An Unsustainable Lifestyle

My recent bike trip to the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand, just north of my own state Uttar Pradesh was supposed to provide relief from a blistering heat wave afflicting my state. The Himalayas were always a getaway locale for people looking for religious enlightenment, meditation, and seclusion in my state.

However, this time it was like all hell breaking loose in Uttarakhand, starting from Haridwar, the gateway to the Himalayas, all the way up to Chamba and Tehri. The reason? About 100,000 people zooming into the mountains in their four-wheel drives, and in air-conditioned buses every single day. I could scarcely spot a single cyclist or walker, except for the roadside hawkers and vendors. The vehicular pollution and heat blast from these vehicles was something to experience besides the 5-7 km. long traffic jams.

At the recieving end were the hundreds of policemen trying to manage the traffic. Kudos to them and the the fact that they kept their cool despite all the odds stacked against them. The local people were also well behaved and took it all in with a hint of polite resignation. To top it all there were frequent power cuts. I am not blaming the power companies for this. The surge in power demand from the combined might of air conditioners, cooling cabinets and other devices in the hotels and inns would be impossible to meet.

The result? It was as hot and unbearable as the plains of my own state right up and into the mountains at an altitude of nearly 9000 feet. The concrete structures and paved roads were acting as sort of heat reflectors adding to the misery of the bicycle ride. This is clearly affecting the local environment is a very negative way. I had experienced the same at Leh in Ladakh (Jammu and Kashmir ) at an altitude of 10,000 feet, a few years back.

The point is that the western lifestyle adopted by our citizens is unsustainable. I could feel the mountains groaning under this attack. There are simply no scenic and pristine mountain getaways available including the high altitude scenic Manali-Leh highway. For cyclists, this is a huge challenge. The lung sapping, muscle straining steep mountain rides are spiked with dangerous driving of high-speed SUV’s, trucks and buses. Negotiating traffic jams in steep mountain roads on a bicycle is no easy task too. I had to wear an anti-pollution mask even at the mountain tops. I shudder to think of the impact of all this pollution on local wildlife and forests.

This year has also been a bad one as regards forest fires in Uttarakhand. A chat with local farmers in the mountains also confirmed my fears that agricultural livelihood is now being shunned by the locals due to multiple reasons like water availablity and wild animals straying into step mountain farmland. Hordes of wild monkeys wreck local agro produce because their own forests are now bare of fruit. But, the madness continues unabated.

At the time of writing this article my own city of Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh, is teetering on the brink of an acute water crisis. This is on top of the usual heat wave conditions and severe air pollution. It’s pointless blaming the government for everything, how about trying to look at our own lifestyles first?

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.

IMG_8510

                                                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.

IMG_8525

                                                 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.

IMG_8528

                                             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^^

Journey to Orchha

Orchha* is a historical town locked in medieval time. It’s a goldmine for those interested in history and adventure. It was on my radar for long but somehow the journey never came to be. It was time to settle this.

The jouney to Orchha took me two days on my modified roadie, with a night halt in between. The return leg was similar. Stoppage in Orchha was for a day. The total distance covered was approximately 500 kilometers. Orchha is in the state of Madhya Pradesh, so as far as I am concerned it was an interstate trip, my state being Uttar Pradesh.

Kanpur to Orchha route

Road traffic along the whole route is heavy, except for the last 20 kilometere leg to Orchha town. The route is quite good for a roadie run except for a very rough patch in and through a town called Kalpi. Kalpi is a dusty town and the road here has craters that can break a heavy vehicle’s axle. The entry/exit to Kalpi is via narrow bridges on the river Betwa and this causes frequent traffic jams. Had to dismount on the return leg and walk through the town.

20181217_062853Foggy winter morning ( 6 am ) on the route, near Orai, 120 km. from Orchha.

20181217_083954My roadie all laden up with gear, 100 km. from Orchha.

Lodging and food on the journey to Orchha was in roadside dhabas ( trucker stop restraunts ). Most of these are situated far away from congested towns and are very convenient for cyclists. As for me dhabas always were a major attraction as the fresh clean air of the countryside never failed to rejuvenate me.

