Monsoon to Mountain Madness


Sometimes it is hard to believe that we are in India, most everything around appears like in Tibet. The villages look like Tibet with white, flat roofed mud brick houses decorated with bright colours interspersed with Tibetan monasteries and ever rotating prayer wheels. There is a much calmer feeling in the air as people go about their business growing barley, sweet pees and potatoes in terraced fields on any land that can be provided with water from the many pristine creeks and rivers which run from the remaining snowy areas high in the mountains. Picturesque monasteries attract many western Buddhists to spend extended periods of time here, experiencing a simple life of chanting, eating, sleeping and, well, playing cricket or volleyball. The monks lifestyle is incredibly simple and easy for them as they have no duties beyond the occasional ceremony for the local villagers to cleans them of any demons. In one such ceremony all the villagers crowd into a low, dirt floored room light only by two intense beams of light from small holes in the ceiling. The thin high altitude air combined with the smoke of sage being burnt by the lhama makes my very dizzy. Children cause mischief amongst themselves as the next stage of the ceremony is prepared. The lhama then cleanses each person by spitting into an ornate silver teapot of milk with a haunting sound and heavy breathing before pouring a steady white stream onto the face of each man, women and child. The milk is quickly rubbed over the face and taken into the mouth before being spat out onto the floor in front. This process takes quite some time, once complete each person receives is touched on the head by the lhama using peacock feathers with the sick being given extra attention. Finally (for the kids especially) the ceremony is over and everyone flocks out into the extreme high altitude sunlight to continue their daily lives.
We cycle on to the next monastery where I spend the night overlooking another quaint village which interrupts the dry landscape with vivid green fields and colourful white houses. The stars seem close enough to touch as shooting stars cruise through the night on a silent journey to nowhere.
Gravel turns to asphalt and asphalt to stones creating a patchwork of roads as unpredictable as the Indians themselves. The road crosses plateaus of peas, potatoes and barley as it weaves its' way towards the pass, many steel bridges straddle the rivers and the mountains continue ever higher towards the sky. Glaciers hang precariously from the high valleys, just threatening to disappear as the temperature increases year by year. The road climbs ever higher, the air thins and my breathing becomes laboured and fast, my pedals turn slowly and the wheels bump and grind over sharp rocks, as I pass the last stream and reach the top of the pass I feel somewhat elated as the speedometer clicks over to 5000 km exactly at that point and my notes tell me I have been on the road for 3 months that day. Where will the next 3 months and 5000 km take me?