Two Aussie blokes riding their BMW R1150GSs from Australia to Europe

Month: March 2016

A sheila joins the party – guest post by Monica

When I’m sitting on the back of James’ bike I think of all sorts of things. I think about that corner in front of us and how it would feel if we were to slide off and scrape across the concrete. I see that car pulling out of a garage and imagine how it would have been if we had put the brakes on too late and flew over its boot. I observe the trucks rushing past and picture how it would be to fall under its chunky wheels.

This is what crosses my mind on a casual motorbike trip in Australia. Where roads are beautifully smooth, trucks stick to the street markings, traffic splits away to let ambulances pass and hospitals adhering to the best hygienic and medical standards.

What the hell was I thinking to join the Blokes on Spokes on their trip through Nepal and India? Who knows. But here I am and ‘namaste’ to you all.

Reunion with the Blokes in Kathmandu

Reunion with the Blokes in Kathmandu

I'm also a rock star!

I’m also a rock star!

I arrived in Kathmandu, Nepal; the home of the Himalayas, well, at least one of its homes. Given its enormous stretch over 2400kms the Himalayas are spread across Nepal, India , Tibet (or politically correct/incorrect China), Pakistan and Bhutan. The Himalayas are also home to 9 of the highest peaks in the world. One of them is my new obsession after reading Into Thin Air and travelling to the birth country of sir Edmund Hillary; Mt Everest. Before you get too excited let me tell you though that I haven’t seen its majestic peak, but I bought a T-shirt which says “Mt Everest” instead. It was almost as good as seeing it with your own eyes. Almost. Anyway, that doesn’t matter because I got to see my husband instead and that was as good as Christmas, my birthday and seeing Mt Everest together.

The Annapurna range - don't trust the t-shirt

The Annapurna range – don’t trust the t-shirt

Both James and Drew seemed to be well, very hairy but in good spirits. You’d think after 2 months on the road they would have got sick of the road or each other but let me tell you, these blokes are living their life long dream and nothing can tear them apart. And for 2 weeks I feel very excited and privileged to be part of the adventure and look behind the scenes of Blokes on Spokes, so bring it on!

After a couple of rest days in Kathmandu it was finally time to jump on the bike. I quickly ripped off the tags of my new Dainese gear (clearly I’m the outsider here with not a single piece made by BMW) and off we went to Pokhara, 200kms away. Sounds like a short trip? Not in Nepal where streets are bumpy, roads are windy, Tata trucks are using the wrong lanes and of course there is the occasional goat popping against the pannier. But we made it, 6 hours later and most importantly in one piece.

A happy pillion

A happy pillion

Now you must be thinking I quickly soiled my new gear given my introduction to this post, but guess what, I wasn’t even scared! Don’t ask me what happened, I’m still trying to figure it out myself, but I was sitting on the back of that bike as relaxed as a sack of potatoes. James said that there is so much going on here but there seems to be logic in the madness. And somehow it is true. There is only one rule it seems; just make sure to toot your horn (preferably all the time) and you’ll be fine

So, without the anticipated panic attack we spent some relaxed days in the Himalayas. Drew went off on his own and tortured his beloved BMW whilst ascending to 4000 meters ASL (looking forward to that blog post guys!) while James and I left the beamer behind and went trekking to Poon Hill mountain, 3200 meters ASL (just 5650 meters below Everest).

On top of Poon Hill, very cold and very early

On top of Poon Hill, very cold and very early

Trekking to Poon Hill

Trekking to Poon Hill

Mega flower whilst mega trekking

Mega flower whilst mega trekking

But what goes up must come down, and we had to descend to Delhi: 1000kms in 4 days and I was still a happy pillion. Watching the landscape rushing past, smiling at the goats and Brahmans munching happily at the road side and waving at excited school children. And after a day on the bike we enjoy a cold Everest beer, some Dal bhat, momos and the most delicious chicken tikka. Life is good.

Watch out for the panniers goats!

Watch out for the panniers goats!

Dal Bhat, a Nepalese staple. Literally dal and rice

Dal Bhat, a Nepalese staple. Literally dal and rice

 

I made Momos!

