The second part in our Uttarakhand trilogy. We rode from Rudraprayag, cycling through Kumaon, visited Kausani and turned back to Dehradun…
Often people travelling on motorcycles and bicycles ride for some cause. One current favourite is ‘women empowerment’. Where people ride, with a backup vehicle flaunting a lot of stickers and tons of photos on social media.
Whenever I see these rides, I wonder. How much does it really help in empowering women? Or is it just a case of preaching to the choir!
This thought floated in my head as I rode alongside C-4. Seeing a girl riding a bicycle through high mountains was incredible for all the bystanders. The kids would yelp in delight, both boys and girls. The women would look with wonder and amazement.
I would hear statements of amazement like, “Arey ye toh ladki hai!” (oh, this is a girl).
After seeing and hearing these reactions for a fortnight in Uttarakhand, I have come to believe. You don’t need to have any mission statement plastered across your bike or backup vehicle.
C-4 riding uphill with a smile on her face and bombing down the hills with a grin plastered across, surely inspired many more young girls, than any insipid flex banners could have…
Cycling in Kumaon
And with that thought, I jump into the blog of the next few days, which saw us riding in Kumaon. If you haven’t already, then you can read the first part of this trip here.
Day 6: Rudraprayag to Tharali
The day we left Garhwal behind and entered Kumaon.
Rudraprayag to Karnaprayag has two routes. The main highway and another road across the Alaknanda River.
We took the main highway in the interest of time. Little did we know that it was going to be a fantastic decision, with luck once again on our side.
The highway between the two towns is completely rolling terrain. You are constantly going up and down. To compound matters, the road is being broadened at most places and is dusty. With significantly more traffic that our previous routes.
Disaster in the Making
As we pedalled alongside the Alaknanda River, we first saw a disaster relief jeep making public announcements as it drove past. A few minutes later, we saw everyone standing on the edge of the road peering into the river.
We thought a vehicle must have fallen in the river. But a couple of kilometres later and people were still staring at the flowing waters. It couldn’t be possible that vehicles were falling in at every bend!
A couple of phone calls from friends later, we figured the reason of people’s curiousity.
News of the avalanche having collapsed in Chamoli district had spread like wildfire. People were being warned not to go near the river as it was expected to suddenly rise.
We were in Chamoli district at that time!
Fortunately, far away from the disaster which was the cause of many people losing their lives.
Messing around with nature in this fragile ecosystem is an expensive affair. Sadly, some innocent people paid with their lives. The decision makers will continue to sit in their cushy offices.
Karnaprayag was abuzz with people chattering away about the avalanche. Even while cycling past, we could hear everyone speaking about the only thing on our minds.
The town is also the place where we turned off the ‘Char Dham Yatra’ route and onto the road less taken.
By the side of Pindar
Simli, the next town soon after Karnaprayag, was the last place with accommodation. After that it was a spectacularly deserted road going through some deep gorges with the small fast flowing Pindar River below.
After the busy Garhwal section, this was bliss. Almost zero traffic translates into almost zero dhabas as well! There were barely any food places along the way and no accommodation.
The gorgeous road ended for us after dark in the village of Tharali. A non-descript village with one hotel.
Our bikes had to be parked in an adjoining dhaba. While our bikes were adventuring in there, we had another adventure. The hotel bathroom had a big window. A window without any covering! Gorgeous views of the mountains were visible from the throne, unfortunately, the view was two way traffic…
Day 7: Tharali to Kausani
When good things happen to you, it forms memories. When bad things happen, it forms experience!
One such ‘experience’ we had at Tharali. Breakfast consisted of tea and parathas. Normal dhaba fare, with the eatery in question, no larger than than 10′ x 5′ in size.
Larger than the eatery was the bill, a whopping 160 rupees for our modest breakfast. We couldn’t argue, because our bikes were parked in the dhaba during the night. The food bill was put down as ‘parking charges’!
Tharali is by the riverside and we woke to the sound of it crashing and thrashing along. Kausani is at the top of a hill.
Even a kindergarten kid would tell you that a lot of climbing was due. From the first kilometre itself we climbed. Racking up 600 metres in the first 12 km.
It was a stunning route, devoid of traffic and blessed with trees. Kumaon was showing off in all her glory.
We climbed all the way till Gadur where we could see snow covered peaks at touching distance. There was no question of getting tired on that climb, since we stopped constantly to soak in the gorgeous views.
