Another evening in Islamabad, Kevin and Anand took us out for dinner in a ritzy restaurant overlooking the city. It felt like being at home!!
Incredible kindness from people over here. Quite amazing!
Once again I am spending the day watching Dean work on betsy. While it gets pretty boring handing him tools and finding nuts and bolts that he’s misplaced, it’s a good opportunity to catch up on some blog/reading and this week, watching prince clips… Over and over again 😢. Usually I would spend the day walking around shops or doing yoga but I feel these options are limited in Islamabad!
Islamabad is where we are and it is a beautiful modern clean city which feels a lot like home. We later discovered that the city was designed based on Canberra – it’s a very nice break to the conjested dusty dirty city’s we have become accustomed to!
Lahore was a lot of fun and took us both by suprise. We’d heard that people were friendly but nobody warned us how many photos would be taken of us! Wow! I thought I’d perfected my fake smile really well by the end of the weekend but upon looking at some of those photos now it is very funny to see the looks on our faces – a mixture of shock and amusement! The photos started both days at around 6am!
The guys that looked after us were a lovely group of people and a couple of them took it upon themselves to be my personal security. One in particular also became my wardrobe assistant as it was apparent that I didn’t know how much I needed to cover up my body…. It’s never been my strong point…. 😁
Last night we arrived in Islamabad and were invited to have dinner at another of the MAP guys house which was really nice. Again, we have been welcomed warmly, looked after like family and an agenda designed for us to make the most of our time here. I think we are being taken on a trip over the weekend and then Dean and I will continue north into the mountains 😊
Blog done, book read and phone battery at 4%…. Now I’m bored…
I’m not going to be able to do this justice just now, but we had the most amazing time yesterday and today with the guys from the Motorcycle Assoc. Of Pakistan.
All the members, (along with basically everyone we meet!) is welcoming beyond belief.
We must have had our pictures taken thousands of times, hands shaken and welcomed to Pakistan and thanked for visiting, over and over and over again.
It was quite an eventful day that culminated with 12 armed guards (yep, AK47’s!) keeping watch over our campground for the whole night!
It’s wasn’t so serious apparently, just some local cops trying to get a bribe, that ended with someone pulling some strings… Apparently some pretty big strings! So then the local Special Forces guys arrived and took over from the corrupt cops :). Ha! Take that!!
“This is people power” said Adil our new friend.
This was quite an amazing welcome, Adil from the Motorcycle Association of Pakistan (MAP) met is in our room an hour after we arrived, with two traditional scarves and this welcome message!
Tomorrow we’re joining another 50 bikers on a ride out through the country, a nights camping and then back to Lahore next day.
Really looking forward to it, even given the 6am start 🙂
The border crossing today went ok, a bit slow on the Indian side, but faster on the Pakistan side. Everyone was super friendly, welcoming and generally in good moods, which for a border post is really rare!
So far Pakistan looks much the same as India, albeit with some big differences. Fristly, there are almost no car or truck horns. Ahhhh the sweet sound of silence… or at least, the chaos of a busy street without the noise of horns. Unbelievable, only 30km from here, people are unable to drive 25m without blasting the horn at someone or something, but here, nothing. Thanks be to Allah!
Next, there are no cows, and hence no cow shit on the roads, which has taken one of our more common phrases out of circulation, “Careful – Shit Foot!!”
We’re only 30km over the border, so not far really, but the friendliness we’ve heard about is already visible. Lots of big smiles, thumbs ups, and waves as we made our way to central lahore, and then the welcome from Adil was quite unexpected, really cool.
On the down side, after more than 2 months in India, drinking the water, eating the ice and generally doing everything wrong, on the very last day, Sal has gotten a bit sick, nothing serious but disappointing to get bitten on the last day there.
And finally, last night we were invited into the home of a gentleman running the local pharmacy in Amritsar, it was a 10pm invitation for a beer and dinner, we refused the food as we’d just eaten, but was really nice to spend some time in peoples home talking about life in India. A very nice way to finish our travels there 🙂
Having finally resigned ourselves to missing the ride from Manali to Leh due to snow, “the highest road in the world” (actually the second or third highest), we decided to totally skip visiting Manali and instead headed to Dalhousie, then Chamba with a plan to cross the Saschs pass into the Lahaul valley, then onwards to Kishtwar through a place that the guides described as “incredible scenery in a place time had forgotten”
This being India, and us being us, we were prepared to be disappointed, actually we’ve had a bit of a laugh coming up with slogans for Indian Tourism like… “India, prepare to be disapointed” or “Mystical India, you’ll never understand why people come here”, or “India, stinking hot one day, and filthy the next”, you get the idea, but now I digress.
