Jun 4, 2009

First cycling day 16/05/09
After a month and a half of not cycling, at 06:00, we were under Tak & Dana’s apartment, all packed & ready to go.
We were in a new country/continent, so different from the last 15 months, and the Indians don’t speak Spanish!
We were in the south part of Delhi and had to cross the city (population: 13,000,000, but who’s counting?), to the north, on our way to Rishikesh and the mountains.
Leaving Delhi was much easier than we expected. The city was still sleepy at this early hour and we quickly reached the city limit, the border with UP (Uttar Pradesh), where the road narrowed and morning traffic congested; as one cyclist said: “its slow traffic”. We overtook bulls pulling carts, while slow, heavy Tata & Ashok-Leyland trucks were clumsily trying to overtake us and to avoid the million potholes. Many other bicycles added to the chaos. We felt safe and even enjoyed the computer game.

Last packing.

Goodbye Tak & Dana.

Leaving Delhi.

The Ganga Canal
We were looking for an easy (what’s easy - relaxed, good?) route towards Rishikesh. One of Tak’s cycling friends recommended the small road along the Ganga Canal. Pushpender, from Track & Trail, the distributor of Trek in Delhi, drew us a map and wrote us in Hindi his version of our famous note: “We’re traveling on bicycles. Where can we camp?”, a technique first used in Thailand.
It took us half a day, but we finally managed to find the canal. There were more honking than we expected, but still, it was much better than the main road.
We stopped near a water hand pump, where a couple on a scooter was resting, hiding in the shade from the deadly sun. They were carrying Polio vaccination (in a cooler) to a small town. They warned us about this area, west UP, having lots of crime.

Woman taking care of her buffaloes.

It was getting late, time to find a place to sleep.
Camping was out of the question – even though it seemed like a sparsely populated countryside, there were people and monkeys everywhere. Every time we went off the road to piss, we were surprised by a half naked Indian, enjoying the breeze in the open-air toilets.
We stopped near a small crowd and asked about a place to sleep. We even waved our “camping note”. Very quickly we were surrounded by maybe 50 Indians, trying to read the note. We ended up following an English teacher and her husband, the only English speakers around. They invited us to their house.
The village itself was one of the filthiest villages we’ve ever seen: the open sewage and the hills of garbage were not new to us; it was just the masses of it all. The 50 homeless kids surrounding, us in the unbearable heat, and the killing mosquitoes didn’t help us relax. But then, we reached the private school, on the outskirts of the village – clean, organized, with running water and without the curious crowds just being Indians – we were relieved. Still, the extended family and the neighbors stopped in for chai. We didn’t have a millisecond for ourselves, but we were mentally ready for that.
The wife cooked a tasty local dinner. They insisted that the guests will eat first. They made a bed for us. We were sure we’ll be sleeping on mattresses in the living room but were surprised to get our own room. Gal, carefully, trying not to offend our hosts, offered we sleep in our tent in the garden (hoping to escape the hordes of mosquitoes), but they insisted: “what will the neighbors say if they see their guests sleeping outside in a tent?” Our only prayer was that the ceiling fan will work on night in the small, dark, airless room.
During the evening the light came and went (and with it the fan) every about 15 minutes. Every time this occurred we heard someone whisper “light, light”,
like a “Bzzzz” of a bee. Rami got addicted to it. During the rest of our trip in India, you could catch him, every now and then, buzzing “light, light”, on the frequent blackouts.
The next morning, just before leaving, the family showed us a local paper with an article about us.
PS – the fan worked all night.
PPS – we had a wonderful, interesting evening.

The crowds trying to read the camping note.
Piles of garbage!
Our amazing hosts.
Us in the local newspaper.

Headache in India 17/05/09
We started our day early, enjoying the sunrise and the cool hours. Later, the terrible heat arrived and with it - Gal’s headache. We searched for an early lunch. The tiny villages we passed didn’t have a restaurant. We finally reached a bigger village. A group of reporters caught us as we were entered and wanted an interview, but we first needed food. We had only chai for breakfast. They offered their help (did we need it?).
We reached the center of the village and more than 100 kids started chasing/following/touching us and the bikes. It was too much for us. Did we mention Gal had a headache and the unbearable heat? We tried to escape to a tiny restaurant, but the crow followed and quickly grew to over 200 hundred people, blocking the light breeze and threatening the bicycles, with their leaning and pushing.
At some point we freaked out and were eventually expelled from the village. We learned a lot from that mistake…
We were back on the Ganga Canal.
For a tiny road it had a lot of honking. Every vehicle passing had to hunk – every one of them, twice! Why? We will answer that question later. But it didn’t go well with Gal’s headache. And the heat…
We reached Roorkee, a small town; more modern and clean than the village we’ve passed (It was a collage town). The first hotel we asked was over our budget – 800 Rupee ($16), but the owner mentioned cheaper options, ahead, near the bus stand. As we were leaving he asked how much we want to pay. Rami said 300 ($6). The owner smiled and offered his clean, AC, cable-TV room for this price! It was a beautiful gesture and exactly what Gal needed for her headache! We hid in the AC room all evening, watching movies, not even going out for dinner.

