Riding the Silk Road through Nubra Valley

LEH, LADAKH
Sept. 2020

For the third straight day I’m sitting in the District Commissioner’s Office in Leh waiting for my permit to ride into Nubra Valley. 

I have no phone or reading material, so find myself browsing through the District’s Human Waste Management booklet, which comes disturbingly published in full color.

Must… look… away!

Nubra Valley has been doubly off limits due to COVID-19 and its status as a heavily-militarized zone in conflict with China. I’m using all my political skills to get my permit and finally a guy emerges with news.

I can ride into Nubra Valley if I hire a local guide to accompany me and sign a paper saying I won’t photograph any military equipment.  Fair enough. I’m finally stamped and on my way.

Leh is the capital of the Union Territory of Ladakh, lying between Tibet to the east and Pakistan to the west, at an altitude of nearly 11,500 feet.

I head across town to meet my guide, Urgyan. There are no bars in Leh, so the bikers gather at a place called “Coffee Culture,” sipping lattes and leaning against their Royal Enfields.

Urgyan is seated in the corner of the cafe. He’s a small, local college kid with a pencil Fu Manchu mustache and John Lennon shades. He tells me he’s ridden the route before and we can leave tomorrow.

***

Leh is calm in the morning with few vehicles on the street as we ride past the massive, stone-walled Leh Palace and up towards the Leh-Manali Highway. From here it’s a long stretch of tarmac winding up through the desert mountainside. 

“These are military roads, very fast,” says Urgyan, as we stop around 14,000 feet. “RedBull ran a Formula One car up here some years ago.”

As we’re ascending to 16,000 feet, ice becomes visible on the roadsides and my fingertips start to freeze through the tops of my cutoff gloves.

The engines of our Enfield’s are gasping for air and making slow chunking sounds as we cross 17,000 feet. The thin air affects my vision and everything looks choppy and distorted, like some old adventure documentary. 

Urgyan motions up across the valley and I see a checkpoint with some trucks queued-up in the distance. It’s Khardung La, the world’s second highest motorable pass at 18,000 feet. 

(Top of the world, Ma’!)

We park our bikes by the guardhouse across the road. I unbutton my jacket pocket and hand my papers to Urgyan who deals with the guard.

Urgyan emerges 10 minutes later with news. “The guard says you’re just the third foreigner to reach. Two Russians came through earlier.”

“Can we pass?” 

“Yes, but he suggests you keep your helmet on in the valley, because the villagers are worried about corona and might be scared of you.”

I mentally dismiss this suggestion.

In the year before COVID hit, nearly 58,000 foreign tourists visited Ladakh. Now it was just me, Urgyan and the Russians traveling the Silk Road through Nubra Valley. 

Before our descent I swap gloves with Urgyan. My fingertips are frozen and he has the full-finger variety. Plus he’s a local guy raised in the mountains. Riding at 18,000 feet is like playing in the sandbox for him. 

We drop down the backside of the mountain, quickly losing altitude. Our Enfields have more air to breathe and the engines are letting out a confident, high-tempo thumping. 

Up ahead we run into a road construction site with bulldozers. Urgyan hits some deep sand causing his handlebars to twist. I watch his bike swerve before crashing in front of a dozen laborers. 

I hit my brakes to dodge Urgyan, which causes my own front wheel to slide. I drop my bike inches before Urgyan, leaving us both twisted up in a sandy heap of steel.

Urgyan is wincing and holding his left wrist. His Enfield has a bent brake pedal, twisted clutch lever, and smashed headlight. One of the laborers takes his sledgehammer and pounds the brake pedal until it’s somewhat usable. 

Every guy in India is a roadside mechanic. 

The only damage to my bike is a dislodged exhaust, or “silencer” as the Indian’s call it, which I kick into place with my boot. 

We take some time to dust off and collect our wits before heading back on the road. After crossing some marshlands, we ride for another hour or so until the road reveals flat desert and vegetation below. It’s the mammoth bowl of Nubra Valley.

***

There are no stories or dramas playing out in my head. It’s a perfect visibility day and I’m fully in the scene as we ride across the desert. 

This state of mind is surely tied to the tech detox I’ve been on for three months with no phone, no apps and no text messages in my pocket. I even ordered the staff at my guesthouse to remove the TV and phone from my room.

Hey, it’s a tech detox, not an acting bossy detox.

Riding through the desert I have no distractions —apart from the 105-foot-tall golden Maitreya Buddha towering over the Village of Diskit like some Buddhist Statue of Liberty. 

I’m no Buddhist, but I’m pretty sure the Buddha would not have signed off on this statue.

As we arrive in Diskit, I stand by our bikes as Urgyan walks down the streets looking for a place for us to stay. 

There’s no way I’m keeping my helmet on as the border guard suggested, so I remove it and instantly get startled looks from locals who haven’t seen a foreigner all year. I’m basically an alien who just rode into their village. Some locals pull their shirts up to cover their mouths as they pass by. 

Urgyan finally returns. “There’s just one guesthouse open in all of Nubra Valley,” he says. “Hotel Sten-Del, it’s just down the street.”

We park our dusty bikes and the owner welcomes us in. He’s a short, dark-skinned man named Stanzin, flanked by his wife who offers us chai.

“Julley,” says Stanzin, which is the traditional Ladaki greeting. “You’ll be the only guests here. Two Russians were here earlier, but they left.”

“Did they make it to Turtuk?” I ask.

