Saturday, August 1, 2020

Trip 52: The Healing Begins: Gurgaon-Nepal-Gurgaon

After parting ways from the start-up and realizing that it was not at all the place for me; I was on the lookout for an opportunity that would pay me well and keep me interested for years to come. It took me three long months and by October, 2019 I was employed again with one of the world’s largest advertising groups; but was glad to have found that creative director opening right here in Gurgaon. I was happy that I still had the winters and also the Himalayas nearby.

I had spent almost 90 days at the new workplace, a huge responsibility to handle a massive, able and equipped team was an uphill task but a very interesting one on hand. The new year had arrived. 2020 was around the corner and it was time for my next ride scheduled for 31st December. Suddenly, one fine day I stumbled upon a Youtube video on how New Years Eve was celebrated at Pokhara in Nepal with a 3 day-night fest across the main street overlooking the Phewa Lake. I suddenly knew that I had to ride to Nepal and attempt reaching Mukhtinath and the Mustang valley nearby. So here I was on the road to Khatima, the border town in between Uttarakhand in India and Nepal almost 8 hours into the 2200 Kilometer trip till Pokhara and Lete in Nepal and back.

The Man: Gokul
Age: 35
The Machine: Royal Enfield Himalayan

Into Nepalese National Parks: The road in Nepal is just a straight line and all other subsidiary roads join in. After the Bardiya National Park, I had to cross the Banke national park to finally reach Butwal almost 850 kilometers from Gurgaon. The Sun was setting and weather was turning worse. I had no choice but to put up at Butwal before I could begin my solo accent to Pokhara etched in the Annapurna Circuit. Encountered three riders on Kawasaki Versys, Beneli and a Harley Iron 883 who were also riding up to Pokhara. Chatted with them little, had a filling dinner and went to sleep in no time. I was tired and had to regroup the next day to reach Pokhara and find the place I had booked for my one week stay.

Lakes, Peaks and Peace: After three hours of leaving Bhutwal, I made a turn into the center of a beautifully planned city totally decorated and prepped for the New years Eve. Most of the Roads were closed but then after a few calls and searching for the location on the Maps; I managed find the place I had booked. A small house on one of peaks a few kms outside the city overlooking the Phewa Lake and Pokhara. I was instantly happy about this. It was cold at almost 10 to 15 degrees throughout the day. The Phewa Lak simply amazing in the day and lit up at night like a new bride was the center of attraction. Rested for a while, had lunch and then went out explore nearby viewpoints to eventually slide down to the roadside new year celebration. Filled with street food, cafes and live music this town was the place to be. Hogged on all sorts of snacks, tried a few cocktails and returned back for a good night’s sleep.

Annapurna and Mustang: The Sarangot Tower was the next place I visited for the majestic view of the Annapurna Circuit. At that the winds be blowing hard and heat from the Sun was hardly felt. Spent some time there and then planned to ride down towards the Begnas Lake. This lake is completely hidden in between the low lying mountains of Pokhara and is surely a view to die for. The peace and serenity that surrounds these lakes cannot be explained in words. After a few hours there returned back to Pokhara only to have a lavish dinner and a comfortable night’s sleep. The next day I wanted to attempt the Mukhtinath but then was apprehensive about the target I had given myself. 173 Kms of no roads at all was supposed to be completed with hours. The next day was clear; went out at noon and could cover just 60 Kms before the sun set; could manage to reach a village named Lete near Jomsom and then had to return back to base to rest. As I stepped down the dinner bay, I happened to notice a cute Chinese family who invited to join me. I simply enjoyed the company, spoke them for hours into the night; the man of the family was into the business of selling life size battery powered toy cars for kids in India. After another peaceful night’s sleep it was time to celebrate New Year’s eve and then pack bags and leave. The last day also saw me sharing lunch with Romanians, the British, the Nepalese and the Chinese. Different perspectives blended to create different synergies and conversations that kept the bonfire burning till the wee hours of the morning.
 
The Brisk Return: The ride back was a breeze. One after the other the destination went by, the mountains transformed to plains and plains to borders of two countries. It had been two days and I was seen making my way back on the roads of Uttarakhand. Planned to stay the night and then sprint onto the Gurgaon. The final day of ride was also hassle free as I had started early and gunned for Gurgaon through all the city traffic. By the evening; I had made my way onto the roads that said home.

