Munsiyari 3: Concluding the Trip

Day 6:

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.

Day 7:

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 🙂

 

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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….)

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…)

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.

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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.

Munsiyari: The First Ride (continued)

                                                    PART II

Respectfully, I passed the cows and post-pass, had an amusing bit-episode; calling them names. Star-cast included: Gang of Cows, Gabbar the motorcycle and yours truly.

Gravelly road returns. I ho-hummed and, carping, rode on. You must have heard, the thing about fate smiling silently upon you, etc. The gravel-road soon morphed into a rock-and-stones only road. I slowed down and proceeded. Foot-pedaled a bit. This road, this scandalous vile lay-of-a-road, wound serpentine, climbed and guess what… you guessed it! More rock-and-stones. Trick was to balance the motorcycle with the luggage.

I did one stretch, carefully gunning Gabbar where required. I did another. Then another. I halted briefly. A chill of fear ran down my spine. The added perspiration from the laborious ascent made for quite a giddy brew.  I began wondering if this was where I should listen to my brains and turn back. No. I still rode on. I came upon a dicey stretch. Fair for me to pass, slowly. For a larger vehicle, even a minuscule miss or false drive? Downwards ho! All the way south. Unforgiving loose, stony mountain sides. Their unspoken unpredictable willingness to avalanche; a fatal drop. And to add to the villainy of the scene, a river. A mountain river, un-picturesque, flowing at the drop, withholding a silent menace within. Not the most hospitable of routes. A fall guaranteed you disappearance from the site. The river, a present and ready transport post fall.

I don’t know for how long, but I’m willing to bet I was there, screwed pretty nicely, for over an endless hour. Continuing my wobbly ride uphill, I did entertain thoughts of getting trapped on the mountain. Was there a better road and maybe… just maybe… some human beings somewhere on this witch-mountain?

Then, as if in answer, God shows up. A Santro was headed my way. I stopped on the side and waved it to stop. Most graciously they did. Vehicles commuting on the hill roads most courteously stopped when I waved, requesting them to. Two wheelers, too. I shared info about the road I was coming from and inquired about the road ahead. They said it got better. My heart leaped in joy; relaxed, relieved. Riding in a slow desperation to get away from that that daymare, Gabbar and I saw better roads. Still strewn gravel, the roguish road, but lent a better than the ‘only rock-and-stones will be served for road’ experience. We proceeded a few kilometres (to safer grounds, Phewpf! J) and halted. I’d done some 20-odd kilometres from the Tejam junction, 10 of which can be credited to la route crapuleux. 20 kilometres of HILL-HELL. But kudos to Gabbar.

Here, I must highlight Gabbar. Named after a Bollywood baddie, my 8-year old Royal Enfield Thunderbird was wonderful, to say the least. He joined, adding to the fable and lore of, one of India’s legendary motorcycles. I was so proud of him (always). A true treasure. Challenging roads post Thal? No Problem. Gabbar – MAJESTICALLY – overcame them. It got a bit emo (Sorry no weep-ies). This point, this halt would actually be an honest summary of our relationship and journey so far.

From my days of secret longing to own a cruiser motorcycle, to the cusp of purchasing one. The emotional exhilaration to Karol Bagh with Iqbal riding (as I didn’t know how to ride). From learning to manoeuvre the beast to a beautiful night lost in Gurgaon. My debut ride to Rishikesh with Mani (Haha, we still enjoy the memory of that one). Subsequent night rides with him aka Baba Belbase and. The Barapullah flyover, New Delhi. The out of hibernation ride, post India’s long awaited World Cup victory. A round trip from Chaupanki (a challenging ride). Yes, I do admit a few falls, but Gabbar ensured I was always able enough to get up and ride, again. Some great and some not-so-great memories. But anything, anywhere, listen up Nike (lol)….. Gabbar always did it.

Phewpf! Resuming. With the above mentioned, I at that time was relishing the relief. I waved down a biker with pillion and re-checked the road conditions. From that halt, we went to Shama. A little post Shama, I had a minor dizzy spell.

Immediate halt. More photography.

