RRGwrites

On life…and learning

Posts Tagged ‘Trip

The Ghumakkar In Me…

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True

2012 has been really exhilarating. It brought back the biker alive in me…

Just received a flattering commendation from Ghumakkar.com; the Motorcycle Diaries earned for me ‘Featured Author’ citation – a much coveted acclaim amongst the traveller’s fraternity. Ghumakkar is a well-known travel-website, which is home of many like me who believe ‘Travelling is Good’. They had earlier acknowledged the travelog series ‘Motorcycle Diaries. Road to Ladakh…’ as their ‘Featured Story’ in October 2012.

Vibha Malhotra, editor of Ghumakkar, wrote in the citation:

None other than our own Rishi Raj Gupta, whose Motorcycle Diaries have touched new heights both literally and figuratively, is the Featured Author for the month of December 2012. He is an avid bike rider and for him, riding a bike is one way of being one with your surroundings while travelling. He has climbed mountains, defeated difficult terrain, and worked his way through stark, desert landscape on his faithful companion, his bike…

Later, in the month of December 2012, Ghumakkar interviewed me and published the same. Read on…

It all began when in December 2011, Neha, my better half, who doesn’t take no for an answer for long, persisted and booked the new Enfield. However, as she ordered the bike, I still had some dilemma playing in my mind. Whether I’d be able to ride it to my fullest enthusiasm of old times or the hectic work-life would take over after the initial euphoria of a month or so? It was a tough one. Yet, when the desire prevailed over the dilemma, next big question was – should I go for the height of selfism – the single-seater option – one I always wanted to cruise upon?

Neha again came to the fore and supported the decision of bringing home the single-seater pleasure that I later named ‘True’. As I rode it home, I remember making a resolution to myself in January – I would ride to Ladakh.

For a much-employed professional like me and with the nature of the job responsibilities that I have, to many it appeared nearly an impossible task. 18 days off work! Not easy…

Well, I did keep the resolution, and how! You all have travelled to Ladakh with me on the Royal Enfield Himalayan Odyssey’. And not only Ladakh, I ventured on to many more rides this year – Pushkar, Badrinath, Munsiyari…

With Motorcycle Diaries clocking over 11000kms in 2012 till now, and readers & Ghumakkars being more than generous with their admiration, it feels really nice. It is wonderful to resume riding again just like the old times, humbling to receive accolades for these rides, amusing to inspire people for joining the league of leisure-biking, fun to be able to belong to the road, all over again!

Motorcycle Diaries have many more pages to come; that is something I am sure of…

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You can read all travelogs written under ‘Motorcycle Diaries’ here.

Written by RRGwrites

December 3, 2012 at 3:02 AM

Motorcycle Diaries. Road to Munsiyari…Birthi Falls

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Part 5 of the Motorcycle Diaries. Road to Munsiyari…

As we ate our lunch, my eyes didn’t leave the clouds that had started to darken the hamlet of Munsiyari. Panchchuli by now was completely covered with dark clouds. These are the ones that will rain, my instinct spoke with me…

Nitin and I quickly decided; we had seen all that was to be seen at Munsiyari in a day’s time, and we also wanted to save precious drive time for the coming days – the TV news had informed it was raining all over Pithoragarh. So, using the KMVN guidebook, I dialed in the Nainital booking office of KMVN guesthouses and sourced the number for the KMVN at Birthi. Readers would remember that I mentioned about this place in the part-2 of the series. I called Birthi KMVN to find a friendly voice answering it and confirming a booking. Voila! It was easy!

Birthi is a 31kms drive from Munsiyari. Sensing immediacy of rain, we packed fast, cleared the bills and started the ride at 3pm, bidding adieu to this magical town of Munsiyari. On hills, it takes about an hour to cover 30kms, and that’s what we planned. I didn’t want to get lashed in chilling rains one more time, so deploying all carefulness that we should, we rode faster than usual.

Well, adventure it really is, when you ride on the mountains! As we neared Birthi, the sunrays gave way to drizzling. Not again! Birthi was still few kilometers away and sprinkle was really getting steadier. However, this one time we go lucky. Just as we entered the guesthouse, it started to pour heavily. For the first time in three days, it wasn’t pouring on us!

Friendly smiles greeted us and guided us to the best room available. It was really nice – clean, warm beds, CTV with Tata Sky and a geyser; at only Rs.800/- per day, it was a real steal. We loved it!

By the time tea arrived, it had stopped raining and sun came back shining over hills.

Well, didn’t I say in the last blog that silence has a very pleasant sound of its own? You should come to Birthi to experience what I mean. A couple of days away from the madness of the cities, away from what some of us call life, are always welcome. Mountains are such heavens of silence and solitude. And when you get back from this heaven, you come away feeling saner, rejuvenated. You come back a better one…

There is nothing extraordinary about Birthi, at least on the face of it. It is a tiny village, with couple of shops on road and the KMVN guesthouse perched atop a hill, right on the main road. However, what breaks the silence and the dullness is the mighty roar of a waterfall, called Birthi Falls. This is what makes Birthi fall on the tourist map and makes it really a place worth visiting.

Located right behind the guesthouse, this one’s a 126 meters giant of a fall. The staff at the guesthouse guided us to a 200meter trek, which leads to the falls. Some walk it was, up the hill…neatly carved out stairs took us near to the fall. And here is what we saw! These images, I hope, demonstrate to you the beauty of these falls. I wasn’t sure, so I made a video. You can access it on Youtube at (http://youtu.be/m1fqUdPGBj8).

This one’s my personal favorite – on the rocks at Birthi! What a bliss!

Nitin and I really liked this place. Serene, quiet and captivating, as if we weren’t only 600kms away from madness of the metro called Delhi. The guest-house was really well-laid, with a pretty garden and a scenic view of the valley. This is a must-visit place and we were glad that we left Munsiyari and decided to spend a night here…

As I went off to sleep that night, I could very clearly distinguish the sound of silence, only to be broken by the sound of the waterfall. Felt really good…

Next morning, sun came out shining really bright. We bid goodbye to Birthi at 9am.

We didn’t really make a plan as to where we would halt for the day. The fun was in the ride and that we enjoyed that the whole day. Nothing really different happened, as we took the same route back towards Dhaulchhina. Nonetheless, I would definitely share this image we took at the coast of Ram Ganga, where we stopped en route…

Since we ate a heavy breakfast, we kept riding non-stop and arrived at Dhaulchhina at around 2pm. A small jaunt became our lunch-halt here. This is where we chalked out the plan for the day; we decided to ride till Rudrapur and make most of the day, so that the ride for the final day would be easier and shorter. I used my network to book ourselves at Ark Hotel at Rudrapur. Other than Radisson, this is a good option to stay at Rudrapur.

Some ride, it was! We rode almost 300kms this day, and it was 8pm by the time we reached Rudrapur.

Next day, we started leisurely at about 11am. I won’t bore you with details, as after taking you through the magic of Himalayas, describing a ride back home on the plains would be a tad bit too much!

What a lovely ride, these 5 days offered! We covered 1290kms over these five days, scaled an attitude of 2748 AMSL; crossed magical views of pristine beauty of valleys and mountains, snow-capped peaks, witnessed a river as white as if flowing milk, heard the roar of a mighty, 126 meters high waterfall from close corners and rode through the core areas of a wildlife sanctuary, amidst heavy rains…Simply amazing!

Till the next ride, wish you a happy and safe riding…

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‘Motorcycle Diaries. Road to Munsiyari…’ was written in 5 parts. You can read all 5 parts of this travelog here.

Written by RRGwrites

November 26, 2012 at 12:15 AM

Motorcycle Diaries. Road to Munsiyari…the Sound of Silence…

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Part 4 of the Motorcycle Diaries. Road to Munsiyari…

Silence has a very pleasant sound of its own. This is what I experienced on the Day-3 of our ride to this land of snow – Munsiyari.

