I swear I cycled through a National Geographic magazine when I left Lahore and headed towards the Indian border, only some 30 km away. I cycled through a zoo of animals: water buffalo, cows, goats, sheep, donkeys, kids playing cricket in fields, shepherds guiding their herds to greener pastures, this was much different from the remote mountainous terrain of northern Pakistan, and it was blistering hot. I have no idea how these people worked outside while keeping the fast and not drinking water. I arrived at the Pakistan/India border (there's only one for foreigners) and entered the Pakistan immigration/customs. Everyone inside the building was asleep, wasting away the hours until they could eat again (at least I think that's why...maybe they were just lazy). I had to wake up an officer to stamp me out of Pakistan. I arrived at the India immigration and everyone was very much alive, albeit playing solitaire but upright and somewhat alert. These people weren't fasting, they were of a completely different religion, the Hindu religion. After all, this is the reason Pakistan was created, to provide religious sovereignty for these severely different religions.
Flashback: August 15, 1947. India obtains it's independence from the British. Pakistan and India are separated by drawing a line on a map, creating one country for Muslims and one for Hindus. Drawing the line turns out to be much harder than it sounds, some areas are completely mixed with Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists. Jammu and Kashmir is one of these areas. The prince, a Hindi born man, was asked which area he wanted to belong to, Pakistan or Hindustan? He stalled giving a definite answer and shortly after, the Kashmir valley was invaded by an army of Pashtun troops from the newly formed gov't of Pakistan...they were going to take Kashmir for themselves. The prince panicked and called on the Indian army for help against the invaders (somewhat pledging allegiance to the Indian side). And just like that, only 2 months after India won it's independence from the British, they were at war with Pakistan, and essentially they've been going at it ever since. Pakistanie people don't like Indian people and the feelings are most definitely reciprocated. These two groups have a dark history of violence, accusations, hate crimes and murder against each other. The Kashmir valley was never the same, India fought the Pakistan insurgency and recovered 2/3 of the valley while Pakistan violently held onto their third. This is where the Line of Control (LOC) was established and the controversy has ensued ever since, neither side ever came to an agreement on anything. And this was the area in northern India which I was going to cycle through, an extremely popular route with cyclists, one of the highest roads in the world.
Snapping out of the flashback.....first things first, I drank a Sprite in public, not hiding it in a paper bag and sneaking sips, a first in nearly 2 weeks. I then stuck around and attended the famous border closing ceremony between Pakistan and India. It was like a football match, with people filling the stands and cheering/taunting the opposing side (Pakistan). It was a great introduction to India.
I then cycled the remaining 30 km to Amristar (in the dark), Amristar is the home of the Sikh's sacred Golden Temple, a marvelous sparkling bling bling temple that quarters any and everyone who comes to it in need for free. The fact that they housed so many people was simply amazing, people were sleeping all over the place! Foreign tourists get their own seperated room with beds with A/C, while the Indian people got the cold stone floor. Not only did they put everyone up for free, they also fed everyone for free! Granted the food was extremely basic, but keep in mind that India has the second largest population in the world, so you can only imagine the assembly line that is required to feed all these people for free. It was quıite the process.
I found Sikh people to be extremely hospitable and genuinely kind people, I met some Sikhs at the border ceremony earlier that day, after I informed them that I was going to cycle to Amristar (30 km) in the dark, they kindly offered to trail behind me in their motorbikes to fend off the crazy drivers and provide a little more substantial light than my headlamp could provide. We arrived in Amristar where they bought me my first Indian diner and showed me to the Golden Temple. After putting my things away and a quick vetement change, they showed me around the temple, explaining their religion and different parts of the temple. Before entering the main temple, you must remove your shoes and wash your feet in a communal water trough. I was in a conversation with one of the Sikh guys about the temple's promise to house anyone in need, when he stopped and said `see you are our guest and we are honored to have you here` then he swooped his hand down and grabbed a handful of water from the trough and took a sip of it! Keep in mind this is not only the rest of India's dirty feet water, this is also Kyle's dirty feet water, and anyone who has smelled the deathly odors that are emitted from my trench foot can attest for putting my feet stinch into a completely seperate category inside itself! And this guy just drank it! I told him he really didn't have to do that, the fact that this amazingly beautiful place puts me up and feeds me for free is enough proof that I am indeed an honored guest in this place.
No time for the Israeli new years party; only a nepalese pizza, a few beers and we were off cycling again. Manali had loads of tourists; Indian tourists, foreign tourists and Israeli tourists or more like Israeli habitants. So we hit the road, straight out of Manali the climbing began and never really stopped. Right out of the gates, we climbed over 2000 vertical meters in less than 50 kilometers, by the way, that's brutal! This is where I realized Alex was a freakin machine on the bike! The kid knows how to ride a bike.
So sparing your eyes and mind from downright fatigue which results in skimming the words and dragging the scrollbar until the next picture appears (don't be ashamed, everyone does it), here is the abbreviated version, the cliffnotes from my cycle through northern India.
Alex and I cycled from Manali to Leh (10 days, 500 km) then Leh to Srinagar (6 days, 450 km), up and over some of the highest passes in the world (18,380 ft, 17,580 ft, 16,600 ft, 16,500 ft, etc). Cycling at this altitude is tough, it's almost as if you're body is only able to run at 50% output. You're huffing and puffing, trying to recieve as much oxygen as possible but it's never quite enough. Every 30 minutes or so, you have to stop and let your heart and lungs catch up with the rest of your body. Sleeping at this altitude isn't exactly fluffy clouds and sheed either, as you're constantly tossing and turning in discontent. Nonetheless, we cycled through a beautifully vast landscape that changed culturally from Indian Hindi (Manali) to Tibetan Buddhist (Leh) to Kashmiri Muslim (Srinagar). Cycling the road that runs just south of infamous Line of Control (LOC) between India and Pakistan, at one point we were within 5 km from the Pakistan border.
We met tons of cyclists along the way, with whom we joined forces and created the almighty party train of cyclists.
Here's some stats up to this point:
Total distance cycled: 8860 km (5,505 miles)
Total elevation gained: 110,114 m (361,266 ft)
Total time on bike: 558 hr
I think I've maxed out Blogger with pıctures, sorry ıf the format looks weird. And props to Alex for the nıce photos...I really need to get a better camera.