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Old 08-10-2012, 11:02 PM   #1
igorshen OP
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Blow Horn PLEASE !

Use dipper at night

From


Those who have been to India know what the title refers to. For the rest, let’s just say that it is about the incessant honking that is difficult to forget even months after one departs this incredible country. Horn is a universal tool used by Indian motorists to warn, greet, give right of way, offer services, show happiness, express frustration or any other kind of emotion they might have at that particular moment. There are 1.2 billion Indians and it feels as if every one of them has a horn and all of them happen to be on the same street as you and they all honk.

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Prayer flags can be found everywhere in Ladakh

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Endless Himalayan sky

India is impossible to describe in words, pictures, video or any other multimedia format presently known to man. India can only be experienced firsthand. My friend, after only few hours on the Indian soil put it nicely – “India is six-dimensional.” Driving in India is yet another dimension to be added to the mix. Besides being dangerous, frustrating and annoying, it is also highly rewarding – strange, funny, friendly, welcoming and entertaining experience, all at the same time. While some of these things may seem contradictory, I’ve been constantly experiencing these emotions while riding around India. So don’t be put off by all the negative stories you might have heard about it, go to India and ride around. One thing is for sure – you will never forget that experience.

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On the way to Jammu

This story is about my ride through the Indian Himalayas – Kashmir, Ladakh and Himachal Pradesh. I had ridden around India a few years back, but at that time, the North was too cold (high passes were closed) and I could not visit this part of the country. After five years of waiting and several weeks of planning, a short flight got me and my friend to Kolkata. We took an overnight train to Bodhgaya, the place where Siddhartha Gautama, more widely known as Buddha, achieved enlightenment under a Bodhi tree some 2555 years ago. The place is very popular with pilgrims from all Buddhist countries around the world. There are many westerners seeking escape from the shackles of modern life too. But for most of them, Bodhgaya is just a brief stopover between rave parties of Goa and Full Moon parties on Thai islands.

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Kolkata

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Roof-top restaurant at my gueshouse

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Indian bus art

Next place to visit was Varanasi – probably the holiest city on the planet. Nobody’s more spiritual than Indians. Everything is holy for Hindus – southernmost point of the sub-continent, mountain peaks and passes, rivers, creeks, lakes, trees, rocks, any kind of temple or church… Then there is a holy city – Varanasi; a city older than time. Holy River Ganges flows through it. Washing in the river and drinking its water is supposed to wash away sins and help one escape the vicious cycle or rebirth. Catholics probably got an easier formula – just pay the priest and he’ll magically remove the possibility of punishment for the sins and insure the trip to heaven. I just wonder why people do not seem to focus on not committing any sins in the first place.

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Varanasi street mayhem

Ending one’s life in Varanasi is THE way to go for Hindus. The lucky ones who die in Varansi get to be burnt by the Ganges thereby automatically ceasing the cycle of rebirth. So when Hindus feel at the end of the road they like to head to Varanasi hoping to die there. For tourists, watching dead bodies burn on pyres, inhaling the smell of human roast and spotting un-burnt body parts in the river is the main activity. This time my friend spotted a corpse of a tiny baby floating down the river. On my last trip to Varanasi, I spotted an adult corpse floating with a bird sitting on the bloated body. Hygiene in Varanasi is on a particularly low level and it’s virtually impossible not to get a diarrhea. This time, I had one major and 2 minor ones. Despite all this, Varanasi is probably the highlight of anyone’s visit to India.

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Varanasi is full of holy man trying to make a few pennies by posing for pics

From india

My winner shot from last trip to India

After all the spiritual and intestinal cleansing, I was ready to enjoy the rest of India. A comfortable overnight train took me to Delhi. My meticulous planning did not give me the slightest idea that the whole motorcycle market of Karol Bagh is closed on Mondays. Luckily for me, there were a few shops open. I wasn’t too thrilled with the choice of available bikes but I settled on one of the Royal Enfields. It looked old, beat up and engine had no compression left, but I just HAD to start my riding the following day. I got the bike and spent the rest of the day shopping for clothes and other necessities for the ride.

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Karol Bagh - everything you might need for your motorcycle

Early next morning, I left my hotel before the dawn hoping to avoid Delhi traffic. Despite a few wrong turns, I was out of the city by 8 AM. Following 500 km were just a grind to get to more rewarding places. Besides one flat tire, the ride was uneventful. Shortly before sunset, I was in Jammu. The province of Jammu and Kashmir is prone to civil unrests due to loving Muslim-Hindu relationship. Military and police presence was much like the rest of India - impressive. Not only were soldiers carrying automatic guns but they had their fingers on the triggers. All this ready-to-shoot attitude made me feel really safe (I’m not being facetious).

