So they come up with a lot of expeditions, camps and treks which usually starts in November and goes on till mid June. Check out their site to know more about them. With my love for cycling growing with every passing day and my ever never ending pursuit of Nirvana led me join this cycling expedition in Himachal Pradesh to be conducted by YHAI. OK, the truth, I was putting on weight, becoming obese and was frustrated being single...so. So, I enrolled for this 6 day programme wherein we had to cycle almost 88 Kms and scale a height of 10,300 ft.
I, as consequence of my endless thirst for seeking Nirvana, along with a group of people whom I had only seen as 2 dimensional photographs on facebook were all set to move to Himachal Pradesh. There I met, Meena “Iron Lady” Barot, the oldest member Jasti Jagan Mohan Rao (59 years of age), Surinder Wadhawan and his wife Urmi Wadhawan and the youngest member to be a part of the cycling expedition, Dhairyash Kotwani (19 years of age). So we had them all, the oldest, the youngest and the hottest (no prizes in guessing who the hottest was). We belong to a group known as the Palm Beach Riders (super cool, no?) but have never cycled together. All of us reached Bandra Terminus on time to board the Garibrath and Dhairyash (DY from now on) was yet to reach. Apparently his entire family (Mom, Dad, brother, goldfish, etc) had come to drop him. The last time my parents accompanied me anywhere was on my 5Th grade results (I remember my father yawning profusely). That was it, we moved.
Palm Beach Riders
With some really good household food and with continuous lookout for better tasting tea we reached Delhi Sarai Rohilla, freshened up in the station public toilet (also known as the waiting room) and were off sight seeing. We had a bus to board at 20:25 from the ISBT Bus Depot which was all set to reach Manali in 14 hrs. We boarded the bus and moved.
What's the last thing you want your 14 hour journey to turn into? An 18 hour journey, owing to a strike by the HRTC union. We got out of our bus and were witnessing the cacophony when suddenly one of our group members, Surinder went missing only to later be seen as a part of that unmelodious union. There was a melee, confusion, uncertainty but the most intolerant part was the union's chaotic chorus - “Sadda Haq, Itthe Rakh”.
With a whole lot of luggage and some help in seeking direction towards our destination by the wonderfully effective, cooperative and beautiful locals we finally made our way to Aut, our base camp. So the base camp was basically 4 rooms all set to accommodate a consortium of 40. I could see a group of guys who looked as old as I do (well I look younger but...), with a look in their eyes that said “Ha! Another wannabe cyclist”. I gave them the stare, so did they and one of them asked me...”Are you a pro?”...I gave him a very humble, modest reply “Not yet” and a smirk which said “You'll know”.
I met all of them and came to know about their whereabouts. Most of them were from Gujarat, many of them from Mumbai too, 2 guys from Hyderabad, some from Dhule (in Maharashtra), Chennai, Kolkata and Bangalore. On day 1, we couldn't interact much, but all of us had the same misconception that everyone out here was a professional cyclist. I have been cycling for sometime but this expedition was also going to be my first cycle ride in 2012 as a consequence was pretty unsure about the outcome.
On Day 2 nothing much was scheduled except for a trial ride in the evening at 17:00 hrs, so all of us got some good time to know about each other, know about each other's occupation, brag about imaginary office environments, salaries and girlfriends. But these interactions let all of us know about Mohit Baitheneni - from Hyderabad (even though his last name sounds Italian). He won his battle with obesity by cycling 60 kms DAILY!! And the exact opposite of Mohit was a so called Pranav Shah – from Bhayandar who kept on telling us “Mein cycling ka 'C' bhi nahi jaanta” - well, was this an extravagant attempt to humour? We were all set to know. But then, something was missing, I could sense that there has to be one element missing, one missing piece of that jigsaw puzzle, one void that needs to be filled. But then arrived Shailesh NAIR. My chammanthi podi loving, idli hogging, sambar loving, ever complaining, communist, Malayalee brother. Shailesh had come from the land famous for two things primarily among the Mallu youth...Motherjane and Avial. Need less to say, we shook hands, embraced each other and shed a tear as finding a fellow Malayalee in HIMACHAL PRADESH was nothing less than a miracle. We later met another Malayalee named Nitesh Gopalan. Sailesh later said he now believed in God.
