After an exhausting 8 hour plane journey and a 37 hour train journey I have finally arrived in Agra I didn’t actually want to stay here in Agra as I need to be in Rishikesh to buy my motorbike. I would have to change trains in either Agra or Delhi to make it to Rishikesh and the fact that Agra has the Taj Mahal it was a no brainer. I actually managed to see the Taj on the morning I arrived in Agra and hoped to get the train up to Rishikesh that I had booked weeks in advance online whilst in Bangkok the next day. However I did not know it was the month long Shiva festival and as Rishikesh is on the Ganges and an incredibly important place for Hindus and the lord Shiva the trains and buses were all booked up for weeks in advance. I was officially trapped in Agra and I had already seen the ONLY thing worth seeing in Agra in the first few hours.
I can imagine Agra was once a beautiful city with the Taj Mahal as the jewel of this beautiful city. Now the city is one of the biggest industrial cities in India with over 160 tanneries spilling their foul smelling chemicals into the surrounding streams and Yamuna river. Then there are all the chemical plants that produce the chemicals for the tanneries that spill out plumes of toxic smoke and gasses that are actually turning the Taj Mahals white marble yellow. So as you can imagine there was not much left to do. However through perseverance and paying much more than I should have I managed to get myself on a sleeper bus out of the city to Rishikesh after 4 slightly boring days stuck in Agra.
The sleeper bus was 6 hours late and when I boarded the bus I found that my incredibly expensive bed was infact a chair right at the back that didn’t even recline. The next 14 hours were going to be a long one! Luckily when the bus made a stop in Delhi some people left the bus and I took the opportunity to jump into a sleeper bed before somebody else had the same idea. I had now got myself somewhere to lie down but sleep was going to be impossible on the indian roads as I was literally bouncing off the bed and hitting the ceiling of the bus. It was definitely better than a hard chair though.
Once in Rishikesh I got myself settled and showered at green hills guesthouse where Krishna the guy that runs the place recognised me from 3 years ago when I stayed here last. It was now time to find what I came here for and I headed into town for the Enfield garages. I stopped by Lucky’s place where I bought my last Enfield. He had 2 bikes to show me and I ended up buying a 2003 Bullet 350cc Machismo. The machismo has 5 gears opposed to the original 4 on the older bikes it also does not need the battery to start the thing which for me was the best selling point as my last bike was plagued with electrical issues that always resulted in my battery going flat and me being stranded in the middle of nowhere with a bike that won’t start.
After a week Lucky had made all the modifications to the bike so that it was able to make it across the difficult terrain of the himalayas. The day before I set off for Manali I met an Ameican guy called Davin who was also heading up that way so the next day we made our way to Manali. An hour or so in to the journey the rain started and just kept coming. It would stop for a few minutes and we would head off again only to catch up with the bad weather. It would seem the rain clouds were also heading to Manali.
The bad weather had slowed us down and so did the fact my ignition coil had decided to work intermittently. The ignition coil is situated right under the fuel tank and when it was not doing its proper job of sending electrical currents to the spar plug via the HT lead it was sending sparks all around a fuel tank full of fuel! It was now dark and Manali was still another 40-50 kilometres away so we stopped at a roadside hotel/bar where we were greeted by everyone in the building all of whom where completely pissed. It was hard to tell who were staff and who were punters. Once we had finished arguing about the price of the twin room with the staff who all told us different and contradicting prices we hit the bar with the rest of the punters and sunk several well deserved beers.
In the morning we readied the bikes and without any bad weather covered the remaining kilometres to Manali where we made our way up the mountain to Gindu’s guest house a place I had stayed at last time I was in Manali. By far the best place in Manali not just for the stunning location with views across the valley from the balcony of our rooms but because Gindu also had exceedingly good taste in Manali hashish and had the best available.
So for the next few days me and Davin got exceedingly stoned and I got my ignition coil replaced as there was absolutely no way I would of been able to make it up to Leh without a replacement. Now Manali is a proper tourist destination that over the years has adapted itself to the tourists needs and bearing in mind it has the best hashish in the world and pretty much everyone who goes there smoke it every other shop is a bakery or coffee shop. It is very easy to get too comfortable here.
Before I secomed to the enchantment of Manali I headed north for Leh. Davin was not going to follow me all the way to Leh but he could not resist the chance to ride up and over the Rotang pass. One of the worlds most dangerous roads that literally translates as ‘The road of the piled of dead’! To be fair the Rotang pass was no where near as bad as it was in 2011 when I last traversed it but still no walk in the park! At the top me and Davin said our goodbyes and I pushed on for leh.
I riding between 4000 and 5000 meters now and the sun was soon to disappear behind one of the mountains I was definitely not going to make it to Leh before dark and riding these mountain roads in the dark is guaranteed suicide. I eventually spotted a little plain next to a river just off the road and made my way down to it. Maybe it was the low light that made it look easier than it really was to get down there, but eventually I did and I got my tent set up and my instant noodles boiling away and my home for the night was set. I did not really sleep that well as when the sun went down so did the temperature. I kinda wished I had not sent my sleeping bag home when I was in Vietnam. In the morning I discovered I had made a fucking stupid decision in my desperation to find a place to spend the night.
I loaded the bike up with all my luggage and cruised around the plain next to the river that was my home for the night only to find that all the paths leading back up to the road were all incredibly steep and full of loose stones and sand. Now at sea level this would be no problem at all and I would stick the bike in first and rip it up the bank. However at 4300 meters the bike is like a 40 a day smoker and that bank is like a bloody mountain. I was officially stuck! I removed all the luggage and put it up on the road to lighten the bike but it still could not make it. Luckily 30 minutes later a road construction worker was making his way up the mountain and saw my predicament and helped me by pushing the bike whilst I pushed with my legs and revved the fuck out it shredded my clutch plates.
I was now officially back on the road and once I had finished vomiting all over a pile of rocks thanks to altitude sickness and the massive exertion of energy used to hall this lump of iron and rubber up to the road again I gave the road worker a ride up the mountain to where the rest of his construction buddies were smashing big rocks into smaller rocks to fill the life threatening holes in the road.
Not wanting to spend another cold night on the mountain I pushed for Leh and managed to arrive in the early evening. I made my way to the familiar part of town that is outside of the over priced tourist traps and dropped my luggage off at a guesthouse that was only going to cost me £3.50 a night. My bike had sprung an oil leak on the journey as well as me shredding my clutch plates so I headed to Tashi’s garage to get his opinion on the matter. Over the next couple of weeks I would be spending many more hours at Tashi’s garage, but this is all part of riding an Enfield over unforgiving mountains.