Taraloka Motorcycle Tour 2020

December 23 - Gangtok

After a few days of travel and logistics to get everyone up to Gangtok, we enjoyed a practice ride in the valley surrounding Gangtok - ending with a momo  (steamed dumpling) dinner at the Happiness Home.  "Left side" is the mantra of choice while navigating the busy and chaotic traffic of Gangtok.  The riders enjoyed our new Royal Enfield Himalayans - rental motorcycles that will benefit Taraloka for years to come.  Tomorrow is a day for rest and packing for our adventure to the north.   

Pictures will be added to the link above as we continue the tour through January 14th.  We will add images  and stories when internet is available.  

December 24 - Gangtok

Today was our opportunity to sleep late, drink some tea, spend time with the girls, and get organized for our trip to Lachung - a wonderful way to spend Christmas Eve.  We climbed on the roof of the Happiness Home to see our new solar panels!  After a year of patience and hard work on the part of some of our supporters (Jackson Campbell is amazing!), we now have solar panels that will allow the home to work off the grid when the power is out - typically a few times each day.  Solar power will also  save money heating water and cooking.  It is  a science project on the roof for the girls to study!

Tomorrow we ride north to Lachung, a small town near the Tibetan border.  Six of our girls are from Lachung - a few  of them  will accompany us for this part of the adventure.  Once in Lachung, we will share meals and tea at their village homes.  Binita, Saraswati, Karma, and Gayatri will also join us for the trek in Dzonghu!   We may be out of contact for a few days until the end of the trek, but we will update when Indian internet allows.

December 25 - ride to Lachung

Today's ride to the north brought us changing temperatures an scenery.  After leaving Gangtok, we wound through small villages down to the Teesta river.  After some rice, dal, aloo, and samosas, we ventured up the Teesta river valley to the town of Lachung - the temperature dropping with each kilometer.  Many of the Taraloka girls are from Lachung, a small town near the Tibetan border in northeast Sikkim.  Tomorrow they will guide us on a tea tour of Lachung!

From Robin:

Christmas night,2019

As I sit here in Lachung, Sikkim drinking Chang with my old friend, my husband and my new friends, I listen to the laughter and talk , around the table and from the kitchen. Two different languages -except for the laughter.

Our hosts, guides and drivers are having as good a time as we are. It appears they have long, enduring friendships, steeped in respect and acceptance.

Around our table, I’ve know my friend Susan over 50 years; my husband almost 18, and my new friends only 3 days. But our environment, our adventure and our curiosity about our new surroundings, provides common ground for sharing our experiences.

Memories from past mischief-making, explorations and vacations, tumble from each of us. We share our stories easily.

But it’s not the Chang, a home-made beer from fermented millet. It’s the freedom from others expectations and a shared journey that allows us to express ourselves without fear of rejection.

It’s a wonderful gift.

Gangtok to Lachung

December 26 - Lachung

Tibetan tea is an incredible mixture of strong black tea leaves rolled up in tiny bunches and simmered with milk, sugar, and ginger. Each house we visited offered their own variety of this incredible mixture. By lunchtime…. seven cups of tea. We needed some exercise in the afternoon and walked up the hill to Palmu’s house for our last cup of tea. Palmu is one of our college graduates who hopes to bring her talents and education back to her home village. Saraswati, Binita, Karma, and Gayatri all joined us - which helped warm the house while it snowed outside. It was an honor to visit each home.

December 27 - ride to Dzonghu

Seeing snow on a motorcycle does not help with motivation to get moving in the morning.  Fortunately, the sun cooperated for a spectacular ride down the valley to warmer temperatures.  We crossed the Teesta river to enter Dzonghu, a restricted area of the Lepcha people.  The Lepcha community wisely restricts the number and types of visitors in this untouched valley.  Because a few of our girls are Lepcha, we are privileged guests for our trek up to Tholung. 

Lachung to Dzonghu

December 28 - trek to Chana

A short and cold ride up the hill from our Lepcha homestay was rewarded with a spectacular view of sunrise on Kanchenjunga, the third highest mountain in the world. After the sun warmed the Enfields, we embarked on a challenging ride up to our starting point for the trek. A short and steep walk brought us to the hut that would be our home for the night.

ride to the trek

December 29 - trek to Tholung

The Lepcha people do not view the trail to Tholung as a trekking route. It is a pilgrimage path. The monastery at Tholung is considered one of the most sacred places in Sikkim. Guru Rinpoche, a yogi credited with popularizing Buddhism in Tibet, is believed to have visited these mountains and hidden religious objects in the monastery and surrounding caves. We are incredibly fortunate to have permission to be in this remote and sacred place.

