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…

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.

Continue reading…

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.

Continue reading…

mate photos and tea gardens

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pocket computer update

Been finding my way east through the himalya — carrying my bike a bit more than l would like.  There has been plenty of snow and tough trails, but no internet — so l’ve a backlog of tales to share. l’m down in the flat-land tea-estate region now, about a days ride from Darjeeling (India). Have found internet and plan to spend the day tomorrow blogging up a storm.  So stay tuned.

But in the mean time, Moy sent me photos from tso moriri, so revisit the tomando mate post if you like — its been updated.

machine shop fun

The cable that holds my handlebar-bag to my bars broke…
l stripped the protective casing off, and spliced loops into the broken ends.
but the ends weren’t quite long enough — so again it broke.
(no pictures , because l always forget to take them)

l took the remnant brass bit to a machine shop to drill out the old cable.
but drilling steel out of brass was too difficult…

so instead they made a new one….
out of re-bar!
(and that’s why l love the ‘developing world’)

Matt gave me a camera
but l forgot to bring it
I’m trying to learn how to take pictures, so l used my pocket computer…

orbiting Kathmandu

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If you imagine it as a representation of the fabric of space time, the Kathmandu valley is a lot like a black hole.  A more or less perfect ring of mountains, and a mysterious force inexorably pulling you toward the unimaginably dense (and crowded) core.  Some how l’ve been in this general vicinity for 3 weeks! I don’t especially like it, the city that is — it has goods and services, a maze of unplanned alley ways and narrow streets, hundreds of temples, a tourist quarter packed full of shops all selling the same trinkets scarves and north fake outdoor gear — so it’s been entertaining and useful, I guess l just don’t like cities all that much.

In a (futile) attempt to break the unexplained attraction l undertook a mini tour around the kathmandu valley with two new friends, Wayne and Simon, both of whom are cyclists at home and intrigued with the idea of cycle touring.  To accommodate their various time constraints we proposed to ride the ridge around the city.  Despite being a bustling metropolis, the capital of Nepal gives way rather quickly to rural farmlands and national parks. The mountains which surround it are fairly wild — forested and relatively unpopulated. Our plan was to leave the city headed north west and ride the fire roads, and single-track trails across Shivapuri Nagarjun National Park (which lies to the north of the city) then turn south and continue the orbit, following the crest, till we made it all the way around. Continue reading…

walking with the giants

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There’s something about it. Mt Everest; that fascinates. Captures the imagination: The tallest mountain in the world… But so what? Why is it so compelling that, to date 250-some people have died trying to climb it, and over 40,000 people a year trek in the mountain’s shadow? What is it about “the tallest” that commands such interest? Not that I’m immune: after out abortive Annapurna circuit attempt, Matt and l agreed that there was but one thing to do with the rest of his time in Nepal.

So, head to Everest we did. Or at least the general vicinity. Thanks to our new friend Mads of Himalayan Trails, who has 15 years of exploratory mountain biking and adventure travel guiding experience, this time we were much better informed. We left most of our gear in Kathmandu (it turns out we should have left more — anything we left with our bikes while walking was thoroughly ransacked — fortunately nothing too irreplaceable or important was taken) as the solukumbu area is liberally populated with ‘tea houses. Combination lodge/restaurants which range from the decidedly rustic to 5 star. There is actually a 5 star hotel with a private airstrip and view of Everest, or so l’m told. After one last falafel we rode out of town. Strangely our trip toward the tallest mountain in the world started on smooth(ish) pavement which ran gently downhill! Along the Sunkoshi river.
Most of the roads on our route were under construction. Three or four different road projects, each with slightly different equipment and methodology. All engaged in transforming a muddy rutted jeep track into paved road. Mostly by hand — breaking rocks with sledge-hammers: turning boulders into gravel, and cobbles into building blocks for retaining walls; sweeping the road clear of pebbles with bundles of sticks; and boiling tar in 55-gallon drums over open fires. Forcing a single lane highway through improbably steep terrain. All this construction motivated at least in part, because this route is the supply-line to the everest region, and accordingly all the propane, keroscene, toilet paper beer and coffee, not to mention food, and building materials for lodges under construction pass this way. Continue reading…