Monthly Archives: November 2018

Lakshman Jhula; A Bridge Over Holy Water

We crossed Lakshman Jhula, Rishikesh’s famous hanging bridge before the sun came up from behind the mountains. The bike putt-putt-putting as we slowly idled across the narrow metal plates suspended high above the Ganges river.

Our early start made certain we had the path almost entirely to ourselves. A handful of pedestrians walked along beside us, stopping to let us pass. An hour a later and this quiet moment high above the rushing torrents of India’s longest river will be long forgotten, crowds jostling in a seething mass crossing from Tapovan to Jonk.

As we pulled slowly up the west bank through Tapovan we passed mules laden with bricks headed down to a building site close to the river, each measured step, sure and steady under the weight their load. The early morning hush hung in the air like a velvet mist dissolving all sounds as the town gracefully eased into the momentum of the coming day.

The sun came up as we crossed from Uttrakhand into Himachal Pradesh. Cruising along on highway 7 we made light work of the 144 kilometres to reach Nahan by 11:30. Home to the Indian Army Special Forces Training School and headquarters of the Sirmaur District, Nahan is also the site of the Lytton memorial, of which there is little information save to say that it’s a huge triple arched gateway with a cannon inside the middle arch that stands at the edge of the maze of lanes of the bazaar, the corner of the football pitch and a few doors down from the Sikh temple.

At this early hour of the day we decided that the natural course of action was to continue onwards towards Dharamshala. Progress had been swift and with the rest of the day ahead of us we remounted the bike and took off at full speed. This rapid movement lasted all of a few hours until we ran into some very heavy traffic on the road towards Shimla.

From Rishikesh to Nahan the route was the reverse of the path that I’d cycled nearly there years before. The memory of this struck me as we approached Nahan and then more vividly again as we neared Shimla; I’d spent the night with a fellow bike traveler bedded down at the side of the road after a family had declined our request to pitch a tent in their back garden – the only flat area for many miles – this night was restless to say the least, and as the early morning toy train pulled itself slowly upwards we were glad to breathe into a new day.

We were now firmly into Himachal Pradesh proper; the altitude picking up a few notches demonstrated by the abundance of pines of multifarious species and the steep incline testing the mettle of our steel horse; Himachal Pradesh is known for it’s high quality charas and hashish, which is hand rubbed and a particular favourite with connoisseurs of such things.

Our day ended with a chance meeting of an Italian couple motorcycling form Italy to Nepal. Michal and Mirta were five months in to their epic journey and it was a joy to share stories of Central Asia; the great Silk Road cities of Samarkhand, Bukhara and Tashkent. The guys had had to fly their Africa Twin by cargo plane from Tashkent to Delhi due to visa challenges with Pakistan and permission complications for entering China with a motorcycle. Despite these difficulties they were now ten happy days into their Indian odyssey.

A thin silver sliver of crescent moon rose above our weary heads, like the steel of a Sabreuse  slicing through the dusk of the crisp evening air. We had reached the town of Waknaghat, some 248km from our early morning crossing of the bridge over holy water.  A great way to round off a very successful day’s riding.

The Oldest Hippie In Rishikesh

Yesterday morning I went up to the roof to join Lucy for an hour of yoga before breakfast. Before we could get started an old guy playing clarinet called me over.

“You know what this is? No? You’re not a hippie. This is a peace sign. My mandala is a peace sign. I want to make a recording, right here, look, here’s the phone, you click this, hold it, then swipe to the lock and that’s it. Keep it steady, no shaking. We’ll see how good a photographer you are.”

“You know yoga? Yeh? All Yoga Teachers failed at life, that’s why they’re here. You have to be vegetarian to do yoga. The American Alliance of Yoga? It’s a Coca Cola company. They’ve got a nerve, man. You know? Come over here and just steal yoga and turn it into some multi million dollar business.”

“These women in leggings, walking around like that, all sex and body. That’s not yoga. That’s just sex, working only one chakra. These teachers here, they’re making like, two, three hundred thousand dollars a year. They can’t enjoy that money. It’s wrong. It’s cheating. A pickpocket, he can enjoy his piece, that’s an art. Teaching yoga, that’s just cheating.”

“Record me with this clarinet. I’m going to make a video and send it to all the big labels. A big hit. Let’s go.”

We record the clip to a tabla and harmonium backing track and play it back.

“Powerful sound. You know the tabla? That’s the sound. Yeh.”

“I had the best Bullet in all India. No one believed it was mine. My girlfriend, she used to feed the baby on the back, no problem, then I sold it – show’s over! I destroyed Rishikesh. Shiva. When I came here there were like, just three local restaurants, chillum and chai. This place [the ashram where we were staying], just a ruin. Nothing.”

“Who could believe that India could be like this? So many cars, so much rush – ruuusssshhhh.”

