Stumbling into a second honeymoon on the Malaysian island of Langkawi

Yep, it’s this beautiful

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALacy: When we left the States at the end of April we knew we were going to Indonesia for two weeks before traveling to India, and that was about as far as we planned. We intentionally had no ticket out of India in an effort to be unrestricted when exploring the Himalaya region. We also didn’t know if we would want to go home or travel further at that point. Having learned that we prefer to make as few concrete plans as possible when traveling this leaves us open to meet people or discover things along the journey that give us ideas on how to proceed. By the time we reached Kaza we knew we were ready to leave India and began the discussion of ‘What now?’oo

A long journey to Langkawi, but feeling good upon arrival

Having flown through the Kuala Lumpur airport nearly half a dozen times – and sleeping in it overnight probably just as many times – we know it’s a major international hub. Our sixth and final month backpacking through Asia last year was spent in Malaysia and we really enjoyed it. The food is spicy and deep on flavor. The beaches have clear water and are lined with palm trees. It’s very easy to get around the country and you can travel on the spectrum of budgets. Two tickets in and out of Malaysia were just as much as a direct flight home from India so that sealed the deal. We booked corresponding flights to  take the hour flight from KL to the island of Langkawi on the west side of Mainland Malaysia. Langkawi is an archipelago made up of 99 islands. Surrounded by turquoise sea, the interior of the main island is a mixture of picturesque paddy fields and jungle-clad hills.

The infinity pool and surrounding view at our first hotel made for great relaxation after a long journey.

Arriving at 7:30am after three flights and 24 hours of travel from India we were a little exhausted, but perked up when seeing how gorgeous the island is. Flying over the Andaman Sea and seeing the 104 islands dotting the water that make up the UNESCO Geopark put a massive smile on my face.  Only four of theses islands are inhabited with a total population of less than 10,000. Langkawi is the largest and most popular, but you can take boat trips and other excursions to view the entire area.  Fun fact: I read that even though there are 104 islands in the Geopark, it was believed that 99 is a more memorable number so that is how it is marketed, as a 99 island Geopark.DCIM100GOPROGOPR0733.JPG

Does this even need a caption??!!

We were beyond relieved, that even though we arrived at the hotel at the incredible early hour of 8am, we were able to check in and begin the final chapter of our Asian travels this summer.  Without having set out to, we created an a “travel sandwich” – a beach vacation on either side (Indonesia and Langkawi) around the Himalayan center. The cherry on the cake is that we were able to upgrade our reserved room to a sea view room for only $20 extra a night. Having already booked the room at a steal of a deal , this put our gorgeous room on the Andaman Sea with a killer infinity pool and lovely grounds at $75/night total. I was pretty pleased with myself. I spent a lot of time at this pool over the next three days soaking in the view, watching the helicopters give aerial tours, boats shuttle smiling tourists on parasail and snorkeling adventures, sunrises and many a tourist photo shoot. I have a feeling there are a lot of photos of this place on Instagram.

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Tanjung Rhu beach sunsets

We are both feeling very relaxed and treating Langkawi as a vacation. Renting our fourth bike of the summer, in our third country, we are able to explore the island easily. It’s not very large and you can cross it, tip to tip, in 40 minutes. And that’s exactly what we did after two nights in our first hotel, renting a seaside bungalow on Tanjung Ru beach. The surf is steps from our front door so we wake up and fall asleep to the sound of the tide gently rolling in and out. It’s a quiet beach, a short walk down the sand from the Four Seasons, and sunsets are a main attraction.

Snapped from one of our favorite evening spots on the beach where Guna served up tasty Singapore Slings.

Giz was swept in the water during this photo which resulted n a long overdue bath for the little guy.

Sunset kayaking

In the opposite direction, 100 meters of fine white sand away, is a local restaurant serving up great cocktails. Guna, the manager who we have become friendly with, makes a top notch Singapore Sling. We came to learn that the Langkawi islands comprise the world’s only duty free Geopark. We haven’t gotten to the bottom of why, but it’s insanely cheap to drink here and we aren’t asking too many questions. Sipping slings at dusk we have a wildlife show at our fingertips. First to arrive are always the starlings followed by the biggest sand crabs we have ever seen. They crawl out of holes for dinner and go nuts running sideways. We had a good chuckle when we saw a couple get into fights or walk one over the other on their search for food.  And then there are the bats who swoop in front of us on their similar quest for dinner.  Laying in the lounge chairs between our front door and the beach we have witnessed a mama bird feeding her baby, many lizards, lots of tiny birds, hummingbirds and swarms of dragonflies in the early mornings.

We simply fell in love with the sunsets and how quiet the Tanjung Rhu beach is.  We spent most of our week in this area.  Three nights in a beach bungalow and our last two in a beautiful five star hotel.  Both provided the same gorgeous sunset view.

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Taking the three minute walk from our beachside bungalow to Guna’s Singapore Slings and the evening show of starlings, sand crabs and bats.

Visits to the night markets have filled us with spicy Malaysian delicacies. A trip to the Langkawi Wildlife Park allowed us to see birds that were completely new to us. White peacocks giving us the full display of their spread feathers, cassowary (3rd largest bird in the world) and the crested crane to name a few. They also had a great overall animal selection with monkeys, fennec fox and Brahma chicken which is the largest chicken known and is the size of a medium dog. The raccoons in cages was a little weird for me because I have always viewed them as more of a pest as they get into the garbage and roam around the campsite at home.  I even learned that Rob is scared of ostrich!

Crested Crane – National bird of Uganda

I was able to put birdseed in my hands and have hundreds of these gorgeous creatures swarm me.  One of my favorite parts of the entire Wildlife Park.

Getting an aerial view of this tropical jungle island on the Skycab and Skybridge allowed us to see the magnificently lush and protected area on the island.  The top station of the cable car brings you approximately 2,300 above sea level with wide view of the island, including the Seven Wells waterfall.

On the Skybridge

Monkeys everywhere on the island – the road, Skybridge, beach, jumping in trees, waterfalls…Awesome!

Jungle mountains

Love locks on the top of the Skybridge

It was a hazy day, but we still had nice views out the Skycab…though it didn’t make for great photos

Rob: After coming down from the cable car and suspension bridge set way up in the Langkawi jungle, we set out for the afternoon in a rented Renault Twizy. It is a 1 by 1 (front and behind) seater electric car.  These are a few years old but just now licensed to drive on the road as a vehicle in Malaysia. Lamborghini style doors but no glass in the windows and a typical equator afternoon rain shower made for a humid but eco friendly drive out to a waterfall and a tour of some of the resort areas on the Northwest point of the island.  Wish we had these in urban areas in the US. Maybe someday.

Does it look like I have been wearing the same clothes for nearly 3 months?!  Well, yes, I have.  It’s one of the things I love about backpacking – keeping it super simple, but I’m also looking forward to putting all the clothes that I have been hand washing in the sink for months into a proper washing machine!

Rob was LOVING all the different vehicles we were able to use on the island including this eco ride Twizy and the jet ski.

While on Langkawi we scheduled ourselves for a few touristy outings.  Usually we don’t travel this way and prefer a cheap rented motorbike with pretend suspension, lights and brakes to travel back roads visiting local night markets for risky, but amazing food. We made an expensive exception here and it turned out to be one of the best $150 I’ve ever spent in my life. Seriously.  At 10am we set out on a brand new neon green 900cc powered Seedoo. Our advertised 8 Islands, 4-hour ride tour took us on a free wheeling, high speed blast around 2/3 of the 104 island protected Geopark that make up the isles of Langkawi for about 6 hours in total. We traveled with one guide boat and three other couples, all on big Seedoos set up for ocean running. Although we started out at half throttle, it didn’t take long for our guides to point ahead and let a few of us who could handle the wet bikes fly ahead as quick as the sea and swells would let us.  We stopped at a few sandy beaches to swim, a few photo worthy spots for pics and hiked inland to a freshwater lake for a fun little solar paddle boat ride. Dayang Bunting Lake is freshwater lake perched on the very edge of the ocean.  We were smart enough to smuggle a few cold, err, cool beers along for that portion of our day.  Mainly, we toured and zig-zagged our way through so many of the  small picturesque islands that Northern Malaysia and Southern Thailand are famous for. It was stunning to see the white, gray and brown marble rock formations that create the islands with chia-pet like jungle foliage covering their tops and vines cascading down their sides. Virtually every one of them a postcard in their own collage of other postcards.  Maybe a hundred big Sea Eagles literally swarmed around us at one point where our guides dropped fistfuls of chicken skin in the water to feed them.

