Mystical, Magical Mukteshwar – by Hirak Dutta

“A paradise for bird watchers, Mukteshwar is a sanctuary to over 400 species of birds.”
Delhi’s sweltering heat is devil’s curse. Blame it on anyone, but believe me, the term ‘global warming’ is a passé in so far as North India (barring the hills) is concerned. I just coined this new terminology, it’s ‘Global Boiling’. Somewhere down the line, we all are to be blamed for this phenomenon. But we all have shortcuts to skip the ‘boiling’ – air-conditioned offices, cars, and homes and if not that, for bikers like us, a short weekend trip to nestle in the laps of the mighty Himalayas. This weekend ride came after a long, long while and in the best of company of Shekhar Patil, Pravin Rao, Saurav Singh and myself. After a long while I felt that zest (thank God for the time!) to break free from the chaos of the cubicle at work and the ennui of family melodramas. Thank God, for freedom. Thank God, again, for making me a biker! On 6th May 2006, Saturday, I was at the rendezvous at the appointed hour. At 3.30am, NH-24 IBP petrol bunk near Akshardham Bridge was abuzz with activities. I saw a morning walker, a Sikh gentleman, about 60 plus – walking erect in a tee and a short and a red sneaker with a short stick (looked like a baton). I saw Sahara Channel reporters sipping a cup of tea there. And I saw four guys snoring their time away on a single bedsheet on the footpath; their cycle-rickshaws parked besides them narrated to me their pain. It is just the beginning of another hard day before them, and here I was, escaping ‘Global Boiling’ syndrome. What a pity, but I guess, that’s what life is all about. Couple of phone calls to and fro and at about 4.15 am arrived Sobby aka Saurabh and Pravo aka Praveen Rao. They filled their tanks at the pump and we headed towards Gajraula’s most famous Giani selling paranthas. Shekhar joined us at Ghaziabad. And we were on our way to Mukteshwar. The ride to Mukteshwar was practically eventless; no hold on one second, it was actually. We took nearly 13 hours to complete the journey which should have been done in 6-7 hours. But slow and steady wins the race, right! You bet! Let me tell you some things about Mukteshwar before I tell you what we all did there. Mukteshwar gained prominence by the establishment of the Indian Veterinary Research Institute in 1898, which owns much of the land around the little town, including acres of dense virgin forest. We were told by the local PWD caretaker that the forests are home to tiger, leopard, Himalayan black bear, wild boar, langur, rhesus monkeys, deer, and a host of bird species. We doubted the authenticity of this guy’s statement but for the birds. The morning raga of so many mellifluous voices had put the local rooster at shame. Well maybe not, I guess we ate him up the night before! Didn’t we, guys? From the PWD guesthouse, one can get a direct glimpse of the range of peaks including Neelkantha (Blue-throated Shiva, 6596 m), Nandaghunti (the Veil of the Goddess, 6310 m), Trishul (the Trident of Shiva, 7120 m), Nandadevi (Goddess of Bliss, 7817 m), and the majestic Panchhuli peaks provided the skies are clear. We weren’t lucky. Situated at an altitude of 2286 meters on Bhowali Devidhura Road, Mukteshwar is a small hill station covered with a thick wooded forest and offers a majestic view of the Himalayas. Still a virgin hill station by many counts, tourists seldom venture here but unfortunately, those who do have literally turned some good forest parts into a garbage dump. I trekked inside the forest early in the morning and was welcomed by the singing birds nesting on treetops, soothing misty air which kissed my body and the litter of mineral water bottles, tetra packs, beer and whisky bottles, and plastic glasses which lay scattered almost everywhere. Near Mukteshwar is a stone hole of Chauli Ki Jali, dedicated to Lord Shiva. The legend has it that, if a woman who is unable to conceive passes through this tiny hole on the rocks, she will definitely gain pregnancy. But hey, hold on, don’t take it on face value, for on the other side of the hole is a freefall of more than 1200 feet! The Chauli Ki Jali, from a distance looked like a remarkable sperm head though. Some esoteric significance (or should I say coincidence) here! The other places to see at Mukteshwar are the Mukteshwar Mahadev temple, a quaint little British bungalow now converted into a post office, some very old and well maintained cottages now converted into tourist hotels, but its not what you get to see here. The abundance of freedom, indolence, respite and peace Mukteshwar offers is a non-peril. It was in Mukteshwar that Jim Corbett came to kill a man-eating ‘bagh’ but fell in love with the hill station instead. Mesmerizing, right? Rabindranath Tagore composed his Geetanjali here which also won him the Nobel Prize for Literature. This was the first Nobel Prize to be given to an Asian! Inspiring and well worth visiting now, I guess! A paradise for bird watchers, Mukteshwar is a sanctuary to over 400 species of birds. Unfortunately, we had just 16 hours to pitch the tents, cook food, have drinks while enjoying the romantic whiffs of fresh air before hitting the NH and be back in 44.5 degrees Celsius from a mere 15 degrees Celsius. I could only see some variants of the hill sparrows, the differently textured babblers, heard the ‘Koyal’ sing and spotted just one unmistakable crow! Inside the forest floor, there was a fancy dress competition amongst butterflies. There was a riot of colors as they draped the green; this mesmerizing moment couldn’t be captured by me on camera. As I left the forest floor, I knew soon there would be many more of them, for their season has just commenced. I never felt so good after a long time and wished I had more time at hand. The gilded cages of our office spaces beckoned and we slowly bade adieu to Mukteshwar. I know, like many other places that I have visited, I would be back here again. The next time will be for sloth and pure relaxation and no hurrying at all. Everyone did their bit to make these 16 hours their most memorable – no please deduct 6 hours of sleep – Sobby continued his filming saga, never saw Praveen perform antics before like he did it here at Mukteshwar and Shekhar was mesmerized by his adopted child – a doggy – which was later chased off by two other doggies as Shekhar rushed to beat their behinds. Oh emotion, where in the grey cells is thy residence? (Sorry Vijayaji, this breaking news was to happen sometimes, it just came early). En route home, two more doggies dropped by to say hello to him – one looked like the ‘adopted child’s’ mama (maternal uncle) and another a distant cousin! Only the biker community understands the ‘fun-is-a-stress-reliever’ concept on long rides. Leaving what you love is always painful and pained we all were as we sped down towards Delhi. We took a shortcut to Bhimtal, taking a village dirt track, saved about 15 kms and the ride was well worth it. We drove down the Himalayas and the weather God told us what to expect in Delhi. At 1am on Monday the 9th of May 2006, we reached home, tired and broken, but not shaken. God, when will it be a four-day office week?

