Across the Isle of Man

I happen to be on the Isle of Man for a few days. This morning I hopped on a random bus, which brought me to Peel on the western side of the island. I spent an hour there and had an early lunch, and then took another bus north to Ramsay. I got off about halfway though, in Kirk Michael. And somehow I decided to walk along Baltic Road and across a hill from there. Halfway through it started to rain and the wind got stronger, and somehow I decided I’d walk all the way through to the other side of the island.

The path I had followed deteriorated to almost ;) Malagasy dimensions. It soon ended and my only choice was to cross private land to reach Druidale Road further down in the valley.

On Druidale Road I reached Druidale Farm, from where a footpath leads to the head of Sulby Reservoir. Here I joined Sulby Glen Road, which climbs along the hillside of Snaefell. The weather got worse; rain, fog and a heavy-heavy head wind (I should have done this in the other direction) made the walk somewhat difficult. Visibility had decreased to less than 50m and sometimes I walked side-ways to evade the heaviest of gusts. With rain in my face and wind in my ears I didn’t hear my camera’s screams for help – it drowned unnoticed in my jacket’s pocket (water-proof apparently means: the water that’s inside won’t get out any more).

When darkness fell I reached Bungalow, a station on the Snaefell Mountain Railway at the junction of Sulby Glen and Mountain Road. The railway doesn’t run during the winter, so what could be more obvious than to use it’s tracks to reach Laxey, especially since there is no other direct road or path available?

The walk on the tracks was almost pleasant and about an hour later I emerged in Laxey on the eastern coast of the Isle of Man. Only when I sat down in the bus that brought me back to Douglas (the capital of the Isle of Man) I realized that my clothes were more or less completely soaked and I started to get cold. Nothing a hot shower and a warm dinner couldn’t fix, though.

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A walk to Stoul

Just a few hours’ walk across North Morar. We left the car In Bracarina and followed the trail to Stoul, where we had our sandwiches for lunch before we headed back on the same track. No Munros or anything extreme, just lovely hill walking.

Stoul apparently used to be an inhabited place, as there are ruins of a couple of houses and stables there. Two stables have been upgraded to tin roofs and probably serve as shelters for the numerous sheep. Of the houses only the walls are standing, with a chimney at each gable.

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Creag Leacach and Glas Maol

I had grand plans for today and wanted to attempt to climb up to six Munros in the Glenshee area. Starting with Creag Leacach (987m) and Glas Maol (1068m), I wanted to cross over to Cairn of Claise (1064m), potentially taking in Tom Buidhe (957m) and Tolmount (958m), before returning to A93 via Càrn an Tuirc (1019m).

The weather wasn’t particularly great and I couldn’t see any of the hill-tops around me, they were all covered in a dense layer of grey clouds. So I also didn’t see that they were all properly snow-covered (though I guessed that from the snow patches on the hillsides – and the time of year). I had a good map, compass, and GPS with me, though.

I parked on the central car park of the Glenshee ski area and walked down the A93 to begin my walk with the ascent of Creag Leacach. In hindsight, following the descending road south added an unnecessary climb to the walk. If memory serves right, some of this could have been avoided by leaving the road quite early on and crossing over to Creag Leacach’s base via a parallel ridge. Anyway, whether that would have been faster is an entirely different question. And the ascent wasn’t so bad in the end.

Visibility soon went downhill while I walked up. Interestingly, the boundary between the council of Angus and the council of Perth and Kinross follows the crest between the peaks of Creag Leacach and Glas Maol (and from there the boundary between Kinross and Perth and Aberdeenshire follows over to Cairn of Claise and Tolmount), and additionally, is marked by a somewhat derelict drywall. This wall was visible for the last part of the way up to Creag Leacach already, and was easily followed thereafter as well, as it’s crown often peeked through the snow.

Not far from Glas Maol my path was crossed by a kind of snow mobile which was unexpected and faded away in the fog as quickly as it had emerged, but reminded me that Glenshee is a ski resort.

Both Creag Leacach and Glas Maol were easily reached. From the latter, however, it became more difficult to march on. Owing to white clouds on white snow, visibility was seriously poor and at some point both compass and GPS started to display gibberish. I was indeed lucky that there was snow, which allowed me to retrace my steps.

Having lost quite some time trying to find my way, I decided to call it a day. Walking towards the other Munros would have led me further away from the road and given the weather conditions and the flaky navigational aids that didn’t seem like an exceptionally smart thing to do. I descended close to the ski slopes and wished I’d had a snowboard with me.