“No, they had to turn back because the guy hurt his leg trekking.”

Now with the mysterious Russians gone, it will just be me and Urgyan traveling the Silk Road.

Oh pilot of the storm who leaves no trace
Like thoughts inside a dream
Here is the path that led me to that place
Yellow desert stream
My Shangri-La beneath the summer moon
I will return again
Sure as the dust that floats high in June
When moving through Kashmir

— Led Zeppelin



As a child I was always running around going someplace I wasn’t supposed to be — a little rebel explorer. 

My mom has repeatedly confirmed this, and she is one of the few real adventurers I know. Even into her 70’s, she has continued to take trips around the world while overcoming numerous injuries.

Now for the first time I was experiencing the type of travel that would make her proud — diving into the desert like some dusty, trespassing rogue.

***

Hanging on the wall by our breakfast table is a faded map of Tibet, which sparks up a conversation. 

Urgyan tells me he comes from a family of Tibetan Buddhists who immigrated to Ladakh many years ago. He was born in Lamayuru and is pleased to learn that I’d already traveled there and had lunch with the locals in his monastery.  

After breakfast we check on our motorcycles. Urgyan’s bike and wrist are in no condition for the long ride to Turtuk, so I tell him to jump on the back of mine. I note the irony of the situation. My guide, who I’ve paid to lead the way is now my passenger.  

No problem. I’ve grown fond of Urgyan and he’s been invaluable in dealing with locals and getting us through checkpoints. Plus he’s small and I don’t notice the extra weight on my bike as he hops on. I tell him his new job is to take videos from the backseat.

(Riding through Nubra with Urgyan filming from backseat. Soundtrack: “Yearning” by DJ Drez)

We set off on the Diskit-Turtuk highway which is flanked on the right by sweeping sand dunes. Urgyan tells me that Bactrian “double-humped” Camels roam these dunes, ancient remnants of the Silk Road trade. 

“The camels came from Central Asia and would carry goods along the desert for traders,” says Urgyan. 

Unfortunately there are no Bactrian Camels today, so we keep rolling along the route which is dotted with BRO “Border Roads Organization” military highway signs with entertaining slogans: 

DARLING I LIKE YOU, BUT NOT SO FAST!”


“DON’T GOSSIP, LET HIM DRIVE

On our right Thoise Airbase comes into view. The district commissioner had forbidden me from photographing any military operations, but he didn’t say I couldn’t write about them.

Thoise is a two kilometer stretch of desert airstrip with ten large hangars and barracks. Just as we approach, a massive C-17 Globemaster III lumbers onto on the tarmac. We’re riding our motorcycle alongside the airstrip just as the Globemaster begins its takeoff and I feel like I’m in some Bollywood remake of Top Gun.

According to media reports, the U.S. sold India a dozen C-17s at a cost of $366 million each. The planes can carry heavy equipment and about 100 troops per-flight to the glacial outposts on the Chinese border.

India has been in conflict with China over the nearby Galwan Valley for decades. But just a few months before our arrival, things intensified with a series of skirmishes that left 20 Indian soldiers and 43 Chinese troops dead. 

According to reports the battle was a gruesome, frigid affair fought at 15,000 feet with stones and nail-studded clubs. Many soldiers were beaten to death and others left drowning in a freezing glacial river.

I wondered why was the Indian Army flying solders on $366 million airplanes and then making them fight with Ice-Age weaponry? I read something about a ban on firearms in the Chinese border region, which makes no sense to me.

After reading this I’m happy to go back to my no-media detox.

Back on the route we finally see some other vehicles. Two bulldozers are clearing a road that leads down to a steel bridge over a turquoise river. We cross the bridge into the jaws of a stone-tooth shark. 

Further ahead we ride into canyon that’s stacked with house-sized boulders that appear glazed with metallic purple paint. My polarized sunglasses are making them look even more trippy as I stop to gawk at the boulders wondering if they were chucked here from another galaxy.

*** POLICE CHECKPOINT ***

Up past the boulder canyon we approach a green hilly outpost. An officer emerges, motioning for us to enter his small room which is set up like a dorm with just a cot and TV. 

The officer takes our papers and peers at them closely before asking me the familiar question, “You are from?” 

“U.S.A.” 

He marks his logbook then holds it up. 

“See here, you are only traveler to reach all year.” 

I let this sink in for a moment then throw my hands up in the air, “Touchdown.”

We’re almost out of petrol so we stop to refuel in the next town of Bogdang, which is surrounded by bombed-out buildings. It used to be part of Pakistani Kashmir before India took it over in the 1971 War. 

As we roll out, a group of children line up on the roadside and give us high fives.

Finally we’re approaching the Pakistan border at Turtuk. I realize it took me seven months in India to discover this place and wonder if anyone else from my hometown of Sun Prairie, Wisconsin will make this journey. 

According to Google Maps, the total nonstop travel time from Sun Prairie to Turtuk is 60 hours. But it doesn’t take into account the 48 hours you will need to spend resting in a hotel in Leh to acclimate to the altitude. Plus the minimum 24 hours it will take to get your permit to enter Nubra Valley. 

So altogether that’s 132 hours from Sun Prairie to Turtuk and at least 60 hours for the return trip, for a total of eight days round-trip travel. Given that the average annual vacation time for Wisconsin residents is nine days, this gives you exactly one day to step out and enjoy your entire vacation for the year.



