India 3 – Returning to chaos

posted in: Asia, India | 0

The many uphills and hiking started to exhaust us so we descended from Parvati valley. We were rolling down for a whole day only to face even higher mountains.
We went for 50 km-s on the same route we took upward. Originally we planned to go further back the same route but I found another road on the map. I just didn’t check its elevation carefully. The first day was cool, we saw drummers and statue carrying people on the way and we could camp.

But then we had to climb again. We progressed slowly on the steep roads while trucks were sweeping dust in our faces. It was tiring enough, I didn’t need to be slapped on the back without any reason by a drunk man. I couldn’t take anymore that day. We stopped early at a guesthouse equipped with hot water and TV. We cuddled up with a pot of chowmein. We haven’t had such luxury in the Parvati valley – there we chose the cheapest rooms that had only a bed without attached bathroom.

The next day I realized why didn’t we choose this route at the first place. Our day started with 10 km cycling upwards, then we got to the hard part. From there we could only push the bikes, another 5 km. At least we were travelling in new places. New environment, new animals: we saw the first vulture in our life, and new tastes: there was a cactus-like vegetable in our thali, but it wasn’t prickly. We had lunch in a dhaba that probably hasn’t had any guests this year. It took them almost an hour to make the thalis. We like less busy places but this one was way too deserted. At least we both liked the homestay we chose for the night. It was cheap and simple but very cosy.

Only 7 km-s of uphill remained – walking while pushing that 30 kg next to us – and we arrived to the summit. Without diarrhea and headwind it was easier than Armenian passes. New record: 3132 m – Jalori pass! There started a 5 km long, not too steep path to a lake. I thought it would be worth a little walk to see a gorgeous blue mountain lake. I was disappointed when I saw it. It was a muddy green lake that collects rainwater. Otherwise it was a nice trek with amazing mountain views. While we were strolling we left our babies in a camping. We were a bit worried about them, but they were waiting for us untouched when we got back.

 

At last we started to roll down! Brakedestroyer, winding roads came next. Once we had to cross a small river on the road because of a landslide so we had to get our feet wet. We could sleep in a tent three nights in a row. The first night we were still high so we put on all our clothes in order not to be cold. I even put scarves around my feet. The next days we were lower so cold wasn’t an issue anymore.
Hundreds of meters lower the landscape of Himachal was still wonderful. We were cycling on a road carved into the side of a mountain, along river Sutlej. I can’t tell if this was the most beautiful road of our journey in India, but it was the most peaceful for sure. Cars rarely passed us, traffic mostly consisted of children walking to school. Some of them came from the other side of the river – they crossed in a basket pulled by hand on a cable pulley system. That night we camped near the river bank. It was worth carrying down (and up the next morning) all our stuff on the long staircase, because we could rest on flat ground without a soul around us. The next evening we couldn’t find such a perfect place so we put our tent on a tiny ledge near the road. It wasn’t too bad. The bushes would have caught us if we started to roll down the ravine so there was no need to worry.

We had one last climb before reaching Shimla, the capital of Himachal Pradesh. We crossed an elegant neighbourhood with big mansions and expensive hotels, but luckily the energy came cheap in the form of two thalis. We found a suitable room close to the center of Shimla where the owner warned us not to leave the windows open because the monkeys might come in. We love the places full of monkeys! So we closed the window and went for a walk. The main street looks like a European city: German style buildings, an enormous square, many stores of big brands and a catholic church. Plus a lot of macaques and Indian tourists. One street lower it looks completely different: you can walk in alleys by usual Indian shops and buildings. We ate there and finally we could taste chowmein cooked by a real Chinese chef and talked with him about his travels.

In the morning we took out some cash, this time without too much hassle, and watched the monkeys from the balcony. Then we set off to have two days of rolling down. At some parts the tarmac was new so we could go flat out. Many people waved to us, this was new in India. We got to more densely populated areas. Nahan was the next city on our way. The Christian school and Jesus statue surprised us but it was just the beginning. We heard a familiar sound while we were settling in our cheap hotel. An imam was singing Allahu Akbar with world-weary voice, it came from very close. When we went out we spotted the mosque, it was right opposite to our hotel. We were lucky that he sang twice more in the afternoon so he didn’t wake us at night and dawn. The crackling of a newspaper covering a hole in the corner of our room did.

Nahan was our last stop in Himachal Pradesh, the next day we arrived to the flat Uttar Pradesh. In other words, we got back to India. Unbearable noise, irritating staring and no respect for personal space, annoying stench and dust. The railway crossing was the most chaotic: the cars to one direction fill both lanes while cyclists and motorcyclists hurry to push their vehicles under the barrier before the train comes. We couldn’t even stop for lunch because none of the eateries looked dependable. At the same time, the hotels are all luxurious. We needed to hurry up to find one in our price range. We did it, but all our organs were rattled by the bumpy road. We stayed a whole day at the guesthouse to get over the culture shock.

Things didn’t improve during the next couple of days. Adam fell once because of a guy who saw us coming but still pushed his bicycle in our way. Nobody can wait five seconds. They go and turn anywhere, any time without thinking. While honking crazy. Very few drivers use their turn signals, totally randomly. People normally don’t sign when they start to go our turn. Traffic is worst in the towns, traffic jam and chaos is constant. But we had to pass some of them, especially in the late afternoon to find accommodation. There wasn’t as wide choice as in the mountains so we were glad to find anything even if it was more expensive than what we got used to.
Time after time we met a normal person, like once a day. There was kind person in 500 who wanted to talk to us, not just take a selfie. In the meantime Diwali, the festival of lights began. The five day long festival had its biggest party on the third day, until then we didn’t notice anything. That night buildings were decorated with garlands and colorful lights and candles were lit on the ground. Celebration was similar to New Year’s Eve with fire crackers and fireworks – for hours we felt like we were in war zone.

The last days were hard. People didn’t try to understand us, they rather sent us away from hotels and diners. We couldn’t find any bread although in the last weeks we had peanut butter and jelly sandwiches all the time when we didn’t buy hot meals. On the 39th or last day we passed a railway crossing chaos zone, then we had to turn back because the bridge we wanted to cross was destroyed. At least we didn’t have to make a big detour. We met the first Hungarian since Serbia, Daniel who was about to go to the mountains in Himachal. This day we also reached the total distance of 8000 km, we pedaled this much since we set off from Budapest, a little more than five months ago.