Two Aussie blokes riding their BMW R1150GSs from Australia to Europe

Month: April 2016

Pakistan to Persia

We’re in Isfahan! It’s Friday morning and James’ wife Monica has just landed. Lucy will join from Jordan later tonight and its a near miracle that James and I arrived at 6:30pm last night. Once on Iranian soil we completed the 1250km journey to Isfahan in 17 hours, through the desert on perfect tarmac with hardly any traffic woes. I could have glued my throttle on at 110km/h. After 2 days in Iran I have finally had time to reflect on the journey thus far and especially Pakistan.

It’s fair to say luck wasn’t on our side in Pakistan but then again Pakistan is not a lucky country. After my last post from Nagar Fort our journey to the Iranian border proved to be the toughest 12 days of our trip so far and I’m pleased to say that James and I are still best mates and we have made it across the most difficult nation on route with no injuries or broken bikes.

Approaching the tunnel in Nagar.

Approaching the tunnel in Nagar.

We left Nagar Fort behind schedule and shortly after taking off on the way to the tunnel we needed to pass through, a member of our police escort stopped suddenly and reversed at speed into my bike! I bailed in time to obtain no injuries with the petrol tank taking the blow, leaving a decent dent in it but luckily not leaking fuel. I actually found humour in the whole ordeal given we were under ‘police protection’. James on the other hand didn’t. His blood was boiling within seconds, giving the police a lecture about mirrors and the like. But this incident was just the beginning of it.

Once at the tunnel the Korean engineer denied passage and would only let the bikes through without us on them sparking a frantic search for a truck to load the bikes onto and take them through within the hour. On top of this I had a toothache that had become bad enough to previously warrant a trip to a dentist in Pakistan who prescribed medication.

Pierre would be proud!

Pierre would be proud!

Further on the journey James’ bike broke down, not once but twice on consecutive days with two completely unrelated problems, the second costing us another day. Our planned route came to an abrupt end in Bhakkar with the police escorting us away from our booked hotel to a different police district for us to become someone else’s problem.

Why won't it go?

Why won’t it go?

After 3 hours we solved the problem

After 3 hours we solved the problem

Discussions between police and army officers took place until 9:30pm until we were escorted to a ‘safe’ hotel with security. Safe, but with no vacancy! A brief standoff took place between us and the police before James and I realised the tension was building. To have any luck at all we would have to settle on sleeping on the dining room floor at the most expensive rate paid since Thailand. To make matters worse, the following morning the police escorted us back to the town they originally picked us up from and left us to continue our journey only to be stopped another 60km’s up the road to be turned around again. Another police standoff this time with our new friends from Darwin to Douglas. We eventually made it to Multan and were finally told the information we had been asking for all day – the path we were trying to take was not possible. We were eventually given the right path to take! It was of course the longest route and under police escort all the way.

Colm, a fellow overlander posing with a policeman

Colm, a fellow overlander posing with a policeman

Hands off the triggers boys

Hands off the triggers boys

Arriving at Rahim Yar Kan at 10pm we set off the following day along with our new friends Colm and Eddie. We put in a massive 16 hour day under police escort to Quetta, the journey taking us through Baluchistan, and the arid landscape and 42 degree heat taking its toll on James. He was throwing up at lunchtime and by 2pm I was trying to arrange one of the officers on our escort to ride my bike so we could put James in the escort vehicle and I could ride his bike. I managed to find the only Pakistani officer in the country who couldn’t use motorcycle gears properly.

Policeman in pyjamas riding Drew's bike, when James was too sick to ride himself

Policeman in pyjamas riding Drew’s bike, when James was too sick to ride himself

We eventually arrived at 8pm on friday night, not ideal given we needed to obtain our N.O.C (No objection certificate) to continue west. We already knew that the police would not process our N.O.C until monday morning but what we didn’t know is that we were not allowed outside of our hotel without a police escort! Hotel Bloom Star became home for the 3 nights ahead and all food and supplies were to be ordered through the hotel management and delivered to the hotel. Amongst food and supplies for the bikes we managed to obtain some contraband… beer! Only 4 Australian blokes would pay $US100 for a slab of beer. Ironically it was brewed in Pakistan.

