[‘Friends of the road (Vrienden van de weg)’ bestaat enkel in het Engels, excuses hiervoor]
In an overpopulated country like India, it’s normal to meet many people. But I had no idea that many of them would be so kind to me. I would love to present them to you.
Dhanyavaad, dear friends of the road!
I met Mac in front of the Himalayan Bike Bar, a decent bike shop in Manali. He was there to ask for a bike box. I was there because of problems with the cones and bearings of my front wheel. The shop wasn’t open yet. We talked a bit. I was tired so not so chatty. But I told him I had a bike box on the terrace of the hostel I was staying in that he could have. So no problem if the shop didn’t have one. He picked it up later that day while I stayed in town. That afternoon I realised I had problems with my gears. ‘Are you good with gears Mac? If so, do you mind taking a look at them?’’ I texted him. ‘No problem!’ he replied and came over to give a hand. After half an hour the problem was solved. We decided to have dinner together later that evening. During dinner, we shared our travel stories. Mac is a very kind and generous man. I was very glad he was around. I could finally talk to a ‘normal’ person instead of the many hippies that are hanging around in Manali. Thanks a lot, Mac. It was great meeting you! Oh, and thank you so much for buying me dinner #india
When I arrived in Losar, in the memorable Spiti Valley, I was extremely tired. Because of the cold, I hadn’t sleep the previous few nights. So I was looking forward to a bed. What I didn’t know was that in Losar there was a two-day ceremony going on. There was an inauguration of a brand new stupa high above the village and 300 monks were around to mark the occasion. They also needed their sleep and because of that… a bed. Sahil, a 29-year old doctor and enthusiastic cyclist, came towards me. He lives in Punjab but was on holiday in Spiti. He had previously volunteered as a doctor in Losar, and during that eight months had made lots of friends in the place. He and his super nice wife Simran (28) were planning to stay at a friend’s place, 8 kilometres from Losar. Without hesitation, he said I could join them. He informed me about the inauguration and suggested I stay with them the next day too. This time at an ex-co-worker’s place. It was a very nice experience to stay two nights in local houses with local people. Spiti inhabitants are super warm, friendly and hospitable. And so are Sahil and Simran.
Wishing you all the best on your bike trip next year in the Himalayas Sahil and Simran! Really hope to welcome you one day in Belgium #india
Because of Sahil and Simran, I was welcomed to stay at this wonderful couple’s place. The super cute lady was constantly smiling. She and her husband prepared us a hearty dinner and breakfast. And we got to taste their homemade yummy barleywine. Although there was no heating in the room, it was warmer than on the road and for the first time in days, I slept well, without waking up due to freezing cold. This was heaven!
Because the lady of the house found out I was really fond of the handmade Spiti socks, she offered me a pair she knitted herself. Too much pampering in one night and day.
Thank you so much, dear strangers #india
On the ceremony (the inauguration of a brand new stupa) in Losar, I met these three monks. They’re a bunch of funny, smiley men. International too. The man on the left is a Korean monk. In the middle, is the Indian Lobsang Manjushri (28) who joined the monastery at the age of eleven. And to his right, the Mongolian Sodnomjamts (30) who’s already spent twelve years in the monastery. All the monks speak Tibetan and are following a 45-day course from Tokden Rinpoche, the guru who was here for to mark this special occasion and gave a speech. I had a really good time with these monks. Talked with them at least for an hour. Learned a lot about monastery life and Buddhism. And was glad to experience that monks can be extremely funny #india
I met Karanbir in Kaza, the main city in Spiti Valley. He owns a super cosy hotel there (Deyzor). But for cyclists, he opens his house for free, at least if the rooms are not taken by other tourists. I arrived in Kaza at the end of the season, so I was lucky. An amazing room with a private bathroom all to myself. What a luxury! I felt extremely spoiled. He also offered tea or food for free. The ginger lemon honey tea was amazing and made you forget the cold in no time. Karan is a very inspiring person. He doesn’t only know a lot about Spiti Valley but also about the world in general. He’s very involved with local life in Kaza. He helps locals and helps promote the volunteering projects in the valley. He’s an extremely kind and generous guy. He made Kaza unforgettable for me. Thanks a million Karan! All the best on your three-month cycle trip through Africa, enjoy the road #india
