Photos from India

Friday, August 29, 2008

The highest road in the world!

Even thought I was still not felling well, I decided that I had enough strength in me for a motorcycle ride. Nearby to Leh, the town I have been staying in is a road that travels over the highest motorable pass in the world. On the other side of the pass lies the Nubra valley which stradles the border between India, Tibet and Pakistan.

Years ago, I read a magazine article about someone making this same journey and I couldn't resist the opportunity with it being so close at hand. The journey began by renting a Royal Enfield, a classic British designed motorcycle that is the bike of choice throughout India. The bike wasn't running so great and to complicate the journey even further, the gears and the brakes were on the wrong sides. While this added a bit of difficulty to the trip, I decided it would be easily overcome along the way with a bit of practice.

As you can imagine,k it was a bumpy and curvy cliff side road all the way up to the top. The backwards controls on the bike were manageable but it seemed that every time I wanted to hit the brakes in a hurry, I wound up slamming my foot down on the gear shift instead! Keeping that in mind, I drove relatively slow the whole way and kept a close eye out for any oncoming traffic that seemed to always come whipping around one of the corners when you least expected it.

After two full hours and only traveling about 60 kilometers, I finally made it to the tip of the pass! 5600 meters or just over 18,000 feet and freezing cold except for the warmth provided by the noon day sun. The views from the pass were absolutely stunning! Looking South you could look down the valley between snow covered mountains and glaciers and see an endless chain of the Himalayas stretching from the East to West. To the North, the road tumbled down towards the Nubra Valley where any further progress was blocked by the Karakorn range in Pakistan.

It took another bumpy four hours to make it to the town of Diskit where I would be spending the night. While the permit I obtained to visit the area allowed me to go a bit further North, the drive on a rickety 350cc motorcycle had taken it's toll on me and I was ready to relax. I spent the afternoon reading beneath the massive granite mountains that surrounded my guesthouse and after an early dinner, fell soundly asleep. The next morning, I awoke to beautiful blue skies and spent some time exploring a local Gompa as well as the incredible views of the immense valley I was in. It was incredbile to see the dry rocky mountains soaring as much as 9000 feet above me. I can't even desribe the scale of how it felt to be there! Mountains everywhere you looked as far as your head could tilt back.

I slowly began my journey back over the pass toward Leh. The ride back turned out to be a bit more eventful than on the way over. I spent a good deal of time trapped in the middle of a military convoy of massive trucks. The convoy finally came to a stop in order to take a look at a car which had recently tubmeled over the edge of the mountian killing the 3 occupants inside. Appareantly, this sort of thing is a pretty regular occurence here as people tend to drive extremely fast down this treacherous road.

Getting closer to the pass it started to look like it was going to rain. I was wrong however, it decided to hail upon me instead! The hail didn't last long as it quickly turned into snow. Crossing the pass, the snow continued to fall and I have to say that I actually had a smile on my face to see snow falling in the middle of August! The snow gradually ended and I slowly rolled down the opposite side of the mountain back toward Leh. Happy to still be alive after surviving a journey over the world's highest road, I arrived at my guesthouse where I hoped for a hot shower to be waiting but instead settled for one that was quite luke warm. Having not bathed in three days, it sufficed to do the job and I followed it up with a banana shake and an enormous meal before wrapping myself up in my sleeping bag to avoid the cold cold night.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Still sick in the Himalayas

I haven't yet had the opportunity to do much exploring here yet as my stomach is still in the worst condition of my life. A quick visit to the hospital yesterday left me taking more pills than a 110 year old man. That's ok though as I finally ate my first full meal in 3 days last night and I am feeling a lot better as of today.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Welcome to the Himalayas!

I awoke at 2:30 this morning to catch a 5:00 a.m. flight from Delhi to Leh. Still felling quite ill, it took a good bit of effort to actually get on board the plane. Fortunately, the flight was just over an hour long and the views from the window were incredible! Snow covered mountains and glaciers extended as far as the eye could see! For about half the flight, we were barely hovering over the towering peaks of the Himalayan range, the rooftop of the world!

