Robert McNeil - The Himalayan Adventure Tour 2000 - For just a few Rupees more

Well where do I begin?

It all happened back in mid June 1999, at the Leek camping weekend, when, after a few beers (my downfall) that Heather and Keith suggest I go on a little trip to India with them and a few others. As you do, you say “ yes, no problem, send me some info!†And that was it, within the week the details arrived. After I thought about it in the cold! light of the next day (and sober), I thought “The FIM rally in Switzerland for two weeks, or a three week tour in the Himalayas, Hmmm, Why not?†And that was it. As time progressed the few grew to finish at a group of ten, eight riders and two pillions. Well, by the end of November 1999, the deposits had been paid, and decisions had been made. Now all we need to do is sort out the tourist entry visas, travel insurance (how much?), vaccinations (hello, do you want to see my lumps!, or, one lump or two?), flights, and all the other odds and sods to go with it. This type of trip planning is all new to me, and I think a few others, so we need to learn fast. The group consists of, Heather McGregor, Keith Jackson, Alan Gilmore, Sue Gilmore, Richard Lamprell, Susan Lamprell, Sheila Lewis, Adrian Tucker(Tuck), Derek Faulkner, and me, Bob McNeil.

We had a meeting at Alan & Sue’s at the end of Feb. 2000, the full group, plus Andy & Sharon, the organisers from Motorcycle Tours International, a Question & Answers bit, plus a video, and some photos, plus some more helpful info arrived, they seemed pleased at the group as we appeared to have a lot of things under control already, and with some experience at travel, hardship, weather, planning, ideas, arguing, etc. and the big plus, we all know each other. And then in true Mayflower MCC tradition, we set about emptying Alan and Sues drinks cabinet until the early hours.

Now we are at July 2000, only 3 weeks to go, the tickets have been sorted, time to start the serious list making, then start again, and again. I need a rucksack, it’ll never all go in there, I was right, repack again, finally it all appears to come together, phew! Hold on where did that bit come from? Go back to start, do not collect £200. On and on and on and on and-----etc. Oh what fun. One Week to go and its all on track now, paperwork, vaccinations, moneys, all items packed (sort off), only the minor odds & ends to go. If anyone thinks packing a bike is difficult, try a 65 litre rucksack, with a weight limit of 20 KGs. (Less than two standard panniers).

Well, its early on Sat. 22nd July 2000, and this is it, I’m just setting off. All is packed, if not, its too late. Travel across the A50 to pick Derek up at 3am, any one fancy a curry, then off down to the secure car parking for 4.15am, we finally arrive at Birmingham airport at the unearthly hour of 4.30am. As we leave the minibus, a good start to the hols, Derek nearly forgets his travel/day bag. As we enter at the check in desks we meet up with the others and promptly book the bags in, then sit around waiting to load, Swissair are good, excellent continental breakfast, and we arrive in Zurich on time, as only the Swiss can. As we travel from the Euro arrival to International departures, Richard gets a pull by Airport Security, shortly after the X-ray machine. ‘Slasher Lamprell’ has got his blade with him. We book into the transit/departure hall and wait for loading on to the Delhi flight, about one and a half hours waiting, and then lets go, boarding time at last, on board, we settle in and off we go, videos/games/comedy/music/info screens for amusement. a few small bottles of red wine, couple of quite reasonable snacks/meals, slight snooze, and we land, a bit quick and bumpy, Alan is not amused, especially when the passengers all cheer and clap for the Pilot landing safely. We have arrived at about 11.40 pm Indian time. And nothing can prepare you for the sensory onslaught that is known as Delhi, it hits your senses on arrival, its hot, humid, noisy, smelly, crowded, busy and colourful. We changed small wads of money into large wads of money, Alan’s face was a picture when he handed over a wad of Dollars, the clerk opened a draw and took out two brick size wads, Alan muttered,†Where am I going to put that lot?†Luckily he was just restocking the desktop and it wasn’t all for Alan. After which we are met by Andy and Miles, who have a minibus and driver parked outside to whisk us off to the hotel, the Lodez, its was a bit ropey, as a first impression it was disappointing, very damp and musty, we book in and then partake of a few beers in Andys room, chatting and generally winding down until the early hours, then bed, sort off. (It is either the noisy air conditioning to keep cool-ish, or quiet and very hot).

Sun 23rd July.

Breakfast is Tea & toast, not very inspiring, another disappointment, after breakfast Andy and Miles go back to the Airport to fetch Sharon and Mag’s at about 11am, whilst we just slowly wake-up, or some go down town (to crash) in an auto Rickshaw. Then its pack the gear and load into the minibus to travel on to Parwanoo (TimberTrails Lodge).It proves to be an interesting trip by road in daylight, we saw a truck reverse into some shop power lines pulling one down, the driver climbed up onto the back of the truck and re-connected it -LIVE! Our first stop is at Karnal lake Tourist Resort for dinner, and its the first real curry of the holiday in India, for the tourist types, on the lake are tacky swan pedalos, very Blackpool.

Further on our minibus gets a puncture, its best not to look too close at tyres, let alone the tread. While we are stopped there, people come out of the woodwork and just stand and watch, they probably thought we were doing the same. There are rice paddy fields everywhere, I think rice features big in Indian consumerism. As we have been travelling you can see almost biblical scenes of old men ploughing fields with hand ploughs and oxen, and the women are washing clothes in the river, children are seen playing with what ever they can find to play with. For all our technical advances, here is a nation of people who seem happy with what ever they have.

It is painfully slow going even though we travelled on what is known as the GT route most of the way. Even on this main road, drivers take shortcuts by driving down the wrong side of the road, to there next turning or stopping point, and cows / bullocks do not have lights or horns, and freely wander in the road. As we pull up at the lodge we see the bikes parked up outside, all clean and waiting, Heather makes a lame excuse and goes to inspect them, (I think she was sussing them out, to pick the best).

Due to the puncture mentioned earlier we arrive at TimberTrails lodge after dark, and in the rain, (we all make rapid mental notes to the fact that we do not want to ride in the rain or after dark).

This evening, funnily enough, we have a curry and a few lagers, before retiring to Miles and Mag’s room to polish off a few Wines and Whiskeys before bed, Sue has some evil device that zaps an electrical charge, supposedly curing the itch and swelling of insect bites, and insists on showing everyone, (ouch), even without bites, but I wonder. Bed arrives at about 4am, but who cares.

Mon 24th July.

Drawing back the curtains in the morning, and what a sight, this is the foothills, and this hotel overlooks a fantastic valley, (GPS. 2995ft.N30’50†06.5; E76’58†55.4) we had actually entered the foothills at Kalka, having crossed the plains before that. Breakfast consists of omelette and chips, interesting. Alan the brave (foolish?) one heard about a barber in the hotel and went for a cut-throat razor shave, Hmmm,no way is a cut-throat razor coming near my neck, I’m bad enough with electric. To fill the time between breakfast and our team talk, we decide to take a small trip up in the cable car, even Alan, who doesn’t like them. Then the team briefing at 11am, before we acquire our bikes for the trip, we were told a few of the golden rules to Indian road manners, and there appears to be only a few, the main one being that the horn is your best friend. Then outside for introductions. I picked a green one (oh, they are all green), 500cc then, (oh, they are all 500cc). Mine had the registration number of:- DL1T 1562, and had 14 km showing on the odometer. Heather promptly called hers ‘Buttercup’, and Alan put some yellow tape on his mirrors, and called his ‘Tiger’. We proceeded to start them up and rode (kangarooed) around the hotel a few times, right hand gears, left hand brake, no problem, that’s easy, lets go! So its pack the bags in the service vehicle, watch some monkeys crossing the road! Well, it beats chickens. Then we set off heading for Chail, a mere 80 km away. And the weather is sunny, hot and dry, what more can we ask for? We duf-duff-duffed our way out of the motel and into our world of Adventure, engulfed in a cloud of dust, giddy euphoria, and a sense of fear, brilliant. Alan’s bike actually lost a rear view mirror within 200 metres of the start! Is this a sign of things to come? The nervous pace settled down as the group spread out slightly and I think about the days and kilometres still to come. Starting with the bikes, Royal Enfield Bullet, a 500cc single, with drum brakes, with a kick-starter, the rear brake on the left and the gears on the right, one up and three down, or is it one down and three up, it doesn’t really matter anyway, these bikes are quaint, from a bygone era, they rattle, clank, hum and produce a dizzy 22 bhp, that can apparently reach 90 KPH. But they are completely unpretentious, sort of handsome, and comfy-ish for long slow distances, and, are ideally suited to Indian roads and traffic. It feels weird riding this bike all back to front, but it’s great fun.