And just like that we dropped down the mountain like swooping eagles. At least C-4 did. I hung onto the handlebars for dear life, as my bike was making funny sounds. Every day a new sound would make music from a different part of the bike. Clearly indicating that my bike assembling skills needed some oiling.
The pine forests out there were the best of the trip. The scent, sound and sight of the trees are a heady mixture to your senses. Both while climbing and descending through them.
Eventually we stopped for lunch for another ‘experience’. Anil, a local from the place chatted as he cooked Maggi and tea for us. He had to return to his village due to the lockdown from Delhi, where he was working in the hospitality sector.
In his village he started an eatery and complained that the locals didn’t visit his place often. When the bill was served it became apparent why the locals didn’t endorse him. Anil charged a whopping 180 rupees for two maggis and tea. Delhi pricing had travelled with him up the mountains…
The lowest point of the day (in terms of altitude, not attitude) was Baijnath.
Baijnath is a holy town on the banks of the river Gomti. It is the place where this river originates before meandering down the country and eventually reaches Lucknow. In Lucknow it stops being a river and becomes a dirty canal!
Baijnath is famous for its ancient stone temple. The temple dates back to around the 12th century and was constructed during the Katyuri dynasty. At this time of the year, the place is deserted, not a lot of pilgrims or tourists.
As such the holy place, does hold a sense of serenity. Before the maddening crowds take over!
After 7 days of riding, finally we made it. After dark. We didn’t actually reach. We stopped a few kilometres short. But lets not get pedantic. We reached Kausani. So there!
The place afforded some fantastic views of the mountains. The snow covered peaks which Kausani is famous for.
It was not just our eyes which were blessed, but our tummies as well. For the first time we had local food. Not the maggi, dal-chawal type food, but something truly from the land.
Dinner consisted of madwa rotis with kapa vegetable and aloo jeera. C-4 wasn’t too pleased though. The restaurant was not willing to make chai for her after dinner. She was willing to walk 3 km in the dark on leopard infested roads to search for a tea shop.
Luckily she didn’t. We needed to sleep early to wake up in time for the sunrise. If you miss that, you won’t hear the end of it for the next 20 years. At least my mother keeps reminding my father that he slept through the sunrise in Kausani! (We went there 20 years ago…)
Day 8: Kausani to Ganiatoli
Cycling in Kumaon was getting better by the day. It was time for us to take a U-turn.
The day started with a glorious sunrise over snow covered peaks. We could see Trishul, Nanda Devi and a host of other peaks, as the golden sunlight kissed the tops.
After immersing ourselves in the view, we were loathe to leave, but continue we must. Rolling stones gather no moss, but rolling tyres gather punctures!
Once past the actual town of Kausani, we stopped at Gandhiji’s ashram at Chanauda. Among many other things, one thing struck me were the people present.
Folks there were middle aged upper caste men. There were no youth, no women and no cross representation of society. It is no surprise then that Gandhigiri is dying out in the land of his birth. It has been appropriated by a small coterie.
Fields, Lunch and Entertainment
After Someshwar, we rode through lush green fields. The valley was covered in a carpet of green. The local markets flooded with gorgeous looking vegetables.
C-4 on multiple occasions remarked how good the vegetables looked. In stark contrast to the rotten tomatoes sold in big cities like Bangalore.
In the midst of those lovely fields, we found a solitary dhaba. Lunch consisted of rajma chawal. But more interesting than the food was the TV. The all guy crew at the dhaba were watching WWE, with skimpily dressed female wrestlers bashing each other up.
Now that they had female clientele, the poor fellows had to switch channels to maintain a modicum of decency. Unfortunately, they chose to switch on a Hindi news channel. Which to be honest, makes scantily clad female wrestlers look decent!
The valley ends 17 km before Ranikhet at Gagaas along the river. We chomped on cream rolls and peanuts, chatting with the old baker uncle there. I had climbed that hill before and was looking forward to feeling the elation in elevation once again!
I was so happy to climb, that I spoke incessantly for 2 hours. C-4 wanted to throw me off the cliff, she was so irritated with my random rubbish. The only thing that irritated me was the sight of a few local runner lads, going past us and leaving us for dead. It was frankly more embarrassing than my sense of humour.
In 2018, when I had climbed this hill, I suffered. On this occasion, climbing was a breeze. All thanks to having a slower riding partner!
At long last we reached Ranikhet. A hillstation with a lot of military presence. Like all such places, it was stifling. The town was crowded and the dos and don’ts put up was akin to being straightjacketed!
I decided to ride past Ranikhet and stop for the night.
As we were riding through the marketplace, an old man stopped us.
