Friday 14.06.2019

I woke around the same time like any other morning, half past seven. But today is not an ordinary day, because at noon, I will start my journey to India. We drove to the nearby café to have breakfast and at the same time farewell snacks. Usually we are having these farewell café breaks in the airport terminal, but today it just impossible due the tricky logistics.

After the meal we drove to Rocca al Mare tennis center, where Mirjam has a tennis camp. We did the hugs and kisses there. Then we drove to the airport and had hugs and kisses with my wife Jaanika. I entered the terminal and I had a regular Skype call to Philippines. Jay there is responsible of leading the software developing team. Before the call I was able to change the seats on both upcoming flight. Lady in the Turkish Airlines booth delightedly shared the little secret. It seems like there is a policy to allow people like me to the emergency seats. These people who may sit there can’t be too huge, with physical limitations and families with kids. They might block the exits and might not help other passengers. Well, I suited perfectly. There was a long queue at the baggage drop and check-in. I saw my friend Mati Lohu and his friend Ibrahim Mukunga. Ibrahim is on the way to Kenya. He is the fastest long and mid distance runner in Estonia and he is participating in almost all runs in over here and usually winning. Mati has been in Kenya a couple of times, but this time he came to say bye-bye. Ibrahim had a mountain of stuff most probably as gifts to bring to his relatives. I have had longer conversations with Ibrahim, but probably he does not remember me and he is just very polite. He is such a humble and rather shy guy. Half past eleven I got my boarding passes and went through the security check.

Everything took so much time and I needed to go through another passport check into the gate 13. There was a little delay with boarding and I waited about 10 minutes. One lovely lady came to me and asked to see my boarding pass and said that due to overbooking they will reseat me to business class. It was a good surprise. I thanked and soon went through the gates to little Airbus 321-200 and to the very front of it. Not to the cockpit, but to the 3rd row. More leg room and wider seats are already good and for me rather crucial features, but Turkish Airlines business class treatment is very classy. I was able choos multiple main course options, but I went for the grilled salmon. Tableware is nice and the cups of pepper and salt were extra cute. These little cups were black and olive green and the shape mimicked the minarets. Also I had Efes Pilsener as traditional Turkish beer. Flight itself was smooth. I was able to see the landscape below and I think there is a link of my keenness of sitting at the window seat and looking at the terrain below with the passion of maps and topographics. Soon we reached to the edge of the Black sea. I’m thinking of this current luxury. I’m appreciating the space and luxury and most probably I will miss it on the longer leg to Delhi. But this is not essential of travelling. Few weeks ago we stayed two nights for free in the suite of Swissotel Tallinn. It was an amazing experience to see through wide windows the surrounding city from the 29th floor. Minibar was for free. Mirjam had separate room for sleeping. Breakfast was luxurious. Spa was nice. Basically top nodge. And on the other hand I will experience safehouse type of accommodation, which are just blank rooms where to spend a night. Also I will spend some nights in a tent in the mountains. That will be also very fine with me. I’m comfortable in the fancy luxury as well as in a raw and basic environment. Both are experiences. Surely I will get them. Odessa part of the shoreline of the Black Sea is covered by clouds. But we are going to travel to Odessa in the beginning of August. This will be a family trip and I’m sure we will enjoy this part of the coastline too. Last year we visited Constanta in Romania. We landed 4PM at the new Istanbul Airport. I’m used to connect my Asian flight through Atatürk Airport, but the old airport is closed now. The new airport is further away from the city in the middle of fields and has no subway connection to the city.

Beloved Istanbul old town

This new airport has a beautiful design and nice open space. The food court and shops are in the same area. There is even Old Market area, but this is more for gifts. As I’m not a shopper, somehow I stumbled into LC Waikiki as the local H&M shop and bought underwear, a shirt and shorts. Basically after shopping I changed the outfit in the toilet and came out as fresh as a daisy with new clothes.

I stopped in the pub and had a dark beer Bomonti and hot dog with fries. I got free wifi and I needed to arrange the upcoming stay in Delhi.

Seems like I’m going to stay in Abhishek’s place. I have met him in Dehradun in 2015 and he was studying in the same university where I took the short course. Danish seems to have difficulties to get to Delhi in time. His bike will be loaded on the 16th of June and it will arrive in Chandigarh on the 19th of June. So, it seems he will catch me up in the mountains. But he hasn’t bought the airplane tickets. So, we might meet in Manali and I will explore McLeod Ganj on my own. Let’s see. I might have a breakfast with Pooja in Old Delhi on Saturday. The public internet requires logging in and it lasts only 15 minutes. It’s painful really to have meaningful IM conversations or calls.

My nose is running due AC and I’m having problems with hearing. My ears are kind of semi locked because of the air pressure on board of the plane.

I’m still waiting for the gate for Delhi flight. I walked to the gate E3, it is a 10 minute walk. There was a bunch of Indians waiting to board the plane to India. So, it has to be the right place.

Well diary form is honest way of describing the events that are happening around me. When I’m describing the events right away and in the evening, then I might feel the peacefulness in one moment and total disarray in another moment, the twist of the tale could be on the next line or on next page.

The calmness was gone when the person in the gate E3 said that yes this flight is going to Delhi, but I have a different Turkish Airline flight. OMG is this really happening to me? I have been sitting in the wrong gate. I have looked at the departure screen like 3 hours and somehow I have missed that there is more than one flight to Dehli and there are different flight numbers. I checked the screen again - final call to Delhi at gate F14. I started to run. It’s a long way and it must have been 10 minutes of running. The gate was closed and the plane was rolling away. What a plunder. I went from one Turkish Airline desk to another and from one person to another. Finally it was clear that there were two separate flights and I missed mine. I managed to change my ticket to Sunday evening and paid 600€ penalty for this thing. I hope insurance will cover it with no questions asked. Then I went to baggage claim to pick up my backpack. I met Michael from Netherlands. He is going to Tanzania and he has missed his plane due to the delay of the Düsseldorf flight. We chatted about traveling and after 20 minutes wait got our bags. We made a plan to go exploring the city tomorrow. First I got a 30 minute ride to the hotel where Turkish Airline is accommodating all the passengers who have missed their flights because of the airline for free. Michael is staying in that hotel. I got a hotel located just 10 minutes taxi drive from it towards the old Atatürk airport. Taxi fee was 25TRY ~ 4€. Wow, the hotel is nice, there are two towers. One part of the hotel is five and other part is four stars. I asked the taxi driver to stop in front of four stars entrance. I paid 80€ for two days. Nice and clean hotel. I updated Danish and Pooja of the new situation and also had a call to my wife. At 11pm I was finally done with waitings and hassling. Stuff like this does happen and I’m happy that I was able to solve the issue in the manner that I will have a nice city break in the lovely Istanbul. I took a shower and went to sleep.

Saturday 15.06.2019

I woke at 8AM, had a shower and went down to the restaurant. The breakfast is luxurious and there were even strawberries, halva and other items that you won’t see in regular hotel breakfast. I started to talk to a Iraqi family in the table next to mine. There was a 10 year old boy, daughters were 4 and 14. They have lived in Istanbul already 10 years. Today they are going to visit their grandparents in Bagdad. They had poor English, but somehow we managed to understand each other. I showed my daughter’s photo too. We cursed the war and hoped for a better days for Iraq. What a lovely family.

Michael got a taxi to pick me up and we drove to old town. Istanbul is a vast city, everything is a 30 minutes drive. We walked to the plaza between Sultan’s mosque and Hagia Sophia. Instead of going to queue to the museum, we bought ice cream and admired both structures from the distance in the shade of a pine tree. Ice cream was 20TRY ~ 3€. There were masses of people waiting to get to the Hagia Sophia. We decided it is not worth the wait, because Michael needs to go back to his hotel at 1PM in order to get back to the airport in time.

Michael from Netherlands

We walked a little and did another touristic attraction instead. There is a water supply reserve underground building from Roman era called the Basilica Cistern. Entrance cost was exactly the same as ice cream. We went down the stairs and entered to the wonderland of pillars and arches on top of them. This is a huge place and I can imagine the purpose of this crazy undertaking is to have plenty of fresh water in case of a siege and a cut from the water supplies via aquaducts. There was moisture in the air and on the walls and on the floor below, but no actual water. The causeways have been built on top of the floor. I assume in the rainy seasons there might be half a meter of water on the floor too. The magnitude of this water tank is just breathtaking. There are little ornaments on the hundreds of pillars. It was not only functional, it needed to be beautiful as well. But on the other hand I can imagine the misery of the slaves that needed to dig this huge hole and build this megastructure. There was even a pillar, that had different design features than other regular pillars, and it was constantly wet. The crying pillar is symbolizing the hardship of the slave work in the 4th century. It was a nice cool experience and we walked up the stairs back to the street level.

the Grand Bazaar.
The Arch of Theodosios used to be city gates in the Roman era

We started to walk to the Grand Bazaar. We found a street corner café and ordered tea. We just sat and talked and watched people pass by. At 1PM Michael started his journey through these small market roads to the main road to get a taxi. I sat a little longer and just wrote and did nothing really. I do not want anything from bazaar. I’m sure when I’m here again with my daughter and wife, they will be more keen on seeing clothes, shoes, bags etc and maybe even jewelry. The bazaar area is covered by an old beautiful painted roof. I walked out of the bazaar gates and bought a small bag of chestnuts. Last time I ate them was more than 20 years ago in Vienna. Still tastes bit like a baked potato. I walked further and I made a stop at the gate ruins. The Arch of Theodosios used to be city gates in the Roman era, but now you can recognize the foundations and some pillars, but the rest of the pieces are just laying on the ground. I stopped and sat on top of one of those pieces. I felt like sitting on a stone that is nicely warm, but no daydreams of gladiators or marching pretorians. In the front of the pillar there was an old man providing the weighting service. Well, I know I’m 5kg over 90kg, which I’m going to lose on the upcoming journey in India. So, I didn’t use the service.

