Mystical India…

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.

Goodluck - Youre gonna need it!!

Goodluck – Youre gonna need it!!

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.

A cheeky monkey

A cheeky monkey

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.

Cashmere goats... so thats where its from!

Cashmere goats… so thats where its from!

donkeys are still a genuine mode of transport for various goods over here

donkeys are still a genuine mode of transport for various goods over here

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.

narrow ledge huh!

narrow ledge huh!

safely across

safely across

But then further down we found this one…

yes thats going to be more difficult

yes thats going to be more difficult

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 🙂


the view was amazing

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!

lots of guards like this in J and K

lots of guards like this in J and K

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.

so much of this road looked like this...

so much of this road looked like this…

“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.

if only someone would say hello it wouldnt feel so weird!!

if only someone would say hello it wouldnt feel so weird!!

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!

Goodbye to India

A cute donkey busted in the bin

A cute donkey busted in the bin

Well, its been no secret that both Dean and I have found India quite challenging! Having said that we also have very fond memories of our time here. The people for the most part have been friendly, polite, helpful and always very interested (too interested maybe?!) and despite hearing so many horror stories of how we should never trust an Indian we have generally felt that everyone has been super honest and trustworthy.   There have been a few entrepreneurial Indians that have charged us inflated white skin prices sure, but at the same time it must be said that we’ve also had a few meals given to us free!

Very interested Indians!

Very interested Indians!

The food has been really nice, albeit very heavy! We’ve eaten predominantly vegetarian (and haven’t missed meat a bit) and preferred the food in the north, One thing we’ve been disappointed about is that Indian food isn’t very spicy -there is definitely no vindaloo in local areas here! We’re looking forward to eating fresh food again and a diet that has less oil and butter! Saying that, we have already checked the menu on line of our local Indian restaurant at home to see if they serve the dishes we have come to like, and they do! We are also very happy to say that after eating on the streets, pretty much wherever, for two months in India neither of us have got sick!  We drink the water they give us, we eat food that is prepared around flies, eat on dishes that are cleaned by water only and eat raw cucumber and tomatoes if they are provided (the only fresh veg we have managed to get). I am saying this with one day left in the country… Maybe a little cocky too soon…?!

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.

Very friendly locals!

Very friendly locals!

The usual disapproving look from an older lady..

The usual disapproving look from an older lady..

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.

Locals always willling to help

Locals always willling to help with directions

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!!

Smells of home…

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)

Not such a blue sky on this occasion!

Not such a blue sky on this occasion!

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 😉

Our quote for tonight

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 🙂

A lovely night in Nahan

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.


Pieter (my rhs) and the gang at KTM

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!

“How much?”
“Great… parking?”
“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.


Oil change – thanks KTM!!

Currently waiting for Dean to do a long overdue oil change on Betsy. We have managed to get an area in a KTM workshop to make life a little easier. They have all been amazed with the bike, helped all they can and given us chai to drink 😊

We left Rishikesh yesterday after chilling out for a few days there… I did a couple of yoga classes but we mostly just enjoyed having a clean room to relax in for once!

We rode through Dehradun yesterday in search for some good oil for the bike but it appeared the whole city was on strike (which we later found out was due to a new tax that was being added to jewellery?!!) so that was a waste of time, then we headed back into the mountains to a place called Mussoorie.

Whilst looking for a hotel (story of our lives!) we met Pieter, another friendly KTM fanatic who ended up helping us find a room and taking us to a pub (yes, it was a pub) in the hills which was done up like an old English pub (I was in heaven!) and also brought us back down to KTM this morning and arranged for us to get the area to work in.

Pieter is from South Africa but lives here at the moment, it’s amazing what a different experience you have when you meet a ‘local’! Thanks Pieter 😊

From here we are making our way back in to the mountains (it’s too hot to be down on the plains now!) to a place called Shimla 😊

Returning to India

Sally here, it’s now my turn to write about our re entry back in to India…!

It was lovely riding through Nepal from Pokhara… it was a very different Nepal than what we had experienced and I’m really glad we saw it. There were beautiful woodlands (natural, not plantations!) that went on and on forever, colours of amber, green, orange, brown and purple, smells of honeysuckle and lavender (the most beautiful smelling ride I can remember) and gentle, peaceful, happy people…. and then we arrived in India… again…

The memories of India came flashing back to me the minute we crossed the border and I felt my sanity start to shake again… it was too soon!

The horns began, the staring started and the threat of death loomed as we started to ride.  Thankfully however, after the GPS took us on a detour through some random woodlands that led us to various dried up river beds and up dirt roads that went nowhere, we started to climb up in to the hills where everything got a little bit better.  The threat of death was still there but with less rubbish and hooting.

Rare peace and beauty in Indiqa

Rare peace and beauty in India

After a very long day we made it to our destination which was a town in the hills that I read about that sounded nice. Again a flash back from memories of our Indian past – lower ALL expectations!

There was a lake… and lots of hotels… but it appeared, predominantly reserved for Indians…

I don’t know how many places we asked in, but it was a pretty horrible end to the day to keep getting rejection after rejection… it goes a little bit like this:

We pull up to a hotel that looks like it might have parking… gloves off, sunglasses off, helmet off, earplugs out, hair adjustment (Me only)..

‘Hi’ (I try to smile) ‘You have rooms?’

I get a look up and down…


‘How much?’

