Rob: If you have noticed a gap in our posts there a few reasons. As I write, we have been riding for the last 14 days and all is well. We have been writing a lot, eating everything in sight, drinking very good and very bad apple moonshine, visiting unbelievable Temples and making great new friends. The GoPro is full of amazing videos of the ride and Lacy has hundreds of pictures to sort through. For much of the time recently we have been without any reliable connectivity to our phone data or any WiFi. We are so far up in the mountains now that no phone service or WiFi is a normal way of life even in larger villages.
We did have a small motorcycle incident in Sangla in May 20th that sidetracked us for 11 days. We had been riding without a rear brake on the bike for the previous 3 days searching for a mechanic and available part. Each village we came to seemed to send us to the next. As we were set to leave Sangla we ventured down a little side road that was mostly paved but very steep and covered with sand. As we began to slide with the front brake locked up and beginning to gain speed, I choose to edge the bike into a brush and rock retaining wall versus continue to slide down or worse slide to the right which was a sheer drop off. The bike came out of the slide just fine, but Lacy and I both got twin skinned elbows and knees from the wall. My foot, however was pinched and badly sprained. It was immediately very painful having effected the same leg I had broken this last winter and is still in the process of healing. We received help from four amazing guys who lived below where we went down. They took me for X-rays at the local clinic, helped us get the bike off the slope and it and our gear to a hotel which all really helped lessen the blow from what was a small nightmare. Eleven days of our trip down the drain waiting for me to heal enough to ride. At least I had a pretty amazing view from our hotel window. The two young guys who seemingly worked 24 hours a day at the Hotel Prakash fed me lots of hot coffee and sweet yogurt Lassis. Lacy was my true hero by keeping my spirits up, letting me win at cards, following along as I watched old Storage Wars reruns and braving the stares at the local market to bring us home cooked food from the woman she made friends with in town, beers, sweets and even new matching comfy sweatpants. She made a shitty and painful situation bearable.
Lacy: Sangla, a valley nestled between towering Himalayan mountains and situated at an elevation of 8,900ft is a lovely place to spend an extended period of time. Riding on the motorcycle is an adventure all to itself here in India, but sometimes I long to stretch my legs and venture deeper into the scenery I am whizzing past. Fortunately, I was able to find a guide who was between multi-day hikes and would be able to accompany me into higher elevation. Rob and I agreed that he was going to need several days if not longer to heal and I should take advantage of the down time to hike while he rested. Trying to make the best of a shitty situation. We met at Hotel Prakash early in the morning, where Rob and I had practically moved into, before walking to the market where we purchased food for the journey. I have definitely taken notice when hiking with guides in Asia that there is far less emphasis on carrying lightweight food or gear. We are bringing a porter who will carry some of the food, along with Sadish, my guide. At home, when Rob and I venture on long distance hikes we are always extremely conscious of every ounce we put in our pack, food included, as we need to carry every little bit on our backs for days on end. For a two day hike I would easily eat energy bars, sandwiches and fruit, but didn’t complain that I was cooked hot meals with warm tea all over a heavy portable gas burning stove during this Himalayan hike. All part of a different experience.
From the market we began our ascent to Sangla Kanda which is an agricultural area above the village that is used during the summer. In winter there is far too much snow to live there comfortably. It was a beautiful walk through the village noticing the architecture of the homes and temples. Bittersweet it was as I wanted to share all of this with Rob. I knew he would appreciate every little thing right along with me, but was happy that I could go and come back and recount my adventures to him. I tried my hardest to remember all the things I saw along the way. After hiking several hours through apple, apricot and almond trees we set up camp in a meadow near a herd of cows that overlooked the lake and the snow covered mountains we would climb into the next morning to reach Rupin Pass.
Before dinner I was privilege to a superb view of the entire Sangla valley encompassing 15 villages, including where Rob resided and would later hear all about the yak, sheep, wild irises and strawberries, dwarf juniper and rhododendrons I had committed to memory for him. The temperature dropped that evening and I curled myself up tight in the sleeping bag to stay warm before waking at 5am to begin a full day hike at 6:30. It was another stunningly gorgeous Himalayan morning with blue skies and twittering birds. Shaking my sleepiness off, I came alive as I climbed the mountain and by the time we began to cross snowy paths I was fully alert. And it’s a good thing I was because this new terrain was challenging me. I haven’t had a ton of experience hiking in the snow. Mostly in the Sierras during our 2017 Pacific Crest Trail hike and I used crampons then. Now I just had the grip of my Salomon hiking shoes and a lot of expertise guidance from Sadish. In the beginning, my nerves were getting to me as we traversed snowy patches across steep drop-offs. I have slipped down snowbanks before and tried to push those thoughts out of my head and confidently move forward feeling safe as I hiked.
