Tag Archives: Adventure

Himalayan Ballbuster

It was supposed to be a leisurely ride through the valley. ‘I just want to rent a bike for a few days and ride around’, I told Godwin.

Godwin had plans of his own, running in his head from way before. Godwin and Snehal are the amazing couple running ‘Ride Inn’ at Shanag Valley, 6 km north of Manali. A gorgeous place with probably the best food I’ve eaten while at Manali. Also the  best view, and the cutest dog Luka.

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View from Ride Inn

‘Let’s do Pangi Valley and Sach Pass, you’ll love it’, Godwin said. I heard ‘valley’ and ‘pass’ and got excited. What i didn’t know was that since he, a regular rider, hadn’t been on the road for over a year, he was already pushing the limits in his head.

I’m not a biker really. I don’t like groups. I don’t like following others’ plans. I don’t even like bikers much. They talk about pistons and cranks and rods and shafts and *yawwwwn*. But since this was Godwin and Snehal leading the way, I had no problems at all. Digvij and Bhuwan, two of their friends, were coming in from Rajasthan, and we’d join them on their way through to Pangi Valley. And those two turned out to be super fun.

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Godwin & Snehal

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Leisurely ride, I thought. So I booked myself a nice 500cc classic. A tad expensive, as is the norm renting bikes in Manali (Rs.1200 – 1500 a day).

The rule was Godwin & Snehal rode up front, me second, then Digvij, and finally Bhuwan – the most experienced one to keep a watch on us.

This should be fun, I thought.

It was, for the first two hours…

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The ‘leisurely’ bit

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Day 1 brought that easy ride to a shattering demise. It took us 9 hours to get across 190km, from Manali to Tindi. In my head, before we started, I was all ‘hmmm, that’s about the distance from Bombay to Poona, should take us about 5 hours…’

Bullshit.

Not when there’s NO ROAD. No kidding. The road disappeared after the first 40 km or so. Then there was only mud and rocks. Boulders and water crossings from glaciers melting above, foxes, and roads that you shouldn’t look over if you have a fear of heights. Up until Rohtang pass (50 km from Manali), everything was nice and reminiscent of a romantic scene in a Ryan Gosling movie.

After that it was all downhill, literally. Your ass hurts, of course, from the constant bump and grind on hard rocks. But readjusting your balls every 10 mins inside the boxers you wear, while using just the other hand to balance a 200 kilo bike on rocks and boulders, is a bit tough. Life lesson: never wear boxers to a long and treacherous bike ride.

Around 5 pm after i bounced over some 200 rocks and boulders, I turned to Godwin and asked him ‘how much longer is the road like this??’

‘Why do you ask so many questions, just ride man!’

That was it. I was trapped. If one question got that response, no more questions.

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Resting it out at the Forest Dept Villa…

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…wondering WTF I got myself into

At night, after Bhuwan had hustled our stay at the forest department’s guest house, we rested our respective arses. They had old monk for company, and as always – the spirits bring out the funnies in people. And Digvij went on to tell us how, from behind me, he had a field day watching me ride.

According to him, I was either faster than a bullet, or slower than a snail. No in-between. Sometimes I was so slow, he thought I was stopping, and he’d imagine I was taking a break to pee, so he would too… and as soon as he stopped and got off, I was speeding like that bullet again. I didn’t even know this was happening. I don’t know what was going on in my mind. Just survival, I guess.

Next morning we were up, post some chai and parathas, on our way again. If day 1 was hard, day 2 was US army torture in Iraq. It took us 11 hours to cross 137 kilometers.

Let that settle in. Add to that the cold. Early October, season’s almost down cos of snow. Yeah, its freezing cold. By the time you end the day, your wrists, fingers, ankles, legs, face, everything’s numb. Even with gloves and innerwear and jacket on.

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Ummm, road block! *BEEP BEEP*

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And in case I forgot to mention earlier, this terrain that we started off, can be seen on youtube under some of the videos that say ‘world’s most dangerous roads’

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Bhuwan & Digvij playing Dark Knights

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Landslide

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Now ain’t that BREATHTAKING

One landslide delayed our progress by about 30 minutes. Chairi was our lunch stop. There’s not many options for food in these places apart from dal-rice-chapatis, parathas and maggi.

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Waterfalls from glacier melt. Quite a few on this stretch.

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Sometimes the manoeuvring is VERY tricky, that river is upto 3 ft deep

Just before sunset, Digvij’s thunderbird breaking down was our big worry. The bike just wouldn’t climb the steep slopes anymore. And these heavy ass bikes have a mind of their own once they’re on a sharp angle. The number of times I just let the bike lay on the ground instead of bothering to pick it up was quite a bit. Digvij was in two minds to head back. But our peak was only 20 km ahead now. So we worked on constructive thinking. And Godwin, the champ that he is, just pulled out the bike’s air filter, and voila, it was all good again!

