Kanatal, The Search for unknown!

“Why do you stay in prison when the door is so wide open?” – Rumi

By Shubham Maurya (EDRC Civil) L&T TIIC

So this was the last weekend of the year. A good reason to go traveling.

As I said it was the last weekend of the year and it is very cold here in northern part of the India. And I decided that I’ll be doing a snow trek of Daraya Bugyal this time. And this I decided just a few days back. So, I was searching for the routes and places to make halts. This was going to be another solo, I put down few of the requests just to travel solo this time, as I was searching for something. I made the itinerary, the trek starts from either of the villages called Raithal or Barsu, but I chose I’ll be going from Raithal.

Day 1

Plan was to leave on Friday, make a halt at Roorkee at a friend’s place. Hit the road next day reach Raithal make a stay there for the night and next day trek to Daraya top through Daraya Bugyal. And now the execution part, as planned got the bike on rent, by the time it was almost 7:30 pm, the temperature at that time in Delhi was around 10°C. After all paper works took and the first thing first quenched the thirst of the bike. Next I set course on google map for Roorkee, which was showing 11:00 pm. Google map was showing the Ganga canal road as the shortest route and with least congestion. I thought that would be the better way as there could be heavy traffic on the highway. Sure do there was no traffic at all on Ganga canal road, but the temperature on that road was low as compared to the highway due to canal flowing by its side and with medium fog.

 

After leaving the main road I entered Ganga canal road, I drove for some kilometres and by now the cold has started to show its effect. I was wearing one fleece glove and one thicker glove over it. With that thermal at top and bottom. One layer of sweater on that a jacket which was supposed to be working till zero degree Celsius. All this and nature can be harsh on you. Slowly after riding almost 30kms on Ganga canal. My fingers were starting to freeze, and my upper body was starting to get shivers. After driving for another 1 hour in that harsh cold my hands were almost numb, so I decided to stop somewhere and have some tea. But there was another issue on Ganga canal road as it was not the highway there were very few dhabas, also as it was winter and past 9:30 pm everything was about to close or were closed already.

Somewhere after riding for some time, I found one small shop where one truck had laid by and some fire was burning I hit the brakes took the key and rushed to the fire. It is for real the human tendency, the things which we have we get so much use to it that we forget its worth only after it is being taken from us we tend to realize how much value it held in our life. Simple wood fire in such finger breaking cold weather was nothing less than finding an oasis. I removed the gloves and directly in front of fire, my fingers were so cold that I could not feel that much hotness even after being so much close to fire. After 10-15 minutes of warming up and having tea, gave me a boost up for another half way to Roorkee. I wanted to stop more but I’d to cover another halfway up and it was getting late. Google map was updating the estimated arrival time to Roorkee each time I was making a stop. Now it was showing 11:30 pm.

I started the bike, now it was little more difficult as my body had warmed up and I as started to ride the wind was colder and I was riding fast to cover more distance. I could remember my applied mathematics classes in which Newton’s law of cooling was explained which simply says that the more the temperature difference between the two bodies more drastically there will be fall in temperature of the hot body and in this case I was this hot body and I was losing heat on a faster rate. After riding through the fog for quite some time the Ganga canal road joined the highway.

Highway was not much better, in comparison to temperature but at least there was no fog, I could see clearly and drive a little faster and reach the first destination on time to avoid the consecutive delay.

After talking to wind for sometime I’d to take a break because again my fingers were starting to pain immensely, so I stopped took my gloves off and was trying to warm up my fingers by putting it against the silencer. Once they were little fine I started again, I was reaching Roorkee, and my friend Chaudhary was waiting for me to have dinner. It was quarter past 12 I reached his room. Took off jacket and gloves and sat directly in front of heater. While sitting in front of heater, I was wondering this was really tough and I’m glad that I did it alone. Times like this pushes you to your boundaries and make you to stretch your limits, which will always be hard and painful process but at the end it will all worth it.

After some talks with dear friend of mine, we’d dinner. He told that there is snow on the road to Raithal and with bike it won’t be possible to go. So I changed the destination, I checked for some place in an around and found a place called Kanatal. Kanatal was approx. 130 km from the Roorkee but again google map was showing 4 hours to reach that place. So I decided that Kanatal it is.

