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Archive for May 2012

Motorcycle Diaries. Road to Ladakh…The Himalayan Odyssey…

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Part 1 of the Motorcycle Diaries. Road to Ladakh…

New Delhi – Ladakh – New Delhi. This one is the Holy Grail for all the bike riders of the world – 2700kms of the toughest terrain any biker can bargain for. I am one of the 60 confirmed riders of the Royal Enfield Himalayan Odyssey, 2012 – riders are coming in from all over the world to participate in this coveted journey.

This year is the 9th edition of the Royal Enfield Himalayan Odyssey; the trip spreads over 16 days – June 23 to July 8, 2012. This motorcycling journey would cover 3 mountain ranges, six passes and touch the daring heights of 18,380 feet at Khardung La  – world’s highest motorable road and brings you to Ladakh – the land of high passes.

Can the body sustain the ride? The weather, the oxygen or rather the lack of it, the terrain, et al? RE guys recommend a grilling fitness regime before you even venture into thinking about this Trip – both for you and your Enfield. Trying to stay true to it.

Despite the challenge it offers, there isn’t any dearth of bikers who have done this trip – you’d find so many of them, try searching on Google! However, my earlier travel to Ladakh taught me a useful lesson – every ride to this Himalayan abode will be a new test, an altogether different one every time you venture on it; it doesn’t get any easier with earlier experience that one may have of riding on to this absolutely stunning journey.

This ride can be a truly difficult learning experience – it tests you on much more than expert biking skills; it teaches many things too – about yourself! Every biker dreams about this Trip. I am daring to do the same this year, and making it go real very soon.

Shall keep you all posted on this ride of a lifetime!

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Photo-credit: http://www.royalenfield.com

‘Motorcycle Diaries. Road to Lodakh…’ was written in 8 parts. You can read all 8 parts of this travelog here.

Published during July-September 2012, this series of travelog – ‘Motorcycle Diaries. Road to Ladakh…’ was recognized by Ghumakkar.com as their Featured Story of the Month, October 2012.

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Motorcycle Diaries. Road to Badrinath…

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They say, a simple news snippet can give birth to a lot of actions. It happened with me this May, when the news channels aired that the gates of the famous Badrinath Dham Temple opened on 1st May. That’s when I decided to ride my Royal Enfield to this revered site of Hindu pilgrimage situated upon the peaks of the Garhwal region of north Indian state of Uttarakhand. Nitin, my younger brother and a newly christened biking-enthusiast, readily agreed to join in.

We decided for a four-day trip. Well, it is exactly 1100kms journey to & fro Gurgaon that we had to cover. Keeping in view that nearly 600kms out of them were on the mountainous terrain, it was a tall feat we planned!

Indeed it turned out to be one heck of a tall feat…

Day 1 – 17-May: Gurgaon-Rudraprayag; 394kms. We planned to leave Gurgaon at 5am – after all, we hoped to cover almost 400kms and reach Rudraprayag – our first night-halt. As it always happens, anxiety and excitement ensured neither of us slept properly the night before! I was well awake when it started pouring at 3am; then arrived the rogue winds, as if daring and deterring us from commencing the trip! Deterred we were not, and started sharp at 5am.

Taking NH-58 via Ghaziabad, we sailed through the National Capital Region of Delhi. Almost negligible morning traffic and superb highway stretch after Meerut bypass ensured we cross Meerut and Muzaffarnagar smoothly. At 8:30am, McDonalds Plaza before Muzaffarnagar was our first break, and by now we had covered 140kms.

A scary incident happened here. As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t sleep at all the previous night. As we left the toll-road and entered the single-road after Muzaffarnagar, pangs of sleep started to hit me on & off. Mindlessly, I kept riding. However, at one point, body gave away to the call of sleep and the bike swerved! Sheer luck I could control it; stopped at the next dhaba and dozed off to sleep on a charpoy in the open! Remember our roadside dhabas always house one? A brief power nap of about 60min and I was charged again. And learnt a life-saving lesson – never compromise on sleep night before hitting the road.

