The modern-day hippie who thought she’d fled from the rat race
The pedaling from Shimla to Reckong Peo went well. Though I must admit I start to question the reason of cycling in a loop? I always cycle rather direct. A few other things are bothering me too, the health of my mother is my biggest trouble. The most important outing of my emotions has been suppressed for some time now, and that is being alone in silence. Being together with my diary, the pen streaming words by itself, driven by the mind unleashed. I miss watching, beholding, the pure visual perception, because with cycling through this slowly becoming magnificent Nature I see very little as I have to concentrate on the road and it’s often bad condition.
Oh no! Another psychological explanation!
My own shortcoming is that I tend to blame others. That’s easy, pointing a finger to someone else, but, of course, at the same time 3 fingers point to my own self. Another defect of Cycling Cindy -soon becomes Pushing Cindy- is that I either push away my own wanting thus seems the ideal cycle-partner-for-the-moment or do it preferable completely my own way, which makes me the loner I always seem to be. An eruption will come and although I erupt slowly -that’s my natural behavior anyway- I start to be tired. Tired of going on every day. Going. Going. Going. I feel I am in a contest where the speed is not of importance but the amount of cycling days counts. Every day we cycle. What is the message if there’s no reflection? What is the meaning if there’s no contemplation? What is the fun? Where has my euphoric feeling go to? It seems it has dropped down past the marijuana plants into a ravine, still screaming to be rescued.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do, so throw off the bowline, sail away from the safe harbor, catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
For each day you cycle, take a day off
Where I am the one who have chosen to live like this, the person I am cycling through the Himalaya’s with is on a holiday, thus cycling is not his normal way of life. It’s his holiday. Now I am acting like I am living on a time bomb. I cycle in a constant hurry where there’s no time for acclimatization, reflection or consideration. If only I had told beforehand I am not only slow but cycle on a rate equal to when I am off the bicycle.
Sitting, watching, being. But not now!
I want to see the nature I am in, to become fully aware and quieted by it. I want to be overwhelmed by its grandness and wonder over the possibility to have a road up here. I don’t want to be here just to reach something in time. Which time anyway? I want to be ruled by body and mind, not by a clock. The ideas I cherished about cycling in the Himalaya are not formed into reality. The way I soak in live is now done by a super modern synthetic sponge. The natural ocean sponge has been thrown into the ravine, dangling on some nettle branch.
Henrik reached Nako full of energy. I reach it by pushing the bicycle and panting heavily. I do fall instantly in love with Nako, while a limping donkey is searching for food and be fed carrots by my friend. This is a beautiful, original village on top of a mountain 3640 meter high. It is presenting me with a whole range of white-topped mountains, where behind the Tibetan population is still oppressed, there where the Dalai Lama is born, he who now is in Leh. Nako required my first ever big climb, and no surprise to myself, I did it with great pleasure. I stopped often, to pee, to laugh, to make photo’s, and most pleasurable, to eat.
Nako was a 1200 meter climb. A climb over 2 long zigzag roads which is easier than steeply uphill. A cold shower and a dirty bed in a so-called home-stay where the light stops working when there’s an electricity cut awaits me. The food we have together is delicious, it’s usually momo’s -steamed filled dough- and thukpa -a noodle soup-. I have a huge shortage on fruit and nuts and vegetables and my hair shows the signs of this lack. Another huge shortage I have is rest and with leaving Nako the following morning I feel I have no energy at all. If it was me I would have stayed a day, or two, to acclimatize and just be there. Instead I cycle on…
Tiredness sets in, and won’t leave me anymore…
From Nako there’s a little more climbing till we reach a top from where another huge downhill is awaiting me. I have no power to cycle up anymore. All is given the day before and I feel like a wrung dishcloth, or for that matter, like a squeezed super modern synthetic sponge. These 160 meters up I push more than I cycle. When I have cycled over 50 kilometer that day, I remind Henrik that I have reached my limit, and see no reason not to stop and set up camp. Henrik would have loved to push on to Tabo, another 18 kilometer but I am finished. Worn out. I ask myself, while I should have asked someone else: ‘Why? Why do we need to reach Tabo today? For what reason? Is there perhaps a consecration of another lama?’
The next day, my friend must be joking, he asks whether I can cycle on to Tabo without breakfast? It might be only 18 kilometer indeed but instead I offer hím not to eat while I will have a double portion. When we reach Tabo, my friend is hungry like an animal of prey on a burned down Serengeti. It took us 2 hours to get to Tabo, we reach there before midday and by the time we have found places to sleep, in an old monastery, the day is half-finished.