They played board game Okey and also known as Rummikub

I walked a bit further and turned down the streets toward the sea port. I discovered a very different Istanbul where there are no tourist shops or tourists. The passage to the sea is blocked by the fence, but I stopped for a tea in a tiny cellar café.

The tables and tiny children size chairs were literally on the street. Children were playing hide and seek and ran around the neighborhood. I started to talk to the owner of this small place, Murat. Well, it was difficult, but somehow and with the help of Google Translate we were able to communicate. There was a bunch of men who were working in the neighborhood and came here to have a siesta type of break in the middle of the day. This is very common that men are playing cards or domino type of board game Okey and also known as Rummikub.

But only men, women are not in the street cafés like this. Ahmet is working in the barber shop and another guy is working in the grocery store right next to it. Jamal spoke Russian and we switched to Russian. Apparently there is a minority Russian enclave in this part of the city and he has learned Russian from them. Latter I noticed shop advertisements in Russian language too. These guys were very friendly and curious. All of them hoping to get to Europe for a better life. Seems they have the feeling that elsewhere in Europe they do not need to do the shitty work they might hate. But the reality is that the need to work twice as hard and still need to do the same work, because they don’t know anything else. And in the beginning there will be the language obstacle too. So, I have came across the same thinking in Jordan for example. It was good to talk and paid 10TRY ~ 1,5€ for multiple teas. I said şükür as thanks and continued my walk on the narrow roads. Finally I stopped in the park near the Sultan’s mosque. Children were playing in the park and some young lads were laying on the grass. Nice lazy atmosphere. I’m also not in a hurry at all. I saw the part of the famous city wall that has proven unbeatable till the Turks finally defeated in 1453. I’m amazed by the diversity of architecture. There are boulevards like in France, wooden houses squeezed together like in Norway and Middle East style white cubicles with terasses. This is the real proof of being in the crossways of different influences and ideas.

I walked up the hill almost by the side of the Sultan’s mosque where I stopped for a grapefruit and apple juice. Also I decided to eat Adana kebab and drink Turkish coffee. The guy who served me was Arslan from Turkmenistan. At six I walked back to Hagia Sophia. I just laid down on a bench and admired both famous landmarks.

At 7PM I was walking alongside the big wall. There is a heavy ongoing renovation and within the next year I believe this wall will shine at you already from the distance. Behind that wall is a huge park. Majority of the trees were massive maples. Children were playing and people were walking in the park. I continued my walk alongside the wall and then criss crossed up the mountain to the metro station. I bought Istanbul card and loaded 20TRY ~ 3€ on it with the little help of the officer. Istanbul metro is not too sophisticated and I need to take a small hop with one metro, change the metro and drive the next one from one end to another to Atatürk airport. Actually one stop before the last stop is ideal for walking to hotel Wow. I took the longer route. I quickly put my stuff to my room and went down to the spa center. There was a very hot steam and rather not that hot regular sauna. I stayed in both saunas until 10PM and I hope I will overcome the cold I caught from the plane AC. I was the only person in this spa. I went back up to my room and I had a video call to my family.

Soon went to sleep.

Wooden houses squeezed together like in Norway
I just laid down on a bench and admired famous landmark - Hagia Sophia.

Sunday 16.06.2019

I had a long nice sleep. It turned out to be a good decision to open the window and let the air in. My room was very dry and I had difficulties to breathe properly the night before. I went to eat breakfast and just took it slowly. Enjoyed the food, although coffee is rather over burnt, but tea was up to high Turkish standard.. I stayed in my room, prepared the batteries and backed my bags. At noon I did the check out and sat at the terrace. Sun is burning and it’s going to be a hot day. Also I’m working on the connection from Delhi to Chandigarh. First option was a train, but the train is sold out. The trick is that the train tickets will be available only 24h before the departure and it seems like it is a hot route. I found an IndiGo direct flight by 50€, but I can’t use it, because I need to take the motorbike bags from Abhishek. So, it will be the third option - Volvo bus. I’m not sure what that means, but it has AC and it should take 4-5 hours. Well, my connection is still not settled. But I’m sure I will get the tickets and can travel to Chandigarh tomorrow.

At 2PM I ordered an Uber taxi and paid my bill in the lobby bar and started to drive to the new airport. The new airport has operated only two months and the life around the old airport is already starting to die. Burger King next to my hotel has closed its doors and many other buildings seemed to be closed as well. It is not easy to move an airport. It took 40 minutes to reach to the airport. At 3PM I was through the bag drop, security check and customs in the shopping world. I walked back and forth and sat at the same sport bar where I sat two days ago. It seems like Pooja is going to buy the train tickets after all for Monday evening departure. I eat a salad and had an Efes Pilsner beer. I walked a long way to gate F16 and at 7PM gate was ready to start boarding people to flight to Delhi. I must have checked the flight number on the screen and on my boarding card up to 10 times to just make sure I will not stand in the wrong gate again.

At 9PM we took off from Istanbul and started the journey to India. Finally, I’m going towards the aimed destination. The fact that I have missed 4 flights in my life, isn’t actually too many considering the total amount of my flights which I have no clue obviously. I have the exit row again, but the middle seat of 3 seat section. On the right I have very young lad who is wearing Indian boxing dress. His nose is also unstraight and that usually tells the field of sport. He got silver medal in world championships in U17. I feel much safer now. On my left there is an old man and he seemed to be also originally from India. The flight attendant was sitting in front of me while we took off and climbed to the clouds. We started to talk, because this is the elevator situation. You just can’t sit quietly and stare at each other. Pinar has worked as flight attendant already 4 years after graduating Russian philology in the university. I choose to eat veggie option not to feel heavy and who should eat heavily almost at midnight anyway? I didn’t watch any movies and tried to sleep.

Monday 17.06.2019

We landed at the Indira Gandhi airport at 5:45AM. I thanked Pinar for the service. The route has been longer and we have been delayed an hour. We have avoided the airspace of Pakistan entirely - that’s how bad the relations between the neighbors are. Delhi grey sky welcomed me, but the heat is already there. I basically walked through the customs with my shiny multiple entry visa that I got from Helsinki embassy in March. I needed to fill one form and leave a camera shot and a fingerprint. Baggage belt was still waiting to start spinning. I used time for exchanging money. The rate was ~73INR per 1€. I handed over all my cash 280€ and got back 20400INR. It felt like a lot of money in hand, but it will vanish soon by thousands. After some waiting at the wrong belt, again too many flights from Istanbul at the same time, I got my bag. I was not able to get a SIM card from Airtel booth because they had technical difficulties with these. So, I was able to get hotspot internet and ordered an Ola little white Suzuki. It was vital to write down the number plate last four numbers. Because most of cars are white here and there is just too many little Suzuki Maruti's. I walked to the parking building where there was an established system for Ola, Uber and for other non-taxi companies. There was a line where you needed to stand and there were plenty of support people. Basically the helper called to my taxi driver and then he arrived. Actually the driver called me a couple times and I ignored the calls. The whole point of the taxi app is to not talk to the strangers. Anyhow, I picked up the phone eventually and it was all Hindi. After a few minutes I was in the taxi and drove towards Green Park area.

I found the right building and after knocking three times on wrong doors I finally found Abhishek’s place. He has a cozy place. Shubham opened the door and soon I saw Pooja just waking up. It’s great to see her after 4 years. We met in Dehradun on my first trip to India. We talked a lot, because we had a lot to catch up. I took a shower and felt human again. She prepared breakfast and we just ate and had a good time. We discussed about relationships and we came back to the topic of arrange marriage. She had a boyfriend for a three years, but they broke up. It seems she has ran out of options and she needs to marry the chosen guy who is in the same cast, settled down, good salary and respected family. These are all good things that her family had kept in mind, but there is a problem - she doesn’t know this stranger. When family is pressing their option heavily you may always say Fuck off, but they are good and loving parents and therefore it is very complicated. I gave her a present that is a water bottle that has the promise to make miracles on cleaning water. She is a hiker and traveler by the nature and feels much better in the mountains or in the woods instead of this docsic concrete urban jungle. So, she will find a good use for this bottle. At noon we drove to an urban area called Saket, where Pooja’s younger sister Geeta and her boyfriend Harshit hosted us with a proper lunch. They live in the building district that has been built for metro service officers. Harshit is working in the Delhi Metro. Food was traditional and very tasty. At 4:30PM we thanked and said goodbye and went separate ways. Pooja needed to go to the office and I walked a little in the neighborhood.

Finally I got a beautiful portrait of Pooja

Well, there is absolutely nothing to see. People just live their lives and small companies provide the services. Soon it was clear that these shops are not that I’m looking for. I hired a tuk-tuk or auto as they call it here. I drove almost back to Green Park and went to Airtel telecom shop. It took an hour to register the 3G SIM card. It involved a lot of bureaucracy, but they will do the application and hard work for you. I got a package where I have 1GB per day for 230INR ~ 3€. That is very cheap. From another shop I bought a local adapter for charging my electronics. I walked back to Abhishek’s apartment. This is a nice middle class residential block.

