Munsiyari 3: The Rain Gods (Part I)

We met who from, I mostly shy. It was their time of reign. Aye! Returned we schooled well. Two friends, pirates old, tales many betwixt `em they hold. One `pon which they’d hopeful rolled, a holiday etched permanent in memories held careful fold. On hills they emerged, curious, mischief in eyes. Unleashed upon were from quivers spells.  Met we our constant hosts, with their endless trickery laced. Stubborn we remained, against them raced. An audience thus with The Gods of Rains.


A hard one, this. Long time buddy Lalmani Belbase aka Mani joined me to create a third successful trip. I’ve fondly conferred upon him the sobriquet: Baba Belbase. An intense, hardy hill-boy. Blunt as a mace. We made a last minute change on the day of departure. The Almora ride was divided in two parts. First stop: Ghatgar.

The trip began with a minor suspense-drama. My li’l year-and-a-half old niece took fancy to my bike keys. The adorable darling, playing, had put it away and `twasn’t to be found on the day of departure! Luckily, I had a spare. Collecting Mani, we went for some last minute shopping. Fuelling up Gabbar, we returned to my place and loaded our gear. We’d set off some time after 8 pm. Not a favourite time. Late evening traffic and on Saturday too! Barapullah was avoided owing to its construction and resultant route-confusion.

Mani got into his goof-ball mode as soon as we began heading for the Ghaziabad border on the familiar AH2/NH 24. The first break at Amroha (U.P.) infused a bit of comedy. A tipsy guy in his flight began saying hello to Mani. Parking Gabbar, I was right by him, when a companion led away the tipsy one. Our out of town-ers have a hilarious history of similar events.

He took over from me a little after we stopped to toss a coin for good-luck into the Ganges. The Ganges here is locally referred to as Garh Ganga. The bridge arrives a little ahead of Garhmukhteshwar. He rode devilishly doing over 90 kmph. After my request he didn’t go over 80 kmph. A fair rider, he does have a propensity for sudden niggles. This trip had many firsts; two riders and a heavier load. And a tumble on the highway wasn’t a comforting thought. But he rode well till Rampur. It was around 2 a.m.

Of many roads I’ve travelled (sic), I’ll narrate of Rampur’s as fabled. They’re great roads. A sharp contrast to my experience of Indian roads. Even in metropolitans, like –Delhi and Calcutta (Kolkata), one doesn’t encounter such pristine roads.

In alignment with our new plan, I sought directions for the Bazpur road to Kaladhungi. A history of encountering some appalling stretches, I was surer of a route through Moradabad. The manager at Hotel Wild Ridzz (pronounced like Ritz… ha-ha I know), Mr. Ganesh Karki, had advised us to take this route. I had his assurances, yet remained sceptical. Google Maps shows this as the quickest route to Kaladhungi. My last memories of this route, albeit foggy, are that of a road with construction underway. Consequently, its present day incarnation was utterly digestible.

We struggled slightly in locating the entry-point of this road. A constable eerily warned of possible perils lying in wait. Bandits and/or wild animals (sic). A little nudge in the right direction got us progressing. I plead guilty of discouraging Mani from doing this stretch (initially) owing to the mentioned possibilities. I was confident of zipping out quicker, should a need arise. Police posts at regular intervals quelled any doubts/misgivings. Though we were constantly informed, that near Suar, we would encounter a bad stretch.

{Rajwada Road, Rahe Murtaza Road, Rampur Swar (Suar) Bazpur Marg, Bazpur-Nainital Road and MDR 49W. Actually a single road, at different sections bears different names.}


As it was a straight stretch, I let Mani take over. Trees peered out of the darkness silently in the rushing gleam of the headlight. I wondered if there’d be leopards stealthily perched upon their branches. Wondered further about their attacking us and possible evasive actions we should take. Ditto, should we get waylaid by bandits. Vivid imagery (lol).