20181217_090442A typical roadside dhaba, the food is tasty and reasonably priced, about 100 km. from Orchha.

Near Orchha the terrain becomes hilly with a few uphill/downhill gradients. The town is surrounded by forests although most of these are now rapidly being encroached by human settlements.

The town itself is full of historical relics and one gets a sense of being locked in time here. The culture here hasn’t changed much over the centuries.

20181217_160523Orchha gate, the entry to the town.

The town gate was probably part of a historical fortified structure built to guard it. In Orchha there are historical ruins and structures dating from 16th to 19th century A.D., with the Orchha fort being the major historical attraction. Besides the fort, there is the cenotaph complex next to the river Betwa and the Ram Raja temple.

The town itself is small and all the historical monuments are situated within walking distance. The lodges and hotels are budget oriented. The Ram Raja temple has a plethora of sweet shops and restraunts. Mouth watering peda** and kalakand adorn the sweet shops next to the temple.

20181217_175216Orchha kalakand sweet.

My stay was in a budget hotel, next to the temple landmark of Orchha. The rooms were spacious and clean with hot piped water, which was a welcome relief from bathing with cold water in my dhaba lodgings. Winter temperatures can reach around 2-5 degree Celsius here but it gets hot in the afternoon.

20181219_062344The roadie parked next to my room at a lodge in Orchha.

The return leg from Orchha started around 6:30 am, and I was heavily decked up to face the morning winter chill.

20181219_064523 Yours truly getting ready to start off the return leg.

There was a gear malfunction on the return leg with low tire pressure issues along the way. But this was sorted out as I was carrying a full bike repair kit alongwith replacements.

The route from Kanpur to Orchha and back, has quite a few long arching highway flyovers but there are level byways alongside these. These byways are something of a boon for cyclists like me as huffing and puffing up the flyover inclines alogside speeding heavy truck traffic is not something to be relished. Further, most of these byways are almost empty of any traffic which is something a cyclist would enjoy. However, not all of these byways connect right up to the bridge end, with a few coming to an abrupt end halfway across the flyovers. One has to be careful in making the byway route selection.

20181220_143150

Byway alongside a highway bridge. 

That is it for the very enjoyable bike trip to Orchha. If you would want to see more about Orchha and it’s historical structures, do visit my other blog specifically for videos and pics on these.

Journey date:- 16th to 20th December, 2018.

*Orchha

**peda sweet

 

Lawless Highway Code

Imagine huge 5-10 tonne beasts roaring loudly, racing past each other on an asphalt tarmac. The ground trembles under the combined assault of this gigantic pack, racing at speeds reaching 80-120 kmph.*; the beast overtaking the others nearly breaks out of the tarmac and leaves behind a plume of dust and debris. Thankfully, there are no collisions and the winner rushes ahead oblivious of the tremors that it created. The dinosaur pack vanishes into the distance; and out of the swirling dust and debris emerge tiny beings choking in the wake, bewildered and disoriented.

*kmph. — kilometres per hour 

Sounds like a Hollywood thriller featuring gigantic beasts battling to control the world ? Err .. No. Welcome to the real life Indian highway traffic. This is almost a daily routine here. At risk are the inconsequential cyclists, the tiny beings, like me, who have to keep a constant watch in the rear view mirror and be ready to dive out of the road. The thought of being plastered on the front view of these speeding beasts keeps gnawing in the mind of those like me. There are no rules on our national highways linking states and cities. The unwritten code here is : The bigger and noisier the beast, the more it deserves to be respected, traffic rules be damned !

If you haven’t guessed it, the dino* beasts are buses, trucks, lorries and dumpers; at the head of the traffic food chain, then the middle sized SUV’s**, mini-trucks and pickups with the cars and then the motor bikes completing the hierarchy. Our highway traffic follows it’s own rules based on the hierarchy above. Cyclists like me are the lowest vermin with no rights on the highways. Since there is almost no traffic rule enforcement, I won’t even discuss the highway patrols here, and focus on the unwritten lawless highway traffic code.