Day2

Next morning I got up and went out to check the weather, not to my amazement it was foggy. But as it was around 9 am so the temperature was bit fine than what I’d faced last night. I made Maggie and coffee for me and my friend Chaudhary, and we got into the pursuit to start the bike. After some little talking with bike, we came to terms and it finally started. It was not ready to start as it had gone cold too. So around 10 am I started for Kanatal.

Road from Roorkee to Rishikesh at that time was supposed to be little crowded. After again riding for some time, because of the fog my gloves and visors were getting wet. Also as it may seem that temperature was fine, but when on bike the air blowing past the fingers over the wet gloves tends to lower the temperature and fingers starts to freeze and pain. So I’d to stop couple of times before reaching Rishikesh to warm up the fingers.

Around 12:30 PM I reached Rishikesh, had Maggie and tea again for the lunch. Took some cash from the ATM and was ready to hit the road again. Now the mountains were starting and finally the sun was out and no more fog making temperature ideal for the riding.

 

Road was good, I was driving fast to make up for the time lost in traffic and also I wanted to reach Kanatal by evening as I didn’t book any hotel or home stay beforehand. After sometime I saw a beautiful curve and in front of that there was a scenic view of the valley.  So I stopped the bike on the shoulder of the road and was seeing the beauty of the nature. There was tea stall nearby and few of the guy had stopped to take break as well. I’d crossed these guys before on the road. Two bikes and four people. One of the guy who was extrovert enough happen to come me ask where am I heading I told him Kanatal. He was like we too are going let’s go together! I was like I came solo for a purpose, but it seems now the purpose is going left. I’d second thoughts but I’d instincts that guys seems fine to me and moreover I’ve found people traveling on bike are mostly likeminded, free spirited larger than life souls. Who are on the road to collect moments and make memories which they’ll cherish. When they’ll be old, they’ll have fascinating stories to tell about the things they did instead of things they wished whole life that one day they’ll be doing it. So I said, “Okay let’s go together then”. This was Akshat, who came to talk first. With him were his other three friends, Mehul, Suraj and Divyam.

Just like me Mehul was also traveling solo from Mumbai when he happen to meet these three guys in Rishikesh during his stay. So now our solo trip was no more solo. We all had tea discussed about the route and left for the Kanatal. We were driving back and forth and in sometime we reached Chamba. From Chamba it was hardly 15 km, but now the roads were narrow and the curves were sharp making the 15km ride take another thirty minutes to reach Kanatal.

Finally we reached Kanatal, there were little snow on the road on the sides. We again stopped for tea and Maggie as we’ve reached the destination. They also did not book any hotel or homestay previously. Most of my sudden trips were like this and this was no different no hotels pre booked. Once we had completed our tea and Maggie and done the photography, we started looking for some homestays or cottages for the night.

Akshat was having a hostel business in Rishikesh so he had sound knowledge about this field and he was suggesting a home stay called “Zero homestay”. It was actually a cottage type home stay, where a whole village house made up of mud and stone walls with a pitched roof of wood and stone will be given to you with a cook. Which Akshat made an awesome deal with the owner of “Zero homestay” as being in same line of business.

But before all this we were searching for this place on google map and internet was not working properly so we couldn’t find the place at first. Mehul happen to locate it but somebody marked it in inside jungle. We were right on the road and were asking people for Zero homestay and by coincidence the owner of the homestay was also at the same place waiting for a family who booked the other cottage. Akshat went and made an awesome deal.

At that place I was getting network, I did some texts and made calls. As we’ve to trek around 1.5km inside the woods to get to the cottage and I doubted there would be any network inside. We parked the bike inside a small house as it was the parking and it was protect it from the sub-zero temperature at night. We started to trek and the trail was covered intermittently with snow.

It was the first time I was literally walking on snow. After slipping few times I learned through my mistakes that I’d to put my feet on fresh snow and not on the hardened snow as the hardened snow was very slippery and I was not wearing spike shoes for snow, I was wearing waterproof trekking shoes. Life lessons can be learned fast in such places, no matter how many times you fall but you’ve to get back up on your feet, dust off and move ahead.

