Day 119 aug 20 thu
Delhi – Noida – Ghaziabad – Meerut - Muzzafarpur – Roorkee - Haridwar - Rishikesh
245 km – 11747 kms
The two coffees I had yesterday evening and night ensured that I stayed awake till 5. Wake up at 8.30 and clean up whatever is left outside and add to the bags packed yesterday. The day I leave Delhi is finally here. 2 whole weeks gone by. Say bye to Rajeev and then go load the bike. Come back up and eat breakfast with Smriti and then leave. Say bye to Smriti and sale-bhehnchod wala Aditya. Forget to say bye to the maids, but I had done my I’m leaving today to them yesterday. I must have said I’m leaving tomorrow 4 times already! It’s around 9.50 and bang into the middle of office going traffic. Reach DND (it’s Delhi Noida Delhi!) cor-it’s Delhi Noida Direct!) and have flashbacks of the time I used to work at Noida and take the same route daily from Munirka to Noida. Yet another past lifetime.
Get pulled over by traffic cop who checks papers, uses the now standard issue magic detection finger on the luggage, and says bike ko tempo bana diya hai. Ask our way around to Ghaziabad and then Meerut. Am a little surprised to see no cows. My strongest memory of Noida roads used to be those chilling cows. Ride gingerly through Ghaziabad – don’t want to be pissing off anybody here.
Reach Meerut; bypass Meerut. A whole bunch of engineering colleges along the way. Subbu wants a fatwa put on engineering colleges. Bike begins to slide along the road, puncture! I stop to check and it is one – I had skipped filling air in the morning with airpump and then at petrol pump, coz there was a line. But the Om Trayambakams at work again. I have stopped with the puncture 5 footsteps from a puncture shop! Get puncture fixed -Nail. Also seems like my starter is screwed. Subbu takes over the wheel and after ages I sit in the pillion seat. Realize the seat is fucked – Why didn’t Ananya or Saurabh tell me! Have to visit mechanic.
I can’t see over Subbu’s head so settle down and do my Om chanting and other song singing. See Kaminey posters along the way – so much for making Piggy chops act without makeup. All the posters have her in the single sexy pose she does in the film (the separating my boobs jhatak during her wedding baarat). I keep thinking I was a bit extreme in my first view opinion of Kaminey, but despite watching it twice, I still felt something missing. Jai Maharashtra.
Reach Haridwar. Feel a lot of good energy, also terrain changes and can smell Eucalyptus in the air. Somehow anyplace that smells of eucalyptus is a good place in my head. See the sun setting behind the giant Shiva statue, but can’t be bothered to stop and take camera. Sit behind and watch the sights – the pillion always has the best view – so let me enjoy it for once.
Reach Rishikesh. Nice to begin, but soon becomes that religious spot hill station with yoga yoga yoga schools. Pass through Sivananda nagar – yaay – see the Divine life society office and the ashram. Subbu goes for a 2 month yoga Vedanta course here from tomorrow. Purnam and mangalam bhavatu. Subbu heads to Laxman Jhula and finds the guest house he had stayed before. Nice place – at the edge of the hill overlooking the holy ganges, with view of the Laxman Jhula - have to find out the story behind LJ.
Unpack, and head out across the Jhula for tea. Return, sit on the terrace, watch the river and talk about experiences, Vedanta etc. We exchange cameras – now have Subbu’s Canon 350D. Have to figure out how to use it properly. Bathe, eat, and here I am now. I know I’m missing a few things from today, but can’t recall. Heading out to terrace again to see Ganga flow by.
Day 120 aug 21 fri
18 km – 11765 kms
We wake up to sounds of bells ringing devotees’ wishes up to Shiva. Head across the Laxman Jhula for breakfast. Are too early, so suffice with tea and wake back. Plan is to drop Subbu at the ashram by noon. Roam around taking pictures and talking to people. All the spots are further on. No one knows why it’s called Laxman Jhula. Subbu heads ahead while I hit the book shop. Want to give Subbu the pranic healing book I had seen yesterday.
Superb bookshop = Siva Books Emporium, Ram jharoka mandir, laxman jhula, post- tapovan sarai, Rishikesh, Uttarkhand 249192
Well, atleast for spiritiual and religious books. Pick up the Pranic healing and couple more for myself. Books have been the bane of my luggage, but there is no other weight I would choose to carry. They don’t have a book I want, but will get it by evening.