The emptiness at that hour allowed us to ride fast. Houses, as asleep as their occupants, stood etched solemn; bystanders of that night. In due course we met a young milkman, who informed us that the bad patch was about to start. Mutual agreed, I rode this one. Composed of little mounds of dust and rocks, this stretch lasts about 6 kms (Do let me know if anyone finds a bit of road here J). As we industriously progressed at 15 kmph or less, in certain sense we sailed through a consistent pattern of troughs and crests. Some portions necessitated a crawling speed. Doorways of dust, too, put in a cameo. An engaging conversation kept our minds off the passing macabre experience.


Emerging out of that stretch, we rode a little further, stopping outside a motel named Kahlon Hotel and Restaurant. With the road improving, Mani rode; all gung-ho. At Nayagaon’s solitary police post, I made enquiries about Ghatgar. The officers were very helpful. After a few kms, I took over. He understood the decision on the return journey. Light revealed what the night kept veiled.


Delhi to Nayagaon Chandan Singh, Uttarakhand – 263 kms
Rampur to Nayagaon Chandan Singh, Uttarakhand – 69.5 kms
Nayagaon Chandan Singh, Uttarakhand to Ghatgar – 14.8 kms


Shortly we touched the foothills. During a coordination attempt with Mr. Karki, Gabbar went over a chunk of rock, hampering the side-stand till Almora. It was sometime around 4:30 a.m. when we reached Wild Ridzz. We were overjoyed for the tea and masala(spicy) maggi meal. Plugging the required gadgetry for charging, we chatted. Birds had begun chirping when we dozed off.


Day 2:


Later that morning, we rode towards Almora, better relaxed due to the divided ride. Yet a sneaky hunger hounded me, about making it to Thal/Berinag (214/183 kms). A light ride till Sariyatal, for breakfast at the landmark Maggie Point. It’s a kitchen with a covered veranda. The seating area is open air, surrounded by a view of hills overlooking the tal. Engineering ops began to balance Gabbar (temporarily impaired and considerably loaded) on the uneven roadside. Hills pose their own little questions. Left unanswered, possibly pave out further complications. Later on this route I observed village women, and at times old men, breaking stones. I’m curious about the exercise and its contribution to local sustenance. Gabbar was parked, satisfactorily adjusted.


With Mani taking charge, I explored the area briefly. Turnstiles were common. I returned to join Mani’s studious propaganda of devouring breakfast. Lethargic droplets pelted us, soon gaining momentum. Not heavy, but a restricting drizzle. When it lightened, taking cue, we hastened to Gabbar (who was most well-behaved at ignition. Phew!). We began a slowly coursing for Nainital.


A leisurely ascent filled with some breath-taking scenery waving us by at the bends. With Sariyatal/Ghatgar as base, weekend holidays are excellent opportunities to explore the lower hills. The road-works done during the previous trip was definitely looking good now. Roads around Nainital and Almora are a pleasurable ride. The 60-odd kilometre between the two is mostly hassle free. Well, Mani wasn’t too impressed with Nainital. He wondered aloud what was so great. Perhaps the cooling climes, I offered. Though, I too am not an avid fan of Nainital’s commercial aura.


I demonstrated the little key-less ignition trick I’d learnt. During a descent, Gabbar’d stalled but began without me moving a muscle. Mani got curious about this. I explained that the ignition had started in gear. This had us giggling. As if there existed some celestial pact between Nainital and rains, we were untouched. Yet shortly, a benign drizzle began teasing. We stopped at Bhowali’s water-logged petrol pump but the jammed fuel-tank lid was too stubborn to budge. We continued as we had enough to reach Almora.


Riding, cockily sans a jacket, had me shivering slightly. We halted at a bend, with a waterfall trickling down the cavity. Our first activity break. Relieving ourselves, we then heartily took some photos. I geared up to battle the chilly ride. The drizzle indulged in a childish hide-n-seek routine. Off one moment then tip-toeing, it resumed the next. We relaxed a bit on a concrete barrier before winding up. I’d found a useful polythene to protect my camera against the elements.

Passing Kainchi dham (spiritual venue), my eyes eagerly hunted for a descent to the riverside. The river (Kosi) was much clearer compared to the muddy-one during my first trip. Riding the arc-like road after Khairna, we had a view of the Kosi engaged in a rumble, powerfully progressing its course. The drizzle hid away, yet following us in a silent lurk. Us? We were unmindfully admiring the siren-like hills.


