Dhanaulti – by Manav Singh

It has not been a even a month that I have touched base in Delhi and I couldn’t resist riding to the Himalayas. As soon as an extended weekend presented itself, the opportunity was grabbed without much ado. Mayuresh was riding pillion with me.

The plan was to leave early in the morning so that we could reach the hills before noon. However, this was not to be. Mayuresh was expected to land at my place by 11 PM, which got extended to 1 AM. We kept chatting for a while and it must have been 2 O clock by the time we went to sleep. Obviously, we got up late and it was around 10 that we could get moving.

The first stop was a nearby filling station. The tank was filled upto the brim and the ride was on. As expected, traffic was pretty heavy and till we crossed Ghaziabad, we couldn’t gather much pace. Traffic on Ghaziabad to Modinagar route was a bit light and we were able to ride pretty fast on this track. After crossing Modinagar, we felt that it would be better if we satisfy our hunger pangs first and then move on. So, we stopped at a dhaba for a supposedly quick breakfast which turned into a brunch. It was well beyond 40 minutes that we were back on the roads.

The traffic was again back to its worst, the real trouble being with sugarcane carrying vehicles (all kinds of them – trucks, tractors & bullock carts). Still, we managed to keep good pace till Muzzafarnagar where we got stuck in a jam right in middle of the city. It was well beyond half an hour before we could get out of the city. We took a small break at Muzzafarnagar-Saharanpur-Roorke trisection, and thank God that we took the Roorke route. Saharanpur route is a real killer as we realized on our return trip. From now onwards, the traffic was not that heavy, and the ride was pretty comforting. It was around 4’ O Clock that we reached the outskirts of Dehradun and were stopped at a police outpost. All the documents were in order and in no time we were on again, but not before we got few comments on riding such a long distance from the policemen.

Once in Dehradun, city traffic caught up with us. We got stuck in a Dussera procession (folks, seems Ravan is still there to bother us mortals) it was only by 5: 30 that we could get onto the road to Mussorie. The clutch wire had gone a bit loose which was tightened and we were on again. However, our plan to do Sahastradhara today itself went for a toss and we decided to go to Mussorie straight. Riding on the ghats with the sun setting down was ultimate and the ride progressed like a dream. There were couple of stops en-route, and I remember our stopping next to a rustic, charming house. This place looked very serene and we wondered whether we could stay here itself. But then, better sense prevailed and we went on towards Mussorie, and ran into a huge jam at the outskirts. It really felt bad to be in such a situation after such a wonderful ride up the hills. It took around half an hour to get out of the jam. We checked into a hotel at a good distance from the Mall road. Good thing was that our room provided a fascinating view of the valley below, there was 9 storey temple next to the hotel and we got to park the bike right next to the room.

It was 8 O’ clock now and was getting pretty chilly. We were in the mood to have something hot and we got to have a piping hot and real thick hot chocolate drink. Having the drink sitting alone in the dining lounge of the hotel, we decided our future course. As we didn’t want to spend much time in crowded Mussorie, it was decided that we would take a early morning trip to Kempty Falls and later continue our ride to Dhanaulti. This way, we would also be able to avoid the rush at the falls.

After finishing our drink, we went for a walk around the town. It was pretty surprising to see that the place was not as crowded as it seemed to be. Around half an hour of leisurely stroll around the town, we were feeling cold again and in we went into “Gulab Vasihnav Dhaba”. Tandoori parathas, a thali and daal fry was ordered. Tandoori parathas were amazing and so was having “garam-garam daal” in this weather. Mayuresh took fancy to the parathas and daal and made me commit that we would be coming to this place again in the morning. I was too willing to do the same as the food tasted good. After dinner, I was in the mood to have a “paan” and the dhaba owner directed us to a nearby “Paan Corner”. Mayuresh asked him whether he could make “Jalta hua paan” and the man shook his head vigorously. But then, I was a bit curious about this “Jalta hua paan” and asked Mayuresh to describe it in detail. It turned out that just placing a lighted “clove (long)” in the paan made it “jalta hua paan”. The paanwala also seemed to get this, and obliged us by making jalta hua paan. Folks, those who haven’t had this, do try it out – burnt “clove” gives a different flavour to the pan.

We made a couple of calls and it tuned out that we will have to come again to some STD booth as Mayuresh had to again call up his girl friend back in Mumbai after 10 O Clock. So we walked back to the hotel with me hoping that probably the chill will force Mayuresh to let go of his plans to call his girlfriend.

We got back into the room, and while chatting, we also switched on the tele. Star Movies was showing “Miss Congeniality”. We were dead tired by this time and getting under a blanket was the only thing we could think of. Much sooner than later, Mayuresh asked for the time (this man had left his watch and cellphone at home- seemed he was in real mood to escape), and I knew that we were going out for a walk. Mayuresh pulled me out of the warm bed and we were again loitering on the deserted roads at 10:15 PM looking out for some STD booth. Though there were few of them on out way to the Mall, all were closed and we had to go upto Gandhi Chowk to catch the one open. While Mayuresh made the call, I entered into conversation with some local people there. The topic of conversation was Dhanaulti and other areas nearby which were worth visiting. Soon Mayuresh finished his call and joined us. By this time, one chap got a bit philosophical and described Dhanaulti as “Wasie to wahaan kuch nahin hai, par agar dekho to sab kuch hai”. By now, it was getting pretty chilly, and we wanted to get back to the cozy warmth of the hotel. Once inside the room, Miss Congeniality caught up with us again, and it was well beyond 12 that we dozed off.

I woke up at around 7 in the morning. The sun was shining bright, and everything looked so fresh. Mayuresh was woken up from his deep slumber, and by 7:45, we were off towards Kempty Falls. The road leading to the falls was deserted and the ride was also a bit tough with both the slopes and the climb being pretty steep and narrow at times. The early morning wind chill factor, especially on the sides where there was no sun for good enough stretches, further compounded this. But then the pleasure of riding all alone amidst the enchanting mountains with the only sound being the thump of the bike made the ride a delightful.

The falls were only at a distance of 16 Kms from Mussorie, but the ride took us nearly an hour. It was good to see that there was absolutely no crowd at the falls (only a group of 5 people was present). Before climbing down to the falls, we stooped for a break at a tea stall that was in the process of opening up. After consuming 3 cups of elaichi tea (1 by me and 2 by Mayuresh), we got the directions to the falls and reached there in no time. Again, no crowds there, but then the stalls all around were a big spoilsport. A couple of snaps were taken and we started our climb up, back to what we liked best – the bike and the roads. However, the climb up was not as easy and we stopped to have lemon Soda midway, which was really refreshing. Mayuresh also bought a pair of goggles from here, and we were off again towards Mussorie. On our way back, we couldn’t help feeling elated when we saw sundry vehicles rushing towards the falls. Soon the place will be crowded like hell.

On our way back, we got a very good view of sun shining on snow-capped peaks. The bike was stopped to capture the same in the lens, but then, I am sure it will be nowhere near the splendid view we got.

We were back at the hotel by 10:15 and while Mayuresh took bath, I spent a few moments alone basking in the Sun. By 11, we both were ready to hit the roads again, but then, after our pre-decided stop at “Gulab Vaishno Dhaba”. Mayuresh was a bit dejected to find out that tandoori parathas won’t be available and we’ll be getting only normal tawa parathas. No “garam” daal also now and we had to do with curd and raita. So after a filling brunch, we got back to the ride again. Also, while on our way up to Mussorie, the clutch wire had to be loosened a bit as it was extra tight. Same was also taken care off, and we set off on the road towards Dhanaulti. We passed right through the town and were lucky enough not to get stuck in some jam. Riding on these roads is tough as the roads are pretty narrow with shops on both the sides, the curves are pretty steep and at times it could get pretty scary to see some heavy vehicle hurtling down towards you the next moment you have negotiated the turn. Then again, that’s what gives the excitement of the ride, isn’t it?

The road to Dhanaulti is not in a very good shape. Some curves were pretty narrow and were also in bad condition, maybe due to the rains. The skyline had also turned cloudy and we were afraid that it might rain. Thankfully, it didn’t otherwise it would have been a real difficult ride as we were not carrying any raincoats etc.

Once at Dhanaulti, few enquiries were made to check out the hotels, and after narrowing down on one, we continued our ride. The idea was to visit a temple at around 5 Kms from Dhanaulti (goes by the name of “Surkanda Devi Temple”) and then get back to Dhanaulti. On our way towards the temple, around a Km from Dhanaulti, we spotted a board announcing the presence of some Apple Orchard resort with a kutcha path leading to it. The resort offered cottage and tent accommodation. Unanimously, we decided to explore it. The bike was now doing some off-roading. The path was very narrow, and the slope very steep. It was very careful and slightly slippery riding here. However, even after riding for a Km or so, we couldn’t locate the resort. The stretch was becoming even trickier and we decided to get back to the mettled roads.

