By Mukund Sathe
Diary of a cyclist – a summary of Nainital – Ranikhet – Almoda cycling expedition with ‘YHAI’.
Day 0: 16th Feb, 2020 Sunday – मुसाफिर हूं यारों
Yesterday Rajesh and me landed in Delhi. Rajesh is my cousin from Pune and is a regular cyclist. We met Yogesh from Chennai in Shatabdi express to Kathgodam. Yogesh and me were together in Mumbai-Goa cycling. We three remained together throughout the expedition.
YHAI hostel was a nice place with rooms having bunk beds on upper floors and cafeteria on ground floor. I bid goodbye to my friend Jayanand who had completed the expedition as a part of previous batch. We had a brief chat where he shared his experiences (and also his hand-gloves 🙂 ). The bone chilling cold at night made us realise that cycling is not a big deal, however enduring wintry nights would definitely pose a big challenge. Hot food served at all YHAI camps was a big saviour. Found another familiar face in the group, Dr. Sudhir Bagde, a professor at Usha Mittal Institute of Technology whom I had met sometime back.
After breakfast we received the cycles and kits consisting of helmet, elbow/knee guards, cycling gloves and reflector jackets. As cycles were without stands, each time we stopped we had to find a parking place. Except for this issue, cycles were in very good condition. We were accompanied by Sanjay Tiwari on motorcycle. He was our guide cum mechanic cum organiser and ensured that our cycles and we remained fit throughout the journey. His UP accent dialogue “aap pahle meri baat sun lo” was a superhit.
We geared up for a “joy ride”. After a brief self-introduction of each of us and instructions by coordinator Shailesh from YHAI, we left for Himalayan point. It was about 6 km uphill cycling and return after site seeing. Some riders in the group were new to cycling and the ride helped them in practicing gear shift.
Forest check point was our destination where we “parked’ the cycles and walked down to Himalaya Darshan point and Satyanarayan Mandir. On the way we spotted melting snow.
Evening we strolled down the Nainital mall road and picked up a few essentials for the expedition from Bada Bazar. At night, we were given rucksacks in which we filled essentials required for the tour. Another chilling night with temperature 1 deg centigrade, and dreams of tomorrow’s Ranikhet ride.
Day 1: 17th Feb, 2020 Monday – कभी खुशी कभी गम
Learned to wash plates after each meal, learned to tie rucksack on the cycle carrier using bungee rope and geared up for the first long day. It was supposed to be approx 30 KM downhill, 26 KM uphill and another 4 KM downhill to Ranikhet. Shailesh waved the green flag and we took off. At Nainital bus stand, all the 25 cyclists were instructed to meet after the Khairna bridge. Some of the cyclists were from Rajasthan, Delhi, West bengal, but majority of us were from Maharashtra. Trekking, cycling hobbies appear to be well cultivated in Maharashtra primarily because of Sahyadri hills and forts.
The downhill was smooth. We crossed the Bhowali town, which is in deep woods surrounded by hills from all sides. As we moved ahead, we sighted the Kosi river deep in the valley. We could hear sound of gushing water. During most of the journey, we were accompanied by Kosi river or it’s tributaries.
As we descended further, we saw Neem Karoli Baba Ashram at Kainchi dham on the other side of the river. Baba had many spiritual followers including Steve Jobs & Mark Zuckerberg, confirming that the West continues to look for spiritual guidance from India.
A few kilometers downhill, we reached Khairna bridge. “Khushi” part was to be replaced by “Gham”. Now it was 26 KM of uphill. Time was 11:15 AM, it was so hot that we had to get rid of jackets and scarfs.
Couple of kilometers uphill, we had to resort to electral to boost our energy. The green cover started disappearing from the hills. Front gear was permanently on one, rear gear being adjusted between one and two. Only after pedaling for about 10-15 minutes, we would come across a tree to rest. Chikki and dates were our energy fuel. As I looked further, a modified version of Robert Frost’s poetry, “And miles to go (uphill) before I sleep…And miles to go (uphill) before I sleep” came to my mind.
Around 1:15 PM, we saw a locked house in a village. We quenched our thirst with chilled water from a nearby tap. We rested for sometime, had Glucose biscuits and started climbing afresh. Every break would allow us to go on for another half an hour or so.
Houses in the hilly region were different. While the top floor would be a shop or parking, the house would be in the basement.
We were trying to delay lunch, as post lunch ride would be more difficult due to lethargy. Moreover Tiwari had mentioned about Sainik hotel en-route. We finally reached Sainik at around 2:30 PM. Had a peaceful meal checking whatsapp messages with a valley view and hit the road for the final assault. Throughout the journey we had good mobile connectivity.
With untiring efforts and due to sheer grit and determination we reached Ashokdwar of Ranikhet cantonment at 5 PM when the uphill journey ended. As we descended, the evening shadows and chill air replaced the heat forcing us to get into jackets. Himalaya peaks were seen through the pine trees. Crossed the big playground, took turn at Gandhi chowk and reached Shiv Mandir. We stayed at a Dharmashala here, which offered an unobstructed view of the Himalayas. One of the toughest cycling day of 60 KM was over. It was a seesaw ride from peak of Nainital at elevation of 2000M to low of Khairna river crossing at 900M and again peak of Ranikhet at 1900M. I slept with dreams of morning sun rays on the Himalayas similar to that seen in Darjeeling and Pelling.
Day 2: 18th Feb, 2020 Tuesday – हिमालय की गोद में
It wasn’t too cold like Nainital. We were on chhajja of Shiv Mandir watching rampant constructions of Ranikhet town. Sparrows were seen chirping all over places. After a few moments, the top of the Trishul Parbat started shining first, followed by the peaks of Nandadevi, Panchchula one by one.