Riding in the back of a police ute in Quetta with some fellow overlanders to get our government permission to proceed on our journey

Riding in the back of a police ute in Quetta with some fellow overlanders to get our government permission to proceed on our journey

Our only view of the outside world - from the rooftop of our hotel in Quetta

Our only view of the outside world – from the rooftop of our hotel in Quetta

Blokes on Spokes meet Darwin to Douglas

Blokes on Spokes meet Darwin to Douglas

It was nice for some new company along the journey

It was nice for some new company along the journey

On Monday morning we were escorted to the police station to obtain our N.O.C’s and after we had tea in about 5 different offices over 3 hours we finally received the document. We spoke to the head of staff about our intentions to leave very early the following day for Taftan. The border closed at 4:30 pm and by our math if we left at dawn ( N.O.C dictating travel during daylight) we could make the border crossing and continue at least 100km’s into Iran. He assured us that this would be possible and phone calls were made. However we shouldn’t have been surprised that at 5:30am we were all sitting in reception ready to go with no escort in sight. It finally turned up at 6:50am and escorted us 1km down the road to another escort! I think I stopped counting at 10 different vehicles. Some had armed guards, others just a driver with a gun. Every now and again a man with a AK47 turned up on his 70cc Moped.

This district couldn't afford an escort car, so we got a 70cc motorbike instead

This district couldn’t afford an escort car, so we got a 70cc motorbike instead

Must not pass the 70cc powerhouse

Must not pass the 70cc powerhouse

We tried to explain to every escort our desire to travel at 80km/h but when the clock struck 2pm and we were not even halfway, our dreams of making it to Iranian soil were over. I had joined Eddie with a bad case of ‘the runs’ but the final kick in the back was James hitting me from behind at 50km/h on a sketchy stretch of road taking us both down. Luckily the sand that caused the accident also broke our fall and no significant damage was done. Still over 100km’s out of Taftan by sunset we continued on in the dark and 60km’s out at a police checkpoint we were informed that there was a 50% chance of continuing onto Taftan and maybe we should stay somewhere else for the night… Thankfully they took us through and we slept in the Police station/local prison for the night. Across the courtyard were at least 50 Afghani refugees housed for the night. The fact that they seek asylum in Pakistan was a bleak reminder for us at how bad some areas in Afghanistan must be.

Racing the sun to Taftan

Racing the sun to Taftan

Fill her up boys!

Fill her up boys!

I'm sure we can go faster...

I’m sure we can go faster…

...because there aren't too many distractions on this road

…because there aren’t too many distractions on this road

Until it all turned to sh&t

Until it all turned to sh&t

As you can well imagine we were ready to move on to our next country. But after 2 days in Iran with it’s near perfect highways, clean cities and western conveniences I now look back on Pakistan fondly. Yes it was hard, but riding a motorcycle around the globe was never going to be easy. Pakistan challenged us from every angle but we kept pushing on, determined to get through it. This is the adventure and the reason we left the comfort of our own country for. We have just returned from a fantastic lunch with our friend Amir’s family in their home in Isfahan, Iran. I am stuffed full and once again overwhelmed by the hospitality. Isfahan feels European and we can easily tell from here on in things will become more and more comfortable. Pakistan, India and beyond will become distant lands but we will hold on to the experience forever. Before I know it I will be sitting in Vienna waiting a flight home….

For interested overlanders, check out Jimmy’s post on Horizons Unlimited about which roads to take and which to avoid

Pakistan – Police plus politics equal postponements – 16,135kms

As a fairly well travelled chap, I knew very well what to expect for the first half of our journey. South East Asia didn’t disappoint, but nor did it surprise. Once leaving India however Drew and I were both thrust into very new territory – an unfamiliar culture, staunchly religious (and a very unfamiliar religion at that), with a bad reputation in our western media for unsavoury social behaviour.

But we’re both open minded, and we have embraced Pakistan as fully as we could. I kid you not, the people are the friendliest I’ve ever come across (actually, the men are the friendliest I’ve ever come across – I haven’t met any women so am not in a position to comment).  We had expected to keep our distance with Pakistan to avoid getting into any sticky situations, but ironically of all the cultures we’ve encountered on our journey thus far, it’s Pakistan’s that we’ve immersed ourselves in most fully. We’ve done more homestays than hotel stays, we’ve been fed to bursting, enjoyed countless chai tea breaks, and even had fuel bought for us. Pakistanis are hospitable beyond words.

And the scenery is simply breathtaking – the world’s second highest peak, K2, is in the heart of the Karakoram ranges, where the Himalayas, Karakoram and Hindu Kush ranges meet. Descending from the mountains you’re taken through fertile agricultural lands, which is followed by vast deserts that give you the feeling of riding through landscapes straight from Star Wars’ Tatooine. There’s a lot to love about Pakistan, and by rights they deserve to have a booming tourism industry.

