Sunday, September 16, 2012

Be Our Guest: part 1

This is a three part series.  So far this blog has been about my perspective for our family's adventure.  The next three posts, all part of the same trip/series are from the Mister's perspective.  Literally since most of this is through the lens of the cameras on this trip.  He researched, planned, and plotted maps, organized, and finally booked his dream motorcycle ride through the Himalayas from Manali to Leh.  In these pictures he will show you his experience.
Welcome Mister as he writes about his Himalayan motorcycle adventure.
Part 1:
Day 1: A view from our Hotel in Manali. We flew from Delhi to Manali and took a cab to Anu Autoworks where we had reserved 500cc Royal Enfields for our trip.  First day was spent getting acclimatized and familiar with our motorcycles. We spent a few hours driving around Manali and making sure the bikes worked. A couple minor tweaks, but the bikes seemed fine.

Day 2: Above we are getting our bikes packed up and ready to head north. We also hired a mechanic to ride along with us. Originally, I did not intend to bring a mechanic but if you rented three or more bikes the company required that you hire a mechanic to travel with you. 

It turns out the mechanic was a really good idea. We have our first breakdown within the first half of the day. I don't recall exactly what the issue was, but we stopped for a photo op and this bike never started again. Here is the mechanic coasting down hill to trade out the broken down bike for a replacement.

Waiting by the side of the road for the replacement bike. Here, a few water buffalo are being herded down the road. It took the mechanic a couple hours to come back with a new bike.  When he returned, we excitedly mounted back up an prepared to head out.  Then my bike caught on fire.  We made a quick decision to take his bike and send him back for a SECOND replacement bike. We headed up the mountain with our remaining three bikes and one of us riding the mechanics bike.

On our way up Rohtang Pass.  The small yellow tents at the bottom of the hill (in the center of the picture) are in the spot where we waited for the replacement bikes.
And then....there was mud. While we were waiting for the replacement bikes, it was raining on Rohtang Pass.  We road/pushed bikes through hours of mud like this.

Pushing bikes through mud is hard work.  Added stressor was the altitude of  approximately13,000 feet. This shot is the mechanics bike standing on it's own, rear tire wedged in mud. One or two of us would get to a decent spot on the road ahead, park, then slog back down through the mud to push whoever was stuck. I think we all agreed it was one of the most physically and mentally challenging things we had done in many years.

Here you see some of the other "traffic" on the road.

Over the Pass!  The roads and the view improve...for a while. We continued on and were attempting to make it to a town called Keylong. However, eventually the rain started again, the sun went down and there was a landslide that blocked the road to Keylong. That night is a whole story of it's own. I did things on a motorcycle that I promised myself I would never do. For example, for quite some time I rode without a headlight, in the rain, at night, on a road that barely passed as a trail. On one side of us was a fifty foot drop to a raging river. I have always said it's a fine line between hard core and stupid. Suffice it to say, I think we may have crossed the line that night.

Day 3:  This is the view we had the morning of Day 3. After we finally gave up on Keylong, our mechanic brought us to a camp that was not too far back down the road. These tent/cabins don't look like much but it had a dry bed, electric light and a flush toilet. It was pretty heavenly after the day we just had.

Our accommodations just outside of Keylong.  The sun came out and we had a couple hours to dry our wet gear before we got back on the road.

Early morning view from the road side.

A river crossing.

Not much traffic out here. The riding on this day was outstanding and just about exactly what I hoped for. The scenery was great and the roads were, at times, pretty good.

A pit stop for our first and only flat tire. (The mechanic pays off again.)  The timing was convenient because there was another landslide just ahead of us. Luckily, there was a road crew nearby.  It took them a couple hours and some explosives to clear the road. We found a nice shady spot by the side of the road and just hung out for a while. The large container sitting by the road is one of our gas containers. Just outside of Keylong, not far from the spot we slept, was the last gas station until Leh. We had to top off at that station and also bring along some extra gallons to make sure we could get all the way to Leh.

Accommodations for our third night at a spot called Sarchu.  High plains at 14,000 feet.  It was a tough night of sleep but at least another warm dry bed.

This is our camp's kitchen/headquarters. 

(trip continued in Be Our Guest part 2 & part 3)

Be Our Guest: part 2

Continuation of Be Our Guest:
Part 2:
Day 4: Our early morning view of the valley around Sarchu. Little did we know we had a another big day ahead of us.

Climbing again. This shot was taken from the top of a series of hairpin turns called the "Gata Loops." (Google it.) I forget how many there are but it's something like 21 or so. It was great fun and a fast and serious climb.