Children were playing badminton on the quiet street. Street itself was clean and very green, a lot of trees and flowers. It seems that good life in the mega city is possible in these small rather isolated blocks. There was also a school. I took another shower and packed the bags. I’ve been lucky that it has been rather cool day in comparison to previous days.

I left a tiny Vana Tallinn liqueur bottle with a 4cl glass to Abhishek’s table. Vana Tallinn is a nice sweet liqueur that is widely known more in the ex-Soviet Union area. Shubham helped me carry my stuff down the stairs. I ordered an Uber and we started to drive to the New Delhi Railway station during rush hour. There is an endless stream of cars and constant communication by honking and waving with hands.

18:45 I arrived at the station, the taxi fee was 175INR ~ 2€. The railway station is as busy and packed with waiting and wondering people as I remember it four years ago. I needed to take the stairs up where a long gallery goes over the trains. Of course, my platform was the last one. I showed my ticket on the phone screen and sat in the car no 7. The train is almost full and only a few seats are empty. Train started to move.

It’s getting dark and alongside the railway I can see very basic houses and people sitting in front of them. It seems like a slum type on settlement that provides services for middle class residential area just a few kilometers away. We were served water, snacks and typical indian food. So, you will get a lot for the money. Pooja bought my ticket yesterday and paid 650 INR ~ 8€. We stopped in Ambala railway station for about 10 minutes and I was able to observe the people who had gathered here. There are the crippled, semi-homeless and just regular travelers. People are sleeping on the platform on a sheet of paper. We continued our journey to Chandigarh. Rakesh is waiting for me. He will deal with the motorbike papers in order to get the bike from railway customs tomorrow. I arrived to the station, but there was no Rakesh. Actually it was triple difficult situation. My iPhone that has Indian SIM-card, decided to say that there is no SIM. No SIM, no internet. So, I do not know what he looks like and I can’t call him and he can’t reach me. To identify me would be much more easier, because I’m the only European in the station. Finally I asked a lady to share hotspot with me and I was able to call him. Well, he doesn’t speak English. Again the same lovely lady helped me with translation. Finally I met him somewhere at the gates and we took a tuk-tuk to find me a hotel We drove to one hotel and to another and they were all sold out. Finally I got Dreamland hotel for 1400INR ~ 20€. The demand is high and the price is rather extravagant to me in India. And there is no window and breakfast. But I can wash and sleep. I made a video call to my family and updated Danish about my status.

Soon I went to sleep.

Tuesday 18.06.2019

I woke up at 8AM, had a shower and walked to the main street in front of the hotel. Soon I took a tuk-tuk and drove to the railway station. The driver though it is a good idea to start listening to his favorite track over boombox. That was very loud, but I assume he had good intentions and just wanted to share the experience. Chandigarh sky is cloudy and it is nice without too much heat. There is no sign of Rakesh in the station and I started to look for my bike. After some searching I found it.

But Rakesh has the papers. Finally he came. We were able to do all the paperwork and I paid 720INR ~ 10€ for warehouse fee for each hour since Saturday morning. After payment and some signatures we started to unwrap the bike. The bike was covered by burlap and some parts were wrapped with straws in order to make it softer. Very environment friendly, although I think they have used the straws because it is for free.

Another interesting thing was the fact that we needed to get a bottle of gasoline and pour it to the tank, because all the motorbike tanks were emptied before boarding the train. I wonder if these people who are working in the train cargo, ever buy fuel to their personal cars? They should offer at least 1 liter of fuel for starting the engine. Anyhow, Rakesh went and bought the fuel. I assembled the mirrors and was ready to go. I gave 300INR ~ 3€ to Rakesh for his effort. He has been helpful and it was a lot of fun to communicate with him. He speaks Hindi and I speak English and collectively we were able get the point. I thanked him and drove to the hotel.

I packed my stuff from back pack into different bags on bike. At noon I checked out and was ready to roll. My destination is McLeod Ganj, the Tibetans community in the mountains. Danish will arrive by train probably tomorrow morning to Chandigarh. He will take his bike from railway station and will start his journey towards Shimla. We will meet somewhere there in few days. I drove through the Chandigarh. I didn’t see much of the city, just intersections and roundabouts. The city traffic is pretty intensive, lot of horning and switching lanes. Intersection traffic lights are with counter and very often you need to stand for a full minute. It feels like an eternity. Around 1PM I reached the outskirts of the city. I made a stop at the gas station and took full tank with 900INR ~ 11.5€. My first meal of the day was at 1PM and I took very simple bread omelet and tea, total 70INR ~ 1€. On the road I usually eat street food and my cost for the food is rather small.

I try to drive by my own phase and in India it means 80-100 km/h on the 4 lane highways and 40-60 km/h on regular roads, but very often 20-30 km/h because on tense traffic. I need to have eye for everything around me and I need to calculate the trajectories of other drivers and adjust my speed and positioning on my lane. It requires all my attention. Horning is a preventing measure for communicating. When horn is dead you will be dead soon. You might not have the breaks, but without the horn you will survive in these roads.

Also I try to have time for tea breaks and taking photos. When I need to reach somewhere on time or at least before darkness, I can’t go swimming in the small river or wait for the right moment for photographing. Today I had this rush feeling in the back of my mind.

Countryside is mainly rice fields and small brick factories with the old school pointy chimnies. Landscape is very flat and some bigger rivers are crossing the landscape. Many rivers are dry and main water is channeled through hydro electric stations. I turned to the side of the road and ordered a fresh orange juice. It was made of peeled oranges and ice. Very good juice break.

I also participated in a meeting via Skype. I said only a few comments and it seems the machine is working even without me. In one town I made a stop in front of Bajaj service. They obligingly asked me to drive to their workshop. The passage was basically a narrow corridor with multiple corners. My concern is that the steering is heavy and it might prove a problem in the mountains.

They did something with a huge spanner and the steering was moving once again lightly. I thanked and my bill was 50INR ~ less than a euro. Imagine, they took me in from the street, I don’t have Bajaj bike and the cost was the price of a tea. And it took 10 minutes. For the reader who is not familiar with Indian brands like Bajaj and Tata. Bajaj is one of the biggest manufacturers of motorbikes and scooters in India and recently bought the Austrian moto legendary brand and company KTM.

TATA is producing basically everything from tea and sugar into air conditioners and vehicles. And TATA owns Range Rover and all the other Rover brands. Crazy, isn’t it?

Karan made Paneer Tikka Masala and it really looked and tasted like tikka chicken

I drove further on the seemingly endless plato and I did another, this time a mango break. I sliced the fresh mango into cubes by my own army knife. What a delicious fruit. Finally I started to climb the mountains. First I did a rise from 500 meter to 1000 meters. The air is fresh up here in the mountains compared to the thick hot air down on the plato. I took a tea with milk or chai masala. I will have them by hundreds by the end of my journey.

I reached to Dharamshala, which appear to be a resort city for locals. There are a lot of hotels and restaurants. I drove through the masses of cars and people and tried to find the right path to my destination. Google lady was also exhausted of my twists and turns in extra narrow roads. She was speechless at the end. The correct road to the Little Lhasa is with sign No Entry, One Way Street. Maybe this is a kind of Buddhist trick and there is a huge meaning behind that?

I drove all the narrow way up to McLeod Ganj. I got a hotel with the balcony and with a view to the valley below. I think the hotel name is because of it - Mountain View hotel. The price us 2000INR ~ 25€. I quickly put my more precious gear to my room and went for a proper Tibetan massage, because my ass has dropped off. Is it because of my bike’s saddle or it is normal because of accumulated hours of driving? The 90 minutes massage was done by two guys. It was one of the best massages I ever had and I have had many. The mixed together the Tibetian pressure and Swedish classical massage. Good job!

I walk a bit further uphill and ordered Paneer Tikka Masala and it really looked and tasted like tikka chicken. The paneer cheese was marinated and grilled on the ashes. I started to talk to the owner of this restaurant. His name is Karan and he is sikh and he is vegetarian. I showed where Estonia is on the map. We talked about food in general and purity of it. A fascinating guy. I ate the chicken-like paneer tikka while we were talking on the street.

Today I have eaten only street food. I like that. I did a little loop in the area and discovered that most of the shops and restaurants are closing their doors. I walked down to my hotel and had a Facetime video call with my family. Took a shower and discovered there were no towels. It seems the hotel has missed that. My rooms is huge and cozy. I sat on the balcony and saw some lights standing out from the darkness. At 2:30AM I went to bed.

View from my hotel room

Wednesday 19.06.2019

I woke up at 9AM and had an amazing view over the valley and the snowy peaks behind the hills. I had breakfast and this time it was a la carte service, no buffet. I sat by the window and watched the snowy mountains behind green hills.

I’m going to pay a visit to these high peaks soon. It is a short ride from my hotel to the center of this community. This is a Tibetan community in exile. As an Estonian I can sympathise with the Tibetans very easily, because Estonians have also suffered under the red terror and whatever class society bullshit theory that allowed to kill millions of people just because they were different.

The Dalai Lama main temple is a relatively new building and it is functional, meant for services and handling tourists. So, the building itself has no esthetic value, but there is a special atmosphere around the area that triggers people I suppose. I expected an old temple complex, though. I’m sitting in the temple at 10:45AM and it seems here is a little break between services.

