Motorcycling the Roof of the World: Sidetracked Magazine

kashmir-07

After weeks of running around Dharamshala I finally had all the gear I would need for our motorcycle tour of Kashmir and Ladakh. All together it weighed about 20 kilos, which I fit into two old rucksacks and strapped to the rack straddling the back wheel of my 350cc Royal Enfield, which made it drive wobbly as it accelerated though with speed things evened out.

I put my helmet on and kick-started the engine, revving it loudly – its roar was thunderous and clean, the result of considerable last-minute maintenance at various mechanics around the Kangra valley, who banged and ratcheted it into temporarily working condition.

My girlfriend Dolker gave her sister one last hug goodbye, then together, each on our own Enfield, we rode away waving, watching Dharamshala recede in the rearview mirror. From now on it would only be the two of us, alone for thousands of kilometres through the high-altitude deserts and mountains of Northern India.

Read the rest in Sidetracked Magazine.

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Somewhere on the Indian Railways: A Photo Essay

starers on the train

With 7,172 stations and 71,000 miles of track, India has one of the largest rail networks in the world. Roughly 23 million Indians ride these rails each day, from Baramulla in Jammu and Kashmir in the north to the tip of the subcontinent at Kanniyakumari in the south, and from Gujarat’s Naliya in the west to Tinsukia in Assam’s westernmost frontier, and everywhere in between.The Vivek Express from Dibrugarh to Kanyakumari, an 83-hour 2655-mile journey, is the longest non-stop route.

waiting for the train

See the rest in Nowhere Magazine.

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The Flaneur: Motorcycle Journals 7/7 — The Road South

It’s unusual to see a woman riding a motorcycle in this country, much less a heavy Royal Enfield.

During this entire trip, everywhere heads have turned to watch M- ride by. Wherever we wander, she is our ambassador, our interpreter. All I need do is stand behind her, holding my helmet, watching as her charm melts whomever we meet, inspiring them to help us in some way.

From the boys running this luxury camp resort on the shores of Pangong Lake, an eye-blue body of water that lies on the border between India and Tibet, her electricity has garnered us free food over the last two days. We’re not staying at the boys’ camp (we’re camped on the water about a half-mile away) yet seeing her and learning she speaks Hindi has inspired them to appear at our tent door around mealtimes to invite us to come eat alongside the wealthy Indian tourists who pay them $80 a night for tent and board.

So we eat these free meals and camp under the full moon on the shore of the lake for three days, and on the fourth day set out over Chang La Pass (at 17,590 feet, the third highest motorable road in the world) on our way to the Leh-Manali highway.

My luggage rack, which I’d had welded back together a week before, judders apart on the way and I have to jerry-rig it back together with some rope and scrap wood I find on the ground near Karu.

Read the rest at Transitions Abroad.

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The Flaneur: Motorcycle Journals 6/7 — Kalachakra

I bump around the tent with my hands trying to find my phone when the alarm goes off at 6 a.m. I shut it off, remove my sleep mask and earplugs, and unzip the tent flap to find two monks crouched outside beside our motorcycles eating breakfast.

At the makeshift tent restaurant we’re camped a few feet away from, a dozen or so Ladakhis are quietly eating fried bread and chickpeas. Behind them, along the gravel road beyond a stone wall, a crowd of tens of thousands is making their way towards the field where the Dalai Lama’s Kalachakra initiation is about to begin. The field is almost a mile way, but I can still hear the guttural prayers of thousands of monks over its loudspeakers.

M- is still asleep.

I crawl out of the tent, look at the people on the wood and brick stools of the restaurant, then put on a shirt and sandals and go looking for a place to use the toilet.

Over the past few days of camping, toilet-related searches have been constant. The closest facility requires me to walk almost a mile, wait twenty minutes in line to pass through security at the Kalachakra grounds, walk fifteen minutes through the crowd, wait in line at the toilets, then come all the way back. So I, like everyone else in this tent village, go to the fields.

But there’s a problem: we’ve been camping here for days and the fields have begun to fill up. The one nearest our tent has a constant flow of people ducking in and out. It’s usually empty this time of the morning though, so this is when I make my move.

Read the rest in Nowhere Magazine.

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The Flaneur: Motorcycle Journals 5/7 — Nubra Valley

top the rocky outcrop above Hunder stands a temple whose heavy wooden doors have been sealed shut, with a silk ribbon run through the handles.

Below, a white river plunges out of a cliff and crashes into a sluice, which steers it alongside the mountain and pours into to the canals that feed the oasis village below. Otherwise, the surrounding valley is desolate: a sea of sand dunes enclosed by steep peaks.

After a moment’s hesitation (is it sealed for a reason?) we untie the ribbon and push open the temple’s heavy doors. Slowly, my eyes adjust to the darkness.

Enthroned before us is a giant, golden Maitreya Buddha. His face slowly becomes distinguishable in the darkness. The blissful eyes, the Mona Lisa smile.

It’s eerie to open a sealed door onto such a presence.

M- begins to prostrate while I make my way along the muraled walls, whose images tell a story I don’t fully understand. Some I recognize as tantric deities, their faces dark with age, blackened by the butter candles kept burning at the feet of nearby Maitreya. I edge along the paintings in the dim light, along the artists’ strange vision, full of wrathful deities in a wrathful land.

Exiting the temple, the sky blinds me.

Read the rest in Nowhere Magazine.

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The Flaneur: Motorcycle Journals 4/7 — Moonland

1:07 p.m. — Walking in a flashlight beam along the mani wall outside Lamayuru.

The mani wall is about four feet high, four feet wide, made of stacked stones and covered with flat slates on which ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’ is carved in Tibetan script over and over again.

The wall seems endless.

We’ve already been walking for twenty minutes and there’s no end in sight. Om Mani Padme Hum, Om Mani Padme Hum, over and over again to eternity.

It must have taken lifetimes to build such a wall…

As we walk, the darkness around us is absolute.

There are no lights in the faraway village, no cars on the road, no rivers nearby, no streams, no wind, no plants, no insects, no moon, no life. The surrounding mountains are black and dead, indistinguishable from the black space above them except that they hide the stars.

Read the rest in Nowhere Magazine.

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The Flaneur: Motorcycle Journals 3/7 — Ladakhi Cham

As we climb the steep hill leading up to Lama Yuru monastery, music begins to fill the air.

It’s mostly drums: methodical, meditative drumbeats that steadily increase their tempo as we climb, a beat that vibrates the rib cage and seems to slow the pulse. It becomes louder and louder and above, and the gleaming white monastery grows larger and larger.

Then little monks begin to appear. With their shaved heads, maroon robes and tanned Himalayan faces, they seem almost indistinguishable from one another, like the shattered pieces of a single idea. They hurry around the hill in groups, none of them taller than four feet.

Climbing higher, the barren peaks of Ladakh begin to rise behind the monastery and the source of the music and frantic activity finally appears.

Read the rest in Nowhere Magazine.

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