We reached Purkaji well in time. Here, instead of driving towards Roorkee-Haridwar route, we took a slightly less-travelled road, turning right to Laksar-Haridwar route. This is a low traffic road connecting Purkaji to Haridwar, and is approximately 7kms longer than the Roorkee route. However, decent roads and limited traffic helped us sail through and we reached Haridwar-Rishikesh bypass by 12:30pm, thereafter hitting Rishikesh at 1pm. We halted at Muni Ki Reti, a bathing ghat of Rishikesh; we had completed 265kms and reached the foothill of our mountainous journey. A quick, refreshing dip in the holy Ganges and a brief lunch of fruits (trust me, that’s what you should eat when riding a bike for such long trips!), we resumed the ride.

From Rishikesh to Badrinath, it is a ride of 294kms, stretching over several mountain ranges. It covers famous Panch-Prayags – Devprayag, Rudraprayag, Karnapragyag, Nandpragyag and Vishnuprayag, in the ascending flow of their occurrence. Prayag, in Sanskrit, means ‘confluence’ and Panch Prayags represent the five sacred river confluences. These rivers are – Alaknanda, Dhaulaganga, Mandakini, Pindar and Bhagirathi. Pilgrims take a dip in the river at these locations before embarking on visiting the holy shrines in the ‘Deva-Bhoomi’ (God’s Land), as Uttarakhand is commonly referred to.

Confluence at Devprayag

Ride to Devprayag – our next destination at 65kms – was really smooth. Once on the hills, you will find several spots selling all types of eatables all through the ride. At 4:30pm, we left Devprayag to ride another 70kms towards Rudraprayag. I must say, roads in this whole stretch of 135kms were in real good condition and thus, despite the hilly terrain and our aching backs & arms; we arrived in Rudraprayag by 6:45pm.

Herein I would add – we were true bikers during this trip, with no hotel bookings done pre-hand! My travelling experience in the hills all these years taught a simple lesson – while it is good to plan a trip in the Himalayas, it is not wise to pre-book the stay, specially if you are riding motorcycles – you don’t know where the weather and road conditions force you to ditch the plan and take the night-halt! However, we had done our share of some hotel-searching on the net and came across Bhatt Resort, a motel 6kms before the town of Rudraprayag, which was rated high on clean rooms and good service. Well, at Rs.1500/- per night, the place is a steal – hot water, great location, good vegetarian food and the sight of river flowing by – all are worth it. Would recommend it to all travellers on this route.

Day 2 – 18-May: Rudraprayag-Badrinath; 159kms. Volini spray did the trick through the night and our backs were game for the final leg of our ride towards Badrinath via Joshimath. We started the ride at 8:30am sharp and hoped of arriving in at Badrinath by 3:00pm. Well, that’s one thing about planning of the Himalayan trips – it can all go wrong!

No Roads!

Great Roads!

This stretch is a wonderland – really great roads and absolute lack of roads co-exist so well here! I found these roads to be a biker’s delight and nightmare – both at regular intervals. After Rudrapayag, roads between Nagrasu and Gauchar – a 5kms stretch is really bad. You need to be a really careful rider here. However, very organized, self-disciplined traffic made it bearable for us (only vehicles carrying Delhi number-plates honked even here!). Largely, owing to good roads, thanks to the Border Roads Organisation, and timely water-breaks, we continued our journey. Crossing Karnaprayag, Nandprayag and Chamoli, we reached Srinagar and re-filled our fuel tanks. I am purposely not writing too much about this part of our travel – nothing eventful really happened here. And mind you, though the sights all through were really captivating, I would strongly advise you against taking a peep while a riding a bike; one second’s break of concentration and the slip may be fatal for you! In case you feel like taking a peek, please stop and park at a safe corner and allow yourself the use of the eyes and camera!

