A Travellerspoint blog

Day 4: October 5th: Amritsar to Jogindar Nagar

The Road to the Himalayas - The Adventure Begins

sunny 40 °C

I was picked up by my driver Lalli, who is 68 and a great man. He was great company on the six hour car journey North. We drove through the agricultural land of the northern Punjab, passing busy and prosperous towns and villages, shops, workshops and people going about their daily lives. A very green and lush area, crossing railways and canals built by the British Raj.

We then reached the Punjab and Himachel Pradesh state border crossing at Chakki Bridge, well bridge is an understatement, then new one was being built, so we crossed an earth and stone bridge to the HP border post checkpoint. “Can I see your passport and visa Sir?” We then stopped at Jyoti’s Hotel for some lunch and a break by the river post. The transition from the Punjab to Himachel Pradesh was much defined, the forested hills of the lower HP rose straight away from the river, and the road climbed up now for the rest of the journey.

We were soon at Pathankot were we saw a very big military garrison and barracks, and this would be typical now all the way North through the Himachel Pradesh to the border areas or “line of control” with Pakistan, Tibet, Nepal and China. The states of the Punjab and the Himachel have a long history of providing men and women for the Indian Armed Forces, it is custom that every families eldest son serves in the Army?

We have been following National Highway 20 from Amritsar or NH20. I think at this point I should state that India loves to abbreviate names, places and roads! So for example, NH20 is National Highway 20, HP is Himachel Pradesh, JN is Joginder Nagar, and I am MC and I ride a RE and live in the UK.

We arrive in JN at 5pm, a long day, but through more spectacular landscapes. Incredible India! We drive through JN and up to Trekkers Nest Hotel where Naresh and all the staff are waiting like a guard of honour. I sit down to dinner with Naresh and we discuss my plans for the next ten days. We have a great conversation about our lives and all the family links for this trip to India, including Naresh’s great friend Manjit.

Naresh suggests a one day trek tomorrow up onto the Dhauladhar Range to get acclimatised, then a four day trek from Barot, into the heart of the mountains. Also a day and night trip to Dharamshala and McLeod Ganj. Then of cause the Royal Enfield Road trip right into the Western Himalayas, up through the Kullu Valley and to the high road passes.

An early night, because tomorrow my first trek up into the Dhaladhar Mountains, and high altitude.

Posted by Mike Casey 06:16 Archived in India Tagged the to pradesh himachel Comments (0)

Day 13 - Jogindar Nagar to Manali on a Royal Enfield Bullet

A 165km Road Trip through some of the most spectacular scenary in the Himachel Predesh

sunny 28 °C

I arrived in Manali on Day 13 of my trip Overland through India after a 165km ride from JN to Manali. I have been keeping a daily diary of my trip, and have been trying to update my travel blog as I go, but sometimes you are off the radar and canot get Internet facilities. So I am a bit behind, also I have yet to download photos and video clips, so please be patient with me.

I have had a tremendous time in the Kangra Valley, based at Jogindar Nagar for nine days. It seems much longer. I have made so many new friends here, especially Dr Naresh Singhla who has organised so much for me in the north. Naresh has in the last year set up a new venture in this area of the Himachel Pradesh called Alpine Treks and Trekkers Nest Hotel. He offers a very comfortable hotel and guided trekking in the impressive Dhauladhar Mountains. I highly recommend this stunningly beautiful area to you. Its less busy than other areas of the Himachel Pradesh, it is also a great base for exploring the rest of the Kangra Valley, and the fantastic Dharamshala and McLeod Ganj. Check out the Trekkers Nest website and go there !

I left JN at 10.30am on one of the greatest adventures of my life, a 165km solo motorbike ride through the Kangra and Kullu Valley's into the very heart of the Western Himalayas to Manali. I have had an incredible journey to Mandi along the beas River Valley, riding along high contouring mountain roads. after Mandi, the road climbed high above the dam and reservoir lake at the western end of the Larji Gorge. Then the climb up and ride through the Larji Gorge, absolutley stunning. then when I came out off the gorge, the unexpected, a long road tunnel that took 15 minutes to ride through, then I entered the southern end of the Kullu Valley. The road NH20 was actually very good from Mandi to Nagar, being a military road to the border areas, but after Nagar it varied between tarmac, potholes and unmade,rough and dusty.