There are two rooms where they have simulations prayers. In one room there are monks with dark red robes and they mostly pray monotonly which reminds me of the didgeridoo sound. In the other room there are monks that have yellow-red robes and they make more noise with kong, bells, trumpets and other instruments. It seems like the local community is participating at these services every day. They silently bow three times and do the prayers with beads or with the prayer roller.

Tourists are wandering around and making selfies in front of the praying monks. It’s a shame of course, but I believe the local community leaders are taking this as an inevitability. The local community’s economy is based on tourism. I did some photos of monks or praying ladies and showed the photos to them and thanked with gesture of putting hands together. I noticed another guy with a more serious camera. He was taking pictures in secret. His name is Omkar and he is from Mumbai. He admired the gear I have and the photos I have taken.

I drove back and did the checkout. It turned out that the breakfast was not included and I needed to pay for this. No problem, just a bit irritating. But the food was good. No worries. The hotel is at 1771m and I started to drive down the steep slope back to Dharamshala. The drop was around 1000 meters. Soon I climbed back to the mountains. I needed to refuel and the cost of one litter of petrol is 69INR ~ that is just under 1€. The mountain side was covered by grey clouds and the heavy rain is inevitable. One biker on the road suggested to go and see the paraglider’s heaven in Bir. He was going there for a tandem jump.

I drove to the landing site which is a huge grassy field where people are having picnics and playing cricket. There was a group of young Buddhist monks and nuns. Monastery has a summer break, but these boys and girls are not going home for the break, because they live so far away in India or in Nepal. They are having a good time and where there is pop-corn there is a proper party. I made some pictures and promised to send them to adult Lhakpa. She is a Tibetan who was born in India and she is arranging this kind of events. I saw some paragliders jump off the mountain top and glide across the valley and land with spiral move to the field just in front of me.

I had another tea and continued my journey. At one point I stopped and made a picture of a father and two daughters who were hanging out with their goats. The goats were like pets and they wanted to be hugged and kissed. Amazing site. I also scratched the head of a goat. I gave some souvenirs to the girls. One got a handicraft flurry lamb. Both girls were very happy.

Later on I saw some 5-6 Europeans driving on Royal Enfields and they were on the way to Manali. I drove in their group for some dozen kilometers. My journey took me to the mountains and hardly ever went lower than 1000 meters. It was a nice warm weather and I enjoyed driving on twisty roads through the pine forest.

Condition of the road was mainly very good, although the road itself was often rather narrow. There were many times when I was forced to drive out of the asphalt, but these arguments will be always won by the bigger vehicle. The road is just not able to accommodate a truck and a car or motorbike side by side.

I made another stop and ate veggie momos. Basically momos are raviolis with vegetarian filling. Very tasty snack. I was approaching Mandi and there was a grey backdrop above the city. I prepared myself for heavy rain, but got just a few rain drops. I crossed a very narrow Victorian bridge. I was hoping to find massage, but no results.

Most of the hotels are fully booked, because it is a vacation season and people are escaping from major cities to the resorts up in the mountains. Finally I got one basic room with 1400INR ~ 20€. I checked in and left my stuff to the room. I went for a little walk in downtown. There is a clocktower in the middle of the park and traffic is designed in a rectangular way around it. But the park was 2 floors below the traffic level, like in the hole. Also in the edge of the park there were two floors of commerce spaces and gallery to connect them all. I saw boys playing cricket in the park. On the other edge there is a Hinduism temple.

Mandi is a relatively old city, it was founded on the 16th century. The narrow bridge I crossed was built at the end of the 19th century. I haven’t seen a single European yet, this city is not a tourist attraction for foreigners. I did some serious shopping in a small fruit and vegetable shop. I bought cherries, apples, pears, mangos, peas, tomatoes and white raddish. All the items are local and the cost was 250INR ~ 3.5€. I also bought a bottle of water and the Sweet Betel. Sweet Betel or also known as Meetha Paan is a common refreshing snack. A mixture of different herbal sweets wrapped in a leaf and mounted into the mouth. I just had this leaf in mouth for like 10 minutes and during this time I couldn’t talk properly and I experienced the sweet taste in my mouth. Nice thing for 10INR ~ 0€.

I walked up to my room and started to eat my cherries at the open balcony. Temperature is nice and I sat totally like 2-3 hours at the balcony. Just below my balcony there is a slum type of living and a family is sleeping under the sky. They have some plastic covered areas too, but they are sleeping under the open sky. River and the bridge is near by. Yet again the real India has hit me in the face. I can see 2-3 kids there. This is the life that we have currently, isn’t it? But on the other hand they probably don’t know the other potential ways of living and therefore they are happy with the little they have.

I had a chat with the man who just moved in with his wife and son as my neighbour. He is living in Chandigarh and they are on the way to visit his parents in a small town more to the north. I had a video call to my loved ones. At midnight I went to sleep.

Thursday 20.06.2019

I woke up at 9AM. It seems the electricity has gone out. I need to charge my batteries of phones and power bank. Soon it came back, but it seems that during the night the power was off. I ate vegetables and mangos. At 11AM I checked out and started my journey to Shimla.

I had basically 3 types of roads. There are 4 lane freeways, narrow bad condition asphalt roads and good curved asphalt roads. The last option is my favorite and it is as good as you get in the Alpine mountains. Riding in the heavy traffic is tough and it takes some courage to past vehicles in front of you, because heavy traffic is coming at you. Nerve enterprise really. But then there is almost empty road ahead. At noon I made a stop in a restaurant and ate a kind of late breakfast. Also I was able to pay all the invoices that were pending. I may not have a better time to do it. I drove further south and soon started to climb again over 1000 meters. Children are walking in their fancy uniforms along the road home. There are hundreds of them walking back home like this.

At 1266 meters I made another stop for a pineapple juice. Big glass cost me 100INR ~ just bit more than 1€. It is demoralizing when the Google lady said that stay on the national road 205 for 59 kilometers. It takes 2 hours in the mountains and my ass will be damaged again. I climbed even more and drove the last part of my trip around 1800 meters. I have entered into a cloud and it is getting chillier. I stopped and put my rain gear on, actually just a jacket. Just before Shimla it started to rain very heavily. I drove through the heavy traffic of Shimla. It’s a big city with a population of over 200 000 people. And the roads are basically as they have been designed in the last century.

I reached finally to the point where Danish was waiting for me. I needed to drive up to the narrow walkway. Danish arrived yesterday and he is staying at his friends place. Mridul has hosted many couch surfing tourists over many years and he has hosted Danish a couple times. The house is located on the hill side and has a beautiful view over the mountains and valleys. Henrik and Laura are two Germans who bought the Indian motorbike and will start their journey to Europe through Pakistan and all other countries along the way. They are also couch surfers.

I took a quick shower and drove to the city. We made a list of items we are going to buy. All the stuff is vital for our upcoming adventure. Shimla used to be a summer capital of British India and because of that there are plenty of old hotel complexes, churches and other building with some longer history. In order to get to the commercial street called Mall road we took an elevator. Actually there is an option to take the stairs too. The stairs and narrow streets are creating a market, street food, service providers and small shops area leading to Mall street on the top of the hill. We ate some spicy street food and had tea. We bought some items, but we need to come back tomorrow morning.

We drove back to our place at 9:30PM and we were asked to join the dinner in a nearby restaurant. We had a good thal meal and we chatted about the trips ahead. Apparently both Germans are e-Estonians as e-residents of Estonia. We walked back to the house and talked some more. Lhakpa wrote me back. I figured out the "la" concept in Tibetan is respect in communication. I like it. I went to bed at midnight.

Just starting from Shimla

Friday 21.06.2019

We woke at 8AM, although I woke at 6AM too when the owner of this place left the building. I thanked him and gave him 5TRY bill as a gift, because he is collecting foreign currencies. I shared the couch with Danish as you do when you do couch surfing. Danish warmed up some rice food and made toast. We ate breakfast together with Germans. I drove to downtown, parked my bike and took the elevator to Mall road. Today is an international yoga day and here is

also co-yogaing events throughout the day. I was lucky to buy a Canon camera charger. This time I’ve managed to leave behind driving license, international driving license, Canon camera battery charger and my puff. I miss my proper gore-tex motorbike jacket and trousers. I think I took too many clothes and I should consider laundry washing option every other day for the next trip. That way I will have less stuff and more room for special equipment.

I walked back to the elevators and went down to the street and drove back to the place. Danish was still there assembling the bags on the bike. Everything takes a lot of time. At the bus station I took another 15 000INR ~ 189€ for upcoming weeks. Yet again Shimla traffic was a big mess and it took ages to drive out of the city. Around 2:30PM we were pressed through the traffic and reached free asphalt.

Last night me and Danish had a longer chat about his relationships. When I visited Danish in the South India in February 2018 he was in a serious relationship with a Russian lady - Lylian. They broke up because Danish had another brief relationship with his college girl. Eventually he lost both girls. And if this was not enough, his parents started to arrange him future wife options and mounting immense pressure on that matter. He was able to say no to 3 girls, but one girl was too pretty. So, he didn’t say anything and the girl’s parents even paid a visit to Kodaikanal in Tamil Nadu to check Danish out.

So, there has to be something else out of the ordinary, because most of the common criterias Danish is going to fail. He doesn’t have a decent education, job as such, no apartment or car. Basically nothing, but still they all are pressing on the marriage. Girl’s parents even started to arrange Danish a proper job in the Kodaikanal’s English college as environment teacher. And it seems that different religion of parents will not be an obstacle. How could the future pair manage the Hinduism and Muslim religious holidays? Because holidays usually mean getting together with relatives. Anyhow if this is the case, I might need to book the flights to Danish’s wedding soon.

