Munsiyari: The First Ride

Prelude: After many attempts to organize this trip and an impromptu test-ride to Rishikesh with Abbas, I embarked on a journey which is still yet to end. Two rides done. And more to follow. An incident I wish to share before the tale begins. I contemplated turning this into a funded ride promoting goods. But my sister told me something quite important. Forget it and just enjoy the trip. I did as much.

Thank you Sis 🙂

                             Munsiyari: The First Ride

PART I

The 7th was an important date I spent a lot of time at a recommended electrician Shoaib’s, getting the headlight fixed. On requests from Baba Belbase and Abbas, I visited them after packing en route. I was at Abbas’ for 2 hours before eventually commencing the trip at 1:33 a.m. (intervening night of 7th and 8th).

Day 1

I did get a bit lost. I missed a turn towards Ghaziabad and was headed towards Bhangel (?). After a driver helped me with directions, I took a u-turn and was headed for Ghaziabad. After sometime, about nearly 3 –ish, I was on a ghostly road to Moradabad. Nice road – the NH or National Highway 24 (also a part of the AH or Asian Highway 2) – but not a soul lurked. I was riding alone. I stopped at the Garhmukhteshwar Bridge to offer a coin. Throw wasn’t that great and it landed on the ghat steps I guess.

By the crack of dawn, I was a few kilometres away from Moradabad. By mid-morning I was battling the atrocious road towards Haldwani; road and traffic. I’d taken some obnoxious village road, which was very trying (on one’s patience), prior to the road to Haldwani. On that route, I encountered, a fellow Delhi biker, who began competing. At times I led, then he did. In the third attempt, I left him far behind.

At Haldwani after wrestling through the annoying traffic, I finally saw the hills begin. With cautious desperation I gunned the motorcycle towards Kathgodam. A small celebration with a mini Coke (beverage) and cigarette followed, as I soaked in the Kathgodam rail-line.

{As I later learnt, I’d overshot the Rampur turn-off, which’d’ve been shorter and easier.}

After a brief stop at a nondescript tea stall, Do Gaon (literally translates to two village), I rode on. A little further from Bhowali, after a fuel stop, I had a meal at River Valley Resort. Unlike its name, it’s more a restaurant with cheap lodging options (Rs.400-Rs.600, depends on negotiation). A little ahead lay a bridge to Almora (The Kwarab Bridge). Here it got interesting.

I stopped – (for the life of me I fail to understand why I couldn’t or didn’t check for the route options with a lot of other ‘credible’ bystanders) – and asked an old man, sitting on the side near the bridge, the road to Almora.He was so old, he was Jurassic. Just behind me were some road-workers, but instead some quirk led me to ask this guy.

He began crying and started gesticulating. What I understood (if I did at all?) barely, was his wife was medically ill or something. His speech was incomprehensible! I figured he urgently needed to get some medicines to her. I gladly took the opportunity to do a good deed. I unpacked my rucksack and got him to sit on the back seat. Man, what a drama (sigh)!

We took an uphill kuchcha rasta (per answers.com – a dirt track made of mud and usually made by continuous use). He kept tugging at my bag and I kept yelling or loudly asking him not to, lest we get unbalanced and fall. I literally told him if his bones break he’ll have a harder time than me. I had to stop twice to get a few passing locals to interpret between him and me. The roads were excruciatingly bad, improving to below average at stages. All along, I was filled with many thoughts , especially of how this may in some super-natural way get me some brownie points with a latest crush (lol). I eventually forced myself not to think so greedily. (Accepted a saying alluded to the Bhagvad Gita “Karm kar, fal ki ichcha mat kar” ).

I decided to request him to show me his house. The passing scenery had been interesting. Though I pretended to be miffed at the situation, I humbly acknowledged this opportunity. A regular traveller tends to miss out on exploring the interior reaches of the hills, in India, mostly keeping to the road and headed for a precise destination. We eventually reached a point, where the old man asked me to stop. I got off and expressed my request. He refused, citing a lot of trees would make it difficult for me. I asked permission to take a photograph. He refused. Fed up, I asked a lady nearby if she knew him and where his house was. He got agitated at this. I demanded that he explain this little de-tour. He in his quavering tone explained he had breathing problems, so he took a lift from me. I still wasn’t convinced. This was followed by a brief episode wherein he thanked me and I merely told him anyone would’ve done the same thing. I declined his invitation for a tête-à-tête and pushed off.

