India In A Nutshell
Uncertainty is a fundamental building block of any adventure. It’s safe to say when ThreeGuys Guide touched down in Mumbai we had uncertainty in abundance. We had a dream to buy 3 motorbikes and ride North into the Himalayas, then simply explore as much of India as possible.
Our adventures started in the damp and humid heat of Mumbai where the colonial structures stood towering above the crowded streets. Although the buildings reminiscent of a bygone era were fascinating, it was the aggressive culture shock that slapped you like an angry Italian mother. Although we had been to other far flung destinations, nothing really prepares you for the intensity of Indian culture.
An incredible overnight train ride to Delhi saw the humidity dissipate into a dry insatiable heat far from the plush greenery of southern India. We completely missed what you could describe as the ‘tourist trail’, but after 5 unexpectedly turbulent days we bought our Royal Enfield motorbikes in the bustling streets of Karol Bagh, Delhi’s famous motorbike market.
Chandigarh to Amritsar
Our ride north was a patchwork of breakdowns and botch jobs which made every day feel like an achievement. From the sweeping foothills of Haryana near the city of Chandigarh, ThreeGuys rode West toward the Pakistani border and the Holy City of Amritsar. The journey was like going toe to toe with a hairdryer, combined with four lanes of traffic. It didn’t help that we had a fair few mechanical problems and on our arrival we were beat, dirty and hungry. We didn’t know what to expect from this Holy City, but never before had we visited a place where we received such an abundance of kindness and hospitality.
After a short stay our adventures steered us towards the hill station of Dharamkot, home to the banished Dalai Lama and and his loyal Tibetan monks. Buddhist prayer flags line the forest canopy whilst enticing hostels billow with hashish smoke. Nestled amongst the pines Dharamkot is a sleepy oasis full of delicious steaming bowls of Thenthuk soup and limitless chai.
After a weeks long pit stop we were ready and determined to push into the mountains. An eventful two days ride led us to Manali where we got our papers stamped, bought our supplies and rode toward the Keylong Pass, the gateway to the Himalaya’s.
The Keylong Pass was steep and winding, it etched it’s way through glacial ice and above the clouds. After conquering the first peaks we began our decline into Spitti Valley. Roads gave way to boggy trails, sheer drops and ice cold perilous river crossings, which could only be overcome through team effort. That night we slept in tents around a fire amongst strangers and the clearest skies we had ever seen.
13 Days On the Roof of the World
Nothing could prepare us for the next 13 days along the Tibetan border, the beauty of riding Spitti will stay with us forever. We rode through gorges, past ancient monasteries, sheltered in mountain top shacks and remote villages, finally emerging in the luscious pine forests of lower Himachal Pradesh. Our bodies were exhausted and were begging for a decent meal and a good nights kip.
Rishikesh was a welcome contrast to the remote mountain valleys of Spitti. Holy Baba’s and monkey inhabited ashrams line both sides of the Ganges. A real highlight for us was exploring the abandoned Beatles ashram, which is now decorated with colourful murals. We ate, slept, lost fights with banana stealing monkeys and danced deep into the night until we felt fully recharged.
We decided to hit the road, and after giving up all hope of a train, we rode through the night across India to the magical realm of Rajasthan. Here the palaces of Maharajas stand proud and cities such as Udaipur, Jaisalmer and Pushkar still glisten with the charm that so many imagine when they think of India.
It was in Rajasthan we made the decision to part ways with our mechanical companions. If you ever get the chance to travel on a motorbike, let alone across a country as beautiful as India, seize the opportunity by both handlebars! As with all things in India selling the bikes was not without its challenges. Despite a cow repeatedly devouring our ‘For Sale’ sign, we managed to flog the bikes to a rabble of screaming locals and began to travel by new means.
Busses gave way to camels and we embarked on a 4-day expedition through the Thar Desert. Our guides were ill-prepared, but our camels much more obedient than the horses we rode a few days previously. At night the desert sky would pour with rain, crack with thunder and flash with lightening. Armed only with a tarpaulin we had little protection from the storms. However, huddling together ThreeGuys and our motley crew laughed until the heat of the sunrise coaxed us to push on.
Western India was such a contrast to the mountains, but we were eager to explore. A brief stop in Agra to see the Taj Mahal resulted in a very funny trip to the Red Fort and a conclusion that not the Taj, but Ranakpur Temple near Udaipur stole the show as the most beautiful building in India. We left as quickly as we had arrived in search of Varanasi, what can only be described as one of the most spiritual and harmonious places in the world.
Varanasi reminds you of no other place but itself. Puppies, kittens, cows and water-buffalo lined the tiny ancient alleyways, whilst monkeys inhabited the rooftops. Lines upon lines of people queued to lay offerings inside the temple and let out whispered prayers as the line snaked towards the exit. The smell of the Ghatts and the spiritual burning of the bodies was the opposite to what you might expect, the process was humbling, sincere and cleansing. Locals jumped at the opportunity to give you some insight into specific burial traditions of the Hindu faith. Varanasi is the one place that we found where a respect for the world allows animals and humans to live harmoniously and as one.
The Andaman Islands
Before long it was time to leave again and we embarked on the final leg of our trip. A train back to Delhi followed by one night in Calcutta would stoke the fire of adventure. A fascination with Darjeeling and Nagaland to the East started to forge in our minds as the next perfect chance to get lost living. Kolkata was a yellow blur of commodore taxis and degrading colonial buildings. After a botched plane journey nearly sent us to the Coal mining province of Ranchi (India’s answer to Grimsby), we managed to board our Spice Jet flight to Port Blair. Why the airline’s slogan was “Red, Hot, Spicy” still cracks us up today.
Port Blair is the capital of the remote Andaman Archipelago, a series of islands home to one of the last un-contacted indigenous tribes in the world and elephants that roam free in the off season. We spent two weeks fishing, swimming and exploring the Island of Havelock, however we could have easily spent a month.
The Andaman Islands are a true paradise, if you dream about fresh fish every night, deserted beaches and insane value for money this is definitely a place worth visiting. Andaman is the ideal place to recoup after a long time on the road and was our last stop before returning to Mumbai to fly home to Heathrow.
Coming Full Circle
Our final 2 days in Mumbai were full of adventure and led to an even greater admiration of the people of India. We toured the slums witnessing how corrugated shacks are home to industrial manufacturing lines, situated shoulder to shoulder to spaces brimming with livestock. What many people perceive to be places of poverty, reveal themselves to be places of ingenious industry. Small squares became cricket pitches where we played with local children and specific areas of the immense slums are designated as thief markets, antique bazaars and brothels you only dream about in archaic travel novels.
Since returning home we have worked tirelessly to design a platform where we can share our adventures, inspire more people to open their minds, share their own stories and get lost living in the world that is all to quickly described as threatening. This overview is our ode to the diverse beauty we found in India.
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Stay tuned for more tales of adventure where we will tell you more specifics about our adventures getting lost living.
Peace and love,
ThreeGuys Guide xxx