Northeast India (Assam, Nagaland, Manipur, Meghalaya)

Man and his motorbike:
There’s something about exploring the countryside on a motorbike. It’s fast enough for exploration and covering some decent area and at the same time, it’s slow enough to really soak in the experience. Plus, the motorbike engine definitely beats a bicycle when you have to ride uphill!

The destination:
Guwahati is the gateway to exploring the northeastern states of India. It has an international airport although we had to fly via Kolkata to reach Guwahati. There are seven states in northeast India and we (Hannes, Prashant and I) had budgeted 7 days of riding to explore them. Meaning, we had to choose about 3 out of the 7 states so we wouldn’t fall into the trap of covering as much ground as possible without really soaking in the place. Otherwise, that would be like cramming for an exam without understanding what is being taught

Northeastern states of India:

  • Arunachal Pradesh: Capital city: Itanagar. Good old China claims that this state belongs to them. Their map doesn’t really delineate this state as “disputed” either. It simply assumes its theirs! With any visit to a disputed region comes the trouble of arranging many permits. We couldn’t be bothered to go through all the hassle – so we decided to skip Arunchal Pradesh this time around
  • Assam: Capital city: Dispur
  • Manipur: Capital city: Imphal
  • Meghalaya: Capital city: Shillong
  • Mizoram: Capital city: Aizawl
  • Nagaland & Tripura: Capital city: Kohima and Agartala
  • Sikkim: Capital city: Gangtok. Prashant and I did a motorbike ride to Sikkim and Bhutan some years back. I remember having visited a zoo in Gangtok. Although Sikkim is in India, it feels nothing like India. (I mean the place – not the zoo! Monkey, bear, tiger = mostly same, same everywhere!) Sikkim became a separate state of India in 1975. It has a very Tibetan feel to it. North Sikkim is definitely a place to re-visit but since new places usually take precedence on a exploratory motorbike ride, we were going to skip Sikkim

The Planning:

  • Travel light and shiver at night: In the past, when we rode to Leh / Nubra valley and other high altitude places, I had a back-breaking backpack with me which would rest uncomfortably on the backseat of the motorbike. In addition to the literal pain in the rear from riding for several days, another figurative pain in the rear was definitely monkeying around with the bungee cords that fastened the backpack to the rear of the bike. Under high altitude, this was even more hard and annoying. Luckily, my kind friend Prashant would always come to help me. (All I had to do was to exaggerate my high-altitude symptoms!) This time, after becoming more mature and reading ’30 days with a Navy SEAL’ by Jesse Itzler, I decided to live right on the border of being comfortable and being uncomfortable. Meaning, “travel light, shiver at night”. During the day, it’s great and during the night, well, not so great! Especially, if it’s very cold
  • The Excel: Where to go? What to do? And, for how long? This is the not-so-enjoyable part of travel. Luckily, Prashant came to the rescue (as always). His Excel was going to be our mini Bible for the trip. Here it is. We also downloaded the maps for NE India from maps.me so we could navigate easily without the need for data on the phone (love that app). After debating which plan to follow on the Excel, we settled on Plan B. Meaning, we’d skip Mizoram but we’d have enough time to do side trips in the afternoons in Assam / Manipur / Meghalaya and Nagaland. We wrote down some of the possible side trips over here

The Dates:

  • A ticket that cost us (Hannes and I) close to HKD 9,000 took us from Hong Kong to Guwahati via Kolkata so we would arrive in Guwahati at 7am on Friday morning, 30th September 2016. We would depart on October 7th evening which meant we had around 8 days of riding to explore some of the northeastern states

The execution:
 
Thursday, 29th September 2016:

  • We took a Dragon Air flight from Hong Kong to Kolkata. Just as the plane was taxiing to take off from Hong Kong, we saw an opportunity to grab the empty “emergency exit” seats behind us. Free premium cattle class seats
  • Kolkata airport looked much better than the previous time I was there. They had many signs in the airport that announced that they were awarded “the most improved airport” in 2013

Friday, 30th September 2016:

  • We boarded a Jet Airways flight from Kolkata to Guwahati
  • We met our third partner-in-crime for this motorbike trip at Hotel Dynasty. Prashant seemed to have put on quite some serious weight since the last time I saw him. I told him that without any sugar coating but Hannes was more kind in his remarks
  • We got our ‘inner line permits’ done (Indians need them to travel in the northeast) and took a cab to Awe Rides to get our three Royal Enfield Classic 350cc motorbikes, aka Bullets
  • At about 3pm, we were riding in style towards Nagaon (140km from Guwahati) on three new Enfields
  • Both leaving Guwahati and entering Nagaon was a rather stressful activity because of the heavy traffic. We got separated in the beginning (Prashant went a different way and Hannes and I were together but went another way) but thanks to maps.me and two local phones we had for communication, we were eventually reunited. Before phones and maps.me, I am not sure what we would have done!
  • It took us around three hours to reach Nagaon. The route was alright (mainly good roads and some greenery) but the traffic in the beginning and at the end was not so enjoyable. During our heavy dinner in a hotel in Nagaon, we decided to make time by riding all the way to Kohima the next day instead of stopping at Dimapur which was the original plan. That way we would get out of the cities and traffic much sooner and ride into the hills

Saturday, 1st October 2016

  • We were all ready by 6.30am and walked down to the lobby where we met Derek, a cool looking fellow tourist who introduced himself as an ‘angler’. I didn’t know that word. (I am still not sure I got it right – need to google it). Fishing was his passion (the guys who do it seriously are called ‘anglers’) and he was explaining to us how fishing, as a sport, was actually a lot tougher than it seems. “Different fish have different sink lines and baits”, he explained. I asked him how much of good fishing was luck vs skill and his response was “100% skill”. Apparently, vegetarians go fishing too and release the fish after catching them
  • Derek also told us about Dimapur, our intended destination for the first half of the day. “Rustic” is how he described it. He also called it “a small town”
  • We set off at 7am and exited a quieter Nagaon and entered the hilly roads towards Dimapur which was a big relief from the conjested traffic of the previous day
  • Nagaland didn’t quite feel like India. (Nagaon is in the state of Assam and Dimapur is in Nagaland).  I was told that the staple food there was beef and Christianity was the most practiced religion there, not Hinduism
  • These cows below were likely headed for the slaughter house
  • The Indian democracy meant that the roads equally belonged to goats and cows and we had to always watch out for them. Sometimes I wonder how these animals can sit smack bang in the middle of the road without fearing a collision. Are they really that stupid that they cannot anticipate death from a traffic accident? Wouldn’t fast moving traffic look like predators to them? And, do animals think? What do they do sitting on that road all day long with their eyes open? How do they avoid feeling restless and useless?
  • Upon reaching Dimapur, we went to the Foreign Registration Office to register Hannes in. The lady in the office couldn’t speak Hindi but she spoke great English. Like other Naga people, she spoke with a nice Naga accent which sounded like you were talking to someone who has combined the Singaporean / Japanese / Philippino accents. Which was another thing I found very different about Nagaland. Like Bhutan, English worked everywhere and girls seemed to do most of the work! Policewoman, army women carrying AKs and M16s (no kidding! We saw many great looking women carrying machine guns. Imagine how distracting it would be to fight them! ) The army presence in the region was certainly palpable. We saw many army trucks and army jeeps. A soldier invariably stuck out from the jeeps sporting a machine gun. Looked like some sort of a scene from CNN!
  • As you can see from the photo below, the Nagaland girls don’t look Indian at all
  • Soon we found out that Derek’s definition of “rustic” to describe Dimapur didn’t exactly match ours! Dimapur was not a “small town” but more like a “city” which turned out to be very congested, polluted and dirty! We wanted to get out of there as soon as possible so we left rather quickly on our 80km ride to Kohima. We had 4 hours to do the 80km ride. (In northeast India, during the time we went at least, the sun rose early around (5am) and set early around (5.30pm) so we had to make sure we’d reach Kohima well before 6pm otherwise it would be pitch dark)
  • The road to Kohima was built by the BRO (Border Roads Organization) and they had quite a number of clever slogans on the road to impart some wisdom to those like us who use these roads
    1. Driving risky after whisky
    2. If opportunity does not knock build a door
    3. Life is a highway without a test drive
  • Kohima appeared to be much nicer compared to Dimapur. It was at an altitude of around 1400m above sea level. Again, I was surprised at how different it was to India. The theme repeated itself – very different culture, Chinese / Burmese looks, flawless English and broken Hindi! Girls seemed to do most of the work there (like Bhutan)
  • Entering Kohima
  • I saw paid toilets for the first time in India in Kohima (best way to ensure that both your bowels and your wallet will become lighter)
  • A lot of the words in Nagalese sounded Tibetan and they even had the “umlaut” in their words (the German U with the two dots on top). Pronounced ‘ah’
  • After some googling, the first place we wanted to stay at in Kohima was a place called “Hotel Majestic” which turned out to be full so we settled for a neighboring hotel called “Hotel Ura”
  • As you can see from the menu below, the local cuisines invariably included pork and chicken in Nagaland
  • I was quite pleased with Kohima so we decided to spend another day there and do a nature hike in Dzukou Valley the next day