“The ordinary world, and our ordinary lives in the world, are not sufficient to reveal who we really are — quite the opposite. To discover who you are you must go beyond who you think you are.”

— Deepak Chopra, Metahuman

***


We’ve reached the final outpost. The tip of the subcontinent: Turtuk.

Just north is the Karakoram Range of the Himalayas which leads into K-2, the second highest mountain on earth. Further northwest the range leads to Afghanistan and Tajikistan. 

Along with India, Pakistan, and China, five countries converge on this one remote spot of the planet, the much disputed and indisputably glorious Kashmir.

We enter Turtuk and search for a place to eat. Just off the main road is an open-air restaurant with a stone staircase and some plastic tables. The kitchen is inside the cave of a boulder and the cook smiles at us through a window in the rock. Urgyan orders chow mein noodles and I get the chicken curry rice.

It’s just us and a bunch of military guys in fatigues at the restaurant. Their vehicle outside is marked: “Siachin Warriors: Courage and Fortitude.” It refers to a war with Pakistan fought on the Siachin Glacier, dubbed the “Highest Battleground on Earth.” India took control of more than 1,500 square miles of territory from Pakistan in the conflict including our current location. 

After lunch, we head up through Turtuk into the final checkpoint. This one is more heavily militarized than the rest with multiple barracks, heavy equipment, and gates. Urgyan gets off the bike and talks to a guard with brightly dyed orange hair, which is for some reason a thing for older guys in India. 

Apparently the guard thinks we are locals. But just as he is motioning for us to pass, I stupidly remove my helmet, revealing my bald, white head. 

This causes all sorts of problems. Now the guard has to see my passport and make several phone calls informing his superiors that I’m here. Eventually Urgyan takes the cellphone from the guard, talking in Ladakhi with the higher up, persuading him to let us through.

After all this way we almost got denied because I removed my helmet. I should have listened to that first guard. 

We finally ride through the checkpoint and head up along the Shyok River for the final few miles.

(Indo-Pakistan border at Turtuk)

“We made it. That’s Pakistan!” says Urgyan, pointing at a devilish-looking mountainside looming overhead.

“Holy shit.”

We park our bikes by a rusty bridge, take some pictures and rest for a moment to enjoy our accomplishment.

As we pass back through the Turtuk checkpoint the orange-haired guard comes out of his post to give us a thumbs up. I’m buzzing as we get back on the highway riding south past Bogdang, past the space boulders, past the airstrip. 

Just as we reach Diskit the sun is setting on the Maitreya Buddha statue and I have a feeling that I’ve never had before. Like I’ve been initiated into a new club: Adventurer.

But there’s no club to be seen. Just me and Urgyan, sole travelers of the 9,200-square-mile Nubra Valley. 

***

Hostel vs Hotel … what’s your vibe?

(Chill zone at Moustache Hostel in Pushkar, India)


Don’t you ever wonder what it was like to live in a 1960’s hippie commune?

You know lounging around with dirty transients, playing groovy music, getting high and partaking in Free Love.

All that’s DONE AND CANCELLED, right?

Wrong: start traveling the world and check into a hostel. It’s not just for young hippies and stoners. You will find all ages of hippies and stoners — plus digital nomads, bikers, bloggers, hikers, ravers, couples and even some (hippie) families.

“MEET THE WORLD” is the tagline of HostelWorld.com, which is the best tagline ever written, as that’s exactly what you can do in hostels.

(Look at these global yoga hippies. Don’t you want to meet them?)

Meanwhile, I’ve found it hard to meet anybody staying in hotels, apart from the staff. Everyone else seems to be confined to their own unit as a family, couple, or group and not open to strangers.

Hostels offer communal living and cooking spaces, plus roommates and activities to enjoy; while hotels just give you a box to occupy — another Gilded Cage like your box at home, at work, or in your car.

The best hostels are run by groovy characters who don’t really care about profits, they just want to provide a space for travelers to connect and chill. The average price for a hostel dorm bed is $5 to $10, or a private room for $25 to $30 per-night.

Yes there are pitfalls of staying in hostel dorms. You will hear the loudest snoring and smell the worst deodorant smells since middle school. But have a few beers before bed, get some earplugs and a sleep mask, and you’ll be fine.

(Support Paris Hilton by staying at the DoubleTree by Hilton)

Most hotels are run by giant, soulless corporations who want to suck you dry. The average rate for a hotel room worldwide is $120 and on top of that they’ll charge up the ass for parking, meals, and even water.

So you can spend two weeks in a hostel for the price of one night in a basic hotel. And I’d rather support independent hostel owners (or AirBNBs) who create a unique environment with art, architecture, and atmosphere; rather than the Paris Hiltons of the world.

If you wanna party like Paris, go for it. But why get a hotel then pay for cabs to the bars to meet people? It’s all in one place in a hostel like Pappi Chulo in Goa, India.

Roll up to Pappi on your bike, hit their bar, pick up a passenger and go party at Larive Nightclub, just down the street. The bar at Pappi is open sometimes until 6 a.m. and run by an American woman named Angela. She’ll take care of you, even if you come home tripping acid in the middle of the morning. Trust me ; )

(Akshata on her red Navi out front Pappi Chulo)
(Super Smash Bros! Pappi Chulo dorms)
(Angela bartending at Pappi Halloween, 2020)

Okay, I try not to write negative things on here, but I make exception for That Crazy Hostel — THE WORST HOSTEL IN GOA. That Crazy Hostel is worse than the hostel in the movie “Hostel.” The bathrooms are so rancid they make you wish you were in a Turkish Prison Cell. I don’t have a picture but if I did, you would puke.

