Sunday, 12 September 2010

From the top.

We get into Delhi after an 8-hour plane ride (on which I get NO sleep). I'm amazed at the airport; it's all changed massively in the 6 months since I was here last. The Commonwealth Games are here next month and it's clear they've spent some serious money preparing - all shiny marble and perfume shops. The taxi ride into Delhi is striking as well, construction everywhere you look. I ask our taxi driver if it'll be done in time for the games, he laughs and shakes his head.

We wander around Paharganj (the backpacker area I'm familiar with), dump our bags at a guesthouse and grab some tasty samosas on the street. This is also undergoing major renovation - about a metre has been ripped off the front of the buildings on either side in order to make the street wider.

A rickshaw ride later and we're in the Chandi Chowk - a big network of markets near the Jama Masjid. I'd heard of a mystical, heavenly street that just sells paranthes of various shapes and sizes where you can choose any filling (image all the things you could put in a paranthe! peppers... peas... cashew nuts...!) called Gali Paranthe Wali (the lane of fried bread). So we went on a mission to find it, did eventually and had a fantastic aloo paranthe. Shame I didn't know the Hindi for cashew nuts.

At this point I'm an absolute wreck from lack of sleep, so we relax in a cafe and hide from a thunderstorm before heading to the station to get our train to Haridwar. I'm out cold for the whole ride (my dad doesn't fare so well) and we have chai and share a rickshaw with a friendly German to Rishikesh (which I describe in my blog from last year).

We find Enfields to hire pretty easily, from Ranjeet Motorcycles (recommended!) which is actually the place I bought my bike last year. If he remembers me and my... clumsiness last year he doesn't show it. Quite a few shop/cafe owners remember me though which is nice - one remembers both my name and what drink I'd order ('Ah, Mr Ben! Lemon tea?') which I'm mightily impressed by.

Oh if only I had a handlebar mustache.

We decide we'd like to head up to Joshimath, towards Hem Kund and The Valley of Flowers, where I actually went with Tyler and Gribb last year. So, after a few days rest, we set off from Rishikesh and have a great day's riding. A few scary patches, but mostly fine, and some nice sun. We also see many incredible road signs, my favourite being 'Driving and drink: a fetal combination'. Drink driving as a method of conception? Interesting...

That night it absolutely pours down, and after a few kilometres the next day we reach a few major landslides. We sit in front of the first, eyeing it up, when an Indian biker with a passenger rides up and sails through, as though the huge rocks and foot-thick mud were nothing. Fine, we think, we're just being wusses. After bumping around like crazy and getting stuck a few times we manage to get across and stop at a chai stall - by which time the guys in front returns saying the way forward is totally blocked. It's safe to say they weren't exaggerating.

Since we can't head onwards to Joshimath we decide to head back in case the road home is slow too. Turns out to be completely blocked. The next three days go pretty much in the same vein. Every day we get up early, get about 10km down the road, get confronted by ridiculous landslides; navigate our way through one to be met by a bigger one a few minutes later. Some of the things the locals are doing are truly staggering though - basically carrying entire bikes over huge mounds of slippery mud or zooming along foot-wide paths of mud and running water, both just a few feet away from hundred metre drops... Wish I had my camera handy!

Many bikers got through this, and it wasn't the worst by a long way.

It's getting to the point where we're not sure if we'll be back in time for my dad to get the train back to Delhi and catch his plane, but luckily by the fourth day the roads are pretty well cleared, and we bomb back to Rishikesh, the 'scary' parts of the first day barely registering in comparison to the landslides further into the mountains. Pretty dusty though.

The Masked Banditos

Just time for a bit of shopping and a nice hike into the hills (where I get attacked by one of the supposedly docile white monkeys) before heading back to Delhi.

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