Cycling to Chakrata

Road to Chakrata

A perfect mountain destination opens up the imagination of a place surrounded by tall snow capped peaks, streams, beautiful lush greenery, freshness in the air and finally an idyllic spot with very few people and concrete. May be you want to add the drama of a spectacular road trip leading to the “perfect” destination. Well, you got all of this in Chakrata, a hill station very few know, let alone visit.

Chakrata is tucked into the Garwhal Himalayas at a height of 7000 feet in the state of Uttaranchal, some 90 km from Dehradun. It is less known because it is meant to be less known. This is the place where the Special Forces of Indian Army trains, shoots, treks, learns bush crafting and therefore this place cannot be advertised to compromise its high security.

vikasnagar to chakrata

So when Aadhar, Gaurav and I sat down with our maps and truckloads of searched internet data and all sort of stuff to pick our spot for the next mountain biking destination, Chakrata won the ballot hands down. For pure cycling enthusiasts, this was a trip which would make you drool. You would be climbing from Vikas Nagar at 1450 feet to Chakrata at 7000 feet in 52 km. Actually the climb begins at Kalsi, 11 km from Vikas Nagar. In next 41 km the road climbs 5000 feet. That would be one hell of a climb to do and we all agreed to give it a shot.

We reached Vikas Nagar, 250 km from Delhi wading through some really patchy traffic and dodgy roads through Merut, Muzzafarnagar and Saharanpur. Our hotel, Guru Kripa, was a decent affair and we all slept well in the nice air-conditioned comfort.

The action began at 6 am the next day, July 4th 2009. We readied our mountain bikes, calibrated our instruments, stuffed in some omelets and bananas and off we went. The weather was good with no sign of rains and we all felt good. I had a bad start though. I discovered that I had forgotten my sipper back in my refrigerator, which was 250 km away. Also, I had a slight doubt about my form as a stupid fall from stairs a day before had given me a back sprain, a niggled groin and an occasional hurting shoulder.

the ride begins - aadhar and gaurav out in full steam

The ride was easy at the beginning as the road climbed just 500 feet in the first 11 km to reach Kalsi. Just a few months back Kalsi to Chakrata used to be a one way traffic route controlled by two gates operated simultaneously from both the ends. However, these days it is a free flow. But I hit my first roadblock here.

This route is out of bounds for foreigners on account of this being a high security zone. The check post soldier, after looking at me, arrived at the conclusion that I was definitely not an Indian. I do not know why this keeps happening everywhere. It had happened in the past while we biked from Paonta Sahib to Nahan and again when we went from Kalka to Kasauli, and hey presto it happened again. Thankfully, I was carrying my driving license and it saved my day and this would be the order of the day in all of the check posts en-route. I envied Aadhar and Gaurav who would breeze past these annoying check posts grinning widely while I would be flagged down and forced to produce my papers and use my vernacular prowess to prove my Indian-ness.

my foreigner looks - i was mistaken for a foreigner at least a dozen times in this trip

Just after we crossed Kalsi, the scenery changed dramatically. Suddenly the boring straights gave way to winding tarmac with huge eucalyptus and deodars flanking the sides. I was feeling great and loved the narrow winding route that all of a sudden culminated into a series of switchback climbs.

Winding Roads at Kalsi

We had barely crossed the first set of hairpin climbs when misfortune struck. Gaurav who had been complaining about his rear derailleur ever since we started, declared it busted. It meant only one thing, we would have to decide if I and Aadhar would push on or we all go back. Being a great team man, Gaurav egged us to go on as he had to take the tough decision of returning to the hotel in Vikas Nagar some 15 km downhill. It was sad to lose a comrade. We bade farewell and saw Gaurav go downhill and I could not help but feel sad. Gaurav is a live wire and is an amazing source of enthusiasm, losing him was a cruel blow.

hands on head - the heartbreak point for gaurav as his bike would not move any further

I and Aadhar pushed on. Just a few kilometers from where we parted with Gaurav, we discovered that we had misread the conditions. After Kalsi, there was a steady climb with intermediate steep sections leading to the village Sahiya 18 km away. The road was not in great condition and had lots of gravels and boulders, reminiscent of past landslides. Some places would just turn out to be mere rubble piles with little tarmac. On top of this, the sun was getting stronger by every minute and I could see the temperature soar to 34 degrees Celsius and it was only 8 am in the morning!

