Maps and photo gallery


Time for a bath

This circuit around Sri Lanka took us 12 days, starting and finishing in Colombo. We had little to no pre-planning with regards to transportation or accommodation, with the exception of the Hill Safari cottage in Ohiya. At the start we didn’t even have any knowledge about where to go and what to visit. But with flexibility and an open mind, we immensely enjoyed our stay and in the end left Lanka with unforgettable memories. This was the eventual route we travelled :

All pictures posted here were taken by me. These and other photos I took on this trip can be found here in full quality: http://madexplorer.smugmug.com/Sri-Lanka

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this.


Looking at World\’s End

The Galle of our trip


Leave your weapons outside

After leaving Yala we were on our way home, but had time for one more stop – Galle.


I’d swear I was somewhere in Southern Europe

Before you ask, it is pronounced “Gawl” almost like “goal” and the place is gorgeous because, you see, Galle is a fort. A 400-year-old Dutch citadel, a fortress. A well restored old town sitting at the very top of the peninsula and protected on all sides by massive walls built to withstand and unleash cannon bombardment from sea and land. Walls might even be an understatement, as they’re as thick as a 4-lane road. The place has bastions! It is the largest remaining European fortification in Asia (or at least so they claim) and walking atop the wall by the sea, you can just imagine what it must have looked like here during the time of East India Companies: the traffic of big sailing ships coming into port or sailing out, the guards patrolling the walls, the merchants going about their hustle on the streets, the small shops peddling their wars etc etc. It almost feels like being on the set of “Pirates of the Caribbean.”


The District Court of Galle, where pirates go to hang

These images might not be far from the truth.…

Local wildlife


So you want a ride or what?

I was really considering joining him in there

After the unforgettable experience atop Adam’s peak we left the mountains behind and headed further south. Here I really need to praise Sri Lankan public transportation, because despite the cramped buses and old trains, it was never a problem to get from A to B without having booked tickets in advance. This meant it was possible for us to change our plans on the fly – stay longer in places we liked and leave earlier from places we didn’t. Badulla (not to be confused with Dambulla) for example was a surprisingly boring town, where we managed to visit the few unimpressive sites very quickly and move on. Similarly, on our way to the next destination we were not impressed by the place we planned to spend the night at, so we just continued to the next town. Travelling is not a hassle if you yourself are flexible. And our flexibility brought us to Yala national park.


Preparing for a visit to the dentist I see

Yala is the second largest wilderness preserve on the island, known best for its large number of leopards. The only way to visit it is with an official safari vehicle but there are lots of those.…

Adam’s Peak


Last call! Hop on!

Trains in Sri Lanka are awesome, let me explain.


views just like in the movies

The trains and wagons are old. In some places the signalling technology actually dates back to the British times. Usually when taking the train here you’ll have a choice between 1st, 2nd and 3rd class.  But the key deciding factor on which one to take, is whether your seat is anywhere near a toilet. Train toilets smell something horrible. On our way to Ohiya we abandoned our 2nd class seats for a bench in 3rd to escape the smell – we wanted to arrive with our minds and senses intact. It was that bad. Otherwise the wagons are quite old but not necessarily uncomfortable, especially when compared to buses. There are fans in the aisle which sometimes work, sometimes not. And sometimes they creak and clunk so loud that you wish you were deaf.


Over the hills and far away….

But you can escape all of that, the crammed spaces, loud fans, heat and toilet smells by sitting in the entrance. The wind will cool your face, you’ll never complain of lack of leg space (as they’re dangling ouside) and all of Sri Lanka will be slowly wooshing by as the train swoops and turns through hills and fields and hidden villages.…

The “rest day”


A different kind of Sri Lanka, a place for a vacation from the vacation

Going north to Anuradhapura would have taken us even further back in time, but for now our curiosity for historic sites was satisfied so we headed south, to the mountains.