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Dal lake, Srinagar, Kashmir

The ride between Jammu and Srinagar, the summer capital of the province and center of Kashmir, was more interesting. Not only was the scenery more varied, but the heavy traffic together with the innate madness of Indian drivers made the ride particularly exciting and hilarious at times. I arrived into Srinagar in late afternoon. While entering the city, I noticed that I had a second puncture of the day, on the same spot. A careful examination of the tire revealed that the steel threads were broken and exposed during my first puncture on the first day. Luckily, there was a shop with tires for my bike nearby. I spent next day looking for spare inner tube and visiting nearby mountain resort and skiing area of Gulmarg. There I had my fourth puncture fixed. Tire Gods were clearly not on my side. That evening I made a sacrifice to them in the form of Kashmiri kebabs at Mummy Please restaurant. The kebabs were so-so, but the sauces they served with the meat were out of this world. There were 6-7 varieties of sauces of different color, texture and taste. Mercifully, the kebab sacrifice seemed to appease the Tire Gods and I had no more flats for the rest of my trip.

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Fixing my fourth and last flat tire of the trip

The ride from Srinagar towards Leh started off in the green Kashmir valley and took me slowly high up to the alpine resort town of Sonamarg. June and July are the months of Yatra to Amarnath cave (another uber-holy site). People from around India hike, ride bikes, buses and all other forms of transportation to get to this sacred place. It happened to be just downhill from where my road was crossing a high pass. I could see hundreds of buses parked in the valley below. There was a makeshift city with heliport served by four helicopters ferrying pilgrims to the holy cave and back (if interested, you can book the helicopter ride on the internet).

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Sonamarg, Kashmir

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Near the top of the pass with pilgrimage city below

As soon as I crossed the pass, scenery changed as if someone flipped a switch. Mountains became barren, air dry and traffic all but disappeared. Despite less traffic, my progress was agonizingly slow due to long stretches of the road being under construction. The last 50 or so kilometers took me almost four hours. By the time I got to Kargil, I was beat. Since my plan was to go to Zanskar valley, I pushed for another 40 km into Suru valley to Sankoo village. I found a nice guesthouse and went to bed before dark. I had a slight fever and felt nauseous due to sun exposure and high altitude (around 10 000 ft).

After 11 hours of sleep, I felt rejuvenated and ready for another day of riding With 5 liters of extra fuel, I headed up the canyon in the direction of Zaskar valley – the first Buddhist area of my trip(western part of Jammu and Kashmir is Muslim). The road was very rough and the climb gentle but steady. Along the way, there were great views of two 7000+ meter peaks – Kum and Num. By the time I reached top of the pass (over 5000 m), it was already 2 PM, I had gone through half of my fuel, had headache from all the shaking and feeling effects of altitude again. While some sources told me that it was possible to get fuel in Zanskar, I did not like the idea of being at someone’s mercy for my trip back. So I reluctantly decided to go back to Sankoo. Six more hours of riding the kidney-detaching-bumps later, I crawled back into bed with fever and feeling sick again.

From Blow Horn PLEASE !!!

Buddhist prayer flags on the way to Zanskar Valley

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Some big mountains along the way

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The valley goes on and on

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Panzi La pass between Suru and Zanskar valleys

igorshen screwed with this post 08-11-2012 at 07:47 AM
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Old 08-11-2012, 01:23 AM   #2
igorshen OP
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apparently a post cannot be longer than 40000 characters

East of Kargil, people are Tibetan Buddhists. It was strange how abruptly mosques got replaced by Buddhist monasteries and stupas and how houses started looking distinctly Tibetan. After crossing a pass, I came across first major monastery – Lamayuru. It’s a very touristy place with old men posing for baksheesh. After few more hours of riding and another pass, I was in Indus valley and eventually Leh. This city is the center of Ladakh and backpacker’s enclave with all travelers’ conveniences. I found a cozy guesthouse and enjoyed a well-deserved dinner on one of the roof-top restaurants. Leh is a very comfortable place to re-energize before continuing on.

From Blow Horn PLEASE !!!

Prayer stones in Lamayuru

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Lamayuru monastery

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Indus valley (don't know what happened to my face?!)

