this has been it and we are back to where it all started
full of gratitude and love
this has been it and we are back to where it all started
this has been it and we are back to where it all started
full of gratitude and love
Ayer vi el sol amanecer en el templo de Trimbak. Mientras el cielo estaba aún oscuro, caminé en círculos y me dejé llevar por una corriente de pasos y murmuros. Om nama shivaya. Llegaban estas palabras de todos los rincones, en diferentes ritmos y tonos. Om nama shivaya.
Ahora se escapa la medianoche y comienzan a caer los primeros momentos de la mañana. Es la última madrugada en la India y estoy en el aeropuerto de Mumbai lista para partir. La bici está en una caja de heladera anticipando el invierno de Europa. Mientras escribo este post pensando que no voy a dormir, mis queridos amigos brasileños que desde la última hora y media son oficialmente ilegales, vinieron con un pase exclusivo para descansar en unos sofás de la zona vip. Así que ahora me descoonecto y me concentro en el maravilloso arte de dormir una hora y hacerla rendir por tres. Así me despido con los últimos sueños en esta tierra.
Adiós India, en unas horas remonto el cielo en bicicleta para volver a reconocer las primeras montañas que dieron inercia a este viaje.
Buenas noches familia, amigas y amigos y todo dharma bum!
Hace seis semanas que vivo en un Ashram. Acá no tenemos internet y dos veces traspasé la entrada. No sé exactamente que pasa en el mundo, me llegaron noticias de las elecciones presidenciales en Argentina y de la bomba en Ankara. Cada tanto hablo con Yoel y mis padres y así tengo novedades de algunos seres queridos. Estoy desconectada en las formas habituales pero no me siento así, es sólo apariencia. Hoy tengo internet y es suficientemente fuerte para aguantar la energía que quiero mandar en este mensaje.
Las enseñanzas de yoga, de Buddha y de tantas otras sabidurías dicen que para ser feliz uno debe trabajar en disolver las emociones que nos encierran en un ciclo de sufrimiento. Abrir camino a la ecuanimidad (no reacción) para lograr un estado de existencia en donde la paz interior no depende de lo que sucede a nuestro alrededor. Es un largo camino realizar estas enseñanzas pero cada intento es un paso hacia adelante. Aquí aprendí que solamente una emoción es positiva: amar incondicionalmente. “Love everyone, serve everyone and feed everyone with humility, respect and love.”
Dos razones me llevaron a visitar Thailandia: estudiar una técnica de masaje y renovar la visa para la India. Llegué a Bangkok la madrugada de un lunes sin dormir y una chica que conocí en la India me recibió en su casa donde pude descansar por el resto del día y encontrar un autobús para viajar en la noche hacia Chiang Mai (noroeste de Thailandia). Cuando llegué a Chiang Mai visité el consulado indio donde me pidieron un montón de papeles para tramitar la nueva visa. Las visas dan dolor en la panza. Alquilé una bicicleta y pasé un par de días en la ciudad esperando e-mails y tomando jugo de frutas. Regresé a la embajada donde el cónsul revolvió los papeles que me pidió con mucha autoridad dos días antes y sin prestarles atención los abrochó y me despachó con un ticket a la caja. Cada vez más siento que las cuestiones de la autoridad, los poderes y los deberes son un poco una lotería y no hay que tomarse nada muy a pecho. En India aprendí a seguir mi propia ley, a veces una pequeña rebelión pero con confianza en el Dharma! Pero para una visa hay que decir ‘si, señor cónsul, las cartas que usted quiera!’
Después dejé Chiang Mai por Lahu, un pueblo a una hora de la ciudad, en la montaña, a 900m de altura donde el aire es más fresco. Si bien es la época del monsoon (lluvias) este año es bien seco. La técnica de masaje thai es en realidad originaria de la India pero hace centenares de años pasó hacia Thailandia y se desarrolló y mantuvo aquí mientras que en la India se extinguió. Es un arte de sanación hermoso y está basado en el principio budista de metta: amor y compasión.
