Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Lansdowne Trip

Lansdowne Trip

20th – 21st May 2006

Two riders, one destination, a never ending journey

“I want to break free..I want to break free”

I heard this song at a pub with friends and realized that I really needed to break free from the clutches of daily mayhem. For me, there can not be any better way but to go for a long ride with my ‘babe’, my bike. After my minor accident in March, my parents had freaked out and were on the verge of selling off my baby. I somehow managed to save my marriage and now asking them for going on a honeymoon with her would be a little demanding. Anyways, I bought myself a pair of good quality knee protection. And using all emotional blackmail, marketing skills, got them agreed. This time also I went with Vivek, my biking buddy with whom I had gone to Karnprayag. Same people, same bikes, same Himalayas but a different experience everytime.

Everything was planned out and since it was only a weekend, two day trip lots of preparation was not required. I just wanted a good night’s sleep but God always makes it a point to test my guts and patience. I was sent to Baroda for some god-forsaken inspection and came back at 11:30 P.M. through Ahmedabad. Quickly packed my bags, took a bath and went to sleep. Promptly got up at 3:30 in the morning, tied by bags on the bike and set sail.

Met Vivek outside his house and we hit the highway by 5:00 A.M. The weather was showing sure signs of rains but it was cool and cool breeze was acting like a icing on a cake for the wonderful ride. Took a breakfast break at Chittal Grand. The roads in that area a lot improved since January, the last time I went there.

We were not sure whether we had crossed the turn towards Bijnaur but Vivek was a little confident that we were on the right track.

Worst would be we would have to take the route from Haridwar which would be something like 70-80 kms. etc. We hit the road again and found the turn around 21 kms. ahead.

The upper ganges canal before bijnaur

Before Bijnaur, the road was beautiful, smooth like the legs of Yana Gupta, curves like Angelina Jolie and the green trees encompassing it gave it the beauty of Aishwarya Rai. So smooth was the ride, so good were the corners that I had already decided to come back again. We crossed the upper Ganges Canal and the view of the large catchment area was stunning.

The continued to be good and smooth with very less traffic but the wet roads reduced our speeds considerably. We reached the foot hills at Kotdwar and then the long winding road started. Its about 45 kms of narrow twisting and turning road. Most of the turns are of only 40-50 kmph grade. The entire way has dried Pine Leaves spread like a carpet made the road look like a door way to heaven.

The Road

We very comfortably reached Lansdowne at about 10 A.M. Its one of the quietest hill stations and is not visible until you are there. It is like as if Himalayas are wearing a green robe, with decorations of pine leaves with Lansdowne kept safely and secretly in a deep pocket, protected like a valuable treasure. It is in the Pauri-Gharwal region and is the head quarters of ‘Gharwal Rifles’. The town is very small but well developed with well-maintained roads and concrete walkways across the entire town.

Gharwal Rifles were instrumental in the 1962 china war. A board outside there mess said that had all regiments stuck to ground like this one did, 1962 would’ve been a totally different story. They take a lot of pride in the small town and have maintained it well and quiet a number of buildings there

We first went to a small lake there. Indians can do boating even in a ub I believe. There was hardly any water in the small lake but there were still some people moving around in pedal boats.

We met Mr Donald duck

In the evening we went for a short trek to ‘Tipin Top’. Had a beer each in before hitting the bed.

Had a great 10 hour sleep and then woke up in absolute silence. After having a hearty breakfast, we visited two famous churches the ‘St. Mary’s church’ and ‘St. Anthony church’. They were built in 19th century on request by wives of British officers for whom this place was a summer get away.

St. Mary’s Church also doubles up as a library and is laden with magazines and books on Gharwal Rifles. The interiors look very refreshing and for an atheist like me, the place was persuading me to start believing in god. I will once I am sure that people will never kill in the name of religion.

St. Mary’s church

I always wonder if only we could combine the architecture of Churches, the dedication of Sikhs, belief of Muslims, prayers of Hindus and create one common religion, the world would be a much better place to live. If only!!!!!