I made Momos!

But then came India!

As soon as we crossed the Nepali immigration office the road literally ended. We continued onto the gravel with 1000 other people, cows, scooters, bikes and what not. Did I say Nepali roads were bumpy? I take it all back after being confronted with holes that sent me flying into the air. Did I say anything about the Tata trucks in Nepal? What Tatas? Oh they are all here in India in abundance, all painted like the Mexican day of the dead festival.

The ominous Tata truck. Best to know your place on the road

The ominous Tata truck. Best to know your place on the road

How ironic given that we almost got sandwiched between them. Is there logic in the madness? Yes, but the madness prevails. And just wait until you get into Delhi and you drive at 10km/h on average, in 32C, in your new waterproof and not so breathable Dainese gear. The food is good but!

Let’s go back to my first question; why am I here despite the obvious concerns I have when traveling on the motorbike? Well, mainly to see my husband again who I missed dearly, but I was also very curious and wanted to be part of this adventure. Maybe there was a bit of FOMO too. I wanted to challenge myself and face my fear, instead of running away from it. And I have been rewarded; I could cuddle James for hours, I met wonderful people, saw breathtaking vistas and baby goats, indulged on delicious food and learnt that life is much more fun outside of your comfort zone.

Come here dinner

Come here dinner

Escaping from India: Nepal – 9,491kms

You realise what a sheltered and privileged life you’ve lived when you take a walk through a town and can feel every single eye upon you. We arrived in Phidim, a long way from the well trodden path, and Drew took an afternoon nap whilst I strolled alone through the small, remote township. Whilst I walked, there was not a single pair of eyes that didn’t stop to look at me. Young children ran and hid, whilst some not so young children called “What’s your name?” after I’d walked passed them, followed by childish giggles. Young men stared coldly and young women tried to hide their intrigue. It was only the older men and women who didn’t seem to show much interest at all. You can’t help but feel uncomfortable at the way people react in a place like this; not unsafe, but certainly not at ease.

The streets of Phidim

The streets of Phidim

And it’s this feeling that makes me appreciate how lucky we are. Lucky that we live in a country where the hourly rate of pay is more than people here earn in a week, and lucky that I live in a country amongst people whose skin is the same colour as mine so as not to turn heads. You can only begin to appreciate what immigrants, refugees and people from ethnic minorities living Australia must feel everyday after taking a walk in a place like this.

10km/h is the limit in Phidim

10km/h is the limit in Phidim

We came to Nepal perhaps a little earlier than anticipated – after less than one week in India both Drew and I felt the need to move on from the crowds, horns, traffic and pollution that India presented us. As motorcyclists we love the mountain roads, and we’d headed to Darjeeling not just for the roads enroute, but to try and escape the heat and humanity of India’s lowlands. It was bitter sweet however; the roads were fantastic, but our time in the hills was shrouded in cloud so we couldn’t appreciate the vistas that Darjeeling is renowned for.

Riding through the clouds in the Himalayas. Drew is not more than 50 metres in front

Riding through the clouds in the Himalayas. Drew is not more than 50 metres in front

And there were the people. Everywhere people. The straw that broke the camel’s back was an older Indian man getting on Drew’s bike (without first seeking our permission) for a selfie whilst we were stopped at the roadside. This in itself wouldn’t have been an issue – but that fact the he didn’t appreciate how heavy the bike was, losing his balance and falling over, taking 250kgs of motorcycle with him certainly was. After I spat some very choice words at the man, Drew and decided it best to get as quickly to Nepal as we could to try and find some respite.

Breathtaking valleys in the Himilayan foothills

Breathtaking valleys in the Himalayan foothills

Nepal is statistically one of the poorest countries in the world – it rates in the lowest quarter of the Human Development Index. Thankfully we’ve not seen anything yet in Nepal that epitomises these statistics. Even here in Phidim young children speak to me in English, which I find truly impressive. There seems to be a better equality between men and women than in India, and people seem far more liberal in general. There is noticeably less rubbish on the roadsides, and the roads themselves are in much better condition. When we stop the bikes we still draw a crowd, but people don’t touch and prod them, or worse, sit on them for selfies. Of course it’s not possible for me to judge these things properly after riding through villages for two days off the beaten track, but if I had to make a call today I’d pick Nepal over India any day of the week.