But our biggest problem was not the gradient, which was anyway bad, or the road surface or the heat. Our biggest problem was that we were running out of water. On a challenging climb with a hot sun, I would typically drink a liter of water in 3-4 km. I had a one liter water bottle and so did Aadhar which would never take us to Sahiya, 18 km uphill. We needed water and there was no village, no shops and no dhabas in the route.

Finally, when we ran out of all the water, I had no option but to flag down a passing military vehicle and beg for water. We got some and it was ice cold. It felt great.

the spot where i begged for water from a passing army vehicle and got ice cold water

It did a great deal of good to our spirits and we pedaled hard and ate many kilometers in quick time. We went through some army constructed temporary wooden bridges. The bridge would sway violently when a vehicle would go over it. When we crossed through them we could see what the car drivers can never experience. The wooden planks had 2-3 inches gaps and through them we could see the bottomless drop. Scary, but interesting nonetheless.

the temporary army wooden bridge with 3 inch wide gap between each segment - you can stare at the bottomless drop while you bike

We stopped for snacking on some chocolates at a dilapidated and condemned government building. We met with a group of horsemen who transport sand from downhill side to the villages above. We talked to them and we learnt that they were local tribesmen called “Jaunsaris”. It is believed in this region, that the Pandavas stayed here for some time during their 14 years’ exile and these communes practice polyandry till date, just as Pandavas did. May be Aadhar got buoyed by the talk of marriage and decided to try some horse riding, as a prelude to his marriage that is due late this year when he has to ride the horse as a part of the standard marriage rituals. I also followed him and it was fun.

the dude is practising for his marriage when he will have to ride a horse but definitely not in biking gears some horse power finally in a trip where my knees fell off climbing

We began our climb and pretty soon ran out of water again. There was no vehicle to be seen on the road as well. Finally we spotted a leaking pipe and filled our bottles. Another hour passed and we were again out of water. This time a mountain stream rescued us. Finally, we reached the village Sahiya, 29 km from the starting point. We had scaled 2000 feet in 29 kms in little over 3 hours, thanks to our frequent water discovery quests.

It seemed that we had hit the small village with a squall of some sort. I and Aadhar were mobbed in no time from all directions. We looked way out of line with our strange biking attires and geared mountain bikes. All sorts of questions rained. How costly are these bikes? How fast do they travel? Where are we going? Why are we biking? Are we racing? Why do they have disc brakes? Why do we wear gloves? One shopkeeper commented that we would not reach Chakrata before evening as it was a steep climb away.

i feel like a celebrity - this is what a mountain bike and a dude in long hairs gets in a village aadhar's turn to get the stares from the villagers

Anyway, we ate some chicken curry and rice and filled our bottles and continued. The climb immediately became tough. We had a 3500 feet climb ahead of us in next 23 km and the temperature had soared to 37 degree Celsius, thanks to my Suunto Vector watch which measures altitude, barometric pressure, compass bearing and temperature. In this heat with this terrain, it was tough and was no walk in the park. Being the lighter rider I was riding ahead and would egg Aadhar on from every vantage point.

spot the biker in the majestic mountainous backdrop aadhar climbing roads

Finally, at the 17 km milestone I and Aadhar separated as I went ahead. Separation from my other biking mate had a sudden demoralizing effect on me. There was no intermediate chit chat and laugh to be shared now. I hated everything- the climb, the sun, the distance. It took some hard focus from my side to remain on top of the climb.

