The ‘Fucking Hippie’ in a hurry through the Himalaya
I am called the hippie when it was clear I like to concentrate on ‘weird’ people, people who have stepped out of their known society and do something different.
Like the airplane pilot who turned his back on his fancy job and now drives an Enfield through India for years. I am curious why he chose a different direction. Or the not unattractive Brazilian guy who’d become a sadhu and dresses in orange, the hard cartilage in his ears thoroughly pierced by large black earrings. He swirls in the dhaba as the only one who is crisp clean and outfitted with a curious blend of friendliness and eagerness. I get to meet a Danish man, also on an Enfield, who had worked for years oversees and can not blend back into Denmark anymore. I got to talk at length with a 30-year young Dutch traveler who’s trying to get a clear view on a turning point in his life. This part of India is full with tourists and travelers, motor-bikers and trekkers.
Dictionary: a person, especially of the late 1960s, who rejected established institutions and values and sought spontaneity, direct personal relations expressing love, and expanded consciousness, often expressed externally in the wearing of casual, folksy clothing and of beads, headbands, used garments, etc.
The word ‘fucking’ was added after Henrik (a friend I’d made while cycling in Iran and who’d come over to cycle through India) had two beer, two too much, at an altitude above 4000 meter. Together with the only other Viking in the vicinity, Rasmus. Those beer had to come by bus from Kaza, a job which took hours and when the beer finally arrived the sun had long ago set, the cold had taken over and both Vikings were seated inside while I was wearing about all the clothes I have with me, including a new bought very hippie-alike garment. The beer was presented warm and foamy. The next morning both Vikings wake up with a massive headache while Rasmus had been throwing up.
Cycling on to Kaza -feeling an inscrutable huge apetite, with stomach pain and having my periods- I did so on peanut cookies laid in a brown sugary coating and the knowledge I am going to have a decent rest. So I eat a double breakfast and then collapse to bed.
Kaza is a welcoming village at 3650 meter, especially for bicyclers. I am truly surprised to see the multicolor of fruit and vegetables. My hair is now half of what it was before and with a juicy mango I hope to restore it miraculously. Unluckily, I still look like an egg, the hair on my scalp is washed-out and has the looks as if I used a whole bottle of conditioner. I prefer to use a scarf to hide it. Walking through Kaza -walking up and down a hundred times a day, me huffing and panting more than the most overweight tourist in town- I notice beards are into fashion among the Israeli and European and American men. I watch an unclipped bearded American guy, who’s doing his laundry on the premises of the guest house where I take a good rest. He’s doing voluntary work in Kaza.
Voluntary work in one of the most happy places of India
The area we are in now, Lahaul and Spiti, are among one of the most content places on earth, if you ask me. The people are living a very low pace of life, there seem to be few goals other than stack up your roof with hay and your cellar with wood: winters are harsh and incredible cold, there’s not much more to do than weave and making ropes from wool. Stress is non-existent: people take an afternoon nap in their restaurant and won’t be bothered by ‘hungry’ tourists. Business insight is far off their minds and men sit together to talk, women come together to knit. Tourist hurry together to buy more and more. Or to use internet which is mostly down to technical problems. Or to eat and drink goods not original from the grounds we’re on. More hotels than tourists sprout up and many of them are managed by little inspired Bihari. Calf are mooing and dogs are barking, till deep in the night. Sunlight shining to the thin glass windows is warming the sturdy, square white houses built from wood and mud where window-frames are decorated by broad strokes black paint. Flags are fluttering at each house as it was a flag parade. Gardens have small vegetables and herb patches. Life might be rough here but seems to be equally relaxed. Yet, here are volunteers from U.S.A. To interrupt this peaceful living. To bring them into contact with tourists so that they can generate money. These people living for centuries their own stable life with herbs and berries and fruit and mutton are now taught by young Americans how to do it different. These people for ages shielded by foreigners and their sometimes rude curiosity are now helped to abysm by volunteers. The tiny villages never seen tourists are now open to traffic and the crumbling gompa’s are now to be seen on photocopies with a bank account ‘please donate so we can restore’. I casually try to ask the locals what they think about it, but no one understood my question…
Niki’s actions proof how authentic and relaxed he is. He is a born Himachali although his looks mistakenly makes me guess he could be from Delhi, to be more exact: to be from a Delhi underground gay community. His eyebrows are picked, his manners are extremely careful and woman-alike. He is so caring I feel an inclination to hug him, as a lady friend, but his backside makes me not to; a large honey-brown crack is showing from beneath his T-shirt and above his very low waist trouser. Was it fashion to show your underwear, now obviously it is fashion to show half your naked butt. I can’t keep my eyes of it, a soft, hairless, baby-like bum. Niki helps me getting a SIM card, a difficulty outside corrupt Delhi. Niki brings me to the Medical Mission where I could be checked for my stomach pains, unfortunately the whole staff is to Leh, where the Dalai Lama is. Niki brings me to a Tibetan doctor, unfortunately again, the man is gone too. This Niki says ‘I am at your service’ while he is not unemployed, he is just extremely relaxed, and genuine helpful.