A really cozy getaway

South-Central Sri Lanka is different from the plains and gently rolling hills of other parts. Here the landscape becomes vertical and takes you to higher altitudes. Though there are no snowy peaks in Sri Lanka, its highest point – Pidurutalagala – still reaches a respectable 2500m. This is high enough for visitors to enjoy cooler, fresher air and take a break from the otherwise regular heat and humidity. This was our thinking as well, as we set our course for Ohiya, a tiny mountain with some lovely cottages, nestled on a tea plantation high between two mountain ridges. It took a long day of travelling by bus and train to get there from Polonnaruwa. The very last stretch we covered once again by tuktuk on a rugged mountain road under the cover of chilly darkness. Fresh tea and warm blankets were an amazing end to the day.


Smiling makes heavy work feel lighter

The climate here is exceptionally suitable to the growing of tea.…

Kingdoms gone


Lakeside real-estate was a luxury even back then

The pool’s run dry though….

Long before the Portugese arrived, the seat of Sinhalese kings stood in Anuradhapura. It was the capital of Sri Lanka for over thousand years, from around 300 BC until 1017 AD when Lanka was once again invaded by one of India’s numerous kingdoms and the city once again sacked in the process. When Sri Lankans overthrew their northern masters a generation later, the new capital was moved to the city of Polonnaruwa. From there they governed the island on and off for 300 years until the fragmentation of power and civil wars became the new norm. And then 700 years later we arrived. In a tuk-tuk.


Some places have survived better than others

The drive from Sigiriya was a fun one. It convinced me that tuk-tuks are one of the best ways to see the country. You can smell the scenery, learn more about the areas you drive through from your driver and, if you’re lucky to spot a wild elephant bathing, stop to enjoy the view. You also learn the importance of having a bottle of water with you – how else to deal with an overheated engine.…

… and on top of another


Lion Gate – it looks like something right out of Tolkien’s books

Sigiriya from afar

Sigiriya. If you ever wondered about how the villains in Bond movies all had their own island or cave or mountain for a palace and whether people like that exist in real life. Well this guy, King Kashyapa, did it already 1500 years ago. After usurping the throne from his half-brother Mugalan in year 477, he moved the capital and his residence from Anuradhapura, its traditional location, to the rock of Sigiriya and turned it into a palace, a citadel, a fortress. A more safe location in case the rightful heir would return. It didn’t help though, in 495 Mugalan returned and defeated Kashyapa. The capital was thereafter moved back to Anuradhapura and Sigiriya was effectively abandoned, completing the Bond-moviesque plot.


Wandering around the gardens

Having been abandoned fortunately means that many parts of the old citadel still remain today. Approaching the rock from the west you first have to cross the wide moat surrounding the citadel grounds. The gate here, the royal entrance, has crumbled long ago. Entering here you find yourself at the mouth of royal gardens and the start of a long pathway leading directly to the rock, now looming high ahead.…

Going into a rock


On the road again… to Dambulla

the moment he takes his eyes off the bag….

After a lovely breakfast on the hotel balcony, our journey took us north to Dambulla. For those interested in travelling by bus in Lanka, make sure to swap your legs out for shorter ones beforehand. Buses there do not have leg space and if you’re thinking you’ll just stretch them out into the isle you’ll be surely surprised to find that the concept of isle doesn’t exist there either, that’s only more room for people and luggage. Not to mention that sitting by the window at least offers the promise of a cooling breeze, if you’re lucky to be sitting on the shaded side. This is not to say that bus rides in Sri Lanka are horrible, not at all. It’s just that trains are so much more of a fun experience, but I’m getting ahead of myself here.