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Dinner at one of the roof-top restaurants in Leh (at least my face is back to normal )

Leh- Manali highway is probably the most popular motorcycle ride in the world. Nowhere else have I seen so many riders on a particular route (including H-D chrome-and-leather-lover-strewn US route 66). Every day I would pass tens, if not hundreds, of other riders. Leh is the motorcycling hub and one can find everything for his bike there. There are many bikes available for rent or purchase as well – from scooters to off-road bikes to Enfields.

From Blow Horn PLEASE !!!

Finally got my motorcycle prayer flags in Leh

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Cruising around Leh

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These kids were thrilled after I gave them a ride on my Enfield

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One of many comfy guesthouses in Leh

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Leh palace and monastery above the city

I made several side trips from Leh. A must-do trip for all tourists visiting Leh is Nubra valley. The road goes across supposedly “highest motorable pass in the world.” While this is not true (there is another higher pass in India and several much higher passes in China), having picture taken next to the sign is a must for everybody. Besides, I had never been at over 18 000 ft, so it was good enough for me. Nubra valley is another arid place with quaint villages and picturesque monasteries dotting it. Ethnic background of local residents is also interesting as they are related to Baltistan, across the border in Pakistan.

From Blow Horn PLEASE !!!

Khardung La pass - falsely advertised as the "world's highest motorable road"

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On the top of a hill above Khardung La pass

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On the way to Nubra valley

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Nubra valley

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One of the more scenic monasteries perched on a narrow ridge

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Ubiquitous road-side pleas to drivers to slow down (that NOBODY heeds)

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Some are provocative, some witty, but all equally futile

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The bottom of the switchbacks is at 14 500 ft

Visiting some of the high-altitude Himalayan lakes is another popular trip out of Leh. Pangong Tso Lake, straddling Indo-Chinese border, is probably the most popular of those. The road goes over another high pass which is also a tourist attraction. The climate is very inhospitable and people there live tough lives. Sitting at an altitude of over 4000m, during the day sun is burning and at night it gets very cold. In winter, it’s just plain cold and the whole place is cut off from the rest of the world. Ancient trading routes connecting Silk road with India and SE Asia passed here and were in use for hundreds of years.

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Pangong Tso

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There are no restrictions on off-road driving

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The road is actually rougher than off-road in many places

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Feeling free in Indian Himalayas

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Another picturesque monastery on the way to Pangong Tso

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Dry wash riding Indian style

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Ready for take off

The road from Leh to Manali goes up Indus valley for about 100 km, passing several photogenic monasteries and ancient palaces along the way – Thiksay, Satna, Stok and Chemrey. Eventually it climbs out of the valley going south. I decided to follow the valley towards another lake – Tso Moriri. For the most part, the road is in great condition, traffic very light and scenery fantastic. The last 30 km to the lake were very rough, but lack of traffic and surreal scenery more than made up for the effort. This lake too featured inhospitable climate. Local kids, with sunburnt faces, told me that it gets REALLY cold in winter. Feeling cold in the midst of their summer, I didn’t want even to think about winters.
The road from Tso Moriri back to Leh – Manali highway was the loneliest stretch I’d ridden on the whole trip. In five hours on the road, I’ve seen only two other vehicles. Considering the harsh environment, it’s little wonder that the area is so sparsely populated (the least dense in India).

From Blow Horn PLEASE !!!

Indus valley is full of monasteries like this one

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Nearby ...

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Long winters give people a lot of time to do things ...

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Never figured out why people stand on footpegs when posing; monkey sees, monkey does

Manali – Leh highway features long stretches of void as well. No villages, no petrol stations or hotels, just one high pass after another. There are only a few places with temporary dhabas (tents/restaurants) for summer travelers. One has to carry extra fuel for his vehicle and be prepared for at least one night of rough accommodation. I overnighted in Sarchu at about 4200 m of elevation. For people traveling in the opposite direction, this may be uncomfortably high since they would not be properly acclimatized.

From Blow Horn PLEASE !!!

Enjoying "Slice" - local mango juice

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Arriving at Tso Moriri

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Tso Moriri silence was deafening

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Local kid

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These kids too loved riding an Enfield

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Sunset at Tso Moriri

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Desolate road back to "civilization"

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Manali - Leh highway

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Last pass in Ladakh

As soon as I crossed into Himachal Pradesh province, the scenery started looking greener. There were streams and waterfalls everywhere. After a pleasant lunch in Keylang, I continued towards Manali. Mountains along the road were reminiscent of Switzerland or Canadian Rockies, just much higher. I took my time riding this scenic, mostly smooth, section. Shortly before the last pass, the mighty Rohtang, I got off the main highway and headed further east towards the Spiti valley.

