Day-3 : Bahli – Rampur : My Cycling trip to Himalays

I woke up with the happiness left by yesterday’s ride. People started to take pictures of my fully loaded bicycle in Bahli J . After a tea, I started riding down to Taklech. While, yesterday’s downhill ride increased my heartbeat, this ride brought the heart into my mouth. The downhill is so steep that I feared that atleast in one corner I will fall into the valley. The forest is so silent that I felt like I was the only human left on earth. Being Monday, I saw happy and surprised faces of school children. It gave an instant relaxation, but was countered immediately by the increase in steep. I never waited for an uphill to appear so desperately. Before my Heart is completely out of my body I reached Taklech and stepped my foot on ground. It was so nice to be stable after a roller coaster ride !

Even here,I was offered a way to go to Rampur and  I have taken another right for one more adventure. I had a quick breakfast and sent a Kg of my clothes to home through India post for decreasing the load. This caused little delay. Being aware that climb to Darangathi will be tough,I motivated myself to do that and proceeded ahead.  Whomever I ask about Darangathi will point to hill top far far away, which is hardly visible and used to tell me it will take forever to reach there on a bicycle.

After climb for 7-8 Kms  in hot sun, I was very tired. Refreshed myself at a Nala. Looking at my exhausted face, a person in a general store cum home asked me to sit under shade for a while. He was also owner of an apple orchard. Listening to his stories, I had a maggi there and moved ahead.
The ride from there for further 5-6 Kms is heavenly. Narrow curved black road surrounded by green trees and by apple orchards. I felt all the beauties of nature can be seen only by those who climb up and up. More apple orchards, chullu trees showed up and my ride turned ecstatic. Though it is strenuous, I couldn’t stop being happy in that place.

A kilometer further, I was completely tired. I was in a very small village, where even tea is not available  My legs protested to move ahead. Luckily rain god saw my pain and showered a drizzle which turned into a big rain. With 20 Km’s more to go, I didn’t want to take risk in that rain. I asked a passing Mahindra Yut, if it can drop me at Darangathi. He agreed for Rs 100 and we went ahead.  As vehicle is completely occupied inside,I had to stand in the back. When it moved, I suddenly felt the chill of air. The air is so cold. After a long time, passing through some very narrow curves and blind turns, I was dropped 3-4 kms ahead of Darangathi. Rain stopped on the way and sun was back again. When I lifted my head to move ahead,I was awe struck at the sight of snow capped mountain peak. I was so happy on seeing the natural snow on hill top for first time in my life. I wondered if I can see them closer in my trip.

That motivated me for futher climb and I started riding. After a long climb I have finally reached the top of Daran Pass aka,Darangathi. It was completely surrounded by trees, hardly leaving any gap for light to enter. I saw the PWD guest house there surrounded by beautiful flowers. I wanted to stay there. But the greed in me has forced me to take the foulest decision in my trip.