Learnings:

Keep all documents in place and in check
Get most of the petrol from Nepal as it is cheaper there
Be polite to border officers
Make sure you listen more in a larger group
Measure risks before taking calculated decisions

Trip 51: For Family: Gurgaon-Goa-Gurgaon

Nothing was going as planned sometime around June 2019. I had just quit the advertising agency I was in for 3 years to join a budding start-up that was into Experiential and Event Marketing. I was exploring a whole new field and it got me in touch with new minds, mentalities and perspectives. More often; this particular situation was pain than it was pleasure. As every day passed; I found myself in a split state of mind; wanting to move forward with my dreams on one side but then shoved into the continuously suspicious and hard-hitting reality that this was not a place for me; and surely not the place for my dreams. As the sportsman in me was determined to stay back and hope for the best; the rider in me wanted to rip away to a better place instantly.

Amidst all this it was already June; half the year was gone and my 35th birthday was at the horizon. I most certainly was planning to ride but this time around I wanted to share it with my family. Tell my folks back at home that I want to picture a ride where we meet, spend some together time, talk about the best times we’ve had and return back to our usual lives. While my Parents are in Chennai, Brother and his wife in Bangalore; Goa seemed to be the destination that was smack in the middle and it so happened that I had never ridden a motorcycle from Gurgaon to Goa before. So, planned the whole thing with my Brother, packed my bags and got up the saddle after writing my pending blogs at around 2 am in the night for this 3650 Kilometer trip across the Indian subcontinent.

The Man: Gokul
Age: 35
The Machine: Royal Enfield Himalayan


Race against Time: I was pressed for time and had to munch on the miles as quickly as possible. Rode out of the city onto the highway and within hours was looking to exit Jaipur and head for the border roads on Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh when the Sun rose. Terrains transformed from sand filled hillocks to mountains and lakes and the while riding paralelly to trains. At the same time; I was continuously checking on the odometer and send it updates to my brother. After almost 15 hours of riding; the Sun was again going to set just when I exited the broad highway to enter Maharastra and had reached Malegaon. I had done 1114 kilometers and was not in the shape or sound to move forward. So thought of staying as a road side hotel and getting a good night’s sleep. I was genuinely excited about this one; couldn’t really sleep imagining Dad and Ma to see me in full riding gear; felt like my first tennis tournament 25 years ago.

Rush for the Shores: Woke up at 5 and took off from the hotel at Malegaon at 6. The roads were worsening and pot holes increasing. Stopped en-route to Nashik where I had one of best batata pohas in the world with Sev on in – made by a housewife to the owner of a road side eatery and a provision store. As the male subordinate was curious to know about me and the motive behind my ride; the housewife was surprisingly calm and wished me luck for the rest of the ride. I then started my climb on Western Ghats leaving the Aravalli behind. The highways suddenly got smoother as I picked up pace. At 120 Kms/hr, my luggage carrier cracked open a few time and I had stop to weld it back together. After a bunch of hours its was time for another sunset as I had almost 80 kms of semi urban narrow roads on the Ghats to do before I zeroed in on South Goa. Amazing terrain, green trees and cloudy skies clubbed with vineyards and strawberry fields welcomed me. By night I arrived at the destination and met up with Family to reveal that I rode by all the way from Gurgaon.

Calm after the storm: The rooms at Treehouse Blu were super comfortable, the staff amicable and my parents surprisingly calm and cool about me riding in. We shared laughs, visited the secluded beaches of South Goa and then planned our visit to the Tiracol Fort in the north the following day. Also, we could never miss the flea market at Vagator and the other more crowded destination shores in the north. Food, Beaches and Fort was our itinerary and we made the most of the four days we celebrated together. Dad and Ma were enjoying, Brother half concerned about his better half and also wanting to chill with the rest at the same time was the one who was doing all the driving with all the patience he could fathom. The laughs, the walks, the waters and the skies really kept our spirits high and moods cheerful. The Tiracol Fort swept us off our feet within with magical views of beaches meeting mountains. Within a blink of an eye it was time to part ways and start our journeys back to our routines. With a heavy heart, woke up, packed, put on the gear and bid goodbyes only to race out to the Ghats again, chasing clear skies and escaping the monsoon clouds along the way. The ride back almost felt like a timelapse with terrains changing and sun changing its course in a flash. It took my 22 hours that included a night’s stay at Rajasthan to finally get back home and sleep off the fatigue before resuming work a couple of days later.


 Learnings:

-Inspect your machine once in every 200kms
-Long rides need patience. Please practice it
-Help others to expect help
-Fix all issues in the motorcycle before the trip
-Keep constant speeds for upkeep of engine quality

Monday, June 17, 2019

Trip 50: Sea, Sand, Salt and Snow in One Go: 4660 Kilometres across Northwest India

As I was racing against the sunset on the borders of Rajasthan, a huge endless swarm of locusts took over the highway. Hitting against me, the motorcycle and getting crushed along the way. There was just one thing in mind at that time; I had to rest my back on the dunes before dark and so I did – One of the terrains explored as part of this mammoth experience we call, motorcycling. 

