Characters: I [Umesh] and Atul.
Though I accompanied Atul, but I have tried to put this narration, with him as the first person as this was his first trip to Himalayas and his first ever long distance trip on bike. Our journey commenced in the hot and sweating month of June from Delhi. With the sun shining bright and temperatures unrelenting, we decided to start off in the evening at around 5 pm.
It took us nearly an hour to move out of the snarling traffic of the city and another hour to reach Muruthal which was only 45 Kms from our place. Murthal [derived from Muni sthal or the land of saints] is a small town on NH-1 famous for its parathas [an Indian bread form]. After eating to our hearts full at Phalwan Dhaba we moved on. Surprisingly the traffic was heavy all along till Karnal. With his excitement on a high he kept riding till the early hours of the next day. At around 2 pm having ridden 220 Kms on NH-1, we reached Ambala. Although he was in no mood to give a break but I insisted and we were quickly in deep slumber in a small room of a road side motel.
Enthusiastic as he was, he woke up early and was on the roof top taking pictures of the rising sun. I could sense his inner glee and egged him for his animated actions [come on, who takes pictures of sunrise at Ambala highway?] but I do not deny that his exuberance was inducing. It was my third bike ride and I could foresee the pleasure and the bliss that he was going to attain in the next few days.
At 7 am we continued with our journey. Within an hour we were leaving NH-1 to move on to NH-5 [earlier NH-22] via Chandigarh Bypass and few minutes more we got had the first sightings of the hills from far. Atul on pillion seat had no control over his emotions as he would squeal and open up his arms in joy so as to gobble up the morning air. At 10 am we were crossing Solan and by 12 noon we had bypassed Shimla which was 150 Kms from Ambala.
The highway was in excellent condition and the ride to Shimla had been smooth. Beyond Shimla, the roads do get narrow but they were in pretty decent shape. As we crossed Shimla we ran into lush green Shimla Reserve Forest Sanctuary that provides a serene surrounding for the serpentine road. Few kilometers more via Kufri and somewhere around Bithal village we came across River Sutlej [From this trisection a road leads to Tatta Pani].
Now the road ran alongside the river Sutlej. Its gushing flow was reverberating in the air as if reminding us mortals of the nature’s might. The feeling was eternal though with some painful body parts. As the sun was winding up its daily ride, our in between refreshing stops were on the rise. The weather wasn’t cool but pleasant. As the clock showed 6 pm we reached Rampur [140 Kms from Shimla] after covering nearly 290 Kms in the day.
Rampur is a small and ancient town right on the banks of river Sutlej. Situated at a height of nearly 1250 mts [from sea level] it served as an important junction of various major trade routes of India, Central Asia and Tibet. Lavi fair, that is held every November is the largest trading event in the Himalayas with traders coming from Ladakh, Kashmir, Tibet, Yarkand and other Indian cities. We got a decent hotel in Rampur for only Rs. 500. [around $ 7.5] and we also paid a visit to a Buddha temple which was adjacent to our hotel.
The night was cool, relaxing and well spent sleeping. Next day we rose late and could leave the hotel only by 10 pm. Within few minutes the change in the landscape was quite apparent. The traffic was sparse and sections of roads were picturesque but scary [literally], especially the stretch from Jeori to Tranda which also features amongst the most dangerous roads of the world. Fortunately for us, we did not find any traffic that day, except a bit at Wangtoo, but the overhanging rocks and boulders would give us fright now and then.
After crossing Sutlej through Shongtong bridge and Akpa bridge and covering nearly 120 Kms we reached Reckon Peo at around 3 pm. On the way we also passed through the narrow market of Kalpa [the earlier District Headquarters of Kinnaur, now Reckong Peo]. As we neared Reckong Peo we got the first glimpse of the majestic snow clad peaks of Kinnar Kailash mountain range. Legend says that Lord Shiva meditated here during his escape from Bhasmasur and asked Lord Vishnu for his help.
To our surprise we quickly learnt that hotels in Reckong Peo were too expensive for our moderate pockets. Wisdom prevailed and bikes came handy as we travelled back to Kalpa and took a room in a budget hotel, Hotel Mount View for Rs. 1200 [$20]. Ideally located the owner couple was extremely polite and helpful.
We slept like a dead log in the cozy warmth of our quilts as it rained outside. Morning was bright with the high peaks adding to the gloss of the atmosphere. We packed our bags and rushed back to Peo [as known to locals]. The sights were splendid and the exhilaration that we felt cannot be put into words.
Reckong Peo or Rekong Peo is situated at a height of 2300 mts. It derives its name from the group of locals and the family which used to own this place in ancient times. We spent the whole day doing nothing there just gazing at the splendor of the place, enjoying the hot soup and momos. It is that nothingness that is most memorable for us even now.
Next day we set off for our last destination, Sangla. We drove all the way back to Karcham from where we left Sutlej and rode along the river Baspa. The road to Sangla was in a pathetic state and we had to maneuver the bike through the loose stones and pot holes on the way. The valley was cool and more tourist friendly in terms of accommodation and other resources. It had ATMs and a petrol pump too. The place is also known for growing best quality apples in the country. We enjoyed the food and the weather for a day before embarking upon our return journey.
I don’t need to convey the pains of the 600 never ending kilometers of the return leg but as the saying goes, no pain no gain. We took a night halt at Chail and were back in Delhi at 3 pm next day.