Dambulla is a waystation, a small town on the road from Kandy to Anuradhapura, with a bus stop, a gas station and rows of houses lining the main road. We’d been hoping to find a hotel there, but in the end were glad to fail. So we had to take our backpacks with us, which is not much of an issue when you’re travelling light.…

Kandy, with a K


Best alternative to a train – the tuktuk

But trains do give a good view of the countryside

The Brits were not the first westerners to establish a foothold on the island, but they were the first to conquer all of it. The Dutch had come before the British, and before them the Portugese, but neither had been able to conquer the inland areas of the island. When the Portugese first arrived in 1505 the island was split into 7 warring kingdoms. Following their armed invasion only one independent kingdom remained, the hill kingdom of Kandy. Kandy remained independent until the British finally overran it in 1815, despite repeated attempts by the Portugese and the Dutch to bend the entire island to their will. Kandy was our destination that morning.

Getting tickets at the train station went without a hitch and helpful mute staff of the station assisted us in finding the correct train and seats. The train quickly filled up and the long journey began. Trains are without a doubt the best way to travel in Lanka. You avoid the traffic and potholes and are get to enjoy the sights while experiencing some local culture on the way, from the loud conversations of people to the smells of train food and the incessant “VadeVadeVadeVadeVadeeeee!” shouting of the snacks vendor walking up and down the isle.…

Journeying into Sri Lanka


Relaxing at a Buddhist temple

The journey from Bandaranaike International Airport to downtown Colombo is by itself an introduction to Sri Lanka. That is if you don’t take one of the ridiculously expensive luxury cabs (think western brands) or one of the still rather costly local cabs. There is also a selection of different buses available. We took the local one, searching for it felt like our adventure had started. Riding it downtown confirmed that feeling. Colorful, rickety, loud, humid, stuffed full of people – Sri Lanka, here we come.


Colombo city life

Lanka, as locals affectionately call it, declared independence from under British rule after the 2nd World War. The British referred to it as the crown colony of British Ceylon. It was also the Brits who made the trade port of Colombo the capital of the island. We spent little time in the city, as it is not really a destination for tourism. Colorful, rickety, loud, humid, stuffed full of people, as I mentioned before. But there are also small pockets in the city that felt like modern districts of any western capital. Those were almost empty of people though, as the prices followed the style. Only the expensive polished spotless SUVs and luxury cars of the rich could be found visiting these locations that didn’t fit in with the rest.…

the long straight home


Makes you think you’ve arrived, but alas not yet

Why it cuts right through the park is beyond me

As the East-West highway continues towards Kathmandu, it moves through flat plains, interrupted by large protected areas. Shukla Phanta was the first one I passed through, followed thereafter by Bardia and Banke National Parks. Further on, after the turn-off to Kathmandu, the highway also goes through the most famous of them – Chitwan National Park. Almost all of them are here to protect tigers, rhinos, elephants and crocodiles, among hundreds of other animal and bird species. Here one can get acquainted with a completely different side of Nepal,  one of jungles and wetlands – something very different from the high snowy slopes and deep green valleys.

For me, the parks provided much needed variety on a road that is otherwise exhaustingly flat and straight. And also dry. This was the driest season of the year. the first rains should have already arrived, followed by the monsoon in about two months’ time, but it was obviously delayed this year. The wide but empty riverbeds that the road crossed were evidence of how much the rivers change here during the year. Creeks barely 10m wide would expand to a current several hundred meters across.…

The long flat highway,


The migration officer in his natural habitat

As you descend from the foothills, the plains begin as if cut by a knife. Suddenly the steep road comes to an end and from there onwards, it is all just… flat. And humid. This sudden change is visible in everyday life as well. Suddenly there are throngs of people, bicycles and carts. Dust is everywhere, again. Roads run straight and are lined by settlements. human activity is present all around you. This change is a bit jarring even.


