The fear and the freedom

The fear was palpable. I had never ridden a motorcycle in the Himalayas and I had just rented a Bajaj Pulsar 150cc from Dehradun Bike Rental for a week-long solo bike trip. The entire motorcycle trip was a last minute alternative to a tribal trek in Nepal. And, I whole-heartedly thank Sreshti Verma for pointing out these lease visited parts of Uttarakhand and Himachal far away from the tourist places in Uttarakhand. On the first day itself, I had to cover 160km which translates to six hours on Himalayan roads. With fear and a tiny sense of freedom, I kicked on.

After two hours of riding, I finally hit the quintessential Himalayan road. Narrow tarmac road, flanked by skyscraping mountains and a daunting valley, snaking past idyllic wooden villages, picturesque farms and occasional waterfalls. The quiet Tons river nonchalantly made her way through the gorges. Its emerald color is a proof that it hasn’t succumbed to mankind’s greed yet. There were a few farms on hills in between the banks of the river. These farms were not connected by any road. I wonder how the farmers get there. However much the locals smile, life is tough in these hilly regions and every inch matters.

Tons River in Uttarakhand

I stopped to take the above photo and a palm-sized stone came rolling down the mountain and fell centimeters in front of the bike. The receding fear in the face of beauty resurfaced. Being away from the tourist places in Uttarakhand, the roads were deserted and I barely came across 5-6 vehicles per hour. But, Tons river proved to be a charming companion. Along the road, I encountered an Impressionist’s dream – rows of different colored adjacent farms spread on the bank of Tons. How can you gain such uniformity in patterns and colors when forces of nature are involved?

The Patagonian Debt

Tourist Places in Uttarakhand

I was stopped by a group of schoolgirls right after the farms. They had just finished their final exams and need a lift to their village 15km down the road. That brought back memories. I gave a ride to a 12-year-old among them. Poor thing had to put my backpack on her back. Preparing her for the pleasant burdens of the future. I stopped at what she told me was her village but to me, they were just four houses stacked on slopes leading to the Tons. She insisted on paying for the ride. Now, how do I explain to her the 6,000 miles I owe to the pleasant people of Patagonia?

The road crisscrosses through the border of Uttarakhand and Himachal. I crossed over the metal bridge to arrive at the Himachal Pradesh checkpost. I observed two things. First, right after the checkpost there was a sign “yahan angrezi v desi sharab milti hai” (liquor store). Second, the road absolutely disappeared. That tarmac bit in the quintessential Himalayas road was a bit of a creative liberty. You don’t always find tarmac but the rest stays the same. You still have soaring mountains on one side and the valley of nirvana on the other.

Darkness and a date with the God of Death

I also realized something at this stage. The golden hour of photography gives you ideal shots. But, what follows it in the Himalayas gives you jitters – utter darkness. There is no blue hour. The sun goes hiding behind the soaring peaks and you are left with a treacherous road (if you can call it that), a fast beating heart and a humble headlight. The road was barely wide enough to fit one car and it was very moody and took sharp curves wherever it wished. And, there was no light in the sky or at the end of the tunnel. My sole aim of life now was to maintain a long-distance relationship with Tons river flowing 100 feet below.

The road was absolutely desolate. I didn’t come across any other vehicle for miles. My heart almost stopped twice when I honked and it reverted after hitting the eerily quiet mountains. Woof! Suddenly, a ‘crock-crock’ sound reverberating throughout the valley gave me a scare as it got louder. My heart kept skipping beats until my brain finally perceived it to be harmless frogs. At this point, my mind was functioning on Murphy’s law imagining a forest fire, black panthers, sloth bears and sharp curves.

I stopped the bike in the midst of neverending darkness. Even the mighty mountains were under a cloak of invisibility. How can you make such immovable giants disappear entirely? So, the strength doesn’t lie in the mountains, it actually lies in the sun. Without it, half the planet will plunge into eternal darkness.

I pushed aside onrushing thoughts and loudly uttered Syrio Forel’s final words to Arya Stark, “What do we say to the God of Death? Not today.”

Part 2: The Perennial Refugees, The Invisible Man & The Dwarf

Part 3: A Motorcycle Ride on a Blanket of Snow and Ice

These are my stories and observations from offbeat tourist places in Uttarakhand and Himachal. Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. Thank you for reading.