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We had so much fun jet skiing around the Geopark.  One of my favorite moments of the entire week is floating on my back in the turquoise sea on the secluded beaches and watching the sea eagles fly overhead.  You can see them all over the island and it’s one of the best parts about traveling to this particular area in Malaysia.

In between several of the islands and beautiful settings, we had fantastic wind breaks which calmed the waves and let those of us who dared reach top speed.  I really don’t know how many knots we were running, but we were fully flat out many times with the guides egging us on at every opportunity.  We also tried to make speed over some medium and small swells that threw us all over the bike and each other. Lacy had two hands Kung Fu gripped on the horse strap that ran across the seat at all times. When I realized she was hanging on pretty well, we took a few larger swells that were not intended for anywhere near the throttle level we attempted. We caught some pretty big air on one after another after another and had a number of high intensity moments where we and the Seedoo were barely hanging on to gravity and the slight curvature of the earth. I’ve never ever heard Lacy howl with delight, thrill and laughter so loud and so hard as when we were full throttle ripping across the tops of the wave swells.

We had so much fun and saw the islands from a flying fish or dolphin’s perspective that really, really makes us want to go back and tour Malaysia & Thailand from the deck of a boat.  A bit more calmly next time, of course.

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Don’t let this hazy sky fool you.  We spent the summer on the equator last year and to say it is intense is a grave understatement. Having the sun blocked by the clouds is a blessing when you want to enjoy the day outside.  Another reason why traveling off season is a great idea.  I wore an SPF shirt on top and SPF wrap around my legs to protect against the sun, but the wind blew my sleeves up and I could feel a little sunburn on my wrists the next day.  All in all though, I beat the sun pretty successfully.

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Swimming and enjoying one of the many islands we jet skied to.

Lacy: Taking advantage of last minute low season deals again we booked an absolutely stunning five star hotel on a secluded peninsula on the edge of Tanjung Rhu beach. We had taken a liking to this quiet beach with a view of the uniquely shaped islands. The hotel is located on 2.5 kilometers of beach with multiple pools, bar and restaurant areas overlooking it. Our day of jet skiing was topped off watching the best sunset of our trip at the pool overlooking the sea. Much to our surprise, because of the duty free status on the island, the drinks are still insanely affordable at a five star hotel. While watching hornbills play in the palm trees and $1 beers in hand we cheersed ourselves to another great day. It was hard to pry ourselves out of the comfort of the hotel grounds. The room alone, with the palm trees and doves outside our balcony, is almost twice as large as our beloved winter bungalow that we have enjoyed two years in a row. We spent most of our time on the long white sand beach, dipping in the pool and looking out on the islands. The food was excellent. The breakfast buffet had a wide variety of options made even better with complimentary champagne and caviar. Our last dinner there, and in Asia altogether, included Hokkaido scallops, perfectly cooked halibut and soba noodles.

Our final sunset

Giz finally got a bath after his travels this summer and is looking as clean as these sheets.

Halfway through our trip we began to refer to Langkawi as a second honeymoon. It’s been so beautiful, easy to get around and full of spectacular sights around every bend. The island has a natural romance to it. This week is by far one of the more luxurious things we have treated ourselves to in years, but overall still very affordable. Traveling at low season, our average price per night, even with the five star hotel, is only $83. Booze and food are cheap. If you shop around you can get a good deal on excursions. Never book one through your hotel if your budget conscious. The scooter was $7/day, but you could just as easily use a very affordable taxi or Grab (similar to Uber).

The breakfast buffet at Tanjung Rhu resort was fantastic.  Complimentary champagne and caviar included.  We were able to watch lizards run around and sunbathe as giant jungle bees pollenated the morning glory vines from this lovely table overlooking the beach.

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Tanjung Rhu beach with views of these quirky shaped islands.

Giz enjoyed drinks in some lovely places on the island.

Datai Bay

After two and a half months abroad, we landed back in New York last night, July 4th.  Welcomed by my pops and a bonfire, at the family’s Catskill mountain bungalows, Rob and I shared a few first hand accounts of our travels.  We are looking forward to our cross country road trip over the next few weeks, exploring new places within our own country and visiting friends and family along the way.  As always, thanks for following along with us.  Be back soon!

Namaste, India…Saying Goodbye after 47 Days

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We did it! 2,000 Kms through India to reach spectacular Himalayan views. Knowing we had completed another adventure, we were feeling damn good after our ten hour ride to Chandigarh.  We relived the challenges and accomplishments of our journey over Kingfisher and tandoori wings before crashing hard for the night.

Lacy: We left Manali expecting to ride half the distance to Chandigarh that morning and complete the remainder the following morning. We made the decision to start our ride at 5am so we could avoid as many near fatal incidents on the road as possible with the mind blowingly insane traffic here as well as lessen the impact of dust and diesel in our faces. We were incredibly impressed with ourselves when we pulled out of the hotel at 5am on the dot! I suppose that when given the proper motivation we can accomplish anything!! Early mornings are not normally our thing. There was no question we made the right choice as we flew out of town as one of the only vehicles on the road and had long stretches of being in fifth gear, when the condition of the road allowed. Stopping for a tea and omelette at 7:30 it was hard to comprehend how much ground we had easily covered already. I have never been more appreciative of American roads, infrastructure and rules of the road than after riding through India for 30+ days. Rob’s explanation of the roads will help you understand why.

Rob: Our last day on the bike was a long one.  At 5am a totally deserted road was awesome. We even made it through the dust bowl and tunnel from Hell again without incident. We decided that things were going so well that we might ride all the way to Chandigarh in this single day. Then it got hot, slow, crazy, dangerous, bumpy and dirty. Since we were back on a main 2 lane road, we had to adjust to a few new issues. Mainly, busses passing trucks on blind corners right into us. I lost count of how many double head on collisions we’ve avoided in total but 1/2 from the whole trip happened today. Remember that here, it’s the smaller vehicles responsibility to get out of the way should 2 trucks, busses, bulldozers or farm machinery decide its a good idea to pass one another, even it it takes up the road from one shoulder to the other. At one point I stared face first into twin busses coming straight at me, the outside bus having one of its double rear wheels hanging over the edge of my side of the road into thin air and a sheer drop off. The rough road and potholes (that resembled sun cups in the snow because they were just constant) were taking their toll on our butts and backs. It took over 10 hours with just a few quick rest stops for Chai and petrol to go 108 miles. This isn’t a very high average but it was actually quick for us today factoring in road and traffic conditions. My Father-in-Law is an official Iron Butt Rider who will cover 1000 miles in a 24 hour period. Back a few years, I covered 108 miles with my best friend Chris in a certain red Corvette convertible more times than we should talk about in a single hour. 108 miles for Lacy and I on this day over 10 grueling hours sucked the life force right out of us.

We had made it. No flat tires. No broken teeth. My riding bandana I use for dust/sun and the shirt I road most of the trip in are permanently tie-dye stained from oil and 10 kinds of dirt. I bought a great pair of Royal Enfield riding gloves that served me very well on this trip and are now a prized possession. We were both exhausted and battle worn by the time we handed back the keys to Sunam at Royal India Bikes. But, I was smiling because it truly was a ride of a lifetime for us.