The 1000 KMs Ride – By Gaurav Jani

Day –1 Bombay to Baroda I started at 11pm from house to cover 370-380 Kms। To Baroda from where the next day I was to the 1,000 Km ride। I had wrote to many people, all techies to advice me about the do’s and don’ts about this ride and no one had the time to answer, what was most surprising and annoying was some of them were people from Royal Enfield। I decided to do the ride regardless। After crossing the Bombay traffic and reaching the highway, I kept a constant speed of 85 Kms। In hot weather just to see how the bike would react to it in a longer run। The bike ran fine for 45 minutes and than gurrrrr, it lost power and died. I touched the crank for heat and it was not that hot for the bike to stop. Same problem occurred when I was doing high speeds while doing test runs in night for this ride. The problem was petrol filter, it was not sending enough petrol to the carb. I had removed that filter and put a huge maruti esteem petrol filter which used to get so heavy when filled with petrol that it had to be tied to the chassis. Not so technically sound with bullets I waited for sometime and started the bike, it came to life but was not performing well, nevertheless I started riding it but had to reduce the speed. After riding 40 odd kms. The bike was again running well, I entered Gujarat from where the roads get pathetic so you got to be a moron to speed on this roads. Bombay- Ahmedabad being the busiest highway in whole Asia traffic is endless. I took the first stop at Vapi from where I had to call Mandeep, our first member from Gujarat who was meeting me at Valsad. Valsad was another 25 Kms. so started ahead to take rest while chatting up with Mandep. The traffic was bad and the road conditions a shame. Reached Valsad and waited for Mandeep to come and he arrived a few minutes after on his 500 c.c. Chatted him for a while when I noticed major scars on his right elbow. He had multiple fractures when he had a flat in his front wheel while riding to give his exams, he lost one and half year to get the whole thing rectified and still has metal plates in his elbows. It was perfect, the next day I was to do 1,000 Kms. and this was the perfect time to see what carelessness can do to you. Bid goodbye to Mandeep and moved ahead, moved slowly and steadily when after a few hours the same problem occurred and it was getting dark. I started the bike and again after a few kilometers the bike died. I pulled up to a dhaba and cleaned the spark plug and carb but the problem kept on occurring. To rectify the problem I entered Bharuch City and went to P.U & Co. Enfield’s dealers there but they had closed their workshop as it was already past eight. The dealers recognized me from my picture in RE’s dealer magazine The Beat. He told me about kalubhai, a bullet mechanic who loved working in night. I made my way through the city traffic and finally reached Kaubhai’s garage and indeed he was working on a bullet under tong lights in his big workshop. He immediately knew what the problem was, actually two. The battery was overcharged so the bike would loose ignition on high speed, the second dirt had blocked the flow of petrol in the carb. Kalubhai also modify bullets, he took me to a bullet which he modified and told me to start it, upon doing so, it made one of the sweetest sounds, he makes mufflers which have an incredible sound. You have to listen to it to believe me. He didn’t charge me anything, very nice guy and I left for Baroda. Reached Baroda at 10.30 and checked in Royal guesthouse just opposite to the station for Rs. 65 for a single room. Called Vivek and Subbu, told them I would start at 4 a.m in the morning when the owner told me he will not wake me up and I would have to wake up on my own at 3 a.m. I decided to change the place when he told me he would give me an alarm clock, which will wake me up. Went out to a stall and had some eggs and hit the bed at 11 p.m. after 12 hours of riding .
