Trip to Uttarakhand

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.

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                                                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.

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                                                 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.

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                                             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!

Haridwar*

Gangotri**

Rishikesh*^

Chamba^

Tehri Dam^^

A Dying Shark

For a generation that was bred on a staple movie diet of ‘Jaws’, the Hollywood scare epic; sharks have come to signify everything dangerous and loathsome. The fact that as one of the apex sea predators, they have a significant contribution to the eco system; has been completely lost on most of the people on this planet. After all, movies score far more than knowledge and facts.

To me, sharks were a far away danger, lurking in movies, internet videos, and books. However, when I did become a recreational scuba diver, the childhood image of sharks was driven away by observing fish behavior in the oceans. I did manage to ‘meet’ a whale shark, which is not the archetypal fire breathing monster shark that one would like to expect. The fish in question is a gentle docile giant. I did not encounter white tips or dozens of any other types of this species in my  dives. However, scuba divers who have encountered them have told me that they are usually shy and timid, like most underwater creatures.

This article is not a leisurely rant on sharks but rather about a more pressing issue, the recent declaration of ‘shortfin mako’, probably the fastest shark on the planet; as being endangered*.

makoShortfin mako shark — Image by Mark Conlin, SWFSC Large Pelagics Program [Public domain]

It turns out that the apex predator on this planet — the human, has been finishing off sharks at a faster rate than they can be replenished. According to some estimates, almost 90% of some shark species have been wiped out in some regions of this planet**. Sharks are killed for meat, fins, and gaming.

Shortfins can have burst speeds in excess of 70 kilometers per hour !! That is very fast when underwater. Efforts are underway to limit deep sea fishing of these fish but like in every other case, nations are mostly non-commital.

To be honest I am writing this article hoping that the shortfin mako does survive otherwise this article may be an ode to the dying shortfin mako.

Sources:-

*https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/39341/2903170

**https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/dec/14/queensland-shark-numbers-down-by-90-per-cent-in-55-years-for-some-species

Travel Plans

After a long bout of illness — more than a month, am back at the helm of my bicycle. Made a disastrous short trip to Prayagraj (a city about 200 km. from my place), just after coming back from my Jaislamer tour around 8 Feb, 2019 and fell very ill. Anyway, I have recovered sufficiently to start preparing for my next binge of bicycling tours. I did manage to punch out the remaining Jaisalmer trip blogs even through illness, but had little time for anything else.

With the advent of summers, most of my country is going to become a boiling cauldron. Temperatures at this stage exceed 35 degree Celsius in the afternoons. In about a month’s time, this will cross 40 degrees Celsius. This naturally restricts bike touring to the cooler Himalayan region, further North. Which is where I am headed to.

I have undertaken some bike upgrades in order to head to the Himalayan mountain region. This includes switching from a 7-speed freewheel to a 8-speed cassette on a new Shimano Deore hub and, changing the cotter pin crank to a lighter square taper one. I will also be carrying a lighter load. My plan is to ship the bike on a bus to a launch point that will help me start off from the base of the Himalayan region — called Terai over here. 

Currently, the higher Himalayan passes and regions are snowbound, but regions below 10000 feet are OK. The options are to either head for Nepal or a tour through the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand, in my own country. Later on, when the mountain passes become snow free I will be touring through the high altitude Manali-Leh highway, which averages over 14000 feet, reaching almost 18000 feet on it’s highest elevation.

In case I do choose to tour Nepal, a pre-tour bus trip through various regions of Nepal is on the cards in order to select the best possible bike routes over there.

The touring will start once the bike upgrades have been done and I have coasted through with some needling injuries and physical weakness resulting from the long bout of illness. So, stay connected, and keep visiting this blog!

Bharatpur Bird Sancruary

An an ex-birder, the visit to this sanctuary kind of re-kindled my spirit. I had dropped birding because of the lack of local high resolution binoculars, cameras/lenses. That and the fact that my own city of Kanpur had reached such high air pollution levels that birds simply vanished. Another reason could also be destruction of habitats in and around Kanpur. The end result was that many varieties of birds like the common Indian sparrow, woodpeckers and vultures had disappeared. This scene is playing around the whole country now.

I was very excited when I started off for the sanctuary from my hotel at Bharatpur on the 5th of Jan, 2019. The initial ride into the park was OK, with a few deer sightings but then you could see so many water fowl on both sides of the single winding road that ends at the Keoladeo temple, after which the national park is named. It’s a sight to behold. As for me I have never seen such numerous birds both Indian and foreign at one location.

20190205_090809At the bird sanctuary canteen

The ride till the canteen is good but then when one enters the innermost sanctuary after this point, the birding paradise simply stuns the visitors.

20190205_094347Pelicans at the sanctuary, a deer can also be seen in the background

20190205_095141Storks staring at visitors from their positions

20190205_095817End of the road at the Keoladeo shrine with my MTB.

This was the final blog for the Grand Tour for me. Thanks for visiting !!!

Grand Tour — Return Leg

The return leg kicked off on the 26th of Jan, 2019, from Jaisalmer. The route was originally planned to be the same as the onward leg but due to family commitments, I decided to take the shorter one back.

Return Leg

I kept an low average speed because my fastest gear in the front was effectively out of service.