The road became very beautiful soon after. I would see Himalayan oak, deodar and rhododendron all around the path. I would see the wonderful green cultivated step farming fields downhill. The lush green mountains would show a grayish-white carved spine, which was the road I had already climbed and to add drama to it, the whole mountain face would have fleeting cloud shadows passing over it. It was magnificent and amidst all tiredness the sight would mesmerize me.

scenic roads - between sahiya and chakrata shadow of clouds on mountain face

7 km from the top and at an altitude of 6000 feet, I suddenly started to feel a little strange. It seemed I was not producing enough power to climb anymore. This was my second experience of bonking. Last time I remembered being bonked out in one of my weekend rides of 70 kms to Greater Noida from Noida on a very hot and extremely strong headwind day. There was no way I was getting anything to eat here unless I do a Bear Grylls of the discovery channel series “Man vs Wild” and eat a bug or snake or something. I egged myself on and continued pedaling.

me on my bike our trip data recorders - gps and altimeter-barometer-compass-thermometer outdoor watch

I would tell myself that heroes do not quit, that people who have conquered have hung on to hope in face of dire situations. I would remember the stupendous survival stories that I absolutely love to watch in National Geographic. This entire emotional payload resulted in some inspired mountain biking albeit at a snail’s pace. Later my GPS would tell me that my overall climbing average was a little over 9 km/hr. That’s not really a race tempo, but when you compare that cars average at about 20-25 km/hr for climbs on the same road, it is not too bad either.

Finally at 6800 feet and 2 km from Chakrata the little town made a magical appearance through the woods and quite at the same time I heard gun shots ringing at a distance. Later I learnt that I was going past the shooting range of the Special. To me it seemed as if someone was giving me a gun salute for the arduous climb I had completed. A little over patronizing it may seem, but that’s how it felt when I completed the climb.

climbing done - now one can relax

Then came the best part of the biking tour. The downhill was a fast affair and it was there when the enormity of the climb really sunk in. It was a 41 km long downhill and we had great fun doing it. We would overtake cars, buses, pick-up trucks and even bikes in the downhill. Aadhar’s bike is a Tuscano full suspension disc brake laden downhill expert and he stormed ahead at such a speed that he vanished from my sight in no time. I was a little conservative with my hardtail Trek 4300 but managed a respectable top speed of 64 km/hr.

We regrouped at Kalsi and then did the final 11 km very gradual downhill to Vikas Nagar and back to our hotel. The full ride was a staggering 104 km. The feel of completing such a laborious bike day is difficult to describe but all I know is there would be many such days to come in the near future.

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12 Responses to “Cycling to Chakrata”

  1. Arundhuti Says:

    It’s simply amazing…I wish i could join too…would await for some more posts….Keep up the spirit!

  2. Aadhar Says:

    We Rock Dude

    Blogs cant get better than this

    keep the good work going buddy

  3. Richa Says:

    Good!!!!!! Biking… never seemed such Fun….!

  4. Nitin Says:

    After reading your post I lost myself in the dream of beautiful himalayan oaks and deodar. Would love to read more posts…. Congratulations for completing one more amazing trip…..

  5. Ashish Bhatia Says:

    thats why we say, get a good hair cut so that you can be linked as an indian entity… just joking.. gr8 to read this blog… and really feel that I have missed something… 🙂

  6. monica mathur Says:

    You guys rock..Blog is too good …I simply loved the line ‘To me it seemed as if someone was giving me a gun salute for the arduous climb I had completed.’… Manasij you are simply the best….

  7. Peeush Trikha Says:

    A journey well done and an inspiring lot .
    Well done Manasij .

  8. abhishek katare Says:

    Awesome trip,Great description!!

  9. vi Says:

    Good prose, manas. And great endeavor to do Chakrata. I hope such destinations get popular only among those who love the challenge, not those who kill it by pushing the gas pedal.

  10. S Kumar Says:

    Manasij…you ought to be an author…hope you were not fibbing??? Tell you what–start a TV programme on these kind of trips…make some money and gimme a job man!!!By the way they were asses not horses you were mounted on. Lovely pictures though and great going!!!

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