I learnt a few things about riding through glacier melt this same day. Snehal taught me a few things about staying steady and keeping your legs down. Cos I was treating it like a theme park ride. Legs up in the air and WHEEEEEE splashing water. But one rock under the water, slipping, could be the end of the ride. For the bike. And the rider. So the next time I almost fell in the icy water, I simply jumped off and let Godwin rescue the bike.

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Sach Pass, our peak.

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After reaching our highest peak, which was Sach Pass at 4440m, at sunset, we had to get to the next guesthouse before dark. My bright idea was to turn the bike into neutral and let it glide down the mountain.

IT WAS THE MOST EXHILARATING SHIT I’VE EVER DONE ON A BIKE.

It was pitch black by then in the mountains, moonless night. And the narrow beam of the headlight was all I could see ahead. Everything else around, black. The speed I had managed to pull with gravity alone was ridiculous. And I’m grateful to the foxes and dogs that did not run across my path. It’s not too good for the bike though, this neutral gliding thing. But there’s some things you can do on a rented bike…

It was almost 9 pm when we reached satroondi checkpost – which is a heavily guarded point because of its proximity to the Pakistan border, and history of militants coming in from the same. Shortly after that, we were at Bhairagadh – and cozily settled into ‘Mannat Guest House’. There’s nothing more rewarding than a pillow for the bum after a whole day of riding on rocks. These guesthouses we lived in were all in the range of 200-400 rupees a night. And the forest department houses are pretty cute too.

Day 3 was the calm after the storm. Also the easiest day for my bum to handle. Flat roads again, and despite another 11 hours, we managed 255 kilometers. We halted in Chamba for lunch at Zaika Dhaba, and bike corrections for Digvij. The ride from Bhairagad to Chamba was a beautiful one through the forest. Our boys from Rajasthan split here at Chamba, so it was eventually Godwin, Snehal and me heading back to Manali. There was still 2 more days to complete though.

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Chamba to Dharamshala and eventually Bagsu was our final stint for day 3. Bagsu is right below Dharamkot, where unbeknownst to me, I was going to lose my heart a week later.

Day 4

Godwin & Snehal decided to stay at Bagsu a day or two. And since I had to return to manali to give back the bike, and catch a bus to Dharamsala and eventually get to Dharamkot to attend my retreat, I spent the final day solo. 10 am kick off from Bagsu, through Dhauladhar tea estates, where I stopped for some awesome green tea and juice, and then moved on to Mandi where I had a massive lunch of dal, chappatis, and you-guessed-it, parathas.

I was getting to Manali just around sundown. That’s when the Aut tunnel threat happened. Within the helmet was my sunglasses, which I should have taken off before the tunnel. But I didn’t think of the consequences. As soon as I got into that tunnel, everything was pitch black. And this is a tunnel that runs about 4km. Imagine riding 4km BLIND. I’m half-blind after sundown anyway. Old issue. Add to that, sunglasses that I cant remove mid-ride, because I have fat gloves on. I cant stop cos I cant see the side of the road, and there’s no way one can really stop in a tunnel. There’s a sinking feeling in your stomach. There’s panic, there’s also prayers. And you hope the one guy you’ve been ignoring all your life will somehow get you through this. HA! Eventually, the glare of oncoming traffic, which I usually cant tolerate, saved me.

It’s just I have a history with tunnels.

This here is Aut tunnel (via youtube) – but doing the same thing like The Terminator is a different story.

As soon as I got out of the tunnel, I stopped at a quiet little tea stall, and reflected on life.

For a first ride, this was the hardest, and the most gorgeous ever. Would i attempt it again? Hell yeah! If it wasn’t for Godwin, this wouldn’t have happened, so i’m glad he got me into this ‘easy ride’. You learn a lot of things about yourself on the road.

Survivalism is just one of them.

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Jaywalker

The day after my Machu Picchu trek, instead of a $70 train ticket, I decided to walk the forty kilometres from Aguas Calientes to Ollantaytambo. All i had to do was stick to the rail tracks and step off them when the trains passed by. Which was easy, except for one occasion where i found myself halfway through a tunnel and a train coming at me from the opposite side.

I started the day with a massive breakfast of yogurt and fruit from the local market, got back to my hotel and packed. The queues for Machu Picchu tickets and the trains were already bustling. Any place with a huge number of tourists gets me edgy so i was no mood to stay longer. Twenty four hours ago i had experienced one of the greatest trips of my life and was not going to kill that with selfie addicts around me.

Without any further delay, i started my walk towards Ollanta at 10 am, deciding to stop only every 3 hours for a bite. I had walked quite a bit this entire trip and was sure my legs would work the forty odd kilometres with no trouble. The weather was gorgeous too. The clouds were still weaving in and out at great speeds like waves mixed with clear white smoke. Either that or the LSD i took the previous day at Machu Picchu was still kicking*.

