Archive for October, 2006

A trip to the LFW (local friendly welder)

Our kit gets loads of abuse over the summer, so it innevitably needs the odd bit of TLC. The nice thing about the BOB trailers we use for the self-supported tours is that they’re made from chromo, which makes them repairable ‘in the field.’ We’re got a bunch of different Yaks (our herd), and the one in need of attention was a ‘first generation’ model; we’ve had it for years and it’s done us proud.Noticing that the base was starting to come away from the main frame, we headed down to our local friendly welder. The fringes of all Indian settlements are lined with rows of darkended, dingy auto-works where jeeps lie in open surgery, and bald tyres are patched up for another year or two. Scruffy and grungy, this underbelly is not the India of tourist brochures. But it’s a chance to see a whole other side of a city where you’d never normally have reason to go.Welder at workWe stopped at one, thick with smoke from both the welding machine and the incense wafting out of the workshop shrine. After a quick once over, Ramesh was soon scrabbling around on the floor for a few strips of scrap metal to reinforce the base. A small crowd of nosy neighbouring shopkeepers had gathered, offering advice. Donning a pair of vaguely dark sunglasses, sparks flew and the trailer was bodged back together in no time. The cost? About 50p. And while Indian welding certainly can’t match the neat TIG welding of the original, it looked like it would do the job.Back to new, kind of…Off to the paint shop then.Ashok AutoworksOur helpful onlookers pointed us down the road to Ashok Motor Workshop, one of the many rickshaw specialists in Manali. The idea of a simple touch up to protect the exposed frame from rusting was soon replaced with a complete respray; after all, we have a company image to think about… As with most things in India, it was a ‘while you wait service.’ Sweet milky tea was called for from the chai-wallah hut round the corner; an elderly man appeared with a wire carrier, and the piping hot chai was served in grubby old glasses.Immaculate workshopFirst the old decals were painstakingly scratched off, then the airbrush was filled with paint – Rickshaw Black, appropriately enough. It was propped up along a piece of rusting scaffolding, surrounded by posters of Hindi deities. No mask, along a dusty, polluted road: that’s India for you. Half an hour later and £2 down, we had our shiny, glossy BOB back in action.It had been an intereting experience seeing the inner workings of a rickshaw repairers. With only one coat to her name, we don’y expect it to last long.Glossy BobBut I guess it will just give us the excuse to go back next year for more…

The Black Mountains: An Infamous Classic

Climber Numero Uno

Taking advantage of a sliver of sunshine that permeated a week’s forecast of drizzle, Cara and I headed out to the Brecon Beacons for the day. We met up with Simon (who joined us on Manali-Leh last year) on what turned out to be a suitably epic ride. In fact, it was a route suggested to us by wheel-truing supremo Neil, also on the tour; an ‘infamous classic’, as one of the mountain bike mags put it. And while the climbs weren’t of Rohtang’ian proportions, they were steep enough to have us scrabbling for grip and peddling at the speed of crawling babies. Or off the bikes altogether.

The Ridgetop (one of them)

The ride began in Mynydd Du Forest (GR 252285, not far from Abergavenny); scenery doesn’t get much better than this little pocket of Wales. The ridges here are like huge shark fins, shielding the late afternoon sun from one side of the valley, throwing it into cold, deep and dramatic shadow. Grassy shutes fed down into valley floors, where forgotten backlanes meandered beside translucent rivers. Dappled autumnal colours and a clean, crisp light brought out the best in the auburn ferns. Indeed, it was all rather lovely.

Late Afternoon

The View

I took the Big Wheeler for a spin, but was blighted by three punctures in the space of a mere kilometre. Simon executed an elegant endo, adding another dark, angry bloodblister to his set of stigmata-style wounds from an earlier incident. And Cara managed to almost impale herself on some barbwire as she hurtled down a slippy, slabby, rocky descent strewn with giant mismatched steps.

The Descent

Simon’s host of computers reported us that we had covered a commendable 40km, with a respectable 1300m of climbing. We were up at Crug Mawr as the bikes’ shadows were longest, hurried back to the car park just before dark, gulped down a few warming cups of coffee and a chunk of carrot cake, before heading for home…

Long Shadows

Pics by Cass and Simon. Simon’s blog is here.

