Cycling in Garhwal is Elation in Elevation. You can only love the climbs. This blog covers the first five days of the ride…
Uttarkhand has been home territory from the time I was knee high to a pup! We would go tripping there since forever. The place feels so comforting, that I wasn’t quite excited about cycling there.
And, how wrong were my pre-conceived notions…
Cycling in Garhwal
My cycling partner, Chaitra, and co-conspirator of CyclingMonks, (henceforth referred to as C-4, because she would bomb down the hills), had never set foot on this incredible land.
Thanks to her, we decided to ride over mountains where you get elated and elevated in equal measure.
The plan was to ride a circuit around Uttarakhand, starting and ending in Dehradun. The city has an airport with great connectivity, unlike the rest of the state.
Before I delve into the meaty joys of the ride, I would like to thank Arjun Rathore and Rakshit Joshi from Dehradun. The both of them helped us out a lot, even before we started the ride!
Day 1: Dehradun to Mussoorie
The first day started the previous day, when I messed up the assembly of the bike’s rear derailleur cable.
And the glorious day began with a ride to the bike shop. Auspicious start and all!
At the shop we were lucky to bump into one of our InstaFriends, Shashank. It is always good to put faces to the online names we keep seeing. Post the pitstop, we left Dehradun with the Ghanta Ghar clock in the city striking 12.
Noon. Time for lunch. Except we hadn’t even eaten breakfast. The first break was just 10 km into the climb for tea and water. Yes, we had forgotten to fill our bottles as well. Setting an example of how seasoned tourers plan!
The Yellow Brick Road. NOT!
The road from Dehradun to Mussoorie isn’t so much a road as it is a hotel strip. Buildings seem to stretch all the way through. You never really get comfortable with nature. There is forever a car tooting its horn in the vicinity.
It was a day of unbridled climbing. And that is exactly the kind of exaltation we had come to Uttarakhand for. 1300 metres of climbing in some 30 km is what dreams are made of. The traffic on the other hand is a nightmare!
Town Temple Red!
Around the midpoint of the climb, C-4 spotted a red temple perched on the corner of the road, high above us. She decided not to stop till she reached the temple.
And just like that the climb became easier. The beauty of climbing on a cycle is, that, once you accept the physical struggle, it becomes easier.
Once past the red temple, we stopped for a late afternoon meal at a dhaba. Only to be greeted by a weird sight. There was a zipline and an awkwardly placed bicycle on it.
A hybrid of sorts. You are supposed to ride a bicycle on a zipline across two hills, with a big drop below. The only catch, you wouldn’t actually be ziplining, nor would you be cycling. You would in fact be towed across by some poor sod, while sitting on the saddle smiling for the cameras.
The bicycle on the zipline seemed an awkward contrast to our bicycles on the road. It made me question, ‘what exactly is the definition of cycling?’
Go Beyond… Not Always!
Rather than stay in crowded Mussoorie, we chose to ride past towards Dhanaulti and then find accommodation. But hotels aren’t built as per our plans. After crossing the hill station from the bypass below, we had to eventually cutback into town to find a hotel.
Fortunately, it was a Tuesday evening and finding place wasn’t a problem. I dread reaching any of these crowded hill stations on a weekend. It sounds more like Delhi, than Delhi itself!
Our struggles of riding were rewarded with a view of the gorgeous setting sun over the plains from where we started our ride that morning.
Day 2: Mussoorie to Kanatal
The second day started with a view of the faraway hill and valley from the hotel room window. That gorgeous view had something alarming up above.
There were dark clouds gathering…
We coaxed ourselves out of the hotel and with numb fingers tied our bags onto the bikes. The sky was hanging low, ready to burst at any moment. We refused to budge! Standing under the hotel awning for half an hour, looking for every excuse possible to delay the departure.
The promised rain didn’t come. Instead the sun burst forth, showering us in golden rays. We peeled off down the hill on our bikes, glad to have the sun for company. But it was still freezing cold, there was no warmth in that bright ball of fire.
Racing the Clouds
Pedalling along the lush green hills, I kept looking over my shoulder at the clouds in the distance. No matter how hard we pedalled, the clouds gained time on us. The race between cyclists and clouds was on!
Unlike the previous day, we were climbing and then descending every once in a while. The descents were worse, because the cold air went rushing through our bodies like rags.
At Suwakholi, the village where we were to turn off for Chinyalisaur, I stopped and basked in the cold winter sun.
The sun helped my brain thaw a bit and an idea fortunately struck like lightning. I used the ‘phone a friend’ helpline and called up Old Fox in Uttarkashi. He advised against climbing the tiny pass on our route, since bad weather was expected.