There I was in a mid overtake move with a bus, with another coming in the opposite direction, when a stream of chunder landed on the floor just missing my right boot and leg.....someone didn’t want their breakfast, not very good travellers these Indians, or does it say a lot for the swaying buses. Later I squeezed between two trucks in overtake mode, not as quick as I wanted, but hell, I had over an inch of room to play with. All you do then is count your knees and thank an appropriate God and carry on. Its only day one of riding and I am beginning to think I have the measure of careering buses, swaying coaches, overloaded lorries, and flocks of goats and bullocks. But nothing is certain on roads which may be little more than strips of rutted tarmac, bordered by dirttracks, used for overtaking. You grit your teeth as you speed through, a local crosses the road apparently oblivious of your presence. Two lorries hurtle side by side past each other with you in the middle. You hit a pothole so deep it bounces you out of the saddle. Or a bullock with horns long enough to see off vlad the impaler wanders into your path. Deftly flicking my Enfield Bullet to one side with a matador- style expertise I miss being skewered / thrown off / squashed / knocked off by inches. Everytime we pull over, the tales of daring do and events are regailed, with great beaming smiles.

I found the gearbox is not so much a box full of gears with a neutral, it is sometimes a neutralbox, with a few gears in it somewhere, especially third. At the second of our chai stops, I rolled some bhang (marijuana) between my fingers to smell it, it grows wild at the side of the road, but it is still very much illegal to use it here. By the time we arrive at the Oakwood hotel at Chail, (GPS. 6830ft.N30’57†16.9;E77’12†08.5) I’m getting used to riding the Bullet, except for the gears that keep fighting back,....I feel as though I’m developing an affinity for the bullet already.

As we were all parking up outside the Hotel, Derek was heard to mutter,†I’ve got a loose back end.†To which Alan replied,†What already.†Alas he wasn’t referring to any gastric problems, but his rear wheel, which on closer examination revealed his rear spindle was half out, no wonder the back wheel was loose!

After booking into the hotel, we had a quick run to the Palace hotel, built in 1891, it is an example of pure colonial luxury. Chail was built by the Maharaja of Patiala as his summer capital after he was expelled from Shimla. The town is built on three hills. Three kilometres from the village is the worlds highest cricket ground, 7940ft, built in 1893. We arrived back and I was just getting ready for a shower when we get a powercut, at least I wasn’t covered in soap. Looking at the cabling around the room, (it was the sort of wiring the Duke of Edinburgh could get into trouble for describing), I’m not surprised. Half an hour later, power on, showers done, time for evening meal, banquet style, lots of dishes and lots of it. Amid the meal there was much laughter over the days riding styles, or lack off, and of the several near misses each, plus the few problems encountered.

Tues 25th July.

Breakfast is known, according to the Hotel menu as “after sweet dreams,†omelette, tangy tomato sauce, tomato and cucumber sandwiches, toast, fruit juice and tea. After breakfast and packing we leapt onto our bikes with enthusiasm for the drive to Bhimkali temple at Sarahan, leaving at 10am in the mist and drizzle, we manage to have a good run on roads covered with mud, rocks and gravel, and even round a few twisties. At a ‘nature’ stop, we learn of Richard and Susan having a minor ‘off’, Susan is OK, but Richard has banged his elbow, its sore but OK. (Funny thing is he apologised to Susan for falling off, while they were still lying on the floor). Richard is now known as Slasher, Crasher Lamprell. We also learn that Arun our travelling Mr Fixit had been knocked off by something a bit bigger than him, he’s OK, but his bike looks a bit second-hand now, especially since it was straightened by a crowbar and lump hammer. Onwards and upwards to Narkanda filling station (8930 ft), which consists of a couple of petrol/diesel pumps next to a gravelled hairpin, seemingly miles from anywhere. It was here we found out we had to go a different route to Sarahan, due to a landslide on our planned route, so its back down via a narrow and gravelly back road, bumpy, muddy, hard going but good fun, then a fast bit into Rampur. As soon as the road flattened out and was tarmac again, we found that Enfields could - and would - travel much faster, though we never got much over 85 KPH.

At the rest stop for chai and pakoras at Rampur we lost the backup jeep for a while, a bit careless I know, but that’s how it is! And, when we set off on the final leg of the day my silencer blew off just as we were leaving town, I stopped to look for it when, a local carried it up the road, obviously it was hot, due to the way he was carrying it. Just as I wondered what to do, the service wagon pulled up and bolted it back on for me. And away we go again, at this point Andy had passed me with the group and he turned round to come back for me, but, as I passed a truck lying on its side, Andy went past on the other side, missing me completely, fluke or what, he met the service crew, who told him I’d gone, we couldn’t believe that we passed each other.

As it turned out due to the detour we end up riding the last stretch from Jeori in the dark and in the monsoon rain -what fun. (Remember our mental notes early on.) The first group turn and carry on up the hill to the temple, but we, the second group, are directed into the army camp by some locals, it turns out we shouldn’t have been there, and are redirected by an annoyed soldier carrying a rifle, we thank him and take off, rapidly.

We eventually arrive at Bhimkali temple, (GPS.7000ft.N31’30†38.1;E77’47†40.6 ) at Sarahan for the night, over dinner we learn of a big landslide behind us at a point where it was a little bit muddy and with falling stones earlier, and the bridge over the Sutlej river having been washed away in front of us, there is no way out of here at the moment! Can a new bridge be built overnight ? And there is a tunnel ahead, but its privately owned! But back to serious matters, food, curried beans, curried potatoes, curd and ground rice, plus a few beers, much laughter at the days mishaps, described again with much vigour, out here you don’t need to exaggerate the story.

Wed 26th July.

Very heavy rains overnight and into the early morning which won’t help the landslide and bridge situation, Andy has gone out in the jeep to recce the bridge and look at the possibility of the tunnel owners letting us cross using the tunnel. When he returns we find out that there are landslides at the top and bottom of our proposed route through the valleys, and we cannot use the tunnel, although we could get the bikes over the bridge section by manhandling them, the backup vehicles cannot cross, so we decide to stay in Sarahan for another night as there is no way out. The mechanics service and repair the bikes, Richard’s needs a new clutch and neutral finder, he broke it, so now we know him as Slasher, Crasher, Thrasher Lamprell. Andy and Arun decide to plan another route travelling back through the landslide. As a lot of our gear is wet, and grubby, we decide to go for a walk around the town looking for a laundry, no joy. So its back to the temple and do it by hand then. Followed by a quick look in the temple, it’s a Hindu temple, with some Buddhist influences. Entry rules include the wearing of a cap and the removal of shoes, and no leather items are allowed at all, plus photography is only allowed outside the two main temples, the right hand temple is the older and is reported to be 800 years old, the structure is classed as unsafe now, so entry is not allowed, the left temple is only 80 years old, both are made of only wood and stone (to survive earthquakes). Next to these is the Lankra Vir Temple, where human sacrifices were performed until the mid 19th Century, and the well into which the bodies were cast. Then it just happened to be lunch. After lunch Alan and Sue, Derek, Tuck and I decided to go for an extra curricula bike ride to see the downed bridge, the others decide to go by jeep, ( 38km one way).

