Kasauli Revisited: The Last Man Standing

beautiful monsoon induced greenery on way to Kasauli and a striking red attired cyclist

beautiful monsoon induced greenery on way to Kasauli and a striking red attired cyclist

The alarm screamed loudly…..

I woke up and sat on the bed dazed, unsure of my bearings. There were bodies strewn all around me, as if I was in the middle of a gothic battlefield. Where was I? What place is this? What is happening?

Slowly the rude shock of the electronic daemon’s war cry, AKA the alarm sound, weaned off and the situation started to sink in. I was in Zirakpur near Chandigarh. I had come here last night with my friends from Delhi. I had a huge party with effervescent people who now slept littering the floor. I had staved off all my cravings for alcohol because I have to go cycling today morning. That’s why the alarm sounded at 4:45 am.

Finally I got myself into shape and left the place at 6 am. Kalka railway station was a short but boring drive on a highway with infinite number of diversions owing to road widening. I reached Kalka and as soon as I stepped off the air-conditioned car, I hated it. It was hot and humid. Grudgingly, I picked up my Trek 4300 from the car boot and assembled it. Then I calibrated the Garmin GPS and my Suunto watch and set off at 7 am.

My destination was Kasauli, 26 km away from Kalka railway station and I had a task to haul up the bike another 4000 feet. I have done this circuit in the past (Click here to see the blog) but then I was with my friends. Today I was alone. My associates of mountain biking had one by one fallen; leaving me alone.

Once upon a time we were four comrades who bought swanky foreign made mountain bikes and dreamed to reach the Khardung La pass in Ladakh which is the highest road on the world. We did our cycling trips together as we prepared ourselves for the ultimate challenge. As time went by, the gang of four pruned to three. We were three when we did Kalka-Kasauli last time. We got reduced from three to two when we did Chakrata Trip. This time there was no one except me, thus the title “The Last Man Standing”.

my machinery, trek 4300, had developed a snag and I had to choose a constant gear to climb the most of the distance

my machinery, trek 4300, had developed a snag and I had to choose a constant gear to climb the most of the distance

I passed the Kalka town, still largely asleep. 4 km further and 400 feet upstream I passed Parwanoo and took a left turn bidding adieu to National Highway 22. It was then I realized that my rear derailleur was not being kind to me. I had problems in the middle band of gears and grudgingly had to choose a compromise gear combination (2X2 in this case). The terrain was climbing moderately till Taksal and I could see tea shop owner opening their stalls for day’s business. Lots of them were amazed to see me, partly because I was on a mountain bike, partly because it was too early in the morning, partly because I looked way too weird in my bright red cycling gears and long hairs.

not a soul visible anywhere.....one of the loneliest rides I have done anywhere

not a soul visible anywhere.....one of the loneliest rides I have done anywhere

The route was absolutely deserted. Not a soul to be seen anywhere. The weather was kindly cool and there was no sign of  monsoon showers. As the first 5 km ticked by, I stopped by a stream. I was reeling under a loss of sense of humor. The haul was tough, my machinery was not making it any easier thanks to my static gears and above all I was alone. There was no one to share a laugh, no one to share a joke and keep the spirits high. I missed my mates and it was telling on me.

I helped myself with a chocolate bar as I fought the daemons in my head who wanted me to turn back and head to the comfy bed. Eventually I got up and picked up the bike, still under a sense of loss. Tough situations need motivations and I was running low. And then suddenly as I took one more hairpin bend, something dramatic happened.

amazing greenery that swept my feet.....a dose of enthusiasm supplied by the nature to a lonely cyclist

amazing greenery that swept my feet.....a dose of enthusiasm supplied by the nature to a lonely cyclist

Out of nowhere, I was flanked by beautiful green mountains from all directions. The monsoon rains had turned the hills into a green heaven. The sight was amazing. For a cyclist bogged down by everything and most dangerously by a sinking morale, the nature’s bounties seemed to tell only one thing; keep going.

clicked myself at the turning point of the trip in the backdrop of greens

clicked myself at the turning point of the trip in the backdrop of greens

I stopped at the spot and wondered at the beautiful panorama and started feeling a change within me. I was, all of a sudden, raring to go on and feeling good. I clicked a picture of the spot and moved on full of enthusiasm.

a beautiful climb section

a beautiful climb section

more climbs, more scenery

more climbs, more scenery

There on everything became a breeze. I was feeling good. The road was amazingly scenic with so much of greenery that it looked as if a green snow fall had happened around me. There were gurgling brooks and running streams every now and there. It was climbing all the way through switchbacks and hairpins but it did not seem to take the fun out of me. The stuck gear or even the loneliness of my climb did not matter. When I wanted to stop, I stopped and clicked pictures. When I wanted to go, I would pound on the pedals and km just went by effortlessly.