December 30 -last day of the trek   

Two days up and one day down. Today we lost all of the elevation we gained in the past two days of trekking. We started our descent just as the sun was hitting the prayer flags at Tholung monastery. The hike was a casual stroll down the mountain. The ride back down the dirt/rock “road” was much more challenging - both rewarding in their own way. Tea and showers were waiting for us at the Lepcha homestay.

December 31 - ride to Darjeeling

We left the solitude of Dzonghu and made our way down the Teesta river valley and up through the tea gardens to Darjeeling. Darjeeling seems chaotic and loud compared to Dzonghu, but the view of the Himalayas is unmatched and other-worldly. Happy New Year from West Bengal!

January 1 - Darjeeling 

After a few days of adventure, we are taking a break for some shopping, laundry, tea, and enjoying the old British hill station of Darjeeling - all with a breathtaking view of the Kanchenjunga.

ride to Darjeeling

January 2 - return to Gangtok

January 3 - Bagdogra to Banglore to Hampi!

Today will start with a jeep ride out of the mountains to the airport in Bagdogra - followed by a flight to Bengaluru, train to Hospet, and a rickshaw ride to Hampi!

January 4 - arrived in Hampi

Today we napped in our oasis by the rice paddies in Hampi.  In the evening, we rode to the Hanuman temple just a couple of miles away and climbed the stairs to the clifftop to watch the sunset with the monkeys.  Hanuman, the Hindu monkey god, is said to have been born in this area.  Accordingly, monkeys are treated well by devotees.

From Abby:

Waking to “chai tea chai” in the wee hours, and shuffling out onto the platform in Hospet. Back in the van, and down the way to Shanthi Guest House. The most delightful bungalows, with open air restaurant overlooking rice paddies. Bouldering in the morning, sweating and struggling and remembering how to climb. Flee the heat and back to the bungalow for cold shower, chai and book time. Evening, up the road to the temple of Hanuman and watch the sunset. Whiskey on the porch and bed.

January 5 - Hampi

The day began with sunrise bouldering - midday practice ride through the rice and banana fields - and an evening walk through the ancient Hindu temples of Hampi.  Tomorrow we depart for our first full day of riding down south!

From Abby:

Up at 5:30 for a cool morning of climbing, tiptoe across the rice paddies keeping an eye cocked for large cats. Back for breakfast and on the bikes, today we ride for pleasure. Small winding roads, rumbling through rice paddies and weaving through traffic. Mom had a close encounter with small children, but she’s quick on the brake and the horn. Back to the guest house and off on foot, I’m determined to meet an elephant. We wander down the road, take the ferry across the river and up to the temple. Blessing by elephant (warm weight on the forehead, prickles of hair and a gust of breath.) and admire the monkey’s kingdom before wandering back. Luxurious naps, dinner and sleep.

January 6 - Hampi to Yellapur

From Abby:

Up early, packed and breakfasted and on the road by 9. Peaceful little roads feed into larger streams of metal, testing reflexes and nerves as we weave ourselves into the hairbrained pattern of humanity. In and through cities, cruising at swift speeds (80kph tops) with muscles clenched and jaw tight. Breath, focus on the now don’t get lost in the ‘what if’. Some close calls (too close), leading to sighs of relief when we turn into a dirt road and trundle out to the Banana Plantation guest house. Shake out sore and tired muscles (230k will that), retire to the pool for beer and conversation. Porch sitting, reading essays out loud and sipping Kingfisher.

From Robin:

January 6,2020 Hampi to Yellapur Leaving this morning for Yellapur. It’s about 140 miles. I understand our resort is in a jungle. Should be interesting. Think I’ll ride in the van.

What would have taken about 2 hours in the US, took nearly 8 hours here. The roads are generally not good and the bikes are not very fast. You’ll have several miles of paved road, followed by several miles of unpaved road. The dirt roads are pockmarked and feel like you’re traveling over, at best-cobblestone; at worst, a minefield. It rattles your teeth and your bones. And I was in the van! Dave was on the motorcycle and felt it twice as bad.

After 8 hours, we finally turned onto a dirt road into the jungle. Initially, it seemed smooth and flat, but as we got deeper into the jungle, the road became more narrow and rutted.