And the hostel owner has a penchant for coming back in the middle of the morning, barging into the dorms shouting “Shots!” and then ordering his bartender to “Play Mambo No. 5 as loud as the speakers will go!”

Of course you can’t appreciate the best hostels, until you’ve been to the worst.

My current location: Hostel Chale Mineiro in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. I found it on HostelWorld.com at a price of $9 per-night with breakfast included. And I have the whole dorm to myself, because there’s no other international travelers here.

That’s all for now, kids. See you on the dusty trail.

(View from my dorm at Hostel Chale Mineiro)

Are we Trapped in a Computer Simulation?

The ultimate forbidden thought is “None of this is real.”

— Deepak Chopra, Metahuman

For many of us, we don’t live in reality … we just don’t. We live in a digital interface with reality. 

It’s a series of screens that present us with a network of colleagues, characters, romantic partners and beating heart emojis that we use for communication.

According to a 2020 study from Vision Direct, the average American will spend 44 years of their lives staring at screens, and that’s only set to increase post-COVID.  But why would we allow ourselves to be enslaved in a network of screens for half our existence?

Participation in the network is highly addictive, even more so than the most addictive drugs. The network is designed to manipulate your ego and stroke emotions of vanity, lust, boredom and fear to keep you coming back for more during every waking hour. 

We stare at screens at work to make money so we can buy more screens and subscribe to more digital services. Then we feed them with our personal information and content in return for small hits of dopamine in the form of reactions.

While part of us craves freedom from this matrix, the other part fears it.

I’ve been exploring this theory while traveling through Brazil for the past month, mostly without a cell phone, as it was stolen from my pocket at a club in Rio shortly after I arrived. I still have my Macbook for messaging and travel planning when I return to my hostel. But during the day when I’m out I have no phone, no apps, no Google Maps, nada.

Interestingly many of my close friends and family have messaged me telling me I should not be traveling without a phone.

Why? For 99.9 percent of human history people traveled the earth without cell phones and made all of the greatest natural discoveries — you know those places where people now line up to take selfies.

When has someone ever made a discovery while taking a selfie?

Since losing my phone, I have taken a series of busses north from Rio, to Ouro Preto, to Lavras Novas, traveling 300 miles and gaining 5,000 feet of altitude along the way. It’s a route created by the Portuguese in the 17th century to extract slave-harvested gold and diamonds out of Brazil and into the pockets of The Crown.

English Translation: “Royal Road Map.” Rio seen at southeast point; my current location, center point.

I heard about this route from an American guy named Shayne whom I met on the street in Rio. Shayne has been traveling through Central and South America for two years and is one of the few international travelers I’ve met in Brazil. The rest have apparently been scared off by the Global Fear Network.

Since losing my phone I have chronicled my emotions and experiences in my journal, some of which I have transcribed here:

  1. Feeling much more peaceful and calm with no apps or notifications in my pocket and more fully present to my natural surroundings. (I had a deep connection with a colorful plant in my hostel.)

  2. Navigating through cities and towns is more enjoyable as I must practice my Portuguese with locals and rely on my internal compass, rather than Google which is a digital crutch.

  3. Sometimes I hear my old notification bell go off on a nearby phone and experience a brief rush of anxiety, until I remember I have no phone. Then I smile.

  4. Doing yoga and meditation regularly for the first time in a long time since losing phone, and have had enough Human Contact — as phones are totally overrated for facilitating that.

  5. Have no watch to tell time or alarm to wake me up. But use a combination of roosters, the sun, and church bells to track time — all of which are plentiful in Brazil.

Wait, what’s the point I’m trying to make. Oh yeah: we’ve been living in a computer simulation that is run by our Corporate Tech Overlords who dictate our actions through a series of addictive apps and notifications that cut us off from our natural surroundings. Essentially multinational digital drug dealers, they have enslaved much of the human race in Zombieland, with products that can be more addictive than heroin (44 years staring at screens).

On rare occasions that we humans are allowed to venture into nature we are restricted from enjoying it as we’re now conditioned to observe it through our phones. Or we’re preparing our next social media post to advance the standing of our Digital Avatars.

I too have succumbed to this addiction. But I’m now fully aware of it and actively seeking a cure, in nature.

Morada da Águia hostel, Lavras Novos

Only the undying beauty of the universe has the power to replace the digital junk in our veins; much as Keith Richards had his smack-addicted blood swapped in a clinic in Switzerland in 1973.

I am not in a clinic in Switzerland, but rather staying in this mountain hostel in Lavras Novas, Brazil. There’s no other travelers so I have the whole place to myself, and the roosters to help me wake up.

Bem vindo ao Renegades Brazil!

Welcome to Renegades Brazil, beaches!

Before getting into the Brazil trip, just a quick coda on the last one. After traveling through India from 2020 to 2021, I returned to the U.S. to recover from my motorcycle accident. During this time I stayed at my dad’s in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin where I ate fast food hamburgers and watched TV for the first time in 14 months.

I did neither of these things in India. They don’t even sell beef burgers in Indian McDonalds, what with cows being sacred and all.

Needless to say I developed some bad stomach problems from U.S. fast food and my brain was warped from seeing that AT&T cellular commercial with the lady and the whiteboard six million times. Also terrifying is the Verizon commercial with Kate McKinnon running around frantically giving everyone free 5G phones.

