Saturday, January 8, 2011

For those of you old enough to recall the move "Stone" you will recall one of the main characters lying gut shot near the end.  He said something like "What a f#*king trip it's been then, eh?"  That's how I feel.  Not gut shot, but what a f#*king trip!

Bhutan is so much nicer than India and Nepal, due to less people and much better roads.  Some of the roads must have been designed by a motorcyclist.  The rest, well, just a series of connected potholes.

We have a had a few issues with ice.  I fell over today at walking pace on a downhill even after seeing several others fall.  It is difficult even getting enough grip to pick up the bikes.  A few days back, we crossed a beautiful little waterfall which crossed the road.  It was also part glacier and part incredibly polished rocks.  After the first few went down, everyone caught up..  Mike Ferris was directing proceedings when he lost his footing and ended up on his derriere.  It was all arms and legs and much hissing and spitting a gnashing of teeth.  To get the picture, think of puttng 8 giraffes on ice skates and just for good measure, about 8 elelphants also.  Then picture them perfoming Disney on ice.

A few days back on a particularly cold day (and THAT is cold here) I saw a bike cop standing on a road on a gorge pass about 50 metres from his bike, in the shade, which is about 10 degrees colder than the sunny parts.  I thought to myself : "Self, there is something wrong here.  Motorcyclist do not stand in the shade here."  I stopped and introduced myself and he pointed out a 4WD at the bottom of a little 400m drop.  It was upside down in about a metre of water.  Not only that, but the guy had been taken to hospital!!!!!!!!!! He somehow survived.  Apparently it had hit a truck and given the distinct lack of guard rails in that particular area, it had been turned into an impromptu aeroplane.  Unfortunately, an aeroplance with a glide slope like a besser block.  It was quite sobering.  Actually they have guard rails in SOME places.  The ones which particularly amuse me are the armco railings about one and a half metres from the ground.  It seems the logic is that motorcycles get to pass right under, car divers get decaptitated and trucks qualify for a few extra scratches before going over the side.

Bhutan is going down hill however.  The strictly contolled tourism is getting out of control.  Expansion is looking ugly.   Bhutan also suffers from the same lack of artisans as India and Nepal.  The build ostensibly 4 and 5 star hotels with the best marble, slate and tiles, but have no idea whatsoever how to get them to drain correctly.  The result is damp and structural issues.  They also have no idea of preventative maintenance and employ what appears to ne 14 year old kids as maintenance people.  It just doesn't work.  I was in  what appeared to be a pretty nice place a few nights ago with beautiful wood finish.  Unfortunately the windows had 3 mm gaps!  Did I mention how cold it was here???????  The place I am in tonight is however, a sit hole.  I have seen better appointed gaol cells.  In fact our prisoners would go on strike over conditions like this.

Another place we stayed was right on a raging river and I mean RAGING.  It was beautiful.  Unfortunately nothing worked.  It took hours to get hot water, then even longer to get heaters that worked.  The average age of the persons running the hotal was about 13.  I'm sure the parents thought that they might just go out for the night and leave the kids in charge.

I also got altitude sickness at only 12,400 feet..  What a whimp.  It was so embarrassing!  I took diamox and curled into the foetal position for a while in the sun.  A quick descent also helped.  An unfortunate side effect of diamox is that for 48 hours, beer tastes like the devil's vomit.   It is nearly enough to make a man give up the grog.

Having said all that, the adventure continues.  The ries are insane with incredibly spectacular scenery.

I've probably forgotten half of what I was going to say, so I aploogise, but I have been having communication problems.  Be kind to me.