Born to be Wild, built to live free or raised to live on the edge are not just sayings, not just quotes but sheer beliefs that keeps any individual defeat logic and achieve something that is beyond the masses’ understanding. It was my fiftieth trip indeed, as I hurriedly packed up my bags and set out on a ride across all terrains that the Indian Subcontinent had to offer.

The Man: Gokul
Age: 34
The Machine: Royal Enfield Himalayan

Comfortably Numb: As one perspective, nothing was so called going, “right” and as per society, I wasn’t thinking right to envision a trip like this as my fiftieth in just the 13 days I had received as leaves, but then as another, I never felt better. I had to do something special for myself for a change. The one pat on the back and rise of the collar and a smile that goes on the face at each and every stop makes the whole journey worthwhile. Got the Himalayan checked, wrote my blogs and left him at noon on a Sunday. Raced past the tolls and headed for Jaipur post which I planned to put up for the night at Beawar before taking the route via Mount-Abu to enter Gujarat via Palanpur. 

Delightfully Fast: The sun was taking control of the day, Bottles of water consumed within hours and gallons of fuel burnt within a day. At one of these petrol pumps, I decided to quickly map up my stay at the Beetle Smarthotels. I entered Gujarat, crossed Gandhidham and was racing towards Kandla I spotted another Himalayan Rider matching speeds. After a few fly-bys, we decided to speak. He was travelling from nearby Surat to his village and does that every weekend on his Himalayan to spend the weekend with his family. By Sunset, I was at the Kandla Port, bordering the beach, the waterways carved inwards to help Ships anchor. Quickly then progressed towards hotel which was made from containers. Put up there for a night, then the next day as the sun glazed the Himalayan I set off for the Dhrabudi Beach in Modhva district of Gujarat. I idled my way at 20 kmph through the temple complex where finally the fog cleared and made way to the beach. A beach where Lord Ram had ended his Vanvaas according the Hindu Mythology, this beach was utterly calm bordered by clear white sands and pink Flamingos lazily flying across the shore. Spend a good amount of three hours there, only to leave the sea and proceed towards the dunes.

Exclusively Extraordinary: Figured that Modhva beach is nearby and planned to go there. When I made that turn on the narrow flyover in a city that looked like it was from the seventies, I encountered huge structures of wooden ships and boats that we being made. It was a ship yard and it was first time I had seen one. The place that looked like a swamp had the boats parked at the side with sea gulls flying above. A scene worth a painting or a stamp was right in front of me as I rode by slowly. Went to the shores bordered by wind mills, spent a little time there only to then pick and leave towards northern India. I had just two more terrains in mind, the sand and snow, but nature had different plans for me. Within the next 4 to 5 hours, I found myself in Bhuj and the motorcycle’s chain total hot and clanking. Approach a service station, got it fixed only to find out that one of employees followed me on Instagram. He took as selfie post which I had lunch then sat back on the chair and thought to myself; what is special about Bhuj besides the earthquake? In the next five hours I found myself unable to spot the road as I was struck by the shine erupting off the sunlight hitting the salt flats of Kutch. The road to Dholavira was one of its kind too. Bordered by small hillocks, I suddenly spotted a huge shadow whiz past a hillock in front of me. I then turned towards the sky just to spot a MIG pierce through the sky with its sound boom hitting my ears a second later it passed. Also encountered will camels roaming free in their habitat and rest under the thorny trees and quench their thirst in the muddle below. A vast open space of nothing but Salt. Just hectares and hectares of white salt was something really surreal to see. Taking a few steps on it felt like you were walking on whole different planet with salt sticking to your shoes. 

Baked and Frozen: Returned back from Kutch to stay the night at Bhuj. Figured that my shoe was in tatters and bought a spare at the city and scouting for a 13 numbered dual sport shoe for almost two hours at night. The next morning, I left Bhuj only to take on the roads to Rajasthan. The terrain dried up quick and fast and the roads were getting deserted. I twisted the throttle to hit triple digits as I had to reach the dunes by nightfall. After battling the locusts and asking for directions, I took a quick right only to head towards the dunes of Barmer that was overlooked by a castle. Stuffed the motorcycle into the dunes and lied down on the super soft and Luke warm sand to gaze at the setting Sun and starts above. Checked in to a resort nearby and then the next morning hit the highway to Jaisalmer, saw the fort of Jaislamer and then swiftly refuelled to ride towards the Himalayas. Literally saw the terrain transform from being a barren brown to it getting its hints of greens and then getting converted to lush green fields all within 500 kilometres. India is truly a country of diversity and I was experiencing it first hand with the people, the terrain and the weather all at once. Reached Jalandhar by nightfall, met a friend the next day in the morning and then planned to leave for the Himalayas the next day. One by one places began to go by, firstly Amritsir, then Panthankot later Dalhousie and then finally put up at a small village 14 kilometres from the Sach Pass. I slept content thinking that it was time for snow the next day. 