Climb to Darangathi

With 3 more hours for sunset, around 30 kms to go with 12 km downhill,I thought I will reach Sarahan,before it gets dark.
Without even enquiring about stay or enjoying the serenity, I started climbing down to Mashnu. I was out of all emotions here. This is just a 45 degrees inclined slope, topped with boulders of all sizes. While my bicycle is having the best trail riding, I nearly wept trying to control my adrenaline rush. Brakes failed to control the speed at which bicycle is going. I was simply going ahead like a stone rolled falling from a stone. Jungle, loneliness, speed, boulders, darkness too many emotions at a time for me to absorb ! I was desperately longing for a human being to appear. After what it appeared to be forever, I saw a road worker. It is the happiest moment of my life. Though there is a mile stone in front of me, I asked him how far is Mashnu and confirmed he is a real human being and not my hallucination. The stop also provided me a chance to appreciate the beauty if the forest and snow peak ahead of me.
Few km’s later, I was stopped by a loudly barking wild dog. I stopped on its sight and slowly moved ahead. It increased its sound and I couldn’t step anyfuther. I waited for five minutes and started shouting for help. It’s mistress is shouting back “ aa rahi hun ”.She took her time and appeared with bundles of grass on her back. While I was trembling ,she said “ maine socha Bandar aaya hai “, which pissed me off. I pleaded her to hold the dog so that I can go ahead. She was very casually assured me, that it’s a pet dog and won’t cause any harm. I could sense that the dog is eagerly wait to jump upon me! She re assured and I got on my cycle.
 Being very steep, my bicycle moved quickly and the dog started chasing me with loudest barking it can produce. This particular stretch had larger stones and I could barely control the handle. While I too started shouting back, the dog didn’t gave up and coming towards me with more speed. I luckily crossed its territory and it gave up, but sadly that territory is a corner and my I rode on top of sharp stone.  Suddenly it’s silent. I realized that my bicycle had flat ! If I had not known, Mashnu is only 3 kms away,I would have surely burst into tears there. I slowly walked toward the village thorough beautiful fields and orchards.
After walking for a while, I realized that I cannot even walk with a flat tire and took out patch kit and wheel from bicycle. I tried so hard to remove the tire. It was so tight and while lifting it a small gap is revealing the rim inside. At that moment, I felt it is a tubeless tire. I cursed myself for not even observing this small fact in 1500 kms of riding on my bike! I felt it is the end of my cycling trip. I thought of staying somewhere in Mashnu and head for Rampur in bus next day and go ahead to Kaza from there. Another plan was to stop whole trip, throw my bicyle away in Delhi and go to Rajasthan. It was all chaos in my mind. Not able to decide,how to proceed with tour,I walked ahead to Mashnu. This time like a wounded cowboy.
Three friends sitting at entrance of village were curious to know my where abouts. They started the drill again, but I told them, “I’m having a very rough time and I need some place to relax and stay for the night. If you have any questions walk with me and ask ,I will be happy to answer”.
They said I may not find any stay in village. While I thought what worse can happen more and walked ahead. They started calling me and informed me that a vehicle is heading to Rampur and I can go in it! Tears of joy nearly flowed out. I told them extremely sorry for my behaviour and I acted so being very tired. They assured me it is not at all a problem and they can understand my situation. Himalayan people _/\_ .
The vehicle is a maruthi 800. While no one has any idea how my bicycle fit inside,I started removing wheels with just turn of a small lever attached. They all watched that in surprise and helped in placing it inside the car. I forgot to collect their name or mob no. as I was in desperation to move out of jungle.

The driver of this car is an 18 year old guy. He has shown me how rashly these young punks will drive in the valleys. His driving didn’t scare as much as my bicycle did on the slopes. This guy collected 500 from me on reaching Rampur.
I had golgappa for dinner and took accommodation in Buhari Sadan. A hot water bath gave me the much needed relaxation. On the way to buhari sadan, we spoke with a motor bike patch guy if he can repair my tube less tire. He said he will not repair a bicycle tire. After pleading for a while, he agreed to repair next day. 
A day with a bumper bonanza ended which presented me too many experiences to handle. The chaos in my mind is still running about stopping the trip and planning futher….Recong peo ? Kaza ? back to Shimla ? Delhi ? …and I was into sleep. 

Day 2 : Kufri-Bahli – My Cycling trip to Himalayas

Day-2 : Kufri-Narkanda-Baghi-Sungri-Bahli
Distance : 104km

I woke up with some positive energy and refreshing thoughts. The mountains might have filled it in me. I managed to start at 7am as planned. I initially thought to avoid coffee and tea during the whole trip. Due to the cool climate, I felt like having one. Himalayan tea has some magic in it. It worked as an instant booster for me through out. Here I had the opportunity to give my first interview to the tea shop owner, who enquired about my where abouts. I felt happy after the first ALL THE BEST, I received from a stranger in the trip.

 Later it turned to be annoying answering the same questions again and again. Kaha se aa rahe ho ? Kaha jaa rahe ho ? Akele ? Manali tak ?Kaza se hokar ..woh bahut uncha hai,chadna mushkil hai!!!!!!
Nice start

The ride began with an exciting downhill. The gloves I brought the previous evening came as great help in preventing my hands from going numb. At Matiana, I had breakfast and headed to Theog. I used to walk at entrance of the every village/town I came across. I felt that analogous to a cow boy in Wild West, entering village on a horse for water. The village landscapes and setting also made me feel more like that. It became hard for me to control myself from comparing to Clint Eastwood in such situations. The hat being replaced with Helmet and Horse with my bicycle

 In Matiana, I got glimpse of first apple orchards. They were covered with nets everywhere. Seeing an apple tree is also one of my missions to be accomplished in this trip.

