India trilogy – part 1

Written by Sebastian on October 9th, 2011. Posted in Allgemein

p1060516-2Martin: We hit the border in the morning and again, we don´t face any problems entering India. The city Amritsar is close to the border and we decide to take it easy and spent the night there. We change the plan immediately after entering the city. Even though it seems quite nice, it´s hell to drive with the bike. Traffic is massive, it´s hot and humid and the streets in the old town are so narrow that it´s hard to get through with our bikes. After a riksha driver tore down Sebastian’s right suitcase without bothering to stop (luckily without breaking it) and me getting stuck in one of the narrow streets because a trailer blocked the way (with the owner sitting right next to it just watching me being unable to get through and moving it only after me asking him to do so), we draw the line and decide to go directly to Dharamsala to see if the Dalai Lama is home.

We follow a flat, quite boring straight road for a couple of hours until the landscape gets hilly and incredibly green. We drive along a beautiful curvy road, monkeys are all around the roadside waiting for bananas they get from people passing by. Unfortunately it´s hard to enjoy the landscape as the way Indian´s drive can be summarized simply as suicidal. Thinking that we have mastered and after some time understood some strange driving tactics in other countries, India beats by far everything so far experienced. As in no country before we are challenged by ruthless and egoistic car and truck drivers who never seem to bother to look into the rear and back window and overtake at high speed even in blind curves. Driving rules are blank theory and road signs are generally only for decoration. The only thing used heavily is blowing the horn… seemingly done only to inform the other one that he´s better off to give way.  

 p1060527-2First flat tire

As it´s getting dark and we are still 200 km from Dharamsala Sebas suddenly stops, pointing at his flat front tire. Luck is on our side as not even a minute later two young guys on a motorbike stop by analyze the situation (is it a tubeless tire, sir?) and take us to a tire fixer. We are surrounded right away by a crowed of people and our two angels, Nikhil and Prince, go right away after removing the tire.. giving Sebas partly a hard time slowing them down and convince them to maybe read the instructions first 🙂 Removing the tire turns out to be idiot proof and while the tire fixer repairs the tire Nikhil and Prince let me try driving their little speed rockets. Again we are overwhelmed by the kindness and hospitality of people we meet on the way, as Nikhil and Prince not only were a great help, they also insisted on inviting us on the costs of the tire repair. In less than an hour everything is back in order and although it´s already dark we decide to continue our way to Dharamsala. The road takes us in curves from one valley to the next and unfortunately we don´t see much of the hilly landscape which seems even in the dark beautiful.  


And one more. Come on! You love them too!After spending two nights in a nice but expensive hotel in Dharamsala we move up to McLeod Ganj, a small town overlooking a valley and since 1960 the spiritual, educational and governmental centre of the Tibetian administration in exile…and home of the Dalai Lama and many Tibetian refugees. What happened is, that after a failed uprising of the Tibetians against the Chinese in 1959 India offered the Dalai Lama refuge in Dharamsala. We check in at the Pema Tang hotel and decide to stay here for a couple of days. The village is quite nice but pretty touristy and one can really feel a „spiritual“ atmosphere. Many tourists come here to participate at meditation courses and learn about buddhist religion. Unfortunately we missed to allign our travel plan with the one of the Dalai Lama, as we find out that he went for a trip to Canada just a day before we arrived. So we have to be content with taking short walks around and visit at least Dalai Lama´s gompa (monastery). Most of the time we relax on the balcony of our hotel from which we can overlook the valley. Here we not only have a great view on the Dalai Lama´s house but are also given the honor to see incredible cloud formations and sunsets I have never seen before. Having seen what we have seen there is no doubt for me that this place is something special.  

Jammu & Kashmir

 p1070257-2While talking to two nice Kashmiris in a shop they advice us not to take the road from Manali to Leh but to make the loop over Srinagar, Kashmir´s capital. As the roads in the Laddakh area, including the world´s highest driveable mountain passes, are closed in winter and we get different informations whether the roads are already closed or not, we decide to take the risk and drive up anyways. Jammu and Kashmir occassionally suffer clashes by Muslim extremists who want this area to be independent from India or part of Pakistan, it´s advisable to check the situation before driving through. Naive as we are we don´t bother and just hit the road. Driving up to Srinagar is due to the traffic quite exhausting, nevertheless the landscape is partly very nice and the day before reaching Srinagar we end up driving at night and staying at a hotel next to the road. Again we are overwhelmed by the kindness of the people, as we find out that the hotel was actually already closed for the winter seasion and they not only opened it just for us but, even though already very late as we arrive there, also prepare us a superb dinner. Next day the partly rough road takes us up and down from one valley to the next. Here not only Eva-Dos suffers again from her benzin filter problem and decides to stop on the top of a valley (luckily deciding to continue after a short rest), we also see a bus wrack down a hillside where 42 people died just a day before. It´s a strange feeling looking down on the remains of a bus, knowing that just a couple of hours ago 42 dead bodies had been lying around there too. We pass the famous Kashmir valley (nothing special though) until we reach Sringar, which is heavily surrounded by army posts. The city seems very nice and is famous for it´s lake, where it´s possible to stay over at house boats. We decide not to stay though and continue our way to Leh. We stay over at Sonamarg, a town in a picturesque valley surrounded by mountains and at arm´s length of a glacier. There are no fences, horses and cows are grazing on the beautifully green meadows, the air is wonderfully fresh and at night we enjoy a great starry sky. Next day we continue to Kargil which is very close to the Pakistan border. Here the Muslim area ends and shortly after Kargil we pass through the first buddhist village. The atmosphere is right away different. Even though the people in the Muslim parts had been nice, they had been quite reserved and entering this village we experience people suddenly smiling and waving to us right away. p1060889-2The road from Kargil to Leh takes us up, continues along a mountain range and even though it´s partly a challenge to drive it as it has some muddy and pretty dirt road sections, the views are spectacular…and thrilling as the roads are not secured and steep slopes go hundreds of meters downhill. We are both overwhelmed by the beauty surrounding us and stop every 100 meters to take a picture and inhale the landscape. Shortly before Leh the road takes us down again, we drive along side a river surrounded by mountains until it goes up again and we continue on a high plain with an impressive moon-like landscape. This had been one of the most beautiful roads I have ever driven (at least landscape-wise :-)) and I feel honored that I am given the chance to see it. dsc_0025-2After passing numerous army posts along the way we finally reach Leh, the capital of Laddakh, with a beautiful buddhist gompa overlooking the town. We are lucky, it´s off season already, prices are low and the weather is just great. We stay a couple of days in a nice guest house, where we organize our permits and prepare ourselves mentally for one of the highlights of our trip: the claimed highest driveable mountain pass of the world, the famous Khardung La at 5.602m. Are we gonna make it? Stay tuned and find out 🙂