Part II: Munsiyari 3 – Day 4 and 5

Day 4:

It was still dark, as we roped our gear. Great to get some empty roads on the way out. The morning was uneventful, as we quietly devoured a bit over hundred kilometres. The road bore evidence of rains, for some distance after Dhaulachhina. Till Berinag the route is a visual buffet for motorists. Serpentine roads with green forests passing by, a couple unique hill-top temples, the benign creek around Sukhliadi Bend before one enters stretches of rust-coloured pine forestation. After some civilization around Berinag, there were several colossal stretches of pine forests, with intervals of picturesque little villages, before a decent stretch to Thal.

 

A tight schedule prevented prolonged stops. We reached Thal in good time; two hours ahead of schedule. We communicated our possible 4 p.m. arrival to our hosts. Quick lunch and fuel up done, we rode on. The roads soon acquired a vicious form. Careful observation mixed with some recollections, revealed some great, but trying descents, leading to the Ramganga River. Around one of the bends, I was able to show Mani a rock-infested road sans any tarred patches, similar to the harrowing ten kilometre ascent during my first trip.

A little before the Tejam Bridge, we stopped for some nice pictures. The sight of river water clarity clearly had him jumping and hopping about.

{His favoured Nepalese waterways for once took a backseat! Ha-ha. The features in these parts, the Pithoragarh district, are apt to bear resemblance, as Nepal is figuratively just next door.}

 

It’s hard to suppress the humour when he shifts gears, shedding his guard and comes into his true elements. The Real-Mani-antics. This aspect really deserves televising. He went ga-ga at the scenery, I went ha-ha telling him the mountains would only get higher from here. He wasn’t too comforted at the thought.

 

At the Tejam Bridge. Mani espied a little goat track to the river. It proved to be an enriching experience. Parking Gabbar we descended as we were. The powerful river currents had Mani’s obeisance. Tentatively prodding, we carefully dared into those waters. Finally an opportunity for frolic. Only marred by a hard exercising of self-control, which kept us from submitting to a complete dip. We considered returning here for a proper water-time on our way back, despite chilling morning temperatures.

 

We next stopped at a little bridge just before Dor. This tantalizing site offered some trekking options and a waterfall extending a red-hot invitation to a dip. A free, natural water-park, albeit with real consequences for any callousness. The route till Birthi, though mostly fair, does contain an existence of few eerie drops. Near the first bridge before Birthi, we stopped for a tea break. After tea, a bit of photography. The little stream flowing under the bridge was the Jakola, as informed by the locals.

 

No Suraj this time. We rode up a few kilometres till the Birthi Falls. It was a good idea to check it out now for who knows if we’d stop on way down. After a good hike, plenty of stairs too (at a height) and finally out of breath we reached the AWESOME falls. There is some basic seating arrangement near the falls. Again I saw a pool here. Where were my Casino Royale swim-trunks. Oh! Right, Daniel Craig never returned them (lol).Post the falls we began for the last stretch of ascent-filled riding.

 

Mani though beheld the spectacles around; he got quieter and quieter, owing to the drop at the edge of the road. This was literally on the edge for him. I rode slowly with my antennae tuned to high caution. It still didn’t help Mani. At Ginni Bend, we were advised it would be about 10 kms before the Kalamuni temple pass.

Somewhere flute silent a tune o` fear played.

 

We were carefully negotiating a penultimate upwards climb, when the gears jammed up a bit! Suddenly! The bike felt a tad too overloaded. I did my best to hold it steady. Every gram of weight on Gabbar, got tipped to its heaviest. It had a heavier lean (thankfully to the left, which had the mountain-side). I quickly gauged that my getting off would be ill advised. The bike unsteadily bowed lower, straining my left wrist. Mani, unable gain proper footing rolled off. But quiet doggedly scrambled up soon enough. He said he wasn’t hurt. With some effort, I was able to get the bike into a riding position. The stretch we were on was a dirt road section, whilst just inches ahead, the tarred section began. I told Mani to get a sizeable rock and put it at the base of the rear tyre. He hastened to do so. Then, as he anchored his feet hard and pushing held the rear, I kick-started the bike, not caring for precarious lunge while in gear. In a trice I was able to switch to the neutral gear and start Gabbar. I climbed onto the tar portion and slowly wound my way up, with quick glances to check on Mani. He was good. A bit stabilized, I halted, waiting for Mani to catch and hop on.