The whole of previous evening went by in drying the clothes in front of the heaters – trust me, that is some task! Yet, I woke up a tad bit early; didn’t want to miss capturing the rising sun and its rays falling on the snowy peaks of Panchchuli. Nitin woke up too and readied his camera – the view from the roof of the hotel was mesmerizing – the entire Panchchuli and Hansling Peaks stood out majestically in front of us. Sheer magic, this were…

In the year 2012 alone, I have witnessed many similar majestic moments – Badrinath, Kinnaur, Spiti Valley, Leh, Khardung La, Nubra Valley, et al.  However, it was a longstanding wish that came true on this Trip – to come to Munisyari, the ‘place with snow’.

For the record, Munsiyari is a far-off town in the Pithoragarh District in the hill-state of Uttarakhand, India. It lies at the base of the great Himalayan mountain range, at an elevation of about 2200 meters AMSL. Strategically located near the tri-borders of India, Tibet and Nepal, this exotic destination was until recently restricted to tourists. This place has a fascinating history. Commonly known as the entrance to the Johar valley, this is the land of the Shaukya tribe, who were carriers of salt on this ancient salt-route from Tibet. In old days, this tribe led a semi-nomadic life; actively engaging in trade with Tibet across the arduous Himalayan routes. They would trek over mountain and passes for about a month and reach Tibet, from where they carried back material, most importantly – salt. In those days, this was the only source of salt in the entire Himalayan region. Some history the place carries…

Over a lazy breakfast, we quickly planned the day ahead – treks to any of the points weren’t feasible, as we had only one day with us. However, we learnt about many of them during our interactions and I am producing information here for those who wish to travel and trek in this grandiose place.

Munsiyari is the starting point of various treks into the interior of the ranges. For skilled trekkers, trek to the Milam, Nimak and Ralam glaciers can be real paradise. This town is at the entrance of the Johar Valley, which extends along the path of the Goriganga River to its source at the Milam Glacier.

For those who are adventurous and photography-enthusiasts, you can trek to nearby places like Khalia Top, located at 11000 feet AMSL, a trek of about 10kms. The friendly Hotel Manager told us that it offers breathtaking views of Panchchuli peaks – the best that can be seen from Munsiyari. This is also a famous skiing spot in the winters of Munsiyari.

For non-expert trekkers, an hour’s walk into the nearby forests will take you to Mesur Kund (Pond). Originally called Maheshwary Kund; this is just a few kilometers walk from Munsiyari, and features into the local folklores as a sacred place.

Thamari Kund is another quaint natural lake located amidst the paper trees. We were told that it is a natural home of the Musk Deer.

We also learnt about Betuli Dhar, a large garden full of Rhododendrons, located about 7kms from Munsiyari. It is here that we got to know that Rhododendrons is actually the state-flower of Uttarakhand!

Madkote, a hamlet at about 22kms from Munsiyari, is famous for the natural hot water springs. These are believed to contain therapeutic value with qualities, which are the cure for joint pains, arthritis and for various skin ailments.

Another easy trek is to Kala Muni Top. This is also the highest motorable road of Munsiyari, at 2748 meters AMSL, located en-route Munsiyari about 10kms before you enter the town. The place is marked with a temple constructed here. The trek is brief and you get to see some truly pictorial views from here. This one’s certainly doable…

With all this information at hand, we decided to go hunt the ‘Munsiyari 0’ milestone – the mark of our journey. This is one habit that I have – of getting myself and the bike clicked alongside the trophy-signage of every ride that I have done.

Serving as my very own landmark of each ride, these images remind me of the ride in its own mystical way, over the years…

As we ventured into the town in the broad daylight, Munsiyari revealed itself in all its majesty and grandeur. Surrounded from all sides by the snowy peaks and Panchchuli looming large over this hamlet, this place is a visual treat to the nature lovers. Charming in its appeal and incredible in its beauty, this little hamlet has managed to remain rather aloof from the well-trodden tourist routes of Kumaon.

Hereafter, we rode towards the Nanda Devi Temple, located at a ride of about 3kms from the main town. Nanda Devi temple, we found out, is a small white completely unassuming structure, which to our surprise, was locked down without sign of any priest, whatsoever! There is absolutely nothing noteworthy about this temple. What is outstanding, though, is location where is it perched.

Here nothing stands between you and the snowy peaks on one side and slopes curved by terrace farmlands on the other. Panchchuli appear as near as it can get; you feel as if walking over them. The view takes your breadth away. And the silence is almost godly. Those who say temples are a mark of peace and calm surely were referring to this place. Sitting here, I missed Neha a lot…this is the place we should’ve visited together. Well, soon someday…

From here, we rode towards Darkot. Located 8kms north of Munsiyari, this is an emblematic picturesque village of the Bhotia tribe. We had learnt about the craftsmanship of the tribals of this village. To visit this place, you have to come towards the main town, and a road diverts towards this village from the taxi stand. As we rode towards Darkot, we passed the famous local Tribal Museum, and decided to come back for it.

Darkot turned out to be no different than a sleepy mountain village rested on the slopes. However, we met some incredible people here and visited their homes – the homes of the weavers of shawls and other hand-woven garments.

This visit certainly led us to deeper knowledge of the culturally rich style of the rural inhabitants of Munsiyari – we found century old houses here with intricate work on its panels, doors. The old artistic houses of Darkot represent the rich culture and creativity of the people of the Bhotia Tribe, which actually hails from Tibet. We also witnessed the handlooms of several kinds – used to spin wool and cotton and weave them into pashmina and other sheep-wool garments and carpets. See for yourself…

After buying some superbly hand-woven pashmina caps, we rode back towards the Tribal Heritage Museum. Oh! What a treasure it turned out to be…

Also famous as the ‘Masterji’s Museum’, is a place that I end up terming, ‘simple and yet profound manifestation of a man’s desire to preserving history in his own sweet manner’.

Built by Dr. Sher Singh Pangtey, this place is a true example of taste, grit and passion. As you talk to him, his exuberance doesn’t make him look a day above 50years of age; in reality, he is 70plus! I could observe his childlike enthusiasm as he showed us around his collection of artifacts.

There is so much to see – age-old photos, long-standing maps, coins from all over the world, documents, local utensils & other items, wind-up gramophones, hand-made saddlebags, wooden bottles, native dresses and attires, hand-crafted shoes…so much that I can’t portray it in words and even if I venture to, I need to write at least 10000 words! I loved the place and captured it into a video (http://youtu.be/CQ71W9s2ANM). Must see…

With our hats off to Dr. Pangtey, Nitin and I came back for lunch to the hotel. En route, we crossed several beautiful living mountain streams – there’s something magical about these streams, indescribable in words. I’ve always been fascinated by them…the mountain-lover in me wants to halt at everyone, wishes to explore the start of each such stream and secretly plans to some day even live next to one such stream!

Here is when plans got changed for the day! Changed to what? Does the image of clouds looming over Panchchuli give you any hint?

🙂 Wait for the next and last part of this travelog…

To be continued in the next blog…

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‘Motorcycle Diaries. Road to Munsiyari…’ was written in 5 parts. You can read all 5 parts of this travelog here.

Motorcycle Diaries. Road to Munsiyari…Panchchuli…

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Part 3 of the Motorcycle Diaries. Road to Munsiyari…

Night at Binsar went by quite peacefully and I woke up to a bright, sunny morning at 7am. As I walked out of my cottage, I noted for the first time the structure and location of this very well laid out Eco-camp. It was a marvel constructed painstakingly amidst the Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary, perched on the hill as a green jewel.

As I spread out the much-soaked clothes in the sun, I met Gaurav. He offered a cup of tea, and over it shared several pieces about the property.

Binsar is perched on top of the Jhandi Dhar hills. At an elevation of 2412 meters AMSL, Binsar is situated amidst the Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary. I learnt that the route to main Binsar goes right from the gate of the sanctuary where we met the guards last night.

The Camp is located in the non-core area of this sanctuary, in a place called Dhaulchhina. This is the shortest possible route to Munsiyari and saves a lot of time and distance, as compared to the one that goes via Bageshwar.

Gaurav shared that his father, Kesar Singh Mehra, a former businessmen and one of the founding activists behind the establishment of the sanctuary in 1988, set up the resort as a eco-friendly destination, primarily catering to the nature-lovers and bird-watchers. He went on to share that the Camp is frequented by over 200 species of birds and one can expect to learn about the aviary world.

