India Volunteering 2010

Jo.L. Member Posts: 89
edited November 2010 in Community news and events

Royal Enfields and Volunteering in India: It seemed like a good idea at the time!   


Joanne Lovelock 


The 15th UICC Reach to Recovery International Breast Cancer Support Conference 2009 in Brisbane Australia was the first ever worldwide forum for breast cancer consumers, support organisations, and health professionals to meet and address common goals. It was at this conference that we were introduced to how others in the world deal with breast cancer – it opened our eyes. Wanting to make a difference, a group of breast cancer survivors, family, and friends joined Dr Ritu Biyani a breast cancer survivor from Highways Infinite on an expedition to Ladakh in Northern India in September 2010.


The Australian breast cancer survivors had all been a part of Amazon Heart Thunder, a global support group for women with breast cancer who took up the challenge and rode Harley Davidson motorcycles. Three participated in a 2000k ride in 2009 and one in the USA in 2010. These adventures provide the women an opportunity to share their experiences with other survivors and further their own journey of emotional and psychological healing after breast cancer. It also gave the opportunity to raise funds and awareness for breast cancer.


The Highways Infinite expeditions’ goals were to conduct workshops that encouraged women and men to take a pro active role in oral, breast, and gynaecological cancer awareness; dispel myths and celebrate survivorship.


 Our aims included raising money for the foundation, providing donated breast forms (prosthesis) and mastectomy bras to women in India, providing toothbrushes and toothpaste to Nomadic children and participating in workshops. The survivorship celebration anticipated riding Royal Enfield motorcycles over the highest motorable road in the world.


Royal Enfield motorcycles kindly sponsored us on our journey.


Upon arrival in Leh, Ladakh we met our Royal Enfield representatives Raj and Mr Jassa and the 500cc Classics and 350cc Classic & 350cc Thunderbird Twinspark we were to ride.


Challenged both physically and psychologically the group worked together to support each other throughout the journey. We battled acute mountain sickness (AMS) with multiple hospital admissions. As breast cancer survivors we have travelled hard journeys and the roads in India seemed to parallel our cancer journey! Having a cancer diagnosis is like landing in a foreign land, where the language is not easily understood and although the treatment is explained the road to recovery takes many twists and turns, often throwing up unexpected challenges and wonderful surprises. Ladakh was like this!


Our Pink Lady symbols and pink vests made us visible!


Our introduction to the bikes was riding around Leh and visiting some of the local sites including the Shanti Stupa and the Hemis monastery. It also gave us the opportunity to experience local traffic and conditions which are very different from Australia. Not used to the Indian road rules- Rule number 1 there are no rules! Rule number 2 army trucks give way to no-one (except Kerrie a blonde in a flourescent jacket!).


We had the amazing experience to share an audience with the Ladakh people and the Dalai Lama in Leh. We also attended breast cancer awareness workshops and spent time with the Ladakh Nuns, who spend an enormous amount of time working with the community to advance the status, health, and education of women in the community. It was an absolute privilege to do this.


We headed off to Khardung La  and were held up at South Pullu whilst awaiting the pass to be opened. We were having some trouble at this height with AMS again. The trip up the pass took many twists and turns, included mud, snow and of course traffic. It was an incredibly busy day with trucks, buses, tourist cars and in the beginning the trucks frightened us. Learning to read the road became easier as we progressed up to the top of the pass. The bikes were fabulous but occasionally stalled at unexpected times. Upon reaching the top of the pass a team photo was taken. We left 2 pink ladies up with a prayer flag for those breast friends that had not been as fortunate as us. It was a poignant moment as we shared a prayer for them. We over stayed the recommended time and Michele fell prey to AMS again. Raj led the way down the mountain which was no better. After North Pullu the road had moments of brilliance twisties, tar, and fine weather. But alas there were surprises in patches that had dirt, rocks that sometimes snuck up on us. Finally stopping for lunch we were all exhausted! Our first small (we didn’t know that it was SMALL at that time) water crossing saw Raj patiently instructing us. 1st gear, no throttle and go. Jo missed the NO THROTTLE part and also missed Raj (J) a bike and the lake.