In conclusion, America is like a giant vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its hamburgers and cell phones into everyone’s mouths with one tentacle and sucking all the money from their pockets with another — this to paraphrase Matt Taibbi.

I therefore completely and unequivocally renounce my U.S. ties … unless of course you are a foreign immigration official, or cute Brazilian girl who likes Americans.

Welcome to Rio de Janeiro

(Pop. 6.7 million impossibly sexy people)

Thanks to the miracle of flight, in just 19 hours travel time I was transported from my dad’s basement in Wisconsin to Ipanema beach in Rio de Janeiro. Basically the equivalent of a hydrogen bomb exploding in my brain.

(Official U.S. State Department Travel Advisory)

But wait, the media and U.S. government says “Do Not Travel” here. Better just stay home, stare at your phones and eat more hamburgers — as if that won’t kill you.

Since April I have been to the top three COVID-afflicted countries in the world: India, U.S.A., and now Brazil, completing some sort of sick COVID trifecta. If you watch the news you would think it’s all chaos and bodies burning in their streets.

Don’t watch the news. It’s fine. VERY FINE, in fact.

In both India and Brazil there are so few travelers around that you can get a once in a lifetime opportunity to explore attractions basically all to yourself and make deep connections with locals. Speaking of which, this episode of RENEGADES has a returning character! It’s Zaza, the Brazilian Oracle Reader whom I originally met at yoga school in Goa, India.

Zaza was the one who invited me to Rio promising to show me a good time. She told her friends there was a crazy American travel blogger coming and they all welcomed me with a four-day party to kick off the trip. Thank you Zaza and friends, trust your path!

Since then Zaza and her friends went back to their hometowns where they are med students. I shifted to Beach House Ipanema hostel, which is a great vibe, right near the beach with a bar, a pool and the right amount of people to meet and go out with.

(Beach House Ipanema, via HostelWorld.com)

Everyone (including the State Department, I guess) warned against going into the slums at night due to crime. “You will get robbed,” they say. Well after I left a nightclub in the Lapa neighborhood I noticed my cell phone missing from my pocket. I’m not saying I got robbed, but yes I probably got robbed.

*** UPDATED TRAVEL CELL PHONE DEATH LIST ***

  • iPhone X — lost June 2020 during camping trip in Manali, India
  • iPhone 7 — destroyed November 2020 in hostel in Goa, India
  • Samsung A71 — likely stolen July 2021 in club in Rio, Brazil

There are two ways to approach the loss of a cell phone while traveling a foreign country.

#1) FREAK OUT!

#2) Realize that you are now freed from the tyrannical shackles of technology and become present to the infinite beauty of the universe.

I made it four months in India with no cell phone. I was living in a village for most of this time and most people in India speak English so it wasn’t so difficult to live without a magic supercomputer in my pocket.

I don’t know how long I can do this in Brazil, where it’s mostly just Portuguese, but I will give it to myself as a challenge. Perhaps I will be able to pick up Portuguese faster with no phone. Who knows?

**NOTE TO SELF: Don’t get lost and forget address of accommodation.

In the meantime I still have my MacBook for blogging and travel planning and my GoPro to take pictures and videos. Thus ends Chapter 1 of Renegades Brazil. I hope you enjoyed and stay tuned for more adventures and misadventures — the yin and the yang of travel.

Zanskar Expedition Video with LA Riders

Here’s a video I compiled from my six-day expedition through the Zanskar Range of the Himalayas with LA Riders motorcycle club. The trip included high-altitude camping, music, and crossing three of the world’s highest motorable passes.

In the middle of the trip we stopped for a trek and bridge crossing to reach Phuktal Gumpa, the secluded cave monastery which has been visited by monks for 2,500 years.

Be sure to turn up the sound and click on HD in the player.

Content is from my old iPhone 7 camera, and the drone and gypsy videos are from LA Riders, Ladakh Motto Adventures, and Black Sheep Motto Adventures.

Follow them on IG for more kickass videos and info about moto tours through Ladakh and Himachal:

https://www.instagram.com/laa_riders/

https://www.instagram.com/ladakh_motto_adventures/

https://www.instagram.com/black_sheep_motto_adventures/

Meet the Renegade Queen of Aerial Arts

April Ananda Bliss is a tiny, tattooed faerie who can fly three times as high as Michael Jordan. Originally from Colorado, April left the U.S. at age 20 to spread her love of fire dancing and hula hooping around the world.

She spent the next several years hitchhiking cargo boats in the Peruvian Amazon, couchsurfing the slums of Nairobi, and distributing hula hoops to kids across Africa.

April was initiated further into the world of circus in Southeast Asia, learning aerial arts and stilt walking in Thailand and performing in Burmese refugee camps.   

She reached India in 2010 on a path of spiritual awakening and discovered a perfect climate for her and her global circus friends to train during winters.

Thus she opened Bliss Circus in 2016, building her first structure off the beach in South Goa. In 2019, April moved Bliss to its current location set in a magical faerie forest in Palolem with a full stage and eight-meter-high rigs, becoming the only full-on adult circus in India.

I was lucky to spend three weeks training with April and her amazing instructors, learning trapeze, silk ropes, and partner acrobatics. That was before a motorcycle accident sidelined me. But I finally got the time to sit down with April to discuss Bliss Circus and its decidedly dark side vibes. Hope you enjoy the interview, ya’ freaks!

