04 December 2008

CYCLING INDIA - Kunkeshwar to Arambol







20th November
Kunkeshwar - Malvan / Tarkarli (Day 14)
55km


After our usual Indian breakfast (curry veg and bread), we set off up and down the hills again. It was a hot and sweaty ride but Amanda had renewed energy and zooted past me while I sat under a tree waiting for her. I did not even notice her going past and went back to the previous village looking for her. We stick out like sore thumbs here, so it’s easy to ask about her whereabouts. Locals told me she has already gone past, so off I went again, finding her not too far down the road. We reached Malvan just after lunch. Midway between Malvan and Targarli we found the most idyllic beach. A white sandy beach, palm trees, hammocks and lukewarm water. What a paradise! We rented a room at a “resort”, consisting of a property with only one room. The people were extremely friendly and offered to make us food, sold us beer and gave us snacks. So we sat on the beach watching the sunset and the fishermen pulling in their nets while drinking a beer. What more can a person ask for?

Malvan/Tarkarli - (day 15 & 16)

We spent two entire days, just lying around on the beach. This is truly a paradise. We ate, we walked on the beach, we lay in hammocks and floated in the ocean.

23 November
Malvan - Vengurla (day 17)
40km

Just 4km down the road, we found a ferry to take us across yet another river. Needless to say, it was another hot and hilly day. Amanda claimed that she had to push her bike up 6 hills within 25 km. She also said that this was not for her and that she was going to take a bus. I’ve heard that many times already so I was sure she would be fine by morning. We found a room in Vengurla which was below all standards, but I took it as I feared Amanda was going to throw her bike in the ocean if we had to cycle up one more hill. There was obviously nothing wrong with the beds, because we’d hardly set foot in the room before Amanda was fast asleep. After her little nap, we bought a beer and sat on the beach drinking it.

24 November
Vengurla – Arambol (day 18)
18km


We cycled at least 7km before we got to our first hill and then it was mostly downhill to where we found the ferry at Terakol. It was a short ferry ride across the river and about another 11km cycle to Arambol. We were a bit shocked at all the tourists and tourist trade in Arambol. Coming from a far more rural area, we were not so used to seeing tourists and all that goes with the tourist trade. It definitely has its upside as well, as there were many restaurants serving western food. I could do with a pizza or anything not curry! Amanda was in top form this day, she did not want to throw in the towel or dump her bike in the ocean - in fact, she did not even have her usual nap!! We found a shack directly behind the beach at Rp 200, which suited us just fine. It only had an outside toilet and shower but it appeared to have no bed bugs or other biting things. We are so bitten by what-so-ever by now, that we have invested in a can of insect killer which claims to have “laser fast” action.

CYCLING INDIA - Mumbai to Kunkeshwar

7 November
Mumbai - Alibag (day 1)
20km


Our first day on the bike!! Amanda’s chain broke before we even rounded the first corner, so it was back to the bike shop again. I suspect they did not do such a good job with fitting the new derailleur. At last, we were on the ferry to Mandwa. Amanda must have been a nervous wreck but handled it well. At last, we were on our bikes and cycled the 20 km to Alibag. The going was very slow (10km per hour). Amanda’s back was sore by the time we reached Alibag, so we found a cheap room by the beach to rest for the night. The room was as basic as any African room but came with a sea view. We even had a swim, fully clothed (like the locals). The water was lukewarm. This is my type of ocean!! That evening we ate the most delicious food from the food stalls next to the ocean, which was jam-packed with locals all giving us a good stare.

8th November
Alibag - Murud (day 2)
55km


Out first full day of cycling started with near disaster as we were hardly on our way when Amanda fell off her bike. Nothing serious but she was a little shaken. Her bike is still not a 100% and the gears are not working so well. Although it is very humid it’s beautiful weather for cycling. The scenery is fantastic as we followed the coastline to the South. After an about 45 km Amanda was feeling weak and she decided to take a tuk-tuk (auto rickshaw) to Murud. Once there we looked for a camping spot on the beach but the tide comes in real high so there was not really a place to camp. In the end, we found an unofficial camping spot in someone’s yard. We also met a fellow cyclist from Hungary who camped with us.

9th November
Murud - Harihareshwar (day 3)
55km

We cycled the short 5km to Janjira with its magnificent old fort, just off the coast, a 15 min sail by dhow. With Amanda having a fear of water, she waited at the harbour while I went to explore the fort. We took the 12h30 ferry across the river to Dighi and then carried on cycling. It was, however, only about 10km before Amanda stopped for the day and took a tuk-tuk again. She felt nauseous and weak, must be the heat or water. I carried on cycling until I reached Harihareshwar. The road is in real poor condition and with little steep up and downs. The hills together with the heat makes it a demanding ride for a novice, so maybe it was a good idea she took a lift.

10 November
Harihareshwar - Harnai (day 4)
57km


So the drama continues!! From Harihareshwar in was about a 5km cycle to where we had to, yet again, get a ferry (poor Amanda’s nerves must be shot by now, and all that while she is not feeling well). Once across we asked around and it seems that there was no short cut to Kelshi. Amanda, feeling ill, decided to take a lift while I carried on to Kelshi. Once in Kelshi there was no sign of Amanda, who should have been there by then. As she did not overtake me along the way, I decided to carry on to Harnai. Once in Harnai there was still no sign of her so I decided to stay put. In the meantime, I found us a room. The owner’s son was kind enough to take me on his scooter back along the way I came, to see if we could find Amanda. We were hardly out of town when we spotted a rickshaw with bicycle sticking out.

Apparently, there was a short cut to Kelshi. Amanda took this way after not being able to find a lift. The short cut, however, involved a ferry crossing and a long walk along the sand. Amanda being really ill by then, was fortunate to find Gabor (the cyclist from Hungary) and the two of them managed to get a ride to Harnai.

11th November
Harnai (day 5)


We stayed an extra day in Harnai hoping that Amanda will get over her nausea. She spent the day sleeping and felt well enough by the evening to take a walk to the fish market. The market was a jumble of color and smells. Hundreds of boats arrived with their catch of the day and traders were eager to buy whatever was on offer.

12th November
Harnai - Guhagar (day 6)
57km


Amanda felt well enough to cycle the 13 km to Dapoli. At Dapoli she got a local bus to Dabhol, where we had to get a ferry again. Needless to say, she was a real novelty on the bus. We arrived in Dabhol at about the same time and crossed over to Bankot. It was a hilly and hot ride to Guhagar. In Guhagar, we were lucky enough to find a camping spot behind a house/shop/restaurant, right on the beach. Everyone was very curious about us and we had a constant stream of visitors. Before supper, we swam in the luke warm water with the sun setting over the Arabian Sea. The owner prepared a real home cooked Thali for us.

13th November
Guhagar - Ganpatipule (day 7)
60km


We woke with the sound of the sea in our ears. Before we left, we first had a home cooked breakfast. Amanda still felt nauseous and decided it was best to take a bus to Ganpatipule and have a rest there. Once again, she was a novelty with the locals taking pictures of her. I carried on cycling along the bad and hilly road. Once again, we arrived at about the same time. A misunderstanding lead to us each booking a room, so that night we each had our own room!! We hunted for ice cream, as Amanda has developed an ice cream craving (she who never eats ice cream). Once again, we tucked into the local cuisine. Amanda claims that everything, including the sodas, tastes of masala!!

14th November
Ganpatipule (day 8)


We stayed one more day in Ganpatipule. We visited the sea-side temple and lazed around on the beach. We also hoped that the rest will help Amanda’s nausea go away.

15th November
Ganpatipule - Ratnagiri (day 9)
30km


The rest did Amanda the world of good. We cycled the entire 30km to Ratnagiri without Amanda taking a tuk-tuk. Once in Ratnagiri we decided to stay and take a bus to Kolhapur in the morning.

16th November
Kolhapur (day 10)

We took the bus to Kolhapur, which was a 4-hour bus ride. Once there we wandered around the Mahalaxmi Temple and old town. Then back to Ratnagiri to our hotel to get ready for the next mornings ride.

17th November
Ratnagiri - Nate (day 11)
60km


We peddled along the road, with lots of short little lung-buster hills. Amanda was threatening to take a lift again, but none was available. I could hear her swearing in the background something about another $%^%$ hill again. On top of that, it started raining and we could not find a ferry across the river. We did, however, find a room - although Amanda said she would have to disinfect herself afterwards.

18th November
Nate - Devgath (day 12)
46km


We started on a perfectly good road with English road signs and all, but then the road abruptly ended. We followed gravel roads up and down many hills, and half the time we had no clue where we were. We crossed over rivers with ferries of all shapes and sizes and everyone seemed to point us in a diffferent direction. Eventually we found a beach to camp on and have a swim. Amanda was dead tired after a hard day on the road and after a swim she fell asleep in her tent. Food is a bit of a problem when we camp in deserted places, as we have no stove with us. This is also not an area were one can find tinned food in the shops. However, people are very friendly and a lady in the village prepared us a meal. The meal was brought to us, still piping hot, by taxi - our own Mr. Delivery.