Head back to the room. Subbu’s all packed. We exchange cameras. Press the S2IS on him and get his Canon 350D with it’s bulky bag. Need to repack.
All set and leave for the ashram for subbu’s sadhu course. The last 4 days have been very different from the last 3 months. Conversations have been about spirituality, processes, ideaologies, people and so on. It’s true what they say about Satsang and the company one keeps.
Reach the office to find all tam brahms manning the holy fort. After all the formalities and chitchat, walk with Subbu into the ashram and look around. This was the original ashram built by Sivananda. It’s a huge complex now, but a lil stark compared to the Vishudevananda ashrams. The Vishnudevananda ashrams (True World Order?) are not affliated to the Divine life society ones. Ashram and disciple politics. Leave subbu to his studies and head towards town.
Find the Enfield mechanic and hang around waiting for the chief mechanic. Talk to Australian (Merri) who is on an India – Nepal – Thailand – Australia trip. Is caught up in the travels and the wife back home who’s waiting for him to return. A percussionist - has learnt to play the Indian drums in benaras. Is returing the hired bullet and will now head to Thailand. Asks me if I want a helmet. I refuse – already roaming with an extra helmet bouncing off at the back of the bike.
Head out, find ATM, find phone charging shop. Chitchat with shopkeeper gets a one-day rishikesh –manali route. It’s unclear but after Poonta Sahib I need to head directly into HP. Go back to mechanic and give instructions. Take a shared auto to the hotel. Get dropped off at main road, and then walk to the hotel, amidst devotees who are confused when they see me. Read my new book that got delivered– the Holy Science.
Subbu calls and says we can meet for dinner around 7. Start walking towards the main road. Reach main road but continue walking towards Rishikesh main market. It’s a long but splendid walk, with the river flowing to the left and people and stories flowing past. Observing the people tells you a lot about where they are from. Everyone gives me a wide berth. Haircut? :D
Meet subbu outside the ashram and walk to the mechanic. Work is done but the seat is not fixed. We throw out the seat and do jugad for a new one. After brief back and forths about whether to put an original thunderbird seat vs. just jugad for back seat, we decide on jugad. We walk around and have a really bad dinner. Bike ready, drop subbu back at ashram and head back. Sit by the river and read.
Day 121 aug 22 sat
I read. I walk. Devotees, ashrams, temples, river, yoga centers, colors, beads.
Day 122 aug 23 sun
Rishikesh – Rani Pokhri – Dehradun – Poonta Sahib – Sataun – Minus - Newra
206 km - 11971 kms
Head out early. Subbu’s DL is at the ashram lodge. Send him sms to remind him to pick it up at end of sadhu course. Plan to come back here, but October onwards the entire lodge is booked for 6 months. There won’t be standing place on the roads.
Take the beautiful fresh road and bypass Rishikesh. Bypass Dehradun and head to Poonta sahib. See the magnificent gurudwara by the river.
From Poonta sahib, decide to skip the Shimla road and head north into Himachal. Hello hills, Hello landslides. Dry but amazing sight of kms of landslides. Do jugad to keep camera out. The landslides have now been cleared (thank god for the extended stay at Delhi, else good possibility I would have been stuck under one of these. But everything is super dusty. Ride along a river. At a village, give a guy a lift. He tells me it’s the Kasi river. Also points out that the Great Kali’s (WWE) village is close by. Drop him off. A few kms ahead, stop at a ‘spot’ – Am a bit happy meanders still make me stop to look. A kid walking around tells me on asking that it’s the Thamsa river. A river changes name in 10 kms? Take photos of the deodhar forests when a man asks kiska survey le raha hain and starts walking towards me. I wave, shake my head and walk back to the bike. Finish the cig when a maruti stops by with two cops in it. Make me show papers and do the usual QnA. Why I didn’t take the easier, quicker and safer Shimla road and am taking the Himachal ke khatarnak raaste. I say that’s why I’m taking this route. He says tumhe khatron se khelna ka shauk hain and lets me go.
Incidents like these and those numerous ‘himmat’ make me stop and think. Is this dangerous? How? I don’t even life or injury insurance. The best way to avoid all this shit is riding carefully and safely. I don’t care whether I am setting a record, just seeing, experiencing and moving on. The only ‘record’ ride was the Bangalore Bombay in a day ride – 1072 kms in 20.5 hrs. The only downside was the general inability to walk straight the next day; well and yes, the occasional sleep waves that happen during long boring stretches. We even managed to do the return trip to Bangalore in a day, except 70 kms from Bangalore at 2.45 am in the night, the bike seized; which we left on the side of the road and jumped onto a truck.