We drove on the banks of Sutlej river. This is a huge grey colored river with the fast current. Rafting business is a vital income for the local community on the banks of this mighty river. We had a proper gravel road experience as a rehearsal for the upcoming week.

In the higher mountains we will get some more gravel roads with huge holes and severe drop to the ravine. We had a Samosa and a tea break. My ass is hurting and Danish is also on survival mode. During this two hour stretch of road we were using the 2nd to 4th gears and driving not faster than 50km/h.

We crossed the river and drove up to 2000 meters and reached to Danish’s favorite place in Himachal Pradesh little village called Khanag. We stopped at the cottage where Danish was greeted by local hosts Bhagwan bhai (god bhai), his 9 years old daughter Jia and wife Urmila.

We got tea and dinner. Our accommodation is a small room on the hill side even higher than the cottages. We took only vital stuff and left the rest to the cottage.

Mighty Sutlej river
Danish Khan - motorbike traveller who hasn't crossed the boarders of India yet

Saturday 22.06,2019

I woke at 6AM, went outside, sat on the chair and looked at the valley below and surrounding mountains. We are at 2516 meters and these are pre Himalayan mountains. Khanag is a small village and the houses are spread along the hill side. It is nice and calm here, not like in the famous mountain resorts Shimla, Manali and Mussoorie.

We had tea and a little girl showed me wild yellow raspberries. These berries were really sweet. Soon we walked back to the cottages where we had left our bikes yesterday. Danish’s friend provided us breakfast and an amazing view. We decided to have a motorbike trip around the mountains.

Two girls wanted to ride with us to the primary school. They have school on Saturdays too, they just want to get smarter. So they hopped on and sat in the front, much safer that way. In the front of the school girls went to the class. Imagine how proud they were in front of their school mates. We gave candies to the kids around us. We stopped and parked our bikes and walked down the stairs to the village.

We are near the groom’s home in Lohal village and a bit further up the hill. We sat on the terrace floor in the shade, only feet were are out in the sunshine.

Negi as Pubender is cool, not too excited of the upcoming wedding

Negi as Pubender is cool, not too excited of the upcoming wedding. His parents have arranged the bride from another village 25 km from here. He saw her first time 4 months ago and has not even kissed her yet. Well, they do kiss tomorrow then. Soon we had tea and more company. His uncle’s daughters joined us. They were very excited to see two bikers in their village. Soon Negi’s big brother joined us as well. We just relaxed and enjoyed the view. We started to walk even further up the hill. Am I so weak or just in the height of 2718 meters I’m lacking the oxygen? It’s so hard to walk, I can’t imagine to trek to the high peaks or doing alpinism as such. We past a middle school where boys were playing cricket in the yard.

Cricket is a part of curriculum in Indian school
These kids wearing the school uniform were very curious about these motorbikers

We walked even further and ended up in a house that Danish thinks would suite for his plans to open a motorbike trip base camp or a starting point and accommodation. He has big plans.

We walked back to the bikes, said bye-bye to Negi and his older brother and drove up the hill. Soon we continued on gravel roads and a bit later on just loose stones. The road goes through the massive pine, probably cedar, forest all the way to the next village. I was a bit scared to drive on 3rd gear on gravel - imagine if I somehow lost control over my bike I’d fall over the edge to the 100 meter drop to the bottom of the valley below. It might take a single rock to knock off the front wheel. My first tyre is rugged too and has had better days. So, I was semi cautious.

But then all of a sudden the road turned to big rocks laid on the ground instead of gravel. We decided to turn around and drive back to our place. Big clouds were rolling up the mountain and formed a dark grey cloud. We were on the edge of it and it started to rain, but not very heavily. We stopped near the school and gave high fives to the boys standing at the roadside. We gave them candies and they were running till we stopped in front of the cottage. They were so excited.

I took a shower or in this context operated with a bucket and a mug. We had lunch and were just relaxing on the terrace of the cottage. I made a portrait of the cottage co-host Urmila.

Soon it started to rain heavily and we escaped to the balcony. At 4PM their daughter Jia arrived from school. She did the homework also on the balcony. So, we had 5 people on a tiny balcony. It is raining heavily and we can hear the thunder too. At 6PM the sky was clear again. But we were forced to change the plans and cancel the plan to go hiking on the top of the mountain and camping there. We will skip that plan. Also we will skip the wedding ceremony, because it turned out the ceremony will start tomorrow at 9PM, but this is just a welcome and warm up. The act of getting married only takes place after two days. Wow, we didn’t expect that and were not that familiar with the schedule of local marriage ceremony culture. I also thought that the guests might just party 2-3 days after the ceremony, but it is the other way around and so the excitement grows day by day. So, another change of plans, we will continue our journey tomorrow morning.

Danish, Bhagwan and Jia went for a little ride on motorbike to a nearby village. Urmila did another chai masala that included cardamon. Usually it seems that the tea includes only black tea, milk, sugar and masala powder, maybe chopped ginger too.

I was alone on the balcony and enjoyed the sunshine and working on laptop. At 7PM it got chilly out here, 20’C. Jia is getting used to me and she is all over me. She wants to see images in my iPhone and touch my laptop, it all seems so interesting. So, we did the tutorials of these devices. We had a dinner with the hosting family. It is already dark outside and after dinner we gathered around the campfire. Actually it was a baller that had a flame inside. Two ladies that are staying in the cottage were curious of our trip and we asked them to join the campfire. One lady is an accountant from Jaipur and the second lady is a teacher in New Delhi. At 11PM we walked back to our room where we spent the last night.

Sunday 23.06.2019

We woke up at 8:30AM and walked down the road to the cottage. We packed our gear to the bikes and had breakfast. Chai masala, chapati and pickle. Pickle in this context is canned mangoes, carrots etc. We thanked the host and paid a symbolic sum for the meals.

We left from Khanag village where the mighty Sutlej river starts as a small creek in the valley below. Well, I did the fact check and this small river is also called Sutlej and will end up into the real Sutlej river. Danish had some things to do and I drove ahead. The road is an amazing mountain road on the edge of a cliff and sometimes through the pine forest. The smell of the pine trees is so good and refreshing.

I reached down to big river and had a stop because of the landslide blockage. The machinery is cleaning the road from rocks that had fallen from the cliff above. This is a massive amount of rubble to clean up. Danish catched me up in the queue. After half an hour of waiting and burning in the sun, we were allowed to drive on over the rubble ramp.

But just after a few kilometers I saw Danish on the side of the road. His raincoat had started to fly, got loose and got stuck in the chain. We managed to get the raincoat rag off, but we couldn’t put the chain back to its place. Danish took my bike and drove to the nearest town and came back with a mechanic. He did the job in 5 minutes and we were ready to continue. Then the mechanic said that he is also able to change my front tyre. Let’s do it. Danish gave them the tyre and I ordered us tea from nearby café. The whole break was one hour.

We continued our journey and crossed the big river once again. Henrik and Laura are just ahead of us. They have started in the early morning from Shimla. It’s very hot and I feel my skin is burning. The ride was once again on the banks of a big river. The road was in good condition and I was able to drive at 80km/h, but in some places the road narrowed and two trucks were stuck side by side and counting centimeters and yelling at each other. They blocked the whole road and we were stuck as well. Most of the time I drove alone, because Danish was ahead or few minutes behind me.

In Jeori we caught up with Laura and Henrik and had lunch. We were able to see each other’s position via Whatsapp live sharing where you can see the real time position of each group member. The air inside the café was toxic, lacked oxygen and we decided to eat outside and just rest for awhile. We also bought ice cream. We continued our journey at 4PM. We drove on an amazing road, more like a petrol head dreamland - the asphalt was in relatively good nick, the road was curvy and the scenery was just mind blowing.

There was a few kilometers stretch of road that was carved into the solid vertical rock. I was too scared to look down. Just after the barrier there was a severe drop, could be up to 1000 meters. Higher trucks are probably not allowed here, they would be stuck into the carved hole. There is the grey river Sutlej below us surrounded by massive cliffs and mountains.

We started to climb again almost to 3000 meters and for the first time on current trip I can clearly see the snowy peaks of middle Himalayans. Danish booked a single room for us for 1400 INR ~ 20€. The hotel is a bit outside of the village of Kalpa. We drove down the village and ate proper dinner. I had soup and momos and tea. Also I bought fruits for breakfast. We drove back to the hotel and had a shower. I had a quick call to my wife and let her know that it can be 3-4 days black out in terms of internet. I went to sleep at midnight.

Monday 24.06.2019

I woke at 8AM and peaked out of my window and saw the massive snowy mountains. We decided to drive a few kilometers to Roghi cliff as a Sucide point. The drop down from the cliff could be over 1000 meters.

We had breakfast on the edge of the cliff and admired the backdrop, the high peaks of Himalayas. We ate the fruits and tomatoes. The view is hard to describe, my English would run out quickly. It is breathtaking. At the edge of the snow I can see the streams of water forming waterfalls and fast current mountain rivers.

We drove back to the hotel, packed our stuff and checked out. We drove down to the village and visited an old Hinduism temple. The whole complex is built out of wood. We noticed some naughty images that were carved out of wood, probably gods are having sex. The gods have always more rights than mortal people.

This temple is dedicated to Vishnu. The wooden figures were also s piece of art, tigers, birds - all of them have semiotical and religion meaning. I admired the view of the mountains from the temple terrace. I spun the prayer rollers and walked back to the bikes.

