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!

 

 

 

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!

 

The Vietnam Adventure (Sa Pa / Cat Ba / Ha Long Bay) – December 2015

Photos are here.


 

2015-11-29 (Sunday)

  • took a plane to Hanoi which landed around 2000 HKT. Vietnam is one hour behind Hong Kong
  • took a USD 5 cab ride to the train station. Met lady from the travel agency who had our tickets to Lao Cai. After our struggle to find veggie food, I got her to say veggie food in Vietnamese and recorded it on my iphone for future use
  • took the train (Orient Express) headed for Lao Cai (50km from Sapa)
  • got ourselves into what looked like a fancy compartment. Very comfy. USD 80 for 2 people. Private cabin. We expected two more but that wasn’t the case
This is how you say “No Meat” in Vietnamese
Very comfy train

Very comfy train

2015-11-30 (Monday)
  • I learnt that Cai in Vietnamese is pronounced “Kai” and not “Chai” like Chinese
  • I learnt that Vietnamese doesn’t have any pictorial representation of the language. It’s pretty much like English with fancy up/down intonations. Kind of like the German Uberlong
  • got off the train nice and early at 0540, took a ripoff 200,000 Duong minivan ride to Sapa (only 50km away). Almost dozed off most of the way. Sapa struck me as one of the classic Indian hill-stations. Pretty, pristine yet chaotic because of traffic
  • soon after exiting the minivan, got accosted by countless locals who were getting us to buy homemade purses, bracelets, and so on. They also wanted us to go hiking in their respective villages. “Come to my village, most beautiful” was the broken record for the day
  • checked in into Phuong Nam hotel and went for a walk to nearby village called Cat Cat
  • Cat Cat was quite scenic and serene. Except for the constant “come to my village” and “please shop” sales pitches which just wouldn’t stop. One even waited for us to have lunch and almost twisted my arm into buying something. I refused but felt quite guilty after a while. (I still feel guilty as a matter of fact!) Should have simply made her day. Only a matter of HKD 20 or so after all! There was no need for a hard “I cannot be moved” stance
  • took a scooter (USD 5) and rode around. Saw clouds dangling above a valley. Looked spectacular

Check out this Hydro Grinder

Cat Cat Village

Cat Cat Village

Cat Cat Village

Cat Cat Village

Cat Cat Village

Cat Cat Village

Cat Cat Village

Cat Cat Village

Who is this handsome guy?

Who is this handsome guy?

Cat Cat Village

Cat Cat Village

2015-12-01 (Tuesday)
  • got up at 0700, went down to the reception and booked tickets to Ha Long Bay for Thursday evening on a sleeper bus. Also, booked our guide for the hike up to Fancipan (3100m) for Wednesday
  • had a sumptuous breakfast (again) and hired two scooters (again!)
  • first stop: Ta Phin. Very scenic and harmonious BUT (as usual) we got frequently accosted by local villagers who wanted to us to buy various things from them. To avoid them and to enjoy some peace and tranquility, we stopped at various lookout points on the meandering road where there was no one
  • After a pretty heavy lunch, we headed towards the next village for the day called Su Pan. More villages, more serenity, more picturesque landscapes. Ride was awesome
  • after Su Pan, we headed for our final village of the day called Topas. A gang of villagers tried to get us to buy something. We somehow escaped without departing with money
  • stopped at a Vietnamese style rural “cafe” and ordered some Chinese style tea. Some old looking guy invited himself over to our table and helped himself to some tea. I replenished his cup, Dom’s cup and my cup. Drank plenty of tea and left after an hour. Tea lady didn’t want money for tea (people are good and not everyone is greedy!) but to reciprocate I insisted on giving her something and gave her 20k Duong
  • my scooter then stopped because of mechanical problems. The old guy I had been serving tea happened to be riding his scooter and saw me. I gave him a “I-am-in-trouble-please-help” look and he immediately stopped, took a look at my scooter and discovered the broken spark plug. He removed his own scooter’s spark plug, made my scooter work and only asked us for HKD 20 for a new spark plug for his scooter. I was thinking to myself how goodness exists in the world when we look for it. Amidst all this news of terrorism, people killing people, etc, there is a lot of goodness that still embraces the society!
  • learnt that “Pho” is noodles in Vietnamese and “Bho” is beef. Had another great dinner and hit the sack for the relatively early start on Wednesday (7am Facipan trek)
Handsome guy...

Handsome guy…

Sapa village

Sapa village

Sapa village

Sapa village

Tea guy comes to the rescue to fix my busted bike

Tea guy comes to the rescue to fix my busted bike

Above the clouds

Above the clouds

2015-12-02 (Wednesday)
  • had a quick breakfast and met our guide Sam at 7am. Took a cab up to the starting point of the Fancipan Trail (pronounced the same way you’d pronounce “Fancy Pants” minus the “ts” at the end)
  • our guide Sam turned out to be the Vietnamese equivalent of a Nepali Gurkha. Went up and down slippery slopes like a friggin’ mountain goat. I had no hopes in hell of catching up to him. He was amazing!
  • met some tourists along the way who were going to do the hike in 2/3 days!!! It’s about five times as hard as Sharp Peak but anyone with a resonable level of fitness can do it within 10 hours!
  • took us a total of 3.15 hours to get to the top. It was a cloudy experience but we did have a trigonometric station to tell us where we were! One item checked off the list!
  • On the way back down, saw a couple of guys of guys from Australia who had just summited. “Beautiful view” the guy said to me referring to his summit views. I drilled further into his comment and figured out that all he saw was what we also saw – a blanket of whiteness!! But having come all the way from Syndey for this, it HAD to be beautiful!
  • took about 2.30 hours to come back down and we finished the whole thing in 6.42 hours. Got a medal and a certificate at the end!!
Met. Mr. Goat on the way to Facipan

Met. Mr. Goat on the way to Facipan

Dom and Sam (guide)

Dom and Sam (guide)

Dom and I

Dom and I

Hut 2: 2800m: On the way to Facipan

Hut 2: 2800m: On the way to Facipan

Up, up and away

Up, up and away

Fancipan: Construction site plus trigonometric station (they are building a cable car now!)

Fancipan: Construction site plus trigonometric station (they are building a cable car now!)

Coming back down to Sapa from Fancipan

Coming back down to Sapa from Fancipan

We got a cert plus medal for going up 3130m to Fancipan

We got a cert plus medal for going up 3130m to Fancipan

Coming back down to Sapa from Fancipan

Coming back down to Sapa from Fancipan

What a great looking guy

What a great looking guy

Fancipan: Construction site plus trigonometric station (they are building a cable car now!)

Fancipan: Construction site plus trigonometric station (they are building a cable car now!)