Monday, January 3, 2011


Bhutan is an awesome place.  You can actually see the mountains here.  And the sky too! Apart from a little wood smoke, the air is great.   The people are so incredibly happy.  They run around in tartan dressing gowns (sort of like the guy on Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy) and smile continually.  They also have a national sport here which is archery.  In case you haven't come across this, they stand 150 metres apart and fire arrows at their opposite targets.  They seem to treat it like lawn bowls, with skips and a numbering system hanging from their belts, except that instead of watching bowls coming in at 5 kph, the watch arrows coming in at 320pkh and they don't even take cover. Let me make this clear.  They have teams at both ends as the arrows launch in!   One of the  arenas was next to (and I mean next to) the main road.  I stopped and saw another in town today in Paro.  The spectators sit on benches right next to the arena and watch it like a footy match.  Someone hits the target and the team get up and do an song a dance.

The list of things you can do in the sub-continent I may have mentioned before which would get you in deep shit in Australia included spitting in public, piddling in public, breaking every traffic law, dangerous driving and taking photos of kids.  Well, now you can add obscene graffiti.  Every second house has a very large, or two very large penises emblazoned upon them.  Up to a metre long.  In fact we stopped at a house for rent and saw a small gazebo in the front yard which had a one metre long wooden penis mounted on a brick stand.  Our official camera man got some footage of another one of our number about to lean on said penis, when it fell from its stand.  Sight and sound were both recorded, including expletives.  It will be interesting to see what makes the cut.  But as it is anticipated that it will air on SBS or ABC, it may well be uncut.  Tears flowed down most of the group as they rolled about in laughter.  Anyway it is supposed to signify fertility, good luck and strength, and is perfectly acceptable.
Pretty relaxing day today as I didn't go up to Tiger's Nest.  Tomorrow into Thimpu, the capital.

Stay tuned. 

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Darjeeling, Photshuling, Paro.

Well, it had to happen.  Well ,several things had to actually.  Firstly the weather closed in on Darjeeling and on New Years Eve the place got a pizzling.  Very very wet.  Didn't stop my little Muslim friend at 4.00 am though.  The road up out of Darjeeling over the endless rail crossings was very very treacherous.  At one stage I looked in the rear view mirror and saw someone on a bike step off in spectacular fashion.  Turned out to be a local, but they seem to regard this as normal(?)
The trip the down from Darjeeling was, to quote the deep thinkers, well actually, even they couldn't describe it.  The fog set in and for 30 odd k's down it was alternately brilliant sunshine and then navigating from the edge of the road.  Seriously, 3 to 5 meters visibility, thumb constantly on the horn (more so than usual).  The rain the night before had stripped most of the leaves and deposited them as a wet slippery carpet to herald our passing by and the whole deal was liberally bedaubed in a lovely coat of 50,000 litres of diesel fuel, giving the whole road a fetching shimmer of the spectacular blues and purples. 
The next inevitable thing was Derek's demise.  Past the bottom of the descent and on a greasy, muddy, off camber downhill, I came upon a parked truck.  There were two 4 WDs coming towards me.  At the last moment they decided they needed my side of the road more than me.  The result, as I said was inevitable.  Don behind me saw it all unfold and reckoned I took the right option of trying to stop behind the truck.  He may even have it on camera.  Anyway, I held a front wheel lock up to about 10 kph when it finally tucked under and deposited me on to the road way.  The pricks never even stopped.  To get the picture, imagine a coked up pelican coming in to land and he hits his toes first instead of his heels.  I'd love to say I was elegant but think about the pelican and you will know otherwise.   No damage to me and minor to the bike, which, by the way has not broken down since day three.

The ride into Potshuling, the border of Bhutan was a typical Indian fiasco.   We arrived expecting a "fixer" to get us to our hotel on the Bhutan side of the border and fix up immigration in the morning.  No such luck.  Rush hour and bureaucracy to burn.  Back through the knot of traffic to the Indian office to get permission to leave and back to the border for the same mind numbing stupidity.  To get an idea of this border town at rush hour, think about taking your full wheely bin and upending it into a small cooking funnel.  I think that would adequately cover it.

