At Mani’s request, we didn’t push for an early rise. Pushpaji’s hospitality pleasantly overwhelmed me. She had served us with a surplus of delicious breakfast. Much as we both wanted to, we were unable to consume the whole thing. I took some photographs of my Homestay room (by now a custom I enjoy indulging in) and a cute photo of Tanishk (posted at the end of my last blog).
Dropping off Mani, at the taxi stand, we agreed to maintain constant communication. Thal was where I’d collect him; else we’d meet directly at Almora. I was off with a lighter load of two bags. Without intending to sound vain or downplay Mani’s aversion to the ride, I have never felt any terror about riding. It’s always felt normal and sometimes exciting. Arriving at Birthi, I halted at my regular tea stop. I had a bit of chat with a local youth. I also waved to Suraj, who was spotted out for my benefit. He gave me shy smile, before joining up with his friends. Checking an sms from Mani, I learnt they’d just left.
Most of our plans were abandoned owing to the new arrangement. I started for Thal. It was a quite solemn ride. I mentally made a note that future trips should include exploring the few kilometres beyond Kalamuni, a dip at the Birthi falls and a river trek in the pockets between Kwiti and Tejam. With some training and a like-minded team, possibly river explorations too.
With my itty-bitty stoppages to communicate with Mani, I’d just exited Thal, when I received frantic message from him not to proceed. Evidently a co-passenger had advised him that a cab for Almora may not be available after noon. I turned back at waited near the main bridge to the town of Thal. I took a short walk, on a path above the Ramganga, which led towards some local settlements. Mani arrived in sometime. With some cooperative policemen at an entrance check-post, we used their garage (as it had a flat ground) to rope up our luggage. Securing all we headed for Berinag, advised to be an hour’s ride. I was keen on pushing for Ghatgar. We agreed to take a call upon reaching Almora with respect to the time.
The ride ahead was quite humbling. Any thoughts on savouring only a particular section in future, was duly weeded out. Each passing locale delighted, flaunting its own array of natural beauty. Even pockets around Dhaulachhina are extremely picturesque. Cricket is almost a religion in India. On different trips, I’ve observed matches in progress in agrarian fields, in alleyways, around historic monuments. While riding, I saw a pair playing the sport on the mountain road itself! They were keeping to an adequate side, not hampering the traffic. Between Dhaulachhina and Badechhina, during a halt, the spring from the side-stand sprung out. Mani somehow affected a quick-fix to secure it. This definitely scuttled any plans for heading to Ghatgar.
Dusk was setting in. We halted at this scenic restaurant – the Jai Golu Restaurant. We had a few bun-omelettes and tea, seated outside admiring the hill view. This restaurant has a few franchises. I’d spotted one on the way to Bhagtola, this was another. The staff here informed us that there was one in Almora too. Strangely, for all the progress available on view, Almora doesn’t have any cinemas. Mani had wanted to catch a movie to experience the local cinema hall.
After paying up, we rode straight to Shikhar. Reaching our new room, we discovered that we’d left the hand sanitizer at the restaurant. A small bottle wouldn’t have been a bother, but I was keen on getting back our big bottle. I rode out to locate the local Almora franchise which was almost the same as going back to that restaurant itself. I chanced to find the owner himself, who kindly ensured that the bottle was kept secured. I’d be able to collect it next morning. Back at the hotel, I was exhausted. Mani took care to order dinner and pampered me quite a bit, passing my meals to me. Really sweet of him.
Last night in the hills of what had been a truly eventful trip. Here, I wish to humbly suggest, kindly refrain from planning any rides during March end if you wish to avoid catching the rains.
Waking up, I rode out to Chitai. I lost my way in the slight drizzle and was on a different road. I luckily got my bearings right and took a u-turn. Reaching the Jai Golu, collecting the hand-sanitizer, I thanked the staff and had a cup of tea. I stopped briefly at a little market and bought a little bell for Mani. The larger ones were prohibitively priced. On my way back I gave a lift to two little children till NTD (Narayan Tewari Debaal). Back at the hotel, we packed up, paid and left. First stop was at our much-frequent mechanic’s. Mani had the backrest adjusted to his liking. The welder hadn’t opened, so the side-stand remained tied up. We decided to care not to park it on the side stand.
Though I’d’ve liked to conclude trip experience at Day 6 itself, but Gabbar was yet to leave his imprints. He’d been amazing all through. His beastly power had helped negotiate, what I personally admit to have been, my toughest ride till date. He displaces 346cc; pretty high among motorcycles manufactured in India. But the fellow was yet to indulge in his ‘heroics’. With minimum stops, accompanied by a bit of drizzle, we were on course for Sariyatal. The stretch between Nainital and Almora does take time. The views are tamer and may cause a mental debate, especially if one has just done a higher stretch. But despite the tame view, my sincere advice to all, especially motorcyclists is – do not get lax, it could get fatal.
Mani had observed the holiday traffic setting in causing a few jams. Traffic was certainly trickling in. Due to the same, we did not venture to a picturesque eatery. One had to park on the road, trek down, cross a bridge and get to it. We stopped at a cute roadside restaurant with a horror of a loo, located a little way below the establishment. It was a tight cubicle with an Indian style commode. Constant usage and little maintenance could almost make one throw-up. We sat at a conveniently located corner table with a scenic view of the river Kosi.