In Karanbir’s hotel, the walls are covered with books, pictures and inspiring texts. One of those texts was about ‘The Girl’s Hostel’ in Kaza. It caught my attention. The Girls Hostel is a hostel for 17 to 18 years old girls from all over the beautiful Spiti Valley who want to study in Kaza but who live too far away and don’t have the money to rent a flat or relatives living near. It’s Lhamo’s father who started this project. Experiencing the problem himself he started the hostel with all his savings. Once Lhamo (here with her beautiful grandmother) finished her studies she followed the good example of her father and started working as a volunteer for the hostel. Seven days a week, from the early morning till late night she does her absolute best to make it as good as possible for the very nice girls. In five years she hasn’t taken one day off, remaining instead always there for the girls. My respect for Lhamo is huge. She’s the most altruistic and inspiring person I’ve ever met. Right now, they need rupees, tons of Indian rupees. The owner of the building decided to sell the house where the hostel is accommodated. I really hope they can raise the money which is needed for buying the building. I made a website for them and will make a fundraising page. I really hope that all of you are willing to donate a little bit (or actually a lot ;)) to help them achieve their dream: giving Spiti girls a future thanks to good education and a place to eat and sleep. Fundraising information for The Girl’s Hostel you find here #india
In Chango, the apple-village, I met this beautiful man wearing the typical Spiti-hat. He is a vendor in a small shop. I bought some chocolate and tried to start a little conversation. Not speaking any Bothi (Tibetan dialect spoken in Spiti) or Hindi, made it hard. The man just spoke a few words of English. I asked if I could take a picture of him, saying that I loved his hat so much. He was proud to be asked. He rearranged his hat and was ready for the picture. After the ‘photo session’ he gave me an apple. Although I said ‘no’ he insisted that I accept the gift. I asked if he sold dried apples. He didn’t, but started searching for other dried fruits instead. He found a small bag with dried apricots. Second gift. Then he asked me to wait a minute. He returned with a bag full of different kinds of apples: red, yellow, green, small and big. A third gift from a beautiful stranger #india
I arrived in Spillow in the early afternoon. No idea why but I already was extremely tired. Spillow is a mountain village and the surrounding area follows the Sutlej river. Houses are built on cliffs and these last roads go straight up or down – of course Trien, it’s a cliff 😉 Finding a camp spot here is, let’s say, near impossible. Currently, I don’t have the money anymore to stay in a hotel (due to a package -a new innertent – that got stuck at customs in New Delhi for… 19 days! That meant 19 days of hostel bills). But I was still really tired! I checked all the hotels in the village. All the rooms were in between 350 and 800 Rupees a night (€4,7 – €10,7). Too much for my budget. Luckily there was Kurdor hostel. There I could sleep in a dormitory for 100 Rupees. Yeah! The owner told me that if a private room is not taken, I could have it for the same price. Wow, a double bed + basic bathroom just for myself, splendid! I was really grateful because the difference in price was huge and the difference in luxury as well. Thanks a lot sir #india
As mentioned before, right now I don’t have the money to stay in hostels. Near Kalpa village it’s not possible to find a safe campspot. I asked several people if I could camp in their apple orchard but I was refused. Third time lucky! This boy, a student, always smiling (except for the picture) instantly wanted to say ‘yes’ but had to just check with his mum if it was fine. Yay! I had my spot for the night. I could also charge my phone and received an apple from their orchard. Thanks a lot and all the best! #india
When riding down from Kalpa village towards Rekong Peo I bumped into a bunch of extremely beautifully dressed villagers, especially the women. I was curious, keen to find out what was going on. The second day of a traditional Kinnaur Buddhist marriage was taking place. I instantly was invited by several guests to join them to drink their traditional salty tea and have breakfast. There was one guy who spoke English. He told me I had to stay till 3 pm for the ceremony. Being fascinated with this tribal marriage I decided to stay. All the guests were involved and helping out. Men mainly cooked and served food, women baked chapati (bread), cleared the tables and did the dishes. I thought I could provide some help in that last department, so I joined the women somewhere in a corner and helped them with washing and rinsing. Later that day I got to know the sister of the groom (right on the picture). She also spoke English and told me a lot about their typical marriage traditions. Very interesting. The photographer of the day insisted taking pictures of me with the family and the married couple. Help! Wearing my travel clothes and my cycling cap was in stark contrast to all the beautiful traditional wear surrounding me. The girl said I could wear her beautiful filt hat. A bit later she offered me my own hat. A gift, for me as their guest, to show respect. Wow! Amazing! What a souvenir, what a day! Unforgettable #india
Because the marriage took longer than I thought. I set off way too late. It was getting dark and I still had to find a place to pitch my tent. Riding down with it getting darker and not seeing any viable options, I decided after 7 km, to give the area by a temple a try. No, that wasn’t an option, that was a holy place! There was a hotel one kilometre further but because I didn’t have the money to stay in a hotel (see November 1st 2017) I asked if there was any other solution. The guard of the temple started making some phone calls. And ten minutes later it was decided. I could sleep in the guesthouse from BRO (Border Roads Organisation). On top of that I also received a fantastic dinner and filling breakfast. Wow, I’m so grateful for all this kindness and help. What a day! Thank you so much #india