We’re back on flat ground here

The border crossing from India to Nepal goes over a hydro power dam. The respective borders are almost a kilometer apart, which in between makes for a small refuge for nature. An untouched area where wild animals can seek shelter. In a way it acts as a continuation of the nearby Shukla Phanta Wildlife Reserve. As neither Nepalis or Indians need to go through immigration when crossing the border, it doesn’t even feel like crossing from one country to another.  Just a nature road between two towns separated by a river. Had I not been actively seeking out the immigration office to get my passport stamped, I would have missed the building.…

I can see Nepal from here


I wouldn’t mind waking up to this every morning

Like the sunset, the sunrise was breathtaking. The air was clear and crisp, mountains shining bright under a blue blue sky. Down below, the valleys were hidden from view under a layer of clouds, as if covered by a lid of white cotton. All around everything was covered by a thick layer of dew. Stepping outside it all felt just… fresh. Also I’m glad the bicycle was indoors and dry.


Driving through a cloud, literally

Returning from the early morning walk to the hilltop I was ready for some breakfast. Important lesson here though, when the conversation goes: “and toast.” “Bread?” “Bread.” – it does not mean you’re getting toast. But the coarse thick roti I did receive went down surprisingly well with the side-serving of ketchup. I would not have thought to combine the two, but it works. Indian food, huh?

By the time I got the bike ready, the sun had dried the last of my laundry and off I went. South towards Gangolihat. No Thal and Pithoragarh for me, if they won’t me cross the border there. Their loss. You see, initially I had planned to wander around the mountain roads in Uttarakhand and then continue this journey of discovery in the Far West Himalayas of Nepal.…

to see Nanda Devi peaks


If you look carefully, you’ll notice there are actually two cars

I’d been lucky with weather ever since Dehradun and now I was enjoying a small heatwave. With overcast skies the temperatures were high enough to get by with a t-shirt even late in the evening. This was going to be followed by a thunderstorm, but I’d worry about that when it got here. In any case, I had little idea of how far I’d get before the rain hit.

The road up to Gwaldam was the worst I’d met. No tarmac here, only large stones and thick dust. At some places, when a truck drove past, all visibility was lost. Not a place you’d want to be at without a respirator, not to mention ride a bicycle. To spare my lungs I hailed a bus and once again strapped my steed on the roof. The ride was shaky to say the least. On a bike you can attempt to steer clear of the larger rocks, but with a bus this road made for a rattling experience. Then, when a loud bang was heard from outside I got worried for the bike. Even more so when the sound started repeating with every larger jolt.…

On scenic byways


That dammed Ganges again

The road due east from Chinyalisour follows the massive Tehri reservoir. The Tehri dam was completed in 2006 after decades of planning and the relocation of over 100 000 people. It is an impressive feat of engineering. When the reservoir was being filled, it also stopped the river from flowing, so understandably there are people who are very unhappy with the entire thing. Not to mention that it is built in an area of high seismic activity. However, with this dam the people of Uttarakhand no longer have to suffer the regular 14 hour blackouts that are still the norm in neighboring Nepal. So I guess that to make an omlette…


This could be a scaled up game of snake

The road towards Srinagar goes over the dam, shortening the old way around by 30km. However people are not allowed to walk on it, so the only way for me to get across was to hop on a bus. Chatting with the locals they also warned me against taking photos of the place, as apparently the security here doesn’t have a soft side. From how I was told I couldn’t ride across the dam, I’d gotten a sense of it.…

Maps and photo gallery


Memories from Chaukori

It took me a total of 14 days to ride from New Delhi to Kathmandu. The total distance for it exceeded 1800km, though parts of this I travelled by bus. I had no specific plan when I set out, though I hoped to cross the border farther north and see a bit more of the Nepali far west. In the end, this was the path of my adventure:

 

All pictures posted here were taken by me. These and other photos I took on this trip can be found here in full quality: http://madexplorer.smugmug.com/Himalaya-by-bike/

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this.

There and back again


I can only imagine what it looks like during high water

I set off towards Uttarkashi early in the morning and by nightfall found myself back in Chinyalisour. Bugger.


