In the the midst of a severe heat wave here in North India, I decided to put my MTB to the test by heading off to the Lower Himalayas in Uttarakhand state. The original plan was to take my bike on bus to Haridwar* and then move on bike from there to Gangotri**. However, it turned out that the entire road stretch from Rishikesh*^ to Gangotri was being cut up to make a three lane all weather highway. This meant that I had to truncate the trip up to Chamba^, and then restrict myself in and around that area.
Haridwar to Chamba, Tehri
With current temperatures hovering around 48 degrees Celsius in my state, it was impossible to bike from Kanpur, my home town to Haridwar, situated about 500 km. away. As mentioned earlier using state transport buses to ship bikes is risky here but I had no other option and decided to set off on the 1st of June, 2019. The journey was a grueling 16-hour ordeal starting off at 5 pm and ending around 9 am on the 2nd June 2019. The bike did not suffer any major damage but I lost my seat cover and had to buy a local one for the onward journey. Air-conditioned buses do not transport MTB bikes here so I had to use normal transport.
Haridwar turned out to be overflowing with religious tourists and unending traffic jams. The town was running short of accommodation so I had no option but to take off for Rishikesh after unloading my bike. It was quite hot there with temperatures around 45 degrees Celsius. In order to avoid traffic snarls, I used the Rajaji National Park route to go to Rishikesh. The Reserve runs through prime wild animal country and the route was scenic except for the heat. There is a risk of running into wild elephants and big cats so it’s advisable to try and zip through the Reserve as fast as possible. The entire road stretch has wildlife warning signboards. There are some pretty steep up and down gradients here and I noticed an issue with my braking in the downhill segments.
Arriving in Rishikesh around 12:00 pm afternoon I took up a room in a neat and tidy ashram situated on the river bank. It turned out later that Rishikesh was also running out of hotels and accommodation because of the tourist rush. The local newspapers stated that about 100,000 tourists were entering the area on a daily basis meaning that ATM’s, hotels and the local infrastructure was unable to cope with the deluge. On the plus side the fastest option to zip in and around the town was on the bike. Cars and buses were caught in almost unending traffic jams.
Bike at the Rishikesh ashram
I stayed for 2 days at the ashram, trying to work on the brakes and servicing my bike for the long haul ahead, starting off on the 4th of June around 7 am, from Rishikesh for Chamba about 60 km. on an uphill climb. Chamba is almost 4000 feet higher up than Rishikesh.
On the way to Chamba
The road was pretty good till Narendra Nagar and I took frequent breaks to enjoy the scenery and recover somewhat from the steep uphill gradients. Traffic was rare, unlike in Rishikesh and Haridwar. Narendra Nagar turned out to be a scenic town with beautiful valley views.
Narendra Nagar watering hole
Beyond Narendra Nagar however, the road turned out to be a horror show. I hit the first cut up road segment about 2 km. on from here and had to dismount to negotiate the strewn rocks, gravel and potholes. To top it all, traffic had started arriving and I was soon plastered with dust and grime. Hoping against hope, I decided to plod on but the road turned out to be worse than I thought. It was bearable till Agarkhal where I took my last picture from my mobile cam thereafter it was simply trying to scrape through by dragging my bike on steep uphills covered in dust and grime, trying not to damage the bike.
Agarkhal, on the way to Chamba
I arrived in Chamba around 7 pm in the evening and was totally exhausted, having covered almost 20 km. uphill on foot, dragging my bike and my sorry behind. The bike was not in good shape with the transmission and the brake pads all covered in mud and grime. During discussion with Chamba locals on the way up I was told that this was the condition of the road all the way up to Gangotri, which meant that I had to cut short my trip and switch to Plan B i.e. tour the local area instead. The hotel in Chamba was really good and I had a good night’s rest, cleaning my bike the next day early in the morning to explore the local area.
Hotel Gautam Residency, Chamba
Chamba was a bit hot in the day/afternoon, but turned out to be cold enough to use a blanket in the night. The town has NO bicycle repair/sale shops. In short, you have to carry all your spares with you. I decided to visit the famous Tehri dam^^ about 25 km from Chamba and took off at around 8 am on the 5th of June. There are two ways to reach Tehri town and the dam, and I decided to use the mostly downhill New Tehri town road to go to the dam. There was a steep uphill segment for about 5 km. after which it was a steep downhill till the dam.