At the end, we entered a gate between 2 stone buttresses. The Banana Country resort was quite a surprise. The driveway and parking lot are brick pavers; the main building is 2-story with marble floors. It has an English feel to it. There are probably 30 rooms or more, many are like cabins. It even has a lovely swimming pool!

Hampi to Yellapur

January 7 - Yellapur to Gokarna

Yellapur to Kokarna

January 8  - Gokarna

The actual beach town of Gokarna is established as part of the "Hippie Trail" for western tourists - not a wonderful atmosphere for solitude.  BUT, our friend and logistics wizard Lalit set us up in and incredible jungle lodge up on the hill overlooking the ocean and out of town.  Short rides to the south brought us to quiet and peaceful beaches.  Thank you Lalitji!

January 9 - Gokarna to Kollur

With a couple of riders less than 100% with a case of Delhi Belly, today was a quick ride mostly on the highway - with a gift of 30 km of farmland and curves before reaching Kollur.  Up in the mountains tomorrow!

January 10 - Kollur to Chickmanglur

An early start helped with cooler temperatures ridingin  the jungle.  Curvy mountain roads through tea plantations and coffee fields brought us to our homestay for the evening in Chickmanglur.

From Abby:

There are always checks and balances to traveling through this country. Inexpensive travel, paid for in time waiting in chaotic train stations, bus stops and airports. Amazing food, balanced with the ever-present risk of seriously regretting having ever eaten anything. Ever. Warm, welcoming and resourceful people, balanced with overpopulation and…well, let’s start with overpopulation.

On the subject of food and regrets, most of our traveling party has been stricken with digestive misfortune at this point. Since our stop at Om Beach, all of the Perrin clan has become intimate with various bathroom facilities and grateful for the extensive drug kit packed by Anne (Mom). While mostly over it, we’re still nibbling rice and bananas and gazing regretfully at the luscious dishes of spiced food that pass us by. At present, we’re staying at Hidden Valley near Chikmangalore. Tucked down off of a dirt road, we’re surrounded by all things green and ferny. Coffee and tea plants grow here, with a duck pond down the hill and coffee beans drying in the driveway. Fresh local coffee is a fine way to start the day.

I’ve been sick every time I’ve visited this country. 24 hours of misery, married to the porcelain throne or fervently hoping to make it to one, followed by several days of feeling as robust as a wet tissue. But I wouldn’t trade it, and I know I’ll be back. There’s something important here, wafting between the sandalwood and sewage, and thanks to Tim I’ve brushed up against it enough to be drawn back. Every trip reveals something new, and one of my favorites from this trip is the magic of that famous gesture, the Indian head waggle. At first impression, it’s an ambiguous answer that could mean ‘yes’, ‘maybe’, or ‘I don’t know’. When the question you asked is “When is the train arriving?”, it’s not quite the answer you want.

As a person with lighter skin (and female to boot), one is constantly met with curious glances, ranging from a swift double-take to unashamed and prolonged scrutiny. Usually a pair of sunglasses is the easiest response. But upon closer inspection, the head waggle is more than the answer to a question. It’s a non-verbal hello, a friendly wiggle of greeting that sends a message of positive intent even if that intent is to squeeze past someone in a doorway. I tested it coming out of a washroom, and was met with a blinding smile and enthusiastic waggle in response from the woman washing clothes at the tap. I’ve been employing it frequently, and it feels as though I’ve been let into a grand secret. The stares continue, but now I’m armed with a response that needs no words and usually results in a smile.

Today is a short day, we ride west about 80k to Hornadu (a short ride, by our standards) with plans to explore and perhaps take a brave swim in the river there. Keep the ears nose and mouth dry, and watch your toes for creatures with large teeth. That’s all from this corner for now. cheers Abby

January 11 - Chickmanglur to Hornadu

Chikmanglur to Hornadu

January 12 - Hornadu to Mangalore

On our last day of riding, we started in tea fields above Hornadu and then rode on spectacular roads through Kudremukh National Park.  As we approached our home for the night in Mangalore, the road conditions created some doubts, about our accommodations,  but Lalit and Veeru came through for us again.  At the end of a dusty gravel road, we pulled the Enfields into the parking lot of an incredible home overlooking Mangalore far to the west and the Gurupura river valley below us.  It is a fitting end to a wonderful tour of the south.