“So, James Bond. Yeh, he was in deep. Real brainwashed. You know? Like terrorists, really they believe it. When they do it, they’re like, really IN TO IT! Destroy all terrorists. Say it, say ‘destroy all terrorists’. Brainwashing, man. Mental. GOV-ERN-MENTAL. You get it? MENTAL.”

A traditional Indian taxi

Mother Ganga

Escape from Delhi

Overtaken by a feeling of hurry and rush we sped through the small town roads north east of Delhi. The idea of a destination, the satisfaction arriving and the excitement of a new journey begun were overpowering thoughts, sensations and energies.

The most iconic ashram in Rishikesh

The most iconic ashram in Rishikesh

Our 250km journey from Delhi to Rishikesh was a great adventure in itself. New to Indian roads by motorcycle, the experience was invigorating, challenging and familiar. It was amazing just how familiar it all felt. The early days of a new tour are always the same – MUST. REACH. DESTINATION.

King of the road: cows take priority here in India

King of the road: cows take priority here in India

After near eight hours astride saddle, the plush leather was less comfortable than It first appeared. Of course, we took breaks every couple of hours to take chai and fruit, but the effort was still mighty, the wear and tear of the day pulling at our fraying seams. It couldn’t have been any different.

A shop keeper combs his hair. Rishikesh, India

A shop keeper combs his hair. Rishikesh, India

With a desire to leave the madness of Delhi behind at the earliest opportunity, we packed up in haste and executed our to-do list with precision. All the little jobs were done quickly and efficiently. That checklist mentality was taken with us to the bike on that first day.

Mother Ganga

Our long day chasing an arrival was a great lesson. As I sit here now, looking out over the mighty Ganges, the most holy of rivers, life giver, and Mother to all India, its easy to remember that its the journey that matters. The destination does not.

Mother Ganga; the Ganges is the most holy river in India

Mother Ganga; the Ganges is the most holy river in India

Let’s take the metaphor of life as the great journey; the beginning is birth, the middle is your ‘life’ and the destination is death – surely then, there is no hurry to arrive?

Shiva; the destroyer and the transformer

Shiva; the destroyer and the transformer

Yet, it’s all too common to meet people that are living by checklist, mired in a constant feeling of lack, misery and suffering. ‘If I just get that next promotion’, they say, ‘a bigger house’, things would be different, ‘a little more money’ that’s all, ‘then I’d be happy’.

An Indian woman and child enter an ashram

An Indian woman and child enter an ashram

Where the does all that end? It doesn’t. It never ends. It’s a trap.

The trick is not to get so caught up in all that stuff and nonsense.

A friend shared a piece of wisdom recently;

‘A great master does not teach, but simply helps you to forget what you think you know’.

Taking a rejuvenating dip in the powerful flow of Mother Ganga was needed to help us to remember the journey and to forget the destination.

Beautiful Rishikesh in the evening sun

Beautiful Rishikesh in the evening sun

So, when we load the bags back onto the bike tomorrow morning we’ll be taking a different mind with us. A calm and quiet mind. Ready to see the joy in a smile, take in the wonder of nature and enjoy every moment.

The Pilgrim Plane

Mecca

Flying into Delhi was a journey of two halves. The first half was only half capacity, I had the middle row of three seats to myself, in a very new, comfortable aircraft. Passengers on this flight were British Muslims headed for Mecca. Hajj is the annual pilgrimage to the holiest city in the world for Muslims. Since this flight connected to New Delhi via Jeddah our path took us just 70km from the site.

During the six hours airtime many of the men on board changed from ordinary clothes of jeans, shirts and shoes into the traditional white Ihram robes particular to Hajj. The females were already dressed in the black equivalent. The idea is to minimise the distraction of others attention. This checkerboard spectacle was quite the opposite viewed in one sweep of the plane, like a game of chess gone on holiday.

Arriving at Jeddah I was lucky enough to snuggle down in the snooze lounge of the Saudia Air business class customers. A little persistence and a friendly smile goes a long way. The scene upon passing through security some hours later was an exploded replica of the flight. Scores of men in white robes and women dressed in black were seated in neat rows. The unique dress of the Saudi Arabian man adding a touch of variation to proceedings with the addition of a red and white Keffiyeh, like a gingham lions mane offering protection against the heat and the dust.

Home From Hajj

I sat to meditate in a quiet corner of the terminal, leaving just the right amount of time to join the tail end of the queue for boarding. The melee of this line was significantly Indian. The men were again, traditionally dressed in the white robes expected at Mecca but the women were dressed in every possible colour, pattern and style. These were Indian Muslims on the return home from Hajj.