By now, Nitin was up and ready with his arms and ammunition – the Camera! Gaurav guided him to a viewpoint they constructed right the top of the hill, located at a 5-minutes trek. Nitin came back with amazing set of images – spectacular mountain panorama of evergreen Himalayan ranges and valleys. The views of major peaks like Chaukhamba, Panchachuli, Nanda Devi, Nanda Kot, and Kedarnath are distinctly visible from there. Sitting leisurely at the camp, one couldn’t even fathom what vista laid just a five-minute trek ahead! This was a clear sky day, which offered a 180-degree Himalayan view. I must share with all readers here that such vast panoramic view can been seen only from Binsar and Kausani in Uttarakhand. In fact, there is a location called the ‘Zero Point’ here, which offers amazing views of the magnificent range. Binsar also offers an excellent view of Almora town.

As we sipped the superbly made herbal tea, prepared from the herbs grown in-house, Gaurav helped us with sourcing five litres of petrol from Almora through his contacts. This was done as the next filling-station was at Berinag, another 65kms ahead. Since we rode almost 430kms on day one, I didn’t want to take risk of running on an empty fuel tank in case of any exirgency.

Thanking Gaurav for his splendid hospitality, we resume the ride for the day at 10:30am. Our stay was really pleasant here and in fact, I have already planned upcoming my winter-break with Neha here!

For details of Binsar Eco Camp, you may visit their website (http://www.binsar-ecocamp.com/index.html). Highly recommended for peace-lovers.

Hereafter, the ride was approximately 160kms. The route we took:

  • Dhaulchinna – Berinag via Sheraghat – 65kms
  • Berinag – Thal – 27kms
  • Thal – Munsiyari – 68kms

The roads were really good between Dhaulchhina and Berinag. We rode through dense forests for the first 15kms and them descended steadily into the valley; we reached Sheraghat in almost an hour. This is where you witness the Saryu River. From here, Berinag is an uphill ride of about 35kms.

Berinag came in another hour and we filled our fuel tanks at the HP petrol station located outside the town, and moved ahead towards Thal. Berinag, located at 1740 meters AMSL, is a tiny hamlet; I was told by locals that both Nanda Devi and Panchchuli peaks can be seen from here. However, I could not observe these peaks during our halt from here.

It is important to note that 6kms after Berinag, there comes a crossroad called Udiyari Bend from where the roads bifurcate; the left one goes to Chaukori and the right one descends towards Thal. Again, after 18kms, there comes another bifurcation called Bharad Bend, from where a U-turn shall take you to Thal. The other road from here goes towards Bageshwar. I came across a very good map of this area at the KMVN rest-house at Birthi; reproducing an image of the same for the readers. Very useful, it is…

We arrived in at Thal, a small hamlet, at about 1:30pm and locals guided us to Mehta Restaurant for lunch. Finished, is what the cook shared! So we moved to another small eatery right next to the police station, and ate the easily available Thali – Daal, Roti, Chawal!

As we crossed the Ram-Ganga Bridge to enter Thal, I saw a very age-old looking temple complex on the banks of river. I learnt later that this is a Lord Shiv Temple, and it is here where from several decades the famous Thal Mela (Fair) is held. This temple also has a significance as it is believed that all Kailash Mansarovar pilgrims from here would take a bath in the Ram Ganga and then only proceed towards the pilgrimage. It was amazing to learn that before independence, the revolutionaries organized the Fair to commemorate the ‘Jalianwalan Bagh’ massacre and since then, the Fair became an annual feature. However, people shared that since the trade from Tibet slowed down, now the significance of the Fair is steadily diminishing. Some history this small hamlet has…

Munsiyari was about 67kms from here and we hoped to reach there by 4:30pm. Weather was really good, bright and sunny and we rode almost non-stop.

We rode quite leisurely after Thal, clocking 30kmph. En route, we rode alongside the Purvi Ram Ganga River, a river with such whitish water flowing as if milk it were! We had never seen anything such; see for yourself…I also made a video here, capturing the pristine beauty of this river in images was nearly impossible. See it on Youtube at (http://youtu.be/oQXS5O_Vlpo).

Villages in Kumaon are really captivating. Every now and then, you’d come across the group of school-going kids, who make all sorts of gesture to grab the bikers’ attention, while the elders look upon at us as the ‘spoilt-ones’! Well, I don’t blame them – imagine what your and my Mom would say upon hearing or biking exploits!

At around 4pm, we arrived in at Birthi, where the mighty Birthi Falls could be seen and heard at a distance. However, we didn’t stop and kept riding, hoping to reach Munsiyari by 5pm and catch the magical rays of setting sun on the Panchchuli peaks.

Well, nature has its own plans! As we crossed Birthi, I could observe the onset of clouds – dark and threatening – over our heads. I feared the repeat of what we faced yesterday, and asked Nitin to speed up.

Just as we neared Munsiyari and the milestone declared 14kms more to go, it started to pour, as heavily as it could get. We rode non-stop from this point, getting wet in the lashes of the rain, right at the altitude of 2700 meters AMSL! I could see captivating views of the hills from this height; yet, stopping and clicking pics in such rains would have been sheer stupidity! Some hard luck…

We reached Munsiyari by 5pm and were really glad to find Bilju Inn located right on the main road, as we entered the town.

Shivering, we quickly checked into the hotel and changed into dry & warm clothing. By now, rainfall had stopped! We noted the magic that unfolded outside – see for yourself.

Whole of the evening hereinafter went in drying clothes and other gear in front of the room-heaters! However, we did find the room very well laid out and service to be good. Once warmth came back in our bodies, we chalked out the plan for next three days.

For Day-3, were decided to stay and relax at Munsiyari, exploring this magical town at leisure…

To be continued in the next blog…

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‘Motorcycle Diaries. Road to Munsiyari…’ was written in 5 parts. You can read all 5 parts of this travelog here.

Motorcycle Diaries. Road to Munsiyari…Ride to Binsar

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Part 2 of the Motorcycle Diaries. Road to Munsiyari…

For the mountain-rider in me, the hills of Kumaon have always been enchanting and luring. During last four years, I travelled in this land of hills almost like a religion – Kumaon always attracted me towards itself.

While holidaying at Ranikhet three years ago, my wife introduced me to Munsiyari – the Him-Nagari of Uttarakhand, she shared. Since then, I was longing to visit this place.

All these years, one or the other thing came in way of actualizing this wish. However, earlier this year, Nitin and I resolved we would surely ride our bikes to this destination in this year itself.

So, once the monsoons ceased to lash the hills and landslides gave way to safer routes, we planned the much-coveted Trip.

The total distance from Gurgaon to Munsiyari and back is about 1300kms, so we planned a 5-day trip. However, we froze only the first 2 days’ itinerary, thus:

  • Day 1: Gurgaon – Dhaulchhina/Binsar
  • Day 2: Dhaulchhina/Binsar – Munsiyari

For the rest of 3 days, we thought of various options – staying over for a day at Munsiyari, or travelling to Kausani and then Ranikhet, or staying at Almora and then riding back home…we explored various options and finally agreed to decide it en route itself – in the true bikers’ way!

Some homework helped plan the Trip. I took advice from Nandan Jha, a true Ghumakkar! His advice came really handy; he shared that we shouldn’t halt at Almora on Day-one and rather drive ahead to stay at the Binsar Eco Camp. He had explored this place earlier and mentioned good things about it on Ghumakkar.

We also planned in advance our stay at Munsiyari. From amongst the set of resorts(!) and hotels mentioned on the travel-sites, we zeroed down on Bilju Inn. Reasons were simple – this property had geysers installed in their washrooms – a rarity in the sleepy hill-stations of the Himalayas! To top it, we found that this was a newly constructed property and had large rooms at a decent tariff.

Armed with above plan, we started from Gurgaon on October 12, 2012 at 5:15am. Ride to Binsar was approximately 425kms; an early start was a must. We planned the first day well rather elaborately:

  • 200kms: Breakfast: Gurgaon to Moradabad (5am to 9am) (NH 24: via Garhmukteshwar/Gajraula)
  • 110kms: Lunch-break: Moradabad to Haldwani (9:45 to 12:30pm) (NH24 to Rampur / from Rampur NH87 via Bilaspur/Rudrapur/Haldwani)
  • 115kms: Final Destination: Haldwani to Binsar Eco Camp (1:30pm to 6:30pm) (NH 37: via Khairna/Almora)

Morning ride was really great! Weather was extremely pleasant, and turned rather chilly as we crossed Ghaziabad and rode towards Moradabad. With almost negligible traffic, we rode non-stop and took a brief halt at the Ganga-bridge at the holy city of Garhmukteshwar.