Giz loves a 7 cent chai (tea) while riding the train

Lacy: After staying in a lot of crappy hotels along our journey so far (the hotels in Pooh and Tabo being the major exceptions) we decided it was time for an upgrade to properly celebrate surviving our Royal Enfield trek through the Himalayas. We pulled up to Maya Hotel in Chandigarh which we had scouted out earlier in the day as we took a break from the bike. I love how it’s common to look at a room before you reserve it. I double checked that before we spent $60, 3 times what we had been spending for the past month and a half, that it was indeed worth it.  It checked all the boxes and we took it! The bed was so comfortable, there were a few English channels on tv and it was very clean! We were feeling like a million bucks after a ten hour day of riding. A couple showers later we were down the block at a local pub toasting ourselves over a pitcher of Kingfisher beer and honestly the best wings we have ever had. Tandoori wings. Succulent, spicy and so good we returned the following night.

Having a full day to kill in Chandigarh before returning to Delhi I came to what seemed to be the most reasonable conclusion and pampered myself. I spent four delightful hours at the salon having my hair cut, a moisturizing treatment applied to combat the damage from the sun and arid conditions in the mountains and a spa manicure and pedicure complete with massages. It was divine and I was beginning to really feel that we were changing modes from ‘adventure’ to ‘vacation.’ We had discussed this the night before, actually, deciding that we should treat the remaining time in India as more of a vacation. I was off to a good start.

The next day, hopping on an early morning train (and later questioning why the heck we booked a train at this time..especially considering how comfortable our bed was and the delicious buffet breakfast included with the room that we missed!) We watched the remaining blue sky in Chandigarh slip away as it was replaced by the thick gray smog of Delhi. While chugging along I found a smoking deal on a far nicer hotel than we stayed in the first time around when we visited Delhi. With photos of a beautiful pool and an incredibly comfortable bed I immediately booked it. It only two seconds – without any exaggeration -of stepping out of the train at the Delhi station before Rob was being poked and prodded by people for reasons we couldn’t understand. Number one rule when traveling anywhere – don’t let anyone get too close to you or start touching you. That’s how you ‘lose’ things. I just started laughing at the sheer ridiculousness of how immediately wild the environment was as we stepped off the train. A hot tuk tuk ride later we arrived at our lovely hotel, a respite from the craziness, and it indeed lived up to our expectations.

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I’m mid-laugh in this photo.  Stepping out of the train, the insanity that surrounds Delhi slapped us right in the face and I just had to laugh at it all.

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Reentering the swarm of green and yellow Tuk Tuk bees.

We used our remaining three and half days in Delhi to indulge in some rest and relaxation. Playing cards and drinking beer in between cooling off in the pool from the 100 degree weather in Delhi. Rob learned a lot about cricket as he watched the World Cup games. I get a kick out of watching him enjoy the local sports when we travel. We did a little shopping, went to the National Gallery of Modern Art and did our best to try to avoid some of the hassles of Delhi. We were only somewhat successful as it’s damn near impossible not to have an encounter where someone is trying to take more money from you than you agreed upon. Unless of course you don’t leave the hotel grounds, which while beautiful, would have cost us an arm and a leg to eat there everyday. We treated ourselves to one meal at the hotel and went out for every other. There was A LOT of really tasty tandoori chicken ordered.  Come to think of it, we had tandoori chicken and beer (a necessary pairing) six days in a row – right up to our last meal.

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We spent a lot of time at the hotel pool insulating ourselves from the city outside and cooling off from the 100 degree weather.

We both agreed that traveling India was harder and more challenging than hiking 800 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail in 2017.

Having had some really great moments, those we absolutely loved, we can’t say that we fell in love with India. Something that we were surprised by was how many different varieties of birds we encountered during our Himalayan ride. Everything from massive Griffon vultures the size of a big turkey to birds with tails two feet long. Our heads would spin and we would let out a gasp as they flew over our heads. This was really special for us because we loved being in an area where there was so much nature at our fingertips. Being surrounded by the Tibetan Buddhist temples and culture as we traveled further north was something else we cherished. Since our time in Nepal we have an affinity for this religion and customs even though we don’t understand most of it. Spending time with Tanzin we learned even more as he took us to his family temple and explained his family’s history to us. Wandering through the villages with the temples, Mani stones and prayer wheels was a favorite pastime. While neither of us have any desire to return to Delhi that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t return to India sometime in the future. India only gained its independence from the British in 1947 and is still a relatively young country. People here refer to that often and you can often feel that there is still a big growth stage going on as you see the division of its population related to language (English is the common language as people from different parts of the country often can’t communicate with one another through another common national language), religion, caste, dietary preferences and politics. There are heartbreaking levels of poverty here that really played with our emotions. Little kids and women with nursing babies approaching us in the cities with open hands asking for money. Shanty town and slums one after the other visible along the rail lines built in piles and piles of trash. Young children selling wares on the street as opposed to being in school. You never want to desensitize yourself to people, like you and me, looking for food, shelter and love in life. It’s difficult to wrap your mind and heart around how much of India’s population is living in these conditions.

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Thank you National Gallery of Modern Art for pointing out the obvious 😉

It’s fitting that after another week of travel in Malaysia we land in America on July 4th because spending time in India has given me a greater appreciation and love for my own country.  That’s one of the many rewards of stepping outside of your comfort zone and diving into another culture. Perspective. I realized that a long time ago and each time I visit a new place I am blessed with first hand insights that somehow enrich my life.  Upon returning to the States we will embark upon a 3-4 week cross country road trip and explore our own backyard as we relocate from upstate New York to New Mexico. I have never felt more grateful for our the roads and, being obeyed more times than not, the related rules.  Seriously.  I am also thankful to have been raised as a woman in America. That’s not to say that we don’t still have major hurdles to overcome in the US, but I have never felt marginalized because of  and defined by my gender as distinctly as I did from the first day in India. Access to clean air. I took this for granted before visiting Delhi and learning what it feels like to be wrapped in such suffocating smog. For these and other reasons I’m returning home with greater appreciation for my home country.

We definitely earned some more R&R so on our way home so when making plans to return to the US this past week we booked ourselves a week on the tropical island of Langkawi. We didn’t make it to this particular island when traveling Malaysia last year. We never stopped speaking Bahasa (national language in Indonesia) to one another while traveling India so its only fitting we return to a country where that makes a difference. Bahasa Malay is very similar to that of Indonesia. Plus, we love the food there! I have been joking that I have put on the Indian Five. Something I made up to account for the bulge in my belly after indulging in fresh breads, curries and paneer for the past month and a half in India. Seems like a good idea to top it off with some Malaysian delicacies before heading home!

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Sitting in the airport before boarding the plane to Malaysia I landed yet another incredible hotel deal.  This may be my best yet.  Our room overlooks this gorgeous infinity pool and Andaman Sea.  We quickly learned that alcohol is really cheap on this island because it’s all duty free.  Cheap drinks, beautiful hotel with jaw dropping view, another great breakfast buffet, scooter for the week and the freedom to explore a new place. We are happy!

Motorbiking Two Up In North India: Pinn Valley to Manali

Dhankar Gompa 

Rob shows his enthusiasm for the windy ascent as we stop for the above photo oP

Rob: Waking up from some of the hardest beds we’ve experienced here, but actually good coffee for a change, we set out to ride back down the river valley and up to the Monastery at Dharkar. The ride up the road is a Motorcyclist’s Dream. Very tight corners all in full acceleration and climbing mode. We both really appreciated the big push we received from all of the engine’s torque to throttle up the road as quickly as we did. It was a really fun ride on mostly well paved road. The view approaching the Monastery was another stunning setting. Once again, Buddha always has the best view in this part of the world.

A wide shot to show where the monastery resides in these Himalayan mountains.

 

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Great view for lunch…

After lunch we made the very windy canyon-run back to Tabo as we retraced several steps reversing course to get to the remainder of our unfinished loop.