*dino – dinosaur, **SUV’s — Sports Utility Vehicles

Let’s get down to business and start with the pirate code; for starters your vehicle size matters. The bigger the beast you ride, by big I would say it’s both weight and size, the more you can flex your might on the highway. At the top of the food chain would be the beast trucks hauling several tonnes of load and often overweight. They are to be feared as they can just about do anything, including crush you like a mosquito. In the nights these beasts become true predators, with their liquor soaked drivers driving them into a speeding frenzy. Their presence can be heard from a distance, with crude music blaring from their driving cabins and the roar of their engines. To be fair most of the trucking drivers here are underpaid and overworked, and they do have an obstinate, dangerous streak about them as they drive these monsters. If you want to survive, keep your distance from this top predator.

The middle tier of the food chain is populated by swanky SUV’s, pickups and mini-trucks. The SUV’s are the things to be watched out for. The new ones have a fast acceleration and can zip up to 120-150 kmph. without breaking a sweat. The drivers of these beasts are often not concerned with the world outside, locked up in their own air-conditioned cocoon often with stereos belting out desi aka vernacular music. To add to this it’s common for the SUV drivers to talk on mobiles and have a hearty chat with the other occupants, while zipping on these things. This leads to predictable results. For a lowly cyclist like me, SUV’s are a terror. They can weigh a tonne and have a sizeable girth. One kiss from this baby and I could end up with Saint Peter. Which leads me to the other beasts in the middle tier.

The pickups, mini trucks and vans make up a dicey mix. They are often loaded up to the brim with stuff intended for local markets. Like vegetables, bread, milk and maybe sacks of flour. The main thing to remember is that they are in a tearing hurry to get that load to the market. Add that to the reckless driving culture with the load that they are carrying, and the picture is complete. The early morning ones are the worst. If that does not horrify one, let’s add more spice to the mix, most of these vehicles are not road worthy. I saw one whose chassis was inclined at such an angle that the vehicle looked like it was travelling sideways. It’s best to bail out of the bicycle if this beast heads for us and needs to brake to a halt. Braking is a no go with these vehicles, with the speed and the load that they are carrying. By the time they will halt it would be game over for the cyclist.

This brings us to the cars and the mobikes*. These are the fastest ones on the highways, zipping in and out, weaving to and fro between the dinosaurs. A Formula One driver would be put to shame at the manoeuvring undertaken by the warriors behind the steering wheels on Indian roads. Again, when the split second calculations fail, it’s a sad end. Cars treat dino trucks as slow trolls, weaving between them and zipping away. For the cyclist, this means keeping a watchful eye as there is no lane discipline when cars try to overtake a heavy. If they hug the outer lane where we travel, it’s best to drop off the road.

mobikes — motor bikes*

Mobikes are the fastest, with the latest ones running faster than most cars. They pose the least danger as they have to be careful too, being just a rung above the cyclist. Most mobike riders will often slow down for a friendly ‘on the road drive-as-we-chat’, which I have found to be a bit disconcerting as well as comical. Cyclists have to maintain a lateral as well as vertical balance without any motor power and chatting while cycling is tough. Then there is the traffic following on behind us that keeps blaring their horns to break this impromptu conference on the road. In some cases, I had to stop at the roadside if the conference continued for too long, just to let the traffic behind pass through. Fun facts apart mobike riders will get nasty if a cyclist is stuck in a traffic jam, cause the hierarchy kicks in when it’s jam time. The mobikes get priority while the cyclist has to wait for the jam to clear.

Moving on to the other rules in the lawless code; there is no such thing as a cycling lane. Cyclists travel on the outer fringes of the road, inside clearly marked side lanes on highways. But as lowly vermin we have no ‘actual’ lanes, speeding beasts will often hog the whole road while overtaking and cyclists have to take the dirt track next to the road, when that happens. Then there is the unique Indian highway traffic phenomenon of a wrong side reverse traffic flow on the ‘supposed’ cycling lanes. Mobikes, jeeps, auto rickshaws and passenger loaded tempos will often travel on the wrong side using the cycling lane with their headlights on as a sort of warning to the incoming cyclist. If we do not heed the horns and the headlights, it’s game over as they travel on the wrong side at high speeds. This mostly happens near small town settlements but is in no way restricted to such, and one has to be always on the alert.

