Tag Archives: Road Trip

Himalayan Ballbuster

It was supposed to be a leisurely ride through the valley. ‘I just want to rent a bike for a few days and ride around’, I told Godwin.

Godwin had plans of his own, running in his head from way before. Godwin and Snehal are the amazing couple running ‘Ride Inn’ at Shanag Valley, 6 km north of Manali. A gorgeous place with probably the best food I’ve eaten while at Manali. Also the  best view, and the cutest dog Luka.

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View from Ride Inn

‘Let’s do Pangi Valley and Sach Pass, you’ll love it’, Godwin said. I heard ‘valley’ and ‘pass’ and got excited. What i didn’t know was that since he, a regular rider, hadn’t been on the road for over a year, he was already pushing the limits in his head.

I’m not a biker really. I don’t like groups. I don’t like following others’ plans. I don’t even like bikers much. They talk about pistons and cranks and rods and shafts and *yawwwwn*. But since this was Godwin and Snehal leading the way, I had no problems at all. Digvij and Bhuwan, two of their friends, were coming in from Rajasthan, and we’d join them on their way through to Pangi Valley. And those two turned out to be super fun.

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Godwin & Snehal

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Leisurely ride, I thought. So I booked myself a nice 500cc classic. A tad expensive, as is the norm renting bikes in Manali (Rs.1200 – 1500 a day).

The rule was Godwin & Snehal rode up front, me second, then Digvij, and finally Bhuwan – the most experienced one to keep a watch on us.

This should be fun, I thought.

It was, for the first two hours…

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The ‘leisurely’ bit

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Day 1 brought that easy ride to a shattering demise. It took us 9 hours to get across 190km, from Manali to Tindi. In my head, before we started, I was all ‘hmmm, that’s about the distance from Bombay to Poona, should take us about 5 hours…’

Bullshit.

Not when there’s NO ROAD. No kidding. The road disappeared after the first 40 km or so. Then there was only mud and rocks. Boulders and water crossings from glaciers melting above, foxes, and roads that you shouldn’t look over if you have a fear of heights. Up until Rohtang pass (50 km from Manali), everything was nice and reminiscent of a romantic scene in a Ryan Gosling movie.

After that it was all downhill, literally. Your ass hurts, of course, from the constant bump and grind on hard rocks. But readjusting your balls every 10 mins inside the boxers you wear, while using just the other hand to balance a 200 kilo bike on rocks and boulders, is a bit tough. Life lesson: never wear boxers to a long and treacherous bike ride.

Around 5 pm after i bounced over some 200 rocks and boulders, I turned to Godwin and asked him ‘how much longer is the road like this??’

‘Why do you ask so many questions, just ride man!’

That was it. I was trapped. If one question got that response, no more questions.

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Resting it out at the Forest Dept Villa…

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…wondering WTF I got myself into

At night, after Bhuwan had hustled our stay at the forest department’s guest house, we rested our respective arses. They had old monk for company, and as always – the spirits bring out the funnies in people. And Digvij went on to tell us how, from behind me, he had a field day watching me ride.

According to him, I was either faster than a bullet, or slower than a snail. No in-between. Sometimes I was so slow, he thought I was stopping, and he’d imagine I was taking a break to pee, so he would too… and as soon as he stopped and got off, I was speeding like that bullet again. I didn’t even know this was happening. I don’t know what was going on in my mind. Just survival, I guess.

Next morning we were up, post some chai and parathas, on our way again. If day 1 was hard, day 2 was US army torture in Iraq. It took us 11 hours to cross 137 kilometers.

Let that settle in. Add to that the cold. Early October, season’s almost down cos of snow. Yeah, its freezing cold. By the time you end the day, your wrists, fingers, ankles, legs, face, everything’s numb. Even with gloves and innerwear and jacket on.

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Ummm, road block! *BEEP BEEP*

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And in case I forgot to mention earlier, this terrain that we started off, can be seen on youtube under some of the videos that say ‘world’s most dangerous roads’

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Bhuwan & Digvij playing Dark Knights

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Landslide

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Now ain’t that BREATHTAKING

One landslide delayed our progress by about 30 minutes. Chairi was our lunch stop. There’s not many options for food in these places apart from dal-rice-chapatis, parathas and maggi.

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Waterfalls from glacier melt. Quite a few on this stretch.