Después del curso me embarqué en otro viaje hacia Pun Pun al norte de Chiang Mai. Pun Pun significa miles de semillas y es una comunidad y granja orgánica que se estableció hace 20 años sin mucha expectativa de devenir lo que hoy es. Una de sus principales actividades es crear un banco de semillas para trabajar en recuperar todas las variedades de frutas y vegetales que poco a poco con el tiempo se han ido desapareciendo. ¿Se imaginan que en la existen en verdad 200 variedades de tomates? Ellos trabajan para salvar la diversidad que se perdió una vez que la agricultura se industrializó y empresas como Monsanto o CP comenzaron a controlar las semillas.
El último fin de semana en Thailandia fui a Chiang Rai, ahí nomas del borde con Burma/Myanmar para visitar a Momay y su familia en su ciudad natal.
Con Momay fuimos compañeras de doctorado en Liverpool, ayer nomas! Momay ahora es profe de física en la y está a cargo de un pequeño pero hermoso observatorio en la universidad. Fue muy pero muy lindo verla y conocer a sus padres. La mamá es una fanática del masaje thai así que pude practicar con una conocedora del asunto. Me trataron como una reina, prepararon una comida riquisima y pasamos todo el día visitando templos y una tierra que tienen en la selva. Qué gusto terminar así la estadía en este país tropical! Me vuelvo para la India con mucha gratitud.
You thought we were gone? not yet, this is how the story continued…
In Jammu we took an overnight bus and arrived to Delhi completely under the monsoon. The moment we stepped off the bus the rain dropped like buckets from the sky. We were soaked in one second and after assembling the bikes by the side of the road we set off looking for a bus for Yoel. It was 6am and everything was still closed but in India there is always an answer for your question and the answer is always a bit further and after a turn, may be right may be left. After unsuccessful attempts to find a bus agency we took shelter from the rain at the back of a train station. We finally found a bus for 5pm and parked the bikes in the agency. We had the rest of the day to hang out in the floods, get a 2 minute ride in the metro and get lost in the market of spare car parts… a very romantic farewell! Those were our last hours together. After one year on the road moving within half a km distance from each other, taking decisions together, sharing food and shelter, now it was time to say goodbye and split paths. Yoel is going back to France to join a friends reunion and spend the summer with his family. I decided to stay in this side of the world to study yoga and Thai massage.
We said bye under a stormy dark sky and each of us was so concern for the other that we didn’t have much worry to spare for our own journey. Yoel had 24h to travel 1300km to be on time for his flight, find a box for his bike and make it to airport… and experience had taught us not to plan too tight in India. I had to cross Delhi from the old town in the north to the very south, 20km in the capital of India under the rain was not the smooth journey home I would have dreamt of making by myself just after waving off my dear road companion. But when in life there are no choices we gather all we have and make our way through. And so that was the story, after 200m of cycling with tears and raindrops in my eyes the perfectly busy road became a perfectly busy river, the street was flooded and I was cycling along with other rickshaw pullers with the water to my knees. The water carried all the dirt from the street and it was impossible to know what was on the way or under me. It wasn’t the best road to be on but the only thing that was clear at that moment was that I didn’t dare stop my motion and put my feet down. I pushed on, followed behind rickshaws and I yelled people and things out of my way. I did not see a single female around. Once the flood disappeared the rest was easy. After 2h I made it to Sadananda’ house, a Warmshowers host.
Sada is another gentle man, thank you! He started cycling to go to work inspired by his friend and then he took a step further and ventured to Spiti valley on his own. He grew up in a village in Orissa and although his father never went to school and doesn’t know how to read or write, Sada made it to university in Delhi and is today a Professor of Sociology there. It was the first time I was being hosted alone and by a single man but Sada’s sensitivity made it all so easy. He hosted me for 3 days and helped me sort out the exit out of Delhi. During those days the sun came out again and I only saw Delhi from the car windows of Sada’s friends that came to visit in the evening. I was not ready for Delhi, it will have to be another time.
I cleaned and packed my bike and took a train down to Nasik where I left her and some of my belongings in somebody’s spare flat. Just outside of Nasik is the Ashram where I will study yoga in a couple of months. Now my mission is to continue travelling south to meet a very dear friend that when I left Liverpool said “I will see you in India” and she was right! I met with Julie in a farm where we spent 2 weeks farming and enjoying the rural beauties of India living in a very peaceful environment. We stayed in a place called Auroville which was born in the 1970 and was designed to be an international township. The principles that founded this project were to live in harmony with nature and humanity by creating a place on Earth where everybody would be welcomed despite nationality, cast and religion. The concept sounds good but the practice is less ideal. We found oddities in the system and we found inspiring works. We lived in Buddha Garden where we worked in the farm every morning and slept to the sound and fury of storms and sometimes to the moist of their drops! We swam in the sea, learned Indian recipes (still haven’t mastered chapatis) and met truly beautiful people with whom we made friends so quickly it made life so easy. The return to south India was fun and easy and a good balm to gather energy for the next part of the journey.