But undeniably there is a darker side to Pakistan, the side that westerners are more familiar with. Outside of the heavily populated (and economically powerful) eastern province of Punjab the presence of armed forces in Pakistan is almost overwhelming. Police walk around casually with AK47s or assault rifles slung over their shoulders and 9mm pistols strapped to their hips. The army is no different. Bank security guards carry double barrelled shotguns, whilst men of moderate prominence employ armed bodyguards to accompany them as they go about their daily business. Thankfully we’ve not witnessed anything unsavoury ourselves, and when speaking to locals about the security situation everyone’s very quick to say “there’s no security problem here”. I have no doubt that this is due to the huge presence of armed forces, and as a result we’ve become very blase about being surrounded by men with weapons.

Refuelling under armed escort in Dir

Refuelling under armed escort in Dir

When digging a little deeper in conversation with Pakistani people we’ve come to realise that their plight is a horribly complex one. Oblivious westerners might assume that all these problems relating to guns and armed forces stem from 9/11 and the Taliban’s presence in the region. No Pakistani has denied that things didn’t change significantly for them after 9/11, however the problems go far deeper than that. For more than half a century, Pakistan has been a political football; it began when the British partitioned the subcontinent in 1947, and by all reports they did a pretty average job of it. It’s no coincidence that both Pakistan and India have a province called Punjab, and to this day Jammu and Kashmir are still disputed territories.

Pakistan is resource rich, and located in a strategically opportune spot on the Gulf of Oman. Russia invaded Afghanistan in the late 70’s, and out of their own self interest America sided with Pakistan – this was part of the cold war. But Pakistan also borders China, and China’s might is huge. The Chinese are currently investing heavily in infrastructure in Pakistan, for both resources and strategic military gain. But of course China and America don’t get along so famously, and in more recent times (according to the Pakistanis) America has seen this as a passive threat and have retaliated by supporting India. Incidentally, China is also supporting Nepal after India tried to cut off their fuel supply to force them into political submission.

And we haven’t even touched on religion yet! Pakistan is an Islamic state, and Islam comes in different flavours. Whilst Sunni and Shiites previously got along, it was apparently hardlined Saudi Arabian Wahabis that showed an interest in setting the cat amongst the religious pigeons. Remember too that Pakistan is a nuclear armed nation with a notoriously corrupt government and you can start to understand just what a sticky situation it is. Religious extremists are just the salt and pepper on top.

Of course we haven’t seen any Americans, Russians, Chinese or Saudi muftis – we’re blissfully ignorant of Pakistan’s political woes. What we have had to deal with though is literally dozens of military and police checkpoints. Independent travel by road in Pakistan is arduously slow. There is no way for us to know what road is open, what road is restricted and what roads we’ll be required to travel under police escort. Hour upon hour has been wasted sitting at the roadside waiting to find out if we can proceed, and if you look closely at our GPS tracks, you’ll see all the times we’ve had to double back on ourselves. To make matters worse, the police from one district won’t communicate with the police in the adjacent district – we’ve sat around for hours whilst we’ve waited for them to negotiate amongst themselves what should be done with us. These guys couldn’t organise a root in a brothel and sadly all of this has left a bitter taste in our mouths about Pakistan.

Whilst the world’s superpowers make their sport in Pakistan, the everyday Pakistani goes about normal life as best they can. And the overlander travelling across the country is left to negotiate the roads and the checkpoints as best they can, wondering if Pakistan is bitter or sweet.

DISCLAIMER: I am not a historical, political nor religious expert – this post is a condensed interpretation of conversations with everyday Pakistani people – don’t hold it against me if I’ve misrepresented the situation.

For fellow overlanders looking for a more detailed run down of our experience, check out this post on Horizons Unlimited

Pakistan – don’t worry Mum, we’re in prison


We are in a Pakistani Prison, it’s 8pm and we are drenched from the storm we have just ridden through for 2 hours in the dark, thankfully we are in the guest quarters and not housed with the hundreds of Pakistani Prisoners. Our friends from Lahore had arranged our stay here only 3 hours ago via telephone – it was a good thing they insisted on taking a local SIM card for our phone.