As Alan found out, kick-starting an Enfield from cold is more of a religious experience than a scientific or mechanical experience. If your prayers are not answered and the sweat starts to break out, a willing Indian lazily strokes it into life, with a special mix of choke, throttle, decompressor and a cheery smile as he kicks it once! After turning on the ignition, Eh, Alan. Dereks bike wouldn’t go either, even after the mechanics tried, so he was forced to use Heathers bike, ’Buttercup’.

We set off and had a very enjoyable run down to the bridge, through mud, over rocks, drove down rivers on the road, Alan at one point nearly highsided in the mud when he put too much power down, but saved the day by using Sue’s leg to bounce the bike straight again off the rock wall. At one point we pulled over to have a rest, and have a laugh at what we had just done. When the jeep pulled up the mechanics dived out and asked what was wrong, they looked puzzled when we said ,†nothing.†( We even thought about hiding one of the bikes, making some slide and scrape marks to the edge of the drop, and peering down into its depths, as if we’d lost one.) So after due rest we carried on down to the bridge, it took a while to see it, or at least its remains in the gorge. I don’t think it will be repaired very quickly.

I don’t know how quick we returned back along that road but I reckon we must have set a record time, no reason really we were just enjoying ourselves. Funny though, no matter how fast we pushed, Tuck was never far behind, and he was only pottering along enjoying himself. Coming back we had to contend with being chased by the usual dogs, wandering cows and bullocks, pedestrians oblivious of our presence, more false neutrals (especially in bends), more bullocks. (its true I tell you). Back at base we take chai and once again burst into maniacal grins and laughter as we describe our days antics and drain the water out of our riding gear, later that evening we do it all again, this time with beers.

Andy and Arun have made the decision to cross back over the landslide and to run up through the Kullu valley to Leh, we’ll make the route up as we go. Its a busier set of roads but should be no problem. We all agree, lets do it! This is called an Adventure tour after all.

The Kullu valley was originally known as Kulanthapitha (End of the Habitable World), later as Kulata, this area is famous for its Marijuana that grows wild. It rises from Mandi up to the Rohtang pass, over 80 Kilometres in length, and is often less than 2 Kilometres wide.

Thurs 27th July.

We are all up for breakfast at 8am, and we are all packed as well, ready for an early start. Dahl and curd with potato paranthas and lime pickle for breakfast, interesting! Breakfast TV is switched on and the thought for the day is:- “The man who wishes to move mountains, starts by moving small stones.†How very apt in the present climate.

We arrive at the landslide (GPS, 4500ft, N31’31†13.8; E77’45†11.3) at about 10am and sit in the hot sun to watch the workers clear it, just as all the other travellers and locals do, it is a surreal vision, while they are clearing it, it is still moving and falling. People who are in transit are running between the buses waiting on either side, stopping occasionally to let the falling rocks pass by, popcorn sellers or whatever, are moving up and down selling there wares, there are even water sellers. Andy organised going back to the last town in the jeep and getting water, juice, pakora’s and samosa’s so that we could all picnic as we watched, this was a hard day. Any way, by 4.15pm it was virtually clear, and the decision was made to go for a crossing, so we set off to cross it, waiting at the edge until it was our turn. As I approached, a big rock bounced down in front of me and I saw another falling as I passed it, I don’t know who was behind me and at that moment I didn’t really care, there was to be no stopping, if the bike stopped, I wasn’t, my heart was pounding and we went for it, it was getting very hot, the bike was getting hotter, the clutch was slipping, then it started dragging, causing the bike to creep forward or stall, but at least we all got through, even our backup vehicles made it across right behind us. The feeling of success was ecstatic, but by a majority, it was agreed :- we don’t want to do that again.

Andy made the decision to hotel tonight instead of camping as planned, as we all needed to shower and rest after our exertions. So as soon as we arrived in Rampur, (3000ft), we all pulled in to the road side while Andy nipped off to find a Hotel, while he was gone we found we had actually stopped outside a very agreeable bar, and so, we had a few cool ones. Andy arrived back and told us, he had booked the Regency Hotel, 2km up the road on the right hand side.

We left the bar slightly ‘happy’, but we all agreed that with all the laws ignored so far, (by our standards), what’s one more?, plus we would have had to find a policeman first. Tuck helped to start some bikes, before starting his own and then set off perfectly, rode flawlessly, until he stopped at the Regency Hotel by running into the back of Keith, he picked up his gear, walked into the Hotel and fell to his knees, he never made dinner that night. Dinner was down the street to the Sutlej restaurant, funny, it was another curry.

So today for meals it has been curry:- Breakfast, Dinner and Tea, hmmmm.

Fri 28th July.

Up and at breakfast. Pack up and set off. We all fuelled up at a little garage down the road and then we were on our way again, the planned route over the Jalori pass couldn’t be used due to another landslide. Our aim today is Tattapani. Today we have good road surfaces, cleaner and grippier than before, and with the minimum of potholes, and even less traffic. Every one was getting at ease now with the traffic flow and the bikes, Derek was even up to peg to peg standard, shaving more metal off the centre stand, and footrests, in fact anything in the way. We all started having a wonderful time bend swinging when we suddenly come across some Himalayan Griffin vultures, they have a massive wingspan off at least 2 metres and are about 1.5 metres in length, eating from a dead animal carcass in the road, as I turn the corner they take off, riding into a flock of pigeons will never be the same again. As we carry on further I came across some dogs, it appears to be inbred for them to chase vehicles, and that’s exactly what they did, even at this height they’re fast, there was also the odd herds of goats and sheep, they didn’t give chase though, and occasionally cows and wandering bullocks as usual. I arrived at a small bridge with wooden slats, it had been raining, the road was very muddy so I slowed down and crossed with great care only to have a horrendous slide when I banked left and put the ‘power!’ on at the other side, OOPS, Alan witnessed it and was mildly amused, I wasn’t. But I did start to suss the bike out, you don’t rush it, letting it roll in 2nd or 3rd gear, using 1st for really slow bits (mine wouldn’t stay in first, it preferred neutral) and just let the bike pull at its own rate, and use the clutch minimally, or, it slips or drags as it sees fit in protest.

We covered 132km to Tattapani, (GPS.2200ft.N31’14†50.7;E77’05†17.1), the Spring View Hotel. Plus we even averaged 32 kph today, fast or what? This is to be our first camping, mainly to check all the gear out, and see how it performs, or is that, How we perform? We are next to the Sutlej river, fast moving, but there are small pools of still water, hence lots off mosquitoes, so its a night of Deet, and Derek installed his mosquito net inside the tent, What a tart!

We booked, waited, and eventually had hot sulphur spring baths, it was so relaxing and cleansing. Tonight we eat Italian, due to the Indian owner having married an Italian. While eating tea, we hear about a plane crash two hours after we had passed through on the road from Sainj to Basantpur. Week one over and this is becoming a disaster tour.

Due to the high humidity which was extremely oppressive, sleep tonight was difficult, a four season sleeping bag is just a bit over the top in this environment.

Sat 29th July.