Then we went to the St. John’s Church. A mass was taking place and the nuns were singing songs of worship. The architecture was again medieval but very quiet and serene. One can just stay there and absorb the energy of GOD.

Saint John Church

Inside Saint John's Church

It was an enriching experience.

We then went back to our guest house, packed our bags and started our journey to home and with plans to visit ‘Karnvashram’, a sacred place hidden in the pines on a small hill. The route goes from kotdwar. It is a little away from the road connecting Haridwar to Kotdwar.

The road was bad and as soon as we left that road, it only got worse .They are re-building that road and the entire way is but a long pile of small stones. We anyways reached our destination and crossed the small stream to reach the temple. It is the place where Maneka wooed Rishi Vishwamitra and the place there Shakuntla gace birth to ‘Bharat’ who gave his name to our mother land. The panditji there was speaking English quiet well and was wondering whether we had come on trekking. He then told us a alternate route to go to Kotdwar.

Although there was no mettaled road but it was much easier than the other one and much shorter as well. We reached back kotdwar much quicker than we expected. The best part was riding on the round rocks on the river bed where your rear wheel goes on a tango with them without synchronizing with your commands. I had come problem in cornering as my bike started bouncing on high speed corners so I was lagging behind Vivek quite A bit.

Then I had a puncture after crossing Bijnor and it happened at 110 kmph. A little scary but I held the handle tight letting the rear wheel pass as much gas as it wanted, do as much tango as it wanted and braked slowly to a halt. I turned back as I had just passed the city and saw a puncture repair shop soon. The valve of the tube had come off and the tube was so hot one could hardly touch it. The culprit was a huge nail. If you ever run out of nails at your home, do not go to a hardware store, go and look around a puncture repair shop and soon you will have enough for months. The MRF shop nearby did not have a new tube and I had to go into the city to fetch one. After this we did not stop at all and rode all the way 145 kms. non-stop this time taking the Meerut city route. It was much shorter but passing through the city was bit of a pain and also more people around the city believe in moving perpendicular to the road that moving along it so you have to look sharply and be responsible for their lives because these people think they are immortal.

Came back home very comfortably at 6:00 P.M., all smiles.

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Manali Trip

This was not a biking trip but a road trip nevertheless.
Manali Trip22nd to 26th December 1999
End of 1st semester
Cool Mountain air
Heals the body ills
But only grouse and mountain binds
Can reach it
Beasts of the valley have no chance
To drink it