Pakistan would have been such a different experience without these amazing friends from Lahore

Pakistan would have been such a different experience without these amazing friends from Lahore

Sightseeing in Lahore

Sightseeing in Lahore

We had planned to ride to Besham for the night but after 3 police escorts we were informed that the road had been cut off by landslides and we were not able to pass. In a small police check point hut we tried our best to communicate our desire to stay and continue on the following day but after numerous phone calls to our friends in Lahore it was advised that we return 100 km’s-it was 4pm.

You can't touch this

You can’t touch this

I was clutching at straws, I asked if there was a hotel nearby, could we stay at someone’s house or if we could stay at the Police Station nearby and although the police were trying they their best they insisted we head back. As I was pulling my helmet back on a local man pulled up in his ute and with a handshake and a big smile I explained our predicament and with a brief discussion with his friend in the passenger seat he invited us to stay at his house for the night, the police however insisted we head back. This is the Pakistani way, they are quite simply the nicest people we have ever met, their hospitable nature is at times overwhelming but forever appreciated. This is how we are warm and dry within the safe confinements of the Prison boundary with our dinner on the way watching a Pakistani woman Bollywood dance on a wardens laptop.

Our first (and hopefully last) trip to prison

Our first (and hopefully last) trip to prison

The following morning we awoke to blue skies and a wonderful breakfast waiting for us. With all our gear strung out to dry, we were led to the prison office within the prison walls to obtain wifi access, we needed to touch base with our wives and check the weather forecast ahead. After most of the guards hands were shaken we tried to obtain information about the road condition to Gilgit, phone calls were made and we got the impression all the landslides had been cleared. Smiles all round it was back to the living quarters to pack up and ride back up and beyond. The sun was out, road dry and we were on the way to Besham our first nights destination. The traffic was terrible getting out of the lowlands and we didn’t make it to the foothills until 1pm but the weather was still favourable and our spirits were as high as the mountains we were chasing. Again we were greeted by many police escorts and Armed force patrols but successfully made it to Besham almost half way to Gilgit.

Stunning scenery outside of Besham, under police escort of course!

Stunning scenery outside of Besham, under police escort of course!

We stopped at a hotel for lunch and were informed that the road ahead was still not passible! Apparently a bridge had collapsed and would not be repaired for days, why the Police or Armed forces had not told us this before riding up is a mystery? Accepting defeat we retreated for the night, Jimmy made some friends who again invited us for a great dinner.

An excellent BBQ of beef with friends in Besham (you wouldn't get this in India!)

An excellent BBQ of beef with friends in Besham (you wouldn’t get this in India!)

We have edged our way towards Pakistan with trepidation, we had been warned of the political situation and as an Australian who only reads the headlines I had no idea what to expect, not deterred but cautioned. In fact the Pakistani people are so welcoming it’s beyond comprehension why the media/governments print such headlines. We have spent 9 days in Pakistan and only paid for 4 nights accommodation adding to that we have only paid for 8 meals, the rest has been insisted upon by friends and strangers as we are their guests. I shudder at the thought of a Pakistani arriving in Australia and this experience has reminded me how nice humans can be to one and other. I can’t believe I’m sitting on the Pakistan/Afghanistan border with this revelation. The further we travel abroad the more I realise that no matter what nationality, race or religion all of us are alike. We all have families to love, stomachs to fill and friends to laugh with, or in Pakistan’s case men to laugh with. We have found the culture confronting, with all these very kind gestures of hosting, cooking meals and showing us around but not once have we met any women of the family. Actually we haven’t technically seen any woman since arriving in Pakistan. We see people walking in Burka’s with children, we sometimes see eyes but more often we see Brown burkas with mesh over the eyes.

This photo says a lot - scenery, police escorts, and culture

This photo says a lot – scenery, police escorts, and culture

I fully respect the culture and faith but I do have trouble understanding it, we walk past women in full headwear with their faces turned away until we have passed by, we enter a room unexpectedly to find a woman swiftly turning away. I can’t help but think about how the women feel about this? It is obviously an ongoing women’s rights issue for the Islamic faith and with faith and traditions thick as blood in Pakistan I don’t expect anything to change but it does remind me how lucky we are in Australia with freedom of speech and faith.

I’m finishing this blog from the garden of Nagar Fort in Chitral. One of our friends from Lahore suggested we stop here and what a place it is! Still occupied by the Royal family. For any other travelers passing through we highly recommend spending some time there – get in touch with them on their Facebook page. We decided to head back up and spend a rest day here before our mission to head west to Iran’s border. Again the journey has been full of Police escorts and many Army check point logs completed.