Before I saw the old man, I smelt him. He was drunk at 4 in the evening! Not the ‘slightly one small drink’ drunk. But a ‘full bottle down the hatch’ drunk.
He grabbed my arm and said he had the perfect hotel for us. To humour him, I heard him out as he gave directions. He then proceeded to call up the hotel owner.
We had no intention of following the drunk old codger’s instructions as we rode past Ranikhet to Ganiatoli.
Serendipity in Ganiatoli
Ganiatoli is a small one shop town.
Right outside that one shop was a man with a catapult chasing monkeys. When he saw us, he came charging towards us.
I thought it was another drunk fellow, this time with a weapon. Just my luck!
Turns out he had been waiting for us. The old uncle from Ranikhet had told him about our imminent arrival.
So with serendipity of the mountains, we ended up going to the very hotel, that was recommended by the drunk uncle. The hotel was of course just ‘2 minutes’ from the highway.
Turns out 2 minutes by an automobile takes 15 minutes by bicycle along a deserted road as it was getting dark. C-4 was understandably nervous about how things were panning out.
I have long since submitted myself to the mountains and everything that happens there.
Suddenly all our dark forbearing turned on its head. In front of us was a spanking new hotel. We were the first guests to stay there and got the luxury room at a sweet discount. Probably the best property we got in Uttarakhand.
All thanks to an old drunk man…
Dinner was rai ki sabji with roti. Proper home cooked food which was so easy to eat and digest. A relief from the oily spicy food of dhabas.
The hotel bathroom even had liquid soap and a bum sprinkler. Oh the delight at these small luxuries was unbridled…
Day 9: Ganiatoli to Marchula
Up until Ganiatoli we were riding along routes which were well known. We knew that we would get everything, food and accommodation, without any hassle.
After Ganiatoli, it was a bit of a shot in the dark.
For once we started on time. Thanks to the cook, preparing an early breakfast specially for us. C-4 was fed up with eating aloo parathas everyday and settled for onion parathas instead!
The ladies of the place stood and chatted with us for a long time. Kumaon is drastically different culturally from Garhwal. People here are more in tune with tourism. More open to outsiders and the outside world. Kumaonis are friendlier and aren’t shocked when they see you cycling through.
Ride More…Shoot Less
The day saw us doing a lot of riding and clicking few photos. Because we were for the most part descending. From 1700 metres all the way down to 500 metres.
And when we go down the hill, I just cannot keep up with C-4. At all times I am playing catch up with her and the end result is, no photos. While she enjoyed the day, I desperately waited to climb again.
To compound matters it was cloudy and windy, making it a bone chilling ride down the hills.
The backroads about which we had no information were fabulous to ride on. Roads which make touring a joy.
C-4 stopped to click a photo of the panoramic view of the valley below us, I stopped for her some 100 metres ahead and turned back to look.
Generosity of Ghatti…
In the distance I could see two men had surrounded her. I rushed back to see what was going on.
One was a grey old man, who looked like an Indian version of Gandalf, the other a chatty fellow with missing teeth.
The two questioned us as everybody does out there. But these fellows were much more understanding of the madness of cycling in Kumaon. They didn’t think of it as a waste of time. Different from the attitude we found in Garhwal.
After talking to us at length, the chatty fellow took us to the dhaba next door and treated us to tea and sandwiches. When we offered to pay for the food, he said, “This is my treat. Hopefully, you will remember us Kumaonis as large hearted people“. I clarified, Kumaonis or Uttarakhandis? He reiterated ‘Kumaon’. The people of the place like to differentiate themselves from their neighbours.
Immediately after Ghatti village, we turned off the main road which goes to the big town of Ramnagar and took a tiny deserted road. A road on which I wouldn’t want to ride in the dark!
From pine forests we descended to a thick jungle. We were in the middle of the famous Jim Corbett Park. Temperatures and humidity levels rose drastically by the side of Ramganga river.
There was no accommodation anywhere between Ghatti and Merchula, roughly 35 km apart. We were informed that there was nothing after Merchula either and so we spent the night on the banks of Ramganga.
In Merchula, a tour guide befriended us and insisted on talking to C-4 in English. He also spent a lot of time showing her photos of his treks, travels and his big fish!
Almost everyone, from the guide, to the cop, to the receptionist, to the cook, everyone… Insisted on telling us about the shortcut to Lansdowne.
We thought ourselves lucky about finding a shortcut. But at the back of my mind a memory popped up. As a kid my dad taught me, “In the hills, shortcuts lead to longcuts!”