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Sometimes the manoeuvring is VERY tricky, that river is upto 3 ft deep

Just before sunset, Digvij’s thunderbird breaking down was our big worry. The bike just wouldn’t climb the steep slopes anymore. And these heavy ass bikes have a mind of their own once they’re on a sharp angle. The number of times I just let the bike lay on the ground instead of bothering to pick it up was quite a bit. Digvij was in two minds to head back. But our peak was only 20 km ahead now. So we worked on constructive thinking. And Godwin, the champ that he is, just pulled out the bike’s air filter, and voila, it was all good again!

I learnt a few things about riding through glacier melt this same day. Snehal taught me a few things about staying steady and keeping your legs down. Cos I was treating it like a theme park ride. Legs up in the air and WHEEEEEE splashing water. But one rock under the water, slipping, could be the end of the ride. For the bike. And the rider. So the next time I almost fell in the icy water, I simply jumped off and let Godwin rescue the bike.

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Sach Pass, our peak.

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After reaching our highest peak, which was Sach Pass at 4440m, at sunset, we had to get to the next guesthouse before dark. My bright idea was to turn the bike into neutral and let it glide down the mountain.

IT WAS THE MOST EXHILARATING SHIT I’VE EVER DONE ON A BIKE.

It was pitch black by then in the mountains, moonless night. And the narrow beam of the headlight was all I could see ahead. Everything else around, black. The speed I had managed to pull with gravity alone was ridiculous. And I’m grateful to the foxes and dogs that did not run across my path. It’s not too good for the bike though, this neutral gliding thing. But there’s some things you can do on a rented bike…

It was almost 9 pm when we reached satroondi checkpost – which is a heavily guarded point because of its proximity to the Pakistan border, and history of militants coming in from the same. Shortly after that, we were at Bhairagadh – and cozily settled into ‘Mannat Guest House’. There’s nothing more rewarding than a pillow for the bum after a whole day of riding on rocks. These guesthouses we lived in were all in the range of 200-400 rupees a night. And the forest department houses are pretty cute too.

Day 3 was the calm after the storm. Also the easiest day for my bum to handle. Flat roads again, and despite another 11 hours, we managed 255 kilometers. We halted in Chamba for lunch at Zaika Dhaba, and bike corrections for Digvij. The ride from Bhairagad to Chamba was a beautiful one through the forest. Our boys from Rajasthan split here at Chamba, so it was eventually Godwin, Snehal and me heading back to Manali. There was still 2 more days to complete though.

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Chamba to Dharamshala and eventually Bagsu was our final stint for day 3. Bagsu is right below Dharamkot, where unbeknownst to me, I was going to lose my heart a week later.

Day 4

Godwin & Snehal decided to stay at Bagsu a day or two. And since I had to return to manali to give back the bike, and catch a bus to Dharamsala and eventually get to Dharamkot to attend my retreat, I spent the final day solo. 10 am kick off from Bagsu, through Dhauladhar tea estates, where I stopped for some awesome green tea and juice, and then moved on to Mandi where I had a massive lunch of dal, chappatis, and you-guessed-it, parathas.

I was getting to Manali just around sundown. That’s when the Aut tunnel threat happened. Within the helmet was my sunglasses, which I should have taken off before the tunnel. But I didn’t think of the consequences. As soon as I got into that tunnel, everything was pitch black. And this is a tunnel that runs about 4km. Imagine riding 4km BLIND. I’m half-blind after sundown anyway. Old issue. Add to that, sunglasses that I cant remove mid-ride, because I have fat gloves on. I cant stop cos I cant see the side of the road, and there’s no way one can really stop in a tunnel. There’s a sinking feeling in your stomach. There’s panic, there’s also prayers. And you hope the one guy you’ve been ignoring all your life will somehow get you through this. HA! Eventually, the glare of oncoming traffic, which I usually cant tolerate, saved me.

It’s just I have a history with tunnels.

This here is Aut tunnel (via youtube) – but doing the same thing like The Terminator is a different story.

As soon as I got out of the tunnel, I stopped at a quiet little tea stall, and reflected on life.

For a first ride, this was the hardest, and the most gorgeous ever. Would i attempt it again? Hell yeah! If it wasn’t for Godwin, this wouldn’t have happened, so i’m glad he got me into this ‘easy ride’. You learn a lot of things about yourself on the road.