Kaza is simply relaxed too, quiet and sunny. It is a village where you can sit and drink chai and read a book, nothing more. I leave the next day. My stomach is still upset, but having no diarrhea, I decide to go to Kibber. It holds one of India’s funny ‘best’ or ‘highest’, this time: ‘highest constant inhabitant village reachable by motorable vehicle’. It is India on it’s best, being keen on being an achievement country. Still being tired and not acclimatized, judging by my excessive breathing and panting ánd being tired still -I desperately need a decent rest, and not one whole, full lengthy, complete day- I decide to take a jeep. Is Kibber not the ‘highest constant inhabitant village reachable by motorable vehicle’? Just thinking about cycling makes me tired! A very depressing feeling indeed…
Being in atmospheric Kibber, long before anyone could arrive by bicycle, gives me the imaginary space I needed desperately. I stroll around the hills, have an intense look at the flowers and sit down to watch where I am. I have a meaningful talk with the young Dutch guy and my doubt is vanished soon. I need to get home. In every way…
‘Avoid AIDS. Knowledge is power’ is written on a school
Kibber has the feel of a stagnant cloud in a clear blue sky. Surrounded with bare mountains, Tibetan houses, unmerciful ravines and a mixture of multicolored flowers, the only proof of movement are the road-workers and the many tourists on Enfield motorbikes. Merry donkeys and calves run around, some carry scruffy children on their back, a truckload of workers, all women, cheer and wave, life has to be celebrated. We all sit in the sun and watch Kibber life. I could live here…
Just after the sunlight flashed her rays as a football stadium-light beam into the cheap room, I am quickly up and warmed. With the spears of sunlight engraved in my eyes I stumble down the wooden stairs to the simple toilet outside. Here a constant stream of glacier water flows, a wooden stick is inserted into the tube to prevent overflow. Each time I do something different than sitting, I pant and I gasp, far from being acclimatized -and no chance of getting the possibility- my eyes move carefully over the group of Israeli who are starting their motorbikes. With a chai in my hands, the sun pouring over I watch them in envy… they have energetic Israeli music playing, they look hip, fashionable yet sturdy without being grungy. Perhaps they look hippie -of course I am attracted to them- and the easiness how they travel makes me long for the same, to travel without effort, but with a lot of noise. All I really long for is energy. The boost which cycling present me each day is over.
One of the reasons I went to Kibber is because there is a jula, a wired bridge: the only way to get to the other side of the road. Many previous visit’s to Pakistan I had álways eyed those wire bridges with awe and longing and now, finally, the possibility had arrived to use such an iron wire and tiny vessel to sit in. Danish Rasmus comes with us to help and the other Danish is the first to go over an enormous deep crack between two mountain shafts. We have been consoled by the locals that this bridge is completely safe as long as you keep your hands off the iron wire. My friend goes laden with anxiety while no one is on the other side to pull him in. When he comes to a standstill in the middle of the ravine he sits there in this iron vessel, still like a brooding bird. Then a bunch of female stone-cutters walks in and help him pull in, including the next 3 transports: two bicycles and all the load. Each transport back to where Rasmus and I are standing is loaded with women and children, in such a jolly and nonchalance manner that I can’t wait till my turn. When I am released in this iron vessel over the dazzling depth, it turns out it is not very exciting: it is just a very stable, slow and sturdy way of mountain transport.
