Munsiyari 2: Chaos, Tumble and Grit

Day 1Delhi to Ganai Gangoli :- The overnight ride and the mid-day ordeal.

Preparations done, I got a call from Iqbal. He inquired if I was all set. I was (or so I’d assumed).He checked with me if I’d got gloves. Urk! No. I then helped myself hastily to a pair of small woollen gloves (hoping it’d save me the freezing fingers!).

I met my long time buddy and neighbour, Prajat and his family, before I left. I was sweating that November night in the multi-layered riding attire (4 upper and 2 lower). Yet was thankful for the same in a few hours. Riding out, I halted at Iqbal’s to meet him. We’ve unfortunately never done a long out-station ride. Our excursions have been limited to two night rides. The first, a ride along Delhi-Faridabad via Gurgaon (a favourite for test rides). The second, an eventful two bike ride with Baba Belbase joining in.

Post Iqbal’s, I rode into the cold night. This trip was a near-jinx of an experience. I was anticipating the cold to hit me in the hills and did not anticipate what the highway would do. Passing through Delhi via the Barapullah, to Mayur Vihar and then through Ghaziabad, I was finally onto the highway to bliss. No sooner had I exited Ghaziabad, the stretch began to tease me with a trailer of what lay in store. The route again was NH 24 / AH 2. A monstrous chill enveloped me. I willfully rode on but had to halt at a roadside tea stall where there was a bonfire. A lot of help that was! One had to be within close proximity, almost into it, to derive the relief of warmth. A few passing truckers too had halted for tea. Despite my layers, I was shivering in my thighs and calves. The little woollen gloves had lent a minuscule respite. I met a kindly driver, who was headed for Moradabad. He offered to journey alongside, but stated he could not do over 60 kmph. I was okay. But after a ride together for about 10-odd kilometres, I felt it was slowing me down and Gabbar was quite easily doing 80 kmph on the highway. So riding, I bid my companion adieu and sped on.

The adieu was an untold omen of what this ride held in store. I sure enough overshot a highway exit to Moradabad and was continuing on the splendorous road. I instinctively felt something was out of place. Thankfully, I stopped at a closed petrol pump (a big one), where a P.C.R. aka Police Control Room vehicle was stationed. I got off and checked my bearings with a pump attendant. Sure enough, I’d over shot. I rode till a U-turn and retracted back to the flyover, and took the road below and was onto the road to Moradabad.

In Moradabad with a helpful guidance, lost my way to some lost side streets. The ride meandered through into the rural section, asleep in the cold night’s quiet. I somehow, made it onto a good stretch without encountering many pot-holes. Onto that road, possible an inner state-highway, I was at a loss – left or right. Instinctively I rode left, trucks passed but I had no respite till I got to a small lonely petrol pump. In the vicinity were two men, with whom I rechecked my bearings. Thankfully, I was on the right track. I would’ve been way off-route had it been otherwise.

I’d opted to travel this route (via Kaladhungi) compared to going via Haldwani and Kathgodam, as I’d expected a speedier arrival to the hills. Ah! My addiction for the hills. What paths it makes me take (sic). My last trip’s ride down from Kaladhungi had contributed to the incorporation of this route into my overall route planning. On I rode, still in the darkness with trucks passing by. It was a two-laner, accommodating the traffic (scant at night) both ways.

I arrived at a better lit tri-junction and halted at a tea stall for respite. The owners were quite different from the locals one’d generally see. Or perhaps, I wasn’t local enough, to be accustomed to them. A thin dark lady was in charge. I was quite amused to see their milk storage utensil – a large metal (iron?) tawa. It was quite unique, as milk is generally stored in degchis (generally handle-less stock-pots) of varying cylindrical sizes. Hence the curiosity.

Milk storage utensil at a Dhaba.

Milk storage tawa.

Milk storage utensil at a Dhaba.

Milk storage utensil at a Dhaba.

After  some parley over which route to proceed on, I was convinced by the regular truckers to avoid my planned route via Bazpur, as they’d said I rue the ride owing to terrible roads. Though I felt keen, I heeded their wise advice. Paying up, I checked my luggage and rode on, venturing into a eerie forest road. Despite a semblance of fearlessness, I did feel a bit apprehensive. I chuckled at the thought of how terrified any of my female friends would get passing through this ghoulishly abandoned stretch. Darkness, forests. What wildlife may waylay the unprotected two-wheelers. Armed assault by local bandits (if any?). The thought though wickedly amused me, I knew I could never subject any of them to this situation. It was really unnerving.