Another early breakfast again. It is still very humid, and before long we are all soaked again. Sheilas bike needs a new gearbox and clutch, so work commences on a full strip and rebuild, then the rain starts, its even more humid now. I get a loo-call, required on an urgent basis, I need to go, I definitely need to go, hmmm, I don’t need to go that much, lets just say the bar toilet was very, very, Turkish, so I scuttle off to the sulphur baths building, they conveniently have conventional conveniences.

We end up setting off at about 11am, and its a wet run nearly all the way to Mandi. I had an even bigger slide at the end of a bridge in the mud, but no one witnessed it. Alan & Sue managed to run out of petrol, and ended up coasting down and pushing up the hills, Richard and Susan ran out of petrol too, After already having had a puncture, near misses galore today with trucks and buses, even more cattle, sheep and goats to contend with, plus even more spectacular views in between the clouds. Just before Chail Chowk the leading group pulled over at a chai stall, we awaited the others, and no show, so after a while Andy set off back to retrace our steps, we were fearing the worst, accident, wrong turning, but no, it was only the fuel shortages that had slowed everyone down, mainly due to trying to transfer petrol from one bike to another with whatever came to hand lying at the side of the road, we had long left the service vehicle way behind.

After Chail Chowk we joined the National Highway 21, this will be fun, fast?, mad and furious, there is a whole different set of rules on National Highways. But we fitted in just fine. Just before we partook of a chai stop at Bhagrotoo, we passed an Elephant (on N.H. 21?), when did you last have to swerve on an A-road to miss being hit by an Elephants swinging tail? It was a thoroughly exciting and enjoyable run, even though it was wet. We have just entered the bottom of the Kullu valley.

We finally arrived in Mandi, (GPS.5750ft.N31’43†03.1;E76’55†34.6) and drove, up the busy, sprawling main street, horns blaring, finally stopping at the Evening Plaza Hotel, the booking in process involved lots of paperwork and form filling, in triplicate. We then had to go and park the bikes, around the square to the Mayfair Hotel parking area, it sounds easy, but, in India? A Policeman was on point duty and although he was waving his arms, he appeared to be totally ignored by everyone, even us. Finally after parking, we wandered across the square and got in to the rooms to dry, shower and change, I laid on the bed and fell asleep, so did Derek, Sharon and Arun had to come back later to wake us up to go for the evening meal at the Mayfair Hotel, everyone else was there except us. Mutton shahi korma, jeera rice, Godfather beer (it can vary in strength from 5% to 8.25%, it says so on the label).- Excellent, what an end to the day. Again we ended up laughing like maniacs, at the days ride.

Sun 30th July.

We wakeup and its still raining, the run today will be a quickish run up to Naggar Castle for a two night stay.

Breakfast was the usual porridge or cornflakes, then we are served ‘sweet’ scrambled eggs (yuk), Sue thought I was joking and tasted it! It still makes me squirm, just thinking about it. And coffee (of sorts, have you ever asked yourself, is this coffee or tea?).

Before leaving we decide to have a quick lap around the Indira Market in the middle of the square, which is the centre of Mandi, in its centre is a clock tower and around its edge a plaza of shops, as most things in India appear, its a little run down. Alan again risks a cut-throat shave, and then purchases a pile of Dhoop!, in one of the shops, amongst other things before we must go and pack, ready to ride out.

We end up setting off about 11.30, and enjoyed more small landslides and a lot of mud on the road, plus, of course the trip wouldn’t be the same without the selection of animals to dodge. Suddenly, as we meander alongside the raging Beas River, Andy has to panic stop and dive down to the rivers edge, tummy upset? The first one! Every cloud has a silver lining though and while we were stopped a local was using the hand over hand rope bridge to cross the swollen river. Onwards and Northwards we head, getting more confident and quicker as we go, then through one village the road crosses a ford at the same time as we are going through a switchback, yahooooo! excellent, any quicker and I’d have cleared it!

Shortly before we turned off the main road, a chai stop happened at Raison, as we took tea and looked around, covered in road dirt, there were people sitting waiting for a bus, some just waiting, a butchers, (lets not discuss the meat hanging and the flies!). Some stalls selling anything and everything, this is life, Indian style. I love it. Behind the stalls is a wire and wood bridge across the Beas river, it was so inviting that a few of us went walkies across it, we managed to get a good sway going in the middle, the wood creaked and there were holes in it, with the raging Beas below, and I definately wouldn’t like to ride over it, but standing on it summed up most things you see, simple and functional.

The final stretch of the run to Naggar was up a fairly steep hill, as I couldn’t use first gear, the Enfield struggled and kept stalling, but we made it. From the front door you wouldn’t believe this is a Castle, but step through into the first courtyard, and everything is clear, its massive, made of wood and perched on the edge of a cliff face, as castles usually are. (GPS, 5720ft, N32’06†43.6;E77’09†51.7). The rooms are sorted and off we go, its easy to settle in when it has virtually no furniture, there are beds, and a wardrobe, that’s it, Alan called his, a cell, I suppose that’s one way to look at it. A quick look around, purchase the postcards and then we decide to have a beer, Alan and Sue have got some in, in their room already, before long everyone is in there, ordering more beer, its almost a party, Alan lit some of his Dhoop!, I read out the box, neatly leaving out some phrases, and almost got him to believe it was a Dope resin with incense, I very nearly wound him up!

Then just before tea the Dhobi Wallah turned up and took all our dirty washing away, (with a list and in separate bags, to save any embarrassment?), we expect the return of it sometime tomorrow. Then it was on to the evening meal, yet another curry, followed by a few beers. Before retiring for the night.

Mon 31st July.

Breakfast at 9am. I have noticed a slight case of discomfort this morning, three times before breakfast. After breakfast I felt OK though. Alan and Sue, Derek and Myself relaxed and had a wander, looking around the castle and Naggar. In the shop up the road we bought our Kullu hats, 90 Rupees the pair, (70 rupees to the pound), at the price I didn’t have the heart to barter the price down. Eventually we found the Post Office to post our postcards, but the desk didn’t have any stamps until later in the day, maybe. Rumour has it that Heather raided the Post Office earlier.

Naggar is a quaint little village, set on a hill, it was the capital of Kullu valley for nearly 1500 years, the castle itself was built 500 years ago. Inside the courtyard is the small Jagtipath Temple containing a slab of stone that is said to have been carried there by wild bees.

While we did this the others went to Manali for the day taking Richard to have his arm looked at in a hospital. So we four decided to go to Kullu instead, (as we hope we will be in Manali by the weekend), by Taxi! We left about midday, and the taxi only cost 500 Rupees. This is for a fifty minute journey each way and for the Taxi to wait for us in Kullu for two hours. During the outward ride of this taxi journey Derek sat and sweated in the suicide seat, and I swear one tree breathed in as we squeezed past it.

As we entered Kullu (GPS, 3950ft, N31’57†43.1;E77’06†27.2) we managed to shave the hairs off a horses nose, I wouldn’t say we were close, but! As usual the driver dodged a few dogs, cows, humans. Something seemed to fall off the Taxi, but it couldn’t be important as the driver didn’t slow or even look behind.

After parking up in the Taxi rank we went for a tea or coffee in a local tea room, this was to enable us to get our bearings using the Lonely Planet guide, then it was off to find the Main Post Office for the area to post our cards. Eventually we found it, it was up a muddy back lane, well off the beaten track. But we succeeded, and the postcards were on there way. Then it's down some steep steps to the bazaar, to have a wander through it. During this time we sussed out the open drains, they drain everything into them, so we remind each other not to step in them, otherwise you’d definitely be in it! Alan was propositioned by a barber touting for business as we walked past, obviously he needed a shave again, he declined. During our amble we spied a local market trader cleaning his Aubergines, using the ‘SPIT’ and polish method, just to set the scene, I know veg. markets have a distinct aroma, but not like this!, his set up was opposite the market toilets, we also spied another topping up a 1.5 litre Coke bottle with all the dregs of smaller opened bottles, yuk.