Stop at a place where a earthmover was breaking the landslide side of the road! Guess making it safer. Take photos– the earth mover driver wants his picture taken. Oblige and ride past. This entire stretch is surreal (a word used a lot on this trip) – see horses on shop tops, gorges, valleys, mountains, forests, rivers, birds, flowers. The people are now different from all seen so far. Facially, clothing, language – both men and women in the gardwalhi vests and caps. But one thing stood out, a lot of people in villages and across, look very similar – relatives? As I climb higher, the scale gets bigger. Intent has now been modified to reach Choupal. Reach Newra a small village along the Thamsa river. Locals convince me to stay here instead of Choupal. My tired body mind is more than glad to do so. Find a hotel and check in. Hotel owner who runs a shop below makes me sit and does QnA during registeration. On hearing previous job and salary, launches into prospects for his two sons. One doing BTech in EEE – I say good prospects as long as he does a CS course. Sad but true. I know only 3-4 people from the entire batch of 60 still working in EE. The other son is in the 12th Bio. What should he do? I say Biotech but how good is he? Not too good at studies. I say Nurse and then head abroad? Man is shocked – there are boy nurses? I say yes, my cousin is one, now abroad someplace in the Gelf(am not sure about this but it’s the natural progression). He shakes his head and says we have no male nurses in HP. I say paisa banana hai toh… Leave him pondering this. Eat dinner at a rundown place which is almost shut, but gives me some dal chaval. Watch the final hour of the Ashes. Yay England. Good bye Flintoff.
Day 123 aug 24 mon
Newra – Chopal – Theog – Kingal – Sainj – Ani – Jalori Pass – Shoja – Aut – Kullu - Manali
327 km – 12298 kms
SH2, NH22, NH21
Have breakfast and pack. Any public packing is a spectacle with a crowd watching with rapt attention, with the usual asshole who comes and asks bag mein kya hai. I just smile, or if he’s dangerous looking, says kapde spares. Best was that episode in Northern Maharashtra when I asked back, aapke bag mein kya hai.
Head out into this beautiful morning with the sun warming the hills slowly. Its cold as I leave the village, and after 15 kms of jittering into the deodhars, I stop and tug out the cold gear. Body warm but legs cold – thermals are in an untuggable region of the bag, and I’m not stripping in public.
After green stretches of heart melting vistas, I reach Theog and a paved double lane highway. Average speed just doubles. A brit duo on 600 cc bikes pass me, and then for almost 30 kms we ride together without a word. They stop at Narkanda, I ride past – need to get to Manali today and it’s still fuckin far, at current rate. So much for Rishikesh Manali in one day. Now I figure he probably meant I take the Shimla Manali highway – that would have been a day ride.
At Kingal, where I am to get off the highway and take the white roads again, I stop for tea. Talk to some army guys in the convoy that’s stopped for chai. One Maharashtrian army guy who confirms that I am from Bombay and have a house there. Also find out that I have to cross Jalori pass. Where did that come from – not on the map. Get a bit anxious – have heard it’s the toughest pass in India.
Cross Sainj and get back on the village road. Soon I am climbing Jalori pass; a 12 km long climb with good and broken roads. A couple of phirang bikers pass me, focused on riding their bikes, without the customary nod or hey. The final 4 kms are tough but well passy. Reach the top, say a prayer for G. Jani at the temple, and head down. Going down was harder than coming up; and the scary boards that say ride in first gear only and high probability of brake failure doesn’t help. Reach the bottom and one of more of India’s passes has been crossed. Pass the rest house at Shoja – found it funny.
It’s evening and will get dark soon. Do a speed run across more Deodhars and rivers. At some point, the Sutlej comes into play. Pass school kids returning home and the lo-fives begin. Am in a very nice happy mood. See some kids play on the road with those platforms on wheels – u sit on the platform and roll down the slopes. Major posing and photo session happens. Go ahead along the river, when at one point, I have to stop – at a meander, the Sutlej also seeps into this emerald green pool. I stop and take photos. A schoolkid is loitering around and I ask him if he wants a lift. He says no, I’m in the opp. Direction you’re going. Chitchat with him and take photos – he takes my mobile number for some reason.