Though road is undulating further I felt little difficulty in climbing, but definitely better than yesterday. Today, I learnt to use the gears effectively for a better ride uphill. Yet, I felt exhausted and pushed for a while in middle. The air and pine trees made me refreshed and I comfortably reached Narkanda by 12pm, my yesterday’s destination.

The person who advised me about route asked me to take rest, if I have reached any destination early. At Narkanda I was confused, if I should stay or move ahead. A cup of tea later,as light will be there for 8 more hours I decided to move ahead and ride till Baghi. The name Baghi scared me since beginning, as it sounded closer to Bhag-Tiger. I had feeling that a tiger might surely show up on the way and it will make me Bhag-away!

A kilometer later, I had to make first toughest decision of tour. I have to pick my choice between downhill to Rampur and the uphill to Baghi through jungle! Well, I have taken right and the real excitement began.

It is a constant uphill for 6-7 Kms. I was very confused, if I have to enjoy the beautiful views the pine trees are offering or be scared for any monkey or wild dog which may show up suddenly or worse the Tiger ! The place is absolutely calm and very peaceful. Vehicles are hardly passing in that route. I saw some people here and there, taking rest in between the pine trees and talking happily with their mates not caring what’s going on around. This ensured my mind that there might be no wild animal around and I pedalled ahead.

Slowly, the tarmac disappeared and the sand roads showed up. It’s a different experience for me to ride on them. My first off road ride and it’s on one of oldest national highways. After exhaustive uphill, a downward road appeared. I was happy that coasting along will take me to the destination, but the constant downhill gave me an adrenaline rush. With my downhill posture on bike, I felt like a pro MTB rider riding on trails! I hardly noticed anything around me and all my concentration was on controlling the bike and myself from falling down. I couldn’t guess that this is just the beginning.
Few kilometers later the downhill ended and last stretch uphill started. As I started climbing a huge vulture has just landed at one of the corner around. I was awe struck looking at the width of its wings extended. I couldn’t dare to take my camera there and click that as that is the first time I’m seeing vulture out in the wild. I pushed myself hard to climb quickly and entered village, like a cowboy again 😛

The Sand roads

It was 2 p.m. when I reached there.  According to my itinerary I’m supposed to reach Bahli that day, which is 38Km’s away. I was very happy that I could reach at least half way through the planned route. Being exhausted, I had lunch first. I had to repeat the drill of answering all questions again.  People here also asked more questions about bicycle. Kya isse chadayi aasan hoga ? Kitna hai yeh ? etc etc

Mobile connectivity is still there and I had opportunity to chat with friend in Chennai during lunch, who suggested me the route.  After that chat, I headed to Sungri. All the roads are dusty and full of sand. Luckily, it didn’t rain while I was there, else mud would have caused lot of trouble. It was again an uphill ride till Khadrala, while the people passing on the road used to tell “ chadayi nahi hai”.

I stopped for tea in Khadrala. After the question drill, the people in tea shop narrated the glorious history of that village. How it used be a busy place while NH used to pass through that village, how the PWD rest house used be a main place of accommodation for Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi. These people assure me that it is a constant downhill till Sungri and warned me to check my brakes.

This downhill started right after the tea shop and I had to wear cold protection gear again. I could feel the chill in the air as I whizzed past the pine trees. I slowly got accustomed to the jungle route, stopped now and then in between for water or snack and moved ahead controlling my bicycle. Around 4.30-5 pm I reached Sungri. This time, my hands started to pain instead of legs due to constant application of brakes. I thought of stopping at that village, but that village is too small and I couldn’t notice any place to stay.

A beautiful house on the way,with a solar panel !

Bahli is only 18 Kms away, 10kms being downhill. I thought I could make it by the time it gets dark and went ahead. Here I faced extremely scary downhill. I could hardly stop my bike. I feared that either one of the wheel, rear rack or brakes will come out and I will surely fall from bicycle. I had to overtake many vehicles for avoiding collision with them. They used to think that I’m planning to overtake them to show my guts and blocked my way. I had to step down and control at many corners because of that.