Entering Nainital, I soon had to deal with a difficult, seemingly endless steep uphill. Exiting the Mall Road, we encountered a wretched two-way traffic, on an ascent. Mercifully, it was proper tar-road. Though it was a trial for me, Gabbar, resolute and powerful, gave a brilliant exhibition. He endured the constant abuse of having to pause amidst the choking two-way traffic. With engine running, he bore the load (us and the luggage) during frequent gear changes. The uphill here just didn’t seem to end, neither did the traffic. At a Y-junction, I took the wrong turn and just there, Gabbar’s gears jammed up. Holding it rigid, I had Mani disembark, to manoeuvre it around. After a quick stop, getting the correct direction and the gears resuming a normal function, we exited Nainital.
Nearing Sariyatal, Mani saw some hatchback car’s occupants dancing, to the music from the car’s audio-system. He said “Well that’s definitely the way to party!” I had a good laugh at this. It was truly a visual definition of freedom. At Maggi-Point, Sariyatal, I took the opportunity at Mani’s assurance, to check out the two guest houses there. One was a budget guest house – Aashirwad Guest House and the slightly fancier Manohar Guest house. Returning to Maggi-Point, I had my fill of maggi. In line with our calculations we exited the foothills of Kaladhungi by 5 p.m.
As soon as one exits the foothill, the road to the right heads towards Delhi and a short ride (barely a minute) gets you to a petrol pump. A last fuel up done, we rode towards Rampur. It was quite crowded at Bazpur, which was quite unexpected for Mani. He admitted that he never imagined such a crowd. I reminded him about the hour during our ride towards Kaladhungi, to help him put his thoughts in perspective. We stopped a few kilometres before the Kahlon Hotel and Restaurant. Contrasting emotions were on view. Mani was relieved to have exited the hills versus my distraught at the same.
Chatting out the 5-6 kilometres of ‘the’ stretch after Suar, we were back on the straight-line route to Rampur. We stopped again, as Mani contemplated riding. Two middle-aged motorcycle-bound locals stopped near us. Though wary, I kept my composure. They were curious about us, especially with our luggage packed motorcycle. I cheerfully answered a few of their queries about our trip, before excusing ourselves. Mani rode for about a kilometre. He stopped feeling a bit unsure and said I should ride. He expressed remorse at not being able to ride, I told him it was okay and not to feel bad. I was actually happy to ride some more.
Riding through the transitioning dusk, it did get a bit difficult. The combination of Gabbar’s modest headlight, a poor eyesight met an opposing combination of irregular intervals of dust and high-beams from approaching vehicles. I was frequently flipping my helmet’s visor up and down to adjust to the morphing traffic complications.
An accident happened shortly. Traffic behaviour in U.P. can get vividly annoying. We were trying to confirm our route at an intersection from a local autorickshaw, when a motorcyclist with pillion banged into the autorickshaw without warning. I managed to bail-out the faultless autorickshaw driver, by placating the motorist that it was an unintentional mishap. Diverting his angst with our query about Rampur, we thanked him a lot. Ego-massaging can be quite handy (lol). From there, I was familiar with the route and didn’t stop.
Cruising out of Rampur, with night traffic plying, we took a right for Delhi. A pit-stop was done a little prior to Moradabad. Another plan had to be abandoned. Kebabs at Moradabad. Riding the darker stretches got a bit challenging as the headlight’s high-beam had gone awry. I hoped to catch a known mechanic at a place called Zero-Point. Reaching zero-point, I was a bit dismayed, as the he had closed shop and gone home. I decided we make it Delhi, despite the drawbacks. Just had to remain focused. A little after Zero-Point, Mani took-over the riding and did the next 30-odd kilometres quite well. After another pit-stop, whilst exiting, Mani benignly disturbed a beverage-rack. Thankfully no harm done. The track was actually a bit muddy. I helped him balance Gabbar, as we hit the road.
A next halt was at a large road-side dhaba. Mani unintentionally kicked the side-stand out. We decided to fix it before riding out. This was a long halt, lasting nearly an hour. We relaxed a bit with tea and a couple of paranthas. We witnessed another drunken brawl. The restaurant owners told-off some drunken patrons. It was a Vaishnav dhaba. These dhabas, offer vegetarian cuisine. And certain joints are staunchly religious. This happened to be one. I’d taken care to seek permission before lighting up a cigarette. Mani and I wondered aloud about this curious occurrence we frequently encountered. Episodes of drunken brawls at dhabas during our out-station rides. Securing the side-stand, we washed our greasy palms and rode out slowly, with me taking over per Mani.
We made minor pit-stop for tea at a restaurant, two kilometres from Pilkhuwa. I luckily got some window-cleaning liquid to clean my dirty helmet visor. Mentally I patted myself over the operation, which proved quite handy. From here we rode non-stop to Delhi. It did get a bit chaotic at a Ghaziabad entry to Delhi. A guessed turn turned out to be correct. A bit of drizzle was on.
Getting back is an experience in itself. We headed to Mani’s place first. Unpacking his load, we chatted a bit before bidding adieu. Balancing the remaining load, I did quite well till the JNU road, where finally the rain-gods caught up. Riding through the showers, I reached my colony. Parking Gabbar and undoing the luggage, I went to my friend’s to collect my original set of keys. His daughter had just woken up. As he walked around holding her, she looked at me through her half sleepy eyes and smiled. Best welcome of all time.
Thanking you for reading. Hope you enjoyed the journey 🙂