Hut 2: 2800m: On the way to Facipan

Hut 2: 2800m: On the way to Facipan

Hut 1: 2300m (on the way to Fancipan)

Hut 1: 2300m (on the way to Fancipan)

2015-12-03 (Thursday)
  • chilled out the first half of the day and took a sleeper bus to Ha Long bay in the evening. Destination: Cat Ba island which is off the coast of Ha Long Bay
Chilling out

Chilling out

View of Sapa town

View of Sapa town

Yes, the Amazing Hotel

Yes, the Amazing Hotel

Our hotel Phnom Penh

Our hotel Phnom Penh

2015-12-04 (Friday)
  • the sleeper bus to Ha Long Bay was a nightmare! Well, comfy sleeping berth but we had a noisy crowd with phones going off all the time. I could even smell cigarette smoke
  • the bus dropped us off in Ha Long Bay at 0330 whereas we were told it would take until 0500 for us to reach Ha Long Bay. Well, early to bed, early to rise I guess. We took a cab at some ungodly hour and reached the ferry pier to Cat Ba island at 0400. Next couple of hours were spent in the pier staring into the darkness and feeling the cold wind brush against our body. We could also hear the rain hammering the roof above us in steady intervals
  • I learnt that the town of Mong Cai was nearby and it bordered China’s Guang Xi province. Technically, I think we were just one hour away from China!
  • by 0600, darkness turned into daylight and it stopped raining which gave us our first views of Ha Long Bay
  • the “cruise” to Cat Ba island from Hang Long Bay was scenic – reminded me a lot of the jagged peaks of Guang Xi (like what you see on the RMB 20 note’s backdrop)
  • Cat Ba island by itself was serene, pristine, lush and soothing. Probably the highlight of the trip for me thus far. The air was refreshingly fresh and crisp and the landscape was invitingly spectacular. Jagged peaks surrounded the distant backdrop and mangrove trees occupying the foreground were resting beautifully in whitish-blue colored waters
  • the island was relatively big and the small town centre looked quite fancy with many 3-storey buildings and hotels
  • we checked into Bayview hotel by the seafront and rented scooters to ride around the island. It was drizzling rather heavily at times but still, this scooter ride was one of the best rides I’ve done. There’s no greater source of rejuvenation than to smell the fresh scent of air after rains have blessed the lush greenery. It took in as many deep breaths as I could
  • we stopped by a cave which doubled as a rather large hospital for wounded Vietnam soldiers who served during the war with America. According to an ex army guy who now runs a restaurant by the side of this cave, many bombs were dropped on Cat Ba and Ha Long Bay during that war. He also told us that many more such secret caves still exist all over Vietnam but the government won’t reveal their locations as that information is classified
  • day ended with some sumptuous dinner (as usual)
Arriving at Halong Bay at 0330

Arriving at Halong Bay at 0330

Welcome to Cat Ba

Welcome to Cat Ba

From Halong Bay to Cat Ba

From Halong Bay to Cat Ba

Cat Ba's greenery

Cat Ba’s greenery

Entrance to the hospital cave

Entrance to the hospital cave

I used to train with John Rambo back in the day

I used to train with John Rambo back in the day

Long entrance in the war museum cave

Long entrance in the war museum cave

War museum in cave. Wounded soldiers were brought in here during the Vietnam war

War museum in cave. Wounded soldiers were brought in here during the Vietnam war

Cat Ba's greenery

Cat Ba’s greenery

This guy served back in the day during the war but left soon after he found himself a chick (behind every man's success...)

This guy served back in the day during the war but left soon after he found himself a chick (behind every man’s success…)

Cat Ba's beauty

Cat Ba’s beauty

Cat Ba's beauty

Cat Ba’s beauty

Cat Ba's beauty

Cat Ba’s beauty

Cat Ba's beauty

Cat Ba’s beauty

Riding scooters through beautiful Cat Ba

Riding scooters through beautiful Cat Ba

Life is good

Life is good

2015-12-04 (Saturday)
  • today was the kayaking day. Checked into Outdoor Adventures at 0800 and got on kayaks at 0900
  • the scenery was amazing. A combination of Milford Sound views plus Guilin views. Spent quite sometime admiring the views and exploring secret lagoons. Kites were flying overhead and adding to the feel of the place. Loved it
  • after a day of kayaking, it was time for another sumptuous dinner plus a Vietnam adventure closing beer
Goin' kayaking

Goin’ kayaking

Where are my Hollywood offers

Where are my Hollywood offers

Dom enjoying his kayaking

Dom enjoying his kayaking

More kayaking

More kayaking

Another secret lagoon

Another secret lagoon

View of the bay

View of the bay

View of the bay

View of the bay

Cat Ba's Milford Sound like beauty

Cat Ba’s Milford Sound like beauty

Cat Ba's Milford Sound like beauty

Cat Ba’s Milford Sound like beauty

Floating village

Floating village

Kayaking

Kayaking

Floating village

Floating village

Loved the kayaking

Loved the kayaking

Cat Ba's Milford Sound like beauty

Cat Ba’s Milford Sound like beauty

Cat Ba's Milford Sound like beauty

Cat Ba’s Milford Sound like beauty

Cat Ba's Milford Sound like beauty

Cat Ba’s Milford Sound like beauty

Cat Ba's Milford Sound like beauty

Cat Ba’s Milford Sound like beauty

2015-12-05 (Sunday)
  • it was time to bring the Vietnam vacation to a close. Boarded a bus at 9am which took us to the pier. From Hai Phong Bay, we took another bus to Hanoi. We then cabbed it to the airport
  • a plane back to Hong Kong concluded our little jaunt in Vietnam
Sunny day photo of Cat Ba

Sunny day photo of Cat Ba

What a great looking guy

What a great looking guy

Bye Bye Hanoi

Bye Bye Hanoi

Summary:
  • stunning rice terrace, beautiful villages, serene islands and spectacular scenery. If this isn’t reason enough to visit Vietnam I am not sure what is!
  • my suggestion to fellow travelers would be to avoid the night buses if you don’t like cigarette smoke!

Kick Ass Motorbiking Adventure in Ladakh (July 2015)

After eight long years, the mountains of Ladakh, India beckoned again. The motorbikes were calling out our names. High altitude passes, river streams and meandering roads were waiting to be crossed yet another time on a motorbike — this time on Royal Enfields. And so began the planning of our motorbike trip to Ladakh from Manali. Prashant, my friend and travel mate on our two previous motorbike rides in Ladakh organized this one too. Bold Swiss motorbike rider and fellow Hong Konger, Hannes also joined us for our kick ass motorbiking adventure in Ladakh during July 2015.

Photo courtesy: Hannes (he’s a better photographer than I am). All photos are here.

Hannes’ PowerPoint collage

2015-07-13, Chennai to Manali

  1. I took a flight into Delhi from Chennai. Flight landed 5 minutes early (Go IndiGo Air!) and met Prashant and Hannes at about 1945 outside the airport
  2. Took a pretty long taxi ride (saw India Gate, Red Fort on the way) and reached a super crowded ISBT (big intercity Delhi bus stand) at about 2100. Bus stand was a cacophony of activity
  3. Took a bus to Manali. Had front row seats. Hannes even helped fix a puncture en route at 3am while Prashant and I were asleep despite the rather uncomfortable seats
At ISBT bus stand

