Feb 12, 2007

Himalayas, on two wheels

(To Hemkunt, Valley Of Flowers & Auli-I)

The sudden winter rains this Feb (which lasted more than 48 hours) brought back memories of my Hemkunt/Valley of Flowers trek a few years back. It happened in 2002 — an year of transition for me. I had moved out to a better start: leaving a hectic Aaj Tak to join a sparkling & slower ET… had given up an affordable maruti for a spanking motor bike (LML Energy coz dream machine Bullet could not pass the budget). And I was itching to race those wheel on the hills.

Such opportunities come aplenty when you work for ET. With a week-long holiday, bracketed by weekly offs, I revved up to Joshimath on an August night. It wasn't an easy drive, considering the moody truck drivers on national highway 24, and the fact that I was carrying a female pillion (Bubbles) who loved lecturing, along with two rucksacks strapped to a lean engine.

Most of the time en route I was at the receiving end of either the co-drivers or my own pillion. Every time, I reached out for my ready-mix rum-coke tucked near a shiney Gurkha knife, disturbing noises came from close behind. I realised soon that if I ignore them and pull a large swig, the journey becomes bearable. With various such lessons and learnings, I reached Rishikesh a little before dawn. My watch told me that I had about an hour before three more friends joined in and Glacier Tour’s shop opened to lend us a tent. I decided to tank up some energy and with rucksack as a pillow, I spreaded myself outside a shop and crashed for a cat nap.

An hour and a half later, I was on a tortuous hilly road to Joshimath, about 280 km from Rishikesh. Everytime I stopped for coke, breakfast or rest, pahari kids hovered around my skinny bike (which I didn’t mind at all) and some times non-pahari tourists tried to chat up about my travel plans and my skinny pillion (which I certainly minded). But the curvy roads made me a biker maxima. The only shortfall was not to be able to see the Alaknanda valley view sideways; yet the pleasures of negotiating the turns on two precarious wheels were heady enough.

A fresh set of lecture was in store when I braked for a late lunch past Nand-Prayag. Each bite of warm roti, laced with hot dal or sabzi, had to be swallowed with the bitter pill on vices of alcoholism. Llittle did the lecturer know that I had adultrated my steel (or steal!!) glass of water with rum and each time I feigned of choking, the water eased my sufferings.

By 5 in the evening, after a few scraps with mishaps, I touched Joshimath. The notorious hill drivers were still to catch up with the wily mobike couple. While looking for a campsite, a friendly hotel boy offered help with an irrefusable offer – Rs 150 for a room overnight with two beds and quilts (extra quilts to cost Rs 50 each). Drunk to my gullet, I accepted. Supriya, Vipul & Sukriti who arrived later, appreciated the decision and fell wherever they could find space in that 10 ftX10 ft room.

(The trek begins tomorrow (read next post…)

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