Once all this sinks in, we are ready to tackle the highways. Helmets are very conspicuous here as most Indians think they have a head made of unbreakable titanium alloy. A cyclist with a helmet is considered as rare as a Martian, since even mobike riders on highways here don’t use one. It’s advisable to wear one though. The post is not meant to discourage prospective cyclists. Many of us out there are actually doing it despite the insurmountable odds. Drive slow, drive safe and be alert.

Will keep adding more to this post, so do check back and try to take up your cycling, you won’t regret it !!

The Mother Tour — Return Leg

Following up from Kanpur to Pench Tiger Sanctuary, it was time to turn back. This time around things were different with a possible bad transmission and a hellish 20 km. road stretch going back into the valleys of the Reserve. Predictably inquiries from roadside motels confirmed my guess that they were not budget-oriented. So, I chugged back on my bicycle negotiating the hellish road. On the wayside I did see one or two motorbikes which had simply given up, their owners were clearly panicking as they wanted out of the forest that was teeming with wild animals. Unfortunately, I could be of no help to them. 

Just when I was about to give up on finding a reasonable motel, an inquiry at a local bicycle mechanic shop netted me a good roadside Dhaba. The mechanic disputed my version of the blown transmission and advised me to go on, which turned out to be wrong later on. The Dhaba itself was run by a Maharashtrian gentleman and had good facilities. I was given a cot and had a hearty lunch. It was the 23rd of December 2017. We had a leisurely chat and I decided to attend to my MTB.

IMG_20171221_165505

The beauty at the roadside Dhaba, Pench Tiger Reserve Forest

Servicing and cleaning the MTB confirmed that the transmission was going to blow, and I decided to take it slow while trying to exit the hills and valleys of the Reserve. The local mechanics were not good in my opinion and I rued the fact that I had not brought along the complete kit to change the bicycle chain and gear flywheel.

The night was the same liquor-soaked shouting and loud convos; the local lads and truckers were at it again. It was late night when I could sleep and then took off very early in the morning. I stopped for a quick snack at a roadside sweet shop and then started negotiating the uphills. The settlements were at the bottom of the hills while the hilly forests seldom had any human presence. As it turned out the gear flywheel was wobbling bad and I had to keep stopping in between to keep the transmission floating.

In the middle of the hilly forests, I saw deer crossing the highway in a panicked hurry and my heart skipped a beat. Very soon, I heard a tiger roar from the valley below and that gave me wings, my MTB rocketing away from the scene. The predator was herding the deer and would have crossed the highway in their pursuit soon after I left. The speeding stint wrecked the flywheel a bit more and soon I was making regular stops along the way. Tiger or no tiger there was no way out of this. Trucking traffic was zooming up and down intermittently.

The transmission gave up as soon as I crossed the Reserve area with the gear flywheel spitting out shiny steel ball bearings. There was no option but to head to Seoni, the nearest town, and replace the gear flywheel. Somehow the MTB hobbled on about 40 km. to Seoni and I was directed to a small but able bicycle repair shop. 

IMG_20180407_091755

In case you didn’t know, the above is a geared flywheel that screws on to the back wheel hub of a bicycle, the chain wraps around the various sprockets of the flywheel with the help of a derailleur ( not shown in the pic ). It’s from my other roadie bike.

I had a spare chain and gear flywheel but not the flywheel unscrewing tool, the repair shop people replaced the transmission ( flywheel and chain ); and handed me a spare tool all on a nominal charge. I was offered lunch which I had to decline because this repair had cost me precious time. The repair shop owner also gifted me with a nice diary and some fancy stuff. India is full of nice people! I took off in the afternoon and doubled my speed but had to make small stops to fine-tune the gear system. 

Again, it was some tough uphills and an inquisitive gentleman on a moped caught up with me as I was huffing and puffing up the slopes. He guided me to an outhouse maintained by a local Dhaba. The funny thing is that the outhouse was guarded by about half a dozen Pomeranian mutts. They were smallish but acted aggressively by feigning a charge. It was enough to scare any local who tried to venture near the outhouse! The nights were cold and I managed to sleep a bit, taking off early the next morning.

IMG_20171223_061523

The outhouse where I stayed for the night.