So before we could start with our trial ride, all of us decided to play a game of Dumb Charades wherein we encountered the Gods of the game. The Solankhi brothers, namely Raghav and Madhav Solanki from Pune. In the movie Unbreakable by Manoj Night Shyamalan, Samuel L Jackson mentions that opposite exists, Jackson was Mr. Glass whereas Willis was the Unbreakable; similarly we found our very own Mr. Glass. In other terms the worst Dumb Charades player to be ever produced - “Dhairyash Kotwani”. He was trying to enact “Tang” so that we could guess Tango Charlie. We also came across Nivedita Chavan whose skill was to wrongly guess movies. One of her artful guesswork was “Mein Bhoot ki Bhabhi”. But now all of us bonded big time as we had the same point of interest – DY's acting skills.
So our trial ride eventually happened and the next day we had to wake up by 5:00 AM, have breakfast at 6:00 and then scoot by 7:00 AM.
Day 3: Aut to Fagpul (17 kms, 500 ft)
We got up by 4:30 am to some frenzied movements in the morning as Mohan Rao's waist pouch and Mobile phone were robbed. So, not the ideal start to the day as suspicious looks flew everywhere. As a result our start was delayed by 2:30 hours. Prior to that we were given some instructions by our camp leader Mithun Das that we should avoid heroics on the road. You see, a wheelie was child's play to me...but then Mithun Das had avoided competition right from the onset. Jagan Mohan Rao (Sir), who successfully completed a 200Km track in 11hrs and 50 minutes (BRM 200 to be precise) was rightfully appointed the leader of the group and Surinder was our co-leader. And then we were off.The ride started off through a 1.5 Km tunnel and our roads were alongside streams, a dream ride already. The gradient was less and managable as we would scale only 500ft after riding for 17kms. This ride made me realize that “Gaon Ki Gori” was never a myth. We met Kalpana. Beauty couldn't have such a divine definition. Kalpana worked in a small shop and all cyclists had taken a halt just in front of it. That place was supposedly a landmark and we knew why by now. Our departure from the shop was delayed by some time owing to Ajinkya “Look-at-my-canines-while-i-laugh” Soitkar as he refused to come out of the shop and kept buying mentos for everyone, even though no one was asking for them.
Raghav, Mohit and Rohit.
Evenings were filled with fun, frolics and alcoholics sans alcohol. Dumb cherades almost uprooted our tent, shook our ground and almost got Ajinkya and me rolling out of the other side of the tent owing to heavy bouts of laughter. The Reason – DY. He was asked to enact “Vicky Donor”. Well, he didn't try to enact “Vicky” nor did he try to enact “Donor”, but tried to enact that little drop of fluid that creates life.
Day 4: Fagpul to Jibhi, 15 kms (2500ft.)
Altitude to be reached: 6000ft.
Level: Ok, now we are talking.
There was high drama early in the morning as men were not allotted washrooms and toilets but were given the freedom to let it out in the open. Ajinkya and I, with a bunch of toilet paper and water in that 2L Saffola oil container were in the hunt of finding a place to poop in peace. But most of them had already marked their territory. We finally found a toilet but before we could get in we were warned by a local. He gave us the impression that the toilet was haunted. Ajinkya and I laughed our asses just to convey sarcasm to each other, but ran away far from that toilet.
We were done finally, found an open space and marked our territory.
At 8:45 am we started off through the smooth terrain, little did we know this ride was only meant for all those men who appeared in the movie 300. This ride was similar to watching a Shahrukh Khan movie, simple in the beginning but painful throughout.
I was gasping for breath, pedalling for shorter intervals, crying out “amma, amma” when no one was around, throwing stones at Mohit to stop him from overtaking me. Mohit was whistling his way to the destination.
Mohit and I.
We had heard about a local delicacy called Siddu. We halted at a restaurant named Garden Cafe and probably had the world's best Siddus ever. (The recipe of Siddu is not in the scope of this blog, please find a suitable blog for that or click here).
Maa kasam! Foodgasm!
This was it, as Ajinkya said all the time, “Instant Foodgasm”. We reached Jibhi with Mohit still whistling, Raghav “the horse-rider” Solankhi only panting and I was cursing the world around.
In the evening all of us came together under one roof. Later there were families that came out of their rooms to understand the disharmony, clamor and lamentation among a supposedly troubled gang of young cyclists, but they later came to know that we were only trying to sing. These were fun sessions with Avishkar “trying-hard-for-his-french-beard” Mokashi singing nice and loud. Deepesh “always-forgets-his-lines” Tourani cited some wonderful lines of famous Ghazal singers.
Day 5: Jibhi to Sojha, 7 kms (2500ft.)
Altitude to be reached: 8500ft.
Level: Are you fucking kidding me? Who the fuck do you think I'm, an offspring of Bachendri Pal and Lance Armstrong?
