India was the country where we rode on one of the highest motorable roads in the world, 5,602 m (18,380 ft), where I nearly fainted while riding my bike, woke up by a rat walking on my head, stayed with incredibly friendly people, had home cooked delicious food, slept in the dirtiest hotels, seen some breathtaking sceneries and wildlife, Anders had a head-on collision with an army vehicle, etc., etc.. Yes this list could go on forever. We were only in India for 4 months but in a way it felt like a lifetime.
Before arriving to India some people told us that we would either love or be repelled by it. It turned out that we both loved and repelled the country in a crazy mixed way.
We crossed the border from Myanmar into Manipur in northeast India
Though we had been travelling in Asia for quite some time, I guess we both got a bit of a culture shock when we entered India in the northeast. The border crossing went quite easy, no queuing at all really. We later learned that the reason for that was that there are very few or no tourists coming this way. I don’t think they were used to westerners at all to be honest. We were told that we should ride fast to the next city, Imphal, and not to stop anywhere as the road from the border to Imphal is not safe. However, we had to stop a number of times, as there were military checkpoints along the way. A few times I got carried away in my imagination and thought it was a set up and that we would get robbed, raped and killed… Of course that didn’t happen, the military guys were very nice especially when they became aware of that I was an oldish woman on a big BMW. At one checkpoint the military guys, five or six of them, picked up their mobiles phones and photographed us instead of checking our passports, which we found hilarious.
The military hit a guy so he started to bleed heavily
We quickly realised that we couldn’t stop without being surrounded by loads of people. At one checkpoint there were so many people around us that they caused traffic jams in both directions. I just thought this was completely mad and I started to panic a bit while looking desperately for Anders who had left me guarding the bikes while he went over to the checkpoint desk. After a while one military guy came and tried to get the people to go away by starting to hit them with a long stick. He didn’t just poke them, no, he hit them hard and many times. One guy was bleeding heavily and at this time I started to feel very uncomfortable. Similar incidents happened throughout India except from the more touristy places, such as Goa, Mumbai, Pune, etc. so we both kind of got used to it. We have been forced by police to run into hotels and hide behind gates, as there have been so many people who wanted to photograph us. People in India just LOVE motorcycles and bikers, that’s for sure. So after four months living as celebrities with cameras in our faces 24/7 both Anders and me made a decision that we will not become famous and ‘luckily’ none of us are privileged with good singing voice or acting skills anyway… So fortunately we can live our life anonymously and if we by any chance would like to have another taste of being treated like celebrities we can always ride big bikes in India again.
However, we arrived to the city Imphal and though I am an oldish, properly dressed and was very well behaved, men were staring at me up and down in a kind of creepy way. I didn’t feel comfortable at all but learned after a few days that it was only at a certain place in the city they did that and everywhere else the men were very nice and extremely curious and helpful.
We had to stay a few days in Imphal as we needed to register and also find a third-party insurance. When this was sorted we were quite happy to leave and also very excited to see the rest of India.
Kaziranga National Park
We had promised ourselves to never end up riding after sunset in India but of course we ended up doing that only a few days after we arrived. We couldn’t find anywhere to stay but after a few hours we saw a hotel signpost and took the turn into a narrow dirt road. It was pitch dark and back in my mind I knew this was not the best to do in this area. However, luckily we came to a hotel that unfortunately was too expensive but we felt that we didn’t have a choice. We even ended up staying at this place two nights because we were talked into joining a safari in Kaziranga National Park, which turned out to be fantastic decision. We saw lots of Rhinos, birds in all kind of colours and sizes, water buffalos, snakes etc. This national park has the largest population of single horn rhinos in the world, which actually come as a surprise as we didn’t know there were any rhinos in India at all.
As we at this point didn’t have a plan to visit Ladakh, we thought that it would be nice to go to Darjeeling so we could get a glimpse of the Himalayas. Darjeeling is a town in the Indian state of West Bengal. It is beautiful located in the Mahabharat Range or Lesser Himalaya at an average elevation of 6,710 ft (2,045.2 m). However, this turned out to be a tourist trap, big time, and the Himalayas we saw very little of due to bad weather condition.
Celebrating Happy Holi in Siliguri
On the way to Siliguri I managed to ride into a tuk-tuk, he stopped but I didn’t… Ouch! My bike and I crashed to the ground in heavy traffic but I was ok and a guy helped me to pick up the bike straight away. The man in the tuk-tuk disappeared quicker than quickest. Oh well it was only another bruise on my leg… Honestly my legs look shit anyway after 15 months on and off the road…
In Siliguri we celebrated Happy Holi, which is a festival also known as the festival of colours or the festival of love. It is an ancient Hindu religious festival but everyone nowadays celebrates it. We took a couple of cameras with us and went out and of course within a few minutes the cameras and ourselves were covered with colours, but we had a lot of fun and met so friendly and happy people.