Once at the temple, the bike was parked and we began our 2 Km trek to the temple. We were at 6000 feet above sea level, and the temple was at 10000 ft. As expected, the climb was very steep and at one time, Mayuresh said -“Doordarshan kar lete hain aur wapas chalte hain”. But then, that was just a thought and we continued our climb. As we kept going up, the view around kept bettering itself. We took numerous stops en-route to catch our breath, and made it to the top within 40 minutes, and yes, the view from the top was a sight to behold. After paying our obeisance to the deity, we sat outside the mandir on the stairs to spend few quite moments taking in the magnificent view around. As Mayuresh put it – it was a humbling experience. After taking few snaps here, we started our descent down, which we did in just 20 minutes. It was 4 by the clock, Chamba was only 25 Kms from here, and I felt like doing it. However, as I didn’t want to ride in the freezing cold night (it was already getting a bit misty now), the idea was dropped and we went back to Dhanaulti. On our way back, we also checked out GMVN resthouse, but the hotel that we had identified was much better and came at just Rs 50 more than the GMVN resthouse. So, it was back to the hotel and it was by 4:30 PM that we were settled in the comfortable and spacious room.

15 minutes in the room, and we were again ready to venture out, this time on foot for a leisurely walk around the place. Dhanaulti is a picture perfect place with its numerous pine and deodar trees. Thanks to Shekhar and Lalit who advise me to go to Dhanaulti as I was not at all aware of this charming place. Dhanaulti as such is a very small establishment. There are 3 or maybe 4 hotels, and around 10 odd shops alongside the road. In effect, we can call it a quaint little town with its own out of world charm. Hot coffee for me and lemon tea for Mayuresh on the terrace of a restaurant overlooking a sort of park with dense outgrowth of pine trees got back some warmth into us and we again continued our walk around the place. I had to call up Aviral as he had called me up on my cell while we were trekking up to the temple. This place has only one place where you can make STD/ISD calls. The owner is very talkative and a good salesman too, especially for “BDM” Litchi drinks. He was canvassing the drink to each and every person coming down to his place and looking at the empty bottles amassed beside his shop, one could easily guess the quantum of his sales. Few calls were made and we were back to loitering. It was only 5:30 and a heavy mist was closing in which gave the place a peculiar rustic look. Those who are fond of reading classics by Thomas Hardy can actually feel that this place comes quite near to lot of places that he has described in his novels. Magical is the only word I can think of to describe the ambience that we were in right now.

We got back to the hotel for some time, but as expected, couldn’t stay in for long, more so that Mayuresh had to make one more call and we had decided to have food at the place where we had coffee and that too on the terrace (madness…). So off we went, and while Mayuresh got back to his long phone call, I sat all alone in the magical ambience for good 20 minutes when Mayuresh finished his call and we had hot tea again to get back the warmth. Once finished, we went to the restaurant to have food. The plans to have food at the terrace were dropped (I insisted on this as both of us were shivering even within the four walls) and we sat all alone in the cozy little restaurant. Other than our favorite “garam dal fry”, we had a paneer dish too this time. By the time we finished, it was 8:30 and we went back to the hotel to retire for the night. We kept the curtains open to let the moonlight seep into our room while we talked over a lot of things. It must have been more than an hour before we dozed off.

We woke up early in the morning and after having a glass of hot chocolate each, we were on the road back to Dehradun (Sahastradhara actually). The wind chill factor made us ride very slowly, especially on the sides where the mountains were acting as sun-shade. Am sure temperature must have been below 50C. We reached Sahastradahara by 10 AM, and had a light breakfast of tea and bread pakoras besides the waterfall. The place was a big disappointment, more so that I had seen the fall in its pristine glory some 10 years back. Now, the place was also very much crowded due to numerous stalls out there and lots of people were also pouring in by the minute. We got bored of the place soon and decided to start our journey back to Delhi.

The bike was also given some “food” and we were on our ride back। The ride progressed uneventfully till Saharanpur when we realized that we had taken a wrong route and should have gone via Roorkee। The road conditions (if we can call them roads) were pathetic and we had to go through this hell for about 50 Kms and good 2 hours. We saw at least 10 vehicles stranded enroute due to some or the other problem. I was sure that I would have to give my bike a thorough check-up once I was back in Delhi. With all the bones acing, we reached Muzzafarnagar and took a real long break. As we wanted to get back to Delhi before dark, we decided to skip lunch and keep on to the roads. Heavy traffic jams in Muzzafarnagar and Modinagar further delayed our progress and it was not before 7 O Clock that we touched base in Delhi. This was Mayuresh’s first long ride on the bike, and the chap was sporting enough to book the pillion seat for the next one I would go on.

Delhi Dhanaulti: October 22, 2004 – October 24, 2004

The First Ride – by Manav Singh

Ahmedabad – Mumbai – Pune – Mahabaleshwar

24th August 2004 has been a long day for me. Other than the regular daily grind, the evening was spent at one of my colleagues place celebrating the birthday of his 3 year old kid. I get into my flat and have a look at the watch: its 11 O’ clock, and after a delicious lunch and a long day, I want to just hit the sack and sleep off. However, this night is different because tomorrow is the d’day when I have to begin my ride to Goa. Sleep is nowhere near me and I get into packing my bags for the trip. It’s around 12 O’ clock when I am through and deicide to force my self to sleep. The mobile alarm has been set to 5:30 AM…

The alarm buzzed and I was up at the next instant. Finally, the D-day has arrived and I get into final preparations. By 6:30 AM, I am all set. I wake up my flat-mate and ask him to help me tie the knapsack on the Humming Bird. He willingly obliges and by 7 O’ clock the fun is set to begin. I message Gautam who will be joining me from Mumbai and he immediately calls back asking me to wear helmet and ride safely. I also give a ring to my folks back at home in Lucknow and they too repeat the same thing. The next instant, I kick start the bird, idle it for a minute and push off towards Baroda highway. Due to the morning, traffic in the city is light and by about 7:15 I see a board announcing – “Ahmedabad – Baroda expressway – 4 Kms”. Though I had my reservations on two-wheelers being allowed on the expressway, I still decide to take a call and pushed off towards the expressway. However, the guard at the curve towards the expressway politely said no to my bike, and I am back towards hitting NH 8. The traffic is now heavy and it’s around 7:45 by the time I reach NH8. The traffic has now trickled down to a couple of vehicles now and then (there are no lorries due to the ongoing strike) and in no time the bike is smoothly doing 70 Kph. Occasional potholes (some were really elephantine) play spoilsport but I am able to avoid them. It’s around 8:45 that I cross Nadiad. The ride’s going great and there’s no stopping. I intend to make a stop after crossing Vadodara. Soon I am nearing the Anand cross section. Somewhere before the cross section an ST bus overtook me and the next second I saw a huge pothole before me. I slam the breaks hard, the bird slows down but the front wheel takes the plunge into the pothole. However, due to the slow speed, the bird escapes from being “hurt” and the next instant, I am on again. However, from now onwards, I intend to keep a distance of at least 10 meters from any vehicle, especially buses and lorries. Next time, I may not be so lucky. The ride progresses and by around 10 I am nearing Baroda. The trip-meter reading shows 129 Kms.

By now, I am feeling slightly hungry. However, I intend to take a break once I cross Baroda. So the ride continues, and after around 15 minutes, I am again away from habitat and riding in the midst of lush green fields. However, now I am riding a bit slowly and am on the lookout for a dhaba (it seemed that I had left all of them behind and there was none to be found now). By God’s grace, I spot a gathering of trucks at some distance, and yes, a board announces the presence of “Nutan Hotel & Guest House”. The bird was brought to a halt. The tripmeter reading was 153 and the clock showed 10:30. I was pretty happy at my progress and decided to treat myself to aloo paratha and tuar daal (incidentally, this was the only stuff available). While eating, I gave smses to few people informing them of my progress and got back few calls in return.

By 11, I get onto my cruiser again and the ride begins afresh. The potholes were growing bigger and more numerous now. Also, certain patches of the road were in pretty bad shape and it was much more careful riding, more so now that the traffic was also getting slightly heavy, mostly comprising cars and ST buses. At this point of time, the skyline started to turn dark and a few raindrops on my helmet visor made me think of stopping and putting on the raincoat. However, the rain gods were not too willing and neither was I interested in riding wet, and after 5 minutes, the rain-drops simply went away. So it was a win-win situation and the ride progressed. I was able to manage a speed of around 50 – 60 here due to the poor road conditions, but then the pleasant weather and lush green surroundings made riding slow even more enjoyable. In no time I crossed Bharuch with next major establishment being Ankeleshwar. I was happy with my progress and intended to take a short break after Ankeleshwar. The road conditions bettered slightly and I was able to do 70 plus from here onwards. Just before Ankeleshwar, I stopped for a while for a swig of water. I took stock of the situation here and was pleased to note that I will be able to reach Navsari by 1:30. I had initially planned to take lunch break at Navsari and it seemed that I will be able to keep up to that.

The bird was kick started again, and it was like getting back to life. Next destination was Surat, which actually lies at nearly half the distance between Ahmedabad and Mumbai. The road conditions were bettering, the sun was at its full, and it was getting hotter by the moment. I was able to ride at 80 plus from here onwards. The bird also took fancy to the roads now and in no time touched three digits. However, I felt more comfortable driving at 80-85 and so the reins were pulled till we were again doing 80 – 85 kph. After riding for some time, I felt like taking another short break and pulled the bird into a petrol pump. I remembered that my PUC had expired and before getting into Mumbai, I wanted to be perfect as far as all the papers were concerned. Now, a very good example of rules being thrown to the winds was observed while getting the PUC done – no checks, just 20 bucks had to be given to the filling station assistant, and I had the PUC certificate in my hand. On asking whether no check was required, the attendant smiled and told matter of factly that it was not required for petrol vehicles. So, now my bird was officially pronounced non-polluting and I took it back to the roads.

