The milestone reads – Sojha 1Km. The three of us are literally panting for breath. The altimeter on Bala’s digital watch states 400 more meters is yet to be covered. Far ahead we see a state transport bus inching its way up the curves of the road. A gust of wind gets the thin air moving and suddenly from somewhere I get this sudden urge and energy to pedal the last km of upslope. I bluntly retort to Bala that his altimeter was wrong for some self motivation and crave for my calf muscles to stand with me. Every revolution on the crank seems to sap the almost drained out energy. I just didn’t want to push my bike up the slope in the last one Km! I close my eyes and pedal almost oblivious of the steep valley to the left, give it all I have and in that seemingly endless five minutes and finally reach the next milestone which hazily reads – Jalori 5km.
If there was a device on earth that could register those few important moments, I would have done my might to procure it and put it to use here. There’s this quite prominent line that says its the destination that’s not important but the journey that leads you there. At 3500mts above sea level, about one-third the height of Mt. Everest. I realize just once again how true this is as my second personal goal for this year is checked off list in the thin air of the Himalayas.
21st May ’09 [Thursday]
The Spice jet flight taxies for about twenty minutes in the airport and finally comes to a standstill. Animesh and I pick a rick and head to Cannaught place. Animesh primarily wanted to purchase a filter for his SLR. Before heading to Palika bazaar we randomly enter a small restaurant named ‘Rajdhani’-a Gujarathi restaurant. In minutes we’re guided to an empty table and the waiters throng the table filling the plate with an assortment of dishes. Even before the platter is empty another waiter pops by to ask if we need anything. If exemplary service had an epitome, this was it! Even before we realise, we are done with a regal lunch in just fifteen minutes. One another stark feature at this place is that you just do not have to rise from your chair once you sit at the table. A person walks up to you with a cistern and a bowl for you to wash your hands.I’ve never seen this at any restaurant till this date!Kudos to the Rajdhani management.
We then head to Palika Bazaar and shop around for the filter. It’s close to two by the time we find the exact piece and finally decide to head to the Travels through which we’d booked our bus for Aut – The base camp for the YHAI Mountain biking expedition. A series of calls, quite a lot of search and we finally get to reach the travels by around 16:00hrs only to find out that the boarding would have to be done at another point which was a fifteen minute walk from there. At about 16:30hrs we manage to reach the BP petrol pump which was supposed to be the boarding point. Co-passengers soon start dribbling in and we start guessing as to who would be joining us for the seven day expedition. The Bus leaves Janpath at about 17:40hrs.
22nd May ’09 [Friday] – Day 0 – Reporting at Base camp
A mild jerk wakes me up and I can barely shut my eyes having got a glimpse of the picturesque view from the window. The bus was cruising at about 80kmph on a narrow road winding amidst towering hills on one side and a pristine river in its early morning bliss. A look at my watch registers the time as 05:45hrs. Soon the bus enters into a tunnel which we later get to know to be about 3.5kms long! This is probably one of the longest tunnels I’ve ever travelled through. The bus comes to a halt and we’re told to get down here by the Bus attendant. The village just seems to be coming to life and the air is crystal clear with barely any evidence of pollution. A few posts which I’d referred to indicated that the YHAI hostel was barely 100m from the bus stop. We check with people around for the directlions only to be turned down with a negative response. None of them had heard of anything called – Youth hostel. Just as we turn around to find the way ourselves a lad pops from nowhere and directs us to walk some distance ahead to reach the building.
As we reach the building, we’re surprised to see no-one around. Animesh dials the number on one of the posters and finally someone by name ‘Dimple’ opens the door and invites us inside. Evidently, we’re the first two to reach the base camp for this expedition. This YHAI hostel is situated on the banks of the Beas river which silently winds its way across behind it. As we refresh and get ready, another person by name SishinderKumar introduces himseld as the camp in-charge. In a couple of hours five people from Bangalore chip in. Some initial formalities, a round of quick introductions then followed by a quick breakfast, Animesh and I decide to head to Kullu which is supposedly about 29kms from here. Sishinder suggests we visit the Vaishnodevi temple which is about a few kms from Kullu. We hitchhike a ride and get down quite some distance ahead of Kullu as Animesh wants to capture a very old bridge in his camera. A few quick shots here and we pick another bus to Kullu. From the Kullu bus stop we happen to board two more buses to reach the Vaishnodevi temple. I was literally intrigued by the architecture of this place.The sanctum sanctorum is on the fifth floor of a building, the best part being, it is enshrined in a cave! Each floor seems to be housing a different deity. This is the first time ever that I’ve come across of a temple being built in this style!