Potshuling to Paro today.  Some of the best and worst roads on the entire planet.  There is 95 % less traffic here and strangely enough, even the animals are better behaved.  With one exception though.  I took a really wide path around a cow which was kicking and bucking and cutting figure of eights around some guide posts.  It was like a rodeo bull on LSD.  Any way the hotel here is great.  It has hot water and a heater (it is about 3 degrees outside and 4 degrees in the internet room.)  The staff after dinner put on an impromptu song and dance fest which was most excellent.  We have a lay day here tomorrow during which time those who should be fitted with the canvass sports coat which ties at the back will be climbing to Tiger's Nest.  Look it up on Google and tell me I'm wrong for wanting to put my feet up.

Staye tuned.


Friday, December 31, 2010

Just me again guys, nerding it up on the blog.   Another loooooong day.  You see, my Muslim friend who has been following me all over the sub continent cranked up AGAIN at 4.00am, with some demented Christmas Carol.  OK, maybe it's not the same guy, but they have to be related.  He seems compelled to make sure everyone is awake at 4.00pm.  He goes on for a few minutes and eventually I can get back to sleep for a while.  But only for a while.  He logs back on at 5.00am and does an encore performance.  Maybe he could be persuaded to get a gig in Les Miserables or something, in another continent!  Oh, and in Darjeeling, he tag teams with a clock tower, which chimes in at - you guessed it - 6.00am.  Maybe I'm just a grumpy old man.  Maybe.........

Went ot the Darjeeling Zoo today.  Bit of a let down. The Mountaineering Institute is contained within it and it's reasonably interesting.  They seem to have claimed Tensing Norge as their own.  I'm sure he was actually Nepali, not Indian, but I could be mistaken.  Sort of like all the New Zealanders we claim who make it big in Hollywood?

The hotel seems to be gearing up for a big night, but I am thinking I might try to avoid this due to a proposed early (read - also cold) start in the morning.  Bhutan tomorrow, if we can convince the Indian authorities to let us leave.  Actually there are still 6 of our number who will have to visit the Indian Embassy in the Bhutan capital of Thimpu, because they STILL haven't sorted out their visas for getting back out of Bhutan and back into India for the last time (to get the flight home).  Hmmmmmm.


Thursday, December 30, 2010

The rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated. You probably recognise the quote and how very apt.  It has taken a few days to get back to anywhere with enough semblance of order to provide (reliable) internet.  If you could call Darjeeling in any way orderly that is.  It is pasted to the side of several vertical drops of many thousands of feet, and a few arms and legs too I think.

Since the last time I popped my head up, we left Matt Can Do in a 5 k log jam of trucks and buses which took about two hours to negotiate.  Yep, count the seconds.  Count the lung damage.  This was followed by a 50 k up hill and 50 k down hill which took the rest of the day.  Bent doesn't seem to describe the road adequately.  There is even a town on it called 11 bends Kitana.  Just for amusement, our intrepid leader Mike Ferris was tootling along in front of me on said 5,000 foot mole hill, uphill in a straight line when he decided to lie down for a little rest.  He was mightly enraged with himself because he hasn't crashed for 7 years.  Explanation: black ice.  During the traverse we had 5 guys crash 7 times.  Scary doesn't even come close.  No major injuries. People always say to be careful of black ice.  I'd like them to explain how that actually works, becuase so far no one has a strategy to deal with it, no matter how "careful" they are.

Two days ago one of our number nailed a little girl on a pushie who decided to cross the "highway" without looking.  The ensuing melee was not pretty.  Same day we saw a local motorbike rider nail a pedestrian.  Are we beginning to see a pattern here?  Today one of ours slipped off on an off camber wet downhill bend, once again unharmed.  One crashed crossing the rail lines from the "Toy Train" which still inhabits these environs.  It was cool and damp and very very oily.  It was almost inevitable.

The ascent of the mountain to Darjeeling was the best ride yet, helped in no short measure by tha fact that I think I am finally well again.  No headache, earache, toothache, temperatures, aches and pains and after 11 days, no more blood in my snot!  The main road up was suffering from the usual landslides so we has to seek and alternate route.  Yeah, I know, I had visions of 150 k of boulders, but it was better than the main route to the extent that Mike Ferris will be bringing his future clients that way.  And almost NO traffic.

