I took a Deuter TransAlpin 30L Backpack for this trip. 4-5 months in warm weather in cheap countries means that I don't need warm clothing, nor camping gear, nor cooking gear. The pack was filled with my camera, Olympus Mju 630, a Asus EEE PC, two sets of clothing, a head-lamp and not much else. I packed quite light on this tour, leaving just enough space for a Lonely Planet guidebook and one book to read.
India and Nepal.
Cold weather and rain in Europe is what drove me towards India. I was forced to hunker down at home and after two months I got a bit of cabin fever. I wanted to be out there, having adventures, doing things. But my gear could not handle sub-zero temperatures, cycling in rain and snow is no fun, and you don't see much of the country if you only have 4-6 hours of daylight.
So instead I chose to fly away, leave my bike at home, and spend some time in India and Nepal. It was quite a last minute decision. After I got my visa I went to the airport, bought the guidebook there and read it on the plane. The person sitting next to me, a German trucker, was telling me how he goes to India once a year for spiritual cleansing and how people do telepathic experiments and can move objects with their mind. Great. Here I was, thinking that India might be a bit more crazy then south-east Asia, but I did not quite expect that crazy was already with me on the flight.
Crazy is quite a fitting word to describe India. Chaotic another. Holy, Smelly, Noisy, Glorious; full of people, garbage and temples, of sacred cows, vultures and street dogs; cheap with delicious food. It was quite hard not to be overwhelmed.
I started the tour in Mumbai, a few days after the attacks on the Taj Mahal Hotel. Mumbai was even more chaotic at that point, so I made my way south, towards Goa. A former Portuguese colony, its the main tourist destination of long beaches filled with hotels and guest houses. I only stayed a few days, before the much more interesting interior opened up before me. Rock climbing in Hampi was great, the temples and elephants make a beautiful backdrop. Mysore and Bangalore were large city destinations on my way, before I came to Ooty. A former British summer escape, its high in the hills and therefore chilly. Which still means that you run around in T-shirt and shorts, but all the Indians wear hats, scarfs and warm sweaters.
I mostly travelled by train, sometimes bus. The tourist quota system makes it easy to get a seat as a foreigner, otherwise you would have to book months in advance. But even then the trains can be incredibly delayed, at one point I waited 12h at the train station. In true Indian style, no one knew how long the delay would be, so I was told "1 hour, 1 hour", each hour, for 12 in a row. I continued south, boating around the canals of Kerala, visiting the coastal towns of Kochi, till Kanyakumari at the southernmost tip. In the meantime I heard talk about the Andaman islands, so I tried getting there. A boat from Chennai took 2 days to get me there, but it was well worth it.
I spend 3 weeks on the Andamans. Neil island was my base, and I met many great people there. It was one of the best spots I have been, to this very day. Sleeping in a hut on the beach for 1 Dollar, swimming, snorkelling, fishing, hunting crabs and being on the look out for the elusive manatees that frequent the area. Reading, sitting in the hammock, frying fish on bonfires at the beach. Classical backpacker stuff, it was just like people would imagine south-east Asia I guess, just without the tourists. The entire island had 3 hut areas for foreigners, and one attempt at an actual hotel, the only large buildings made of concrete on the islands. It was either unfinished or empty at the time.
After this much needed recharge I headed back into the noisy and chaotic mainland. Calcutta, Varanasi, the Taj Mahal were next, followed by a month in Nepal. Kathmandu is a amazing place, paragliding around lake Pokhara with the Annapurna in the background, hiking to the Mt. Everest base camp and climbing the Kala Pattar, at 5550m. You don't even need actual mountaineering gear, just hiking equipment. Again, just like India, Nepal is a cheap country full of good food.
My flight back to Germany was looming ahead, and I had to rush through Rajastan and the deserts, Jodhpur and Udaipur to get back to Mumbai to catch it. I would have loved to see more caves, but I only managed to squeeze a visit at Elephant Island in. Next time, India, next time. Because I was heading back to Europe, back to my bike. The winter was over, and my biggest bike tour awaited: I finally wanted to approach Africa, the continent that has so far eluded me.