We set off to try and find the Akhara bazaar, and we got so close, but Alan didn’t want to go down the back alleys as it looked a bit dodgy, I must admit, it did. So we all returned to the taxi for the trip back, looking for a toilet, for a ‘general’ call of nature as we returned, the bus station ones were not to bad, but over the road, the open air urinals were beyond the French style. (I cannot say more.) Once back at the taxi, and Its my turn in the suicide seat this time, its actually not too bad, but I swear the same tree breathed in again as we squeezed past it again. Other than that it was an uneventful trip back. So much that Sue fell asleep in the back of the swaying taxi.

Once back at the castle we had time for a nice quick snack before it was time to freshen up for this evenings meal of fresh trout, Plus our washing even turned up, cleaned but still slightly damp, Sharon’s didn’t though! Altogether an excellent day.

Tues 1st August.

Breakfast as usual, except that I’ve been up for most of the night, I have the ‘Bug’, so I decide, on the advice of others, only to partake of plain toast and tea and water. I’ve already taken ‘THE’ pills, and the rehydration fluids, so it's time to see if they work. And I’m dog tired due to the lack of sleep too. Sharon’s washing finally turns up, cleaned and still very wet, OOPS.

We set off on the bikes heading for Keylong, over the Rohtang pass, its a very lumpy and bumpy trip up a long and winding road, and I’m thinking about my rear end problem all the time. Up at the top in the freezing rain and mist we come across a collapsed road, preceded by a queue of vehicles, being on bikes its ‘easy’ to reach the front. The drainage pipes under the road had collapsed, and was in the process of being repaired, so we stood around and watched, as is customary or mandatory here. We eventually crossed it through very thick and sticky mud (axle deep, and that’s a conservative estimate) to carry on. At the top of the pass is an excellent chai stop if you ever pass that way, (GPS, 12930ft,N32’22†16.6;E77’14†46.4), just pick a day when the suns out.

The Rohtang Pass crosses the massive Pir Panjal range and links the Kullu and Lahaul valleys, though not without its dangers. (Rohtang translates as, ‘Pile of Corpses’ in Tibetan).

I’d like to say it was a nice run down, but, the road was just as lumpy and bumpy on the way down, and my silencer managed to make a break for freedom again and tried to escape, but it was rounded up again and strapped on the back seat again. Then a bit further on the way down, the chain started jumping off the sprocket (I suppose, in protest) and occasionally locking up the back wheel, at one point pitching me off, into the gravel. This was becoming fun, not quite recommended with a ‘loose rear end’. Arun followed me for a short time and then decided he would ride and nurse my bike back in, and I will use his. Arun’s bike turned out to be a rocketship, (For an Enfield anyway), it handled, went and stopped far better than mine.

On the way down (on the north side) the views are totally amazing, multi stage waterfalls, massive glaciers, babbling brooks to full blown torrents, it just depends where you look. Its then that you realise that you are already at 10800 feet, and you still have to look up at the scenery, wow! This road is now getting very bouncy, the Enfield’s have survived pretty well for the pounding they (and us) are getting, but just as we near Keylong, ( to prove a point), Derek’s fuel tank has decided to split, dribbling fuel over his hot engine, but he still made it, and with fuel left too. At Keylong (10900ft,N32’34†17.1;E77’01†46.4) we hear reports of a landslide at Taglang La cutting off the road to Leh.

Wed 2nd August.

Breakfast was at whatever time we got up? My brush with the ‘bug’ appears to have passed now, but Richard now appears to have the dreaded bug, his symptoms mimic those that I and others had, it’s of no consolation but he should be over it in 36 hours. And fresh news that there are landslides and bridges out over a 20km stretch of road near Taglang La, heading towards Leh. Ferris Tours (silver Enfield’s) pass our camp as they return from being stuck at Sarchu for five days, with further news that Leh appears to be running out of food. Arun remarks that there is not a lot of heavy vehicles passing our campsite coming down from the Rohtang pass, but later in the day the traffic starts flowing more normally. We take a run to the Khardong Gompa on the opposite side of the valley, but due to my bike being ‘renovated’ I’m forced to use Arun’s bike ( oh dear, what a shame). Really fun gravel hairpin roads all the way, leaving great plumes of dust in our wake. When we arrived, the main house was being renovated, and was really just a building site. The prayer bell outside is supposedly 900 years old, and the Gompa itself is 700 years old. After making some enquiries we were taken through the building (site) to the temple at the back, and allowed to enter and take a look around, again no shoes or leather item allowed. On exiting we met a group of Lamas (Monks) and Chomos (Nuns), who, invited us to take tea with them, fantastic. On the run back down Alan and Sue decided to have a puncture. And I ended up getting a slow puncture on Aruns bike, I only found out about it later, when he told me off. We decide as a group that tomorrow some of us will try for the Baralacha La pass, but if the going gets too dodgy then we will abort and return to Keylong. A nice easy ride and safety being our number one thought! Ferris tours pass by again and are now heading for Srinegar to loop through to Leh as an alternative route, later in the day we learn that due to the Pilgrims at Srinegar being fired upon and killed, Srinegar is now under military curfew, so that route is potentially blocked now. Yet more news arrives that the landslides and floods earlier in our trip are still happening, the water at the landslide we waited at, near Jeori, is now said to be almost level with the road surface.

So as we try to get used to this altitude, and only occasionally gasp for breath, what brings things into focus is the local old ladies zooming past at Mach 2, carrying haystacks on their backs and knitting as they go (if you get a good’un), uphill as well! And we thought we were roughty, toughty bikers?

Thurs 3rd August.
Up and at breakfast by 7am to be ready to leave at 8-ish, heading up to the Baralacha La. It's a 76 km trip one way. Deep watersplashes, one very deep, others not so, Derek was up to his hubs and knees when he managed to find a gearbox neutral right in the middle of the deep one.

Initially we had backed off using the ‘copious’ amounts of power, deciding to gently pick our way through the ruts and gully’s formed in the rough gravel, but as the potholes in the tarmac, slid into tarmac in the potholes, until tarmac didn’t feature in the equation anymore, we realised the bikes would quite happily cope with anything up to axle deep, (that’s what it seems), at anything up to 40KPH, you just stand on the footrests and bang and clang your way through. huge, huge fun. As we rode higher and higher each turn was more breath taking than the last, the terrain changed almost with every bend in the road, the only thing that stayed constant was the ‘duff-duff-duff’ of my bike. Any fear of heights and big drops, and any discomfort from the rarefied air disappeared as we neared our peak, giving a new sense of achievement.

We reach the peak at 16500 feet, (N32’45†31.0;E77’25†06.3). To us this is a high peak, but in the Himalayas this is just a pimple, but to me its a personal best. Baralacha La means Cross-roads Pass, because it is a double pass linking both the upper Chandra and Bhaga valleys with the Lingti valley and the vast Lingti plains around Sarchu. After taking some much needed deep breaths, we laugh and joke, so much so that Richard couldn’t breathe, then he couldn’t stand any more and falls to his knees, it takes two of us to help him back up, then comes the, (Fanfare of trumpets), Mayflower sticker on the sign time, I almost forgot this but Andy reminded me. Alan was also so impressed with the GPS technology (only because it gives altitudes) that he decides to take it for a walk up the hill to round up the numbers on the screen, he didn’t get very far before giving up, knackered.

