Day 1 Monday 2 July. Srinagar

Where does our journey start? Did it start with the idea to cycle in the Himalayas? Did it begin 6 months ago with the countless emails between me and Alan making lists of equipment and itineraries? Perhaps at the airport filled with tears and trepidation saying goodbye to Keryn, Emma and Jack?

I will start at Srinagar Airport on a cement courtyard directly outside the exit where a dozen men surrounded us as we pulled wheels, pedals and racks from our cardboard box and bike bag. The men stood so as not to be rude and watched two foreigners as they assembled their bicycles. Speaking Kashmiri, a few words of English but mostly from their gestures and discussion I was able to tell exactly what they were saying. “He’s putting the whole bike together with an Allen key!” “No not one Allen key he has several.” “Does it have gears?” “It must have, he won’t be getting far if it doesn’t”” “Yes I can see numbers on the handlebars, he has 14 gears.” “It’s good technology hey.” “Where are you which country?” “Australia” “Where do you go?” “Srinagar tonight then onto Leh.” “They are staying in Srinagar then cycling all the way to Leh!” “He does not look that strong!” “Are you staying on a houseboat? My family has a houseboat on Nagin Lake, I am Ramez, and you?” “My name is Brendon and my friend is Alan.” “It’s a long way to Nagin Lake you can follow me on my motor scooter.” “OK but we might look at some other houseboats also.”

When we had finally assembled our bikes someone kindly offered to take away the box and all the packing materials for us. You expect India to be thronging with people but outside the airport it was eerily quiet. Ramez headed off and out of sight in a moment and Alan and I coasted down the Airport Road towards the centre of Srinagar.

There is an extremely heavy military presence throughout Jammu and Kashmir due to an on going territorial dispute between Pakistan and India and Srinagar has been at the centre of protests, acts of terrorism and human rights issues. We passed hundreds of soldiers and coils of razor wire lining the sides of the road. There were no other vehicles on the road and the soldiers smiled and waved as we pedalled passed. We responded by saluting and smiling back.

Ramez was waiting at the next junction on the edge of town. We followed him through the back streets of the old town struggling to keep up as well as dodge buses, motor bikes, trucks, people and dogs.

After cups of tea and some bargaining we settled into Ramez’s very nice houseboat on Nagin Lake. with English china. ‘Palace Heights’ is fitted out with chandeliers, carved furniture and stocked It has a great view over the lake and is in a nice quiet area with privacy from the rear deck area. We don’t need the decadent luxury but thought we would have three days to relax and prepare for some serious cycling.