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Day Trip to Beinn Chìochan/Lochnagar

My first successful ascent of a Scottish Munro.

Lochnagar, originally a misunderstanding of the name of the lake (which is called Lochan na Gaire – the ‘little loch of the noisy sound’) in the northern corrie (an amphitheatre-like valley head) of the mountain but nowadays the common name for the entire mountain (as well as the lake), is one of 13 Munros in the East Mounth, a plateau north of Dundee. An alternative Gaelic name for the mountain is Beinn Chìochan.

We diverted off the recommended route and climbed the mountain on the northwestern side, by first crossing between Meikle Pap and Lochnagar the lake. The ascent to Cac Càrn Beag (1155m), the mountain’s highest peak, took us about 3 hours in total.
The sky wasn’t free of clouds and fog but the views, especially to the south with a number of snow-covered mountains, was fantastic nonetheless.

We returned along the Glas Allt river, across a number of snow fields, and along Loch Muick.

A fine day out, and, as mentioned above, my first Munro. 281 to go.

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The End

This is the end of the trip to Bangladesh. I’ll fly out tomorrow.

I didn’t get as far up the Brahmaputra as I’d have wished, but that is not entirely surprising, given the limited time and the vast area that Bangladesh and Northeastern India cover.

It was an intense time here. People are incredibly friendly and, even more so, incredibly curious. This makes travelling difficult at times. I would have liked to spend some more time with individuals, accept more invitations, get to know the culture a bit better, maybe learn some more Bengali, etc. But the short encounters with so many people during the day – where I was stopped and just asked for my name, or my country, or where people just wanted to snap a photo of me – eventually exhausted me enough to only want my peace and quiet at the end of the day. I was happy to lock the door behind me in a hotel and switch on the TV.
If I ever come back to Bangladesh (right now I’d say I’m definitely not in a hurry, to say it politely…) my patience with the amount of people is something I have to work on.

Over all, however, the trip was amazing.

And on top of it all, cycling and walking on the left side of the road has become natural to me. When I think of having to ride on the right side again soon – that’s what feels wrong. ;)

I cycled ~2400 kilometers in total. The map below shows most of the route I’ve cycled. It does not at all include buses, trains, boats, etc.

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Gazipur – Dhaka

Today was the last day on the bike. Gazipur, a city of 1.2 million people, is located just 30km north of Dhaka. I avoided the main highway and cycled on a quiet back road parallel to the railway line connecting Gazipur with Dhaka.

At Tongi, a wee bit north of Dhaka’s airport, I had to join the highway, and cycling in the traffic chaos that is Dhaka was again a lot of fun.

I’m staying in a posh place in the Gulshan area, a bit south of the airport.

Cycled: 30km

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Kishoreganj – Gazipur

The trip is slowly coming to an end. Starting today, I am returning to Dhaka.

I managed to find an almost south-west bearing rout through the town of Pakundia and past Kapasia on pleasant roads. From the latter it was an interesting ride through a streched-out village-like area covered entirely with trees, between which people had built their houses. I followed foot paths at first, which then turned into a narrow asphalted road which eventually brought me to Gazipur.

Here it was, again, difficult to make myself understood. My asking for a hotel made people direct me to a restaurant. When I found a hotel of some sort, the clerk refused to let me sleep there. I think he was concerned it was not suitable for me. All my assurances that I didn’t care about the place’s comfort didn’t help. Finally I was directed at a place that, once more; was quite expensive, but did offer some ‘modern’ comfort.

Cycled: 81km

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Brahmanbaria – Kishoreganj

A quick ride in north-westish direction, to the town of Kishoreganj, somewhat northish of Dhaka. I have a couple of days before my flight home and I don’t want to spend all of them in Dhaka. So I’m slowly homing in on the capital.

It is now considerably warmer than when I first arrived in Bangladesh. It feels like the actual cycling is a bit of a chore, even though the country continues to be flat as flat can be. Maybe I’m getting old? Well, I’m not saying I don’t enjoy the cycling, not at all.

And as for the town of Kishoreganj – hm, I didn’t see much of it. I arrived late, had dinner, and fell into bed, basically.

Cycled: 78km

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Agartala – Brahmanbaria

I had a late start but finally, finally! left Agartala and went back to Bangladesh. Not that Agartala or India were a bad experience in any way. But staying in the same place for so long, just waiting for some future date, without any intermediate plans, is not good for me.