Renegades Logbook: I’ve never been able to say this to anyone, but you can fly. What does it feel like?

April Ananda Bliss: When I was a kid I used to lay on my lawn and dream about flying in the clouds. It’s exciting, it’s scary, and it’s like a dream come true to actually fly. It’s like being fuckin’ Peter Pan!

(April flying high above the Bliss Circus stage)

How dangerous is aerial arts?

Even if you are a high-level trained professional you can make mistakes. And if you make a mistake in aerial working at height, you can break your neck, you can break your spine, or you can die. There have been big accidents in Cirque du Soleil, which is the largest contemporary circus in the world, where artists died. One movement that’s slightly off can send you crashing to your death. We try to do dangerous things with the most amount of safety as possible. It’s all about calculated risks.

You’re also a mermaid. How did that character come about?

I have a dear friend who is a mermaid and was creating a show at Boom Festival in Portugal, the largest electronic music festival in Europe. I had never mermaided before, but I got the tail, learned how to swim, and was initiated with nine mermaids in the lake at sunset at Boom Festival.

(April mermaiding at a pool party in Goa)

Does your mermaid have a name?

Kali. She’s named after the Indian Goddess of Destruction. I am the dark, Indian mermaid and I always wear skulls in my hair when I’m mermaiding.

Many of your circus performances explore the dark side with black outfits, devilish characters, and fire dancing. Why do you like to explore these themes?

An important part of our reality is the dark. Living in India has such an appeal for me because in a lot of the world we are sheltered from darkness, and when darkness happens people are in shock and don’t know how to handle it. Living in Asia the light and the dark are very incorporated here.

(Josh and Judy performing “The Puppet Master”)

You mean all aspects of the human condition are in front of your face?

Yes. You have most beautiful smell and the worst smell in the same whiff. You can see the most beautiful thing you’ve seen in your entire life and the most terrible, shocking thing in the same day. It’s very real and it makes me feel alive. Expressing that with performance art is important because it’s not all light and faeries. The dance between the light and the dark has been a recurring theme in my art. I love the dark goddesses and festivals honoring the dark.

You accept all ages of students and performers in Bliss Circus?

Yes. My daughter is ten and has been performing since she was three. And we have students and instructors in their 50’s. People who want to pursue it have to be really motivated, hardworking, and have a good tolerance for pain.

There is a Renegade vibe to the circus and your performers. Do you feel that?

In a lot of countries the circus is part of the established art society. Here in Goa, it’s different. Yes, I am a woman running a business in a foreign country. And I play by the rules in the sense that I follow the laws and keep people safe. But in every other way I am not playing into the mainstream. I consider myself subculture.

People used to talk about ‘Running away to join the circus’, is that still the case?

That saying came from the Barnum & Bailey days where circus was more about the freak show and the people who couldn’t exist in society … whereas I don’t want to. It wasn’t that I ran away with the circus. I ran away from mainstream American society, and then I found circus.

(My first successful drop from the silk hammock at Bliss)

How can people see Bliss Circus?

We run from November to March every year with shows once or twice a month. We also host workshops and retreats, artist residencies, and intensive aerialist foundation courses. Our last show of this year is March 26 in Palolem, Goa.

We also are having a fundraiser to pay for the construction of our new stage, and I hope people could make a contribution of any amount at: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/blisscircusstagegoa?utm_term=qJyV9RvvP  

Follow Bliss Circus online:

www.BlissAerial.com

https://www.instagram.com/blisscircus/

https://www.facebook.com/BlissCircusGoa

Book Review: Freedom from the Known

Jiddu Krishnamurti is a Jedi Master of the First Order.

Born in India in 1895, Krishnamurti was a philosopher, writer, and global speaker on topics of psychological revolution.

I had never heard of him until I came to India. In fact, I don’t recall any Indian authors being on my high school or college reading lists, which is clearly some sort of Western Colonialist cover-up.

But fear not, Renegades Logbook is here with its first book review.  

Krishnamurti’s Freedom from the Known is an exploration of total freedom, the thing people claim to want, or believe they already have, but will never achieve because they are trapped within their societies and fears.

It’s a short book at 129 pages, but finishing just one chapter is like getting hit in the head with a baseball bat, waking up and thinking, “What the fuck was that?”

What is total freedom?

According to Krishnamurti, to be free you must first abandon all authority including your society, nationality, religion, position, family, and teachings.

These authorities all breed competition, jealousy, greed, acquisitiveness and ideals of right and wrong. And when you are free, there is no right and wrong, he writes, accurately.


“All authority of any kind, especially in the field of thought and understanding, is the most destructive, evil thing. You have to be your own teacher and your own disciple. You have to question everything that man has accepted as valuable, as necessary.”

Now I see why he’s not on the academic reading lists.

“To be free of all authority, of your own and that of another, is to die to everything of yesterday, so that your mind is always fresh, always young, innocent, full of vigour and passion. It is only in that state that one learns and observes,” he writes.

In other words, you need to be a psychological solo-traveler.

“If you do not follow somebody you feel very lonely. Be lonely then. Why are you frightened of being alone? Because you are faced with yourself as you are.”

So what are you afraid of?

Do you know your own fears? Fear of not having enough money, of losing your job, of what people think of you, of not being a success, of not being loved, of your partner leaving you; of the anxiety in your head, of utter boredom, fear of your own body growing old and alone, and contracting diseases and death.