The Ganga Canal.
Colorful peasants.

"Don't worry, no snakes here".

Sunrise on the Ganga Canal.

We reached Haridwar, where the Ganga Canal starts and our small relaxed road ended. The main road was not difficult for cycling; just the noise – honking all the time, everybody hammering (Indians use the hammer for everything), generators and the crowds.
We were in the center of Haridwar, a holy city, during the Yatra season. There were millions of pilgrims and beggars.
We were hungry and needed to filter water. We were drinking about 10 liters of water a day and quickly learned that the best, clear and cool water come from the water hand-pumps, that the government put all around the country (in some villages we were told with excitement that the first hand-pump was recently installed). But there were no water pumps! So, we stopped at a small food stall, near a police station, there was a tap, many people were waiting in line.
After eating, drinking, resting and eating more, we came to pay but were told that the policemen we were talking with have invited us for lunch – it was the police canteen.
We mention this story because from now on we leave the hospitable planes of India and enter the mountains of North India, where hospitality = money.

Someone shitting behind the tree on the main road!

Rishikesh 18/05/09
7 years ago Rishikesh was a relaxed, spiritual place for us. Maybe we were young and naive, maybe the place grew up, but, this time it was nothing more than a good place to rest and relax, a north India backpacker’s village, run by Nepali foreign workers. Like the Chinese in Panama, who took over the ‘supermarket’ business, the Nepalese took over the north India tourism/hospitality business.
Not much to tell: the puja was disappointing and one could not avoid the mediocre western backpacker food (Israeli salad, sizzler and more). We spent our time at the roof top restaurant of our hotel, watching the Ganga flow.
And then a storm arrived. Strong winds brought dark clouds. Strong rain and hail fell and finally the straw roof of the restaurant was blown with the wind.
We bring the rain!

Ramjula bridge, Rishikesh.


Sadus, on the way to Laxman Jula.
Laxman Jula bridge.
Private puja on the Ganga.
Ashrams in Rishikesh.
The storm - wrong day for rafting!

The moment we left Rishikesh we started climbing. From this moment, till the end of our India Himalayas bicycle trip, we’ll not have any flat roads!
We cycled 3 days through beautiful terraced mountains to Uttarkashi.

Mom & baby monkeys.
Looking down at Rishikesh.
The steep climb above the Ganga.
Gals new game.
Pilgrims resting.

?אז מה היה לנו היום

Crowded in the tent - צפוף באוהל
A boy on his way to school, staring at the 2 stupid cyclists.

Sadus, walking to Gangotri.
Many monkeys attacking the field!
A reservoir.
And more terraces.

We spent 1 evening in Kaman, a tiny village on the way. When asking about sleeping, we were shown a room with no windows, on the ground floor, with its front side open, facing the main road; a typical Indian shop, empty. We decided to for the private room, in the hotel upstairs. While unpacking, pilgrim tourists arrived – 2 yatra busses: an old bus, rented by a village (somewhere in India – Rajasthan, UP, etc.), crowded with the village elders. They ‘spilled’ out of the busses directly to the empty shops, opened their mattresses, washed their hands & feet in the water-pump and started working on dinner. Every yatra bus and yatra jeep had its own simple kitchen with a big propane gas tank.
In 1 hour the tiny village filled with life.
For breakfast, we bought a few chapaties, vegetables and eggs! Don’t tell anyone: during the yatra season it is not accustomed to sell alcohol & non-veg products.

Sunset in Kaman.
Our road?

On the Indian roads.

No tractors in India.
Colorful women carrying cow-shit.

Woman working in a terraces.
Chilling out.
A yellow pilgrim.
It's good to be a water-buffalo!

Uttarkashi 23/05/09
We remembered Uttarkashi as a noisy, dirty, condensed junction, on the main road to Gangotri, with a decaying cinema which plays porn movies from the 70’s (how do we know?). With the motorcycle we arrived late in the afternoon and only wanted a bed for the night. Now, with the bicycle, we needed a rest day, breaking the climb to Gangotri, and a place to buy supplies. We crossed the market towards the river in search for a relaxed place. We were surprised to find a small, tranquil market town, on the Ganga. It was filled with religion.

Puja on the Ganga.

We were finally on the road to Gangotri, following the Ganga river to its origin. We were climbing; the valley became steeper and narrower. The terraces gave way to wild dense forest.

Pilgrims doing laundry.

Building a new temple.
The mountains are getting steeper.

We spent a night in the tiny village Gangnani, with its fantastic hot springs. During the day thousands of pilgrims jump out of their yatra-busses, climb quickly to the hot springs, jump inside with their cloths (some take off their cloths) and jump back to the bus. The women do their laundry in the women’s pool. But, at night, the crowds disappear and the place fills with magic – one of the most relaxed places, with no electricity, very few people and steam coming out of the springs.
But, why didn’t anyone tell us about the million stairs?

Leaving Gangnani, we 'bumped in to' a baby bear, dead, laying on the road.
It probably fell from the cliff and got run over by a truck. How sad.

