Two Wandering Cyclists Become Four
It was a beautiful warm afternoon and the sun was streaming through the window of the Snow Lion restaurant. I sat writing a letter and munching on Tensing Dolma's delicious lemon curd pie. Between mouthfuls and sentences, I watched a group of Buddhist nuns talking and laughing at a table on the veranda. I could hear an Australian accent amongst the group and was instantly intrigued.
There was a strong feeling inside me that I should speak to this woman, but I was too embarrassed to approach her. I watched helplessly as the group paid their bill and made their way to the door. As I saw them disappearing down the dark corridor towards the street I suddenly had an idea. With newfound confidence I leapt from my chair and raced out into the blinding sunlight.
'Excuse me' I called out. 'Are you Australian?' 'No, I'm from New Zealand' came her reply. She must have read the disappointment on my face because she then added; 'Sorry, is that a problem?' 'No, no' I stuttered, 'It's just that, well, we are cycling from England to Australia, you see, (her eyebrows shot upwards) and we are making a documentary, um, and, we are looking for something to interview about Buddhism and since I thought you were Australian I thought is would be perfect...but...um...'
Jampa Lhatso smiled and interrupted me: 'I know just the person.'
The next morning we found ourselves sitting cross-legged by a shiny white stupa, in the garden of Tushita, the Buddhist monastery, situated amongst the trees high above McLeod Ganj. The interview itself only went for half an hour, but we talked with Tencho for almost three.
As we walked back down the hill we could hear the horns blaring below and felt a strong pull to return to the calm haven of Tushita. And so it was that we booked ourselves into a 9 day 'Introduction to Buddhism and meditation' course. Kevin and I were to stay in separate dormitories, and would not allowed to be speak to each other until the end of the course. We were nervous but knew that it would do us both a lot of good.
The day before it was due to start we carefully separated our communal luggage for the first time since leaving Oxford. We even had to buy a second tube of toothpaste, shampoo and soap. But a call came through from Australia that changed everything. Finally a cargo boat had been located that would take us from India to South East Asia - and it was scheduled to depart Bombay on Christmas Eve. If we stayed in McLeod for another 9 days there was no way we could get there in time.
So with great disappointment we cancelled our place at Tushita and nervously tried to prepare ourselves for our descent down from the mountains into the chaos of the Indian flatlands. That evening we bumped into Heike and Frank, whom we had first met in Istanbul, and discovered they were also leaving McLeod the next morning.
Before we started this journey we imagined we would meet hundreds of other cyclists from all over the world, and cycle with them for different legs of the voyage. But in reality we have learnt it is not that simple. Cycling with someone else is a like looking for a new flatmate - certain things have to be compatible.
So we decided to give it a try and set off together the next morning. We were nervous that they would get bored waiting for us to photograph and film everything, but Frank stopped for more photos than we did. But we couldn't blame him - the Himalayas looked absolutely stunning, covered in the first snow of the winter against a crisp blue sky.
Amazingly, we found that our new cycling companions travel at the same speed as us (uphill and down!) and they were both very chilled people to be around. In the morning they helped mash bananas for porridge and in the evenings they taught us new card games as we waited for our meals to arrive.
We ended up cycling together for eight days - all the way into the madness of Delhi. It felt so much safer being four rather than two and I think all of us were relieved to have each other as we approached the capital - a city famous for it's deadly traffic and terrible pollution (one day in Delhi is equivalent to smoking 40 cigarettes!).
After sharing a meal and our last game of 'twenty-down' we said farewell to our new friends, and went our separate ways. They set off to cycle to Kathmandu - from where they will fly home to Saarland, Germany in the New Year.
We on the other hand, have to survive a few more days in the capital, interviewing transport campaigners, finishing articles before impending deadlines and trying to find some replacement 700x32 tyres before racing south to catch our ship to Singapore...