I called this the summer ‘Back-breaker’ ride for a reason. When I was planning the ride (‘planning’ is an ambitious word in this regard, as I just choose a route and ride) I thought we would be able to cover the 200 odd kms from Chakrata to Narkanda in course of a day. The reason behind such an assumption was that I thought that the roads would be as good as the one we took to reach Chakrata in the first place.
How wrong was i!
Anyway, to cut a long story short, if you are ever in Chakrata, watch out for the monkeys who seem to outnumber the people and are arguably more daring than the special forces trained and stationed here. There was a small rip on the leather covering my seat, and while the bike was parked outside, the damned creatures had ripped the leather off, torn away chunks of the foam underneath and as a reasult of their actions the dew had gotten inside the foam and I had to ride the rest of the day seated on wet foam. Not good news for the butt!
Also, the moment you leave Chakrata, the road surface leaves you too. Sure, there was a road here… say in the last century, but all that remains are the gravel and rocks and the fine soil on which the roads were laid, and the potholes! Oh yes, the potholes. With all this happening in the background, we had to call it at day at Rohru, 142 kms from Chakrata.
We managed to roll out of Chakrata by 8 am. By this time we were certain that we would have to stop at Rohru and then proceed to Chail the next day, via Narkanda. On the way to Rohru, we would take a slight detour to ride to Deoban, a hill which is accessible by a charming, and very tough track.
The road to Deoban (literally ‘forest of the gods’) branches off from the Chakrata-Tiuni Road around 8 kms after Chakrata. A board at the beginning of the track stipulates its length at 3.9 kms, but do not be fooled, O discerning traveller, for to reach Deoban, man and machine needs to toil for 11 kms. One way.
In the course of 11 kms, we would climb from around 1800 m to 2815 m at Deoban top. The track was either loose gravel, fairly large rocks, loose earth and at times, even grass! There were numerous hair-pin bends and it was a relief to see that almost all of them were cemented (see pic above). In spite of these small mercies, it was mostly a 1st and 2nd gear climb. Although to be very honest, I did get into the 3rd for some time in the middle. Having trusted the board at the beginning of the road, we stopped at a point which we thought would be roughly mid-way to the top and took the only pic of the both of us with the bikes. Thank you, self timer!
After this shot was taken, i went ahead and stopped at every possible place to take photos of the bike. The results are as under.
Whenever possible, I stopped and clicked photographs of the road and the surroundings in general. Although the road we branched out from saw fairly thin traffic, this was something else. There was not a soul in sight.
So folks, after almost an hour of bouncing over rocks and fish-tailing over gravel, I managed to reached the end of the road. There stood a quaint little bungalow, occupied by the army. It is at the top of a peak and from the bungalow starts a meadow which stretches for a little distance along the slopes of the hill before ending at a forest of pines. I waited a bit for Sumantra to show up, and then ventured into the meadow to explore it a bit.
Sumantra showed up in a while and we sat there and shot a bit and shared a smoke. In due time, a villager showed up with his herd of buffaloes and we got talking with him and were promptly invited to his village which was ‘over those hills’. We respectfully declined and proceeded downwards to rejoin the main road and resume the next course of our journey. One the way we ran into a herd of feral horses and got the only view of snow-capped peaks (which Sumantra missed).
Thanks to gravity, getting down from Deoban took only a fraction of the time we took to climb up. As we rejoined the Chakrata-Tiuni Road, the initial few kms were good tarmac, but the nightmare began soon after. Average speeds dropped to around 30 kmph and we were starting to feel the monumental task we had in hand of completing the ride in the stipulated four days. During this stretch, we mostly climbed until we hit a fork in the road. We asked the people around and we took the road on the right and immediately the descent began. From here on, we would mostly descend all the way to Tiuni, 60 kms away and at an altitude of around 800 m. From there on, we would climb to Rohru, around 1600 m, and 40 kms from Tiuni.
I was travelling around 2-3 kms ahead of Sumantra, and around 3 kms before the village of Koti, I came across a beautiful sight. The road we were travelling on was through a dense pine forest. At this point, however, the forest was broken by a beautiful meadow, bugyal, in the local language. At one corner of the meadow was a tiny Shiva temple and the occasional chiming of the temple bells resonated through the immense pine trees that surrounded the meadow on all sides. I immediately parked the bike and stood at the side of the road for Sumantra to arrive. We had driven close to two hours over these non-existent roads, and we needed a break. What better place than this?