The dharma bums on bikes adventures came to an end in Srinagar as we exit the Himalayas. What a fantastic way of ending the trip! Before arriving to India we spent most days and nights out in nature, we cooked for ourselves and we had a lot of silence. In India things changed. Its more than billion population means that there is people everywhere and camping is not so attractive and hotels are affordable, food is good and cheap enough so we gave our stove some holidays and on the road the noise is ever present. The moment we crossed Rothang La (the first mountain pass after Manali) all these things changed and we regained our life in nature, the quietness of remoteness and we also did some wholesome cooking.
The bicycles have done wonders to come this far. Who would have bet that these 200€ babies built in the artful warehouses of Liverpool would cross Europe so smoothly and climb some seriously high roads? Yoel is a great mechanic and a big time recycler and I wouldn’t have set off so confidently if it wasn’t for him. Every tourer that we’ve met have really nice bikes that don’t need much tuning or repairing (they are also 5 times the price). It was a great discovery for me the fact that such bikes exist! But it is still comforting to know that all you really need to travel far is a pair of wheels, a set of cables, nuts and bolts and a good pair of breaks.
Back to how we ended our trip in Srinagar… our stay there was short and sweet, basically sort ourselves out to start a quick return to the plains and find the quickest way to Delhi. Srinagar is still surrounded by mountains and in order to get anywhere you first need to go to Jammu and the two options are a public bus that can take forever or a shared taxi/Jeep. Being a bit tight with time (Yoel’s flight was in 4 days and at 1300km further south from Delhi) we caught a private Jeep with 3 other travellers from Israel.
The journey turned to be an epic adventure. After 2 hours on the road we were stopped by the traffic police because there had been a land slide in the mountains 80km ahead. They forecasted that the road would be cleared after 2 hours – our experience here is that any time estimate has to be multiplied at least by 2 and more accurately by 3. But we waited anyway, we played games, drank chai, had a couple of progresses of 50m along the now jammed road and tried to understand the logistics of the traffic police, corruption and the reality of a land slide. That day was the first time we saw the traffic police doing something but unfortunately it was not a very flattering experience. They were asking the drivers for their driver’s licence in order to let their vehicles continue along the road and get closer to the land slide, otherwise they had to stop and wait. Anil was our driver and he refused to subdue to the loud orders of a pretty aggressive policeman. The situation was rather confusing and we thought may be the driver did not have the paperwork up-to-date but he then managed to explain us that the police would ask for money before returning the licence and that was nonsense. Fair enough. So we waited a bit more and then it became clear that the road opening might take the entire day. We all needed to be in Jammu that night so we made agreement with Anil that he would take us “safely to Jammu” along the other road (that meant a detour and 80km more). He insisted a lot about “safely to Jammu” and seemed a bit dubious about the other road. He stopped the car a number of times to ask for directions or get some reassurance about state of the other road. He spoke little English but somehow we managed to communicate his and our worries. We needed to get to Jammu.
The detour started with a shortcut that ended in a collapsed bridge and so another 20km on top to find the main road. We made it to the mountains and as the road got steeper the car started overheating. Time for a break and find a waterfall to cool down the car. After some tenderness and mechanics we resumed the climb. Everything was going well and the road was not at its best but Anil proved to be a careful driver. A relief! We made it to the top and got to the first passport check that was like being in the film Brazil of Terry Gillian. They had one notebook to register every traveller on the road where the soldier in charge would fill in by hand a form and then complete it with every single detail of your passport and more relevant data like your father’s name and profession. We were 5 foreigners and it took half an hour to do 3. We felt that was probably enough paperwork for the day and tried to get away with 2 of us unrevealed since the soldiers had not seen us. But just as Anil was starting the car they spotted us and got serious about it. We were very, very close to the border to Pakistan and the security measures (whatever they pretend) are a serious matter. For some reason the Israelis were scared of saying their nationality in this region so we decided that they might as well be from Argentina. To my surprise they could sing songs in Spanish from a soap opera of the nineties and had a lot of data about Argentinian celebrities that I don’t even remember (for those familiar with Argentinian TV: who would have guessed that Argentina exported Chiquititas all the way to Israel? and that they watched it and loved it!).