The next pass was at 15,547 feet, not even particularly high for the route. Most of the the passes have these little piles of stones on top. Travelers stop for a small rest and pile them up. I believe they are supposed to be like a small Buddhist Stupa. To me, they seemed like kind of Zen "I was here."

Lachungla pass, 16,616 feet...starting to get up there. Unfortunately, between Nakeela pass and Lachungla pass, one of our gang took a spill and broke his leg. Some good Samaritans brought him down the pass in their car and we administered what first aid we could. We put a pretty good splint on his leg and tried to quickly come up with a plan. Luckily, an Australian biker and his girlfriend, who we befriended back in Keylong, were passing by and gave him a couple Vicodin to ease the pain. We loaded him in a small bus that was passing by and set off to try and get him some medical help. The nearest "town" on the road was Pang. We were told there was a small Indian Army base where we may find a doctor.

The Indian Army Base in Pang. (Yes, that's all of it). A medic gave our buddy a shot for pain but that was really all they had to offer. From Pang it was still about a 5 or 6 hours ride to Leh where we were told we could find a "hospital."  The Indian Army guys commandeered a bus that was passing through and we sent him on his way again.

The third mountain pass of the day was Taglangla Pass at 17,582 feet.  "Unbelievable, is not it?"

At this pass we decided to wait for our buddy's "medevac" and cheer him on as he drove through.

To our pleasant surprise, his bus stopped for a rest and we had a quick reunion at 17,582 feet. Our whole gang made it to Taglangla together but it was still a long way to Leh. We took one very cool photo of all of us at Taglangla pass, then back on the road.

We made it to Leh and the "hospital" was good for one thing. It confirmed what we already knew...broken leg. The x-ray has  two shots of the broken leg on it but you don't need to be a trained technician to read it.  The "hospital' in Leh, much like the rain soaked landslide before Keylong, is a whole story unto itself. But a few quick details about the "hospital." There was no power when we arrived so we had to wait in the dark until the power came back before we could take the x-ray. The "technician" had our mechanic, the cab driver and me cut my buddy's boot off of him in order to take the x-ray. (I used my Dad's old leatherman. Thanks Dad!) Waiting with us in the emergency ward was a young kid with no pants and a horrible case of dysentery. When dysentery kid left he was replaced by the next "emergency" which was an old man who had clearly expired hours earlier. He shared our room with us for a while. The doc told my buddy he needed surgery and should stay in the hospital overnight.  Buddy said, "Nope! Take me to the hotel!"  Which we did, but not before they tried to wheel him out of the "hospital" in a wheelchair that was missing one front wheel.  Not very functional, so the mechanic and I carried him to the cab.

Day 5: We found a great hotel in Leh and spent day 5 trying to make our patient comfortable. There were a lot of phone calls to rearrange his flights, set up doctors appointments and bring concerned family and friends up to speed. That's no cast on his leg. He had to leave it in a broken state, only splinted to stop movement, and fly back to the states for surgery. He's a tough guy and he never complained, except a little bit about the quality of care in the Leh "hospital".

(trip continued in Be Our Guest: part 3)

Be Our Guest: part 3

Continuation of Be Our Guest:
Part 3:
Day 6: First thing in the morning our casualty was evacuated to Delhi, where he was seen by a real doctor in a real hospital, then put on a plane for the states. About a dozen screws and a metal plate later, he's recovering nicely, but it's gonna take some time.  The rest of us still had a day to kill in Leh, so we saw some sights. Above is a valley just outside of Leh.

A few kilometers further outside of Leh was Phyang Monastery. This portion was under construction and the monks let us in to take a few photos. Very cool.

The Dali Lama spends a lot of time in this part of India and has a house just south of Leh.  He wasn't home at the time, but some nice Tibetan guy showed us around anyway.

A few more scenes from in and around Leh. The place is really cool and would not mind returning again someday for a little more sight seeing. Himalayan mountain towns have a very cool, mellow vibe about them.

"Shanti Stupa" in Leh. There are several of these Stupas around the world that were built by a Japanese Buddhist organization to promote peace. This one was on a hilltop just behind our hotel. When the family visited Nepal some time ago (Kathmandu & Pokhara blog 10/2011) we visited the Shanti Stupa just outside of Pokhara.

Leh Palace. An old palace, mostly in ruins now. However, you can walk through and climb over most of it and get some pretty cool views of Leh.

We flew back from Leh to Delhi only three of us now after seven days in the Himalayas as scheduled.