I arrived in Manali dusty and a bit bedraggled. My Belsfaff riding jacket did the job over the last three hours. Its been a great adventure today, even Charlie and Ewan would have been impressed. Tomorrow I will have a rest day in Manali, booking onward accommadation at Keylang for four days, my base for exploring the higher passes of the Rohtang (3980m) and Bara Lacha La (4890m), but not onto Leh as planned as the snows have arrived and further progress will not be possible.

I will therefore explore the Chenab Valley, the Chandra Valley and the Bhaga Valley, that radiate out from Keylang, and the area around Manali. The peaks of the Himalayas here rise up to 6500m. They look very impressive from the Kullu Valley. The weather is bright, blue and sunny. Off to explore Manali now..................

Posted by Mike Casey 10:40 Archived in India Tagged sunsets_and_sunrises mountains skylines people Comments (1)

Day 3: Delhi to Amritsar.

A journey through the plains of the Punjab to the foothills of the Himalayas

sunny 40 °C

Day 3 : 4th October : Delhi to Amritsar.

After a great night of Commonwealth Games celebrations in Delhi, a great meal and a Kingfisher beer, and meeting so many nice people, I went to bed very happy. My first night in India.

I was up at 5am, and already could hear the sounds of Delhi waking up. All packed and an early breakfast, I was picked up at 6am by Ajay, my driver, who had given me a tour of Delhi the previous day. Off to New Delhi Train Station for the train north to Amritsar. The station was alive and busy at this early hour, with people arriving for work or making onward journeys like myself. How efficient are Indian Railways! My ticket was for Delhi to Amritsar, a distance of 448km, on the 7.20 am train, the 2029/ Swarna Shtbdi Express, coach E2, and First Class 1A , of cause !

The station was alive with people, passengers, station workers moving goods on trolleys, and of cause the station coolies in their red jackets carrying luggage. This really was the start of my adventure “Overland through India”, and my first challenge of the day getting my gear from the car to the train. Ajay immediately engaged a coolie, a bright young lad of about 18; we agreed a price of 200 RS, to carry my luggage to platform 1. I thanked Ajay for all his help and wished him well.

The young coolie asked me to follow him, as he put my case on his head and my soft bag over his shoulder. Those voices from home were coming back again “ You’ve got too much gear, how are you going to carry it ? “. I know, you are all right, but I have my coolie !
At 7am, train 2029/ Swarna Shtbdi pulled into Delhi station, with coach E2 stopping right in front of me by the sign E2, how good is that! I had noticed a white European girl with one big sack and a small day sack, and then I looked at my case, soft bag, day sack and camera bag, then at the steps up into my coach, hmmm! “Yes, Jane, Nick, Tom, Liz, you were all right! “ Well I got me and my luggage all on the train and stowed in E2 above my seat No.1 How very spacious and comfortable as the A/C circulated cool air around. The man who invented A/C is one of the greatest men ever.

At 7.20 exactly , the Swarna Shtbdi pulled out of New Delhi Station northwards to Amritsar across the green and lush plains of the Punjab, the “Bread Basket of India”. We first move through the urban sprawl of Delhi, a mixture of tidy new houses, old neibourhoods and shanty huts along the edge of the tracks, with a mixture of open streams/drains and with rubbish, with people, young children, pigs and cows, going about their daily life. This was an eye opening scene, and very much an aspect of India. Bust the states of Haryana and Punjab are prosperous states, occupying rich and fertile river plains that extend north towards Amritsar and the Pakistan border, and the mountains of Kashmir and the Himalayas.

The rural countryside of the plains of the Punjab is flat, green and lush, with natural waterways and manmade canals (built by the British). It is a huge agricultural area growing rice, maize, wheat and corn, with white egrets everywhere. I am travelling with a family from Kerala, a man with his wife and son, we exchange greetings and then engage in a great conversation about our families and lives, and of cause my visit to India. Then the door opens and an important uniformed railway official walks in, “Good Morning Mr Casey, Indian Railways are pleased to greet you, and welcome you onto our train. Have a happy journey”. Wow! He knows who I am! What a lovely welcome and greeting. Then a lovely lady comes in to give me a tray of sweets! No only one. Then a very smart Punjab man with a trolley, and he gives me some tea, the best tea I have ever tasted, and then some breakfast. My second of the day. How pleasantly unexpected.

Well I am travelling Class 1A ! Life on the Shatabdi Express just gets better. After spending the next five hours talking, reading, drinking, eating, dozing and zzzzz’s, I arrive at Amritsar Railway Station. I notice two tall Sikh Guards in uniform on the station platform holding a long pointed spear each ? I hope my train ticket is in order, and God help anyone without a ticket !