It was uneventful riding till Navsari where I stopped at “Gurukrupa” restaurant for lunch. The clock showed 1:45 PM and I was riding on my schedule. The trip meter reading was 352 Kms.

After a hearty Punjabi lunch (no Gujju food was available..sigh) the ride began afresh at 2:15 PM. As I had a good rest, I wanted to do around 100 Kms before taking another break. However, poor road conditions (at lot of places, construction work was in full swing) and slow moving traffic made the ride difficult and tiring. This continued till Valsad and I had to take a short break just after crossing Valsad.

Once I crossed Valsad, I was delighted to hit the 6 lane road which tapered to 4. The road was riders delight (Mandeep, you were very right about this) and it was in no time that the bird was doing 80 plus. Hey wait, what’s this familiar thump, and yes, there was the reason, another red coloured thunderbird riding besides me. However, the guy was in a mood to race which was a strictly no-no for me. We kept riding side by side for around 15 minutes when the counterpart bird moved out of the highway, and it was riding solo again. The sun was going down and the weather was getting pleasant by the minute. This stretch was turning to be the best till now. I was able to ride at 80 plus without any hitches and soon I crossed Gujarat and entered Maharashtra. The roads became undulating now and it was like riding on waves, especially as you could see dark, beckoning roads till the end of the horizon. At this point, I spotted a nice location where some good snaps were possible. So, the bird was forced to a halt, and couple of photographs were taken, the first one being of the majestic “Humming Bird” standing solo. The photograph adorns the desktop of my notebook pc now. After spending around 15 minutes here and taking in the beautiful scenic surroundings, we got back to the roads. However, the scenic surroundings made it a task to resist stopping and basking in the nature’s glory.

After riding for half an hour (or maybe even less), I couldn’t help stopping again. The bird was given a pose on the side stand, and my, the undulating road with the bird parked on the side was a wonderful sight. The same was captured by the camera to some extent, but take my word; it’s nowhere near the real experience. The signboard here showed Mumbai to be 117 Kms. I wanted to reach the outskirts of Mumbai before dark, so we were back on the roads, and the ride now progressed with average speed of 85 plus. Good road conditions and pleasant breeze made the last leg of the ride really enjoyable. It was around 6:45 that I crossed Virar cross section, stopped for 5 minutes and gave a sms to Gautam. He called back immediately and asked me to come straight to Mahim. So we got back on the road to take a plunge into Mumbai’s city traffic. As it was already dark, it was pretty slow and careful riding now, also now that the road and traffic conditions were worsening. Soon I was negotiating heavy two and four-wheeler traffic and it was really a tiring experience, especially as the road conditions were pathetic. The ride was very tiresome now and I wanted to reach Mahim as fast as possible (was getting a bit fatigued by this time). It was around 8:15 that I took the turn towards Mahim and stopped at the junction which led to Raheja’s hospital (I hope I remember the name right). A call was placed to Gautam and it was decided to meet behind Mahim Church. I was there in 5 minutes. The trip meter showed 567. Gautam reached the place in another 5 minutes and we were off to his place. Gautam’s parents had to leave the same night and we had to go to Dadar station to see them off. So after dropping the rucksack at Gautam’s cosy house, we went straight to Dadar station. Gautam went into the station and joined his sister in seeing his parents off and I and the bird took rest after a really long drive. The feeling of completing first leg of the ride, that too on schedule and without single hitch is really something that cannot be described in words.

Gautam came back at around 9:40 and we pushed off towards some good place to eat, drink and be merry. We stopped at “Culture Curry”, and in we went after duly parking the bird right in front of the main entrance of “Culture Curry” under the watchful eyes of the guard. The place was quite as desired and we began our small celebration by ordering beer and some snacks. Chilled beer was a welcome experience and so was the food and the peaceful ambience.

We were nearly through with our drinks that a gathering started taking place right next to our table. It seemed that a parsi family was celebrating the birthday of someone amongst them. Amongst them was a familiar face, and Gautam identified him in no time – he was Bomman Irani (remember the Principal of medical college in Munnabhai MBBS…). Few Goan songs transformed the tranquil atmosphere into a lively one; however, we were not very comfortable with the transformation so we quickly finished our dinner and pushed off towards Gautam’s place once again.

The day had still something in store for us and as we were negotiating a turn at Shivaji Park crossing, one lunatic from nowhere in particular just rammed into the bike with full force, even though I was able to stop the bike. The left side handle bar took the brunt and the rear view mirror along with the cables got twisted. Still, I was thankful that we got away without any major incident. The protagonist of the incident didn’t even stop and kept on to his run (God knows whom he was running from or after…). The mirror bar was straightened and we again got back to riding. In 10 minutes, we reached our destination. Now we had to do some planning for the second leg of our ride. Gautam was not able to manage leave for Friday and was in a mood to do night driving. However, I was not very comfortable with the idea, especially as I had experienced the road conditions and moreover, Dips had informed that the roads were in a pretty bad shape due to heavy monsoon rains. Still, we left the things open and as I had to attend one meeting tomorrow afternoon and I needed to call it a day.

The morning came and Gautam was in a mood to ride to his office (which was at Worli) on the bird. I decided to accompany him and off we went. One look at the speedometer and I was surprised to see that it wasn’t working. Ditto with the tripmeter. Things needed to be checked out. Once we reached Gautam’s office, we saw that the leg guard was also turned at an angle, and the speedometer cable was hanging out. Efforts to set right the guard didn’t yield any result as it was pretty tight and we were left wondering what might be the degree of injury caused to the person who banged into the bird yesterday night. Whatever, we decided to take the bike to some mechanic in the evening and left it safely parked.

Unfortunately, things didn’t go as I had planned and I had to be in Mumbai for one more day. It seems that Goa is jinxed for me as this was the third time that I had planned for the place and had to cancel it at the last moment. Whatever, I went to Gautam’s office in the evening and we decided to visit couple of our mutual friends. So few calls were placed and it was decided to have dinner at “Howrah Bridge”, a bong restaurant near Church Gate. For the uninitiated, all other three except me were bong and relished fish like anything. So I had to play ball and go along. So off we went to “Howrah Bridge” and spent couple of heavenly hours together. Once Gautam and I got back to home, a new destination was planned (the ride had to continue no?). So we narrowed down on Mahabaleshwar. A quick consultation of the road map, and the route was all set – Mumbai – Lonavala/Khandala – Pune – Panchgani – Mahabaleshwar. So instead of this being a ride besides beaches, it was turning out to be a ride amidst the mountains.

Next day was pretty busy for both of us. Gautam got back at around 7 PM and we decided to at least give the bird a glimpse of the beaches. So off we went to Band Stand, spent around an hour there and later on we rode to Worli sea face. It was by 9 O clock that we decided to head back. As we were returning, suddenly, the indicators, horn and parking light stopped working altogether. My guess was that some connection with the battery had gone loose due to our small mishap day before yesterday at Shivaji Park crossing. However, I wasn’t much bothered as this was a minor issue that could be fixed easily and we continued towards Mahim. Everything was going fine when suddenly the accelerator went free. The bike was brought to a halt and I opened the right side handle bar cap to check out the damage. My fears came true when I saw that the accelerator wire had given away at the very joint to the handle bar. The spare wire was kept at Gautam’s place in Mahim, which was around 5 Kms from the place we were stranded. The first thought was to drag the bird till Mahim (what a stupid idea), but then, the real adventure bug struck. I pulled out the broken wire from the cap, tested it, and my, was I glad when I heard the familiar thump. So from now on, it was riding the bike on wire (ghode ki lagaam jaisa lag raha tha). Initially, it was a bit tough with the wire cutting into the fingers, but it was definitely better than pulling the bird for 5 odd Kms. It was around 10 that we touched base at Mahim. Over chinese dinner, we contemplated whether we need to slightly delay our move tomorrow and get the bike in prime condition. However, I was looking forward to get out of crowded Mumbai early in the morning and we decided to stick to the plan and be on the roads positively by 7.

Needles to say, it felt as if the alarm started humming (ringing would have been a better word, but somehow, I now prefer the word “humming”, any guesses why?) at 6 and by 6:45 we were ready to go. A look at the fuel indicator and we were off to the nearest Bharat Petroleum filling station (please note that the bike was being “pulled” by the wire). Humming bird could not even take Rs 400 worth of petrol and this surprised me as it appeared that I was just going to hit the reserve. Just one minute on the road, and I realized that a few additional things were amiss. Tachometer and fuel indicator were not working. Whatever, once on the road, the ride had to continue. We were on the look-out for some mechanic who could fix the accelerator with the spare cable I was carrying. Lady luck was with us and soon we spotted a place where sundry vehicles like trucks, autos, taxis etc were parked. Gautam had a feeling that we would surely get somebody here who could fix up the wire and right he was. A supposedly truck mechanic agreed to take a look and 10 minutes later and lighter by 10 bucks in our pocket, we were off to Panvel with the accelerator working fine. The traffic was light and soon we were doing 80 plus. Gautam felt like riding and I handed over the reins to him. It was in no time that we crossed Panvel and touched the highway. The plan was to ride till 10 and the take a halt for breakfast. The ride progressed like a dream till we spotted a nice cozy restaurant beside the highway and decided to halt for breakfast. The menu announced availability of all kinds of stuff ranging from butter toast to dosa. However, only thing we were able to get out from the cook was puri bhaji, which was really good and stuffing. With our tummies full, once again we were again on the road. Riding for ten minutes brought us to a milestone which announced that Lonavala was only 8 Kms. We were on the ghats next minute, and after driving for few minutes, we hit that section of the expressway on which two wheelers are allowed. The sky was cloudy and the mountain peaks were covered with mist. The view was absolutely heavenly and we felt like stopping and clicking some photographs. However, “No Stops” on the expressway signs were numerous and we continued to ride. Soon we saw Lonavala intersection and in we went towards Lonavala.

