Riding from Rishikesh to Manali was the wildest adventure yet. There were times I wanted to lay down in the mud and surrender to the mountain roads. It was a journey that probably wouldn’t have been so bad if I didn’t undertake it smack dab in the middle of monsoon.
Rishikesh sits on the upper Ganges River, which is very holy for Hindus. The area is packed with Indian tourists and Hindu devotees in beautifully colored saris. Cows mingle with the tourists looking for delicious piles of trash to munch on.
The monkeys wrangle with the cows for the most delicious scraps, but the cows usually win. Kind of like on India roads, size matters. The cow just has to give the monkey a look and the tasty morsel is dropped in place.
Maybe they’re Hindu monkeys and the cow is sacred. There’s an ora and energy to the place. Big monasteries stretch high on the river banks. Many believe it’s a special thing to bathe in the Ganges and that it holds healing powers. It’s kind of sad what a dump areas are. River banks are trash piles.
The Beatles came to Rishikesh in 1968 and studied at the ashram of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. It went into disrepair in later years and was pretty much abandoned. The forestry department manages the area now, but the forest is doing a good job at reclaiming it. Along the search for it, I was joined by some Gray Langur monkeys in the trees. They’re a lot bigger than the usual Macaque monkeys and have a tail longer than their body.
It’s impressive watching them effortlessly swing from tree to tree and dangling on the branches. I managed to track it down after walking up a dry river bed, but was met by a locked gate and high walls topped with barbed wire. After coming this far there was no way I was giving up. I found a small hole in the wall with gobs of barbed-wire trying to block it. I called on my inner Stretch Armstrong and managed to wriggle my way in.
It felt like a prison break and I was praying no Rottweilers would chew my face off. Clusters of bee-hive looking bungalows are scattered all throughout the property.
Along with deteriorating buildings. The ashram that they studied in is slowly crumbling and becoming earthy looking.
Theres one hollow place called The Beatles Cathedral, and has been turned into a hall of art. It feels like your standing in an empty church with a colorful altar.
I think the soul of John Lennon has come back as 3 trillion mosquitos that patrol the property and take blood from every soul who passes through. Once he’s gathered enough juice from us living beings he will resurrect himself and come out with a dope new album. He’s had a lot of years to work on it. I contributed about a half a liter to the Help Resurrect Lennon Fund.
After exploring for the morning it was time to hit the road and make my way to Manali. The normal route would be to go over to Shimla and then head north to Manali, but this didn’t sound adventurous enough. I met a guy who told me about a friend who had taken a different route and it was beautiful. He showed me a few of the places on a map and I was convinced. On the map it looked more direct, but this didn’t take into account many things, like a million zigzags and torrential rains that would turn the roads to diarrhea. On my way out of Rishikesh a slight drizzle started, which turned into a downpour for fifteen minutes. I was able to hide from this one, but couldn’t dodge it all day. There were three roads on the map which headed in the direction I wanted to go. Mussoorie was one of the towns he told me about and I had the choice to start heading north up to there or continue west for a bit. I sat and ate a plate of Thali in the bland town of Dehradun while contemplating my next move. Every direction had dark menacing skies with north looking the worst. I talked to some old guys about my dilemma and they told me not to go to Mussoorie because of the rain. Naturally, I decided to go that way. For the next two hours I drove in a heavy rain up winding roads. It was a taste of what was to come over the next couple of days. The town is up on a ridge top overlooking the valley, which was pretty clouded in. The views must be gorgeous with clear skies. The rain was unrelenting and I drove around for an hour trying to find a hotel. The narrow one-way lanes and alleys led me off into the middle of nowhere. Finally I managed to find a place where I could park my bike. At that point my body was drenched from head to toe and it didn’t matter what the room was, I just needed a place to rest. This room might have been the nastiest most miserable thing I’ve ever slept in. At least in the top three. I know over the years I’ve stayed in some very low quality, but this one took the ribbon. There are times where you end up in real shit holes, but will only be paying a couple bucks. The kid was trying to get sixteen bucks off me and I managed to get him down to eight. It was a million dollar view on the balcony.
Unfortunately it was a door that led the misery.
It looked like they had tried to make it look as bad as possible.
The first sheet was so disgusting I had to ask for another. I’m pretty sure it hadn’t been washed since the Beatles were in India. It looked like a family had eaten dinner off it. I asked the kid for a new sheet and he brought me a big damp white rag. Luckily I have a sleeping bag so I can give the bed a home makeover special.
I was a ways from town and there was no food to be had. Thank god when I first got there a group of Indians celebrating a birthday gave me a joint. This with a couple of my ankle painkillers and I sent myself to a happy place to sleep for the night. I went to sleep with high hopes of good weather in the morning to dry myself out, but woke up to the thud of raindrops on the metal roofing. A peak out the window revealed just as miserable of weather as the night before. I threw on some cold wet clothes and set off. I had a lot of decisions about which way to go. My map showed three different roads that would all lead north to the same spot where I was trying to get to. I could either stay in the hills and make my way to one of these or head back down to the main highway, but that would mean giving up and I wasn’t about to do that. The biggest problem I went into the day with was having a dead tablet, which meant I had no map. I lost my adapter to charge off my motorcycle and the plugs in the room unsurprisingly didn’t work. Riding through the mountains and trying to find your way without GPS is a terrible idea. Especially with the quality of directions you get from Indians. It was about to become a very long wet day. I tried the first road of the three when I came to it. I should have thought twice when I saw the condition of the road. I made it about fifteen km up and was stopped by a landslide. I tried riding over a part of it and ended up bogging down into it. After taking my cases off and working at it for ten minutes, I was able to make it through. I was stoked and felt like I had beaten it, but five km later was stopped by a landslide twenty times as big. There was no choice but to head back. I made my way back and aimed for the next route. Along the way there was a massive landslide that took out a good chunk of road on a cliff and placed boulders and debris in the way. After a bit of a wait they cleared just enough room for the motorcycles to tightrope along the edge and get by it. Of course a bit later I came to a fork in the road with signs only in Hindi. I knew the name of the town I was aiming for and asked some guys. They confidently pointed me to the right. The road climbed up and gave a peak of some views over the valley.