Reach Manali at 8. Eyes are tired, but call Pearl and confirm lodging. Grit teeth and do the last 40 kms of the day rather quickly. Meet Pearl and gang at a café in old Manali. Find my room, say no to more hanging out, and pass out.
Day 124 aug 25 tue
12 km – 12310 kms
Wake up to a chilly but bright morning. Bathe the dust off and go meet Pearl. Catch up over breakfast. Pearl notices lice on my hair – the mystery behind my head scratching is solved after 2 weeks! Meet the rest of the gang and end up convincing them to not stay in Manali for 2 days but leave tomorrow and spend more time in ladakh.
Go with Karn to main market and find plastic 5 lt can, camera bag, and a beanie cap.
Walk around Old Manali, take photos of the red bridge. Sleep for a while. Evening head out again to town to tank up. Meet gang for dinner at People. Nice place. Walls covered with drawings made by customers. Pearl, Karn, and Asha have a go at their own drawings. Chitchat over colored pencils.
Day 125 aug 26 wed
Manali – Rohtang – Jispa – Baralachla - Sarchu
223 km - 12533 kms
Wake up to a brisk sunshine. The weather seems perfect for the ride to Leh. Decide to try the 2 day trip. Say bye to Pearl and gang as they head out in a Qualis. Pack, stock up on water, and leave Manali at 8. The ride to Rohtang was peaceful and rather quick - No drama like the last time. Reach Koksar and meet the gang eating brunch. Reach Keylong and then Jispa and there’s still a lot of daylight. Darcha goes by. I give up and roll a J. Solo has its benefits and just dust on your mind does no good. Darcha goes by. The scenes are the same. BRO workers, good roads, bad roads, more ice though. The initial tremor of doing Manali Leh solo has worn off. Its just another road; and well I double checked my air pressure. The foot pump gauge has conked off and shows a deviation of 8 psi.
Baralachla was a piece of cake. Just broken and good roads with dramatic iceladen mountains on view. Reach Sarchu and see the P gang trying to find acco. A group wandering around clicks a 100 photos of me entering the camp.
We decide on one camping ground and check in after bargaining. After tea, we walk around and start talking about the cold. Two hours later and we are still at it, in various aspects and tones. Play some word games. Have dinner and sit listening to a internation assortment of musicians singing and playing Beatles songs, and then requests like Rolling stones and so on. Good stuff, only I left coz it somehow reminded me of being at Totos and listening to the same track list since Totos Immemorial. We go out and watch the brilliant sky with the Milky way and all sorts of constellations. Everyone except Pearl see a shooting star. It gets colder and we retreat to the tent. Play dumbcharades (after ages) and then hide inside my sleeping bag and watch a Mithun film I picked up in UP while I pass out.
p.s. this was written after 3 days, so all the finer details are gone :s
Day 126 aug 27 thu
Sarchu – Pang – Tanglangla – Upshi - Leh
272 km – 12805 kms
Wake up around 7. It’s still cold outside, but thanks to sleeping bags, had a good night’s sleep. Have tea, breakfast, and pack the stuff onto the bike. Everything is stiff and cold.
Head out into the great wide open. Pass a large group of cyclists – mostly Indians, which was super nice to see. Through out the day, kept seeing different groups and types of cyclists – some with accompanying cars; large groups with buses, solo cyclists and so on. One couple even sat at the side of the road and had a picnic basket! Climb Gata loops. As before it was just another climb, only this time I try to take the shortcuts across the switchbacks. At one such shortcut, bike stalls and slips back. It’s a brake-twist handle-brake-slant bike-stop scene. Recover and head up the shortcut. Now operating in the 15000 ft range. Wherever there is shade, the temp. drops. Stuff my jacket into my gloves.
Reach Lachulungla 54 kms later to find the girls taking pictures with the BRO guys. Karn hops and we head down the pass till we reach the India gate (or Pearly gates as it has now been renamed. Karn hops off here and heads back into the car. Watch the terrain change into brown with the rock spires reaching for the skies. Reach Morae plains (or pang ground as it is known locally). The intense blue of the sky and the clear visibility of layers clouds for kilometers makes me gasp, all over again. Follow the bumpy dusty dirt track for the next 30 kms. It’s slow careful riding to avoid slip sliding along the foot deep dust grooves. Am still trying to figure out the depth of fields to use on the camera. Stick to 22 and 3.5 with random variations in between – basically want to capture what I see, so 22 seems to make sense, though it’s probably shooting to infinity. Will read up more and practice more.