With his advice in hand, we left from Suwakholi towards Dhanolti, another picturesque mountain town. Pretty sceneries and hefty price tags go hand in hand.
We first got blessed with a smattering of rain drops, which turned into snow flakes.
The Clouds Won!
A little past noon, the sun finally bid adieu and left us to the mercy of the clouds. Those pesky clouds had caught up with us slow pokes. At the first sign of snow, we stopped at a dhaba for Maggi. The noodles got over in two minutes, but the snow didn’t.
We had to hop back on our bikes and ride on. The road was still clear and we went ahead in search of accommodation. What we found was a tin shed with hot tea inside.
The hot tea gave us courage to proceed, but prices at the adjoining hotels gave us cold feet.
We were gradually losing altitude as we moved ahead. The plan was to descend to a point where we wouldn’t get snow.
That plan went out of the window along with the weather.
While riding through the tiny village of Kanatal, the snowstorm got harder. The temperature on my cycle computer was hovering around 1 degree C and we were in cycling shorts!
At the first hotel we saw, C-4 threw in the towel and parked her bike in the dining hall. The hotel owner, who was from Rajasthan, didn’t bother asking for any register entry or ID cards. He just planted two steaming hot cups of tea in our shivering hands.
The day ended early evening. As every second after that was us trying to work some heat into our frozen limbs…
Day 3: Kanatal
The third day of the ride became an unrequired rest day.
It was snowing ever so lightly in the morning and the sky cleared by noon. It looked blue enough to head out. But nature was playing a practical joke on us.
By the time we fastened our bags and gulped down breakfast, the snow started pattering down again. Within an hour it was a proper whiteout. We were fortunate that we hadn’t left and ran straight back into the warmth of the hotel.
The Rajasthani hotel owner was himself an ardent motorcyclist and had ridden around Uttarakhand multiple times. His love for travel made him shift to the hill state. As he told us while sitting in front of the heater warming his fingers, “I come from 40+ degrees in summer in Bikaner, this snow is not something my body is built to endure!“
C-4, who had just flown in from 30 degree Karnataka, understood the sentiment…
After enjoying hot food and cold ice, we withdrew to the room and spent the rest of the day Netflixing!
While the mountains are beautiful to gaze at in normal times. In the middle of a blizzard there is no visible mountain to gaze at. As such, watching David Attenborough’s documentary, A Life on Our Planet, was the best sight of nature we could enjoy!
Day 4: Kanatal to Peepaldaali
A day of descending…
It was all about going down on the fourth day. But before that, we went for a short walk along the nature trail in Kanatal. The cars, road, trees, houses, everything was covered with a blanket of white.
We had to wait for a couple of hours for the ice on the road to melt before we could leave. Road bike tyres aren’t built to be ridden on ice.
As I learnt to my detriment.
Black Ice Skids
While we were descending, a guy yelled out from the side somewhere, “BE CAREFUL”. C-4 didn’t hear him and went through unscathed. I heard him, brake checked and landed on my tush! In full public glare…
The pain was not physical, but emotional, as everyone was murmuring, ‘loooook, the girl knows how to ride on ice and the boy is a klutz’!
Black Ice is a dangerous thing. It had already hurt me emotionally. After seeing other two-wheelers sprawled out all over the road, I felt better. If the locals were kissing mother earth, then who am I to complain!
Suddenly the world changed.
Chamba, was just wet from overnight rain. There was no sign of snow or cold there. I was glad we hadn’t spent the extra day in Chamba watching rain fall. Snow is any day better than rain. My frozen toes didn’t agree, but still!
Post Chamba, we continued descending towards Tehri.
The Tehri Reservoir was created by the construction of the Tehri Dam. This massive dam was an object of numerous environmental protests. Eventually the people of Tehri village had to be relocated to ‘New Tehri’, since their old village now lay at the bottom of this reservoir. The dam is built in the Central Himalayan Seismic Gap, an area prone to earthquakes.
If things do go belly up, people living downriver from the dam are going to find themselves in all kinds of trouble. Which begs the question, is the ‘development’ humans chase, actually development or just exploitation?
Oh Wow! Blue Water…
At the first sight of the reservoir, we were ecstatic. The turquoise water nestled at the base of the surrounding hills was gorgeous. We stopped and clicked a bunch of pictures. Little did we know what lay ahead.
What lay ahead was more turquoise water. The damn dam would not end. We rode and rode and rode, but we were forever by the side of Tehri. After a point we just wanted to look at something other than turquoise water!
That wasn’t the only bit of torture we endured for the day.