We drove down to the town of Kalpa to get permission for going to higher mountains. The agency handed me a form. We walked to the officials who deal with the forms with passport and filled form. The whole process might take two hours. Well, I didn’t expect that, actually I was not aware of the permission as such. It took some waiting. After some more waiting we got the permissions.

An American - Cassie - arrived by bus from Shimla and she got the permission as well. At 2PM we were done and drove a little further to the city and ate. Again the air inside the café was unbearable and we sat outside. Danish bought himself a new pair of shiny black rubber boots for upcoming rainy days. We started to roll down the hill and drove about 1000 vertical meters down back to the big river. We tanked petrol. Time after time there were some road construction work or landslide rubble blocking the road and causing major traffic jams. But motorbikes are agile and volatile slipped through the columns of cars. We saw many bikers loaded with bags and many of them had a rope between the mirrors with little flags. That’s a sign that they are coming from Spiti valley.

We started to look for a camping site, but there was no beautiful green spot on the banks of the river and more importantly accessible from the main road. We passed a town called Pooh and it started to rain. We continued till Dubling, crossed the bridge and tried to find a hotel. It is such a tiny village that eventually we ended up in the school yard.

We parked our bikes in front of the school and climbed over the wall. We set up our camp under the roof of this tiny school. We walked through the village to the shop and I bought a mug, a chocolate and we got tea. On both sides of the road there is a community living in huts or in temporary small units. These are homes of road construction or maintenance workers and their families. They might come from Bihar or Uttar Pradesh, because these states are very poor. Children were playing on the street or actually on national highway. I had some candies left and the kids were very happy to have them.

In our camp Henrik as the main chef started to cook pasta. I made a fire in front of the school. We ate and just relaxed. It is almost like sleeping in the monastery. All of the sudden I hit my head to the edge of the school sign that was hanging from the roof. I got a lot of blood flowing, but actually it was just a surface scratch. Cassie and Henrik helped me and soon the blood flow was stopped. At 11PM we went to bed, obviously not bed, but sleeping on mattress and concrete. Danish snored and a dog was barking. But despite all that I was able to hear the roar of a river just 100 meters from us.

Life on the street
Heading off from our camp site

Tuesday 25.06.2019

We woke at 7AM. Henrik was already preparing coffee and porridge. It was a tough night, because concrete is not soft. Anyhow I think I got an hour of quality sleeping and that’s fine. We ate and packed our stuff. At 9AM we were rolling again. Today it is a windy and cloudy day and we expect heavy rain when we climb over 3000 meters. We drove alongside the river on a very special road. The mountains on both sides were so big that they made me humble and I felt like a tiny bug compared to these monsters. The road itself was gravel or loose gravel, but drivable.

And we left the beloved Sutlej grey river and started driving up the serpentine and reached to Nako at 3647 meters at 11AM. We had a tea, omelet and momo break. I gave away Estonia stickers to Danish, Henrik and Laura. The decorated their helmets with these.

We continued climbing and we took a pass over the highest point on 3864 meters. It is just impossible to express in words the feeling and fulfillment when I see the different colored mountains all around me. Some were sandy yellow, some were grey with dark stripes and some were with the snow caps at the distance. I didn’t dare to drive on the edge of the road and I drove rather on the right side as opposite side in order to be away from the edge. Sometimes the road was really narrow. We drove back on the asphalt spaghetti to another big river. What a nice piece of road. We dropped again back to 3000 meter level and drove on good roads. We got some showers, but not heavy rain. We did a 10 kilometer loop to the Gue temple. We climbed up and up to 3760 meters. The temple itself is a brand new building and currently under construction. We went up the stairs and the view was magnificent. Right next to the temple there is a tiny chapel with a mummy inside that was covered from the gasior. This sitting mummy is probably female and by the data from carbon dating, the age has been estimated over 1000 years.

We drove back to the main road and towards Tabo. But in a small village called Lari there was a proper traffic jam. Both lines were blocked by standing cars. There was an ongoing wedding in this village and the only street that lead to Tabo was packed with celebrating people. Most men wear the Himachal hats and scarfs. Women had full party outfit. All the people in the cars were treated as guests and the ladies gave puri, chickpeas and tea. The whole stop took about half an hour. Some drivers in the cars were honking, but with no results of progressing anywhere. We were happy to be a part of this event. Finally the cars started to move and we drove to Tabo.

We wanted to spend a night in the monastery and in Tabo monastery there was a dormitory. We paid 120INR ~ 2€ and checked in. Our room contains of 10 beds and by the night all of them were sold out. We were lucky to get 5 beds. I had a quick wash with the cold water and did a loop in the village with Danish. The Buddhist monastery has been founded in 996 and the caves in the cliff further away might be related to the early period of the monastery. Current buildings and stupas seemed to be also at least 400 years old. I saw some yoga students who have ongoing 5 month yoga course and they are living in the same monastery, but in much better conditions than us.

We ended up in the monastery restaurant at the backside of the main building. I ate momos, noodles and drank tea, of course. Danish shared some horror stories of the accident a few days ago in the Kalpa region, where we had been a few days ago. Apparently two bikers on one bike were driving and were hit by a rolling stone from the slope above. The stone ripped off the head of one and fataly injured the other rider. Danish heard these news during one of the tea breaks we had. Creepy and horrifying story. It can happen to anyone basically. You may look at the slopes and rocks above you, but the rolling stones or landslides are just so rapid that there is a little chance to avoid them. We paid the bill and went to bed at 9PM.

Wednesday 26.06.2019

I woke at 6:30AM and brushed my teeth. I went to the yard of the monastery. I saw Cassie walking around and I suggested to sit on the carpet in front of the old temple. We just sat and enjoyed the sunshine in the early morning.

The morning service was just ended and monks went to have breakfast. We are at 3362 meters and our crew is facing the effects of food poisoning or altitude sickness.

Danish and Laura have a dysentery. I’m relatively ok. I felt some pain occasionally in my chest and I breathe heavily yesterday.

I felt iffy in my stomach, like any moment I need to run to the lu. We packed the stuff and had some tea. I spoke to Luke from Netherland. He is on a journey to Vietnam. We started to move at 9:30AM and drove higher along a river.

We have had police checkpoints in every 200 kilometers. Luckily they didn't ask driving license once.

We made a breakfast stop about an hour later and drove again at 11:30AM. We have had police checkpoints in every 200 kilometers. They usually check the permission paper and register into their logbooks and add another stamp on the paper. We decided to turn off from the main road and started to climb to Dhankhar at 3929 meters. There is a monastery and Spiti kingdom’s old castle. We parked our bikes and walked up the stairs to the roof of the Buddhist temple.

Monks had a chill out and Danish started to talk to them. I joined soon after and took some portraits. Danish will send the photos and the 360 degree video, that he took with monks, to their email. This monastery belongs to the chain of Tibetan Buddhism monasteries in northern part of India, Nepal and Tibet. I’ve a new knowledge from monks. These colourful flags that I have seen on the top of the hills or attached to the bridges have prayers written on them and wind will transport these prayers all over the valley and over the mountains. I thanked them and we walked up to the castle that used to rule the Spiti area. Castle has been preserved and looked in good nick. We walked down to the bikes. All this walking took a lot of energy and I was out of breath.

We decided to continue on the small mountain road and climbed even higher and my new altitude record is 3969 meters.

We saw in the distance a mountain top village called Demul, but the road leading there was just too crazy.

We stopped at another Buddhist monastery in Lallung. This monastery is even older than the ones we have seen or will see in the north of India. There were no tourists and we were the only people besides the few village people. There was a cute little girl with two ladies and I gave her a candy. Ladies were so nice and opened the gates and doors to the monastery. In this more than 1000 years monastery there are ceramic statues on the wall and big figures on the floor which could be also ancient. We thanked the ladies and went down the hill on another small road.

At 4PM we were back on the main road and down on the Spiti river level. I felt like shit and I have all the symptoms of altitude sickness. I felt dizzy, I could not care about the amazing scenery around me and I felt weak. We stopped and had a Maggie which is basically boiled noodles from package with added spices. Laura and Henrik were obsessed of the baby cow just over the street. It seemed to loved the attention and scratching.

Soon we drove on till we reached Kaza. We parked our bikes to the main street. Danish met his friend UC - everybody in this town seems to recognize him by the acronym - and soon discovered that we can’t sleep in the Kye monastery and meanwhile the sun was going down. So, the camping option also dropped off and we decided to stay in UC’s home B&B. While others were not sure of the price or should they start looking for an alternative, I got my private room for 600INR ~ 8€. Hopefully I can sleep without interrupting noises of other sleepers. Danish will stay at his friends’ place and surely they’ll have topics to catch up.

At 8PM I walked on the small streets of Kaza. Actually this town is tiny. I bought a local warm hat and a sweater for my daughter. It was a tiny shop where husband did the sales and wife meanwhile produced another hat. I hope the sizes are ok. I walked to the crowded The Himalayan café and ordered a ginger tea with honey and butter chicken. I ordered a half of the main course, but I was not able to finished it. It was so good to eat non- vegetarian food for a change. I hope I will get my energy back and be fit by tomorrow morning. The café is so popular that people were waiting in queue until a table became available. I asked for permission to test the recently bought hat from a New Delhi family. They had 6 and 8 years old daughters. The test result was obvious - the hat is too small and it only covered the top of the little girl’s head. I thanked them and walked to the store where I bought the hat in the first place.