Whatever caution we’d practised so far, we increased it several notches, riding at a balanced speed, clearing the ascents with great vigil. He was quite shaken up. I constantly re-assured him all was good. As we approached the Kalamuni pass, I told him to get his cell-phone on video mode to capture a breath-taking view. Though he did so with uncertainty, I do feel it had the desired effect. I shared with him an experience I’ve felt each time, I’ve passed Kalamuni. The snow-capped view of Panschuli Peaks.

To a question Mani had earlier asked about the traffic to Munsiyari – it was scarce. Beyond Almora the traffic begins to thin out, with exceptions of town-areas around Berinag and Thal. Post Thal, the traffic till date tends to be a bit bleak, more so after Kwiti. After Thal, a major halt for a mechanic or a garage is Nachani. After that it’s a bit sketchy getting a garage.

We passed the two minor water-falls before Munsiyari, continuing till a solitary stretch. We halted to recover from our little spill-incident.

Mani, despite his brave face was quaking. Seeds of a change to the ride began to get sown. We discussed among options, about him taking a hill-taxi till Birthi/Thal or maybe even till Almora. He began considering this option strongly. This later proved quite effective for both of us. We resumed, heading towards a primary school in Sarmoli. Another first; a daylight arrival.

 

Arriving at a concrete ascent, we were welcomed by Pushpaji. Greeting her, we parked a little ahead. Easy to gauge Mani’s haste to reach the security of the room. Unloading our gear, we hiked till our lodgings. After relaxing a bit, I returned to Gabbar. With a healthy fear of slipping and falling, I assessed the climb. As it was empty, I gunned Gabbar. At a measured speed, yet without slowing, I reached near the steps of Pushpaji’s residence. Securing Gabbar with a rain-cover, I headed for the room. A family bedroom doubling up as a guest room, with a really basic bathroom. An immersion rod was there for hot water. The quiet rain awoke and began composing its child-like pitter-patter.

 

Tea was served shortly. We agreed and paid the balance amount to Pushpaji. We avoided Messar Kund, being cautioned about the darkness during descent. Our hosts however were quite keen that we visit the town’s museum. I’d reviewed snippets about it online. Mani by now was willing to pursue any travel on foot, rather than a bike-ride. We made good friends with the family’s younger pet, Hopu. Hopu was a happy hobbler (left front paw was bad). A heavy-coated mountain pup at a teething stage, I guess. The tyke was quite eagerly mouthing my fingers, as I pet him.

 

An hour later Pushpaji’s youngest son, Tanishk Sumtyal, took us to the museum. A tiny chap, but quite brisk. Cogged city lungs were no match the little mountain lad’s clean ones. The museum had 2-3 rooms. No photography allowed. We were shown several traditional items of interest, some old photographs, and variety feminine jewellery. A few samples of hill produce were shown. Yarsagumbhu was much discussed. A fresh input – children (about Tanishk’s age) were valuable during the expeditions, their sharp eyesight helped locate the Yarsagumbhu’s protruding head. Mani bought a book about the Kailash mountains. Admission cost Rs.20.

From the museum, a tedious hike, through transitioning dusk, got us home. We got some chocolates for the kids. Tanishk’s elder brother, Rahul, an equally sweet fellow, helped us with our dinner. It was an eager gobble-fest upon the delicious home-cooked meal by our hostess. The meal was magically helpful in soothing our ride-battered souls.

 

Day 5:

The Gori
“It’s me Baby. No crossing here.”

 

A rare day when we slept till seven. We had decided to head out to the Gori River. Confirming the route, we set off. Purchasing a bottle of water took some doing. A shop-keeper advised that locals generally quenched their thirst with the mountain-side stream water.

The BRO (Border Roads Organization) were hard at work. Located 18 kms from Pushpaji’s place, a downhill ride with several dirt-tracks stretches which rarely allowed speeds exceeding 15 kmph. Some stretches, muddier. T’is, a bit tricky, became! Doing 5 kmph or less seemed ideal, however it meant the weight on the bike would be felt. Sure enough it caused two manageable slips. Arriving at a viable spot near the river, we worked out a strategy to counter these roguish stretches.

 

Where we’d stopped, a similar rogue-track led to the river. We opted to walk the rest till the river. A river construction activity was in progress at a stone’s throw. Crossing the sandy banks we reached the riverside. What a sight!

 

The Gori – literally translated means a fair maiden –  was pale, brown, muddy. In-house authority on mountainous ‘element-ology’, Baba Belbase, inimitably opined that this was a truly ferocious river. Prior rivers (even the frequently vilified Ramganga) felt tempered-tenderized compared to this beastly past-master. At no point did the Gori allow any opportunity to cross it. Powerfully surging river-waters embroiled in monstrous wrestling!! Banks, too, taunting expressed menacing visuals. All echoing “It’s me Baby, no crossing here!” But they were annoyingly dirty. Definitely filthy, soiled imprints of apathy (personally felt, as if polluted). Trekking about we checked a few other spots. Curtailing the visit with a respectful surrender, we started back.