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It was difficult to leave

In our little sitting area and bay windows of our Tabo hotel room we made ourselves a mini Himalayan Honeymoon with candles, a 2 course room service dinner complete with a fresh bottle of local apple based Arak.

The ride to Tabo was just as beautiful as I remembered it 💜

Between Tabo and Pooh we started riding mid-morning amidst a dark and cloudy sky. The low clouds were hiding the higher snow covered Himalayas which reminded Lacy of hiking the Annapurna Circuit last year and our peekaboo relationship with the high mountains then. The rain began, but stayed light. The temperature dropped quickly as we climbed once again toward Nako along the same route we had run before. Our target along the way was a point 2/3 of the way to Pooh where an “English Wine & Beer” shop was strategically placed. While we enjoyed a cold Godfather Strong Beer, we started a game of cards. After a bit, another patron advised us that we were not allowed to play cards here per the owners request. He was a young Indian guy who had a big friendly smile on his face in between rosy chubby cheeks. Just the kind of outgoing personality who might be playing a joke so I also smiled big and asked him if he was bullshitting me? He smiled back one more time, but said sincerely that we were in a very conservative tribal area and that cards were associated with gambling so really not allowed. I quickly made the connection with gambling and apologized to all not wanting to be disrespectful to the tavern owner and thanked him for his help. This is the first time we have come across this type of request so we will try to be more conscious where we play our long running Rummy games going forward.

Truth!

We were having to grease the chain all the time due to the dirt and water (below) we were riding through.

In Pooh we stayed at Tanzin’s welcoming Om Hotel again and were invited to his family’s home for dinner that evening. His family lineage traces back 500+ years in written history and likely much longer in unwritten history to the area. Every generation of his family has a fully committed member to the Tibetan Buddhism faith, becoming a monk, and his family Temple is the center for Buddhists in the region. They have hosted visits from the Dalai Lama and have a tradition of having foreigner travelers in their home. Tanzin is following in the footsteps of his Father, Uncles and ancestors before them continuing this tradition of service and hospitality. The warmth and kindness we felt with him and his family has touched our hearts and souls forever. Thank you for so much, my Friend.

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A great new friend, Tanzin 

After a great night in Pooh we decided to stay inside the old village area of Kalpa. It was one of Lacy’s favorite visits on our way up the Spiti Valley. The wood buildings in the Temple area are stunning and so beautifully crafted. She wanted one last chance to soak in the great spirit of this little mountain hamlet.

During our first visit to Kalpa we stayed on the road above the village.  This time we stayed in the village and enjoyed this stunning view from the hotels back balcony…

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…where Giz enjoyed a cold one

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We spent the afternoon walking through and admiring the village.

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Departing Pooh towards Kalpa we left early to head through a very dangerous part of the road where we previously had a difficult time. It sure lived up to its reputation and continued to challenge every inch of my strength to keep us on two wheels. In one area of landslide clearing construction, we were lucky to have an ambulance be allowed as the first vehicle out of a dynamite blast area with several motorcycles tucked right in behind it including the Royal Beast and us.

After a nice night in Kalpa, we headed out early again due to the long route planned for the day. We made it all the way to Shoja that night. Losing altitude meant that the temp was coming up quickly to become quite hot and hazy in the middle of the day. By the afternoon, we began to climb out and through a different set of mountain roads than we had been in before as we cut west and north from our earlier path.

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Kalpa is one of my favorite villages I have ever visited, anywhere.

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Bike parking on the front porch of the hotel in Kalpa 

The landscape changed as we approached Shoja and became lush and green.

I made myself comfortable on the side of the road overlooking the river.  I figured we would be there for a hot couple of hours while the blasting occurred.  We were so lucky to sneak behind the ambulance and escape.

On these skinny mountain roads there is always the potential for danger, but also for drama. We came upon two 4x4s nosed together but slightly askew in the middle of the road. Either could back up just 3-4 meters or so to a wider part of the road and let one-another pass by. With a rising rock cliff face to our right and a sheer drop to thick jungle to our left we stopped behind them. There was no where for us or others who came upon them on either side to go. The two drivers were locked in a pissing contest with neither tiny ego giving in to help the situation. With cars lining up, the 4x4s drivers and passengers just got out of their trucks for a smoke and ignored each other as well as all the people they were blocking. This wasn’t the first nor would it be the last silly display we have had a front seat to watch in frustration. Weren’t the first few things we all learned in kindergarten about how to share, cooperate, be polite and have understanding? Two of the important Tibetan Buddhists Deities we have learned to respect and admire here are Wisdom and Compassion. The drivers here could spend some meditation time on these virtues. One driver finally gave into the pressure of the crowd and gave way for everyone to pass. Soon after, we were finally climbing higher again over the course of several hours into another set of foothills only to wind back down more single track roads to a lush valley below. This had to be one of our biggest losses, gains and losses again of elevation in a single day.

Scene of the crime.  Two egos on the road.  These kinds of displays are beyond any reasonable understanding.

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After a long ten hour day of riding and sore buns we were still all smiles in Shoja

We left Shoja in the morning on our long and final push to Manali. We were covering more miles each day over the last four riding days than ever before spending 10 or more hours a day on our iron horse. A horse that has made us both very saddle sore from this last set of repetitive long rides. We spent the morning once again on one lane mountain roads. Approaching cars, trucks and busses were heart stopping moments. The road had just enough traffic that you had to avoid a head on collision at about every other corner. As much as I despise the significant overuse of horns here, I may have worn my own out in the last day and a half in every corner approach to be sure anyone knew we were coming around our side of a blind corner.

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En route to Manali

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Beware of everything when crossing bridges!

After we crossed the Beas River and turned the corner toward Manali, we entered an almost indescribable tunnel from hell. Dark and nearly black due to the layers of dirt and diesel soot covering the dim and mostly non-functional tunnel lights. Horns. Little cars passing us and trucks at speeds far faster than any headlights or vision could keep up with. Blind corners on a mountain road are nothing compared to blind corners inside of a solid rock tunnel. I tried to wipe the dust from my helmet visitor and only succeeded in smearing the oil soot across to mix with the dirt. To avoid being rear ended, I too had to take a deep breath and whip out and around several trucks and began following several cars way too close and way too fast for comfort. If one person crashed, we all would see in the center of a mountain. After finally exiting the tunnel after about ten minutes that felt like I was stuck in a two hour long horror movie, we came out to fresh clean air. No. Sorry. Didn’t happen. We came out into an industrial area of road construction that lasted for about 50 Km. It might have been the dustiest place in India we have driven through thus far. In the middle of it all, we got waved over to the side by a policeman standing in the middle of the road. He waved others over too so maybe I wasn’t singled out or maybe I was. He quickly requested my drivers license. An American license doesn’t cut it here so you need to have an International Driving Permit. $50 online to any number of companies will do it. Many people say that you don’t really need one but today I was certainly glad I had mine. No shake down. No mysterious ticket. No cash fine. Haan Ji (Yes Sir) which I acknowledged with one of my own and we were on our way again.

Do you know who drives the most aggressively of all vehicles? Busses. Overloaded and crowded busses. It makes me cringe to see so many young smiling faces peeking out and often waving to us while their bus barrels ahead way above the limits of its suspension, lights and especially brakes. Sadly, just a day after we went through the Kullu Valley area where we saw too many close calls, the newspapers announced that a local Kullu Valley bus had run off the road and plunged into a gorge, killing half and injuring the other half of the 90+ people on board. Sadder still is that this news won’t deter any of the reckless driving that will begin again tomorrow.

There were so many signs and companies promoting Paragliding and Rafting trips on the sides of the road. Such a juxtaposition to have the ice cold and clear snow melt river rapids cutting right through the middle of these major dust flats. When the dust, dirt and smog finally started to fall away from us as we climbed toward the tall mountains above Manali, we had to stop so we could wash out our eyes and take our first fresh breath in hours.

While getting back on the bike after a roadside omelet sandwich and chai stop, we heard a huge animal commotion. Suddenly a local dog ran out of a jungle area with a baby monkey in his mouth. We were a bit shocked and felt for the family of upset monkeys that shrieked out in vain after the dog.