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About three hours in, i faced my first bunch of assholes on the path. Now Peruvian dogs are usually nice, but the ones that are not too used to people are a bit rough. Add to that a person with long hair and a backpack, the dogs think you’re out to harm their sweet old owners. Usually i hear these dogs from a distance and i’m prepared to scare them away. But this one time, it was Nine Inch Nails playing on the headphones. Hence, i didn’t hear the pack of dogs coming for me. By the time i realized, two of them had sunk their teeth into my right calf and ankle. The pain, intense. I have loved dogs all my life, and these bastards probably just gave me rabies. I kicked one in the face with my free leg, and then picked up two rocks and hurled with all my rage. Of course i missed completely. That’s usually what happens when you take a swing and you’re full of rage. I shouted a few abuses in English, Spanish, and Hindi, just to make sure they got the point, and hobbled away. I could feel the blood trickle down my leg. But at this point, there was nothing else to do but tie a knot, and keep walking. There were no docs for the next 6 hours. No train was going to stop for me here. And going back to town was out of question. So i shoved the headphones back into my ears, and kept walking. A few more packs of dogs did show interest in me during the rest of this trip, but i barked back even louder.

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Tunnels are funny. There’s no alternate path to bypass a tunnel, yet they always have boards saying ‘DO NOT WALK THROUGH THE TUNNEL’. I always wondered what the worst could be, every time i walked through a tunnel. This was the day i would see for myself. The longest tunnel i came across was around 100 m. And again, the headphones were on. Funny thing in a tunnel is, with the headphones on, if you have Rage Against The Machine playing, you don’t notice the rumbling under your feet ‘coz hey that’s how Morello kills it’, and you can barely hear anything else. Even the horn of the train coming from up ahead. I saw the headlights hit the walls at the curve about twenty metres ahead. I froze, and pulled my headphones out. I don’t want to call it fear but the kinda feeling that tightens your asshole, stomach, heart and jaws all at once hit me. Yup, this one was coming fast. I looked at the walls on either side, there was not enough space to tuck myself into, to let the train pass. I turned on my heels, and ran for my life. The honks got frantic cos now the train driver could see a maniac running on the tracks.

‘Look at this idiota. Came to commit suicide and now he’s changed his mind and I’ll be the one writing a report of why there’s blood under the train.’

I didn’t turn around to look how close it got, i just ran. Which is not easy when you have 15 kilos on your back. I could see a little spot to jump into, right where the tunnel started, and i knew that was the escape. By now the ground beneath my feet was shaking hard. And i just kept telling myself ‘PLEEEASE, don’t trip, PLEEEASE‘. The dog bite pain seemed so irrelevant at this point.

A last breath lunge got me off the tracks and i stuck myself to the wall, hands spread out like Jesus on the cross. Ten inches from my face, the train rushed by. Train driver gesticulating with his hand and probably shouting ‘PUTA MAAADRE’. Tourists looking out at me, sweaty and panting and wide eyed and thanking my stars and posing like the Saviour.

I managed to take a pic while still stuck out on the wall. You can tell my hands are not very steady.

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You can also see how fancy these trains are. I’d have hated to be responsible for blood stains on that gold and blue upholstery.

Enough of adrenaline rushes, I packed the headphones into my bag, munched on a banana to renew the energy I’d spent on that life-saving sprint, and got on with the walk. This time just singing to myself.

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Between ten to fifteen more trains passed. Sometimes i got off the tracks and walked through the hills and the valley and the river bank, where i would keep re-filling my bottle of water. Barely met a soul the entire time except for an old lady tending to her cornfields. And the loco dogs.

By 5 pm I was walking like a zombie. My granola bars were over. Bananas were finito. My legs hurt like hell, but i still had a further 15 km to cover. I gave myself two hours for this. Knowing only later that the last 8 km was uphill. It was 7:30 pm when i finally got into Ollantaytambo, hobbling into town like an escaped convict. I finished my excursion just like i had started it 3 days earlier, with an amazing veggie Pizza and the Peruanisimo (a MUST) from Quinoa Pizzeria. Content with my own fitness levels that day, I hit a local town party and then slept through the next twenty four hours. When I woke up, my legs were screaming ‘bitchface you should’ve just taken the train’.

In my next post I’ll tell you about Kinsakocha, a series of pristine isolated lakes at 4000m, where i eventually threw my phone into the water.

*I’m writing a book about that story, out soon.

If you like my posts, you can show some love over at johnnybizzle.bandcamp.com – pay what you want and pick up my remixes/tunes.