Same problem over and over again: difficulties with finding terrain to pitch my tent. Asking this kind man was an instant ‘yes’. He also offered me yummy apples from his orchard and wanted to know if I didn’t want any of his cabbages that were growing in his vegetable garden. Apart from selling the apples from his orchard he’s also a Hindi teacher but above all a very kind man #india
And again: where can I camp in this beautiful, lush green, mountainous landscape? I saw a ‘good looking’ garden, quite flat. But the lady of the house insisted on me sleeping in one of the rooms in her big house. “And please use the wash- and bathroom if you want to”. She told me she’s the ‘President’ for this and six other villages. ‘The President?’ No idea if she meant ‘Mayor’’ and if it’s true. You never know here, I already met the King of the Spiti region a week before 😉 #india
In Tiuni (Uttarakhand) I was looking for an ATM. Tiuni is a big mountain village. It was Saturday, late in the afternoon and the only ATM available was high up, along a dirt road next to the local school. Unfortunately the ATM was closed. A man came towards me and said he would call his friend to open the bank the next morning. No reason to go far away from Tiuni. So I asked if I could camp on the lawn in front of the school. I could. In no time my tent was surrounded with dozens of children. Super sweet, polite and curious kids, watching every movement I made. Sixty small eyes directed on one tent, one bike and one human being: me. Very soon questioning started: “Auntie, auntie, this…” or “Trien, Trien, that…” or “Didi, Didi…”. They loved being photo models and seeing what and how I ate, how I washed my clothes, brushed my teeth, pitched my tent and inflated my mattress. The next morning at 7 am… whispering voices next to my tent: “Good morning! Good morning Trien”, “Chai, chai?”. They asked me to take one last picture. The oldest boy whispered to all the rest to follow his instruction for the photo: thumbs up and everyone say: “All the best to you Trien”. They pushed my bike down to the road and waved me goodbye “Bye Trien!” “Bye auntie!” “Didi, bye bye!” With a big smile and twinkles in my eyes I started my day #india
That same evening (see above) when the majority of the children had already retired home, I was already in bed mode. I heard a voice next to my tent: “Trien Trien, I have something for you”, it was Ajay (12), he picked some beautiful, warm pink flowers for me. Heart melting time 😉 Good night Ajay #india
I had found a nice place to camp on a private but abandoned terrain. Although nearby Chandli village, the place was a bit hidden and I had a stunning view, just perfect. At least that was what I thought. Before I could pitch my tent, the twelve-year-old Akhil, came over to tell me that I couldn’t camp there “Animals! Tigers!” – I had to camp in their garden instead. A minute later his uncle was there as well. “No, no, you’re a woman alone, that’s not safe. You really have to come to our place.” I could sleep in a bed, in a (spider ;)) room to myself in the community house, next to Akhil’s house. Akhil is a super sweet and very smart boy. He speaks incredibly good English and treated me to tea, both in the evening and the morning. When I asked him if he had to go to school the next day, he replied he didn’t. His two-month-old little brother passed away two days ago. I was shocked! I felt very bad and sorry for Akhil and his warm family. He told me not to say anything to the rest. It was our little sad secret. I wish you and your family lots of love and strength in these difficult times sweet Akhil #india
Another problematic evening finding a good place to camp. I asked several people if I could pitch my tent near their house. ‘No’ was the unanimous answer. It had gotten dark and there was no time to lose. Still, I saw people working in terraced fields and a wee bit further down I saw two tents. In these tents, Deepak and his family live. Deepak speaks a couple of words English and was very glad his uncle answered my question positively. Every single movement I made was watched. Not only by Deepak, but also by neighbours, aunts, uncles… from pitching my tent to brushing my teeth. Apart from that, Deepak was lovely. A very happy boy, always singing and even inventing songs about me in the few English words he spoke. Cute #india
Hearing street music and seeing people dancing made me curious. I followed my ears and eyes and found myself witnessing a Hindi wedding in the streets of Baijnath, a village in Uttarakhand. There was a man, dressed like a sultan, sitting in a car covered with orange flowers. Next to him his aunt wearing lovely golden jewellery and a colourful dress. The ‘sultan’, who was the groom, invited me to the wedding. Dressed in a cap, helmet, dirty pants and sweaty shirt I wasn’t very keen on accepting this kind and unique invitation. However, it did not prevent me from staying there in the street and watching the beautiful spectacle. A minute later this man came towards me and asked me the same question. He also added I had to stay for lunch. Again I showed him my clothes and pointed at all the wonderfully dressed women around. The contrast was too big I said. ‘No problem, really, you are our guest, please, join!’ After him and others asking several times, I accepted his offer and spent an unforgettable afternoon with them in Baijnath. Thank you soooo much for this unique experience Sir #india
“Sir, can I pitch my tent down there, next to your shop? Is that your property?”