We finally reached Manali which is a ski resort town in the winter and summer escape for world-wide trekkers, motorcyclists and just your average big city Indian tourist when the weather gets scorching down south and it is still cool and the snow is still on the tops of the mountains here. Accommodations and shopping range from below backpacker levels up to luxury Spa Hotels, street food to pricy restaurants and cheap imported trinkets up to expensive hand loomed shawls. Displayed for all to buy on the main Mall Bazaar Streets.

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The road to the camp overlooking Manali

For us, we chose to stay another 2000ft higher than the town in a tent camp owned and run by Tanzin’s sister and her husband. The mountain road up to the camp was the biggest challenge of our week which meant it had gone totally off the charts in difficulty. My sister has a serious 4×4 Jeep that is built to climb about anything, trees included. I’m certain even she would find this road a challenge to climb. As we bounced and scratched our way up 30 sand and rock switchbacks in a high revving, wheel spinning first gear, I seriously wondered how we would ever get down this mountain again in a few days. When we arrived exhausted from the trip and covered in dust and oil, we quickly had cool beer and fried vegetable / cheese fritters to brighten our spirits and go along with an amazing view of the ski valley / town below and the bigger snow peaked mountains once again above us. We had completed 90% of our original loop plans with the exception of the still snowed-in pass separating Manali from Kaza by riding from about position 6 on the clock around counter-clockwise to 12 then all the way back around clockwise to 11. It was time to rest for two days. Sleep in as late as possible. Eat great organic vegetarian food. Drink cold beer and local grappa. Look out on the mountains, the city lights, full moon and the starry sky over the next few days and nights. Fitting with Tanzin’s family traits, Dashi, his sister was a truly gracious host and best of all, an amazing Chef. Every single thing we ate was perfectly Bien Cuit (well prepared – a big compliment to a true Chef). Our rest time was great while sleeping under the stars and napping in the sun. We soaked up every minute of it.

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Everything Dashi served for meals was so incredibly delicious 

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Upon leaving we received great assistance from a family descending the windy road the same day as ourselves. They gave Lacy and our gear a ride down while allowing me to bump and slide down the mountain somewhat safely.

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Finding backgammon at a restaurant in old town Manali was such a huge score. We play all the time back home.

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We love a good tuk tuk photo

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Giz thought he could drive a tuk tuk 🤔

We spent two more days in the main town of Manali exploring & shopping alleyways and restaurants. I got a well needed massage and Lacy finally got a belated birthday present in the form of a custom made necklace and bracelet from a local jeweler. Beautiful.

Motorbiking Two Up In North India: Kaza to Pinn Valley

Himalayan sunset in Pinn Valley

Lacy: We attempted to leave Kaza the day after we rode to Langza, spending our first five hours of the day waiting at the one petrol station in town because they ran out the night before. Surprisingly, this didn’t really bother us. Having had such a great time enjoying the town of Kaza over the past few days, the surrounding scenery and the people in it we just hung out with one another and made the best of it. We queued up in line to top off the tank before heading to Pinn Valley. This was a record snow year and Kunzum Pass isn’t open yet. For every five people you ask you get seven responses as to when it will open. At 15,000+ft the Border Roads Organization who maintains the road says there is simply still too much snow to allow vehicles to pass through. That being the case we need to retrace our steps south as it’s the only other way out of this region. Fortunately, it’s a beautiful ride and we have a rear brake now so we can go some places we simply couldn’t ride before with the condition of the bike. There were moments of sheer panic and fear riding without a rear brake and being unable to have it fixed without traveling further to find a mechanic who had the right parts. Believe me, we tried. Thank god that’s over.

Somewhere around 5:30pm that same day I was waiting for Rob at the Travelers Shed while he checked again to see if the petrol delivery had arrived in town. We had given up waiting around at the station several hours prior, had lunch and checked back into the same hotel room we had just checked out of that morning. Being late afternoon and uncertain if petrol would even arrive today we decided to stay in Kaza one more night. It should be noted though that we witnessed another unbelievable display of impatience, public screaming, fighting and what is hard to ignore as anything but extremely rude behavior when the diesel delivery trucks arrived. People went nuts. There were two trucks full of diesel and plenty to go around, but people still needed to cut in front of one another, call each other liars about where they were in line and have the local police involved. While we were entertained, I was also disgusted. Other Indian tourists who were waiting for petrol like we were could also be seen wide-eyed in disbelief, especially the group of bikers. The motorcycles all needed petrol v. diesel and the riders had total comradery among one another versus the very selfish attitude seen by people in any diesel cars (the majority of cars in India), tourist vans, buses, 4x4s etc. Men screaming in women’s faces in public with a crowd of people watching. That would be a real scene in America. Here, it’s another day. I had this stupid idea that India, the birthplace of yoga, would be a place where people were genuinely kind and compassionate towards one another. Instead, I am seeing some of the worst parts of humanity as we travel through this country. Sometimes I wonder if it’s just a numbers game. India has a population of over ONE BILLION.  Think about that – it’s 1/7 of the entire world’s population. So, I wonder if that means we are just more prone to see the entire spectrum of human behavior here. Or maybe a combination of that and the areas of India we have been traveling in.

I love this photo because it shows scale.  You have the tiny village surrounded by  these beautiful massive mountains 

Anyway, I digress from meeting Rob at the Travelers Shed where I was killing time. He arrived with a tank full of petrol and happy as a clam, but unfortunately I had to relay that I wasn’t feeling well and it may have been the lassi I just drank. It only took as long as the walk to the bike for my stomach to cramp up and fear set in. On the short ride back to the hotel I told Rob I was nervous because my food poisoning in Shimla began with stomach cramps. Well, it only gets worse from here and I’ll spare you all the details, but it’s enough to say that this bout of poisoning was twice as bad as the first. I spent hours upon hours throwing up and Rob lovingly took care of me all night. We had hoped to go to Pinn Valley the next day, but I was completely wrecked and exhausted to the point that Rob went to the local clinic and got me medicine. I slept nearly the entire day only waking to drink water, have some crackers and tell Rob that I was sick and tired of all the bullshit we were dealing with in this country and ready to get back to where we have some cell connection and get the hell out of here. Yes, the mountains are beautiful, but sometimes I have felt like this country is trying to kill us. Two terrible doses of food poisoning, way too many creepy guys to count (oh yeah, and the time a guy groped me while being a mere doorway apart from his wife and two year old son before outright asking to have an affair with me that I didn’t even discuss in the blog) and dealing with exhausting amounts of instances of people trying to swindle us. I like to think I have a pretty thick skin, especially when traveling, but India, as expected I suppose, has been the most mentally, physically and emotionally taxing travel we have embarked on thus far.

One thing that makes the ride through Pinn Valley so unique is that you can really see the geological impact in the area.  Everywhere you turn are millions of years of rock pressed into layers forming shapes in the mountains.  I have never seen anything to this degree for such a long stretch before.