Day-2 Baroda to Delhi The alarm rang, it seemed like I had just fallen off to sleep, checked the time in my watch and it was 2 a।m. and it was showing 4 a.m in the alarm clock, I trusted my watch and went back to sleep. By miracle I woke up again and looked at my watch, it was 4 a.m sharp. Once I sleep than it is history, it was definitely a miracle. I hastily packed everything and wore lots of warm clothing and woke the owner up. He opened the shutters of the hotel, while I called up Vivek and Subbu at 4.45 and woke the poor guys up to inform them that I was about to start. Packed up all my bags and hope that the bike would co-operate with me this day and started at 5 a.m.Speedo reading – 29,470 Sped on the empty street of Baroda and was on NH- 8 after 12 Kms. from there another 36 Kms to Vasad toll point from where I had to take left for Delhi via Modasa. I missed the left turn and went ahead a few kilometers towards Ahmedabad, returned back and saw no signboard, asked some tuck drivers and they showed me the way. The roads were fairly good with very less traffic, which meant that I could ride with my visor down in that chilling cold weather. The route doesn’t have any sign boards. So on every intersection I had to turn back and ask for directions. I was not riding above 80-85 kph as there were two options to complete this ride. Either ride very fast and take longer and frequent breaks for the bike to cool down or ride at 70-80 and take less breaks with lesser time. I choose the second option as I found it more safer for the bike, I didn’t want anything going wrong with my bike, I love this bike, seen a lot of places from it’s saddle and 1,000 Kms was not the priority, my bike was. Riding for long periods on good speeds was only possible in the morning as the bike wouldn’t heat up. I was maintaining 80-85, got some very bad patches of road, trucks coming on high beam would blind me as the visor and my glasses would scatter the light. The clod came to more tolerable limits after sunrise but nevertheless it was still very cold. Took the first fuel stop after 210 Kms. at Shamlaji, topped up 2T and engine oil and moved ahead. Shamlaji is on the Gujarat- Rajasthan border. After a few kilometers I entered Rajasthan from here the intensity of the traffic increased. Road widening work is also going on, that meant edges of the tar road don’t have a small strip of dirt track but a four feet deep trench which is dug up to lay the foundation for the new road. Lot of trucks carrying stones and other building material were moving at very slow speeds and there was no way to overtake them so my speed reduced drastically here and the bike was also heating up as it was moving on lower gears and the ghats didn’t help the cause either. After crossing the ghats at 9 a.m after four hours and 240 Kms I took my first stop. It was a village Bijhwada I think, called up Subbu and Vivek, subbu’s mobile kept on ringing, thankfully Vivek answered the call and I registered my status to him. Had a light breakfast of poha and tea and after a 15-minute break was riding again. The sun was out but the air was still very cold so gloves and warm clothing was still on and the cold from the morning was till in the bones, it is still giving me Goosebumps while writing about it . The traffic was much less from here onwards, I reduced the speed o 70- 75kph to avoid overheating. After riding continuously for two hours, bike started to how signs of fatigue, it had to it had done a run of 6 hours with only a 15 minute break. I stopped immediately before Udaipur s I didn’t want to aggravate the situation as there was another 600 odd kilometers to be done. Another 15 minutes break an the bike was running fine, crossed Nathdwara, Udaipur where I got some traffic and finally made it to Bhim, covering 500 Kms in 8 and half hours. where I took a fuel stop. Called up Subbu and Vivek, this time did finally mange to talk to Subbu. During the 20 minute stop I would hardly get time to relax as most of he time would go in filling up gas topping 2T checking the bike, topping Engine Oil, cleaning the visor, glasses. It was strange how difficult it was to cross 20 minutes on the bike and they flew by in one second once you are off the bike. After doing 50 Kms. from Bhim, my concentration was not there. I