Once boarded I was second last to be seated. A fellow Westerner, Leon, a 25 year old student from Berlin had taken his sweet time too. We were sat together at the door seats with the maximum leg room. No attention was paid to our tickets, simply ‘here are two seats, please take one and be happy’. A typically pragmatic Indian attitude to tickets, systems and protocol.

Leon and I immediately struck up conversation. We’d smiled knowingly on the long wait in the coach transfer from the terminal to the boarding area, waiting many minutes for a melodramatic thunder storm to shower its praises on the desert. An old lady garrotted up a long string of green phlegm, Leon looked disgusted, amused and accepting all at once.

Pilgrims Progress

We spoke on the flight of our respective journeys. Leon had been living in Istanbul for a year, navigating the challenges of a long distance relationship with his girlfriend based out of Amsterdam, figuring out what was next. His challenges felt familiar. I nodded, smiled and listened.

As beginnings of journeys go, being sandwiched between the two legs of the worlds biggest pilgrimage seemed fitting. Leaving the West and all the trappings of that life to again explore the country of Vipassana made even more sense. Synchronicity at work.

A little side note for the music fans out there: Kula Shakers album Pilgrims Progress is well worth a listen, check out Modern Blues; and the track Synchronicity II by the Police, see if they resonate.

Namaste from a very sunny Rishikesh. Yoga capital of the world, home to the Beatles ashram and a great place to swim in mother Ganga. #incredibleindia #visitindia #indiabybike #royalenfield #streetphotographyindia #indiagram #storiesofindia #allindiapermit #indianroadtrip #lonelyplanetindia #india_undiscovered #travelindia #rishikesh #yogacapitaloftheworld #breathedeeply #hippieinhills #motherganga #ganges #yogaindia #omshantiom #omhariom #harekrishna #harerama #harekrishnahareom #beatlesashram #johnpaulgeorgeringo

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Rural village near to Haridwar

Your Hair Is Like Thor

One Post For The Days Of Two

Let’s start with a caveat: the commitment I made to post daily is flexible. I’ll post where tech / WiFi permits but the intention is to write daily (which I am) and if the posts are a bit less consistent, that’s cool. You know how it is.

Lucy and the bike

Lucy and the bike

Yesterday we bought a Royal Enfield Thunderbird. The day was spent mostly in the cool shade of the small shop where Auntie cuts deals and orders young lads to fetch, carry and fix things. The bike was fitted with a luggage rack, new rear tyre and a couple of luxuries: a mobile phone holder / charger to make the navigation possible and a backrest for Lucy.

After a very calm day sipping chai and people watching in the Karol Bagh district of New Delhi, the journey across town to the hostel was pretty hairy. Delhi in the dark on a newly purchased motorcycle is an experience.

We made a plan to leave town early next day since roads would be quieter on Diwali.

Touch The Money

The drumming started early today. Diwali in Delhi is a loud celebration of the kind India is brilliant at. The repetitive, rhythmic beat slowly building as I rose from a deep restful sleep. The alarm clock of a fellow traveller began it’s chorus of electronic chimes to accompany the bass.

The route; Delhi to Rishikesh

The route; Delhi to Rishikesh

We wheeled our way through remarkably quiet streets to join the Delhi-Meerut Expressway. As we pulled up to a stop light at a large junction a handful of guys dressed in black, with a mala of severed limbs and shrunken skulls with faces painted jet black approached us.

“Touch money”

They screamed in unison. I pulled out a 10 rupee note and handed it over.

“Touch the money”

Waiting for the red light to change we had nowhere to go. They persisted with ‘touch the money’ and I took what I thought was another 10 rupee note and handed it over. It was a hundred. The guys were cackling now. Like a gaggle of crazed hyena witches, the whites of their eyes and teeth shining in the early morning sun.

The lights changed and we jerked away, reeling from the weirdness of the moment. It’s hard to describe the intensity of the encounter. It’s just not something that happens anywhere else. India can be quite full on.

At 9:30 we crossed the Yamuna River, the wide lanes of the Meerut Expressway empty save a few Indian families traveling to meet relatives in other towns. Progress was swift on the sealed highway. The bike purring its way through the morning.

Our easy streak came to an abrupt end at Muradnagar. The reliable surface of the motorway long gone, hundreds of vehicles of every shape, size and sturdiness making their elaborate way on a narrow single track semi paved road. Indian roads are loud because the horn is used to signal intent; speed up, get out of the way, watch out being the main ones.

By now, a few hours in to the journey, I’d begun to feel the weight of the bike. Constant stopping, starting, swerving, stopping again, was heavy work. Indian roads are notoriously chaotic; the volume of traffic, huge variety of vehicles and the vast differences in speed make the cocktail pretty heady.

A man riding a trailer loaded with bricks pulled by a water buffalo turns right. He raises an arm, pointing his stick towards the field he’s headed for and slowly the long train of animal, trailer and cargo make the move. Approaching this at 60 kph with a fleet of other scooters, small cars and sumos, the result is a complete roadblock for 40 seconds.