My heart started beating normally, after I crossed bridge for start climbing to Bahli. Here I saw an apple tree for first time in my life. I was surprised to see them hanging so low and in open. I felt amazed to touch them while they are on tree. Only thing disappointed me is that they are all are green as it is the start of season and it will take two more months for them to grow. I didn’t dare to pick them up as they are the young ones. As one of the mission was accomplished, I marched ahead with great enthusiasm (It is an uphill: P).

The first apple tree,I saw in my life.

It is round 7 pm. The moon was already high up in the sky. Sun slowly began setting down. The sky turned into a beautiful stage for the magic show of colours. I witnessed the beautiful red and pinkish sky in west with orange reflections on east. All the colours with green trees around made me forget all troubles and fears I came cross during the ride today.   The occasional bus heading to Rampur passing on slope of hill of opposite side added beauty to the scene.

With two more kilometers to end the day, I faced the first dog chase. As flat road started and I was in hurry to wrap up things for the day I’m riding with little pace. Two dogs which are sleeping on road side started to bark loudly and chase me .I shooed them with top of my voice, but they were not backing up. A loud warning from their master made them give up the chase and minutes later I’m in Bahli. Official destination as aimed in itinerary.

I got a room easily in the PWD guest house.I was very surprised at the low price at which it was being offered. Also, I was shocked to see myself and luggage entirely covered in dust. I had a quick hot water bath and finished dinner early. Cleaned all dust on luggage, cycle, washed few clothes and got ready to sleep. It was very cold there, and in chat during dinner with PWD caretaker I came to know that snow fall will be very high there during winters and last year an Israeli cycling couple got stranded for nearly a week.

A little calculation before the sleep showed that I rode 104 Km’s that day. I was more than happy and slept joyfully without any feeling of exhaustion. 

Day – 1 : Shimla to Kufri – My Cyling trip to himalayas

Please read below post for day-0

Shimla- Kufri
Distance : 19Km – Steep Ascent.

Few minutes after getting down from bus,I began to feel the heat. I couldn’t find a shade in ISBT and began to fix my cycle at the side of road. I packed my bag very tightly. I hardly found anything that is necessary. I got pissed off with my own packing. I have somehow assembled bike and moved ahead. After 2-3 Kms ,I found a secluded place. There nice tree shade is present. I changed my clothes, packed my things properly. Got my sling bags out and made them as panniers. Luckily, food came walking to me ! A guy was selling kulchas. I had them for breakfast, packed few for lunch. There was a rotary club, where I have stopped and got water from there. After relaxing for a while I finally started my cycling trip. A motor cycle repair shop filled air for free in my tires. (With hand pump, it is hard to fill enough air). I just realized that my cyclometer is not showing the speed or distance. It was disappointing to find that the transmitter was dethatched during the transport.  It was good in a way, as it would have made me worried about the distance throughout.

I forgot that it is uphill ride from Shimla-Kufri. I was expecting a happy welcome from the hills, but the uphill never ended. I could hardly pedal. I had to get down from bike very frequently. Even riding 100 meters continuously, on easiest gear became a challenge.Heat and sleeplessness made feel more tired. I couldn’t enjoy the beauty of nature, apart from the fresh air I’m breathing.

I always planned more than I could do. That was a mistake which cost me dearly throughout the tour. My plan on day one was to reach Narkanda , 46 km away from Shimla. After 10 km, I was drained out .I lost patience. I cursed myself for planning a whole tour in hills without having proper stamina. Though, I have done 50kms every day before, there was hardly any uphill ride during that. I thought all the ways I can give up the tour and go back. A small plain stretch at Sanjauli and rest under a tree shade boosted me and proceeded ahead.

