For the few sorry souls following my blog you know that I try to alternate the language between Swedish and English but as you probably also noticed, my two last texts are both in Swedish. Even though my English isn’t all that bad it is so much easier to find a decent way to communicate in Swedish. When I write in English I just feel that my texts are really boring to read, dry and yeah, boring. Now, because of that, I have put myself in a really tight spot. This new text must really be in English and it’s the most difficult country to write about – India. Fact is, even in Swedish it would be a tremendous challenge to write something that well describes what I experienced in India. But its my own fault so, here we go…………
India is not one thing, it is everything. Amazing, Crazy, Horrible, Ugly, Beautiful, Friendly, Intimate, Sticky, Dirty, Generous, Racist, Delicious, Poor, Challenging, Disgusting and definitely Adventureous. It is everything, like their food spicy and fragrant. Well India is extremely fragrant and extremely spicy, everything is to the extreme. Some good spices and some really bad ones and no matter which one it is, it is really heavy and on the verge of being too much.
Now, India is a huge country and I can hardly speak for all of India also I didn’t spend enough time to really get deep into the society so take this for what it is, a bit superficial.
I entered India from Myanmar at a border crossing in the far northeast of India into a town called Moreh. It is a town that God forgot. A small town which kind of gives me a feeling of one of these small towns in a western movie, the last outpost. A town where people for various reasons never intended to stay but somehow got stuck in. Everything therefore seems kind of temporary, not really finished. I can of course be completely off track on this one. Actually, I don’t know what people think of their little town. It was just my feeling when entering. Just like in the westerns there was one muddy main street with one max two story buildings on each side containing small hole in the wall shops. A place I would not want to spend one night in. Poverty is ugly.
I saw a small medical office ran by Doctors without Borders – What tremendous heroes they are btw!
Anyway, I had to run around to various offices in the small town to get my passport and all my bike documents stamped so I guess I spent three hours there all in all before I set off again. Just leaving the town made me feel so relieved, its really hard to describe. Really don’t have any reason to, pople I dealt with were very nice, it was just the feeling of the town…………
My plan for the day was to go to Kohima. Looked like a pretty decent distance, not to hard and Kohima had ok hotels. But its hard to judge traveltime sometimes. Roads are not always, well roads. Anyhow the trip started with a number of military checkpoints where I got questioned about why on earth I wanted to come to India. Every checkpoint took time and one in particular that was really weird. I got taken aside into a shed by the commanding officer at the checkpoint. A huge guy, my own age, maybe slightly younger. Big black moustache and a crew cut. He was probably close to two meters tall and his face looked like it had been carved from a block of granite. So he fitted the part and the camo gear for sure. He started interviewing me about my bike trip, where I had been and where I was going. Then he started asking me about my family and also started telling his life story. After a while he looked me in eyes, took my hand and asked me if I wanted to go and eat rice with him. Now, that was just a tad awkward. I answered that I appreciated the proposal but that I really had to get going. After around ten seconds which actually felt like an eternity he finally let go of my hand and said I was free to go.
It rained and rained and rained. The roads flooded but were not super bad. However, this was in the mountains, the area of the Nagas, the Hill people, so the road was narrow and had millions of turns. Once I arrived Imphal, the first real town I was thinking really hard on whether I should move on to Kohima or not. I figured it would take 1.5 to 2 hours to get to Kohima but I also knew I probably would have to ride the last hour in the dark and I really try to avoid that, especially if I have no clue what the roads look like. I finally, after very long negotiations with myself, made the decision to stay in Imphal, to play it safe. I honestly think that was one of the most critical decision I have made on this trip.
When setting out on the road to Kohima the day after it turned out to be an absolute nightmare. It took me five hours. The worst road I have ever ridden. If I would have tried that the day before in the dark I honestly don’t think I would have survived it. There would have been nowhere to stop, there was no people. I was completely exhausted when I got off that mountain. Totally drained but so grateful I didn’t attempt it the day before. Heavy rain had caused an innumerable amount of landslides. Mainly small ones but a few larger ones. Driving through each and every one of these mudpits were an absolute challenge and honestly the tarmac parts in between were so full of potholes the entire road looked like North Korea had been using it as a training ground for nuclear missiles. Honestly I don’t know if that is considered on or off road driving, all I can say is that is gives me no pleasure whatsoever, it is just hard on both me and the bike. That day I continued on to Guwahati where I found a decent hotel, a shower and passed out completely.
Next day was much less eventful. The really bad mountain roads were now long gone and driving was quite pleasant. I spent the night Siliguri where I spent almost two hours trying to locate the hotel. The rain was so bad I could not see a thing and there was no one to ask. When I finally arrived at the hotel they reminded me it was monsoon period now. No shit, could have fooled me. Now I have been in Asia during the rainy season many many times and I can tell you the Indians, they are the ones who really mean it. Well, actually that means in the north eastern part. The further west you go the dryer it gets really. Anyway that is my, again superficial, analysis. However, I do think there is some truth to that since this is also the area where malaria is present and somewhere around midway of the country the malaria disappears.