Bustling under Vishnu’s watchful gaze

Uttarkashi is the largest city this far up the Ganges, though here the river bears the name Bhagirathi. Only downstream, at the town of Devprayag where Bhagirathi joins the Alaknanda, is the river renamed the Ganges. Names aside, about 100km up the valley from Uttarkashi is the Hindu pilgrimage site of Gangotri – considered the seat of goddess Ganga and the origin of the Ganges. So I’m still calling it the Ganges.


Uttarkashi in all its glory

People who consider Ganges holy have a soft spot for Uttarkashi as well – the busy town houses dozens of ashrams and temples. The Ganges at once both gives the place life and threatens to drown it. During the 2013 monsoon massive floods devastated the town and left dozens dead. Over 100 000 pilgrims were trapped by raging waters and had to be airlifted to safety. Now I could see towering new concrete embankments on both side of the river, attempting to provide the town a measure of protection.

I had hoped to take a bus from Uttarkashi to Gangotri and later, conditions permitting, ride back down.…

Mountain fun


All downhill from way over there

This was a fantastic day. French toast for breakfast followed by 80 kilometers of riding; most of that downhill. And oh what fantastic downhill it was. The exasperations from the day before truly found grand compensation. And I enjoyed it fully. Surprisingly, the uphill portion of this day was much easier as well. Places where I walked my bike were few and far in between.

The views on the road from Mussoorie to Chinyalisaur are magnificent. The road twists and turns on the slopes of steep hills, covered with tall snowy pines closer to the top and lined by fields and villages on the bottom. Even though there’s plenty of snow still on the hilltops, all creeks that the road crossed were dry. They’re waiting for the summer monsoons to arrive. I imagine that traveling here in autumn, after the rains, when nature is much more lush and green, would be an even more inspiring experience.


Looking over Bhawan village

But this is no way criticism towards what I saw. The views were magnificent and made for a slow ride. Every little while I was granted a new angle on the landscape that begged to be photographed.…

Marathon day

Today I rode only about 42km. Walking around Mussoorie would cover the missing 200m. It was my first day of proper climbing and possibly the worst I’ll have – I ascended from Dehradun (400m asl) to Mussoorie (2000m asl). You can do the math. Basically I used 2 gears for the entire day. One of them was ‘walking’. Jokes aside, there is a limit to the steepness of a climb, where for me it becomes more useful to walk the bike, rather than ride it. The speed difference is minimal and it takes more effort, but I get to rest my bum and use different muscles for a change. The latter is quite useful when you’re in the saddle 8-10 hours a day.


The uphill road

Awesome guy right there

Looking back, Dehradun, the capital of Uttarakhand, is a surprisingly pleasant city. You have your regular Indian sights – small shops, dust, crazy traffic – but it also has a lot of greenery, lots of modern buildings and in general looks noticeably wealthier than anything I saw in Uttar Pradesh. The people also were a lot friendlier here. Setting off in the morning I noticed that the bike chain was acting up.…

The hills arrive

I was woken by thunder. It could have also been one of the Indian Royal Enfield’s on the street, but regardless it was raining outside. Once the rain had stopped and I’d finished my fruits and biscuits I got going again. On the way out making sure to dodge the owner lest he’d make a fuss about the staircase again. The streets of Saharanpur were muddy but empty, completely unlike the loud colorful buzz of the previous night.

Going was slow. Wind was against me and the road had become a steady gentle uphill. On the upside, it was less dusty here than before. The road to Dehradun goes through Rajaji National Park and the closer I got to it the greener the surroundings. There is no gate or sign to indicate that you’ve entered the park, but you know it when you get there. Suddenly the straight and flat road you were driving is no longer neither straight or flat. Reaching Rajaji I had put the plains behind me and entered the foothills of the Himalayas.


Doesn’t look like Himalayas yet, but just you wait

Chai? :)

Rain caught up with me as I entered the park and forced me to start seeking shelter whenever it got too heavy.…