After a few kilometres a vehicle, generally a truck, would appear. I’d happily tail-gate them for assurance. The road here did get quite obnoxious. Pot-holes! I somehow kept my head and rode till a large rural dhaba. Though advised to expect service by a neighbouring lumber shed occupant, I found no one up, owing to the hour. It was twilight. I moved onto the next dhaba, a smaller one. Here, I was grateful for their being open for service and had a filling breakfast of paranthas (a type of Indian flat-bread with vegetable filling) and tea. Feeling stuffed, warmed and well rested, I was good to go. Owing to a recent experience on a brief overnight trip to Devprayag-Lansdowne, where Gabbar kept stalling after long rides, I took care to halt long enough on this allowing my ride to recover. Dawn was descending. I rode on in good spirits, well equipped with a little parley with the dhaba owner about the places ahead. I find it useful to learn about the names of places from locals. It helps while asking for directions. I try my best to obtain an approximate distance to the point. Frequent re-checkings every few kilometres doesn’t harm.

I’m a little foggy about this section, possibly as it did not appeal to my cosmos of adventure. But I stopped at this tea shop-cum-tyre repair shack. The levels of rural poverty is really stepped, atleast that’s how I saw it. There’s the dhaba-level and there are scattered levels below. I recollect having met, on the plains, a youngster in middle of the night for a tea stop. The boy hadn’t a clue about Delhi or Nainital. He’d never gone anywhere beyond perhaps Moradabad. And here I was at this tea-shack, quietly enchanting me its humble aura. There was a pumpkin patch a little towards the rear of the shack. I got snaps of some docile mutts. Sweet fellows. And the surprising thing about most rural venues is the warmth one can draw on from them. One’s only got to gently tap the surface.

After this cuddly little stop, I finally got to the Kaladhungi ascent. Reaching a certain point, I halted to soak in the privilege of being there. It was 6 am. The day was up and about. Riding on I passed some stopovers which I mentally noted, but didn’t stop there. I rode on till Sariyatal.

Sariyatal. As I mentioned in my last blog, it’s a replica of Nainital sans the commercial vistas. It’s got a rad place called Maggi Point. I had a plate of maggi. It was more of a forced halt to soak in Sariyatal. Right before me lay in quiet solitude the tal itself. I just chanced to espy a couple at the steps below. Despite its brevity, the tal exudes a veiled strength.

The modern construction of steps around it added to its charm. I chatted briefly with a few drivers (chauffeurs) about the place. Wasn’t a becoming conversation as I got negative vibes, when I checked about a few places I’d just passed. Finishing my maggi, I rode on. It was a quiet uneventful ride wherein I crossed Nainital. Riding ahead, I passed a former halt – the River Valley Resort. I passed Kwarab and rode slowly to enjoy the proximity view of the powerfully gushing Kosi river. A little ahead, the Kwarab bridge. Haha, it refreshed my memory – Pt. Ganesh Dutt of Kumati (will go there in one of my future trips). I was onto the serene road heading for Almora.

View before Almora.

View before Almora.

Almora, a major centre for anyone travelling further into the mountains, as here one could stock up on important provisions. I, albeit, just fuelled up and journeyed on. I got reacquainted the breath-taking passing beauty of the hills at Badechhina. I must’ve been close to the Seal village. I was eager to dig into some fresh omelettes at Surinder Bisht’s tea-stall shack. I however halted at another, mistaking his for Surinder’s. I did though dig in and ate some pakoras and tea. I chatted with the owner (a young chap) and his friends about property acquisition and construction information, as there was an under-construction building; a two-storeyed house. Done with my meal, loaded with important knowledge for perhaps a distant future project, I paid and got ready to leave. A week short of my 31st birthday, I wasn’t in the best of physical shape. I dragged myself onto Gabbar and as a part of an instinctive movement tried to kick-start my bike. I couldn’t. I thought maybe the head of the kick was turned inwards (it happened sometimes). Nonchalantly, I attempted to straighten it without so much as to bother and look. Zilch. I wondered what could’ve happened ? I got off, heavily stuffed, with much reluctance. I was thunderstruck at what I saw… there was no kick-pedal there !!