The snow was taking a toll on my legs and making them more tired than they would be normally. After taking a break we hiked straight up the side of a snowy mountain. This really pushed me. I had only ever done something like this with crampons and certainly didn’t have the skills to feel confident about this ascent. Sadish was an excellent guide and taught me a technique to duck-walk up the mountain in just my shoes. Being a novice, this was still a difficult task for me to succeed in and eventually he pounded each step into the snow for me to follow behind him and held my hand (upon my nervous request) as we climbed up the snowy side. When we reached the top I dropped my pack, looked down from where we came and marveled at the fact that I was on the top side of the ridge. Wow. We continued forward toward Rupin Pass at 15,250 ft., but as it was beginning to snow and my pace was not nearly as quick in the snow we opted to only go as far as Base Camp.
Sitting on a rock I watched other hikers come down from the Pass as I ate a buckwheat pancake and rested for the return to camp. Fortunately, I was feeling much more confident crossing the snow on the way back. Increased confidence, heading downhill v. up and being able to glissade (slide on my butt) down the same slope Sadish held my hand to climb up earlier made the return a little quicker. The snow, however, turned into rain and we were rather wet by the time we reached camp. Quickly packing up the tents we completed our hike back down to Sangla with the skies eventually clearing. Returning to the hotel at 6pm I rid myself of the sweaty, muddy clothes I donned the previous two days for my reward of a big fat smooch from Rob to complete my 11 1/2 hour hiking day. It was a wonderful time being in the mountains and soaking in a little more of India, witnessing the untouched beauty of the Himalayan region that can’t be accessed by vehicle. Leaving only footprints and taking only photos and memories I was deeply satisfied.
Reachable by walking a few kilometers from the market area and through the local village is Bering Nag Temple. This is a Hindu temple that shares a complex with a Buddhist monastery. Seeing the two side by side, sharing the same space, exemplifies life in Sangla where the two religions coincide. The complex has four gates, one on each side, which I am told is to signify that the holy space remains open to everyone, regardless of faith. It’s truly one of the most beautiful temple spaces I have laid eyes on to date. The Tibetan wood carving, prayer flags blowing in the wind, pastel Buddhist paintings beside carved painted dragons, gates bearing Om, and prayer wheels all lay against the magnificent backdrop of the snow covered peaks and tall pine trees.
Even with all the good moments we have had in India it hasn’t been all momos and masala chai. We have been privy to some really heartwarming personal interactions with locals as well as some that are unsettling. We are traveling during the peak of the local Indian tourist season. School is out and families are coming by the truck loads (seriously) up to the mountains for a little R&R. We began to notice a few things about Indian tourists even as early as our flight here from Indonesia. Now, I want to preface before continuing any further and sounding like I am stereotyping, being judgmental or unfair in my assessments that these conclusions are all born from personal experience. Some of which has become a little trying and a bit of a turn off from the overall joy of being in India. We do like to keep this blog positive, but also real. And I think that being aware of some of these cultural differences between Americans (and perhaps others) and Indians can be useful when traveling here. It began on the flight here when we noticed the flight attendants becoming increasingly aggravated by the constant demands from Indian fliers. Without being able to even understand all of what was transpiring it was clear that there was far more drama than either of us had ever witnessed on a flight. We were a bit in awe, to be honest, and didn’t realize at the time that this was just a glimpse of what lay ahead as the plane touched down. We only started to notice the following as we began to be tourists alongside Indian tourists. One of the things you simply can’t ignore is the difference in what is “normal” behavior at a hotel. Much of what we see would get you kicked out of a hotel in America and after dealing with it for weeks we have become able to handle in our own ways. Hotel guests use the hallway as an extension of their room having extremely loud conversation at all hours of the pre-dawn and night, kids play ball against the walls and run up and down the halls buzzing the room service bells for each room. Room doors remain open where loud television news, conversations and more seep through the very thin walls of hotels. The acceptable volume is way above a typical traveling American is used to and is admittedly obnoxious at times. There seems to be very little consideration of other guests. Room service, an expensive luxury back home, is expected at every hotel here. For reasons we haven’t figured out yet, many people seem to prefer eating in their rooms versus in the public dining space. It’s extremely affordable to do so being as there is no additional fee compared to what is served in the hotel restaurant. Second to the very loud voices, often screaming, used by men and women in public spaces at all hours is the invasion of privacy. Let’s be clear, when you travel in Asia you should always expect to have little to no personal space. This is a fact of East v. West and is no longer a big deal for us. What is is the fact that grown men have repeatedly walked and creeped into our hotel room in an effort to, what we believe, is peep on me. Not once. Not twice. But almost half a dozen times. We have left the door unlocked several times for room service or when one of us is going in and out and inevitably a man comes into our room. It’s not an accident. They know their room. And ours is very obviously the last room in the hallway. We think it was because they saw me coming and going on my own as Rob has been laid up and thought I was a single lady. This combined with a lot of unwanted attention I received in town walking alone made it very difficult for me by the time we left Sangla. This wasn’t something I anticipated and it wore me down a bit, but Rob and I leaned on each other as we were each struggling in our ways, and decided to keep moving on our journey through Himachal Pradesh to continue our Himalayan experience.
We prepared many posts as we were with little to no service for nearly two weeks and have more Modern Gypsy Tales coming your way!