Yes you have guessed it, before I can stand up a collie has arrived to collect my baggage, God Bless the Keralan family who got this sorted for me. I got off the train and was blasted away by the 40oC and high humidity of the Northern Punjab. A/C Rules Okay !!!!

I was picked up by a driver from the Hotel Namaskar in Amritsar where I am staying the night. I check in, freshen up, have a cold drink and a snack, then I am out at 3pm for a tour of Amritsar which Surgi has organised in an A/C car for 1000 RS, for the rest of the day and evening. We drive through the city and out onto National Highway 1, West ! Know my geography and sense of direction is good, and I know NH1 runs north from Delhi to Amritsar, then turn west towards the Pakistan border at Wagha. Well I think we must be going somewhere close to the city of interest, anyway after 25km later I see a big green sign, “Wagha Border Control - Indo-Pak”. I think to my myself “Oh my God”. I am blown away by this incredible surprise of actually being at this border. I’m greeted by what seems half the Indian Army of the BCR, they all seem to be 6’6”,very smart and handsome, very polite, and armed to the teeth.

A very tall Sikh Army officer comes up to me and asked me for my ID and Passport, which I produce in a milli second with a nervous smile and a dry throat. “Thank you Sir, please follow me”. Which I did, if he had said “Jump” I would have asked “How high”. I followed him through three further checkpoints and into an amazing scene, rows of tiered seats with hundreds of enthusiastic, cheering, chanting and flag waving Indians of all ages. The border crossing area had a huge Indian Gate at one end, and a huge Pakistan Gate at the other, and half way down this 200m area was two sets of gates. The VIP area I was taken to was only 50m from the actual border crossing ! Now I know what’s going on in this part of the world, but this was sereel and thought provoking.

I felt a tap on my shoulder, and immediately had a multiple birth! I turned slowly around and was met by the smile of a lovely Indian girl of about 16 years old. “Hello, how are you”, I told her I was fine, with much relief. Then we engaged in a great conversation about me, where I was from, what I was doing etc. I soon was surrounded by the rest of her family. Well of cause I was a VIP at the Wagha Border Crossing.
Then it all kicked off ! First there were pairs of young teenage girls running the 50m with a giant Indian flag each, straight at the Pakistan Border Gates, with the hundreds of seated Indians cheering and chanting. Well two initial observations, first, do this pairs of flag waving teenage girls know what they are doing, and any potential risks?

Then second, you add several hundred cheering, chanting, shouting Indians to this scene. Are they seriously trying to wind up the Pakistan Army and supporters just 50m away through these border gates? It then steps up several gears, and I’m thinking that there is going to be a border incident in a moment. Stage right, a unit of the elite Indian Army BCR step smartly out onto the parade area, to the massive cheers of the crowd, a bit like an FA Cup Final cheer ! These giant 6’6” soldiers look like they mean business. The music is beating out and then one of the unit lets out this chilling war cry, and two of these elite troopers march aggressively towards the Pakistan Border with some fancy steps and moves designed to put fear into the opposing team, the adrenaline is pumping from these guys, who then stop, out stare and come to a “I’m holding my ground, not moving halt”.

Then the rest of this elite unit detachment take it in turns to “attack” the border gates with menacing drill routines that are intended to send the opposition shuttling back over the Khyber Pass. Now over the border, things are bubbling, they are not so well supported! But, the opposing team now responds, after taking all this patiently on the chin. They respond with similar drills towards the border gate, but they are met with the chanting jeering calls from my side, which I cannot repeat, let alone understand. This goes on for half an hour, then the unbelievable happens, the Indian BCU Elite send out two of the most stunningly beautiful 6’ female troopers to “attack the gate”, well the home crowd went mental!

Well, this attack, counter attack has been going on now for an hour, and thank God no blood spilt. Then suddenly the two inner border gates are opened! Has someone seriously lost their marbles? For the next half an hour or so we watch open “attack, counter attack” with even more impressive marching drill combinations going on between each of the opposing “teams”. This ceremony reaches a civilised finale with both “teams” seemingly respecting each other, followed by a simultaneous flag lowering, and dignified stand down. Then both sets of “fans” move away quietly home. I think India had a comprehensive “win”.

This is surely one of the most amazing sights I’ve witnessed in my life. Would it not be great if countries around the world could settle any differences they have, by doing some fancy footwork, ala “Celeb Come Dancing.”