19th November
Devgarh Beach - Kunkeshwar (day 13)
25km


We woke to a beautiful morning with dolphins playing in the ocean. One could immediately tell it was going to be a hot day. We left with the intention of cycling to Malvan, but after 20km Amanda was too tired to carry on. The heat and the hills really get to her. It was not only hot but also very humid so we were sweating buckets. We turned off at the first opportunity and found a room (with fan) in Kunkeshwar. At least Amanda could have a shower and rest under the ceiling fan for the remainder of the day. It was also a good opportunity to do some much needed laundry. Kunkeshwar is a tiny village consisting solely of a temple, a few restaurants, and a hotel. The temple was built around 1100 AD and has a wonderful location right on the beach. We sat on the beach watching the sunset and then returned for some good Indian food (not that we have any other option).

CYCLING INDIA - Mumbai

4 November
Mumbai

Disaster struck sooner than expected. On our arrival in Mumbai, we had to put the bike together as it was still in its box. Amanda knows even less about bike mechanics than me. After assembling the bike as best we could, she took it for a spin around the block. That's when disaster struck!! After just a few minutes, she came walking back up the road with a broken derailleur!! This is quite a disaster in a town where I have hardly ever seen a bike with gears. We spent the rest of the day wondering around Mumbai looking for a bike shop selling derailleurs, but to no avail.

5th November
Mumbai

We slept and slept and were woken by crows at 10h00. The search for a new derailleur was now on in all earnest. We were lucky enough to find a bike shop selling bike spares who had the part in stock, and who could fit it. The quality was little suspect but beggars can't be choosers. Therefore, we spent the entire day running back and forth to the bike shop. We were also given an opportunity to be extras in a movie and Amanda is still mad at me for refusing such an opportunity!! I was far to worried about her bike to even consider such an adventure.

6th November
Mumbai

With the bike fixed, we could enjoy Mumbai and did our own little walking tour of the area. We also took a boat to Elephanta Island with its cave temples. Amanda, being scared of water was very nervous, but made it there and back without totally loosing it. These rock-cut temples were established between 400 - 600 AD. The temples are dedicated to Shiva and many sculptures are cut in to the rock face.

A VISIT TO SOUTH AFRICA

Cape Town
South Africa

Back in Cape Town, it was pizza after pizza, braai after braai and copious bottles of red wine. I had my hair cut, went for a facial, had my legs waxed and my nails done!! What luxury!! Therefore, within a week I looked and felt nearly normal.

3rd Nov
Cape Town - Mumbai

Soon it was time to say good bye to my friends and family again. This time my sister Amanda decided to join me. The plan was that she would cycle along for 2 months. Amanda has never cycled long distance before and does not even like camping life, so watch this space!!

30 October 2008

CYCLING INDIA - Rishikesh to Delhi






1 October - Rishikesh – Muzzafarnagar - 113 km

It took a full 10 days for me to recover enough to be able to carry on cycling. By that time I also couldn’t handle the room anymore, so we packed up and left Rishikesh. It was good to be out on the road again, cycling along the Ganges. We passed Haridwar, another famous holy city for Hindu pilgrims located on the banks of the Ganges. I was definitely not feeling 100% yet, but it was better on the bike than in the room.

2 October - Muzzafarnagar – Ghaziabad- 85 km (& 20km by truck)

The surprises are never-ending. The roads are extremely congested with trucks, cars, motorbikes, bicycles, buffalo carts and people. So I guess it was just a matter of time before I got knocked off the bike. What exactly happened I’m not quite sure, as the next thing I remember is half of India and Ernest trying to drag me out of the road. I must have been concussed for a while and felt totally disorientated. What a sight I must have looked with dirt all over my face and eyes looking squint!! Immediately I knew that I would not be able to cycle as I could not use my left arm.

While we were being stared at by crowds of locals, a passing motorist (who spoke English) stopped to help and phoned to police. The police then hailed an empty truck to take us to the next town (Ghaziabad) where we could find a room for the night. I slowly regained focus but the arm still remained useless. So now I’m not only feeling a bit unwell, but am stuck with a perfect black eye, a bruised leg, and a useless left arm!!

3 October - Ghaziabad – Delhi

As Ghaziabad is only about 20km from Delhi, I decided to take a taxi there (Ernest then cycle into Delhi, which sounds a lot easier than what it is). We’d agreed to meet at one of the budget hotels in the city (not the cheapest, but Ernest insisted on a TV – he’s probably expecting to be stuck here for another 10 days!).

Well, there’s little I can do now as cycling is out of the question. The weather is cooling down, but it’s still rather hot and humid (34 degrees C, and 55% humidity). Air pollution is particularly severe in Delhi; in fact we haven’t seen the sun for the past 4 days.

There is a definite pecking order when it comes to the traffic (pedestrians are at the bottom and give way to everything - bicycles make way for cycle-rickshaws, which give way to auto-rickshaws, which stop for cars, which are subservient to trucks). Busses stop for one thing only (not passengers, who jump on and off while the bus is moving). The only thing that stops a bus is the king of the road, The Holy Cow! The cows hold up traffic on 4-lane highways and at busy intersections, and no one seems offended! I have yet to see a cow which has been knocked down..

Here there’s a lot of kissing the ground, and every day I reach my destination I feel like doing the same thing, seeing that I’m basically at the bottom end of the pecking order.

Still, I love this place.

4 – 6 October - Delhi

I waited patiently for my injuries to heal, but nothing seemed to happen. The shoulder was not getting any better, in fact it felt like it was getting worse. I was basically useless with only one good arm. I also felt a bit frustrated, as I have not been well for some time and it was getting to me. In the meantime I decided to have my eyes tested, seeing that it was rather cheap and they could do it on the spot. Ernest and I decided to take the bus to Jaipur in Rajasthan and explore a bit by public transport instead of just sitting around doing nothing.

7 October 12 - Delhi – Jaipur (by bus)

We took the bus from Delhi to Jaipur, a 6-hour trip. I’d previously stated that the only thing which stops a bus is a holy cow, but that seems not to be quite correct. Shortly before reaching our destination the bus hit a cow, also doing some damage to the bus. Fortunately the bus managed to limp the last few k’s to Jaipur.

8 October - Jaipur

We spent the day walking around the old city, which is known as the Pink City because most of the buildings are painted pink. We also took a cycle riksha out as far as the Water Palace. There’s quite a lot to see around the old city, so I dragged Ernest around for a few hours before we picked up a few beers and took another cycle riksha back to our room. We almost didn’t make it back there, as our poor riksha wallah couldn’t speak any English, and it also turned out that he didn’t know where our hotel was.

9 October - Jaipur – Agra

An early morning bus was our best bet to get to Agra, so we were up earlier than usual and took a riksha to the bus station. The bus trip took around 5 hours and was not too uncomfortable a ride. Agra is a real tourist trap with tuc-tuc’s, cycle-ricksha’s and taxis all competing for business. We found a reasonable hotel very close to the Taj Mahal, which we decided we would visit the next day.

10 October - Agra

We were up early to catch the sunrise at the Taj Mahal, just to find that the place is closed on a Friday!! It gave us time to walk around the Taj and see it from the back where we took a boat across the river to get a great view of the complex from a different angle. At least now we had the rest of the day to see if I could do something about my shoulder that was not getting any better. Luckily there was an X-ray place just around the corner from where we stayed, and the X-ray confirmed that my collarbone was broken and the shoulder was out of joint. I could only get the medical report that evening, but in the mean time I thought I’d just go to the local hospital to see what they can do. The hospital was quite an experience with mice running around and after the 2nd power cut I gave up and went back to the hotel. Well at least we booked a ticket for the following day on the train from Agra back to Delhi.

11 October - Agra – Delhi (By train)

We got up real early and were at the gate of the Taj Mahal at 5h50, just to find that there was already a long line of tourists waiting for the ticket office to open. They opened at 06h00 and then it was another 30 minutes or so just to go through security. The entrance fee of 750 rupees is rather steep but I guess once you’re in Agra one is not going to turn around and not pay the entrance fee!! The monument is as remarkable as seen in pictures, made of white marble with delicately inlayed semi-precious stone patterns - it is worth the entrance fee. We rushed back to the hotel, had breakfast and then we were on our way to the station to catch the 10h30 train to Delhi. Once in Delhi, there was still quite a bit to do, including picking up my new glasses. I had also decided to go back to South Africa for 2 weeks, as it was my Mothers 80th birthday on 16th October and I needed time for my shoulder to heal. I would take the train to Mumbai and fly from there to South Africa (much cheaper than flying from Delhi). So, I still had to go to the station to find out what the procedure was with the bike, and to confirm my train ticket to Mumbai. I also wanted to go to the hospital and see if there was some treatment for my shoulder. A friendly local man gave me a lift to a nearby hospital and walked me through the procedures. Once again it was a case of going from office to office where each one signs a piece of paper, but eventually they strapped the shoulder up and half killed me in the process (or that’s what it felt like). At least it’s free of charge, so with a prescription for pain killers and calcium I was on my way again. Now that the shoulder was strapped up I was even more immobile that before.