Locals crossing the bridge to Nagar Fort

Locals crossing the bridge to Nagar Fort

Our host, Razi (the prince!) with Nagar Fort in the background

Our host, Razi (the prince!) with Nagar Fort in the background

We had a relaxed day off the bikes yesterday and one of the Princes showed us around with a tour of the Fort, river and small hospital that serves most of Chitral. We rose at 6 am this morning and got away early to make it to Madan in good time, we had agreed to meet our Lahore friends at Amir’s house for a final night together. Our spirits were crushed 15 km’s up the road as the tunnel that we needed to pass through that is still being built was not open for us. We waited until the agreed 12 noon to pass through and then were informed that it was still not possible, Tuesday was the next day it will be open-3 days away! We returned to Nagar Fort for lunch. So now we are officially stuck in Chitral, mind you it could be worse!

Yep - this tunnel's still under construction. 8.5kms of muddy dirt track underground!

Yep – this tunnel’s still under construction. 8.5kms of muddy dirt track underground!

Waiting for our passport details to be entered on the other side of the tunnel

Waiting for our passport details to be entered on the other side of the tunnel

Horse riding at Nagar

Horse riding at Nagar

India – the second time around

This is the second time I’ve visited the Indian sub-continent. Eight years ago when I was last here, I rented a 500cc Royal Enfield ‘Bullet’ and rode from Delhi through the deserts of Rajasthan to the high mountain passes of the Himalayas in Himachal Pradesh. I recall it being one of the best times in my life. And I seriously wonder what has changed in these last years…

James, selfie style, during a solo jaunt in the Indian Himalayas

James, selfie style, during a solo jaunt in the Indian Himalayas

India is a country that polarises opinions; you either love it or you hate it. I loved it back then and expected no different the second time around. Our very first impressions after entering from Myanmar were wonderful – fantastic scenery and riding through gorgeous mountain ranges in Manipur. It was a rude awakening once we came off the mountain however. Naively, I put down to cultural differences in the country’s far east and happily crossed the border into Nepal expecting all to be well once we re-entered further west.

What a welcome though upon returning (as far west as we possibly could) when the road quite literally disappeared beneath us at the border. The immigration building smelt like it doubled as the border town’s sewage treatment plant. I shit you not. Passport stamped and welcome back James!

During the ensuing days, I couldn’t help but think how stupid people here were. People ride motorbikes without helmets (let alone any other sort of safety gear). They drive cars the wrong way down the motorway at speed without wearing seatbelts, whilst talking on their mobile phones. They drive the wrong way around a roundabout because the distance travelled is shorter. You are passed by wealthy people in their European sports cars on the motorway; sunroof open with 5 year old child with his head out the top. Trucks are loaded with more bricks than we’d spread across five trucks. And I’d strongly advise electricians against journeying to the sub continent – you’re likely to have a heart attack and not make it back. I felt like I was seeing Darwinism take place before my very eyes, and everybody seemed pretty cool about it.

Our passage through Western India centred around getting our Iranian visa’s from the embassy in Delhi, and we scheduled everything accordingly. You’ve not seen two grown men’s heart sink faster when told first thing on Monday morning that due to Persian New Year and Holi Festival, the embassy would be closed until Friday. But we were told we could come back then and have them processed within the day. All was not lost, as we decided to take a car to Agra and the Taj Mahal, and it also meant we could celebrate Holi with the family of a good friend from back home.

You can probably guess where this is

You can probably guess where this is

Drew, inspecting the craftsmanship at the Taj

Drew, inspecting the craftsmanship at the Taj

Moni, shopping for colours in readiness for the Holi celebrations

Moni, shopping for colours in readiness for the Holi celebrations

Holi - the festival of colour. It doesn't matter which colours you start with, they all end up turning purple!

Holi – the festival of colour. It doesn’t matter which colours you start with, they all end up turning purple!

First thing Friday morning, still glowing purple from Thursday’s Holi festivities and keen to continue west, we arrived back at the Iranian Consulate to be told that all was in order with our application but that due to banks being closed for Easter we couldn’t deposit the fees into the embassy’s account. And no, cash would not be accepted. “No problems sir, come back on Monday with the completed bank receipts and we will give you your visas”.

Delhi is the most intense place we’ve visited yet, and the thought of spending the weekend there twiddling our thumbs didn’t appeal to any of us. But nor did getting back on the bikes to try our luck with Charles Darwin, so we rented another car and headed to the “Pink City” of Jaipur. Along with Agra and Delhi, Jaipur completes the ‘tourist triangle; it’s very popular and for good reason. City palaces, water palaces, centuries old astronomical observatories and not one but two forts make it a great place to immerse yourself in Indian history and culture.