IMG_8418The road back, about 30 km. on from Jaisalmer

Cycled on till 7:30 pm stopping at a roadside ashram about 30 km. short of Dechu. They provided frugal food, a cot and many layers of warm mattresses for me, at a nominal charge.

IMG_8425My bike at a roadside ashram about 130 km. on from Jaisalmer

Started off early morning around 7:30 am and had zipped past Balesar around 2 pm., a good night’s rest had given me some energy.

About 40 km. from Jodhpur, near a town called Agolai, I was hailed by a motorbike rider. He was quite polite and we struck it off. It turned out that he was mobiker fan and helped me change my chain at a local shop and then paid for my tea too !! Thanks Rakesh. The discussion with him and the locals lasted some time, it was getting late so I decided to lodge in a roadside motel about 10 km. further up.

Would also like to point out that throughout the onward as well as the return leg, I was given thumbs up signals and encouraging horn hoots from ‘motorbike’ bikers , including one outright clapping ovation by bikers standing at the roadside. Thanks guys.

Arrived at Jodhpur on the 28th Jan. and spent the whole day working on my bike, replacing the front shifter with a new one, and also a new rear tire/tube, purchased from the local market. The gears were all functional , but the ‘new’ tire tube it turned out had a manufacturing defect resulting in a very slow leakage. Decided to move on with the tube since the leakage was discovered at the time of departure on the 29th of Jan, morning.

The leaking tube was finally replaced at a nice dhaba about 20 km. from Bilara, on the way to Ajmer, where I had decided to hole up for the night. Departed again on the 30th Jan morning and paid a visit to my ‘Vote of Thanks’ buddies on the way back. Stopped about 20 km. short of Ajmer at a dhaba for the night and then departed for Dudu on the way to Jaipur, next morn, the 31st Jan, 2019.

IMG_8445Departure time at the dhaba near Bilara, on the way to Ajmer

IMG_8452Rajasthan’s favorite food, dal-bati, lunch time about 50 km. from Dudu

Arrived early around 4:30 pm at Dudu, which has some very fine budget hotels run by the Kumawat community, I lodged up at one, on the opposite side of the road. The room was simply magnificent for the amount I paid for it. Was more like a 5 star suite, except that the bathroom was clean but not that attractive.

Started off for Jaipur on the 1st Feb, 2019. The ride was enjoyable till around 40 km. from Jaipur, when the traffic became too intense to concentrate on anything else. I lodged up in a good hotel described in my blog ‘Vote of Thanks’. Jaipur city traffic is the usual chaos, with cyclists being the worst off. I stayed in Jaipur for two nights taking off on the 3rd Jan. morning for Bharatpur. Cycled till 7:00 pm. finally lodging in a roadside hotel at Balaji Mod. The next morning, 4th Jan, brought out a very foggy front and visibility was limited to about 20 feet. Waited till 8 am. and then decided to take off from the hotel.

IMG_8483About to leave for Bharatpur, 8 am., from the hotel, at Balaji Mod

The ride to Bharatpur was ok. The fog had dissipated by 11 am., and as it became warmer, it was the usual stripping down the jackets tying them to the front handlebar.

IMG_8487Around 11 am, on the way to Bharatpur

Bharatpur is a congested town and I took up lodging in a good budget hotel in the middle of the town. R M B Hotel at Bharatpur is recommended if you can wade through the congested streets of Bharatpur. The rooms were huge and the staff was quite helpful. I had booked two nights at Bharatpur. The major attraction at Bharatpur is the bird sanctuary and Keoladeo National Park. There is a fort in the town, it’s structure has mostly vanished but there is a good fort museum for history aficionados.

The bird sanctuary is situated just outside the town with most major deluxe hotels situated near by. The bird sanctuary is simply stunning and a goldmine for birders. The only way to visit is on pedal rickshaws, bicycles or golf cart like battery operated cars seating about 4 people. Motor vehicles are not allowed inside.

I visited the sanctuary early morning on my bike and then after that spent the rest of the day stripping down my bike to prepare it for bus carriage. I had booked a seat on a bus that would take me non-stop to Kanpur. The ride was scheduled for 12:30 am 6th Jan, 2019 but the bus turned up at 1:30 am, at a point about 5 km. away from the scheduled stop, on the Bharatpur bypass to Agra. I learned later that this was the usual practice at Bharatpur. Those booking online would be informed about a pick up point and then would learn at the 11th hour about the actual one, some missing their buses too. Thankfully, I caught the bus and my bike was crammed into the huge boot and spending the rest of the night worrying about damages, reached Kanpur on the same day at 8:30 am. Thankfully except for the paint job, it looks OK, but I really haven’t checked it yet, it was however good enough to cycle back to my residence and then into my store workshop. That was it for this Grand Tour !

Carrying bikes on buses here can be a bad idea, because the top/boot carriages of buses are usually crammed with lots of stuff and there is constant retrieval/dumping of goods in carriages. There is a very good possibility of some kind of damage. Do it only if there is no way out, as a last resort. Folding bikes may be the answer to this issue but they may not be sturdy enough for repeated long hauls ?

Next blog is on Bharatpur bird sanctuary, do keep visiting !!

P.S.: Will be posting vids of this Grand Tour trip on my you tube channel, for those interested. Posting them here is slowing down access speeds so am avoiding posting too many vids. Will give info on this later.