Our breakfast break came briefly after at 8:20am, when we stopped at the McDonalds at Gajraula. We had covered 150kms in about three hours – good start!

McDonalds is built right on the highway; around this place there are several other eateries too – Dominos, local players, so options are aplenty.

After a sumptuous breakfast and rest, we resumed the ride. Moradabad came in about an hour; roads till now were simply fantastic! We took the Bypass and reached Rampur soon after. From here, we rode ahead towards Rudrapur via Bilaspur.

Man! These were some bad roads! And bad they were for good 30kms! One really needed to look for tarmac from amongst potholes on this stretch! Negotiating this stretch rather carefully, we arrived at Rudrapur city by 1140am. Haldwani came shortly after at 1245pm; roads from Rudrapur via a forest range to Haldwani were really good.

As I always say during my rides, may God bless VG Siddhartha of the Café Coffee Day chain for opening so many outlets all over the country! At Haldwani, CCD was our lunch-halt. Sandwiches, brownies and coffee – this was real relaxation our bodies needed after a 300kms ride. And good food was a must to boost our spirits for the ride uphill – 130kms to Binsar. After all, you can’t ride empty-stomach!

We resumed the ride at 2pm. As we crossed Kathgodam, straight roads gave way to the serpentine roads of the hills. Though I had initially thought of taking the route via Bhimtal, Nitin rode straight ahead on SH87. Good chance, this was! This road was newly constructed and turned out to be a real smooth ride.

Here I must share with the readers that on our way back, we took the route via Bhimtal. Big error! Please avoid this route – poor roads and heavy traffic will make you forget that this route is shorter by 5kms! At Bhowali, both routes converge and we continued our ride on NH87 towards Almora.

I forgot to mention this earlier; as we resumed our ride from Kathgodam, the bright sunny day gave away to the cloudy sky. Around Bhowali, it started to drizzle and then came a heavy burst of downpour, as we neared the Kainchi Dhaam. This forced us to take an unscheduled break at a nearby tea-stall. Treating ourselves to a hot cup of tea, we wondered if rain would halt our ride so abruptly – we were still 80kms away from Binsar!

Our prayers were answered; the rain stopped in about 20minutes and we recommenced our ride. Minutes after, we arrived at the Kainchi Dhaam, where the famous Ashram of Baba Neeb Karauli is located. This is where Steve Jobs found solace during his maiden trip to India in the seventies!

Surprisingly, sun started to shine over our heads as brightly as if it never rained! With boosted spirits and some warmth back inside us, Khairna came shortly after. It is a small hamlet, about 96kms from Haldwani. This is the point from where roads to Almora and Ranikhet bifurcate; tourists and travellers love to have light refreshments here. The road ascends to Almora, which is about 33kms from here.

We reached Almora by 4:45pm. Whew! This was some ride till now – 400kms!

As we touched Almora, a signage declared Binsar to be 33kms ahead, on a road that diverted to the left. As we took this de-tour, we thought of it to be some kind of bypass to avoid the congestion of bustling Almora city. However, this wasn’t right; people guided us back to the heart of the town and then after several rechecks, we came back on our route to Binsar.

At 6pm, as we reached Binsar, sun was setting behind the mountains. This was some scene. And we clicked a lot of pics here! What a view it was!

As the sun was setting on one side, scary, dark clouds were looming from the other. Again, I could observe a few raindrops. You’d note some of them on the adjoining image too…

Scared, we quickly rode towards Binsar Eco Camp.

This is where it started to go all wrong!

As we entered the resort, we realized we have arrived at Binsar Eco Resort, instead of our destination Binsar Eco Camp! All this while, in our misplaced enthusiasm, we were chasing a wrong address! 20minutes wasted in this confusion, the managers here guided us to what we thought was the right address. Not to be…

Another 30mintues ride, sun had finally set and rain was looming over our heads! We reached the entry gate to the Binsar Wildlife Sactuary, where to our dismay, the forest gaurds told us that we have come on an altogether wrong route. They shared that Binsar Eco Camp wasn’t located at Binsar; it was at Dhaulchhina!

It was 7pm and drizzle was persistent. So we requested the guards to tell us the shortest possible route. That they did, and how!!

We were guided towards a route, which went through the wildlife sanctuary, just beneath the core-jungle-area (we were told this later!). Now, as we entered this lonely, scary track, came down the heaviest downpour one could imagine.

Well, I must share that I have travelled on some very lonely stretches; this was proved to be the scariest of all. Completely dark it was, we brothers rode our bikes non-stop in the only source of lights – the bikes’ headlights! This was a typical forest track, and rains made it all the more difficult to negotiate the ride. We stopped several times to check the signal of the phone – no respite. What made us ride ahead in this pitch dark jungle located upon the mounts in the dead of rainy night was the my belief/experience – people in hills don’t lie! After all, the guard had said that the forest track would end in 13kms and route to Dhaulchhina would emerge!

Bang on right he was! Just as my bike’s meter clocked 13kms, we came out to a neat tarmac. By now, we were completely drenched and shivering. And it didn’t help that there weren’t any signage that could guide us to either left or right. Fortunately, mobile phone’s signals were back and we called the Camp to locate the address.

30minutes later, amidst heavy rains, we arrived at Dhaulchhina, a hamlet where Binsar Eco Camp was located above a hillock.

We arrived inside the property to find it covered in pitch dark – there wasn’t any electricity and no power backup too! Well, I must say by now I was kind of irritated and lost my cool at the young Gaurav Mehra, son of the owner Mr. Kesar Singh Mehra, for not installing any signages of his property anywhere on route, right from Almora. Young, but smart lad he turned out to be! He quickly gauged the reasons behind my annoyance, conversed very politely, trying to dowse my displeasure. We couldn’t see much in absence of electricity; candles were all we had to quickly change into fresh & warm clothing! It was very cold out there!

We were guided towards a small bon-fire near the kitchen area; we desperately needed to dry-up our gloves and shoes at least; they were extremely necessary for the ride next day.

We chatted for an hour, about a lot of things. By now, some warmth had seeped in – both from the fire and Gaurav’s pleasant demeanor; we felt better. He shared that the right route to Binsar Eco Camp was from Almora towards Dhaulchhina, which is a distance of about 33kms and NOT towards Binsar. He also shared that the guards at the sanctuary’s gate guided us to take the track just beneath the core-forest-area, in order to save time! Some nerve-chilling revelation to us, this was!

Over dinner, we learnt many things about Binsar. Simple, vegetarian food came as a seven-course meal to us hungry, tired souls!

Almost immediately thereafter, we went off to sleep, praying for a clean sky the next day…

Ride to Munsiyari to be continued to the next blog…

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‘Motorcycle Diaries. Road to Munsiyari…’ was written in 5 parts. You can read all 5 parts of this travelog here.

Motorcycle Diaries. True at Munsiyari…

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Part 1 of the Motorcycle Diaries. Road to Munsiyari…

Just returned from a ride to the Him-nagari of Uttarakhand – Munsiyari. True and I covered 1290kms over five days, scaled an attitude of 2748 AMSL; crossed magical views of pristine beauty of valleys and mountains, snow-capped peaks, witnessed a river as white as if flowing milk, heard the roar of a mighty, 120 meters high waterfall from close corners and rode through the core areas of a wildlife sanctuary, amidst heavy rains…

It was some fun…

Leaving you with this magical moment of True standing tall in front of the grandeur of the Panchchuli Peaks.

Detailed Motorcycle Diaries of this Trip will follow soon.

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‘Motorcycle Diaries. Road to Munsiyari…’ was written in 5 parts. You can read all 5 parts of this travelog here.