Once in Lonavala, we rode around the town stopping at couple of places. However, we couldn’t get the kind of spectacular view we got to see while driving on the expressway. Later we rode towards Khandala and took a break at Shooting Point. We clicked couple of photographs here, sat there for around half an hour, but then the view was not very enchanting. So we were off again to romancing the roads, as the idea was to reach Mahabaleshwar by evening. The road conditions from here were not very good and it was cautious driving all the way. Around 10 Kms from Pune, we saw couple of bullets parked at a small workshop and a mechanic working on them. I felt like getting the bike checked and see if we could make the non-functional parts working. The trouble was explained to the mechanic and soon he was working on the bird. In 5 minutes the check-up was over, and the doctor announced that the battery was totally out (I was totally bewildered how this could happen) and it will have to be re-charged. The diagnosis fee was 10 bucks only and still a bit surprised, we once again set-off towards Pune. However, before that, Gautam remembered that one of our mutual friends was based at Pune. Next instant, I gave him a ring from Gautam’s cell. The chap (people call him Devender Hooda, a pucca JAT from Harayana) was surprised to hear my voice from a Mumbai number, which doubled when I informed him that I was only 10 Kms from Pune, Gautam was with me and we intended to have lunch with him (obviously, he would have to foot the bill as we were his guests). The chap smsed his location to us and it was well beyond half an hour and 2:30 by the clock that we reached his office and called him downstairs. The bird was parked in his office parking lot and we were off to a nearby restaurant for lunch. However, our Mr. Hooda had entirely different plans and by the time Gautam and I returned from washroom, a pitcher of beer and some really inviting snacks were waiting for us on the table. Tell you what folks, a mug (Reviewed) of beer after a long ride is really refreshing. Further plans were detailed to Hooda and we asked him to arrange a bike for himself and join us. This was good enough for a couple of choicest abuses to be directed towards us of informing him at the last moment. However, Hooda soon started making inquiries for arranging a bike and charting out the route and schedule. Now this is really wonderful – while making inquiries, one of Mr. Hooda’s acquaintances asked him how come the sudden plan to go to Mahabaleshwar, and Mr. Hooda replied in his typical Harayanvi ishtyle, “Arre hamare kuch saathi aayen hain ek “khatarnak” si bike lekar Ahmedabad se, aur wo Mahabaleshwar jaa rahe hain. Ab hamen bhi unke saath jaane ke liye bike leni hai na”. Heard lot of comments about my dear Humming Bird, but “Khatarnak” was something new. Ok chalta hai…

Our sumptuous lunch was over by 3 O’ Clock and by that time Hooda was able to convince us to postpone our ride to Mahabaleshwar for tomorrow and take a night halt in Pune so that he could also join us. In the meanwhile, we could drive down to Sihanghad which was around 35 Kms from Pune, supposedly a nice place and spend the evening there. Gautam also vouched for the place as he had been there for his outbound training during his induction with BASF and the plan was sealed.

After paying a short visit to Mr. Hooda’s office, we were once on the road again. Road conditions were pretty bad, especially after Khadakvasla. However, it was good to see lot of people riding to Sihanghad on variety of two-wheelers. It is around 15 Kms ride on the Ghats to Sihanghad and the roads were pretty narrow. It really gave me sadistic pleasure to hear other two-wheelers and even some four-wheelers groaning while taking the steep climb while the bird was able to do the heights smoothly. We took a number of stopovers en-route and a good number of photographs were clicked.. The weather gods were keeping us in good humour and misty peaks greeted us once we reached the top. The ride took 1.5 hours with all the stops included.

The bike was parked and up we went up into the Sihanghad fort. Soon we were walking in the clouds, and my, it was a bit cold here. So, we decided to have a cup of hot tea. It was around 5:45 that we moved towards “Wind Point”. While walking towards the point, we saw a water body formed due to excessive rains and the camera went click again. At this point of time, a burst of strong winds made the mist move in and soon the waterbody was covered with clouds. The view was really fantastic and I wish I had a handycam to capture it. We were at the wind point for nearly 20 mins, but the mist had moved in and nothing of the valley down was visible. So I had to return without getting a good shoot here, and by the way, we had only few snaps remaining now.

It was around 6 O’ clock that we decided to head back to Pune. From a distance, I saw the bird parked, but something was amiss. There were no saddlebags on it. I ran upto the bike, and my heart missed a beat, both the bags weren’t there. The bags contained spares (clutch wire, chain lock, a tube and air filter) and my raincoat. Nothing much, but still …however, Gautam observed that the bike looked pretty different (in fact, quite clean). I also realized the same and yes it was actually a different bike. My Humming Bird was parked a few feet away with both the saddlebags very much there…phew, what a relief.

A single kick brought the bird back to life and we were off once again. There were couple of stops down the slope to take in the excellent view given by the setting sun, especially as it gave a different hue to the skyline. By 7 O clock we reached Khadakvasla Lake. I took the bike off the road and parked it just beside the water body. The twilight gave the water body a different look altogether, but pardon me, I couldn’t capture it as I had already exhausted all the snaps and was not carrying any extra roll. After spending a good 20 minutes here, and talking over a lot of things, we rode back into the Pune crowd (it felt really bad to be in the crowd after such a serene ride on the ghats). Soon we met Hooda and headed back to his flat. Man, he had already arranged a bike, and was all set for Mahabaleshwar. One more thing, there was a 10 year old kid riding with Hooda, and on seeing us riding an RE, he timidly asked for a ride; and our dear Gautam got off the pillion, and the kid was on the pillion seat in no time. We rode to Hooda’s flat and the kid announced, “Wah, mazza aa gaya, mujhe bullet bahut acchi lagti hai” (folks do we see another rider in making?).

In we went into Hooda’s flat and dumped our luggage in the first corner we could spot. Hooda and I once again went out to do some shopping (I was out of camera roll). We got back at around 9:30 and once again, Mr. Hooda was in a mood to celebrate the evening with Jhonny Walker whisky, which he had carried from duty free while he was returning from Singapore recently. Though I am very selective in drinking and take only white spirits, on Hooda’s insistence, I took a peg, and take my word for it, the stuff was really good. Gautam was looking pretty tired by now and we decided to call it a day. The plan was to get going again by 7 AM. Things were all set for a ride on the ghats.

The morning came, and brought it’s own share of surprises. Gautam was not feeling well, and announced that he won’t be riding further (remember, the bugger was planning to do night riding to Goa). So now it was I and Hooda and the bird, and off we went. A cool breeze was blowing and I felt like taking some jacket as it was a bit chilly. In about 15 minutes, we were on the Satara highway. The roads were not in their best shape, but we were able cruise along at around 60 Kph. We got onto the ghats and went into a pitch dark tunnel. Initially, it felt a bit scary, especially with the headlights of the oncoming traffic dazzling one’s eyes. The roads were wider here we could see few lorries here. It felt great to see them groaning while negotiating the steep curves (sadistic pleasure again) while the bird smoothly rode up the hills. The ghats finished up fast and we were on flat grounds once again. The roads here again were 4 laned but at places, reconstruction was going on. Mahabaleshwar is around 130 Kms from Pune and I wanted to do at least 70 – 80 Kms before we took a break. However, Hooda was not used to riding for long distances and hence, we took at break once we touched 60 Kms at a decent looking restaurant. One more reason for stopping was that I saw another RE parked there. It was around 8:30 AM and we decided to have some breakfast here. Unfortunately, only tea was available and we had no option but to go for it. However, the tea also felt like salted boiled water, so after taking down half a glass of it, we gave up. The cost of boiled water called tea was 10 bucks per cup. Hooda was just going to launch his tirade, but I was in no mood to enter into an argument here and was able to restrain him. Off we went again on the roads, the conditions of which were pretty fine now. We were able to do 80 plus from here. Soon we saw an intersection that announced Mahabaleshwar to be about 52 Kms. In we went and searched again for some hotel to have breakfast, but then again nothing was available. So we decided to have breakfast on the hills itself. Just before the beginning of the Ghats, we again took a break as Hooda felt like having a fag. Mahabaleshwar was 35 Kms from here, and I also wanted the bird to take long look at the Ghats before negotiating them. Hooda had apparently forgotten to carry a matchbox and went to search for it while I took rest lying down beside the bird on a mound. Hooda soon returned emitting smoke from his lips and sat besides me. The best thing about this man is that he adapts to any condition pretty fast and can be a very enjoyable company provided he wants to. Luck was on my side and Hooda was in a mood to make the best of the short break he was getting.

