And some photos from journej 2 years ago
India 2008 | Fotografické cestopisy
This is our travel blog, but unfortunately only in Slovak language...
Fotografické cestopisy | Do sveta nevšedna
Have a great day!