It was also in Siliguri we saw the first dead body. It was a group of people carrying a body and they were cheering and it sounded like they were having such a good time. Next second we saw the body with the face fully visible. Later on I was told that in India some people celebrate the death. I had never seen that before but when thinking about it, it makes sense to do that instead of the very sorrowful funeral we have in the west.
After Siliguri we crossed the border into Nepal, which only took a few hours. Anders sorted out all paperwork while I was watching the bikes and again I was surrounded by many smiling people who asked questions like, ’Where are you from?’, ‘How much does the bike cost?’ etc.
We decided to avoid Kathmandu, as we couldn’t be bothered to ride into a big city so instead we rode south of the city towards Pokhara, which seemed to be a good choice. We had some wonderful days staying at a very basic but clean place and I think we only paid about 6 dollars per night. One day we rode to Beni and we were suppose to continue further north but due to the combination of bad weather and rough roads, we were told that it would not be such a good idea, so we decide to turn around. Just before we came back to Pokhara we ended up in a hailstorm with hails big as marbles. It hurt like hell when they hit my arms even though I had my riding jacket on and the noise when ‘the marbles’ hit my helmet was insane. The road became very slippery and looked like a river full of ice cubes so we decided to stop and take shelter until it stopped.
A gorgeous Nepalese boy took us to his school
While we were on a hike outside Pokhara we met a little boy who wanted to show us his school. He said it was only a few minutes away. After about half an hour we asked him again, how much longer it was to his school and again he answered very polite ‘it is only a few minutes away now’. On the way we past a tiny store where they sold stationeries and we asked him if he wanted to have a new pen. He gave us the biggest smile ever and answered very polite that he would love to have a new pen. It was such a joy to see how happy the little boy became. When we at last arrived to his school he told us that we were not allowed to come with him but we could wave and watch him enter the school. So there we were watching him so very proud walking into his school while showing his new pen to his friends. Just another wonderful experience on this trip to remember.
Again I had fallen in love with a child and was very sad to leave with the knowledge that I would probably never meet him again. It is not only children I have fallen in love with but also a few dogs, one goat and a baby elephant…. I know this is mad but this is just me in a nutshell. When writing this blog Anders reminded me that I even fell in love with a tiny baby gecko lizard that hid behind a mirror in a hotel we stayed at… ok there I might have gone a bit too far…
After Nepal it was time for India again.
Unfortunately we had to leave Nepal after a few weeks as we had to get down to a Motorcycle meet outside Bangalore where we had been invited to hold a presentation.
The border crossing took over 5 hours due to that one of the officers who was going to sign the Carnet De Passage was in hospital. However, we crossed the border in the end and it felt good to be back in India.
Varanasi a shocking place
On the way down to Bangalore we stopped in Varanasi, which is not the most picturesque place on earth that’s for sure. In this city we saw lots of corpses, next to the Ganges river, some being cremated over open fire and some other corpses were lining up to be cremated. Around the corpses there were cows and dogs trying to find something to eat while some people trying to keep the fire going. The Ganges River is the most sacred river to Hindus. It is also a lifeline to millions of Indians who live along its course depending on it. It has been ranked, as the fifth most polluted river in the world and that does not surprise me at all. In the river we saw dead animals floating and next to them people were having a bath and brushing the teeth, Yuck big time. We saw women with leprosy and other very sick people that believed that the water from the Ganges River would heal them. My guess is that the river kills more people than it cures.
In Varanasi we also saw a lot of holy men, probably some fake ones who were after money from tourists but I guess there were also some ‘genuine’ ones too. I was told that some of the holy men cover themselves with the ashes from the cremated corpses , yucky … We were also told that sometimes people are so poor that they can’t afford to buy enough logs so only part of the body is cremated but everything is thrown into the Ganges. The city Varanasi was also extremely dirty and I can’t say I liked it much though I found it very interesting, as I had never seen anything like it before.
On the way riding towards Bangalore we stopped in the city Agra and visited the beautiful Taj Mahal. Of course this was a tourist place big time but it was worth to see this stunning architectural beauty.