Being on the other side of the mountain crack the most wonderful stretch of nature awaits me. Being on the high road at 4250 meter soon have a magnificent view over the whole road and river far far below me. The Tibetan feeling overwhelms me, grass is giving the whole stony scenery a green touch while snow not far away is shining bright. There is no traffic at all and the red, green, yellow and blue faded colors of prayer flags flutter hard in the wind, which is in my back. The mud-color of the fast streaming river hundreds of meter below me, the purple of the tiny flowers hugging the steep mountains, the stark blue of the sky, the dense white of the clouds and snow, together with the blue tubing of my bicycle and purple of my trousers I can not do more than admire where I am. Alas, someone thinks we need to hurry. There’s no time left for sitting and seeing where we are. There is hardly time for photography. It must be my average mileage what bothers my companion most, even on a downhill I am dead slow. The week to come I won’t go over 30 kilometer a day. I just lost it.
When we are having an apetite and searching for a dhaba, though there is none, a woman invite us in her home and she instantly start to make chai and tsampa. Tsampa is made from barley flour, and mixed with fresh home-made butter and chai we are feasting on this most simple -and very filling- food. She showed to be an angel as on the whole route appeared no dhaba, not even passing through two villages. Although the route was less than 30 kilometer I am ravingly longing for food, and equally tired…
Cycling on a downhill is hypnotizing. It is not really cycling but more moving down on a vehicle not meant for the road I am on. Avoiding stones, keeping distance from the edge and trying not to brake on loose gravel, passing an abundance of crayon-colored flowers, the earth beneath me is constant. A permanent flow of gray. Cycling downhill doesn’t go faster for me than uphill, and I am almost as tired from going down as I would be from going up.
Difficulties arise when one has changed to two
I sleep the nights at most wonderful patches of Indian Himalaya. Finally I am in nature, full and deep. Cars won’t pass often, sometimes not at all. Once I am surrounded by hundreds of curious goats, I am being watched by a sheep dog and I cook on cow dung. Make natural fires and gathering wood. This is in the middle of an unspoiled environment with people quite pure and absolutely well intended. Life is basic, and I copy them for some time. I don’t get to wash my self for days on end. This is what I longed for, this is me. But I forgot one very important matter, one which I could not foresee: I am not the traveler anymore, I am not the living being anymore. I am a cycling-tourist on holiday. I am not blaming anyone, fact is that I am not enjoying. My direction is gone by cycling a loop in the mighty Himalaya with a companion. The European mindset which has to do a lot in a certain time-limit is in conflict with the limitless earth wanderer.
‘You can not have everything you want…’
I seriously ask myself why doing this? What is the meaning of cycling like this if nothing is to be extracted from it? Of course, I extract a lot, but don’t see it yet. I see. I do. But I don’t reflect. I feel. I hear. But I don’t soak. I don’t expand. I don’t absorb the life into my body and mind. I just do and I see. I don’t even stretch my body. I wake up tired, I cycle tired and I go to bed tired. I am not asking for hours of meditation nor filling 5 pages in my diary daily. I miss being, simply that. Although I can highly appreciate being in the West, I am not cycling in the Himalaya to get the feel of the West where besides relaxed anonymity and known proceedings and logically arrangements also hastiness and filling-up time are to be felt. We can camp as remote as we do, we can be dirty as we are and we can eat as many strange kinds of grains as we are eating, being far from home; yet the true identity doesn’t stop by stepping over a boundary.
It seems my own balance of being a cycle-nomad in India is collapsed even more by reaching the land where the birds of passage flow. The thin line of balance has been swept hard to one side of the scale. I need to get away from it…
‘Hippie God’ -there must be one in India- ‘Release me from the bomb I am placed on!’