Survivalism is just one of them.


Rearview Bloopers

Back in the mid 90s, my best buddy and I used to ride our bicycles down MG Road in Poona. The weather used to be great, but the sights were even better. We’d tell ourselves how the only reason we’d crash would be cos our eyes were on some pretty young thing in little shorts instead of the traffic. Things are different in Poona now, but that little fear i had never disappeared. More than the fear, it was the shame and embarrassment of explaining to someone that you crashed ‘because booty’.

During the road trip last month there was a point where my friend had to take a wee. Somewhere in the south of Peru, I stopped the car at a gas station, and parked in front of a little store, with the bathrooms at the back. She headed in, and I waited. When she finally came out, i turned on the ignition of the car, put it in reverse, checked out the rearview mirror, and slowly started backing the car out.

Right then, a woman crossed my vision in the rearview mirror, looking something like this, swaying what her mama gave her, knowing fully well she had put the entire frame into slow motion.

So i got a little distracted. Just a little. But a little’s all it takes.

The view went from the rearview mirror to the sideview mirror. From the sideview mirror to the side. From the side to the front, and she walked away. She just kept walking. And i was transfixed. Not ogling, not drooling. Just marvelling and appreciating one of God’s billion pieces of work.

*THUD*

I hit something… I realized the car was reversing all the time while my eyes were somewhere other than where they should’ve been, which in this case was the rearview mirror.

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I raced my sight back to the rearview mirror. A hand came out from under the boot of car. Obviously, not something, but someone. I hit someone.

The hand grows into a full arm. A uniformed arm. Then the head pops up. A cap on the head. The cap looks familiar. It’s a cop. I reversed into a cop.

Holy shit.

The guy started screaming in Spanish. Walked up in a huff against my side of the window, and mouthed off a few quick lines in spanish what sounded like ‘WTF ARE YOU ON IDIOTA?

I panicked. Instead of PERDON! PERDON! (sorry! sorry!), i screamed PERMISO! PERMISO! (permission! permission!) and i frantically pointed at the woman still swaying down the horizon. He looked at her, stared at me trying to figure out what the hell i meant, looked at her again, and then laughed real hard. My heart was racing at 200 bpm. I don’t have a valid license to drive in Peru. And I’ve almost run over a cop.

He asked me where i lived, i told him Lima; asked me where i was from, I said India. He smiled, shook my hand, told me to focus on the rearview mirror while reversing, and left.

That was one of the most embarrassing moments of the trip so far.

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Road Trip: Punta Hermosa

In stark contrast to the first four months in Peru, this last month in Lima has been quite leisurely. I mean breakfast-in-bed leisurely. I could get used to this but no. After getting a hang of getting back in a city, i was soon bored though. I had to get out. Lima might be the sweetest, most gorgeous city i’ve ever been in, but it’s still a city.

Sometimes the daily routine was as follows:

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Then my partner in crime X, and I decided to hit the road, but on a strictly veg diet.

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Now if you’ve read my earlier blogs, i’ve mentioned time and again how much i love the Peruvian terrain. It’s like a layered desert-rainforests-mountains-rainforests-mountains sandwich from the west to the east, lining the whole country. One good way to see this is to drive down the Panamericana, which is one massive expressway running down the length of the continent. Another way is to watch The Motorcycle Diaries. Since I’d already done the latter, i opted for the drive. So X hired a car, and we were off.

No fixed plan, just drive.’

We packed our gear and hit the road at 3 pm on a Thursday, now this was more than a month ago. Less than two hundred kilometers and two hours down, we could smell the Pacific. We decided to take in a little sea breeze at Punta Hermosa. And within minutes, we’d decided this was the first stop to this trip. Mainly cos some of the stray dogs here look like lions. And then of course, the waves and the sunset.

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Here’s a few images from Punta Hermosa, which is pretty much Instagramer’s haven. See for yourself. If you want to see the full sizes, I’d recommend right click image and ‘open in new tab’.

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Nobody’s watching. Punta Hermosa is literally a dead town. Maybe 50-80 people living in a 500 house colony.

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Cos every ‘photographer’ needs to have a pic like this else he’s a fake photographer.

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This man can whoop all your asses riding waves 8 meters high.

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All these strays here sell as exotic pets back home.

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Like I said, instagramer’s haven.

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Just random photographers at a surf contest.

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