We arrived Joshimath at 1:45pm. Herein, due to wrong directions given to us, we missed the bypass leading to Badrinath and took the road from inside the town. I would recommend you carefully avoid this route, as a long traffic hold-up can cause a unwanted halt for hours – we were lucky as bikers could pass through the narrow spaces on the sides of the jammed cars and buses! So did we.

Some details on Joshimath. It is a popular hill station and a famous center for pilgrimage at a height of 1,890 meters above sea level in Chamoli district of Garhwal division in Uttarakhand. It is the base for trekking to the famous Valley of Flowers. It is connected with a 4km cable car up to Auli, a hill-station famous for ice skiing sports, making it the longest and highest trolley of Asia. Joshimath is the also the home of the oldest tree of India, Kalpavriksha, which stands here from the time of Adi Guru Shri Shankaracharya, who established this town as one of the four maths or monasteries, in the 8th century.

Here I should mention – we were advised that there are very few petrol stations and ATMs one the entire route – we found both of them in aplenty on our way, almost every 30-40kms.

Badrinath is about 46kms from here. We took our 30-minutes lunch break 2:15pm at the Army Wet Canteen, a small shelter after you drive about 3kms downhill from Joshimath. Great views of the snow-clad peaks, the inviting descent towards what we then thought the last hill to conquer, and superb-tasting bun-omelette – all charged our batteries up. Baba Badrinath – here we come!

Gurudwara Sahib Govindghat

Unique Rock Shiv Temple

Well, as they say, challenges come wrapped in good-looking covers – they lure you, tempt you and promise you a smooth sailing. They hide any hint of what you’d come across as you venture ahead. Our ride hereafter was just the same – we came across superb weather, gentle sun and cool breeze on our sun-burnt hands and faces, outstanding roads, low traffic; all this and the fact that we were near the end of the journey – masked clearly what lay ahead of us. During the next 16kms, we passed seven mountain ranges, crossed Govindghat, the base-station of the sacred Hemkunt Sahib Gurudwara, the world-famous Sikh shrine. As we bowed our heads here, we also observed Jaypee Group’s hydro power plant. We also saw a very beautiful site of Shiv-temple, a unique rock-temple built amidst a huge green belt in the valley.

Last 10kms to Badrinath!

Riding Through the Waterfall!

From here the final ascent to Badrinath started. Next 15kms were the best roads I have seen in any of the hilly regions – we rode uphill at about 40kmph! As the milestone of ‘Badrinath 10Km’ arrived, with it arrived the challenge! It began in full force – we came across absolute lack of any roads! As the ascent became tougher, steeper and tiring, roads became narrower, muddier and deadly turns leading to next-to-impossible biking journey greeted us! Then came the real threat – flowing water on the main road, with a ditch full of slippery stones! We gazed at it; is it for real? How would we cross this barely 12 feet wide road, with a ditch full of stones and running water? Badri Vishal was testing our nerves and we were really stuck, watching all buses and cars go by. After all, a two-wheeler and four-wheeler are different vehicles – cars don’t slip, do they? We studied the depth of the ditch, with every passing vehicle’s tyres giving us indications of the challenge ahead. With all this study supplying very little courage, we decided on a path offering least depth (read – one-feet); we agreed to give it a try. Nitin took the lead; with me standing by to hold him by the hand, should the bike slip! Terrifying, it was! You may think I am exaggerating. Well, I am not. See the adjoining images to believe it…

Challenges didn’t end with just that. Four more, similarly notorious ditches one after the other acknowledged us. Somehow, we were emboldened after crossing the first one; so while fear still loomed, we managed to ride ahead. As the journey came towards its end, with Badrinath about 1km away, we found tar-coaled roads again – what a luxury! It took us 70min to cover the last 10kms! At 4:45pm, came our destination and we stood proud posing alongside the milestone. Snow-covered peaks all around us, a sign showed we were at a height of 13000 feet above sea level! We did it! I patted Nitin’s back with pride and affection – it was his maiden trip to the mountains and he answered the call with full guts and glory.