At ISBT bus stand

15-hour bus ride. Fixing a puncture at 3am

15-hour bus ride. Fixing a puncture at 3am

2015-07-14, Getting bikes plus permits in Manali

  1. reached Manali at 1.15pm (left at 2200 the previous day) making this the longest bus ride of my lifetime. 15 hours on a bus that stopped almost everywhere and even had puncture problems
  2. got the motorbikes from the Trip Advisor rated bikerentalmanali.com. Their shop was in a place called Vashisht in Manali. Luckily, the gears on the Enfield were on the left side. I got the new Thunderbird 350cc which was only a month old. Prashant and Hannes had classic Enfield 350cc bikes. Bike guy whose name was Abhinav Sood, seemed to be running a pretty lucrative business. Reliable guy but made us sign a million forms to indemnify his company against this, that, etc (guess he needs to). Bikes were in great condition
  3. got the permits done to cross Rohtang Pass at the SDM (not sure what that stands for) but it’s a pretty dull looking bureaucratic office in Manali City by the bus stand. We then tested the bikes out and slept like a log for 8 hours to recover from the 15-hour bus ride
Room in Manali

Room in Manali

Hannes with his "Black Beauty"

Hannes with his “Black Beauty”

Prashant and his Enfield

Prashant and his Enfield

Suited and booted and ready to go

Suited and booted and ready to go

Loading up on gas

Loading up on gas

2015-07-15, Manali to Jispa

  1. set off on our kick ass bike journey at 7am in the morning. Meandering roads, slushy terrain and dust-filled air greeted us on the first half of our ride. That and plenty of careful overtaking of heavy tucks that stirred up dust straight into our faces. The challenge of riding on slushy mountainous roads blended with the magnificence of the mountain itself
  2. the new Thunderbird 350cc I was riding definitely looked old after I crossed the muddy roads of Rohtang pass (about 3800m). The shock absorbers were put to good test during and after crossing Rohtang. We averaged around 16km per hour until Sissu (after Rohtang). It was rather an amusing sight to watch tourists dressed up in full blown snow suits when there was very little snow to see! It was like wearing a raincoat for protection from a small puddle of water in the remote distance
  3. we continued on after Rohtang and eventually reached Jispa at around 4pm (9 hours later) covering about 110km on Day 1 of our kick ass riding
  4. Jispa was quite beautiful. We found tent like accommodation with a proper toilet. It started to rain as soon as we were parked and settled! I even caught a rainbow from the toilet window
On the way to Rohtang Pass

On the way to Rohtang Pass

Little but of snow en route. Tourists wore a full snow suit for this!

Little but of snow en route. Tourists wore a full snow suit for this!

Hannes enjoying a Kingfisher in Jispa

Hannes enjoying a Kingfisher in Jispa

This is Jispa

This is Jispa

2015-07-16, Jispa to Pang

  1. Quite a hard day! We left Jispa early but got stuck at Baralacha La Pass. Two vehicles got stuck in a rather ominous looking river crossing. We waited for two hours for the army to clear the road using something called a JCB (some big crane). Later, Hannes was the first one among us to attempt to cross that stream. He rode through the bouldery stream crossing like a daredevil punk and succeeded in his first attempt! I needed help and almost fell. Prashant followed suit and made a successful attempt. More such stream crossings appeared and demanded some heavy motorbiking skills
  2. The lake at Baralacha La pass at 4927 meters was dazzling. Serene and picturesque. I remembered seeing this lake 8 years back in June when it was frozen. Now it appeared vast and was quite a sight. After the lake, came two very beautiful high altitude passes. Nakeela La at 4961m and Lachung La at 5097m. I almost lost control of the bike while negotiating a slope after Lachung La. Prashant had his first fall which resulted in a minor knee injury
  3. We finally ended up at a place called Pang at 4.30pm, which was at about 4500m above sea level. Although we did not want to stay at such an altitude, we were out of time and could not continue riding. Staying at Pang was a nightmare. We had basic tent like accommodation with many others. It was super cold and noisy (I also contributed to it through my occasional snoring). All the three of us had an altitude headache. Hannes didn’t sleep a wink. The previous two times I had stayed at Pang was in 2008/2009. Both times, I vomited and felt like someone had beaten me up. This time, the lady at the place gave me some ginger tea which really helped. I managed to spend the night at Pang without puking. I even ventured out quickly during the night to look at the stars. It was quite a sight! But, my visual treat was interrupted by my olfactory senses which detected the pungent smell of human excreta nearby! I gave the stargazing a rest and went back into the tent to try and resume my sleep despite the sharp high altitude headache
Truck stuck in Barlacha La pass

Truck stuck in Barlacha La pass

We had to wait for the army JCB to clear this mess

We had to wait for the army JCB to clear this mess

Prashant and Hannes wondering what to do next

Prashant and Hannes wondering what to do next

JCB tows away the van

JCB tows away the van

Hannes readies to cross

Hannes readies to cross

Finally made it through

Finally made it through

Barlacha La pass

Barlacha La pass

This is Barlilacha Lake. Usually frozen in winter

This is Barlilacha Lake. Usually frozen in winter

Nakeela Pass

Nakeela Pass

Pang - our resting abode for the night

Pang – our resting abode for the night

2015-07-17, Pang to Leh

  1. with much difficulty, we got out of our horrible tented accommodation in Pang. I got out to look at the toilets and immediately averted my eyes! First of all, I had trouble deciding where exactly the toilet was. The pungent smell my nose detected seemed to come from pretty much everywhere! Pieces of feces lay strewn around like landmines beyond a distance which was hardly a stone’s throw away. I decided that my own excreta was best contained within the confines of my intestines. Hannes proudly announced that he had gotten a nice one out the previous day on the mountains just before we got into Pang. Anyway, we got back on the bikes, happily left Pang, and it was then one relatively fast ride into More Plains, a 50km stretch of flat roads in the high altitude plains. We then hit another high altitude pass called Tanglang La pass at 5353m. Stunning. There was a temple there but I didn’t have enough energy to remove my shoes and go in, so I skipped going inside
  2. after Tanglang La pass, there was a meandering road that took us to Rumtse (4300m). Then we hit Upshi after another 50km of riding. The roads all the way from Pang were very good
  3. riding into Leh from Upshi was such a pleasure! There was a river hugging the winding road and I managed to hit 90kmh on the Enfield on many occasions
  4. upon reaching Leh, we found good accommodation in a hotel called Grand Willow (finally had access to a good toilet again!) After checking in, showering and getting rid of intestinal waste, we walked around to try and get permits done to visit Nubra Valley and Panagong Lake. (Since these places are close to border regions, one needs to get permits). Getting permits for Hannes seemed like a struggle initially. Apparently, non Indians can only get permits if there is at least two of them traveling together! I am not sure what a solo non Indian traveler would do! Anyway, some money and a travel agent up the road solved this problem for us by combining Hannes’ permit with some other non Indians. It was funny to see that they wrote down that Hannes was from “Swaziland” and not Switzerland in the permit!
The Moray plains

The Moray plains

Tanglang La pass (5300m). Couldn't go into the temple here

Tanglang La pass (5300m). Couldn’t go into the temple here

On the way to Leh

On the way to Leh

This is in the outskirts of Leh

This is in the outskirts of Leh

Our hotel put on a cultural show in Leh

Our hotel put on a cultural show in Leh

Not sure what these two gentlemen are laughing at

Not sure what these two gentlemen are laughing at

2015-07-18, Leh to Pangong Lake (aborted Nubra Valley attempt)