Kunzam La pass is awaiting me. Not being acclimatized, being ‘hungry’ almost all of the time, I lack energy. I have never cycled over anything more than 2500 meter and now the last 400 meter of 4550 meter are to be done. The road is gradual, only in a few places steep. I am pushing the bicycle often. I am not enjoying really but the thought I have outdone myself almost double in altitude makes future cycling less demanding. I hear my companion scolding too: ‘Fuck, it’s even further’ or ‘forhelved‘ many a times.
From Kunzum La at 4450 meter (14.600 feet) without chai-stall down to Basal
The downhill is very steep, with huge stones on the road. High walls of snow are resting lazy beside the road. Would I be a man, I would pee against all of them. I would draw a heart for the shepherds passing, or I would write ‘I love India’, that is, if I had enough pee in my bladder. An endless zigzag road leads me down for hours. There’s less green, yet the stone-colored rocks are stunningly attractive. This is the nature I love to be in, though I praise myself I didn’t start in Basal, I could not have enjoyed it less than I did this day. With a stomach full of air, celebrated by farts and burps, I arrive ravingly plain hungry in Basal. Having cycled 25 kilometer on one decent meal is not much. I am whacked and have long before decided not to do this again.
I can cycle another hundred meters in altitude, I can even cycle around the moon, I can do it all but it has to be done on my own, as this is the only pure motor of transport. My mind is diluted by having to fulfill other demands and wishes, however simple, being social sometimes takes it toll…
One of the last days I never made such a low mileage in so many hours on the road. It’s absolute hardship. Not only that, I regard it as dangerous. When rocks are falling from the mountain, big enough to knock you and the bicycle off the road, into the ravine, I don’t see that as adventurous. It simply doesn’t make sense anymore: cycling. Due to rain -and cutting trees- the slopes start to slide and while that is a matter of sheer luck to be, or not to be, at that unlucky happening, we do have our trouble. I have to pass many little pools. Waterfalls are leading over the roads further down the mountains and each time I have to find the most shallow route. Sometimes I have to change my shoes for boots -I carry cheap Indian rubber boots- although when it is a rainy day I prefer to wade through the meters long waterfall by sandals. The water feels like ice and my feet are immediately capsuled by the cold that they instantly become comfortable warm. While wading through I pass trucks and buses who are stuck in this water-pool, the men trying to fix mechanical issues while other are trowing rocks to get a grip on the back wheels, all the rest is watching us, cheering softly, wishing me good luck. I try to focus on the swirling movements below my feet, stones are moving around my ankles and at times the bicycle get stuck when at the same time water is pushing me. It are little fights against nature, and I am okay with it. Less okay is the truck who’s oncoming on a slippery uphill and the driver his feet pushing a bit extra on the treadle would drag me along but missing me on a hair distance.
While cycling or camping goats bleat in all sounds and tonalities, one like it’s lost, one like it’s sad, another like it’s demented, or insane. Loose sand is impenetrable. Enormous rocks makes it impossible to cycle over it. Water is flowing from the high walls of snow and after another turn in the road my eyes are fixed on yet another high mountain. The mighty Thorung La is melancholic towering in front of me, concealed behind two almost sheer black walls of rock. I need to stop and watch… this high mountain is fairy-like hiding behind low hanging clouds, and that’s where my Himalayan journey will be over.
When I arrive in Chhatru the somewhat uncomfortable feeling of lack of oxygen is over. Being at 3300 meter in a dhaba made out of canvas and rocks is full with young Indians being stuck. Their jeeps can not pass the road we just come from. They are here for days, while once the dhaba in Basal had hosted a large group of tourists for two weeks when snow suddenly blocked everything.
I wake up in a tent, the groundsheet drenched in rainwater. I find a spot to do my toilet activities, clouds full with rain hovering close above me. The only dry place is the dhaba tent, where spots, reminding me of tea, mark the canvas ceiling. I have only 18 kilometers to go… then this trip is over.
Rain and no brake, a real good combination on a downhill!