A bit further we stopped at Negi Restaurant, near Lohali. The owner advised of a descent to the riverside. Mani opted to eat in the restaurant setting. A small eating area with a few tables and benches and a motorcycle parked within the same vicinity! I shot down the narrow cut steps, briskly crossing the sandy stretch to reach the boulders at the riverside. I located a comfortable rock to observe the Kosi’s mute bustling. Mani was enjoying it from the balcony. I went back up, requested for my meal to be brought to the river-side. The folks were delightfully obliging. I returned to the river-side, shortly enjoying the delivered meal. After a lot of goading Mani joined me. A second round of feasting followed. Here Baba Belbase grandly quoted, in a lighter vein, that this was meagre river of the plains (per his constant comparisons to Nepal). Laughing, I teasingly warned him about the awaiting encounters with the ones higher up. Maybe that’d appease his sensitive mountain-grandeur (lol).


Upon returning, I collected our stuff and chatted with the kid who’d been ferrying my meals. I took his photo and left him my link. Rider’s spirit awoken, Mani wanted to ride. I was all for it. We rode some way, when he stopped abruptly. He told me he was feeling uncomfortable with the sight of the drop. I told him to relax and took over. I did feel bad that he hadn’t gotten to ride much, despite a good chunk of riding chalked out for him.

Passing the Kwarab Bridge, I showed him exactly where I’d met Pt. Ganesh Dutt. The road upon which I’d struggled with the old feller was now a beauty. Drizzling resumed unassumingly as we entered Almora. No pacts here. We tried to get fuelled up again, but the lid was jammed tight. Too tight to budge despite several people trying to open it. We decided to go to the hotel (just next door), then take it from there. Per our routine by now, Mani went to the room and I got Gabbar settled. Unwinding a bit, I got some shots from the balcony. We’d arrived in good time. Rested, I headed to the mechanic’s.


Drizzling, a bit more pronounced (not yet a shower), had me riding cautiously. The mechanic was a genius. Fixed the jammed lid in under 5 mins!! Lacking change for his requested amount, I asked him to give me awhile to get change after fuelling up. I got the fuel-up done and rode back to settle the bill. Back at the hotel, we had an early dinner at the hotel’s restaurant. With a modest decor, it was pretty empty except for us. The meal had Mani’s thumbs-up. Fresh-lime sodas concluded a lovely experience.


A bit of comedy followed later that night. Mani, post some telephonic conversation, jokingly passed an idea of possibly turning back. For my own reasons, I wasn’t too opposed. Borrowing Shakespeare’s famous expression, our conversation went pendulously – To go or not to go. Various elements spiced the reasoning. Wet roads, euphemising ill health, etc. It was a riot of a debate running deep into the night. And naturally, no advent towards Munsiyari was possible the next day.


Day 3:

To make the most of the extra day, a mini-ride was planned. Where to, was still not. After breakfast we headed to the mechanic. With a power-cut meant an hour-long wait. Deciding to leave Gabbar with the mechanic, we proceeded to hike some of the nearby locales. As we strolled Mani identified some leaves for my benefit. Curious. We re-routed seeking a bit of solitude (like if one or the other felt an urge to scream with unobstructed joy, without looking ridiculous!). An alternate winding path, led, around a high-walled forest reserve. Scaling options available for a leopard’s consideration were discussed. Then perhaps a little leopard-mayhem. Our seriousness is clear. Mani located a trek-able track. Solitary enough. Trekking hillock to hillock, we did some photography. I merrily scoured around the place. Idling we reached an edge, from where it was a steep grassy downhill. We sat there awhile. All well, till my wandering gaze discovered a precarious proximity to goat droppings. I instantly relocated to a fallen tree. Mani photographed me, as I directed him to avoid tumbling down the hill.


With the outage ongoing we opted to have repairs done later that evening. For now getting to a river, any river, was priority. Many options ran through my mind. What dawned finally was priceless. And it was just right.