After 10 minutes, we were again on, negotiating the ghats. The good thing was that the roads were a rider’s delight and they were also pretty wide. Negotiating the steep turns and taking in the marvelous view of the valley down was an ultimate experience. This was my first ride on the ghats and I was enjoying every moment of it. The bird was riding smoothly and was enjoying all the attention of the people around. We reached Panchgani by around 10 AM. This place was a bit crowded though the view of the valley down was spectacular. However, we decided to keep going and reach Mahabaleshwar first. Panchagni was left for the return trip. Beyond Panchgani, the traffic was also lighter. We could see lot of small waterfalls and the white water flowing amidst the lush greenery was a welcome sight. We were enjoying every moment of it. There were lot of stops enroute and we kept capturing the nature’s beauty in the lens.

By around 11:30, we reached Mahabaleshwar “town” (read as crossed the bus station). The city looked deserted and wet roads gave inkling that maybe the rain gods had visited the place in the morning. We decided to take a slightly long break here and also get some grub. So the bird was brought to a halt next to a restaurant right in the middle of the town. We were feeling very hungry and were sure to get something here. However, inquires about the stuff available gave us the shock of our life – nothing. Lunch will be available only from 1 PM. We were the only persons in the restaurant and the area outside was also pretty deserted. Enquiries from the people around revealed that it was off-season that was compounded by incessant rains for past 15 days which stopped only a couple of days back. That way, we had been pretty lucky as we didn’t ride wet even for a single minute. Thankfully, tea and coffee were available and I managed to get a pack of coconut biscuits from a nearby general store. While having our “breakfast”, we also gathered some info on the places to see and narrowed down on few points. The Sun was out now and the mist was closing in. It was also getting a bit cold now. Hooda was wearing a windsheater, but I was in a cotton shirt and as I was in the front seat, I was feeling the wind more. But then, I was not carrying my jacket here. So I had to make do with my rain coat jacket which thankfully did the job. The weather had grown pretty misty now and I was afraid that it may rain. However, there wasn’t any but it was very careful riding now on as the roads were wet due to the condensing mist. But then, the misty atmosphere was a welcome delight and cruising in the same felt eternal. Our ride was soon interrupted by few people who asked that whether we had paid the corporation charges for taking this road to some God forsaken point. Obviously, we hadn’t. So we were asked to cough up Rs 10 each for both of us and Rs 30 for the bike (the bird was one-up here too). However, firmly believing in the view that the best things if life come for free, and having actually seen lot of beautiful places for which there was no charge, we made the decision of not to pay a single buck. The next instant, we were on our way back, more so that we were more concerned with the ride than the place.

We were on our way back to Panchgani. While on our way up, we had identified few points which offered a good view of a mountain river flowing across the valley. It was like taking a break after every 10 minute of the ride, taking in the magnificent view of the lush greenery & mist covered Mountain River and capturing whatever we could in the camera.

We touched Panchgani by 1:30. Both of us were feeling pretty hungry by now, and a “Hotel Ravines” looked inviting by its looks and the name too. So in we went straight into the restaurant. Once inside the hotel, we could realize why it was named “Ravines”. This hotel offers a magnificient view of the valley and we sat right next to the window opening into the valley, both of us not wanting to miss the view for even a single moment. The glass doors of the window were closed tight which were a hindrance to the view. So we asked the waiter to open the same. We were informed that the winds always remain heavy at this time of the season so the doors are kept shut. We still wanted to sit with open windows and the waiter obliged by slightly opening the doors, and the next instant we were hit by a blast of ice-cold winds that were making ear-shattering noise. We had to close the windows the very next instant.

After a leisurely lunch, we were back to what we liked best – the ride. The clock showed 2 O’ clock and we wanted to touch Pune by 4. While on our way back, we noticed a mud track leading to a jutty into the valley. It looked lonely and inviting, and the next instant the bird had taken the route. We rode till the point we could without rolling down into the valley. As a matter of fact, the place offered the most magnificent view of the mountains and the valley below. It was here that my “Humming Bird” got the best compliment till now– a family took liking to the bike, and asked for taking a snap with their two little kids on the bike. Obviously, I obliged. While the kid’s mom was taking the photograph, their dad insisted – “Bike ka photo pura aana chahiye, bacchon ki to phir lete rahenge”. Man, this was one of the greatest moments for my Humming Bird.

We were getting late now and got back to the road to Pune. Couple of water breaks en-route and we reached Hooda’s house by 5 PM. Gautam was ready to move and at 5:30, we got on the road to Mumbai. Gautam was riding now and I was on the pillion. We stopped to refuel after 15 minutes and decided to ride without a break till the horizon turned dark. We touched Lonavala at 7 and took a break at the outskirts. It was getting cold here and as I do not prefer riding in the night, I suggested that maybe we should take a break here itself. However, Gautam had to attend office next day, so we shelved that plan and were on the road again by 7:30. At this point, another Thunderbird with Delhi registration overtook us. Whoever was riding that bike, I confess that he was hell of a rider. I tried to keep pace with him, but gave up soon as he was going too fast for my comfort. Still, it once again felt nice to have the company of another RE, though for just a few moments. Just as we got out of the Lonavala, suddenly, the engine went dead. With all kinds of doubts, I brought it to halt. But then, the engine came back to life in one kick and we were on again. We had a magnificent view of the valley below, now that the lights were on. Felt like stopping and taking a snap, but then, we kept going. Riding on the ghats in the night, though for a short distance will remain a memorable experience till I do a longer stretch of this sort. Couple of breaks en-route and we were in Mahim by 11 (got stuck in a Jam near Sion). The best part of the ride was over and tomorrow I ride back to Ahmedabad.

The ride back to Ahmedabad was uneventful except for few issues:
¨ I planned to spend one night in Daman, but once I saw the place, after being to such beautiful places, I couldn’t really tolerate the muddy sea and the smell of the booze. So the plan to take a halt at Daman was shelved and the ride to Ahmedabad continued. Moreover, I had got a call (work had caught up with me) which made it imperative for me to be in Mumbai couple of days later and hence all the more good that I reached Ahmedabad at the earliest.
¨ The ride was much slower now, thanks to the heavy lorry traffic, which I suppose was on the higher side as the strike recently got over,
¨ I rode till11:30 in the night and took a break at Anand at one on my colleague’s place who was really delighted to have me, even though at this hour of the night.

I reached Ahmedbad and my abode next day by 11 AM. Total distance covered was 1903.6 Kms. The ride began on 25th August and got over on 31st August. Taking out the two days which were spent in Mumbai, average distance covered per day works out to 380.6 Kms.

God, when do I get the chance to go on the next ride?

The nostalgic thump – by Jaipreet Joshi

The spirits were high and so were we, naturally so, my wife and I had planned a short & sweet ride to Ajmer & Pushkar. The bag had been stuffed with the barest minimum stuff we would require for the next two days of our itinerary. The Bull was sparkling as I polished it a bit extra that day as a rider messages his charger before the race. Ma & pa thought that we had gone berserk; they kept telling us as to why we were not taking our luxury car for this journey. Confused were they, as much as we were in explaining to them, the ‘Zen of riding’ which only a few of us could comprehend or I should say ‘feel’ it. Kids, who were told to behave at their grandparents home bid us adieu and we thumped off from Delhi in the midst of a perfect early morning with clear skies and pleasant breeze. The Bull was warmed for the 400km ride ahead; the engine was in perfect harmony with the weather. The macho thump and the wind through the helmet visor made a perfect orchestra which we passionately devoured on board. The first halt happened near Amber Fort, Jaipur – a quick cup of tea with a parantha each did a magic in rejuvenating us for the rest of the leg. The road was wide and inviting but I self-restrained from revving beyond 60-70 kph. While we rode I kept thinking what was it that gave us the thrill in riding and not in driving? Was it a mere representation of an idea of being energetic and young, a mere passion, or a show off or what was it? Whatever it might be, it is a great feeling and one has to live it to feel it, so said Charu, my wife! We were nearing Pushkar! The setting was perfect, a narrow by pass from Ajmer with small cluster of houses or ‘deras’ unevenly spread out in the wide expanse of ‘kikar’ and sand.

Children waved at us while running behind the Bull while we reciprocated with smiles and waving hands too. We were away from home, yet everything seemed so dear and nice. The Bull was thumping in the holy town of ‘Pushkar’ – the ‘holy thump’ it was! The echo of the thump against the walled town made several eyes turn at us in a welcoming manner. Pink Floyd, well that was the name of the Hotel where we checked in. The walls were meticulously done with classic bikes and, bikers and varied albums of Pink Floyd – the rock group. The room where we stayed was – ‘the other side of the midnight’ – one of the many Pink Floyd’s albums. It was a time for something to eat and to have a good nap. So we walked up the hotel’s terrace top restaurant. The setting was amazing – floor seating, with rarest of rare posters and curios of Pink Floyd. We were just craving for the grub and hurriedly opted for some Italian stuff. The few minutes wait, for the order was killing. Wow! The food was exotic – really luscious, pasta & lasagnas (hope I spelled it correct). It was beyond our belief to have access to such exotic food in a small town which could give a run for its money to any of big restaurateur in Delhi or Mumbai for that matter. The next day’s dawn happened amidst the thump of the Bull and we groomed off to Ajmer. We paid our homage at Khwaja Saab’s Dargah and steered towards Delhi. We hit Delhi by evening, covering 400kms .The welcome was planned and elaborate, as if we had scaled the Everest, but to be honest the feeling was amazing – that of achievement! The ‘holy thump’ still sounds nostalgic!