The family was closing the store, but were kind enough to find a bigger hat. I walked back to our place. Eventually Laura and Henrik slept in the bed and Cassie slept on the mattress just next to the bed. I hid my sin that I had chicken for dinner from Laura because I didn’t want to see the look she as a vegetarian would have given me. We chatted in their room and at 10PM went to sleep.

Thursday 27.06.2019

I opened my eyes at 7AM and looked out of the window to the snow covered mountains. The sun is shining to these beauties. Kaza is mostly in the shadow of these big mountains around. I packed my stuff. At 9:30AM we had breakfast and proper coffee. Laura did not feel well and she paid a visit to a doctor. It seems that the main suspect for dysentery is the cheese momos in the monastery.

Because only Cassie is feeling well and she didn’t eat the momos. I’m paraphrasing Danish: I would not trust my fart. That’s how bad it is. We tanked petrol and drove to the hospital to catch up with Laura and Henrik. Laura got the medicines and we were set to go.

We drove up to Komic at 4570 meters. This is my new altitude record. I ordered tea and sandwiches in the restaurant that claims to be the highest restaurant in the World. I have my doubts though.

There must be some restaurants in Peru or Bolivia that are also in high altitude. We drove back and turned to even smaller road. On the way we did several stops because the snowy mountain range is just breathtaking.

Danish showed his near future trekking aim from the distance, that is the peak of Kanamo with the height of 5950 meters. We drove down to a remote village post office at 4456 meters. I sent a postcard home and I estimate it will take a few months to arrive. The cost of sending a postcard to Europe was 25INR ~ 0€. There was a man in front of the post office who was selling postcards, stamps and hammered the stamps on the cards and put them to the red mailbox.

We drove around mountains and stopped in Langza at 4427 meters and saw the Buddha statue and continued our voyage to Key monastery.

I’m sitting on a stone at 4032 meters and admiring the ancient Key monastery. It is located on the hill and overlooking the Spiti river valley below. These buildings and how they are on top of another really remind me of the images from Lhasa, Tibet.

Danish, Laura, Henrik and Cassie went to conquer a hill in order to have a better perspective on the monastery, but I decided to walk up to the temple. The stairs took a heavy toll on me. I sat in the temple alone where usually the monks sit in the multiple columns. It was nice and calm. I walked down and saw monk kids playing cricket. I joined the game. Soon Danish and Henrik joined too. These young boys are learning and living here and this is their playground.

At 6:30PM we left the monastery. We drove up to a village named Chicham and asked for drinking water. There was an adorable little baby donkey walking with the mother donkey on the streets of the village. It was almost dark and I started to worry that instead of beautiful camping site we will end up in the school yard again. But Danish got information that in about 20 minutes ride we might find a place to camp. We continued our ride up the hill and found a camping site. Actually this was grassy area between mountains and on the edge of the creek.

We quickly assembled our camp at 4221 meters in complete darkness. Henrik hassled with the camping cooker and was not able to use it. With the combined effort we were able to have a campfire. The lighter is not working properly at this altitude and I was just lucky to discover in bottom of my bag a box of matches. There is not a single tree in sight and therefor we asked 3 logs from the village. We also used cow’s poop to heat up the fire. So, we cooked lenses and vegetables on the fire instead. It was really cold and we were eager to start eating and going to sleep. We ate and admired the clear sky above with thousands of stars and the Milky Way. Our tent housed me, Danish and Cassie. At 10:30PM I fell asleep.

Friday 28.06.2019

I woke at 7AM, open the tent door and saw the snowy mountains. What a peaceful and beautiful location. It is already our 4th continuing day without internet and cell phone coverage, because we are in the remote mountains. Henrik prepared coffee and porridge. The sun came out and warmed us nicely. It looked like all of a sudden we were not in a hurry and we took it slowly, although we all knew the road ahead might prove to be the toughest and the pass itself can take many hours. We packed the tents and other gear and prepared the bikes. The scenery was incredible. Every mountain that has snow cap must be at least 5000 meters above the sea level. Little black birds paid a visit and ate the porridge leftovers.

Our camp at 4221 meters

At 11PM we finally started to drive up the hill and through some mountain villages and stopped in Losar at 4188 meters. This was like a bikers gathering and there was at least 20-30 bikes. Danish, who is usually a shy guy, was talking to strangers practically in every opportunity. We had lunch and soon continued towards Kunzum pass that has the altitude of 4618 meters.

Again stunning views. There were shiny blue small rivers rushing through green grassy areas. Also I admired the columns of gravel that were standing like statues in the park. It is just unimaginable to think that these statues have been formed by wind and water that removed the rest of gravel mass and left these more solid ones standing. Just crazy stuff. Bye bye Spiti valley. It’s a special place and I might come back here one day.

Bye bye Spiti valley. It’s a special place and I might come back here one day.
Columns of gravel that were standing like statues in the park

After the pass we drove down to 4080 meters and decided to stay in Batal. This is not a town or village and it is more like a camp. We ordered tea in a local tent type café and we got the idea to stay here and not set up our camp in Chandra Taal. We put our luggage to a hut that had stone walls and tent type of roof. It is much better to drive without luggage. The road to the lakes of Chandra Taal is quite demanding and we needed to cross twice deep rivers. Danish drove fast and a bit recklessly like a teenager. So, Cassie was very terrified behind Danish’ back. We parked bikes and walked uphill to the nature reserve at 4400 meters.

Mountain top mirroring from the pond surface

We managed to arrive just in time, because the sun was about to set and drop behind the mountains. There are multiple lakes that all seemed to be on different level. I’ve got a picture of a mountain top mirroring from the pond surface. The terrain reminds me Ireland because of treeless green hilly areas. Of course Ireland does not have mountains like these as a backdrop. Henrik did some drone videos around the lakes. Sun light was fading fast and we walked back to the bikes. We made a switch and Cassie drove back with me. In river crossings I was able to drive through in a way that Cassie’s feet were dry and only my boots were wet, because I needed to put my feet to the river bed in order to keep the balance. The current of the river is strong and stones were slippery. There is no margin for errors. If I fall down, we might even go down the cliff along with the river fall. Laura didn’t dare to sat on the back seat and she walked through the river. We arrived to camp site at complete darkness. I ate and soon went to sleep. We were sleeping on the mattresses that were laying on the ground. Our boots will not dry during the night. But we have some more river crossings tomorrow.

We put our luggage to a hut that had stone walls and tent type of roof

Saturday 29.06.2019

We woke before 6PM by the motorbike engines’ sounds. I had the best sleep so far in the category of non-hotel accommodations.

The extra thick blanket gave me plenty of warmth. It was time to quickly pack the stuff, eat and go with the rest of the crazy guys who are going to attempt to cross the mighty obstacle. Basically Danish is taking a gamble to cross the river crossing and another pass and end up in Manali by the end of the day.

If we can’t cross the river or any of the glacier, we are fucked, because then we won’t have time to go all the way back to Chandigarh. Also Henrik, Laura and Cassie were taking a major risk. They haven’t faced such a road challenge ever.

So, we hit the road and I was able to see the sunlight on the top of the peaks around me, but the valley where I was driving was still in the shade. That’s good, because we had some freezing temperatures and ponds were covered by ice and it is not muddy. We drove on the bank of fast flowing Chenab river. We started to pass the glacier that has been cleaned up by the width of a road. And then we stopped, because one glacier hasn’t been finished by the JCB. All of the early starters were waiting in the queue. Something interesting happened. Everybody helped everybody to push the bikes over the slushy snow to the road on the other side of the glacier. It was a slippery and breathtaking enterprise. We had 2-3 glaciers to cross in the similar fashion.

The gravel road changed to road of loose stones and rocks. There were many diversion roads because the original road was still under heavy ice shield and snow. We drove through countless rivers and very often the melting snow created a river that was as wide as the road itself and I needed to drive in flowing water uphill or downhill. There was not much traffic besides our crazy biker group. Only a few cars and bikes came towards us. This road was highway for flocks of sheep. We needed to drive through them. We saw also horses that were carrying goods for the remote villages.

Sometimes the landscape was just rocks spilled all over the valley. The fresh water of melting snow poured down the cliffs and created countless small waterfalls and creeks. It is just mind blowing experience to see it all happening around me. This miracle is happening once a year in the beginning of July. This road will be used till October and next July road construction need to start all over again, because ice, water and landslides destroy much of it.

We drove down to 3439 meters and stopped in Chatru village. Again there was only two temporary cafés and nothing else. They just recently have opened their season. We ate lunch and knew that the hardest part is over. We thanked the bikers who drove with us and helped to push us through the snow.

Our international team effort

I drove another few hours and stopped by another miracle - asphalt road. My offroad journey is over. We drove down to Koksar at 3268 meters. I drank another tea. Cassie repacked her stuff from Danish’ bike to her backpack, because she will continue her voyage to Leh on her own.

Laura and Henrik will stay in Keylong where there is internet and they could work for a while. We did group photos, kisses and hugs and at 2PM we started to climb towards Rohtang pass.

First it was a nice new asphalt road, but soon it was a muddy road. There was a landslide and we needed to wait till it was cleared up. The heavy traffic made this pass even more harder. Snow is melting and water is everywhere. Finally at 4PM I reached the top of the pass and the altitude was 4061 meters.

I wore the raincoat and rain pants, because it was raining and on the top of the pass I drove through a misty cloud. On the other side of the pass I was surprised to see commercialized tourist attractions. There was a snow tube and horse riding attractions, but mostly people were eager to touch the snow and have a slide.

