Motorcycle Diaries, Himalayan Edition
It was a long weekend in October, one of the best times of the year to explore the majestic mountains of Uttarakhand. My dream of going on a motorbike trip amidst the hills was long overdue. So, I planned a drive to one of the beautiful hill station regions of Uttarakhand, Pauri Garhwal. After a bit of research, I came up with a tentative route map. After ticking off a checklist of the bike’s essentials, as well as my own, I headed off at 4am from Dehradun, my hometown. Although the winter had not set in entirely, it was still cold. My plan was to reach Rishikesh before the sunrise. After crossing Dehradun, I stopped on the highway for a hot cup of chai. There is nothing better than a hot, sweet cup of tea to beat the early winter morning and kick away drowsiness.
I passed through the city center of Rishikesh and continued up the hill. You know you are about to enter Rishikesh when you see the river Ganga flowing on one side, with the green mountains on the other. As you travel further, you cannot miss the views of the iconic Ram Jhula and Lakshman Jhula, bridges that connect the temple town with its devotees, and the travelers with their adventures. Whether it’s a spiritual sojourn or trek that lies ahead, Rishikesh beckons travelers all through the year. I spent some time watching the rising sun, which quietly moved behind the mountains, lifting the cluster of clouds off their peaks.
The thrilling ride through the mountains began in earnest from here. As the roads narrow, the valleys beside you get steeper too. The panoramic views change at every turn. I reached Devprayag in the afternoon and then stopped for lunch. Pauri is not far from Devprayag, and as I reached the town in the evening, the sun had already begun to set.
I spent the night in a guesthouse and set off to Khirsu the next morning. Located about 15 km from Pauri, Khirsu is a beautiful hill station not known to many travelers. There are a few guesthouses there, including one run by GMVN, the tourism board. It’s an ideal place to go for short hikes and visit some great viewpoints.
I spent some time in Khirsu, taking a short walk amidst the apple orchards and pine trees. Later, I headed to the popular Chaukhamba viewpoint, about 4 km from the centre of Pauri. I spent the night in the GMVN guesthouse.
The next day I headed south, towards the central Pauri region. By evening I reached Satpuli, a small town located on the banks of the river Purvi. It’s a bustling place that connects the two major cities of Kotdwara and Pauri, and is a popular stopover for travelers and local businessmen.
I made a tea and snack stop at Kotdwara. My next destination was Haridwar. I wanted to witness the Ganga Aarti, a sacred ritual performed on the banks of the river Ganges. After Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh, Haridwar is the second most famous place in India to witness this Aarti, which is attended by hundreds of devotees every day. The Aarti begins everyday at Har Ki Pauri around sunset, and lasts for about 15 to 20 minutes.
From Kotdwara, I drove through the reserve forest areas of Chidiyapur, witnessing some clear views of the mountains. Taking in as many views as I could behold, I descended to the plains, on the highway that led to Haridwar.
Haridwar is unlike the rest of Uttarakhand, as it wears the look of a typical Indian religious city. The same can also be said for parts of Rishikesh. Throughout the year, you’ll find devotees rushing towards the holy Ganga, eager to take a dip, or moving in groups to the Shiva temple. You hear the loud chants of the Sadhus walking hurriedly on the narrow streets that are lined up with shops selling souvenirs and other paraphernalia. The town hardly sleeps, and you’ll find restaurants and small shops serving food even at midnight.
When I arrived at Har Ki Pauri, devotees were offering Aarti by setting sail on the river plates fulls of Diyas (lit lamps), flowers and incense. The priests began the mass ritual with a devotional song, played through the speakers. They swung the Aarti towards the river, performing rhythmic movements, evoking a serene feeling. The colorful ritual culminated with the priest chanting the name of the Ganga and bestowing blessings upon the devotees.
After spending some time on the banks of the river and strolling through the streets, I got up to drive back to Dehradun. I had a short yet fulfilling bike trip covering over 500 km in the mountains that I revere, experiencing a perfect getaway from my everyday routine.
Article by Vidyut Rautela.
Top image: Miwok