Food poisoning, flat tyre, breaking the law, police… yeah a really fucked up day…
We were told that it was the hottest summer that India had had for 50 years and it was hot, that’s for sure. Not really the best timing for two Scandinavian Vikings… One day when it was nearly 50°C (approx. 120°F) Anders managed to get a bad food poisoning. We had to stop next to the road every time Anders needed to puke and luckily he managed to get the helmet off every time. On this day we also managed to end up on an express highway outside Pune where motorbikes are not allowed. After a few minutes on this road Anders got a flat tyre and minutes after that the police came and of course wanted us to pay them some money…. at this point I was so very hot and worried about Anders as we were running out of water and he’s being sick. I took a quick decision to play an act as a very nervous, close to hysterical, crying woman… eek never done that before. However, I seemed to have pulled it off, even though I couldn’t manage to get tears in my eyes, but I don’t think they noticed. However, it was obvious that these police could not handle a crying woman and when I held my hand on my forehead and said with a sobbing voice, ‘I can’t take it anymore’ they put an arm around my shoulder and said they should leave and let us repair the puncture. I would probably not have got an Oscar for this act but still I was rather pleased with my first ever performance, Hollywood next… or maybe Bollywood 😉
The fab MTM Meet in Bangalore
After some time we, at last, arrived to Bangalore. Santosh, the organiser for the motorcycle meet, had booked a nice hotel for us where we had the best Indian food ever. The dosa, dal and coconut chutney were just to die for. We stayed there for two nights before it was time to head to the MTM (Motorcycle Travellers Meet). The MTM meet is a get-together of like-minded serious motorcycle travellers and adventure motorcyclists. It was great to meet such a nice bunch of people. Anders and me had a presentation about the trip and it was a pleasure to do it with such a wonderful and kind audience. The meet was very well organised and we both enjoyed every minute of it and we certainly hope we can join another MTM in the future.
After the meet we went to Bangalore again and stayed with an incredibly friendly Swedish couple, Mikael and Ann Sparen, in their super luxurious apartment. We had a huge room with our own bathroom and it was so clean that we could easily have had the dinner on the floor. One night they spoiled us with filet steak, potato gratin and red wine, we were in heaven ☺
In Kerala some fisher men used the beautiful beach as their toilet
After Bangalore we headed south to Kerala, which is also called God’s Own Country. It is a very beautiful part of India but also very crowded. Anders had his 50th birthday at the Alleppey beach, which is a fantastic beautiful beach where we were thinking of staying for a week or so. However, we left the day after when we realised that the fishermen use the beach as their toilet, they actually did number two just in front of us and then left a pile of shit on the beach, yuck that was just so disgusting. To bear in mind is that the lack of toilets in India is a huge problem but the new government has promised to build more than 5 million new toilets within its first 100 days in office (roughly one toilet every second). More than 600 million people in India do not have access to proper toilets. Therefore I think we probably shouldn’t judge these very poor fishermen for leaving piles of poo on the beach but it was still very disgusting.
While in Kerala we took the opportunity to rent a boat to see the Backwaters’. Kerala Backwaters’ network has 1500 km of canals both manmade and natural, 38 rivers and 5 big lakes extending from one end of Kerala to the other. We had such a lovely day when we slowly run the boat through some of the beautiful canals and passing by some islands covered with palm trees. By the waterside we saw, children playing, women doing the laundry and men fishing. Though these people are very poor they seemed live in harmony with the nature that I think we, in the western world, hardly know what it is nowadays.
Staying with a swearing whiskey drinking Sikh
After the Backwaters’ we had enough of humid hot weather so we headed to Munnar, which is a town in Kerala situated around 1700 meters (5,600 ft) altitude above sea level. It was such a relief to get a more reasonable temperature.
Further north, in Ooty we were stopped by a Sikh who insisted that we should come and stay at his place overnight. He turned out to be a hilarious guy and we had a fabulous night with many interesting discussions while drinking whiskey. Not sure why I thought that Sikhs didn’t drink and swear…. The day after we went out on a ride and Anders took Sharan, the sikh, on back of his bike. Sharan was so proud of to be a pillion rider on a BMW, he was weaving and said hello to everyone that we met.