The road was really bad and at that point it was 4pm and we only got as far as 80km from Srinagar with still 240km to go. It was going to be a long day. Only 10 minutes after the passport check point we drove pass another police post and they makes us stop, again! This time only Anil got out, talked to them, came back into the car, mumbled something, went back to them, gave them some cash and cursed with a smile as he got into the car. “So? What happened Anil?” “They fine me” he says and he is almost laughing “no uniform”… and that was it, like a great punch line for a joke! In the last three weeks we have passed dozens of these posts, they even put things on the road for cars to slow down, nobody does, they accelerate and over take even in the midst of these obstacles and the army is all day there, watching the lawless traffic like a circus show. But this one time they decided that the law is worth something and the law says the driver should wear a white T-shirt and grey trousers… now, excuse my language, but what a fucking joke! If India has the highest rates of deaths in traffic accidents might be because the law enforcers are too busy distinguishing the colour of the driver’s shirt rather than measuring their speed and do something about that curious habit of overtaking at full speed in blind curves. But we are not here to curse their manners but to reflect on them and appreciate that this is how things work.
We had a short break for Anil was exhausted and hungry. What a gentle man… is that what gentleman really means? He kept on repeating “safely to Jammu” as a holy mantra that would keep him going for the rest of the day and night. We left the bad road just as the sun was setting and made it to the good tarmac in the dark. Things balance themselves out like this. We were all exhausted by then and Anil started yawning. I thought talking was needed to keep him entertained although probably the road was pretty entertaining already. We learned that he was 45 years old and he had been a driver for 22 years, first trucks and then the Jeep that he didn’t own. He was married late, at 30, may be because both his parents had passed away. His mother had died when he was 8 and his father when he was 12. In such cases is the older brother that arranges the marriage. He has 2 children that go to school. He was a very humble man and it was a blessing to do that journey with him.
We finally arrived to Jammu at 1.30am and after he helped the Israeli friends get a fair price for yet another taxi to Dharamsala, he took us a to a hotel across the road. The last image I have of Anil is in the entrance of the hotel, he is sitting on the bed that was laid outside in the pavement (where the night staff sleeps) talking with the three other guys that are lying on their beds, telling them where we came from staring into empty space, he looks tired but smiles and still repeats “safely to Jammu” as we thank him and greet him good bye.
These are some images of the last two days on the road. Actually the very last day we did not take pictures, we just cycled downhill at full speed. We are heading towards the end…
After Drass the road was pretty bad and coincidentally the traffic got heavy making it a bit more difficult.
Before the pass we stopped for lunch in a wee village were we met the kid in the picture, there was something so mature about the way he just observed the world around him that contrasted so much with the other kids of his age that behave like cool teenagers. We did not know it then but the rest of the afternoon would be flooded with infant encounters, although less peaceful.
As we started to climb towards the last mountain pass, small human settlements started to appear by the side of the road. Probably shepherds that come this way in the summer months and live in improvised tents. While the parents are busy sheep herding or else, the kids come to the road to beg. Vehicles must pass them by so many times that when they see a slow moving bike iunmust be like a promise to heaven for them. Well… we tried many conversations, games and all sorts to get a friendly encounter and it more or less worked until we met the last bunch of 8 kids. It was the last stretch of the climb and the kids were clinging on to the bikes trying to get something out of us. It was all part of a game possibly but for a moment it seemed we were never going to get through them. It got so unbearable that the only way to stop them from clinging from the bikes was to offer them water…. sprayed from the air. It was weird, Yoel tried all his tricks and games and Huetzin made conversations, I completely lost it and just wanted to get out of there. All I could think was misery and how to face misery (I am lost there).
The pass was unexpected and slightly disappointing. The road after the pass was a complete mess. Some snow melt causing some overflowing rivers that helped to keep the traffic entertained and we could pass them easily and have the road a bit for our selves. A big military convoy hold the things still for a while and we could enjoy a descent in the dust. We stopped at a turn to admire the view and suddenly a Jeep from the army stopped behind us well loaded with guns and busy-looking military. A man came down with his long shot gun apparently searching for threat. We thought may be we were the threat but they seemed to be oblivious of our presence. The whole military thing really looks like a street theatre performance sometimes.