An uncertain question lingered as I rode back, was he a spirit? I had heard or read somewhere that hill spirits do no communicate clearly (and they’d certainly decline photo-ops!). Was he one?

On my way back I met another old timer, saner, clad in a red full sleeve sweater and formal trousers. This was one of the locals I’d met on the way, who’d interpreted for me. I requested him to enlighten me. He explained.

The old man I had given a lift to was an erstwhile priest, Pandit Ganesh Dutt. He had no family. This dissolved any animosity I had begun to harbor.

{At a point while delivering the old man, he told me he was carrying flour (not medication as I’d thought). I was incensed at the thought that how could his family send him so far to fetch flour, at his age too}

He had two brothers who had passed away. Now, in his old age, he lived on hand-outs. He often went ambling from where I’d left him (Kumati village) to where I’d found him (The Kwarab Bridge). By this time a few more locals joined in the conversation. The narrator told me “If you come tomorrow, you’re likely to find him there again”

“I’m certainly not going to find out”, I cheerfully laughed.

Thanking him and the others, I rode back to the bridge. As I left, I saw another old one hobbling with a crude wooden-staff for support. A spirit? A near 20 km de-tour, as I later found out. The spirit-thoughts lingered awhile.

I reached Almora, where at its entry-point, the police stopped me. I got another passenger. A rookie sub-constable – Dheeraj Rawat (?). We had a brief chat about the recently concluded polls and security arrangements. Gabbar stalled. We both got down. I got Gabbar started again. Dropping SC Rawat off at the police station, I headed for the ‘NCR’ of Almora – Dhar-ki-Tuni, to get Gabbar fine-tuned. The SC had kindly so advised. I luckily found a Royal Enfield mechanic. After the bike got fixed, I made a few purchases. From there I headed to Dhaulachhina via Badechhina.

The road to Badechhina was below average and quite gravel-like in patches. Yet it penned a new poetry with the subtle yet gorgeous landscapes and water-features. I halted at a lonesome stall, whose owner (a lad in his early 20s) was a very engaging fellow. We discussed many matters of common interest – politics, travelling, tourism. He enthralled with tales and exploits of his monkey-eating li’l tyke. I even took the liberty of suggesting a possible option for attracting more customers. This was Surinder Singh Bisht of Seel village in Badechhina.

I bade him goodbye, as dusk slowly descended upon the hills. I did a brief spot of night-riding and passed a local wedding procession in traditional attire. I eventually reached this place Dhaulachhina, and went to the first decent lodge I laid my eyes on. I quickly negotiated the tariff and discussed the menu. A dinner over two coca-colas and egg-fried rice, a cup of tea in the morning and the stay cost me approximately Rs.700 or perhaps a tad less.

Day 2

As I prepared to leave, I was a cord short. And there was this mentally challenged mute teen begging for money. I discouraged him, as I beggars do. Disappointed at my loss, I secured my load with a spare cord (the cords had been purchased at Karol Bagh, New Delhi)*.

*this has a little tale too. For another day ;D.

I got some cash from a nearby ATM and went onwards to Munsiyari. The second day, I combined my ride with photography stops. I passed several picturesque villages and quaint red and white bridges. It must’ve been the wedding season, as I must’ve seen many weddings during the course of my trip. As I rode to Birthi, from where I’d head to Thal, I noted a motor-able decline quite close to a mountain stream. Also duly noted were two temples, few kilometres apart, with rock cut steps leading to the temples located some heights above (on popular request by Baba Belbase).

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I reached Thal, a breaking-point. The landscape changed. More gargantuan the mountains grew, as Munsiyari I headed to (lol). I fuelled-up and ate at a newly established restaurant-lodge – Hotel Rituraj. I had a conversation with the owner, ex-armyman Mr.Thapa. He narrated a recent tragedy. A boy had drowned in the Ramganga during an ongoing fair and his floating corpse had been recovered post a 3-day search at a spot in the river below this motel. I attempted to go down to the river, yet resisted my urge

  1. Owing to the paraphernalia I was lugging
  2. Due to my low levels of physical exertions.

I did, though, check the rooms and they were great. Definite options for a stopover, should I chance this route at night (Unlikely anytime soon as I don’t yet bear night-riding credentials).