  1. armed with permits, we set off for Nubra Valley at 7am. However, around 10km into the journey, we were stopped by some local punks who insisted that we could only go to Kardung La (we had to cross this 5400m pass to get to Nubra Valkey) on Jammu and Kashmir rented bikes, not Manali rented bikes. Hannes unleashed a slew of verbal abuse at the guy which made him get on the phone to his boss. (For a couple of minutes, I thought Hannes was going to get himself killed!) However, the punks won and although illegal, they managed to turn us around
  2. after having been turned around, we decided to attempt Pangong Lake, although we felt we would be turned around there too by the punks there. As we were riding, at some point during the initial ride to Pangong lake, some local punks shouted at us and asked us to stop but we continued on regardless. After several hours of hardcore biking and several stream crossings which rendered by feet numb, we reached Chang La (5378m). As usual, there was a temple there but I couldn’t summon the energy to take my shoes off in that altitude for a quick note of thanks to God!
  3. the ride into Pangong Lake wasn’t easy. Although it was only around 50km from Chang La pass, the road was super busy and we had to cross many more mini streams. There was also some occasional desert like surface, and a lot of bouldery bits which proved to be a bit of a challenge for me on the bike. Hannes seemed to have no problems and even gave his beloved Enfield a pet name, “Black Beauty”. The desert like surface sent my bike and I dancing dangerously on many occasions
  4. eventually, we reached the beautiful Pangong lake after several hours of riding and found ourselves a nice warm Swiss style hut with a proper toilet. Upon Hannes’ insistence, we took a cold shower (my butt froze)
  5. it took me a while to get myself warmed up again as I had wet feet from not wearing proper biking boots. I was wearing Gorerex running shoes and all the streams en route were no match for these shoes. I was thinking of ways to make some makeshift poncho-boots for the next day’s ride to avoid getting frozen feet again!

PS. The irony of the day was that no one had asked us for our permits! All that time we spent getting a Swaziland permit for Hannes was unnecessary!

Chang La pass - on the way to Pangong Lake

Chang La pass – on the way to Pangong Lake

On the way to Pangong Lake - a wild yak

On the way to Pangong Lake – a wild yak

Pangong Lake - where 3 Idiots was shot. There is a Rancho Cafe there

Pangong Lake – where 3 Idiots was shot. There is a Rancho Cafe there

Our Swiss style hut in Pangong Lake

Our Swiss style hut in Pangong Lake

The hut even had a couch

The hut even had a couch

Three quarters of this lake is in Tibet and 1 quarter in India

Three quarters of this lake is in Tibet and 1 quarter in India

 

2015-07-19, Pangong Lake to Nubra Valley via a challenging shortcut!

  1. we decided to take a shortcut to Nubra Valley from Pangong Lake. The shortcut was questionable as the road conditions were unknown but it promised to save us around 50km of riding as we would directly end up at Nubra Valley instead of going through Leh again
  2. the “shortcut” started off with a stream though which half the bike got submerged. Again, hero Hannes somehow managed to cross the stream without killing his engine. My bike stalled. I waited for Prashant and Hannes to rescue me. My feet got totally wet. It took me a while to get the engine going again. Then I met two army guys who told me that the road ahead was extremely bad and that it would be wise to turn back to avoid punctures. We dismissed his suggestion and rode on
  3. at some point, the “road” was non existent. Each boulder I guided the bike over felt like the next sureshot setting for a fall. And, fall I did. Two times. First one was in a stream where I misjudged the size of the boulder. Luckily, it was a minor fall. The bike was still standing although my right mirror broke. What I found harder was to gather myself and recover in the high altitude conditions after each fall!
  4. I have to say – the shortcut was beautiful no doubt but to admire the beauty was a challenge, especially when I felt like I was losing control of the bike. On serval occasions, it felt like I was on a camel, not an Enfield. Fortunately, the bike behaved and it seemed like we were somehow going to make it to Nubra Valley but just a mere 5km from Nubra, we had our first major unstoppable force of nature greeting us. A part of the road was blown away by a recent Made by Nature stream and the resulting deluge meant only two things (1) stay there and wait for the army guys to clear the stream (2) ride back!!! I definitely didn’t want to go back. No way in hell was I going to go through those boulder roads again (I had just narrowly escaped falling down more times than I could recall!) Staying there was a questionable idea as well as there was no guarantee of a foreseeable fix. The army guys couldn’t divert the stream channel as some sacred tree was in the way. So, we improvised on (2) and decided to get to Leh via a “Wari La” pass. Some random truck driver told us that the road condition to Wari La pass was “ok”
  5. I was expecting a puny 4300m pass but Wari La turned out to be the mother of all passes. At 5300m in altitude, it was snowing on top, there was ice on the road and quite some streams were pretty hard to negotiate. My hands were frozen. The views were simply superb but only when admired in hindsight! I saw two gigantic vultures but didn’t have the energy to get my camera out! Hannes managed to get some pictures of them
  6. we lost daylight and had to ride back into Leh in the dark. I was blinded by the powerful headlights of oncoming traffic in the night but it was manageable
  7. we reached Leh at 9pm and covered roughly 254km in one day and went over a 5300m pass where it was snowing! Quite a “shortcut”. We were finally back in Room 403 of Grand Willow hotel in Leh
On the way to Nubra Valley

On the way to Nubra Valley

Some of the road junctions were impossible to cross

Some of the road junctions were impossible to cross

We were stuck here! No way we could cross this stream

We were stuck here! No way we could cross this stream

Deciding on Wari La Pass while perched on this log

Deciding on Wari La Pass while perched on this log

More streams to cross

More streams to cross

A marmut

A marmut

 

Vulture on the way to Wari La Pass

Vulture on the way to Wari La Pass

It was snowing on Wari La

It was snowing on Wari La

My hands were frozen. Wari La was at 5300m above sea level

My hands were frozen. Wari La was at 5300m above sea level

2015-07-20, Leh (rest day)

  1. today being our well deserved rest day, we got up late and went on a leisurely walk to a donkey sanctuary. Some kind person set up a place for old and injured donkeys where they could spend the last few years of their lives in comfort instead of letting them die a painful death outside
  2. we then visited a rock museum which was quite impressive. I had no idea that Ladhakh was home to so many precious minerals
  3. the evening was spent watching a movie about Ladhakh. Quite a good introduction to Buddhism and the beauty of Ladhakh. Did you know that Ladakh comes from the Tibetan word “La Dags” which means Land of Passes? After the movie, I went to the market to buy rubber boots. My goretex running shoes were no match for the intense stream crossings!

DSC01605

Leh Market place

Leh Market place

Downtown Leh

Downtown Leh

Leh Marathon! Will do this someday!

Leh Marathon! Will do this someday!

