The 85th and 86th days of cycling in the Himalayas saw the ride progressing from Banyani to Chirbhatiya and Adibadri in the Garhwal area of Uttarakhand. This was part of the 90 day ride in the Himalayas covering Spiti, Zanskar, Batalik, Ladakh, Nubra, Shyok, Pangong, Hanle, Tso Moriri, Garhwal and Kumaon!
Read the previous day’s blog from Uttarkashi to Banyani, if you haven’t already!
Day 85: Banyani to Chirbhatiya
As I fastened the bags onto my cycle in the tiny village of Banyani, a crowd of pilgrims gathered around.
The idiot on two wheels (without a motor) piqued their curiosity.
They looked at me with as much disdain as people looking at a pig rolling in the muck. Everyone stared, no one spoke.
Then one piped up, are you a yatri, are you doing the char dham yatra, are you going to get extra blessings for visiting God on a cycle, rather than in a car? Suddenly, the dam burst and the flow of questions came out faster and worse than diarrhoea!
With a rough tongued machete I cut through their mesquite like questions and told them it was a joyride.
“But how can you be joyous while struggling on a cycle?”, pat came their reply. It was indeed a difficult question to answer!
Then one old Gujarati uncle intervened.
He said, some people like booze, cigarettes and women. This boy likes cycling. That quieted down the crowd and they let me slip through their grasp as I pedalled furiously uphill.
As much to get away from them, as to show them how fast a cyclist can go. Unfortunately, not very!
From the very first metre it was climbing, this being a state highway with no heavy vehicles, the gradients in places can be exceptionally steep.
As I ground the pedals, I could hear the engines wheezing and coughing in a breathless endeavour to overtake me. If those diesel engines struggled, my performance wasn’t so bad!
Ladakh hadn’t prepared me for this. The heat and humidity were taking a toll. Added to my misery was the fact that the previous day, I had pushed on an empty stomach. My muscles were aching. The first time in the entire trip, that my legs hurt due to overexertion.
What The Truck!
On an exceptionally steep and narrow stretch of road, I heard the wheezing sound of a truck behind me.
It sounded like a mini-truck. I was wrong! It was one of those big brutes, an ubiquitous diesel spewing Tata 1613.
I didn’t want to lose momentum and stop to let the trucker past, neither did he! We both fought for the limited road available and apparently size does matter. Because he won the battle.
I was precariously balanced on the edge of the road with a 100 feet drop below. There wasn’t any possibility of stopping because there was nowhere to put my foot down. On one side there was the truck, inches away, on the other side, air!
The road incline so steep that speeds were below 5 kmph. At every pedal stroke, the bike swayed dangerously close to the truck.
An eternity later the rear of the truck went past and I was about to breathe a sigh of relief, only to see iron rods protruding from the truck millimetres away from my arm. I had a choice, either die of tetanus from the rusted metal or fall from the cliff and die…
One Tiny Pass Later
From the top of the rather tiny pass, it was smooth sailing to the bottom. A fast flowing road, with only pilgrim traffic.
One look at a fast approaching cyclist in their mirrors, and they would quickly get out of my way.
The first climb for the day had only been 6 km long, before the downhill started. The second was longer.
The previous day’s climb once again coming to haunt me. My legs were aching, with not enough time to recover.
I contemplated taking a day’s rest. Or even shortening the ride for the day.
On the second day, when my legs started killing me, there was only one thing which kept me going.
Home Tasty Home
The sorpotel being cooked at home. The scent of the succulent curry was wafting 800 km from the Gangetic plains to the mighty Himalayas.
There was no way in the world that I was going to take a break. No more deviations, no more adventure. It was head down and pedal hard. I wanted to get home to good food!
The otherwise permanent smile of being a touring cyclist was replaced with the grimace of a masochistic racer. One who revels in the pain with only the taste of winning (or sorpotel!) in mind. If you win a race you only get a gold medal, my stakes were much higher, as there were steaks involved as well.
Seeing my contrite face, a contractor who was getting cables installed along the road stopped and asked me if he should send a labourer along to ride my bike. The labourer knew how to cycle and he could take turns riding along with me.
I had received many strange requests along this trip and some outlandish offers, but this took the cake!
He really expected two people to take turns riding the same bike, while the other sat on the front bar of the bike…
The Last Push
When the locals enquired on the ‘motive’ of my ride and came to know that there was none. They were far more understanding than the pilgrims, who couldn’t see beyond reverence to God.
The climb to Chirbhatiya required me to dig deep. It was as much a mental battle as it was physical.
Luckily there was accommodation available at the top of the hill. The first lodge had far too many cars and people, so I went to the second.
The second had a little boy who was the epitome of curious. After inspecting every little detail of my cycle, he came to my room and inspected my gear in great detail. Wanting to try everything and see how it all worked. He was a nonstop question bank and when I answered his queries patiently, he ran out and returned with a steaming cup of chai as a gift!
Day 86: Chirbhatiya to Adibadri
The first sight from the Chirbhatiya lodge was not of the sun rising in the sky, but the kid. He sat outside my room waiting for me to wake up.
He wanted to ride my bike.
The previous evening I had asked if he knew how to ride, he said he didn’t. By sunrise he had apparently learnt the art of two wheels!