Now was the time to search for a night-halt. Sarovar Portico, the best property at Badrinath was all packed. We searched in vain for a decent looking guesthouse or hotel, which could provide us a clean room with a hot-water bath – the grime on our clothes will tell you why! Though the town is full of neat and clean places to stay – all good hotels were sold-out and the rest didn’t provide hot water! As we enquired around, we came across a small, six-room property on the main road – ‘Nar Narayan Guest House’. The manager, a talkative yet friendly person, offered us a clean room with geyser – all at Rs.1700/- for the night; what else could we ask for!

Visiting the temple is another task – you have to queue up for the entry-token, which has a time-slot mentioned on it and that entitles you to another queue of devotees at the allocated time, inching you towards the temple. The two queues take an hour each. Each person gets 5 tokens – entitling an entry to 5 people. Then you walk up towards the temple, across the Alaknanda River – the sight is amazing! It grips you with some feeling – nearly 800,000 devotees visited this shrine in 2011, battling the terrain and weather. Some faith! As the evening set in, so did the chill; within half-an-hour, temperature dropped to about 8 degrees – this was 7:30pm only. Shivering, we crept towards the temple. Finally our turn came, and we were hustled inside the temple. We offered our prayers briefly and walked out. It had started to drizzle by this time; we quickly rushed to a nearby eatery – Saket. Really good food was served here; we thanked our stars – our bodies badly needed some energy.

With ample Volini sprayed on our backs, we dozed off. Surprisingly, that night both of us saw the same nightmare – how would we cross the ditch with the flowing water the next day!!

Day 3 – 19-May: Badrinath-Devprayag; 226kms. Since now we knew what lay ahead, we started off at 7:30am. The chill in the weather numbed our fingers – riding a bike in this weather on such terrain can be really excruciating. While we were carrying our gloves, we trusted only the grip of our bare palms to negotiate the no-road stretch of 10kms ahead. Much to our surprise, we crossed this stretch without much ado this time – we somehow had learnt our lessons in courage while ascending yesterday!

Drive till Gauchar was uneventful and I won’t bore you with details. However, when everything goes just fine, there comes another challenge. My Enfield’s rear tyre got punctured somewhere on the poor stretch between Gauchar and Nagrasu. We halted at ‘Dehradun Automobiles’, a Mahindra Dealership at Nagrasu. Rudraprayag was still 16kms away and it was 2pm. We spotted a tyre-repair shop; we found that the owner had gone for lunch-break. Half-an-hour later, when he returned after receiving our call, he took well above 30 more minutes only to tell us that he does not have an L-key to open the nuts of the upswept exhaust of my RE, without which the rear-tyre couldn’t be dismounted! Face the challenge, biker; here it comes! We decided not to sit wanting, and Nitin walked up to the Mahindra dealership, requesting the manager to help us with dismounting the tyre. The mechanic – the super-helpful Rajinder Singh Rana – got into action immediately. He was nervous – he had never touched a RE in his life. Armed with an L-Key, some encouragement and help that I could offer and the knowledge of the RE I possessed, we took our time to dismount the tyre, get the puncture repaired, take out the culprit nail and re-mount the tyre – another 60 minutes went by – the luxury of day-ride-time went waste – good two hours.

Short of time, we revised our night-halt destination to Devprayag from Rishikesh. It wasn’t just possible to cover 150kms during remaining daylight hours. It wasn’t before 4:45pm we started again; only after thanking and rewarding the Mahindra mechanics. They were our real saviours in the ordeal. Learning; add a L-key to your tool-kit, if you have an upswept exhaust – it pays! And always carry an extra tyre-tube. Learn to repair your bike – that’s a must too.

