Sorry for the cliffhanger (literally!) at the end of the last post, folks! We arrived back in Delhi in one piece, but the same could not be said about Dope, my bike. As I already said in the last post, the seat cover was ripped open by monkeys from hell and this time it was the turn of the crash guard. Call it carelessness on my part or the ruggedness of the terrain, or the rust that had colonised the once chromed-out guard, the thing was past its prime. I had thought of replacing it when the bike would be serviced next after the ride, but clearly i overestimated its life. So one fine evening as I was riding from Rohru towards Narkanda, I heard a metallic ‘clang’ and looked back to see one half of my crash-guard rolling downhill. Leave something behind, as they say!
The previous night I had ensured a miserable morning by consuming way too much semi-country liquor in the form of ‘Officer’s Choice Premium Whiskey’. I woke up in the middle of the night with a dry mouth and a drum-line in my head. Damn! Its going to be worse in the morning, and it was. I am sure I don’t need to explain a hangover to you good people, but this situation was a bit unique. I had to ride on some of the worst hill roads with this. As we left the city and the potholes started appearing, I reduced my pace. Even then every jerk, every stone on which the tires passed was magnified 10 times in my head. Nightmare!
After 20 kms of driving, even the cool morning air was no match against the throbbing headache. So we decided to stop at a village on the way for some food. The shops were just opening, and we helped ourselves to some tea and bun-omelettes. While we were waiting for our food to arrive, we noticed villagers sitting by the side of the road, waiting for their vehicles (bus / shared jeeps) to arrive and take them to their respective destinations. I had seen this all along our current journey and on the previous ride on the hills. These people wait patiently for hours at times and, always with a smile on their faces.
When the wait is over and the inevitably overcrowded vehicle arrives, people immediately make seats for the new passengers and their luggage. Kids sit on the laps of total strangers and if someone opens a box of food, it is usually passed on among all the occupants of the car. We city-folk are impatient and always craving the ‘space’ that we all love. Sometimes I feel, that I must dump the bike and make at least one trip to the hills travelling like the locals do. Maybe then I will discover the secrets behind their happiness.
Anyway, moving on to my unhappiness, my massive hangover refused to abate even after a full breakfast, do I decided to ignore it (try to at least) and move ahead. I was riding a bit ahead of Sumantra and after about 18 kms from our breakfast stop, I stopped at the fort on the road at the village of Sungar where the road forks in two. The one on the right leads to Rampur, 62 kms away and the other to our destination, Narkanda, 40 kms away.
While I waited on the crossroads for Sumantra to arrive, I got a phone call instead. He had broken his clutch wire and was stranded by the road. I took a U-turn and headed back and found that he was barely 4 kms behind me. We were carrying spares, but not a set of pliers that you need to fix the cable. So off I went to the nearby village and the helpful folk lent me one. Sumantra’s bike is new and has the new UCE engine. Unlike my bike, you dont need to open the gearbox to attach one end of the cable. You just need to connect it to a lever of sorts that sticks out of the integrated gearbox-cum-crank case. It sounds simple, but in reality, we were stumped.. After going at it for like half an hour, tired and embarrassed, we decided to roll back towards Rohru.
Fortunately for Sumantra, around 95% of the road towards Rohru was downhill so he could just roll down. While he proceeded towards Rohru, I went back to th village to return the set of borrowed pliers. We reached town in under an hour, all thanks to Mr Gravity and began searching for a mechanic. We did find motorcycle mechanics, but none would touch a Bullet. So I asked Sumantra to wait by the road while I went ahead, found a mechanic and brought him back to where he was waiting. Bike fixed, we then stopped for a quick bite and left Rohru for Narkanda for the second time in the same morning.
The 40 kms from Sungar to Narkanda was by far the worst roads we had come across during the entire trip, and that’s saying something. It actually took us more than 2.5 hours to cover the stretch and we barely stopped for photographs.
