belated update

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Some how l find my life much less worth writing about when l’m not mtn bike touring.  I expect anyone who reads this would find it less interesitng to read too.  So (as is obvious — by my lack of posts) l’m not going to bother.

In case any one is interested — l’m in Canada.  Staying in Vancouver BC, with my sister and her fiance, designing and building a wedding dress for her. So far so good ( and yes l mean building — thats what they call it in the costume world, theres alot more that goes into such a project than just sewing)

 

It’s been a month or so since l left india. Since the last blog entry, l cycled across megalaya, which was pleasantly mountainous and remote enough to be campable/ relatively untrafficked despite riding on main roads.  Lovely really — would like to spend more time there, especially since l managed to ride right past one of (the extremely few) tourist attractions l actually wanted to see — namely the tree root bridges of cherrapunji.  I knew l was close, but lacking a map, and  all flustered/discombobulated by having dates and times/ticket purchased, and such like, I just rode right past it (and didnt realize for a couple of days). Being on “car time” and main roads l couldn’t really turn around so l kept blasting to siliguri (west bengal) in time to catch a train to dehli.  The one perk of bieng on main roads though, is that l ran into other cyclists. ( 2 of the 4 l met in the last year)

german its a race

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philosophical road signs

signs of Nagaland

The road signs all over India l find quite amusing, but Nagaland takes it to a new level — not content to advocate save driving practices, they want to tell you how to live a good life too.  I only have photos of ones l liked, which means the really paternalistic or sappy messages are missing — there is no way l could capture all of them anyway: on the road from Kohima (the capital) headed west, there is a new sign every 500m or so. And one fo the villages along the way added their own signs with famous quotations — everyone from Ayn Rand to Karl Marx and everything you could think of inbetween.  If youre going to have billboards its a good way to go l guess…

in the hills again

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a brief sojourn in Nagaland

My some-time traveling companion Matt loves the ocean, lives for it in a way. And can’t bear to be away from it’s presence for too long.  But its’s the mountains which call to me. Too long in the flat lands and l start to get restless, grumpy — especially when bike touring. So grinding through hot, flat Assam l was continually teased by the hazy contours of the highlands to the north. The eastern extension of the Himalaya/Tibetan plateau in Anarchal Pradesh. A state which, due to its proximity to the contested border with China, was for all intents and purposes closed to me. It is possible to get a permit to travel there — but you’re expected to have a guide, and an itinerary, and a group. Some one more adept at hoop-jumping and subterfuge, could no doubt have arranged the paperwork — but l, who, find even the day to day bureaucracy of presenting my passport while checking in at hotels trying, didn’t even make an attempt.
Locked out of the Himalaya ( actually think its a different mountain range — but obviously the work of the same massive tectonic uplift) by meaningless power struggles over imaginary lines — l did the next best thing, and pushed east toward the hill country of Nagaland. It’s hard to describe how happy l was to find my self climbing again (and steeply!) after a month or so in the flatlands. The Hills began literally at the state line, and with them a new ecosystem, and culture. So l spent the next couple of days winding my way upwards, through a strange sort of mixed forest, palm and bamboo, and pine and rhododendron, with a few cactus thrown in. Arriving in a world where all towns and roads perched on misty ridge tops — taking advantage of the only semblance of flat ground.

 

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unknown celebrity

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flat lands and boundless hospitality in Assam

Littered across the landscape of northern India are literally thousands of photos of me.  With or without my ‘cycle’ as they call it here ( the pronunciation sounding something more like “sickle”), and often in poses of great familiarity with complete strangers.  The images are mostly blurry and pixilated camera-phone ‘snaps’ —  indifferently composed and poorly lit.  None the less, the photographers seem universally thrilled with their work — insisting on showing me the pics (expecting  interest/admiration).  Sometimes, when a crowd gathers and everyone gets excited, — people start taking pictures of people they don’t know posed with me. And other times, particularly in rural areas, large groups of people — presumably without cellphones — will line up to be photographed (one at a time) by a friend or acquaintance so equipped — though it is unclear how or when they will ever see the photos.

