The night in the tent had been surprisingly comfortable. And waking up to the sound of the river was lovely. That noise was soon drowned by the Bollywood soundtracks blasting out of the kitchen, which was next to my tent. Still, authentic sounds I guess.
The riding today was not much different to what we had already seen, and the day was mainly just about getting to Dharamshala (elevation 1457 metres). It was a ride of only 109km, which felt short compared to our earlier rides.
One of the highlights was passing through (yes, through rather than by) a flock of sheep and goats that were being guided along the road. The animals seemed perfectly happy for ten bikes to be negotiating their way between them. Just another day riding in India!
As we were descending one of the many hills my bike started coughing. It sounded like it was running out of fuel, but the fuel tap was already on reserve and the gauge still showed a little left in the tank. Depending on the steepness of the descent the bike kept cutting out. After a few impromptu hill starts I decided it was time to pull over. Luckily the support van was only just behind us, and the guys came to my rescue. “It feels like its running out of fuel” I said. “But it’s already on reserve so I’m not sure…” The leader of the support took one look at the bike, turned the fuel tap and motioned for me to carry on. I did as instructed, and the bike came back to life in an instant. It turns out that the arrow on the fuel tap points in exactly the opposite direction to the option selected: if you want the fuel on, turn the tap on reserve, and vice versa. I should have known. It wouldn’t be India if the arrow pointed to the actual option you wanted!
One of the worrying things of the last few days has been the number of landslide sites we’ve ridden past. We haven’t actually seen any landslides happen, but the devastation that they have caused has in many places been very recent. Not only do you need to keep an eye out for the traffic, but you really ought to check the hills too if you don’t want to get into trouble.
Talking of the traffic, today was the first day we saw traffic lights since leaving Chandigarh six days ago. This time it was just a simple light-controlled one way system in one of the towns we passed. The surprising thing was that it worked. Only a couple of motorcycles sneaked across when everyone else was going in the other direction, and all the car drivers waited for the green light. Incredible! Maybe there are some traffic rules after all. Or maybe this section of the road was heavily policed and fines issued for running the red light? Who knows, but it worked.
Our last night of the tour (if you don’t count the night in Delhi after the riding finishes tomorrow) was in Dharamshala. The hotel used to belong to the Viceroy back in the day, and the difference between the tents of last night with their dodgy electrics and lack of hot water, and the opulence of this country house was stark to say the least. I don’t mind roughing it a bit, but to have air-con, hot water and a soft bed was bliss.
Dharamshala is the location of the Dalai Lama’s residence, a large Buddhist temple and the Tibetan government in exile, so we jumped in a taxi and headed to the place where the famous Tibetan had lived since 1960.
The temple was not quite what I was expecting. It was a modern building with prayer rooms, museum and shops. Next to the temple was the spiritual leader’s home from home, which looked more like a diplomatic residence. Apparently the Dalai Lama was home, but I didn’t see the curtains twitching as we walked past, and there was no invitation to pop in for a cuppa. Maybe next time.
Almost as much of an experience as visiting the temple was the drive there and back. I hadn’t been on these roads on anything other than the Himalayan so far, and experiencing them from the taxi was eye-opening. I instantly realised that I felt much safer on two wheels when I could squeeze through the gaps and pull over out of the way of bigger vehicles. Being trapped in the car, you just had to hope that nothing big would hit you and that the driver had everything under control when he zoomed up and down the hairpins. Scary stuff! Luckily we’ll be back on the bikes tomorrow, although it will be last day of our trip. How quickly it has gone!
More about Trailquest expeditions and offroad training
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