I was totally at a loss. What’d become of the trip? I went mentally numb. I checked around to see if it’d fallen anywhere near. The shop-owner and his buddies asked me what happened. I explained the situation to them. They casually advised me to start it in gear, saying that’s what they normally do. I was like, “Hello, what do you mean? ”. An instant crash course later, I acquired a brand new skill of starting the bike sans the kick-pedal. Thanking them gratefully, I turned around to retrace my route, to possibly locate the mysteriously fallen kick-pedal. I eventually rode all the way back to Almora, all along gazing sweeping the road for any shine or glint off metal. No luck. I was boiling with fury at my terrible luck and had an amusing episode trading Gabbar for such inappropriate behaviour (as I reflect back, it must’ve been a hilarious communication). Reaching the petrol pump in Almora, I asked the attendants about the missing kick-pedal. The attendants there hadn’t found any. That’s where I’d last kick-started the bike. My thoughts? “What’s happened has happened. No use fretting over split milk”.

I wasn’t prepared to give up, desperate as the situation had left me. The journey was on.

I recollected the mechanic at Dhar-ki-Tuni from my last trip and decided to go to him to get the issue addressed. I met a helpful gent riding with his sons. They guided me to Dhar-ki-Tuni. They after some distanced having got me onto the right path, rode on their own way. I reached the mechanic, who said he was helpless and had not spare. A kick-pedal loan off another bike was out of the question. My heart sank. Yet I regained myself and prodded him where in Almora could I acquire a spare. Jogging his memory, he told me of two shops. I rode on till that point. The shop was shut. I travelled further to the next shop advised to me. The attendant wasn’t too bright. So I waited for the owner, a Mr. Gururani, who was out to lunch. This section of the trip was costing me precious hours.

I had no choice, I waited. Eventually, a tall portly gentleman arrived. I explained my problem to him. He instructed his attendant to search for a specific kick-pedal suited for my motorcycle’s model.

Gabbar’s existence is quiet complicated. An older model, thankfully not out-dated or out of production. But the required part was a specific one, unique to only this model. Alas, as was my luck, it wasn’t stocked at the shop. I weighed my options. Having learnt how to operate minus the kick, I was confident of negotiating the hills, but how was I going to negotiate the 200+ kilometres? Again the end of the trip loomed. I had the option of staying the night at Almora and returning to Delhi the next day. I ignored the thought, deciding to contemplate it later. I asked Mr. Gururani, if he could order the necessary kick-pedal. He said he could. I checked with him about the earliest possible day and took down his contact information.

I decided to ride beyond Dhaulachhina, as far as I could. Perhaps even Munsiyari. I was boiling. Riding generally helps me cool off. And these were the hills. I started Gabbar with a descent in first gear. It took some effort (and this became routine for this trip). I rode back to Badechhina. I found Surinder’s tea-shack and halted. Never know when I’d meet him again. All the tension had helped me digest the previous meal. I felt I could fuel my tummy with another round. So I got my bun-omelettes and tea. We reminisced how things had been since we’d last met. I asked after his monkey-eating dog (lol).

Done there, after a bit of down-hill struggle and an about-turn once the engine came alive I rode on. I didn’t stop anywhere for quite a while. Riding, I passed Dhaulachhina. This was a mistake. I figured I could make it to Thal or Berinag (let me tell you it’s easily a three hour ride from Dhaulachhina); atleast to cover up lost time.

What I did not learn from my first trip got grilled into me for good on this second one. One simply does not reach Munsiyari in one day. It will and does take a day and a half, if not two days. Shortly post Dhaulachhina, a few kilometres on, with constant checking with locals on the distance to Berinag, I was trapped into a night ride. I halted at a village in between for a tea. A brief chat with the gathering there, got me info on a local big brother who could help me. I paid and left.

I reached that man (a restaurant owner), but he said he was unable to help. He did help me get my bike started, lending me two helpers. I rode on. A group of boys tripling crossed me and I intently tail-gated them. I find it’s the best thing to do for assurance. But being locals they easily went off far ahead and I was unable to keep up.

{I had observed what locals are capable of on bikes during the day time, on my previous trip. Hill locals can easily zip at 60 kmph! Which, FYI, is really fast for the hills. Signs popularly read, “We like you, but not your speed”}.

Riding and inquiring without shutting off the bike, I reached a place called Ganai Gangoli. It was a cheap hotel. I decided to get a room and pass the night there. Upon inquiring about the rooms, I was told about my options. A Rs.500 room and Rs.1000 room. I requested to view both. The Rs.500 room, located on an elevated floor, was a bit unkempt, but I could manage. The other one was a joke.