We finally get back to the Kullu town and head to a tibetan restaurant to try out some ethnic dishes. A quick round of Siddhu [Steamed Bread stuffed with assorted grains and spices] and Thupka [Noodles in a spiced gruel] and we board the bus back to Aut. A journey of an hour and a half and we finally reach the YHAI Hostel. As soon as we enter the hostel a gentleman brings his hand forward and introduces himself – ‘Hi, I’m Bala from Bombay’. Regular round of introductions and soon we have a quick lunch. The Bangalore folks[Dinesh, Ravi, Shanker, VInay and Sharon] had apparently left for Manikaran for some sight-seeing. At about three pm, the ninth member-Viral makes his entry soon followed by the four Soni brothers [Rakesh, Gopal, Kishan and Vipul]. As dusk sets in, Shishinder Kumar starts doling out his experiences with YHAI and the innumerable interesting incidents. We’re informed of the next days plan. Dimple confirms he would not be lending us the bicycles till the next day morning and after a sumptuous dinner we crash.
23rd May ’09 [Saturday] – Day 1 – Orienteering and Trial Run
By 07:30hrs we’re all set. Dimple hands over to each of us a ruck sack and asks us to carry a thick Rug and a water bottle. The plan was simple – Hike up to a temple about three kms away gaining a decent altitude and get back by 10:00hrs. As we wind uphill it takes only moments for us to digest the picturesque Himachal moutains and hillocks. Winding roads, Thin chilling breeze, Horses grazing by the hills and the warm sun slowly bringing life about. Shanker seems to take the bait and finds it a bit difficult to take it all in. Animesh of all the people has a great time what with school kids all around and the farmers tending to their farms early in the morning. We finally reach the temple at about 08:30hrs.Some time spent idylling here and we finally head downward.
Down at the base camp we get to know there are no more new entrants to the team. So the count is frozen at 13. After a quick breakfast, the rest of the morning is spent with Bala, Viral and Animesh debating on indian polity and other miscellaneous topics. Dimple distributes the gear and cycles post lunch and at about 15:00hrs we gear up for the evening warm-up ride.The rain delays the plans and we finally end up completing a decent 20+km ride followed by a ice-cream treat from Viral. By the time we reach the base camp, S.S.Heera – the program director and Nandakishore had already reached the place. Nandakishore does some ‘Gyan baant’ on team work and mental preparedness followed by an interesting session by Heera on the foundation of YHAI and its core working model. Soon we’re also introduced to Bindu, who would be with us for the next few days all through the expedition. A sumptuous dinner followed by an idyllic chat and soon we crash for the day.
24th May ’09 [Sunday] – Day 2 – Aut to Pharghu Pul
The 13 member team is flagged off at about 07:00hrs. Dimple guides us through the 3km tunnel and until Largi and from there directs us to ride along to PharguPul which would be our next campsite.
This is supposedly about 22kms and definitley not by any means simple for a mediocre cyclist too. Every turn round the corner your hope for a downward slope is blurred with an upward gradient. Viral seems to be leading the trail and somewhere around Bali, I manage to catch up with him. We wait for sometime here and are soon accompanied by a dog which in the next few days we realise would be with us all through the trip. We move two kilometers further and wait for the Soni brothers to join us. Bindu meets us a bit ahead and informs we’re just about a km from the base camp. With full enthu we now head to the base camp. A left at Phargu Pul and a few metres ahead we finally reach the Phargu Pul base camp. Pramod and Ashok [ The cooks at the camp] give us the welcome drink and after about half an hour, Viral and I decide to get back to the Bus stand at Phargu Pul to direct people to the camp. Bala soon joins us in about fifteen minutes followed by Animesh and the Bangalore folks. Animesh apparently had a great time striking a conversation with the localites there and got quite a few good shots.
We have a quick lunch and head to the adjacent river for a shower. The chilled water literally freaks the soul out of us! Dinesh and Ravi manage to prepare some hot water by the riverside. Animesh, Viral and I head out to the village skirts for a short evening walk and get back to the camp by 19:00hrs. The rest of the evening is spent lazing in the camp playing cards as the rain compels us to be indoors. A decent dinner and we’re done for the day.
