Some are here for the deep spirituality, to evolve and search for enlightenment; others study the wide range of alternative therapies healing mind, body and spirit; many visit for the diverse architecture and landscape, and I suppose lots just come for the hemp, growing openly in the mountains.
I’m here for the Royal Enfield. Is there any better feeling than riding a motorbike into the depths of the unknown? A form of enlightenment occurs when I reach the top of a new mountain, my mind, body and spirit hit a level of equilibrium when I’m fixated on the road, the landscape alters every second and I find secluded architecture at every stop. As for the hemp, adventure on the Enfield will get you higher than any plant. I mean, if this is the ultimate reality, then surely it’s up to you to make it a good one.
Day 1 – Dharamsala – Mandi
McLeod Ganj is located just a few kilometres above Dharamsala, it is home to the Tibetan government in exile and more famously home to the Dalai Lama. There’s a large Tibetan community here, many of whom are refugees and it’s a great place to experience authentic Tibetan cuisine. Momos (steamed dumplings filled with vegetables) provide the perfect snack, especially just before a motorbike trip.
This is the second time I’ve visited a Tibetan community, the first being during my time in Nepal. With strong facial features, the people have a very distinct look to them and there is warmth in their character, they like to smile and are incredibly friendly.
Tibetan Buddhism has a rich and unique tradition of peaceful philosophical debate, as well as traditional costume, dance and music. Located north of the Indian and Nepalese Himalayas, Tibet is the rooftop of the world, but leaks with a sad history. The Chinese government invaded in 1950 and estimates suggest that over one million Tibetans have died and over five thousand monasteries have been destroyed as part of the ongoing suppression and genocide of Tibetan culture. Sadly, this continues today and over one hundred and fifty thousand Tibetan refugees can be found seeking safety in other countries, the Dalai Lama being one of them.
As always in India, our morning didn’t really go to plan and therefore we left a little later than expected. But the Enfield was roaring; a Classic 350 Bullet with Coralie on the back (after much persuading).
Grey mountain clouds, light rainfall and poor road conditions collectively resulted in a tough start to the trip. We sheltered in a Tibetan town called Bir and thukpas (noodle soups) helped warm us up. Within an hour the cloud was breaking and behind the colourful Tibetan flags hanging from the trees I could see some blue sky. We continued our quest through the Kangra Valley and as it was getting dark, reached the town of Mandi, a former trading stop on the salt route to Tibet. We stayed the night, on a mattress thinner than my football sock!
Day 2 – Mandi – Kasol
We are on the road by seven thirty and following Beas River into the Kullu Valley. The condition of the road surface had drastically improved and the traffic diminished; the air was fresh and the greenery was shining from the early morning sun. It was perfect for riding.
The valley was tremendously deep and the road was carved out of the rock along one side. The river to our right was a murky turquoise colour, a temple was perched high on the valley’s opposite side and we simply weaved along the most spectacular road.
Experiences such as this enrich your soul, I can’t advocate them enough. When you push yourself outside your comfort zone, into new surroundings, accepting the risk and striving for adventure, then your brain structure transforms. As new neurological pathways are fired, your days become longer, your senses more alert and you feel a deeper level of connectivity. The river water was moving rapidly, as does the past and the future was nothing but a sunset in the future. I was in the now, ever been there?
By early afternoon we reach the Paravati Valley and climb to the backpacking hub of Kasol. Ascending through the valley we frequently stop to admire the view, with Hemp plants growing wildly by the roadside there’s a scent of marijuana in the air.
Day 3 – Kasol to Manali
Camping close to the river, the sound of moving water is a serene soundtrack to awake to. After a brief stop in Kullu, we were on route to the mountains of Manali.
The wonder of travelling on a motorbike is that it allows you to wander freely to places where you wouldn’t go using public transport. It’s never really about the final destination, but all about the journey there. We stopped on roadside, at what looked like a place for chai, but as we climbed the steps, we realised it was just a small local shop. However, the people there were grateful to see us and the woman made us chai from inside her house. Foreigners did not usually stop there and it was not long before members of the family were appearing and asking us for photos. Within half an hour they were giving us a tour of their house, showing us their wedding photos and had cooked us a meal. They were good people, four generations of family living in the same home, originally from Nepal. In their kitchen they had a small wood burner with a chimney through the ceiling; they explained that during winter when the snow falls, the family would all gather around the fire, sitting on thin mattresses to stay warm. Their generosity was in abundance; they didn’t want us to leave and asked if we wanted to stay the night. On leaving they presented me with a traditional hat and Coralie with a head scarf and bracelet. In the west, our cultural system may label these people as poor, but in my eyes they will always be rich; rich in time, kindness and spirit. I will never forget their sincere hospitality.
Day 4 – Manali – Himalayan
At seven in the morning, at over two thousand five hundred metres up, the air is sharp and cold, riding you can feel it tightening your skin and numbing your face. However, looking up at the snow capped Himalayan mountain peaks with the blue sky behind, your soul feels warm. Those pure, unchartered summits pierce the sky and symbolise the power of nature. As human beings, we get slightly carried away with our importance and dominance, hence the fact that currently 150,000 native people from such mountains are forced to seek refuge for the safety of their lives. However, these mountains were here long before we arrived, and will be here long after we leave, those seeking supremacy within our world, should visit here and then maybe they’ll understand the ultimate truth. Nature is always in control, so perhaps they should forget their bullshit and stop destructing the world and its people. Today, there are over sixty five million forcibly displaced people worldwide. This fact alone indicates a major flaw in our current existence.
We climb into the Salong Valley and then onto the start of the Leh Manali highway to the village of Kothi. At both places we are stopped, the road is not yet open to explore further.
Day 5 – Manali – Dharamsala
It’s a very long ride back to Dharamsala and at times Coralie’s screaming provides an introduction to French swear words. We call in to see the family that hosted us a few days before and give them some pictures that we’d printed. We arrive safely and a cold beer tastes good.