Enchanted : that is the only word that came to my mind in the morning. I was totally enchanted with the experience of previous night. As I trod my way down from Billing, I crossed the local shops, I waved at them for the splendiferous suggestion they gave me, it had made all the difference. I headed back towards Pathankot Mandi Highway. I was aware of the places I had to pass to reach the eastern end of Himachal, which will get me to the road from Kinnaur District till Lahaul. Kinnaur District starts just after Rampur in Shimla was my next destination.
I took a brief halt at a road side dhaba where I brushed my teeth on the basin kept outside the shop and washed my face. The shopkeeper looked amused at me & asked,”Kya khaoge bhaisaab” and I gave the order for some sumptious alu ke paratha aur dahi. WhileI was busy digging into my breakfast, I found company across the table. Looking at my attire and the obvious tourer looking bike he enquired about me and the conversation sparked. He was a Tibetan settled in India since 2004 for studies and job and now on his way to Dharamshala (a town in Himachal) from Manali. The soft speaking guy appeared calm, composed and very much serene ____ this was my first interaction with a Buddhist. Finishing my meal of paratha and dahi I head off towards Mandi which was hardly few kilometres from my breakfast spot. As bad luck would have it, I needed to get the bike checked as there was a problem with some noise in the drive chain. But, all shops at Mandi was closed for Sunday. But then as the saying goes, every dark cloud has a silver lining. My day roaming introduced me to another biker. Manomay Singh had completed his ride from Spiti and Leh and was heading towards home in Delhi. We had a brief chat and exchanged experiences of our rides and then we parted after sharing our contacts. I promised Manomay that I will surely catchup with him in Delhi if I happened to cross through the city on this journey.
My bike issue was sorted after a local guided me to a mechanic who is opened on Sundays too. Post, I went to a wash centre to give my bike a thorough wash and clean its moving part off the dust and mud which is very important if you want your bike to perform optimally. It was here I met this extremely friendly , gentleman who appeared quite excited with my story. We talked about the routes I should be taking and after a while he came to the conclusion that I will get confused and he lead me to the point from where it will be an easy ride for me. He guided me for some 25-26 kms through interior roads to the highway and to the point from where I need to take the road towards Rampur. I thanked him & he gave me his card. Mr. Rajneesh Himalian – reporter, “Himachal Dastak”
The next stretch of roads started getting narrower and the altitude getting higher. I was on the way to Karsog Valley which is supposed to be one of the most beautiful places in Himachal and indeed, Himachal rose up to greet me with the valleys, tall trees, beautiful scenic views and loads of enthusiasm. The headphones in my ears played the perfect music from the old Indian pop songs of Shaan and Indian Ocean which perfectly synced with the pleasure I was living. From the plains to deserts to riding beside the mountains I was finally riding the mountains. Something which I was awaiting all my life throughout my biking passion. Riding in the Himalayas is one ecstasy every biker should live to experience atleast once in his life.
But at same time, my riding skills were put to test that day. Narrow road of 20 feet throughout with deep valley on one side and mountain on the other. In the plains, we generally swear on nasty, negligent and indecent heavy vehicle drivers who drive their vehicle carelessly endangering other motorist’s life but here in the mountains everything was different. If there is any heavy vehicle driving in front of you and if the driver saw you in his mirror then he would steer the vehicle to extreme left of the road to make way for the small vehicles to go ahead and if there is insufficient space then they pull over to the left and halt the vehicle and signal the driver to move ahead. The unsaid rule for any oncoming vehicle is they have to stop if they are on the mountain side. The one with valley to his left was always given the way and priority to move ahead and clear the way. The truckers drivers of Himachal are generous and they give way to small vehicles – an unknown phenomena in the city.
Here I had a duo adventure – 1) I got toppled on a sharp curve during an encounter with an oncoming bus on to a shallow nallah and had to place my bike down. 6 people came to my rescue including the driver, they helped me take the bike up and align myself.
2) I rode through the jungles of Himachal and encountered 5 wild dogs enroute. I had earlier mistaken them for jackals. They stood in the middle of the road in their pack but before I could take my camera out and click their pictures, they turned shy and ran away into the bushes. Now wild dogs cannot be compared to silly yet savage street dogs. They are much more dangerous and aggressive than their domesticated counterparts. I managed to get a picture of them on my cellphone though while they were escaping the camera.
The hills seemed to be never ending saga and after every hill I rode down, there started another climb back upto the mountain. Twisting through the curves and bends, somewhat got me tired. Those who have rode with me know my competency in negotiaing curves and bends but this road, O Man, It is tough, really tough. I couldn’t go above the speed of 25kmph and within every 100-200 mtrs there was either a curve, a bend or a hairpin bend.
I stopped at a recently opened hotel and was served a hearty meal by goodlooking guy with a subtle soft spoken hindi accent. It was already 3.30 in the noon now and I had to reach rampur which was more 100 odd kms away. 100 kms on that road meant not less than 4 hours to complete. The ride today was certainly not ending anytime soon.
As I stepped out of the restaurant,I saw a a man standing beside my bike, watching it keenly, admiring it & curious to know more about me. By now I’m completely used to reciting my travel tales so it didn’t feel awkward anymore. Overwhelmed with my narration he took me to an adjacent shed where there were heaps of harvested apples. Kinnaur apples are meant to be one of the best in the region. The shed had an apple sorting facility which first brushed the apple clean and then through an automated treadmill the apple fell off into baskets as per sizes. Now I’m no food packing expert but it was pleasant experience to know about how apples are harvested, packed and shipped to the markets. I was gifted a bag full of apples to have it on my journey but considering the baggage and space constraint I just took 6 of them and put then in my cargo pocekts and waistpouch. Freebies …yayyyyy
The ride continued testing my ability and patience, moreso coz I was the kind who rides his motorcycle relatively fast and takes curves on the apex. This surely was not possible here so it took time for me to adjust to this new reality that I need to be patient and be slow and careful riding in the mountains. This is where I acknowledge the difference between ghats and mountains. The plains of Maharashtra have ghats to ride on with double the width of this road so a km doesn’t take more than a minute ideally. Here, every kilometer of distance took more than 3 minutes.
It turned dark and I was yet to reach Rampur. I took halts at the small tea stalls admiring the million stars, the silence and the sound of gushing stream down the valley. By the time I reached Rampur, it was as late as 9 pm. The town was comparatively more crowded than I expected. I booked a hotel to rest for the night for 500 bucks. The hotel had it’s own story as I had to climb down some 50 steps down the road to reach the hotel,carrying 70 odd kgs from my bike to the hotel and the dread of carrying it back the next day was haunting me. So much for much needed rest. However, when I saw the bed I was least concerned for anything. Tenting out was epic but a soft bed was a badly needed luxury. Needless to say, I slept 8 hrs straight.