Woke up by a rat walking on my head
Santosh, the organiser of the MTM meet, invited us to come and stay at his wonderful place in Bandipur National Park. This was not the kind of touristy National Parks, instead it was wild, empty, yes just a wonderful place that we fell in love with. We actually ended up staying with Santosh twice. The second time I slept in his house I woke up by something that was walking on my head. I poked Anders on his arm and whispered, ‘Anders Anders it is something that is walking on my head.’ First I thought it was a lizard as I had seen a few earlier on the wall but when Anders at last found the torch and turned the light on he told me in a very calm voice that it was either a small rat or a big mouse. I really surprised myself for not being hysteric but I must admit that I jumped into the shower and had a good wash. Several days after I could sit on the bike and remember the feeling of the rat walking on my head and the thought of that made me shudder. Except from that we had a wonderful time with Santosh who cooked us such amazing Indian food.
When leaving Santosh place we saw a wild elephant and we had been told that they could be dangerous and run after motorbikes, so for once we tried to be careful. However, we stopped and I quickly tried to reach my camera when the elephant spread its ears in the way elephants do to show anger. For once I left my camera in the bag as I realised that it was too risky to stay so we left the angry elephant in peace and with no photo…bugger…
In Goa we had a Monitor lizard coming up through the toilet…
Next up was Goa but when arrived we become aware of that most of the places in Goa were closed as the tourist season was over and that was actually quite nice to be able to stroll on these empty beaches. One of the beaches we just had to visit was Palolem beach to see where our son Hampus had proposed to his girlfriend Kirsty a year earlier. This was a gorgeous beach where he had taken her out in a canoe in the sunset and proposed, how romantic isn’t that?
One day we had an incident with a lizard in the hotel we stayed at. We both sat relaxed in the bed reading when we heard a big splash. We run into the toilet where the sound came from and on the floor was a Monitor lizard that was at least half a meter long and with sharp claws. This lizard had come up from the toilet, no idea how it had managed to do that, but I can assure you that we flushed the toilet a few times before we used it after this. We also placed a heavy bag on the lid to be sure it couldn’t come up more animals while we were asleep.
From Goa we rode on some amazing small narrow roads along the coast up to Mumbai. The road had hardly any traffic, which is rare in India. The road also had a perfect amount of potholes to make it interesting to ride. In one place we had a guy on a Royal Enfield that caught up with us and shouted ‘Anders Anders’ so we stopped and it turned out that this guy had been following our blog for quite a while and he was so happy to meet us. We ended up staying with him and his friends for a few days. One evening we took the bikes to the beach and rode in sand and water and for once I liked riding in the sand and loooved riding in the water. We put a photo on Facebook the day after, of us riding in the salt water, and swoosh we had a lots of comments that told us that the salt water will kill the bikes… However, they are still very much alive 😉
In Mumbai we stayed with Pramod and Neha, incredibly friendly people, in their beautiful house next to a golf course. We had met them earlier in Ratnagiri, a small village that grew the most delicious Mangos. After when we had left Ratnagiri we received a message from Pramod who invited us to stay with him and his wife. Neha cooked us some delicious spicy Indian food and she even taught us how to make my favourite Indian dish, dosa, dal and coconut chutney. We had such a good time with them that it felt very sad to leave but I am quite sure that we will meet them again one day.
Celebrating my 50th birthday in Udaipur
In Udaipur I celebrated my 50th birthday. The plan was to get some Champagne but that was impossible to get hold of so Anders tried to find some red wine, which seemed to be as hard to get. In the end he managed to get hold of two Kingfisher beers so with that we celebrated my big day. In many places in India it’s very difficult to get hold of alcohol, especially wine and if you can find some it tastes terrible so better keep to water and Lassi. It was extremely hot on my birthday and we didn’t have any air-condition so we had to get up several times during the night to soak our T-shirts in cold water to cool us down.
We rode the highest motorable road in the world
While travelling from the northeast of India to the south tip we met so many bikers that told us that we just have to go to Ladakh and when we were at the most southern tip of India we decided to go the about 4800 km (3000 miles) up to Ladakh in the north of India, crazy maybe but what the heck we just live once….
Ladakh “land of high passes” is a region of India in the state of Jammu and Kashmir that lies between the Kunlun mountain range in the north and the main Great Himalayas to the south. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ladakh
The traffic from New Delhi to Srinagar was crazy, mad yes just insane and the pollution from the lorries was horrendous and after just a few hours on the road our faces were covered with a mix of diesel, dust and god knows what. I guess this journey has shortened our lives dramatically due to the heavy pollution we have been riding in. Actually I am very happy that we survived that trip considering all the crazy lorries that I suspect tried to hit us on purpose.