I had imagined Tabo to be a Tibetan like village with the monastery perching high on top of it. When we reach it I am sure this is not Tabo yet: the village is spread out and although the surrounding is wide open there’s no such thing as what I had formed in my mind. The gompa is low and invisible. The atmosphere is dead because all monks have left for Leh, where the Dalai Lama is. I am highly disappointed by reality, or by my mind who made things up again, though the authentic stay in an old crumbling part of the monastery compensates for it. The ambiance is full tangible, with a blue ceiling and yellow windowsills, the floor moves when I walk on it. There’s hardly any electricity but that’s not discouraging the many STD and super-fast internet-cafe’s to have their business open, alas completely down of any service.
I wash my pile of stinking clothes, a very snug thing to do, in a toilet smelling of piss. After doing the laundry, the day of rest is over. We drink a chai after we have had a quick look at the famous gompa, monastery, of Tabo and collapse each in our own small and hard hand-made wooden bed. That was our day of rest: I, who loves gompa’s and it’s painting on the crumbling walls. I, who do nothing quick. The next day we cycle on, a very gradient slow ascent lead us to Kaza, which I am again not able to reach. We are camping 15 kilometers before Kaza, where we reach the next day. I again collapse on a small and hard hand-made wooden bed but not before I fill my sheer empty stomach. Meanwhile I got my periods and develop a painful stomach ache which I can not find the source off. Except that we are at an altitude of 3680 meter and I ain’t got the time to acclimatize!
Do I enjoy? Obviously I don’t. I can not blame anyone else than myself, but what can I do if I can not keep up with a cyclist who doesn’t need acclimatization, who doesn’t need time to stop and to enjoy the magnificent Nature we are in? For me, being in this Nature is not enough, I need to be one with it…
Nature has become of a grand beauty, rough, stony and colors void of brightness. We are close to the Tibetan border and people are very comfortable natured, they are just truly kind and loving. The Bihari stone-cutters are the only people who receive our ‘namaste’ or ‘jule’ with great contempt, as if we want to make a photo of their poor circumstances. Perhaps they feel ashamed for their jobs, knocking stones to small pieces for building roads not lasting longer than a season. We are welcomed by the Indian army ‘The Indian army welcomes you, please have a chai and a snack,’ and I, having a huge appetite, eat the bowl with namkins, salty fried lentils, like I haven’t had breakfast. We are asked about our age and if we have children -no doubt that we might perhaps not be a married couple. ‘No chance they are travel friends only’ seems they’re thinking. ‘No, we don’t have children.’ I am always the one who receive reproachful looks, like I am to blame?! It doesn’t come to the military people’s mind that we are two individuals cycling. It must be madly confusing for those low land Indians serving the high altitude stations in the Himalaya.
Lamb the lamp-man
We are welcomed in a little temple of Sai Baba, on top of an orange-colored building where Lamb is in charge of 8000 lamps. He is 23 years old and works from 6 in the morning till 10 in the evening at a micro hydraulic plant, the water giving electricity is coming from China. Lamb sits all day in a terrible loud machine room, watching buttons and switches and little red blinking lights while the sound of heavy machinery pushes the water through. He doesn’t wear earplugs, but that’s no wonder as Lamb loves heavy metal and loves being an anti-Christ, what ever that is? Not able to talk English often, he now takes full advantage of it, until a loud mechanical sound interrupt us. Lamb suddenly looks like Hanuman, the flying monkey-god, and identically fliés to his machine room. He let us have the Sai Baba space to sleep and I fall in a deep sleep on my comfortable air mattress hours before Lamb’s work is finished.
