I have started riding at 12-30 midnight from Home, in spite of suggestions otherwise, from friends. My main aim remains to ride through the North Indian plains at night as much as possible, just to avoid the smelting Heat wave passing by our part of the country. Better face the tired truckers rather than the heat; hoping like hell that my own Circadian rhythm keeps up and the Red-Bull and Rajanigandha works.
The Broad Plan. My first destination point being Almora, around 600 plus km from my home. I am not sure when I shall need to stop due to heat and hence keeping myself flexible enough to either stop at Moradabad or Rampur or Haldwani wherever the need arises. If all is good I may try and hit Almora too, but that seems to early to plan.
The focus as of now remains to stay alert, ride hard and munch as many miles at night as possible and take things as they come. (আরেকটা চিন্তা আছে, সকালে হাg@ পেলে, হয় পেট্রল পাম্প, নয়তো মাঠেই বসে পড়বো দরকার পড়লে)
Wind on the face, let Shiva be my pillion, and off I go……Road calls…
It was a day of Intense Hard-core ass slogging riding with a day ending in High Drama. Reached Haldwani and halted for the night there. Just because of the high drama only, photos are few and spare, didn’t have time to click only. But without digressing, let me just keep things in perspective.
The Night ride was better, empty roads, not too many truckers, zero cattle and pedestrians, no two wheelers, hence speed was good, progress was fast.
Route. I rode along the Jaipur Agra Highway till Bharatpur and then took a left turn along the Bharatpur bypass to catch the Mathura Road, bypassing Govardhan. A short ride through the erstwhile NH2 and skirting through Vrindavan Mathura axis and crossed the Yamuna. Things were fast and comfortable till here. Once I took the Hathras, Aligarh route, it was narrow and crowded and was frustrating. The frustration continued as I rode through Aligarh and headed towards Moradabad. Short of Moradabad, I got the Highway again to turn right and pass through Rampur, Rudrapur, Bilaspur and hit Haldwani for my pitstop.
Weather. Night 1 pm to about 5 am was warm and windy and good for intense riding. Morning 5am to 8am was surprisingly chilly and one could feel the chill in the bones. 8 am to around 10 am again was weather-wise OK. From 10 am to around 1-30 pm, the weather was brutal to say the least. In spite of the best knowledge, it’s difficult to avoid dehydration; the body is sapped out of the juices and needs intense effort to be fully functional.
Mathura vibes. Vrijbhumi is now a spit and polished mall and arcade clad township sans the madness of yester-years. The saffronised government has made it a point to marginalize visible poverty and backwardness to project modernity with a fang. Nevertheless, spotting Radha and Krishna often in Vrijbhumi is not uncommon even today in spite of the Brahmanical restrictive societal values and perhaps that makes Vrijbhumi different from the rest of Northern India. I often wonder that… we as a society perhaps could not tolerate the guts of a rural differently aged couple of ancient India… and perhaps that may be the reason of uplifting them to God status, love focussed. How can Humans love?? Humans can shout, clamour, argue, fight, only Gods can love. Radha more than Krishna still lives today, in the heart of every rural girl you see on the road… hopeful of finding love in Krishna, who will land up a respectable job in the Army or Government, and they will live happily ever after.
Aligarh vibes. The University town is just about that. The only good thing is the University and believe you me… it is mighty good. Other than that, the city reeks of dust, mud, poverty, traffic, bad food and BJP hoardings, posters propped prominently amidst a generally docile and educated Muslim society. The people of all religion and economic status are all eerily silent and matter of fact, and appeared to me to be resigned to a fate that Jobs are Not coming… they have to live through it, complain to whom is not clear to them.
Food. All along, food is Not particularly good. From poor man’s rerhi to the few swanky dhabas, food appeared to be Not so OK, and I avoided eating overall. Finding a Subway close to Haldwani was good. More than the sandwich itself what mattered to me was sitting in the ac for half an hour, washing in a clean washroom and charging my phone. Electricity is sparse in this part, and most places are devoid of electricity since last 24 hours.
Mobile Drama. Having settled well into the Hotel, I realized that my mobile phone is missing. A call showed that it is switched off and my worry remained that my phone is without any screen lock, or password.
Tired to the bones, sleepy and dehydrated… I was at my wits end and almost broke down in despair. With the help of the Hotel Management, a thorough search in the hotel was carried out followed by a retracing step of last 5 kms… but to No Avail. Frustrated and almost losing my mind I called home and wife Nandini from the hotel phone and she informed me that a good Samaritan, Shree Vinod Negi of Rampur Road had picked up my phone from the road, opened it and called up the list of recent calls. He managed to call my parents in Kolkata and my wife, shared his number and name and told them to share his contact with me somehow. I did contact him and got back my phone. I didn’t forget to thank him profusely for his kindness and my life was restored. I regained my faith that “Not all is Lost; Goodness still prevails” and was reinforced to the belief that the Hill People of Uttarakhand are still the most honourable and honest among Indians, where such quality is fast dwindling to obscurity.
Dada drinks Nimbu soda. Though the mandatory Old Monk was carried, I have lost that charm of drinking. Rehydration and sleep were more of a necessity, so actually I did let go of alcohol and gulped on some Nimbu Soda to live for the next day. Ready to hit the roads today again. A bath, a meal, some salt does wonders. Almora calling… more as we progress.