Stop at this dramatic (yes, you can still keep getting awed by the surroundings despite the constant bombardment of wow sights.) spot and toke up. Trucks pass by, raising huge dust clouds, and trundle off into the distance till they become colored toys on the edge of visibility. The blue of the sky gets too intense and I stop looking up; as if it made a difference. Solo riding through such places creates this tunnel inside your head to a different world. Look out for marmots but no luck; instead see a solitary helmet lying on the road. Stop and wonder what’s its story. Reach the end of the plains and get back on the road. The mind has shifted momentum; am no longer doing a speed run, but hang the now dusty camera on the neck and begin to document.
Leave the plains and see some signs of civilization- stupas. The climb to Tanglangla begins. Probably my fave pass along with Baralachla – its one of those passes where you earn the right to be on top. The road is much better this time round. The Manali-Leh route is said to be one of the 5 toughest motor routes on Earth; but I think its true only if you do the stretch when the roads open; May end – mid June. After that, most of the roads are built and then it’s just another road. The climatic factors can be easily handled with proper clothing and a garlic pod.
You think you see the road to Tanglangla, until you turn right and see the road disappear into another long loop along another mountain that was hidden from view earlier (am sure there is a better way to write this sentence!) The temperature drops and the bike slows down, but trudges up the pass. Soon am riding along icecapped hills. No one to have a snowfight with. Reach the top and smoke the rest of the J. The world’s second highest motorable pass (or should I say the world’s third highest pass). Majority of the people know of Khardungla as the world’s highest pass, but there is Marsimekla too. The last time we had tried to scale it, we went at the wrong time. Throughout the climb to Tanglangla, was thinking about whether I should attempt another go, only having eaten and in the morning! Let’s see. With my bad spatial reasoning, I might just end up somewhere in Tibet.
Begin the descent from Tanglangla and step into yet another terrain change. How many greens can there be in the world? No idea? Well do the manali leh road. Reach the picture postcard Sasoma and Lya villages. Wait a while to let a group of 8 trucks go far away; have had enough of riding in zero visibility dust clouds. Sit on a rock and smoke. Some BRO workers – the labour kind – mostly Nepalis and Biharis, approach and ask for a cigarette. One cig becomes 6. All stand around smoking in silence, looking at the setting sun over the icy mountain caps. Sometimes your heart just cries quietly within. See the trucks at the bottom of the mountain on some good unbroken road. Head down maneuvering the last of the raw brokenness of the Manali-Leh road. The road is now buttery but a lil bumpy; but I’m still doing 40. Am glad I’m made this decision at Pokhara. After 2 weeks of trying to sight the Himalayas, I had decided to actually become the Himalayas, and here I am, riding along ice and freezing my fingers off! My right leg is numbish now. Stop and walk around. I don’t know where to look and focus. Walk in circles doing a 360 pan. I think my visual cortex will short circuit by EOD.
Pass school children who start the lo-fives. The stretch from Sasoma to Upshi is this magical journey, accentuated by the sunset and its attendant shadows. Reds, greens, yellows, oranges, browns, whites, blues –a force 10 visual orgasm. The Indus joins in the fun gliding along the road. Welcome to the Ladakh plateau – the land of passes leading to this spectacular plateau. And welcome to civilization – farms, people, cattle, buildings dot the multilayered landsuperscape.
From Upshi to Leh, it’s a race against and away from the sun. The rays are intense and almost unbearable to ride without sunglasses. Reach Leh to find out my phone doesn’t work. Airtel ka Dhoka. I recall that Leh ad of theirs as one of the parameters of me moving from hutch or whatever its called now to Airtel. I can see the network but get only limited service. What the fuck! Use STD booth to find out where Pearl and the grumpy but gorgeous gang is. Head out past resurrected memories to Changspa and along the Shanti Stupa to the hotel. I am a dust body.
Unpack and dump dusty stuff in room. Bathe and thermal up. Walk to the market and trace the GGG. Have dinner with some more friends of friends. Seems the Confluence festival has barely 250 ppl registered and the stage is still not set up; the event starts tomorrow.
Walk back, chitchat, and sleep.