India, going up and going down

It was quiet when we crossed the border from Pakistan to India. We were the only ones crossing, but seeing the big tribunes on each side of the border, it is likely that there will be a lot of spectators at the lowering of the flags ceremony (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wagah-Attari_border_ceremony) at the end of each day. Today no ceremony for us, but we will be back tomorrow. First we want to install ourselves into a hostel in Amritsar.

When we saw the tribunes, we expected a lot of people, but when you see +/- 10.000 people on the Indian side and +/- 5.000 people on the Pakistan side in person, it’s kind of impressive and surreal at the same time. Why would so many people want to see the lowering of 2 flags? Okay, the whole ceremony will take over an hour, and it’s not a louzy ceremony, but still.

On both sides (India and Pakistan) soldiers (or are they actually actors?) are following a strict choreography raising legs as high as possible with the crowds on both sides shouting out their longs. Watching the crowds we noticed that the men and women at the Pakistan side were separated and wore neutral colors, but on the Indian side the men and women were mixed and everybody was dressed very colorful. Both sides were even enthusiastic, so our earplugs were a pleasant accessory. 

The ceremony is a mixture of provoking each other, but also shaking hands with each other. Although it is a surreal ceremony on each day, it is better than being at war.

Next event was going to be Diwali, the festival of lights in Hinduism. We were invited by the host of the hostel to go to the golden temple to see the fireworks and afterwards there was a bbq on the rooftop of the hostel with all of the guests and the staff of the hostel. Very good atmosphere, we even did a punjabi dance together.

And when you are in Amritsar, you have to see the golden temple, spiritually the most significant shrine in Sikhism. We went to the temple with Donna, a lovely British lady. Everybody has to cover his head and you are only allowed to enter barefoot. Very nice to see the temple and very peaceful to be there. Every pilgrim, the majority, and every visitor gets a free meal. And a lot of pilgrims take a bath in the holy pool, which is supposed to be good for your karma.

Back in the hostel we went on a street food tour by bicycle. Didn’t feel that safe to ride a bicycle in Indian traffic, but we survived and the street food was really nice.

From Amritsar we went to Manali at the foot of the Himalayas. Nice curvy road. We ended up in a peaceful family run hostel. In the evenings it was cold in Manali, but what to expect at 2000m altitude late in the season? Heating would be nice, but in general the locals think otherwise. A lot of restaurants don’t even shut the windows, so a heater was hard to find. We only found one restaurant with a working heater and guess what, a lot of people in that restaurant, duhhhh.

Since we were too late in the season, we skipped the plan of riding into the higher Himalayas, because the chance of getting snowed in was increasing every day. But we still wanted to ride the Rohtang pass. When we went up the pass, we were with 5. Two other guests from the hostel and a staff member on Royal Enfields. The hostel owner took care of the necessary permits and told us that it was the last opportunity to go up, because the snow was coming soon and a bit sooner than we had hoped.

First we had to wait, because there had been a landslide. Luckily we could ride to the front of the traffic jam and we were the first ones who could ride the “cleared” road. Our fellow riders were having a hard time, because of the cold temperature and not wearing proper ridergear. Some other riders wore ski suits to keep them warm. We all made it to the top of the Rohtang pass, although one Royal Enfield lost all of its power on the last few hundred meters when going up. It was crowdy at the top and the usual selfie requests started right away. It also started snowing. Just a little bit of snow, but in the mountains the weather can change rapidly, so we wanted to get down asap. But our fellow riders even wanted to walk up the hill. We didn’t understand why, so only the two of us went down. When we regrouped down the hill at a restaurant, it all made sense, because one of our fellow riders touched real snow for the first time in his life. In the evening our host told us that the Rohtang pass was closed immediately for at least 7 months, due to the snow. Pushing “just in time” to the limit.

The road down from Manali to Shimla had some long sections of perfect asphalt and beautifuls curves. Just a big smile on your face to ride a motorbike here. In Shimla we looked for two new drive chains. We got the address of Vijay a motorbike enthusiast who had a lot of connections and he knew that our 520 chain also fits on a BMW GS 310. Long story short; within 2 days the new chains were delivered at his garage and were fitted onto our bikes. Many thanks to Vijay and his mechanic for their help.

We also did some sightseeing in Shimla, which was nice and quiet, because the city center is car and motorbike free. We also visited the tallest (33m) Hanuman (monkey god) of the world on top of the mountain in Shimla.

After Shimla we went to Rishikesh, just 275km, but 40km before Rishikesh we ended up in a big traffic jam, due to a festival in town. We decided to go for early dinner and go to a hotel closeby. But the hotel was not allowed to accept foreigners. That’s not cool. And there were not many other hotels around, so we thought that we could do the last 40 km to Rishikesh in the dark if we knew for sure that the hotel was still open when we would be there. We called the hotel and it was no problem to arrive very late. Not recommended to ride in the dark in India, especially when you have to cross a national park where elephants could cross the road. The elephants were probably sleeping, because we didn’t see any.
In Rishikesh we navigated to the hotel, which we called earlier. We saw the sign of the hotel and we stopped on the steep broken road. A guy came towards us and it seemed that I had spoken to this guy on the phone. But when we were in our room, we realized that we had checked in the hotel next door to the hotel we really wanted. To tired to move, so we stayed one night and the next day we moved to the right hotel next door.  

Rishikesh is the yoga city of India. Even the Beatles were here once. We visited a big Hindu Temple. Barefoot of course, but we didn’t ring any bell. Enough visitors who did ring every single bell though and that means a lot of bell ringing. At sunset we sat down at the Ganga / Ganges river for the sunset ceremony. Hindu music and singing by a boys choir. At the end the guru arrived and sang along. 

We also hiked up the mountain in Rishikesh. Away from the crowd and the noise. On top of the mountain we ate some fresh homemade tomato soup and tiramisu, excellent!

From Rishikesh we went further east. A road which had a lot of roadworks, so a lot of traffic jams. But at least we didn’t have to go back. 

The next day the road was a lot better, so I went for a thorough asphalt inspection. Just after a curve I was shocked by a car, I squeezed the front brake, just where there were a few stones on the road, released the brake, hit the roadside, the rear of the motorbike was breaking out, came back on the road, but then 90 degrees from the direction of travel. That was too much to stay upright. A heavily bruised knee, hip and shoulder was the result. For some reassurance Daniëlle put a pressure bandage around my knee. The motorbike also had some bruises. The mirror broke off, rear brake paddle was bend, handle bar was a bit twisted, some scratches on the handguard and on the side of the petrol tank. All in all I was lucky. The men, from the car which shocked me, stopped and helped to get the motorbike upright again. Even asked if I needed to go to hospital. But I didn’t think it was necessary. I could still ride and we could continue our journey. We somewhat straightened the handle bar and in the next town we went to a little workshop to straighten the rear brake paddle

The rest of the day I rode a little more carefully, because my right side was a bit more stiff than usual. But the route we took was beautiful.
And of course safe parking in the restaurant.

The next days we travelled towards the border of Nepal.
In Nepal we would take, especially for me, a much needed break.

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