At 5 pm, I reached Kufri. Some children coming out of school were asking me to ride faster. I couldn’t control my anger inside, as that appeared as mockery to my already exhausted mind. I controlled my self smiled at them and climbed the hill to Kufri.
I got a home stay at Kufri, relaxed for a while. I brought a set of woolen gloves and other set of full rider gloves for warmth in rides ahead. I roamed around for a while. I was surprised to see that sun is not getting down even at 7pm. I also learnt that, there is a small national park in Kufri  (Didn’t visit it though). Slowly, it started getting colder. I enjoyed watching the orange sky. I could easily recognize Auriga and Capella shining brightly. They followed me throughout the tour.It became completely dark at 8pm. After few night photographs and dinner I decided to call it a day.I consoled myself for not covering enough distance. Aimed for a good finish next day and headed to sleep ,looking at the starry sky from my window.

First taste of Aadu friut ,(pronounced as aaru )

Resting under a shade

 View from Kufri-Sun slowly started to get down

Twilight time

 Auriga and Capella  

Day-0 and before : My cycling trip to Himalayas

It all started when I wanted to travel for a long time, around two weeks.  As I have done enough tours in south India, I planned to visit north. I planned to go to Valley of flowers, Kedarnath and then head to McLeod gunj and finish the trip there. All by public transport. While browsing about Himachal, my friend came across Spiti valley and told me about that.  When I searched, I was awe struck by the beauty and adventures one has to do for travelling there. In that course I learnt that people travel there on bicycle also. Reading about the conditions what a cyclist can come across, the planning that needs to be done and mostly the feeling of being independent, made me decide that I should definitely visit that on bicycle.

I got myself a new bicycle, practiced 50 km on it every day for a month, learnt about basic fixes. (For Cycling related info please check out the below post (Cycling in Celestial lands)
. There is still a lot of uncertainty going on in my mind about the route, what if’s and How can I ‘s  ? .Luck favoured me many times and I have met a person in Chennai, who has already went on this route. Some of the places he suggested were not there in Google maps too! Yet I have decided to see, what’s there. Even as I packed a lot of doubts were present in my mind, riding, surviving there. Finally it’s time and I headed to the mountains. 

I had a tough time in Chennai airport dismantling front wheel and pedals to fit the bicycle in Xray machine. After reaching Delhi, I hired a cab till ISBT, Kashmiri gate. To my disappointment last bus to Shimla is completely occupied and I had to take a Chandigarh bus. I had to plead driver a lot for getting help to put my bicycle on top of Shimla bus. It was nearly a sleepless journey and in Chandigarh I took help of co-passengers to place it on top.  Reached Shimla around 10.30 am.

With lot of questions, curiosity, uncertainity in mind and a lot of enthusiasm to ride in celestial lands ahead, I have stepped down from the bus. I have accepted the welcome from the brightly shining sun and blue sky.

(got my bicycle down in Shimla also with help of other passengers.)

Checkout my next post for Day-1.

200 to 300 ! The story of my second brevet

After the 200km ride, I guess my body and mind were automatically tuned to the riding longer distances. I planned this ride very carefully to eliminate the stress that will cope up and make me loose the enjoyment of riding.  Only sad part is I planned so much that my chores at work and personal life got delayed every day. 
Coming to the ride part, this is the second brevet being conducted by Madras Randonnuers  in this season. The ride is from Velachery in Chennai  to Chendur in Vilupuram District, 151 kms away from start point. Most of the ride is on NH45 and roads are flat. The challenge involved is heat. 
The delay caused by GATI in transporting my bicycle from Delhi to Chennai, made me worry a lot and decided to take the brevet on my single speed .I was so lucky to receive my bicycle just in time and got it serviced. I got the brake shoes and rear derailleur cable and its cover changed. After riding the single speed a week or so, I was rejuvenated riding freshly serviced geared bike, which made me come out of  worry about not having enough practise. I was also worried about riding whole distance on my 2” tires, a talk with a veteran rider whose has done this on a MTB with 2.1” tires made me feel confident and go for it. Power of words!

