Happy new Year to you out there!
It has been quite a while since my last email I had sent from the foot hills of the Himalayas. Six months ago, exhausted by the intense travel experiences in India, in the tea mecca of Darjeeling I quickly regained my desire to travel and discover new places I haven't been. The peace, space, people who were giving me distance to breathe was exactly what I needed after the intense impressions of India. A lot of things I have seen since, the mountains and their people have taken me under their spell and deeply impressed. A wonderful world up there near the white peaks where the sun shines a little brighter.
I went to get a permit to cycle into the buddhist state of Sikkim on the border with Tibet. I met two spanish and one Koreans who were on the go to a multi-day hike to get into altitudes around 5,000m. Sounded to tempting so I spontaneously walked with them. The first signs of the monsoon with holy water from the sky dropped down on us which caused a misty, milky, mysterious vision. First time in my life I had the opportunity to shake hand with the altitude sickness, it already started at 3.000m with a slight dizziness, pressure in my head, strong concentration was required for walking and a kind of sluggishness settled in. We found ourselves sleeping in mountain huts where you could roll out your own sleeping materials and hide from the wet and cold outside. I dreamed weird stuff and had a very restless sleep because of the altitude. Next day we went above 4.000m where I decided this is enough in my condition, amazing views of the 8.500m Khangchendozonga. I let the others continue and descended back down to the villages, at 2.000m the sickness was instantly healed. Wow, must be like an unwanted, bad drug trip. Rolled from here through the tea plantations of Darjeeling to the border of Nepal.
After six months being in India, I had to leave due to my visa and crossed into Nepal for a short visit. Knew that the monsoon rains were due, since I'm not the best wet weather rider I tried to await the time in dry Ladakh. A Tibetan / Buddhist region in northwest India in the state of Jammu / Kashmir. There, the giants of the Himalayas are keeping off the rain clouds coming from the south and you have great weather with bright blue sky in a kind of mountain desert. On the way to Ladakh I crossed Nepal at top speed, pedaling at a comfortable 26 degrees in the pouring rain. Must say that these were my most enjoyable rides in the rain, just in t-shirt & shorts it made cycling a joy with the locals greeting and smiling from everywhere. People with their umbrellas happily planting their rice. After a few days my skin was soaked like a sponge and my tent like a bag full of water. Exited Nepal after two weeks knowing that I wanted to come back to this beautiful country after the rains. Entered India a second time and was pleasantly surprised as I was feeling a little tired after my first six months caused by the Indian curiosity, dense population, 0 privacy. I met many nice people which corrected my attitude to India in a very positive direction, came across many open-hearted people. Must have learned to deal better with the over-stimulation of the senses and to not let stressful situations get to me. Had left Nepal at its very western corner and landed in the state of Uttarakhand, at the foot of the Himalayas of India. On the left side of the road the usual dense civilization with fields and houses, but to my right protected natural area in the hills with jungle, awesome for peaceful camping experience in India.
I retched Rishikesh, a place for Hindu pilgrimage, each year thousands of believers march (many barefoot) over several hundred km to the waters of the holy Ganga river to bring back some of the holy water to their villages. The streets were colored in orange by all the men dressed in the color of their religion.
One night I found shelter in a church, a very nice pastor of the Catholic Church called Mukesh, he even gave me a room and we talked all night. Next day he invited me to an ashram run by the church. We sat there under a tree with his muslim friends who were looking after the property. An elderly man asked the usual questions, country, age, Married? Then it got interesting.
He could not believe how a man in his best years of manhood is not busy making children, instead wonders around the world by bicycle. God has given me the power to reproduce and I should use it he said. I asked him how he imagines this could work if everyone produces 10 children as him, the country is already overpopulated and there is no habitat for home & property. His answer: Allah has given him the power of procreation and Allah will take care of what will come out of it, he was just an acting unit which is not responsible for what is after. Such a point of view is very hard for me to take, makes me angry in a way, people having such primitive thoughts. He seemed to read and live his holy book without turning on his brain ignoring quite obvious coherences. It wasn't the first time for me hearing such views in discussions with elders, giving them contradiction o counter-arguments is not welcomed. He went on to ask how I could keep my sexual energy under control not having a partner. Told him that I think one should know his own body well before he can share his sexual energy in harmonic way with the opposite sex. Mukesh told me that the old man was already married at age of 15, he knew no different when his hormones have sparkled up in his body. At the time he already had his wife to direct his sexual energy to, the result are his 10 children. Some people believe that homosexuality is an invention from the West. Mukesh confirmed to my question that it was not unusual for men to have sex with each other. He explained to me, if there is no sweet mango (woman) some just take up an unripe one (man). He felt sorry for the negative impact of smartphones on the young generation who show movies with naked skin on their phones to each others, religious values jump into the background and messes up their whole world. Was incredibly interesting to have such important, delicate debate openly with the local men of this village.