The Indian Barbering Experience

As hair was starting to sprout through the vents of my bike helmet, Cara took the shears out last night and went to work at my Spitian-grown dreads… What resembles the remains of a fairly sizeable roadkill is now stuffed into the bathroom bin.

So I’m back to *normal* – all I could do with is a close shave from an Indian barber. I think I’d skip the extras though. As well as the usual nose hair trimming and eyebrow plucking, the last barber I went to offered to squeeze my pimples (no thanks, I’ll do that in private, not surrounded by a crowd of onlookers). I also resisted the lure of a head massage as I’d tried one before. First my head was slapped about like a basketballer dribbling a ball, then my eyes were pushed into their sockets, Vulcan-style. Never again…

Unruly hair

But visiting a local barber is one of the ‘must-do’ activities in India. Go ferrel, leave your washkit behind, then look forward to some TLC when you’re back in Manali. Here’s Duncan, enjoying a face massage with industrial strength skin products:

dunc1.jpgdunc3.jpgdunc2.jpg

Freddy was looking unusually nervous as the pre-pubesent teen loaded up the cut-throat razor with a new blade. He was worried about his insurance: ok for mountain biking and snowboarding, but would it cover ‘extreme shaving’?

nervous-fred.jpg

Still, they both came out looking new and shiny, and ten years younger:

cleanfred.jpgduncclean.jpg

New Tour: Sach Pass

On the way up…

Most people who come to Northern India want to ride from Manali to Leh. But there’s so much other great riding nearby that’s quieter, more off the beaten track, and isn’t quite so tough. With this in mind, we’d really like to run a tour across the lesser known Sach Pass next summer.

Here’s an outline:

The trip will be 15 days long, and cross two big passes (4000m+). Terrain’s a mix of paved and unpaved surfaces – so think roughstuff touring rather than mtb’ing. Although it’s an absolutely fantastic ride, the fact that no-one knows about it means there’s very little information on the web. Which makes it harder for us to get a group together; so this post is to gauge what kind of reaction you have. We rode it last year (a little late in the season, mind) and posted some pictures.

What we love about about crossing the Sach Pass is the extraordinary variety of geography and culture it emcompasses, over a relatively small distance. From the greeny lushness of the Kullu Valley, to the drier climes of Buddhist Lahaul, to the all-but-empty Pangi Valley. After crossing the wonderfully rugged Sach Pass, there’s even a 100km descent (that’s right) south to temple-packed Chamba. In fact, I’d go as far as saying it’s the most beautiful pass we’ve ridden in Northern India. The last stop is Dharamsala, home of the HH Dalai Lama and all things Tibetan. It’s a challenging ride with plenty of climbing – but overall altitudes are a little lower, so it’s easier to get your head around.

The best time of the year to do this trip is mid September to mid October: after the monsoon, but before the snow. The dates we’re suggesting are the 18th Sept to 2nd October. The price will be around £750, all in. We’ll run it as a minimal, jeep supported trip, with Norboo our cook on hand to rustle up our evening feasts and Phunchok to carry our gear. We’ll camp most of the time, with some guesthouses too. Unlike our Spiti ride, the route isn’t technical (from an mtb point of view) – though we’d recommend mountain bikes or touring bikes with wider tyres for the very mixed conditions.

Please let us know what you think…

Sach Pass

Viva Mexico!

We’re off to Mexico!

Well, at Christmas at least. Hiram, who was on our Manali-Leh tour, has invited us to his hometown of La Paz, Baja California. He’s promised to show us his favourite local trails and beaches; a blend of sea kayaking, kite-surfing, island camping, mountain biking… Bliss. Then we’ll head over to the mtb-mecca of Copper Canyon, in the Sierra Madre mountain range. Apparently it’s deeper than the Grand Canyon, and more than four times its size. What’s more, it’s in the coolest named state in Mexico: Chihuahua. Maybe I’ll find my pooch there!

Here’s Hiram in India, proudly clad in his country’s colours.

