bicycle travelling
preparing for 3onTour!
Indian Himalaya 1997 – report

5. October 1997
just 40 kilometer away from chandigarh - capital of punjab and haryana and the starting point of the tour - a narrow-gauge train takes us up in the mountains. this toy-train was built by the british in 1904, covers 100 km and 1800 meters in altitude, crossing 800 bridges and passes 100 tunnels. heavy rain, fog and quite cold temperatures welcomes us in shimla, a former summer residence for the british people working in dehli. at an altitude of 2130 meters, the important hill station sprawls along a crescent-shaped ridge with its suburbs clinging to the slopes. the colonial forces did their best to live here like in good old england: the mall is lined with english-looking houses, at one end a christ church was built, not far away a huge six-storey castle, with a couple of dining halls and an impressive reception, is surrounded by a luxurious park. the uniform dressed pupils, the policemen and the complicated, slow bureaucracy reminds me, that the british spirit is still alive in india.
India India
kunzam pass (4640 m) letting shimla behind, we are cycling along the sutley valley, always a few hundred meters above the big river which has its source near mount kailash in western tibet. at this time i cannot imagine that i will visit this remote place by bike 3 years later. the first pass was hard work. down from the banks of the sutlej river the road climbs up 2500 meters to the 3300 meter jalori pass. the effects of monsoon destroyed many parts of the road, some damaged indian trucks beside the road are indicating the danger of asian traffic. wood, grass, animals. it really doesn´t look like a place of over 3000 meters in altitude.
the kullu valley, in the seventies a well-known place for western hippies and travellers because of the high-quality marijuana that grows in the area, is nowadays famous for trekking, rafting and skiing. it looks very similar to the alps, with forest, pastures, wooden buildings and snow-capped peaks in the backdrop. a really challenging road crosses a chain of mountains to get into the lahaul valley. at the 4000 meter rohtang pass it is cold, windy and foggy. "rohtang" means "pile of dead bodies" in tibetan, so we are better leaving the pass just after a short and unpleasant lunch. the landscape is now changing completely: no vegetation, just stones, sand and a very bad road. i am impressed, feeling happy and privileged to cycle in such an area, which i never had seen in my life before. in this stunning scenery i am first thinking about making a bike-tour in tibet. although i get exhausted, the 4600 m kunzam pass is the highlight of the tour. colourful praying flags, small temples, high mountains behind are creating an unique atmosphere and i am really in high spirits.
kee-monastery not far away from kaza, the main capital of the remote spiti valley, we are visiting kee gompa, a picturesque collection of tibetan-style buildings set on a hill with a temple on the top. in kaza it takes one day to get a so-called inner-line permit, a useless piece of paper which allows us to travel to tabo, very close to the tibetan border. the road now is paved, not that we´ve expected in this remote corner of northern india. tabo is one of the most important gompa of the buddhist world. the huge temple area will be the place of retirement of dalai lama XIV. on the way back to shimla the road suddenly disappears in a lake. what happened?! a few weeks ago a big landslide buried the small village wangtu, killed several people and formed a huge lake. so we are forced to use a boat and two carriers to get to the road a few kilometers down the kinnaur valley. on the lakeside the indians are starting to build a new road. the sutlej river will never run through wangtu again.
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