All along the way, re rarely encountered any traffic and except for tiny 10-house hamlets, there has no habitation. The first town on this route was Baghi, from where Narkanda was another 15 kms. Except for the stretch in the town, the roads continued to be bad, but there was a drastic change in scenery. The Pine forests were back, and oh how I love them!
Very soon our trials came to an end as we joined the National Highway 22 for the last few kms towards Narkanda. I had a booking at a hotel here but i was interested in getting accommodation at the Circuit House here. This is the thing about government properties.. they are usually in the best places and more often than not are housed in colonial properties. So just before entering the town, we took the road leading off left towards the Circuit House. We found the manager and as usual he went off on the you-need-permission-to-stay-here rant. The thing is, you actually need permission to stay here from the District Collectorate, but if rooms are empty, you can usually coax the manager to spare you one. And that’s exactly what happened.
The old building had been modernised rather tastefully, although I wouldn’t mind if they would have preserved the original projecting balconies. The smartest thing here is that most of the appliances like the water heaters, corridor and lawn lights, etc run on solar power.
One of the main attractions of Narkanda is the temple to goddess Hatu, on top of a peak with the same name. A small road, branching off the NH 22 takes you to the peak. In the span of a mere six kms, this road takes you from a height of 2300 m to 3400 m.
Sumantra was feeling tired after the ordeals of the day and decided to stay back and relax in the room while I went off exploring Hatu peak. Right after the point when the road branches off from the highway, the steep climb begins. Thankfully, the entire road to the top, although very narrow, was metalled. I had left my luggage at the circuit house and being significantly lighter, had no problems negotiating the steep climbs and the hair-pin curves.
After around 20 mins of enjoyable climbing up this steep road, I finally reached the top. It was in the dying lights of the day, and most of the tourists for the day had descended, leaving behind piles of rubbish. It’s very sad when you see that even educated people today totally devoid of respect for the nature. It completely beats me how one can litter in a place as beautiful as this.
Angst aside, the temple did disappoint me. It was a new structure and though the woodwork panels might seem appealing to some, for people who have seen older temples in Himachal and Uttaranchal, this is quite mediocre. I would, however be glad to spend a night at the tiny, one-room PWD rest house here at the peak.
I was a bit apprehensive of the setting sun and after like half an hour on the peak, I slowly started to make my way down. Now it must be said here that I am severely scared of heights. In fact, I travel to the hills so that someday I will be able to get rid of it. So while climbing was not an issue, but going downhill was. I could literally feel the heart thumping in my chest, louder than the exhaust note on the silencer. This was not the fear that later translates into a rush. This was pure, unmitigated terror. I remember finally, after what seemed like years, when I reached the NH 22, I realised that my mouth was totally dry. I wasn’t so scared even when I was descending down the Rohtang Pass on a road covered by a layer of 8-inch thick sludge.
My constant fear was the rear wheel locking or me going off the edge after miscalculating the turn on a hair-pin. So I stopped regularly when there was the rare flat yard or two, and honked frantically around the corners.
I finally reached the room when it had just started to get dark. A refreshing hot bath later, i was happily tucked in the blankets.
The next day would be, and was tough. We had to cover around 500 kms to reach Delhi. On top of that the we would not have the comfort of the cool mountains. The next morning, we started from Narkanda by 7:30 AM and hit the plains at Kalka at 12:30 pm. From there on it was a drive through the scorching NH1 all the way to Delhi. It was almost 45 degrees in the open and the air hit you like a blast from the furnace. We had to stop every 30-40 kms to hydrate. You could actually feel the sun sucking out all the moisture from your body. We finally managed to reach home at 8:30 pm, dirty, dusty and severely dehydrated.
And now for the best part. While descending from Narkanda to Delhi, i got a fuel economy of 42 kmpl on the Machismo 500. That too when we were going at a constant 80 kmph in the heat. Eat dirt, Jap-crap!
In the next post, we travel from Himachal up north to Madhya Pradesh at the very heart of India and explore two small towns with two very distinct vibes, both on the banks of the Holy Narmada!
Come with me as I receive enlightenment and a nice oil massage by the river!
So long, friends…