We continued on through the amazing Nubra Valley, reaching Hundar where we stayed at a fabulous guesthouse. That evening we decided it was the hardest days ride we had ever undertaken. Our first flat tyre awaited us the next morning. After participating in workshops and touring the valley it was time to attack the pass again, not something we were looking forward to.

The ride out of the valley blue sky, no snow, no traffic, and the ride was much easier... perhaps we were getting used to the roads!


Back in Leh we attempted to go to Pangong Lakes but had troubles with permits, so it was not to be. We combined touring around Leh with participating in further workshops with Ritu. These were held for the public, the boarder patrol and also for the military.


Our trip south started with the trip down toward Tsomorri Lakes. The road in was not too good and there was a lot of sand/ dirt and yes rocks. The scenery however was stunning and it make the difficult journey in worthwhile. The tourist tents were fabulous and although we suffered again with mild AMS it was a wonderful place to visit. Again the journey out wasn’t as difficult. (A bit like Chemotherapy, once you have conquered the fear of the initial treatment and survived it doesn’t seem so scary the next time!)


After the lakes we went to the Puga nomadic residential school where we had toothbrushes for the children. It was fantastic to have a tour with the second in charge teacher and meet the children. We were impressed with the school, the teachers attitude and their facilities.


After leaving the school we climbed again to the Polo Kongka  La where there was a light falling of snow. This was the first time Jo had felt cold. A few of the corners were challenging you can’t trust the road surface EVER.



The More Plains presented another challenge. We were again feeling tired/sleepy with AMS and the twisties into the plains woke us up! The lead van driver decided that the tar was not the way to go and took shortcuts across the bends, yes in the dirt/sand.... why? Why not! Why did we follow? Our drivers decided the left of the plains was the best way to tackle them... when we did see traffic, it was on the right... was any way better ?? At one stage Jo had lost the leaders and the followers. She stopped and waited there was no noise and no other vehicles to be seen. (Our cancer treatment sometimes seemed like this... there was a direction to take, and you knew there were people to help you on that part of your journey, but sometimes you felt very alone). What seemed like an eternity but was probably only minutes Michele, Julene and Kerrie appeared with the rear car. Michele had a rest in the dirt.


We kept travelling and decided that as long as we were headed south it didn’t matter where we went. Spying some trucks travelling at a better speed over to the right we set off to join them.


Our night stay in Pang was in a public tent. The women who cooked for us were delightful and we enjoyed Momos. Jenny R succumbed again to AMS and had to visit the medical outpost for oxygen. Her saturations were 45! Jo suffered the worst night she had experienced with AMS... a whole new use for ziplock bags.


The next day we were glad to go down lower.


We stopped at Nakeela  for chi and were all starting to feel better.


The 21 loops were also interesting... mostly tar but every now and the yes on a hairpin there would be a large patch of rocks and dirt. Jo had an argument with a truck on a hairpin... ran out of road but paused at the edge for a rest J Julene had a flat just before this but fixed by our wonderful Mr Jassa.


We stopped at Sarchu whilst the bridge across the river was fixed. A truck had dislodged a part of it and it took about 3 hours to fix it. Lots of standing around looking while our drivers actually got in and helped! We had a meal here, and Raj was very popular with the local ladies.


Over Baralacha Pass and past Suraj Tal Lake the second highest lake in India.


We stayed at a terrific guesthouse in Jispa ( ensuites and HOT water) and enjoyed the magnificent views.

We thought we were getting good at water crossings... the melted snow would rush across the road... one was more like a waterfall than a water crossing.


Michele was doing as asked 1st gear not throttle but managed to stall in the water then those legs didn’t quite reach the road.. Raj was not smiling when he had to help her out of the water... still the team pulled together and supplied him with dry socks and boots! (Cancer treatment is all about team work. When one doesn’t have the resources to continue, there is someone to help you on your way if you can find them!)