I was escorted to the roof. Then led across the boundary-less roof. There was a ‘unsecured’ plank joining up to the next building. I insisted that to the attended to cross first and then help me across. Amused he did as much. We then weaved through a jungle of bamboo scaffolding to get to the room. I might add for the reader’s interest that the ‘gallery’, a ledge actually, was extremely narrow. And this is how one got to the Rs.1000 room. It was neater, but no thank you, I opted for the cheaper room. Far less risky.

This place is definitely not recommended. The room was unkempt, the bedspread was quite dirty. It was truly nauseating. It didn’t help, that one of the attendants acted too smart, besides being tardy for basic errand request. Not holing out here, EVER!!

I had a dinner of maggi and well, wouldn’t it surprise you, found a hair in the meal! I, somehow, was thankful for just the shelter portion of it. I promise you, you can’t miss locating this hotel in the little hamlet-like town of Ganai Gangoli. It’s the only one.

Day 2Ganai Gangoli  to Munsiyari

I woke up and after washing up, I went to hunt out a local provisions store. I got there and picked up some basics for the remaining ride uphill (sic). This got me to exercise the bike some, to get it warmed up. This became a struggle. First I’d to warm up the bike after several down-hill start-attempts and then, eventually it started.

Revving it till it warmed up, I rode back to the hotel, a few metres uphill. I rapidly changed into my riding gear. Thoroughly checked the room lest I leave something behind. Packing done, I paid my bills, obtained a receipt and got out. Just before I left, I did encounter some locals who’d mistaken me for a telecom service representative. I had a good chat, till I realized that they had mistaken me for someone else. They were expressing their feedback on how I should tell my company to install a tower to improve the area’s communication. Hahaha. True, at the time, I was involved with a telecom service provider. But it (I’m smiling bemusedly here), sadly, wasn’t with a national carrier in my country. It was an American telecom-internet service provider.

Struggling a lot less with Gabbar, firing it to life, I was off. I passed the previously seen villages of Udiyari, etc. During my last visit, it was the wedding season (auspices and star-alignment, I believe). This time it was quieter. Not much traffic, except the odd mountain taxi-jeep passing by. I stopped once for tea, but kept riding till a little prior to Berinag. Here I halted once or twice within a kilometre or two. First time to inspect a little creek, I’d observed from my last trip. I met a hill labourer there, leading a team of mules, and borrowed a match to light up. Getting back to Gabbar, parked close by, I cried out to some passing men requesting for the name of the place. They told me it’s called Sukhliadi a Bend. Thanking them I rode on. I next halted to check my bearings with a taxi. This halt was a short walk from steps leading up to a mountain temple. There was another one a little way behind. I intend to visit both on my next trip.

Travelling a bit further I landed up at a cosy road-side eatery hut, with a cute mini garden. A mountain stream was flowing nearby as the bend there was quite wet. I stopped there enjoy the environs and cup of tea. The owner, an old gent, fixed me some piping hot tea. As I had my tea, a chat session began. I learnt he’d been to New Delhi in the `70s and had been around the Rashtrapati Bhawan. He informed me that the area was popular with climbing enthusiasts. I described a tent to him. Thanking him and purchasing a pack of Ruli River (another never again; terrible cigarettes), I rode away to Berinag.

Passing through the Berinag market, I spotted a few stores of interest. I went on ahead to get Gabbar fuelled up and returned. Parking my bike, I immediately went to a shop, to purchase a pair of gloves. The first store interested me. I however went to another to check some more options. I’d been especially pleased with a pair at the first, so I returned. Not only did I pick up the gloves, I purchased a muffler and an embroidered shawl (for my mother) too. Couldn’t have been more content at that moment. Uneventfully I rode on, reached Thal and from there moved on towards Munsiyari. Once again I encountered the deadly Nachani stretch. Here I saw two young boys selling some amroods (guavas). As I attempted to halt, the bike veered uncontrollably and BAM! A cycle fall of a crash. The road was newly laid. Possibly a few days, if not a day, old. And consequently slippery (and I later deduced that the low air in my tires could’ve also contributed to the same).

The two boys (must’ve been around ten years) were really sweet in helping me free my trapped leg. I gratefully purchased some amrood and went on. A little way up, I halted and using my feet straightened the leg-guard. I then frantically searched for my newly purchased gloves, which I couldn’t find. Total jinx of a trip! I rode back several kilometres to where the boys were, as that’d been the only prior halt. All along I checked the rode to see if in case they’d fallen somewhere. I reached the boys and as I was about to ask them, when lo and behold! I found my gloves. I’d been sitting on them! Must’ve placed it there, whilst buying the amrood and forgotten. I then re-did those kilometres and (thankfully without any further events/occurrences) I made my way up to this place called Dor (or Fulidor). I espied a river system just prior to it, which I mentally noted  for future reference. At Dor, I stopped for tea. My knee was hurting from the fall, but I bore it. I knew I must’ve been bleeding, but it wasn’t excruciating. Finishing my tea, and a super-brief info-exchange, I paid and purchased a pair of evil-eye charms. Then I headed for Birthi. The roads had significantly improved since my last visit.