Unexpected Surety: The next day at 4 am, took to the Pass at 10degrees temperature to find out that the roads have be totally blocked by the snow. Waited for almost 8 hours and then finally after looking at the snow peaks for a while, planned to make a run for it at it to Rohtang via Dharamshala. That day, rode hard and fast, 250 kilometers to Dharamshala for a road side stay, then later to Rohtang the next day. The snow was pristine, as soft as the dunes of Rajasthan but way more cold, the peaks white with the full Moon beckoning from above. Ran all around the snow, rested my helmet on it, but then has to return quickly the roads were getting a thin coating of black ice deeming it dangerous for travel. I then made my way to a hotel nearby Manali. Stayed the night and then left the next day to head straight for Gurgaon. I so wanted to reach Gurgaon in a day but then took a small night’s sleep break somewhere near Zirakpur before I rode down to the limits of Gurgaon in no time. It was indeed a huge one, across all terrains, across all challenges, all weathers; but then will takes you places and a wish gets you dreams. 

Learnings:


-Inspect Motorcycle at regular intervals
-Check for all things broken and get them welded when you spot one\
-Make sure you have your tank and cans filled with fuel
-Trust no one but your instinct first
-Plan for the number of kilometres you can travel in a day
-Carry all the needed things on trip, shed everything extra




Friday, October 12, 2018

Trip 49: To the Land of Yetis: Gurgaon – Sikkim – Nepal – Gurgaon

It was indeed the 49th Trip. One trip closer to the 50 mark I had set for myself in the year 2011 once I had completed four trips on Royal Enfield motorcycles. A moment that I wanted to share with my childhood friend Nitin, was the one I wanted to make unique for myself. It was the month of August and we decided to ride to Meghalaya, one of the states that receive the highest rainfall in the world. We accepted Nature’s challenge, mapped our leaves and rode down to the Noida Expressway that kick started the 3300 kilometre ride to North Eastern India not knowing that Mother Nature intended us to explore the Land of Yetis first before going further east. 



The Men: Nitin and Gokul
Age: 34
The Machines: Royal Enfield Electra and Royal Enfield Himalayan


Meet-up and Ride: We decided to meet on the exit of the DND Flyway at Noida and then ride down to teh expressway that led us straight to Lucknow 560 kilometres away. I was on time, which essentially is a rarity, waited for Nitin for a while till he thumped in at the meet-up spot. We shared a few laughs and then continued to ride on to the expressway. Within hours, we had our breakfast, crossed Agra and were aiming to reach Lucknow. The roads were clean, straight and broad. At times we felt we were at a standstill even though we were doing 100kmph. The clouds moved along, it rained for a while and the Sun broke out too but then we decided to ride hard to stay at one of the lesser known BnBs in Lucknow. Next day, we continued our ride to enter Bihar where the fields were green and the people were curious. We cautiously took a break just when one a motorcycle approached us and asked us about our Journey. He told us how people like us inspire him and pick and leave to craft his own adventure. Had a chat with them and then proceeded towards Muzzarfarpur, where we decided to put up for the night. The third day, we planned to enter West Bengal and we did, the battery on the Himalayan began to act funny. We stopped at Royal Enfield, Forbesganj to get both motorcycles checked. A faulty fuse was changed, and the battery connectors were reconnected with new wire but all of that did not change anything as we encountered the same problem at Siliguri too. We planned to stay the night and fix it the next day


Getting to Gangtok: The next day in the morning, we woke up to a nice breakfast followed by a thorough check up of the Himalayan at the Royal Enfield showroom there. The mechanic there spotted a faulty battery that needed changing. Once that was done, there was no looking back. Crossing Kalimpong in no time we reached Gangtok that was 115 kilometres away in a few hours halting once in the middle for a quick bite. Once we reached Gangtok, we had to figure a way to get permits to Upper Sikkim that borders Chinese territory. A little questioning revealed that the permits for motorcyclists took 2 days, one day to submit all documents and the other day to get a signed permit from officials; all of this happening in between 6am and 4pm. We got copies of all our documents and scouted for a place to stay the night. The next day, we left to submit documents and then stepped out to stumble upon a young rider who took us to a place that his senior rider owned. The best thing about it was he offered three star accommodation at 1000bucks flat only for riders. We planned to stay the night only to leave the next day for upper Sikkim i.e. Lachung

