Finally I arrive in India. I make no secret of the fact that leaving Pakistan was immensely liberating, it was an experience that put me to the test.
I arrive in Amritsar, not too far from the border. Staff at the hotel recommend I see the changing of the guard at the border. It sounded intriguing, so I looked it up. In practice it is a sort of a brief parade that is held every evening at the closing of the gates that separates the Indian border from the Pakistani border. I never expected to see so many people and the street was so crowded that it was hard to move around; a policeman showed me where to enter and explained to me that tourists have a dedicated entrance, a kind of grandstand. The locals danced and sang like they were at a big party. It was an event that left me stunned in front of a crowd gathered for a ceremony that, after all, is nothing more than the closing of a gate.
The next day, accompanied by a local friend, I visit various points of historical interest around the city, amongst which were the park of Jalianwalla Bagh and the monument to the victims of the massacre that took place here on 18th March 1919. I will not detail the events that unfolded during that period, but I invite you to read about it. It is a chilling story that is still very much alive in the minds of the inhabitants of Amritsar.
Another very interesting attraction to visit was the Golden Temple, a place of pilgrimage for believers / followers of the Sikh religion. The presence of so much gold leaves one speechless. After obtaining some useful information I came to realize the history relating to this temple. It was practically built around a man-made pool (Sarovar) which was completed by Guru Ram Das (the fifth Guru of Sikhism). The pool took the name of Amritsar (hence the name of the city) which literally means “the tank of nectar of immortality”. The temple was originally known as “the Abode of God” (Sri Harmandir Sahib), only later was it associated with the more commonly known name of the Golden Temple.
The next day I set off with a single goal: that of reaching Srinigar by night but unfortunately the road was very bad and in fact, when I was at about 200km away from my destination, the police ordered me to stop because from there onwards the road was so flooded that it was impassable. At that point, not being able to continue onwards, I decided to look for a hotel in a neighboring town. Unfortunately, even here the conditions were not very different from those I found in Pakistan so I decided to sleep wearing my biking clothes. I didn’t get much sleep and at 4am I was already awake so I packed my cases, loaded them on the bike and headed for Srinagar.
Just as I had imagined, the road is no better than that of yesterday, but despite this, from 4:30am, the time when I got onto my bike, I arrive at 7pm only stopping to refuel. During the journey, the straps that kept the bag tethered in place broke off and I had to repair it with some rubber bands that I had fortunately brought along with me. For now it is fine but the following day I’ll do a better job.
The following morning I have to cross the Nubra Valley. Khardung La is considered the highest point in the world at almost 5400 meters above sea level. Crossing it was a unique experience, seeing the imposing peaks of the Himalayas surround and accompany me on my journey gives me a feeling of majesty never before experienced. Even crossing the Nubra Valley, when I stop for some photos, the silence and peace that you feel standing in front of the breathtaking landscape is indescribable. Breathing in the clean, stimulating air makes you almost feel reborn.
Today, the 3rd of July will be an intense day!!! By 9.00am I am leaving Leh and heading towards Manali and I have to cover almost 470km in roughly 13 hours. I fill my fuel tank being that during the trip I won’t be permitted to do so and I try to cover as many kilometers as possible because I want to call it a day by 17.00 and I don’t want to ride in the dark.
After about 100Km, the road begins to get rough with mud and potholes everywhere. There were also rocks on the roadway and I had to wade across several fords, but despite everything and without serious glitches I reached the second highest mountain pass in the world, the Tanglag La. The altitude is very high here, about 5328 meters and it’s really cold at just 2°C and I’m only wearing my summer riding suit. I completely underestimated the climate and the possibility that the temperatures could drop so much. Due to the altitude my breathing is slow and while short of breath I snap some photos. The rarefied air was also starting to give me a bit of a headache.
I continue on my way and arrive at Lungalacha La which at 5059 meters is the third highest pass in the world. In my opinion, the landscapes of this passage are more fascinating than that of Khardung. The Himalayan passes were one of the main stages of my trip around the world and I must say that they fully met my expectations, after all, the steep and bumpy roads are the ones that make you really experience the thrill of the adventure and overcoming them really makes you feel like a biker. My day ends with my return to New Delhi.
The following day I head to Agra to visit the Taj Mahal (Crown of the Palace) and I can assure you that its sight is breathtaking. It is a true and fascinating work of art that catches the eye. I read that it is considered one of the seven wonders of the modern world and is declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
My escort told me a little bit about the history of this ivory-white marble mausoleum, telling me that it was dedicated to one of the wives of the fifth Mughal emperor (Shah Jahan), the latter was well liked not only because of her breathtaking beauty but also because of her benevolence towards the less fortunate. The guide tells me about her as if she were Venus on earth; unfortunately he also tells me that she died at a young age as a result of a complicated pregnancy.
What struck me most about this Mausoleum is not only the architectural precision with which it was erected but also the charm of the marble that covers its entirety. It is difficult to turn your gaze away from its blinding ivory-white color; the precision used in every small detail is impressive, moreover, walking in the beautiful garden outside transmits calmness and inner peace that I rarely experience in my life. It took me several hours to visit this place, but it’s a site that deserves several daily visits to give it the attention it deserves.
My last “appointment” in India is with the river Ganges. I go to Varanasi, one of the oldest cities in the world as well as one of the sacred centres of the Hindu religion. Here, pilgrims come from all over India not only to immerse themselves in the waters of the river, but also to bring the bodies of their loved ones to the burning ghats for cremation.
Along the banks of the sacred Ganges, there are many people who immerse themselves in its waters to purify themselves. Visitors can see fishermen adjusting their fishing nets and children playing in the water with cows. There really is lots of confusion, especially at certain points where the steps that are along the river banks are full of people.
Towards sunset, at the sites where funeral ceremonies are carried out, it is possible to clearly see the many crematory pyres where the bodies of the dead are burned, a sight that at first glance is quite distressing. The guide tells me that before the funeral there are lots of negotiations on the purchase of wood for the pyre, the most “coveted” being sandal wood due to its fragrance. After the cremation the ashes are delivered to the family of the deceased and are then dispersed into the waters of the river Ganges.
The only remorse that I leave behind is not being able to visit the cities of Kathmandu and Calcutta. Unfortunately, a long delay caused by the courier in delivering tyres which never actually arrived, meant I was unable to further extend my stay in India. I head to the border with Myanmar where the escort that will accompany me in a new adventure is waiting for me.