The Holy Ganga (Ganges) River emerges from the foothills of the Himalaya at a place called Rishikesh (also known for a visit by “The Beetles” in their hey-day). Due to its location Rishikesh is a Hindu holy city, with crowds of pilgrims crossing the suspension bridges to the temples each day. It is also the self-proclaimed world centre for yoga and such-like things. We’ve been here in Rishikesh for about a week now, because Leana became rather ill the day after we arrived. We suspected Dengue Fever, but there was no medical doctor close by so Leana consulted a herbalist/yoga sort of practitioner who said she’d been poisoned by mal-digestion (and he prescribed lots of unpalatable herbs from his shop). During the consultation I found a lot of what “the doctor” said interesting and sometimes it even sounded plausible, but he lost me when he said that “cycling wasn’t exercise, but something else which just drained the body and wore it down”. Anyway, there is no treatment for Dengue Fever, so hopefully Leana recovers within the next week (which is about the same period which the prescribed herbs would take to show effect). There are some wonderful temples and shrines here, as there are in the other places which we’ve visited so far in India. We haven’t traveled very far since leaving Chandigarh due to more bike trouble, and we also had to shelter from the late Monsoon rain in Dehradun for a few days (where we visited the giant World Peace Buddhist Stupa and statue). This region of Northern India is green and forested, with some hilly areas. However, India is quite a crowded place, and there is almost constant villages and chaotic traffic through which we’ve cycled. The last 20 km to the hilltop town of Nahan was up a narrow, steep, winding road with a poor surface, and we only arrived there about 2 hours after dark. Not only do these towns have holy cows wandering the streets, there are also troops of monkeys causing havoc (pulling washing off the line – and stealing food wherever a window or door is left open). One of my t-shirts (with a hole bitten in it) had to be retrieved from a tree, and I was almost robbed of a bunch of bananas while returning to our room with the purchase. Daily distances cycled since Chandigarh were:- Nahan 103 km; Dehradun 98 km; Rishikesh 49 km; and Midway (loop) 35 k. Total distance since Cape Town – 27171 km.
Sunday, 14 September 2008
We left Lahore with memories of the wonderfully chaotic Anarkali Market area where we stayed. We’d also visited giant- and beautifully-crafted mosques, as well as the Fort dating from Mogul times. I also left with the dreaded “Lahore Throat” due to the air pollution – the resultant snotty cold still persists. Only a short hop (or peddle) and we were into the Punjab province of India, which is relatively affluent compared to Pakistan (and the rest of India, I’m told). First stop was Amritsar where we stayed in the Golden Temple complex – this temple is the most holy place of the Sikh faith, with thousands of pilgrims constantly present. After a number of months in “dry” countries I was on another mission, and took a cycle-riksha in search of a cool beer. Upon my return to the dormitory the bearded turban-clad Sikh caretakers weren’t impressed (they are tee-totalling vegetarians). The following morning we shared the free simple vegetarian meal with hundreds of local pilgrims, sitting cross-legged on the floor (I’m still trying to untangle myself, as sitting cross-legged is not a natural thing for me). After damaging the rear-wheel-rim on my bike up in the Karakoram, I’ve been in search of a suitable replacement rim. Eventually my luck ran out, and after a number of flat tyres it was time to bury the offending part. Just past the town of Kurali I was stranded, but a local businessman named GPS Munday saw the predicament and came to my rescue. First he took me (and the rim) to Kurali on his schooter, but to no avail. He then organized a truck (with driver) to take both Leana and myself (and bikes) the 20 km to Chandigarh where we were dropped at a hotel and taken to a suitable bike shop (GPS had followed us all the way on his schooter, just to ensure that we got sorted). Surprisingly, here in Chandigarh I also found a replacement for my expired cycle computer, as well as “leak-sealant” for the tubes. Chandigarh is a modern planned city, unique to India (reminding one of Islamabad in Pakistan). We’ve visited the main attractions here such as the man-made Sukhna Lake, and the Rock Garden (created from stones and rubbish by Mr Nek Chand, since the 1950’s – quite impressive). I’m not sure where we’ll go from here, but we’ll probably leave tomorrow. Daily distances cycled since Lahore were:- Amritsar 67 km; Jalandhar 78 km; Rupnagar 115 km; Chandigarh 25 km.