Paddled over the next few days over the foothills into the mountains closer to the giants. Always trying to hide from the rain as good as I could. After three years of continuous use of my tent it is not waterproof anymore so when night came closer I always had to look for a roofed shelter. India is already difficult to find a quiet, peaceful spot to camp but finding one with a roof was even harder. Crept into school grounds and tried my luck at temples.
A few days later I was already on the doorstep of Ladakh, a fantastic road winds its way over 500km from Manali to Leh. A highway of the extra-class including three 5,000m passes to cross, many rough and bumpy sections, dusty passages, streams flooding the road in an incredibly beautiful landscape, a dark red stone desert of barren rocks. Leaving Manali coming with an exhausting breath over the first 4.000m plus passes, making a pretty detour into the Spiti Valley, a total different world, everything changed all of a sudden into Tibetan culture, the houses, the people, the weather, only because I had crossed a mountain range which holds off the monsoon. Here the clocks were ticking different, people worked pretty much with their bare hands trying to create small oases in the valleys surrounded by a stone desert. They were growing their crops, peas, apples and apricots. A unique world in a relatively inhospitable region which is six months of the year cut off from the rest of the world. Landed for four days in a Buddhist monastery (Key) where I gained an insight into the life of the monks. They were very open and let me participate in their life, I could integrate myself freely as I wanted and join to their ceremonies, helping them cook, milking cows, play volleyball or just observe and be.
Paddled through breathtaking landscapes up to Leh, a unique street carved into the mountains. I was thankful to my body not having problems this time with the altitude letting me cross 5.000m plus passes without the feeling of dizziness. Leh is the headquarters of Ladakh u can be reached by air throughout the year, often the Dalai Lama comes to visit and to talk to his believers. I took a side trip into the Nubra Valley which is part of the Silk Road, crossed another 5,000m mountain range and followed along the river to the Pakistan border. Unusual weather made this trip a frightening experience. Multi-day rains flooded the region Srinagar in Kashmir and rain cam even up to Ladakh. This resulted in popping of rocks which got soaked like a sponge, rocks became alive and along the street were pebble slides, mud and shooting rocks which were coming down. I was totally unprepared for rain and coldness, not to think of shooting rocks and land slides. Thanks to the bad weather and dangerous circumstances I ended in a buddhist village counting 10 people who gave me warm shelter in a communal room of a mud house, all gathered in the evening, got salty butter tea and delicious momos (kind of vegetarian ravioli), was infinitely grateful to them for the dry and warm refuge. Another day, the road was completely wiped off, I ended up at a military camp, soldiers in the booth gave me some tea. An officer offered me to sleep in the tent with the soldiers and having dinner in the kitchen. I had landed in a mountain fighters battalion, they were walking down today from the glacier and were going back up tomorrow. The mountains around here are full of stationed soldiers. Pakistan and India have small gun battles every few weeks up here. Again and again I was scared by the cracking noise of falling rock. They offered me to sleep in the tent or the kitchen, while eating I heard all the rats rattling around so I chose the tent. They made space, treated me very respectful and squeezed me in the middle. Sleeping six men lined up next to each other in the tent. The one next to me even showed me videos of Ladakhi music, beautiful pictures of landscapes and their marches over the glacier.
Was sneaking my way to the village of Turtuk (Pakistan border) accompanied by a lot of fear, I had to sharpen all my senses, constantly listened to falling rocks and look up the sheer walls to not end up in the middle of a rockfall, there were rocks coming down. On the way back I ended up right in the middle of the action. A tourist bus was already waiting at the obstacle until the site was cleared to drive through. A few tourists that I knew from the village wanted to take some pictures of me, all very funny, small talk… Then I walked into the section where the road was buried meters high from a landslide, pushed and heaved my bike through the boulders. Just when I was in the middle of the obstacle the soldiers whistled and shouted. SHIT, SHIT, what's going on? They all ran away, "STONES from above!" they yelled. Without a second of hesitation I threw my bike and ran away. The soldiers shouted, "Run, run, and look up!" heard a boulder beside me hissing through the air, Sssssssshhhhhhhhh Buummmmmmmm a noise as if a plane cuts the air, then the impact only a few meters from me, Fuck, Fuck, Fuck, I ran, three seconds later, Buummmmmm, the next strike next to me, this is how it must feel when you're running for your life in a war, while the opponent takes you under attack. Reached a rock wall and pressed myself under a small overhang, it rained rocks from above, gas cans came down, were the remains of the war against Pakistan. I sat there speechless and looked at what was happening, hoping that no boulder would flatten my bike. It went on, Sssssssshhhhhhhhh Buummmmmmmm the wind noise and the smashing of the rocks falling perpendicular from one km above down the cliff face onto the ground. Holy shit, I was really scared. Hoping that no landslide got triggered as I had seen it a few days ago. A soldier gave instructions: "Slowly one by one, get out of the danger zone!", always looking up to watch for falling boulders. Wow, so close to a rockfall I've never been ever before. The locals were more relaxed and did not seem too carefully. The tourists all ran away. After the situation had calmed down a soldier gave me fire protection, he looked up for me as I walked into the danger zone and took my bike. My heart was pounding, heaved my bike over the obstacle passage, up and down, relieved I reached the next overhang where 40 soldiers were hiding under. Wow, that was an indescribable feeling, much as one who run a marathon crossing as first of the finishing line, I was still alive, my knees soft as jelly. Shook the hand of the soldiers who was giving me cover and thanked him very much, he only replied casually, "It was his duty".
