Sunday, January 29, 2006

Day 1 : Noida to Joshimath

Day 1 : January 29, 2006

The perennial biker's itch; that was what started another of the many country - hopping trips that we bikers do so often. For long, I have been on the look out for a place where I could try my hand at skiing. After much consideration, we decided the place to be Auli, in Uttaranchal. Auli is one of the most famous skiing spots in India. This is just 12 Kms away from Joshimath, which is the base station for tourists heading for Auli. Tourists, especially skiers flock to Auli during the main skiing season spread over January, February and March. Located at an altitude ranging from 2519 Mts. to 3049 Mts over the slopes, Auli receives bountiful snowfall, resulting in delightful snow covered slopes, making it a skier’s paradise.

The day started with some anxious moments as I stared into the ATM screen flashing an “Invalid Pin” error. I was totally blank as to what my PIN was. Another attempt would have been pure guess work and one more wrong PIN meant a locked ATM card for a better part of the trip. I wisely decided to take out the ATM card and move ahead. The ride to Ghaziabad to meet up with Manik cleared my head a bit and I was spot on in my next attempt. We started early, at 5:30 AM from Mohan Nagar, Ghaziabad to avoid the heavy morning traffic at the NH24. Everything went smoothly and the fog did not trouble us as much as we had expected, except for some small pockets of fog here and there. The highway from Mohan Nagar to Meerut was decent dual carriageway and helped by the very low traffic density at these times, we got through with it comfortably, and in good time. The dual carriage way ended at Meerut, though the low traffic still allowed us to maintain good speeds. We had a few patches of bad roads near Muzzaffar Nagar that slowed us down for a few minutes. The red hue in the eastern sky indicated the approaching dawn and I looked forward to a day of riding along the highways and soon the twisties in the Himalayas. The hue became brighter and soon it was dawn and dawn brought to us the little pleasures of traveling along the country side on a beautiful morning; the bright yellow fields of Mustard, the carpet of fog, lingering above the fields and sometimes extending over the roads, and the sun’s rays on the fog creating a magical display of visual effects that managed to keep my eyes away from the roads so often. 130 Kms into the ride, we rode into a traffic jam caused by an overturned tractor. Being on two wheels helped and we rode through the jam without much hassle. Hours of riding in the cold stiffens our joints and breakfast turned out to be a welcome break to refresh us up.

By 9 AM, we were done with breakfast and were about 15 Kms ahead of Haridwar. We had to maneuver through heavy traffic and three wheeled monsters in Rishikesh. The hills started a short while after Rishikesh. Being a shutter bug doesn’t help keep good time when I am riding the Himalayas and we took ample breaks to satisfy my appetite for photography.

This is a shot of the Ganges about 5 Kms before Kaudiyala, the rafting hub of Uttaranchal.

Roads in Uttaranchal can rarely be called butter smooth. They are decent at the best and our fortune of decent roads ran out around Kaudiyala, when the roads were all broken up on account of landslides or due to road widening tasks being carried on for about a 7 Km stretch. We were back on the usual smooth roads soon and enjoyed our ride along the twisties and the breathtaking sceneries as we climbed higher and higher into the Himalayas.

This is the last view of the Ganges.

A few Kms ahead, at Devprayag is where river Ganga starts at the confluence of Alaknanda and Bhagirathi rivers. The ride further ahead after Devprayag is along the Alaknanda river. A few minutes ride later, we ran into some friends who were on their way home after a trip to Auli and Karnprayag. We moved on after receiving a few updates about the road conditions ahead, from them.

We came across some mind blowing scenery of mustard fields cut into the face of the hill slopes about 20 Kms before Srinagar. This turned out to be a photographer’s delight and we spent quite a lot of time capturing the splendour of the articulately carved out tracts of flat land on the hill slopes across a river that wore a pleasant shade of green.

The stretch between Devprayag and Srinagar abounded in mustard fields everywhere and this seemed to be the main crop in these areas this time of the year. Riding along these mustard crops was a delightful experience and we took it slow, soaking in the beauty of the surroundings and enjoying the ride.

We were through with lunch by 3:30 PM and we realized we still had a lot of distance to cover before calling it a day. It was 370 Kms on the trip meter, which meant another 130 Kms before we reach Joshimath, our destination for the day. We decided to up the ante now and kept riding at a fast pace with only a stop for tea and another for a snap. We had the best hill roads in this stretch, which deteriorated a bit as we neared Joshimath. It was dark as we entered Joshimath. The main road is dotted with hotels and dhabas on both sides as you enter Joshimath. We checked into one close to the ticket booth for the GMVN ropeway and settled in for the night.

Day 1 : Noida to Joshimath
Day 2, 3 : Joshimath, Auli and back

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