Breathe Deep and Meet the Locals: Biking in the Himalayas

So you’ve made the decision, you’ve got your gear together, and the tickets have been put on the credit card. The easy stuff has been done and now it’s time for the real work to begin. Where do you look for travel advice? Who can you expect to find out there? What are the inherent dangers in doing a circular bike trip at the foot of the Himalayas in Northern India?

If you listen to the advice out by the U.S. Department of State then you won’t feel like going very far at all.

“Jammu & Kashmir: The Department of State strongly recommends that you avoid travel to the state of Jammu & Kashmir (with the exception of visits to the eastern Ladakh region and its capital, Leh) because of the potential for terrorist incidents, as well as violent public unrest.”

This obviously isn’t what you want to hear if you are about to set out on the Rishikesh Loop that will take you right through the middle of this area. But, what if it’s just America overreacting again? Maybe the pragmatic British have something different to say.

“We advise against all travel to rural areas of Jammu and Kashmir other than Ladakh; all travel in the immediate vicinity of the border with Pakistan, other than at Wagah; and all travel in Manipur,” states the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office website.

The next line has more grim advice, “We advise against all but essential travel to Srinagar and Imphal,” which is unfortunate as Srinagar is exactly where you have to go. Then the British Foreign Office puts the final nail in the coffin of your dreams by saying that air travel is the only way to get around up there. Time to start reaching for the ticket cancellation option?

Not so says Navneet Prasad, a foreign exchange student who lives near the area in question. He explained how Paul Woollams would have fared up there.

“Even after he left Rishikesh and started heading into the Himalayas he wouldn’t have looked too out of the ordinary,” says Prasad, “there are people from all over the world there, it is one of the most visited places in India.”

But what about the more remote areas as you move into Jammu and Kashmir?

“People out there don’t have experience of people from America or the United Kingdom, especially riding a bike,” laughs Prasad.

“It’s crazy, even though I live in India and I know these things happen, nobody would expect him to be doing these things up there.”

Local hospitality plays a critical role in an adventure like this. Since this style of trip involves the rider spending long periods alone, friendly contact with the locals becomes even more important.

“Paul would have been treated really well, because people would have been curious to know things about him,” says Prasad.

“Where is he from? What is he doing? They would want to know these things.”

It also appears that location affects friendliness in India as well.

“People up north are different, their behavior and nature is really good,” beams Prasad, “even the military up there wouldn’t have cared, they would have been really helpful.” A fact confirmed by Woollams himself.

So the locals and military are on your side, now it’s just a matter of turning the crank and moving forward. Which is of course easier said than done at 15,000 feet. To put that idea into perspective, here are the heights of some popular tourist destinations: Cuzco (11,000 feet), La Paz (12,000 feet), Everest Base Camp (17,700 feet), and Kilimanjaro (19, 341 feet). At these heights altitude sickness can have a severely debilitating effect on a rider. Confusion, fatigue, irritation and an inability to sleep could seriously derail your plans.  But, don’t let that sort of thing put you off too much, The Center for Disease Control website carries plenty of advice on how to tackle the problem. All that’s left to do is to cast those doubts aside and begin the countdown to the road trip of a lifetime.

© 2012 Jamie M. Bradley All Rights Reserved


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s