12 October - Delhi - Mumbai (By train)

The train to Mumbai left at 5.30 in the morning and I had to be there 2 hours before the time to sort out the bike and also a few hours before to confirm my seat. So by 03h00 I was already on my way to the station. First it was to the ticket office to confirm my seat (for which they wanted a bribe as apparently the train was full - does that make any sense?). In the end another official arrived, and I got the seat without parting with any further money. Then it was off to the parcel office to book the bike in - what a performance. Thank goodness Ernest was there to help, as it was up over the stairs and then back again with bike and all the bags from platform 1 to platform 16 and back to platform 3. With only one good arm it’s rather difficult to organize things like that.

I said good-bye to Ernest and at last I was on the train to Mumbai. My carriage had sleeper seats, and was comfortable enough. There were 4 people to a “compartment” if you can call it that, as it has no door - but at least there was a curtain that could be closed. Tea and coffee was constantly being offered and every now and again they came around with snacks like samoosa’s or Brijani, so there was no lack of food.

13 October - Mumbai

The train was spot on time, arriving in Mumbai at 07h35. Things were a lot easier than expected as there were porters waiting on the platform. So it was just a case of getting the bike and then a taxi to the Bentley’s Hotel. Not the cheapest, in fact quite expensive, but centrally located for when I return. I will also leave my bike and bags at the hotel and hopefully carry on South when I return. Ernest will be heading to Bangladesh so I do not know when we will meet up again. I spent the rest of the day wandering around Mumbai, an interesting city with slums on the one side and designer stores just across the road. It was great being by the ocean again. I had not seen the ocean for far too long!!

14 October

Mumbai is one of the cities with some of the most beautiful old architecture, and it was a pleasure just walking around the Oval with its art deco buildings and cricket playing men.

15 October - Mumbai, India – Cape Town, South Africa

As usual the flight to Cape Town was a long boring affair, but I guest that’s the price you pay for staying at the southern tip of Africa. It was great being back and seeing my family and friends again


19 October 2008

CYCLING INDIA - Lahore, Pakistan to Rishikesh, India



INDIA

9 September - Lahore, Pakistan to Amristar, India - 67km

It was a 35km ride to the border, which was modern, efficient, and unexpectedly quiet. From the border it was another 30km to Amristar. What a great place!! As we cycled into town there was a parade, elephant and all!! Well, this is India after all. This is the land of the Sikhs and there are turban-clad men everywhere. We headed straight for the well known Golden Temple, and what a sight!! Amristar is home to Sikhism’s holiest shrine, The Golden Temple. There were thousands of pilgrims, with free accommodation and food for everyone. The atmosphere inside is truly spiritual and one must remove your shoes and cover your head before entering. The main temple is covered in gold, and stands in the middle of a sacred pool. Music is played all the time and devotees dip in the pool which is suppose to have healing power. While I soaked up the tranquil atmosphere Ernest went off in search of the local beer (something we haven’t had for more than 3 months), and on returning he nearly got kicked out of the dormitory where we stayed in the temple complex.

10 September - Amristar – Jalandhar - 78km

After breakfast at the Golden Temple (sitting in rows on the floor with hundreds of pilgrims), we left for Jalandhar. The road continued west and it was a short and easy ride. The countryside is green and as expected there are many cows everywhere. It was refreshing to see so many women out and about. Although they still wear the Shalwaar Kameez, they do not cover their hair. There are also loads of women riding scooters and bicycles, something one never saw in Pakistan or Iran. Seems like I will still be wearing the Shalwaar Kameez for a while. We found a cheap room just before Jalandar which was like an oven. It appears that here the power cuts are mostly at night, so no fan!!

11 September - Jalandhar - Roper - 115km

What a pleasure it was to be on a flat and smooth road. The weather was still hot and humid and at times it felt like one was breathing pure watervapour!! At least the countryside is nice and green and with Ernest having a bad cold it’s a good thing that it was not too demanding. Another major problem is his broken wheel rim, which is now looking worse for wear and will not last much longer. We tried to fix it along the way, but it was no better than before. Hopefully there will be something one can do in one of the bigger cities. We found a Youth Hostel in Roper which has also seen better days, but provided cheap accommodation for the night.

12 September - Roper to Chandigarh - 25km cycled (&20km on truck)

Ten km after we left we stopped for breakfast (Dhal and chapatti with a small salad) Not much further Ernest had a flat wheel again, due to the broken rim. Only a few k’s further the same thing happened again. A local man took Ernest (and rim) on his schooter back to the previous town, without success. He then loaded our bikes and us on a truck for the 20 km to Chandigarh, where he dropped us at our hotel and even found a bike shop which had a spare rim (not the same quality, but better than nothing). I used the time to find a new sim card and do some shopping for the usual shampoo and toothpaste. In the meantime Ernest made some new friends in a popular tavern.

13&14 September - Chandigarh

We managed to find a professional bike shop and Ernest found a rim, cycle computer, decent tubes and tire sealant (very important). We also visited the well known rock garden created by Nek Chand, a 20-ha garden with walkways, staircases, waterfalls and figures all made out of junk, a truly fantasy world. We were also lucky to meet the well known Mr Narinder Singh, a retired civil servant who now welcomes tourists to Chandigarh, showing them cheap places to stay and eat. Nothing is too much trouble for him, and he also recommends places of interest in his home town.

15 September - Chandigarh – Nahan - 103km

After Narinder Singh took me to find a detailed road map, we left Chandigarh. By that time it was already 12h00. At one stage we went up and down the same road a few times before finding the small turnoff we were looking for, and we were further delayed when I had a puncture. The road at first was flat through green landscapes until we reached the village of Narayangarh. We were in for a surprise as the next 30km was steep uphill through some of the most spectacular countryside one can imagine. The going was slow, so we only reached Nahan about 2 hrs after dark, a hair-raising experience on a very bad and narrow road with lots of trucks and busses. Nahan is away from the regular tourist route, but has an interesting old town with narrow alleys and many Hindu temples and shrines. There is also a sacred lake in the center of the town. As most people know cows are holy in this part of the world, and these animals wander around the town at leisure – the way stray dogs and cats would do in other places (even sleeping on the pavement outside the doorways of shops).

16 September 2008 - Nahan

After our late arrival of the previous evening we spent the day wondering around the old city and resting our tired legs. Ernest was becoming a bit concerned about the girls calling him “Uncle”, so he shaved his beard again for the first time in more than 3 months. We did some laundry and hung it on the hotel roof to dry, but the ever-present local monkeys took a liking to some of the items (one of the hotel workers had to climb a big tree in order to retrieve a shirt, which had a hole bitten in the back).

17 September - Nahan – Dehradun - 98km

Once again a beautiful ride through the countryside. Villages are close together with busy markets, and at times it feels like the country consists of one large village. Finding the way is not always that easy as most road signs are in the local alphabet, so we had to constantly ask for directions (not always very accurate). Again, Ernest had problems with punctures as a tyre was damaged by the former broken rim. So, it was dark by the time we arrived in Dehradun. The streets were jam-packed with rikshas, motorcycles; bicycles, people and animals (all acting crazy), but eventually we made it to the hotel we were looking for.

18 September - Dehradun

I’m plagued with stomach problems and it was better to stay the day. We used the time to visit Tapkeshwar Hindu Temple, which has an unusual shrine inside a cave. We also went to the “World Peace” Stupa and giant Buddha statue. The stupa is in a Tibetan community on the outskirts of town, and is a multi-storey structure consisting of shrine rooms with fantastic murals and Tibetan art. The bazaars of Dehradun are crowded and full of colour, with women dressed in the most beautiful saris.

19 & 20 September - Derhadun

The late monsoon weather caught us, and we awoke to an overcast and rainy day on the 19th, which continued through the following day. Floods were being reported from all around India. We waited it out, watching endless TV re-plays of India winning cricket matches and reports on the Delhi bomb blasts from the previous week.

21 September - Dehradun – Rishikesh - 49 km

At last the weather cleared and we set off for Rishikesh, again a beautiful route to cycle, past villages and green fields. We reached Rishikesh early as it was a very short ride and found a real good (cheap) hotel right on the Ganges River overlooking the 2, 13-storey temples across the Lakshman Jhula suspension bridge.

Rishikesh

Rishikesh is considered the Yoga capital of the world, as there are masses of ashrams and kinds of yoga and meditation classes all over town. The town has an exquisite setting on the banks of the Ganges and surrounded by forested hills, couple that with the constant ringing of the temple bells and Hindi music being played all the time, it sets the scene for some real soul-searching activities. No sooner had we arrived when I started feeling really ill, it was so bad that I sought the help of a Yoga and Natural Therapist (whatever that is). So the verdict was mal-digestion, low blood pressure, sluggish circulation and slow metabolism (well I felt ill enough to believe everything). So, I left there armed with a list of what- and what not to eat, as well as a bag full of (unpalatable) herbs.