Written by RRGwrites

October 14, 2012 at 7:27 PM

Motorcycle Diaries. Road to Ladakh…Riding Back Home…

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Part 8 of the Motorcycle Diaries. Road to Ladakh…

Day 13 to Day 16: July 5-8, 2012; Debring – Keylong – Manali – Chandigarh – New Delhi: This was the last leg of the ride. A ride that took us to the farthest off places. The places, where life appeared so different, surroundings appeared so serene, away from the chaos of the urban world, no phones, no emails, no meetings…we only answered the call of the mountains…

Since the route was more or less that same for a large part of this journey, I am skipping the daily details and writing the last part of the travelogue in one go.

All through the route from Debring to Keylong, the weather was pretty cold. Morey Plains, Pang, Sarchu, Lachulung La, Nakee La and the Gata Loops were all familiar now – there weren’t any surprises in the store en route, barring the fact that weather was dramatically icier this time. I kept craving for a hot cup of tea – such was the chill in the weather. With clouds over our heads, and rain looming, we rode almost non-stop and arrived at Bharatpur, which was our stopover for lunch.

Yet again, our break at Bharatpur was a long and tiring one – 4hours this time; some riders and the support vans were lagging behind. Once fed and rested, we all felt drowsy and lethargic! Rainy clouds were intimidating over our heads, and it didn’t help our morale that many of us had packed our rain-gear inside the main luggage! Dreading the impending showers, everyone passed this time really impatiently. However, we left only after everyone of us arrived and was accounted for.

Crossing Bara-lacha La, Darcha and Jispa, we reached Keylong by 7pm.

Next morning, much time wasted by at the petrol pump at Tandi – remember the legendary petrol pump I wrote about earlier – first after 325kms from Karu! Luckily, Sun God shone upon us with all its might, boosting our energies and the riders appeared all geared up for our ride to Manali.

After a largely uneventful ride for 45kms, we arrived at Koksar, which is the police check-post. This is the point from where a route goes towards Rohtang Pass and Manali and another one towards Kaza – the route we came from. Our wait was longer than expected here – men at the Police post appeared hell-bent on creating bureaucratic hurdles, something that we hadn’t face although our earlier journey. Moreover, the traffic appeared more chaotic than earlier – we learnt that there was huge jam all through the mighty Rohtang La!

Well, jammed it were. And it didn’t help that there was slush all over the highway. I had this fear looming inside me about riding in slush. And the bustling traffic didn’t help my apprehensions.

I am sparing the readers with details on what I saw at and around Rohtang – surprisingly, I didn’t find this Pass any tougher than Bara-lacha la. If it were not for slush and traffic, it would’ve been a smooth sail. However, I must say, riding amidst the clouds atop the Pass was some experience I would never forget…

After Rohtang, it appeared as if it were grand picnic spot all over! As if entire Punjab and Himachal gathered there! Eateries were aplenty on this stretch and so were the arrogant, abusive drivers! Honk, abuse, honk, abuse! Welcome to the neo-plains crowd!

Negotiating this heavy traffic jam, we riders descended Rohtang and arrived at Marhi, a small village en route. This was an extremely crowded place, with hordes of eateries and car parks. I was amongst the first few to arrive in here. This place turned out to be good fun! Our ‘boys moment was back! See for yourself.

Drive from here to Manali was easy – good roads and moderate traffic took us to Manali in next one hour.

Manali, a fabulous hill-station of yesteryears, is now a severely crowded and chaotic town. It appeared to me as Karol Bagh Market on a Sunday! So, I didn’t enjoy the place as much as I enjoyed the ‘Tandoori Amritsari Fish’, a superb preparation that I found at a small jaunt in the main-market! That made the day for me!

Next morning, we woke up to mild rains. It was a long day ahead – ride to Chandigarh was over 300kms. First 150kms, we rode non-stop amidst rains. The Beas River, flowing beside us, was at it roaring best. In fact, there was so much mist over it that one couldn’t possibly see the flowing water!

Good thing that roads were in excellent condition. So, despite it rained really heavily, we didn’t face any untoward incident and arrived at Bilaspur, our halt for lunch.

The State Guesthouse, located just outside the town of Bilaspur, just like other State-run organizations, was more than reluctant to host 60 riders! As if we wouldn’t have paid 🙂

Ride from hereon to Chandigarh can be divided into two parts – one, which is atop the hilly terrain, where we faced heavily loaded trucks riding at less that 20kmph and the other part, where the highway towards Chandigarh via Mohali – for over 80kms, was any rider’s delight. What a contrast of a ride it were!

The evening at Chandigarh was very relaxed; we were heading back home! Chats, dinner and drinks, not necessarily in the same order, went late into night. Discussions took place on all possible areas – Indian Culture, the ills of dowry, friendliness that biker-riders share on the road and car-drivers don’t, et al. No one even mentioned Delhi, as if we all wanted to avoid the ride’s end…some bonhomie this were…

Next morning was electric! This was the last day of our ride – 16 wonderful, eventful days were about to come to an end. Photographs and hugs were galore…kind of farewell before we wished farewell at Delhi…

Superb highway between Chandigarh and New Delhi took only 5-6 hours for us to arrive in at Gurgaon. We rode on NH-1 yet again! The same NH-1 that was also present at Leh! Riders, many of them, confided in me how they hated riding on such nice roads, they missed the ‘no roads’ of the mighty Ladakh! So true, it was…

A big bash at a South Delhi Pub marked an end to this glorious journey. The ride of the lifetime, it was. Royal Enfield team was at its hosting best, and we cheered every time a rider’s photograph was projected on the screen.

Late that night, when I was biding goodbye to my friends, a strange feeling of loneliness hit me. Next day wasn’t gonna be the same – no early morning ride, no Maggi as a staple diet, no fearing the heights, no looking forward to that next big Pass…

Words of Venky came back to my thoughts…“If you go to the Odyssey as a boy, you will return a man; if you go as a man, you will return a sage, and if you go as a sage, surprisingly you will return as a boy”.

Three months down the lane now, the echo of these words haven’t left my mind…indeed, the odyssey has had a casting effect upon me…

Odyssey came to an end on July 8, 2012. However, memories of the odyssey are etched in my heart and mind, forever.

Mountains are calling yet again…I am getting ready for the next ride…

Till the next ride, good bye and safe riding!

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‘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.

Motorcycle Diaries. Road to Ladakh…at Tso Kar

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Part 7 of the Motorcycle Diaries. Road to Ladakh…

Day 12: July 4, 2012; Leh to Debring & Tso Kar: From this day, our return journey to New Delhi commenced. On the Day 12, our ride was from Leh to Debring, which is located off-Morey Plains, about 150kms from Leh, crossing Upshi, Rumtse and the mighty Taglang La.

In the morning briefing, I could observe that the riders didn’t want to leave! The fun was in arriving at Leh and not in going back. We wanted to stay, soak in the beauty of this wonderland. I know many of us that day decided in their hearts that they would come back, very soon.

When we started from Leh at about 8am, the weather was bright and sunny. We again rode through the beautiful, green patches on the Leh-Manali highway, passing Shey Palace and a large number of monasteries, Stupas and rock carvings on this road. Shey was the summer capital of Ladakh, so I learnt from a passer-by, as I stopped for a water break. I could not help but soak in the beauty of the palace built on the hill. The palace, mostly in ruins now, were built first in 1655, near the Shey village and were used as a summer retreat by the royal family of Ladakh.

I rode through amazing Ladakh scenery, road guarded by rock walls. This stretch is full of village on both sides, and the ride is really pleasant. I regret not stopping again and clicking the pictures of the roads surrounded by tree all through the route for about 30kms; where the parents of the school-going kids gave us riders the most amused looks, as if saying, “Well! There go the spoilt ones!”

From this signage at Upshi, the right turn goes 30kms to Rumste and the left takes you to Tso Moriri, another famous lake at Ladakh.

As we entered the mountainous terrain, I observed the colour of the flowing river on our left – so different than the rivers we were used to see during this ride!

Out first break of the day was at Rumtse, the same hamlet where we stopped on our way to Leh a few days ago.

As I sat down here, I observed an acute silence amongst riders, as if all excitement had gone missing, as if we left it at Leh. There weren’t banters flowing around, no one was pushing each other, no laughter; only a passive wait…till this Ladakhi kid showed up.