I drove to a heavy traffic jam. Endless queue of cars just going down the serpentine like a snake. I passed them all and squeezed through. They valley below is amazing. Beautiful landscapes with pine tree forest, rivers and huge cliffs. On the top of a narrow cliff I saw cows eating. And just 50 meters away I saw dead cow laying aside of the road. Did it drop down the cliff or was just hit by a truck...that I will never know. There was a third biker cruising with us.

We drove down to 2188 meters to Bashisht just before Manali and checked in to hotel Hollywood. Danish didn’t confirm it with me and it came to me as a surprise that Dhruv from Jaipur will stay in the same room. Luckily we had three beds in our room. Danish and Dhruv went uphill to the hot springs and I drove to old Manali and found a massage place. It was expensive, but relatively ok massage after bone breaking hardship in the mountains.

After the massage I washed myself and drove to find a mechanic to clean the chain from the dirt and sand. The chain was making horrible sound. It took 10 minutes of brushing the chain with petrol and tighting up the chain. The cost was only 50INR ~ less than 1€. Danish caught up with me and we drove to see the town. We walked in the promenade and narrow streets of Manali. The main street is very crowded, because it is the peak of the vacations and most of the local mega city tourists prefer colder mountain resorts. We ate chicken and bought some gifts for my family.

We drove back to the hotel and I shared some Old Tallinn liqueur with Druv. He was drinking a local rum named Old Monk. He is a good lad. He is on a longer tour and not going home so soon.

Sunday 30.06.2019

I woke at 6:30AM and quickly packed my stuff. I was able to see from my window the roaring Beas mountain river below and high mountains as a backdrop. We’ve got an idea to go to the hot springs nearby a Hinduism temple.

We walked up the hill about 10 minutes through the hotels and shops on both sides of the street. This has become a very touristic area. Our hotel is named Hollywood because of unknown reasons, but Danish has stopped here many times because of the view.

It is early morning, but the public pool type of place was full on men in panties. Women are in a separate pool. There was a washing area and bathing area. The pool’s temperature was around 40’C, at least my body felt like it. Swimming wear was required, but most men wore just underwear. I saw one young and one older Buddhist monk having early morning bath and also one Hinduism monk with his dreadlocks.

Some people meditated while sitting in the water or on the edge of the pool. Fascinating experience in terms of seeing people in close. We walked past the temple. Bashisht was an important scholar or guru in Hinduism and he founded the complex here and also founded similar complexes of Laxman and Ram in Rishikesh.

We walked to one of the handicraft shops and I bought something to my wife for anniversary. We packed our stuff to the bikes, washed them a little and made a selfie. We drove down to the petrol station and started our journey on the highway to Chandigarh.

The road is mainly nice, but there are plenty on road constructions and obstacles like landslides and rock falls that have partly blocked the road. Danish stopped in Kullu, but I continued. I made a breakfast stop in Bhuntar. Driving on the highway is generally boring and kilometers are not reducing much. From time to time there was a traffic jam where cars were standing still in the queue and I was able to pass them with relative ease. I passed Mandi where I stayed the night in the first part of my trip. I stopped in Sundernagar in front of a small juice bar where there were three kids playing with a cell phone and there were no adults around. They went to ask for their father from neighbouring shops. I ordered fresh pineapple and coconut juice with the straw.

People are very careless in traffic, it seems that they transform into something else when the start driving. It is very common to start overtaking on a blind corner. And many times I saw very tense situations. Cars or bikes almost crashing into a big truck or bus behind a corner. Just crazy. I have seen during my current trip only two accidents. Both were with motorcycles. When I reached through the traffic jam near Chandigarh the accident site was following. One older Sikh man was sitting in the middle of the road rewrapping his turban. Motorbike was laying on the ground of the road by his side. And somebody had collected his flip flops and plastic bags and handed over to the victim. I was able to see blood coming from the forehead. One white Suzuki Alto was on the side of the road as well and it had a dent on one side. Sikhs are not wearing a helmet, because they wear a turban instead and it seems ok in the region.

Another accident was on an u-turn in the mountains where the biker obviously had turned too soon and rolled over to asphalt. Nothing serious. We were that close that we were able to help him.

So, the traffic is tough and not for the weak. It takes some courage to drive in India.

The drive was mainly endless mountain roads and just before Chandigarh it flattened up. On this plato I was driving at 80-100 km/h on the highway. I arrived to Chandigarh by sun set. I’m actually impressed how this mega city is planned from scratch. Roads are wide and there are many boulevards and high new buildings. There are even bicycle roads and sections on the main roads with red markings. It is a good initiative, but I was not able to see a network of bicycle roads in the city, just a few here and there. Anyway, it is a good example for other Indian cities where there are no bicycle roads as such.

I reached the railway station before Danish. He started to deal with the shipping of bikes and I packed my stuff from motorbike bags into my backpack. I left my beloved and well served boots to Chandigarh railway station. They have served me well and during all of my adventures in India. I bought them from Harley Davidson shop in Chicago in 2007. I have changed the chains in these boots countless times and the chains had let me down again. But they are also just worn out and a bit broken. Surely they will live another 10 year in somebody else’s custody. Bye bye boots!

Also I went to the toilet and washed myself. It was a long ride and a lot of muddy sections and just endless dust. Soon I ordered a taxi and we drove to the other side of the city.

We bought some street food and water.

Just before 9PM we started our bus ride to Delhi, actually we are planning to disembark halfway to meet up with Danish’ friend Abhishek and drive in his car to his apartment in Green Park in Delhi. The overnight bus is like a disco bus with all the blinking and flashing lights outside.

Danish made constant phone calls in order to keep up with friends after being a week offline and I wrote.

In the highway on the edge of Karnal the bus stopped and we jumped into Abhishek’s car. Abhishek is a friend of Danish and they studied together in Bhopal. The plan was to drive to Delhi, but we decided to change the plan and instead Abhishek drove to his parents house. We walked into a huge house and I was introduced to his mother, father and grandfather. It was midnight and his mother served us dinner. Mother Neena used to work in local college as an English literature teacher and retired exactly two years ago. His father has a clothing shop with one employee and he has ran this company already for 40 years. We ate and talked. In the living room there is a small temple for worshiping Hindu gods. This family is in any standards upper middle class. We thanked and went to sleep at 1AM.

Monday 01.07.2019

I woke up at 8:30AM and had a proper shower and felt like a human again. Abhishek showed his hobby of collecting motorbike models. He is a big fan of GP rider Lorenzo. We had breakfast and at 10:30AM we hit the road. Such a lovely family and hospitality. Neena gave me a little Ganesh elephant figure, because I knew some basics of Hinduism. She is currently writing a short story about a topic that worries millions of parents in India. When parents are sending their sons to Europe or to the US to study, quite often they come back with girlfriends or wives. Parents most likely will be shocked and slowly get used to the new situation which is not in their hands really. We thanked again.

It was another hot day - 35’C early morning. Highway to Delhi was uneventful. Abhishek is working for Delhi municipal government as a city planner in south part of Delhi. His main job is to overlook the parking solutions and build the fully automated parking towers. We arrived to Green Park at 1AM. We stayed in Abhishek apartment till 7:30PM when Pooja got back from work and we drove to eat dinner in a Middle East restaurant. We drove into traffic jam and were hardly moving forward. Delhi is a green city with parks and boulevards. We passed the shining Indian Gate dressed in Indian tricolor colors and arrived to the restaurant. We ate good food and it was time to pay. The bill for 4 people’s dinner was 1996INR ~ 25€. At the dinner table one of the main topics was forced marriage for both Pooja and for Danish. They want to escape from this situation, but with no good alternative options they are kind of forced to give in to parents pressure. Pooja even said nobody gives a shit of her real opinion. It is like they were under 18 years and the regent took the full authority of the decisions. Anyhow they need to make peace one way or the other with the situation, because most likely they will be together with these persons for the rest of their lives.

We drove a bit and stopped in front of the embassy of Estonia. Danish must come here to pick up his e-residency ID-card. We drove a bit further and went to food court where we ate phirnis. I ordered mango phirni and it tasted very sweet. Pooja is not feeling well because of her period and soon we drove back to Abhishek’s place. Danish was very sleepy.

Tuesday 02.07.2019

Pooja felt better and we talked a little more. I drank my KingFisher beer that I bought from Manali. At 2AM I ordered Ola taxi. I woke Danish and Abhishek up in order to say goodbye. I thanked everybody for being so kind to me and sat into my taxi. The ride to the airport through the city was about 25 minutes.

I checked in my backpack and unfortunately was not able to change the seat this time. I went through the security check and bought some more sweets and gifts. I walked to the gate 03 and waited for my flight. At 7AM the boarding was completed and I asked a flight attendant to change my seat. She gladly gave me the exit door seat.

I didn’t want to watch movies and tried to sleep instead. We had a proper delay due a bit late start and headwinds in cruising altitude. We landed in Istanbul at noon. I had some spare time and therefor I was not worried. I walked a fair amount of kilometers and went through the security checks and passport control. Then I walked the same distance back to gate F9. I was able to do some work and catch up with current situation. At 2PM the boarding started.

I asked again the flight attendant to change my seat to exit seat. Right next to me there sat an Israeli man Oded who was married to an Estonian lady and lived in Estonia already for 5 years. Time flies by fast when you have an interesting conversation partner. We landed at 6PM. It is good to be home and share fresh memories with my family and get updated about what has happened at home while I was absent. Sweet home.