didn’t feel like speeding, it took me around one hour to finally realize that I had to put a rush on things otherwise I would not be able to complete the 1,000 Kms. My speed drastically fell here, I only did 50 Kms. in that hour. Once I started speeding Ajmer happened and suddenly from nowhere hundreds of trucks came, being a two lane road there was no way to overtake and the dirt track besides the road had sand so steering the bike was a problem. It was getting irritating, was following the trucks at 40-45kph, had no other choice and a train junction took another 10 minutes. Here I had totally lost it, I didn’t know where I was, what I was doing. Jut to get out of the groove I started speeding and had couple of close calls here. The sense of judgment was not there, overlooking that I speed more and than the bike gave up, gurrrrrrrr happened and I had to pull over, immediately cleaned the spark plug and left the lights and indicator on for the battery to decharge. Rode for a few kilometers and stopped at a dhaba to wash my face and recompose my self as there was another 300 Kms to be done. Here I fell into a cot and five minutes went past in a zip, was feeling fresh after a tea and started again. Bike was not running well, but decided to have a look after I would cross the traffic in Jaipur. After Jaipur I just removed the petrol filter and pulled another pipe straight from the tank to the carb. I had banked upon the four-lane road from Jaipur to Delhi where I would do the maximum speed, but the bike and me were not in a good shape by than an more 250 Kms to go. But the bypass before the four-lane expressway had a flip side to it, the 38-km bypass to reach it was the worst patch of road I had got until now. The road was beyond worse or it seemed like in that state. The tar had melted and taken the form of vertical speed breakers, trucks were countless and tons of dust. It took me more than one hour to complete the stretch, but it helped me in one way, my concentration was back and all the fatigue was gone after seeing all those trucks with high beams coming towards u. Now I was determined to complete the ride no matter what. Reached the highway and tanked up for the last time, 210 Kms from Delhi. Here I opened up the throttle again to 80-85, it was again getting chilly but not as much as mornings, I guess the dew factor must be responsible for that. After one hour and 140 Kms from Delhi I called up Vivek and Subbu, where I got words of encouragement from both to complete the ride safely. That helped, thanks guys. The straight road has its advantages and disadvantages. You can speed but continuously siting on the bike and doing nothing gets u in a trance. Here I felt a very funny feeling that the seat of the bike was shifting right and was about to fall off, I kept checking the seat and it was fixed to the bike, I guess it was the mind playing games. It looks funny now but it wasn’t when there was no concentration and I was riding at 80kph. Around 60kms before Delhi, called up Vivek again and told him not to come and pick me up, Vivek told me where I could find hotels. From there I started riding slowly for the last leg of the trip, traffic increased as Delhi was coming near. After 40 Kms. I entered Delhi and saw the hotels Vivek told me about. Now a funny thing happened, I had entered Delhi but was short by 17 Kms. So I rode around in Delhi for the rest of the distance, went to Vasant Vihar I think, now Delhi has a lot to learn regarding traffic rules. So after riding for 18 and half-hours the magic figure of 1,000 Kms was attained. All the fatigue went on seeing the Speedo on 30,470. All the credit goes to the bike, I don’t know how much time Rajdhani takes from Baroda to Delhi, but it doesn’t get trucks coming from opposite end and three motormen are changed for the entire journey, so I think I can take little credit in that. I have to thank all of you for all the support you have given, THANK YOU GUYS. More to come in second part, that is after reaching Delhi, but I am tired now of typing this and I guess you all are also tired after reading this. Thanks & Regards Gaurav