This kid came as a breather, Dorje his name was. Extremely sharp and friendly, he quickly became very popular with us. Running all around, chasing stray dogs, offering smiles to shutterbugs, he was raw energy! Then, one of us introduced him to an Apple iPhone – the Tom Cat application! You would see his amazement in the adjoining pic. Amused he was; he made all kinds of noises – soliciting response from the Tom Cat and laughter from us! He was some fun!

From here, ride to the Taglang La was about 30kms. Much to our pleasant surprise, a large part of the road that was under-construction when we came a week ago was now constructed! So we sailed on really quickly towards the sandy patch of the Morey Plains.

As I always hate riding in sand, this time too, I found it pretty exhausting. However, this time, I had a better idea about how not to hold on the clutch (that could burn the clutch plate really fast) and let True find her own course in the desert. Finally, we reached our scheduled breakpoint – a small dhaba amidst nothing, standing tall in the desert.

Weary that we all were, especially after negotiating the monumental Taglang La and the sand, this dhaba provided much needed rest to our backs, some frolic and tasty Maggi! Here, we were to regroup, and then get ready for the moment of the day – this was our destination for the legendary group photograph, the trademark of the Royal Enfield Himalayan Odyssey.

As we rode into a chosen barren patch, we were asked to build a formation, with all riders standing in one straight line! Now, that’s some tall asking, as making 65 riders do that, maneuvering the bikes in sand back & forth, forming one straight line – the photographer had a really tough time organizing and achieving this tall feat! Yet, the picture came out really well. After this legendary pick was clicked, we moved ahead towards Debring, our night-halt destination.

Debring Camps are located about 5kms off the road, and you’d really need to watch out for the signage, else, it is easy to miss it and you’d keep riding towards Pang, which really won’t be fun.

We reached the campsite at about 3:30pm. As I crashed into a chair outside the camp, I observed that these tents didn’t house a washroom. Shucks! We were to use the common, make-shift toilets, built at a distance from the main tent area! That too only 5 toilets for the whole gang! Not a pleasant news, it was indeed…

As the evening set in, the view around our camps turned really good, surrounded with mountains all around us – the setting sun and the clouds created a magical view. See for yourself…

After settling in, many of the riders decided to drive further 3kms towards the Tso Kar – the Kar Lake. Tso Kar means ‘salty lake’. I learnt from the caretaker of our tent that the local people extracted salt from this lake till late 1950s for their consumption. I was in no mood to go see the lake, despite the fact the euphoria around it was pretty infectious. Deciding to stay and chill-out, I joined some friends, Guru, Max, Mayil Anna and Dr.Sashi – the group ganged together outside the tents – the daily rituals of Rum & Fun took off. Mayil Anna found a way of sourcing a Rum bottle even in this barren, remotest part of the world! As the fun ensued, an otherwise non-happening day turned real fun. Take a look…

Little did we know, what events were unfolding at the lake’s shores…

During this gala, a rider came and shared that Mauro, one of the riders, got stuck in the salty marshlands near the lake with his bike. However, he also shared that there wasn’t any danger and others around him are helping. So, the party continued without any disruption, even as Santhosh, our RE leader, and few other dashed off to the lake.

However, very soon, Aakash, our other RE leader, came rushing and asked few of us to get ready with torches and ropes; Mauro couldn’t be located, he shared.

A chill ran down my spine. What is happening out there? Why cant we locate him?

Some of us got ready with warm clothing, and took as many torches as available – it was around 6pm and soon to turn dark. Sadly, the Trip Wagon was not available, it was on another mission to locate a missing rider who had probably overlooked the obscure turn to Debring and driven straight ahead. So, we had no choice but to drive the Innova to the lakeside.

The mood in the vehicle was intense! We readied ourselves for the rescue-mission and tried to evade any negative thoughts. Ernesto, Mauro’s friend from Uruguay, mentioned that Mauro was a strong guy, we all knew it, and that he would be all fine. So we wanted him to be.

As we reached the Kar Lake, I was astounded to note the dimension of the lake; although it was not an appropriate time to note the very apparent beauty of it! It was magnificent! From one corner to the other, the walk must have been about 7-10kms!

As the Innova neared the lake’s shore, we felt the swampland under the tyres! Sensing danger, we were forced to stop the vehicle at a distance from the shore; now, the search was to carry on the foot. Leaving some of us at the base, five of us dashed off towards the lake. After a while, at a distance, we noticed Sibi, the tallest of all, standing atop an elevation, signaling at us using his flashlight.

For the first time in my life, I was walking on the swamps! The land under me appeared all whitish and wet, as if made of salt soaked in water! It was an intense feeling and yet, we were determined not to go back without finding Mauro.

The walk to the place where Sibi stood must have been over 3kms. Catching our breath and gulping water, we walked non-stop. As we reached there, we heard the good news, Mauro was located, and how!

We could see men walking, at a far off distance. Santhosh and Mauro, with few others, they were at the fag end of the lake, and must have been at least 3kms away from us. They had signaled Sibi to stop, and wait for us, so as to save us the ordeal of walking all way in eagerness.

Sibi narrated the thrilling turn of events. As they all arrived for the search, they just couldn’t find Mauro anywhere for a good time. They walked and walked in vain; Mauro couldn’t be traced. Down and out as this search party was, Sibi saw a flicker over something at a distance – the last ray of the setting sun came reflected to this tall lad! It was Mauro’s helmet or the bike, and that gave them energy! They rushed towards him, only to find the Enfield stuck 2-feet under the wetland, just around the water, with a resolute Mauro trying hard to rescue it, himself all covered in sand and salt!

Santhosh gauged the slipperiness of the situation and took a wise decision to leave the bike there and bring Mauro back. It was getting darker and colder, and Mauro was all wet waist-down and fatigued – a fit case for an attack of hypothermia!

As Santhosh and others reached us, I noted they were all exhausted to the core – walking more than 10kms had drained all energy out of them. We were at 10000ft AMSL, where oxygen was at its lowest best; remember? Gulping from the water bottles we had carried from the camps, they caught their breath for a while.

As we walked towards the base, where the Innova was parked, exhaustion forced us to stop many times. Also, it was getting darker and we were walking over the wetland, with hundreds of holes dug in – homes to the reptiles! Scary, it was…

By this time, the Trip-wagon had also arrived on the site. Mauro was rushed to the camp in Innova; we all boarded the wagon. Warm inside, animated discussion took place on how to salvage the bike. Some said we should wait for the morning and arrange for a 4X4, to pull it out; few of us were of the opinion the we should try rescue it the same night, as we feared it would be guzzled by the marshes by the dawn!

By the time we reached back to the camp, it was pitch-dark and we were all cold to our bones! Luckily, the hot soup was ready; a really saviour it was! Needless to say, everyone at the camp wanted to hear the story! Yet, some of us, including Santhosh and Aakash remained focused and decided on a plan to rescue the dear Enfield the same night. Luckily, the camp-management had a Tata Safari with them – a 4X4!

A detailed rescue mission was planned. A signaling station was set, armed with powerful flashlights at the camp to exchange messages from the site. Ashokji, our tour-operator and also a vastly experienced & skilled trekker, was stationed there. Santhosh and Aakash, accompanied by few locals from the camp, reached the lake, where the bike was stuck.

It took more than three hours that eventful night, the might of a 4X4, and the strong will of few good men, which salvaged our dear Enfield. I wasn’t there at the site, so I am sparing the details; from all that you read till now, I am sure you’d gauge how much effort must have gone in this brave and ultimately successful attempt.

The best part of the mission – a Royal Enfield, which was stuck in the wetlands, covered with salt over two feet deep, braving water and cold winds for over 7 hours, started roaring in just one kick! This is some machine!

In the image below, you see smiling Mauro and his shining Enfield the next morning – it was the cleanest of all bikes – two mechanics serviced it the whole morning!

Later in the next morning’s briefing, Mauro expressed heartfelt gratitude to the RE leaders and the Band of Brothers! An experienced rider thought he was, he acknowledged that by riding to such a dangerous spot, he made a terrible mistake. Learning for all riders and readers, this should be.