On the way down, our backup jeep rescued some walkers suffering from altitude sickness, I believe they had left Delhi and headed straight up to 16000ft virtually non-stop, in two days, no wonder.

Richard, even though he was poorly, and with Susan on the back managed to do both ways of the watersplashes without even putting his feet down, very impressive stuff. A photocall was waiting for him at the watersplash just in case, Damn. Then Derek went through with Mags on the back, Full power, through the middle, shit or bust! He made it too, Double Damn. It was some of the most spectacular riding I have encountered, ranging from green swathes of hard cultivated terraces in the ‘lower’ regions right up to the lunar landscapes at altitude, a great ride all the way.

We all appear to be suffering with acute wind problems (Blazing Saddles 2) and Arun asks,†What it is, all this Bum-Blasting?†We don’t really know but we reckon its something to do with the lower air pressure outside, at altitude. Even greater hilarity tonight over dinner with more tales of woe, near misses or dare-ing do.

Fri 4th August.
Breakfast at 8am, we pack camp quickly, run out of breath quickly, and leave full of enthusiasm to jump back over the Rohtang pass while the weather is still looking good. Going over the top its hot ,sunny, and clear, a first for Andy, its still a bumpy road though, and the drainage pipe is still collapsing, I manage to run into the back of Alan and Sue on the way up, they were just about to overtake a slow moving van when a great big puddle emerged in their path, Alan braked hard (very), and I found my brakes weren’t quite as good, even though I was a fair way back when I started. Later at Manali I ran into the back of Heather as well, who didn’t even realise I had run into her, until I offered her an apology, this time I had no brakes at all to speak off and a throttle that wouldn’t shut off, interesting situation or what? While Andy is out sorting the hotel, we take a meal stop, ‘Masala Dosa’, excellent, only 30 Rupees.

Yet more news arrives from Andy and Arun, that Tattapani (the sulphur spring baths) and its road bridge has been washed away, and that Rampur bridge and part of the town is also washed away or flooded, due to the heavy rains and water flowing down the Sutlej river.

We are stopping in the New Highland hotel, up at Manali heights. (6670ft, N32’15†23.1; E77’10†42.9) In the evening we take a quick walk down to Manali town before tea, the walk back up takes a little longer than planned! ...Saffron, Musk, anyone?

Manali’s legend is that Manu, Hinduism’s Noah, stepped off a boat in Manali to re-create human life after the floods had devastated the world. The name is derived from Manu-Alaya, meaning Home of Manu.

Sat 5th August.
Woke up after a really good nights sleep, we are now at a lower altitude and it shows. After breakfast we all meet up, without any organising, to wander down town, Old Manali first, then down to Manali town itself to take a look around the underground markets. Manali town is all closed up in protest at the 150 pilgrims killed earlier in the week in Kashmir. So we only manage to do Old Manali, it had quite a few little shops open though, Sue bought most of it! and Alan paid! Then it was up to the new temple, very new and very concrete, we sat opposite on the roof of a tea shop and took chai sitting in the sun, very pleasant it was too, one could get used to this life. On the way down we spy an Enfield called a Venus, Alan says its a good job they didn’t name them all after the planets, as his would be called a Uranus. I replied I think I’ve got one of the others, the Asteroids, mucho hilarity and offers of a cure.

About 2.30pm, tummy’s rumble so we decided on a spot of Tiffin, very nice to, but when the bill arrived there was a fight to pay it, (just to spend some money)! Arun and Andy who had set out to find a campsite for the next stage, returned , Aruns bike apparently sheared its mudguard mountings off and it flipped under the front wheel, broke the front forks and spat them both off at approx. 15KPH. Arun suffered slight scratches to his hand, and probably a few bruises, but Andy lost a lot of skin from the palm of his hand, no gloves you see. Tut-Tut. The bike was repaired before it returned to the hotel, so we didn’t see the damage. Andy never got to have his Masala Dosa, Oh Dear, we’ll have to go back then in the future!

Before tea another quick walk down to Manali town, it's still not open so we head back via auto rickshaws, The rickshaw grand prix got under way.

Alan, Sue and Myself installed ourselves in one, Keith, Heather and Sheila in another ready for the ‘Manali Hillclimb Grand Prix’. The lights are green, and its go-go-go, and we are off into the first left hander, only slowing slightly to ask for directions to the hotel from passing pedestrians, then its full throttle into the first section and we are in the lead, (until the slope started), then the others who had been slipstreaming pulled out and passed us up hill, we trail behind until suddenly they slow, alarmingly. Is it mechanical? No, its only the driver changing to his low ratio gearbox, and we pass them (slowly), Alan then jumps out to help, as navigator, by giving directions, but the driver realises he may be disqualified, for not completing the climb with all his passengers, so indicates to Alan to get back in. As we approach the narrow section, just before the right hairpin, the other driver passes, engine screaming (or was that the passengers?), the road just isn’t wide enough and he knock’s us off the road, into the gravel, but, our driver keeps the revs on and regains the track, but we’ve lost a few seconds, Alan and I jump out and push the poor thing to get its speed back up again, we didn’t seem to have any chance now, but then just before the final hairpin their Rickshaw died, was it dirty petrol, or maybe they just had to switch onto reserve, anyhow we accelerated past cheering all the way into the victory lane.

Sun 6th August.
Breakfast leisurely at about nine, then its a little jaunt down the road south of Patlitchul to camp for a couple of nights, only 24 kms to do, to just north of Raison. Before we even start Tuck has found a puncture, so we all switch our engines off and find some shade as its sorted, then on restarting, mine wouldn’t, it turns out to be dirty fuel, what a great start (or not). This is it, I name the bike ‘Charlie’, It has royal in its name, the crashbars stick out like ears, and its bloody stubborn and awkward at times.
Today Richard is finally recovered and is back on real food and beer, he can leave the bananas, much to his relief! And Andy is relegated to the jeep, due to his hand injury. Arun is now leader of the pack.
After this ‘long’ ride, we arrive at the campsite, (GPS, 4650ft, N32’04†20.2;E77’07†49.8) the tents are quickly erected, and the gear stashed away, the rest of the day is spent at leisure, Andy goes fishing for tea,......... fish is off the menu then!

Mon 7th August.

By 9.30am its hot, very hot, melting in fact, at 9.45am a small Mahindra van runs off the road next to our campsite, cartwheels and rolls a bit, throwing up lots off dust, as it settles on its side locals appear out of nowhere and pull the two occupants out, one is apparently OK, the other appears very concussed. eventually they are both carted off by a doctor, after which things return back to normality.

Today we are taking a run out to Manikaran, in the Parbati valley, its a large temple complex and town with markets, baths etc. As its a very hot day, we perspire greatly on the run there, arriving absolutely soaked, Keith poured the water out of the sleeves of his jacket. The market is a very tourist type place, religious tourist tacky type place, but we manage to spend a pleasant day wandering there, seeing and smelling! On the way back down the valley Heather punctures the rear tyre, service vehicle to the rescue again.

Travelling through Kullu both going and returning it is gridlocked by traffic jams! As the Enfield’s get extremely hot, a few odd things show themselves, like, have you ever had a clutch that can slip on one stretch of road, then drag on the next? In Kullu, on an Enfield you can!

Much will no doubt be made of my navigation and how I rode past the campsite on our return, this was to the amusement of everyone, I actually went up to Katrain and back, I am claiming that I was at one with the Enfield, I was honestly enjoying it!

Tonight we are partaking of the evening meal and beers around a bonfire on the riverbank, sorting out the philosophy of Life, the Universe and everything.

