Punctures and Pakistani Perils
It looked, sounded, and smelled just like the Green Fields at Glastonbury festival. Loads of shops and stalls asking people to support the Tibetan cause; free condoms to stop the spread of aids; loads of people walking around with stoned faces and rainbow coloured blankets wrapped around their shoulders - and loads of dogs and children everywhere.
I recognised myself too many times and rushed through the crush towards the sanctuary of our hotel in the centre of town. Climbing 2000mtrs into the Himalayas, we had reached Mcleod Ganj - just up the road from Dharamsala and home to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government in Exile. Relaxing in the hotel room allowed waves of anger and exhaustion to move through us. We had just survived three weeks in Pakistan.
After a hellish 14 hour bus ride through Baluchistan Desert, arriving in Quetta had been a complete assault on the senses. Everywhere we looked there was someone or something to watch. Three wheeled auto-rickshaws flew in every direction belching clouds of smoke from their whining two-stroke engines. Multicoloured lorries announced their arrival with jangles from the bells bouncing off the bodywork. Beautiful, intricate decoration dripped off the buses. As we enjoyed a breakfast of spicy samosas and sugar cane juice, we tried not to notice the cloud of pollution overhead or the raw sewage underfoot!
We were soon on the road up into the mountains once more. But women were nowhere to be seen. Iran suddenly seemed very liberated. When the men weren't sitting in internet cafes absorbing a steady stream of porn, they were likely to be found driving or cycling slowly alongside Lowanna, eyeing her up and down, blowing kisses and licking their lips. They didn't want to talk - just stare. Sometimes they would slap her bum as they drove past; other times just sexual noises seemed to suffice.
On one day we counted 96 greetings before midday but unfortuneately most of them were sexual rather than simply friendly. We were getting increasingly angry and started arguing with men who came up to verbally harass Lowanna. When they did it from the side of the road we would pull over and ask what they meant.
Sometimes I would assume the loud squeaky kisses were intended for me, so I would pull over to the side of the road and blow kisses back to them. I would take their hands in mine and explain that Lowy was my sister. I couldn't get married because I preferred men...and was so excited to realise that they wanted me too. We found that by trying to make light of the unwanted attention was far more sustainable than getting angry with each encounter.
One positive result of all the hassle was an amazing increase in our daily totals. We would cycle over 100km per day with few worries and even fewer food breaks. We arrived in Lahore a week earlier than expected. But the pollution and men drove us straight out the other side of the city towards the border - and into the safe haven of India.
Amritsar saved us. Lowanna cried when she saw her first woman on a bicycle. People said hello but wanted to share the conversation - not just grab a little of us before shooting off down the road. We stayed for a week - exploring the Golden Temple and the amazing range of veggie food everywhere! As soon as the latest article was completed, we jumped on our bikes and headed for the hills.
And here in Mcleod Ganj is where we will be for the next couple of weeks. Tibetan cooking courses (taught by an ex-political prisoner in a local monastery!), yoga courses, and a huge amount of learning about what is currently happening under the Chinese will surely keep us occupied.
And we are reading books again for the first time in months. Bruce Chatwin teaching us that you can read landscapes with poems instead of maps, and Ffyona Campbell inspiring us to keep on the road. The Dalai Lama is talking in a couple of weeks and we think we will keep reading until them.
We are now closer to Australia than to England, both in time and distance. However Sydney can wait, for the rest of India calls. We look forward to descending out of the mountains and making our way across this amazing, spiritual, colourful, crazy country...