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24/08 – 29/08 – The final stretch

June 10, 2012
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Leaving Rishikesh I was really excited about the last stint on the saddle. I had just over a week until I was set to pack up my bike into a box and get a taxi to Delhi airport. With 450km to go, I have the opportunity to take a detour and really soak up the hills before I get onto the plains and into the Delhi throng.
My road will take me up into the hills, heading east out of Rishikish and aiming for Srinagar (not Srinagar in Kashmir, unfortunately). The road was quiet and warm and had a nice steady climb as I followed the Ganges closer and closer to its source.
A little out of Rishikesh my path was crossed by another cycle tourist – but this one was a travelling Yogi, making his pilgrimage from Kashmir to Mumbai via Armritsar. His bike was a raggedy affair – more of an antique show piece adorned with trinkets than a bicycle worthy of the distance he was planning. All he carried was a blanket and a bottle of water – cleary lucking in on temple hospitality and turning yoga tricks for a bit of change on his way. He stopped me and asked if I fancied a smoke – I found it very hard to refuse. We sat at the roadside while he loaded his large pipe with hash and we sat and had a smoke while he explained me his route and then proceeded to demonstrate to me some of his yoga moves – which were blindingly impressive. Half way through our encounter I had the feeling this may turn into a money request but I had barely enough to buy my last dinners to Delhi, seeing as there was no ATM in Rishikesh. he seemed satisfied with the offer of a pack of biscuits and we wished eachother well before we pedalled off in opposite directions.
The day was drawing to a close but the heat wasn’t letting up. I took the opportunity where I could to refresh in the natural showers that cascaded over the road as it meandered up the valley, keeping an eye out as I went for a flat bit of land that I could camp on for the night – but pickings were slim.
The last bend of the day was the biggest washpoint of the road, with truck loads of people washing themselves and their vehicles. There was a hive of activity around the water source, which was a little inconvenient as I spotted a flat patch on the roof of a concrete out building just down from the road among the jungle. I tried in vain to slip down there unawares, and while I was setting up a growing group of kids were peering from above and throwing stones to get my attention. They did indeed get my attention, but they got the picture when I started throwing stones back and told them to bugger off in my best Hindi.
That night was one of the most memorable in India. The overgrowth was enough that I couldnt hear let alone see the road, and it was cleared infront of my tent to afford me a view across the Ganges valley as if it was my own. It was hot but there was a breeze, and I could sleep with my tent door open as long as the incense I had bought from Rishikesh was kept burning through the night. I felt like a jungle warrior.
That morning I arose to a huge traffic jam on the road above – a landslide had fallen in the night some 400m from where I was sleeping. I brished off the thoughts of if it had come down 400m nearer and proceeded to weave my way through the traffic. I got to the front of the queue to see pedestrians and bikers chancing it across the perilous section of road as rocks and dust continued to fall. Two police, apparantly in control, waved traffic through when they thought it was safe – of course it was never safe. I took my chances with the pedesetrians and peddled in excitement as stones and pebbles fell around me.
The next section of road flew down back to the river and I crossed into another valley by lunch, taking time to enjoy another the first lunch curry stop. The road continued up into Srinagar, which I took the pleasure of lunch number 2, before the long meandering climb to Pauri. This climb was the memory that I hold dear to me one year on, for the beauty, adventure and prime of life fitness that I had on that day. The road was fantastic in every aspect – it meandered endlessly up the wide valley towards Pauri, which you could see on the other side of the valley high up in the clouds. you could just make out the road as it headed towards the town. I put on the tunes and slowly climbed, feeling the buzz of pushing and pushing as I climbed up through the jungle, feeling totally alive and for the first time really relishing the climb.
I rolled in Pauri victorious just before sunset, and set about buying bananas and onions and getting ready to head out of town and try and find another flat spot of land to camp. I timed my exit from town just as the school run was at its peak, which lead to me being stopped by a young girl and her mum on a scooter, who offered for me to stay in their place for the night. Being late in the day, and with the offer of my first experience of hospitality in India, I invariably jumped at the offer. ‘great!’ she said. ‘my house is just up there’ and pointed out of sight pretty much to the top of the mountain.
After a long and hard push up the hill (after climbing all day, now I was exhausted) we finally reached her house, which was in the grounds of the Pauri University. Her father was a university lecturer, but was blind, hence the local residency to his workplace.
Shiaddha and her family welcomed me in with open arms, offering me a shower ( I was in dire need) and some great food. We chatted into the night about India and Pauri and her fathers job until I could barely keep my eyes open. Bed was very welcome.
The next morning Shiaddha convinved me to stay the morning and gave me a tour of the university and the town. We visited a temple with not to welcoming moneys, who packed up and chased me out of the compound. God damn monkeys.
By 1 oclock I was keen to get moving, the clouds were coming in so I hit the road. The climb continued for a little until I reached the pass, at which point the clouds cleared and all the climbing over the last two days opened up as the road dissappeared under my wheels. I couldnt help but shreek with glee as I steamed down the jungle mountain.
The day continued much the same, save for when I stopped in a town for curry lunch to see that the sleeving of my rear gear cable had split beyond repair. I tried in vain to fix it, with splints and tape, to no avail. All the male population of the village descended on me thinking themselves as bike mechanics, but on to his credit managed to patch it up just enough to give me half my gears back, which was a relief seeing as I would be climbing up and over the valley to get onto the plains.
Night was drawing in, and I had the usual conundrum of no flat land to camp. I tried to hide in a cave but was spotted by four guys on scooters – not that its an issue, I just didnt want word to spread I was around. I continued on, the sun having set half an hour ago and it getting too dark to see unaided. I got desperate and took shelter in a bus stop, thinking that it would be pretty inactive over night. I waited there for a while for the last few bus runs to run by, and then set up camp in the shelter, using my groundsheet to block the entrance so passing headlights wouldnt peer in and wake me. Worked a charm, and despite the occasional rumble of trucks hurtling 5 feet from my head throughout the night, I slept undisturbed.
The next day I knew would be my last in the hills, so I took my time to enjoy the view and take it in, climbing the last 20km over the whole morning. I hit the final descent and got into Kotdwara for lunch time, and the heat increased to 40 degrees, along with the traffic.
The next two days were really grim, and not the way to end the trip as I had intended. At the same time I had anticipated this, as the road into Delhi was always going to be tortuous. It certainly didnt disappoint. Endlessly straight and congested, I consumed the fumes of trucks and buses for two long sweaty days. I made camp in a half cut field of barley, sweating the night through and feeling a little anticlimactic as to the last night in my tent. My spirits were lifted by a friendly farmer in the morning who took pity on me with tea after he saw I had slept in his field, which got me early and on the road for my last day on the bike, into Delhi and cycling along endless highway into India’s choking heart, for the end of the road.

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