The following day I had a hard time finding a good destination which would provide a reasonable length of travelling. Tent is out of the question in these parts, at least for me. There is simply nowhere to put it up which would provide me with any form of privacy and in India riding a motorcycle you are an absolute magnet of attention. I decided to go to Daramshala of which I really knew nothing. Early on in the morning my foot started to hurt, my left foot and the pain was getting worse and worse everytime I switched gear until when I was starting to approach Daramshala and had to switch gear with my heel instead. I figured the travelling across the mountains had been rough and my foot is just tired and need to rest a bit. Daramshala was not a nice town. While driving to the hotel in the centre of the small town I could see that parts of the town was flooded with water. Up to maybe half a meter in the worst places. Town was all but nice. Hotel was bad. Really bad. There was no food to get so I had one of my freezedried portions in the hotel room and decided to sleep with my clothes on and get up very early in the morning to leave town before it wakes up.
When I left in the morning the entire town was flooded. It had rained all night heavily. Now there was a constant flooding of 30 to 60cm of water everywhere. It was early. No one was out except the cows and even they had taken their refuge into whatever elevated areas and shelter they could find. In a way it looked a bit amusing but it wasn’t, not really. This was just a week or so before the big floodings in India.
I thanked my lucky star for having a tall bike and drove out through the town and was so relieved when I finally reached the highway. Only problem was, my foot hurt even worse now. Every gear change was with my heel which is I suppose doable but not very efficient, at least not when I do it. To add onto that problem, today was the day I was supposed to enter Nepal. To go up into the mountains with narrow roads with lots of turns means very active driving and lots of gear changing. I stopped at a gas station to fill up, opened my little medicine cabinet and started popping some anti inflammatory pills I had brought while considering what to do. Nepal – not Nepal, Nepal – not Nepal, Nepal – not Nepal. I finally decided not Nepal. I cant do it with my foot in this condition, its too painful. Anyway, I would be more than happy to go there some other time with my wife instead. So, once that decision was out of the way, only one decision remained, If not nepal, where the hec do i go?
Actually Nepal was something I really had looked forward to and so far India and I weren’t really buddies. I looked at the map and recalled that someone had told me Varanasi was the place to go to. It was a long trip but within reach. I decided to go for it and hoped it would be nice because I had decided to take the next day off and rest my foot.
I arrived late. It was dark already. I was tired. The hotel was great! They had room service, a beer and a whiskey (previous hotels in India didn’t serve alcohol at all). That was just what I needed. Well that and one long shower with lots of soap. I slept like a baby, woke up the next morning ready to explore. My foot was still hurting but medication was starting to work. I could feel it.
Now here is where my feelings towards India changed. Varanasi is without doubt one of the most remarkable places on earth. Entering the streets or more precise the area close to the river is literally like arriving on different planet. It is by far more remarkable and jaw dropping than if I would have landed on planet Tattooine or whatever its called in Star Wars. The strangest characters, well on level with Jabba the Hut gather together with thousands of Indian pilgrimages who have come to Ganges river to cleanse themselves from sin and to burn their deceised relatives. The cleansing is about bathing in the holy water and for the really, pardon the language, hardcore ones have a few drinks of it. To witness this is like watching an enormous theatrical performance with 20 or 30 thousand actors. It is so different and so massive and so overwhelming that it at first is hard to digest as being for real. Varanasi blew me away!
What a day it had been and India was suddenly the most exciting place on the planet.
It was time to move on further west and now it was quite appearant that the standard of living was getting better and better as I got further west. Rain disappeared and travelling was easy. I had made an appointment to have my bike serviced in Delhi, they have a Triumph dealership there. Lovely guys took care of my bike for a day and made it look brand new. Its like it had been to a spa or something.
Since I had cut Nepal out of the equation I now had a few days left before I needed to cross the border to Pakistan and decided to head up in the mountains towards Kashmir instead. I decided to go to Daramshala where Dalai Lama lives in exile. Now that was an absolutely brilliant decision if I may say so. The drive up the mountains was absolutely stunning, (now my foot was much happier to switch gears again) and the two days I spent in Daramshala were truly magnificent. Interesting, Daramshala is actually turning into a copy of Tibet. They are making a new Tibet. Souvenir shops are not selling Daramshala T-shirts, they are selling Tibet T-shirts. Really remarkable and it all of course revolves around the monastery where the Dalai Lama lives. The town is exploding, new hotels are being built everywhere and backpackers are coming from every corner of the world.
They even built a cricket stadium among the clouds. Divine sport it is
But, now it was time. Time to cross the border to Pakistan, the one country where most people said, are you really going to go to Pakistan? Do you really dare to go there? Isnt it dangerous?