CYCLING PAKISTAN - Istamabad to Lahore





4 September Islamabad – Jhelum - 123km

We said good-bye to our friends in the campsite and got on the road to Lahore. A fairly easy ride as the road is so much smoother than the KKH (that does not mean its perfect). It was still very hot and humid but it always appears to be better on the bike as at least there some air movement. The roads were also not as busy as usual due to Ramzaan. Most of the roadside truck stops and petrol stations, or CNG stops (they use compressed natural gas instead of petrol) were however open so there was no shortage of something to drink along the way. The road south was fairly level and we reached Jhelum in good time where we stayed in a local hotel. Even they wanted to give as breakfast at 4h00, which we politely declined. One thing about the local Pakistani hotels is that they clearly indicate the direction of Mecca, and rooms come not with towels but with a prayer mat.


5 September Jhelum – Gujranwala - 100km

After our own, much later, breakfast of peanut butter sandwiches, we left our room in Jhelum. In the early afternoon we encountered one of the biggest storms to date, first with a howling dust storm and then thunder and lightning and hail!! We look shelter with the locals and after about an hour it cleared and we could be on our way again. It was still drizzling but at least the dust settled and we could see where we were going. When it started pouring again, we pretended we were rich tourists and booked into an overpriced roadside hotel (still with dirty sheets and broken bathroom fittings!).

6 September - Gujranwala – Lahore - 82km

It was a fairly quick ride in to Lahore on a flat but very bumpy road (work in progress) Here the road passes through numerous busy markets with chaotic traffic. The area is not unlike Africa with cakes of buffalo/cow dung being dried next to the road for fire, and each and everyone on a bicycle racing you. It’s normally not long before a chain or peddle comes off, or otherwise they normally tire after a few minutes. Cycling into Lahore is another item that could be considered for “Fear Factor”!! The streets are jam-packed with vehicles, animals and people of all shapes and sizes and as far I can figure there are no rules, just go!! It seems important to make as much noise as possible, and for us on the bicycles every 10 metres of safe progress felt like a major accomplishment.

7th & 8th September - Lahore

We found a reasonable place to stay in Anarkali market with its narrow and winding ally’s. Not only do you have to dodge the rickshaws and other traffic but also the cricket balls flying everywhere, as it’s a game played on every pavement, street or open area. We wondered around and visited the old city, fort and mosque. We and ate from the street stalls, which are everywhere, even although it’s Ramzaan. The air pollution is tangible, and Ernest picked up the dreaded “Lahore Throat” (which turned into a bad cold later).

07 September 2008

CYCLING PAKISTAN - Taftan - Islamabad - Karakoram - K2 base camp

1 July - Iran border (Taftan) - Queta (by bus)

Crossing the border into Pakistan (at Taftan) one immediately had a feeling that it is a friendly country (maybe it just reminds me of Africa). People all wanted to help with the bike and want to know where you’re from and what on earth a women is doing on a bike in such an inhospitable and, sometimes, forbidden area.

Even here I was not allowed to cycle and advised to take a bus (as according to them it’s not safe). There is a very strong military presence everywhere. I gave the heavily armed men one look and decided to take their advice. I’m also at this stage more interested in trekking somewhere in the Karakoram Mountains than cycling. So the sooner I get to Islamabad the better.

The road leading to Quetta is a 620km stretch, which takes between 20 and 24 hours by bus!!! This is truly a desert with barren mountains and temperatures reaching into the fifties. The bus was overcrowded with people sitting on the roof. The road was really bad and bumpy but at least the bus was nicely decorated!!! The advantage of being a women traveling alone us that you get to sit in the best seat in the front of buses and going straight to the front of lengthy queues.

2 July - Quetta

We arrived in the early hours of the morning in Quetta, so it was a nice time of the morning to be outside (about the only time one can be outside). I cycled into the city to find a hotel, refresh, get money, and a sim card. At last I am in business again.

What an interesting place Pakistan is, camel drawn carts, congested alleys, milk tea, chapatti and rickshaws. When locals hear I’m from South Africa a big smile crosses their faces and all they want to do is talk cricket!!

I have only just arrived in Pakistan but I love it already. It maybe hot, dusty and windy but there is a great vibe about the place.

3 July - Quetta – Islamabad (by train)

The local train station is quite and experience, with loads of locals with luggage of all shapes and sizes. I bought a ticket for Islamabad, but there was only sitting place available. The sleeping compartments were all taken. The train only left after 16h00, but was supposed to leave at 14h30.

The train itself was quite a pleasant surprise as it was air-conditioned. The seat was, however, a bit hard and very upright so quite impossible to sleep in. Even on the train there was a very visible military presence, I had a feeling that they were guarding me, as one solder came to sit opposite me and never left. At one stage I heard that the train in front of us was robbed!!

The train traveled from Quetta over the well known Bolan Pass, a desolated mountain area frequently used by invaders. The pass is very steep and the train is pulled by two engines, one in the front and one at the rear. The going was real slow as the train stopped at every station. On the platform one could buy all sorts of food. Eventually I asked the conductor for an upgrade to a sleeping compartment, which I got and could then at least lie down.

4 July - Islamabad

The entire day was spent on the train. As the train reached the province of Punjab the land was a lot greener and one could see wheat, rice and cotton fields, even water buffalo. We only arrived at around 22h00 and the train stopped in Rawalpindi, as there is no train station in Islamabad. In Rawalpindi I found that the hotels are only for locals and do not take foreigners!! What a drama to find accommodation at night. In the end I took a taxi into Islamabad to a hotel. What a dump it was, but a bed is a bed and by that time it was already 24h00.

5 July - Islamabad

Wow I slept and slept and only woke up at 10h30. The room is terribly hot and only has a fan and no outside windows. (no wonder there are some creepy crawlies running around). By the time I got outside I found that it was raining. Now it was not only hot, but very humid as well. I found a travel agent who could arrange a trek and I did the deed. Booked a trek to K2 base camp!! The cost was phenomenal but I was determined to do a trekking trip in Pakistan!!! Now I was truly penniless.

6 July - Islamabad

I woke early but had my dates all wrong and thought it was already the 7th!! So I had to spend another day in Islamabad, as we were only to leave on Monday 7th June. Not that I minded as I enjoy walking through markets and trying out all the street food, from samosas, chilly bites, potato fritters, nuts and fruit. I spent the rest of the day packing my bits and pieces for the trek. Basic stuff like warm clothes, sleeping bag and sleeping mat, the rest will be provided by the trekking company. I have no hiking boots and am seriously considering buying a pair but today is Sunday (weekend in Pakistan) and most shops are closed.

A suicide bomber walked into a crowed at the Melody Market and killed about 15 people, to think I was there just a short while before. In the rest of the city life goes on as normal and it hard to find a child without a cricket bat in his hand, one can’t believe that hockey and squash are also national sports.

7 July - Islamabad – Besham

I was eager to get going so I was up early and rearing to go, but it was after midday before we left Islamabad, first visiting the Minister of Tourism for a Trekking Permit, the Alpine Club for a briefing, and Rawalpindi to pick up some supplies.

The road north was extremely busy, jam-packed with colorful trucks, but the landscape was lush with green hills, what a difference from the province of Balochistan. We passed numerous small villages with locals in traditional dress, and shops displaying their wares on the pavement including tyres, plastic chairs, apricots, and clothing. We soon reached the Karakoram Highway (KKH), which hugs the banks of the Indus River. The road is rather narrow, windy and washed away in places, so the going is very slow and it was after dark when we reached the overnight spot at Besham village.

8 July - Besham – Skardu

We were on the road by 05h00 as the drive to Skardu is long and slow. Soon the scenery changed again from the lush green hills of the previous day to stark and barren mountains.

A quick stop to view the place where the Himalayas, the Karakoram and the Hindukush mountains meet, then we were on our way again. After Jaglot we turned off the KKH on an even narrower road. With high cliffs on the one side and exposed drops down to the river on the other, it is quite a performance when a vehicle comes from the opposite direction. It was after dark again that we reached Skardu, a busy, dusty town. The town is lively with a host of trekking/mountaineering shops from grocery stores to second hand trekking equipment stores. I spent the night at the well known K2 Motel famous amongst trekkers and mountaineers. The Motel must still be one of the original ones as the rooms are huge with large shower rooms and a large lush garden outside overlooking the Indus River.

9 July - Skardu – Askole 3000m asl

By now I had discovered that I was the only guest on the trek!! So with me was Ali the guide, Munwar the cook, and 10 porters!!! Just imagine that!!! Askole is the last village along the way and from here everything must be carried up the mountain, so that’s the need for all the porters. Before we left we still had to pick up more supplies and then it was off to the shop to find a pair of hiking boots for myself. I found a pair of good secondhand boots for a fraction of the original price. So once again it was midday by the time we left and it was another 6 hours by Jeep to Askole. Just before Askole there was a landslide and we had to abandon the Jeep and carry our luggage across the rubble but we found another Jeep on the other side. A slow and bone-jarring drive to Askole up steep mountainsides with hairpin bends and cliffs down to the river (not a drive for the faint of heart). At Askole we set up camp (that’s now my tent and a large cooking tent) and sorted out the porters for the trip. This is hugely different from Nepal where there are villages all along the path and therefore no need to carry food and sleeping gear. I kind of missed the rituals and prayer flags of Nepal.