If properly curated, a collection of the work of this informal paparazzi would be a fascinating socio-cultural document.  I’ve traveled in other places where cell-phones were relatively new and high status. Places where my long hair, skin color, style of dress, or mode of transport stood out as much as they do here.  But never before has the mere fact of my being, been enough to elevate me to celebrity status.  For the record l have only been asked for my auto graph once, but the crowds that gather to watch with keen interest the banal trivialities of my day to day life surely put me in at least the same universe as brad and angelena and company (right?).  A relatively quiet and shy person,  l find the attention overwhelming at times ( especially when l am calorie deficient and accordingly ‘hangry’), but l have long since resigned myself to it, and do my best to receive it in the spirit with which it is given.

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hillcountry hospitality

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On this side of the border — due to comparative affluence, population dynamics, or the vagaries of history — the roads are paved, and there is a relative dearth of trails tempting me with the unknown. The hills are just as steep and (at lower elevations) covered with strangely mown looking tea bushes, here in the region the British called (quite rightly) the hill country. I’m wandering in Sikim (and Darjeeling): the northernmost bit of India which is sandwiched between Tibet, Bhutan, and Nepal. Not surprisingly it is more culturally related to these neighbors, than to mainland India — they even speak Nepali here — the main difference being, the British. They conquered this bit of the himalaya despite resistance by the famous gorka fighters, whereas in what we call nepal today, the gorka managed to keep the mountains to themselves.

Approximately 100 years of british dominion doesn’t seem like much in the face of thousands of years and cultural/religious ties — which isn’t to imply that Sikkim is not its own place, with a long history of conflict with its neighbors — and this chunk of the himalayan foothills is very much a part of the tibetan plateau cultural/geographic region. Asiatic features, buddhist monasteries, precipitous mountains and all. But with a strong venier of British influence (shallow though it may be). Most obvious to my eye at least are the (crumbling) architectural monuments to this regions time as a ‘hill station’ in the days of the British Raj. The major towns especially, such as Darjeeling and Gangtok are dotted with ornate ‘victorian’ structures ranging in size from bungalows to palaces, and marble clad public edifices. In the more rural areas there are clusters of such buildings as well — still serving as the nerve centers of vast tea estates. Continue reading…

Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

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official World Heritage Site
Narrow-Gauge Steam-Train
with perhaps. the worlds only Z reversals, to climb the Himalayan steepness….
and I’ve been following it to the former British Raj Hill station of Darjeeling

Hubris (part 2)

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(bike canyoneering)

Two thousand meters of elevation drop sounds like a dream come true for downhill mtn biking, but not when the trail is so steep and loose and exposed that you can barely walk down parts of it. The first thousand meters or so of drop was scree of mixed sizes, some of which l could ‘ski’ down with both wheels locked up, sliding on the edge of complete loss of control. l was rather excited when l slid my way to a halt at the gradient change l had been slowly approaching, but my misguided enthusiasm quickly gave way to something akin to despair: a lot of it would have been rideable for short sections, but bashing over miles of densely scattered loose rocks the size of your head was just too much effort to sustain. Not to mention that the relatively flat sections were interspersed with switchbacks barely a horse long and 6-inch-wide outward sloping traverses carved into mud and sand. Needless to say l walked, or rather pushed, or rather struggled to keep my bike from barreling off the “trail” and into the abyss. Continue reading…

hubris

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Tso Moriri to Spiti Valley via Parangla

It takes a special kind of stupidity to venture out by yourself into the wilds of the Himalaya without a map, headed for trails you’re not entirely sure exist, over a mountain pass you know nothing about, and dragging a bike to boot. Now mine is a special, and quite capable, steed, but horse trails are, well, for (and by) horses, and sometimes (in the Himalaya, often, it turns out) they do things l just can’t do on the bike –which means pushing and or carrying.   So l set out once again from Korzog fully aware that what l was attempting would be difficult, but without any real idea what l was getting myself into, and lulled perhaps into a false sense of security by the lovely and rideable circuit of Tso Moriri l had just completed. Continue reading…