2015-07-21, Leh to Manali (first attempt)
1) the plan was to get up at 6am and head back towards Manali. We did that and left at 7am. I learned that the trouser goes over my newly purchased rubber boots, not under. My boots got wet as I rode the bike through a deep puddle of water. We reached Upshi (50km from Leh) at around 9am when Murphy’s law (what can go wrong will go wrong) greeted us

2) the guy at the checkpoint told us that “Brandy” bridge near Sarchu has been washed away by the torrential downpours the day before. Hence the road was closed. We needed to turn back. We still waited. And waited. Many other bikers and cars were stopped and given similar news. What followed then was a melee of mixed messages. Some guy said that the road would open at 1pm and another guy insisted it would take three days for a new bridge to be put in place. Messages were as confusing as they were ample. Everyone had supposedly heard something. We turned back towards Leh at 1pm after being told by the police guy at the checkpoint that “there was absolutely no point in waiting”

3) having lost our backup day and without any signs of anything improving, we decided to explore buying our way out of the situation. Meaning, we had to book expensive flights out of Leh and pay our bike rental guy many more thousands to get the bikes back to Manali on trucks. We reached the airport at 3pm or so to explore buying tickets but only to discover that it was closed (all planes fly in the morning only). Murphy’s law struck again as Prashant’s bike stopped working. We then split up. We used the remaining two bikes to get to the local mechanic. The mechanic went back with Prashant to the airport to fix his bike while Hannes and I went to the sole travel agent in Leh with a working internet connection to inquire about flight prices. It was INR 25k for a fight to Delhi!

4) after lunch, we asked several more people (police headquarters, Manali taxi stand) about the road condition and eventually, there seemed to be some sort of consensus on the latest news, which was that small vehicles were now being allowed to go through!

5) with this newfound information, we decided to leave at 5.30am the next day to attempt to get to Manali one last time before considering the expensive flying option. To add to the confusion of the route being open, we had another fresh problem to deal with. Apparently, Leh was going to be on strike the next day from 6am to 8pm. No vehicles were to be allowed on the road during this time. To tiptoe around the Leh lockdown, our plan was this: we would leave at 5.30am the following day and reach Upshi by 6.30am. If the road to Manali would be open, we’d take it. If not, we would hang out outside Leh, wait for the lockdown to end, somehow book flight tickets in the interim and come back into Leh after 8pm to try and make a Thursday/Friday morning flight!

6) nature, strikes, breakdowns… We had seen it all in one day! Getting out of our room 403 at Grand Willow hotel was a challenge!

We had a hard time leaving this place

We had a hard time leaving this place

We visited the Leh Palace in the afternoon

We visited the Leh Palace in the afternoon

The old Leh palace

The old Leh palace

The Gongpa

The Gongpa

2015-07-22, Leh to Manali (second attempt)

  1. We got up not at 5.30am but even sooner, at 4.30am ready to take on the 450km ride to Manali. We said another sly goodbye to the hotel room and hoped we wouldn’t see it again anytime soon
  2. Less than 25 minutes into the ride which started at 5.20am, we saw many bikers signaling us to turn around. We eventually figured out that the guys who were striking had created a road block up ahead. No vehicle could leave Leh! It was not even 6am (the supposed beginning of the lockdown) but the striking hooligans seemed to have gotten themselves an unfair early start. About turn. Hello again Room Number 403 in Grand Willow Hotel. Looks like we’ve met before! Time: 6.15am.
  3. We had lost our contingency day and one day of our actual journey to Manali! Now, we had to do the ride to Manali in a mere two days to make our Hong Kong flight in time. And, that didn’t allow any room for error at all. A breakdown, a fall, more road blocks and we would get stuck in India! Our flight out to HK was on Saturday night and we still had to get to Delhi from Manali
  4. we thought up a series of plans. Plan B, Plan C, Plan D, etc, etc. We again opted to buy our way out of the problem by purchasing air tickets to Delhi and paying the bike guy to send someone to Leh who could take the bikes back. New challenge: there were no flights available until the week after! Our only other solution was to ride back to Manali in two days. No room for error
  5. In order to while away time, we visited Leh Palace in the afternoon
  6. Thanks to the strike, we had one less day to return to Manali

Target: Time: Two days. Distance to cover: 450km

2015-07-23, Leh to Manali (third attempt)

  1. Get up time was 0330. Departure time 0400. We were ready to kick some serious butt today. Two days of intense riding through to Manali to get us the heck out of Leh! Thirty minutes into our cold and damp morning ride, I almost got caught in a muddy section of the road and my front wheel got ensnared. I was revving my engine real hard and real loud at 0430 to extricate myself and my bike from this newly formed slush. Prashant did a dance tune on the slush while Hannes almost ran into a cow!
  2. the day seemed fine and we were all ready to do around 200-something km on the bike. We reached Upshi with bated breath and were quite surprised to see a bunch of Enfields waiting before us! They managed to get up even before 3.30! One of them told us that she had gotten up at 2am in the anticipation of a long day ahead! BUT… Nature had its final say! There are two ways out of Leh. One of them got hit by a landslide (road via Tso Moriri) and the other one had a section of the road swept away! (Road via Rumtse – the way we came). Meaning, we were once again (for the third time) stuck in Leh! The Tso Moriri route might have not been an option to begin with as it was 170km longer. Not something we could do in two days anyway!
  3. three days, three attempts. Three failures. Stuck in Leh. Stuck in Leh. Stuck in Leh. We had to come up with a Plan D to get us out of Leh and in time for our Hong Kong flights. We didn’t sit at Umshi waiting for the roads to get fixed (as we did two days back!) Instead, we rode to the airport to check for available flight tickets out of Leh. None was available. We then went back to our usual hotel where the staff once again greeted us with a smirk on their faces. “Never has someone been unsuccessful so many times”, said the hotel guy. It didn’t make us feel better. What did make us feel better was the news that Ladakh was experiencing a “cloud burst” which only happens once in about 5 years. At least, we weren’t carrying any jinx. It was not our rotten luck but it was Leh and the unique weather that was to blame for our inability to escape from our beloved hotel room!
  4. after showering and “downloading” at Room 403 of Grand Willow hotel, we went to a travel agent hoping for last minute cancelations. Finally, Lady Luck smiled at us and we got three tickets out of Leh for the next day at an exorbitant price of INR 24,000 each ticket. The price of freedom!
  5. we negotiated with our bike rental guy to send someone over to our hotel to pick up the bikes. Then we went for our final joy ride on the bike to a place called Nimmu on the national highway #1. We saw the Indus Valley river and a hill called Magnetic Hill which is somehow supposed to pull vehicles upwards against gravity, towards its peak. It seemed like a bunch of baloney
  6. we came to know later on that the landslide on the Tso Moriri route wasn’t fixed until about the evening. So, waiting at Rumtse would have been a waste of time as we would have been out of time anyway. We had made a good decision by choosing to return quickly upon discovering that the roads were closed. That way, we at least got the last few seats on the plane to Delhi the following day
  7.  we concluded what seemed like our final day in Leh (this time for real) with some sumptuous dinner in celebration of our bike ride into Leh and our three attempted rides back! Hannes added that “if I come back to this hotel room tomorrow, I will hang myself”
On the way to Village Nimmu

On the way to Village Nimmu

Indus Ruver

The Indus River

The Indus River

This river runs from Tibet to Pakistan via India

This river runs from Tibet to Pakistan via India

2015-07-24, Leh to Hong Kong, via Delhi

  1. we got up at 4.30am to catch our 7am fight out to Delhi. Hannes asked if he should leave some luggage behind just in case. We had come back 3 times in the past 3 days anyway. Would we really be able to leave Leh?
  2. I wanted to get the pilot to do a low flying pass over Upshi. If we could see both roads to Manali open, we could always parachute down to ride the bikes back to Manali
  3. all the three of us said goodbye to Room 403 at Grand Willow hotel and hoped that the plane wouldn’t get canceled! If the roads can shut two times in two days and if a strike can stop us on the third day, then a plane cancelation isn’t really far off the realm of imagination
  4. the sky was clear blue outside and the day was perfect! It probably was a good day for riding but … it was also one for flying! We were ready to fly home!
  5. we reached Delhi without incident at 8am and said bye to Prashant. Hannes and I flew out to Hong Kong in the night
Goodbye Leh, for real!