I crossed into the Lakhnadon region and made good speed stopping only for tea-samosa and lunch. Stopped to take in some breathtaking scenic views too.

IMG_20171223_090801

Nearly dry lake/river bed. Near Lakhnadon.

IMG_20171223_114023

This river bed was completely dry. But, it was hauntingly beautiful.

Stopped at a roadside hotel, about 120 km. from my previous location, it was on the North-South corridor. There was a scenic pilgrimage site before the hills leveled out, called Barman on the banks of the Narmada river. Made a halt there to soak in all the beauty and record it on my mobile cam too! The hilly region gave away to plains a bit further on, it was smoother cycling and I stopped for a quick food break.

Barman pilgrimage site on the banks of river Narmada.

Started again early morning and made good speed to cross into Damoh district, encountering gradual uphills along the way; stopping just 20 km. short of Damoh town, again in a Dhaba. My bottom was too sore at this point to care for any more smartphone pics and there were just towns/settlements and zooming traffic to see. More importantly, I was beyond Damoh town and the surrounding small settlements as quickly as possible. The hilly forests of interior Damoh district restored my spirits somewhat although it was quite hot. There was an incident of my chain wrapping itself all over the gear flywheel which took about an hour to restore.

IMG_20171225_114517

Yours Truly with the world-famous MTB, at a chai-samosa stall in hilly forests of Damoh. The white garment is called a ‘safa’ and is standard wear amongst these parts.

My clothing was deliberately chosen to make myself appear as local as possible. It’s best to blend in rather than stick out when traveling alone. The run was now getting enjoyable and I was tending more to slow down and soak in more of the greenery and forests. Made a halt at a known Dhaba near Batiyagarh and started the next morning, making a stop shortly after seeing a couple of foxes foraging around in dense forests.

IMG_20171226_071247

Dense forests near Batiyagarh, with the beast aka MTB in the background.

The forests around Batiyagarh had a good population of wild monkeys and foxes, locals told me that there were bears and leopards in the interior parts of the forest. The ubiquitous road repairs further down the hills had the same irritating results plastering me and the bike with dust. After this, I managed to make good speed and crossed Chhatarpur, M.P., and kept on going until I reached the outskirts of Mahoba, U.P., where I lodged up in a roadside motel. It was the 26th of December, 2017.

The route back to Kanpur, on the 27th of December, 2017, was quite familiar, Mahoba-Kabrai-Hamirpur-Kanpur, and I remember lazing around Hamirpur, trying to take in all the greenery and fresh air before entering the stale, toxic air of Kanpur. Heavy trucking traffic starts about 60 km. from Kanpur after evening hours and it becomes very difficult to cycle through it all. This is also true for most highway traffic in India. I made it to my residence in Kanpur at about 8 pm.

Evening and night cycling should be avoided at all costs since there is negligible traffic rule enforcement on our highways. Truckers regularly stock up on booze and sleep on their steering wheels while driving in the night. Road driving in India is on average extremely rash and risky, with the highway roadsides littered with carcasses of smashed vehicles. Most heavy vehicles use high beams while driving on highways and make sparing use of dippers, this can disorient cyclists. Another aspect to be remembered is that there is an abundance of debris on the highway lanes used by cyclists. I had encountered numerous instances of glass debris, making sure that I avoided them as best as I could to save me from a tire puncture. Overtaking buses and trucks give out a special horn signal here and one has to be very alert to heed the call and leave the road or be knocked down since there is no lane discipline here. The overtaking vehicles mostly hog the whole road, in which case the only option is to hit the dirt track next to the road. A rearview mirror is a must.

The whole journey was unimaginably rewarding to me, as I could for once escape the toxic aired concrete jungle that my city had become. Viewing all that greenery and wildlife gave me hope that some parts of my country are still untouched by the so-called development here. Although vehicular traffic and blaring horns followed me up the forests too, I did negotiate patches where there was fresh air available. It was good to be out there. I think my MTB would agree to this! 

P.S.:- Have edited the Barman pilgrimage part, as I had mixed up its location as post-Damoh earlier while posting, whereas it is much before Damoh district by a good distance. Made some additions in the Damoh part too. Apologies for the Barman mixup.