Coming in to land was probably the most fantastic airplane journey I have ever taken. The plane wound it's way in and around the mountains so it felt as if we were flying through a series of giant canyons. As we made turns barely missing the lower mountain tops you could look out the window and see ridge lines still soaring high above.

We touched down in Leh, elevation 11,000 feet and were greeted with mountain views and rich blue skies. It was quite a change from the polluted and overcast weather in Delhi. It looks like it is going to be an incredible place to explore and I can't wait to get started. I only hope this damn stomach problem doesn't hinder me along the way!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Trying to avoid the monsoon season

A couple of days in Delhi (officially the dirtiest place I have ever visited) was more than enough for me. It is the monsoon season right now and the sky stays gray with a couple of heavy downpours each day. While the Taj Mahal is high on my list of things to see in India, I decided to wait until the remain and clouds are gone in just a few weeks time. In the meantime I decided to head up into the heart of the Himalayas that fortunately lies in the shadow of the monsoons.

I was originally going to fly to a city called Leh today but fortunately the flight was cancelled and changed till tomorrow. I say fortunately because I have come down with the worst imaginable Indian Stomach sickness that ever existed! Seeing as how I only left my hotel room to get water and a bowl of cornflakes today, there is no way I would have ever made that flight!

Friday, August 15, 2008

When not to arrive in India!

When the plane touched down in New Delhi, it was 9:15 at night but for me, with the time change, it was actually 11:45 at night. It took a while for the bags to come out and I could see that the airport was pretty chaotic. I wasn't sure if it was because the following day was India's independence day or if it was just the nature of being in Delhi. My bag finally showed up and I tracked down a British girl whom I had spoken to in the Hong Kong airport so that we could split a cab into town. Normally, I would take a bus but the cabs here were only about six dollars so being as how it was so late at night, I really didn't want there to be any hassles so I could find a room and fall asleep.

There were several taxi stands at the airport and all were pure chaos of Indian men and women pushing their way to the front of the window. After attempting to join several different hordes of people and making no progress what so ever, I decided to try a different approach. Inside customs, I had seen a pre paid taxi stand similar to the ones that people outside the airport were fighting for but there was no one there. With a little careful planning, I managed to slip through a few security checks and make it back to the taxi stand. There weren't that many people there and at least none of them were pushing and shoving. I stood in line for a minute and quickly realized that no one was moving. I asked someone in line what was going on and they informed me that there were no more taxis. I didn't understand, how could a city with 13 million people run out of taxis? It didn't make much since so the British girl and I decided we would brave the crowded bus into town.

We found the bus stand immediately and saw people loading onto a bus that we assumed must be the correct one to our part of the city. Outside there were at least a thousand people waiting with the most enormous collection of baggage you have ever seen. While people shoved their way into the back door and we debated what to do, I grabbed the British girls arm and dragger her on the front of the bus where we found just enough room to stand. For some reason, no one else followed us on and the over crowded bus closed it's doors and we slowly began to pull away from the airport. Happy to be moving now as it was already 10:45 and I was beginning to feel tired so I didn't mind be crammed amongst a ridiculous number of people standing in the aisle of a hot and sweaty bus.

Traffic was really bad and I didn't think much of it at first but as our journey slowly inched away from the airport, I began to realize it could turn into a miserable ride. Cars, trucks, buses, and motorcycles filled up every inch of the road. We would stop in one place for a solid ten minutes before creeping forward a few feet only to stop and wait again. An hour and a half into the ride, sweating profusely and extremely tired, I began to see signs for the domestic terminal that would be coming up in three km. It was only Eight km away in the first place! The comedy of the situation at that point was somewhat entertaining but I new as the night wore on and I became more and more tired, my attitude would take a turn for the worse.

As miserable as myself and my British friend were, the people on the bus were so kind and friendly. Everyone was offering to make room in their seats for us and some people who had bottles of water kindly offered us sips. We talked amongst those who could speak English about the different aspects of life in New Delhi and the different parts of their history that would help us to understand their culture. It was an incredible experience so different from how I would have felt in a similar situation back home and I knew that I was really going to enjoy my trip to India!