Goodbye Leh, for real!

I almost thought we wouldn't be able to leave Leh

I almost thought we wouldn’t be able to leave Leh

A nice statue of the sun in Delhi airport

A nice statue of the sun in Delhi airport

Summary:

Snow capped mountains, lakes, desert like landscape, ice, snow, high altitude passes… we had seen it all by riding 1255km around Ladakh on Royal Enfields. We’d also seen man made pollution, landslides, experienced plans being forced to change due to nature’s intervention and plans being disrupted due to man made strikes.

This trip has definitely had the hallmark of yet another kick ass adventure in our beautiful Planet Earth. The more I travel and immerse myself in the beauty of nature, the more captivated I become with what our planet has to offer! I will miss my Royal Enfield. And, next time, I think we should avoid biking in Ladakh during the July monsoons!

Thanks to Hannes for the photographs.

Julley. (That’s some kind of greeting in Ladakhi).

Motorbiking in Chiangmai (and drinking plenty of coconut water) – April 2015

Photos are here.

A 4-day window of public holidays in April could mean only one thing. Actually, wait. It could mean two things: (1) Run around in the hills of Hong Kong (2) Take a plane to wherever and explore the beauty of this “wherever” place.

Well, that “wherever” place in April 2015 happened to be Chiangmai, in Northern Thailand.

My Kiwi travel companion Brendan, thanks to the perks of being a teacher, was already in Thailand about a week ahead of me. Given both of us are rather easy going and couldn’t be bothered to do much of research, we had originally settled on a touristy style 4-day itinerary with a tour group. Something like spend-the-evening-in-an-exotic-village on the first day, visit-an-elephant-camp the next day, and so on – you get the picture. Of course, an obligatory elephant ride was also very much on the cards. These activities all sounded good but the “tour group” part was a bit of a dampener, because deep down inside, neither Brendan nor I, is a big fan of something that is too touristy. So, given Brendan’s teaching perks and the extra week he was spending in Thailand, he decided to do a bit of research on motorbiking around Chiangmai, all the way to the border of Burma. Now, that got me excited. As much as I love elephants and “an exotic village”, some boilerplate Tour #1 isn’t as fulfilling as a motorbike ride around Thailand, soaking in the scenic beauty of the picturesque landscape and feeling the gush of the mountain air.

Brendan’s research revealed this:

“The roads around Chiang Mai are some of the most scenic in the country.

One of the best known is the Mae Hong Son Loop, a 600-kilometer journey that starts from Chiang Mai, and, traveling counterclockwise, passes through Pai, Mae Hong Son and Mae Sariang before returning to the starting point.

Driving yourself is the best way to do this multiday excursion — car and motorbike rental shops are found all over the city — allowing you to stop to admire the mountainous landscape, visit small villages and swim beneath waterfalls.”

Now, we’re talkin’.

April 2nd, 2015
I landed at Chiangmai airport and quickly zipped through the immigration queue (thanks to the APEC card). I grabbed a shared taxi from the airport to Spicy Thai backpackers (my intended humble abode for the night).

I met Brendan there who looked a tad tired but was still in high spirits. He was talking to a tall tourist. Judging by the length of that guy’s beard, it looked to me like he must have been spending quite some time on the move.

Air Asia doesn’t lose an opportunity to make money – advertisements on the overhead compartment

Our first stop was Tony’s Big Bike shop and Brendan revealed his true personality by showing off the girly bicycle he had rented. (It even had a little flower basket). I naturally made fun of him and told him that I didn’t buy his “this was the only bike available” excuse. The joke was on me though because after lunch at the equivalent of a Thai Cha Changeng, I had to sit behind that girly bike and ride with Brendan all the way to Tony’s Big Bike shop. What a debut! Two dudes on a girly bicycle setting off to rent big motorbikes from a Big Bike shop!

Brendan and his girly bike

Lunch at Thai Cha Chanteng

The owner was too busy smoking his cigarette so luckily, he didn’t notice our grand not-so-macho entry.

After some negotiation, we were the proud renters of two motorbikes. A Honda 250cc for me and (the next morning) a semi-automatic bike for Brendan who was making his debut on his first road trip.

We then headed for a monastery on top of a hill. I called the place “The Stoop” but it was really called Doi Suthep. It was a Buddhist monastery which had this calming and serene feeling to it. Feeling there and listening to the chants felt as though time was slowing down.

Doi Suthep monastery – a very serene atmosphere

The Buddhist temples are remarkably similar to Indian temples

You can donate to any cause you choose — quote innovative instead of having a one-size-fits-all donation box

There was a “Phuping place” sign everywhere. Wonder what that means. Place to poop?

I also started my coconut drinking spree after our visit to Dui Suthep. As legend would have it, by the end of our little adventure in Chiangmai, I would have gone through around 20 coconuts in 4 days! And, not to forget Thai street food. Very cheap. I ate so much that for the first time among all of my little getaways, my eating expenses exceeded my accommodation expenses!

To conclude the day’s affairs, Brendan went for a little test ride on the 250cc Honda and had his very first minor accident as he fell off the bike while trying to turn without putting his foot down.

Our guesthouse – Khaosung in Chiangmai

April 3rd, 2015
It was time to begin the 600km Mae Hong Song loop under scorching weather.

Riding around 40kms away from Chiangmai, we took a little detour from the Mae Hong Song loop and reached Mae Tang National Park. I thought one could enter these parks for free but being “foreigners”, we were charged 300 bucks each. (Had I learnt the two Thai words that I know now, we may have passed off as locals.)

Getting ready to ride 600kms

Our loyal vehicles

Mae Tang National Park

The first stop within Mae Tang National Park was a very interesting geographical formation called “Pha Chor”. I found it rather hard to believe that it was all natural formed. The symmetry was stunning. Brendan put his photography skills to good use by looking for “a natural frame”. He used other cool phrases which I don’t remember now. But, I blame any rubbish pictures that I’ve taken on my camera, not my knowledge of photography or lack of thereof.

Pha Chor — These are natural geographical formations, not an old construction

Brendan admiring the formation

Anyway, after Pha Chor-ing, we headed for yet another National Park called Doi Inthanon National Park. We were greeted with the usual “300 bucks foreigner fee” but two magic words meant we could go in for free. No, not “pretty please” or “thank you” but “Mae Chaem”. Allow me to explain. Doi Inthanon has two entry points and two exit points. One is near Chiangmai and the other is near a place called Mae Chaem. So, for some reason, if one were to enter at Chiangmai and exit at Mae Charm, it’s free! All you have to tell the lady at the check point is that you are headed towards Mae Chaem. There’s a 300 buck saving tip.