This photo doesn't even begin to capture what these roads are like

This photo doesn’t even begin to capture what these roads are like

Being the mountain loving motorcyclists that we are, after crossing the border we headed straight back for the hills. And my how spectacular they are – we’ve ridden up and down valleys and ridges countless time, dropping as low as 200 metres ASL before zigzagging back as high as 2,500 metres – you get an overwhelming sense of vertigo when you look over the edge of the road as you’re riding. One wrong corner here and you’d literally launch yourself to your end. It is simply breathtaking. I just hope that Nepal and it’s people continue to take my breath away for all of the right reasons

Hacking through the Himalayas

Hacking through the Himalayas

India, where anything goes – 9236kms


The last day of Myanmar was amazing, twisting backroads through gorgeous countryside overlooked by mountain ranges. We were also allowed to motor ahead of the van for most of the day giving us the freedom we all needed and are used to. The Myanmar/India border road takes us by surprise as no longer are there countless Buddha images but Christian Churches. Passing through on a Sunday morning, we are taken back by well dressed folk on their way to church with bibles in hand. As we work our way to the border we all become anxious about another dreaded border crossing taking hours with many people, pushing and spitting their way to the front of the line. We couldn’t believe we’d arrived at the border as there was literally no one else there – passports were stamped and I was even asked where I would like the stamp to be in my passport. I was offered some local fruit by the immigration official and most of the delay was our government official making chit chat with the border control.

We were waved good-bye as we crossed a metal bridge, moved back to the left side of the road and entered India with smiles across our faces; until the smell hit us!

I don’t know what came first, the smell, the dust or both?

“Welcome to India”  the border control guards offered with AK47 riffles in hand, “passports please”

We were then sent in search of the Immigration office for official forms and stamps; we actually almost drove right through the town before locating it. A nice man with good english dressed in a Ralph Lauren t-shirt and jeans took our documents and we all had a lovely time in a gazebo whilst he happily stamped. Then it was off to Customs to have the bikes inspected and approved. We all crossed the border together so this process took some time. Having never been to India the first thing that hits you is the amount of people! I knew there were a lot but was taken back at the figure of 1.5 BILLION. There were simply people everywhere and the contrast from Myanmar was indescribable.

We finally stopped for lunch and were astounded by the attention!

“Excuse me sir, where do you come from? How much your bike worth?”

Every time we stop we're instantly surrounded by hordes of men

Every time we stop we’re instantly surrounded by hordes of men

Smiling faces crowding around our bikes

Smiling faces crowding around our bikes

These 2 questions always come first, then how much fuel they consume, could they take a selfie with us or better still be their friend. At first I quite liked it, the Burmese are so shy they often retreated with conversation but the Indians are far from shy; Jimmy left his bike for 5 minutes to enquire about our first hotel room and came out to find a guy sitting on his bike!

We just can't but help heading for the mountain roads in India

We just can’t but help heading for the mountain roads in India

Look really closely at that road in the distance. Freakin' awesome

Look really closely at that road in the distance. Freakin’ awesome

The countryside however is absolutely stunning and we can feel how close we are to the the Himalaya’s – the road into Imphal was magnificent with little traffic and tight corners. We did however leave too late and ended up off the mountain range as the sun fell which left us with 2 options; stop in nowhere land or push on in the dark for Imphal. Now apart from Jimmy no one else had ridden in India before and the tales soon became reality as we were facing oncoming traffic on the wrong side of the road, push bike riders carrying loads, cows and worse pedestrians that could only be seen at the last second.

