May 15, 2009

7 years ago, while traveling in India on our Royal Enfield, we encountered a couple with a young child, cycling the Manali-Leh road.
A day later, we already forgot about it, and like most people didn’t understand what cycle-touring means.

After 10 months in India, 8.5 of them with our Enfield (Shuki) and 5 of them in the Himalayas, we were very ‘India nostalgic’ and knew we will return.
Over 2 years ago, while cycling in the Tibetan Plateau, Gal started playing with the idea of cycling the India Himalayas. Rami eliminated the idea; it will be too difficult for his bad knee.

A year and a half later, in Peru, we gave up cycling the south of Chile-Argentina (the Lake District, Carretera Austral and Patagonia). Gal started nagging/brain-washing Rami about the alternative – the India Himalayas: “It is a good time to leave the winter of South America and arrive to North India, for the summer”.

So… we had plane ticketswe had a visawe had our bicycles ready, or so we hoped…
We went shopping in Buenos Aires, with our credit card in our pocket. The last time we bought something with our credit card was in the USA, 16 months earlier. Preparing for the Latin America Bicycle Trip.
The only things we did buy during these 16 months (which weren’t eatable) were a pair of flip-flops (which we share for showering), for Rami’s birthday and a cycling shirt for Rami.
We bought Gal a pair of Merrell shoes, similar to her previous ones (which entered the prestigious Tool Of The Month). We also bought new cycling shirts (Gals was totally torn), socks (mala calidad for Rami) and “Yo” cycling shoes for Rami.

The flight 15/04/09
A flight creates a gap; you enter a sterile airport at one point and exit a sterile airport in a totally different point.

It was the first time we took the bicycles on a plane. We were very concerned… flying a bicycle is not so trivial and can turn our expensive.
We met many cyclists, who flew their bicycles; some had horror stories (stolen pedals at a nowhere airport, etc.), while others never had any problem. But there is one consensus: you always need to fight with the ground staff, explaining and insisting that it is free (with British Airways), the box is in the size and weight limit, or just paying less than the actual overweight.
Maybe they won’t allow the bicycle all together – what? You go back home?
There is also the hassle of finding or creating a box. By luck, our hostel owner in Buenos Aires kept 2 big bicycle boxes, which 2 cyclists have left, we had fewer headaches about it (but still had a headache).
On our first flight, to Thailand, we didn’t have bicycles; we bought our first pairs in Bangkok.
We put a lot of effort in crossing the Caspian Sea to avoid the stress of a flight and Rachel did a hell of a job (one of her better projects on our trip) arranging our boat trip from Alanya, Turkey to Haifa port, Israel.
We chose to start the Latin America chapter in California, USA and not in Ushuaia, South Argentina (even though it was the season), again, to avoid flying the bicycles. In San Francisco, we bought our second pair.
The crossing of the Darien Gap, from Panama to Colombia on a sail boat, instead of flying, involved synchronization and a deadline and probably did some damage to the bicycles (salt water and air), but kept the journey continuous.

And the moment finally came. We were dropped at Ezeiza airport, Bs.As. Argentina. Even this wasn’t easy - we had to order a van from a moving company.
We arrived 4 hours in advance, with the bicycle boxes not sealed, incase of overweight and security inspection. The British Airways clerk, who handled us, insisted that there is a fee for the bicycles, but 2 other clerks explained him that it is free.
Then, for almost an hour, we disturbed the queue of passengers checking in and finished closing the bicycle and trailer boxes, using a few rolls of wide duck-tape (you can concentrate enough you can hear the duck-tape’s annoying noise.
We could only hope the bicycles arrive in one piece.
At Heathrow airport, London, while passing through x-ray, Rami’s helmet got stuck in the x-ray machine and broke; lets hope we can glue these clips.
The short time we had till the connection flights, we spent in sending the 18 year old Glenfiddich bottle (from the Bs.As. duty free) via luggage; Gal wouldn’t leave Heathrow without it!
We landed in Indira Gandhi airport, Delhi, India, Gal still wiped-out from her tranquilizers (Clonex – Gal hates flights and these pills), and waited for our bicycles, and waited… and waited… and waited… half an hour later, in an empty ‘baggage claim’ hall, we asked about one missing bicycle. After asking our name, they said we have a message from Rachel Rosenbaum: “One pair of bicycle missed the connection. Love”.

We left the sterile (semi sterile) airport to a totally different world/time/dimension – we were in India!

Tak & Dana 17/04/09
At 01:00 the taxi-van dropped us at Lajpat Nagar, Delhi. Tak was waiting and helped us with our luggage.
A month and a half earlier, in Argentina, we contacted Takahiro Noguchi, a warm-showers member, in Delhi. He warmly invited us.
Rami was looking forward for the authentic Indian experience, staying in an Indian house and tasting the culture (and food), but was surprised to find out that Tak is an American, from San Francisco and Dana, his girlfriend, an American as well, is even Jewish ;-)
Between preparations for Tamar’s visit and the bicycle trip, we got to spend some fun time with them, trying to relax.