I had been out of Agartala on short day trips to the surrounding countryside a couple of times. At one occasion I bought a heavy chopping knife, almost a machete. Officially, import of any kind of knives to Bangladesh is forbidden. I was also carrying a smaller sickle-like knife with me which I had bought directly from a blacksmith at his road-side forge between Natore and Bogra a few weeks ago. I did not, by the way, buy them because I feel unsafe on the road. They are souvenirs and ‘hidden’ at the very bottom of my bike’s frame bag.

As usual, nobody cared about my luggage at the border, neither on the Indian nor on the Bangladeshi side. The Indian border guard, before letting me pass, with a stern look made a phone call and, from the little bits I understood, he seemed to ask for confirmation that I was indeed allowed to cross the border on my bicycle.

Once in Bangladesh, I felt ‘at home’ instantly. People seemed even more friendly than in India, and certainly way more curious towards the lone western cyclist.

The following ride was slow and short. Me, having left late in the day once more, only made it to Brahmanbaria, less than 30km from the border.

Brahmanbaria, like every other Bangladeshi town, is buzzing and as everywhere in Bangladesh, people are friendly and tried to help me find a hotel. For some reason it was much more difficult today and I cycled around the town centre for quite a while before recognizing the hotel for what it was (having cycled past it at least twice). And then I was ripped off majorly (that’s where people’s friendliness ends ;). (That’s not correct – I was ripped off majorly with a friendly smile.)

Cycled: 33km

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Agartala

My stay in Agartala was successful in that I managed to obtain a Bangladeshi visa. It required several visits to the consulate, though. It is located somewhat towards the northern edge of the city and involves a long walk or a short autorickshaw ride, or some cycling.

On the first visit I was told to come back the next day because the officer who’d deal with my application was not in. Everyone else (i.e. expat Bangladeshis – some had India-Bangladeshi passports) could hand in their application without problem.

The next day I was allowed to fill in the application but before it was processed I had to pay the visa fees into an account at a bank. So back to the city and back to the consulate afterwards, to present proof of payment. Then I was told to come back later in the day (or was it the next day? – memory is getting hazy there) to pick up my passport.

Back at the consulate I was told that I couldn’t have another visa for Bangladesh because I had just been there and one is supposed to have a gap of 3 months between visits. That, of course, didn’t go well with my flight plans, having booked my return flight for March 23rd. After some back and forth and forwarding my flight confirmation emails to the clerk I finally got the OK for a ten-day visa (for the same price as a 30-day one, of course).

I stayed a few more days in Agartala, mostly because I wanted to see the Holi celebrations, the festival of colours. The population is predominantly Hindu here and people told me that the festivities would be well worth watching. In the end I was quite disappointed, as I only saw very few people actually throwing coloured powder at each other. I did receive my own share of colour, though.
Yesterday I was told that the real celebrations would be held today, but that turned out to be false as well. Literally no-one was celebrating.

While waiting for Holi I spent a lot of time in the streets with tea and snacks I felt like I was constantly eating or drinking (tea).

I also went to the movies a couple of times during the last days and watched the sequel to 300 in 3D and a Bollywood movie which I don’t quite remember the name of.

I’ll leave India tomorrow and cross back into Bangladesh.

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Silchar – Agartala

My plans for Silchar were grand. There is another Degree Confluence (almost) nearby and it would have been most interesting to try to get to it. But…

I arrived in Silchar very early in the morning. Was it 6am yet? I’m not sure. It was still dark and shops were obviously still closed, but a tea stall next to where the bus had stopped was sweetening my morning. I had a chat with an elderly fellow who recommended a hotel. He also told me that the train to Agartala, my next destination, would leave soon (6.45am or so). I didn’t quite get the name of the hotel he had recommended but I had one on the map that I tried first. The door was barred by an iron lattice which wasn’t locked, so getting inside wasn’t a problem. The receptionist was sleeping and wasn’t easily woken up. It turned out the place was fully booked (or the guy was too sleepy to be bother with a guest).

I cycled around town with the rising sun and tried various other hotels but all of them were full. At some point I gave up and rode straight to the train station and boarded the train to Agartala.

On the train I met a British train aficionado who was here to study the old narrow gauge trains before they were being upgraded to standard gauge, which is planned for 2014 or 2015 (can’t remember). He got of after a short while.

Agartala is a city located at the Indian border with Bangladesh, in the Indian state of Tripura. It has a Bangladeshi consulate and one is supposed to be able to obtain a visa here.

I arrived quite late in the day. The streets were busy with people, cars and trucks, and it was dark when I found a hotel that wasn’t full or too expensive.