Back in Leh, I realized the impact of this heavy rain to other areas and what disaster it had caused, many streets were swiped away, the city of Srinagar was under water and hundreds of people died. There I was, everyone advised me not to follow my plan. My idea was to ride to Srinagar and continue from there to Delhi and back to Nepal. Left Leh with mixed feelings to go on with what I had in mind cycling through a spectacular mountain scenery, into the center of Kashmir. Thanks to the closed road which supplied Srinagar from the south, it was a very pleasant ride, hardly any traffic. A few days later I reached the critical area and rolled into the city, saw the devastating extent of the disaster. Flooded houses, cars, streets were under water. Mud, dust, debris, chaos and uncertainty everywhere. People were angry at their government speculating that there was deliberately water run from the dams into their city. Nevertheless, the people tried to slowly regain their lives back to normality and replace the boats into a rolling vehicle. They were amazingly friendly, even saw a smile on their face. My visa ran out four days after and I had to quickly get out of India, packed my bike on the roof of a jeep the first day the road re-opened to get to Delhi. Exited India and entered again at the western end of Nepal.
I had an idea buzzing around in my head to pass through Nepal from the west over the mountains into the center, got myself a three months visa to experience the village life. I tried to avoid to drive the Highway in the south instead finding trails and paths over the mountains. It was tickling deeply on my soft spot for adventure and the unexpected. The maps I found were no motivation to carry out this project successfully, but you never know, I wanted to see if it was really impossible without existing roads. Slept my first night at the border post as I took my Indian visa up to the last minute arriving late at night. I then began to work my way up through all the villages in the green hills of Nepal. West Nepal is considered as one of the least developed areas in the country which made it so interesting to me. Passed through the villages of Dadeldhura, Dipayal, Mangalsen high up to Jumla. The streets were from any condition, imaginable as well as unimaginable, the asphalt disappeared quickly and remained coarse gravel, rough pists, inch-thick dust slopes, passages that were flooded by rivers and sections where riding was impossible. I even fell twice which normally never happens but Nepal's paths had fought me better. Amongst some stages in East Africa, these were my roughest days of cycling with some days of only 40km of progress.
It was like a journey through time to roam the region seeing the villages wonderfully quiet, no underground provided for wheeled transport. This is how life must have been like in Europe 200 years ago, no machines, the crop sown by hand, cut with a sickle, joined together to tufts for drying, then threshed on a stone, the crop was packed in heavy bags and strapped on the back of the men and women to take their food home.
At the time they had the biggest Hindu festival going called Dasein, a family festival where all Nepalis working abroad returned home to their families. It was a little rough to watch the festivities activity where people brought their goats to be slaughtered infornt of the temple. Was trying to get one eye at the event, watching how one goat after the next got its head chopped/cut off and after being grilled on the fire. They sacrificed water buffalos which were beaten through the streets up to the temple where they were brutally sickles until the animal collapsed and died. Very intense pictures. It rather seemed to me as if men were getting rid of their whole aggression by stabbing this animal to death, very violent impressions for a Western eye.
Sleeping up here was pure enjoyment, there was plenty of space, people were interested in me but at the same time let me have my peace when I retired to my tent to sleep. The landscape so wonderful that I even refused invitations to sleep in houses. In Jumla the road ended, the only way to continue from here was on foot, originally I thought of a direct way over the mountains on trails to go to Pokhara. However, it became crystal clear to me, if the roads were already so brutally hard to ride on I cannot go on hiking trails with my bike, I had to change my plan and get via the road back down to the highway. Sadly a search operation of a Chinese cyclist who has been missing for 50 days convinced me that it would be wise to turn around, he was trying to find a way over the mountains to China. A few weeks later I have received the sad news that he had drowned in a mountain river.