10 July - Askole – Jhola Camp 3200m asl

We set off fairly early for a short and easy walk all along the Braldu River on very rocky terrain. It was a nice warm day and quite hot at times as I set off with my entourage. The path is narrow and at times quite precarious. We crossed a side river along a suspension bridge and soon we were at the campsite with fixed toilets and washing facilities. The water is from the river which comes straight from the glacier and is freezing cold so it was a very quick wash!! Munwar (the cook) cooked up a storm of chapattis rice and chickpeas. The air is very dry and ones skin is dry and shriveled up, but it was good to be walking in the mountains again.

11 July - Jhola Camp – Paiya 3600m asl

Again a relatively easy walk along the river with our first views of high peaks ahead. Close to the campsite one could see the Baltoro glacier and the peaks of Cathedral Towers in the distance. The path is extremely stony and it felt good to take off your boots at the end of the day. Paiya is a busy campsite with various groups resting there. We decided to have a rest day as well as Paiya is a traditional rest place for the porters, where they slaughter a goat and sing and dance until late in the evening.

12 July - Paiya

At Paiya I met Mark and Alex, from the UK, also trekking to K2. A really nice and easy going couple. I was glad to have their company as it can get rather lonely trekking on your own. We lazed around all day, good thing as well, as we all seemed to have upset stomachs.

13 July - Paiyu – Khuburtze 4000m asl

We got up real early to prepare for the 6 hour climb up the Baltoro Glacier. The glacier is 62km long and stretches all the way up the valley. One can hardly believe you’re walking on a glacier as it is covered with rocks and stones. Nevertheless, you can see definite signs of crevices and every now and again one can see the ice through the boulders, which is a bit slippery if you walk on it. It was a steady climb up the valley and to our camp which now looked like a real mountain camp with a few tents scattered among the rocks. Among the tents were chickens and goats which were brought up by the porters and which were steadily becoming less!! We sat in the sun drinking many cups of green tea, looking out over Paiyu peak 6600m and the Tango towers 6239m.

14 July - Khuburtze – Urdukas 4200m asl

A short walk to Urdukas camp all along the lateral moraine. The views were spectacular but soon after we arrived it started raining and we spent the rest of the day sleeping and nibbling on nuts and dried fruit swallowed down with numerous cups of tea. At the camp were also 2 climbers from Greenland who attempted K2 but returned due to rock falls and avalanches. Soon it became too cold to be outside and we all retired to our tents. Close to the camp were reminders of climbers who had died on K2, as well as the graves of porters.

15 July - Urdukas – Goro 2 4500m asl

Dawn was bright and clear and it was a most spectacular day as we walked along the Baltoro glacier. The terrain was still very rocky and slippery in places as we negotiated our way over the glacier and past some nasty looking crevasses. Ahead one could see Gaserbrum 4. We were now starting to feel the altitude and were quite out of breath walking uphill. We slipped and slid along the glacier until we reached our campsite on rough stones and ice in the centre of the glacier. Goro 2 is a spectacular site surrounded by all the high peaks and what a glorious view. Supper was early as it gets freezing cold as soon the sun sets. The food is absolutely delicious with soup, rice and at least 2 other dishes not to mention dessert!!!

16 July - Goro 2 – Concordia 4700m asl

An easy walk along the glacier with spectacular views of Mustagh Tower, Gasherbrum 4 and finally K2!! It was a bright sunny day and K2 (the 2nd highest peak on earth after Everest) was cloudless, rising 3600m straight up from the Godwin Austin Glacier. We camped on the glacier again and one could hear constant cracking of the ice while lying in your tent. Once again it was freezing cold, and for the past few days we’d been sleeping and walking in all our warm clothes.

17 July - Concordia

After breakfast I took a walk with Ali the guide to Gasherbrum base camp and towards Gondogoro La over difficult slippery ice. On returning to Concordia I felt rather nauseous, probably due to the altitude. Once again it was freezing cold as soon as the sun set, and one could do little else but curl up in your sleeping bag.

18 July - Concordia

This was a rest day at Concordia so we spent most of the day lying in our tents and just enjoying the views. Concordia is the spot where 5 glaciers converge, and is a popular camping place for trekking expeditions. Most of us were suffering from upset stomachs (which seems to be very common at Concordia) so the rest day was a good thing.

19 July - Concordia – Urdukas

A long days’ trekking lay ahead as we left Concordia on the return leg of the trek. We were not too sorry to get out of the “shit zone” (proper sewage disposal is a problem in this frozen, rocky landscape). It was a cloudy day and one could hardly see any of the surrounding peaks we’d enjoyed on the way up. We only arrived back at Urdukas camp at around 17h00. Urdukas is a real nice campsite on the side of the mountain overlooking the high peaks. We just sat spying on the newcomers on their way up the path.

20 July - Urdukas – Paiyu

It had become the norm for me to be woken up with a cup of coffee, and soon afterwards breakfast was ready which always consisted of chapattis, cereal and tea. During breakfast the porters quickly packed the tens up and started on their way. It was a fairly long day, but mostly downhill. Finally we reached the snout of the glacier but then it started raining and by the time we reached the campsite we were soaked to the bone. My bag is not waterproof as it was a quick and cheap purchase in Islamabad before I left, so everything was damp including my sleeping bag.

21 July - Paiyu – Jhola Camp

Day dawned cloudy but it did not look like rain, so we set off on our way to Jhola camp. The path was narrow and stony so it’s single file walking but still we chatted away and soon reached the campsite. Quite a number of people were camping at Jhola, most of them other trekkers on their way up the mountain. Among them where also porters trekking up the mountain with a dzos (half cow half yak). The dzos was to be slaughtered at K2 base camp to provide meat for both climbers and porters on their return from the summit. At least it was a dry evening and we could hang out our wet cloths to dry.

22 July - Jhola – Askole

Coffee was brought to my tent again at around 07h00, by which time it was light for a while already. After breakfast we set off quite sad that it was our last trekking day. An easy 6 hour walk all along the river again and across the snout of the Biafro Glacier, until at last we saw the green oasis of Askole. The day was partly cloudy and by the time we reached the campsite it started raining. We dived for our tents and waited for supper to be prepared. That night an interesting group of Russians arrived on their way to climb the Ogre.

23 July - Askole – Shigar

It was again a bone-jarring Jeep drive on an extremely narrow mountain road, with hairpin bends and steep cliffs. Shortly after we left we found the bridge washed away so we had to abandon our Jeep again and walk across the broken bridge. A 20 minute walk brought us to a landslide and this time it was a nerve-racking walk up the mountain and down the other side to where we found another Jeep. Then off to Shigar were Mark and Alex were to overnight at the Shigar Fort hotel. One look at the hotel and I booked in as well. It has now been 14 days since we had a shower and after walking and sleeping in the same clothes all we could think about was a hot shower and clean clothes. And what a place it was!! A 400 year old fort now restored and converted into a hotel. We showered and showered, oh what a luxury it was!!! That night we had a nice supper in the hotel restaurant before retiring to our fancy rooms.

24 July - Shigar – Skardu

We got picked up after breakfast and it was a short drive to Skardu where we were trying to get a flight back to Islamabad. This flight is never certain as it is very weather dependent. To our delight the flight was on (although late) and we were off to Islamabad. That night I phoned Ernest from my hotel, and was surprised to find that he was only 16km away in Rawalpindi. We planned to meet up again the following morning, which was when I would have arrived back in Islamabad if I’d returned by road instead of flying back from Skardu.

After trying in vain to obtain a visa for China we finally settled for India. We applied at the Indian Embassy, and left the campsite in Islamabad to cycle the Karakoram Highway.

14 August - Islamabad – Aliabad (by bus)

Instead of cycling all the way up the Karakoram and back again, it made a lot of scene to take a bus up the pass and cycle back to pick up the visas on our return to Islamabad. So after a slow start we finally left and cycled the short distance to Rawalpindi to get a bus to Aliabad in the Hunza Valley, which is as far as the bus goes. The bus left at 14h30 and we settled in for the trip. The ride was painfully slow and as can be expected, fairly uncomfortable. How all these back-packers travel overland by bus I don’t know.

