On pilgrimage with a tandem through India and Myanmar

In the end, not only the Myanmar Visa was easy to get but also the Chinese Visa. We wrote a little letter to the Chinese Counselor which seemed to have worked out. We got 3 months validity, plus 3 months of stay in China. That means, no further hassle with Visas!

On November 3rd we left Kathmandu with more than we could think of. On our way to the Khaniyakharka Pass, only 70km from Kathmandu, we met Kirsty and Marcus from England. They are going around the world or at least to New Zealand on a Tandem. As the four of us had the same destination, we teamed up for two full weeks.
After our first night together which we spend under a huge tree in front of a Dhaba. While packing up in the morning, we saw how a local brutally killed a small ox with an axe and putting him on fire to burn off the hair. It was something we didn’t need to watch. Anyway the Khaniyakharka Pass was about to let us suffer and not think about the morning experience anymore. It is a really nice one; the Japanese build a beautiful road but quite hard as well, as the entire climb was almost 20km long. We were lead up and down again through many, many hairpins. The road on the southern part of the pass seemed like a snake coiling around cylinder. We had to be careful as there were many unmarked speed bumps which led us fly a few times. Back in the Nepalese plains it was easy cycling. After four days leaving Kathmandu we already reached the Indian border at Panitanki. The road got a lot busier as we got closer to India. At the border there was a lot of traffic and the extent of the border closure for goods coming from India got obvious. Still, after 2 months, trucks are parked on the road over a length of 10km waiting to get their goods into Nepal. Not far from Siliguri the long queue ended.
We continued a little further north making our turn towards the east, just south of Sikkim, following the jungle and tea orchids. Women carrying a bamboo basket on their back, picking the leafs of the tea was a common thing. A rather uncommon one, also for the local people, was a younger elephant in the woods around a hundred meters from the road. Our first wild elephant we ever saw. A few days later one more showed up on the road, a tamed one, which was ridden by an Indian.

Earlier on our trip we met Chris from the US who told us that it's possible to hop borders between India and Bhutan as there are two connecting towns on both sides. Kirsty and Marcus were also keen on giving it a try and entering the rather expensive tourist escape Bhutan. Official tourists need a Visa plus they have to spend $250 each day which would be just a little too much for us. So, we cycled to Jaigaon and went straight across the border and entered Phuentsholing. The only thing was that a border official told Björn to put on his helmet; we were in, in the land of the thunder dragon! A complete different world. Clean, less noisy, and pictures of the 4th king everywhere as his birthday was coming up. When Kirsty and Marcus arrived we look for a hotel, checked and went for a stroll around town. We bumped into a few scouts who wondered where our tour guide was but we were able to skirt around this question. Instead they became our guides and led us the way to one of the two bigger Monasteries in Phuentsholing. The temples are so well maintained and all the colorful drawings looked like they were brand new. They really do preserve their Buddhist heritage really well and take good care of it.
After the little sightseeing we joined the young monks on the lawn and had a short played football match. We were no real match for them. They were so swift and could even hide the ball under their monk robe. The match ended with 1:0 but it was fun.
When we returned from dinner to the hotel we were told that we had to leave. Due to the upcoming anniversary the hotels were checked more thoroughly and the owner was afraid that he might lose his license if the police finds out we stayed there. At 10pm we went back to India to find another hotel to finally get some rest. The next morning we went to Bhutan once more, had breakfast and than packed up to keep on going. Shilong, the “Scotland of the east” was waiting.
We left the plains in Assam going into the mountains of Meghalaya. Here, a “Namaste” didn't work any more. In north eastern India, hundreds of tribes exist, each with a different language which meant we had to learn a new greeting. ”Khublei” was the one to go with. In Shilong we went to the Don Bosco Technical School as recommended by father Joseph who hosted us the night before. We were able to leave our bikes at the school and put all our stuff into a room. We didn't stay the night there as we wanted to see Cherrapunji, the wettest place on earth. Luckily it was dry season. We took a taxi to Thyra from were we started to descend into the canyon. Thick jungle and big spiders were all around us but we didn't got caught in their web.
Cherrapunji is not only famous for the massive amount of rainfalls, it is also the place of the only double decker root bridge on earth. The bridge is more than 200 years old, really impressive. After crossing such an old bridge we hike a long the river to find a nice pool where we went for a swim and relaxed. The life of a cyclist is so hard, sometimes you need a day off the bike but hiking can be really hard as well. We continued upstream to find another big waterfall which unfortunately marked the end of the path. We mist the turn off, so we traced our track back to find the steps leading back up onto the plateau. It took almost two hours to get their. By the time we reached the top, the last light of the day had faded. We were totally exhausted and just wanted to get back into town. In a nearby village one shop was still open and a taxi driver was there as well. He took us to Cherrapunji from where we got one of the shared taxis back to Shilong. The hike was so tiring that we all decided to spend a day in Shilong, another but real rest day.

