A Royal Enfield Bullet, Himalayan mountain roads, green hills, Nepal langurs, beautiful sunsets, Indian monsoon rains, Bengal foxes, griffins, glacial rivers, sacred cows, bucket loads of chai, and lovely, lovely company
I turned 30! And it just so happens that my birthday is on the best day of the year – Midsummers’ Eve – which means that by law I have to sleep outside and watch the sun set on another spin around our sun, and welcome the sun rise on the longest day of the year and the beginning of another orbit.
It seems to me that our ancestors got it right in worshipping the sun, and in connecting festivals to important celestial dates like the solstice and equinox. Sleeping outdoors under the stars always makes me feel more present and connected to the earth, and the significance of the solstice amplifies this feeling a hundred fold.
I am very lucky that I can so easily connect a year of my life to a year in the life of our planet thanks to this happy accident of birth. I’m also lucky that I get to go on little adventures every year to celebrate, and that by another happy coincidence I can take part in the increasingly popular summer solstice microadventure competition that Al Humprhreys runs.
So, in pictures, here is how I celebrated my 30th year of life on Earth and the summer solstice in one awesome Indian microadventure. Enjoy!
1) Hire a Royal Enfield
The first time I came to India, about 8 years ago I think, I had the idea of buying a Royal Enfield Bullet and riding it back to England. I’m not a gear head and I couldn’t tell you anything about these bikes from a mechanical point of view, but there is something wonderfully romantic about them that makes me, and plenty of others, want to fall in love with one and and ride off into the sunset.
2) Find a hill & ride up it
One easy trick to finding adventure and a good spot to sleep outdoors is to go up a hill. In the morning we had no idea where we would go. We asked a few people and heard about a popular place for para-gliders just a few hours away. Armed with nothing more than the name of a nearby town we set off and found our way to Bir-Billing, via mental Indian traffic in Dharamshala, a pretty fun main road sweeping up and down riverine valleys, then up this magical, twisting, climbing mountain road that took us to the top of the hill.
3) Go for a walk
The ride was tiring and it was tempting to sit and drink chai for the rest of the day, but we wondered off following a trail that took us around and over the hills, through gorgeous forests, with views of the Dhauladhar mountain range.
4) Sit quietly & watch the wildlife
Very soon we disturbed a huge troop of around 50 Nepal Grey Langurs that proceeded to leap and bound off to the safety of an exposed crag at a safe distance from us. They sat here quite happily, looking eerily human in some of their behaviours as primates are wont to do. We watched them through our binoculars and marvelled at the size of some of the males and the strength and agility they displayed when leaping from tree to tree.
5) Get into bed and watch the sun go down
Do cows dream while they eat? When I watch the sun set I like to concentrate on my position on the earth, and imagine that I am falling backwards away from the sun as I ride on this giant spinning globe. This is exactly what is happening, of course, and after a while my brain accepts and this sensation and I experience the reality of my movement relative to the sun, instead of the illusion of the sun’s movement relative to me. It’s magic, you should try it.
6) Enjoy a dry, rejuvenating, and comfortable night despite monsoon downpour and mountain winds
This was my first full night out in my new Alpkit bivvy bag. For the uninitiated, a bivvy bag is essentially a waterproof sock that you use to cover your sleeping bag. The better ones will keep you dry from the rain, and the best ones will keep you dry from condensation as well. Given that I hadn’t tested this bag before this was a risky choice, given it’s monsoon season and my sleeping bag is goose down (doesn’t work well when wet), which made it all the more fun.
The night started off beautifully clear, with the kind of starscape that makes people (or me, at any rate) stare, quietly awed and entranced, and then philosophise about life, the universe, and everything. I saw one of the best shooting stars I’ve ever seen, slowly coursing across the edge of the atmosphere for a full 2 seconds before vanishing. Magical.
Sleep came, and then came the rain. Rain so hard I thought it must be hail. I buried down inside my bivvy bag and curled up with my back to the prevailing wind. I stayed dry, and by daylight the rain had stopped and the sky was fresh and clear.
7) Get up, stretch, and watch a Bengal fox stop just a few metres away from you
One of my fondest memories of seeping outside was in a small wood in the middle of a golf course. As I crossed one of the fairways I saw a fox in the distant, and I still remember every moment of the ensuing minutes as I slowly followed this fox toward and then into the wood, with the fox gracefully allowing me to follow providing I kept a certain distance. Natural encounters like this get my heart racing and really bring out the wonder of the inner child in me.
After packing up our gear up on Billing hill Jayna and I started heading down to grab some breakfast, when a beautiful rusty grey coloured fox with the most magnificent busy tail bounded up onto the hill and stopped in front of us to look around. He caught sight of us and was off in a flash over the other side of the hill. The encounter lasted just a few seconds but it will be burned into my memory forever. I couldn’t have asked for a better start to the day and my own new year.
8) Swim in a beautiful river on the way home
Almost nothing beats swimming in rivers, but when it’s so hot that parts of your motorbike are melting and your arse feels like it’s becoming one with the jeans you’re wearing, and when the river is pristine and cool and flowing through a picturesque mountain valley strewn with boulders that betray the glacial origins of the landscape and the water that cools and enlivens at the same time… well you, my friend, have just topped off an amazing Indian microadventure in awesome style.