But, like I said, there are extremes on both sides. While the good seems to sometimes be overshadowed by the bad I would be remiss if I made it sound like we are only suffering on this trip, albeit there are more difficult times here than anywhere else we have been. The most genuine and heartfelt moments have been with the locals in each village or town we have visited. Often we find ourselves in the dining room of our Himalayan hotel for the evening chatting with the owner and/or guys that run the place for the season and having really great conversations. We have learned that many of them will leave their hometowns and come to this area to work for the short season, sometimes leaving their wife and children behind. It’s always men working and we have only had positive experiences as we have gotten to share a little of our own lives with them and vice versa. Specific moments standout of the guys who really helped me and Rob when he sprained his leg. Always kind and even though they didn’t speak English well and our Hindi consists of a handful of words there was never a frustrated moment between us. In the same city I was absolutely taken aback by the four guys who stopped everything they were doing that morning to assist us after the motorcycle incident. That experience, honestly, set an example for me on how I could be a better person, give unselfishly to others and make sure I make strangers in my home country feel as welcome and supported as they did us. I’m still in awe of their graciousness to this day. That alone could be enough good, right? But there is more. Tanzin, who I mentioned earlier, really made us feel welcome again in India right when we needed it. Having never met us before, but being a friend of the guy who rented us the bike, we instantly felt at home with him because of his warm hospitality, great conversation and sincere interest in spending time with us while we were in Pooh. Again, the universe put us together with someone to lift our spirits right when we needed it. He too gave me insight as to how much of a difference small gestures can make to someone who is a foreigner in your home country. Rob and I both agreed that he is a really special person. There have been countless other moments where we have met people along our travels that made our hearts happy – oftentimes just when we needed a ‘pick me up’. The people we have met, well, you guessed it, have been at both extremes. And I am incredibly thankful for each positive interaction along the way that helped offset the ones that made me want to pack my bags and go.

Always riding on the edge of these mountains…makes for great views

The scenery of course is the creme de la creme and why we made this journey halfway across the world. Frolicking in the Himalayas this summer has been very fulfilling. Rob and I are travelers, adventure seekers. Not tourists. There is a big difference between the two because we don’t see ourselves as being on vacation. Travel and exploration is a lifestyle choice we have made at the expense of other luxuries we use to enjoy on a daily basis.

Again, in this photo, you can see a village dwarfed by the mountains.  The mountain also displays layers and formations from its violent history. 

Thank god, after a full day of rest in Kaza, I was ready to head to Pinn Valley. Well, more ready than not. The road was quite bumpy and each bump initiated a pain in my stomach where it was still healing from intense cramps the past day and a half. The ride was pretty uncomfortable and I’ll admit I wasn’t in the best mood, but yet again, the mountains and scenery I was surrounded by took me out of my own and head and body and into a state of wonder. By the time we settled into our place for the evening in Mud, the last village in Pinn Valley, had some lunch and rested a while I was back to myself. An evening of playing cards in the dining room and getting to know the guys who ran the place was just what the doctor ordered. Not even the mouse that decided to join us in our room that night was a bother. Actually, his waking me up gave me the opportunity to step outside at 3am and see the stars and the Milky Way in the most magnificent way.  Being such a small village tucked away at the end of the valley it is soooo dark in Mud and made for perhaps the best star viewing of the entire trip.

Rob: On any long trek be it backpacking, car road trip or a motorcycle trip, one of my goals is to never look behind me and always continue moving forward no matter how difficult the journey has been to that point. At Kaza, we reached the top of the loop we had been planning for and battling to reach for the last 4 weeks. Unfortunately, for us and many others, the mountain pass that would take us out the opposite side of the Spiti Valley has not opened yet and is still buried under 20+ feet of snow and ice. This means for us to complete as much of our Spiti Valley Loop as possible, we would have to now backtrack from Kaza and make our way up the opposite side of our planned circular loop. Our first stop would actually be another day trip to a perpendicular valley named after the Pinn River.

It was more of a ride for a day in and a day out, stopping for the night at the end point of a long narrow river valley that dead ended into a spectacular view of high mountains and mini glaciers converging on the little town of Mud (pronounced “mood”). The road was once again mostly a bone and teeth rattling single lane that had never in its life been more than rocks pounded into dirt and clay.

Another village in Pinn Valley

The ride along the wide flat river was captivating. One of the things I find most fascinating about the high altitude river valleys is the rivers themselves. Let’s call them “weaving rivers” for fun. They are wide and flat at this time of the season. What happens is that they hit little diversions on a flat plane to split the main flow apart. Sometimes into 5-6 different streams. As they make their individual way down the wide riverbeds of rounded stones and silt, they split apart, re-converge, cause one another to change course, make “X”s, “Y”s forwards and backwards often braiding themselves together and then apart again. As you ride along side these natural weaving water sculptures they can hold your attention for hours.

All across Asia and in the subcontinent of India terracing along the river valley hillsides can be simply functional for farming or artistic and beautifully laid out by a combination of manmade and natural contours of the land. I know in some places that rice fields are sectioned by family or land ownership and have remained in spider web patterns for hundreds of years. Here in Pinn Valley we see these paisley or amoeba shaped terraces alongside the rivers just outside the villages and wonder what gives them their random yet artfully puzzled together looking shapes. Is it heritage, tradition of the region, family ownership or are they simply divided by the maximum possible irrigation capacity??

When we reached Mud, I realized why people trekked so far out into this oneway river valley. The view was pretty amazing. The tea and hospitality at our very simple accommodation was very welcomed after another long day on the bike. Everything was quaint but very, very basic as you could tell this little village was expanding from being historically shepherding and farming to 5-6 additional Homestay locations for travelers spending the night like us. Even the little mouse that futilely searched our room for food for several hours in the middle of the night seemed to be par for my expectations in Mud so I didn’t really mind. Although she truly took it in stride, Lacy wasn’t very happy that the mouse seemed to keep popping up on her nightstand. I would have been too, but he seemed to leave my side of the room alone.

Leaving the little village in the morning, we saw a small herd of the black and white furry Cow / Yak hybrid Chur animals being lead through town. I thought to myself that if I was a Chur in my next life, this wouldn’t be a bad place to live.

Leaving Mud.  I like this photo because there are stacks of bricks all around Rob.  No matter where we have been in India they are always making bricks and piling them on the side of the road or in trucks.  This photo captures a little bit of everything – Rob on the bike, the scenery, the unpaved road, and the constant presence of bricks.

 

Motorbiking Two Up In North India: Kaza to Langza / Komik / Hikkam

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Enjoying tea while looking out over the mountains in Langza.  One of my favorite moments of the entire trip. I had one of those moments today when you wonder why you didn’t do something sooner as I began using the timer on the camera. The scenery touched my heart in such a way that I couldn’t wait to get as many family photos as possible. We will be framing this one.

Kaza is the town sitting on the flat land to the left of the river surrounded by this stunning scenery.

Rob: More terrible instant coffee this morning. We are going to have to fly home through Rome to get a proper Cappuccino in the not too distant future.

img_8340The sun was out. We geared up for cooler weather at a high altitude and were rewarded with one of our best rides ever!!  Lacy says this was THE BEST ride of the entire Indian trip.

I love the hues of yellow, brown and red in the foreground of desert landscape.  There were so many animals grazing in this one area!

The village of Langza

We left Kaza which is at 12,000ft plus and climbed and climbed and climbed up winding roads that split several high canyons and after about 50 minutes we plateaued onto a wide high meadow. The little village of Langza with its giant Buddha statue overlooking the town and the valley was in the distance. Himalayan mountains surrounded us on all 4 sides. We were maybe getting close to 14,000ft and still staring straight up at the full breadth and range of the mountains at this vantage point. Usually we have views through canyons or valleys up to the biggest mountains but today we felt closer to everything because we could see wide portions of the range and multiple layers of mountains as far as you could see in any direction. We were on peaks of the foothills versus within them and it made all the difference.

Somebody pinch me

On the way to Komik, which is the highest Himalayan village reachable by motorcycle, we came across meadows full of sheep. Lots of them. Then fuzzy goats, the furriest mules you have ever seen and the mixed breed high altitude Yak Cows, Chur.

Oh, this road💙

The road was very rough again of course and a bit more technical than previously because of the tight switchbacks, water crossings, erosion and the simple fact that these were seasonal summer dirt roads, at best, mostly used by 4×4 tractors as a way of living, work, travel and pretty much everything up here for the 3 villages we would visit today.img_2584

Riding of the edges of these mountains

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My iPhone told me we were at 15,200 ft as we played with the timer on Lacy’s camera to try and take a pic of us and the bike. We motored on to Hikkam and stopped for tea before making the ride back down. Now on a different road, we could see Kaza straight down a very narrow canyon some 3,000 ft far below us. The downward roller coaster road view was a bit ominous and we took a gutcheck moment to be sure we were ready to go down. Thankfully, with the repaired brakes and the road having lots of long slow switchbacks, it made the gravel road down quite manageable. It took us over 30 minutes but we let the bike do the work and coasted down in second gear almost all the way.