Sunday, 2nd October 2016

  • The plan was to get up at 6am, have breakfast by 6.30am and leave for Dzukou valley by 7am for a hike that would feel like “heaven has landed upon planet Earth” according to a blog we read
  • Here’s a morning pic of Kohima from our balcony in Hotel Ura
  • We had to ride 25km to Viswema Village or 20km to Zakhama village (both on the way to Manipur) to get to the trail head. We chose to ride to Viswema village
  • More BRO signs on the way to Viswema village:
    1. Life is how to make it, it’s 90% how to take it
    2. Know safety, no injury. No safety, know injury
    3. Don’t drive fast. Otherwise you’ll have an urgent meeting with God
    4. Life is an occasion. Rise to it
    5. Stop accidents before they stop you
    6. The problem with drinking and driving is the mourning after
    7. This is not a rally. Enjoy the valley
  • Viswema village was nothing more than a collection of a few small houses. We needed directions to get to the trailhead and one lone guy we asked told us to take this road all the way to the end and pointed to a rather ominous looking “road”
  • This “road” was not one for the motorbikes – or so I thought. Gravel, puddles of water, big rocks, slushes and a threateningly uneven surface. But before I could launch my protests, Hannes and Prashant took off on their Enfields like rockets! I had no choice but to put on a brave face and copy their act
  • I almost fell off my bike several times and had to take many brief stops to calm my nerves down! Hannes was like a fish in water and Prashant seemed to be coping just fine
  • At one point, even hero Hannes thought it best to ‘park and walk’. I was already afraid of riding the bike back down and could feel the cortisol build up in my body
  • This 6km bike ride up that dirt road felt like eternity but took only 30 minutes. The walk to the trail head took another 15 minutes or so. We then started climbing some steep steps to the viewpoint
  • Prashant, who doesn’t really exercise much, needed several butt-kicks to get him up to 2700m (we started at an elevation of 2300m). It took us 90 minutes to do just 1.5km. After that, Prashant refused to go any further but in all fairness to him, for a person who doesn’t exercise at all, it was great going
  • These sort of signs promoting tree plantation and animal awareness were eveywhere
  • An “easier” section on that dirt road
  • It was 12.20pm by the time we got to the viewpoint. Prashant felt like an old man already and didn’t want to go any further. The view we got from the viewpoint was only that of clouds as the visibility was quit bad! Hannes suggested that I run to the valley from the viewpoint (another 6km or so) while Prashant and him would head back down. I had until 2pm to meet them back at the bikes. I took him up on that offer and switched to running mode
  • It took me 40 minutes to run to Dzukou valley from the viewpoint. It was quite an awesome trail run. The views were spectacular and the air was pure! The descriptions of this place on the internet kind of exaggerated its beauty but I probably feel that way because I have had the good fortune of traveling to many places around the world. This valley was certainly lush and serene and stunning but other places I’ve been to have had a deeper impact on my soul. Here are some pics of the valley
  • This was the guesthouse on top
  • “Plucking of flowers dry or fresh will be fine!” He’s missing a “d”
  • This is Dzukou Valley – look at the rolling hills
  • I ran back in about 40 minutes and completed my 10km run! Then I saw Prashant and Hannes near the end of the steep steps section
  • We concluded the hike in around 5 hours or so
  • I was very nervous about the motorbike ride back down on the dirt road but after that nice 10km trail run, my nerves were much more cool and I followed Hannes’ riding tips and also psyched myself up: think “it’s losing control that’s scary not fear itself”. I just tried to make sure I’d have control over the bike and Hannes offered me some great tips for establishing and maintaining that control
  • We concluded the day with a great meal. Prashant ended up “meditating” soon after we got back. He called it meditation but the last time I checked, snoring isn’t supposed to be a by product of meditation!

Monday, 3rd October 2016

  • The plan was to have breakfast by 6.30am and start riding to Imphal (Manipur) by 7.30am
  • I felt a little sad to leave Nagaland. Nice state, such friendly and chilled out people, beautiful Naga girls, interesting Nagalese language and good weather. The starry night view from the balcony of the hotel was a sight to remember (this iPhone pic doesn’t do justice to the sight)
  • Here’s the same view in the morning
  • After having said goodbye to the pretty Naga lady at the reception of Hotel Ura, we departed for Loktak Lake in Manipur at around 7am
  • I saw more interesting BRO signs along the way:
    1. Drivers are safer when roads are dry. Roads are safer when the driver is dry
    2. It’s a long road but it’s worth it
    3. Be soft on curves
    4. Don’t mix drinking and driving
  • Prashant had his first fall. He went over some rock and fell down. Luckily, other than some slight petrol spill, there was no further damage to him or the bike but it was sure a scary sight
  • The small petrol spill after Prashant’s fall
  • There was a big battle here back in the day in 1944
  • The ride to Imphal took us close to 4 hours on a road that was kind of ok but full of potholes. It got very hot as we left the Kohima (1400m) and rode down to Imphal (800m). Hindi replaced Nagalese and people started to look more Indian rather than Chinese / Tibetan. (Amazing what a difference 150km can make!)
  • We reached Loktak lake in Manipur after 7 hours of riding (averaging 30kmh). The lake was nice and our accommodation by the lake was great but I would choose Kohima and Nagaland over Manipur any day!
  • On the way to Loktak Lake
  • The lake
  • Hannes was extra pleased after we got hold of “Diablo” beer in the evening. The guy we bought the beer from told us that he had to smuggle them into Manipur from Bangladesh and charged us INR 200 per can
  • On the agenda for the next day was a return to Assam – a 250km ride from Loktak Lake to Silchar in Assam

Tuesday, 4th October 2016

  • As usual, we got up at 6am and had our breakfast at 6.30am
  • I headed out to put my shoes on and as I was dusting my shoes, a big frog jumped out of it!! (Lesson: never leave your shoes outside the room!)
  • The original plan was to take the highway to Imphal and then another highway (NH37) to Silchar in Assam. However to avoid the boring traffic and smoke from the vehicles, we decided to take the scenic route from Loktak lake. This scenic route was supposed to bypass the first highway and then directly connect to NH37
  • Initially on this scene route, there were just a few puddles and many rubbles to negotiate. Given the challenge we successfully undertook during the Dzukou Valley day, we thought that this scenic route would be a breeze. BIG MISTAKE
  • The photos below show the good part of the scenic route – (this river is called river Barek and it flows into Bangladesh)
  • The scenic beauty sort of went unappreciated after a while because of the very challenging road conditions! It was like riding a motorbike on a mountain trail. The slushy roads meant frequent dancing around on the motorbike just to prevent a fall. It felt like riding on ice!
  • A lot of the road was like this!
  • This uphill stretch was beyond Prashant and I. Hannes rode all our bikes up this stretch
  • Then came a nasty river crossing. It reminded me of our time in Leh, India. By this time, I had had enough! I was ready to see good roads again and really wanted to get to NH37 (National Highway 37) as soon as possible. We had been riding on this crappy road for close to 6 hours when we met this lady who told us that we would hit the NH37 highway in 6 more kilometers. In reality, it took us more like 12km and there was plenty more slush and ultra narrow trails to negotiate before we got there! Hannes got stuck two times there in the slush
  • This is the river crossing before we hit NH37
  • At about 1.30pm, we hit NH37 and celebrated with some high fives. We had 150km more to go on proper roads to reach Silchar
  • And, boy were we wrong! NH37 had certain stretches that made our recent challenge look like a walk in the park! We didn’t know this but NH37 was actually closed because of landslides! And, calling it a “highway” makes me squirm! There were some good sections but they were interspersed with potholes and slush like we had never seen before!
  • We thought we were on target to reaching Silchar at 6pm (30 minutes after sunset) but at about 4pm we got stuck in the mother of all slushes! We couldn’t get our bikes out of the slush
  • Some trucks were waiting there for 10 days for the JCB (road fixing machine) to repair the road
  • We gave up on that section after trying to help each other by pushing the bikes up as hard as we could to extricate the wheels from the mud. Eventually, we decided to pay our way out of the situation and asked a truck driver to help us in exchange for money
  • It was 6pm and already dark. Vehicles were trapped in the slush which made it harder for our bikes to get though. We even thought of spending the night there. Sweating profusely and depleted of energy, we sat down at some place by the road and pondered our options. Paying our way out wasn’t working either as the slush and the traffic stuck in it meant that there was simply no way to ride the bikes out of it
  • Riding through this wasn’t easy!
  • This truck was stuck in the mud like many other vehicles
  • Getting the bike out of this slush was a nightmare
  • We tried again but eventually, we just sat down by the side of the road tired and exhausted. We debated our options and eventually decided to walk over to the truck drivers one more time to ask them for help. Hannes guarded our bags while Prashant and I went over to try our luck again
  • The truck driver and the owner of the truck told me that “people need to help each other in moments of trouble” and asked me to not talk about money. They told me that money sullies good deeds. With that, soon after some of the stuck vehicles were extricated, the truck driver and the owner helped us get all the three bikes out to the other side of the bridge. (A bridge at the end of this slushy section supposedly delineated the good side of the road from the bad). We thanked them profusely. They didn’t want any talk of money. I was happy to note that such good people still exist. People can be good natured if they so choose. In fact, I was thankful for having had this experience just so I could witness such acts of kindness and remember them. This driver had been stuck there for 10 days and was living of INR 50 (HKD 6) a day! He had no place to stay other than a little camp by the truck – still he didn’t want any talk of money!
  • We thought that we were over the bridge (literally and figuratively) but the nightmarish slush still continued, albeit on a smaller scale. We now had to negotiate them in the dark! We had been lucky with the weather (slush aside, at least it didn’t rain! I was scared to think what our situation would have been like had it rained)
  • Several more potholes and slushy surfaces later, we reached a village at about 8pm. We then continued to ride into Silchar on rather bumpy roads and reached at around 10pm! Our longest ever ride!
  • This is was my bike looked like
  • At 10pm, Silchar looked like a dump. Luckily, I found a shoe seller there and bought a new pair of shoes! The sole of my shoes got yanked off when I was pushing the bike up that horrible slush.
  • Look at my poor old shoes! They’ve been with me for close to 10 years and have traveled to many exotic places with me but they eventually met a rather cruel demise in Sichar of all places!
  • Upon reaching Silchar, tired and exhausted as we were from the day’s unanticipated adventure, more effort was needed as we struggled to find a hotel. After roaming around for 30 minutes, we finally found one. Later we came to know that these hotels were less willing to rent out rooms to single guys as they feared that these guys would wreck the place by smoking weed and hiring hookers!
  • Hannes had to fill up some special ‘Foreigners Form’ to identify himself at the hotel we finally found. He wasn’t happy. The hotel guy told us that since Silchar was close to the Bangladesh border more checking was necessary. Hannes told the hotel guy that he was from Switzerland, not Pakistan, Bangladesh or Baramulla! The hotel guy relented and waived the requirement for all foreigners to report to the police station before they could rent a room!
  • We were super tired and decided to break the 6am wake up protocol. Instead, we chose to sleep in for another hour and got up at 7am. We decided to give off road biking a rest!

Wednesday, October 5th 2016

  • National Highway 6 to Shillong was the plan! The two words “National Highway” were enough to send a shiver down my spine. Images of extricating bikes from deep slushes and negotiating very deep potholes immediately came to mind
  • The good part of all the highways is that the BRO signs are always worth reading. Here’s another:
    1. If everything comes your way, you’re in the wrong lane
    2. (I take that to mean stop having a victim attitude in life. Change your lane instead)
  • The first half of our 290km ride from Silchar to Shillong was like watching a supposedly great movie that’s punctuated by many long, boring and annoying ads. Meaning, the views on occasion were spectacular and even certain sections of this highway were smooth as butter but around 30% of it felt like we were riding donkeys, not bikes. Each puddle sent a jolt up my butt. At one point I had simply had enough. And, that’s when I received even more butt jolts
  • After crossing into Meghalaya, the road conditions dramatically improved. In fact, we are even averaging around 50kmh! Also, Meghalaya reminded me of Nagaland and Kohima. Great weather (a pleasant 22 degrees or so), hilly area, clean and absolutely green. Tall trees, lush meadows and many rice plantations. In fact, I think this place is probably the best state to visit in northeast India
  • Meghalaya means “abode of the clouds”. Here’s why:
  • Silchar was predominantly a Muslim city (I saw many guys with beards and many mosques around). Just 100km away, after entering Meghalaya, Christianity dominated the region. Amazing how India is so secular
  • The “smooth as butter” road! What a contrast to National Highway 37!
  • Upon reaching Shillong, we put ourselves in the outskirts of the city at a resort (we went splurging on the last two days of our adventure in northeast India). The plan for the next day was to explore Cherrapunji, the wettest place on Earth!