“Living in such a corrupt, stupid society as we do, with the competitive education we receive which engenders fear, we are all burdened with fears of some kind,” Krishnamurti writes.

“And what do you usually do about your fears? You run away from them, don’t you, or invent ideas and images to cover them? But to run away from fear is only to increase it.”

First we must face the concept of pure fear itself.

“Can you look at your fear without trying to resolve it – actually look at it and not try to escape from it – perceive total fear, not what you are afraid of?”

“Can you watch fear without any conclusion, without any interference of the knowledge you have accumulated about it? If you can than you are watching fear for the first time.”

Only once you face pure fear, can you seek pure freedom.

What are you searching for?

There’s something out there. Maybe it’s freedom, or love, or a sexual-spiritual awakening to fill the emptiness in your heart. You can’t really define it but you’re searching for it. How do you invite it in?

“You cannot invite it,” he writes. “To invite it, you must know it, and you cannot know it. It doesn’t matter who says it, the moment he says, ‘I know’, he does not know. The moment you say you have found it you have not found it. If you say you have experienced it, you have never experienced it.”

Jiddu: such a savage writer.

“The moment you have achieved anything you cease to have that quality of innocence and humility; the moment you have a conclusion you are translating every living thing in terms of the old,” writes Krishnamurti.

“A confident man is a dead human being.“

Solo Trip vs. Companion Travel

When I flew into Ladakh last fall, I had no phone, no friends, and no plans there other than to rent a motorcycle and explore the Himalayas.

On my first day out I rented a bike and rode straight into the desert alone. After an hour or so, I found some mountains that looked like the surface of Mars.

“I’ll never ride a bike on Mars,” I thought to myself. “Fuck it, let’s give this a shot.”

I rode up the mountainside until it was too steep for my bike. It was hot and I had no water or sunscreen, so I tied my shirt around my baldhead and trekked further.

Then I spotted a village in the distance with a Tibetan Buddhist monastery atop a hill.  

I rode there on my hot bike and when I arrived, the monks gave me water and invited me in to the monastery to meditate. An old monk stared at me for five minutes straight, as I was likely the first foreigner to visit all year during COVID.

The next day I went to downtown Leh and met a Russian girl named Vera in line at the ATM. We got coffee and I told Vera about my bike adventure. She grabbed my shoulder and said, “Take me.”

Thus ended my solo trip.

Vera and I quickly became friends, exploring ancient monasteries and ruins around Ladakh for a full month. And unlike my phone-less ass, Vera had an iPhone 11, which we used to take these crazy pics.

Vera later left and I joined a motorcycle club for an epic off-road adventure in Zanskar, which I chronicled in a previous blog.

Why am I writing all this? It’s a prime example of a solo-trip that turned into companionship: a non-mutually exclusive travel phenomenon. 

Would I have attempted these crazy expeditions and made the new friendships if I was traveling with some friends, or a girlfriend, or wife? I’d say 95 percent of the time the answer is no. 

Does going solo make the best trip?

“I don’t mind traveling with a companion sometimes, but solo travel is bloody liberating. I love the freedom of making my own plans, without having to wait on someone else. I change plans frequently too, depending on how I’m feeling on any given day.” – Mitsu from Goa

“When you are a solo traveler you can chose when, where and who to go with. And you can change places, partners or whatever, whenever you want. Long story short, it gives you the FREEDOM.” – Vera from Russia

“For the last five years I have been traveling solo and the best part is freedom. It makes you mentally strong, widens your horizon of thoughts, and triggers your creative instincts. ” – Sourav from Patna (aka RovingLama)

“Solo traveling is an experiment in dealing with the ultimate human fear: solitude. I prefer a travel companion who is just right, gives you space, doesn’t need to be in your face always, but has a good synergy with you.” – Nanditha from Bangalore

“The only thing better than solo traveling is solo traveling with no phone, because then no one can message you. That’s freedom.” – The Editor, Renegades Logbook.

Is it Possible to find True Love Traveling?

While traveling through India for the past year I’ve dated several Indian girls and even found myself in a few serious relationships.

During the first part of my trip I wasn’t expecting anything too serious, just fun. And there’s plenty of opportunities for that while traveling. But it seemed that every time I really connected with someone, they would leave the next day on their flight home to Mumbai, or Bangalore, or Delhi.  

Sometimes I process this internally and ask myself, “Am I just the American guy the girls have a fling with on their last day?”

And if so, do I mind?

It’s complicated.

After a year of traveling, I’m now more interested in finding real relationships and love. I’m no longer afraid to travel long distances to pursue someone I met earlier, and I believe this to be a major point of personal-emotional growth.

Plus it’s much more important to have someone special when you haven’t seen your family or friends back home for a full year. But I also have pursued someone I was not compatible with who was too young for me, on what my friends called a “doomed mission.”

So perhaps I’m not ready for true love but rather just the experience of having a girlfriend in a foreign country. With that, I get a tour guide (with benefits) to take me around and make sure I get the best deals, food, and access to parties.

In exchange, she gets an American boyfriend for a few weeks (or months depending on how it goes) to enjoy a different cultural experience with, and to show off to her friends. 

The major issue is the same: I am a traveler. Eventually my visa will expire and I will leave. I know this, and she knows this, and her friends know this. So we just keep an unspoken agreement that we won’t take things too far … and therefore no one gets their heart ripped out. 

But it’s not true love if you can’t get your heart ripped out. Just listen to any Tom Petty song and he’ll tell you.