Waterfalls and Landslides: As we made our accent to upper Sikkim, we realised that the roads got narrower and waterfalls started flowing out onto the roads one too many times. The people spoke to us about their culture and how Sikkim comprises of Lepchas, Bhutias and Nepalese incumbents. The Lepchas being the only ones with their origin from Sikkim itself, were the hosts inviting people into the land since the Yetis roamed the land thousands of years ago. Spoke to locals and soaked in the weather as we made our way upto Lachung 102 kilometres away. We stayed the night and rose the next day only to have tea and race to Yumthang 24 kilometres from our hotel. After having tea, we left for the climb and at the check point we realised that I had left my backpack with all documents back at the tea shop. Rode back to find that the place was shut and everyone had left for Yumthang which is when I decided to race to where they were, ride back with the Women to her place, get the backpack and then ride her back to the checkpost and beyond to her car waiting to get landslides cleared. Nitin, who was waiting at the checkpost
all this while was now with me. As the car took a different route and proceeded further in a different direction we climbed to Yumthang. A few kilometres and waterfalls later we encountered a huge landslide with rocks and slush; the Indian Army cleaning it. We waited then proceeded with the army when suddenly as team sat behind out motorcycles and asked us to ride to other Landslides ahead. Surprised and exited, we rode ahead, one Landslide after the other, the army help us get over with our motorcycles and reported them back the JCB below to spot and clear. 5 kilometres from Yumthang, we had crossed 4 Landslides and reached a huge amount of slush and rocks with trees on the road. That was end; as the Army Men asked us to stay here or get back because it was too dangerous to venture ahead. We decided to explore the places nearby and explore the landscape. Did that and then returned back to our motorcycles only to ride back to Gangtok. Night approached and we decided to stay at hotel in Mangan. 


Parting Ways: The next day in the morning Nitin got a call from his institute that he had to return quickly to get his foot in the door with many foreign delegates. Understanding the importance, he decided to ship his motorcycle to Delhi from Rangpo near Gurgaon and then fly back to Delhi. We then rode 75 kilometres to reach Rangpo, helped him ship his ride and then later stayed at the same Rider Karma’s hotel only to part ways the next day. The following morning after breakfast, I dropped Nitin to taxi stand from where he could get a ride to Baghdogra Airport post which I continued to the permit office to report in and take permits for Nathu La and the Zuluk bends. Made the uphill climb, the mountains got taller on this 190 kilometre stretch that also happens to be a part of the centuries old silk route. The weather got cold as one narrow bend revealed the beautiful Tsomgo Lake and the Yaks of that region. I soaked in the view only to proceed further towards Nathu La beyond three glacier lakes other than the mighty Tsomgo. In a couple of hours, I was at Nathu La. There were a lot of people waiting to climb up to see the border, but then I decided to ride back down and gun for Kalimpong. The roads got smoother, the curves winding the most making semi-circles as I cautiously led myself into the glorious bends of Zuluk. A narrow path laid for two way traffic that had 45 degree declines and acute angled bends that literally took my breath away. Army vehicles plying to and fro were a norm, while the green pastures were sprinkled by wild asses and horses grazing casually. At some places clouds moved and uncover a cricket match between two platoons while other peaks had a bunch of eagles hovering around them or bordered by deserted army bunkers. The ride then went on deep into the forests of Sikkim and West Bengal that was navigated with cheer focus only to end the night at a comfortable stay in Siliguri. 


Returning via Nepal: The Sun rose as I woke up to my 13th day on the road.  Packed up and left to ride down to the border of India and Nepal. Took permits and enter Nepal via the Mechi Bridge and then later decided to maintain the lower line of Nepal right from Mechinagar and Damak through Chandarpur and Mahendernagar for almost 1200 Kilometres evenly spread out for two days. The first day through Damak till Butwal was a one filled with serenity and greenery all over the place with just one road splitting the forest reserves; Chitwan National Park and the Parsa Wildlife Reserve. The cloudy weather, Himalayas at the horizon and the green pastures in the middle bordered by the Kali Gandaki River just made riding a pure pleasure. The next day in Nepal was steered by the excitement of approach the other side of a country and entering Hindustan. Approached Khatima, cleared permits and as I started riding into Uttarakhand, I was hit by heavy rainfall that literally blurred sight for a good one hour. Braved the rains, the dirty ditch ridden roads to Rampur and then hurried my way onto Moradabad on NH9. Followed the road to complete the remaining 335 kilometres from Khatima to get home post one trip that made one fact very evident – Motorcycles and Mountains are indeed the best teachers you can get right next to your Parents and Mother Nature. If you get a chance to take this route; it is never too late to grab it with both hands and start the learning. 

