Thursday, 5 November 2009

The Peace Riders


After chasing round the town to find a hotel with parking we decided to hire a rikshaw driver and followed him to the Tourist Guest House (the cheapest place to stay in town), our home for the next 2 days…

Amristar is the home to one of the holliest Sikh temples in India, the Golden Temple. Sikh temples require the head to be covered within the grounds so we strapped on a hanky handed out at the gate and wandered through the entrance.
Built with marble taken from the Lahore Fort, the temple covered in gold and surrounded by a square lake, gleams in the bright Indian sunshine. All around the lake there are people taking dips under the belief that the water has curative properties.


A festival near the Golden Temple

The Golden Temple
We were in need of a good night out after being starved of beer for the last 5 weeks in Pakistan. Chandigarh the modern state capital looked like our best option…
Chandigarh has only been in existence since the 50’s, designed and built on the grid system it has all the trappings of a modern city. With the total ban on industrial activity the air pollution found in other Indian cities has been greatly limited in Chandigarh.

We checked in at a hotel and the following day we headed out to do some tourist stuff at the weird and wonderful Nek Chand’s Rock Garden.

The garden created by Nik Chand, a former road inspector, is a crazy maze of paths and corridors built with stones from a nearby quarry and domestic rubbish transformed into sculptures. Receiving 5000 visitors a day it’s one of India’s most popular attractions, second only to the Taj Mahal. The scale of the sight is simply enormous. Built in the forest during the construction of Chandigarh, the place was only discovered after 15 years of work when a government survey team stumbled upon it in 1973. The local government, recognising the site as a cultural asset, gave Chand 50 labours and paid him a salary to continue his work. Now in his 80’s, Chand continues his work still today.

The Rock Garden

It was time head North to Mcloudganj the home of the exiled Dalai Lama.

The road to Mcloudganj

Street Cows are everywhere, they live off rubbish in the street. I even saw one eating cardboard!

The town itself is perch on a mountain with great views of the valleys below. The place has now been taken over by backpacker hostels and tack shops. Full of stoned hippies preaching love and peace, it’s definitely not my sort of place. After a couple of days it was time to head East to Manali, a transit point to the Spitti valley.
Manali, a nice town in the mountains among a forest of huge trees would be our base to celebrate Diwali, the Hindu festival of light and prosperity. Diwali is the equivalent of Christmas for Hindu’s, it culminates in a big celebration with fireworks in the streets and lots of shopping.

Our Diwali Celebration


Its was now time to head to the Spitti valley. There are 2 high passes of 4000 metres to negotiate to enter the valley, this could be our sticking point as it was starting to get late in the year for such high terrain. Further North, Ladakh and Kasmir, home to the highest road pass in the world, were already impassable so it would be touch and go. We reached just below the first pass and the temperature had already dropped to 1 degree with biting winds taking it way below zero. We asked around at some cafes and were told that the pass was shut due to snow. Even if we made it over the first pass the second higher pass would be more problematic, it was time to re-think our route and head East towards Nepal……

Road to the Pass

Due to the amount of traffic on the trunk roads we decided that while in India we’d start using the smaller back roads through the mountains. This would give us the added bonus of getting away from the tourist hotspots and we would get to see villages that don’t get tourists, giving us a feel for Indian village life. We spent 2 fantastic days travelling through lovely valleys on small roads with no traffic meeting fantastically friendly, warm people, with big smiles and waves where ever we went. We then arrived at the famous town of Rishekesh, a pilgrimage sight for Indians to bath in the holy Ganga (Ganges) and also a place that tourists flock to to get their Ashram experience. Ashrams are temples where visitors can go to practice meditation and Yoga and find their ‘spiritual side’.

Being a dry town it was a surprise that within 10 minutes of arriving at the our hotel we had already ingratiated ourselves with the owners and were sat drinking whiskey and coke. Indian is a country where anything is possible…..


On the morning we were due to leave the owner organised an interview with TV100 News Channel about our travels. It was quite a funny experience. The channel had decided to use the angle that we were travelling for peace. As well as the standard questions about where we are from, where we had travelled, how we met, etc, there were questions about Pakistan and the people, how people are the same the world over and how we should live together in peace. Afterwards I felt quite the hippie. As we were about to leave a national newspaper also turned up for another interview. We left being filmed riding out the gates of the hotel, a very surreal start to the day……

It wouldn’t be a blog about overlanding in Indian without talking about the traffic. Indians have a driving style that ranges form reckless in the mild cases to suicidal at the extreme. There are literally no rules. People drive the wrong way up duel carriageways, overtake on blind corners and pull out without looking. In fact it’s the country with the most unobservant drivers I’ve ever seen in my life. Vehicles may as well come without mirrors or indicators. The only thing indicates seem to be used for is telling the oncoming or overtaking traffic which side you should pass them on.
Without formal training and license a large number of the road users just don’t understand what is good driving.
There’s been a lot of negative things written about the Indian truck drivers, from my experience they seem to be the best drivers on the road. The real lunatics are the bus drivers. Driving like they’re taking part in a Formula 1 Grand Prix, they are the menace of the Indian roads.
You find yourself diving for the dirt at the side of the road at least once a day. The only way to deal with it is to drive ultra defensively.

We then spent 3 fantastic days doing a loop on some great roads through Northern Uttarkhand. This took us to the boarder town of Tanakpur. Next stop Nepal……..