Sunday, 7 September 2008
The mountainous area of Northern Pakistan is sometimes referred to as “The Roof of the World”. This is where the Himalaya-, Karakoram-, and Hindukush mountain ranges meet. Many of the highest mountains in the world are here, and we could cycle close by such peaks as Rakapohshi and Nanga Parbat. There are also many spectacular glaciers in the area, some of which come down practically to the road. The rushing rivers in the gorges (such as the Hunza-, Gilgit-, and Indus Rivers) are fed from these glaciers. Although we didn’t get visa’s for China, we wanted to visit this Northern region and decided to go as far as the Chinese border anyway. Instead of cycling the same road there and back, we took a bus up to the terminal at Alihabad in the Hunza valley. From Hunza we cycled on to the border (although we did get a lift on the last section up the pass – allowing us to leave our heavy luggage at the border town of Sost in the valley below). The Karakoram Highway (KKH) passes through the mountains, and is the land link between Pakistan and China. The term “highway” is a bit of a misnomer as the road is very narrow and prone to landslides. In many places the road surface has been destroyed, and once we even had to wait (dodging falling rocks) while the debris from a landslide was being cleared. However, the KKH is an engineering masterpiece, often hugging sheer cliffs high above the rivers, and cutting through spectacular narrow gorges. The border is up on the Khunjerab Pass, 4733 metres high. From the top of the pass we then cycled all the way back to Islamabad. Mostly, we stayed in small local hotels or camped (one camp site was just below the snout of the Passu Glacier). Understandably this is a very isolated region, so imagine my surprise when I came across a local youngster wearing a Western Province Rugby cap! (we obviously weren't the first South African visitors). As we moved South on our way back to Islamabad, we cycled through a conservative tribal area called Indus Kohistan. Here we had vivid memories of Ethiopia, as the local children also fancy throwing stones at tourists on bicycles. Other foreigners cycling the area seem to fear the stones more than the hills and road conditions, but we’d had a good dose of it in Africa and were now somewhat immune. The sharp rocks and potholes in the road took its toll on my heavy bike, causing a number of punctures and a damaged wheel rim. On our return to the camp site in Islamabad we were surprised to find some people still there from when we’d left more than 2 weeks before (waiting for visa’s!). At least our Indian visa’s were ready, although we were scolded for not picking them up at the stipulated time. We spent a few more days in Islamabad before moving on (the camp site is a convenient place for sorting out ourselves and the bikes). I did a makeshift repair job on the wheel rim, and the only spare tubes we could find were of such poor quality that one was leaking when I tested it in the shop. It was a case of “de-je-vous” for me when we left Islamabad for Lahore (at least I knew the way, and where we could overnight). On the second day we were struck by an incredible dust storm which turned the sky into night at 14h00 (I had enough sand in my ears to produce a crop of potatoes). Fortunately we found shelter under the dilapidated roof of a disused tea-house before the rain and hail came down (together with a bunch of locals and a few stray dogs). Wondering where we could stay the night if the storm persisted I spotted a “hotel” sign, but I was informed by a local that we were at that moment sheltering in what used to be the hotel. Now I’m in Lahore again, but staying in a different area than 6 weeks ago when I passed through the city (and Leana has not been here before, so it’s new for her anyway). The Indian border is less than 50 km from here, so we’ll head that way in a day or two. Daily distances cycled since first leaving Islamabed were:- Rawalpindi 17 km; Karimabad 7 km; Passu 51 km; Sost 41 km; Khunjerab Pass (down) 87 km; Karimabad 94 km; Gilgit 106 km; Thalechi 67 km; Chilas 71 km; Dassu 117 km; Pattan 53 km; Batagram 96 km; Abottabad 98 km; Islamabad 124 km; Jhelum 123 km; Gujranwala 100 km; and Lahore 82 km. (Total since start of journey in Cape Town - 26 601 km).