At the first bridge before Birthi, I met a group of boys asking for a lift. I gladly obliged them. One I sat on the bike’s tank. Two I sat upon my luggage. They’d hardly weigh much to disturb/unbalance powerful Gabbar. I still told them not to get frisky, else we’d topple. And I had had my topple for the trip. More than my knee, the fall had hurt my pride. But a good lesson learnt. Beware and be ultra-cautious, especially if you spy a newly-laid road.

I asked the kids what their names were and much to my (pleasant) surprise, the one seated on the fuel tank was Suraj! This was a kid, I’d given a lift to till the Birthi Falls’ bridge on the previous trip. He surely recognized me when I mentioned the same. One of them got off, when I briefly put the bike on neutral to steady it. I dropped off the two kids at the same bridge near the waterfall. I offered them an amrood each. Upon my request, they were agreeable to be my guides to the waterfall, but the pain left me undecided, so I bid adieu to them and went onto Munsiyari. I stopped (as I soon realised) a bit before Ginni Bend. Seated in that tea-shack on the edge enjoying the view; that was tea. I purchased a packet of the local cream biscuits and rode on. I passed the Kalamuni temple, and journeyed further knowing that I’d be at my destination shortly. I passed two mini-waterfalls, which I decided to visit the following day and check out.

Passing the entrance of Munsiyari, I saw the huge welcome sign reading, “Himnagari Munsiyari Main Aapka Swagat Hai” (You are welcome to the hill-town of Munsiyari), to those entering. One can imagine the mood; a mix of emotions.

This time quite decently, I reached my destination. Malika ma’am was quite surprised. Her Homestay team had expected me to return to Delhi owing to mishap at Badechhina. The following reception was warm and excellent. I was put up in my own cottage, with a big bathroom. I had an instant fire lit for me on a portable sigdi (stove) by my host Mr. Thakuni, and a warm kettle of tea soon followed by his wonderful daughter. Some basic antiseptic clean up was made available to help me clean my wound by my hosts.

I changed and sat outside; enjoying the evening tea and the evening’s passing melody as it turned night. Mr. Thakuni shared some great memories of his treks and some of their edge-of-the-seat moments. He later brought me my dinner and later checked if it was satisfactory.

“Let the weary travel offer thought,for warm a meal to him at destination was brought”

It was warm and wonderful. And just the thing my soul needed. I spent some time outdoors, admiring the night. The Panschuli peaks wore a dark silhouette. Dotted lights, quite far from each other intrigued me. I wondered about the people there. I intended to get a better knowledge about this from my host. After a trying day on the roads, I’d reached my goal. A good belly-warming dinner and refreshing mountain air had been just desserts for my trials.

Day 3Munsiyari to Almora

I woke quite early around five in the morning. It was still dark outside. I freshened up and ventured outside. The family was asleep. Not keen to wake them up, I enjoyed my solitude. At the crack of dawn, I pulled out my camera and took some photographs. As the day broke, Mr. Thakuni soon joined me. I discussed my query with him. He told me that those places were remote villages. Access to them took a day-and-a-half’s journey. He told me that the people there searched for some valuable grass/herbs. I joked with him at this. I was quite aware of Malana and Parvati valley and its notoriety. Hence, I was curious about this product. Mr. Thakuni said he didn’t know much, except that it was very valuable. {During a later online search that winter, I came across information on a herb, dubbed as biological gold – the yarsagumbhu.}

He then accompanied me, at my request, on the uphill trek to Malika Ma’am’s residence uphill. She was quite happy that I’d made it. Post a brief discussion of my travels, she related to me about the plundering menace of the monkeys. Their rampant attacks on the crops had been a serious problem for the local farmers. Mr. Thakuni too, had been badly affected. She wanted me to meet her son Zanskar. She shared his plans about a kayaking trip for a documentary, with his father Mr. Theo. Zanskar, initially hesitant, after a brief chat on kayaking showed us his canoe. A modern version of the tradition craft. I wished him well for his endeavour.