The ominous Tata truck. Best to know your place on the road

The ominous Tata truck. Best to know your place on the road

In India you don’t need indicators, stop lamps or low beam head lamps. All you need is a fucking loud horn and high beam headlamps! The theory seems to be if you want to get around someone you hold your horn on and pull out into oncoming traffic, if there are vehicles coming towards you keep going but turn your high beams on – that way you blind the person coming towards you at speed, move on and let them jam the anchors on without being able to see and it’s all sorted! Thankfully we all made it to Imphal in one piece and all acknowledged that we won’t be travelling at night again.

We finally found a hotel most of us were ok with, checked in and went for a beer – until we realised that Manipur is a dry state! We laid our heads for the night.

High on the hill was a lonely goat herder

High on the hill was a lonely goat herder

We awoke late without a plan the following morning and between cursing the annoyingly slow wifi and trying to decide what to do for the day we decided at noon to part from our group of travellers and move on from Imphal; the town was more like a city and any appeal we had hoped for had worn off. We headed towards the Northern mountain ranges based upon distances and thought that Kohima would be a nice town in the mountains to stay. We were quickly realising that towns in India were actually more like cities.

Riding through the streets of Guwahati

Riding through the streets of Guwahati

We located a hotel that had a lock-up for our bikes and met a nice Australian- Matt from Sydney working in Nagaland as a researcher for Sydney University. Over a dinner at a fantastic traditional Nagaland restaurant we were educated by Matt about the conflict in the area since 1946 and made sense of the military presence we had come across.

Traditional Naga dish #smokedpork #India #atewithourhands #adventuremotorcycling #bmwgs

A photo posted by Blokes On Spokes (@blokesonspokes) on

India is going to be epic, we have 10 days to get to Nepal (Kathmandu) to meet James’ wife – let’s hope we get him there in one piece!

Burma for Buddha – 8152kms

54 million people live in Myanmar and 95% of the population are Buddhist which means most people have their own Buddha. There are Buddha images in Pagodas and temples,  Buddhas in parks, on top of hills, in shops and anywhere else you can find space for one.

Buddhas. Lots of them

Buddhas. Lots of them

There are sitting, standing and lying Buddhas. Assuming one person has 2 Buddha images each that would put the current amount of Buddha images in Myanmar at 108 Million and I think we have seen most of them!

Yep, this Buddha's a big one

Yep, this Buddha’s a big one

This should be no surprise to us – we knew we needed to take a tour across Myanmar and our guide Pure is doing a fantastic job of ticking the highlights off the list. We are staying in 5 star hotels and being led across the country with easy and trouble-free travel. But we are adventure motorcyclists and we left our comfortable country to explore the world for its soul and really get an insight into other people’s lives.

I am not a religious man and neither is Jimmy so we have no interest in Buddhism; what we are interested in is the people of Myanmar and how they live and interact and simply survive.

Passing the passers by

Passing the passers by

The best experience of Myanmar has been out on the road with the people – it is one of the reasons we love motorcycling so much. We get to see mother and father on small scooters holding their newborn babies without helmets enduring traffic of overloaded lorries, buses and cars. We see many people riding on roofs of buses and trucks ducking to avoid low branches and bridges, women walking with oversized dishes upon their heads to sell on the roadside, men riding old bikes with corn cooking on the rear by coals. Young boy Novice Monks walk in line accepting donated lunch along the roadside.

Novice monks receiving their food donations

Novice monks receiving their food donations

This is the real Myanmar. The women are shy and dress in traditional wear often blushing when making eye contact with us. The men are strong but gentle and they love our bikes; it is often the first thing that draws their attention.

Notice where his feet are

Notice where his feet are

Small children stare at us, older children wave from roadside stalls. We have seen small children working with their parents carting water in tanks, young ladies serving food and others herding cattle along a roadside. Hard men in ditches digging up concrete in thongs with bare hands. The land is barren  and sections of the country seem almost unlivable – but life exists.

Hard at work

Hard at work

The people of Myanmar have had it tough over the years, war and military rule has restricted and stalled their prospects but their recent move to a democratic society has lifted the cloud from overhead and they’re smiling all over, working hard at whatever it takes to improve the country and life. This is why we are travelling across the land, we will cross the border into india in 2 days time free ourselves from a restricted tour and be away in search of more of the world in front of us.

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