Gal’s bicycle arrived. Liz, another friend crashing in at their place, wasted a whole morning waiting for them. When we returned ‘home’, we were surprised to see them. Thanks, Liz.
We reassembled the bicycles and found out that the thread of the derailleur’s screw, in the frame, was damaged, reminisce of the terrible mechanic from Rio Ceballos, Argentina.
When finished, we parked Rami’s Rivendell Atlantis and Gal’s Surly Long Haul Trucker near the two Long Haul Truckers of Tak & Dana.

The phrasebook 18/04/09
One of the most important things on our travels is the ability to communicate. In China, for 4.5 months, our phrasebook saved us. In the ex-Soviet Russian world it got us drunk and happy and after 15 months in Latin America we can sing in Spanish.
So, on our first day in India, we searched for a phrasebook (and a pocket dictionary, Hindi-English/English-Hindi, which we never found). We found the Lonely Planet one, $10, and the Indian version, $2.
Rami bought the cheap one, obviously :-)
In the evening, Rami went through it, semi-thorough, and very quickly we understood that like the Indians, this phrasebook will drive us crazy!
When someone doesn’t speak any Hindi, he’d prefer the sentence:
“Where is the… bus station/police/train station …?”
“Would you be so kind as to direct me to the nearest pediatrician?”
Try saying that in Hindi!
The next morning, defeated, Rami returned the local phrasebook and bought the Lonely Planet one.

Supplies from Israel 20/04/09
Tamar, Gal’s mother, came for a 3-week visit.
We jumped on the opportunity to get supplies from back home.
Tamar arrived carrying a nicely packed carton box, “Rosenbaum style”. A small, red kitchen towel wrapped the handle, for extra comfort. In it was Gal’s old wheel, which she used for the last 6,000km in Asia. Rami desperately needed a rear wheel – his free hub was dead after 15,000km. She also brought Gal’s old pedals, cholesterol pills (for Rami) and birth control pills (for Gal).

Supplies from San Francisco 11/05/09
2 of our tires were very tired (15,000km and many bad roads). We didn’t find anything good in Buenos Aires and didn’t want the Argentinean “mala calidad – Industria Argentina”. In Israel, the prices of the Specialized Armadillo jumped to over $100 and the models they had were not good for us. We decided to wait with it for India and trust our karma.
It worked! Tak & Dana visited San Francisco exactly during our travels with Tamar. Tak was happy to help.
We emailed many bicycle shops and City Cycle replayed warmly that they’ll have 4 Specialized Armadillo Crossroads tires arriving tomorrow and they’ll keep 2 for us (of coarse it was much more complicated, involving a first shop who stood us up in this very short window of opportunity).
And if you’re bringing 2 tires, what’s another ceramic cartridge for our MSR water filter?
Thanks, Tak!
P.S – a week ago (17/08/09) in Panikar, Suru valley, Ladakh, Jammu & Kashmir
(“nowhere”, in short), our old cartridge died (one of the tires died 2 days before!).

Tak, with the new tires.
Dinner with Tak & dana.
At Lajpat Nagar.
Fixing the plumbing (there's always a hammer).

A new camera 13/05/09
Before leaving back to Israel, Tamar asked us what gift she can buy us; there were no opportunities for gifts in the last 2 years. Gal jumped – “A camera!”
Our old camera has been through a lot, and Gal wanted a better one. She also thought of a video camera.
As in every other issue we had many disagreements, even arguments. Rami voted against everything: too expensive, too heavy, battery problems, memory problems, video format problems (HD), etc…
But, Gal insisted. After 2 visits to Ghaffar Market and endless arguments, Gal bought a Canon SX1 IS, with 20x wide angle zoom and HD video capabilities.
Now we were ready to attack the Himalayas… we just need a million rechargeable batteries, a charger (or 2? You cannot trust anything in India), many memory cards and tripod.
As Rami says: someone gives you a carpet, and you need to buy a vacuum cleaner…
How will we carry the camera?

A new camera bag
We needed a camera bag and the ones in the shops (including the huge one the distributor had) were not what Gal was looking for. While shopping in the market at Lajpat Nagar, we were sent to the second floor of a crumbling building, a bag factory – 2 people with sewing machines and a million bags. Their camera bags were too big, so after many persuasions they agreed to custom make a red bag according to Gal’s demand for the price of $5. The boss told us he will call us tomorrow.
The following day we returned to find out that the bag was too big! We specifically told them to recheck the size, so the camera will not shake inside, while cycling. They agreed to make a new one. This time Rami stayed to supervise the work and 2 hours later Gal had a new, almost perfect small red camera bag.

Working on the bag.
Testing the camera. Tak & Dana's flat.

Finally, the bag (and the factory).

Visiting Track & Trail, probably the best bicycle shop in Delhi, we had a nice surprise. Pushpender wrote us a note in Hindi explaining out travels and asking the locals to kindly open their hearts and help us on our way, with a place to sleep, or other needs. He gave us a detailed explanation of a fantastic side road, from Delhi to Rishikesh (his family is from the area), along the Ganga canal. He told us to call him on any problem.

The beautiful Hindi script. Pushpender.

One last auto-Rikshaw ride...

Packing... back on the road...

As you noticed, we needed a lot of help to enable the India Himalayas chapter.
Special thanks to Dana & Tak, their role is not over yet...