the first view of Kasauli.....look carefully at the top of section of the picture and you will see English sytle built ups

the first view of Kasauli.....look carefully at the top section of the picture and you will see tiny English style built ups

With 6 km to the destination, suddenly the Kasauli town peeked out of the tall mountainsides. A last section of 1500 feel of climb separated me from the summit. One more chocolate bar went down with some more glucose water.

the Kasauli Mall.....they sell everything from momo to clothes

the Kasauli Mall.....they sell everything from momo to clothes

The last section of the climb was the steepest, at around 9-10% gradient but it went down effortlessly and finally I was at Kasauli Bazar, the lower mall. It had taken me 3 hours 25 minutes to climb 4000 feet and cover 26 km.

the legendary english church of kasauli

the legendary english church of kasauli

Then I was in front of a “must see” spot of Kasauli, the English Church. Another picture taken and I declared the mission accomplished.

The downhill was an easy affair. It lasted less than 45 minutes and I was back at Kalka railway station at 11:30 am. Overall stats of the trip were pretty good from my own standards. My climbing average was around 10.5 kmph, decent when you see cars average 20-25 kmph on the same stretch. The downhill average was around 40 kmph, better than the cars by a big margin.

However, what the stats do not reveal is the triumph of will and the spirit. After all, why do we do mountain biking? You know, you can reach the top by your car and you will break no sweat on your forehead. I guess, I do it for fun for the start, but then it is so much more than just a sport for fun. You suffer, you huff and puff, you curse the terrain, you hate the sun – the wind, but then once you reach the top you feel a sense of achievement unmatched. Yes, the natural beauty that comes in to reward you with visual bonanzas do help and motivate, but then who does not love an extra life in Packman or a penalty shot in soccer? Isn’t it a part of the game?

I remember a nice phrase which one of my ex mountain biking mates said and that pretty much sums up everything: between a mountain and a biker, the mountain stands no chances.

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8 Responses to “Kasauli Revisited: The Last Man Standing”

  1. Ramit Says:

    Mannu!

    That’s an amazing blog and I m sure it projects your passion for biking, so well. But what happened to your partners????? Anyways, it feels good to see that have never seen you so crazy about anything. Not even with smoking and Single Malt 😉 May god be with you and keep you safe and healthy. Gud Luck My Friend!

  2. Prabhakar Karve Says:

    Hats off to you and your indominable spirit!!!

    You write so beautifully, it almost feels like one is there with you.

    Sorry to hear you are left alone in your great expedition, but you are not alone. There are many silently wishing you safe journey and an amazing experience. Enjoy

  3. Aditya Says:

    Nicely written. I haven’t done mountain biking myself, but can absolutely relate to the ‘sense of achievement’ part.

    Well, all the best for your final assault. Knowing you am sure you would come out on tops, and would have plenty of stories for us. :-). (Toofani hawa chal rahi thi, mein 2 meter aage jaata, aur hawa mujhe 3 meter peeche kar deti thi, mein phir bhi pahunch gaya!)

    Cheers!

  4. Kunal Says:

    Its always a pleasure to read your blogs. First comment though. It’s sad to see that you were alone this time but none the less I think that is a temporary phenomenon. I hope and wish that your plan for Khardung La is still on and will like to see the blog of that achievement as well. Wish you all the best. I am sure you are also writing a book 

    Best of Luck

  5. Krishna Nair Says:

    Hey Manasij,
    Good determination and great courage. Hats off to you! Your blog took me back to the good old days of Arunachal Pradesh, where I used to trek the mountains through the jungles. It was not a passion to climb the mountains, but we were always searching for something or the other in the jungles. Sometimes, just hunting birds. Yes, when you reach the top, it does give a great sense of achievement..

    Cheers!

  6. Nitin Srivastava Says:

    Hey Mannu,

    After reading this I came to the conclusion that you don’t take this as a sport but this is the hunger to reach the heights which keeps you going even if you are alone. Nicely penned…. Good Luck…….

  7. Khiba Says:

    Your experience reminds me of the line… 😉
    Jodi keo tor dak suney na asey….

  8. Rajan Says:

    A very nicely written account. The loneliness, the effort, huff and puff, natural scenery, and finally being rewarded by reaching the goal… the makings of a journey made possible by dedication and will.

    I had climbed Mt Whitney all alone and can almost relive my experiences through your words. May your love for nature take you many many more places.

    Your concluding remark reminded me of some contrasting words for climbing high peaks.

    No one conquers Everest (or any high mountain). Men can only try to sneak up while the mountain is not watching (good weather) and be a visitor at the summit for a brief time.
    When the mountain does not welcome you, which can be quiet often – you pay with your life.

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