My Trip to LeH – by Gaurav Dhupar

Rides or no rides a Royal Enfield a.k.a BULLET is the best friend one can ever have on the lonely roads, in the crowded streets. It makes you feel that you are always with a buddy with whom you can share your pains, your agony, your distress, and your happiness. It never lets you be gloomy, with a simple twist of the throttle it takes you to the wondrous world of speed and pumps in the adrenal.

What do you want from a friend, a shoulder to lean on, and the promise of the world where you are who you are, no inhibitions, no dilutions. “Bull” gets you more than that; it gives you the experience that takes care of the mundane hap hazards of the lay world. It makes you the king of the moment. You have no pain , no quality scores , no targets, nothing to beat, just your own craving for adventure, your desire for action and your spirit to do what you really want to do .

My discovery started one year ago when I met my friend a 2005 thunderbird now rechristened to Dirty (like me…). It was just love at first sight, no other machine promised me so much…I had been with this dream of traveling to places on a two wheeler what best then to do it on the legend Royal Enfield. I wanted some this good looking and some thing legendry and I zeroed down to a thunderbird.

This story begins with my ride to LEH on my BULL two months ago in July. Finding the date and fixing it was a pain in the A@@ as everyone had different days offs and now one wanted to sacrifice on the bonus with missing on one or two days. So we selected July 21, 2006.

Beasts (bullets) were mended and prepared for the LONG journey to the Himalayan kingdom Little Tibet (LEH). We were four with three Beasts. Saurabh and Probir were on there second ride to LEH(so we had experience riders) having said that we were pretty new riders me and Frank.

However we were hell raisers as know by our fellow bikers and we wanted to stamp it by gliding our ways to Manali in one day…..oh! Boy it was an easy task for a regular rider but for novice like us it was tough… we were determined to do it and we actually did it with couple of pit stops and sutta breaks….

The actual learning things were the two accidents what we had on the way to Manali. The first one was a near death experience and the second one a side effect of heavy food and no sleep….

Were we hurt? Yah we were I had bruised legs and swollen arm so did frank. However we determined to reach manali with a positive note, and we reached Manali in the wee hours of the morning at 3 am. The rain gods were happy from us and blessed us with thunderous rains. It was the experience that cannot be forgotten. My body all bruised and bloody, tired to the core, with a hurting as@. I still was happy and contended. Why and how you will ask me yah it was the drug called Adrenalin which was pumped to the MAX.

We stayed in manali for two days and planned to move on 23rd July to LEH. I was still in pain so was Frank his right arm was swallow like a pumpkin and he still wanted to ride to the trenchers way to LEH. I was not so convinced with this idea so we advised him to go back to Delhi and see a doctor.