The baby bear.

The landscape became more beautiful as we climbed. The only problem was the honking. It is very romantic to see the masses of pilgrims, but the amount of honks can ruin the tranquility. Why does the Indian driver must honk?

Pilgrims washing dishes after lunch-break.
A sadu, resting. No shoes!
More snow...
And more...
And more...

Just before Gangotri... WOW!

The last kilometers.

Traffic jams in nowhere...

Gangotri 27/05/09
We usually don’t make detours. We don’t like the idea of cycling back the same way. But, we wanted to enter at least one of 4 sacred valleys (Badrinath, Kedrnath, Gangotri & Yamunotri), and Gangotri, situated in the west of Uttarakhand was ‘sort of’ on our way, on the mountain road to Himachal Pradesh. We also remembered it was a beautiful drive.
We finally entered Gangotri (3,042m), passed through its main street and crossed the bridge, over the gushing Ganga, to the relaxed part of town. Even though the town has grown, with more concrete and 2 beautiful cellular antennas (our Airtel didn’t have service!), its location overcomes all.

We ended up staying at Krishna Ashram, the same shit-hole we stayed in last time. Only there we had a safe place for the bicycles. A holy place like Gangotri, with all its fake sadus/beggars (we were told that the government took control over the temple in Badrinath and kicked out all the beggars, so they all moved to Gangotri), is prone to thefts.

We planned on climbing to Gaumukh and Tapovan, but Gal suffered from a strong headache, probably altitude sickness, so we decided to rest a day and go down.
Walking in the main street revealed the ugly face of the Yatra; hundreds of fake sadus begging for money, food or anything else you might have.

Heading back 30/05/09

We left Gangotri, headed back to Uttarkashi. Cycling again on the same road was not too bad; it even had its good sides: first, it was downhill almost all the way. Only after cycling down one realizes how much he had climbed. Second, we knew what’s around the corner.
We spent another night in Gangnani, even though it meant Rami needed to carry both bicycles and trailers many stairs. The village is not bicycle friendly.
The hot spring here, like others in India, has an open pool, for men, and a depressing closed pool for women, hid away from the outside world. But, this hot spring has an additional open air shower: 3 different hoses with massive currents, in 3 different temperatures, from pleasant to extremely hot.
This time Gal joined Rami for a night shower under the stars. Fun!

More traffic jams.

Pilgrims & porters.

We were back in Uttarkashi, and felt at home. Our previous guesthouse was happy to see us (even gave us a discount) and so were the market people. We could finally do our laundry (at 1,200m) and receive calls on our cellular from home.

Back in Uttarkashi.
Praying on the holy river.
An Indian, staring at Gal.

Rami took Gal to the movies – the old cinema in Uttarkashi.
7 years ago, “Species” was playing in the rotting theater, in English. In the middle of the movie it was swapped to a 70’s porn film. Gal, the only female, protested, and they swapped back to “Species” and fast forward the movie to its end. We were not the most popular couple around.
This time, with our broken Hindi, we could only manage to ask whether the movie is in English and if it is “good” for Gal. We said we’ll pay after. 2 minutes later, we saw they are playing the same 70’s porn film. Smiling, we left.

At the cinema.

A broken Brooks saddle
We had to fix Rami’s saddle. On the way up to Gangotri the bolt of his Brooks B17 saddle broke. It happened after about 16,000km. We weren’t sure if it’s good or bad statistic, but for us it was a headache! What do we do? Buy a $1 local saddle, or go down to Delhi, try getting a simple mountain bike saddle? It would anyway waste time and be a headache. We hoped the saddle will hold, till we find a long enough bolt.
There were no bolts till Uttarkashi!
What do we mean by no bolts? Not even used ones at garages, general stores – nowhere!
Finally, we found a used one at Uttarkashi, after a thorough search. The bolts were a little loose, but it worked; not the best, but Rami’s saddle was brought back to life.
Everything brakes – that is why cycle tourists don’t become astronauts ;-)

Looking for a bolt.
Found one! Pushing it in.

We left Uttarkashi and 28km south, at Dharsu Bend, we turned north-west, towards Rampur, Himachal Pradesh. We were still in pine paradise, climbing with one river, over a pass and descending with another. We still saw Yatra-busses, coming from Yamunotri, stopping for showers, laundry and lunch near streams. We were cycling between 1,000-2,500m. It was very dry and hot. Rami got a sun stroke, threw-up, and did the mistake of continuing the climb we planned on passing. 4 km later, suffering from too many cramps, we turned back to the Yatra hotel behind us. A Yatra bus stopped for the night, in the empty shop below. We enjoyed watching them, for the last time, cooking and preparing for the night.

Yatra laundry.
Chilling out.
Another funny road sign.
Pine land!

Rami has cramps...

Leaving the Yatra 04/06/09
At Naugaon we crossed the Yamuna river and left the main road, taking a tiny mountain road to Purola, on the way to Rampur, Kinnaur & Spiti. We left the Yatra behind us.
For the first time in India, it was relatively quiet!