Tues 8th August.
Its up early for me, the loo beckons, and I am surprised that everywhere is very wet, it appears we had heavy rain and storms overnight, then Breakfast, pack everything up and set off for Rewalsar, we leave the site around eleven, and the crashed van from yesterday looks like it crashed months ago, a lot of its bits have been ‘recycled’ already. We run the National route 21 from here all the way down to Mandi, through the dreaded Kullu, fuelling up as we pass through. Then a quick swoopy run towards Pandoh, Alan and Sue, followed by Derek, Heather and Me, enjoying every minute and Kilometre of the way. Heading into Pandoh, Alans bike, Tiger, stopped with a very loud bang, everyone thought he had finally blown it up, and would end up on the spare bike, but no such luck, it was only an electrical short circuit, fixed by the service crew. From Mandi we then jump on to a back road up to Rewalsar (a sacred lake and temple complex), (GPS, 4400ft, N31’38†01.6; E76’50†03.4) The backup service vehicle is denied access through Mandi, except it appears on payment of baksheesh, due to supposedly having commercial plates, corruption here is rife it would seem. This back road has some very reasonable tarmac, only a few potholes, with minimal traffic and lots of swinging bends. A very enjoyable run of 112kms today.

The small lake (Pema-Tso,or Lotus Lake) is revered by Buddhists because it was from here that Padmasambhava departed for Tibet. As this is a Buddist holy site you have to walk around it in a clockwise direction. Hindus also revere this lake because the sage Rishi Lomas did his penance as a dedication to Shiva here, who in return gave Lomas the seven lakes in the vicinity, including this one. The lake itself is full of sacred carp, so no fishing then?

The room at the temple was a “basic†room, a room, with two beds, oh, and a lightbulb and switch, that’s it. Some of the others are stopping down the road at the Tourist hotel, a bit more upmarket, which is where we will be eating tonight. As soon as dusk falls the mosquitoes rise, its mosquito city next to the still waters of the lake! Tea tonight is Mutta paneer, Mutta aloo, mushroom masala, rice, lime pickle, chappattis, water and finish of with chai. Phew.

Wed 9th August.
Its the last day of riding the bikes today. We have 154 km to do to get to Shimla. Its been very heavy rain all night, and its still raining at 9.30am when we are preparing to leave. My bike wouldn’t start yet again, and it turns out to be dirty fuel again? Alan took great delight in the fact that I was now leading in the donut points now. (He who laughs last..etc). Its very wet and there is water running over the road surfaces making it look like a babbling brook.

As there are very few roadsigns at junctions, (if any) occasionally Andy and Arun have to ask for directions. This is were you need to be careful, if you ask,†Is this the way to ‘A’?†. The answer will be “Oh, yes†. With the shaking of the head. Then if you ask, “Is the other road the road to’A’?†. Then the answer will be,†Oh, yes†. Again with the shaking of the head. You pays your money, you takes your choice! Anyway we eventually end up on the right road, splashing our way down, in the rain and mist, when Richard left Susan behind on one stop, I’ll leave him to explain his way out of that one, but the day was saved by Tuck, who seems to be the Knight in a shining crash helmet who rescues stranded damsels all the time. As we splashed our merry way back down to the main road I had a very big slide in front of Alan and Sue, they thought I’d lost it, - me too! But somehow, feet down and saying a prayer I saved it, speedway style. I did have to stop and rearrange myself though!

Not far from the main road we passed through a small village about midday-ish and exited over a bridge, which looked decidedly storm damaged already, but, it also had water lapping at its edges, and I don’t think it would be long before the water washed it away, or flooded the village, scary stuff. As we finally re-emerged onto the National Highway 21, the clouds broke and the sun came out allowing the run for the rest of the day to be fine. Just south of Sundernagar, we filled up with fuel for the last time. Then its off at a fair old pace, good tarmac, no potholes! fast sweeping bends along the Highway, superb, turn left at Bilaspur and on to the last leg down to Shimla. On this stretch of road, Alan had his first puncture, then shortly after the battery fell out of its holder, then he had another punctures. (Donut points all the time!). There are some excellent twisties on this road, and just a few lumpy bits to remind you, at one point you drive across a mountain ridge, with sharp drops either side, and fantastic panoramic views, its magic. Later, towards the very end Alan and Sue picked up yet another (slow) puncture and decided to soldier bravely on to the end. Towards the end I finally lost my 1st gear and the bike couldn’t seem to decide on 2nd or 3rd gear so it changed by itself when it wanted to. But right up to the end it was fun all the way, the final ride was on entering Shimla, up the hill to the Oberoi Clark’s Hotel. (GPS, 7150ft,N31’06†28.0;E77’09†35.0) This is where we say goodbye to our bikes, and hand over the keys. To mine,‘DL1T 1562’, thank you, it was fun, and you never really let me down. The final odometer reading was 1654 Km, that means we have travelled 1640 kilometres, (or 1025 miles) over the three weeks. OK, thats the sentimental bit over, its into the hotel and its luxurious, shower, change and I’m ready for a beer, so down to the lounge and, I’m the last again! Everyone else is there already.

We Bade farewell to Arun and the crew, who were excellent, they were due to leave after 11.30pm to drive the long haul back to Delhi, overnight, and home.

An excellent evening meal, chicken and sweetcorn soup, then a mix of European and Indian menus, followed by a choice of 4 sweets, some of us had all four, but I only partook of three, I’ve got to watch the figure. Then a few beers to wash it all down, as we reminisce about the whole trip. It is commented that we could have gone out to save some money? But we couldn’t understand why we would want to.

After dinner Alan had a very strange request. As he is English, could he change a five pound note for the waiter? Andy retired early, muttering something about needing the loo and being tired, blaming it on the ice cream! The same ice cream that he ate only 10 minutes earlier! Hmmm.

Thurs 10th August./ Fri 11th August.
I had a very comfortable night, woke at 6.30am, with a slight need for the loo, - it must be the ice cream! Then after a pleasant breakfast we all met up in the foyer , but again it was not arranged, (cue twilight zone music), so as a group we all went for a walk around Shimla, very pleasant, very bygone Empire days, Shimla was once part of the Nepalese kingdom and called Shyamala, another name for the goddess Kali, but was never famous until ‘discovered’ by the British in 1889. The British in India used to come here, from all over the Indian plains in summer, to escape the heat and cool off, until they packed and left following Independence, Shimla was initially capital of the Punjab, then later it became capital of Himachal Pradesh.

Oh and we cannot forget the monkeys roaming around, Keith started pulling faces at a baby one, then its mother arrived and hissed, and it appeared to threaten violence as Keith stared at it, it then reared up and squared up to him, at which point Keith bravely backed down, but by this time we were already walking away, as mates do! We watched a party of schoolchildren marching to taped classical music in the square, dressed in a uniform overall with a plastic tin hat and sunglasses, and play shooting at each other in a circle, very strange. We then dropped down into the bazaar for a quick look around and a quick chai, it started raining, heavily, I dashed in to a shop selling umbrellas and bought a “Captain†umbrella for 100 Rupees, its almost as good as a “Mr India†but its cheaper, Eh, Alan. Then its back to the hotel for a snack, some Chicken pakora and coffee, watching the clouds roll past the lounge window, as we wait to pack and leave.

This evening we get the toy train to Kalka, The Shivalik Express, then the overnight Kalka-Howrah Mail express to Old Delhi station. Richard decided to whizz (well, saunter then) out to get some bananas for the trip, only to get mugged on his way back to the hotel, (by a monkey), he lost one of his bananas, so be kind and don’t wind him up!