Then came Rhotang La. We stopped at the checkpoint and spoke to a man from Luxenbourg who said there was a lot of mud on the pass.... we didn’t realise he meant A LOT of mud.


The mud we had thought we had tackled OK was now knee deep. If you stayed in the wheel tracks it wasn't too bad at first, providing there was no traffic... however of course there was and A LOT OF IT. Bikes have no right of way (sound familiar) The larger the vehicle the harder it is to stop as there was no traction. So pulling over early was a good idea. Trouble was it was almost physically impossible to move out of the track. The mud was sticky and it wasn't easy to lift out your boot. A few bikes had a little sideways rest and the boys had to help a few times to move the bikes out of the way. Julene had a head to head with a truck that had stopped. She then started to go and so did the truck. She stopped and couldn't move, threw her arms in the air fell backwards off the bike and became our 'MUD ANGEL' She then climbed up the bumper of the truck to right herself.
After this Jo & Julene set off, whilst the others were a little behind, deciding that the rocks and waterfalls down the road was the best option at least no sand & mud on those patches as it had been washed away.
Michele was doing as asked... 1st gear no throttle and up over the rocks on a hairpin. The trouble was sometimes the Enfields stalled (due to the altitude). Her bike stalled and she went to put down her foot but it didn't reach the ground (knew she should have used more throttle!) Hit the ground and fractured her humerus. Knew it was broken... Into the car for her. A little later Kerrie had enough. She had to get off & get Raj & Mr Jassa to move the bike through some parts of the road.
Then Raj was back in the lead showing us how to walk/ride through the mud travelling up the mountain still. At one stage a group of pack horses passed us...

Up the top was as snowfield with tourist buses filled with people frolicking in the snow..... Why we thought? There was also a man sitting under a plastic tarp on the precipice side of the mountain cooking corn on a fire.. How did he get there? Why was he there? And who would stop to buy from him...

We re-fuelled our bodies Maggi noodles had never tasted so good - thinking it must be better on the way down but alas IT WASNT
Still having survived the upward climb Jo & Julene were determined to finish.

The trip down challenged us once more but we knew we would make it. (Like the end of treatment is near, you don’t always want to continue it as it can be tough, but know that you can and will finish, then life will improve)

Finally hit some tar and just when you thought it was safe more MUD TRUCKS BOG AND MORE MUD! ( Yes the odd setbacks)
Finally a road -yes a real road -with tar and corners that were intact and beautiful scenery we could have been in Gippsland Australia. This road led us into Manali.


 Although not always going according to plan, our expedition was successful, with over 500 people participating in workshops, purchase of teaching aids, delivery of over 60 breast forms and 120 bras, and raising well needed funds for Highways Infinite. Travelling with Ritu on her expedition was a privilege and she allowed us to participate in experiences we would not have otherwise been able to do. We also managed to ave one to one conversations with breast cancer women or their families. We experienced many unique moments and met some wonderful Ladakh people. Our visit to a residential Nomadic school allowed distribution of toothbrushes and toothpaste to the children. Our lives were also enriched in surprising ways and included an audience with the Dalia Lama. We were also privileged to spend time with the Ladakh Nuns who work to raise the status and health of women and society.


The Royal Enfields, Raj and Mr Jassa were fabulous and it was a joy to have participated in this adventure. Crossing Khardung La was an achievement for us as a group of breast cancer gals, but finishing the trip was even more of an achievement. As a group of breast cancer survivors we celebrated life by challenging ourselves to a most demanding motorcycling adventure and supported each other through some very difficult times including accidents, fractures, and further hospital admissions!


Success can be measured in many ways and even though it was not the trip we expected, it was a certainly the trip of a lifetime.


Volunteering is a way for us to give back to our communities, locally, nationally, and internationally. There are many projects that need attention, both in Australia and abroad.

 BCNA is one of these projects and I urge you all to participate in any way that you  are able.

As a group we are contemplating our next volunteering experience- perhaps with a little more planning, perhaps closer to home, and perhaps a country with sealed roads.


India- it seemed like a good idea at the time