After pedalling to the top of the dam, we were stopped by the CISF security there. All vehicles were allowed to cross the dam, except cycles. We were told to take a detour along the mountains.
The detour turned out to be 14 km long, rather than the 1 km, which would have taken us over this magnificent work of engineering.
We were peeved beyond imagination. The ridiculous rule for cyclists was absurd. The 14 km detour crossed over three hills, which took a lot of time. All that time was spent cursing the jokers who had come with such a stupid rule!
The detour cost us unplanned time and we were at a nondescript village when the sun set.
Peepaldaali had roughly 20 buildings, one of which was a lodge. While I have stayed in much worse accommodation, it was C-4’s first tryst with the ‘not so scenic’ side of bicycle touring!
The rooms were so, err, ‘basic’, that we spent the entire evening at the tea shop.
Peepaldaali is by the side of the reservoir. They offered a room with a view of the water, C-4 steadfastly refused that sight!
On the positive side, the lake offered fresh fish. And I had a fantastic dinner of fish curry, which amusingly cost the same as C-4’s vegetarian fare!
Peepaldaali also offered a different outlook of life. Life where internet doesn’t work! You have so much free time without internet. You must try it out…
Day 5: Peepaldaali to Rudraprayag
The day started with an option. Continue to ride along the lake for a bit and take a backroad or immediately move away from the lake and take the highway.
C-4 was clearly sick of the lake. She pedalled ahead of me furiously and took the latter option and didn’t wait for me to change my mind.
Climbing is Love
Thanks to which, we started climbing immediately after Peepaldaali. In 10 km we climbed 600 metres. It was pure joy as we climbed through pine forests, with the sun peeking through the trees.
The road was little used and narrow. Perfect for a bicycle ride as we passed through unmarked villages. Dogs routinely chased us through their territories, as they were surprised to see cyclists as well!
At Magaraun village, the road turned a corner and went down all the way to the Alaknanda.
These climbs and descents had a recurring theme. On the climbs I would ride ahead a bit and then stop for C-4 to catch up. On the descents, she would fly past and I wouldn’t see her again. Till she stopped and waited for me for hours.
At no point of time were we able to ride with each other. Which isn’t a bad thing. Because bicycle touring is best enjoyed alone and that allowed the both of us to go solo through the countryside.
Highways are Boring!
At the Alaknanda River we got onto the main Char Dham highway near Srinagar. It was a culture shock.
Road widening work happening everywhere, traffic much heavier and tiny landslides are constant.
The only other thing constant were the dogs.
Across Garhwal the dogs chased us. Near Srinagar on a small descent, C-4 was ahead of me and I saw a big black dog run after her. Unfortunately, the dog also saw me and turned its attention towards my ankles. I barely managed to stuff my cycle behind a passing scooter to avoid being bitten by that brute.
The high and mighty are wanting to build a 4-lane highway here. Unfortunately, those folks haven’t visited ground zero. Even building the current 2-lane road has seen a lot of erosion of the mountains. Landslides litter the place. One second you have smooth asphalt, next a bunch of rocks strewn across.
Development is not always good.
The establishment is also building a train track in that region. Tunnelling through the mountains and alongside the riverbed. The project is supposed to be completed by 2025. Every time I saw a crumbling mountain, I fear that these big infrastructure projects would not end well.
Riches at a Resort…
Lunch was at a resort. Well at least it had the word ‘resort’ in its name!
It was a dhaba like any other with a little more parking space than normal. The only difference was that the dhaba owner was an English speaking dude, who refused to take our order in Hindi!
Between the two of us we ate a plate of kari with 4 rotis. This was a filling meal after cycling a considerable amount. At the table next to us were a recently married couple who ate two plates of shahi paneer with butter nans, and then a plate of rajma chawal. For all that calorie intake their physical exertion was nothing more than walking to the car and driving off.
Which made me wonder along Gandhiji’s famous lines… how much of what we eat is ‘need’ and how much is simply ‘greed’!
The night was spent in Rudraprayag at the main market near the Peepal Tree. That was the address given to us, near the peepal tree!
Also near this old chowk defining tree, were plenty of dhabas. At one of which we ate dinner. Excellent mattar mushroom to top off a fun cycling day.
C-4 wanted to try out something local and ordered bal mithai. A sweet which is filled with sugar and then has sugar balls plastered all over it. Needless to say, it was sweet…
Bike Packing Bags: Via Terra Gear
Custom Cycling Jerseys: Hyve Sports
After Cycling in Garhwal we rode in Kumaon, stay tuned for the next few days blog from Uttarakhand!