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I left Thal, passed some place called Nachani and journeying further passed a little mountain stream cutting across the road benignly. I turned around and went there. Parking Gabbar away from the road, I hopped and carefully jumped some rocks and made it to a little pool-like feature. I filled a bottle with the stream water. It was a bit of a dilemma, as a spider had woven a web, wherein I’d to bend a bit. It was the only frolic I was able to indulge in during my trip. I made the most of it.

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I laid down my bags and helmet, excavated my feet bare from my shoes and happily splashed them in the running water. A brief distraction apart, I had a smoke, enjoyed a dainty drizzle that occurred, wore a fresh pair of socks and got back to Gabbar.

Here, I luckily/unluckily had to indulge in riding in the rain; a steady spell of drizzling for awhile. The road was an ascent. Proceeding, I passed a junction at Tejam. Here, again the scenery changed. Leaner mountains. Less lusher terrains. Ominous threats of earth sliding off the mountain sides. Roads were palatable, as I was quite driven to reach Munsiyari. I saw a thin line of the Birthi falls. I later learnt it is known of. I halted at a Birthi tea stall, enjoyed a now familiar trait of conversing with locals. Here I met a teacher. A sharp gent. He was quite keen on inquiring about my travels. I discussed about the local employment and educational set up. There was a bit of activity. Apparently, a few deer had been spotted on the boulder speckled mountain side.

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{Recollecting a past trip (Keoladeo National Park aka Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary), with a slight grim I attempted to shoot the deer. I knew they’d come up quite minuscule in the photograph; lens limitation}.

      As I left, a little boy – Suraj, with two more adventurous musketeers, asked me to give him a ride. Amused by the request, I picked up Suraj, sat him on my luggage and slowly rode to a short bridge, the drop-off. It was adjacent to the waterfall. Dropping him off, I looked on as he ran back home looking quite thrilled. A penny for his thoughts. I passed the KMVN, Birthi. Already full from by Birthi halt, I carried on. It was almost Pearly Gates. Almost bumped into an descending car. I signaled a regret and rode on. This track up was a dirt-track; thick, powdery. The ride further was unending at times. I passed gaining new altitudes, discovering exquisite mountain sides and a magical scenery. Every few kilometres, the scenery changed. Yet, here too some landslides (silt, perhaps) accompanied the view. I was making frequent photo stops. I stopped at a little side, a brief spread of rock and grass. A possible spell of pseudo-vertigo caused me to lie down and crawl to the edge and take some shots. Some were a bit blurred.

I made a few changes to my riding attire to get warmed up for the remaining ride. Dusk was near. The light was good till a hair-pin bend, at the corner of which was situated the Kalamuni Temple. Once I took the turn, a sight awaited me. Magnificent snow-clad Panschuli peaks. Another round of fist pumping.

The road began a descent. Even 30 km/h was FAST! I passed two further exploring points – the gates of Khuliya Top and a government herbal plant park with igloo structures standing as if abandoned. I made a quick stop at a hut to replenish my cigarette stock. Checking for directions, I recollected what Mrs. Virdi, the organizer of my stay, had advised and winged it. A little comedy occurred thereafter. I landed up at some bloke’s bathroom. I possibly interrupted some urgent on-goings. Wrong door, in any event. I rode in the dark, unclear about the path I rode. Felt like I was riding rubble. At some point I passed a section of rock-blocks with paved the wave. Over them gurgled a water. Slow ascent to uncertainty. The track was quite difficult to negotiate. A bit affected by the ride, unclear if I wasn’t heading to the hill forests, I stopped and called my hostess, a Mrs. Anusuiya Toliya. God Bless Anusuiyaji. She’d seen my bike’s light and told me to ride straight ahead. Heeding the instructions, I reached my prized halt. I loosened and hauled my gear to the Toliya house.

A brief round of introduction post, I freshened up. The guest room was extremely neat and well maintained. I was really shell-shocked to find a pristine bathroom, with a western commode.