From Blow Horn PLEASE !!!

Lunch at a scenic restaurant in Keylang

This was not such a smart move on my part. My eagerness to explore this part of the Himalayas nearly got me into trouble. I did not know just how tough this section would be. At 2 PM, I started riding on very rough road towards gushing creek crossings with big submerged rocks, a major pass and no villages in between. But the scenery was fantastic. This valley deserves at least one full day to appreciate all the glaciers, waterfalls and hanging meadows along the way. At one particularly bad creek crossing I lost camera bag and lens cap fighting the swift water and big rocks. There was an SUV waiting for me to get through. Passengers and the driver had a good laugh watching me suffer. Once through, the driver told me there were more such crossings ahead of me and that I should sleep before the pass. I did not like this option as I wanted to get to Kaza, the center of Spiti valley, that day. Rough calculation using my average speed and remaining distance indicated my estimated arrival time would be around 9 or 10 PM. This was a bad proposition, so I pushed on hard. I was flying over big rocks, which made ride smoother. I was glad the bike was rented as I would have been crying had I had to ride my own bike so fast on such a rough road.

From Blow Horn PLEASE !!!

Road to Kaza

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Approaching Spiti valley

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I might actually get to Kaza before dark

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Stormy skies ahead

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The storm made scenery even more breathtaking

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Long and windy road to Kaza

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Feeling exhausted

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Spiti valley

After what seemed like an eternity, I reached top of the pass shortly after 4 PM. This was the first time I felt I had a chance of getting to Kaza before dark. As I descended into Spiti valley, road conditions actually improved. The road was still badly potholed, but I could ride faster. The scenery became arid again, with not a tree in sight. The late afternoon sun together with stormy skies in the distance made the scenery even more spectacular. I got to Kaza just before dark. Oil stains all over front of the bike indicated blown fork seal. Chain was badly stretched and my pannier finally broke off. Other than those few minor things, bike behaved like a champ.

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Key monastery

There is a very picturesque monastery just outside Kaza – Key monastery, which I visited the next day. The road passes very near the Chinese border and it’s a sensitive area. Because of this, all foreigners have to obtain an “inner permit” to continue riding past Kaza. I did this formality in about an hour, and by noon, I was ready to leave Kaza.
Surreal, out-of-this-world scenery with deep canyons and steep walls continued as I rode east towards Chinese border. Close to the border, there is a military check point and the road heads south. As I followed the river, it gained power, rapids became bigger and canyon deeper. Eventually the canyon became so inaccessible that the road climbed to over 4000m just to bypass the deepest part. At the top of the pass there was another scary creek crossing. Smaller cars could not go through and were turning back. One driver who decided to give this crossing a try ended up damaging the bottom of his car.

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Loose rocks fall off all the time

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Looked a lot scarier when the engine was dying on me in the middle of the crossing

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I felt pretty good being on a motorcycle after seeing this car get damaged

Not far from the top there was a little village of Nako. It seems that most travelers spend a night there. It is a very popular stop for a good reason. The village sits high up overlooking a deep gorge and high mountains on the other side. The village itself is nothing special, but I had the best thukhpa (Tibetan noodle soup) of the trip and spent a comfortable night in one of the guesthouses.

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Just outside Nako

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On the way down

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Raging river carved a deep and steep canyon
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Old 08-11-2012, 01:28 AM   #3
igorshen OP
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Next day, I made my descent into Kinnaur district. The road was carved out of a deep canyon susceptible to frequent mud slides and rock falls. The road itself is probably the biggest attraction here. I had to stop numerous times to take pictures and just enjoy the scenery. Once again, as I descended to lower elevations, mountains became lusher with trees, meadows and waterfalls. This place too was reminiscent of Switzerland with tiny villages perched at the edge of hanging valleys. Architecture was similar as well, with houses featuring steep roofs, covered with flat rock tiles. Typical Kinnauri temple architecture uses alternating layers of wood beams and rocks to absorb impact of earthquakes.

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Kalpa village

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Local temple

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Breakfast time

I stayed in Kalpa village, high up above the valley with supposedly amazing views of Kinner Kailash. Unfortunately, when I was there, I and everything above me were in clouds. I guess, I’ll just have to go back again to enjoy these views.
On my last day, I encountered the first rain of the trip. It was not fun, but since it was at the tail end of the trip, I did not care too much. By this time, my bike developed a strange lateral wobble. Neither I nor a road-side mechanic could figure out what was wrong. I continued riding this “gummy” bike for the last 600 km praying that wheels don’t come off at speed. By the time I reached New Delhi, even clutch cable was at its last legs. It was the time for a complete overhaul of both bike and me.

