(Enroute Chakrata from Tigerfall)
It had been two weeks since I moved base from Delhi to my ancestral place in a village (called Pondha) near Dehradun. Using the infrequent shared cab service that operates between our village and the city was wearing me out and the ‘wind in my hair’ experience (although there aren’t a lot left on my balding head) was being thoroughly missed. So a train ticket to Delhi was promptly booked to bring back my beauties.
I was packing stuff at my old residence in Delhi, for next day’s ride home, when it suddenly dawned on me (and this didn’t happen any sooner) – the bikes are two and I was the only rider; I couldn’t possibly ride both of them at the same time unless I had Ajay Devgnish skills from Golmaal.
So, I called my younger brother Kshitij and asked if he’d want to join me on a ride to home and then probably we could also explore the mountains for the remaining part of the weekend. Now, my brother who works at KPMG audit Gurgaon has a job profile requiring him to manually tick mark audit sheets from 8am to 2am – accounting for other’s money for peanuts of a salary! Obviously, he wasn’t at all keen to miss an interesting day at work.
But then, who can resist the idea of soloing on a bull on lone mountain roads?! A little insistence on my part, made him call in sick at the office.
On a calm Thursday morning we started from Delhi (before the office crowd could take to the roads) and by 10 ‘o’ clock we were already past Sonepat. We were riding along the Delhi-Yamunanagar-Dehradun highway rather than taking the more direct route to Dun on NH 58 and 73. Reason being, the otherwise peaceful city of Muzzaffarnagar was riot hit at that time and also we were bored of the scenic beauty of places such as Sakauti Tanda, Khatauli, Roorkee and Chutmalpur that lie on that route. So we opted for Saharanpur instead! (For those who aren’t familiar with these places, try parking your car on a street in Saharanpur; I bet two hours later you’d be collecting it part by part from the flea markets of Jali Kothi in Meerut).
It is a good eight lane highway until 40kms off from Yamunanagar when approaching from Delhi; after which the road narrows down to a single lane, for traffic running from either side. However, the road condition is good and there isn’t much traffic on this route, so we were able to average 50km an hour for most of the way. Only in the much dreaded Saharanpur, did we encounter a 15km long dirt track which took us an hour and a half to negotiate (not to mention the balls that were beaten to a pulp between the saddle and the petrol tank).
It began to drizzle as soon as we hit the hills of Mohand, 20kms from Dun – my mind drifted to the thoughts of sweat drenched white collared employees driving back an Alto or a Wagon R, through snail paced jams on the ring road, to reach home. I pitied them and moved on quite unemotionally, as if poking fun at their miserable existence with a twist of the throttle.
We were completely soaked by the time we reached Marigold café on upper Rajpur Road. The clear vegetable soup did justice to the day’s labour; post a round of Chai and Pakora we headed home to seek our beds and called it a day as we retired under the warm sheets.
I woke up lazily at 8.30am, the next morning. We had planned to leave home by 9, the night before – that seemed remotely possible as Kshitij was still struggling on the commode for the past hour and a half.
With great effort we readied ourselves for the day by 10 and planned to head over to Chakrata, a remote hill station, 84kms from our place in Dun. We were expecting the ride to be a hard one only for the reason that we were doing it on our vintage standard 350s, and there was little chance of a mechanic enroute in case of a break down. Little did we know that our first problem would surface even before we stepped outside the gates.
Kshitij’s bike did the second best thing it does with ease (the best will come later) – not starting unless one has kicked atleast a hundred times. Even after half an hour’s kicking, the bike did not relent – and then I had a superb idea. We pushed the bike on to the street; I asked Kshitij to push it to the far corner of the street until the bike gained momentum and then I could attempt engaging the gears to revive the engine from the slumber. The exercise was in vain! However, a lady from the neighborhood came running out of her house, stared blankly at Kshitij for a minute (who was still wearing the helmet and the riding jacket) and commented, ‘main sochi gaon mein robot aaya hai!’(I thought a robot has come to our village).
(Robot a.k.a. Kshitij)
Disappointed, we pushed the bike inside. I suggested giving the bike one last try before we called quits and abandon the trip. Surprisingly, two kicks and the bull hummed with life. I don’t know whether it was the performance pressure or the threat to abandon trip that made the bike start (of course! a bull has a mind of its own).
We were able to start at around 11am; gauging from the distance to be covered, I estimated that we would reach our destination by 2 in the afternoon. The weather was pleasant and the road conditions are good – perfect for a leisurely weekend ride. For 35kms between Dehradun and Herbertpur the engine purred at 40kms an hour; after which we took a right turn towards Vikas Nagar. The road being devoid of traffic, we cruised at 60kms an hour on the two lane road. A short stop at Vikas Nagar was made to stock some provisions and refuel our petrol tanks. We resumed the ride only to stop 10kms ahead at Kalsi (which is at the base of the climb) for chai and bun omelette. Half a litre of chai and four omelettes down, back on the saddle, we were on our way. The road up to Saiyyan (20kms from Kalsi) is being built currently so there are a lot of bad patches on this single lane road; plus the trucks carrying building material, plying on this road make navigating the various blind curves on this road, precarious. Both of us struggled to ride close in visible distance of each other; the ride was both intense and exhilarating on this lag, due to the traffic, trying conditions and the bad road.
It took us almost an hour and a half to reach Saiyyan; here we stopped for a short pee break, exchanged bikes and continued upwards. Chakrata was only 24kms ahead, the road smoothed, the traffic was almost negligible and the incline became steeper. Kshitij’s bike began to lose power (due to the incline and a recently built engine) and we were barely able to manage 25km an hour in the 2nd gear.