Learnings:

-Expect the worst, aim at being the best
-Inspect your ride thoroughly every day
-Get your motorcycle checked at an authorised dealership when possible
-Make smart use of your smartphone
-Keep a check on the weather and the route ahead
-Place your breaks tactically and set realistic targets every day

Trip 48: Teachings of Tirthan – Gurgaon – Sainj – Gushaini - Jalori - Gurgaon

Work after almost 9 years of it had become my weapon of choice. The weapon that would push me to my limits everyday to get better at what I did. I did not care anymore, of what people did, where the world went, or my own health for that matter. All I wanted to see was work getting done and loved it when my colleagues and superiors banked on me to deliver every single time. One such situation made my boss incentivize me for the work delivered – A fully paid ride to the Himalayas with paid leaves. This gesture told me two things – I was being asked to deliver good work yet again and secondly; the fact that I strongly felt the need to escape the urban world eventually and settle in a place that taught me more about patience and pleasures than prowess and posturing. I did the work, got the payout and decided to ride solo to the Tirthan Valley in the Himalayas – one of the few places apart from home where I was sure I’d receive a lot more than I could ever give out. This 1050 kilometre trip was a ride that was meant to absorb than achieve; an experience that was expected to be an involvement and not an investment. 

The Man: Gokul
Age: 34
The Machine: Royal Enfield Himalayan

Delayed Start: I had to get done documenting my trips and did it by using two of my leaves. Later, the third day off, I decided pick my bags and leave. Headed straight to the exit in no time and then began pacing myself on the highway towards Chandigarh. The Sun was about to set in a couple of hours and I had taken the turn towards the foothills. Took the wrong exit towards Parmanu and then later had to correct myself to get on to the road towards Bilaspur and Barmana. I had done almost 300 Kilometers and was heading straight towards Mandi now. A steep exit from Mandi onto the Pandoh Dam brought a lot of memories back, be one of initial trips with my friend Nitin or the ride to Ladakh with my Brother, they all game back gushing like a river flowing through the valley. Later, I took the road running parallel to the Aut Tunnel to make way into the Tirthan Valley 522 kilometres from my place of residence in Gurgaon. 

Securing the Safe House: The Sun had set and few hours had gone by, it was late in the night the battery in my phone was low. I quickly logged into my phone, scoured through some apps to find a place, coded in my number in Hindi and got the owner to call me within 10 minutes of the search. Took directions, fitted it in the map, read the name of the village and while I was zooming in, my phone died. Had to then depend on instincts and directions offered by polite locals to get a house that was just etching out of the mountains on the corner of a road. As I was finding a stable spot to park my motorcycle; a elderly Man in his 60s walked up to me, assisted me, untied my bags and took me to the top floor where my Room was. It was a warm gesture, homemade dinner and nice comfortable bed I was blessed to plan my stay at. I was at Deotha, one of the higher altitude villages  in the Tirthan Valley. 


Exploring the Tirthan: The next day after nice breakfast, I decided to explore the upper valley where the twin villages Sainj and Siund where located. It was a 42 kms ride from Deotha beyond the Village of Dhaman. While, I was riding I realized that the narrow road leading me to there was bordered by apple trees, green fields and water dams simply pocketed away from the outside world. I made my way through to an even smaller inclining mud path and revealed the plains of Sainj and Siund to me. It was awe inspiring, the green plains surrounded by the Himalayas all around with a temple highlighting the start of it and path that cut across the grass for people to walk through was perfect picture I will never forget. Rested there for a while under a tree while suddenly it began to hail and small white icy pebbles started to fill the place around me. After an hour of hail and rain, the weather cleared and I thought best to return before Sunset. On the way back, decided to buy some provisions for my dinner and head back for another peaceful night’s sleep. The third day in the valley, I stepped and decided to ride to lower part of The Tirthan valley till Gushaini where people lived off the River. As I reached Gushaini to see Trout fishing, I stumbled on a village where every other person was an expert in fishing. One such person was Deepak and he asked me for a ride to calmer water near The Bichchoo Pass where he could catch some trout. So accompanied him and his friends till the road ended, fished for a while, ate the catch, thanked him and left to head back to base that day where I had dinner spoke about my trip to the lovely hosts and had good night’s sleep, prepping myself to return. 