At 1:30 in the morning, we were still on the bus creeping along in a mass chaos of traffic. The people on the bus explained that it had to do with the fact that it had rained heavily that day and there were extreme security checks along the way because it was their independence day in the morning. It was hard to believe that was the cause of all of this traffic in the middle of the night but thus far having seen no signs of accidents or anything, I was beginning to believe it.
Around 2:00, the traffic finally broke apart as we passed a check point with literally thousands of people standing on the road side. Five hours now after I landed, I finally arrived at the guest house I would be staying at for the next few days. It was 2:30 a.m. And I felt horrible. I wanted nothing more than to lie down in a bed no matter how clean it actually turned out to be and get some sleep. It was a difficult beginning for my trip to India but at the same time it was exactly what I expected. Irritating yet exciting, it was the essence of what you can expect from traveling in a country like India. I can't wait to get started!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Off to India!

Well, it has been a long trip to Hong Kong and I am glad to be leaving and moving on with my life. Things went really bad with Allison and I had a tough time dealing with the circumstances that it caused. It definitely wasn't anything to enhance my trip to Hong Kong but I did manage to spend plenty of time walking around the streets to discover that most of what Hong Kong has to offer is shopping. I have never seen an entire city that is so geared for just shopping! On top of that, it is really really expensive here. I mean, the people here must make a ridiculous amount of money just to survive.

Mixed in with wandering the streets, I managed to get out to a few of the sights around town. The skyline of Hong Kong at night is a pretty amazing site. The only place I think I have ever seen more electricity being used was the opening ceremony for the Olympics. A couple of days ago, I made my way over to Macau. It is a Portuguese settlement about 65km away by ferry. Macau was an interesting mix of old Colonial buildings interspersed between enormous casinos. Sky scrapers are going up everywhere yet there are plenty of pockets that still maintain a bit of old world charm. It also feels a bit more tame than the chaos that surrounds you at every moment in Hong Kong so it was nice to have a bit more relaxing pace to my day.

Yesterday, I finally managed to get my Indian Visa in hand, the only thing that has been keeping me in Hong Kong. I am flying to Delhi this afternoon, a city that is know for a mix of damn near everything. I am not a city person and only plan on spending a couple of days there before venturing out. The Taj Mahal is needless to say a big priority for me so I will most likely end up there not long after I arrive and then it is off to the Himalayas! I can't wait to get up there! The photos I have seen look amazing and I hope to spend plenty of time trekking, mountain climbing and riding motorcycles along the highest road in the world! It should be an amazing time and I can't wait to get started!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The difficulty of being in Hong Kong

Well, here I am in Hong Kong. I flew in from Mongolia last night, met up with Allison for a bit and am now I am sitting at a starbucks, waiting out a typhoon that has the city in total lock down. Strange however that the starbucks is open? The worst part of the situation is that I have finally made it to Hong Kong where I get to spend the last bit of time I can with Allison, she even has the day off work because of the storm and there is no way to get to see each other today. I think I enjoy the hurricane parties that we throw in the dark back home a lot better than this sitting around watching the wind blow and the rain fall with nothing to occupy your time.

Hong Kong is going to be the most difficult part of my trip so far. I am saying goodbye to Allison and don't know when if ever I will see her again. After entertaining the idea of a long distance relationship while she is back in Canada and I am trekking through Nepal, we have decided that it is not in either of our best interests to even attempt it. As difficult as it is going to be, I am going to try and not let it get me down while I am here and enjoy the last few days we will have together. She has been an incredible addition to my travels and my time with her has meant more to me than any other aspect of this trip. Though she is so different from anyone I have dated before, I found myself in love with her never wanting to let her go. If she would only ask, I would stop this trip tomorrow and take my life to her to further discover the reality of where our feelings could lead. I am heart broken, sad and at the same time happy to have found someone I can care about so deeply.