Finished breakfast, packed lunch, tied the rucksack on the cycle and started off. Today was supposed to be mostly downhill and a most scenic journey. We crossed a golf ground on the way.
It was a Himalaya day. Most of the times we had a Himalayan view on the left side as we cycled. It reminded me of Mumbai – Goa coastal road cycling where the Arabian sea was seen on the right side for most of the journey. As we moved away from Ranikhet, Trishul parbat view was getting clearer as the landscape of intermediate mountains changed.
After climbing couple of kilometers of uphill, we reached Majkhali town which had Himalaya view point. It was the closest point to Himalaya in our travel.
After admiring Himalaya view, we proceeded to a valley which was full of Kite birds (resembles Garuda). The nature had different stories in different hilly regions.
On Tiwari’s recommendation, we halted at a junction somewhere near Kharkuna for a delicious Samosa break. Again a few kilometers of downhill cycling around Katarmal village offering picturesque views.
Here onwards journey to Surya mandir started with uphill off-road of few kilometers. After parking cycles, we had to climb up for about a kilometer to reach the temple.
Surya Mandir was a serene place. It was constructed by the Katyuri King Katarmalla in the 9th century and it has 44 smaller temples around the main deity of Surya. It is believed to be the only other Sun temple apart from one at Konark, Orissa. All the deities were stolen. The Sun wheel on each temple seemed to be a specialty of this temple. We had lunch in the temple complex.
Achieved 35 KM today mostly downhill from Ranikhet to Kosi (elevation 1250M). The night stay was at an abandoned PWD guest house of probably British era. YHAI has taken over the guest house with borrowed electricity from nearby houses for expedition stay. Had experience of spending night in a sleeping bag.
Day 3: 19th Feb, 2020 Wednesday – चलो बुलावा आया है
When we woke up and opened the doors ,it was foggy all around. Another wonder of hilly terrain. The fog persisted till 9 AM after which we waved goodbye to the sleepy town of Kosi and crossed the river.
The uphill journey began. We bypassed the Almoda town and moved to Kasardevi. On the way again severe heat slowed us down. Electral, chikki, dates were back in action. We were trying to find a place for ‘Lemon soda’ for refreshment but most of the shops on the way were found closed.
Finally at Bal Dhoti village we found a shop having 7 UP Lemon soda. We got charged up for the last 5 KM uphill. Around a kilometer of stretch through Paper Saili village was too straight and steep. Once we crossed it, it was relatively simple uphill until we reached Star and Pines cafe. It was a lively cafe with multiple options to keep us entertained. After lunch we walked down to Kasardevi temple.
It was a beautiful temple constructed around a cave. Swami Vivekanand stayed here. It is also one of the three places under the influence of Van Allen belt having powerful electromagnetic field of positive energy created by cosmic rays and solar winds. We also visited nearby Shiva temple. The overall ambiance of the area was very peaceful and energetic.
We prayed to the almighty and returned to the cafe to move on. Our night camp was further down 5 KM. We began the final journey but halted briefly at the temple gate for photos. This was the farthest known place of our tour.
Some more pedaling and we were off-road to our camp on Dinapani ground. It was a small tableland setup with tents in one corner. Overall in Uttarakhand we observed too much of tree cutting for habitation purposes including this ground. We were instructed not to venture out in the night as the area was leopard prone. Sky was a bit cloudy, first time in the last three days, night temperatures almost nearing zero. Today it was just 25KM of journey but climbed up almost 600M to Kasardevi (elevation 1875M).
Day 4: 20th Feb, 2020 Thursday – आ अब लौट चले
The night passed peacefully without any leopard incident. At night we were literally scared out of our wits while venturing out for answering nature’s call.
Had another yummy breakfast and packed lunch. The food quality was really good throughout journey keeping us healthy. The return journey began on the backdrop of Himalayas, part of it was repeat through Kasardevi and Paper Saili until Bal Dhoti, where we turned left towards Almoda.
After savoring the famous ‘bal mithai’ in Almoda market and cycling through narrow lanes of Mall road, we relaxed for sometime at Swami Vivekanand corner. Next stop was at Barechhina marg junction for malpua, another recommendation from Tiwari.
The downhill took us to Chousali where we crossed Kosi again.
Chowsala bridge to Khairana was a fantastic ride – riverbank road with few ups and downs, a relatively flat stretch in the entire tour. On the way we came across a British era dharmasala constructed by a local samaritan for pilgrims of char dham yatra.
There were many landslide spots en route. It seems to be a very common phenomenon where the road gets closed for hours together until debris is removed.
Khairna to Ratighat was uphill of 5 KM. We reached by sunset and relaxed in another abandoned PWD guest house. We completed 50KM today 1000M downhill to Khairna (elevation 900M) and uphill to Ratighat (elevation 1155M). The next day was 25 KM uphill to Nainital. We planned to get up early and leave by 6 AM.
Day 5: 21st Feb, 2020 Thursday – बरसात
When the alarm rang at 5 o’clock in the morning, we heard another sound – the sound of rains. I peeped through the window, and saw that it was raining heavily. The hills had demonstrated their unpredictability again. After deliberating, many of the group members decided to call off the expedition. However 10 of the group members decided to brave the cold rains and cycled to Nainital, kudos to them. We called for jeeps to load the cycles and return to Nainital. Achievement of 170 KM travel in hilly regions in 4 days was quite satisfying.
Well, it’s never over!!! Last expedition was at sea side, this one on the hills, now will have to plan the next one, may be in a desert 🙂 . Oh! But before that I need to take a nice hot shower, as the last bath I had was four days ago, just before we started out for the expedition.