From Blow Horn PLEASE !!!

Another spectacular road through Kinnaur

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Riding through Kinnaur was a blast

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Crossing a suspension bridge over raging river - a Himalayan classic shot

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On the streets of Old Delhi in search of a recommended Mughali restaurant

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Chai vendor and a guy who felt like being in the picture

After the last few mouth-watering kebabs I was in the sterile environment of a plane flying back home. I was feeling strange, almost uncomfortable, without anyone trying to sell me his rickshaw ride, hotel, tour, sunglasses, marijuana, taxi, etc. All of my senses were still numb from four weeks of constant assault, yet I was already planning my next trip to this incredible place.

From Blow Horn PLEASE !!!


Logistics and numbers

Route – 4000 km; highest point Khardung La at 5300 m; longest stretch without fuel 550 km; long sections under construction or in bad to very bad shape; depending on the road conditions, 100-300 km is max one should plan on riding per day

Bike – Royal Enfield Electra 350 with zillion miles on it; 220 USD for 3 weeks; parts cheap and readily available in Leh, Manali and many other places; mechanics and tire repair shops available along all roads

Cost – petrol 1.50 USD per liter; lunch/dinner 2-10 USD, guesthouse 5-30 USD (quality depends more on the place than on price); my total cost was 1000 USD for three weeks

Place to rent a bike – Karol Bagh neighborhood in New Delhi; no prior arrangements needed, but avoid Mondays when the market is closed; bikes readily available in Leh and Manali as well

Safety – very safe; police does not bother motorcyclists; most places provide parking but street parking is safe as well; helmet law enforced only in Delhi and Kinnaur valley

Best season for Ladakh – mid-June to mid-September
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Old 08-11-2012, 02:44 AM   #4
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Brilliant.
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Old 08-11-2012, 04:51 AM   #5
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Pure awesomeness...Wanna be my tour guide!?
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Old 08-11-2012, 05:12 AM   #6
Unstable Rider
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What camera you using sir?

(your images well portrayed, +1)

Also, I still don't get the "use the dipper at night" thing...
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Old 08-11-2012, 05:28 AM   #7
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Fantastic ride report as usual Igor!
Incredible pictures that makes us feel as if we were there with you.

Now that you have fully cleansed your soul you can reload on sins in Pattaya!
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Old 08-11-2012, 05:32 AM   #8
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"dipper" = head light high beam flasher.
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Old 08-11-2012, 07:35 AM   #9
igorshen OP
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[QUOTE=Indy Unlimited;19334453

Now that you have fully cleansed your soul you can reload on sins in Pattaya![/QUOTE]

Seems you know Thailand too well

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bell driver View Post
"dipper" = head light high beam flasher.
That's what I figured too. Basically people do not bother looking into their rear-view mirrors. So they are asking drivers behind to honk or flash their high beams at night (I'm not sure either where "dipper" came from either)

As for camera, it's a (now seriously outdated)Canon 40D with 10-22 mm lens.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Symcrapico View Post
Pure awesomeness...Wanna be my tour guide!?
I came across several guided tours. I'm not sure about the price. If you go with me, it's free
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Old 08-12-2012, 09:41 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by igorshen View Post
I'm not sure either where "dipper" came from either
Dipper: As you may have figured out, default setting for night driving is High Beam. So you "dip" your lights to Low to be noticed.....therefore "dipper"
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Old 04-10-2013, 12:10 PM   #11
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Another great read with photos

Igor,

Nice to see you out on the road again. I need to reread your South American trip. These pictures are incredible and it looks like you had another good time. Hope all is well in Thailand.

Thanks again for sharing.

Tim
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Old 04-10-2013, 02:49 PM   #12
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Excellent

I went to India for the first time a couple months ago, and thought that one would have to be either a) entirely deranged or b) a local, to ride a motorcycle on these crazy roads. But I spent most of my time around Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.

Next time: the mountains! Thanks for the inspiration!
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Old 04-10-2013, 03:07 PM   #13
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Thoroughly enjoyed your report and the pictures.

Particularly interesting how you took time to undertake exploration of the area away from the main route.

It is a great tribute to a motorcycle that can endure such a hard life. All rented bikes suffer by default and this one has its age, the climate and the roads and whatever more thrown into it. Thank goodness it has no ears.

Thanks for an outstanding write up.
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