We rode the Zoji La pass and my god that was a challenge. The Zoji La is a mountain road between Srinigar and Kargil and we were told that it is one of the ten most dangerous roads in the world, which doesn’t surprise me at all. To call it a road is probably to exaggerate, it was more like a dusty pathway at 3,528 meters (11,574 ft). Not only did we need to survive the heavy traffic but also the narrow and very bad road condition, some water crossings, quite a few landslides and very very steep edges. It was just insane. Definitely not for anyone suffering from vertigo or a fear of landslides. Whoops I have, or have had, a severe phobia for heights. Oh well I had many phobias before I started this trip and so far I have managed to conquered them all.
Today we are both very pleased that we did go to Ladakh, as some of the views were just spectacular and took our breath away over and over again. The roads were a challenge but I guess challenges are really what you want when you’re on an adventure like this.
After one night in Kargil we headed for Leh on some bad roads and also some amazing roads and the scenery was again out of this world. We arrived in Leh and found a good basic hotel that only cost 600 rupees (8 dollars) for a room with hot water. We stayed in Leh, which is at 3500 meters (11,500 ft) to acclimatise to the high altitude. I felt quite rough for a few days with headache, out of breath and with my heart beating very fast. The funny thing was that Anders had been worried about getting high altitude sickness and I had teased him about that as I wasn’t worried the slightest. He didn’t get poorly at all but I did so I will try not to be so cocky next time.
However, after a few days when I started to feel better we headed towards Diskit and one of the highest motorable roads in the world, Khardung La pass, which is at 5602 m (18,380 ft) altitude. The road was OK-ish in a Ladakh kind of way, only a few hundred meters from the summit it became freezing cold, it also started to snow heavily and the road turned really bad with lots of ice. On top of that I felt that I was on my way to faint due to the high altitude and I know that I had to get my head low and breath to get more oxygen. I stopped the bike, leaned over it and took some deep breaths. I was slowly coming back to ‘life’ and knew that I had to get over this summit very quickly to get down to a lower altitude. We managed to reach the summit and take a few photos while breathing heavily before we went to lower altitude.
Anders had a head-on collision
When we arrived to Diskit, which is a small town in the Nubra Valley, Anders had a head-on collision with an army vehicle. After we had been riding on those very challenging roads over the mountains without any larger incidents we came down to Nubra Valley and rode on a decent road looking for a place to stay. Anders was riding in front of me and when we came to a bend with a shallow puddle he went out in the middle of the road to avoid this ‘dangerously deep’ water. Normally we would just ride straight through, but oh no not Anders, and whoops there were a large army vehicle in front of him that also had decided to ride in the middle of the road. The next second I saw his bike’s headlight, windscreen and all the plastic stuff be spread out like a fountain around him before he and the bike hit the ground. First of course I became really worried, but as soon as I saw Anders moving I understood that he was ok. The bike however did not look that good, but with some duct tape and zip ties he managed to pull it together. Even though his bike looked like a wreck after this, it was still fit for riding so we could enjoy and travel trough the rest of Ladakh as planned and drive the about 1100 km (700 miles) down to New Delhi where we were going to ship the bikes from.
After spending a few lovely days in the Nubra Valley we had to ride back over the same summit and once again, I was very close to fainting. I am probably not a high altitude person so I think I will skip climbing Mount Everest…or on having a second thought…. just kidding…
Lovely crazy India we’ll definitely come back again
Yes we really fell in love with India and its people. Having said that we felt quite relieved when we left, as we were both quite drained from all impressions and constantly being surrounded by people who wanted to ask us questions. Also the constant noise pollution from the never-ending honking can be very exhausting for a Scandinavian person who are used to tranquillity and personal space. Riding a bike in India is such a crazy experience in itself.
Behind the frustration, swearing, sweating while riding in Indian where no rules are obeyed, actually there is one rule and that is the ‘everyone wants to come first’ ‘rule’. I guess, riding in India, is a bit like jumping out of a plane with a parachute that your worst enemy had packed for you.
The most fascinating in India are definitely its people. We were lucky to be invited to stay in a few Indians’ homes and share their home cooked food…. My god the food was delicious, much better than in the restaurants and so much vegetarian food, so very yummy.
India is for sure a country that needs to be cleaned up also the cast system feels very dated and it would probably benefit for setting some rules in the traffic but in a country like India which is probably one of the most diverse country in the world we always felt very safe and for sure non of us had a dull moment and we can’t wait to go back and meet our new friends again and explore more of the country.
More photos from the trip (for larger and better quality please click on photo)
The lovely Children who we’ll never forget
And there were quite a few grown ups that will remember with joy too
A few pics of some animal we met
Sadly there where lots of filth in India
Ladakh and one of the highest readable roads in the world