In the mountains I had a couple of kids trying to push my bike on the steep dusty passages when I was pushing on full steam. They went on the back of my bike and enjoyed themselves, pushing, not pushing and so on. The corner of the eye with them as good as I could, one boy pulled something out of my pockets, grabbed him and explained him that this was not a nice move of him, I think he is scared now of bearded westerners after this. I was a little disappointed, the children managed it over the next few days to steal my oil and gastrointestinal medicine. Just as I had caught another bug in my belly. Up here, there was no other than the strong antibiotics which I try to avoid, herbal medicine I only found a week after, meanwhile I was cycling with liquid contents in my stomach through the mountains, only on half energy I reached the highway in the south to get to Pokhara. My sister came to see me, a beautiful gift seeing a family member after such long time. We took a few trips around to see the people of Nepal a little closer, enjoyed the time together and took it a little easy which was the best to cure my stomach.
Another cyclist fascinated me with his stories about hiking so I ended up parking my horse for eight days and put on my hiking shoes. At the same day I met a californian woman who also wanted to hike up to Annapurna Base Camp, also without guide & hiking permit. We packed our things, she in her 40's relatively untrained, started off, slept the first night at the check post , got at 3 am and walked in glorious moonlight over the checkpoint. It was very interesting for me to realize that I could actually walk much faster and had to wait a fair bit but on the other hand gaining the chance to observe my surrounding more intensely, it was all a matter of how I look at it. I could get upset and run off or just find something good out of this situation. We hiked over four days up to the base camp on 4.000m, remained three days surrounded by 8,000m peaks and glaciers coming down in the valleys, just a stunning scene. I couldn't quite get it how swarms of tourists make their way up here, some with some without a porter and then stay only for a quick look and photo. After heading back down. The actual enjoyment of the environment which they have pushed themselves to does not seem to be of interest.
Back on my saddle I rolled through absolute bumpy mountain roads to Kathmandu. Tried to stay away from the highway I passed one ridge then river after other on a very secluded paths. On this hardcore rough roads I got some amazing views of the sparkling white peaks in the sunshine. Was sitting there hours just looking at this fascinating world, the color changes, the play of the shadows, impressive, like a movie.
Ended up in a mountain village called Gorkha where I stumbled upon a small hotel that had just opened by a German with his Nepali wife. I asked if I could camp there, he showed me a kind of helicopter pad with magnificent views over the valley just next to the hotel. He mentioned I could stay a few days, eat sleep for free if i make myself a little useful in the household and build them a website. So I ended up in a small volunteer project. Not sure whether the hotel is still open, they had the hotel on a 4-week lease to try as they weren't sure if this would be their business.
Here is the result.
Cafe De' Gorkha Chautari
The people of Nepal are extremely friendly, warm and interested, very happy to meet a stranger and share the little they have. A country which is an extremely easy to like and enjoy, all is smooth and peaceful no fears arise. Searching for a place to put the tent was totally unproblematic, people let you go to bed when u were tired and wanted to sleep.
However, many NGO's and other interest groups try to develop the country in high speed, adopt modern agricultural practices, for me a sad sight, these peace-loving people who get to live relatively independent high up in the mountains in harmony with their environment will receive soon roads, motorcycles, cars, houses, noise, modern food, candy, plastic waste and a lack of perspective for the young generation. Many conversations with young Nepalis were around their desire to move to the city to study and then to leave the country. They dream of a beautiful world in the West where life is so much better. Is it really?
On the other hand, I had some very interesting conversations and views of boys and elderly who identified this false paradise by their angle of observation. They do not follow the direction of the NGO's and corrupt leaders, they try to explain their neighbors that the use of modern seeds and fertilizer / pest control has only a capitalist motive that makes only a little minority rich and puts the small farmers in a dependency. They try with ecological principles of permaculture and organic food production instead. My respect to them for having such an advanced way of thinking while these ideas only just awaken in the western world. Some of the people here have already recognized and trying to not make the same mistakes of the developed world. I deeply hope for these people that they don't have to go through this phase of poisoning modern agricultural and continue with their traditional ways of food production combined with new ideas of ecological principles.
Frosty nights and short days made me shake in the last couple of weeks in the mountains, the houses and my tent were not heated so the warmest after dark was under the blanket. My original plan was to reach Southeast Asia over land but an appointment for a wedding in late January in Thailand made me decide to take a plane. The distance was too far and I wouldn't have enjoyed rushing through Myanmar to make it in time to the wedding. I did pack my bike in a box and flew to Malaysia, from here I will cycle north. Roam around all the countries in Southeast Asia in the coming months. I'm now ten days here in a lovely warm, tropical humid climate.
Hope you all having a special year 2015, lots of smiles, happiness and sunshine, stay healthy and be good to the world so it will be to you.