Bhagtola. This’d work for us. We passed some bends (marked for possible later hikes), a colourfully painted bridge as we passed the town of Kosi. Some kilometres on, another picturesque one. With Baba Belbase astride behind, I knew Bhagtola was the stop. This again was marked for the return journey to Almora. Next halt: Bhagtola.


Hard-to-please Baba Belbase enjoyed the local chowmein sans vegetables. The humble dish ‘merited his high praise’. I devoured some bun-omelettes (good alternative to maggi). When we broached about leopards, the locals bemoaning, shared their experiences. Leopard attacks were frequent. The most recent, just three days earlier, had claimed a cow.


A concrete stairway leading to a bridge below was our next port of call. Hiking carefully past cultivated crops, we shortly arrived at the river. Bit by bit, an unknown facet of Mani began dawning. He surprised me with his knowledge of crops. Earlier, the leaves. Hmm.

Mani had spotted a little group of locals fishing. We hiked over for closer observation. This greatly fascinated him. I too felt a serenity clasp me. From opposite banks, both parties waving exchanged greetings. They were using a net and one of them gladly posed, proudly displaying the catch. This was the highlight of the trip.


After soaking in the experience, I went to the bridge to get some shots. A few monkeys began to… well monkey around. I got my shots – bridge, monkey et all. Not really keen on a monkey bite, I saw wisdom in exiting. And timely too! As we climbed up, we saw the bridge falling to the siege of vanarsena (monkey army). Here, the inventor in me awoke. Conceptualizing a tom-toming robo-scarecrow with a cable system, I shortly abandoned the idea. With associated costs and adjustments, the invention’s success felt dubious.


Heading back, a kilometre or two on, Mani advised me of a hiking opportunity. Turning Gabbar around, we reached there. Carefully descending, the convenience of a flat grassy patch afforded us a parking. Freeing the side stand, Gabbar was parked. Hiking down goat-tracks, I espied some metal cone pairs tied to a few trees to collect sap. Interesting. We trekked to a point beyond which descent would prove deadly. Yes, even in the innocent embrace of natural beauty, a fatality wasn’t difficult to fathom. Despite hiking around, we found no way to reach the river. I grimly expressed, further descent would require rock-climbing skills. Disappointed, we returned to Gabbar.


Re-securing the side-stand was messy and laborious. Plenty of hand sanitizing for me and pine leaves for Mani, who was almost at home. Now, a tricky to-do to carefully reach the road, located a mere few metres above. A slip or tumble, however, on the grassy slope (now positioned in ascent) could get ugly. And Gabbar was capable of pinning the rider with its weight. And a downslide? Haha. I worked out a solution. Carefully turning and reversing, I kept my focus. Mani stood clear. A successful upwards curve and straight run onto the road, I’d be home. A quick prayer post, the manoeuvre was achieved. Phew! So little meant so much.


Disappointed, we still itched for a riverside frolic. Enterprising Baba Belbase to the rescue.

{I promise you, if something itches the great Baba Belbase, he doesn’t concede till the itch is scratched. Irrespective of the consequences (unless too dire, and even then he’ll attempt as much as he dares)}


But this time, he’d found a good access. Parking Gabbar, well-balanced, on the main-stand, I was prompt in pursuit of the treasure Mani was on to. This episode now becomes a poop-story. Literally. The Ol’ MacDonald nursery rhyme would add a stanza “.. here a poop, there a poop, everywhere a poop-poop..”. Thus, navigating the poop-ery dotting the descent, I reached the boulders. Hopping over them, I reached the river. A quick look around. Filthy and poop-kissed views. I spotted a patch of grass, adjacent to the river. My eyes lit up. If not the promised land, atleast access to as promising a grassy-patch.


Hoo-boy! With a universal song of joy ringing through me, beckoning Mani, I reached the edge. A bit of watery width had to be carefully crossed and I’d be there. Using my lengthy reach, I crossed. Spotting a neat patch, I removed my gear. Fate was quite active with its whip of inconvenience. Mani crossed unaided, balancing on a few jutting rocks quite well. Keeping his stuff alongside mine, he went off to wash his greasy hands. Me? I settled down on a presentable rock with great access to water for some splish-sploshing. Ah! My short lived joy.