Nahargarh Fort, above Jaipur

Nahargarh Fort, above Jaipur

Nahargarh Fort, above Jaipur

Nahargarh Fort, above Jaipur

Turns out the rest of Delhi thought it would make for a good weekend too (with it being a long one and all) so it was far from being the relaxed getaway that we’d been hoping for. Added to all this was our driver, who had an insistent knack for only taking us to places where he could get a commission from the proprietor. And he drove us to each with a will that made me think he wanted to be on the top of Darwin’s list.

Nahargarh Fort, above Jaipur

Nahargarh Fort, above Jaipur

Making shadows at 'Jantar Mantar', Jaipur.

Making shadows at ‘Jantar Mantar’, Jaipur.

Not entirely sure what's going on here?

Not entirely sure what’s going on here?

Some wildlife at Jaipur's Water Palace

Some wildlife at Jaipur’s Water Palace

Jaipur's Water Palace. Clearly being well looked after

Jaipur’s Water Palace. Clearly being well looked after

Needless to say that my patience with India was wearing thin. I was surprised and disappointed at the way I was reacting to it – I was fed up, uninspired; I’d become one of the haters. A friend sent me a message on Facebook and asked if I was having the “time of my life”. This hit me like a tonne of bricks, because it suddenly occurred to me that I was in the middle of the journey that I’d been dreaming of for nearly a decade and I didn’t want to be here. I was disappointed with myself for letting India get me down, and I decided that tomorrow I’d turn a new leaf.

Tomorrow became Monday, and we rose early to pack the bikes figuring that we could just keep riding once we picked up our passports from the embassy. It was really hard for me to not rip the newly turned leaf to pieces though when, upon presenting our bank receipts at the embassy, we were told that we could come back at 5pm on Tuesday to collect the passports. Apparently our applications had not been approved, and calls would need to be made to the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. To his credit, Drew dealt with this much better than I, and managed to talk them into letting us come back at 5pm that day to try our luck. And lucky we were. There was less than two hours light left in the day, but with passports in hand we were so keen to get moving that we got on the bikes and started riding towards Amritsar regardless.

Like a golden light at the end of a filthy long tunnel, thankfully Amritsar helped me restore some of my former enthusiasm for India. It’s home to Harmandir Sahib, the Golden Temple, which is the centerpiece of Sikhism. Despite it being crowded in a way that only an Indian attraction can be, there’s something truly peaceful about this place. Any person of any race or religion is welcome to visit the temple. There are no metal detectors, no body pat downs, no entry fees, and no ‘government approved’ guides wanting to show you around.

A Sikh man, bathing at the Golden Temple

A Sikh man, bathing at the Golden Temple

The Golden Temple

The Golden Temple

Whilst there we also took part in Langar. Langar is a community kitchen – a free feed for anybody who wants it, at any time of the day. And let me tell you that a lot of people want it. Apparently 100,000 people per day are feed at Harmandir Sahib’s Langar. 1.5 tonnes of dahl, 200,000 rotis and 100 LPG gas bottles are churned through every day. You can’t help but feel good about humanity after visiting this place and eating the food on offer. How timely that we were to leave India the following day.

Waiting for Langar, at the Golden Temple

Waiting for Langar, at the Golden Temple

Serving rice at Langar

Serving rice at Langar

After stuffing ourselves at Langar we headed out to the Indian/Pakistan border to watch the border ceremony. This really has to be seen to be believed. It’s like going to a stadium sports match, except the sport is patriotism and the players are the punters. The referees are army personnel with swords, rifles and machine guns. It really is something to sit and watch 5,000 people screaming for their country as armed guards ceremoniously lower their respective flags. On the one hand it’s fantastic to see people celebrate their identity despite their circumstances. On the other it’s scary to witness just how easily national pride could turn into unrest.

Hordes waiting for the border ceremony at Wagah. Note the decorative uniforms of the army officers in the background

Hordes waiting for the border ceremony at Wagah. Note the decorative uniforms of the army officers in the background

After the border ceremony is completed the crowds are allowed to rush towards the gates

After the border ceremony is completed the crowds are allowed to rush towards the gates

Our last day in India was also the day that I had to farewell Moni – properly bittersweet. Without a Pakistani visa it was out of the question for her to continue, whether she liked it or not. We lingered as long we could but after Moni’s taxi took her to the airport Drew and I climbed back on the bikes and headed for Pakistan.