Some sanity has returned however upon arriving at the beautiful Elgin Hotel in Darjeeling.  Everything seems to work!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  It is a really old colonial building owned by the son of some big international hotel group.  It is painted, varnished, waxed, polished and scrubbed within an inch of its life.  It has award winning gardens ans a multitude of dogs belonging to the owner, including two Samoyeds and a Sydney Silky.  The staff have received training and it is not, repeat NOT falling down.  It is in stark contrast to the rest of Darjeeling.

If I can just stay well, happy days.

Oh, and the bike hasn't broken down since day three!


Sunday, December 26, 2010

Hey guys,
a bit more of a sane day today.  Took a trip in an aircraft along the line of the Himalayas.  Makes you feel small.  The captain even calls you up to the cockpit to get a wider view.  The airport was a riot though.  It was just the domestic terminal.  To get in was the walk through scanner and the wand check.  To get to the "departure lounge" involved a pat down search.  To get out of the terminal to the shuttle bus was yet another pat down search.  I suppose it keeps people employed though.
Most of our number have been struck with varying degrees of the squirts.  Some have been laid up for the day.  I should count my self lucky to only be still struggling with the man flu.


Saturday, December 25, 2010

Do not attempt to adjust your TV.  Your are about to enter a world of sights and sounds the likes of which you have never seen  before.  You are about to enter - the Twilight Zone.

For those of you old enough to remember the Twilight Zone series, feel free to correct my wording, but I hope I have conveyed the feeling. 

I have to keep harking back to the roads and traffic, which occupies a lot of my attention.  One minute you are bopping along a gorge road, grooving with the twisty bits and getting off on the scenery and next, you are caught in a knot of Tata trucks and buses, speed 1/2 kph, belching masses of diesel fumes, all trying to get past each other at some problem.  Sometimes its a landslide, or the road has gone missing, or a series of potholes big enough to lose the HMAS Melbourne in, or even another Tata broken down on a blind bend with the people underneath it pulling out the differential.  The also have an interesting way of signfiying a breadown.  They rip off a branch of a tree and adorn the side of the trucks with bits of the branch.  They then lay down rocks around the truck. Hmmm.

Saw the remnants of a recent crash too.  A truck with a full load of sand headbutted a Tata bus.  They had bounced back off each other by at leat 4 to 5 meteres.  Must have been a hell of a hit.

It seems that half their traffic problems arise from the huge disparity in speed.  They have no concept of footpaths, so everyone uses the road.  If they didn't push on hard and instead waited patiently in line, the maximum progress made would be that speed set by a heavily laden bicycle (HEAVILY).  And that's never gonna work.  Example:  after leaving Delhi, we hit about 15 k's of dual carriageway (yep, you heard right).  So I'm bopping along at about 95, when I come over a rise and find an ox cart making its way up the right hand lane.  Yeahhhhh...  A k or so later and two trucks come the wrong side of the median strip towards me (yes, on my side).  At least they had the decency to be line astern.

Anyway, we all arrived safely at the hotel in Matt Can Do.  Mind you, some of us got just a little bit lost. This is a crazy, crazy place.  I think Mike Myers used the term :"intensity in ten cities".  I was amused by the immaculately turned out Policeman with the white hat and mask standing in the middle of a knotted intersection, really just making up the numbers, because no one was paying him much attention.   It is a huge place, no high rise, just about a maximum of 7 stories of bricks piled randomly on top of one another.   Think Hiroshima the day the Enola Gay delivered a 20 kiloton care package from their American friends.

No break downs for my bike for two days straight.  Woohoo!

We are off for a flight over Everest tomorrow.  Looking forward to that.  My goal is to be over the man flu by tomorrow.  Here's hoping.

Same as before.  I'm too tired to check the spelling and grammar.