They wont let me in, so I’ll just have to try a backdoor into Burma. Through Thailand. Via Calcutta, once the British empire’s “second city” after London. Its contrasts between the squalor of the slums and grand imperial buildings testimony to the days when the East India Company – colonisers for Britain and the ultimate model for today’s multinationals – was responsible for half of all British trade. But I feel drained, it’s time to leave India. Cheap flight to Bangkok and culture shock in a ‘First World’ country. Cycling in Thailand is just so… easy. Christmas eve and and arriving in Mae Sot on the Thai/Burma border, to an unexpected and heart warming reception with a magnificent feast on Christmas Day!
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Nearly there – leaving Nagaland, Christmas greetings everywhere, a prospective Tidy Towns winner with a public urinal (the first on my journey!). Towards the border with Burma. Not looking good, should I give up? Manipur state and continued insurrection against Delhi government, more security checks, my ignorance of the Second World War’s ‘Stalingrad of the East’. An emotional sighting of my destination, but doubts the authoritarian state will let me in.
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Police hospitality in Assam, the throb of a Royal Enfield Bullet, and excitement at arriving in exotic Nagaland. But only after passing strict security. Tales of headhunting, one of the world’s longest running wars of independence and once again finding no bed in town. Remembering something will always turn up – this time Baptist hospitality, “fighting for a socialist state and Jesus Christ”. And pics of striking tribal costumes at the Hornbill Festival.
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Sad to be leaving Nepal but good to be back in the intensity of India. A very different India with its gaze more towards SE Asia than Delhi – separatist Bodoland and tales of the headhunters from Nagaland, visit to the colonial hill station of Darjeeling and an education in tea. Experiencing an earthquake, hotel kitchen hygiene and my good fortune with health on the journey. Followed by a lucky escape. And crossing the mighty Brahmaputra river.
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Passing from the magnificent cycling that is western Nepal to the more heavily populated and developed east – the spectrum of budget lodgings from the charming to the rank; hanging on to the back of trucks – great trick to try at home kids; a cruel blow from the All Blacks; the Buddha’s message; and a border scam. Then it’s farewell to lovely Nepal, hello again to the intensity of India.
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Border towns, the contrast entering the isolated and very traditional West Nepal from India. Idyllic cycling across this former kingdom through wilderness forest, company of wine connoisseur and Brighton dj music producer, and the importance of the right pedal. Walking safari in Bardia National Park and close encounters with a rhino then a croc. Why do I put myself in uncomfortable situations – an unplanned but magical cycle through the forest under the full moon.
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Back on the road after a stolen indulgence and my Burmese visa! The wonder, and assault on the senses, that is India. Celebrating Diwali with Delhi-ites and the mountaineer colonel, and lessons in Vedic mathematics before thankfully leaving the mad traffic of Delhi. A health setback and low mood lift and I cycle through N India to magical Nepal.
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Leaving the Hunza valley and dealing with a tragedy. Security issues, Pashtuns, Tribal Areas and Taliban atrocities. An armed convoy and passing the home where Osama Bin Laden was killed. Contrast between hashish smoking professional businessmen in Islamabad and the international diplomatic ‘inner circle’ – a challenge to my prejudices. Colourful street pics of Lahore, and attempted extortion entering the world’s largest democracy. The grim Irish connection with the Sikh holy city of Amritsar, and a few lessons on cycling on Indian roads!
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Unfortunate incident with a Chinese border guard and over the Kunjerab Pass, (practically) the only tourist in marvellous Pakistan. Dramatic pics of the spectacular Karakorum Highway, a major landslide causing a newly formed lake to flood the route, Ireland’s cricket fame… and an opportunity to trek to the highest lake in the world.
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Kashgar, hub of the Silk Road, the world’s famous trade route from China to the Mediterranean. The best preserved example of a traditional Islamic city in Central Asia – uh uhh, not since the bulldozers went in. Turning right for Pakistan, the going gets tough and I reach a breaking point… Onwards and upwards, the cold, a kindness from the miltary and the breathtaking Mustagh Ata – China’s highest mountain reflected in the magnificent Karakul Lake. My favourite pic of the trip.
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