As we were leaving through a large grassy field (part of Malika Ma’am’s residence) Mr. Thakuni showed me a fish pond, which I was previously unaware of. After spending a few moments at the spot and a question or two, we trekked back to Sarmoli.

IMG_4771 IMG_4772 IMG_4773

I’d inspected my lodgings previously. It consisted of three beds, a dreamy sloping wooden roof and a collage of photographs of some of the previous travellers. A shelf displayed curios. Academic trophies shared the shelf, proudly showcasing my host’s daughter’s achievements. I was very happy to see such pride. I find myself in a strange predicament on such occasions, as to why two diverse poles exist for the girls in India. Either haloed and cherished, else insignificant and subdued. This was a wonderful example of a family priding themselves in their daughter’s achievements.

I photographed the room in earnest hope of being able promote the Homestay program. And I am really happy at this opportunity to share my experience for information.

{Do visit www.munsiari.com for a better understanding. Here, it’s just my personal experience.}

I took photographs of my hosts as I did the last time. First the matriarch, Mr. Thakuni’s beautiful old mother – Saraswati ji. Mr. Thakuni and his daughter joined in. I requested Mr.Thakuni to have his wife join the group photo-session. He and his daughter called out to her to join in. She quickly wore a head-scarf similar to Saraswati ji’s and joined the group. Post which I packed and departed. Or so I attempted.

Gabbar, dear dear Gabbar. The winter morning freeze made him stubborn to start. I tried a few attempts down a sloping path to get him started. I laboured, pushing the motorcycle back up. The luggage was loaded already. After two failed attempts, Mr. Thakuni availed the assistance of a brawny acquaintance and they both helped push the bike quite a distance, till a rocky slope. Gabbar sputtered to a start there. Then stopped. The men had begun back, but looked on to see if I needed help. I waved them away and tried to start Gabbar with the gear-down technique I’d learnt. Thank God, he started. I rode on well exercised by the effort, with the knowledge that now warmed up, I’d be able to get him started at any road descent.

Unlike my last journey, where I’d been stopping around to take photographs, I’d avoided any such stops on this trip, solely to photograph the beautiful Munsiyari. Quite a few photography stops were done to capture its beauty. Being an amateur photography enthusiast, my photos and mere words fall short in expressing the natural beauty and magnificence of the place. I could visit it for many years, till I discover it truly. And even then, I’m sure, Munsiyari will still shower me with surprises.

I did a last stint of photography at a comely little waterfall, where I found a route, which I hope to explore further on my next trip. Here an amusing little episode occurred. I’d passed a tramp on the way. Stopping at the waterfall, I was quite gleeful at having hop-skipped the rocks and obstacles to make it to the pool at the base. I was then photographing a patch across the road. As I took my fill of photos, I saw him approach the waterfall. Curiously I checked, a bit wary as my bike and gear were unguarded. He was harmlessly washing up. But I clasped my forehead sarcastically applauding my brilliance at not having observed that there existed an easier path – steps cut and leading to the pool! Haha, how doltish.

Riding on I halted next at Birthi. Here, besides tea I also got a taste of an unvoiced or perhaps a little known hardship they encounter frequently. A monkey-raid.

I’d been sipping my tea and chatting with the owner, when he went away briefly. I heard some cries and crackers going off. I found it strange, as it certainly wasn’t Diwali – Festival of Lights. No celebrations appeared to be underway. The place wore a regular day’s disposition. What then?

Paying him when he returned, I took a stroll up the road (where I’d parked) to investigate.

A group of women were rallying and crying out each other. Wondering what the excitement was all about, I noticed them shouting and pelting stones at escaping monkeys. The pond there was evidently a bit of a swamp. And by it prowled a robust monkey. Evidently up to no good. Trailing him were others (family and/or brethren?).

After viewing the annoying advance for a while, I picked up a stone and hurled it at one of them, who was intent on terrorizing the crop-fields. A distant bonding formed, as an elderly woman understood my actions and cried out to me. She felt I should take photos to scare them off. I shook my head knowing the futility. Bound by a time constraint, I got on my bike, having contributed my measly two-bits of help, I rode on.

When Malika Ma’am had brought this topic up, a question I’d asked was what were the concerned authorities doing to prevent this mayhem. They had strictly prevented any action from being pursued for reasons of environmental conservation. I was a bit shocked to hear that. Being quite fond of nature, I do take interest in steps for ecological conservation and protection. But this was unjust.