25th May ’09 [Monday] – Day 3 – Phargu Pul to Jibhi
At about 09:20hrs we depart from the Phargu Pul campsite and head towards Jibhi through the Banjar town. Though this stretch is not as picturesque as the previous one, it is mottled with steep inclines. But for the last two kilometers, this 17km stretch is an absolute test of your endurance! The first four kms lead you to the Banjar town and is landscaped with noisy streets and narrow roads. Viral and I finally catch up at about 10kms from Phargu Pul. At one point we’re almost sapped of all the energy that we have that we stop for about 10mins. A few yards ahead we meet two bikers from Australia who were heading in the downward direction towards Manali. We move ahead a bit more and round the corner happen to find a water source trickling from the hills. As we refresh here, taking in the chilled water, A jeep which was headed towards Rampur stops by. The driver tries to coax us to ferry us to the base camp. We stay put and decide to head to the camp riding-come what may.
After a decent break of about fifteen minutes we head towards Jibhi. After about half an hour we finally reach the 2km milestone. Couple of wayfarers had mentioned the last two kms would be a perfect downhill. With that motivation we head downhill in full gusto. At one point of time we were in real good speed that we had to shout our hearts out to ask the people who were laying the road out there to move out of our way! Reaching the Om Shanthi Om resort was an eternal bliss! The resort was by itself set up in a mind-blowing location and facilities were Godly! Animesh, Bala, Soni Brothers and the Bangalore group soon trickle in.
Post lunch, Bala orders some Pakodas and almost everyone feasts on what was supposed to be Bala’s lunch! Another shower in the freezing waters and we head back to the tents for some rest. VIral, Animesh and I head to the village-skirts in the evening and sink in the countryside. Towering trees, gushing streams, kids idylling away, pleasant chilled breeze – You rarely get to exsperience these in the cities these days. We head back to the camp site and decide to purchase some muchy stuff for the next days ride. We soon end up striking a long conversation with the woman in the store. As she goes about describing the culture, we’re shocked listening to the change i in just about 17kms! People here are so welcoming that you feel you’re in a totally different world.
After a long conversation we take leave and head to the campsite for dinner followed by campfire. The day takes its toll and we soon hit the beds.
26th May ’09 [Tuesday] – Day 4 – Jibhi to Shoja
We’re flagged off at about 09:30hrs from the Jibhi base camp. The previous day was a cake walk compared to what we had to undetgo on this stretch. This was supposed to be a 7KM ride, but the altitude to be gained was quite a lot!The not yet constructed roads made things much worse. Enroute we infact happened to meet Israeli Bulleteers who at times found it hard to match pace with us! At about the four km mark Animesh joins us. All through Viral and I had yet another company – The dog! Bala soon joined us at about 2kms from the final destination. A few kms ahead viral’s cycle chain gave in and we had to push the bike uphill with no option left. We proceed uphill, pushing and riding intermittently.
The milestone reads – Shoja 1Km. The three of us are literally panting for breadth. The altimeter on Bala’s digital watch states 400 more metres are to be covered. Far ahead we see a state transport bus inching its way up the curves of the road. A gust of wind gets the thin air moving and suddenly from somewhere I get this urge and energy to pedal the last km of upslope. I bluntly retort to Bala that his altimeter was wrong for some self motivation and crave for my calf muscles to stand with me. Every revolution on the crank seems to sap the almost drained out energy. I just didn’t want to push my bike up the slope in the last one Km. I close my eyes and pedal almost oblivious of the steep valley to the left, give it all I have and in about five minutes I reach the next milestone which hazily reads – Jalori 5km.
I’m on cloud nine! The bicycling stretch had been completed! The next 5kms stretch to Jalori pass would be done the next day by walk. We have a yummy feast with Maggi and Coffee and latermove out to explore the fields. As we sit in the basement of one of the old rustic houses, a frail old women asks us to come over to the verandah in the first floor. Animesh, Viral and I fall into a conversation with the old lady and her daughter-in-law. While Animesh rushes to get his camera, the lady doles out about her ancestors and then nothing in particular. As we plan to leave the daughter -in-law shows us a few things that she’d made at home – Phoolae- Shoes made out of grass and Pattu - a garment that Himachal women wear above their regualar clothes something akin to a shawl. The old woman turns out to be a pro-saleswoman and in minutes boosts the price of the goods. We promise to return in the evening as we didn’t have any cash then. Later we realise that to be a wise decision as the same item was available for half the price at a nearby store!