Gracias

I’m finally home. And while I sit and figure out what to do with life next, i thought i’d first send across my love and gratitude to the people who’ve come my way during the last one year. People who made me feel at home at every step of the way. Sisters and Brothers across South America, i love you and i can’t thank you enough for the food, the homes, the music, the love, the warmth, the humility, the magical ceremonies, the new tattoos… Whenever you come to my country, you will always have a home, a tour guide, and a funky new chef.

So starting with Rio de Janeiro, Ilha Grande, Paraty, Sao Paolo in Brazil, to Santa Cruz & La Paz in Bolivia, to Puno, The Sacred Valley, Cuzco, Ica, San Jose, Lima, Huaraz, Mancora, Tarapoto, San Antonio, Piura, Arequipa, Iquitos and San Roque in Peru, to Monta in Ecuador, and finally Medellin and Bogota in Colombia, I’d like to thank every soul i met and spent time with.

I’d take names but that would be way too long and unfair on the people whose names have slipped my mind at this particular moment. You already know about my memory blanks.

This is what my bro Rajat made to commemorate this entire chapter of my life. There’ll probably be some stickers out soon.

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#johnnybinsouthamerica   

Gracias South America. Gracias para todo.

If you’ve liked my posts, show me love with hugs and/or donations over at johnnybizzle.bandcamp.com; also pick up free tunes while you’re there.


Jump

I had 2 days to kill in Cusco. All i knew about this place before the visit, was that a Disney movie was based there, and Ayahuasca shamans were plenty. So i spent a day visiting one such doc (details of which will have to wait for another post) and the other, i booked myself to jump off a 150m peak with an elastic rope tied to my ankles.

It’s here that i should tell you, that i’ve had a love-hate relationship with heights since i was a kid. I’ve broken both my ankles jumping off heights i shouldn’t have. I blame drugs for that, and that again, is another story. But i’ve always asked myself this, and you should too –

are you afraid of heights, or are you scared you might jump?

The latter is my problem. There’s an intense headrush just imagining it, no matter how stupid.

So i walked into the office of ‘Cusco Adventure Park’, just off the main town square, and booked the jump, and in a few minutes i was off on a one hour ride, to the place they have the second highest bungee jump in the world. I tried not to think of it through the ride, which is not easy. And kept wondering if the rope would snap and I’d die. Only positive being, it would be so quick, I’d barely feel  the pain, i’d be fine. The park owner convinced me he’d registered over 10000 jumps and nobody died. ‘But, you never know!’, he added. The son of a bitch.

Now Cusco is a beautiful land. Untouched, unpolluted by big corporations, and the people are lovely. This was the only thing i had to take my mind off the free-fall.

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Upon reaching there, there was a girl already on the way up to the top. Only one at a time. And i tried to look away from her. I saw a football and aimed some practice shots at the goal. None of them went in. So i looked away again and started playing with the pet dog the people there kept. ‘Boyo’, his name was. The most gorgeous rottweiler I’ve seen.

WP_20140612_051Who am i kidding, how long am i going to distract myself from the jump?

I look to the side and i see THIS.

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It was time, the girl was done, she was walking my way. The people called me over. In 10 minutes, they were done with strapping me up, weighing me (which i took offence to), getting my signature saying it’s not their fault if I die, keeping all my belongings aside. That stupid ad where a dude holds his phone and records his own jump, is bullshit. Not even a loose coin is allowed up that crane. Hell, not even your shoes.

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Carzon was the dude inside the crane. He had 3 words of advice as soon as i stepped in it.

‘Don’t look down’.

This was hard too, considering the climb up was a good 4-5 minutes. Keeping your eyes straight up, and not look down, is harder than you think, for that long. He made small talk. Asking ‘how you want to go?’, which was kinda mafia-like, i thought. ‘I mean, do you want to jump backwards, or forward?’

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I still remember when the crane came to a halt and the door opened. Carzon told me to step out to the edge.

HOW THE FUCK ARE YOU SUPPOSED TO REACH THE EDGE WITHOUT LOOKING DOWN?!?!?

I took baby steps. Heck, even a baby took bigger steps than mine. The rope around my ankles felt like a tonne. I reached the edge. I shut my eyes. I remember moving ahead, fraction of an inch, till there was nothing below my foot, and i tipped over.

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The RUSH.

OH MY GOD, the rush.

The brain felt like it shrank, and then exploded, along with my b***s.

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Yup, the pics are blurry cos the zoom is at maximum.

I didn’t scream. I didn’t make a noise. I got through the fall with just a whisper of one, single, ‘FAACK’.

In fact it took a while after the whole thing for me to even say a word. The girl who jumped earlier was waiting for me cos it was the same cab taking us back to the city. She said ‘you ok? For a first, that was a quick jump. I’ve seen people take over 20 minutes up there.’ Suddenly i was real proud of myself.

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Of course, you have to experience it for yourself. That is pretty much the conclusion of my entire 45 days in South America. I’m gonna find some more jumps to add to the list.