Regardless, searching for travel love has been a good experience for me. It’s a sort of romantic pragmatism shared by two people in motion who don’t want to be lonely, but who also don’t want to be tied down.

And most people I have dated understand this. I’ve never had anyone ask me to stop traveling. They will say, “Keep going. Keep doing it. I will be so sad when you leave and I will never forget you, but please don’t stop traveling.”

Online Dating No Longer Necessary, My Friend

The best development for me is that I haven’t needed to use online dating for more than a year. Meeting people organically while traveling is so much more exciting and rewarding to me.

I’ve met people while swimming in the sea, while on a nature cleanup, in a yoga school, and of course in various hostels and parties.

I’ve found that these relationships start with more flame and fewer expectations than the forced, “Let’s meet up for drinks and apps at this bar,” that you go through on Tinder, or Bumble, or Hinge, or whatever.

A good travel date proposal will go something like, “Let’s ride the motorcycle to a hidden lagoon, get really high, and float on our backs together. Just you and me [insert inappropriate emojis]”

That’s what traveling is all about: foreigners connecting in raw nature with no filter.

Swiping through an online pool of familiar people in your town is 2D dating. Going out there and meeting a local person in a foreign country is 3D dating with enough 4D twists and turns to make your head spin.

Am I on Some Extended Vacation?

Some people, specifically my little brother, have tried to dismiss my long solo trip as an “extended vacation,” but I assure you it’s not.

On vacation you don’t have time to learn anything about yourself. You unplug from work and try to forget everything about yourself.  

That’s why companies only give you a few weeks vacation per year. It’s just enough time to recharge your batteries for more work, but not enough time to question your entire reality and try to shift it in a new direction.

While traveling a foreign country for a whole year you will learn crazy things about yourself, and you will barely recognize the old you when browsing through pictures.

You will have the time to explore alternative realities and lifestyles. You will be forced out of your comfort zone. You will get really, really high and journey inward.

You may even fall in love and have the luxurious, opulent, unconstrained time to process everything and write about it.

Anything is possible.

How to Survive 14-Days of Rave in Goa

Is your natural habitat somewhere between a laser and a fog machine?

Why not upgrade to lasers and fog machines mounted on palm trees overlooking the Arabian Sea?  

Just plan a trip to North Goa during the next holiday season. It’s a never-ending rave party from December through January featuring underground techno and psychedelic music, with few corona restrictions. Actually, come anytime of the season, but the holidays have the best weather, crowds, and DJs.

I just made my third trip to Goa with friends from Dec. 23 through Jan. 6. We went until at least 7 a.m. each morning and sometimes for two to three days straight fullpower, no toilet, no shower.

How to survive such a schedule of hedonism?

#1 – Form a Crew

(Members of our crew Akshata, Manish and Ashraf somewhere around Goa)

During 14 days of raving things will get crazy. Get a tight crew of four to eight people to look after each other with lots of TLC.

In terms of roles, someone needs to be in charge of acquiring substances to keep the crew going all day and night. Another must be in charge of sorting free or discounted entry at the clubs to keep the budget in tact.

Most importantly someone needs to be the Rave Mom, ensuring that everyone is hydrated on the dance floor and no one is left behind. Your crew can swap partners and roles as the party progresses.

#2 – Get Bikes

Goa is a tropical place with venues located in beaches and jungles, reachable only by sketchy dirt paths. There’s no Uber to pick your stoned ass up so you need to get bikes.

The best option is to rent a Royal Enfield, a heavy metal machine that can rip through the jungle or beach, making for a dramatic entrance. Second best is a Scooty, which has storage under the seat where you can stash beer to drink en route to the next party.

(Me and Richie re-fueling the Royal Enfield Classic 350)

#3 – Keep Bouncing Around

During the 14 days your mission is not to attend 14 parties – the mission is to attend 75 parties. Possible my friend? “Sab kuch milega” is the official Indian party mantra meaning, “Anything is possible.”  

Get up around 2 p.m. (standard Goa wake-up time) then head to a hostel like Pappi Chulo for some joints, snacks and beers. Next move to a friend’s villa or resort and get classy with some mixed drinks for sunset.

Then get on the bikes and bounce around to a few cafes or small clubs to catch the right vibe. Don’t forget to eat dinner and stop at the market if you are in charge of substances.

After 1 a.m. hit the main techno clubs like Chronicle and Larive on Ozran Beach and occupy the dance floor until 7 a.m. Finally, head to a sexy spot for sunrise. Or you could keep partying in the trance clubs, which play until 11 a.m. … if you are a lunatic.

(Black Coffee spinning at Namascray Experience at 9 Bar near Vagator Beach)
(Day 13: Still dancing fullpower at Curlie’s on Anjuna Beach with Richie, Manish and Sam)

#4 – Pop

Sugar, spice, and everything nice. These were the ingredients chosen to create the perfect girl.

But Professor Utonium accidentally added an extra ingredient to the concoction… CHEMICAL X. Thus the Powerpuff Girls were born!

#5 – Fall in Love

Now you’ve got your crew, bikes, and parties … but what good is it all without that special someone to share a synchronized rave dance with at 3 a.m.?

It’s Goa. Fall in love and create memories that will last forever.

*** FULL DISCLOSURE: Your actual memory will not last forever if you keep this up. Be sure to take pictures, notes, and videos — upload them digitally –and share them with your crew. And make sure to rest, detox, and eat healthy after all the raving … then repeat.