Monday, July 4, 2016

On the Road Again

No sooner did I get my bike built and roll through the doors of the airport did I get my first questions after asking for the road to Shimla, at the base of the Himalayas. They came from the same man in this order, all rhetorical, if he were to just stop and observe:

Question 1: Alone? Ahhh...yes, I think to myself, do you see anyone besides me? I guess if you count my bike, which I sometimes pretend is my boyfriend, I’m not really alone!

Question 2: You are riding your bike to Shimla? Actually the thought crossed my mind to walk to my bike all there carrying my heavy load!

So here I am again, on the road again with plenty of spectators and questions to ask and answer! I missed the road, which was apparent this year, considering I did two different tours during school holidays; one in The Atlas Mountains in Morocco and another in Cuba. Both were amazing and helped me get that nostalgic road feel back and wet my appetite for more, which is why I decided to head to the Indian Himalayas.

Yes, I’ve got the Swiss Himalayas right out my window in Lausanne (also known as the Swiss Alps) but it just isn’t the same. At the moment, I’m also one of those people who needs a complete physical and mental disconnect in order to feel refreshed, which is why I opted to go so far away.

The Alps in the back drop of Lausanne

I just can’t get enough of the road! I miss that liberating and carefree feeling that comes with bike touring. The feeling of not having a worry in the world, except to make sure you’ve got a warm, dry place to sleep at night (which is many times not even necessary) and the feeling of total freedom to enjoy the present moment as you never know what the next kilometer will bring.

Somehow I’d forgotten the best part about tour cycling, which has nothing to do with the bike, except that it’s your means of transport. My favorite part of this lifestyle are all the experiences and funny stories it allows you to enjoy. Consider today, I’m still chuckling to myself as I recall the event. I left Shimla with about 80 euros of rupee. The guidebook I’m using warned me to go to the bank in Shimla as it is the only town with ATMs for the next 600 km. Since my guidebook was printed in 1997 and the prices of the hotels have more than quadrupled since then, I thought that surely the towns along the way would now most likely have ATMs for foreigners. Call me absent-minded, but I like to think of myself as optimistic and hopeful!

After ascending into the mountains, I stopped at Narkanda, at 2700m, an Indian town that is known as a ski destinations nestled in the mountains, above a steep river valley. Of course I imagined Swiss chalets and shaved hillsides with chair lifts in my head, but it looked nothing of the sort when I arrived. Narkanda was more of a humid lush jungle with terraced lands on steep mountainsides. I did however find an ATM, but the first didn't take any of my cards. I tried again at the second ATM that was actually connected to a bank and still had no luck. I walked into the adjoing bank thinking they could help me out or even exchange currency. No such luck, although they were rather thoughtful and called around for me to see where I could successfully get more Rupees, only to find out this could only be done in Shimla or Manali, my final destination.

I didn't start to panic as I had a backup plan which was to attempt to do the next week of riding on a shoestring budget or go the opposite and stay at super nice hotels that take Visa. Just as I was starting to contemplate in detail each option, one of the men there asked me what currency I had. I really only ever carry Euros, but this time my friend in Switzerland had given me a 100 US Dollars. She had asked me for a favor, to kindly donate the money to someone, or several people, who had a need. It was extremely thoughtful of her and the idea really excited me. I tucked the crisp 100 Dollar bill in my wallet.

There I was at the bank with a client inside who was eager to get his hands on a hundred dollar bill and i was equally desperate for Rupees. He told me to sit down, invited me to a tea, and we decided how we would do this transaction. None of the bank workers actually knew the conversion rate so I showed him on my app the equivalent value in rupees. He talked with his friends there and the word commission came up. So instead of the listed value I subtracted a Dollar, he gave it a second thought and did the Indian head bob! YES!!

Voila! I was in luck, now with enough money to make it to Manali where I would have to take out more rupees. I was incredibly lucky to have encountered this man. He seemed more delighted that I promised to add him as a Facebook friend rather than the 100 Dollars he said he was never going to spend and keep as a “souvenir” for show and tell.

I left the bank chuckling all the way downhill, 35 km to the bottom of the valley. I was one lucky lady now with a stash of cash but also to be witnessing a remarkably unique landscape on bike!

I’ll have to do some math, but with a hotel room averaging about 10 dollars a night and a plentiful meal about 75 cents to a dollar, I think I should have enough money for the first part of my trip, even if I stop and have a handful of chai teas a day, which is what I’m averaging now.

And actually if you think about it, I needed to exchange my friend’s hundred Dollar bill anyway. Now I just know exactly what it’s worth! I just have to find the people who need it!

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