In all my experience of riding in the worst terrains, I can tell you that a good rider is not one who only rides his bike well. He is one who takes utmost care of the surroundings and is mindful of the dangers of ignoring the Mother Nature. Mountains call us, allow us to ride atop their chests, tolerate us to surpass them – they do. And they host us the best when we respect the rivers, the winds, the snow and the hills, without trying to play them down.

As they say in the mountains, only expert swimmers drown, only skilled riders fall, only fittest of all fall sick, once the ego takes you over…

I am sure the above incident would help others absorb – be friends with the Mountains and the Mother Nature, don’t try to tame them down. It just doesn’t work…

Sadly, I couldn’t click any images of this magnificent lake. Earlier, I didn’t want to go and later when I was forced to, I neither carried the camera nor the intention to click any! Yet, I would like you to enjoy the panorama; so, sharing a superb image from a travel website bharatbooking.in.

On the Day 13, we rode towards Keylong…

To be continued in the next blog…

 

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‘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.

Motorcycle Diaries. Road to Ladakh…the Nubra Valley

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Part 6 of the Motorcycle Diaries. Road to Ladakh…

Day 10: July 2, 2012; Leh to Khardungla and Hunder – Part-II: At Khardung La, the thrill amongst us riders was pretty high. Many of the riders climbed atop the snow-clad peak, in one go! They just overlooked the caution against over-exertion – ecstasy was way too high and with adrenaline pumping, even the ones reaching southwards of their age made it to the top in flat five minutes! Then there were hugs, rather bear hugs flowing amidst congratulations! I had not seen so many of us hugging each other so lovingly! Photographs with friendly and till-then-not-so-friendly co-riders were clicked alike all over the Top. Similarly, everyone wanted that glamorous signage and their bike to be clicked in the best possible pose!  Emotions were at an all time high and the band of brothers was in its full form! Accurate or not, we were just elated to ride atop this magnificent top of the world!

Forget men and sages; this was indeed our ‘boys’ moment.

This frenzy continued for about 30-minutes, after which some of us started to ride ahead and gradually the rest of us followed.

The stretch after Khardung La top was as bad as the ascent. However, it was equally panoramic if not more! Snow all around us; it seemed a different world altogether. We also encountered a convoy of army trucks; and the traffic was really slow. So, it did give me an option to stop several times and capture the magical Himalayas. Some snippets for your eyes…

After 14kms of descent, roads became better and we sailed through easily to reach North Pullu. This was our lunch-destination. However, this place boasted of only two Dhabas and as it turned out, they weren’t very well equipped to manage the 65 hungry souls!

Good weather, excitement and whatever little exertion till now the day had brought upon us ensured we seek sumptuous solace in Maggi and mutton-momos! So, amidst all fun and frolic, we ate whatever came our way! See Dr. Sashi and Mayil Anna – all smiles!

After a short break, we proceeded towards Hunder; a small Ladakhi village wherein lay the famed Nubra Valley.

From North Pullu, the ride to Nubra Valley is about 75kms. The ride was smooth, with roads in very good condition.

As the snow-clad peaks passed by we entered the desert-terrain, the view of the rocky mountains and gorges became really captivating; one of the stretches in between was really out-of-the-world – the view was fascinating. Sadly, I didn’t stop much and hence, now regret having very few images of this part.

En route, we crossed villages of Khardong, Khalsar and Diskit. Diskit is the district headquarters of Nubra Valley. This village is also famous for the Diskit Monastery, which was built in 1420AD. Rested on top of a hill overlooking the town of Diskit, the monastery provides some spectacular panoramic views.

Between Diskit and Hunder lie several kilometers of sand dunes. I was stunned to see white sand dunes all around me! Ladakh never fails to surprise the rider in me – this is a desert at a height of over 10000ft AMSL!

I must say that I encountered very unusual views as I entered Nubra Valley.

While descending, I saw the River Shyok flowing at a distance. As I rode further, I came across the road widening into sandy plains long-drawn-out between the rows of mountains. I stopped and filled in the changing views – the river, the mountains, barren sandy plains on which the roads look like thin, dark lines drawn till horizon. Hereinafter came several small villages, where kids would waved at me, tempting me to given them a Hi-five! The mountains around me were full of gravel, which threatened to come down anytime! This was indeed one of the most unusual places on the planet!

The exquisite Nubra Valley lies north of Leh and leads to the peaks of the eastern Karakoram. Siachen Glacier lies further north of the valley. This used to be a restricted area until very recently; and is now touted as the most beautiful region in Ladakh. To visit it you need permits which are easily obtainable from the DC’s office in Leh. As I wrote earlier, South Pullu and North Pullu check-posts would require these permits to let you through.

Located on the ancient Silk Route, this was where the double-humped camel caravans historically used to trade between Yarkand and Leh and would have passed this way. You can still see the near-extinct specie of double-humped camels here! In fact, as a tourist, you can also enjoy a ride upon them, of course at an interesting price. After riding my single-humped royalty for last eight days at a stretch, I didn’t try that!

Nubra Valley houses its tourists in several campsites that have sprung all around it in last few years. Setting sun had turned the sight quite amazing and Aman & I decided to ride into the town, after settling down in our camp. The view around made my friend Aman gasp, “Amazing! This is that part of the world where sand dunes, rivers & water-bodies, greenery and snow-capped mountains exist simultaneously! What a wonder!” Well, he was very right. Nubra Valley is indeed a strange confluence of plainly opposite geographical elements! You’d see farms and deserts at the same time here! See for yourself…

As Aman and I rode into the town area, I was surprised to witness this well-laid-out town in the middle of a remote valley. Smartly dressed youngsters, decorated stores selling jeans and T-shirts, including Adidas merchandise, et al. It didn’t look any different from any other small Indian town! Herein, we met owners of the Anand General Stores. Once the discussion ensued, I could observe they were fellow Haryanvis! They turned out to be a father and son duo from rural Haryana, and were really glad when I greeted them with the customary ‘Ram Ram’, the favourite salutation of Haryana! As they learnt that I was from Gurgaon, they opened up and offered us tea. Sheer warmth flowed thereafter and amidst some heartfelt talk, they shared that they are settled in Nubra from last 40 years. Whew! Their forefathers came along with the armed forces and chose to settle as traders in this beautiful valley. World indeed is a smaller place!

Our stay was booked at a campsite called Hunder Sarai, a campsite that housed a flowing stream of water. Quite useful, it turned our later that evening, when the group faced a challenge – how to chill the beer! This cold water-stream came to resolve this mammoth issue – all we need was to keep the beer between two rocks; rest job was done by the chilled water!

Amidst the moonlit night, the campfire and bonhomie, we spent the evening! Details are classified 😉

Day 11: July 3, 2012; Hunder to Leh: The night at Hunder was pretty comfortable. Tents were of good quality and housed a clean washroom. Luckily, the weather didn’t turn as chilly as it were in Sarchu, so we all slept well.

The weather continued to be good the next day too, and we started our ride for the day at about 8am. The return ride, as always, was eventless, save the fact that the sand dunes appeared even prettier a sight in the sunrays!

A word of caution here; it is advisable to tank up at Leh itself and carry additional fuel, if needed, to see you through this round trip of about 260kms, since only Diskit has a petrol pump. This petrol pump is an interesting one though; it still runs on a hand-operated mechanism and shuts down at 4pm every day. It is worth observing the mechanism – you’d get only 5l or 10l of fuel at a time!

En route, what saved the journey from being a real bore was a huge Army trucks’ convoy. It took us about 30 minutes to negotiate the route, passing one-truck at a time patiently. We reached North Pullu well in time and again stopped at the same Dhabas for food. Here, we met a group of foreigners, who too were riding REs. For the love of biking, the world goes around…

Back at Khardung La in no time, it was surprising to note the reality of the human nature! All excitement of ‘riding atop The Khardung La’ was history in less than 24 hours! No one showed ecstasy anymore; in fact, many didn’t even stop! What an irony; albeit so realistic it is!

I was amongst the first ones to reach back Leh. Reason being; I wanted to utlize the time left during the day to drive about 50kms on NH1 towards the point of confluence of the Rivers Sindhu and Zanskar. I had seen this marvelous spectacle during my Ladakh-visit last year and was itching to go back.

