The stopover at Delhi was a welcome break after the long and HOT ride across the country. Harsh, my friend and former colleague (who co-incidentally quit on the same day as I had) was not only kind enough to provide me a home in Delhi, but also allowed me unrestricted usage of his air-conditioner (electricity bill be damned!). I made the most of his generosity and spent a majority of my time boxed inside a room hoping that the cool blow would seep through the pores of my skin and magically push out all the heat that had been absorbed into my body.
When I wasn’t “chilling” (in the literal sense), I used the down-time to tie-up some more loose ends in terms of gear. I also managed to catch up with some old friends and my “Dilli Crew”, who ensured that my #mostfunpitstop happened early in the journey.
Time to Ride
Karthik and I met at India Gate with the intention of flagging-off our ride in a grand manner. While we achieved the desired level of ceremony in our heads, what actually happened was a little bit different. Our bikes were parked near India Gate surrounded by a crowd of people (read: policemen), we got on them and rode out (with much swag) while a whole bunch of people (read: same policemen) chased after us. It wasn’t exactly what I’d hoped for, but that was a good enough flag-off for me.
After we’d managed to outrun our pursuers, we settled into yet another comfortable cruise, this time towards Chandigarh, through Karnal and Panipat. There isn’t much to say about the ride from Delhi to Panchkula because well, straight roads, wide roads, smooth roads, traffic, and all such other boring things happened.
At Parwanoo, we found the Himalayan Expressway. The 27-odd kilometres six-lane highway is in itself only a fleeting bit of excitement, but it leads you into the mountains of Himachal Pradesh, which, in my opinion, makes it a path to all things good. From there on, the roads got curvy, we started gaining altitude and, just like that, the best part of the journey had finally begun.
The excitement of breaking away from the monotony of the 3000 kilometres of long straight roads, translated into a superb pace of riding. By noon, we were at Kasauli, which was originally meant to be the stop for the night.
Kasuali is a quaint little town (if you can call it that) which counts itself as one of the first “hill stations” (again, not sure if you can even call it that), as you make your way into Himachal Pradesh. It’s a fairly popular weekend getaway for people from the National Capital Region and Chandigarh, but if you’re looking to be wow’ed’, it does very little. We rode all around the town hoping to find something that would make us want to stay there, but to no avail. So we decided to grab a quick lunch and ride on. We found a tiny little Tibetan restaurant in the market, and the promise of a nice bowl of Thukpa almost let me believe that there might be some hope for the place after all. But it wasn’t to be and Kasauli seemed keen to disappoint in every way possible. It was apparently a “dry-day for non-vegetarian food” (is that even a thing?) and the only dish on offer was a Vegetarian Thukpa, which essentially was hot water with a lot of cabbage in it. What a disaster. A kind shop keeper next door swung to my rescue, and offered me some hot gobi (cabbage) paranthas instead (there clearly was no escaping the cabbage). Food was gobbled up and we made a quick escape before Kasauli could do any more damage to our spirits.
We decided to ride towards our next planned stop, Mcleodganj. There was no way we would make it there by nightfall, but we figured we would at least set off in that direction. Instead of retracing our route all the way back to Dharamppur and then taking the highway towards Manali, we opted for a ‘shortcut’ that was suggested to us by a local policeman. Main roads gave way to a narrow single lane road, as we descended towards a village called Chandi. The road passed through a dense forest and weaved around the mountains offering some gorgeous views. Soon, we were riding on more gravel and less road.
Interior roads can be quite challenging to navigate. We constantly stopped to ask for directions (which varied drastically from person to person) and did the best we could to stick to what we were told to do. However, when we crossed a bridge across the same river for the fourth time, I began to realise that we were well and truly lost. We had ridden a good 80-plus kilometres, but we seemed nowhere close to finding a way out. The so called shortcut wasn’t turning out to be short after all.
At around five in the evening we hit a small village that consisted of a few houses and one shop. There wasn’t a soul around except for the shopkeeper. A pleasant old man, he seemed thrilled to have people to talk to, even if it was only to provide directions. He made us sit through a long discourse on the several routes that we could possibly take to find the now seemingly elusive highway once again. All the routes he suggested would eventually lead us to a place called Brahmpukhur, which seemed to be the gateway to the world in these parts. As we were finally ready to leave and go find this “Rome”, he was nice enough to casually also mention that we wouldn’t be able to make it there by nightfall, and it would be smarter to instead ride to another town called Kunihar where we would likely to be able to find ourselves a home for the night. That was a half-hour well spent.
So off we went, in search of our new destination. Progress was slow because the roads were pretty bad and the loose gravel meant that skidding was a common occurrence. We eventually made it to Kunihar, only to discover that the town had no place where we could camp or any hotels or home-stays per se. The only nightcap solution in this little town – a few rooms above a marriage hall that is (quite strangely) located within the local bus stand. The marriage hall and rooms are managed by a chap who runs a grocery store-cum-sweet shop-cum-juice bar-cum-restaurant (the real jack of all trades). After much haggling and negotiation (clearly, this aspect of being Indian has permeated to all parts without exception), we got ourselves a simple, clean and comfortable room for the night.
The accommodation scene notwithstanding (#lawyerspeak), Kunihar is actually a fairly busy little town. Most importantly, it had a petrol pump!! So we rode out later in the evening and tanked up the bikes, just so that we could be prepared for a situation where we ended up getting lost again the next day.
The first day in Himachal made sure that one thing was registered clearly – the adventure had truly begun!