 

“Messar Kund, maybe, a possible respite” was a thought. Presently, it felt like a distant universe. Time to ‘battle-test’ our strategy. Poor Mani, refusing to ride, had taken the onus upon himself, to trek up the steep dirt-track slopes. That was our Big strategy. Every kilometre or so we hit one such slope. Disembarking, he’d walk up, whilst I rode up and waited at a more hospitable place. A thorough test to discovering an ideal speed – a zippy crawl! The entire exercise must’ve been a good four hour gruel. Quite an embracing experience, hmm.

Midway, after several repetitions of our strategy, I miscalculated a slope leading to a third slip. Thereafter none. A few kilometres ahead, we returned to a fair length of dusty, under-construction road. A mild upward slope approached. Though Mani offered to trek it, I felt bad about the inconvenience to him. Assuring him, that I’d be able to negotiate this, I didn’t let him disembark. An aching slow ride saw us cross that stretch. The road-workers were at lunch. Riding slow and putting the entire library of hill riding rules into effect, we made it to our Homestay, much relieved.

 

We next headed to Malla (upper) Sarmoli, where I’d previously stayed. Mani humorously acceded that we were put up in ‘the-lap-of-luxury’ compared to this, another variation of an inhospitable route. He (overwhelmed?) declined the Messar Kund trek; I didn’t push him further. We stopped for tea and samosas. We left shortly, as owner was quite grouchy. No sense patronizing the place, with the owner’s indifferent disposition. We inquired at the taxi-stand about services for the next day.

Mani had spotted a joint somewhere the previous day, which served bhuttey, a local Nepali street-food.

{A clarification for the readers benefit. A few of you might feel this has something to do with corn, which is locally referred to as bhutta. But it has no similarity with bhuttey despite similar sounding names}.

 

He was extremely keen to try it. He’d never been able to savour it previously, as it was generally served in local pubs and he’d have his relatives around. A free-bird now, away from the eyes of inquisitions, keen to sink his teeth into what I feel he’d term as – a forbidden delicacy. I wouldn’t know the joys with my ultra-selective palate for non-vegetarian food. Bhuttey, as Mani elaborated consists of liver and innards, mostly a mutton variety, sometimes cooked with oil though generally with the accompanying animal fat. He did find it necessary to enlighten me that sometimes, it was cooked with the skin! Not only was he talking Greek and Latin to me, I somehow felt (per Mani’s style of expressing) that it was an abomination of a meal. I gladly kept my meagre chowmein. As we left, our frequent companions – the drizzles, waltzing, re-appeared; with its now-familiar pitter-patters.

Little Tanishk had taken a fancy to Gabbar and was keen on a spin. Mani and I smiled bemused at the interest. After a bit of rest, I took Tanishk for a ride. We began with the market, hunting for temple bells. As the shop was closed, we headed for this temple he was excited to take me to. I rode carefully, with the kid astride. Truly, one has to revere any child’s innocence as godly. Especially in a present culture, reeking of instant self-gratification. I felt humbled in Tanishk’s company with his innocent viewpoints. The first, his temple. Much to my amazement, it was a crude road-side sculpture. Smiling, I paid my respects. Next, he was quite profound in his childish wisdom – all friends are brothers. I smiled at this. If only all endorsed this, the quest for paradise would be realised in one’s surroundings itself.

I bought a few onions for dinner. A light dinner for me, with the next day’s long ride in mind. We scouted another shop or two to purchase some chocolates and a few sachets of a sour-ish orange beverage mix. Tanishk showed me a shortcut. A patch of poop, here too. Ah! The poopiness of it all. Or perhaps, the advents that I was able to make on this trip had opened my eyes. The beauty wasn’t all that pristine. It did have its teeny-weeny niggles that one had to overcome (mostly in mind), to draw out genuine appreciation.

The night wasn’t too kind to Mani’s tummy. He later enthralled me with concepts of ill-wills and evil-designs, how they had cursed him for devouring bhuttey. Also taken into account were the poor cooked-animal’s woes (lol). He had a rough night. Having dozed off early, I woke up around 11 p.m. As I stepped outside for a bit, the view before me had to be seen! The snow-peaks were visible even at night. What more could one want on such a trip? In due time, I forced myself to sleep. Had to be fresh for the descent next morning.

(to be continued….)

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