He was desperate to get on the bike, even though his face was level with the saddle! He even complimented my good looking beard with a hope of getting a ride.
Starting the day, the downhill way!
The first 40 km from there was all downhill. Not the perfect way to start a riding day. I prefer climbing before enjoying the luxury of a downhill. Coupled with the morning windchill you are left with frozen cojones.
As I flew down, there were children walking up. All in school uniform, on their way to an education and a brighter future. The kids were dazzled by a flying cyclist and often cheered me on. I on the other hand was pleasantly surprised to see most of the school goers were girls.
Daughters are generally low down on the priority list for parents when spending money, so it was a welcome sight.
The descent all the way to Tilwara was a joy. Empty roads, green mountains, clean air.
All that came to a grinding halt as soon as I hit Tilwara. The town where the State Highway ends and merges into the National Highway. The road was under construction and as a result it was a war-zone between trucks, tractors and bulldozers!
From Tilwara I cut off to Rudraprayag and then towards Karnprayag. This stretch of road had a lot of traffic, with one vehicle every 60 odd seconds. Besides which, the road had nothing to write home about.
The only point of interest were the birds. I was surprised to see a ton of birds in the bushes even on such a busy road.
In a vehicle they wouldn’t be visible, but on a cycle I was treated to their dreamy plumage, which was a welcome change from the dreary vehicles.
My initial plan of spending the night in Karnprayag was shot to smithereens the moment I hit the place. It was a small, dirty, dusty, overcrowded, noisy town. I didn’t bother putting a foot down there and headed straight out, with hope of finding accommodation further up.
That didn’t go to plan, as I pedalled on with nary a hotel in sight. Which was surprising, since till the previous day every village had some form of accommodation or the other.
The lack of traffic after Karnprayag also left me befuddled, till lighting struck inside my little brain. All the pilgrim traffic turned north from Karnprayag. The section I was riding on saw little pilgrim movement and as a result there were no facilities for them either.
With a promise of finding accommodation in Adibadri from a policeman, I started climbing.
Once again climbing at the end of the day. Not a favourite way to spend the evening. The good news was that the roads were empty and I could enjoy every moment in the lap of nature without being disturbed by pesky humans!
Fatigue had crept in and I stopped for a cup of tea.
Chai pe Charcha
Where something else became obvious. People thought that I was a foreigner and would speak with me in English! They found it hard to believe that an Indian would be cycling. That made me both happy and sad.
At the tea stall, there was a drunken duo, who were trying to lick their Maggi noodles off the table! They didn’t believe that I was Indian, even though the conversation was in Hindi.
They then invited me to partake in their meal, which was rather easy to refuse. After which they asked me to stay the night at their place, rather than waste money on a hotel. Finally, before leaving, they ate a biscuit from my packet without permission and asked if I had drugs to sell them! As if they were in need of anymore…
At Adibadri I found a hotel, who kindly halved the room rent because I was alone on a cycle. As I was about to ‘finish’ my ride on Strava, I realised the odo read 99.5 km for the day. So I picked up my bike and went for another half a kilometre to make it a perfect 100!
The kids in the hotel and around had a field day. They all got their grimy paws on my bike. I gave it for a ‘short’ spin. The smallest of them returned after 5 minutes with only a bag in hand, the bike nowhere in sight.
After another hour, the rest of my prized possession returned, fortunately in one piece!
Now that I was off the Char Dham yatra route, things changed.
Hotels were scarce and more expensive. But the places were substantially cleaner. White was actually white and not greying yellow! The pilgrims aren’t so particular about hygiene, but money spending tourists are.
In other good news, meat was being sold in the open and also being advertised from shops and dhabas. Oh the bliss of being away from the pilgrims!
While I was munching on sumptuous mountain mutton, an old mendicant came in, had a look at my bike and pulled a chair to sit with me.
He then started asking me a bazillion questions.
Unlike most people in Uttarakhand, he had a good idea of the lay of the Ladakhi land. He was both appreciative of my efforts and aware of the difficult terrain.
He had been a soldier in the Indian Army and was posted there decades previously. It was a joy conversing with him, after interacting with the others. Who at best can be described as ‘frogs in the well’!
Banyani to Chirbhatiya
From Banyani the road climbs steeply for 6 odd kilometres before you cross a tiny pass and drop down steeply for 20 km.
The road is flattish (while losing altitude) for 15 km till Ghansali, where you cross the river. After Ghansali it is a massive climb till Chirbhatiya, climbing 1400 metres in 29 km at an average gradient of 5%. You climb from an extremely warm 900 metres at river level to a cool 2300 metres.
There are villages along the way with dhabas peppered sporadically throughout. Ghansali is the biggest village one passes through on this stretch.
There are many options for food and accommodation in Chirbhatiya.
Chirbhatiya to Adibadri
Chirbhatiya to Tilwara is all downhill and a pleasure to ride on traffic free roads. Tilwara to Karnprayag is rolling terrain with loads of traffic. The climb for Adibadri starts immediately after Simli.
There are a bazillion food and accommodation options along the way.
Expenses: Banyani to Chirbhatiya to Adibadri
Food and Stay. Rs 390
Food. Rs 107
Food and Stay. Rs 475
Food. Rs 95