Thursday, 6th October 2016

  • We had a lay in but I got up early to explore the greenery. As I stepped out into  the balcony, I saw Hannes was up as well
  • Our “Executive Room” in a resort in Meghalaya – Hannes offering me a “ricola”
  • The plan for the day was to explore Cherrapunji. Being the wettest place on Earth, I anticipated rain but it so happened that we luckily eluded rain all the time!
  • Prashant had a “duty call” (no, I don’t mean he needed to piss or dump, I mean he ended up having to work) so it was Hannes and I who went on a Cherrapunji exploration trip
  • The 80km ride out of our resort via Shillong city was a truly awesome ride (other than the part where we had to enter a conjested Shillong city and get out of it) but the attractions in Sohra (just beyond Cherrapunji) seemed like the work of a clever marketing guy at best. There was no substance to it. For example, we went to an Eco Park where they charged us entry tickets plus some more for the camera. The park had some puddles of water, views that were inferior to Tai Mo Shan and that’s it! The cave was also a similar “oversold” attraction!
  • What was truly an attraction was the ride itself. Riding the Enfield through pristine villages and meadows felt like THE medicine for the soul
  • The sun rays coming through (throughout this holiday), we somehow evaded the rain! It either rained before or after we got to a particular place
  • Clouds impacting the visibility
  • The first waterfalls we saw
  • A Presbyterian Church
  • This is what the Enfield looked like before we found someone to wash it for us!
  • The after picture!
  • We returned from Cherrapunji to our resort in 1 hour and 45 minutes covering 80kms rather quickly. Poor prashant was still busy with his call of duty
  • Today being the penultimate day on our holiday, we decided to party a little. The next day would be our last ride on this holiday as we would be returning to Guwahati and catching a flight back to Hong Kong

Friday, 7th October 2016

  • The last ride of the holiday was the final 90km ride from Orchid Lake Resort in the outskirts of Shillong back to Guwahati to return the bikes
  • We managed to evade rain on pretty much all the 7 days of our adventure but we ran into rain on this very last day when the ride back to Guwahati was only 2 hours long! My rain gear was buried at the bottom of the bag which didn’t help! But, luckily, it did not rain long
  • We reached Guwahati around 1230pm and returned the bikes. 1474kms was the total mileage on this adventure! The bikes were very well behaved and I was sure I’d miss riding the Enfield. I’m really glad we had zero mechanical problems with the bikes
  • We did our farewell lunch at “Hotel Delicacy” which came highly recommended by the lady at the bike shop. I think she oversold the place a little or maybe I am not such a big fan of Assamese food
  • Then it was time to head back to the airport and make the longish journey back to the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong

Miscellaneous photos:

  • I didn’t know this but the Naga people like their music! Hotel Heritage in Kohima had a rock concert going on. The place was full so we missed the chance to stay there
  • View of Kohima city from Hotel Ura
  • Look at the promises politians make before they get elected. Saw this sign board in Guwahati
  • Northeast India is famous for its rhinos. Although we weren’t able to visit Kaziranga park this time around, you see from the statue below in Guwahati airport that rhinos are a big deal there. In fact, I was thinking you could use a rhino pic in the stock market too – bull = strong market, bear = weak market, rhino = ultra bullish market because a rhino can kick a bull’s ass anytime! Or can it?
  • Here’s what I saw in Kohima – about their dream
  • A local movie poster in Kohima!
  • What is “gruffing”? And why is playing cards prohibited?
  • Shillong City – the only hill station with motorable roads to other destinations? Really?
  • My master photo of the lake from near Orchid Lake Resort on the outskirts of Shillong
  • A “reflection” photo of the lake
  • No helmet, no petrol!

 

Summary:

  • We got a taste of Assam (Guwahati, Nagaon, Silchar), Nagaland (Dimapur, Kohima), Manipur (Imphal, Loktak Lake) and Meghalaya (Shillong, Cherrapunji, Sohra) on this trip. We skipped Mizoram, Tripura and Arunachal Pradesh. Prashant and I had toured Sikkim before (both Gangtok and North Sikkim). Judging by what I’ve seen so far, I’d rank Nagaland, Sikkim and Meghalaya highly. Assam and Manipur would take the backseat. I found them to be too crowded and polluted compared to the other states
  • The inner line permits for Prashant and I and registering Hannes at the Foreigners Registration Office seemed to be a mere formality. Had someone stopped us, those things might have been needed but otherwise it was just excess baggage
  • I saw firsthand that India is really quite secular! Hinduism in Assam, Christianity in Nagaland and Meghalaya, Muslim and Hinduism in Manipur and Buddhism in Sikkim!
  • I observed that tobacco chewing seemed overly popular in Assam. Even young and otherwise attractive girls had red teeth as though they were dressed for Halloween! It’s a serious problem that Assam needs to tackle!
  • Oh, last but certainly not least, I learnt to never take NH37 again! That’s one road that’s best left untaken!

 

 

 

Motorbiking in Northern Thailand (Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Phayao, Mae Sai, Mae Rim)

Photos are here.

2016-09-15, Thursday, Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai

  • Toilet Cleaner Hannes and I took a flight from Hong Kong to Chiang Mai at 10am
Occupation: Toilet Cleaner

Occupation: Toilet Cleaner

  • At the APEC immigration counter in Chiang Mai, the immigration lady gave Toilet Cleaner a hard time because he didn’t fill up his APEC card number on the arrival card! (Does anyone anywhere in the world actually read the “Occupation” field on this card?)
  • We went walking from the airport to Tony’s Big Bikes: 2.5km but given I was navigating, it ended up being more like 3.5km and poor Toilet Cleaner was sweating like a pig
On the way to Tony's Big Bikes. I was contemplating riding this big and flowery bike

On the way to Tony’s Big Bikes. I was contemplating riding this big and flowery bike

  • We met Alex, our “bike keeper” and a man of few words, at around 2.30pm. 30 minutes later, we got on the bikes for a ride to Chiang Rai
  • It took us about three hours to cover the 180kms it took to ride from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai. There was some rain and I envied Hannes when he put on his rain jacket. Given my “travel light and shiver at night” philosophy, I could only watch, ride and occasionally shiver!
My Ninja and Hannes' CRF on the way to Chiang Rai

My Ninja and Hannes’ CRF on the way to Chiang Rai

RICOLA! That's how all kick ass biking trips start!

RICOLA! That’s how all kick ass biking trips start!

Ricola - the Swiss candy

Ricola – the Swiss candy

  • Chiang Rai seemed like Tai Po district in Hong Kong. Not too busy conpared to Chiang Mai and had a distinct character
  • We checked in into what looked like a really expensive hotel but only cost HKD 350/room (welcome to Thailand)
Our HKD 350/night hotel

Our HKD 350/night hotel

Ready for a full on dinner

Ready for a full on dinner

  • Hannes decided to impress everyone with his piano playing skills. Next time, he should probably fill in “Piano Player” on his Arrival Card
Hannes "Piano Man" Niggli

Hannes “Piano Man” Niggli

  • The next best thing about Thailand is the food. I ordered anything and everything I fancied including several “bukos” (young coconut). Cost about HKD 350 for the two of us. This also included several Singal beers

2016-09-15, Friday, Chiang Rai to Mae Sai. Mae Sai to Phayao

  • The plan was to hit the border. Mae Sai is what it was called and it was about 60kms from Chiang Rai
Mae Sai was the destination for the day. Right on the border with Burma

Mae Sai was the destination for the day. Right on the border with Burma

  • After a heavy breakfast, off we rode further north in the direction of Mae Sai. After about 50km, we saw a sign that read “second friendship bridge” (reminded me of a proverb: “people are lonely because they build walls instead of bridges”)
Back on the Ninja in the morning

Back on the Ninja in the morning

The Second Friendship Bridge (between Thailand and Burma)

The Second Friendship Bridge (between Thailand and Burma)

  • The guy at the “Customs House” forbid us from going any further so we did a U-turn and headed towards the ‘first friendship bridge’. It was a weird looking sight. A small immigration counter and two arches – one for Thailand and one for Burma
Immigration checkpoint between Burma and Thailand

Immigration checkpoint between Burma and Thailand

The Customs House were we got turned around

The Customs House where we got turned around

  • Some lady was carrying some fish into Burma while another one was showing off the “Hello Katty” sticker on her scooter. Yes, Kitty, Katty same same. As Shakespeare famously asked “what’s in the name”
Taking some fish into Burma

Taking some fish into Burma

Hello Kitty, Hello Katty. Same, same

Hello Kitty, Hello Katty. Same, same

Good guys in, bad guys out - that's what we're sayin'

Good guys in, bad guys out – that’s what we’re sayin’

Some appliances are going into Burma

Some appliances are going into Burma

  • The border was pretty much running in business as usual mode. Nothing eventful was happening there and it seemed to us that crossing the border back and forth is a daily affair for many. We spent about 10 minutes at the border and rode back to Chiang Rai
  • Final destination for the day was a place called Phayao. I read somewhere about a beautiful lake and several stunning temples there. It was a 120km ride from Mae Sai and a 60km ride from Chiang Rai
Phayao Lake. Love the colors

Phayao Lake. Love the colors

Two monks were cheering on the local Dragon Boating team

Two monks were cheering on the local Dragon Boating team

Row, row row a boat gently down the stream...