I pass meters high snow walls, glaciers ogle not far from me and stones keep rolling. Of course, all this restless rushing, however slow we move, has it’s effects on my body -I have ignored the signals a few weeks- and given me heartburn. My fingers are cracked and dotted with callus, my body having muscle pain from pushing. I did not notice it here but my body weight is back to 47 kilograms and I am hauling and pushing and shoving and dragging like I am commander-in-chief of a shipyard. Not surprisingly I am hungry too, and tired, although that has become the standard nowadays. This route is certainly not free of hassle, and being rather dangerous: with huge rocks falling down it is no fun at all. Wisely I am left alone, left alone with my whining, on my own the last 5 kilometers uphill. I eat two peanut-in-sugar-coated cookies, a left over paratha and move on. Not surprisingly I take hours, to photography a few flowers. Late in the afternoon I arrive in Gramphoo, at a stone-cutters camp. Back in India: groups of Bihari men are watching us as if we are a show. I guess we are…
Did I tell you that my back brakes are broken? The tiny screw in the handle appeared to be finished. I have put new brake pads on the front wheel but the road being wet most of the day the pads have no grip, not even when I tighten them extra. Apparantly there’s something wrong with the screw in the brake-handle. The last two days I have walked every downhill, in order not to tip over the edge. And this last day, where I am going over the Thorung La, I have forgotten this little break-down.
My Himalaya tour is finished. Arriving at Gramphoo is arriving at a turn-off, one towards Leh and one towards Manali. I have decided to rush home. My mother’s illness makes me cycle without reason. Although a friend came to meet me in India and although I have work to do for Focus on Education, I think my thoughts are not where I actually am. We say good-bye to an audience of Bihari men mooching about, and I wait for the bus to bring me over the Thorung La, a pass of about 4750 meters.
After an hour, waiting for a bus with an able bicycle next to me, made me decide to start pedaling. I start without food, without water, without a map and without brakes. The ridge I see high above me doesn’t discourage me, I guess it is a 600 meter climb and I can do that. A few kilometers on my way I am halted by police and they tell me it’s about a 15 kilometers climb ‘no, the top you can not see from here, but you can do it, you are a fit lady,’ and I cycle on. Over mud, over rocks, past stone-cutters, through clouds and running waterfall-water. My sunglasses are broken too and hold together with tape, I barely see the surroundings. My feet become cold and I start to get hungry. ‘Why am I doing this, for God sake? Why? Am I not rushing towards my mother? Why do I cycle here on this terrible road?’ Only when I remember my back-brakes are broken and my front is wretched and I have a 50 kilometer downhill awaiting -something I think I can do in one day- I stop in the middle of the road to halt a jeep with an empty roof.
The driver seem to be troubled to ask me money for the ride and only after an hour they agree ‘sorry madam, but is 500 rupees okay for you?’ I only pray he drives safe while I watch the scenery below me. The depth from Thorung La is as in a movie. It’s truly a never ending depth where I can only guess the infinity of it. Sharp monoliths dotted with pine trees, embraced by white softness, feels like saying goodbye to Indian Nature who could not embrace me with it’s wide openness and sky-high fulfillment of a lost nomad daughter.
‘Sir, is the solar panel actually given hot water with this cloudy weather?’
Being in Manali is an antidote. I am showed a room by a curious looking hotel-man who ask me to place my hand on his bald, sweaty head to feel how hot the water from the solar panel is. I know he’s trying to see how far he can go with me in a room where only we are. Fuck off! I arrange everything I need to arrange. Sit on a night bus to Delhi. Arriving in Delhi I cycle to Pahar Ganj, one of the most deep parts of my whole trip -because I am in the core of India, in the heart of being, the mundane pulsation of a human life who resemble India-.
I have a flight back the same evening.’That’s part of life,’ says the calm taxi driver when I tell him why I fly back. His income is lower than a stone-cutter from Bihar. The air is warm. Guys play cricket on the sturdy grass around the airport. I miss India before I leave her…
Two weeks later I find out why I was tired, hungry and sleepy, and why I lost weight and my hair. I find out why I got this strange stomach-ache. Upon arrival in the Netherlands I got sick and had a stool test done -my father went with a little container filled with my stinky mixture to the doctor- That gave me clarity: amoebas.
A little over a month later I am energized again. I nééd to cycle!