I planned to have steady start, maintaining 20 kmph till first control point and to increase speed from then. Due to a good sleep and nice food previous night, the start is very nice and rode till first CP which is 18km away with ease. I felt some unknown energy within me. The quality time spent in Himalays,plain roads, or no winds I’m really not sure but I felt very comfortable. I slowly increased pace and moved ahead, while the ones with roadies are just cruising at high speeds. I carried a backpack weighing 3-4 Kgs and thought that it will trouble me, but didn’t feel any weight added up because of it.
 Mr. Sun, as always is right upon executing his duties and began to heat up. After 60 Kms the heat increased drastically, but it didn’t beat the heat I faced in Himalayan cold deserts. I was able to cope up and go ahead. A good breakfast helped me go more steadily.
I felt very hungry, after crossing the 2nd CP at 108 km and I couldn’t find any shops in that stretch. I was very lucky to find a road side shop selling ragi malt , which is very common here in Tamilnadu. Two tumblers of that semi solid drink, worked as instant energy booster. It also gave me energy to increase my speed. I have happily reached the third CP which is also the U turn point, with an hour to spare.

After taking break for sometime there I started heading back to the start point. Had lunch at Vasant Bhavan restaurant and started riding again. I have done stretches for every 20-25 kms. It helped me reduce stresses in my knees. Also, I was able to ride at nice speed.  As sun started to go down slowly, the ride became more refreshing.

Crossed the 4th CP, which is same as second and completed 200km there. I have beaten my past 200Km ride timing by 30 minutes. It gradually started to get dark .Riding in dark based only on the front light is just a thrill. The night ride goggles, I brought came to rescue at that time. The vehicles coming in one way near villages scared me a lot and I had to blink my front light, every time I see them. The SETC buses are other set of idiots, I came across .They always overtake the Lorries and other heavy from the left, nearly coming to edge of road and almost touching me !
As I entered city and was 60 km away from the end, it began to rain. I have put on my rain coat and pedalled. I still didn’t come out of my good riding mood and continued in 25-30 kmph. At a place where it is very dark, slush covered the edge of road and I went over it. Unable to control the bicycle I fell down.  Luckily I fell down on my stomach avoiding any serious injury.  My hands and legs began to shake for a while, but I was alright after a kilometre or so. 
Riding in rain with wet shoes is such a curse. It irritates a lot. After rain stopped, my boxers started to prick and I could hardly sit on saddle.  The last 40kms was all sit-stand game on cycle :P.
At 182kms checked out the last control point and went ahead. Randonnuering is all about competing with yourself and the clock. It was never meant to be a race. Though I have no intention to compete with any rider personally, my mind was pissed off with roadies cruising with a greater speed. I wanted to beat rod bikes and tried to overtake them where ever possible. At the end that effort is vain as they always came ahead of me. But I felt a pride in over taking a road bike on my 2” tire MTB.
After so much of struggling in heat, maintaining timing, bearing the pricking of my boxers, finally the endpoint came. I was very happy for completing the ride without numb hands or severe leg pains, which is a sign of improvement. I didn’t opt for a medal this time also as there are much tougher BRM’s held at other places and this BRM is relatively easy compared to that.
 I didn’t want to ride back home with the wet shoes, so took an auto and reached home. I was alright and moving after a 13 hour sleep.
I don’t want to finish without thanking my parents who supported me through out and my room mate for ensuring that I get a nice sleep

What did I do differently from my past 200Km brevet ?

  • I made my own cue sheet and tried to adhere to that during the whole ride.
  • I brought a new set of gloves, with gel padding which gave me a lot of comfort and helped in preventing numbness.
  • I ensured, I had lot of food before and during the ride.
  • I have done stretches t regular intervals.

What is randonnuering ?

Randonnuering is a long distance cycle riding meant to be completed in specified time. It was started in France and was conducted by Audax Club Parisien (ACP). In India Audax India Randonneurs (AIR) oversees all the rides, called Brevets de Randonneurs Mondiaux (BRM). Madras randonnuers is a club associated with AIR. There are many clubs throughout the country organizing BRM’s.

The rider has to follow the specified path, reaching the control points before the specified time. In control points the brevet card will be signed and stamped. If it is unmanned control point one has to get slip from ATM specified. If ATM doesn’t work a selfie will do :P. Riders are supposed to be self supported through out. Help must be taken only from the fellow riders.

One season lasts from November-October. One who finishes 200kms,300 kms, 400kms ,600kms in a season will be called as Super Randonnuer. On payment of specified fee each rider will be given a medal (fee is for transport charges, as medal will come from France) after completing the ride.