Cycling from Kalka to Kasauli, June 13th 2009

Me, My Bike- Trek 4300 and the Mountain Mist of Kasauli

Me, My Bike- Trek 4300 and the Mountain Mist of Kasauli

If you go asking people to name something that makes them instantly connect to the childhood memories, chances are that the cycle would probably feature prominently in that list. The romance of the cycle is undying. Yes we love our fuel guzzling sedans and motorbikes, but the cycle tugs the strings of the heart as it reminds us of the sunny days of our childhood and passage to adulthood.

For me, I remember my daily 5 km ride to my school from home, the long aimless rides with friends in winter afternoons, wading through knee deep waterlogged streets on my cycle during rains and foremost I remember long walks with my high school girlfriend (whom I ended up marryingJ) when I would just talk with her and walk my cycle alongside.

Call me fickle, or someone who is about to enter mid-age crisis (though at 29 I am still some years from thee) or someone who desperately wants to cling to fitness or whatever, I have always wanted to be on my cycle and ride it.

To cut a long story short, I managed to form a small group of cycling enthusiasts in my workplace (I am a software engineer working in Delhi, India) and together we dreamt of cycling from Manali in Himachal Pradesh (India) to Leh, Ladakh (India) and then to the Khardungla Pass (highest road on the world). This would require some serious training as we planned to travel 550 km at an extreme high altitude (average of 13,500 feet with few passes as high as 18,380 feet). So after weeks’ of trainings and long rides (some extending to 100 km), we decided that it was about time we set ourselves up the mountains and see how we fared.

We have had some experience in mountains previously. We had scaled from Paonta Sahib to Nahan (both in Himachal Pradesh, India). It was an easy uphill for the first 43 km and then a dramatic 7 km uphill ride. We had huffed and puffed and reached the summit that time and had realized that we would need more conditioning. So after 6 weeks of daily dosage of 35-40 km cycling and weekend cycling of around 70 km, we were ready to pick our spot.

Kalka to Kasauli (http://maps.mapmyindia.com/?where=from:kalka%20to:kasauli&q=search) came as the top draw for a lot of reasons. One, Kasauli is at an altitude of around 6000 feet. Two, Kalka is at 2100 feet so the altitude gain of around 4000 feet is respectable under any circumstances. Three, Kalka to Kasauli sports two routes; an easy gradient through NH 22 via Dharampur (climbing 3900 feet in 50 km on super smooth tarmac) and another stiff climb of 22 km through roads that is not great in condition. We chose the latter. It was far tougher to climb as the gradient was much stiffer; it had bad roads, which adds more challenges and it had less vehicular traffic, so we would be safer.

the route we took....steeper, gravelly and scenic

the route we took....steeper, gravelly and scenic

One last reason for choosing this route was because the road from Delhi to Kalka (approximately 275 km) is a straight dash across the 6 lane highway which meant we could easily reach Kalka, bike up and down and come back without spending an eternity travelling in our cars.

Our cycling expedition began at Kalka railway station on Saturday June 13th at 7 am. Kalka is a sleepy township at the foothills of Dhauladhar Range. The quaint railways station is the biggest in the Himachal Pradesh and it sees traffic in morning hours when trains from Delhi arrive and again in the evening when trains for Delhi depart. It is the starting point of Kalka-Shimla toy train route that covers 90 km in a leisurely 8 hours through as many as 100+ tunnels and many picturesque bridges. It is a UNESCO world heritage railhead and a must for anyone who enjoys the hill view at a leisurely pace.

Anyway, we unpacked our cycles from the boot of our cars and began the assembly. Just for pure reader’s information, I own a Trek 4300 mountain bike. Aadhar, the biker with most number of kilometers and experience in our group, owns a Terrano Mountain Bike and Gaurav owns a La-Sovereign Mountain Bike. Mine and Gaurav’s are hardtails whereas Aadhar owns a full suspension model.

At 7:30 am we started our journey. The weather was cool and the sky was clear blue. We all had bananas before we started and were carrying sippers with glucose and ORS (Oral Rehydration Salt) dissolved in water. We also had some chocolate bars to snack our way to the top. However, we all were in the mood for a nice steaming cup of tea to begin our ride.

So we stopped just a kilometer from the Kalka railway station in a small tea shop. While we waited for the tea, our curious attire and alien looking bikes attracted quite a crowd. One of them was a holy man with long beard. He reeked of country liquor. He first accosted me and quite to my surprise asked for my name in English. I have been mistaken for a foreigner during my Nahan cycling expedition (possibly because of the cycling gear, dark shades and long hairs than my complexion). He also told me that I am a lucky guy but the time was against me and some stupid stuff about I might get married soon but may have three marriages. I told him that I am already married and he scooted off to Aadhar. He gave Aadhar a gem of an advice. “sex kam kiya karo” (have less sex) and we all rolled in laughter. For the remaining of the day, I and Gaurav kept taunting Aadhar about the holy advice.

Anyway, we finished our tea and began the ride. The road climbed moderately to Parwanoo, a very small settlement, another 4 km away. We ditched the heavily trafficked NH 22 and took a hard left for the short and steep climb to Kasauli. Immediately we were hit on our faces by the gradient. The easy climbing gradient of NH 22 was passé, this was steep. To add to the woes, the road was too narrow and had lots of gravels. This meant that whenever we would encounter any big vehicle we would have to stop and pull over to a side. How difficult it is to stop and then resume the climb, especially on a cycle and on a track strewn with gravels (which minimize traction) is something one can only experience and not convey through writing.

long hard inclines....it is man's will versus gravity

long hard inclines....it is man's will versus gravity

I was continuously pedaling at 2X3 and found a good rhythm and steamed ahead. Being the lightest (at only 55 kg) I definitely had an advantage in climbing. Aadhar and Gaurav kept up the tempo in their own pace. We crossed the Kalka Shimla railway track at Taksal at 2600 feet, 2 km from Parwanoo. Aadhar and Gaurav saw the train too; I was a little too early to have missed that. Envy them for this!