Now out of four souls only three were left. With heavy hearts of missing a fellow rider we packed our beats and started our journey to LEH.

The roads were good till rohtang pass weather was also amazing we reached rohtang in 1 hour. What to say I was pretty amazed to see the world from such a height. I did what everyone does clicked snaps.

Our destination for that day was darcha which was a small settlement beyond kylong. Night was spend in a nepali tent. It was cold and wet because of rains. But it was a scenic wonder. We started from there at 9 am and were suppose to cross Sarchu and reach pang. However luck was not with us. After the Gata loops Saurabhs bike started giving us troubles and we had to tow it back on a truck from Nakila pass.

Before we could find a truck I was asked to go to Pang and get a truck from there. This ride was just approximately 40-50 km however it proved to be more on me. I was not carrying water as the high altitude sickness took a toll on me and I has to stop on couple of places for catching up a breath. I was in pang in 3 hours, the distance which I cover in couple of minutes.

Probir followed me in few in few minutes and apprised me that saurabhs bike had been towed back to manali. It was a sad moment for us as we had already missed two fellow riders. I was in physical and emotional pain.

The next started with a bright new sunshine and a promise that we will reach LEH without any tragedy. We roared our beasts to Baralacha-la and then took a breath. LEH was just around the corner and I had already stated becoming nostalgic. I was missing frank and Saurabh the preparations what we had gone through and still we meet with such an unexpected tragedies.

LEH, the promise land, the Buddha’s backdoor. It was such a peaceful and pleasant view all brown mountains and a black road running between them with Satluj River running next to you. This road promised you speed it was better than any other road in Delhi. I was already doing 120km/p and still wanted more speed. Probir was enjoying his sutta and it was a pleasant view I felt like an easy rider.

Finding a house was a pain all the guest houses were either full or were reserved for the foreign travelers. We took two hours to find a room near Shanti Stupa and that was a sheer luck that we found such a beautiful location with such a hospitable people. Our window opened to shanty stupa in the morning and we were blessed by the holy thus come then (Buddha).

We now wanted to look around in LEH. Permits were procured and the destination was set one day we were going to khardungla, then peongon, shonmorery and then back.

We started with khardungla which was just like a delhi-gurgaon journey. In the ride I saw oil leaking from my bike and discovered that the clutch box was damaged from bottom and the oil was coming from there. The mechanic fixed it with M-Seal however that was also waste. I some how managed the next three days.

We now were on our ways to pengong the salted lake or the blue lagoon. To reach there we had to cross chang-la the riding and was more painful than reaching khardungla it was -2 Celsius temperature was dropping with every minute. Ride was tough but amazing with equal thrill and excitement.

We reached pengong stayed there for few hours and then back to LEH this whole 300km journey was completed in 10 hours. And we were happy with our accomplishment and wanted to do sonmorery. However my bikes oil was not stopping. Now we decided that we will tow the bike back to manali and meet Saurabh there and do Kaza as by then both our bikes will be mended.

We met a transporter and fixed our ride back home, it was a mixed feeling as we were there to ride and now the bikes gone we were no more bikers. The happy feeling was that we don’t have to go on that Leh/Manali road. We got along the truck driver Sanju and his cleaner Chotu for the next two days they were our drivers and navigators.

Some how we reached Manali with a huge care we took our bikes out and planned to get then services the next day. The next days started with rains and they brought pain to our souls as mechanic did not have the spares and they were only available in Delhi. We had to come down to a conclusion that we were going back to Delhi.

On 2 august 2006 we started from manali with huge bag of memories and a 20kg box of apples….famous manali apples.

The ride was so pleasant as it was raining all through till Ropar we were drenched till our bares. We reached Chandigarh at 7 took some rest and again started for Delhi. Everyone was excited to back from such a long journey.

How ever I wanted some more and promised my self of next year when the preparation will be better and I will be a more mature rider.

I reached home at 6 am and my mom refused to recognize me. When I had left I was neatly dressed and clean shaved delhwala now I was looking like a zombie with unshaven and tired face I welcomes the morning.

I wish I could stay more in LEH.