Row, row row a boat gently down the stream…

There was a wedding by the lake

There was a wedding by the lake

  • We checked ourselves into a luxurious Phayao hotel (HKD 350/night) -talk about being spoilt- and went for a ride around town
  • The lake was quite a sight, very serene and scenic. But, I think the best part of the ride came when we rode up to Wat Analayo Thiphpayaram. This hard-to-pronounce place is a 15km ride from Phayao. This wooded area was a little up the hills and felt green very tranquil. The statues of Buddha and the decor of the temples built quite some spiritual energy in me
A big Buddha in Wat Analayo

A big Buddha in Wat Analayo

The temples were very tranquil

The temples were very tranquil

Very similar decor to Hinduism

Very similar decor to Hinduism

  • After returning to our hotel, we switched over to the free bicycles that our luxurious hotel provided to look for a food joint. We settled on a restaurant by the night market for another sumptuous meal which cost about HKD 250. Unfortunately, it seemed like Phayao didn’t sell any young coconuts!
Hannes loves his pink bikes

Hannes loves his pink bikes

Switching to cycling from the Ninja

Switching to cycling from the Ninja

This dog was desperately trying to rip out this piece of cloth

This dog was desperately trying to rip out this piece of cloth

2016-09-16, Saturday, Phayao to Mae Rim. Mae Rim to Chiang Mai

  • After another heavy breakfast we started to ride back to Chiang Mai on a hilly road. It was only 150km from Phayao and the roads were as smooth as butter. The Ninja hit 120kmh on occasion. Hannes claimed that his CRF did 138kmh but somehow I doubt the accuracy of the speedometer
  • En route, it started to rain again and history repeated itself. Hannes put on his rain jacket while I told myself the usual “travel light, shiver at night”. Luckily it didn’t rain beyond 5 minutes. There was a beautiful waterfall en route
Hannes putting on his rain jacket on the way to Mae Rim from Phayao

Hannes putting on his rain jacket on the way to Mae Rim from Phayao

Right opposite to the waterfalls

Right opposite to the waterfalls

Beautiful waterfalls en route to Mae Rim

Beautiful waterfalls en route to Mae Rim

  • We were making time and I thought we could detour to Mae Rim to see some elephants. There’s a place called “Thai Elephant Care” there
Maesa Elephant Camp in Mae Rim

Maesa Elephant Camp in Mae Rim

  • The elephant place was amazing and elephants are such amazing creatures. I fed baby elephant one banana while holding the remaining 10 or so bananas in my other hand. As I was feeding Miss Baby, mama elephant snatched the rest of the bananas away from me with quite some force! Rookie mistake: never hold food in front of animals if you aren’t prepared for a snatch!
  • Watching the elephants play with each other was quite a sight! The siblings were playfully stealing food from each other’s mouths! One of them was swaying her head left and right as though she was swing dancing
This badly behaved mama elephant snatched all the bananas I was holding in my left hand

This badly behaved mama elephant snatched all the bananas I was holding in my left hand

Feeding the elephants some bananas

Feeding the elephants some bananas

Hannes doing some banana feeding

Hannes doing some banana feeding

baby and mama elephant

baby and mama elephant

Elephants are such amazing creatures

Elephants are such amazing creatures

  • We left Mae Rim at about 1pm and arrived at Tony’s Big Bikes around 2pm to return the bikes
Close to 700kms in 48 hours

Close to 700kms in 48 hours

  • After checking into our luxurious 7-star hotel (Hotel Anodard) -THB 500- we took a red taxi thing (Song Thaew) for THB 500 to Doi Suthep. Another tranquil place of worship. Really had me lost in thought. Peaceful and serene
Our hotel. I think we were the only ones here

Our hotel. I think we were the only ones here

Very clever demonstration of what the Up and Down buttons do on the lift

Very clever demonstration of what the Up and Down buttons do on the lift

Powerful gong but "no pushing" read the message

Powerful gong but “no pushing” read the message

All that glitters is peaceful but not gold

All that glitters is peaceful but not gold

Very tranquil here in Doi Suthep

Very tranquil here in Doi Suthep

Buddha Statues

Buddha Statues

Many were praying here

Many were praying here

2016-09-17, Sunday

  • Wake up time was a cruel 4am. (well, not that cruel – only 45 minutes ahead of my usual wake up time)
  • After riding 700kms in two days and having covered some of the key places on Northern Thailand, it was time to return to Hong Kong
  • Thailand is a special places. Friendly people, easy to get around and no speed cameras on the road. The food is awesome and the “bukos” are the best
The goodbye Chiang Mai meal

The goodbye Chiang Mai meal

Total "buko" count in one day: 7. Total buko count through the trip: 9!

Total “buko” count in one day: 7. Total buko count through the trip: 9!

Bustin’ our butts in Taiwan – The Sequel (July 2016)

Photos are here. Previous butt breakin’ adventure report here.

Video summary: (courtesy Rom)

“Pain in the butt”. Many use that phrase figuratively. I’ve had the privilege of using that phrase literally. That’s right – five years ago, armed with a heavy backpack (which also included a laptop), my friend Rom and I rode 3300m up a mountain in Taiwan on a mountain bike. My butt screamed in agony (see http://hikeinhongkong.com/bustin-my-ass-in-taiwan-%E2%80%93-vacation-august-2011-hike-bike/). So much so that I told myself that I’d never repeat that experience. 5 years have since gone by and here we go again! Human beings – sometimes we never learn. My friend B has this quote: “Smart men learn from other people’s mistakes, stupid men learn from their own mistakes, imbeciles never learn”. Am I an imbecile? (Don’t answer that!)

Many were supposed to go on this killer boot camp in Taiwan. But, after I sent out this Mission Brief below, only two remained interested. The same two of us – Rom and I. Surprise, surprise! History was going to repeat itself. As we got closer to our butt kicking adventure, my butt was worried. Worried enough for me to order a pair of cycling shorts from Shane at Lantau Base Camp. “It will fit you snug”, he said. The shorts also featured the LBC logo which would me make me “look fly”, he added. I was sold.
 
Original Mission Brief which invoked a grand total of 1 interested person, i.e. Rom:

  • On July 1st 2016 at 0600 HKT, cycle from Taroko (sea-level) to Hehuan (3300m) in one day – around 80kms
  • Upon reaching Hehuan (3300m) at an estimated 1830 hrs, switch to “trail running” mode and reach Xilai North Peak campsite at around 2200 on July 2nd (Saturday)
  • Rise nice and early in the Xilai North Peak campsite and at around 0400, make way to the top of Xilai North Peak (app 3700m). Estimated arrival time 0600. Estimated difficulty level: VERY DIFFICULT. Think 10x Sharp Peak
  • Come back to Xilai North Peak campsite at around 1100 on July 2nd (Saturday) and cycle back down to Taroko (ETA July 2nd 1600)

Since Rom and I were the only ones interested in punishing our butts to the limit (literally), we decided to add more adventure to the itinerary by including two motorbike rides too. The plan morphed into this.

Morphed Mission Brief:

  • Reach Taiwan on June 30th around 4pm. Rent a motorbike from Jeremy and ride to Taroko. Reach Taroko around 2130
  • On July 1st 2016 at 0600 HKT, cycle from Taroko (sea-level) to Hehuan (3300m) in one day – around 80kms
  • Upon reaching Hehuan (3300m) at an estimated 1830 hrs, switch to “trail running” mode and reach Xilai North Peak campsite around 2200 on July 2nd (Saturday)
  • Rise nice and early in the Xilai North Peak campsite and at around 0400, make way to the top of Xilai North Peak (app 3700m). Estimated arrival time 0600. Estimated difficulty level: VERY DIFFICULT. Think 10x Sharp Peak
  • Come back to Xilai North Peak campsite at around 1100 on July 2nd (Saturday) and cycle back down to Taroko (ETA July 2nd 1600)
  • Go for an extended motorbike trip to Wu Ling farm after returning to Taroko
  • Ride motorbike back to Taipei on July 2nd 2016

Basically, trail running, mountain biking and motorbiking. What more could one want from life??

And, this is how things unfolded.

2016-06-30, Hong Kong -> Taipei -> Taroko

  • We took China Airlines to Taipei. Our time sensitive plan was immediately stressed as China Airlines got delayed by an hour. This also put us in peak traffic hour at Taipei which contributed further to the delay. We had to go get our motorbikes from bike man Jeremy by 5pm in order to make it to Taroko by 9pm. That time looked unlikely now.
Rom and I preparing for the butt breaking adventure

Rom and I preparing for the butt breaking adventure

  • Very correctly, Rom filled out “kick ass cycling” as the purpose of visit on the Taiwan immigration form.
Kick Ass adventure is for sure the PURPOSE OF VISIT

Kick Ass adventure is for sure the PURPOSE OF VISIT

  • We got off the plane at Taipei airport around 5pm and hustled to make it to meet motorbike man Jeremy at 6.30pm. Rom made a excellent decision at the airport and suggested that we get a local SIM card. It was cheap and had unlimited data for 3 days. We also had a bet about our Jeremy. My bet, which I claimed was from years of experience of studying people, was that Jeremy was a Taiwanese guy. Given Jeremy’s aggressive responses and strict demeanour in all our interactions with him, Rom bet that he was too aggressive to be a Taiwanese guy. He bet that Jeremy was a gweilo.
  • Bike man Jeremy showed up on time at 6.30pm with one scrawny looking motorbike. I think it was called “The Wolf” or something like that. What a misnomer! He then disappeared for about 10 minutes and reappeared with another famished looking motorbike which looked Wolf’s even poorer cousin. Jeremy then gave us a highly stern speech on traffic rules and how we were supposed to care for Wolf and its cousin. The motorbikes had a cyclical gear system which was weird. After gear 5, it would switch back to neutral. Oh, and Jeremy was indeed a gweilo! I lost my first of many bets to come with Rom!
  • We were on our way at 7pm riding two motorbikes that wouldn’t cross 60kmh. We really wondered what speeding fines Jeremy was cautioning us against for two bikes that could barely cross 60kmh.
  • It got dark very soon after we started and we found ourselves riding in darkness on hilly roads within one hour of riding. At one point, in what looked like the middle of nowhere, we stopped for a pee and much to my annoyance, my bike, “The Wolf”, wouldn’t start! I struggled with a few kicks to the starter and was pondering next moves when a lady at a nearby home / eatery (probably the only construction in that area) saw me in trouble. I’ve always held the belief that there are many guardian angels looking after me and on this occasion also that proved to be true. The restaurant lady knew some bike mechanic guy and called him over. We would be late to Taroko but at least we now had hopes of getting the bike working again.
Rom's bike which would cause him many problems in time to come!

Rom’s bike which would cause him many problems in time to come!

Getting ready for a 190km bike ride from Taipei to Taroko

Getting ready for a 190km bike ride from Taipei to Taroko

A bit of a view in the darkness

A bit of a view in the darkness

Rom taking a photo of the city in the night

Rom taking a photo of the city in the night

Photo of me at the same spot

Photo of me at the same spot

The bike mechanic guy helping me fix my bike

The bike mechanic guy helping me fix my bike

  • Mechanic guy came while we had dinner at the lady’s place and the bike problem seemed to be fixed. (Some battery problem I think). Then came yet another challenge. My bike was running out of fuel and the petrol bunk shut at 9pm! To solve this problem, we used an innovative solution that hospitals use – transfusion! Rom might not donate one of his kidneys to me but he could certainly donate some of his bike’s fuel. Our mechanic guy “transfused” some of Rom’s fuel into my bike so we could make it to the next gas station which was quite some distance away!
Rom might not donate his kidney to me but he'll certainly donate some of his fuel!!