4kms off Chakrata, we were stopped at a barricade posted by the Chakrata cantonment board. After a prompt flash of our identification cards, getting directions from the sentry and struggling a bit with the kick starter, we couldn’t contain our excitement being so close to our destination and sped full throttle – only to be stopped again, two bends later by another guard. He asked for a ride to the town so Kshitij accommodated him on the pile of luggage already tied to the pillion seat. Nothing could’ve bogged us down but for another waving hand at the next bend. This time a police official wanted to inspect our ‘papers’.
The official asked for the bike’s registration certificate; I produced the driving license along with them. Disappointed that he couldn’t score a reason to demand bribe the official tried to harass us by asking outright stupid questions such as, ‘what is so scenic here to visit?’. Indeed you don’t only need eyes to appreciate beauty; proven amply by the officer’s ignorance.
Fifteen minutes post this ordeal with the local police, we were in Chakrata’s main market. The sentry hitchhiking on our bike, introduced us to two other guards in the market. They directed us to the ‘must visits’ of the place, among which cropped the name of Tiger fall, which was the closest attraction, only 15-17kms from the town.
(Tea, the elixir of life!)
With no particular objective, we organised our thoughts over a cup of tea, and started for Tiger fall. The road diverges at a fork, 1km outside the town – we decided to turn right and descended on a half built road onto a forested hill side. The path gently rolled down and we turned off the ignition to save some fuel. There are only a few hamlets on this very scenic stretch of the rustic Himalayas and it took us another hour and a half to reach the nearest road head to the waterfall, the bike being propelled by gravity alone.
(Beauties parked in the tea stall’s compound at the base of the hike)
One needs to hike down a kilometre long stretch to reach the waterfall. We parked the bike at a tea stall located at the start of the hike, collected our stuff and started for the climb down. The way down the fall’s trail passes through a small hamlet populated by local farmers and shopkeepers (who sell snacks at the fall during summers). The trail closely follows a stream (streams are called ‘gad’ by the locals), which merges with another at the camp site.
(Trail down to the waterfall from the road head)
A few yards away from the end of the trail we could see the two streams merging, there was nothing like a ‘Tiger’ fall in site, at which Kshitij hurriedly remarked, ‘ye hai tiger fall?! Ye toh cat fall bhi nai hai!’ (Is this tiger fall?! This doesn’t even look like a cat fall!). Little did he or I know about whatever lay in store for us?! A few steps ahead we could now hear an unmistakable roar emanating from something on our left. A few steps still further a cold and dense spray kissed our cheeks, igniting goose bumps. In sight, almost fifty metres on the left was the mighty Tiger Fall – secretly hidden in a maze of rocks, like a tiger on its nimble paws, lurking in the shadows for a chance to prance upon its prey (The water is falling from almost over a hundred feet with great force and its is nearly impossible to stand under the fall without risking serious injury). The camp was pitched at a safe distance from the water, where we could still listen to the music of the Tiger fall throughout the night.
(The mighty Tiger Fall)
All camp duties were put aside for a cup of chai and some introspection (along with biscuits of course!); then we sat down to prepare our meal. Using the butane gas cylinders that I didn’t forget to stock this time, dinner was ready under fifteen minutes and we savored the ration inside our cosy tent.
The roar of the water in the silence of the night, sustained a certain eeriness in the air and a reverential fear in our hearts towards the magnanimity of nature and the insignificance of the human kind against it. Recollecting the day’s experience, I gently slipped into the sweet sleep that was well deserved.
(Bed tea, round 4!)
Morning came with Kshitij gently prodding my back with his feet and demanding tea, again! Post a boiling pot of caffeine, we hiked back to our beauties. Surprisingly Kshitij’s bike started without much trouble, and we were on our way back by 8am. 5kms ahead Kshitij’s bike began to lose power, again; and the bike did what it does best – BREAKDOWN! It didn’t budge a centimetre from its place.
(the bike wouldn’t move an inch; we were more than happy to spend another night in this wilderness.)
However, some time of living by the bull has taught us atleast this bit, so as to be able to handle such problems. Kshitij inspected the gear box, made some adjustments to the clutch and handed over the bike to me for a test run up to Chakrata.
(Kshitij working on the gear box; you guessed it right, he sleeps with the helmet intact)
It took us an hour to reach Chakrata market 12kms away. Post a breakfast of bun-samosa and tea we decided to ride back the same way we came (although one can take an alternate route via Mussoorie, which is equidistant too), and reached home by 11am.
(stop over for keenu/malta/mausami juice on the way back home)
Kabul Bhai, who has been working in our household for over three decades now, had brought home freshly harvested urad dal (Black Gram) from the farm next to our residence. He was grinding the grain pods to extract the gram. The spin of the grinding stone wheel made me reflect on the full circle we had run in the three days. The trip has been special in so many ways! Especially for the fact that I could spend so much time with Kshitij (which was long due), getting to know more about a fantastic person, I have spent most of my growing years with.
(Kabul Bhai at the wheel)
How to Reach
I ride a ’79 Enfield Standard 350.
Kshitij rides an ’83 of the same make.
Extra fuel, engine oil, spares and repair tool kit (including a puncture kit)
Tent (We used a 3.4 kg Quechua 2 men dome tent)
Sleeping Bag (I use a Quechua poly fill, that works upto -5 degree Celsius)
Iso Propane Butane Cylinder and cooking stove
Dry ration and liquids
Kiwi bag for waste disposal
Pocket knife, torch, camera, spare batteries, lighters, candle and matchsticks