The airport taxi

The airport taxi

Not more than a week before a terrorist attack had taken place in Lahore (30kms from the border we were to cross), killing 70 people. It was fair to say we were apprehensive. What a surprise when the security officer out the front of the immigration building shook our hands in turn, followed by a hug saying “Welcome to Pakistan”.

The journey continues….

Nepal – the lowest low to the highest high


I’m sitting in a Italian Cafe in New Delhi. I am enjoying a long black the way it should be and an orange juice to match. Today marks 2 months on the road and I thought I would treat myself to a ‘Melbourne’ Breakfast, mind you in Melbourne I don’t need to argue with a Rickshaw driver over an agreed $2 for the near death experience through Delhi traffic. I must confess that I’m a useless traveller and if I didn’t have James here to keep me on the straight and narrow I would have already spent the trip’s budget on beggar handouts and expensive western meals. I did however enjoy my meal and after 2 months of eating locally on the road I feel I have deserved it – let’s hope this meal won’t contain ‘Delhi Belly’

India has been intense and we were both pleased to cross into Nepal to be greeted with better roads, more reserved people and a cooler climate. When James and I ride in Australia we consult google maps and try to find the best roads for motorcycles, twisting and remote. Nepal was a highlight for us and on the first night we employed the same tactics. The main highway across Nepal runs along the southern border to India and we were determined not to use it, the other road above it looked more ‘interesting’ and given it wore the same colour and thickness as the highway what could go wrong?

Jimmy and I on our dirt day before finding the swing bridge

Jimmy and I on our dirt day before finding the swing bridge

We woke to yet another beautiful day had a healthy serving of Dal Bhat and headed off towards the road we had decided upon in the North. By morning tea we arrived in a village with wide-eyed, open mouthed Nepalese unable to process our presence. The road in was narrow, sections unsealed but we assumed it was a bad section and given the maps elusion it would improve. Jimmy tracked down a local who could speak English and managed to obtain information for the road ahead. I recall the advice was “very steep, go slow” and “swing bridge but ok”. I was in a good mood and felt ready to tackle anything so we pushed on, the road quickly deteriorated and fell away to a track that I would have been happy to spend a weekend on my dirt bike back home, the problem was I wasn’t on my WR450, I was on250kg of BMW! The day proved to be very challenging – we both dropped our bikes and with local help and our bikes striped of luggage managed to cross the swing bridge just wide enough to accommodate our width.
We finally arrived at the next town on the map, parched and hungry at 3pm! We had spent 7 hours on the bikes and covered 70 km’s.

The bridge was just wide enough to accommodate the bikes.

The bridge was just wide enough to accommodate the bikes.

These locals helped carry our gear across the bridge after we got the bikes across.

These locals helped carry our gear across the bridge after we got the bikes across.

We decided to head back down to the main highway the following morning to head towards Kathmandu, James’ wife Monica was flying in in 3 days and we needed to be there! A local had tipped us off that Highway 6 into Kathmandu was the road to take, newly made with many mountain range passes and only cars and motorbikes were allowed, no Tata Trucks! Highway 6 is the best road we have ridden so far abroad, perfect tarmac that twists its way up and down mountains for over 160km’s. If you visit Nepal be sure to take it.

We didn't want to come off on this road, it was along way down

We didn’t want to come off on this road, it was along way down

The perfect road- Highway 6

The perfect road- Highway 6

James and Monica had a romantic hike for 2 booked months out and I was keen to leave the lovers to it and take my own little adventure. I made some enquiries about ‘The Highest motor-able pass in Nepal’ and found that Muktinath, 3800 meters ASL was possible. In typical Drew fashion I obtained the Mustang national park permit on the day of departure and hit the road. Muktinath was only 170km’s away, easy! Obviously highway 6 had given me a false sense of security. After a long wait at the fuel station for fuel (fuel in Nepal is still hard to find after the loss of fuel supply from india last year) I was away – I covered 65km’s within the first 45 minutes then the road simply disappeared! It was like a magical act Nepalese style, you pass through Beni and then nothing apart from a track containing loose rocks the size of soccer balls. The scenery however was incredible upon every turn I caught a sights of snow capped mountains. I met Pieter from the Netherlands on his solo adventure – livetheride.me. Pieter was on his way down and we had a brief chat about the road to Muktinath, his first response was that ‘it gets a little better’ but when we parted he gave me a cheeky smile and said ‘actually it gets worse’. I continued on and did the math and realised I couldn’t make it all the way – Jomson would be my goal for the night. I arrived at 5pm, checked into a hotel had a cold shower and proceeded to dress myself in almost my whole wardrobe to stay warm.