Buddha has got the best view in Langza

💚❤️💜

Today was a truly epic ride. We both love the mountains and to spend a whole day so high in these mountains was very spiritual and amazing to see the sparkle in Lacy’s eyes.

Lacy: We achieved the pinnacle of our India adventure today – riding to 15,000 plus feet and witnessing the sheer magnificence of the Himalayas stretching across the sky. Larger than life. This was the best view to date and for me, a dream come true. A dream that manifested nearly six years ago when I lived in Kathmandu and saw the Himalayan mountains for the first time dangling in the sky in the distance. I could hardly believe how high up those mountains seemed from the Nepalese valley I resided in. I was in awe and knew that I needed to get closer to them.

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Last year, as we hiked the Annapurna Circuit through the clouds of monsoon season, I was afforded glimpses of snow covered peaks reaching 20,000+ ft above sea level. Each time I was like a little kid unwrapping a gift. Excitement coursing through my body and a desire for more ignited. This year, riding through the Himalayas of Northern India, we have had a front row seat to the unobstructed beauty of these towering peaks. Rob and I have always shared a love for the mountains. We were married on top of a mountain, hiked thousands of miles up and down numerous peaks and volcanoes across the world and on our latest journey set off on a very challenging ride on one of the worlds most ‘treacherous roads’. All for that heart and soul fulfillment that we feel when we are reminded just how tiny we are in this vast world. Staring up at dramatic cliffs, standing in valleys engulfed by giants and winding through canyon roads at 15,000 feet help you keep perspective in this increasingly fast paced and crazy world where it’s increasingly easy to just go through the motions.

Another glass of tea while looking out over Hikkam

Thank you timer!

Our travels in India have been a mixed bag and every time I began to feel defeated or sad about the happenings in this country it has been the mountains that have brought me peace and helped me find my center again. We met two local couples riding on Royal Enfields in The Travelers Shed (a hotel and restaurant in Kaza that has the only WiFi connection, weak and unreliable as it is) that asked us how our travels in India have been. When I responded that it’s been a little up and down they said that India is a country of extremes. Roads, people, weather etc are either extremely good or bad. I couldn’t debate that. And the more I think about it, it is the best way to describe what we have experienced here. We have run across some really terrible people here who are intent on trying to cheat and mislead us. Just when we are beyond frustrated and want to say “Fuck this country” we are blessed to have someone like Tanzin come into our lives and warm our hearts back up. When we arrived in Pooh and Tanzin welcomed us as friends into his beautiful hotel it was exactly what we needed as two weary travelers. We had just spent eleven days off the bike in Sangla trying to heal Rob’s sprained ankle. The ankle he sprained because the bike we rented lost its rear brakes just two days after renting it. Believe me, that everyone in India who has asked how much we paid to rent our bike (and everyone asks. Locals always want to know what you paid for your rental, the shawl you bought in market, and what your house back home costs. There are no boundaries when it comes to asking about money and it’s honestly a little annoying) and readily informed us that we overpaid. We were willing to pay a little more for a bike, for the convenience of arranging it overseas, easy pickup in Chandigarh and the knowledge that it is a nearly new bike and would be in great condition for a challenging ride. This we were assured of.

We had lunch in Komic…and more tea, of course

It’s hard to explain the level of disappointment and anger I experienced realizing that the rear brake line was compromised in a way we could not have damaged in two days of riding. I am fiercely protective of Rob and the fact that he was injured because of the bike being in less than promised – and dangerous – condition puts me in Mama Bear mode. So our time in Sangla, for various reasons, really took the vibe of our trip down a notch. Because Rob was injured I was out and about on my own a lot and grew really tired of all the stares and attention I was getting as a solo white female. By the time we left Sangla I didn’t even want to leave the hotel. The hotel where we experienced half a dozen traveling men walking into our room to try and sneak a peek of me undressing or what not. I was becoming exhausted by this country by the time we reached Pooh and it was Tanzin’s genuine heart and hospitality that gave Rob and I the strength for further travel. I could go on and on about the good and bad we have encountered or how India is certainly the most challenging country we have explored, but what I want to convey is that it was all worth it to see these mountains today spanning across North India.  Today, this ride, these views, being here with my best friend and husband is a day I will not soon forget.

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We took this road down to Kaza from Hikkam.  Switchback after switchback descending 3,000ft.

Motorbiking Two Up In North India: Kaza to Key Gompa and Kibber

Key Monastery

For a little perspective, that is Key Monastery in the top right of photo.

Our one and only snowy Himalayan day

Rob: We woke to grey clouds filling the big windows of our room and I wondered if it was snowing on top of the mountains visible to the north.

More terrible coffee again this morning,  but good masala omelets and toast with real butter at the hotel helped it go down better. One of the things you can count on as a luxury for so many travelers in far NW India is that the butter is good and plentiful.

Cold. My hands. My face. We had bundled up the rest of us pretty well but we were only 15 minutes into our ride today and I wished for the heated grips of my BMW Adventure versus the vibrating wide spread handlebars and the cold wind today.

It wasn’t a far ride to the village of Key but the snow began to fall and was quite steady as we reached the Monastery. The entire Temple complex covered an individual rock peak set at the foot of a mountain. The ride up to it was pretty photogenic. Once there and up close you could see that it was just simple buildings of a working Monastery. We enjoyed a short but nice tour from one of the monks. One of the things that was most impressive to us was that there were so many colorful Thanka paintings of Deities in their representative poses that lined every wall and crossbeam of the prayer room where young monks come to learn. They are so colorful by themselves, but in a prayer room displaying a collage of a hundred of them, even more so. We explored meditation niches that had been in use since the 12th century. They were basically 2 rock tunnels dug into the mountain, each having 3 or 4 small square chamber-like rooms off of the main tunnel. A small light (LEDs replaced candles now), prayer mat and pad on the floor, total silence and solitude as your tucked away well inside the mountain. When we got back to the bike it had been snowing for over an hour. One of the Monks followed us out with a broom to help sweep 2 inches of snow from the motorcycle.

The absolutely breathtaking prayer room is the only place in the monastery permitted to take photos.

From there we took the road less-traveled-by leading to Kibber. It was snowing harder at this point but it was safely melting as it hit the gravel and dirt road so slowly and surely we climbed the 8km of switchbacks through clouds, falling snow, sludgy muddy road to the top of the pass and up to the little village. Not a tourist village but just a simple mountain village at 13,730 ft.

Snowing and cloudy as we entered Kibber

We walked through the Main Street while big fluffy flakes snowed upon us and had the fresh mountain air to breath which was slightly perfumed by the smell of goat droppings and wet dog. Strangely, this is a familiar and actually comforting smell that reminds me of our trek through the Annapurna Circuit last year in Nepal. Lemon tea and Thantuk (hearty veg & flat noodle soup that Lacy introduced me to a month ago) for lunch in a local homestay was exactly what the day provided and it warmed our little souls. Just as we were starting to descend from the cute little mountain town, the sky cleared and the sun dried up the road a little for a scenic ride back to our home base of Kaza in between the giant Himalayas to our right and left.

The tea house/homestay where we enjoyed thentuk for lunch

Clearer skies for the ride back to Kaza

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A look back on Kibber

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The next post shows our favorite day of the entire ride in India!

Motorbiking Two Up In North India: Tabo to Kaza

Another gorgeous day of riding in the foothills of the Himalayas

Rob: Tabo to Kaza which we will use as a home base for a few days.

We took the time for a photo op on the way to Kaza at the gates entrance to Dhankargompa.  We wanted to ride the switchbacks to the top, but without having a rear brake it was simply too dangerous.