The Way Back: Sun had risen and I planned to pack my bags and bid goodbye. In no time, I was downhill pressing to reach the neighbouring mountain where the mighty Jalori Pass awaited me. Crossed it to reach Rampur and began my descent towards Shimla. I reached the place only to get pulled over by Traffic Cops for infiltrating pedestrian paths with my motorcycle. Later, reluctantly paid the fine and made my way to the plains where I decided to stay just before Ambala to rest by back before the last leg of my trip. The next morning, just sprinted back with least breaks to reach home by night fall. It was indeed a trip that taught me a lot about the Himalayas and myself even after riding to them for eight years.

Learnings:

- Always monitor your motorcycle
- Plan in advance for your stays
- Keep talking to locals
- Trust your instincts 

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Trip 47: Understanding Uttarakhand: Gurgaon-Ukhimath-Pokhari-Gurgaon

Sometimes, all we need to choose is a direction and the journey will reveal itself to you. Getting lost to be found; that’s what Nitin and I did when we planned to embark on a journey that took us through one of the most hidden roads of Uttarakhand and back in around 1100 kilometers. 1100 Kilometers that took us through many emotions with just one trumping over everything else -- explore the unknown and come back home with a smile on our faces.

The Men: Nitin and Gokul
Age: 33
The Machines: Royal Enfield Electra and Royal Enfield Himalayan

The Meet: I woke up at 5 in the morning not knowing where to go but then I was sure of meeting Nitin near his institute of international relations. Reached there in a few hours and was waiting for him to arrive along with a hot cup of tea and biscuits. Nitin rode in after sometime, had tea after which we began our onward ride to the mountains of Uttarakhand. This time, we simply wanted to lose ourselves, go into a mode where we venture onto highways less taken along the way. We had Gaurikund in mind and set our wheels to roll in that direction. At first we took the remote and local route through Barot and Bijnor to enter the mountains via Kotdwara. Roads running beside canals, train tracks and villages were a common site before we took the incline to Kotdwara, Satpuli and reach our base.


The Base: Had lunch and quickly refueled at Satpuli after which we decided to stay the night at the Swasteek Resort in Pauri. One of the more silent villages of this mountain state; I had visited a couple of times before on shorter trips. The host was courteous and caring, he invited us in like he always does and served us a nice room with a view and hot home cooked dinner. The next day, we planned to ride to the nearby Advani forest reserve till the end of the road and the peak of the mountains. We rode first in search of a stream but didn’t get a clean one, then we planned to continue to the top. After a few hours we reached a small secluded temple at the top of a peak. One side of the mountain was carved to make way for fertile fields while the other side was filled with wild trees. The temple was the perfect divide for these two worlds. We sat there in silence, prayed for a bit and then walked on towards our motorcycles to continue riding. At nightfall, we made it back to our base for some food and sleep. The next morning, we packed and left early only to have breakfast at downtown Pauri and set out to Gaurikund. We had found our rhythm and were sliding by corners like fireflies. Crossed Agustmuni and were nearing the destination while we noticed that there were a lot of travellers doing the same. Too much was happening, we paused and took a detour. 

The Detour: The detour we decided to take was towards Ukhimath and later we proceeded to the barren hills of Chopta, where we encountered the first hints of uninhabited Uttarakhand. Camps and tents took over the landscape at certain spots while snow and ice covered the roads. Trekkers were making their way slowly up the hill to where the cabs were waiting for them, as we steadily progressed forward tackling snow and ride besides the eagles in full flight. After overcoming the pass, we hit a downhill run to Gopeshwar. The night was new as it began to rain, we quickly refueled and spotted a space to stay in the city. Dinner was being made everywhere but then we found the most hygienic place around to sit in peace and have our food. Slept the night to wake up and still shared a sense of emptiness with Nitin; as if the best was yet to come. 


The Best: We were declining towards Chamoli with the intent to take the route via Rudraprayag back home; but then suddenly on one curve Nitin decided to stop and look over his shoulder. He saw a milestone that said Rudraprayag but on a different path that was seen disappear in the mountains below. On interacting with a bystander, we got to know it was a state highway to Rudraprayag 80 kilometers longer. We looked at each other, smiled and took it only to encounter a waterfall that crept on to the road giving us a rush of adrenaline. We continued on the road that lead us to lanes covered in shade of pine trees, untouched valleys, settlements lost in time and a never ending view of snow clad mountain peaks that kept following us wherever we went. We were riding slower now, soaking in whatever we saw, sitting in the valley talking for hours. Sun was on the verge of setting, the wind picked up as we were about to join the National Highway to Rudraprayag. We made the turn and I suggested a plan to stay the night at one of the river side hotels there. Spent the night talking and then left at 5 am in the morning for a hassle free ride to Rishikesh where we stopped for lunch. We then picked up and rode till midnight to get back to Gurgaon to end this one-of-a-kind sneak peek into the unknown of Uttarakhand.