10 coconuts a day, keeps the doctor away

So, what’s in Doi Inthanon National Park? Three things mainly: waterfalls, the highest point in Thailand (the Doi Inthanon summit at 25xx meters) and some cool treks. By the way, on the subject of treks and air quality, I have to mention this – around Easter, the farmers burn a lot of rice fields so there is this prevailing smog in the air in Chiangmai. The air tends to clear up following rains in late April. So, if you’re traveling to Chiagmai in the first week of April to benefit from the public Easter holidays, don’t expect sunshine and crystal clear skies. Well, you will get sunshine but not crystal clear skies!

Doi Inthanon National Park

Wachirathan Waterfalls

You can feel the water splashing past you!

We went for a little trail run by the summit when all of a sudden a lady appeared and pointed towards a document that read “going without a guide is dangerous”. She, of course, wanted 200 bucks to escort us to safety. Given we had saved 300 bucks in entrance fees, we paid this 200 but disappeared into the wilderness before she could catch up with us.

Going on a trail run

The sub-alpine meadow starts at a much higher elevation here

There were many zen moments on this little trail run.

Words of wisdom: The most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even heard. They must be felt from the heart

This tree has to learnt to survive without leaves as it very windy up here

The trail


Listen to nature’s voice.

Be still, be quiet, close your eyes and listen to the sounds of the forest. Listen to the sounds of the falling leaves, the restless wind, the swaying branches, the trickling stream, sweet chirping of birds, humming of insects’ delicate wings. Not the variety, subtlety and complexity of the forest symphony. Immerse, absorb and enjoy.

Brendan experiencing a moment of serenity

There was a guest book at the end of the trail and I wrote “Thailand Rocks!” and drew a nice smiley face next to it. I then passed the pen to Brendan who was beside me. Enlightened by the newfound serenity in the forest, Brendan added his little poetic touch to their guest book.

“The restless mind is harnessed in the symphony of the forest. Lonely, wandering, tortured souls are brought peace” – Brendan Lee

(I would have written something more deep than “Thailand Rocks” had I known he was going to write something as beautiful as that!)

After the trail run, we headed towards the summit Doi Inthanon.

The highest spot in Thailand – it was about 15 degrees over here and 33 degrees centigrade at ground level

After our adventure in Doi Inthanon National Park, we descended down scenic, windy roads into Mae Chaem.

We searched for a guesthouse and a very friendly lady pointed us in the right direction. She also invited us to her coffee shop. We politely declined and continued to search for the guesthouse.

Eventually, we found one by the back alley of the town. We had one big bed in a super hot room with one rather noisy fan. Hmm… “could have been worse” is what I was thinking, but then it did get worse! (Murphy’s law!) The toilet was located in mosquito land and had lizards and cockroaches for guests! Well, not a deal breaker. I knew I could “hold it in”. (After all, I did survive almost a week in Xin Jiang simply by “holding it in”). The “shower area” was also… let’s say “interesting”. It was essentially a shower (which I was grateful for) in an outdoor area. In place of a tiled or a concrete floor, there were rubbles. Anyway, no biggie.

Mosquitoes and lizards were omnipresent and occasionally a leaf would fall from high above, giving this bathroom setting a sort of eerie feel to it. And, taking a few more steps from the designated shower area would mean that you would come under plain view of the residents in the upper storey. So, before I could go in for a shower, I carefully admired the lizards in the backdrop and switched the light off. My thinking was that in case a lizard were to jump on me, I would leapfrog to my right but would still maintain my manly dignity as the residents upstairs wouldn’t be able to see me in the dark. Thankfully, I did survive my shower and happily reatined my dignity, although a falling leaf from up above in the darkness got me a little uneasy. Bold Brendan claimed that he had “nothing to hide” and went for his “shower” but he almost banged his head against the thatched roof above as he couldn’t quite see in the dark! (I didn’t tell him that I had switched off the light and given the primitive state of the “shower”, I don’t think he was expecting a light there).

A nice drawing welcomes us to the guesthouse at Mae Chaem

Interesting washbasin

This is the shower area. Home to the person taking the shower and also home to cockroaches, mossies and lizards. In plain view of the residents above

The toilet. The washbasin was home to several dozen red ants. The toilet was home to mossies and cousins (flies/lizards/roaches)

April 4th, 2015

Motorbike loses “motor”
In my growing enthusiasm to say goodbye to that questionable shower and toilet, I got up early, took my “goodbye” photos of the shower and toilet and waved a bigger goodbye to the guesthouse as I sat on the motorbike. And then, Murphy’s law struck like a hardened hammer on a fragile nail.

I inserted the key into the motorbike’s ignition, turned it to ‘On’ position and nothing. Nada. Zilch. The motorbike seemed as dead as a fish out of water. This situation called for superb mental state management, not just because I had no idea how to fix the bike, but because I also had to get back into the very guesthouse that I had so enthusiastically just said goodbye to!

Biting the bullet, I had a déjà vu as I went back into the guesthouse to deposit my rucksack, then Brendan and I got on his bike to see if we could find someone in town to come and fix mine. That didn’t go so well. One guy we met who looked like he could fix stuff couldn’t understand a word of English. Sign language – too complicated. Time – 6.45am when everything was mostly shut.

As the odds were against us, the lady who invited us for coffee the previous day suddenly showed up. She spoke good English and suggested that we go to her brother’s house – her brother was a mechanic of sorts. She came with us on her bike, introduced us to her brother, who in turn, came with us to inspect my broken down bike. He then announced that he had to take my bike to his home garage to take a closer look. How would you move a broken down bike? Perhaps in Hong Kong on a truck, but in Chiangmai, Chaem’s brother pulled a little James Bond style trick. He asked me to sit on my bike, he then briefly disappeared and then reappeared on my rear view mirror. He was riding his scooter using his left hand and his right hand pushed against the back of my bike and all of a sudden, I was “riding” my bike. Defunct engine, but mobile! It worked like a charm. At one point, it seemed like we could do the entire Mae Hong Song loop that way!

As Chaem’s talented brother got to work on my broken down bike, Brendan and I started talking to Chaem to learn more about her. What a kind person she was! Not only did she come in at the right time to find a solution to my broken down bike, she also invited us to have a free coffee tasting session at her shop once the bike was fixed. She was one of those inviduals who you meet and never forget. Kind, selfless and giving. Our conversation with Chaem was interrupted as my bike suddenly sputtered to life in the background. Chaem’s brother had somehow fixed it! What a relief that was.

We went back to our guesthouse to pick up my rucksack but this time, I refrained from expressing enthusiastic goodbyes to ward off any more surprises or unintended manifestations of Murphy’s law. I inserted the key into the motorbike’s ignition, switched it to ‘On’ position and heaved another big sigh of relief to see the LCD dashboard spring to life. We then took up Chaem on her coffee offer. I’ve never felt so welcome in a shop before! Her caring attitude towards people and life was enlightening.

Chaem’s brother fixes my motorbike

Chaem’s coffee shop

Our group photo

Brendan comes of “biking” age
We exchanged goodbyes with Chaem and set off on our way from Mae Chaem to Mae Hong Song.

Makeshift petrol station

We asked a couple of people here and there for directions and eventually hit a dirt road. The road had many steep turns and there was a lot of lose gravel on it. During one such sharp bend on the road, I saw Brendan making the sharp left turn, then came a loud noise of chassis hitting hard ground and the engine sputtering to a stop.