While we rested under the shade of the tallest pine, I thought ‘why dont I drive my bike on this meadow?’. It was a brilliant idea.. at least I thought so. The soft grass under the wheels would be welcome after the miles of rocks and loose gravel. So off I went:
After spending close to an hour at the beautiful meadow, we reluctantly headed off to the village of Koti, 3 kms away, hoping to find some lunch. We managed to find a restaurant here and were served with fresh, delicious food. And what else, the tiny one-room eatery had a view too!
Well fed and well rested, we resumed our journey to Tiuni. The roads were getting wilder by the minute.
After what seemed like a long, long time, we reached the tiny town of Tiuni, on the Pabbar River. The river was the boundary between the states of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. It was close to four in the afternoon and our destination was still around 40 kms away. While it does not sound like a long distance, but considering the roads we had encountered, it could take us anywhere between two to three hours. And it did!
At Tiuni, we crossed the bridge to the other side of the river. The road would follow the river for the rest of the journey until Rohru. Just as we crossed the town, the light started getting better, which meant that I stopped more often to shoot, which in turn meant more delays, but somehow I was not complaining.
Around 20 kms after Tiuni, as we passed by the town of Hatkoti, it felt like a repeat of what I had seen the previous day at Chakrata. While one side of the sky was ablaze with the setting sun, the other was laden with elephant-grey storm clouds. The effect of both these extremes on the lens was quite interesting.
Anyway, very soon we came to a point where the Pabbar river bas practically flowing along the road. So we drove the bikes down the rather steep embankment by the side of the road and parked it by the side of the water. The water wasn’t deep, maximum ankle high, and was flowing over a wide bed of pebbles. Across the road were the mountains, set against the backdrop of a nearly black sky. A small suspension bridge at the distance only added a rustic touch to the picture perfect setting. A couple of cabbies were washing their vehicles on the river bed and I decided to join them on the river. So off came the shoes and the trousers and I headed out to wade in the waters in my boxers. The first step felt like a hundred of needle-pricks as the water was ice-cold. In time, though, it became bearable and enjoyable even.
After the river frolic, we tanked up at a nearby petrol pump and resumed on our way to Rohru. After a few kilometres, however, we were stopped by a landslide. Fortunately, however, a bulldozer was already at work and in no time it carved a road in the rubble wide enough for one vehicle to pass at a time. Just after crossing the landslide zone we saw that the entire road is being widened and the hillside has been excavated.
As a result, the entire stretch of the road looked like a huge destruction zone. the road surface was barely visible and everything was covered with at least two inches of very, very fine soil. The clouds were getting darker and the wind was picking up. The fine dirt on the ground meant, it soon turned into a full-blown dust storm.
Just as we reached the outskirts of Rohru, we could feel fat drops of rain in the dust storm. The roads were deserted and there was all kind of foliage flying through the air. Just like your old spaghetti western movie when our heroes enter a dusty, empty, frontier town! And to add to the drama, there was a rainbow over Rohru!
Fantasies aside, the weather was getting worse by the minute. The isolated drops from ten minutes back now showed every signs of a heavy downpour and we sought shelter in the nearest hotel.
After unpacking we realised that we did not have soaps, and unlike hotels elsewhere in the world, the one we are staying at did not give you any. So we waited while the rains held up a little and proceeded to the market to get some. Somehow we were distracted by the sight of a local bar and walked straight in. The best part about the bar was that you could either get your drinks by the peg, or, if you so wish, even by the bottle. I ordered a quarter of the very officious ‘Officer’s Choice’ and drowned it in no time and got another to go.
Now friends, the lesson to be learnt here is that, while you are having a good time drinking the local brew now, your estimation of ‘how much alcohol till hangover’ is based on the smoother brands you drink in the city. While you can happily down 180 ml of Teacher’s or JD and wake up the next morning fresh as a flower, the same amount of say…ummm… Officer’s Choice will turn your next morning into a veritable nightmare. Ask me!
So this brings us to the close of the second and the longest day of this ride. The plan for tomorrow is to wake up early, make a dash for Narkanda, visit the Hatu Peak and then drive off to Chail where we spend the night. But will we be able to do all that, or will we tumble down the mountain into a bottomless gorge and be killed to death?
More on that later!