 

We all were walking and it was started to getting dark also we were walking through wood. It was feeling like we were in Narnia, only if you remember the scene from the movie.

In some of the patches the whole area was covered with fresh snow. It was very beautiful and also it was very very calm. Birds were chirping and wind was blowing. The trail was passing through dense woods and then after some distance the woods ended and there was a mesmerizing view of the snow cladded Himalayas of Tehri range. After more four to five turns we were reaching our cottage.

And it was quite a rustic one as I described earlier with stone and mud walls, pitched wooden roof with stone clad, inside there were two rooms and those looked super cosy, what else a traveller need. We threw our bag in the rooms and were standing outside to enjoy the view. There was snow on the roof, on the foreground of the cottage. Actually this property was on the side of the mountain so all you can see is downhill villages and roads and in front of it was a mountain of same height. The sun had almost set and there was redness in the sky, as if it was melting, cold breeze and total silence. I was feeling like even if time stops at moment I would not mind. One could go truly ecstatic in that moment. Nature is truly beautiful.

 

 

We were hungry too, after being lost in the nature, the cook brought us back with his superb juice of brass flower aka Burans flower (Rhododendron arboreum). It was so tasty that I’d three glasses then and there. The locals consider it to have medicinal properties which is good for heart and liver and also is it considered to be a gift from God. It is the national flower of Nepal, in India it is the state tree of Uttarakhand and state flower of Nagaland. That made the evening!

Soon after the sun had set because of the snow in the vicinity and blowing wind, the temperature started to fall drastically. The care taker brought some wooden logs and started kindling fire. After sometime fire was big enough to sustain itself against the wind. 

We  all sat down encircling the bonfire, chitchatting with some light music in the background and with some snacks. I happen to come solo but made friends.

May be that’s how life is, you want it to go in some particular way but it has its own plans for you. Sometimes it’s okay to leave things on chances. You’ve to dwell in possibility.

The night was dark and stars were out. You can really feel the beauty of the night sky. We set our tripod and tried few long shutter shots. When you turn your head up and could see the deep dark sky with zillions of starts you could not stop yourself from this mesmerizing view. You want to get lost in that and never come back.

It was very cold outside as we were near the fire so we could not feel that much cold but once the woods were about to finish the temperature of the surrounding could be felt. Our fingers were freezing while taking the night shots on the tripod hands were shaking we’d to be extra careful so that the shot doesn’t get blur.

It was around 10 pm and dinner was prepared, the care taker suggested to have dinner inside the room as outside food will get cold faster. We all shifted inside and had dinner. It was one such wonderful meal, I don’t know it was magic in the hand of the care taker or the weather was good or the place was good or may be something else. It was better inside the room, the blower was on and temperature was maintained else the night would have been very hard to sleep. Mehul’s internet was working and the temperature on the phone was showing 0°C at 10:30pm. 

 

It was literally both amazing and damn cold. We again went out after dinner to take more time lapses and do some night photography. By that time the temperature went till -2°C, our fingers were literally freezing when we use to pull our hand out of pocket of the jacket to click the shutter. But it was worth it. After that we went inside and had good night sleep inside two blanket.

Day3

I got up early as I wanted to see the sunrise. I woke up Mehul and others but they were lazy to come out of bed in such winter. I went to freshen up, not to my amazement the water pipelines were frizzed and there was no water. You could imagine how winters are in such places, we don’t even bother to think about all the amenities but at such places though it is very beautiful, even the little things can become difficult, but people live here happily. Thanks to our care taker he had fill two buckets full of water so it not a problem anymore, but water was very cold you.

So Mehul and I came out to witness the beautiful morning, in front of us there was view of mighty snow cladded Himalayas, there was snow in and around the cottage. Our cottage was little on the back side of the hill, we’d to walk 20 minutes to reach a point where we could see the sunrise clearly. We’d set our GoPro for timelapse video and sat just there. These kind of mornings I like, there was no one around expect the two of us and the wind. I was sitting there silently seeing sun rise, it is quite an experience. It will fill you with joy and help you forget everything.