Did we think the challenges ended here? Nah! Himalayas test your grit without fail, they do. After all, you have dared to score a victory over them. Just before Rudraprayag, we were welcomed by rain and storm. Now, those of your who haven’t experienced this weather in the hills, you need to face it to understand how it feels when the winds swerve your 190kg Enfield; when stones fall like rainwater from atop the hills and pose a threat to the bike, causing it to slip down the road at any moment. We drove for another 8kms in this weather, before halting at a petrol station near Bhatt Resort again. While we filled our fuel tanks, we contemplated about staying overnight at Rudraprayag itself. Covering 70kms more to Devprayag seemed like a real threat – a grave one in this weather. However, luckily the rain stopped and we dared again. Braving the weather and terrain, we arrived at Devprayag at 7:30pm, nearly at the fag end of daylight. The best place to stay here was Ramkund Resort, which was all full with travelling tourists, offering no vacancy to travellers like us. However, the hotel manager was gracious enough to help us with a booking at nearby Motel Dev Ganga – a neat night-stay with clean room at Rs.1500/- – air-conditioned! Slept we both – like tired horses. After all, we had covered 226kms of mountainous terrain – despite being paused by tyre-puncture and stormy weather during the day.

Day 4 – 20-May: Devprayag-Gurgaon; 321kms. We started the day at 8:30am and rode non-stop till Rishikesh. First we thought of stopping here but finally didn’t and continued till Haridwar. Again thought of taking a breakfast-break, but the 5km jam at Har-ki-Pauri bypass took the hunger out of us. We kept riding at the fag sides of the road, much to the snooping eyes of car-travellers who were stuck in this long jam till Kankhal. We kept riding and stopped only at the Patanjali Yogpeeth – Baba Ramdev’s Ashram. It offered one respite to us, an air-cooled eatery with fresh juices and sprouts on the menu! After riding for almost 110kms at a stretch without a morsel and any break in the heat of the plains, this halt came as a real breather. Ample liquids gulped, this time we took the route via Roorkee, surviving the massive jams at Purkaji and took our next halt at Bikano Food Plaza, as we hit the toll-road near Muzzaffarnagar, treating us with ice-cream shakes. Here it said ‘Delhi 170kms’. With an amazing road ahead till Meerut, we again took a stop at Café Coffee Day – gulped more liquids and kept negotiating the heat wave. Take my advice – liquids are the only way to sustain long motorcycle rides. While each one of us may have different energy levels, I still recommend a water break every 40-60min. A 5-minute break gives you ample energy for another 50kms, for sure.

Nothing eventful happened for the rest of our journey. As it were a Sunday, we didn’t face traffic woes at Modi Nagar or Mohan Nagar and entered Delhi at 6pm. With low traffic encountered even inside Delhi, we reached Gurgaon at 6:50pm, just when the weather again gave into a storm. We had come full circle – started and ended both with a storm at Gurgaon! Covering 1100kms exactly in 4 days – 46 hours on the road!

I am sure every biker calls every long trip a memorable one – I am no exception. This was one of the most memorable trips I ever undertook. Covering an average of 275kms everyday, including a 600kms hilly terrain, was indeed a tall feat for me. It pumped my confidence in myself, my stamina to weather it out the next time.

Few suggestions for those who would want to try this trip:

  • Best time of the year to cover this trip is May. June first week onwards, when the gates of Hemkunt Sahib open, the traffic increases manifold. However, early June is good, in case you wish to cover both the shrines. I would recommend you avoid the rainy season – danger of accidents increases a lot.
  • If you are starting from Delhi, plan the trip in the similar manner as we did. Gave us ample sleep at nights.
  • Never ride without a helmet, including a visor. There is no such thing like cool breeze kissing your face and other similar cool stuff! My visor has marks of all stones that hit it like a bullet after coming under the tyres of a car driving ahead of me, and visor is the only thing that saved me from going blind!
  • Speed thrills – and kills! Especially on the mountains. An average distance covered of 30kmph is simply great. Aim anything higher – you’re are risking way too much.
  • Adjust! You may need to sleep at the tiniest of the rooms wherever weather forces you to stop. Sometime, inside a sleeping bag underneath a bus-shelter!
  • Learn to repair the minor issues of the bike. DIY is the key! Do carry the toolkit and spare tyre-tubes. You may need them at the unlikeliest of places.
  • Courage is good. However. unwarranted risk-taking can be fatal – don’t drive once it gets dark in the mountains. Start early. Drive slowly. Stop riding before it gets dark.
  • Don’t honk while on the hills – drivers there value the code of the road – they give pass on their own wherever feasible.
  • Water-breaks are the key. Keep yourself hydrated and avoid hogging at nights. Poor stomach kills your stamina.
  • This ride is meant for riders with intermediary to expert riding skills. Beginners should first do few two days 400-500kms trip to test their stamina.

Now, before I sound too preachy, I should stop writing any further. After this trip, I have fallen in love with my new Royal Enfield Classic 350 all over again; this is the bike of the true bikers – always game for a new challenge! Try riding it to believe it.

Till the next ride, good bye and safe riding!

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You can read this travelog, and many more, also at Ghumakkar.com – Inspiring Travel Experiences

MBA at 16! A must read…

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Just completed reading the latest book from Subroto Bagchi, ‘MBA at 16; A Teenager’s Guide To The World Of Business’, Penguin 2012. This is an absolutely path-breaking work! The Gardener pens a very crisp, captivating and insightful piece for the 16-year olds, taking them through the world of business. Like all his earlier works, in this book too, he doesn’t preach, doesn’t load you with information. Contrarily, he ventures into the real world of 31 students, all in their teens; spends months with them, becomes a part of them, and finally comes out with this very simply-written, yet a well-researched work.

All of 157 pages, you would assume that it’s a 3-hour read at best. It could have been, yes. However, once you start reading, you’d not simply pass through the pages. Despite the fact that the book is written in form of a simple story, every page offers learning to 16 years and 32 years old alike! He takes us in the life of a teenager and helps us view business from their eyes. Much contrary to the prevalent opinion that teenagers are only hooked on to MTV, X-Box, dating and masti, the book captures the promise this GenY-minus-10years would bring in the world of business.

I have tutored a lot of students – during my education years and thereafter at some MBA schools while working now. However, I always missed the business-orientation in them. They were simply – students! Somehow, the rat race of Indian education overlooks this factor completely till you don’t enter college. Many lack this orientation even when they enter the ubiquitous & pathetically mushroomed ‘management schools’. Amongst the plethora of text-books, career-counseling books, self-help books, et al, what we lacked was one such work, which takes teens through a real-world of business, in the manner they want to learn. A manner, that brings glint to their eyes, whenever they think of the business-world…

As a 32 year old, I found this book equally useful for me. It made me ponder, introspect; am I equipped with skills and attitude required to manage this generation? Or, to be managed by this generation, one day not very far? I found a lot of questions to answer, many a things to learn.

I am purposely not turning this blog into a proper book-review; I would like the readers to experience first-hand the concept this book offers, without any pre-conceived notions. The reader needs to pick her own takeaway…I would recommend this book to you – if you are 16 years old, if you are entering/passing out of a B-school, if you are 30 and climbing the corporate ladder, if you are parent to a teen and if you are 50 and a CEO – it has a learning for all of us. Certainly, a must read for every high-school teacher, management-school professor and Talent Managers of every learning organization…

I am sure that at the end of the book, you’d also like to thank Subroto, for his appreciation and efforts in the direction of creating a smarter corporate India. I believe all of us share the responsibility.

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You can read this review, and many more, on Subroto Bagchi’s website, at:

http://www.mindtree.com/subrotobagchi/category/book/mba-at-16/#reviewscategory

Photo-credit: penguinbooksindia.com

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