The landscape on the way up was like nothing I had seen before

The landscape on the way up was like nothing I had seen before

Deepak having a rest over Kagbeni.

Deepak having a rest over Kagbeni.

I ventured out for a meal and realised that I had checked into a pretty average hotel and found a much better one for a meal and some great company. I met a few foreigners on week long hikes, I felt a little lazy informing them that I had ridden my motorcycle all the way! As usual our journey prompts conversation and I was soon sharing stories with others, Deepak from Kathmandu joined us and I quickly realised he was a keen motorcyclist and had been up to Muktinath a few times and had even organised ‘The Mukti Ride 2016‘. Deepak invited me to join him the following morning for breakfast and then ride to Muktinath – he had a room already booked at the Bob Marley Hotel!

Hotel Bob Marley. It was cold and I never experienced the 'Real running hot shower'

Hotel Bob Marley. It was cold and I never experienced the ‘Real running hot shower’

A small village before Jomsom

A small village before Jomsom

I don’t know how to describe the journey up to Muktinath, what was an uphill dusty battle all the way to Jomsom became a quiet ancient dry river bed plain, we took a path less travelled across the pebbly bed and the scenery was breathtaking, so was the altitude! We were to ascend another 1000 meters to Muktinath and we needed to hydrate, stop more often and try not to increase our heart rate, not that easy on a motorcycle in the Himalayas! Luckily Deepak’s Royal Enfield broke it’s throttle cable, fortunately he was carrying a spare one and we stopped for almost an hour at 3000 meters to replace it, I was very pleased to offer tools and assistance needed to complete the job. We made it to the Bob Marley Hotel just as it started to snow and after checking in Deepak suggested we ride up to the Temple another 300 meters in the snow! We spent a good 45 minutes up at the temple in the snow which I was not dressed appropriately for, I don’t know if it was the temperature or the altitude but it all was a little too much and I wasn’t feeling great, we returned to Bob Marley and Deepak ordered me hot water and a garlic soup that worked wonders. Now as the name suggests the Bob Marley Hotel lives up to its Rasta name and it was fully booked, we met many people from all over the globe who had completed ‘The Pass’ a 12 day intense hike and immediately got along and ordered countless rounds of beers and ended up playing Black Jack until 11pm. The following day I wasn’t feeling great I think I had finally caught James’ cold and obtained altitude sickness in the same sitting, I’m sure the previous nights antics didn’t help either!

Somewhere above Muktinath.

Somewhere above Muktinath.

Following Deepak through a village at 4000 meters

Following Deepak through a village at 4000 meters

Deepak was heading to Upper Mustang National Park, as a foreigner I needed to obtain a permit at a cost of $500 U.S.D and couldn’t justify it although it did sound amazing – Upper Mustang had remained untouched even by the Nepalese until 1992. The weather made the decision for us, snow had fallen all night making Deepak’s journey too risky solo and I was not feeling up to it, instead we rode up another 500 meters from Muktinath cracking the 4000 metres A.S.L. I made the call after my 3rd drop to give up, my bike was just too heavy and the strength needed to right it too much at the altitude we were at. We descended to Kagbeni for the night and parted ways the following morning as I just simply needed to descend to lower ground and take a day to recover. I returned to Jomson and beyond back onto the dusty, rock ridden pot hole mess of a the road that eventually finds tarmac at Beni. The journey down was painfully slow, energy levels low and I pushed my bike too hard and ended up with my first official puncture in my rear tyre 12 km’s out of Beni. Repair kit on board but no pump! I was not in the mood to remove the rear wheel, flag a lift into Beni for air and back out again instead I rode at 15km’s for an hour to finally find air in Beni. I also needed fuel and eventually obtained 4 litres at 2.5 times the market rate! I was pleased to be reunited with tarmac and stopped for a dip at some Hot springs that lifted my spirits to get me back to Pokhara.

Tired but happy.

Tired but happy.

Sitting in Delhi waiting for our Iranian Visa’s I have fond memories of Nepal, some days broke me but most were amazing. The people are very kind and much more relaxed than Indian’s. My adventure to Muktinath has wet my appetite for more to come in Pakistan.

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