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START HERE for Touring Bikes and Commuting Bicycles
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(see all 3 book)'s RoadNews Newsletter: Darjeeling, India was Great for Monsoon Season.
September 2011 (Sent From Darjeeling, India)

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Greetings from Drizzling Darjeeling! For the past three months, Gretchen and I have been holed up at the Revolver, a cute little Beatles themed hotel tucked in behind the Unity Christian Church. The hotel is built on a hillside, surrounded by schools. Every morning we awaken to the call to prayers from the mosque, followed an hour later by a round of “When the Saints Go Marching In” as sung by the Christian school students next door. The Hindus and Buddhists make their own music the rest of the day.  Our hotel is crammed full of Beatles memorabilia and, best of all, offers fast reliable wifi internet, perfect for filling the soggy days. Monsoon is non-stop rain up here in the Himalaya mountains. The spectacular views of tea plantations and sweeping vistas are constantly hidden behind clouds and we don't dare venture outdoors without raincoats and a sturdy umbrella.  It is supposed to end any day now and we hope to be riding in the sun next week.

Darjeeling is a sweet mountain town (about 2000 meters or 7000 feet) that lacks all the hassle and craziness of most Indian cities. Although the majority of foreign tourists have all headed off for dryer spots, Indian tourists regularly drive up to escape the heat and humidity of the Kolkata summer. The lively market streets are still full of walkers hiding under umbrellas, visiting the clothing vendors, and posing for pictures on ponies in the Chowrasta (the town square). For exercise I had a (nearly) daily hike along a ridge road, which led passed a colorful Buddhist monastery and a friendly goose who soon had me trained to bring slices of bread. Darjeeling is full of hidden staircases and narrow passage ways, making for some lovely exploring. Gretchen found the main marketplace, a rabbit burrow of tiny shops and stalls full of spices and yak cheese and tea. We found our favorite restaurants: pretend Chinese food at a tiny place run by a super friendly family; a passable Thai place with interesting metal art; hot soup and momos (dumplings) at the Tibetan place that's full of foreign monks; pots of strong coffee and bakery goodies at Glenary's; art and pasta at Petrichor Art Cafe. Sweta at Petrichor even made me Shepherds Pie and chocolate cake for my 45th birthday party.


We weren't the only foreigners staying in town for the off season. Darjeeling is a nice choice for professional travelers seeking refuge from the monsoon. We fell in with a number of interesting people who have artfully turned permanent travel into a lifestyle. Hans from Germany translates online video game dialogue from English to German. Fernando left banking in New York to study Sanskrit, Tibetan, and Buddhism. Milt, British, builds and promotes websites. Gary from Arizona writes and sells online ESL courses. Part drop-outs, part entrepreneurs, part nomads: it's fascinating to see what people with determination, wanderlust, and wifi can accomplish. I have been noticing recently a growing number of international tele-commuters who have found a way to make a living online and call the road home and I am proud to be among their ranks.

At the moment our plans are to leave Darjeeling in mid September and ride north to Sikkim. Once again, we'll be using Laura Stone's book, Biking the Himalayas as a guide. After three month of no bikes, this route is ambitious, to say the least, and the climbs will certainly be a challenge. At least we'll still be in the cool mountains. Once October comes around, we'll be rolling back into the plains of the Ganges delta region to Bangladesh. As Gretchen's Indian visa will expire in October, we'll spend at least two months traveling Bangladesh before returning to India. This all depends on the winds of bureaucracy and what sort of Bangladeshi visa we'll be granted in Kolkata.

We made one premature visit to Kolkata to apply for Bangladeshi visas. After a sickening ride (I get really carsick) down the mountains and an overnight train ride, we arrived in the sweaty chaotic city. We found the Consulate and were informed that 1) they only issue visas to be used in the next 30 days and 2) we won't know how long a visa we can get until the interview. We fled the city that evening and hightailed it back to cool Darjeeling with a new appreciation for the rain. Now we have a month to figure out how to convince our interviewer at the Bangladeshi consulate that he should issue three month tourist visas to a couple of grungy bike tourists.

We had a companion for some day rides around Darjeeling. Cheapskate Nate, recent Humboldt California State University graduate and water project volunteer, has been biking the area on a cheap Indian bike while waiting for his Bhutan work visa. With a large backpack tied by rope to the rack and the bike practically falling to pieces beneath him, Nate's already ridden some impressive distances into the mountains. He bought Gretchen's old single person tent and constructed an alcohol stove out of old cans. With luck, we'll meet up again for some real touring later on down the road.

You may have noticed some new pages and editing on the website, including new pages about economizing on a bike trip and stealth camping. Currently I'm working on a page about what tools to bring on a bicycle tour, which is turning into a big project. Gretchen has been correcting the spelling errors and grammar mistakes on my previous pages, hopefully making them more pleasant to read.


If you're looking for more reading material, my three books are now available in print and as ebooks for Nook and Kindle. Once again, I thank everyone who has used the links on my website to shop at REI and Amazon. Your support makes it possible for me to stay on the road.  This has been a hard year for me financially and all of your support helps.

See more about the books here


REI - Camping, Cycling, and Traveling Gear

Direct Bicycle Parts:  A huge selection of all things bicycle

Bob's Bicycles:  Good deals on complete bicycles and parts

REI Outlet Store:  Great deals on camping and bike gear

Very good prices on hard-to-find bicycle touring panniers, racks, and more.

Altrec outdoors and camping  equipment and online gear shopping



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