As 1st semester exams drew closer, we waited for them to end even before they began. We were already planning a get away to the Himalayas. The exams were going to be taxing. They’ll always be if you study at the last moment. Anyway, lets not talk about bad things in life. Me, Kartik, Ashish Ahuja and Vipul had plans to go for a vacation and were looking for more people and then Ashish backed out. That is when Naveen, the Ghisoo boy showed some interest. The first thing which came to my mind was “How many books is he going to carry?” Well, later we realized that he was just not a hard working guy, he was fun loving too. Now was the task of deciding the place. Nanital – too boring. Massourie – most had been there more than they had been to C.P. (so they claimed). We zeroed on Manali, to my discontent as I had been there earlier that year, but this time it was with friends and it was going to be different. Also, Girish, the timid (and stupid) Goliath (in India -Saabu), was now interested and said could get us a free accommodation at the IFCI guest house. Vipul arranged for a Sumo. The date decided was 22nd of December, although Vipul wasn’t very keen as it was a Thursday (after all he is a well educated Civil Engineer). We decided for a night journey. Vipul asked us to be there at bypass by 10’O Clock. We thought we’d save a fortune by not calling the taxi all the way to college. On the afternoon that day, Kartik came and said we had to be there by seven. Myself and Naveen rushed to the spot, a stinky, polluted one at the bypass. So much for the savings. This was going to be a long wait. It felt like eons. As Jain saab sat on his suitcase, reading some torn pages of an educative magazine, I brought Jalebis and some snacks. We had to do something so we started counting all the white Sumos that went past us. Has it ever happened to you that your heart pounds for a boxy looking car like Sumo? That day it happened with us. Our hearts soured as we saw one in the darkness of night and sank as it zoom passed. We counted around 150 and then gave up. Finally, after a wait of 4 unforgettable hours, the messiah arrived. Vipul was lucky that he’s still alive.The carriers were loaded and we set sail. Driving in the night wasn’t difficult as I thought they would be, rather we were going at a good speed. We reached the foothills and what initially seemed to be an easy climb turned into a tedious one. As the dawn broke, we could see the green mountains and that seemed to be one of the best sights one could see in this part of the country. One feature where the Himachal beats Uttranchal is that the Himalayas in this belt are far more green also, tourism is better developed. Anyway, in the morning we made a stop at a temple at Mandi. The view there is unparalled. The clear waters flow in the laps of a beautiful background of green heights. Our photographic expert Sir Vipul Gupta took two snaps and said would merge them. I think he’ll do it soon. There we met some gentlemen who told us that soon we’d find some snow. My hopes soared while Vipul got worried. One thing is there about him, it doesn’t take much to get him worried. Well, after that we looked for snow at every corner. We kept looking until we finally arrived at Manali in the afternoon. Soon we were fresh (in the cold of Manali, even looking at water makes you fresh) and were on the Mall road. I was very well versed with that road for reasons quoted earlier but still we kept myself busy looking at variety of people and the looking at the beautiful shops (and shoppers). Plans for next day were made. Rohtang Pass. Before going back to the rooms, we bought some reading matter. I cannot recall the name of the magazine but some of the illustrations were really great. My room partners were Naveen and Kartik. The nights were really cold and the extra blanket I had carried came in handy. Kartik although claims that he sleeps a lot, I’ve never seen him sleeping. He’s always the last one to go to sleep and whenever you wakeup, he’s wide awake. I think he was still in the examination mode, studying late and getting up early. Next morning when I woke up, bajju was watching TV and we woke Naveen and went for the morning tea. The major advantage with this accommodation was that it was pretty close to the Mall road. So the three of us walking (as the two other lazy guys were not ready to wake up so early in the morning) in the quite and cold streets of Manali had some tea at a small dhaba on the Mall. I think the dhabewala must’ve been a little surprised seeing such early customers. Being winters, we had to leave early for Rohtang Pass as it closed in the evening itself, fearing the snow blizzards. We got the lazy bumps move their butts and some how got them ready in time. At the Mall, the activities were on a full swing and it wasn’t hard looking for a Taxi. The most amazing experience was that of a Bengali couple who wanted to go but were backing out looking at five guys, more importantly Vipul and Saboo. We convinced Uncleji that we were engineering students and were decent. Wonder how is being an engineer a passport to decency. Raju bhaiya, our driver was an experienced one and the great journey became better after the delectable paranthas on the way. On our way up, we stopped at the frozen waterfalls. The three fatty guys also bought a pair of goggles each. The pass was even more beautiful that I had ever seen them before. The snow capped mountains at the distance were mersmerising. It looked so much close to heaven. When I look at all the photographs we took there, I want to have a