On the way to Tehri dam
Make sure your brakes are good or it will be a lot of trouble negotiating the downhill. New Tehri as well as Tehri town are well worth visiting and staying at, there are a lot of water sports activity in the Tehri lake and of course the scenic mountain view itself. The dam is a huge structure and it has created the artificial Tehri lake. Honestly, the concrete dam looks like an eyesore when you put it next to all the scenic mountain views next to it. But I guess it does create hydro electric power, considering the power shortages across several states.
Tehri Dam from the Tehri Dam Viewpoint
I did manage to enter the dam premises about 2 km down from the Dam View Point but the security guards there did not allow tourists to enter the road that passes through the top of the dam. The way back to Chamba was a grueling, lung blowing 16 km. uphill ride and I was back at the hotel by about 8:30 pm. I did notice Bharal — Himalayan sheep on the way up to Chamba, perched on rocky ledges directly above me, but they were too well camouflaged in the dry bush for a mobile cam pic.
My plan to go back to Rishikesh was to load the bike on a bus, but I thought the better of it and hired a taxi with ample space to stuff my bike inside it. I did not want to expose it to the dust and grime on the way back to Rishikesh plus there was the risk of the bike being unhinged from its moorings on the rooftop and falling off. Luckily, my plan was readily agreed on and we were on the road back to Rishikesh by 8 am in the morning, 6th June.
The bike transport at Chamba
The road back was the same potholed, grime covered dirt track with some clean patches in between. The ride was bumpy even in the SUV sized jeep and this was when the traffic was almost nonexistent. The same track would become dry and dusty with traffic jams in the afternoon.
Crater size potholes and wet muddy dirt tracks on the road back
Rishikesh turned out to be the same traffic jam infested nightmare as before, and I took up lodging across Laxman Jhula, hoping for a bit of seclusion. It turned out to be a wrong gamble. The place was teeming with tourists even on the hill face across the Ganges. However, my dorm accommodation was much peaceful and the management was helpful enough to take care of my bicycle even though parking is very difficult up the hill face. The dorm had clean bathrooms and the overall ambience was good, I would recommend it to travelers like me. I did order ‘Queen on the Hill’ dessert in their restaurant and it was 5 star hotel quality both taste and presentation wise.
Maa Ganga Guest House dorm
After servicing my bike and getting some rest I decided to head off exploring the hills next to Laxman Jhula next day, specifically taking the uphill roundabout through Neelkanth bridge and then into Tapovan. The route is scenic and one can see the Ganges in its raging full flow with excited river rafters passing on it below. It’s a 9 km., mostly uphill winding road.
Clockwise, Neelkanth bridge view, roadside watering shack and Laxman Jhula
That done, I did walk through the area for a bit, and got done Ayurvedic treatment for my ears. I have experienced tinnitus issues after freediving sessions here in the Ganges river at Kanpur. I was thankful for that decision as the treatment resulted in almost immediate relief to my issue. Am planning to visit Rishikesh again for the same, maybe after 4-5 months.
Next day i.e. 8th of June was the day to explore the Garud Chatti waterfall up hill from Laxman Jhula. It’s called the Patna waterfall in Rishikesh. The waterfall is about 2.5 km. from the Neelkanth bridge and one has to trek at least 1 km. uphill to reach it.
Waterfall, bike at roadside shack on the road below the fall and bike on the way to the waterfall
With all this done, it was time to head back to Haridwar, and because of persistent brake issues, I took the city route from Rishikesh to Haridwar. The steep gradients of the Rajaji park route would have been too risky with the skippy brakes. I arrived at Haridwar on the 9th June 2019 and made straight for the Inter State Bus stand where I learned that I had missed my bus. Somehow I did manage to get accommodation in Haridwar. It was over-priced and pretty bare bones but with all the tourist inflow in Haridwar, I was lucky. The ATM’s in Haridwar were dry and the place was overflowing with tourists. Next day i.e. 10th June was when I departed from Haridwar, around 12 pm afternoon and was back at Kanpur by 6 am on the 11th June.
Next planned trip is Manali to Leh in July 2019, I may skip Leh to head for Pangong Lake Road, but all that is in planning phase. Will be working on upgrading my brake mechs for the trip. Do keep visiting the blog!