Dinner was warm, simple and delicious. They were really sweet to make me some tea. I called home to inform that I reached. The family pet, Tom, rubbed against my feet most affectionately as I was on the phone. A little later I dozed off. Little was known to me that I’d gotten sun-burnt that day, as I’d find out upon my return to Delhi.

Day 3

This had to be the ‘Highlight Day’ of the entire trip, unbeknownst to me. I rose a early, a little past six. Breakfast done, I took some photographs. Around nine, I headed for Mrs. Virdi’s place. It was a hike. Mr. Toliya led the way. Huffing and puffing through the forest path, I made it to Mrs. Virdi’s farm. The place was quite big, with several terrace farms, an oversize lawn (with a fish-pond as I learnt on a my next trip in November). I had a good interaction during which I settled my dues. I got some nice shots from her open terrace. She told me about her pet. A blind cat, born in the hills, Soki (short for Socrates) was quite at home in the surroundings and knew her way around. I met a friend of hers who was helping in the farm. I’d left my pouch at the terrace, for which I got a timely call. Post retrieval, I hiked back down taking a few shots on the way. I had my breakfast, packed and left, thanking the Toylias for a brief but wonderful stay. The day did show the way. I halted Gabbar and got a few shots of the path I was at night. Not as menacing in the daylight. I rode till Kalamuni, where stopped and took some parting photos.

A little further from the Kalamuni Temple, I stopped to click a herd of mountain goats. I had a fair session. Then I thought “Lets oblige the cows”. Cows standing near Gabbar. Done, I prepared to leave. There was a black cow,who had some other ideas. The fellow threatened a charge as Gabbar came to life. Trying to check, I slowly inched my bike a bit. Inched as much the cow. It was quite decided to knock me off the mountain. I was able to abstain from any unseeming conclusions. My thoughts were literally “No black cow was going to throw me off the mountain. Not today”. I got a window in the next few moments and off I went. I rode on till Ginni Bend and halted to savour the tea. Nothing special, spare the surroundings. Riding on I passed Birthi and spotted a pond, which I’d missed on my way up. Uneventfully I rode on till the Tejam junction.

At Tejam, I doggedly decided to do Bagheshwar. Thoughts were, “Short trip. Might as well make the most of it”. I took my tea break and checked the route, making mental notes. I spoke to the tea stall owner about the road. Here, I wish to share my humble two-bits – Always check with any of the many mountain cabbies.

{Jeeps are a common sight. They are a common mode of commuting for the hill folks.}

The owner had advised me that road was, “Thoda kharab (a little bad).” Winner of understatement of the Year! How I’d love to express the most colourful of sentiments on this. This would become the tale of the trip

.       About 5 kilometres on, I rode at 20-ish km/h. Roads were quite gravel-ly. There I stopped at a empty patch. Many such patches dot the hill roads. I surveyed what lay ahead. The scene before me was that of mountain-side being completely avalanched. Quite flummoxed (the Bard’s sentiments echoed in me somewhere “To proceed or not to proceed?”). I had mixed feelings which included taking a U-turn. But the greed to take on the challenge was too overwhelming. I told myself “I’m going on till the road goes on”. As I neared that stretch, I rode at minimum speed, senses on high alert. Passing that stretch, I got a bit cocky. And I got the just due awhile later. I passed three schoolgirls sitting under some huge cliff rocks. The next few kilometres were ghostly. Not a soul, not even a mangy mutt. There were banana trees growing on the hill-sides, a scant few houses. But no sign of life. I reached a tri-junction. Chiding myself in mock appreciation, I dismally glanced around. No signs advising what to do, where to go. Only one man on a farther end of one path. Unknown the other. After a few minutes of futile attempts to communicate with that man, I decided to reach him and get my bearings. I rode on track which was rock-infested to say the least. Somehow, I reach the gent. It turned out the fellow was preparing to catch a ride with me. Restraining myself, I politely checked about route I must take. He told me to take the other one from the tri-junction. Thanking him, still restrained, I made my way back. A few kilometres later, I saw a small village settlement. Better still… a handful of humans. Boy, wasn’t I pleased (lol).

After confirming I was on the right route (and, surely, a bit relieved), I happily got to a bridge. My, my, what awaited me here? At the other end ambling aimlessly (or were they??), were a gang of cows.

To be continued…

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8 thoughts on “Munsiyari: The First Ride

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