So off to Dalhousie we rode, first down to the hot plains briefly, then back up into the relatively nice mountains again, arriving there we found yet another hill station with really nothing to see or do, we were refused entry to the standard 6 or 10 empty guest houses (“full”), and eventually found one run by a Sikh gentleman who allowed us to spend a night there.
Next day we rode to Chamba, which while apparently less touristy, was actually much more interesting. We found a cheap hotel with a courtyard to park in, a filthy room and an interesting high street to explore. I spent the rest of the day rebuilding (unsuccessfully) the clutch master cylinder on Betsy, and we kicked around town, eating rajma (black beans – dangerous!), drinking tea, and quizzing the local taxi drivers about the Saachs pass.
“hi, can you tell me if the Saachs pass is open?”
“yes yes, 400 rupia, 4 hours one way” 6 men form a huddle around us…
“actually we have a motorbike, we just want to know if the pass is open”
“yes yes you can visit pass, 4 hours”
“we dont want to visit it, we want to cross it. Can we reach Killar from here”
“Killar?” much discussion… ” Yes yes you go Kishtwar first” kishtwar is on the other end of the road, after Killar.
“no we want to go straight there from here, over the Saachs pass”
“yes yes, 400 rupia, 4 hours one way” sigh… deep breaths…
“no… we ride motorbike over Saachs pass? Yes can, or no cannot?”
“Yes yes, ok…. no cannot, snow, too much snow”
This scene repeated a few times before it became clear that it wasnt going to be possible. Disappointed we decide to ride a different route that would still take us to see the same “place that time had forgotten” albeit much less of it. So after a night spent trying not to inhale the smell of urine in the bed, we packed up and went off in another direction.
It was quite a spectacular ride this time, taking us to the border with Jammu and Kashmir, where the road climbed steadily until it was actually cold and the air was noticeably thinner. The road passed little hamlets of ten or twenty houses, where the buildings were all hand made from rough cut blue stone, the roofs covered in slate. Shepherds herded long haired cashmir goats and sheep, and little streams burbled away crossing the road, which by then was a narrow path, often with incredibly steep unguarded edges. It was really pretty.
Eventually we arrived at the border post for Jammu and Kashmir where we were greeted by soldiers and a boom gate. They were quite friendly, not much english, but we understood that there had been landslides and the road ahead was closed.
“can we at least go up and see the landslide” I ask, thinking that maybe we could get across it.
“ok but you need to sign, say you understand the risk and take your own responsibility”
Sally was looking worried, but I signed our lives away. Then amist talk of being careful about bears, (with visions of Bozeman in my head) we continued on. It was only another 8km of narrow winding track until we reached the first signs of the landslides, with rocks and rubble strewn across the road, then further more of the same, then a small landslide of shaley rock that we got over without too much fuss.
But then further down we found this one…
We poked around it for a while, but the huge pine trees hanging by their roots precauriously in the eroded cliff above looked ready to fall at no notice, and with no real reason to get over it (other than to avoid riding back), it seemed reasonable to turn around.
With a few people around to help it would have been a 5 min exercise, but with just Sal and I, it would have been hours work. Although Sal did remind me that even if she is only little, she is still quite strong 🙂
A little disappointed we returned down the mountain once more, ate some lunch and pondered our options. There was another road into Jammu and Kashmir further to the west, which we could reach without leaving the mountains so we made for that direction with daylight fading, and no idea where we were going to spend the night.
Lucky for us, our road passed a hydroelectric dam, guarded by some english speaking guys, who told us we wouldnt find anything in that direction, and we needed to return to Dalhousie to find a room. Balls. It was 6pm at that stage, and even Dalhousie was still 40km away, so… keep riding team!
We pulled up just short of Dalhousie in a less touristed area, and ate our regulation dinner of dahl, rajma, rice and roti.
Next day it was a long ride down to the plains again, before heading back across the border on another road to Jammu and Kashmir. This time the area was more densely populated, and we could really see a step change in the surroundings. Shepherds running goats on the road made for frequent stops, the surface was more broken up than in Himanchal Pradesh, and the mobile phone advertising painted on all the buildings was replaced by ads for cement and concrete reinforcing bar. Because you need lots of that apparently.
Our road eventually hit the national highway going north, where we were greeted by truck after truck after truck… you get the picture. All grinding their way along at 40km/h on the narrow mountain road, most blaring their horns for no apparent reason, with frequent near misses with people passing on blind corners and thick dust.