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Shillong ( – Silchar)

I spent yesterday and today in the city: Over breakfast in the street I met Sun, a backpacker from Vietnam on his way to Cherrapunji; had my pants fixed once more, at a tailor who had his workshop in a tiny building towering above a busy market street; went to the Siat Khnam again but didn’t win, again; spectated at the Mega Mock Exercise, a nation-wide disaster drill, in the city center; had lunch in a restaurant ‘specalized in muslim dishes’ which was situated next to a liquor store; got a bus ticket to Silchar.

The bus left at 8pm. Getting the bike inside was a bit of an issue, and it ended up being strapped to the roof. The bus ride itself was quite strenuous – dusty and uncomfortable, but probably still better than cycling on this busy and sandy road. I didn’t regret it too much.

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Umiam – Shillong

A ‘quick’ (up-hill) ride into Shillong, the so-called ‘Scotland of the East’.

In the afternoon I went to see the daily Siat Khnam, basically a lottery but with an interesting way to draw the number. Three or four dozen Khasi men stand or sit with their bamboo bows in a semi-circle around a straw target and then shoot their arrows at it for a set amount of time. The total number of hits (arrows that stuck) is counted (usually hundreds) at the end and the last two digits are the winning number. Before the end of the shooting you can place bets. I participated but didn’t win anything.

There was also a TV team there filming the event. At the end, being the only foreigner there, I was interviewed. The camera man had been to Germany and spoke German fluently. I should try to contact him to get a copy of the interview…

Cycled: 17km

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Guwahati – Umiam

Today easily qualifies as one of the worst riding days ever.

I’ll keep it short. The road, part of which I had ridden on yesterday in the opposite direction when coming back from 26N92E, was again busy with traffic of all sorts. The majority, however, were laden open coal trucks going one way, and empty ones going the other way. The road was being enhanced to dual-carriageways, but most of it was still old, narrow, and of bad quality. On top of all that, the countryside was hilly, the temperatures high, and the cycling slow.

The plan was to reach Shillong, but when the sun set it was clear that this was not going to happen. It was pitch dark when I eventually found a hotel, a kind of resort actually, at the shore of Lake Umiam less than 20km from Shillong.

For those readers who think cycling in ‘these’ countries is dangerous – it is indeed. I nearly died when having a shower because the shower pipe had a leak, from which the water, at the right water pressure, in a steady stream shot directly onto the switch box that fed electricity to the boiler. I hadn’t noticed this, though, and was happily washing off today’s dirt when I suddenly felt a tickling sensation on my skin…

Cycled: 84 hell’ish kilometers

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Visiting 26N92E

After a lazy day in the city yesterday, today I set out to visit another unvisited Degree Confluence: 26N92E.

The ride lead me out of the city on main roads, but after 30km, in the village of Sonapur, I cycled off into the countryside. And oh, it was so amazingly beautiful! A steep climb brought me out of the Brahmaputra lowlands and onto a high plateau in the Ri-Bhoi district of Meghalaya, where 26N92E is located.

The narrow road wound its way through rice fields, little villages, and the occasional forest. No cars, very few people out, and an amazing countryside. I met a guy who spoke fluent English and lived in one of the villages around. He asked me about my scars on knee and ankle, and when I jokingly said that they were from a tiger, he looked seriously shocked. I found out that there are indeed tigers living in the area and occasionally they come out of their hiding places and attack livestock and even people. From that moment on I looked at the forest with different eyes.

I came past a spot where the road led through a very dense part of a forest and – and that was totally new to me – it exhaled not only cold an fresh air, but also a calm and relaxed feeling that made me appreciate this trip even more.

I made it to 26N92E, which again is located several hundred meters off the main road in a valley used for cultivation of rice. The GPS signal was a bit flaky and it took me a while to close in on the actual spot.

It was already late in day and I had to hurry back to Guwahati. I still had to cycle 50km. I wanted to go back on a different route, cycling west to the Guwahati-Shillong main road. The GPS gave up completely and I could just follow the road that approximately led west, towards the sinking sun. There were no villages any more, and, fortunately, no junctions either, where I’d have to decided which way to go. Just forest left and right. Tiger forest. The sun was disappearing behind the hills.

I somehow made it to the highway with last light, without having seen or heard any tigers. However, true horror was awaiting me there. The highway was busy, and under construction, and the place were I reached it was full with smoke-producing heavy industries (some kind of smelters?). And still 30km to go.

I did survive; I’m not so sure my lungs and eyes did.
I am indescribably happy I have seen the countryside off the main road, and once more grateful to the Degree Confluence Project for making me go there.

Cycled: 114km

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