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

Christ mass in Buddhidada

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Pushing my bike in the Himalaya

 

My sense of time/chronology has never been particularly good or accurate.  Especially when traveling, l rarely have any idea what day of the week, month, or sometimes even year it is.  So while l was aware it was winter, it’s not very surprising l had no sense of when the big winter holydays were.  It happened that l was wandering the street (there is only one, but it is long) of Sallerie looking for denatured alcohol (also known as rubbing alcohol, methylated spirits, and in latin america simply as alchol (usually not denatured)) to fuel my (homemade) stove on december 25th, when l was alerted to that fact by a hindu shopkeeper’s daughter (complete with thilkia or bhindi on her forehead) who wished me a “happy christmas.”  I smiled and wished her a merry one, before doing a sort of mental double take, and wondering if it was indeed christmas day.

 

My pocket computer concurred, and l was disappointed to realize that being 12 hours off of california time, l had missed my opportunity to phone the family christmas gathering.  So l sent a round of emails and made my way back to my hotel (the town was dry of denatured alcohol) where l  was almost immediately befriended by a group of well-to-do Nepalis, who were three sheets to the wind, drinking gin and hot water.  It turned out that they were doctors at the mission hospital in nearby Okaldunga and were on some sort of christmas holiday vacation (due to the christian nature of their employer).  They were educated (which here also means english speaking) intelligent (drunk) and wanted to talk about religion.  So l spent my christmass drinking (terrible) gin in hot water (which didn’t improve the flavor) and talking about religion, and tolerance, and such until the wee hours of what turned out to christmas eve on the other side of the planet.

 

I knew that were about 12hrs apart, but my concern with/sense of time is such that l neglected to consider, how that affected the date. So when the internet started working around midday, l received a flurry of messages, informing me that ‘l was living in the future’ and today was christmass in california.  Naturally timing was such that l still missed the family gathering, but managed to call and talk to a large percentage of my family — two christmases are better than one anyway. I bought some diesel fuel (for my stove — and a sardine can to use if that worked better) and peanut butter — and rode out of town, pleasantly surprised to find that the first bit was a road (or at least the sort of jeep track that qualifies as a road around here) which turned into a trail when it reached a ridge, both of which were totally rideable.

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traveler of both time and space

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Exploring Pikey Peak

 

I love the mountains.  Perhaps because l was born in the Sierra Nevada of California, or because I’m an avatar of Shiva: as one Sadu type suggested recently — the high country calls to me.  Directs my travels.  So it was only natural that l would return to the solukhumbu after my sojourn in Kathmandu.  With my bike and full compliment of camping gear in search of dirt.  Rideable trails that is.  Ideally any way. Starting with a loop recommended to Matt and l by our friend Mads, Which we had skipped because Matts knees weren’t up to it in the aftermath of hiking to Gokyo.

 

There are no trails designed (or maintained) for biking anywhere in this incredibly steep country, so any ride is going to include some unrideable sections — some pushing or carrying.  This particular route is one Mads does professionally — with paying guests — so l knew there was some good riding to be had.  But those guided trips have a large support team — porters for both bikes and gear.  I’m no stranger to carrying my bike, but the approach to PIkey peak was to be my first experience doing it in the himalaya.  The trip began uneventfully enough — retracing our route to Ringmou.  All rideable (still super steep and muddy in spots) and getting better all the time — in the month or so (l really spent that long in KTM) since we had been on these roads, the road builders had made significant progress in landslide and mud abatement.  About 4 days in the clouds which had been following me all the way from the city reached critical mass — and l was treated to one of the heaviest hail-storms l have ever experienced.

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