Then I rode on. The scenery was certainly arresting me at each hairpin. The roads kept creating a magic of their own. I soaked in the mental imagery of what I’d failed to capture. I bypassed Bagheshwar. Roads were being rebuilt, in aftermath the previous year’s flash-floods. Red clay roads. We negotiated this too. A few kilometres after Bagheshwar, the road (headed Nainital) became a beauty. We sped rapidly. By late evening I halted at Dev Rada (Dyorana on Google). A little beyond a place called Garud. 7 kms before Kausani. Pant Guest House.

A truly eventful day couldn’t have had a better ending. A fairy-tale ending. After a brief chat and checking the rooms, I decided to stay there for the night. Prakash Chand Pant aka Prakash-bhai (translates brother) was the owner. He acceded to my whims and gave me a double bed room for Rs.400. I had a fun chat session with two local guys, the owner’s friends, exchanging notes about bike-trips. Fatigue while riding can be hazardous. One seldom has the good fortune of meeting a good-natured, warm-hearted soul. On God’s green earth, caked with pollution, politics and many vile vices, one rarely chances upon goodness and even more rare is the acknowledgement and appreciation.

IMG_3001 Prakash Chand Pant

He provided me with a delicious home-cooked dinner, post which I dozed-off. Woke up at 8-ish. Had two cups of tea. Earnestly photographed the room well, to promote his lodge. A brief chat during tea illuminated his hardships, which he kindly shared with me.

Day 4

Shortly post departure, I halted at Kausani and shopped out a neat muffler. Next stop was to get fuelled up. 30-odd kms ahead I had to stop due to a minor snag. A kilometer on, I stopped to gorge on scrumptious bun-omelettes and tea. Bhagtola. A quaint mesmerizing little place. A tad raw was the experience delicious though the chow was; the owners attempt to con me. Onwards, to Nainital with a bit of beauty n the beast thrown in. I passed some lovely by-the-river picnic spots (the stretches prior to Hawalbagh). The beast portion goes thus – 2-3 dogs charged at me that day. Most unusual, considering we generally do well socially. Top cap of my wildlife encounters, accidentally, I almost clipped some snake’s tail.

I saw the hardships. I witnessed stouter efforts made to embrace them. Roads around Almora were splendorous and soothing to ride on. Passing the Kwarab Bridge, I smirked wistfully. Jurassic Pt. Ganesh Dutt.

I renewed a recent acquaintanceship with Bunty-bhai, a mechanic who’d filled my air in my tyres. He guided me to a hardware store a little ahead to procure some nuts and bolts, for fixing the silencer. He fixed it, as it’d gashed against a part the chassis. I treated his little nephew to some chocolate. Later I halted at Chausali, where this delightful lady herded her goats quite sternly. She got me some tea and had me to buy some half-a-kilo of peaches. I felt mean as a bargaining customer. At her request, I humbly guided her son about his future (merely a few improve-English pointers).

By the time I got to Nainital, tail-gating another customized Thunderbird, mine started screeching madly. I located a mech to fix it. The tall and short of it. The mech gummed up the works. He discovered a different problem and didn’t fix the original issue.

This opportunity provided for me to soak in a bit of Nainital. I checked out an adventure goods store just next to garage, had a meal of egg-fried rice. With false assurance from the mech, I headed to Khurpatal.

A last round of photography done before packing my camera. Images were similar to ones online. Didn’t indulge here; tiredness and an unfamiliar deserted area. I passed another tal (lake) Sariyatal; a non-commercial replica of Nainital. Riding on a nice road for (great to learn hill-riding on), an ever brief lapse concluding in an oops-moment. Kaladhungi, where the hills meet the plains.

From Shama to Kaladhungi, roads had been amazing. Post atrocious roads around Bazpur, I stopped at Rampur. Delhi roads paled at the sight of its princely ones. Back on NH 24, I stopped somewhere between a place called Zero-Point and Paikbara. Luckily (again) I found another Bullet mechanic, Islam (courtesy a Hafiz bhai, a sanitary ware store owner). A Rs.100 repair and the headlight was good. Darkness had descended. I rode on with breaks, doing a final 60-km stretch till J.N.U (Final fist-pumping). Ass-aching like hell. Back in Delhi. Back in the battlefield.

Malika Ma’am’s (Mrs. Virdi) words aptly summed up my trip and that was citation enough.

“Not many get to Munsiyari, only lucky ones do”

Thanks for reading and reliving the journey with me.

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…