Baptism on the road – by Jaipreet Joshi

The bungee net was pulled over the luggage cramped on the panniers, a last minute check of the loading was carried out, everything seemed impeccable. Being a connoisseur of a couple of rides in the past did help us to take plan the itinerary and stuff, but the name Ladakh itself is good enough to send shivers down the spine of most seasoned of the riders. The ride finally precipitated after months of exchanging information from fellow riders of our Mecca – 60 Kph – a motorcycle travel club. Counseling at times, preparations and deliberations all jumbled up to ensemble. The Last Shangri La 2007 (name of the ride), not in absolute terms but because Ladakh was once under the influence of erstwhile Chinese rulers. Since China is better known as Shangri La. When the Chinese retreated this little piece of jewel stayed with India and came to be known as the Last Shangri La in the local parlance. Tees with the Last Shangri La printed on the front were pulled over with pride by the team:
Jaipreet aka Kaptan
Rajdeep aka Raj
Vijay aka Viju
Ashutosh aka (dare we!)
Day 1
My cell phone alarm buzzed uninterruptedly at 3:00 am on 11th Sep 07, I woke up with a certain freshness and zeal. Next thing I did was to give a wake up call to Ashutosh, who thanked in a hoarse voice, must’ve been cramped in his bed then! Charu bid me adieu with a seemingly heavy heart as I was moving away for 14 days, the longest period of voluntary separation after those forced ones we had during the stint with army. I reached the rendezvous – the flyover on the NH-8 near Gurgaon at 5:15 am sharp but kept pacing up and down as neither Ashutosh nor his bike’s headlights made an appearance till 5:45 am when I saw a small figure mounted on an overtly loaded Bullet. We wasted no time in exchanging pleasantries and kicked off to the next rendezvous which was Karnal Bye Pass, where the other fellow riders were to assemble. We were behind scheduled so we revved up at 70 kph and beyond in the fresh morning breeze. To our dismay, the ring road near Azad Pur vegetable market was crisscrossed with rickety trucks which had lined up in a haphazard manner in an endeavor to gain quick access to the ‘mandi’ as soon as its gate opened. There was not a single traffic cop to prevent this mayhem, we somehow snailed ahead but were forced to stall after some time. With some support from local volunteers and others who were in a similar hurry, we waded our way through the jam. But by this time the other two impatient birds had flown further towards the destination. I got a call from Raj that they were heading to Murthal and shall wait for us over breakfast there. The troubles did not seem to seize here, next was the turn of my throttle cable which snapped and gave away. But I decided not to be cowed down and kept riding, pulling the broken cable with my fingers, with slight difficulty though. The unison finally happened near Murthal, where we had grub and the cable got changed in the mean time. The journey resumed soon, though we were 2 hours behind schedule by now. The going was perfect till Ambala when suddenly my bike succumbed to a piston seizure. “What on earth was happening?” I murmured to myself. ‘Babla ustaad’ was where we were directed to in Ambala town. The customers lined up near his workshop and did not mix words to call him a Royal Enfield wizard and true it was. He repaired the bike in a record time and put it back vrooming. Thereafter, there was no stopping till we reached Ropar and halted for the night. Since we were a day behind the schedule and had initially planned to hit Manali the first day, we pulled up our Bulls and had a long day on 12th Aug 07 when we finally reached Manali but not before the last light. It had rained big cats and dogs whole day and made us no different from wet snails working hard on the road, layers of rain suits failed to keep us dry. We were drenched to the hilt but nowhere in our determination did we feel soggy. Even at one point of time, I got stuck in a land slide. The traffic from both sides had come to a grinding halt as big boulders continued to fall amidst heavy down-pour near Mandi. I had everything in my mind but to stop and wait, so I waded through knee deep slush and over the rocks helped by some local drivers who pushed my bike as I kept looking overhead for more rocks to come. God seemed to be happy with me and my stars helped me out of this catch. It was a relief to have a much awaited and snuggy clip of sleep at Hotel Sahil (recommended by Baba Barfanai – one of our biking pals, officially known as Vivek Sharma) at Ropar a.k.a. Roopnagar, though frequent whistles of the passing trains could do nothing to break our composure. A repeat of the morning chores took a couple of minutes and we were back on the road; where we were destined to be. Day 2
The stretch from Roopnagar onwards was simply splendid; the fresh spell of rains had further freshened up the greenery on either side which was a treat to the eyes. Continuous splash of rains did its best to dampen our spirits but fell face down against our grit, till we could see clouds dispersing by late evening. The evening numbness and silence of Manali town was disoriented by our over-heated bulls which needed a respite desperately. The lamps had glowed, which added to the beauty of this mountain town, we checked into a small budget hotel. Dinner followed, which was simple though a very native affair ¬- momos and thukpa. Raj & Viju gave me company but Ashu decided to refrain from so called adventure and had juices to the hilt of his gob. We retired back to our yet another abode and fell like rocks on the bed.
Day 3
As decided we had to acclimatize our bodies to the new heights so we called it a day in the sunny town. All our stuff, shoes, clothes and all had drenched completely, so the next few hours saw us spreading out our stuff in the sun. In fact, I had a severe head-ache, may be due to riding wet for almost 2 days. Raj’s medicine did wonder and I felt better very soon. A bout of complete body massage by local masseurs squeezed the pain out of our aching joints and muscles. We felt much fresher and rejuvenated, ready to take on the next on the itinerary. After a sumptuous breakfast, we decided to get across Rohtang at Khoksar before night. So off we started, log, stock and barrel for Rohtang. After clocking a few kilometers I could see none except Raj, so we decided to take an egg bhurji and tea break but still there was no thump to hear. So we decided to move ahead, the road was hardly there, whatever remained was bad, slippery and slushy piece of track. We worked hard and intercepted the obstacles with some efforts, soon Raj realized that both the tent, his and mine, which he was carrying seem to have been dropped, so a hunt for it began and I decided to wait for him at Marrhi. After a couple of hours Raj came back along with the other two with a long face as he could not trace the stuff he went looking for. We held our heads down but little could now be done. Ashu’s dream of camping by Pangong Tso seemed to fade, but we carried on with same grit. Viju’s bike came to a royal halt 7 kms short of Rotang La and refused to budge. Thanks to the instincts of Ashu, who fiddled with the carburetor and the bike fired. How? We still don’t know! “Wow!” Exclaimed all of us and resumed our already troubled ride. It was 1915 hrs and we were atop Rohtang La, with not a sight of a human but a herd of grazing horses surely gave us company, which I captured through my lenses. With darkness taking its toll, we decided to move ahead and night halt at Khoksar, which was a cool 25 kms away. It was now 2100 hrs and we were hunting for a hide out at Khoksar, suddenly a bright idea came from Ashu who found out a hotel at Sissu, just 12 kms away. Though I was hungry like a pig, we took the call and moved ahead. The road was pretty bad and to add to our woes ‘Pagal Nallah’ had literally turned mad causing a flood like situation on the causeway. With the help of locals we discovered another route through the village, uphill. It was now 2200 hrs and we were squashed too by the time we hit the hotel, had some dal and roti to eat and stretched out in oblivion.
Day 4
It was a bright sunny day with no sight of clouds or rains, which had already caused enough predicament. Ashu got his pannier welded which had ripped off as a result of his impeccable riding skill (little pun intended)! The journey seemed to be taking us on a higher plane every day, the open meadows with smiling faces of locals which almost squeezed their eyes added to the excitement. At Tandi we got our tanks topped up and also the jerry-cans which were empty till now as the next filling station was in Leh, good 365 kms away. The day was long but exciting as we kept riding through the spiraled roads. It was getting noon and we were crossing Jispa, where a pretty young girl cried “Lift”! Someone missed a beat when with a heavy heart she was denied the call. The memoirs of that brief incident still linger in the minds and shall I say hearts of some of us. Lunch break happened at Darcha, which is a picturesque spot by the wide span of river Chandra Bhaga, several shutters opened capturing the elegance and splendor of nature in its truest form. We kept riding that day over – Baralach La at 16,500 ft. Baralach La means big pass where river Chandra & Bhaga originate and form river Chandrabhag at Tandi and assumes the status of Chenab in Doda dist. of J&K. Having ridden through nallas, small villages and gata loops we finally reached Sarchu. Wow! What a splendor of nature one witnesses here with huge meadows and artistic chisel in the rocky mountains, gracefully securing the environs of Sarchu. We decided to camp it out here and hired 2 tents from one Mr. Dorjee for Rs. 200/ each. The night was cold, very very cold, the wind chill made it worst but we stretched in the warm kitchen tent of Dorjee where we met some Israeli and a French guy (though he sounded more like a Briton). The French guy had guzzled couple of beers and had a puff of ‘chilam’ from the very hospitable Israelis who offered the same to us but were reciprocated with a negative. The spirits were high, so a French song of soliloquy was a treat, but only that we could not make a fig out of it. We retired in our tents and kept tossing over on the bed as we could now feel the heat oops cold, or the high altitude effect.
Day 5