No sooner had I settled down, my wearisome wandering gaze caught sight of Gerridae or water-skaters to my right. Sighing, I still accommodated the nausea. From what I’m familiar with is that they are bioconductors of polluted waters.

I had for some unknown reason incurred nature’s disfavour. It wasn’t serenading me today. Far from it. As if this wasn’t enough, a brief gaze to my left led to a prompt panic. There it was, lost to our world, a finger-sized dead fish! Eyes wide open, lifeless as you please. And it’d apparently gotten itself stuck to the left of the rock I was sitting on. Arrgh. The panic caused a shriek and instant scramble. I looked around, saw an aimless branch lying. I grabbed it. A lifeless stuck fish + aimlessly lying branch = remove the bloody fish off the rock.


Did as much, freeing the dead-fish and setting it off on a continued journey downstream to find a suitable sanctuary. Either that, or may it make a peaceable meal for some hungry predator. Praying its life comes a full circle, I hastened to Mani’s side. It’s sometimes good to have a human being around for comfort. And it is better to have Mani around, because he’s… well…he’s Mani. Trusty and podgy. He declared the water was muddy, so again we moved. Finding some hope, and affording a little fun, I finally calmed. He looked at a rock whose pate was jutting out of the river. It was at a distance. Mani’s humour thankfully lightened the moment.


“The rock’s top is dry. I don’t like it dry. It needs to be made wet. Can’t have a river rock dry.” he went.


I protested, “It’s mostly submerged… in a few hours it’ll possibly go underwater when(if) the water rises”. He was having none of it. Poor river rock. It was going to get a bath, whether it wanted one or not. I contributed to Mani’s amusement, by splashing some water on the dry pate too. It finally got a little wet to Mani’s satisfaction.


I told him I was done. He, thankfully, was too. So we went back to boot up and scoot. Fate and its whip weren’t done yet. Upon careful observation, the area around where the gear too harboured a bit of poop-ery. I lost it. Hopping about, I frantically geared up and headed for higher (hopefully cleaner) grounds. As Mani followed, he expressed surprise at my abhorrence to animal-poop. Upon probing, he narrated a part of his past that I wasn’t familiar with. As a child, in Nepal, he was quite active in farmlands. That explained the quizzical familiarity with nature he’d been exuding all day. He cheerfully narrated how cows kicked his ass for messing with their calves at feeding times. Not once but several times. As we soldiered upwards I remarked, “Here we are – a hill boy Mani and a mountain goat Jonty (a nickname awarded to yours truly, by friends)!”


Some irresistible ‘abandoned-huts’ were photographed, upon nearing the road. Next? The little bridge before Kosi town. I’m inclined to say that it’s at a location called Mahantgaon, per a sign-stone.

{12.4 kms from Almora towards Bhagtola, 1.2 kms from the Kosi Market.}


Leaving Mani in charge at the bridge, I did some solo photography. Descending from the right of the bridge, I got some nice shots, before whistling through a by-tunnel (?) with some shit-with-fleas, to get to the other side.

After some more shots and a brief video by Mani, we headed back to Almora. On our way back we had a really persistent chase from a local dog. The fellow was at it for quite a distance, till we became ‘unattainable’! Mani and I had a good laugh at the dog’s ‘dogged’ effort. This incident served as a benchmark for the remaining trip, with us grading other dogs on their ‘dogged-ness’.


Reaching Almora, we stopped at the mechanic, who shortly fixed Gabbar. We dined outside and stocked up for the major ride tomorrow, before retiring to our room for the evening. No reception staff till six next morning, caused a flash of anxiety. We paid our bill by eleven itself. The porter manning the reception didn’t know how to run a card, leaving the dirty job for … Baba Belbase (heh heh). He ran it himself for the correct amount. Divertito Signor Belbase aveva salvato una giornata molto produttiva.

(to be continued…)


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