After sometime Mehul also left, not I was the only one left to talk to winds. I was feeling the warmth of the rising sun. Many of you might have seen me always in active mode, but very few have seen me in silence mode. I prefer not to say things by words sometime when it could be told in silence. Silence has its own beauty. After being there and sitting and roaming there for almost one hour or two hour so I head back to cottage. Other guy have now woke up and they were waiting to see the time lapses I shot of Sun rise.

That day I’d to come back to Roorkee so I started packing. We all did breakfast settled the bill for the cottage. The care taker escorted us on our way back to the road where we parked the bikes. We came back from the same Narnia trail, minding the steps on the hardened snow. So we reached the road, took the bike out of the room where we parked it in, after some trial bike agreed to start, she was as we didn’t leave her freezing so she started to soon, else you know what happens. All of my rides, there happens to become a strong relation between me and my bike. It’s like human relation. You give your 100% bike will give same, well this I can’t say with humans for sure but it’s with bike. You love her she’ll love you back, you take care of her she’ll take care of you, you understand she’ll understand you. There happens to develop compatibility which is very much required above all, else there are always things that can go right or left but once compatibility has develop, howsoever the road be, you know you both will make it on the other side, because road and life are very similar. There are good patches, there are rough patches, there are roads through woods, and there are roads through highways. Some places you drive fast, some places you can’t drive fast, some patches you enjoy, some you think this shall pass fast. Almost similar to life, but above all what matters is how you’ve things with each other, once you’ve developed understanding, compatibility and trust you are good to go anywhere on earth. Because at the end of the day life is a journey, bad patches shaped us to be better rider, good patches made us enjoy the route by slowing down, roads less travelled help us build trust on yourself and trust the process and so on.

The other guys were going to Mussorie, so we bid adieu from there in hope to meet somewhere solo again, because world’s a small place. I started to ride downhill, I was enjoying the ride as I’d very much time to reach Roorkee. I reached Rishikesh had some Maggie and tea again and then by 5pm I reached Roorkee at friend’s place. We did chit chat and I slept early because next day I’d to ride back to Delhi in the morning because I’d office in the morning.

Day 4

4am I woke up by the sound of alarm, freshen up and started to geared up. Chaudhary also got up with me. This was going to be very challenging, temperature outside was very low and with dense fog. This time bike was angry as she was standing outside in cold, I and Chaudhary had to do a lot of talking to get started, and finally she started. So I did bid adieu to Chaudhary and started riding, I came to main highway. Google map was showing the way till Delhi in all yellow color, earlier I did not understand why it’s showing like that and moreover the estimated time to reach was also higher than usual. Later after only after a kilometre I understood why it was like that, it was because of the dense fog. And believe me nothing was visible, literally nothing, my bike’s headlights were not for fog, so all I could see with headlight was white color fog. Visibility was hardly 10m.

Reaching Delhi on time was important as I’d office that day. I was riding in the fog itself. What I decided instead of riding in the middle of road and relying for turns on google map, I started driving next to the road median (the divider), as it will give me the guidance and an extra check on the turns which google map was showing. I was very very careful while driving past the median as slight here and there and I would just hit the median and might cross the road or might fall off. It was very tricky by I was managing well. I drove for almost one hour like that but that all about it, in that one hour my gloves got wet because of the fog coming over it and getting condensed and turning into water and seeping into the joints of the gloves slowly the fleece I was wearing beneath the glove got wet too. My denim on the thigh portion and knee portion got wet and the inner liner which I was wearing beneath the denim too got wet. And it became almost unbearable to drive at such low temperature which was around 3-4° C in the morning with wet cloths.

There was immense pain in my figures, it was like I was tortured to 3rd degree. Finally I saw one dhaba on the other side of the road. I stopped the bike on the side and rushed to the dhaba. There few people were sitting around wood fire. I too joined those guys, I removed my gloves, helmet and the woollen cap I was wearing beneath. Those guys were like where you are coming from, I told them I was coming from Roorkee and heading towards Delhi.