“Sorry, no, you can’t, but I have a room where you can sleep. You are a woman alone, no need to camp, that’s too dangerous.”
“No problem I like sleeping in my tent.”
“Sure, sure? Well, you can set up your camp here, behind the house. Do you need tea or food? Just ask me, I’m over there.”
Although that evening young guys came over to my tent twice: “Hey mam I want to talk to you. Mam, I love you mam! Mam, mam!” meanwhile shining with their torch under my tent… I’m very thankful the shop owner wanted to help me #india
Uttarakhand is a nightmare for being able to find remote camp spots on flat terrain. That’s why more often than not I had to ask people to camp on their property. This man (right in the picture) immediately agreed, although he’d have preferred I sleep inside the house. But I insisted on sleeping in my tent. He and his family also respected my privacy, which was rare for India. I really appreciated it. The next morning I got a kind of ‘guided tour’ of their property. I got to see their buffalo’s, cows, giant goats, dogs, cats, papaya and mango trees and received lots of freshly picked bananas from their beautiful banana trees. It made my morning near Dwalisera quite unforgettable. Thank you so much #india
“No, no really! With a bike, it’s not possible. After four kilometres the road is blocked because of landslides. There’s only a super narrow track on the extremely steep slopes of these landslides from loose stones. Crossing by bike is a no go. You have to return and go to the main road.”
That’s what three army men told me near the border of Nepal. “But I’m a stubborn European” I replied “I’ll try it. If it’s not possible, it’s only eight kilometres that I will have to return, no big deal!” They laughed and tried to convince me several times, but finally gave up and waved me goodbye. After four kilometres the road I was cycling on suddenly didn’t exist anymore, or rather never existed. It still needed to be built. A big damaged bulldozer was covered under stones. Behind that, there was a huge gap. Further on, I saw a narrow track. That might be the track the army boys were talking about. I checked it out for a few minutes. Wow, this is steep! This is narrow! Could I do this? Will I have to turn back? No, that’s the last thing I want… I could see even from where I was that the stones were very loose. And I didn’t want to fall all the way down and into the river below. There must be another way around. I had to go back down again to the village near the river. Back down just to have to go up all the way, again… In the village people made gestures to tell me it wasn’t possible. “I’ll try,” I said. After a couple of minutes the guy in the green shirt, together with his friends, had followed me. He asked me if I needed any help. Me, whose normal reply is to say “it’s not necessary” instantly replied “yes” and thanked him. After a few hundred meters, a lot of sweating and slippery movements creating tiny landslides, we reached the point where it started to become easier and safer pushing the bike. I said it was fine now and that he could return home if he wanted. I said I was incredibly grateful and thanked him a million times over. And realised that without his help it wouldn’t have been possible 😉 #india
Monotonous I know, but yes, yet again problems with finding a place to camp. I asked the police at a control post near a bridge full of monkeys if I could pitch my tent behind their post. I couldn’t. I started complaining that the police should be there to help people, not to send them away. After lots of chatting between themselves, they came back over with a solution. They knew an ex-military man who lived one kilometre from the bridge. I could stay there. That retired military man and his retired military wife turned out to be the kindest people. Not because I could sleep in a huge room all to myself but just because of their caring and well intended demeanours. Thank you so much #india
It’s that period of the year where everybody gets married. Really, in every village I’m cycling through I hear music and see houses extended with colourful cloths. Happy people everywhere and women in beautiful bright dresses wearing nice jewellery. It was Saraswati, the girl dressed in green and brown that came over when I was taking a picture of the whole setup. She spoke very good English and was interested in why I was there cycling. She invited me to the wedding, asked me if I wanted to share lunch and dance with them. Not having party clothes, stilettos and not having showered, I rejected her kind offer. But after several more times of her asking, her sister Rekha (the girl making the V-sign) and her brother Ajay (the guy with the cap) asking, I couldn’t refuse. They were just too kind and too enthusiastic for me to be able to neglect their sweet invitation. So I stayed, shared a tasty lunch, watched them dance and talked a lot. A couple of great and unforgettable hours with these super nice, warm hearted and hospitable people. Thanks a lot, guys! #india