Heading up this road for about ten minutes was the only time of the day I wasn’t getting dumped on. The clouds whizzed and morphed around the green ridges.
For the next twenty plus km I asked multiple people and they all told me I was going in the right direction. Days later when I had my map it made more sense. The road might eventually make it to my destination, but was’t the highway I thought I was on. It was more of a combination of country roads crossing all over to different villages with constant forks in the road. At one of the forks a group of guys told me it was impossible to go the way I was trying because of a military gate and foreigners weren’t allowed. I about fell over. A guy was going to draw me a map of how I could get around it all, but it sounded like a recipe for disaster. The ride back out was a very frustrating one. I found out if I would have taken a left at the fork before it would have led me directly to the highway I was trying to find. The excitement at finding the correct route was short-lived when after ten km there was a big landslide that had literally just happened. I was only the third vehicle to arrive. Nothing to do but laugh and head back. At this point I knew I needed my map and stopped in a small town to get some charge and hide from the rain for a minute. To get to the third choice of roads I had to head down to Paonta Sahib. I arrived at around four in the afternoon after eight hours of riding. The day before when contemplating my next move in Dehradun, I could have continued west for less than two hours and gotten to Paonta Sahib. My route took over ten. Tired of being rained on I started looking for a hotel. I checked every hotel and lodge in town and all of them told me they were full, which they obviously weren’t. It happens a lot where hotels don’t want to deal with having a foreigner stay and create paperwork for them, but I’d never been denied everywhere.
I ate a hug Thali and got back on the road. I figured I might as well make up some ground and it wasn’t possible to get any wetter than I already was. The guys at the gas station recommended getting to Shilai, which didn’t look too far away, but the roads turned out to be miserable. It was probably only sixty km up to it, but it took many hours. It didn’t help that I went the wrong way when getting close. The fork in the road presented me with one nicely sealed choice vs a sloppy mess. Common sense told me it had to be the good one since I was on a national highway. It took fourteen km before I found out I’d gone the wrong way. Thinking I’d arrived to my destination, the locals gave me the bad news. With this hour detour, I spent the final forty-five minutes driving in the dark on torn up, slopped up, jagged rocks dodging big trucks. It reminded me of a night I had when riding through Vietnam on a scooter. I drug myself into Shilai at 8:30 and finally found a place that would give me a room after begging around. I’d rode for close to twelve hours in the rain and hadn’t made it much closer to Manali. It had been one of those days where everything I tried failed and wasn’t helped by not having a map.
After a day like that I was sure it had to get better, but the next matched up pretty closely. I had a few patches of dry weather through the mountains, but most of the time was wet.
A lot of the route was along steep cliffs and drop offs. Here’s a special collection of scary road pics dedicated to my dad.
I bumped into a couple friendly fellows living with their donkeys in a tiny stone home built into a rock overhang. They seemed pretty damn happy out there.
Eventually later on in the day I started climbing up following a river, and kept going until the trees began to change. The views were amazing and vibrantly green.
Once again on a long tough journey I was graced with the sweet aroma of weed growing freely along the roads.
In the late afternoon I was making a descent go of it and thought I was going to reach a good spot for the night. Those hopes were dashed when a truck driver gave me the wrong directions. For some reason instead of looking at my own GPS I trusted him. Never trust an Indian truck driver. There were only two ways and he sent me down the wrong one confidently. After riding on boulders covered in eight inches of diarrhea for over an hour I looked at my map. I was off in the middle of nowhere that didn’t even show any roads.
While trying to turn around, I laid the bike down and covered myself in mud and gashed my hand open. My knee with scars from the Assam crash hit on some rocks and tore them open. I sat there in defeat for a moment while the blood stain slowly spread around the knee of the jeans. Being on the slope, and completely out of energy, I couldn’t get the bike back up. Finally a guy came along and helped me get it up and send me back on my way. I didn’t even make it 5km before a big truck came barreling around a corner in my lane and forced me off the road. Luckily I had room to lay it down in some soft dirt. He got out and helped me lift the bike up. I wanted to punch him in his face so bad. After my two-hour detour, I was definitely not going to make it anywhere before dark. On the bright side, I got my first peek at Himalayan peaks.
It felt good and pretty much made all the hard work worth it. I ended up riding in the dark for quite a while on a torn up roller-coaster of a road. A couple of villages that I spoke with didn’t understand my concept of camping and I moved on. So eventually I ended up camping in a concrete bus shelter along the road. At least there were nice views.
Finally, after three straight days of rain, I woke up to mostly blue sky. It was a beautiful ride down to the river.
The road up to Manali was gorgeous with the landscape constantly changing.
Still filled with weed.
And wild roads.
After three and a half days I’d finally almost reached Manali. A lot of the roads were terrible, but I was back in a t-shirt getting a sunburn.
My porch in Manali looked out over a few distant snow-capped peaks glowing sunset orange. It was a taste of what was to come. The Leh/Ladakh region was next and up into Kashmir. The Himalaya were waiting.