They were shocked to hear that, as I was the only one who was on bike at that instant of time in such cold weather. As I sat near the fire, there were vapour coming from my denim as water was being evaporated. I dried my gloves and fleece too. I was waiting for the dawn so that I can have little more visibility. But certainly it was not the day to have idea of dawn. It was around 5:15 am and I sat there drying my cloths and waiting for the dawn till 6 am, but visibility was still the same. And I’d covered only 35-40km as I couldn’t drive any faster in dense fog. It was one of an experience.

So I decided no point in sitting and waiting I’ll drive slowly again. So I came to bike started it and started to ride again, after sometime 2 cars one after another were passing by. Those cars were having fog light, it was the silver lining for me. I followed their tail, it helped me suddenly my visibility increased because of them and also as they were driving little faster as they could see farther than me helped me increase my riding speed. Also following them was an advantage as the road width and the turns were getting automatically crosschecked by the cars ahead of me because both cars were maintaining some horizontal distance between them, which helped me visualize as I said the width of the road now I no longer have to drive past the median to get the way. So, as I said that was certainly not the day to think of dawn, if only you can get what I mean to say. Driving faster invited for more colder air filled with moisture of fog to pass over my gloves and past my body, again making my gloves and denim wet, as my jacket was waterproof it didn’t matter much on the upper body but it started to affect my fingers again.

Now I was in dilemma to follow the car and cover faster or to acknowledge the pain in the fingers, I bared the pain till it became unbearable. I’d to slow down and leave cars and back to following the median. All this and suddenly in some patches where there was agricultural field along the highway the fog will become very dense. I was searching for a place to stop but in that stretch there were no dhabas moreover whatever were there, were closed. That was intense moment I’d to control my thoughts and emotions to get through it. Constantly I was reminding myself that it will pass, it will pass and it did not for quite sometime. But I’d this sheer will to reach at all cost. In this thought I overshoot one place where I saw big wood fire. Suddenly I hit the brake and bike skid as the road was also wet with fog’s condensation, I stopped it, went back to that place. It was entrance of a warehouse, the watchman had one hell of a wood fire.

I parked the bike and started to warmup my hands and body. Vapours started to come again from denim and gloves. But my hands were so cold that I’d to keep it directly above the fire to bring it back to normal, finally there was little relief. It was around 7am, now there was some light and visibility around 15-20m. I was now recalculating still I’d to reach Meerut and from there another 100km to my place. Google map was showing another 4 hour because to the fog now traffic got added. So I gave second thought anyway I’ll not be reaching in first half to better I’ll wait for some more time till the fog becomes little light then I’ll start by that time I’ll dry up my denim. So I waited another 40 minutes and started again.

But this was the case, as now my body had warmed up, I felt colder comparatively as I would be continuously riding. Also again by Newton’s law of cooling I would lose the body heat on faster rate. All this science back of head and with sheer will I was riding fast now as fog was not that much dense. After riding for another 40 minutes I reached Meerut. The weather was same, fog and cold wind and gloves were wet again. I decided it would be better if I find a hotel and take some rest and it was 8 am and all that I covered in 3.5 hours was just 100km. I booked a hotel with my shivering hand and did check in. I thought they’ll have room heater and it would be nice to warm the body and hands but as I said it was not the day to think of dawn. They didn’t have the room heater in room but the only one heater that too at the reception. So I threw the bag in room and sat directly at the reception in front of heater, it was a small heater it was not drying up the denim faster. I decided better I’ll go inside the blanket and sleep for sometime then after that I’ll hit the road. I gave the gloves for drying went to room to sleep.

I’d hardly slept for 40 minutes in that my friend called checking on me whether I reached or not. I told him long story short and went back to sleep. After 10 minutes or so again I got the call, this time it was my manager, again I told him the long story short and went back to sleep. But because of all this disturbance, sleep went somewhere else. So eventually I’d to get up, and I thought now better gear up and leave as I was feeling bit fine now. I did checkout and geared up again to leave. Now I was filled with enthusiasm and I was talking to wind now, but not for so long. Soon I hit with traffic and I was like, today I think will see directly dusk, no dawn for the day. I was keeping patience and driving slowly again not because of fog now but because of traffic.

So by 1 pm I reached room, got fresh and hit the office in second half!

The End???

“Sometimes life’s going to hit you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith.” – Steve Jobs

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