That very deep feeling of happiness and awareness of where I am and what I do comes only a few times. My mother and what happened to her is constant on my mind and I am still in doubt whether to go home now or later, when Henrik’s holiday is finished. I cycle on but the heavy feeling on my chest push and jostle the intestines to an ugly painful composition. The haste in which we move is bothering me, although Henrik takes it very easy. He is rather supportive and patient where I long for being alone, if only occasionally, I long for figurative space. I grab it when we have a long downhill, by stopping often to write down how I feel, to make photo’s and to watch the sublime theater surrounding me. Cycling here is of a cinematic beauty, the views are not to measure by eyes, the heights are not natural to be with on a bicycle, the brightness and sharpness of this part of the world are not to comprehend. When my cycle-companion cycles dozens of meters below me I feel I watch a 3-dimensional movie. A little dot in an unmeasurable ocher surrounding. Seeing him is watching myself in the very foreseeable future, and I can’t wait to press the brakes of my bicycle until both my hands hurt…
Then, such a moment of bliss, such a moment of all-encompassing happiness overwhelms me. Tears accumulate in the pools holding my receptors. Only because I realize I am in this grand Nature where I am maneuvering through, together with a row of heavy-duty army trucks. Black fumes are spitting from their exhaust pipes while they crawl up the long hill of Malling slide, 3800 meter high ridge where a road is being cut out. Black bearded men wave to me from behind their confined cabins where the windshield is so decorated they hardly see the road they’re on. I might have trouble climbing, these trucks have a hard time too.
They all stop to pee, these black-bearded men. Rows of Tata and Eicher trucks come to a halt. I decide to offer them some privacy. The dark eyes of these Punjabi Sikh’s, dressed in green army turbans, their neck kept warm with black collars, their feet enclosed by high leather shoes, their mouths surrounded by stiff beards. They appear wildly ominous, like the Pathans in Pakistan can, or the Afghans in high plateau’s do, yet they all wave to me while they pass. Wave like happy schoolkids, bright white teeth flashing on to my eyes filled with awareness of where I am.
Cycling on without energy. To start the day and feeling I am worth nothing is not pleasant. My body feels without longing for cycling. But I do cycle. The first 10 kilometer I almost fall asleep while riding. When I stop my head falls on the handlebar and my breath is panting. I watch my legs from this new angle and I feel sorry for them. I feel sorry for myself too, because I am not enjoying this ride. The uphill I barely manage, I have to push and when I am seen doing so I try to walk a bit more straight, or I even jump on my bicycle like this walking was just to stretch the legs a bit. Being with someone he is the only one to hear my suffer and complain. When I am alone I don’t complain because there’s no one to complain to: my body and mind are almost each day in perfect harmony with each other. Not now.
Hail to the jewel in the lotus
Nature goes from narrow canyons to a wide open riverbed and suddenly there is plenty of perfect camping spots to choose from. Scenery has changed a lot, the feeling that I am in a Tibetan world is omnipresent. Children with red cracked cheeks, faces full with dirt, playing outside, our bicycles are a high-tech toy for them. Chorten and mani walls are now everywhere and we always try to pass them from the left, the direction in which the Earth and the Universe rotate. There is very little traffic on these roads, hardly any trucks and an Enfield motor pass me now and then. Roof of houses have hay on them, life seem to be prepared for the harsh winter, the smell of thyme is often, and colorful flowers erupt at the strangest places. The spirit of trekking in Nepal is strongly present and it is a wonderful feeling.
‘I can not go slower’
‘And I can not go faster’
Actually, I can’t go at all!’ is my reply
‘As soon as we reach Kaza I am going to rest for two days,’ I tell my friend who’s waiting for me. It’s not very social not to discuss this with my co-cycler, but I am done, cooked and finished. By now not only my energy level has vanished, also my hair start to fall out in large quantities. The lack of vitamins and vegetables is showing while the altitude takes care of deeply cracked heels and a crusty dry nose. My skin shows signs of dehydration. I notice my weight has dropped down to a probably, not yet alarming, 47 kilogram (actually, I suffer amoeba. Of course I find this out weeks later when I am back in the Netherlands).
Is this the Zen Condition?
The 40 kilometers before Kaza I cycle without pleasure, without happiness, but also without scourge, I don’t curse nor am I annoyed. I just cycle. Cycle on. It is not fun, and it is not good, while it is not bad either. I develop a more constant pain in my stomach. But yet I over eat. ‘Do eat now, you might regret it later,’ I am encouraged. I can not step over the tiredness. Henrik keeps being patient and kind while I ask myself where he get his energy from? Being at almost 3700 meter I feel slightly less, maybe due to lack of acclimatization. Fact is that I can not revive my energy, I sleep too short nights, I can not think over where I just cycled through or what happened with my mother. There’s no time for reflection, no time for contemplation. I can not write my diary thus insight deficiency seeps in. While we set up camp, although I am of very little assistance, we start to debate about the people we have met. Not surprisingly I am called hippie-alike and escaping real life… Real life? What is real life? All I know for sure is that we are in a haste, and I am doing my best hurtling on in this race.