From One Mountain to Another – Prashar to McleodGanj

Waking up in Prashar was one of those moments that made all the effort that I had gone through till then seem worthwhile. As I opened up my tent, I was pleasantly rewarded for having gathered the courage to discard the warmth of my sleeping bag. The view was absolutely breathtaking. The mountains seemed to go on endlessly, alternating like swell in the middle of the ocean. I crawled out of my tent and found myself a perch from which I could watch the sky changing colours.  From a dull grey it went to a light orange, and several other shades of orange and red, before progressing to a whole spectrum of blues. Definitely the best morning yet.

The bike had not given me any trouble after the push start in Kunihar. The fact that it had happened once was still bothering me though, so I wanted to check on her to see if all was okay. To my disappointment, I discovered that starting didn’t seem to be on her list of things to do this morning either. Same situation as the day before, except that this time, we were at 9000 feet and in the middle of nowhere. Indications were that the problem was related to the battery so sitting up there in the mountains, I removed the battery, checked and cleaned out all the connections and fitted it all back together. Still no juice. As far as bikes go, battery problems aren’t exactly crippling. Unlike a flat tyre or engine issues, you know that if you can start her up somehow or the other eventually, the rest of the bike is still in tact and capable of covering distance. So, rather than break my head over it any more, I decided to focus on making the most of the time we had left in Prashar.

Battery trouble at 9000 feet.

The breakfast we had that day warrants a mention because it consisted of roasted bread and some tea. Roasted because the bread was “toasted” over a firewood stove. Whatever the means may have been, the end result was palatable, and that’s all that mattered.

The campsite at dawn.

Once the campsite and the bikes were all packed up, we headed off to go see the lake and temple that this place was famous for. This involved some walking and trudge up a slope that seemed to become more steep when we were on it.  Like geniuses, we tried shooting a vlog while on the ascent. What we ended up with was lots of huffing and puffing and some blabber. If good sense prevails, this piece of video will never be shown to the world.

The temple and the lake are quite a spectacle. While the temple and the area around it are quite interesting to walk through, the view really gets better as you climb higher and further away. 

The temple and lake at Prashar
Morning conversations.
Someone had found a temporary home outside the temple.

After galavanting up and down the grassy slopes for over an hour, we made our way back to the bikes (and the starting problem). I thought I had made up for a lifetime cardio deficit the day before, but clearly, all I had done was unlock the next level in some sort of sadistic game. I had to now once again go through the exercise of pushing my fully loaded motorcycle (plus Karthik), except this time it was at a higher altitude (which meant less oxygen) and on a dirt track (which meant a lot more resistance). It took a little longer than the last time, and significantly more effort, but eventually, we emerged victorious with a thumping engine. Too exhausted to be able to go through the routine another time, we decided to clear out and make our descent towards civilisation right away.

Pushing a bike up and down narrow tracks.

I am not an experienced off-road rider, so I was wary of the ride down the dirt-track. Based on common sense and my basic knowledge about riding a bike, I knew that I needed to use a combination of the gears and the brakes to slow the bike down as we descended. Using only the brakes would result in a lot more skidding and a loss of control. To add a layer of complexity, because of the cold weather, the engine wasn’t warm enough to idle, and would turn off if the throttle wasn’t revved a little. Letting it go off wasn’t an option because of the starting trouble. But if I did increase the revs it countered my attempts to use gears as brakes. I had to settle into a very strange rhythm of accelerating at points that I would never have otherwise and braking at times when it was absolutely unnecessary in order to find and hold the right pace to negotiate the route. The going was slow, but after almost two hours, we finally found tarmac.

Splashing around on the way to Drang.

Our destination for the day was McleodGanj. So we got back onto the Shimla-Manali highway through a lovely route passing by Drang. We then made our way towards Joginder Nagar and onwards to Palampur on the main highway. We were once again riding in lower altitudes and the heat was making its presence felt. I couldn’t wait for us to start climbing again.

At the end of the descent.

As we neared Dharamsala I caught my first glimpse of snow-capped peaks. I’d made several plans to go ride in the mountains, but failed to put any of them into action. But now, more than 5 years after I’d last been in the region, I was here and finally beginning to tick things of my motorcycling bucketlist.

Through Yol cantonment we got to Dharamsala, from where we began the climb to McleodGanj. The 10-kilometre ascent was loads of fun.  We were riding flat out on the smooth, clean and wide ghat road as it wound its way up the mountain. The snow-capped peaks played hide-and-seek popping into view as we swung around a turn, only to vanish as quickly and then reappear when least expected. The ride was engaging, action-packed and comfortable at the same time. The best way to end a day on the saddle.

Last stop before heading up.

It’s a good thing that the climb had been so much fun, because once we got to the top, we ran into all of Chandigarh and Jalandhar.  The main square was jammed with traffic, and it took us almost twenty minutes to navigate our way through. If we’d been in a car, it would have probably taken a few hours.

A mad rush of tourists is a bad sign for a budget traveller because it means that food and shelter will come at a premium. We decided to try our luck to find a place to bunk inside McleodGanj, but the prices quoted were beyond atrocious (at least INR 1500 for the most basic rooms). Realising that this was a futile effort, we rode towards Bhagsunag looking for options along the way. Since we had our bikes with us, being a little further away was not a problem. Sure enough, about 2 kilometres down the road, we found just what we needed. A clean and spacious room, complete with a balcony that had a view of the Triund peak. It was not as glorious as the views that we may have got if we’d stayed on the other side of the town, but at 1/3rd the price, this was pretty perfect.

The rest of the evening was spent washing out gear (it’s important to take the time to do this ever so often). Since we had a spacious room, and planned to spend 2 nights here, this was the perfect opportunity. Once that was done, the much looked-forward to bowl of Thukpa was found and had. All I could thereafter do was find a bed, crawl into it and pass out. The unintentionally adventurous day had sapped me of all my energy, so exploring the town would need to wait until the next day.

Riding Notes:

  • Be very careful on the descent from Prashar. The track is filled with loose stones and sand, which means that it’s quite easy to skid. Best to ride with excessive caution.
  • After the descent, you can connect to the main highway through Drang. This way you don’t need to ride all the way back to Mandi, which saves you more than 20 kilometres.
  • The route till Palampur isn’t particularly exciting or fun, but the roads are good and you should be able to cover this distance in good time.
  • Take the bypass around Dharamsala to avoid getting stuck in town traffic. The main road itself is quite narrow, so you could end up wasting a lot of time if you head into the town.
  • Try to know where in McleodGanj you want to go before you reach the main square. The policemen tend to rush you and send you off in one direction or the other very quickly. The traffic is also quite mad so it is best to know which direction you want to be going in before you land up in the midst of the chaos.

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