The day was bright and sunny but Ashu was on the contrary. I found him puking badly in the wee hours, though he was uncomfortable the previous night too and we had given him our share of medicines which I & Raj had carried but we found him deteriorating. So I rushed him to the nearest Army Medical unit at Sarchu where he was attended by a nursing assistant, in the meantime Raj & Viju made use of the time capturing nature in it prettiest form. Day 5 was presumably the toughest so far, we crossed 3 more passes – Naki La, Lachung La and Tanglang La. Before the quest for Tanglang La began, a request came in from all 3 to take a break at Pang but I pestered them all to pull a bit more and cross over the pass and halt the other side. What I had in the back of my mind was a day by which we were behind the schedule and the need to compensate for that. Whether the decision was right or wrong still hovers in my sub-conscious. To add to all the psychological and physiological misery, my bike got flat 5 kms short of Tanglang La with Raj & Viju nowhere in sight, the only help which was available was in the form of wounded soldier – Ashu. The removal of the wheel and the replacement of the tube followed by pumping air in it at a height of almost 16000+ feet, still sends shivers down my spine to this day. Ashu put in his best in assisting me, without him I probably could have not done it… thanks buddy! After riding 5 kms beyond Pang we were welcomed by the mighty Morre Plains. Scenic and simply awesome, heaven on earth, and I mean it. A mix of sandy hills, rocky vertical cliffs, roads through sand dunes, sleet, wind chill, sun burn all combined into orgasmic beauty, absolutely untouched and unheard of. There was no stopping thereafter till Rumtse where we decided to take a night break. Raj too took a brief break atop Tanglang La for reasons best known to the foursome! Raj now speaks with authority on the medicinal values of wild herbs of Himalayas for the valuable time he spent atop Tanglang La. The spine chilling bends and curves of the road from Tanglang La finally brought us to Rumtse, a small sleepy hamlet amidst the mighty Himalayas with a couple of houses which welcome guests. The night halt was a luxury as we slept on proper wooden beds followed by a brief round of rum in hot water. We also wished Charu (my wife) happy birthday as that was the best we could do sans telephones, cells or any other sort of communication whatsoever. Though we were far away from civilization the feeling of achievement kept us going all through out.
Day 6
The morning breeze was fresh and revitalizing. The homely atmosphere of our guest house was magnetic and we felt like stretching ourselves a bit more. The local kids gathered around us when we tied our luggage and giggled innocently. They seemed to be absolutely untouched by cunning and astuteness as prevalent from where we come from; all in all it was a treat. Viju bought some sweets from a small shop and distributed it amongst crackles of smiles and dimple cheeks. The warm sun elevated our energy levels as we rode our way to Leh. The first sight of civilization happened at Upshi, where we saw scores of defence establishments and personnel. As we rode along the river Indus, which is the origin of our civilisation, we found heading to Karoo, one of the biggest military stations in the country. It was a strange feeling to see such a beautiful terrain smeared with very cosmetic military green huts and barracks, what a pity! But except for feeling bad there was little we could do, so we decided to concentrate on the generous garnish of beauty bestowed upon by nature on Ladakh. Our average riding speeds had now revved upto phenomenal 45-50 kmph which was exhilarating after clocking 12-15 kmph in the past 2 days. Entry to Leh was marked by giant Photangs and Thiksey, majestically standing along the national highway. Though none of us had faint knowledge of the architecture it was a treat to the eyes to see the very pragmatic and exquisite designs undaunted by the sands of time. Soon we were thumping up the Old Leh road, where after brief hunting; we decided to spend the next few days at Hotel Kang-La, which we later realized was actually ‘Kangla’ (impoverished) hotel. The owner, Saleem Bhai, was a peculiar character, a smart young man of about 30 yrs of age who would not know when to stop once he would start yapping. His narration of the horrors of Jozilla Pass still echo in our ears – “Jozilla bahut khatranak hai, thik hai na! Bhaut oonchi pahadi hai, par itni oonchi bhi nahin, thik hai na. Wahan, baap bete ka nahin aur beta baap ka nhin. Agar gir gaya to haddi nahin milta, thik hai na”? ‘Thik hai na’ was a jargon which he would make use of unhindered in all his conversations. The mouth watering helpings of butter chicken, dal, naan and papad made us hog like pigs. It was a treat to devour a delicacy called ‘roti’ after morning to night rounds of noodles or rice. A chilled bottle of beer each, acted like a wonderful appetizer. We retired to our rooms after the lavish extravaganza to soothe our spines and all those bones which moaned. Evening was spent leisurely strolling thought the streets of Leh, curiously picking and appreciating various artifacts exhibited on the road side. The night was a welcome retreat and we gave it the honor it deserved by sleeping till late the next day.
Day 7
The bikes moved fast and furious in the vicinity of Leh without our trademark – luggage, tank bags and rickety tarpaulins. Our bulls never felt so light and energetic riding in the plain roads of Leh. The day was spent visiting Himis Gonpa near Kaaru – the biggest Gonpa in the whole of Ladakh which houses more then 500 monks, Thiksey, Zoravar Fort near the airport (hardly a fort, its more of a decaying stable for famished horses), Shey Palace and host of other not so conspicuous places of interest. A part of the previous day was spent with Juma (the bike wizard) who inspected our bikes and carried out minor repairs/ adjustments etc.
Day 8
After a lavish breakfast at Garden Café, we vroomed our way upto Kardung La. The road was a treat till we were 10 kms short; thereafter our machines were put under terrible grind and test. But, none could hold us back, because this was what we were there for, atop Khardung La. Various rounds of photography, frames after frames till we finally decided to venture into the other side of the pass into the Nubra valley. There was a certain amount of elusiveness and mysticism in the air, something which pulled us faster into the exotic Nubra valley. After getting our permit checked at North Pillu we rode upto Khardung village where we decided to halt for meal – hot magi complimented with a cup of tea. The ride resumed after a 45 minutes of well deserved break. The night halt happened at Hunder – a sleepy hamlet where the sand dunes and Bactrian camels were a sure treat to the eyes. Viju & Raj spent time angling various subjects in the splendid environs.
Day 9
It was time to return and we crossed over the mighty Khardung La standing tall at 18,350 feet and reached back to our Kangla hotel by afternoon. The evening was spent picking up things for our near and dear ones and finally retiring to our rooms.
Day 10
Till the previous night we thought Pangong Tso was ruled out as self and Raj were not feeling sort of well. But as luck would have it, things turned out fine and we finally started off for Pangong Tso. The entire length of journey was interspersed with meetings with hosts of military personnel who offered lot of hospitality on knowing my antecedents, rest of the gang would surely have felt bored for those brief durations of meeting I am sure? If there is a heaven which you could see here on earth then it is Pangong! It was simply mesmerizing and awesome – in fact is a very small word to define Pangong. The icy blue waters which turned green and kept changing colors with passing time, was awe inspiring. The boat ride was a welcome change from the bulls. The jawan from the Corps of Engineers – 235 Regmt took us 6 kms into the river, what a ride it was! Sea gulls quacked at us in amusement and chased us as we returned to the banks of this mighty river at a height of 4403 mtrs, 145 kms long, with as deep as 205 mtrs at some places. This salt water lake at this mammoth height is an absolute wonder of nature, why should it not be include in one of the natural wonders of the world? With heavy hearts we bid adieu to the army detachment who offered us dal, sabzi, rice and rotis. We reached back to Leh by evening and started preparing ourselves for the descent which was to come the next day.
Day 11
Leh to Drass was a long ride. We crossed Kargil, a beautiful town set along the river bustling with activities. The left over bunkers and fire walls reminded us of Operation Vijay in Kargil sector where our troops vehemently threw out the adversaries from our motherland. We reached Drass, 2nd coldest inhabited place in the world by night. Raj was offered a stay in the army camp but we decided against the same considering the liberty we would have to lose. So we checked in hotel Hotel Hill View and retired to freshen ourselves for the next day.
Day 12
Crossing Jozilla was a little tough (as guided by Salim Bhai) due to the bad road and slippery descent into Sonamarg. We had a nice hot cup of tea and halwa at a small time dhaba in the picturesque town of Sonamarg – it was awesome, but the only grudge was that we could not enjoy its beauty beyond our breakfast. Our machines had also gotten a well-deserved halt and we were thumping again on the roads. Reaching Srinagar happened without anyone realizing so as the average riding speed was 60kph. Viju was to stay at Srinagar for a couple of day as he had his train from Jammu on the 28th. So we hugged him and took leave from him after a lunch near the famous Dal Lake. Infact, Srinagar is no parallel to the beauty of Ladakh and surely Pangong beats Dal by 100%, so there was no inkling to see Srinagar. By 1900 hrs we were at Ramban, a small place 35 kms ahead of Banihal where we decided to night halt.
Day 13
Now it was three of us, and the volume of thump had obviously mellowed down a bit. Now everybody wanted to be home as quickly as possibly, there was no attraction left in the ride now after having crossed over J&K. We kept riding and finally reached Ludhiana. Ashu caught us a little later as his bike had gone bad and he had stopped near Udhampur for repairs. A hot water bath was a treat to the tired frame and after a lavish dinner we retired to our beds with dreams of being in the arms of our beloveds.
Day 14
We kicked off from Ludhina at 0830 hrs and after cruising comfortably re-entered the environs of Delhi at around 2:00 pm. It was back to madness but this is where we belong. The ride was amazing and nothing short of being superbly awesome. Though I have ridden before this too, the real baptism into riding happened during this ride to Ladakh. The enlightenment which ushered on to me after this nostalgic ride may be bulleted as:
~ If you love riding – ride through Ladkah, there can’t be a more pious baptism as a rider than this.
~ No plan is best plan – though prepare for all eventualities meticulously.
~ Welcome COPs – Change of Plans, because in hills that is one thing which works.
~ Last but not the hills – ride without inhibitions, ride tough!

