It had been well over a month since I’d indulged in the daily routine of cycle touring – finding food and water, using my tent, and actually cycling fully loaded. But it still came as a surprise to me the little hurdles that would present themselves for the next week. Perhaps it was due to the scorching heat of the plains, being the build-up to the monsoon, but I often found myself making weak excuses. I was actually scared of my stove, wondering if the lack of use would have the fuel bottle somehow blow up in my face. I was also dreading being disturbed in the middle of the night by strangers who were obviously going to cause harm, so I would resort to paying for accommodation. I found it quite peculiar that I could be calm about cycling in altitude, yet freak out about using a stove that I had used so many times before. Luckily, I got out of this little rut and was back to eating the most uninspiring food possible, two minute noodles.
After being shrouded for so long in the endless parade of restaurants, travel agents and first world comforts, Western Nepal bared the harsh reality of a country grinding along in poverty. Mud thatched houses dotted the farming land, with children forgoing school to tender crops, cows and any other animal worth the effort. The cycling was utterly draining, verging on boring. Temperatures sweltered from 10am till 4pm, sapping any desire to leave my slumber from the roadside shade. The view stayed the same – flat road, trees to the side. After six days of pedestrian cycling I reached the border of India. I had less than two months remaining on my visa, and given the route I wanted to take, I was ultimately left with the decision to take a bus for 300km - the plains of India had nothing for me. I found it quite the paradox in that I have all the time in the world, but no time to enjoy it.
The Mahendra Highway, Nepal
It was never my intention to cycle every single inch of the planet, and my goal of cycling 100,000km through every inhabited continent was still demanding and reassuringly daunting. The last ten months has instilled in me the confidence to cycle in places where I get the greatest return on investment. From the remote Birdsville Track, to the heights of the Annapurna Circuit, this trip is about really testing myself, not simply coasting along with the perpetual motion of the bicycle smothering any real trepidation. Enter the Spiti Valley.
The British originally built the Hindustan-Tibet Highway as a secret invasion route into Tibet. The road itself, now known as Highway 05, is regarded as one of the most dangerous in the world. I now wholeheartedly understand why. Unlike the commercialised Death Road in Bolivia (a tourist attraction), Highway 05 has the utter madness and constant dangers of India that I’ve grown to love and loathe.
The road, a mix between pot-holed bitumen and loose gravel, snakes its way through the valley somehow clinging to the side of a cliff. I was constantly reminded of the sheer audacity of engineers as bulldozers continually forced a path through a landslide that occurred on top of another landslide. There was barely enough room for a car and bicycle, let alone two cars, and I was kept vigilant with washed out roads and manic bus drivers. It was a relentless battle for my wavering attention. Should I focus on the deplorable road – an attraction in itself - or should I stare in amazement at the surroundings?