Snapshot: Farm House in Old Manali

31 May 2013

A house in Old Manali, looking grand with its colored walls and wooden balconies.

I’ve stocked up on supplies for the highlight route of my trip, the Manali-Leh Highway. From here, I’ll be climbing into the upper reaches of the Himalayas and riding on some of the highest roads in the world. GoPro and SLR batteries charged, walnuts and dried apricots in stock, woolen socks on and here we go!

Snapshot: Sangla Woman in Felt Cap, Mountain People Portraits

30 May 2013

A woman in Sangla who wanted her photo taken when she saw me walking around with my SLR. She must have a lot of interesting stories to tell…
I love the confidence and ease that mountain people exude. It probably comes from living in a challenging environment, surrounded by natural beauty and learning to appreciate the goodness in the small moments 🙂

From Sangla, I rode to the end of the track at Chitkul with more stunning views of snow-capped Himalayas with Tibet just a few peaks over. Then it was back to the Sutlej River and up to Kalpa, another small mountain town perched on the other side of Kinner Kailash from Sangla. sanDRina’s bosch horn needed a good cleaning as it’s ingested a lot of dust and water; a loud horn is essential equipment in the blind corners of mountain roads.

At Kalpa, I decided to turn around and not go through Spiti Valley as sanDRina’s chain is stretching and nearing the end of its life and I better save it for the high passes to Leh. I’ll come back and ride Spiti another time. So, from Kalpa I rode back down the Sutlej River along the Hindustan-Tibet Highway and wound through small tracks, sometimes dirt, sometimes tar, sometimes covered in pine needles and am just a short day’s ride away from Manali.

Snapshot: Snow-Peaked Himalayas, Kinner Kailash from Sangla

28 May 2013

Snow peaks! Clear view of Kinner Kailash at 6,500 m (21,320 ft) from Sangla. The mountain is sacred to both Hindus and Buddhists from the Kinnaur Valley. It’s not Mount Kailash, across the border in Tibet, where Lord Shiva is said to reside but the Kinner is still special as it’s considered the winter abode of Shiva. The story goes that Shiva granted a wish to a demon who then tried to kill Shiva but he hid from him in these mountains and with the help of Vishnu, they killed the demon.

I love how grand the Himalayas look, especially all lit up in the late afternoon sun after an overcast day of cold rain. It looks rock-solid like granite but the Himalayas are made of sedimentary rock that easily crumbles and leads to landslides. Let’s hope my route out of the beautiful Baspa Valley is open…

While snow means the air is cold, I’ve missed being cheered up by it. My last snow sighting was two years ago when sanDRina and I crossed the Alps. Beyond just looking, I want to ski down those slopes (across the valley has much more snow cover) like in this ski trip video from 2009 in Colorado.

Snapshot: Graduated From The Foothills To The Himalayas Proper

27 May 2013

I’ve graduated from the foothills and am riding in the Himalayas proper 🙂 From Rohru, I found a small route over a ridge down to Rampur on the Hindustan Tibet Highway and rode into Kinnaur Valley. I saw my first snow peaks! Along the Sutlej River, I met some bikers who were coming back from Kaza in Spiti Valley and they said the Kunzum Pass, the first really high pass on my route, is not yet open due to snow, so I might have to backtrack and head to Manali. I left the Sutlej and followed the Baspa River to Sangla, a small town surrounded by snowy mountains and am enjoying the chill air at 2,750 m (9,020 ft). Need to get slowly acclimatized for the high altitude riding ahead.

Milestone! 100,000 kms covered since Chicago!

25 May 2013

Milestone! sanDRina and I have covered a 100,000 kms since this journey began in Chicago 3 years and almost 3 months ago. For my Indian friends, that’s 1 lakh kms and for my American and Brit friends, that’s 62,150 miles. sanDRina doesn’t have an odometer, so you’re just going to have to trust my daily tallies from the trip meter in my GPS 😉

I’m right back in my element as I meander the backroads of the Himalayan foothills, winding through river valleys and meeting the people that make their home here. A few more thousand kilometers left before the end in Delhi with some crazy high mountain passes coming up…

Snapshot: Panorama of Alaknanda and Mandakini Rivers at Rudraprayag

24 May 2013

Sunrise at Rudraprayag where the Mandakini River joins up with the Alaknanda and together they flow down to form the Ganga after merging with the other three headstreams of this most sacred river in India. The rivers originate from glaciers further upstream and are still thick with their sediments.

It’s good to be riding in the mountains, climbing up and down on small, narrow roads. Almost feels like I’m back in South America, particularly Bolivia and northern Peru, but of course, the towns are more frequent and busier 😉

Snapshot: Naini Lake at Sunset, Finally Into The Himalayas!

23 May 2013

Escaped the heat of the plains and rode up the foothills of the Himalayas to the beautifully-set Naini Lake. It’s good to be at altitude once again and 2,000 m (6,560 ft) and above is where I feel most at home 😉

I was riding around town, which is busy with summer tourists, and a biker came up to me and introduced himself as Akshay, a member of a superbike club in Delhi and promptly invited me to stay with him in his cozy flat. A fun evening walking through the markets and then having some beer and chicken tikka by the lake.

Deeper into the mountains we go…

Snapshot: Finally Seeing the Taj Mahal! What a Grand Monument

21 May 2013

Woke up this morning in Agra and went for a walk along the Yamuna and there just happened to be this glowing white marble mausoleum… it’s the Taj Mahal!! Yay, finally seeing this magnificent monument. After seeing so many grand monuments around the world, I saved the best for last 😀 So proud as an Indian that the Taj is such an impressive structure. It’s been drawing the crowds for centuries to come and stand in awe of this expression of love from a king for his fallen wife.

Snapshot: The Stone Carvings at Khajuraho

19 May 2013

The beautiful stone carvings at the Mahadev Temple at Khajuraho. The temples are famous for their erotic depictions but more than that, the stone craftsmanship is amazing. I spent some time just staring at the details that have been carved to capture mood and smiles and pleasure. The security guard became my guide and told me that the sexual imagery has many reasons. One is that the kings who commissioned these temples, a 1000 years ago, wanted to please Indra, the god of lightning. Another reason is that kama (pleasure) is one of the purusharthas, or goals of life in Hinduism, that include dharma (righteousness), artha (duty) and moksha (liberation). A more practical reason might be that fertility rates were decreasing across the region and the king wanted to encourage his populace to get the hint and procreate 😉

Snapshot: Surviving the Heat with a Cooling Vest

18 May 2013

My gear for really hot riding: boonie hat and TechNiche Cooling Vest 😉 It’s a nylon quilted vest that holds half a liter of water and when I’m moving, air flows through my Kevlar mesh jacket and evaporates the water on my core and cools it down. At 47 C (117 F) and low humidity, it lasts for about an hour or so and then I re-wet it. It provides chilling relief while riding through the oven that is India’s peak summer in the center. Dreaming of shivering in the Himalayas soon…