Memoirs of a Wandering Nomad – Part 3 – By Shreekant Vijaykar

Here’s to the third absolutely crazy madcap bike ride of the three Nomads. This time, the distance is the greatest ever. The terrain we scaled is equally great in beauty and the fun, unimaginable…

There’s nothing like unplanned trips. Correction, there’s nothing like trips planned for one thing and which materialize into something totally different.

This is about a trip planned to Mussoorie, which went right out of the window the night before, because of one bright idea. The idea is that we’ll go to Chail (near Shimla) rather than Mussoorie. Reason? Just like that. So we leave Noida Saturday morning 17 August 2002, 7:15am. The weather is pleasant, rather sunny. We travel 30-odd km through Delhi, passing Rajghat, Red Fort and ISBT. We come out of Delhi. The road turns to the right and slowly the signs of the metropolis fade into the background. We cross Sonipat (50 km) and then Panipat (another 50 km). Only a Maratha knows what happens to him with the mention of the word “Panipat”. The Panipat of the actual world is however too crowded and urbanized to be even compared with the Panipat of Imagination. I keep the Panipat of Imagination untouched and move on.

The road to Chandigarh (NH-1) is huge, sometimes three lanes wide. There are lush green fields on both sides almost all throughout. The road is marked with signs of Chow Devi Lal and slogans of Chautala. I hardly had any sleep and the roads with their wide and straight stretches are highly soporific. I find it hard to keep my eyes open. Ambala is 200 km from Delhi. We notice the huge railway yard to the left of the road and the Ambala Cantt to the right. The road gets narrower, has tall trees on both sides and has some character (i.e. some curves!). It is customary that a bee stings Imran every time we go biking. This time it’s even better as two bees bite him at the same time. He screams with agony. We halt at Verka milk outlet, have flavoured milk and ice creams. Imran keeps modulating the screams. We are now 15 km away from Chandigarh. We turn right for Shimla, planning to visit Chandigarh while coming back. We halt at a dhaba on the outskirts of Chandigarh. Bad food, but anything’s good for a hungry stomach. The road takes a slight inclination and we reach Kalka, the base of Shimla hills. The main road through Kalka market is steep uphill and by the time we come out on the other side of Kalka; we see a deep green wall of mountains facing us. The fog on the hilltops makes them look more towering.

The journey here on is beyond description, with the smooth blue road zigzagging upwards and deep valleys on both sides. We pass through Parvanu, a small industrial town. Further up, we see the base of the mountain trolley called Timber Trail. 1.5 hrs on this road and we reach Khandaghat. We leave the main road that goes to Shimla, and take the right turn to Chail. The road gets narrower and more winding. Chail is 37 km from here and the road is simply superb. It winds its way through cedar forests and the chill in the weather suddenly jumps on us, like a white kitten hiding behind a door. Some 2.5 km before Chail, I notice that Imran’s rear tyre is flattened. Thankfully, there is a hotel on the other side of the road, on one side of the valley. The owner of the hotel is a kind old man. He calls up a mechanic in Chail market to find out if the shops are open. We remove the tyre with one collective effort and Imran and Lalit go to the market to get the puncture undone.

I sit in the veranda facing the valley with the hotel owner, with a cup of hot tea in one hand and my sketchbook in the other. The hotel owner, G B Verma, is a retired army chap and has a lot of stories up his sleeves. We talk about life, universe and everything else. He offers me some apples plucked from his own apple orchids. I invite him to Delhi. He smiles and declines. Says he is better off away from the clamour of the metro. Once the two are back, we resume our journey to Chail. It is 5pm by now and positively chilly. There needs alteration to our initial plans of reaching Kufri by evening. Anyway, Chail is so beautiful that it is difficult to let it go behind so easily. Also, Verma has told me that the road to Kufri is very beautiful and if we scale it at night, we’ll lose the fun. We decide to spend the time in Chail. Wise decision in retrospect.

There is a steep uphill road starting from the main mall of Chail and going up in deep green forest, which has a good “road closed” board placed at its beginning. But the sight of the road is so stunning that we cannot resist ourselves and push our machines through the opening. This is perhaps the steepest our bikes have ever scaled. Once on top, we find ourselves near the 75-year old Military school of Chail. Some further steepness takes us to the world’s highest cricket ground (7500 ft). The ground is Military area and properly fenced. But you can see the ground through the barbed door. There is a football ground and a basketball court too. There are a few people playing football and few dogs playing their usual games. We travel back down to the market and then to the famous palace of Chail. It is getting dark by now. There are quite a few visitors strolling the lawns of the palace. The palace is well lit, since it is quite dark by now and fog is setting in the area. The managers mistake us for NRIs, with our bikes and trekking sacks. They are very sorry that it is a busy weekend and they do not have any rooms available. We make sorry faces, make them feel miserable and then walk out, trying hard not to burst out laughing. The tariffs are in the range of Rs. 4000/- per room.

We climb down once again to the market, hunt for a hotel, get a room for Rs. 250/- (this is called really climbing down from the palace!) and then have grub at a decent place and hit the sack. The next I know is Imran calling out my name, for it is 7:30am in the morning. I am positively annoyed at Imran for waking me up so early, but keeping in mind the long day ahead, I know he’s right. So we pack our stuff and get out of the room. The hotel owner is busy in his daily pooja and does not notice us taking our bikes out. I wait for him to finish his pooja and then ask him what he would have done if I had gone off without paying. He smiles and asks me, “How much can you take from me?”. I feel better about life already. I pay him happily and wish him well.

The road from Chail to Kufri (26 km) is heavenly. The cedars are tall and huge. The road is old and unattended. It has patches all over and looks like an old ragged mattress. There is very little conversation among us, for the scenery and the bad road keep us sufficiently pre-occupied. I am filled with unbounded joy and peace. We come across a huge resort at Shilonbagh. We plan to have tea and park our bikes in the porche. The place has a full-fledged buffet breakfast and the managers are ill at ease having three vagabonds asking just for tea. We curse them and they give their well-practiced sugar-coated smiles (meant specially for irate customers). We, in turn, have good fun at nobody’s expense. A five-star hotel that does not even have tea! Bah! (It is a different story that the breakfast, inclusive of tea, along with juices, omelettes and what not, is for 200 bucks).

We near Kufri, just before Kufri, we pass through a wildlife park. The road follows the raised & barbed fences of the park. This part is at 8500 ft, the highest motorable road in this region. I have a strange pressing feeling in my ears. Soon we start the downhill and I feel better. At Kufri, we halt near a small joint, order omelettes and tea. The omelettes take long, but are very good. The bread is especially soft. And the weather is just right for tea. We eat silently sitting on the bikes, facing a valley and the apple orchids in it. The downhill road to Shimla is wider than the road we’ve been travelling since morning. Kufri to Shimla is 16 km and the road is quite pleasant. It scales one mountain range to another and we see the entire loop we’ve covered since yesterday. The first sight of Shimla is obscene and unattractive. Shimla is a city. That too, it is the state capital. So it is as filthy and populated as any other. Only it is built on hills, and so the roads are inclined. There is hardly anything beautiful in Shimla (apart from the native girls, of course). So we speed through the city, drop the idea of visiting the mall as vehicles are not allowed and take the road back to Khandaghat. This road is wide, yet winding. It is fun riding. It is also the scariest part, since the traffic is quite thick here. We reach Khandaghat by 12:30pm and resume the road to Kalka and then Chandigarh.

We reach Chandigarh by 2:30pm. We have a tiny rendezvous with the Chandigarh traffic police. The friendly chat mainly revolves around the fact that we had broken a signal and gone the wrong way of the road. We pose as college students, bail out our sad story and somehow come out of the conversation. No monetary loss, thankfully. We celebrate the success of the trip with some coffee in the Chandigarh Barista. There is hardly any reason for me to mention about the Chandigarh girls, for their fame is well spread. We leave Chandigarh by 3:30pm, with our minds and bodies rejuvenated. Some 10 km before Ambala, we get caught in a torrential rain. The visibility is next to nil and our bikes shake with the heavy wind. We are drenched and as wet as one can be. We ride cautiously at 15-20 kmph. With Ambala behind, the furry of the rain subsides. Another 10-15 mins and the rain stops completely. We have a new problem though… the wind. I am pretty sure by now that all three of us are going to go down with pneumonia by the time we reach Delhi.

We halt at a dhaba where I change into some warm clothes. We have “garam garam” pakodas, daal makhani, rotis and chai. Life is much better now. Dusk sets in soon as we resume our journey. The road, as mentioned before, is wide and straight and therefore rather boring. It is the last lapse that is most tiring in any journey. It is so here too. Kurukshetra – Karnal – Panipat – Sonipat… Problem.

Just after Sonipat, some 30 km before Delhi, Imran’s bike does a jigg at 80 kmph in the middle of the road. Our souls come out of our bodies for a moment and then feeling the cold get back inside. The rear tube burst. We were lucky to find a mechanic just across the road. Another half an hour goes. We reach Noida by 11:30pm on Sunday 18 August 2002, safe and in one piece each. People ask me what our next plans are. They are surely joking. Right now, I just want to sleep… sleep like there is no tomorrow. But I also know that by the time the next weekend comes, the Northern wind will blow once again in our ears and we will be once again out on the roads.

– Shreekant