The same elevation we gained in the last 10km into Tabo, we quickly lost in the first 5km we road down the other side of the mountain still edging along the river. I mis-use the word mountain here because we have been riding between 10,000 – 13,000 ft for the last several days which in most of my lifelong orientation is a mountain but here with 25,000ft tall peaks above me, we are still really in the foothills of the giant Himalayas.

It was a rough road, but not dangerous since the elevation changes were steady, corners navigable and the rocks relatively flattened into the dirt by traffic to form a mountain cobblestone. Still, mid 3rd gear was about as much as we could muster over the bumps.

We arrived in Kaza some 2 1/2 hours later at 12,300ft after the continual climb along side the down rushing Spiti River. We never really gained a lot of elevation in any single climb at once and since we were constantly watching the river and the high snow covered mountains that framed the river valley 95% of the time I just didn’t notice the gain until we were here.

Riding in the high desert of the Himalayan foothills prompted me time reconsider how I protected my face on the bike.  I was using an SPF bandana on my lower face to protect from sun, dust and diesel, but feeling the increasing power of the sun of the remaining exposed parts of my face I opted for this new set up with a full SPF shawl I had with me.  Genius! Wish I would have been doing this from the start.

We arrive to the town and aim for the Travelers Shed since it is a landmark for Bikers, WiFi, good rooms and has an integrated Royal Enfield mechanic shop on the ground floor. We sorely needed some brake fixes and just a little connectivity to stay in touch with the world back home. Well… Then… The shop was closed, no rooms at the Inn, no electricity means no WiFi and we scrambled to make alternative plans.

Lacy secured us a simple room even in a touristy area about 200m away for just 1,200 Rupees per night with a balcony overlooking the village, the monastery, valley and up to the mountains. Perfect!

View to the left from our balcony

These words and face are on the mountain above, visible from far away.  We are not sure if it etched, burned, made of stones or something else.

I set out to fill the gas tank from the “Highest Petrol Station in the World” and find a mechanic. On my second try I found Lobzy’s tiny shop. A dirt and rock steep entry way lead to a 2m wide and 3m deep roll up metal doorway enclosing a small concrete pad enveloped in all his tools and spare parts. A half wall of which was piled with deformed and detonated engines ‘a la the scene from “Worlds Fastest Indian”. (A movie you need to see if you are a motorcycle person!)

The diagnosis was a rear brake line rubbed totally through and no brake fluid as I had suspected. We had lived and struggled with this issue since day 2 or 3 of our journey. He found a suitable replacement part and 4 hours later I was back on the road full of rear brake fluid, grip, stopping power and confidence.

While waiting for the repair, an older guy hanging around the micro-shop lended some of his advice and experience. “Half of locals crash. All foreigners crash.” was the general theme of our chat as he advised me on some things to remember about the conditions on the roads from his seat in the middle of a dozen mangled motorbikes being utilized for spare parts. It was reinforcing advice after our already difficult experiences and the many, many safety signs posted all along the roads proclaiming this “The most treacherous roadway on earth.”

Celebrating our arrival to Kaza with momos, masala papad, cold beers and a stunning view

It’s amazing to be here in Kaza above 12,000ft and still staring straight up at the surrounding snow capped mountains and mini glaciers. Kaza has been one of our big milestone goals to reach since we began planning this trip several months before now and setting off some 3 weeks ago.

With the new moon still hiding outside of the mountains, a million stars and the milky way are a regular part of our evening view.

Later the following day we made it back to the Travelers Shed for some Seabuckthorn Berry Juice to mix with the local Arak (moonshine) we had delivered to our room by our hotel guys. We also went from meeting no 2-Up couples to 2 couples who were on a quick trip to Kaza from Rishikesh which is about 3 full days ride each way. Way further than our typical daily Kms covered.

Our hotel had two dogs. I called this cutie “our puppy”  because he would always sleep outside our door and come running to me.

After one disappointing Tourist dinner we choose to find a totally local place to eat dinner on our second night in Kaza. We narrowed it down to two places along the Main Bazaar pedestrian road. Behind a nondescript storefront and behind a flag/banner doorway we made our way into a dimly lit room with 4 small tables, no view but a great savory aroma blowing in from the kitchen. No menus here but tonight everything was Mutton-based from Momos to a Tali plate. 2 Mutton Tali plates please!! Shortly later, our plates arrived with steaming rice, fresh cut cucumbers, whole chilis, chopped red onion and the Mother-of-all slow braised mutton with a very generous helping of heavy pan gravy. The ‘House of Mutton’ became the place’s quick nickname. 260 Rupees later we were in awe of the great quality of food for what equals about $3.60 US. Compare this to 500 Rupees for snacks earlier that day on a popular balcony or the same 500 for our previous Backpacker Special mixed veg dinner that wasn’t really very good at another popular place. BTW – All of names of these places are purposely withheld to protect the places we don’t care for but if any reader would like the directions to our favorites, don’t hesitate to write us!! Hotel Zangchuk where we stayed for five nights has a great staff lead by Manager, Ravinder and was really a great location… and we are happy to promote!

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Two huge smiles after realizing that we stumbled into one of our best meals in India.  We dubbed this place ‘House of Mutton (lamb).’

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Maybe not the best photo, but it represents our second night at ‘House of Mutton’ really well.   Giz watched on as I ran my fresh hot chappati through Mutton gravy.  Fresh onion, chili and cucumber accompany rice and chunks of meat.  All evidenced on this deck of cards that is looking worse for wear as it travels around the world with us.

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View tiny the right from our balcony with the monastery pointed out.  More photos of this colorful and beautiful building below.

Sunday morning we listened to the chanting and music drifting down from the Tibetan Buddhist Temple near us. It is so calming and peaceful here. It’s one of the few times in my life when my body and mind can completely come to a restful place.

Kaza Monastery as shown in the photos above.

View out from the monastery with prayer flags flying in the breeze.

Lacy: As Rob mentioned, reaching Kaza was a big accomplishment. It’s a landmark city for bikers in the Himalaya region as they complete the Spiti Valley loop. Since Kunzum Pass, the highest part of the loop we need to traverse in order to complete the circle, is still closed due to record snow this year we will not be making a full loop. It could be weeks before it opens. Instead, we used Kaza as a hub to take unbelievably gorgeous day trips around the area. We have two posts to follow this that are dedicated to each day’s ride. The ride to Langza was my FAVORITE of the entire trip.

I love the juxtaposition of this colorful stupa against the brown desert mountain.

Kaza is a nice town surrounded by the snow peaked Himalayas. It is 100% a tourist destination crammed with hotels of all levels, shops selling shawls and trinkets and restaurants advertising western food. What you won’t find is cell service for more than phone calls. And honestly, Rob and I have no use for phone calls here so we were pretty disconnected. Actually, we had been out of touch since we left Pooh. The Shed has unreliable WiFi that did nothing more than connect to WhatsApp and occasionally Facebook or Messenger. No ability to load any webpages and it was probably for the best. While we couldn’t stay up to date on the blog, it was nice to have a break from our phones. The intermittent electricity that is provided to the Himalayan area didn’t bother us either as we didn’t have much need for it except the occasional warm shower in the evening and charging the camera battery when we could. Mostly we just soaked in the scenery that we had so tirelessly been riding towards day after day.

We love to see what elevation we are in as we climb through the mountains.  At 12,330ft we are still 4,400 ft lower than the highest that we have ever been.  That was when we hiked across Tharong La Pass on the Annapurna Circuit last year.

By the time we reached Kaza we had really hit our stride again and were enjoying our time flying through the mountains of India on a Royal Enfield and fulfilling dreams for each of us. I was snapping tons of photos off the back of the bike and cracking jokes with Rob as we rode. We were passing more fully geared up bikers like ourselves on the roads and sharing thumbs up and waves as we rode by one another, spreading encouragement.

I went into the market one morning and bought Rob a gift to thank him for all his hard work on the motorcycle, even through being injured, and keeping us safe. He was completely surprised and loved the acknowledgement.