The climb became much tougher after that. I was continuously working the gears to gain the best cadence but the terrain and the traffic would fight back. On top of all these, it started to get warmer. We stopped at a shanty tea stall in Jungeshu for some drinks and ended up consuming 6 cold drinks and 2 water bottles with 2 double egg omelets. Feeling more powerful and rejuvenated, we hit the road again. The climb became steep, then steeper and then &#%$@$@%. I kept pedaling uphill though one switchback climbs after another. Sometimes a vehicle would come downhill and the drivers would give us thumbs up as an acknowledgment to the testament of our arduous climb. It felt great to be appreciated.

it is nature that takes your breath away, not cycling...

it is nature that takes your breath away, not cycling...

The road was dotted with some very scenic and quaint villages in the backdrop of the mighty Dhauladhar mountains. All the settlements had one thing in common, a large white board on which the name, the population and the altitude of the village was inked in blue. None of the villages had population more than 500. Farming was the business of choice and we could see lush cultivated landscapes scooped out in steps on the mountain sides. The color scheme was magnificent. The deep blue clear sky blended into the dark green tall tree tops and rolled down to light green colored cultivated fields. The black pitch of the tarmac served as an excellent contrast.

Everything kept changing in the route. The sun soared, the temperature increased, the climb became tougher as we became more and more tired. The scenery changed too. Now we were travelling through green alpine forests with lots of streams here and there. Some of the streams directly flowed over the road. We could see many signs of landslides and huge boulders were everywhere. At times, when I would not see anyone behind me, I would stop at a landslide flattened tree trunk or a fallen boulder while the rest caught up.

some biking, some resting, some clicking......

some biking, some resting, some clicking......

Finally, we had our encounter with bad luck. Gaurav had a flat tire. We were 8 km from the summit and at 4700 feet, thanks to our GPS device lent to us kindly by Aditya, a colleague of mine. Just as what team mates do, we walked our bikes with Gaurav. Barely 100 meters from the bad luck spot, had we found a truck filling up water from one stream. Gaurav packed his bike on it and hitched a ride to Kasauli to get the tire fixed while we continued our climb.

Later we came to know that Gaurav had to go down 3 km from Kasauli to Garkhal to get the tire fixed and he rode all the way to the top alone reaching there well before us. To know the details of his sob story visit http://biking-zest.blogspot.com/?psinvite=ALRopfXatZC3C1aUQJiPCbzqieQBoiyyCt2-MDnEV0Yz2NrTfM6Wyp2YN5C9k-ElNeZOoopaTwL2B-BjdguAxJKxzzg61Qpu3w
Meanwhile, I and Aadhar kept pedaling and eating the kilometers in a slow but steady pace. The wind had changed and the clouds had appeared. The temperature had dropped and the mountain mist had started to make its appearance. I was fading in energy but managed to pedal.

We stopped at a hotel, 3 km from the summit, to grab another cold drink. It was a fitting example of the fleecing kind. A fully concrete hotel with poor facilities and sky high charges, something wealthy Delhiwalas afford with ease and achieve a “getaway vacation” feel. We were surrounded by a lot of locals and workmen of the hotel and had to unwillingly take part in a long drawn interview about us, about our bikes, about why we are doing such things, where were we headed etc. In the middle of all the question and answer session, Gaurav rang me on my cell and told that he has reached the destination, so we started again.

summit conquered....now time to smile and show customary V signs....

summit conquered....now time to smile and show customary V signs....

Slowly and steadily the countdown reached 0 and I met up with Gaurav. We had climbed to an altitude of 5900 feet from our starting altitude of 2100 feet, covering 26 km in little less than 4 hours. We gulped down another bottle of cold drinks and began the long descent to Kalka railway station.

The downhill was a mad dash. Aadhar stormed ahead, so did Gaurav. My bike was the only one which did not have disc brakes, so I hesitated to match the others in pace. Then suddenly came a huge downpour. We stopped at a small tin shelter which turned completely porous in just a few minutes. We shivered as we turned wet and the weather was cold.

all smiles for the downhill......

all smiles for the downhill......

The moment the downpour stopped I darted out full steam. I was pedaling the downhill just to get a little warmed up and started enjoying the speed. Later my GPS would tell me that I had achieved a highest speed of 66.7 km per hour in that downhill rush. All the spots, Mashobra, Jungeshu, Taksal… that we had labored though the steep climb became a blur as I rode past them like a man possessed. In little over half an hour I was at the Kalka railway station, our starting point. Gaurav and Aadhar arrived moments later all topped with adrenaline rush thanks to the downhill.

We celebrated our ride and laughed a good lot when Aadhar said he would come back here again and Gaurav remarked that he had better heed to the holy advice to up his performance. May be he will, may be not, but one thing is for sure, we would be back here for more fun on the cycle.

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One Response to “Cycling from Kalka to Kasauli, June 13th 2009”

  1. Peeush Trikha Says:

    Hi Manasij ,

    Kudos for your great cycling journey . I also like the way you have described your journey . Quite an Inspiring one .

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