15 August - Aliabad - Karimabad

No doubt, we got little sleep on the bus as it rattled, bumped and shaked along the KKH. We only arrived in Aliabad at midday, making it a 22 hour bus ride!!! We cycled the short 7km to Karrimabad with a steep 2km climb up to the small village. We found a room at the Haider Inn at 300 rp (R30.00) with excellent views and good food. The set dinner consisting of soup, veggies, pasta, dhal rice, tea and desert costed 120 rp (R12.00)

16 August - Karimabad – Passu - 51km

At last we were on the bikes again, cycling along the narrow road of the KKH. The road was washed away in many places and clear evidence of rock falls could be seen everywhere. Fortunately the road was fairly quiet with only a few trucks and jeeps. We arrived in Passu after a few hours of cycling and camped behind the Glacier Breeze Restaurant, right at the foot of the Passu Glassier. The restaurant is well known for its good cuisine, so we splashed out on supper and enjoyed the local Hunza food. We were also awarded with a full moon, and what a sight as the moon rose and shone on the snow covered mountains and nearby glacier!!!

17 August - Passu – Sost - 41km

The road continued up the valley and although there were no major climbs, it was fairly up and down, past many small villages. We arrived fairly early and stayed at the Park Hotel, a real local joint with very basic accommodation. Sost is a real border town with trucks running to and from China.

18 August - Sost

This morning was cloudy and rainy, so we decided to wait for the weather to clear before heading up the pass.

19 August - Sost to the pass and back - 87km

We took a lift up the pass as I had a cold which had been hanging in for days (at the top the pass is 4733m high). We could also leave our heavy luggage in the hotel. It was a brilliant, cloudless, sunny day and the views were spectacular. From pass (the Chinese-Pakistan border) it was 87km downhill all the way back to Sost. Halfway we stopped and lit the stove for coffee and enjoyed the view.




20 August - Sost – Karrimabad - 94km

The road back to Karrimabad was not as downhill as I expected, but once again fairly up and down with some steep climbs. I felt quite tired when we arrived in Karrimabad and again we had the steep 2km climb up to the village. Maybe it’s the cold or maybe the altitude, or perhaps just a case of being unfit (I’d hardly done any cycling in the previous 6 weeks). A great supper at our Inn awaited us again.




21 August - Karrimabad

The Inn had a great view and atmosphere, so we stayed another day. Also to see if my cold will not improve before setting off again. The power is very unreliable and went off 3 times while trying to send one email!!! Most of the smaller villages have one day power and one day off.

22 August - Karimabad

We woke to find the day overcast and raining so we stayed in bed until late. Breakfast was the usual milk tea and local pancake (a thick pancake with jam). Lunch was more local food consisting of a local pizza (onion, tomato and cheese sandwiched between 2 chapatti) Supper was the usual communal supper!! What a life!! Most people seem to come here for a day but end up staying for a week. We took a walk around the small village and up to the old fort, which is now renovated.





23 August - Karimabad – Gilgit - 106km

Well fed and rested we left Karimabad for Gilgit. Not long after we set off the road was blocked due to a landslide. Nothing one can do but sit and wait for it to be cleared. I could feel I’m fairly unfit as we cycled what is supposed to be down (but lots of ups and downs again). Fortunately there were many villages/shops along the way where one can stop and get some food and drinks. We reached Gilgit via a small narrow tunnel and suspension bridge.

24 August - Gilgit

We stayed at the popular Madina Hotel, slightly more expensive at 390 rp (R39.00) for a double room, but with clean bedding and hot water it was worth it. We spent the day wondering around the town and markets. What colorful markets they have here, Ernest bought himself a Hunza hat with lots of advice and encouragement from the locals.

25 August - Gilgit – Talechi - 67km

Once again we only left the Madina Hotel quite late. (One day we’ll get an early start like most other people). Not too many steep hills but the general up and down of the Karakoram. A whitewashed monument signaled the junction of the Karakoram, Hindukush, and Himalaya mountains. Here we found an unfortunate Dutch traveller who pulled too far off the road and overturned his Land Cruiser. A bit further we found the Nanga Parbat Hotel, a half built structure where we could camp. The views across to Nanga Parbat (8125m second highest in Pakistan) were great. The mountain is also known as Killer Mountain due to the large number of deaths among mountaineers.

26 August - Talechi – Chilas - 71km

A hot and dry day on the road but a fairly short ride to Chilas. Ernest had 3 punctures so we arrived later than expected. A head wind also seems to pick up between 14h00 – 16h00 so it’s best to do most of the cycling in the morning. People have warned us about stone throwing in the region and it had already started. We passed the notorious land sliding area just past Raikot Bridge without any incident. In Chilas we stayed at the Karakoram Inn, typical of Pakistani Budget Hotels with dirty bedding and filthy bathrooms!!.

27 August - Chilas – Dasu - 117km

We entered the Indus Kohistan district, a very conservative area where no women at all are seen outside. This area reminds me a lot of Ethiopia, both in scenery and stone-throwing children. The area is also considered rather lawless and camping in the wild is not recommended. Here the gorge is deep and narrow with steep cliffs on the one side and sheer drop offs down to the river on the other side. About 15km before Dasu we found a rest house with such an idyllic setting that we could not refuse when the manager offered us a room at 50% discount.

28 August - Dasu – Pattan - 53km

The plan was to cycle to Besham, but after 50km and another flat tyre (& damaged rim) by Ernest we decided to stay in Pattan. We have now used the last of our spare tubes so will have to stock up again in Islamabad. The area is also so scenic that one does not want to rush it. The road climbs high on the canyon wall and the scenery is truly spectacular with a lot more greenery than further north. The Indus River flowed way below us as we cycled up the mountainside. In many places the road is washed away or damaged by rock falls from the crumbling mountainside.

29 August - Pattan – Batagram - 96km

For me this is the most scenic part of the KKH, with lots of greenery and forested mountainsides. The road is still in poor condition, to such an extent that I broke my front luggage rack. Now it’s held together with duct tape and cable ties. Not as bad as a Polish cyclist we met on the way, who broke his gears and now only has one gear (and that going up the KKH!!!). At Thakot we crossed the Indus River (the official start and end of the KKH) and climbed out of the Indus valley, what a sweaty affair!! At Batagram we stayed in a hotel which has definitely seen better days - the lack of tourists is painfully visible in many of these places.

30 August - Batagram – Abbottobad - 98km

From Bategram it was yet another climb up to Chatter Plain and then a good downhill run. The villages are all close together with busy bazaars and it’s a slow process getting through. The road is jam packed with colorful trucks, cars, Jeeps and Donkey carts. From Mansera to Abottobad was again up and down, but now the children seemed to be scared of us and ran like crazy as we came along. People appeared to be stunned and just stared open mouthed at us. I don’t know how many women they see on a bike, but then it is not surprising as not even I have met another women cyclist along the KKH. In fact I have not even met another multi-year women cyclist along the way. No wonder they stare!!

31 August- Abottobad – Islamabad - 125km

A fairly unpleasant ride after such fantastic scenery, how spoilt we are!!! There were also some road works along the way which makes it a dusty business. Eventually we arrived back in Islamabad and back to the campsite. We’d been gone for more than 2 weeks, but we had some acquaintances there who were still waiting for visa’s.

1 – 3rd September - Islamabad

We collected our Indian visas and Ernest spent 2 entire days cleaning and servicing the bikes. I bought 2 more books to read as books are incredibly cheap (all copies). So now I carried not only a VERY thick Indian Lonely Planet but also 2 novels (they better be worth it). In was Ramzaan (Ramadan) and the market was very quiet, but the mosques start calling at 4 AM, and there is a loud clatter of pots and pans as the local workers and guards in the camp prepare to eat before sunrise.

13 August 2008

CYCLING IRAN - Astarat to Pakistan border



10 June Astara – Jokandan - 82km

It was time to put the burka on and head for the boarder. The border crossing into Iran was no less hectic than others (no-mans-land was a bit of an obstacle course, and we waited for ages before being cleared to enter). Border officials made sure to tell me to cover my hair. There was also some misunderstanding regarding whether we needed documents for the bicycles. Once in Iran we discovered, with a shock, that there was no ATM or bank where one could draw money. If only we knew this, we could have drawn money in Azerbaijan. 0n top of that I still had to spend my last bit of money on a head scarf and long sleeve shirt, as here it is law to cover yourself from head to toe. Another male chauvinist society!! I can’t believe I chose to cycle through another Islamic country. Here it is even worse than in the other countries, with people totally discounting me, and only speaking to Ernest, as if I don’t exist.

The scenery is however lush and green and one can hardly believe you are in Iran. They even grow rice!! The coast along the Caspian Sea is rather dirty but still a nice place to stop and have a break.

11 June - Jokandan – Hashtpar - 90km

I friendly man in a large town bought us some cake and bread (in exchange for an interview – he was a local newsreporter), and then proceeded to take us to the beach were we could camp. Unfortunately the beach was right in front of the promenade, so we had a constant procession of spectators till late that night. The people here seem to live at night, as it is extremely hot in the day. So no rest for the wicked, I could not even take off my headscarf and long sleeve shirt. Definitely no washing tonight.