Another man comes over and whispers in to the ear of the guy I’ve been talking to and then responds with


I don’t smile.

Helmet back on, sunglasses on and back on the bike.

This sequence varies…sometimes we get a no straight away, sometimes we get a look up and down and a ridiculous price quoted to us or sometimes they say yes but want us to park on the road (which ain’t ever going to happen in the country!) but it always involves the helmet off sequence… and the hair adjustment is the one that tires me the most. Keep in mind also that the roads are narrow and hilly and choked with traffic and the bike is really heavy and needs a level bit of ground to be able to stand on so it gets very  frustrating trying to manouvere amongst the traffic, horns and the staring people time after time, rejection after rejecetion.

We finally found a place that was too expensive but after about 2 hours of riding around narrow busy streets in circles and about 15 helmet sequences, we surrender, just happy that someone will take us.

We get in to the room and I almost cry… I want to be somewhere else.

After a walk to get some dinner and chai we remember that India is not all that bad and the people are very nice… when they’re not driving their trucks…

Alpine forests

Alpine forests

Surprise off road with sheer drops

Surprise off road with sheer drops

We have spent the last couple of days riding around the hills and it has been very beautiful and a very different India. Up here people don’t stare, they don’t hoot and they don’t drop (much) rubbish… its quite amazing! We’ve ridden through alpine forests, on small dirt tracks (thanks to the GPS),seen masses of eucalypt and bottle brush trees (which I had previously thought only exsisted in Australia), seen butterflies, strange birds, lots of monkeys and ridden through curve after curve after curve with very little other traffic.


I read about a place called Landsdowne which apparently is a place that the British likened to the Lake District in England and there were supposed to be lots of old restored English buildings. I’ve been feeling a little homesick and wanted to see this, so we have ridden for the last couple of days to make our way there.

There I was imagining burbling creeks, old stone cottages, cobbled stone lane ways and instead I got another run down, dirty Indian town and Dean walking out of the first hotel he went in to, smiling…kind of… and shaking his head in disbelief…

‘No foreigners….in the whole town…. foreigners must stay 5kms away from the town’

‘What the…?!’

Two days of riding and this is what we get?! Lucky it’s a total shithole and bears no resemblance to England in any way at all.

We are completely knackered and thought our day had come to an end… back on the bike it is… we ride about 10kms away and find a place that takes us and doesn’t completely rip us off…

But there is no beer to be found…. it’s a hard country to like!

Tomorrow we head back down to the plains to Rishikesh where we expect all that nerve wracking Indian stuff to come back in abundance as well as lots and lots of western hippies. Dean can’t wait 🙂


Just arrived in Rishkesh and it’s worse than I’d feared…


Hippies… Vegan restaurants… Yoga… Ashrams… Chanting… Tie dye… Henna tattoos… Meditation centres… Sandals!!

And it’s stinking hot and there’s no beer!

God help me.

Sally has changed out of her suit and gone to find us somewhere to stay.

I’m currently hiding from the hippies in a restaurant.


Box ticked!

We have had a very long horrible day riding today and I have very little energy to write but I will do a quick one!

We spent a night in Agra so we could see the Taj Mahal. It was nice to leave the smog of Delhi although it didn’t really get much better.

Agra is a dump.

We found a place to sit that overlooked the taj and contemplated wether we would even bother going to see it… That’s how bad we are at being tourists. We’d heard about a sound and light display at the red fort last night and thought that if we did that, at least we could say we did something.

Seeing as we are planning on doing a 7 day trek in Nepal next week and haven’t done any excersie since we left home we decided to walk the 4km to the red fort for the 8.30pm start, as advertised on the website.

As usual the walk was dusty, noisy and polluted with both fumes and noise. Random holes to avoid, no street lighting, men pissing everywhere and starving cows and dogs roaming the streets – not really what you expect from the number one tourist attraction in India and the world.

We finally get to the red fort only to be told by the security guy that the show is finishing in 5 minutes…

‘But the website says it starts at 8.30pm?’

‘Yes I know’ with a waddle of the head

Dean tries to calm me down…

We got a rickshaw back – the first since we’ve been here as we avoid dealing with these guys like the plague…

‘Don’t use your horn’ I say ‘if you use the horn, we won’t pay’

I was in a bad mood… Dean was looking nervous…

I won’t go in to what happened when he predictably didn’t have any change for the fare…

Anyway! This morning we woke early and managed to do the Taj Mahal and the red fort before our checkout time at 12 noon… About 2 hours max! Boxes ticked, we got on the bike to head for Nepal.

The Taj Mahal and the red fort were really nice and we didn’t get hassled as much as all the horror stories told us. I wouldn’t go back again though and I wouldn’t urge other people to rush there unless they felt the need to tick that box. What the government does with all the money they make from the entrance fees I have no idea. The taj is an example of how some people have way too much money and really don’t care that people around them are starving… Nothing much has really changed…

This afternoon we rode through some of the poorest areas yet where the air smells like poison… A mixture of car fumes, diesel, sulphur, urine and chemicals…. I’m not sure what but it feels like we are riding through fly spray. Eyes and throats stinging and with black faces we finally found a hotel at 7pm tonight that would accept us.

The bed is as hard as floorboards and the mosquitos are waiting to pounce. No joke. Lucky I’m tired.

Bring on Nepal 😊