SLR camera more than anything. Its no use taking photographs with our small cameras. What made the mountains look even more beautiful were the another of those beautiful creations of god. Since we didn’t have much money with us, we just roamed around in the snow and took a ride on the tube where you slide down the snow on truck tires. While we were appreciating the snowy peaks, which now seemed much closer, we saw this crazy guy who was getting himself shot in the snow without his shirt. “Paagal Hai!” everybody agreed. We all looked at each other. Why not try it ourselves? The plan was laid. Girish won’t do it (for obvious reasons). He was to be the photoghrapher. We put down out overcoats, which we hired on the way, quickly took of layers of clothes (only the upper ones!) and just giving two poses, dressed up again. All this took only about a minute or two and we never realized the difference. Still, we took a cup of coffee each and tried to get warm. Soon it was time to leave. While coming down, Rajju bhaiya showed us some scenery and we got some more places to our list to be visited next time. This day was well spent. In the night we had our dinner at the usual Laxmi dhaba. It was the best we could afford. One ritual, which we followed on all days at Manali, was of having softy. Daily after dinner we had a softy, trying for new flavors everyday. Next morning again same story was repeated. But today, we were to wake up the lazy ones. We banged their door for atleast 15 minutes but it seemed they were in coma. We always checked the Sumo and found a thick layer of ice on the insides. God knows how the driver and the helper managed. When we came back, we were received by Vipul, although still in bed but a little awake. From the few words we could understand, as he talked in his sleep, was that he also wanted to go. We packed our bags for a bath in the Vashisht Bath. It’s a hot water spring supposed to have medicinal qualities. Again, for obvious reasons, Our gentle giant was a bit reluctant to join us. Anyway, once he took of his clothes and entered the hot waters, he didn’t want to come out. It wasn’t that he liked taking a dip but for reasons which cannot be quoted in a document meant to be read by everyone. Later in the day, we decided to go to Hadimba temple and some more places. We took the Sumo and soon were climbing at steep slopes to the Hadimba temple. Hadimba was the wife of Bhima (a pandav). The temple is located in lush green coniferous forests. This forest is one of the best I have ever seen. When the shadows of tall trees fall on the moist ground, covered with moss, and you look at this picturesque scene from a big rock, the beauty just gets you. You want to come back again. I was tempted to go deeper in to the forest but it was closed for the public. We found a Yak’s skull which I wanted to take with us but everyone else felt it was disgusting. Also, no one at home would be too happy to see it. It was here I realized how capable Naveen was. He can hold astounding quantities of fluids in his body. We had to wait for a couple of minutes. Then we went down the Mall road on the banks of the Beas. After viling away our time there, we went back to the guest house. That day we dined at a very specila place which we love to call the hotel “Totta View”. This restaurant overlooked the entire mall and you could see all the beautiful faces without disturbing them. But the food there was a big turn off. The next morning as we went for our usual walk, I saw this unforgettable view. The white moon glew over the snow peaks. It was uncomparable. Really, never will man be able to create scenes as beautiful as those or anywhere close. No man made thing fascinated me more than this one. As for god, isn’t there Aishwarya Rai? What can be more breathtaking. Then we strolled to the monastery at the other end of the mall road. The monks were already awake and some of them were praying. The monastery was really beautiful. The silence in there said so much. Somehow, nature’s creations never leave you unastounded. I am saying this because of this beautiful grass leaf frozen in crystal clear ice. We tried to carry it back to guest house for our heroes but they were just not as lucky. Then started our journey back by the afternoon and left all the beautiful mountains and fun behind. Back to the polluted, dirty, congested but yet so nice Delhi. This journey wan’t as easy as we thought it to be. The fog made driving almost impossible. The helper looked out of the window at the road and guided the driver where to go. The slow yet steady speed and our sleep broke as the driver braked hard. The road had turned and we were going straight, right into a ditch. So were all the cars following us. The onward journey was going to be harder. Our lookout reported wobbling in the front, left wheel. The car was stopped at a dhaba where there was bare minimum light to assist repairs. As the driver took out the wheel, we were shocked to see that the wheel assembly had broken off from its place. I am very happy to be alive. I had egg bhurji with a roti. As the driver and the cleaner fixed the car, jain saab slept unaware of what was going on and woke up when the car was on the jack and went back to sleep for the better. Finally, juggaar technology, India’s patent technology, put the car back on the road. We just prayed that we reach home safely. This time we decided that the taxi would drop everyone home. I still remember the time at which I reached back. It was 5 in the morning and sleeping seemed to be the only option. I dreamt of Manali only.