12 June - Hastpar – Rushar - 125km

We woke with women walking and jogging on the beach, fully covered which is quite a site. They must be dying of the heat. Ernest fried himself some eggs for breakfast and that drew even more spectators. We lost our way a bit as we wanted to cycle along the coast but found ourselves on an inland road. Eventually we came out at the coast again. We also, for the first time, saw a women driver. She even stopped and gave us some fruit. Camped on soccer field between the coast and the road. If only one could have a swim!! I’m getting really fed up with this headscarf and long pants and long sleeve shirt. I’m hot stinky and my head itches.

13 June - Rushar – Chaluse - 109km

No a bad day, all along the coast with a slight tail wind. Got invited into a tea house were we had tea and mint flavored yogurt (not so nice). Camping places change from country to country. Here one can also camp at any given spot but the most popular seems to be at a mosque. So we set up camp at a mosque and found that there were various other people also camping there. The main reason is because there is water and toilets as well as a nice lawn. We have turned away from the coast on the road to Tehran. Immediately it was not as humid as at the coast and a bit cooler.

14 June - Chaluse - Sayabishay 70km



15 June - Sayabishay - Karaj -92km



16 June - Karaj – Tehran - 55km

This is summer in Iran!!! It is stinking hot, as we cycled the short distance into Tehran. What a busy and large city! Eventually we found a cheap hotel (The Mashhad Hotel) and lo-and-behold, we bumped into Martin there (who we met on the ferry from Sudan – and last seen in Cairo). Now it was time to try and get money sent to us and to sort out some visas. Just to find that they have sent the LOI for Uzbekistan to Baku instead of to Tehran!! To redirect it to Tehran will take a further 5-7 days. My sister, Amanda, had a battle of her own to try and send money to Iran. What a performance, now we just need to wait for it to arrive and wait for the LOI for Uzbekistan to come through.

We decided to also look into the possibility of cycling via Pakistan and India to China, which should be less of a visa problem.

We waited and waited, but no LIO and no money, every day I’m at the bank, just for them to tell me it is still not there!! We also applied for a Pakistani visa and even that is taking forever!!

Everyone at the Mashhad Hotel is in the same boat, everyone is waiting for something. There is not really a reason for staying in Tehran other than getting visas. It is extremely hot and one can do little more than lie in your room and wait. The air is so polluted that one can’t even see the surrounding mountains, I’m sure it is also the reason for my constant headache.

What a strange country this is!! There is no satellite TV or even ADSL lines, so the internet is all still dial up. Definitely no alcohol, but I understand that it is easily available if you know the right people. One thing about the Iranian people is that they are extremely helpful and there is constantly someone asking if they can help you find a bus, taxi or metro.

After a week of waiting I received an email from my sister, Amanda, saying that the money has been returned to South Africa and that there is no way of getting money sent to Iran!!! Now our situation was desperate. We have already reverted to eating bread (nuun) and water and we have not paid for the hotel for the past 5 days. We heard about a travel agent that can arrange money via a Dubai account, so we went to see him. He proceeded to give us 300US dollars and said we can pay it into his account!! What trusting people the Iranians are. Well with the money we could pay for our hotel as well as the Pakistani visa. What a relief!! Still not enough to get us to the border, which is app. 1500km from Tehran. By this time there was hardly enough time left on our visas to make it to the border. As in theory we now had to do app. 150km every day to make it to the border in time.

26 June - Tehran – Qom Rest area - 124km

We left Tehran as early as possible but already the heat was stifling. As if that was not bad enough, we were also cycling into a head wind. Maybe cycling though Iran to Pakistan in the height of summer was not such a smart move. The heat appears to be at its worst between 14h00 – 18h00. It seems that one can just not drink enough water to keep hydrated and the warm water makes me feel nauseous in the heat. We managed to do 124km before camping at a rest area with petrol station and restaurants.

27 June - Rest area – Kashan Petrol station - 113km

Once again we woke at sunrise and left as soon as possible, but that made no difference, as the heat soon became quite unbearable. I drank as much as possible but it only proceeded to make me more nauseous. I felt weak from an upset stomach but we battled on against a head wind (again). The going was really slow (due to me) and I felt that Ernest was getting a bit annoyed with me for going so slowly. He wanted to get to the border before our visas expired and was not keen on taking a bus. I had no energy left by the time we decided to call it a day, and to crown it all I proceeded to puke right in front of the people!! How embarrassing!!

28 June Kashan petrol station – Kerman 28km cycled (By bus)

By the time we left that morning I was still not feeling well, and quite weak. As we had little money we only had a tin of beans to eat the night before. After a short while I realized that I was holding Ernest up, and he did not want to stop to rest.

So, at a Toll gate I decided to wait for a bus while Ernest carried on. It was a long wait for a bus going in the direction I wanted to go. Eventually a bus arrived which appeared to go quite close to the Pakistan border. The bus drivers were extremely nice and only charged me 8000 toman (less than 10 U$). On the bus I met Fariba, a very nice lady living in Kerman. She invited me to stay with them for the night. The bus only arrived in Kerman at around 1h00. So I accepted and even had a nice shower. I slept on the sofa and Fariba and her husband, Mehran slept outside in the courtyard.

29 June - Kerman – Zahedan (By bus)

We only woke at 9h00 and had breakfast consisting of bread (nuun) cheese, nuts and halva. Fariba escorted me to the bus station, where I got a bus to Zahedan. On the bus I met another very nice student, Nargess, on her way home after the closing of term (the bus ticket was 6 000 Toman). I know I’m going on about this, but the heat was truly unbearable (like Southern-Namibia in December). From Bam the road crossed the desert and there appeared to be very little water along the way. (Hope Ernest will be all right). The scenery and structures resemble Sudan so much one can easily think you’re in another country. Once again the bus only arrived at around 24h00 in Zahedan and Nargess invited me to come and stay at their house. What a luxury house it was. Double storey with air-con!!! Communication is quite hard as they do not speak English and I no Farsi.

30 June - Zahedan

The people of the house only rise at around 10h00 – 12h00. Here everyone lives at night and sleeps in the day. This is about the best thing to do as the heat us unbearable in the day. They fed me until bursting point with rice, noodles and fruit.

31 July - Zahedan

They insisted on me staying another day, so I used the opportunity to do some laundry and just lay about. Once again I was fed with all kinds of food. Wow, one can only eat so much and no more.

1 July - Zahedan to Pakistan border.

I insisted on leaving for Pakistan, but there was no way they wanted me to cycle to the border, apparently it is not safe!! So they insisted that I take a taxi, they even paid for the taxi!! There was no way they would except my money (I still had a bit left), so in the end I gave up and got on the taxi for the border, loaded with a huge bag of food. The drive to the border was through a real moon-scape area. At last I was out of Iran, although the people are extremely helpful and friendly I did not like Iran as much as the other countries, must be my anti-authoritarian attitude!!

10 June 2008

CYCLING AZERBAIJAN - Tbilise - Astara





23 May - Tbilise - Qazax - 100km

At last we left Tbilisi and cycled off to the border, a fairly easy ride of about 60km, and got out of Georgia smoothly. Things were a bit more haphazard on the Azeri side, and our passports went from one person to the next until, eventually, we got our entry stamps. We met a Chinese cyclist at the border who has been cycling for the past 11 years!! After having some tea with him we cycled on for about 40km till we reached Qazax, where we camped in the garden of a run-down restaurant.

The time has moved on another hour so now it gets dark really late, which gives a real long cycling day.

24 May - Qazax - Ganca - 100km

The road is fairly narrow with a very poor road surface and it is mostly better to cycle next to the road on the gravel as it is not as bumpy. A head wind did not make it any easier either. Spring seems to be over as now the days are getting quite hot. In the evening we found what is called a "Tir Park" (truck stop), where one can have a good shower for about a dollar.

25 May - Ganca - Yevlax - 120km

The road is rather uninteresting, but Ernest insisted on coming this way instead of taking the scenic road (we had a lot to organize in Baku - so he didn't want to waste the available time). The road surface is still very bad and bumpy and we still cycled into a head wind, all this does not particularly make me very happy. We found the local people a lot more open and friendly than in Georgia. Stopping anywhere along the road, normally means that people come from all over the village to look and enquire where we from and where we going.

The language is a lot like Turkish so we can at least tell them where we from and where we going to. Just past Yevlax we stopped for tea and met the Turkish road workers, working on the new road, they in true Turkish style invited us to come and camp at the site. We hardly had time to pitch our tents and food arrived.

26 May - Yerlax -123km

We had to pack up early as we were camping in the car park and people were coming to work. Once again breakfast arrived as we were packing up. Well good thing we had breakfast as it turned out to be another frustrating day into the wind, in the heat and on a bad road, give me strength what I am doing here!!!

The village people stare at us in amazement (I don't think that a lot of tourist come past these areas) they are truly fascinated and we hardly ever pay for tea, as by the time we leave someone has already paid. The most amazing thing is that about everyone has a full set of shiny golden teeth, must be the fashion around here.

We struggled on for 123km before we set up camp behind a petrol station, great place overlooking a dam but it came with a big, big mozzie problem. No sooner have we pitched our tents when we noticed a number of snakes in the dam!!!