Rom might not donate his kidney to me but he’ll certainly donate some of his fuel!!

  • These teething troubles cost us quite some time. After many more hilly and steep roads, we managed to reach Taroko at 1.05am! Our plan for waking up at 5am the next day was in jeopardy!

2016-07-01, Taroko (sea level) -> Dai Yu Lin (2800m) on a bicycle

  • The original plan called for waking up at 5am and leaving by 6am to ride up 90km to the top of He Huan Shan on mountain bikes. After the intense and eventful motorbike ride the previous day, our bodies just wouldn’t wake up until 6.30am. We left Rihang’s (our guesthouse host) place at 8am.
Rom and I are featured on Rihang's fall from our butt breakin' adventure 5 years back!

Rom and I are featured on Rihang’s fall from our butt breakin’ adventure 5 years back!

  • Armed with a pair of LBC’s cycling shorts and some good podcasts, off we went to repeat our butt breaking adventure from 4 years back. Getting into Taroko National Park on a bike was for sure exhilarating. Memories of tunnels, gorges, windy roads and greenery from 4 years back returned. Within 2.5 hours, we were at Tian Xiang (400m) where I had my bowl of noodles.
Getting ready to begin our butt breakin' ride

Getting ready to begin our butt breakin’ ride

Cycling through gorges

Cycling through gorges

Taroko is a beautiful place

Taroko is a beautiful place

More greenery

More greenery

This is Tian Xiang (400m) above sea level

This is Tian Xiang (400m) above sea level

Rom came up with this idea to tie our stuff to the cycle instead of carrying them in a bag!

Rom came up with this idea to tie our stuff to the cycle instead of carrying them in a bag!

  • Familiar memories of butt pain became a reality again with the increase in altitude. Compared to 4 years back, we were more fit, carried less and had a better mountain bike. The cycling shorts we were wearing also alleviated the pain to some degree but not enough! At some point, I had to switch from listening to podcasts to playing music to keep motivation going. A couple of gels here and there gave me some boost but the energy didn’t last long enough for butt pain to return. I had a wild idea pass through my mind. When Michael Jackson sang “Bad”, he probably went for a bike ride because the first line of that song goes something like “your butt is mine…”
A picture as we were waiting for some roadworks

A picture as we were waiting for some roadworks

Clever selfie shot on the concave mirror

Clever selfie shot on the concave mirror

Another clever Rom shot

Another clever Rom shot

Cycling, cycling and more cycling

Cycling, cycling and more cycling

Butt pain returns

Butt pain returns

The smiles eventually wore off and they lead to...

The smiles eventually wore off and they lead to…

This is what you call a pain in the ass

This! This is what you call a pain in the ass

  • Amidst the pain in the rear and the strenuous climbs, there were many “I am so glad to be here” moments. On one of my frequent philosophical thoughts, I thought to myself that surrounded by nature and physically engaging oneself in a challenging self-chosen adventure somehow liberates the mind. It’s just you, mother nature and your butt. Nothing else matters. Thoughts like that kept floating in the mind as I kept cycling in a steady rhythm. Eventually, butt pain superseded all those thoughts.
  • Our very late lunch was at a place called the Pi Lu Sacred Tree. It was at an altitude of around 2200m and there was a cafe there playing covers of old English pop music. Getting off the bike presented an immediate relief to the rear, although only short lived as we soon had to get back on the saddle to ride up as high as possible in daylight.
  • Our friends from HK, Gulami and Chris, were riding up in scooters to He Huan Shan as we were cycling up. We saw them and for a moment I wished I was one of them instead!
Our friends from HK were going up to He Huan on a motorbike! I wished I was one of them!

Our friends from HK were going up to He Huan on a motorbike! I wished I was one of them!

Food near Pi Lu Sacred Tree. Getting tired

Food near Pi Lu Sacred Tree. Getting tired

Rom enjoying his lunch at the Sacred Tree

Rom enjoying his lunch at the Sacred Tree

These signs kept coming and coming. The ride seemed to last sooo long!

These signs kept coming and coming. The ride seemed to last sooo long!

Rom getting tired!

Rom getting tired!

Beaten BUTT not broken

Beaten BUTT not broken

  • After some more mammoth uphill climbs, it was 6.30pm and we reached a place called Dai Yu Ling which was only 8km away from He Huan Shan. That last 8km ride was supposed to be the steepest of them all and we knew it would take about 2 hours to ride up that part, which meant riding in the night and in the cold. It also looked like it could rain. We knew we had two hours of energy left in us but going up in the dark didn’t seem to be a wise decision. Also, spending the night in the uncomfortable Xi Lai North Peak hut seemed less than appealing. And so, we asked a lady in Dai Yu Ling if she had any accommodation for us. It wasn’t an emphatic ‘YES” but a slight nod. After asking her the same question one more time, she showed us into some sort of a secret lodge she had which became our humble abode for the night. And, what a fine decision it was for us to stay there as it started to rain cats and dogs soon after! Otherwise it would have been a case of cold He Huan rain!

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Rom showing off his ill fitting slippers

Rom showing off his ill fitting slippers

The smiles return as we are warm again in our Dai Yu Lin abode

The smiles return as we are warm again in our Dai Yu Lin abode

A celebratory CHEERS in Dai Yu Lin for having done 2800m on a bicycle

A celebratory CHEERS in Dai Yu Lin for having done 2800m on a bicycle

2016-07-02, Dai Yu Lin -> He Huan -> Xi Lai North Peak -> Taroko

  • After sleeping like a baby in Dai Yu Ling, we got up at 6am and were out the door by 6.15am. Rom deftly hung his stinky clothes on the bike hoping that the strong ultraviolet rays of the sun would kill the smell. I didn’t even attempt that. I sealed my dirty clothes from the bike ride in a ziplock back and wore my clean shorts and tee shirt which I had thoughtfully brought along. The catch was the my shorts didn’t have any butt cushioning so the pain on the butt came back soon after the contact was made between my rear and the seat.
Smiles return as the sun illuminates He Huan North Peak!

Smiles return as the sun illuminates He Huan North Peak!

Nature is stunning!

Nature is stunning!

The mountains of Taiwan beckon!

The mountains of Taiwan beckon!

The road to He Huan Shan

The road to He Huan Shan

  • The 8km ride up to He Huan was tough! It was so steep on occasion that my body started to play games with me. WALK AND PUSH THE BIKE, the body pleaded. The mind overruled that request and I switched on to low gear and steadily kept working the pedals.
I didn't push the bike at all! Proud to say that I rode it all the way!

I didn’t push the bike at all! Proud to say that I rode it all the way!

Our loyal steed

Our loyal steed

The He Huan Shan Road

The He Huan Shan Road

  • The scenery was spectacular. The smiles on our faces returned making us enjoy the success of our biking challenge. The mountains were majestic and the color of the landscape was a treat to the senses. There was a 1km downhill stretch near the top which lead us straight to the parking lot at He Huan Shan.
Our victory pic! 3300m of cycling!

Our victory pic! 3300m of cycling!

  • We didn’t have locks for the bikes but that didn’t stop Rom from improvising. He hung his dirty underwear on the bike which we were sure would serve better than the best lock money could buy.
Drying underwear on the bike is the best lock!

Drying underwear on the bike is the best lock!

Want to steal Rom's bike? It comes with his dirty undies

Want to steal Rom’s bike? It comes with his dirty undies

  • After having breakfast at a lodge on the top of He Huan Shan, we switched to Trail Running mode and started on our 20km run up to Xi Lai North Peak – 3640m above sea level. The first part of the trail is a steady downhill stretch flanked by grass and tall trees on either side.
Switching to trail running mode

Switching to trail running mode

The grassy part in the beginning which leads to Chek Kong Cabin

The grassy part in the beginning which leads to Chek Kong Cabin

Rom enjoying nature

Rom enjoying nature

  • 6km from the start of the trail leads to a small cabin called Chek Kong Cabin which is where we originally intended to spend the previous night. Good we didn’t. It looked cramped and dirty and could certainly not beat the shower we had the lodge in Dai Yu Lin!
Fresh forest mushrooms!

Fresh forest mushrooms!

Chek Kong Cabin

Chek Kong Cabin

  • After crossing the cabin, we climbed up the forest all the way to the exposed rock surface. There were many ropes in place and the climb required 4 limbs on many occasions.
We had to climb many of those steep slopes

We had to climb many of those steep slopes

The forest zone eventually breaks into this rocky surface

The forest zone eventually breaks into this rocky surface

We had to drink every now and then as we felt the altitude

We had to drink every now and then as we felt the altitude

  • The rock surface eventually lead to a meadow which was used a campsite for many hikers. The beauty of the area resonated with me.
Sign near the top!

Sign near the top!

The high altitude meadow

The high altitude meadow

Mountains everywhere!

Mountains everywhere!

Very close to the summit

Very close to the summit

The dance of the clouds

The dance of the clouds

  • The final stretch involved climbing up a very steep rocky slope of the mountain. It was a little bit like climbing up Sharp Peak – except it was about 20 times as long and 2 times more difficult. But, very doable at a gentle pace. If the weather is bad, it will prove to be quite a challenge. On this day though, we got lucky with the weather. It looked ominous but never rained on us!
The final approach

The final approach

  • It took us around 3 hours to reach the summit!
After 3 hours!

After 3 hours!