How could villagers be deprived of their livelihood and their way of life disrupted with such negligence and apathy? I perhaps am not the right authority, or perhaps no authority at all, to express my views. But as an individual, I do ask, how can this be right? {In my own small appeal via WordPress, should any experts come across this article, my request is simply that do feel free to express (wherever necessary) and help find a solution.}

Then began a serious spell of riding, with minimum stoppages. I rode where I found vacant stretches at 40, at time 50 kmph! That was quite fast for me, as I generally do safe and measured 30-35 kmph. I was in a tearing hurry to make it to Delhi. Coupled with my rush, was an anxiety of covering the plains, with the kick-pedal issue. With all my efforts and struggling with a hard to start motorcycle (missing it’s kick-pedal), I goaded myself to Almora. On the way, I had been mistakenly asking for the road to Gangolihat instead of Ganai Gangoli. I was off-route by several kilometres. I met a sweet roly-poly female shopkeeper, who became anxious when I sought advice about getting Almora, instead of asking for Gangolihat. She redirected me to the tiraha (tri-junction), from where I’d lost way.

I was several kilometres away from Almora when night descended. I still contemplated a hurried schedule. I’d stop and dine in Almora then, riding slowly push through all night, to Nainital. I did call Mr.Gururani, if he had acquired the requested spare. He hadn’t. We discussed a solution and two options came up – either get to Haldwani or to Moradabad to get the issue fixed. Again, I had an unrealistic ego-rush, that I’d get to Nainital and make it to Delhi latest by the following afternoon. As I previously stated – The trip is not a 24-hour exercise. Not unless one’s blessed with supernatural abilities.

From where I last halted at dusk for tea, with only a solitary halt afterwards till Almora, I was riding for around two hours through the darkness. Definitely glad, I didn’t get any broken bones. Nearing Almora, I’d never been more relieved at the sight of road-side beacons, guiding my way. I was careful about the hill-traffic at night and thankful for great roads around Almora. I’d just like to state here that, ideally I should’ve halted at Dhaulachhina. But as my individual thoughts go, the situation was not ideal. I approached it as best as I could.

Somehow I made it to a main section of Almora. Despite all my exertions, I espied a police constable and queried about a decent hotel. He in turn began questioning me. I was quite brusque at that moment with my request. Eager to dine. He directed me to Hotel Shikhar. There, I changed my mind (thankfully), after checking out the rooms. Hotel Shikhar is a good hotel, a great stop even for budget travellers. I got myself a fantastic room for just Rs.800. It was a deal for me. Dinner and taxes were extra. Still I did not spend much. Only around Rs.1300, that was okay for me. Feasting on a personal favourite of two rounds of egg-fried rice, I went to sleep after watching some random movie. So preoccupied I was with my bike issues and rushing back to Delhi, that I couldn’t fully appreciate the luxury of my room; not that night, not the next day.

Day 4Almora to Delhi

This I deem to be one of the jewels among my riding tales (lol). I woke up early around six. I quickly washed up, got ready and reached the reception to settle my bill. On my way up, through a glass elevator affording a view of Almora, I saw an amazing sight. The mist had settled into the valley, blanket-like, hiding it away from one’s view. With me a gentleman, who I thought was a local well-to-do. Upon a discreet closer observation, he turned out to be a foreigner. Honest mistake, as a majority of people in Almora are very fair. I humbly aided the receptionist, communicating his directions properly to this gentleman keen on visiting some camp in Chaukori. Payment done, I departed. Struggled embarrassingly with Gabbar. Then for the nth time was off in the wrong direction (Thankfully I didn’t cover even a kilometre).

Getting set on the correct path, I rode uneventfully on a great road through a thin morning mist. The mist cleared with the passing hour or so. I rode through Nainital, crossed Khurpatal and Sariyatal, stopping one last time on the hills at Ghatgar. On my part, this was a calculated gamble. I stop, rest well, then ride non-stop to Moradabad. I halted at a place called Hotel Wild Ridzz. I assumed it was a fancy of saying Hotel Wild Rides. I was stumped, as I ordered for some maggi, when I heard its pronunciation from the gentleman in charge – it sounded like Ritz. Oh good grief! Even with my limited knowledge about Ritz, I was holding back a good laugh. Not to be mean, it was a darling of a place. A good stop-over for any overnight hill trips. Reasonable too.