And finally we made it to Sonamarg with dust covered faces and dirty clothes ready for a rest. The following day would be our last day on the road by bike. Heading out of the mountains we arrived to Srinagar, located in the middle of a wide valley and surrounded by mountains, suddenly is very hot again and humid. The city has an architecture completely different to whatever we have seen in India so far even the mosques look completely different. Here is probably a majority of Muslims and in those days the community was still in the middle of Ramadan.
Arriving to Leh we rejoined the honking orchestra of military trucks, auto rickshaws and any kind of vehicle that desperately wanted to overtake us (and the world) in the single lane under construction. It was tough to accommodate to the new situation and let go of the solitude of the wild mountains. You think travelling by bike is a slow progress but situations like this still seem too abrupt. We took a periphery road and avoided the main bazaar, got lost in little alleys looking for the quietest guest house we could afford and found 2 lovely rooms in a typical Ladhaki house surrounded by a park of Buddhist gompas. We had a hot shower, a HOT shower! After 10 days of washing by bits in snow melt this was the highlight of being back in civilization.
And the other highlight was to be able to eat something out of the dhal, rice, omelette and chapatti world. Although Leh can be an empire of Royal Enfields (this is the brand of every motorcycle you will see in India and part of its original design is a terribly inefficient exhaust pipe that sounds like a space ship taking off), we managed to stay far from the road and the noise and rested for days. We knew the Manali-Leh adventure was over when Fin left. He had to take a shared van in order to make it on time to Delhi to catch his flight. Nobody was looking forward to his departure and even less to his journey. The majority of these vehicles are driven very badly and his was no exception. The good news is he arrived safely and the bad news is his bike was damaged.
As for us 3 we decided to continue the trip and leave the Himalayas by bike. After a couple of days we resumed the road westbound with final destination Srinagar. The first day was sticky, some sort of mental and physical resistance to the road. The fumes from the heavy traffic getting out of Leh made it even less attractive and the head wind didn’t help. But once we had the first descent and arrived to the first village the mood started to change. The landscape is very different to the previous journey, there are villages, the land seems so fertile and the locals are tender and smily.
We slept in a village, shared a beautiful room full of windows and the following day made our way to Lamayuru. The last part of the day we started the climb towards our first and highest pass of this part of the trip. At first the road was steeper than we had experienced but then the gradient dropped and finally we could experience those super human powers Fin promised we would feel after spending 12 days above 4000m climbing mountains. The climb was really enjoyable, never felt breathless, no wind, little traffic and astonishing views.
The descend was smooth until the wind started blowing again against our direction and the road started to be up and down. We were really ready for lunch break around 2pm and needed to gather some energy for the next pass of the day, Namika La, only a 300m climb but the wind can make it rather tiring.
The landscape was beautiful, very rocky, very abrupt and very smooth all at the same time! We sailed down hill for 10km and arrived to a village were we saw the first mosque after Leh. Gradually we will be moving from the Buddhist Ladhak to the Muslim Kashmir as we get closer and closer to the frontier with Pakistan. We could not travel to Pakistan so this is the closest we will manage to get to their culture.
We finished the day in Mulbek a small village spread out in a few km where we found a quiet room in a family’s abode. It was so lovely and peaceful there that the following day we decided to enjoy the morning in this quiet village and resume the road in the afternoon.
Arriving to Kargil was less promising, first big town on the way, we took a wrong turn and spent an hour visiting ridiculously priced rooms. We finally found the way to the old town and the craziness of the bazaar. 90% of the population of Kargil is in the streets, the majority are men and for the first time in weeks, children are begging for 10 rupees (even those that come back from the shop with food in their hands). We found a basic room in a hotel that was close to falling apart and went out for food. It was not a simple mission as we were right in the middle of Ramadan and the sun was yet above the horizon.
On the way out of Kargil we returned to wilderness and peace. We followed the agitated river with crazy current and spent all morning up and down. I had a puncture for lunch and we took refuge of the sun under the shade of some trees by the river. The temperature is hot again and this reminds us that we are leaving the Himalayas… we start feeling nostalgia and some sort of fear to return to the crowded plains. But this is the way forward and that is the only way!