Panoramic photo of the summit

Panoramic photo of the summit

Rom on the summit

Rom on the summit

  • After spending about 10 minutes on the summit, we made it back to He Huan in about 2 hours. Our total trail running adventure lasted 6 hours 10 minutes and 20kms. After around 180km of motorbiking, 90kms of cycling (accumulated elevation of 3300m) and 20km of trail running, we were beginning to get tired – but we still had another 90km of downhill riding to go before concluding the trail running and biking part of the adventure. We embarked on the downhill cycle ride at 3.40pm.
Back at He Huan at around 3.30pm after a 20km trail run

Back at He Huan at around 3.30pm after a 20km trail run

  • There are very few thrills in life that can compare to a 3300m downhill ride at an average speed of 40kmh! The downhill ride was exhilarating to say the least but it also made me feel bad for the guy who cycled up all the way the day before! Not all of it was easy though! In sharp contrast to the previous day, what was easy the day before became very hard today! The uphills from the previous day became downhill sections today and vice versa. Luckily, there was only one hard stretch that lasted about 20 minutes but it felt like an absolute killer, especially when I thought that the hard stuff was behind us (literally). My ass still hurt from the previous day’s adventure.
Rom feeling like a kind on the downhill

Rom feeling like a kind on the downhill

  • We stopped at the same Sacred Tree for late lunch (it was about 4.45pom when we stopped for a quick lunch). As though perfectly timed, it rained quite hard for the twenty minutes during which we had lunch and just as we were about to leave, the rain stopped! Someone was looking after us!
  • I must have been riding at about 50kmh on occasions! The ride from 2000m down to 400m was an absolute thrill! It was 6.30pm by the time we got to Tian Xiang (400m). We then carried on riding at a very fast pace that Rom set in an attempt to reach our lodge in Taroko before we lost daylight. It was borderline but at about 7.30pm we entered Rihang’s house without having used any artificial light! A couple of more minutes and it would have been pitch dark! We made it back in about 4 hours from the top of He Huan Shan to Taroko in contrast to the 12 hours it took us to get up there! Gravity is really your friend!
  • Our bicycling adventure came to an end soon after that and Rihang took us out to a much needed dinner. We checked our flight timings to Hong Kong only to discover that we had to be at Taipei in the motorbike shop at about 11am the following day which meant leaving Rihang’s home at 4.30am in the morning to make the 6-hour motorbike ride back.

2016-07-03, Taroko -> Taipei -> Hong Kong

  • Getting up at 4.15am was TOUGH! The body wanted more sleep but we couldn’t afford to miss our flights. Also, the quality of the bikes we rented was questionable. After having experienced mechanical problems on the way to Taroko, we wanted to allow enough time to get to the airport on time should we face mechanical problems again.
  • We left at 4.30am as quietly as we could. Rom’s bike had starting trouble but we somehow kick started it into submission. A serene view of Pacific Ocean was enough to wake us up. It was truly a spectacular sight.
The Pacific Ocean

The Pacific Ocean

Rom taking a selfie shot

Rom taking a selfie shot

Pacific Ocean in the backdrop

Pacific Ocean in the backdrop

What a view!

What a view!

  • Then came Rom’s bike problems. The bike’s back wheel was wobbly which loosened the chain which in turn meant trouble shifting gears. To add more woes to that, the bike would suddenly stop when he used the clutch. And once it stopped, it required many kick starts to bring it back to action. We stopped at a mechanic en route to fix the chain but soon after the problems with the bike suddenly stopping got worse.
Rom's bike proves troublesome!

Rom’s bike proves troublesome!

More mechanical trouble

More mechanical trouble

  • Around 2.7km ahead of the meeting point, Rom’s bike completely stopped. No amount of kick starting could coerce it back into action. We had to call the bike guy and have him pick up his bikes right there. We were fortunate in that the bike didn’t breakdown completely in the middle of nowhere but an important lesson we learnt was that it is important to rent good bikes if one is to do a long trip! Given the quality of bikes we had rented, we were lucky to have made it back to the airport on time!
Something tells me Rom isn't going to miss his bike!

Something tells me Rom isn’t going to miss his bike!

  • After we returned the bikes, we headed straight to the airport and gorged on some lounge food. We must have helped ourselves to several courses of meals! We then boarded China Airlines back to Hong Kong to conclude our butt breaking trip to Taiwan!

Summary:

  • 400kms of motorbiking, 180kms of cycling and 20kms of trail running. All of it in 4 days. If this isn’t a butt breaking challenge, what is? Loved every minute of it. Fantastic adventure! Exactly what the doctor ordered!

 

Climbing Mount Rinjani in one day – Lombok, Indonesia (June 2016)

After a cool friend’s real cool wedding party in Bali, we decided to climb Mt Rinjani in Lombok, Indonesia. Here’s our preliminary research on attempting to climb Rinjani.

The prep:

“Details on how to get there: get to Lombok by ferry or bus. 
 
Fast ferry (8am to 1.30pm) takes 2 hours and slow ferry (operates 24 hours) takes 4.5 hours. Port in Lambok is called Lembar. Takes about 4 hours to get to Senaru or Sembalun from Lembar by taxi. 
 

Then there are two options to climb Rinjani:

  • Senaru at an elevation of 600m close to Western side resort area Sengigi
  • Sembalun Lawang (1150m) eastern side. Closer to summit (we chose this route)

From Senaru, it takes 6 hours to reach the crater rim. 

 
From Sembalun Lawang, it takes 8 hours to the Plawangan II and 2638m via Posi 1/2/3. Stay at the campsite and leave at 3am for the summit”
 
And, here’s a photo blog of what transpired.

The beginning:
We decided to climb to Rinjani from Sembalun (1500m elevation) and return the same way. The very friendly owner at Rinjani guesthouse in Sembalun (where we stayed) told us that “this was not possible” and that it was normally a “one night two day” trip. He also told us that we had to have a guide. We hired a guide called Hasan for 400k (it became 650k later on when we told him at the crater rim that we wanted to summit). He told us that it would take us 8 hours to get to the rim and another 6 hours to get back. He had an athletic build and looked very friendly but didn’t really seem to believe or understand that we wanted to attempt to summit Rinjani in one day.

Landing in Lombok

Landing in Lombok

View of Lombok from the plane

View of Lombok from the plane

The bumpy ride to the start:
We paid 150k per person for the permit at the tourist guesthouse for the climb (we were told that they increased the price to 350k for visitors from the next day onwards) and then came a very bumpy 15-minute ride to the start of the trail.

Selfie at Lombok airport

Selfie at Lombok airport

Rinjani guesthouse

Rinjani guesthouse

In the pick up truck to the start

In the pick up truck to the start

At the tourist place for the permit

At the tourist place for the permit

Here’s a video:

Pos 1, Pos 2, Pos 3, Pos 4 … Base camp:
The start of the trail went through this green meadow which eventually lead to a little “hut” called “Pos 1”. It was not a hut where people could stay, more like a marker in the shape of a hut.

The meadow at the start

The meadow at the start

A selfie with Hasan

A selfie with Hasan

Hasan told us that it would take around 2 hours to reach Pos 1 but in reality it took only about 45 minutes. All the times quoted by the guide were “grandma” times, even at our walking pace.

The conversation Ollie had with Hasan at the start was classic:

Ollie: Hasan, is Rinjani’s someone’s name? What does it mean?
Hasan: Yes, it is someone’s name
Ollie: Really, who?
Hasan: Rinjani
Ollie: (What a great answer!)

Reminds me of an old joke.
Teacher: Who can tell me what John Smith’s wife is called?
Student: Me, me!
Teacher: Great! What is it?
Student: Mrs. Smith

A handsome guy going to Pos 2

A handsome guy going to Pos 2

Climbing up to Pos 3

Climbing up to Pos 3

Monkeys of Lombok. Different to their Shing Mun cousins with the pink butts

Monkeys of Lombok. Different to their Shing Mun cousins with the pink butts

The Base Camp

The Base Camp

Clouds, Clouds everywhere

Clouds, Clouds everywhere

Posing near the Base Camp

Posing near the Base Camp

Nice colours

Nice colours

The trail was relatively easy until Pos 3 after which there was a pretty sharp incline all the way to the rim of the crater, aka the Base Camp. The Base Camp was literally a big row of tents flanked by big piles of garbage on either side. From the rim of the crater, we were suposed to see a spectacular backdrop of a volcanic lake but our view of the lake was instead replaced by white clouds. But, not ones to be perturbed by the uncontrollable forces of nature, we still imagined the lake in the backdrop and took ample selfies! After all, doesn’t beauty lie in the eyes of the beholder?

Base Camp to the Summit:
Our guide who quoted 7 hours to get to the Base Camp, i.e., the rim of the crater, was pleasantly surprised to find out that it only took us 3 hours to get there. We told him that we wanted to summit which is when he said that our “program” at 400k didn’t involve a guide service to the summit. 250k more did it! (Our 650k -guide fee for the three of us- plus 150k -each person at the tourist center for the “entry ticket”- was still way cheaper than the 2M it would have cost to do the boilerplate “one night two days” tour). And about that “one night two days” Rinjani tour, I don’t think the money would have been so much a dampening factor for me, instead staying at the Base Camp amidst the smell of garbage, pee and you-know-what would have flushed that idea!

Our guide said it would take 3.5 hours to get to the summit from the Base Camp. Judging from recent experience, we thought it would only take a fraction of that time as the summit was only 3kms away from the Base Camp. But, this time he was right – it took us 3 whole hours! Why? It was like walking on quicksand at 3500m above sea level! Ollie’s Oreo package suddenly popped because of the increase in altitude. Imagine climbing up slushy 20cm thick lose gravel and mud in thin air! It was like a bike spinning on its wheels in desert sand. Also, quite frequently, a little detour from the main trail lead to a “tour de feces” and a “tour de tissue”. Yup, dried human excrement is what I’m talking about! So, imagine you’re a fast guy trying to climb up Rinjani and you take a little shortcut by the side of the trail, lose your grip and fall face down in the mud. Now, normally that would be a-ok and even good fun BUT if that side of the trail had dried human feces on it then that wouldn’t too much fun, would it? Now, I am not saying that that happened to me… (Or am I?)

Anyway, amidst this discussion of human feces, garbage, quicksand and slushy terrain, I want to make it clear that this was still a very enjoyable experience! The views of the ridge, the dance of the clouds, the pyramid shaped volcano, the jagged terrain with distinctive volcanic features were all highlights of this experience. And, when the clouds suddenly cleared at the summit, that was the biggest highlight of them all! Anyway, so back to the story…

Posing before getting to the summit

Posing before getting to the summit

Climbing this wasn't easy

Climbing this wasn’t easy

The volcanic terrain

The volcanic terrain

This is what we found on the summit

This is what we found on the summit

Group pic at the summit

Group pic at the summit

Views from the summit

Views from the summit

Views from the summit

Views from the summit

Dance of the clouds

Dance of the clouds

More cloud dance

More cloud dance

The Summit:
Our guide was much slower than us. Dom had some jet lagged moments where he slowed down and Ollie was using her poles like a cruising machine to get to the top. Not wanting to go astray on another “tour de feces”, I went steadily up the beaten path, one foot in front of another using Ollie as my metronome. I was also playing DJ and had Robin Schulz’s “Sugar” playing in the background. I also added my own vocals to it which I’m sure Dom and Ollie didn’t appreciate – although they were either too polite or too busy focusing on the climb to comment on my great voice. Speaking of which, I still don’t know what “sugar, how you get so fly” really means. I get “high” but “fly”?