Sindhu, or the Indus River, locally known as the ‘Singhe Khababs’ (out of Lion’s mouth), flows in from Tibet and passes through Ladakh and flows into Pakistan. As you’d drive towards the outskirts of Leh town on NH1, you’d view this river.

The Zanskar River is in fact a tributary of the River Indus only. Flowing northwards, it meets River Sindhu at the village Nimmu, located at about 50kms from Leh town.

Last year when visited this place, I was amazed to observe splendid serenity all around. There were just no sounds; save the sound of gushing water of the two rivers. I have witnessed the Panch Prayags from close corners and the confluence of the five rivers en route to Badrinath as well as the Sangam at Allahabad; however, this confluence stands apart.

You’d cross Gurudwara Pathar Sahib, the famous Magnetic Hill and amazing scenery around you to reach this marvel of the nature!

See for yourself why I was so keen to visit this place! To make it appear clearer for the viewers, I am also publishing a image taken last year in broad daylight. Some view, it is!

For the rafting-enthusiasts, this is heaven. There are several travel agents around the Fort Road/Leh market offering white water rafting on the Rivers Indus and Zanskar.

While returning from this point, I took a brief stop at the Magnetic Hill. This has always been a site of amusement for me. This hill is located on NH1, at around 45kms from Leh, at a height of 11,000 feet above sea level. Rumour has it that this hill has magnetic properties! In fact, BRO has put a signboard too, which lends considerable credibility to this rumor, at least for the first timers! There is also a square box-area painted on the road where the signboard requests drivers to park the four-wheelers in the neutral gear. According to the prevalent myth, the magnetic properties of the hill are strong enough to pull cars uphill! In reality, the effect is at best an optical illusion and there is no magnetic property in the area. I have experience this twice now. Yet this place is a crowd-puller and is now a popular stop for travelers to Leh. I am publishing an image I took last year!

After the amusement at the so called Magnetic Hill, I rode towards the town of Leh. By now, the view had turned really beautiful. I couldn’t resist clicking several pics, of course with True being featured in all of them!

Once back in Leh, we went shopping. T-shirts and other memorabilia bought in plenty, Aman and I visited the famous German Bakery for dinner and it didn’t disappoint us – the quality of food was pretty good.

This completed our journey to the magical Ladakh. Herein onwards, our return ride would commence – back to Delhi.

Little did we riders know, what a frightful evening await us at Debring the next day…

To be continued in the next blog…

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‘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.

Motorcycle Diaries. Road to Ladakh…at Khardung La

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Part 5 of the Motorcycle Diaries. Road to Ladakh…

Day 10: July 2, 2012; Leh to Khardung La and Hunder: As I thought the night before, every rider was back in action – chirpy, set to ride – back with the bang! The band of brothers was briefed by the RE Leaders – Santhosh and Aakash on the route to Khardung La and Hunder, some tips about riding and the works. Soon after, we rode out of Leh in a formation of two, so as to add least disturbance to the locals – after all, 65 REs do make a hell lot of noise! As we ascended towards Khardung La, I could observe whole of Leh town and the homes built in the old Leh town too. The view was astonishing!

Claimed to be at a height of 5602m AMSL, Khardung La is a high mountain pass situated 39 km by road North of Leh. An early start would ensure that one reaches Khardung La without encountering lot of traffic. You will need an Inner line permit to cross or visit Khardung La. With a brief stop at South Pullu check-post, we proceeded ahead, only to find bad roads for 14kms to the top. It is ironical that even on the other side, i.e. after crossing Khardung La, I found bad roads for exactly 14kms towards our descent to North Pullu!

On the way, I came across this rather scary signage; do read it carefully in the adjoining image!

Khardung La – here I come! Atop arguably the world’s highest motorable road! What a feeling it was! All riders were elated!

You may visit the video I made here on YouTube (http://youtu.be/adxQCyMnDVA) to gauge the feelings I experienced once I completed this feat!

Special mention to Mr. GR Krishnan – he was oldest of us riders at 62 years of age. The true dude! He was simply jubilant to arrive here, riding his Thunderbird! Some grit and determination it took and we all witnessed his passion all through the journey…

At an age of 31 years now, I wonder would I be able to repeat the same feat when I turn his age…worth thinking!

I thanked Aakash – a superb team-leader, for all his guidance and support to us riders! He was the man behind many of us making it successfully to this place…truly remarkable guy with a great passion for riding!

Khardung La is the gateway to the Shyok and Nubra valleys. Built in 1976, it was opened to motor vehicles in 1988 and has since seen many automobile, motorbike and mountain biking expeditions. There is some charm in riding atop what is claimed to be the highest motorable road of the world! Maintained by the BRO, the pass is strategically important to India as it is used to carry supplies to the Siachen Glacier.

The weather at Khardung La can be really tricky – we were there on an absolutely superb day – bright sun shining over our heads and very little chill to worry about. See me and my friend Saurabh basking in the glory of sun-rays!

Don’t you get conned by this, dear readers! I would like to remind you that only early this June, the Army and police rescued more than 400 people trapped at the Khardung La, between South and North Pullu, due to landslides triggered by heavy rains in Ladakh!

Also, once here, do follow the basics – do not stay for long and don’t exert too much in excitement. It can be fatal! Read on the signage to your right…

Once I arrived at the Pass, it took me a while to get myself and True photographed next to the signboard which says “Khardung La, 18380ft, Highest Motorable Road in the world” – there were so many tourists around – I could see people from all part of the country and the world!

You see the above colourful signage? It belongs to the café at the Pass, claiming itself to the highest café of the world; where one can have a much-needed cup of green tea along with some snacks.

The walls of this café speak about the story of Maggi! A very interesting read…

Now, you’d be surprised – Airtel works here! After all the troubles I had with the network all through the journey, it was a pleasant surprise! Did you notice the tower in the adjoining image?

I also came across a souvenir shop selling Khardung La memorabilia, run by Army. The products are made in Karol Bagh, though! Worth buying, nonetheless, would be a small wooden plaque – it’d remind you that you were there! Like every other pass, there’s a temple at the Khardung La too – again run by the army. In the video I shot, you can hear the holy songs playing in the background!

Caveat: Well, the GPS and the Casio watch, both confirmed the newly spread believe that this pass is NOT really the world’s highest pass and that the elevations claimed by the signboards are rather inflated. The watch showed the elevation to be 5359m or 17582feet AMSL. This confirmed what I was being told for while by many other riders checking it on their GPS/watches.

Long ago, a rider friend shared his experience about Marsimek La, which is also in Ladakh. This pass, though largely not open to public, is also claimed to be arguably world’s highest motorable road at 5590m or 18634feet AMSL! In fact, there exists a plaque stating the same, mentioning the name of the BRO’s construction company! However, I am not sure if this pass can be really called motorable, as most of the army-men I have spoken with to confirm this stated otherwise. So, it is important to make a distinction between world’s highest motorable road and world’s highest pass!

Most recently, during my trip to Badrinath, I came across a revelation – another signboard claiming that the Mana Pass is now the highest motorable road in the world, standing at an elevation of 5608m or 18399feet AMSL. Mana Pass, or Dungri La, is located between India and Tibet, about 50kms from village Mana on NH58, also known as the last village on Indo-Tibet border, close to 3kms ahead of the Badrinath Dham. However, I was told that this pass is not open to public as of now and is heavily guarded by the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP).

So, while it is safer to say that while Khardung La is a very high mountain pass and also possibly the highest pass with a motorable road open to public, both the claims of it being at a height of 5602m AMSL and being the world’s highest motorable road may not be accurate.

Interestingly, I found Khardung La to be the easiest ride! After doing Kunzum La, Nakee La, Baralacha La, Lachulung La and Taglang La, I can say that I found Taglang La the most difficult as well as most beautiful. I am told Chang La, en route to Pangong Lake, is really steep, tough and strenuous. However, so was I told about Jalori La; however, when I crossed it, I didn’t find it difficult at all.

Would surely like to visit Marsimek La, Chang La and Mana Pass some day along with True…

From hereon, we rode towards the Nubra Valley – the cold desert of Ladakh…

Travelogue on Day-10 to be continued in the next blog…

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‘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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