We left the hotel at about 5.30pm to get the toy train, the porters rush to take your luggage, it needs to be seen. Then its into the taxis and down to the station. The Toy Train is 96 Kilometres of narrow-gauge track (69cm wide), constructed in 1903. The tiny trains travel at speeds of between 15 and 25 KPH, so the trip takes about 5 hours. It is classed as an engineering marvel, with 103 tunnels and 845 bridges of which, over 700 are non-girder bridges. The route’s longest tunnel, midway at Barog, is 3760 ft long, and takes 5 minutes before you re-emerge into daylight. More than two-thirds of the entire track is on curves, some as sharp as 48 degrees. Spectacular views abound from the train, until it gets dark about two hours after leaving. We could still see Shimla as we wound in and out of the hills for a good one and a half hours. Then at around 8pm at Barog station (the halfway point) the carriage wallah nipped off to the local Indian takeaway and got back on with a load of foil cartons, chick pea curry, rice and dahl , plus chappattis, with a sweet “thing†, and delicious yoghurt, Alan liked it! Didn’t you Alan? We arrived at Kalka at about 10.20pm, and jumped off the toy train, clutching our luggage and fighting off porters, and then onto the Kalka to Delhi A/C overnight sleeper leaving at 11.40pm. A/C in India means air cooled by the way, not air conditioned. We crashed out and slept until arrival at Old Delhi station at about 6am, being woken by a man trying to collect the blankets and pillows, while we were still using them.

Andy was impressive, he took full control over the porters and taxi drivers outside the station. What a guy! In this environment I think we would have been ripped off, rolled over, or lost, maybe all three. The Taxis took us to the New Regency Hotel, where breakfast awaited. Heather took ill on the way to the hotel, possibly it was a bug and the travel combined, so she stayed in for the day and slept. Derek and I, teamed up, find our room, number 215, and it doesn’t have a key, because, the previous occupier had taken it with them, so we had to get the floor housekeeper to open up everytime we needed to enter.

We all wandered up and down the bazaar, Alan purchased a lovely,(his description, not mine), yellow shirt. and put it on there and then. On the way back it rained, I’d forgotten my brolly, silly me, and got soaked, everyone else only got damp, but luckily, we decided to stop at the hotel and take chai until it stopped. So I took the opportunity to change.

Then it was back out after the rain and down to Connaught Circus, walking down Chelmsford road, Alan crossed over to wander and mix like a local. Well, Al’s wearing sandals, pink trousers, yellow shirt and a Kullu hat, the locals aren’t, can’t say any more than that. Connaught circus is massive, lots off traffic, lots of fumes, very humid, and Sheila even managed to knock a cyclist off whilst crossing the road. The trick to crossing the road is to keep a steady pace, don’t look left or right, just straight on, and keep a constant pace, the traffic flows around you. If you slow, look or stop, its game over!

Tummies rumble again so we decided its time to eat, we choose a local Dhaba, a “Thali†seems to fit the bill, (32 rupees by the way), shit or bust comes to mind, very enjoyable. Alan was sitting there eating and looking very yellow, and very worried, shades of Malaria ? But no, it turned out that his yellow shirt was dying him! every time it got wet or damp he became more yellow.

At early evening we took a run out to Aruns shop by auto-rickshaws. What a place, wall to wall bike dealers, fixers, makers, welders, everything. It was like a BMF show size autojumble. Arun appeared pleased to see us, and introduced us to his Father, a very pleasant Gent, and very proud. While taking chai with them, we looked around some of the restorations in progress, very nice indeed. After which we took another auto-rickshaw ride (in the rush hour) to Aruns warehouse, to see his bikes and a few of Andys bikes and scooters, Our bikes happen to be in there as well. A final tearful goodbye? It was like an Aladdin’s cave, or should that be an Aruns cave? Then another auto-rickshaw ride back to the hotel for tea at around 9pm, murg shahi korma, and the standard few nightly beers.

Sat 12th August.
Its our last day in India and its up at 6am, early breakfast for a day trip to Agra and the Taj Mahal. We ended up leaving at 10am due to bus hassles, caused by the hotel management.

A four hours run on the bus, driving, overtaking, vehicles coming the other way on the same side!, cows, bullocks, dogs, people, the usual mix, except this time we are not driving. We arrived and had about one and a half hours there. The Taj Mahal is very impressive when you see it in real life, it is large, it is beautiful, it is absolute. The pillars are built to lean outwards, so that in case of an earthquake,etc. they fall away from the building to prevent damage. All too soon our time is over and we are done, so its back to the bus, via the beggars, the sellers, etc. And head back for Delhi. We stop off at the Maharajah Hotel and Restaurant at about 5.30pm for a quick bite, but when it arrives there is lots of it, and the lime sodas, hmmmm, hmmm. Eventually we got back to Delhi, on entering its outskirts we saw an accident, a bus and two cars, the cars came off worse. Back at the hotel its time for a quick shower and change, plus a few beers, prior to the final taxi ride to the Airport. We don’t want to leave, but that’s always the way, Isn’t it? At the front entrance we say our goodbyes to Andy, Sharon, Mags and Miles, then its enter into the fray of Delhi airport.

Firstly its the X-ray of the main bags, which are then tagged, then its book in time, including the weigh in bit, then its through a second X-ray (hand luggage) machine followed by being swept with a metal detector by hand, followed by being frisked by the security guard, ooh er missus, then onto the emigration desk, where the passport is duly stamped and finally into the holding area, then we wait for loading.

Once on board, we settle in and its take off time, followed by a quick meal, then it was time to watch a bit of a film (I cannot remember what it was) until we all fall asleep.

Sometime later we awake, enjoy a huge breakfast, settle down again and watch a bit of video tv until we land at Zurich Airport. A quick freshen up, and change the Rupees into Swiss francs, then its out to Zurich by train, one stop down the line, we have a quick 2 hours to look around, but as its early on a Sunday morning, nothings open and its fairly empty, we are wandering through the streets when we happen across a riverside cafe, so its time for a couple of cappuccinos and a ham and cheese toastie, £7 ish, each - what a difference? Back in India you can feed ten for that! All too soon the time is up and its time to wander back to the station, then even sooner we are back in the Airport. On our arrival back in the hall we found we had an hours delay for takeoff. It gets boring. Eventually we load onto the plane, a SAAB 2000, its a great little aircraft, even better was the Champagne with the meal, arriving back home in style, two hours later. As we departed the plane at Birmingham it was, cold, windy and raining. What a surprise? We picked up the luggage, said bye to everyone for now, and set off home, via Derek’s to drop him off on the way, then its off to find my home, finally arriving at about 8pm,- very tired. I drift away, dreaming about were to next?

India, it weaves a spell like no Euro country can, different sights, brighter colours, sharper smells, flatter plains, higher mountains and to see it by motorcycle, is like meeting it face to face, it leaves lasting images and smells no photo can catch, it is exotic, beautiful, infuriating, hectic but calm and everywhere we went we were met by broad beaming smiles and cheery waves. Looking back I am now a much happier person, because I have done and seen things that I and many have only read about and dreamed of doing, I have ridden over and around terrain that would give many people nightmares, I have almost shed tears riding the Enfield, and laughed uncontrollably, at myself and others, I’ve both lost and found my mind and gained confidence.

Magical moments included:- stopping in towns bustling with life and the blasting out of high-pitched, low fidelity Bollywood dirges, being broadcast with a voice that could strip the chrome off the bike and the enamel off your teeth, enjoying altitude light headedness, and shortness of breath at 16,500ft, and seeing Lamas (monks) playing football, in full ceremonial robes while waiting for the Dali Lama.



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