Anyway, we plodded on and reached the summit, only to be welcome by more and more clouds. It also started drizzling. We took selfies holding a little sign that was on the summit which read “Ringani – 3726m”. We then high fived each other to celebrate our 3-hour walk through that quicksand like terrain. After that, Ollie started to walk down. Just as Dom and I were about to follow suite, the clouds started to clear. The sun then revealed its power and the majestic views no longer needed to be left to mere imagination. It was amazingly scenic – yet another wonder of Mother Nature.

The Summit

The Summit

You're looking at the crater

You’re looking at the crater

Summit back down to Base Camp:
The descent was such a memorable experience. It really felt like we were skiing on fertile mud! The shoes took in several ladles full of volcanic soil as I leaned backwards, spun my legs around in a cycling motion and let gravity do the talking! What took 3 hours to go up, only took 40 minutes on the way down! That’s the power of momentum on that trail!

And, nature had its little surprise waiting for us at the rim. Those clouds that begged us to imagine the views from the rim on the way up, dispersed gracefully to reveal that stunning lake in the backdrop. Some of the clouds danced around and artistically lingered in the air adding to the serene setting. Beauty didn’t really have to be in the eyes of the beholder. It was literally everywhere! The lake and the setting was yet another wonder of nature!

My shoe had plenty of volcanic mud in it on the way down

My shoe had plenty of volcanic mud in it on the way down

Coming down

Coming down

More Cloud Dance

More Cloud Dance

The beauty of the lake finally revealed at the crater

The beauty of the lake finally revealed at the crater

With the lake in the backdrop

With the lake in the backdrop

Admiring the beauty of the lake

Admiring the beauty of the lake

 

Video of the descent:

 

Back via the meadows to Sembalun

Back via the meadows to Sembalun


Base Camp back to the guesthouse:
I enjoyed this so much! It was a fab trail run down (quite technical at times with rocks and tree roots) all the way to Pos 4. Our guide was definitely getting quite an unanticipated workout. After Pos 3, however, I managed to twist my ankle not once, not twice but thrice! Luckily, other than some swelling, it was okay enough to permit jogging to the finish!

After clocking something like 25km of distance and 2600m of accumulated elevation for the day, we reached the village where our pick up truck was waiting for us. At 6pm, we were back at the guesthouse.

All in all, it took about 11 hours for the trip to the top of Rinjani and back from Sembalun.

At the finish! Back in the pick up truck

At the finish! Back in the pick up truck

The verdict:
I know I say this about pretty much every hike or climb I’ve done but this was also awesome! Friendly people, great views, solid exercise, amazing scenery and awesome company!

I hope the tourist office does something about all the rubbish on the trail and that nature takes cares of all the human waste near the campsite!

My biggest advice to everyone attempting Rinjani, follow your nose, stay on the trail and enjoy Tour De Rinjani, not Tour De Feces. Yup, no shit. That’s the way to go my friend.

Kick Ass vacation to Annapurna Base Camp (April 2016)

The prelude:
  • Switch on the news and you would hear *THOSE* times being mentioned over and over again. What times? Bad markets, bad economy, etc, etc, etc. All this pointed to one thing. It was time to climb a mountain
  • Enter my friend Milos. We sat down for hours together and plan. (Read: have two Tsing Taos by Mui Wo Ferry Pier)
  • The Annapurna idea is born
  • We immediately call in a favour and found ourselves a CPO (Chief Planning Officer). Enter Ramesh.
  • We created a whatsapp group where millions and millions of messages are exchanged. (Most of them irrelevant and junk, especially the ones from Roger)
  • Enter the final list of participants. Roger, Hannes, Dominic, Milos, Tilly and yours truly
Ramesh sends us the itinerary: 
 
  • 15 Apr – Arrive Kathmandu
  • 16 Apr – Depart for Pokhara By Road 7 hrs Tourist Bus or By Air 25 mins Flt and Arrange Trekking Permits
  • 17 Apr – Trek to Banthati 2000m
  • 18 Apr – Trek to Ghorepani 3500m
  • 19 Apr – Short Trek to Poon Hill Sunrise Breakfast and Trek to Chomrong 2500m
  • 20 Apr – Trek to Dovan 2700m
  • 21 Apr – Trek  to Annapurna Base Camp 4000m
  • 22 Apr – Trek back to Chhomrong
  • 23 Apr – Trek Back to Ghandruk Base and By Road to Pokhara
  • 24 Apr – By Road or Air To Kathmandu
  • 25 Apr – Sightseeing in Kathmandu morning and afternoon . Depart Kathmandu for Hong Kong
 
RECOMMENDED KIT :
  • 1.   Trekking Shoes
  • 2.   Walking poles
  • 3.   Light Down and Light Jacket
  • 4.   Track Suit – 1 pr
  • 5.   Thermo T Shirt/Inner
  • 6.   Basic medicines
  • 7.   Camera
  • 8.   Medium Thick Socks
  • 9.  Medium Carry Pack
  • 10.  Water Bottle
  • 11.  Energy Bar
 
RECOMMENDED START/END TREK TIMINGS :
 
  • 0600-0630 – Breakfast
  • 0700 – Trek Start
  • 1100-1200 – Stop for Lunch
  • 1300-1700 – Afternoon Trek
 
  • Trek to Ghorepani/Poon Hill Upfhill
  • Trek to Chomrong Uphill/Downhill
  • Trek to Annapurna Base Camp Uphill
  • Trek from Base Camp – Downhill
 
SCENERY :
  • From Ghorepani Poon Hill – Mount Dhaulagiri-Annapurna Ranges
  • From Chhomrong – Annapurna Ranges and Fish Tail
  • You will also see the national flower of Nepal Rhododendron blooming
As you can see from the strict schedule, Ramesh is an ex military guy. After we agreed on this itinerary, a million more of whatsapp messages were exchanged. Most of them (again) are useless and irrelevant. And, yes, many of them from Roger. (History repeated itself). Suddenly, we were there and it was April 15th 2016.

 
15th April 2016
  • I got a text from Milos: “Vince, I checked the bags from John, you want the bag with bras or the bag with bras ? your pick :-)“. Our man John Ellis form Gone Running sent us a bunch of used sports gear to carry to Nepal to donate to the community there. I got handed the bag with the most bras
  • Meanwhile we had news from Ramesh that our 5th member in our Nepal expedition, Tilly had successfully arrived in Kathmandu from Geneva. “TILLY COLLECTION” read the subject of the email. With Dominic already in Nepal on a “pre-vacation” vacation, our team was complete
  • Kathmandu airport was crowded and it took us almost 90 minutes just to get our luggage. The conveyor belt started and stopped and looked like a meandering river. Eager passengers starting crowding around every visible edge of the belt in keen anticipation of their luggage
  • Kiran, our guide and Ramesh’s tail running student, waited for us outside the airport to take us to our hotel. Unwanted helpers carried our luggage to the van and demanded a tip. We mistakenly thought they were Kiran’s friends. We departed with 120 HKD. Roger giving away 100 and I gave away 20
  • Ramesh called Kiran who passed the phone onto Milos. He made sure we had arrived safely
My artistic photo of the wing

My artistic photo of the wing

4 clowns leaving Hong Kong for ABC

4 clowns leaving Hong Kong for ABC

Kathmandu airport baggage carousel

Kathmandu airport baggage carousel

16th April 2016
  • 0540 was the assembly time at the hotel reception
  • Tilly bought some bananas and apples on the way to the bus stop and got ripped off. 50 HKD for some bananas and oranges. Even more expensive than Hong Kong. She really amazed me when she went back to the vendor after realizing this and got her money back after returning the apples and oranges. I would have been too scared to do that!
  • Bus journey was spent yapping a lot and boring Tilly. We saw a gruesome sight of an accident which made me recall how fickle life can be. One really needs to cherish every moment of it
  • Upon reaching Pokhara, we met Ramesh who took us to Hotel Pokhara where we were briefed. We got permits done for the upcoming Annpurna trek and enjoyed a warm dinner reception which Ramesh hosted for us
Taking an evening walk in Pokhara to the park

Taking an evening walk in Pokhara to the park

We are smarter than we look

We are smarter than we look

17th April 2016
  • We assembled for breakfast at 7am after a good night’s sleep – well, all except for Milos, who inadvertently happened to volunteer to be dinner for mosquitoes. He woke up with many mosquito bites on his hand and face
  • We bid a temporary goodbye to Ramesh and boarded our team jeep at 7.30am to get on our way to Birethanti (1050m)
  • Then came a steep stair climb all the way to Banthanti. Hannes, despite experiencing hip pain, converted some of his Swiss pride into muscle power and made it all the way to our humble abode for the night – The Green Hill View lodge. Which by the way isn’t a misnomer. Not like our Hong Kong style naming of buildings. Think “Chung King Mansion”. Mansion?
  • Hannes’ pain dwindled to the point where he even enjoyed locking me out in the bathroom
  • The view from our lodge was scenic. Very green and soothing
  • We had a sumptuous dinner in the lodge with ample servings of ginger tea. There was even an intense (and heated) debate about Hong Kong politics which took our sleeping time to 1030pm
Mint plant in Banthanti

Mint plant in Banthanti

Milos has some biting friends

Milos has some biting friends

Met Mr. Horsey in Banthanthi

Met Mr. Horsey in Banthanthi

18th April 2016
  • Ghorepani, I.e., “white water” at 2820m was the destination for the day. It took us less than 3 hours to reach this place. Our residence for the place was a cleverly named guesthouse called “See You” guesthouse
  • Having reached Ghorepani as early as 10am we took a little side trip upto Poon Hill at 3100m. It took less than an hour to reach
  • We saw a sign that read “Poon Hill” which reminded Roger of his most favorite topic – “poo”. Springing into action, he immediately hid the ‘N’ in “Poon Hill” to satisfy himself
  • We were back at our guesthouse at around 12pm and decided to order food from the menu. Roger had to warn Tilly about refraining from “outward expression of affection” as instructed by the last page of our menu
  • Dom and Tilly went for a bit of a walk afterwards while the rest of us decided to spend the afternoon taking it easy and relaxing. Their timing was a bit off because a thunderstorm wasn’t too far behind them! Fortunately, they made it back before the skies exploded
  • After yet another sumptuous high altitude dinner (I had rosti but Hannes told me with great conviction that his homemade version of it would put this one to shame), I went to bed while the rest of the gang played cards. The clouds cleared up revealing the bright moon and stars which meant that our 6am sunrise viewing plan from Poon Hill was back on
Nice tree in Ghorepani

Nice tree in Ghorepani

Our Ghorepani hut

Our Ghorepani hut

Hannes' suffers toe issues

Hannes’ suffers toe issues

Tilly has a new friend - Srijana (guesthouse lady's daughter)