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Finishing up, I psyched myself for a non-stop ride to Moradabad. I knew I could not afford to stop, as that’d nearly doom me. Muttering a prayer of sorts, I started Gabbar with a down-hill in gear. Here I lament, had I but access to the trusty Google Maps. For all my misery, I just had to get to Haldwani, which was a closer destination, than Moradabad, but it must’ve been my destiny (and a final lesson) to reach the latter. Finishing down-hill ride, I rode non-stop for over 90 kilometres. At one point, I was embarrassingly waiting at a railway crossing surrounded by a sea of locals, without shutting Gabbar. I knew it would be hard to request and get help easily, hence I bore the situation quietly. Nearly having done a 100 kilometres non-stop, I most fortunately found a tea-shack in some dusty kasba. What was fortunate was, the place had an incline to help start my bike.

I called Iqbal as I had tea and discussed about possible solutions. Post tea, I attempted to start Gabbar from atop the brief slope of hardened earth. I was very fortunate that Gabbar started without a fuss. And then on I rode again, non-stop till I reached Moradabad.

This misfortune, actually got me into the main Moradabad when people were awake. There was a crowded bustle, and without stopping Gabbar, I sought directions to a Royal Enfield mechanic. I eventually found one near a main road intersection. There I halted and explained the complete issue to the patient mech. As my luck would have it, the nearby spares retailer didn’t have the required part. I got information about other shops where I could try my luck. I went back to the mech, secured my bike. He assured me that my luggage would be safe. I took a leap of faith. I got an autorickshaw and went to a more distant shop, where I found much sought treasure of a kick-pedal. It was the closest of what would work. I took it back to the mech, who locally engineered a fix. I’d had an interesting pow-wow with the chatty autorickshaw driver during my quest. Shortly after we’d acquired the spare around a cross junction in a place called Kachehri (with reference to some nearby court-house possibly), I asked him what was popular in Moradabad. He told me brass-works. The discussion turned to cuisine, and soon to a favourite delicacy of mine – Kebabs. He said, had I told him so, he’d have got me some fabulous ones just where I’d picked up the spare. I wistfully rued the miss and we reached the mech to fix the kick-pedal. {I have this weird condition, wherein my system doesn’t accept most Indian meat preparations. This limits my non-vegetarian palate to momos (dim-sums) and to a variety of kebabs – chicken, mutton, beef i.e. buffalo}

There was some technical snag, which the mech advised me to get checked with the same spares retailer. “Wow! Maybe I do finally get to have those kebabs” was the thought. I got on my bike, and retraced the way. {Another curious thing I’ve observed in myself, is that though I’m terrible with numbers and addresses, but should I visit someone/place  – via landmarks– I generally make it back to that location pretty accurately}

      I reached the retailer’s and he had his mechanic fix the issue (something to do with a bolt not getting adjusted properly with the bottom groove). Issue resolved, I checked about the kebabs. They helped me with some generic directions. My tales seldom finish even nearing their end. I located the kebab joint. The kebab scene wasn’t ready yet and I was advised to wait.

I sat at an opposite make-shift tea stall. There were a few others there. Among them a local youth was admiring my bike. I politely dismissed it as a regular sight in India. He ventured to specify that he meant bikers, such as yours truly, were a rare sight in the section where I was, indicating to the pannier-rack and luggage. I smiled acknowledging the compliment. An elderly Muslim gentleman, got conversant, enquiring about me. I shared only that I hail from Delhi. He enthusiastically shared with me his visits to the renowned Old Delhi Jama Masjid. Post a friendly discussion about Jama Masjid, he probed me about my interest for kebabs. He told me if I really cared to savour great kebabs, I should try the ones near the Tehsili school. Quickly getting directions, I abandoned my wait and headed where advised. After navigating through the narrow streets, I reached the venue. Despite the crowd at the eatery, I had my fill of kebabs. I recollected the autorickshaw driver illuminating me that in the state of Uttar Pradesh, where the lore went of how polite the denizens of Lucknow were, equally popular was the common rude disposition of Moradabad. Post a gorging on kebabs, I rode shuffling and weaving my oversized Royal Enfield through the narrow market streets. I checked with a traffic constable about the directions to the highway and possibly a petrol pump. He told me what I needed to know.

Moradabad didn’t end without a suppressed giggle. I found the petrol pump alright. With generally, what I’d encounter even in remote places, were two pump stations at the very least. Here, was this lone pump at a street corner. The vehicles were fuelled as they turned corner, should they want to fuel-up. Post fuel-up, I rode relaxed and relieved, with a little promise to myself that I’d be back for the kebabs.

Incident-less, I got back to Delhi. Upon the Ghaziabad intersection where Delhi begins with a flyover, I cried out “Kawabanga!!” (totally TMNT inspired).

Thank you, dear reader, for joining me on another journey. Peace and God-Bless.

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