Panic surged through me. My mind was racing with thoughts like the traffic on a busy highway. I quickly parked my bike and ran up to Brendan and saw him groaning with pain, trapped under his bike. His leg was stuck under the weight of the chassis. I feared the worst and tried to calm my mind down before considering my next moves. I lifted his bike freeing his leg from underneath the chassis, then I pushed the bike to the side of the road, parked it there and went back to Brendan to see him still lying down on the road in agony. I helped him get up, made him sit by the side of the road and did a quick check on him. He was bleeding but, fortunately, all his wounds were superficial. Phew! I can’t even recall the last time I felt that relieved. The motorbike fix in the morning didn’t even come close.

Knowing that Brendan was fine, I forced him to smile and declared that he had finally come of “biking” age. I told him that every biker at some stage of his life, has probably fallen of the bike and learnt a lesson. This first fall is crucial to becoming a pro biker. And, what was Brendan’s lesson? Never take a sharp bend on the road on the third gear. Important lesson.

Bleeding but smiling Brendan. It was very scary to see him lying down in pain!

An off-road adventure leads to more falls
Falling of the bike became the norm as we somehow ended up motorbiking on a never-ending off-road trail which really isn’t meant for motorbiking. It all started when we asked two kids for directions to Mae Hong Song. They accompanied us on their own bikes for about a kilometer and then disappeared. I was pretty sure that they had sent the two of us into unchartered territory on a wild goose chase because the “road” didn’t quite exist. Imagine riding a motorbike on Plover Cove trail in Hong Kong. This was pretty much like that! Brendan came of biking age many times! And, as for yours truly, sometimes even experienced monkeys fall from trees, or as in this case, fall from bikes. (I’m not a monkey though). We rode up what looked like steep scree slopes as our engines whined and cried. Then we held our nerves with bated breath and prepared ourselves for the dangerous ride down the other side of the slope. We were on first gear trying to delicately balance the bike by avoiding the lose gravel and large stones on the slippery surface made of loose rocks. Tightrope walking must have been easier. In fact, I can sum up our experience in this tailor-made version of Police’s song.

Every slope you take
Every move you make
Every time you brake
Every fall you take
I’ll be watching you…

At one point, I decided to turn data roaming on on my phone to figure out where we were on the map. Alas! Despite my rare and desperate move to pay ridiculous roaming charges, there was no signal. And then, history repeated itself. Brendan fell. I fell. And our version of the song from Police.

Every slope you take
Every move you make
Every time you brake
Every fall you take
I’ll be watching you…

I’ve got to say this though – neither Brendan nor I complained despite the predicament we found ourselves in. We were both looking for a solution to the problem and willing to weather any storm, or in this case, any slope. Ok, fine. You got me. Maybe I complained a little bit. But, Brendan didn’t!

These slopes got harder and harder and never seemed to end

Brendan trying to calm himself down following more falls

The Gods of mercy finally smiled upon us after we had just barely survived yet another grueling rubble slope. We saw a village and more importantly, the dirt road that lead us out of there. After what we had been through, looking at dirt road instead of something like a scree slope felt like a big treat to the eyes. That dirt road eventually lead us to a proper Tarmac road. I would have almost kissed it.

We finally extricated ourselves out of the off-road mess!

We then rode up to the first store we could find to fix Brendan’s injuries. As we applied Hydrogen Peroxide on his leg injuries, he let out a shriek much to the amusement of the two kids in the store who lovingly fanned some air onto his legs to alleviate his pain.

Brendan gets his leg injuries fixed

The day’s adventure finally ended once we reached Mae Hong Song. And, as always, I went on my coconut water drinking spree. The day’s affairs meant at least 5 coconuts to recover.

And, by the way, I asked Brendan if he’d do by himself what we did on the bike today if someone were to give him USD 10M for it. “No”, came the unequivocal response but being the kind guy he is, he did say that he’d give it a go if doing it would mean that he could solve one of the world’s biggest problems.

By the lake in Mae Hong Song

April 5th, 2015
Thanks to the intense off-road adventure from the day before, I made sure that we knew exactly where we were going today. No scree slopes. No off-road adventure. Just road biking!

The day naturally started with coconut water plus street food

We rode all the way to a Chinese-style village by the border between Thailand and Burma, while temporarily joining a parade en route.

We participated in this parade briefly

Ban Rak Tai – A Chinese village by the border of Thailand and Burma

The border between Thailand and Burma

Brendan is in Thailand and I am in Burma

Brendan is in Burma and I am in Thailand

Apparently, there were trenches on both sides and quite of lot of soldiers had died there during the wars from the past. We asked the soldier on the Thai side if we could take a couple of pictures in the No Man’s land between Thailand and Burma. He let us. I was extra polite with him as has had a huge M16 by his side!

The soldier guarding the border

After bidding goodbye to Burma, we rode to a “Fish Cave” on the way to our destination for the day, Pai.

The Fish Cave – hmm, Brendan seemed to enjoy feeding the fish some insects! Basically, it was a puddle of water with some large fish in it! The glorified title “Fish Cave” is a bit of an exaggeration. The only eventful thing happened here when I accidentally dropped my motorbike keys into a large pond with several hundred fish in it. Luckily, the fish didn’t eat my key and even more luckily, a kind lady picked up the key for me! Had a fish eaten my key, that would have been tragic for both the fish and I!

The Fish Cave

We came all the way here to this “Fish Cave” to feed some fish in a puddle of water?

Pai seemed pretty westernized compared to the other places we had been to on the loop thus far. There was plenty of street food and the contents of a couple of more coconuts found their way to my stomach, along with some grilled corn and yam.

Welcome to the Hotel Pailifornia….

Aiya! No Hong Konger will rent a motorbike from this place!

PaiHollwood – this is where the Hollywood actors train

April 6th, 2015
No trip to Thailand can be complete without an elephant ride. These mammoth creatures are vegetarian and need to eat 250kgs a day!

We rode to Noy’s Elephant Camp for a ride on the back of a very docile elephant called Mai. Brendan helped out the elephant by swatting a mosquito on its back.

our elephant Mai

This is how you board an elephant

Feeling quite powerless on top of an elephant

This is what the elephant would see had it had a rear view mirror

To say “thank you” to the elephant, we gave him several dozen bananas. He gobbled them up almost as fast as I’d swallow coconut water on a hot day.

A dozen bananas gets eaten in 10 seconds!

The other thing to do in Thailand is of course, to swim in natural waterfalls. This was next on the agenda to conclude this 5-day adventure.

Mork-Fa Waterfalls – on the way from Pai to Chiangmai

And, once we reached Chianmai, the final onslaught of eating came in the form of noodles, veggie rice, ice creams, veggie snacks, coconut water and more coconut water. In fact, we had worked out that we could drink 17 coconuts on the 500 Bahts that I had remaining.

No trip to Thailand is complete without a tuk tuk ride

To justify this much eating, Brendan suggested that we do some exercise in the park to get rid of all the accumulating fat. And, that’s exactly what we did. About 5km of running interspersed with exercises in between. I thought I’d have the Strava record for this run but I could only manage the second fastest time!

Anyway, that run (plus more coconut water) concluded a truly awesome, kick ass 5-day motorbiking road trip around Northern Thailand.

I will finish with a quote:

“There is a sunrise and a sunset everyday. You can choose to be there for it. You can put yourself in the way of beauty” – From the movie Wild