27 May - Alat - 88km

It feels like our problems are never ending as we encountered a real strong head wind. At least the road has improved. All the time people wave us in to come and drink tea, which is not just served by the glass, but comes in a pot. So we normally sit for a while and chat (if that is what one can call it, seeing that we can say about 5 words in the local language).

We reached the coast at the Caspian Sea which is by far not a romantic coastline as it is littered with oil related industries and pipelines. We camped next to the road again and found later that it is next to a rubbish dump!!! I'm getting rather tired of being dirty and it feels like I need a normal life for a while. I'm covered in, mozzie bites, haven't showered for days and have run out of deodorant!!!

28 May - Alat - Baku - 68km

A short ride into Baku, along the coast, with oil riggs, pipelines and factories. The area around the coast is very barren, soon we reached Baku which is a real oil boom town with large modern buildings, and loads of designer stores, what a contrast to the rest of the country. We booked into the Canub Hotel which is the cheapest we could find. The rooms are large but old with torn bedding and a rather sloppy floor!!! At least there was a shower with hot water, which was the most important thing at the time.

Now the big search for visas started. Getting visas for central Asia is not that easy as one needs letters of invitation for most of those countries. This can be arranged on the internet but takes time, a full itinery and money.

All we achieved, after a week in Baku, was getting a “Letter of Invitation” for Uzbekistan. This is at least now arranged and paid for. Seeing that this process takes 10 – 12 days, we decided to cycle to Central Asia, via Iran, in order to pass the time. The visa for Iran only took one day, but we were nearly flattened in the process. You need to shove and push your way to the front. That’s not the end as then you need to stand your ground firmly in order not to be pushed away from the windows again.

6 June - Baku

At last we packed up and cycled off, just to find that Ernest’s rim was broken!!! So off to the bike shop, which we found at the Velotrek. Good thing Ernest carried a spare rim. I thought he was crazy, but now it come in handy. I also used this opportunity to have my bike serviced.

7 June Baku – Shirvan National Park - 113km

Now, we were really on our way, with a good tail wind, we headed for the south. After about 110km we spotted a sign for a nature reserve. We stopped to enquire and were welcomed in. We were even offered the guest cottage, only paying the small park entry free. What a pleasant surprise. Loads of gazelle and birds, in the park, even flamingos!!

8 June - Shirvan – Calilabad - 110km

The road deteriorated, was very narrow, busy, and with a poor surface. Add a head wind to that, and it makes for some frustrating cycling. Still we were called in for tea on various occasions which we gladly accepted. The countryside is a lot greener now. Fruit stalls were once again found next to the road, and we were given a whole bag of fruit by one of the stall owners. We were even filmed by the Azeri TV. All this took place without us speaking a word of Azeri and them speaking no English. We camped next to a teahouse under the trees with lots of spectators. All coming to see what 2 crazy people on bikes are doing.

9 June - Calilabad – Astara - 107 km

The bad road continued and we once again encountered a head wind. The scenery became really lush and green with lots of trees and high mountains in the background. The road made a loop inland and came back to the Caspian Sea. About 10km before the border we stopped and camped behind a petrol station. The whole village must have come to have a look at as. There is definitely nothing romantic about camping between old oil cans and rubbish with petrol fumes up your nose. At least there was water and a sort of a toilet, which Ernest rightly said could easily feature in Fear Factor.

02 June 2008

CYCLING AZERBAIJAN - Tbilise to Astara












23 May - Tbilise, Georgia - Qazax, Ajerbaijan - 100km

At last we left Tbilisi and cycled off to the border, a fairly easy ride of about 60km, and got out of Georgia smoothly. Things were a bit more haphazard on the Azeri side, and our passports went from one person to the next until, eventually, we got our entry stamps. We met a Chinese cyclist at the border who has been cycling for the past 11 years!! After having some tea with him we cycled on for about 40km till we reached Qazax, where we camped in the garden of a run-down restaurant.

The time has moved on another hour so now it gets dark really late, which gives a real long cycling day.

24 May - Qazax - Ganca - 100km
The road is fairly narrow with a very poor road surface and it is mostly better to cycle next to the road on the gravel as it is not as bumpy. A head wind did not make it any easier either. Spring seems to be over as now the days are getting quite hot. In the evening we found what is called a "Tir Park" (truck stop), where one can have a good shower for about a dollar.

25 May - Ganca - Yevlax - 120km
The road is rather uninteresting, but Ernest insisted on coming this way instead of taking the scenic road (we had a lot to organize in Baku - so he didn't want to waste the available time). The road surface is still very bad and bumpy and we still cycled into a head wind, all this does not particularly make me very happy. We found the local people a lot more open and friendly than in Georgia. Stopping anywhere along the road, normally means that people come from all over the village to look and enquire where we from and where we going.

The language is a lot like Turkish so we can at least tell them where we from and where we going to. Just past Yevlax we stopped for tea and met the Turkish road workers, working on the new road, they in true Turkish style invited us to come and camp at the site. We hardly had time to pitch our tents and food arrived.

26 May - Yerlax -123km
We had to pack up early as we were camping in the car park and people were coming to work. Once again breakfast arrived as we were packing up. Well good thing we had breakfast as it turned out to be another frustrating day into the wind, in the heat and on a bad road, give me strength what I am doing here!!!

The village people stare at us in amazement (I don't think that a lot of tourist come past these areas) they are truly fascinated and we hardly ever pay for tea, as by the time we leave someone has already paid. The most amazing thing is that about everyone has a full set of shiny golden teeth, must be the fashion around here.

We struggled on for 123km before we set up camp behind a petrol station, great place overlooking a dam but it came with a big, big mozzie problem. No sooner have we pitched our tents when we noticed a number of snakes in the dam!!!

27 May - Alat - 88km
It feels like our problems are never ending as we encountered a real strong head wind. At least the road has improved. All the time people wave us in to come and drink tea, which is not just served by the glass, but comes in a pot. So we normally sit for a while and chat (if that is what one can call it, seeing that we can say about 5 words in the local language).

We reached the coast at the Caspian Sea which is by far not a romantic coastline as it is littered with oil related industries and pipelines. We camped next to the road again and found later that it is next to a rubbish dump!!! I'm getting rather tired of being dirty and it feels like I need a normal life for a while. I'm covered in, mozzie bites, haven't showered for days and have run out of deodorant!!!

28 May - Alat - Baku - 68km
A short ride into Baku, along the coast, with oil riggs, pipelines and factories. The area around the coast is very barren, soon we reached Baku which is a real oil boom town with large modern buildings, and loads of designer stores, what a contrast to the rest of the country. We booked into the Canub Hotel which is the cheapest we could find. The rooms are large but old with torn bedding and a rather sloppy floor!!! At least there was a shower with hot water, which was the most important thing at the time.

Now the big search for visas started. Getting visas for central Asia is not that easy as one needs letters of invitation for most of those countries. This can be arranged on the internet but takes time, a full itinery and money.

All we achieved, after a week in Baku, was getting a “Letter of Invitation” for Uzbekistan. This is at least now arranged and paid for. Seeing that this process takes 10 – 12 days, we decided to cycle to Central Asia, via Iran, in order to pass the time. The visa for Iran only took one day, but we were nearly flattened in the process. You need to shove and push your way to the front. That’s not the end as then you need to stand your ground firmly in order not to be pushed away from the windows again.

6 June - Baku

At last we packed up and cycled off, just to find that Ernest’s rim was broken!!! So off to the bike shop, which we found at the Velotrek. Good thing Ernest carried a spare rim. I thought he was crazy, but now it come in handy. I also used this opportunity to have my bike serviced.

7 June Baku – Shirvan National Park - 113km

Now, we were really on our way, with a good tail wind, we headed for the south. After about 110km we spotted a sign for a nature reserve. We stopped to enquire and were welcomed in. We were even offered the guest cottage, only paying the small park entry free. What a pleasant surprise. Loads of gazelle and birds, in the park, even flamingos!!

8 June - Shirvan – Calilabad - 110km

The road deteriorated, was very narrow, busy, and with a poor surface. Add a head wind to that, and it makes for some frustrating cycling. Still we were called in for tea on various occasions which we gladly accepted. The countryside is a lot greener now. Fruit stalls were once again found next to the road, and we were given a whole bag of fruit by one of the stall owners. We were even filmed by the Azeri TV. All this took place without us speaking a word of Azeri and them speaking no English. We camped next to a teahouse under the trees with lots of spectators. All coming to see what 2 crazy people on bikes are doing.

9 June - Calilabad – Astara - 107 km

The bad road continued and we once again encountered a head wind. The scenery became really lush and green with lots of trees and high mountains in the background. The road made a loop inland and came back to the Caspian Sea. About 10km before the border we stopped and camped behind a petrol station. The whole village must have come to have a look at as. There is definitely nothing romantic about camping between old oil cans and rubbish with petrol fumes up your nose. At least there was water and a sort of a toilet, which Ernest rightly said could easily feature in Fear Factor.