We had about 50km of that, before arriving in our planned town for the night, Patnitop, where only one place refused us entry before we found a room. That night the trucks passed about 30m from our window, all night long, with creative and musical horns beeping and blaring at incredible volume, it was a really peaceful nights sleep.
Our next stop was 120km away, a small town in Jammu and Kashmir called… Kishtwar (you can’t say we didnt try to get there!!). As the perrol tank is still leaking we can only put ten litres in it at a time, so first thing in the morning I needed to top up. The first petrol station had no fuel, next one was closed and the third would only sell me 3 litres.
3 litres?? wtf? I sigh and push 100 rupia into the boys hand as a bribe, but he gives it back and says it makes no difference. Hmmm an honest kid. What to do now? Im impressed, but we need at least 8 litres of fuel as we’re about to leave the national highway. I resort to begging and he ups the offer to 4 litres but no more.
I havent given up yet, but take the 4 litres, pay and sit and wait for some inspiration about what to do next. Frustration boils over and some swearing ensues, which thankfully no one understands. I regain some composure, and resume begging. 🙂
“Please we from Australia, Australia, Cricket! Australia????”
He half smiles
“ok 2 more litres”
“great, I put enough money in his hand for 4 and smile back”
He looks at it, frowns then laughs, sets the pump for 4 litres and hits the button. “Now I am veeeeerrrry happy!” says Sal, (mimicinga 7 year old girl we paid $5 to for a stone in a market!)
“Veeeerrrrrrryyyyyyy happy!!!!!!!!!!!!!” I concur, he smiles and we ride away.
The road to Kishtwar is atrocious. There have been landslides everywhere, and there isnt much of the road that isnt damaged in some way. Lots of places we can see the substrate completely missing under half the road, and trucks pass in single file as close as possible to the cliff wall. In other sections an entire lane, half the road, has fallen down into the river below, a 100m vertical drop, the remaining road is buckled and looks ready to follow. The armco is sometimes hanging in mid air through a bend, we dodge rocks and ride over dirt thats fallen from above.
“I really cant imagine that this is going to get us there, too much damage” i yell into the intercom
“close your visor, i can’t hear you”
Eventually it does get us there though, to Kishtwar, the town we’ve been trying to reach for the last week.
(Insert more India tourism slogans here)
Pulling up on the main street we’re mobbed by muslim men in long beards and white head coverings, they all look like Bin Laden! It’s more of the same old india though, and after a few questions a military guy comes over and asks us to move, the road is being blocked by the crowd. So we head through the busy part of town, put a few more litres of fuel in and ask about the road ahead.
“no the pass is blocked, very much snow, can not pass that way, no traffic”
Without speaking we turn around and find a little restaurant to eat lunch. Although it’s quieter in this part of town, the crowd of people grows steadily, and pretty soon I can’t see the bike anymore. I order while Sal goes to look for wet wipes as both our faces are covered in dirt from the road. We eat chicken, spinach and rice, a nice change from the Indian diet, but the bill of $7 is a surprise…
Eventually some of the men outside make their way in, and start asking us the same old questions… where are you from, how much does the bike cost etc I catch a glimpse of the bike moving so run outside to see what’s going on.
There’s a guy sitting on it, he’s filthy from head to toe, and other guys are taking pictures of him. I hiss at him and tell him to get off, but he looks at me dumbly and doesn’t move.
“OFF, GET OFF THE BIKE!” I dont like people sitting on my bike.
“no no only picture, only make picture” someone calls out.
“GET OFF NOW!” i shout getting angrier
He reluctantly slides off, looking a bit confused and I repeat “NO SIT ON BIKE. PICTURE NO PROBLEM, BUT NO SIT”
I return to the restaurant and finish eating, this little scene reminding me of a few other times in India. We pay our inflated bill and go back out into the heat and dust, where Betsy is still surrounded by men in long beards.
They stare at us like animals in a zoo while we get our helmets and gloves on, continuing to take pictures and video, but no one actually says hello… I take out my camera and return the favour, taking pics of them, but they dont get the joke, and just keep filming.
It’s 120km back to Patnitop on that gem of a road. This time it seems to pass more quickly, although I think we were lucky not to get stuck between rock falls, a couple of times there were rocks still falling onto the tar from above as we passed!
Yet again we were in the same town… but this time we’d had enough.
“Time to leave India, lets go to Amritar tomorrow”
That was a couple of days ago. The ride to Amritsar was backtracking almost to Dalhousie again, then down onto the plains where the temp went from 20deg to 40deg in the space of 15mins! The driving also took a turn for the worst, with three near misses in as many hours…
“too much time in the mountains, I’ve let my guard down”
But how do you anticipate idiots that pass on blind corners, or trucks making U turns on the express way in front of you???!!!