This was by far the toughest route as the gradient was VERY high, the terrains were rough. Just 3 kms up and I was done. Mohit asked me if he could go on, I said yes. I tried throwing stones at him but they weren't reaching him and he disappeared. I went on, dragged my cycle until I could find a less steeper road as once you stopped pedalling there was no way you could be back on the cycle since you find no momentum and power to push yourself upwards.I then did what cyclists aren't supposed to do, drag their cycles. I dragged it for a good Kilometer and with Krishna “Ajinkya's-no1-fan” Kumar who gave me good company and was giving me reasons why dragging the cycle is always better than riding it and how you lose more calories when you drag the cycle. Dragged it for another 500 metres and that was it I started riding it again as I could find less steeper roads now.
Trust me, it was tough!
After 2 hrs and 50 minutes I reached our campsite, I wanted to remove my t-shirt, run and celebrate. But that is when I saw Mohit and Raghav “the horseman“ Solankhi yawning.
Later in the evening, Krishna, Viral “the-fake-22-year-old” Kacha from Gujrat and camp leader Mithun Das and I went trekking. We went deep within the forest to find some really spooky pine trees. Some trees were hit by lightning and you could see the devastation it had created. An epitome of mother nature's fury. Beautiful.
We went ahead and Mithun spotted shit, I asked him what kind of shit was that, whom did it belong to? He said it probably was a leopard's shit. I immediately picked up a pointed rock not for self defense but to save my companions. They couldn't see the love I had for my fellow cyclists, instead made a mockery of my efforts. Ungrateful tyros.
Day 6: Sojha to Jalorie Pass, 5kms (~ 2000ft)
Altitude to be reached: Almost 10300ft.
Level: Anything that has got nothing to do with cycling is a cake walk.
We moved on through the rough terrain taking pictures, discussing the past four days, talking about how awesome I was on my cycle, rumours about finding testosterone tablets in Mohit's baggage. (We later came to know it was Crocin). It took around 2 hrs to reach the top and it was blissfull with the view of the Himalayan peaks adding to the sanctity of the entire place. I looked at my fellow Malayalees and told them “This is a moment right here brothers. Three Malayalees at 10300 ft in Himachal Pradesh, on a foothill of the Himalayas is rarer than the occurrence of Haley's comet.” We smiled and hugged each other.
On the top.
Day 6: From Sojha to Aut.
We took a bus down from Jalorie pass to Sojha and were scheduled to move back to our first base camp Aut which was 38 kms away and at an altitude of 3500 ft.
With kachha roads all over and really steep slopes we had to control the brake and the handle thoroughly. With brakes applied we were moving with a speed of 45 to 50 km/hr. Control was the key as this was the most difficult part of the entire expedition at the same time the most adventurous.
We covered the distance of 38 kms from Sojha to Aut within 2 hrs and 30 minutes.
The perfect getaway, most of the time for people is with someone they've known for long, someone who is close enough to play the role of a punching bag on the way and someone who would pamper, empathize and shake his/her head when you want them to. But being with a set of people whom you've never known personally, never seen before is another experience altogether.
While cycling uphill there was no end to the mind felling steepness, but the only way to over come them was to over come them without thinking about it. Mohit and I cycled most of the time together and never looked straight ahead at the upward curve. That helped us move on, without thinking of what lies ahead. A principle we could apply in our lives as well.
For some of the guys, the trip was a confidence booster. For instance Sailesh Nair and Ajinkya Soitkar are not professional cyclists but on the stretch between Jibhi to Sojha which was the steepest of all the routes, they did not drag the cycle a bit.
The expedition was wonderful, my love for cycling has revived but beyond all this was the joy of meeting and getting to know these unknown faces and we eventually made lifelong associations.
For instance, Meena “Iron Lady” Barot, has lived life in her own terms and her stories forced out the stereotype in me. She has even carried the Olympic torch in Beijing. Vidya “Vagabond” Kulkarni, travels alone every year, twice, in an attempt to combat loneliness. She is a working professional currently based in Bangalore.
Meena "Iron Lady" Barot
Many more teachings and findings, which is just out of the scope of this piece. Maybe I can write one dedicated to all the people I met there.
We lived every moment, right through the rocky terrains, the steep hills, the unnerving downhill slopes, the feeling on reaching every destination; high exhilleration yet benign. The beautiful streams, innocent, unconventional children and Kalpana.
Rejuvenated, rehabilitated, refreshed and rewarded. We lived.
P.S: The food provided by YHAI was the finest 'Ghar ka khaana' ever. That is when Ajinkya came up with Foodgasm.
In all of our campsites we were allotted tents. Except in Aut and Sojha where we were allotted rooms. (10 in one).