September 5, 2015
Sunshine….glorious uplifting sunshine. This sunshine awaited me on Day 5 , when I woke up in the morning at 8 am. There was a nip in the air and it matched with my excitement. Now, this day was extremely special, the reason being, today I was going to enter Himachal Pradesh.My extra long morning shower ensured to wash off any traces of tiredness I felt a result of previous night. Since my journey today was longer, I had to do a check up on the condition of my bike. I noticed a bent bike wheel which was out of alignment and required sorting. Thankfully, I didn’t have to do much of searching as there was a mechanic just 10 meters away from the hotel gate. Acknowledging the problem on my bike, he took the job of repairing the alignment. I had expected a delay of good time,but to my surprise, the job was done perfectly in 20 minutes and reasonably charged. Adding to this, my spot shopping at army cantonment went great too. The Mamoon Cantonment in Pathankot was one of choicest places selling army surplus goods. I was aware of this since I had been there once in my last road trip, I was pleasantly surprised when the shopkeeper recognized me in the first go and welcomed me very enthusiastically. No points in guessing, he pretty interested in the unusual way I arrived at his shop this time. Conversations & memories were exchanged over a cup of tea while I also shopped a few things for myself which included a camouflage tshirt (which I later on realized was a mistake in wake of the Pathankot terror attacks, which cost our country some of her brave soldiers).
Guys, a special tip to anyone travelling to Pathankot. Do try the lassi special lassi at Billa Lassiwala in Pathankot. This place was recommended by the receptionist in my hotel and the crowd outside his shop in the morning hours bore an early testimony to the lassi magic that awaited me. Two jumbo glasses down my mouth.Burrrrppppp, some days just had an extremely good feel about them..
And finally, me & my stallion were decked & readied yet again for a new journey to Himachal Pradesh.
Himachal Pradesh also known as Dev Bhoomi is a constant feature on the very top of every Indian travellers to do list. Waving goodbye to the land of mustard fields, I entered the land of winding curves, hill roads and mountains. I still thank Himachal for the cool and pleasant welcome. The first thing I noticed was the sign board on Punjab – Himachal border which read “Himachal is a plastic free zone” now this goes to say a lot about the place, the people, the government who take their home seriously when it comes to preserving nature. It was in this Himachal Pradesh that my ride reached its fulfillment. The plains had ended and the mountains were calling for the next fortnight or so. The atmosphere was cool & Long pine trees adorned either sides of the roads. The valleys started appearing on the sides with the mountains on the left.
The feeling of watching the mighty mountains stand upright before my eyes is still ill defined by words. So strong, so grounded yet so proud, so protective yet so cruel. I felt like an awestruck schoolboy gazing up on one of the wonder of the world. Just when I took a roundabout from a circle and was heading straight, something cajoled me to take a look to my left. There was something unusual about the distant mountain ranges. It felt too grandiose and different from the rest I saw, I was wondering if it was the clouds that swayed at the peak that was giving me this kind of illusion, when reality clicked. I spoke aloud to myself in my helmet. Holy Fuck, It’s the Himalayas. What appeared like clouds were the snow caped mountains of Himalaya ranges. The ranges were so huge that I mistook the peaks for clouds. Finally the reality sank and the rider in me was humbled with a feeling of satisfaction, a feeling of content and ecstasy that made my breath slow as if my whole system wanted to slow down time & extract every bit of this moment.
After leaving Pathankot and Punjab border, I rode some 100-150 kms into Himachal with the mighty Himalayas standing proudly over me. I stopped at Palampur for a quick snack and spoke to the hotel owner about the interesting places nearby and a good place to pitch my tent and camp . In astute North Indian accent he said, “Bhaisahab aap main road se andar kahi pe bhi jaao, sabhi jagah khaali khaali hai aur kaafi sundar bhi” (Brother, take a deviation from the main road wherever you wish, the places are deserted & beautiful). He specifically mentioned a place called Bir which is a landing point of paragliding.
I followed his instructions and took the desired route off National Highway. The sign board read Bir 4 kms and Billing 18kms. On enquiring, I got to know that Billing is the take off point for paragliding which is, but obviously, on the top of the hill. The road to Billing was a steep climb and I raced towards the mountain pulling my throttle aggressively on the steep slopes. Time was less, it was already 6pm and I had to reach there before darkness settled. The road was a mix of good, bad and worst roads. The danger loving brat in me relished the challenge such roads offered where my sane mind quipped otherwise. On reaching the top, I was covered with dense fog and a drastic drop in temperature. I saw 2-3 houses without inhabitants. This place, which I’m told would be crowded during the paragliding season, now, was empty. Even a little restroom at the top was shut.
Left with little choice, I pitched my tent on the edge of the road, facing the valley. By the time I had finished with the tent, twilight gave way to darkness & the city below me was illumiminated by countless lights. The view gave an entirely new meaning to the term city lights. But , it was still nothing compared to the night sky, which came alive with stars. First a single star, then 10, then 100, till a zillion of them sparkled above me.
When my fascination settled, I actually got a hang of my condition. Here I was all alone, on the top of the mountain, without food, and in total darkness. I rumaged my bag to find my camping lantern which, I thought would provide respite from the darkness. offers a good ambient light. I got the box out and opened it. Next , I spent the hour cursing myself as I had opened the box upside down and down went the lantern with a crash taking with it all my hopes of a decent lit surrounding. Thankfully I carried a head torch with me, I put that on and started unloading my luggage. Totally exhausted I crept inside the tent with my sleeping bag. It was 8 pm now and insanely freezing outside my tent.
For a while I laid down munching on dry fruits to keep myself occupied. I didn’t have any courage left to go out in the cold. The strong winds lashed on the tent walls making weird noises. To be honest, I quite freaked out with the darkness and the isolation growing on me, I had absolutely no option but to wait for morning. Just to be away from the constant howling of the wind I put up my earphones and started watching a movie. Coincidentally the movie I watched was “Manjhi – The Mountain Man” The noises were driving my imagination crazy yet I convinced myself to sleep till morning 4.30. The chilling cold made me slumber for another 2 hrs. When I woke up, it was dawn and the sunlight started showing up. The Ravens and other wild birds were in full swing with their music. I stepped out of the tent & sat down quietly facing the sun to have a sun bath. Nature has the solution for everything and I was warm in next 10 mins. I packed my stuff and started my downhill ride.
My first night in the lap of himalayas was eventful. I was happy with my first solo camping on the hill top. From here my further journey was more hopeful.