Anyway, enough for today, we’re into Pakistan in another day, looking forward to the change!
The very different means of communicating has made some things hard and I still dont feel any clearer when I get a head waggled at me for a yes or no question. The quick twist of the wrists generally means no so we can only assume the waggle means yes… but we are never very confident about it.We are currently having a few days in a nicer than normal hotel in Amritsar. Dean has to do some work on the bike and tomorrow we’ll visit The Golden Temple. Amritsar isnt a particularly nice city but there are a large majority of Sikhs here and we find them nice people. They dont discriminate between caste, sex or religion so its a nice energy to be around. Despite being a little nervous about spending 3 weeks in Pakistan, I am really excited to be in a new country! When you enter a new country it feels like you get a refill of enthusiasm, interest and patience, and depending on how you are recieved depends on how long those things last… this is how it feels for me anyway! We have only heard amazing things about Pakistan and its people so we are looking forward to meeting them! My only hope is that they have much better driving skills than the Indians and use their horns less… fingers crossed!!
The sky has been blue,
The weather sunny and the heat dry,
The trees have been pine, jacaranda bottlebrush and gum,
The smells have been eucalypt, honey suckle, pine and marijuana (it grows like a weed here 😉)
The last couple of days I have had a feeling of happiness whilst riding around the mountains of Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir.
There has still been the usual disregard for our lives by anything bigger than us on the road, ridiculous distorted amplified horns blaring at us from every direction and diesel and petrol fumes blasting in our faces but aside from these Indian norms, it’s felt a bit like home… (We also happen to be about the same distance from the equator as Adelaide)
It’s either this that’s making me happy or the knowledge that we only have one day left on the road in India… Can’t wait 😉
After last night’s hotel nightmare…
“I’m so glad I can’t smell urine in this bed tonight…”
Dean Martinello 14-04-2016
Really living it up here in Himachal Pradesh!!
We’re here at the home of the Dalai Lama, checking out some temples and generally doing as little as possible.
He’s off somewhere else so we don’t get to meet him, but we did do a bit of prayer wheel turning to get into the spirit of things.
The ride here from Shimla was… well… shit. A million trucks and a broken up road. Luckily Sal booked a hotel in advance this time so we avoided the usual hour long routine, we didn’t have the energy for it this time.
Tomorrow more temples, a waterfall and no doubt more momo’s.
Then we head north a little for our last week here in India.
Deep breaths… It’s almost over 🙂
Today we were stopped at a checkpoint and refused entry to the city we planned to visit tonight.
“No entry to foreigners, military area”
“Oh well, I guess we’ll just ride back 30kms to the last turnoff then, lucky the roads here are so nice… Hmmm”
Fortunately I was still on a bit of a high after the great experience we had with Pieter and the gang at KTM. I can’t begin to explain how nice it was to work in a workshop with a concrete floor, in the shade, with compressed air and any other tools i might have needed. I really enjoyed being there, and Betsy got the best oil she’s seen in a long time.
So a small hiccup followed that, which left us without a destination today. With no option we changed route and rode until 3pm, then stopped and looked for a town on our way that had some hotels.
“Nahan has three hotels marked”
“Sounds good, let’s do it”
We rolled in here just after 4pm, when I immediately rode the wrong way down a one way street in the middle of town, because… well… there normally aren’t any road rules in India.
The policeman’s whistle was quite a surprise, I had to look twice before taking it seriously, but sure enough, there he was, so I pulled over while Sal went to check out the hotel 100m down the street
No staring groups of people, no problems from the policeman, and Sal came back with a thumbs up. Wow, first hotel and they let us stay!
“Yep, secure park, room’s a bit dirty but it will do”
“Fantastic, now all I need is one cold beer and I’ll be in heaven!” I was really hot!
“There’s a bar on the roof”
“Like an actual bar… With drinks?!”
So this hotel is in the middle of town overlooking a football field, where there were games of cricket, volleyball, basketball and football being played simultaneously as we arrived, with what felt like the whole town either in a game or watching. It had a really nice community feel about it.
We took a walk around town (post beer), and stopped to eat some momos, where the owner sat and chatted with us, and then wouldn’t let us pay for the food.
“No money needed, you are our guests in India”
So nice! Further on we were greeted by lots of people with smiling faces, and waving children wanting to practice their English.
The town spilled it’s way down the hill in little streets lined with shop fronts that reminded us both of Europe, and while the horns are still there, it’s much more bearable than anywhere else we’ve been so far.
India has changed a lot right up here in the North, looking forward to going even further up in the next few days.