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South Wairarapa Rebus Club

June 18, 2019 June 2019 No Comments

At the 24 May meeting of the South Wairarapa Rebus Club, Joe Howells of Green Jersey Cycle Tours, Martinborough, shared recollections of his Himalayan Motorcycle Trip in 2018. Members were impressed by the detail of some of his observations – he was certainly not just a thrill-seeker wanting to cross a dozen mountain passes higher than the summit of Aorangi Mt Cook; he absorbed the atmosphere, he communicated it.

Joe was one of 14 riders on an organised 12-day/1400 km. motorbike tour on elevated and rough roads in two regions of the Himalaya Mountains with a combined land area about that of Northland.  The roads were mostly built by the Indian Army to provide access to disputed border areas. They are poorly maintained through its ‘Border Roads Organisation’.  There are underlying regional tensions and refugees here, close to the disputed borders between India, China & Tibet.

In these regions altitude sickness is a dangerous, possibly fatal risk especially for unseasoned foreign visitors. Joe acclimatised gradually over three nights at increasing altitude and stuck with the tour recommended diet, avoiding meat, eating local vegetable meals, drinking tea and had no problems.

  The motorbikes were 500cc single cylinder Royal Enfield Bullets made in Chennai to a modified mid-1950s design in factories abandoned by their UK owners at the time of India’s independence. They were solid, easily maintained and well-suited to the conditions. Indian mechanics in small roadside stalls knew these machines intimately.

The bikers passed many small tent villages where the residents eke out a seasonal existence through grazing “yak”, a variety of long-haired domesticated cattle, and mountain goats on very stony and infertile foothills land.  Such seasonal grazing and cropping is only possible when the snow withdraws back to the alpine peaks.  These nomad Nepalese hill communities retreat in winter with their stock into the valleys at lower altitudes. Known by the British collectively as the Gurkhas, they formed the backbone of British Indian forces.

Much of the local community’s work was manual – harvesting and threshing wheat and oats. Water for the crops flowed in summer as glaciers melted; land and water froze under snow during the winter. The glaciers are retreating, putting a reliable and essential summer water supply in danger.

Personal health for the motor cycling partners had to be a priority.  Toilets were indecent, driving and road safety standards were appalling.  There were no safety controls during roadworks.  Passing other vehicles, based on horn signals, was dangerous and give-way rules did not exist other than that the driver of the more costly vehicle generally gave way! There were no organised emergency services in the event of travel injuries. Only one rider had to withdraw following an injury accident.  

Unforgettable: beggars; refugees; rubbish discarded by huge numbers of alpine tourists; “rampant capitalism” – every local service or supply was negotiable.  

Memorable: yak rides, visits to temples, white-water rafting, amazing views of mountain lakes, alpine peaks – including K2, the second highest mountain in the world. 

The South Wairarapa Rebus Club meets in Greytown at the South Wairarapa Working Men’s Club on the fourth Friday of each month. Anyone in the retired age group who may be interested in our activities is welcome to come along to a meeting as a visitor.  Contact David Woodhams 06 306 8319.

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