Learnings:

1.Explore, but with apt information                           
2.Make use of Google Maps wherever possible
3.Carry enough cash if you are doing remote travels
4.Make sure safety is top priority on the ride
5.Greed is bad, loose it or be overwhelmed by it 

Monday, April 9, 2018

Trip 46: Turning Pages: Gurgaon-Chasheel-Gurgaon

Time was running by and everything around me was moving fast. It was the end of the year and I had to find peace, somewhere to go where I could celebrate the silence with some snow and some company. Company that also felt the same way and valued peace and snow as much as I did; I had a few names in mind. But then one was closer than the rest, Prachi decided to step up and the take another one with me to the Himalayas. A trip that took us to the border of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand beyond Rohru to Chansheel pass where, summit, sand and snow came together for a perfect Sunday showdown with new year around the corner. It was a 1050 kilometer trip, we took as part of our New year plans.

The Team: Prachi and Gokul
Age: 28 and 33
The Machine: Royal Enfield Himalayan

Subtle Start: Everything seemed very normal and excitement had not quite hit the roof when this one began. We took it in our stride and kept the wheels turning for a while. The plains were a breeze and the Himalayan was pacing up wonderfully. Alongside a few cars around Karnal, a blue Volkswagen Jetta was pacing up with us. The guy dressed in formals, rolled up his sleeves and maneuvered his machine to overtake us when the roads were void of traffic. When traffic hit; the motorcycle was nimble enough to push through. This doggy-dog fight went on for almost 50 kms, till we looked at each other and waved goodbye before changing our direction to our destinations. Chandigarh went by when noon struck and we were steadily climbing towards Solan along with three damn new Himalayan Sleets that the Royal Enfield team was testing. I wasted no time to take over and proceed towards Larot, 186 kilometers from Solan.


The Silence: The roads were silent, they got narrower with hairpins that got me to slide and lean along with the motorcycle transferring my weight from one side to the other while the cool breeze crept into my helmet. As we approached Hatkoti, it was nightfall, the temperatures dipped and snow showed itself to us on either sides of the road. Prachi couldn’t take the temperatures and my hands and dead cold. We needed to find a place to stay at Rohru and hurriedly decided to stay at the Chansheel hotel. The heater was old but working as we munched on a few chocolates and slept the night only to wake up to an early breakfast and tea. We then packed and left for Larot. By noon we found ourselves 12 kilometers from Chansheel Pass and then had to turn back for almost 5 kilometers to find our BnB perfectly etched on one of the mountains. A perfectly organized home in the middle of no-where. We were ecstatic as we untied our luggage and put up to stay. The following day, we enjoyed a perfect Sun rise as the rays bathed the snow peaks orange and then went to visit Chansheel Peak. The snow had formed a hard ice coating on the road and had made us stop and enjoy the view just 7 kilometers from the top.

The Return: After 2 days of peaceful stay we had a different route in mind for the return. We planned to take the route that ran through Deoban, Tiuni, Chakrata and then Paonta Sahib to finally branch us out to Karnal from where we could head out to Gurgaon. The route was cold and deserted. We took it on turn by turn, kilometer by kilometer and were enjoying the terrain until Sun down. When it was dark, the jungle woke up. Foxes and Jackals were spotted roadside, crossing the road searching for food and staring right at us. We planned not to stop and take our chances on this road. 40 kilometers from Chakrata, we encountered hardened ice that we had to carefully tackle, we crossed that and then planned to stay at Chakrata for the night. After a hassled sleep in one of the most basic and congested rooms, we planned to continue riding at 8 am the following day. We first crossed Dakhpathar and then Paonta to reach the plains of Ladwa where we had our lunch, took some rest and the continued our way back. By nightfall we had touched down with a bunch of memories that were one of a kind and left us with a sense of wanting more on the next one.

Learnings:

1.Protect yourself against all extremes of weather 
2.Plan for the trip and carry all necessities
3.There is no harm in staying the night at a unplanned stoppage if rest is top priority
4.Inspect vehicle after every 100 kilometers
5.Avoid taking unnecessary risks