Tilly has a new friend – Srijana (guesthouse lady’s daughter)

Started raining all of a sudden

Started raining all of a sudden

Beautiful rhododendrons on the way to Poon Hill

Beautiful rhododendrons on the way to Poon Hill

Met this guide on the way to Ghorepani

Met this guide on the way to Ghorepani

View from Poon Hill

View from Poon Hill

Swiss lady brought this Alphorn to Poon Hill

Swiss lady brought this Alphorn to Poon Hill

Group Pic on Poon Hill

Group Pic on Poon Hill

19th April 2016
  • Got up at 5am after close to 8-something hours of sleep. Felt like I was back in boarding school – the sound of someone yawning in another room, creaking of beds, shuffling of plastic bags and so on
  • I switched to military precision for my upcoming dump sequence. I was expecting a dirty toilet but it was surprisingly clean so I could put down my guard. I’ll stop describing the rest of the processes here
  • We went up race pace to the top of Poon Hill. The views were majestic – Annapurna 1/2/3, Daulagiri, Fish Mountain (Macchapuchhere). Spectacular
  • After a heavy breakfast (pancake with peanut butter), it was time to walk to Tadapani. Initially, it was a downhill course but boy did that change. The stairs we climbed put Lantau Peak and Sunset Peak to shame
  • Our lunch spot was another spectacular scene. And the lunch (macaroni with cheese) was yummy
  • Then came a longish walk to Chumrong. “Five minutes” was the theme of the day. Our next stop was always “five minutes” away. We left at 8am in the morning, reached Tadapani at about 12pm and it took us until 5pm to reach Chumrong which was at 2050m. Kiran suggested that we add another “5 minutes” to our day which meant that our stop was at Sinuwa, also at 2050mhumrong. “Five minutes” was the theme of the day. Our next stop was always “five minutes” away. We left at 8am in the morning, reached Tadapani at about 12pm and it took us until 5pm to reach Chumrong which was at 2050m. Kiran suggested that we add another “5 minutes” to our day which meant that our stop was at Sinuwa, also at 2050m
  • On the way to Sinuwa

    On the way to Sinuwa

    Flowers everywhere!

    Flowers everywhere!

    Roger suddenly borrowed my camera to take this great selfie

    Roger suddenly borrowed my camera to take this great selfie

    Want a hit man?

    Want a hit man?

    Poon Hill becomes POO HILL

    Poon Hill becomes POO HILL

    Walking through many green villages

    Walking through many green villages

    Our scenic lunch spot in Tadapani

    Our scenic lunch spot in Tadapani

    More beautiful rhododendron trees

    More beautiful rhododendron trees

  • Hannes’ pain got worse but he still managed to do the whole route without  any external help
  • During dinner, the conversation mainly revolved around Roger’s favorite topic again – poo. Tilly tried desperately to have the topic changed many times but invariably, as Milos put it, “all topics lead to s**t”. Roger’s need for a clean toilet outweighed his urgency to go for a dump
 
20th April 2016
  • The original plan was to hike up to Duerali (3100m) but Kiran was told that they had no rooms there. So, insead, we decided to go to Himalayan (2800m)
  • After a 7am breakfast (Muesli with fruits), we started making our 4-hour journey to Himalayan
  • The poo experience that Roger was after continued to ellude him until the afternoon, but soon after an intense hailstorm, Roger proudly announced that he had successfully relieved himself of some unnecessary cargo
  • We played poker in the afternoon and watched out the window as the rain continued its onslaught
  • After a heavy dinner (macaroni with cheese) it was time to retire for the day
Carpet of leaves

Carpet of leaves

We crossed many of these suspension bridges

We crossed many of these suspension bridges

While Hannes was stretching, bad boy Roger tripped him

While Hannes was stretching, bad boy Roger tripped him

Our humble abode

Our humble abode

Express mule

Express mule

Mary had a little lamb...

Mary had a little lamb…

Taking a pitstop

Taking a pitstop

First sight of snow

First sight of snow

21st April 2016
  • We were hoping for some bright skies after the intense rainfall the previous day
  • I woke up at around 5.30am and went outside. Fortunately, the skies were an azure blue. Roger woke up shortly after and greeted us with a morning fart. (When Milos farts he fondly refers to it as his “jet fuel exhaust”)
  • Today was the highlight of our ABC base camp expedition. The scenery was simply mind blowing. We left around 7.30am and reached Machupuchere Base Camp (MBC – 3700m) around 10.30am
  • The skies continued to be blue so we made the 1.5 hour trip to Annapurna Base Camp (4130m). Awesome. Magnificent.  Pick your adjective
  • On the way back to MBC (Fishtail Mountain), it looked like it was going to pour down but we luckily avoided the rain. At around 2.30pm, it rained cats and dogs. Great escape!
  • Lunch was a heavy rosti and post lunch it was time to play poker again and retire for the day
Wild flowers on the way to ABC

Wild flowers on the way to ABC

The beauty was amazing

The beauty was amazing

Stunning

Stunning

Had to cross this glacier on the way to ABC

Had to cross this glacier on the way to ABC

The view was spectacular

The view was spectacular

Majestic mountains

Majestic mountains

Dark side of mountaineering - Anatoli Boukreev is remembered

Dark side of mountaineering – Anatoli Boukreev is remembered

On ABC. Japanese expedition attempt to climb the south face of Annapurna

On ABC. Japanese expedition attempt to climb the south face of Annapurna

The high altitude hut

The high altitude hut

Unbelievable landscape

Unbelievable landscape

The remote hut

The remote hut

22nd April 2016
  • The plan was to descend all the way to Chumrong at 2800m
  • The mountains were beautifully illuminated by the sun as I woke up and stepped out at 5.30am. Part of me wished I had gotten up at 4am and made it back up to ABC for the view
  • We made the 24km walk back to Chhumrong beginning 7.30am
  • As we made our way, the skies behind us blackened. We got lucky again with the weather. It felt like we were taking the sunshine with us wherever we were going
  • Roger, while talking about an Australian guy who had fallen off Annapurna while attempting to change his camera battery, ironically, also fell down a slope when attempting to change his camera battery. Luckily, all he had was a minor scratch
  • The final stage from Sinuwa to Chhumrong was a tough stair climb but otherwise, it felt like a pretty easy day – especially as we are going from a freezing 3700m in elevation to a balmy and green Chhumrong at 2100m
  • The view from our guesthouse “Kalpana guesthouse” was lush and green! Cabbage plantations grew below and potato farms were planted all around
  • It felt amazing to note how a mere 20km of waking changed everything. From the views of tall, towering mountains to that of green and lush valleys, from frigid temperatures where you need several layers of clothing to that of balmy weather where a tee shirt and a pair of shorts would suffice. It felt like a journey from survival mode to living comfortably. Mountains are majestic but living there is another cold matter!
  • I thought about those guys attempting to climb Annapurna (apparently one in ten die). They must feel like what we just did (the hike to ABC camp) was pure baby stuff
  • Milos came out of the squat toilet (the only option we had) and declared that “he wasn’t sure where he was aiming”. Which made me conclude that I would defer jetissoning my excess cargo by one more day until we would reach Pokhara
  • The rest of the day was spent in a Swiss bakery shop and playing poker. Hannes was close to winning the game in the MBC hut but we found an excuse to stop the game before he could win it all
Morning view from MBC

Morning view from MBC

Eating at a bakery in Chhumrong

Eating at a bakery in Chhumrong

Mountains are beautiful but hostile terittory

Mountains are beautiful but hostile terittory

Great green views (and Roger)

Great green views (and Roger)

Chhumrong valley

Butterfly hovers around

Butterfly hovers around

From 3700m to 2500m in Chhumrong

From 3700m to 2500m in Chhumrong

23rd April 2016
  • Woke up to the sight of the beautiful Machapuchare (Fishtail mountain) at about 5.45am for our last 4-hour day of walking. Thought to myself how magnificent it looked from the comfort of our guesthouse in Chhumrong but as you go near it, the discomfort of being there rises with the altitude
  • We left the green Chhumrong at about 7.30am and reached Birethanti at about 11am, just in time for our taxi pick up back to Pokhara
  • Leaving Chhumrong and arriving at Pokhara felt very different. Difference between heaven and earth! It all meant one thing – our holiday was coming to a close!
  • The afternoon was spent eating and shopping. We went to a Tibetan market where Milos was pointing at a photo of the Dalai Lama and said that he had many interesting things to say. Then, all of a sudden from behind, a small Tibetan lady approached and said “he’s cool, right?” We nodded
Walking back to the jeep to get back to Birethanti

Walking back to the jeep to get back to Birethanti

Leaving gardens for Kathamandu city

Leaving gardens for Kathamandu city

About 40 mins away from our finiish

About 40 mins away from our finiish

This guy is a pro

This guy is a pro

24th April 2016
  • Headed back to Kathmandu by bus after a 6.30am breakfast
  • Some more shopping and plenty of eating ensued after an 8-hour bus drive that featured many close traffic accidents
Monkey Swayambhu Temple, Kathmandu

Monkey Swayambhu Temple, Kathmandu

Not every day may be good but there is something good in every day

Not every day may be good but there is something good in every day

A "cross" spider

A “cross” spider

Dom gets a cheap shave

Dom gets a cheap shave

Where's the wire? There is a method in maddness

Where’s the wire? There is a method in maddness

Spot a pigeon - Durbar square

Spot a pigeon – Durbar square

I'm buyin' one of these babies

I’m buyin’ one of these babies

25th April 2016
  • It was time to return to the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong for us and to Geneva for Tilly
Goodbye Kathmandu

Goodbye Kathmandu

When in doubt, have a burgur

When in doubt, have a burgur

What about 'em Taliban Soups?

What about ’em Taliban Soups?

Interesting things we observed in Nepal:
  • Villages were very, very clean. I was expecting some garbage near the villages but there was none. Most villages in the mountains were spic and span
  • Prices in guesthouses were fixed and controlled. No matter which guesthouse  you go to, the prices were the same for guesthouses at that altitude
  • People were nice and friendly. Largely,  there was no real attempt to ripoff tourists. This was more true after Banthati
 
Trip rating: 
  • Truly kick ass style. Great place, great company and a truly kick ass break
  • Learning lessons:
    • One week in the Annapurna region and another in the Everest region would have had more kick ass power
    • Never carry more than you need. 7 tee shirts weren’t necessary. Light but good rain gear and winter gear are necessary. Most other things are dispensable
    • A private car for 6 people would have saved time instead of the long bus ride to Pokhara
    • A small day pack and a normal rucksack would have helped to carry ad hoc stuff instead of just a big rucksack

Overall, another great adventure in another great place! Our planet is really beautiful!