Proud Senor Hiram

Unfeasibly Steep

Deep in the gorge, Chicham

Some thoughts about off-road, off-beat touring:

As our own riding interests have broadened, so too has the riding style of our tours. We still love *classic* touring along quiet backroads and empty dirt tracks. A life’s possessions pared down to a couple of panniers. Wandering through one village after the next, wrestling with the odd Tata transport truck and waving to crazy bus drivers. Sponging up a thousand sights and sounds; the deep sleep savoured after a long day on the road.

But more and more, we’re also getting a kick from riding the kind of tracks and trails for which you need a dedicated mountain bike and a decent set of knobblies. In Northern India, there’s a vast network of goat and donkey paths, much of which is rideable. We’ll admit that it can take a bit of effort to get to them and nail them – maybe they’re a bit rocky and gnarly, or bean-pole narrow and loose. Sometimes it’s a case of shouldering the bikes to hike out of a ravine at the end… Or, as we call this trail on our Spiti Epic trip, (see pic below) they’re just Unfeasibly Steep.

What we can promise you is that there’s nothing like them to infuse a real pioneering spirit to riding them in this part of the world. We’re working on some trips that involve Yak-support – real, live, hairy ones, not the model of Bob trailers – just so we can get to these kind of places.

At the end of the day, what we love about bikes of all ilks is how they get you to the true back of beyond; the real backcountry of the Indian Himalayas. Whether you like touring independently or fancy joining us in a group, there’s some wonderful places waiting to be explored.

Unfeasibly Steep

Scree!!

Incidentally, if you like the idea of plummeting in altitude very, very quickly, then go and ride in the Sierra Nevadas, Spain, with the appropriately named Switchbacks. White knuckled riding that’s guaranteed to improve your riding…

Chandra: official mascot

chandra one fine morning

Cara thinks I’m getting broody for a pooch.

This summer, we befriended Chandra, a mountain mongrel. Well, we fed him and sensibly, he hung around for more. We found him at Chandra Tal (after which he’s named), a high altitude lake on the edge of the Spiti Valley. A tough little fellow, he slept outside at 4200m curled up in a tight ball like a furry woodlice. He was an instant success with all the dog lovers on the tour, and even Cara relunctantly agreed there was something rather special about him. So it was with sorrow that we said our goodbyes when it was time to ride on.

But our paths were to cross once more. As luck would have it, we found Chandra lounging in the sun at an Indian dhaba – a truckstop – in the windswept settlement of Battal, a couple of weeks later on round 2 of our Spiti Epic trip. Perhaps lured by promise of more home cooked leftovers, he followed us back to the campsite, some 15km away. Everyone took to him, and over the next couple of days he trotted alongside us as we rode (cunningly shortcutting the switchbacks) or hopped in the jeep (and generally vomited en route) to meet us at the campsite.

At night, Chandra slept in the porch of our tent, out of the wind. Relative luxury. I’m a bit of a soft touch with dogs so I had to make the boundaries very clear, I was told. Tent Porch: Ok. Inner Tent: Bad. Apparently, dogs don’t understand ‘special occasions’, like Christmas and Birthdays, so *no* meant *no*. Or at least, all except for the one night, when he drove us insane by barking for hours on end in the middle of nowhere (protecting us, he would have us believe). On this one occasion I was allowed (or rather, instructed) to invite him inside, where he soon fell fast asleep; allowing us to too.

His origins were something of an enigma. Someone said he was a shepard’s dog, but that the shepard had gone home for the winter and left him. It wasn’t long before I was contemplating the logistics of bringing him back to the UK. We inspected his teeth and admired the sheen of his coat. He was as fit as a fiddle, and at 20kg, he’d fit nicely into the wicker basket in my two wheeled bike trailer. Although there were a few ‘lookalikes’ in the area (he was a mongrel after all), none of the others had his gentle demeanour, his characterful scar across the nose or unusual half-docked tail. But as it turned out our driver, Phuntchok, offered to take him to his family home for the winter in Tabo, where he could live like a king in an orchard.

He was a good pooch, and we’ll miss him. Hopefully we’ll catch up next year. Who knows, maybe he’ll have sired some pups we can smuggle back in our Camelbaks…

cheeky chandra


Please check out our main website for details on our bike trips to the Indian Himalayas.

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