We later explore some beaten track in the evening and after a good dinner sign off the day.
27th May ’09 [Wednesday] – Day 5 – Shoja – Jalori Pass – Phargu Pul
At about 06:00am we head to Jalori Pass by walk. A decent hour and forty five minutes walk up the winding roads and we reach the summit. Jalori Pass written off the checklist of things to be covered! There’s a small temple up there and about 5kms ahead is a hot water lake.
Due to paucity of time we start heading back to Shoja after having breakfast at the peak and reach the Shojha camp by 10:30hrs. Lunch followed by some rest and we finally push off to the Phargu Pul base camp at about 13:30hrs. Viral happens to have a bad fall off the bike. So we take extra precaution while riding down, get his wounds nursed at Banjar and finally reach the Phargu Pul base camp at about 15:00hrs. I’m compelled to drop the Ludhiana visit for Rahul’s marriange as breaking from the group at this point would seem quite out of the funnel. Another rejuvenating dip in the frigid beas river followed by yet another dinner and we call it a day.
28th Mat ’09 [Thursday] – Daty 6 – Phargu Pul to Aut
This would be our last ride back. At about 08:30hrs we leave from Phargu Pul and head towards Aut. I make it a point to take it easy and ride as slow as possible digesting the ambience around. The MB09 batch happens to meet us somewhere around Largi. In royal camaraderie we wave at each other and proceed to the tunnel. Finally as all of us group at the tunnel entrance, we fuel the human train and in about fifteen minutes we reach the Aut base camp. We decide to check out that very same day and head to Manali after lunch. At about 14:30hrs we board a bus to Kullu and from there to Khakhnal. The Youth hostel at Manali is located at Khakhnal which is about 9kms before you reach Manali. The Soni Brothers, Viral, Animesh and I head to a supposedly popular Karthikeya temple, while away time watching people gamble right in front of the temple in the vast expanse and finally head back to Sarthak resorts. The Bangalore folks decide to head to Rohtang pass the next day and checked if I were interested in joining them. I outrightly accept and after a sumptuous dinner crash in the dormitory.
29th May ’09 [Friday] – Rohtang Pass
At about 05:30hrs the six of us head to Rohtang pass in a Sumo. We pick up the woolen garments en-route at shop 38 where Tenzing, our guide for the Rohtang Skiing joins us.As the road winds up the scenic himalayan range we soon notice we’re just one among the hundreds of vehicles inching their way up the roads to reach Rohtang pass. Tenzing teaches us the basics of skiing and in minutes we’re left to ourselves for about an hour and a half in the white landscape. Rohtang pass is supposed to be the origin of the River beas and a temple is built here to demarcate this. We finally decide to head to Solang pass for Paragliding at about 12:00hrs. As luck would have it, it starts drizzling and the program stands cancelled. With not much options left we finally head to the Vashisht temple and from there to the Manali Pvt. bus stand where my bus to Delhi was to depart. A leisure half an hour is spent in the Piccadely restaurant and at about 17:30hrs the Bus departs to Delhi. Animesh leaves a bit early by another service while Viral and I leave by the 17:30 service. The Bangalore folks had their bus about an hour later.
30th May ’09 [Saturday]
At about 07:00hrs the Bus reaches Janpath. Viral and I proceed to the Metro station at Palika Bazaar.Viral leaves for Dwaraka while I head to Ajmeri Gate. Vairavan was supposed to join me here from Chandigarh but had to opt out in the last moment. Rishi happens to be around and soon reaches the station by around 9:00am. We spend a couple of hours in the station and at about 12:00am I decide to rent a room in a lodge close by and crash. My train to HYd was at about 17:30 and I was least interested to roam on the Delhi roads. I manage to find a decent place and get refreshed enough to leave for Hyd later in the evening.
All in all this has been the best ever vacation in my life. Ten whole days of being away from the hustle bustle of city life, almost totally disconnected from regular friends and family members with nothing but a bike and twelve other people from diverse regions in India to give you company in probably one of the most panoramic locations in the world. Moments that I would cherish for years to come!
Photos Coutesy: Animesh, Bala
No. Of days: 10 [7days biking]
Approx. Exp: ~8000 INR [Flight,travel, Acco.,Food,Skiing charges incl.]
Animesh’s Photo blog post: Blipfoto