Tomorrow I am off by road to Jogindar Nagar in the Himachel Pradesh until the 21st October Trekking and that big motor bike trip over those five high altitude passes from Manali to Leh. Best wish, Mike Photos to follow when I hit an Internet facility.

Posted by Mike Casey 04:45 Archived in India Comments (0)

Day 2 : 39000' and arriving in Delhi with the Athletes

sunny 38 °C

Day 2: 3rd October: Dubai to Delhi

Its 5.30 am and sunrise, flying at 39000’ over the Arabian Sea to the sounds of Led Zeppelin playing “Stairway to Heaven”, how cool is that? “A new day at dawn” as the song goes, I’m quite excited about this adventure. Breakfast has just been served, potato pancakes, Anda masala (poached curried eggs and coffee. Very nice.

We are soon making our descent to Delhi and land into a sunny and very hot and humid 38oC and the 19th Commonwealth Games. The airport and Delhi is unusually quiet! Still to Hotel Jennifer, a shower and freshen up and off on a guided tour of Delhi down its wide and empty boulevards off the old British Raj and its many fine old buildings including Rajpath, Jama Masjid mosque, India Gate and the famous Red Fort, Delhi’s most famous monument.

Why is Delhi so quiet? The opening ceremony of the 19th Commonwealth Games opens in a few hours. There is no evidence of the chaos and unfinished preparations except for a few road gangs competing tarmac and painting kerb edges. Delhi is looking very tidy. But I did discover an answer in the Hindustan Times which might shock you, first all shops and local markets were closed down by the government, to the disgust and anger of local traders. Why? Then second, and more shockingly, 40,000 beggars, semi skilled and casual labourers were systematically harassed and moved on and out of Delhi by the police. A sizeable population. Those without ID cards were trained or trucked out of the city, and packed off to their home states. I will let you make up your own mind on this!

In contrast to this the opening ceremony was a dazzling success and a spectacular start to the 19th Commonwealth Games. I had a great lamb curry and a well needed Kingfisher beer that was smuggled into me (it was a dry day, opps !)
I resorted out my gear again, and realise I could loose another 25% of it, but I am a late starter into adventure travelling, and yes my family, “You are right”, I hear them reply, “We did tell you”. Any way thank God for coolies at the station.

Tomorrow is an early start. Up at 5am, breakfast, a 6am pick up to Delhi Station for the train north to Amritsar in the Punjab, the next leg of my journey.

Ps: I got my washing all done and pressed for 65Rs, that’s about 80p ! How good is that. Best Wishes to you all Mike.

Posted by Mike Casey 04:36 Archived in India Comments (0)

Day 1: Overland through India

Brotton to Dubai, Tales of Excess Baggage

32 °C
View Overland through India on Mike Casey's travel map.

After a major kit review by Tom, "Don't need that or that, or that..............." as I cried and pleaded for mercy? Then Nick arrived, the terminator, no mercy shown with his ruthless seasoned traveller advice to me. Then finally, Jane "We will not pay any ransome demands for your father!". Thank you my beloved wife and dear sons.

Anyway by 9am the zips where closed and secured with every Pacsafe device known to man, and so load up in Tom's Audi we drove north to Newcastle Airport via Ouston? I checked in with my baggage to a lovely Emirates lady, as I smugley looked down at the 100's of Ryanair passengers, then glanced over at the empty and very civilised Emirates bag check in. All was going well with another lovely Emirates lady until she said "I'm sorry Mr Casey but you are 3kgs over weight" I thought cheeky person, but she was referring to my baggage, 3 kg over and £50 exrtra ? Jane, Tom and Nick shook their heads, thinking will he make Delhi?

Any way itwas now time for goodbyes, hugs and kisses as I took on the next challenge, Security ! No problem, straight through, no body search or off with your shoes, I felt very smug as I looked back at my Family.

I bet you have not eaten oriental shrimp and noodles salad, chicken in coconut sauce, lemon and cream torte, and a lovely chardonnay at 39000'? You must ! So onwards and upwards to Dubai, landing at 12 midnight and 32oC !!!!

I hope these travelblog diaries of my trip will be strong on spontaneity of my experiences rather than sober reflections I hope that they tell my story of discovery, adventure, people and places that I meet and see as I journey "Overland through India" over the next six weeks.
I hope you all enjoy my journey with me too! So please leave a comment or two.

Got to go know for my check for the next leg of my journey Dubai to Delhi ! Best wishes, Mike.

Posted by Mike Casey 15:49 Archived in United Arab Emirates Comments (1)

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