The Hills called, and I came. It’s good to be alive… Shwet Agni chewing the mountains for breakfast… and I have puri sabji.
A day of entering the mountains, being with the Mountain People and Old Friends. I took the Haldwani Kathgodam axis and crossed Ranibagh and then turned right through the Amritpur Pulia and that is when the twists and turns of the hills start. Motorcycle, especially a Himalayan shows her worth in gold, only when you hit the mountains; she can twist and dance and tackle bad roads like breakfast. Took a short break in Bhimtal, clicked some photo and had poori sabji in a local shop. Thereafter rode through not so good roads right upto Bhawali from where I left the Nainital and Ranikhet axis to turn towards Almora. In total, its around a 100 odd kms and straight riding should take around 3 hrs. I stopped adequately and took 4.5 hr to do the distance.
Need to Stop. We, as bikers or travellers (will not get into semantic) are often destination driven… we try to reach a certain place at a certain time. In the process to reach, we forget the journey where the gem lies. It is important for me… to just Stop… be silent, sit and find my zen. It is on the hills, on a silent moment of solitude, I find what Master Ugwey insisted… Inner Peace. The journey is never on the road, the journey is always within. One has to nurse this sensitivity with just stopping. Stop, do Nothing, just be… and you will find the big connection, the circle of life.
Prem Kuti. In Almora, I was the Home guest of one of my regimental veteran seniors. They run the most picturesque Homestay of Almora. It’s an old school massive property, that holds on to the traditional looks yet with modern interior comforts. The food is absolutely mind blowing… fully organic home-grown fresh produce in the hands of the lady, turns into mind blowing authentic Pahari dishes. It may look simple, but every morsel reminded me… Food is made with Love, not just spices and condiments. The property has seven independent apartments with all possible facilities one can imagine, and is available in Air-BnB, a must go for the Biker Fraternity. But book in advance, since its highly in demand. I was the lucky junior enjoying everything for free, so I have no idea about the cost etc.
The View. I tried capturing the view of the property and the view of the hills and rolling forests and valley right in front, but a mobile phone cannot do justice. Do check out the photos… just sitting on the terrace is time beat spent, instead of running around, in my personal opinion. Coffee and silence, is perhaps the best balm for an urban tired soul. The evening rolled onto late night with a bottle of scotch polished off between two of us, me and my senior. With reminisces of times gone by, talking about good and tough times, tough terrain and sacrifices, and fun we had all together, was the highlight. Off course, Pahari mutton was the endgame.
Change of Plan. Though my idea is never to overstay the welcome, and start off today, but on the insistence of the couple, I stay put in PREM-KUTI for another day. Today, we shall go around the town a bit, buy some avocado and hemp seed to carry home and again just sit through in silence in the terrace.
Come early morning, and it was time to go and visit one of my major area of interest in Almora, called Kasar Devi.
Kasar Devi. Existing from ancient times, Kasar Devi finds mention in the Skanda purana and this is the location where Maa Durga in her Kaushiki form is supposed to have slain the demons Shumbh and Nishumbh. There is an imprint of Maa Durga’s lion’s paw on the rockface behind the existing deity. Kasardevi is also astonishing because it happens to be one among the only 3 places on Earth under the influence of the Van Allen belt… a place of very strong positive energy made by the interaction of the Earth’s magnetic field, the solar wind and the cosmic rays. The other two such places on Earth happen to be Machu Pechu (Peru) and Stonehenge (England), substantiated by NASA, all three being prominent spiritual sites. Such characteristic of the place has attracted sages and mystics all over the world in Kasardevi in search of their Spiritual journey.
Kasar Devi came unto prominence in 1890, when Swami Vivekananda engaged in a long and tough meditational practise here in one of the caves here. Walter Evan Wentz, the translator of the Tibetan Book of the Dead, also spend a long time here. Other prominent personalities were Danish Mystic Sunyata Baba (Alfred Sorensen) and Beatnic Poet Allan Ginsberg (one of my favourite). The adjoining hill has been a prominent hippie destination and is also popularly known as Hippies Trail and Crank Ridge. There is a very prominent Ashokan Edict on rock dating to 6th Century CE in Brahmi Script consisting of 2 lines with 11 letters each. Also, this place has huge number of visible fossils on the rockface that can be seen by all. A place indeed of awe and mysticism. Sitting on the rockface and caves gave an uncanny sense of vibration within the body and mind surely.
Pahari Food. My host and hostess laid out a veritable feast of Pahari authentic delicacies for lunch. The dishes included Avocado chutney (Guacamole), mixed lettuce garden fresh salad, pahadi chawal (laal bhaat), bhatt ki dal, uggal ki saag (Buckwheat greens), bean curry, maduwe ka roti (Ragi roti). It’s healthy wholesome but pretty tough on the digestive system. Its time to pack the bags, say bye to Almora and move ahead, towards Chopta. An intense day of riding ahead, see you soon….
Motorcycle took her toll, … This is a 10-day old photo… Fractured (hairline) my arm after an innocent fall close to Kedarnath, back home safely 8 days back and chilling out in a fresh plaster (for 4 weeks).