Himachal Pradesh: A riders paradise
Sharad and Praveer Kochar hit the road to Himachal along with 'The Brotherhood' (a biking group from Delhi) and carry onwards to experience Himachal in its glory. 1600 kilometers and 8 days later a story was told.
Day 1 - Delhi to Pong Dam
The plan was simple. Ride across the magnificent landscape of Himachal Pradesh on a bike with whoever was willing to do so. It’s not that I am socially inept, but to find someone who has the time, is amiable, a good rider and most importantly willing to ride a more manageable motorcycle across pot holed Indian roads was a pre requisite for this ride. So on the 5th of April - eleven Harley's, One Royal Enfield Desert storm (ridden by yours truly) and one KTM duke 200 (ridden by Praveer Kochhar) hit the road just like they had done so many times before. This would be my 5th biking holiday since 2010, pale by die hard standards but awesome by mine.
Unfretted – we pushed onwards North along the GT road making good time and were in Ambala (or just beyond) for Breakfast by 9 am. The Egg McMuffins were quite easily wolfed down by the pack who were sprawled across the American fast food chain franchise. Lunch was at the Army Cantonment in Ludhiana and we even had access to a few rooms to get in a much needed lie down. Who doesn’t love ‘khatirdaari’ lovingly organised by one of the Brotherhood. By 4 pm we were on the last leg of our journey towards our destination of ‘The lodge at Pong’. (http://www.lodgeatpong.com)
That evening we were gracefully hosted on the roof top of the lodge by Tikaraj Aishwarya Katoch, owner, landlord of this fine piece of real estate who regaled us with stories of the region and in particular how, during the monsoon the water on the lake rises and engulfs the property rendering it a stunning isthmus.
5:00 Am on the GT road (NH-1) is an experience that can leave you enthralled as well as petrified. The roads are empty; the weather is perfect with a distinct nip that makes you wish you had worn the liner in your mesh jacket. But only just. Petrifying, because the drunks are returning home at that hour and no matter how visible and audible are 11 big bore V twins on the road, there is always a drunk ready to ram his car up your ass. And he choose the Rs 38 lac Harley Davidson - CVO Ultra classic Electra glide as his target. His beat up Hyundai skid for 50 feet as he averted what could have been the grandest accident in Indian Motorcycle history. And even then he looked to us as if we were at fault. Ah the charm of North India.
Overlooking the waters of the Maharana Pratap Sagar with the Dhauladhar Himalayan Mountain Range in the background, the lodge is situated in the heart of the Ramsar Pong Dam Wetland and is the largest fresh water sanctuary in India with a water area of 475 sq. km. This is a haven for resident and migratory birds; middle-aged Harley riders looking to break away from the harangue of the city and not to mention keen anglers vying for the Mahaseer (Barbus Tor), Rohu (lake carp) and Katla (Catfish) of legendary proportions which we so eagerly tried to catch the next day with our fishing rods (kindly provided by the resort).
As the evening wore on a full moon rose over the placid waters of the lake. The visual effect of a moon beam reflecting off the placid waters of the lake with the snow peaks of the Dhauladhars present in the background was stunning enough to stop conversation. Yes that’s what you call a moon rise. It is a sight that makes you contemplate the choices you have made in your life.
Day 2 - Pong Dam
Day 3 - Pong to Dharamshala
Day 4 - Dharamshala and around
Day 5 - Dharamshala to Manali
By 8 am we were on the road to Manali. The 250 km journey would take us approximately 8 hours and weren’t wrong in assuming so. Gentle curves through farmlands in the shadow of the Dhauladhars is what it’s all about. Somewhere between Palampur and Joginder Nagar we stopped for breakfast of Egg Burji and Parathas and made it to Mandi by early afternoon, where we joined the NH 21 that would take us to Manali. A few clicks at Pandoh dam and by the time we had passed through the tunnel near Aut the weather gods were frowning on us. Apart from the drizzle that threatened to turn into a downpour which thankfully didn’t we were in our hotel in old Manali by 4 pm.
The ‘Drifters inn cafe’ (http://driftersinn.in) is the place to stay if you are fed up with all the antiseptic tourism with all the antiseptic people that you know. Why travel all the way to Amsterdam when all that you need is available right here – for a fraction of the cost. And you can even ride a Yak just outside the hotel. No Yaks in Amsterdam mate.
Day 6 - Manali to Shoja
Day 7 - Shoja to Kasauli
Day 8 - Kasauli to Delhi
To do's and not to do's - Learnings from the trip.
- JACKET and PANTS - Get your self a 4 season riding jacket and pant. One that can handle hot and muggy, cold and wet and everything in between. Recommended gear: Revit four seasons Sand jacket and pants.
- BOOTS - No point being cosy above when your feet are all wet. Gortex lined waterproof yet comfortable boots are a must
- GLOVES - Always carry two pairs. One should be a summer glove and the other a winter gortex lined, waterproof. I also carry a rain over cover which are simply dish washing gloves worn over your summer pair.
- REMEMBER - A COMFORTABLE RIDER IS A HAPPY RIDER. Because, you will not have a vehicle to jump into if the weather turns.
- DURATION - Dont ride more than 5-6 hours in a day. Especially if you're going for a long tour. And take frequent breaks for tea. It really helps.
- RAIN - You must be prepared for rain. Learn to handle your ride in the wet. Bigger heavier bikes become a handful on wet narrow roads.
- CHOICE OF BIKE - Large HDs, super bikes are not the ideal choice for touring in the back roads of this country. Adventure tourers like the BMW GS1200 or the GS 800 or the Triumph Tiger 800 XC are ideal. The next best is the RE 500 or the KTM DUKE 200. You might even find the HERO IMPULSE fun.