It was fun sharing all these wonderful impressions with Kirsty and Marcus and cycled together for such a long time. Unfortunately Marcus got some nasty boils which needed treatment and required a break from cycling. Therefore the ride from Shilong to the police station in Raliang was the last one together. We had to part. As Kirsty and Marcus went on to Silchar we continued on a nasty gravel road to Lanka and further on to Dimapur. During the last weeks we have been staying at catholic schools many times, always being taken care off really good. In Dimapur we therefore also looked for a Don Bosco school and found it. Father Georg was so welcoming and turned out to be our history teacher, telling us many thinks about the North Eastern Frontier. It was quite a big school. Next morning, after a good nights sleep and breakfast we were asked to come over to the daily morning call, when a couple hundred students line up, to tell them in short about our tour. It was Jens' biggest presentation. The Kids, no matter what age are always amazed and loved to here some stories. They never traveled, never heard much about foreign countries and then we show up who had visited 18 countries at this point. We believe they couldn't think about school or the upcoming exams afterwards. We could always hear the chit-chatting in the classrooms later on.

Because most of the people could never imagine traveling over land from Europe to India. They often asked: “Is there really a road from Germany to here?” All we could say was: “Yes, there is, there are many ways.” In Imphal, at a smaller school a few high school students sent us off with a beautiful song and giving each of us a flower and a face towel as a little present. We will never forget these wonderful, curious and bright smiling Mongolian like faces.
Nagaland, Manipur, and the biggest village in Asia, Kohima, are beautiful places in the mountains and so different from the rest of India, almost like all the other states in north east India as well. The people kind of turned it into another country, you could say. These last days made it hard to leave India. From Imphal we crossed the Senam Pass, like Kohima one of the big former battle sites between Great Britain and Japan during the 2. World War. We cycled down towards Moreh to one of the borders to Myanmar.

November 22nd marked the beginning of a new chapter. We left the Indian sub continent for good and entered South East Asia, crossing not only a border but also the tropic of cancer. Myanmar was completely different. The faces we were looking at didn't change that much just yet, but the food, the language, the religion, and the reign of a military party for decades let you know that your are somewhere else now.
In Myanmar it is forbidden for tourist to camp, to stay with locals or at temples. They have to sleep in hotels, that's the rule. Fortunately, in the northern part of Myanmar they are more relaxed.. It is a bit remote, there are not many big towns and therefore they care less. We managed to stay at some Buddhist temples during our first nights in Myanmar. Next, trying to be not discovered by the police, the communication was another problem. The language is tough, the transcription not any better and the way people think seams so off. Even the simplest and what we thought most obvious things are quite difficult for them to understand but after a few days you get the hang of it and kind of work your way around that big barrier.
On our first day we met a dutch cyclist telling us about a new road between Kalewa and Monywa. He said, it was bad only for a little bit of 20-30km. Which seamed Ok for us. We've been through the Pamir, so what!? Third thing we learned never trust second hand information even from other cyclists. It was the worst road we had so far and not only for 30 but over 100km! We road our poor bikes through the middle of nowhere over bumpy and sharp gravel paths and short but steep climbs which reminded us a little bit of Turkey. Eventually we got out of it.
In Mandalay we took rest day at a perfect time as everyone was celebrating the full moon festival. The locals prepared food and snacks on the side of the road which was shared with anyone who passed by, a great thing and we loved it. From there on we continued towards Bagan, an ancient city of Myanmar situated at the banks of the Irrawaddy River with over 2000 Pagodas. One day was definitely not enough time to see everything but all we wanted in a beautiful place. On November 29 we continued right away ending up at a small temple where three monks and a young one lived. Neythow, the apprentice showed us the way to a channel which was our shower and a refreshing bath at once. This shower reminded us of our bath in Uzbekistan only that the water their was more brownish. None of the monks could speak English, as usual, but we were able to communicate a little  using those horrible English Books they print in Myanmar containing loads of errors.
That night Jens felt already a bit sick and worse the next morning. He caught a nasty cold. We cycled together to Meikhtila where we were able to find a bus for Jens which took him to Mawlamying. He went ahead to get time to recover. In the meantime Björn cycled the way. Following mostly the new highway which is forbidden for trucks, they still have to take the old road between Mandalay and Yangon. After 5 days we reunited. Björn didn't feel well either as he got sick the second days. Therefore we took it easy in Mawlamying. We went to Setse Beach one day to enjoy a swim in the warm sea and drank a lot of sugarcane juice.
After another 5 days we finally left Myanmar. It was relatively far to the Thai border with some short but steep climbs in between, but we got to Mae Sot just before the night. This place was so different from Myanmar and India, were we spent so much time before. It felt good!

Elevation profile: Kathmandu - Mae Sot

3375 km, 38d 09:24:52