Diwali decorations

Diwali decorations

Your Hair Is Like Thor

Our route carved its way through sugar cane, pampas grass and species of trees too numerous to mention. Small tea stalls lined the path offering plentiful opportunities for refreshment with sweet milky chai, veg pakoda (cauliflower and potato with spices in a light batter) and fruit salad with sugar and green chilli dressing.

In Roorkee we stopped for some fruit and chai. Lucy sat on a bench next to the bike, I crossed the busy road to get chai and by the time I returned a crowd had gathered; inquisitive, shy, eager and excitable all at once. Tall European blondes are a rare thing indeed in small town India.

“Where are you from?”

The usual drill of questions came barrelling out. Lucy replying with angelic patience, all smiles and naivety. We’ll be asked that question often. It would be easy to become tired and jaded of the repetition.

As a traveler it’s important to remember that it’s a great privilege to be free to travel foreign lands. Every meeting with a new face is a moment of genuine thrill for a local; a polite reply, a smile and handshake is the least you can do.

Rising from the bench and the glow of the early evening sunlight, one of the young guys points and says;

“You know Thor? You have hair like Thor!”

Lucy replies with a reference to vikings.

“Vikings are scary!” the lad smiles, shaking my hand.

 

The Plan

We arrived in Delhi one day ago. We’re now on the hunt for a very charming Royal Enfield.

Our plan is to remain here a couple more days to acclimatise and organise necessary kit for the bike; we need a pannier rack for the luggage and a couple of helmets.

From here we’ll strike out towards Goa. We have a 6 – 7 week window to travel south to make it to Panjim in readiness for Lucy to fly home on Boxing Day.

We’ll certainly visit Rajasthan, Mumbai (if only to go to Leopolds), and we’ll perhaps see Bude if the fancy takes us.

Beyond that we’ve surrendered and we’re open to the possibility of Incredible India.

Career, Expectation and Identity

In yesterday’s post ‘How To Get The Life You Really Want’, maybe the title could have been ‘How To Get The Career That You Really Want’. But then as a free lance what you do and how you live are symbiotic.

In a career, it’s easy to live the label of expectation. My former self was a ‘Sales Consultant’; helpful, informative and knowledgeable; confident, extroverted and loud; aggressive, persuasive and pushy; Labels can be useful, lazy or dangerous.

To be yourself, sometimes you have to shed the weight of expectation.

I work on projects but they don’t define me.

Who I am is not defined by what I do.

Who I am informs what I do.

How To Get The Life You Really Want

Choose a dream. Figure out how to make it happen. Work hard.

Enjoy dream life!

That’s the back of a beermat boot-strappers guide.

The work that precedes that sequence of action is a little more detailed. In my case, I just spent two years building a blogging business with my business partner, Tom; working to create efficient processes, hire reliable freelancers and develop relationships with local partners.

Now in place, that roadmap has created the circumstance for me to become location independent, free up time for personal projects and to travel.

To get to this point I had to figure out what I wanted from life. To know that I had to figure out what I didn’t want. To do that I had a crack at a career in sales, failed hard at running a small business and came up through my twenties like a cast member of Nathan Barley.

We’re all capable of living the life we want, but a) you have to figure out what that is, b) you have to do some things that suck, and c) you have to work hard.

An Inspiring Journey

Towards the end of the Central Asian leg of my Vietnam to UK bike trip I met a wonderful young woman called Chloe. Sat in a homestay in Samarkand, the Uzbek capital, we were introduced and struck up a conversation. A few days later met again in Bukhara.

Cass (Chloe was difficult for locals to pronounce so Cassia, or Cass for short, was decided as an alternative moniker), is currently hitching to Australia. Alone. At 19.

There’s a lot in the Adventure Travel scene just now about solo female adventurers doing amazing things. I once traveled with the girl with the super niche. Independent travel is a popular thing to do just now. That said, Cass really inspired me. Her attitude, balance and wisdom were beyond her years.

Cass introduced me to Alan Watts, Robert Anton-Wilson and Terence McKenna. These philosophers, speakers and psychonauts caught my imagination and occupied many hours of the following weeks as I travelled the Caucasus.

We also shared stories of travel and the road to come. Cass was headed where I’d already passed through; Central Asia, South East Asia and India. We learned new yoga postures together – stretching our abilities and limbs in tandem.

There was also a great show at a large restaurant in the main square. Cass is a performer of fire poy. It was a joy to witness. The locals spellbound with every revolution of flame.

You can follow Cass on her inspiring journey by following her Facebook page, support her on Patreon (the A5 photographs are beautiful) or read about her journey so far via a recent article on MSN.