Ghuttu Loner 2010 / 23/July/2010
“It is still freshly etched in my memory, spellbinding canvas of landscape, road vanishing inside deep fog, silhouette of trees and the golden hue of setting sun, bringing just a hint of colour in otherwise a grey-scale enigma.”
It was late in July PGG(Pauri Garhwal Group) was at Ghuttu for their ‘Awareness Camp’ a unique activity carried out for the benefit of students at far off places in Garhwal region. The goal is to keep them synced with possibilities that await them after their preliminary education.
Ghuttu is a small town just 30-40 km to Ghansali, covered with many flora and the notorious Garhwal ‘Bagh’ as a distinct fauna. Bagh being the spotted leopard cunning predator of Jim Corbett lore. Ghuttu is also a break point for the famous Kedarnath trek, a tiny guest house is functional here for that purpose.
‘Pauri Garhwal Group’s’ Camp at Ghuttu Inter College 2010
We have just finished our last session for the students of “Ghuttu Inter College”, it was 1:45pm The event was a success and talks were on to saving off a day by heading back home to Delhi. A delineation from the schedule according to which this day was for sightseeing if possible but realizing that they will get to enjoy a full Sunday at home, everyone was ready to pack and leave. Rainy weather and decaying sunlight light meant that leaving at 2:30pm will push them to score Rishikesh before 7pm a good 147 Kms (Ghuttu – Ghansali -Tehri – Rishikesh).
Tehri to keep or not
Three folks including me were from Dehradun, those two were also my roommates for the trip, and me being the only loner on a bike. It was agreed upon that they will board the team bus till Tehri and break there as after 7pm there is no transport to Dehradun, so I was dutifully instructed to re-join them at Tehri. So within half an hour everyone got on board to the tempo traveller, while I saddled up the bus waited for me impatiently seeing that I requested them to go ahead.
The road up till Ghansali is old, deserted, hilly, enriched with fauna and rather unnerving silence. Such silence has many fold effect on a city dweller, the most prominent one is the awareness it brings ‘of being aware of oneself’ and nature around. If those of adventurous among us were to keep aside worldly worries like dark, rains and loneliness for a moment, one’s unconscious mind will surely turn corner to a possible meet with the mystical bagh, the reclusive man-eater, listening to local stories about the mysterious predator knocks on the consciousness cause you are so aware ;). Jilting my thoughts I finished saddling as the bus vanished in the dust.
For someone who just loves this bike for its incredible handling, I was not in the mood to let the bus keep a lead, be it road made up of rubble, potholes and randomly scared innocent herds. I was all out and within 10 mins tailing the bus which was speeding over an incline, like a venerable tortoise on roller skates uphill
Charming myself into dreams of being on a 1200cc BMW at a Dakar rally I drove like a true blood ralliest if there ever was one inside me, and around 4pm I was at Ghansali, waiting for the bus to catch up. We all exchanged pleasantries and said goodbye to each other as the bus stopped for fuel and refreshments for the route ahead. I left so as not to not let darkness overpower my ‘secretly planned’ desire to press forward to Dehradun a decision opposed to the decision of my roomies, but not before I have clocked Tehri in time.
The road from Ghansali to Tehri was freshly laid and devoid of traffic, I drooled over the pleasures of pushing bike to its extreme, it was all fun till the direct sunlight was blocked by the hills. The total distance of 40 km’s till Tehri Dam was covered by 5:20pm; the Tehri town was still 10-12 km’s further. I had two options to either go to Tehri bazar or skip it by going through Tehri bypass and saving myself from the traffic congestion the small towns at hills are so good at.
I retracted the transparent visor of helmet and switched to sunglasses, the fresh air was hard to resist, as I rose in altitude a thinly veiled rain shower took me by surprise the showers have brought along with them the dreaded fog, my fears were alive my only could be nemesis for the day has finally woken up.
I could see locals moving about for their evening walk over this part of old Tehri, many locals come out here to enjoy the weather and to gleam over the land where old houses of their generations lie somewhere in the deep waters of now the world’s biggest man-made water reservoir. Was it emotional or a recreational act I couldn’t know it was painful mystic!.
But for me the only thing mattered that day was being at Tehri before 6PM, which I eventually did at around 6:10pm. Much to my relief the rain had died down to a drizzle in just a while.
With first phase of ‘my plan’ a success I was at crossroads to decide next phase, whether to reach Dhanaulti a good 30Kms and finally to keep time for the third phase to reach Mussoorie again about 30 Kms ahead of Dhanaulti. Beyond Mussoorie, I expected little or no problems with the fog however it is in these two stretches lie my main concern.
This was an absolute drivers paradise out here. On my left was pure whiteness deep from valley to the sky and beyond, it was a screen of cloud painted with the silhouette of trees. At the front was pure black road duly washed ready to be driven on well decorated with yellow reflective paint lines on both sides. On the right again mostly in fog were impressions of boulders and hills along with trees. The world I was in was magically painted in shades of black and white, to complete the effect the direct sunlight just let a touch of gold. The grey in the scene varied with every rotation of tyre gliding over the road; it varied whimsically in tune to the smooth hum of a relaxed engine.
Upon enquiry with the locals, I came to learn that Mussoorie had sparse rainfall that too later in the day unfortunately for me that keeps my place with fog under question mark, but I was also told by a bystander that it is not raining there now, his live update was the cause of an active phone conversation with his relative in Mussoorie, being gentle helpful fellow he appeared he had enquired this for me, I looked up to him smiled and thanked him for he had made the choice easier for me.
At that moment atmosphere had enough light left and I expected that till past 7pm. I figured that till Chamba I can mostly zip through as the fog was not thick enough to be a cause of worry that gives me minus 10-12 Kms of good speed. At the back of my head I knew I was underestimating the complex fractal simulation of fog brew and its distribution over varied terrain with unpredictable inputs from rain gods ;-) and little luck fairy.
But before I proceed I had to clear my conscience, I rang my roomies tobe at Tehri to deliver them a terrible news however I couldn’t get through the brilliant wireless network in the area. With excitement of a kid with a fresh issue of ‘Crookbond comics’ I decided to take the chance of my otherwise very exciting life ;)
I left Tehri mentally apologizing to the roomies, I knew this chance won’t come again, driving alone in this weather with a road which is to be devoid of traffic, weather chilly and wet enough to bring element of challenge, to keep the tempo paced enough was the atmospheric light dimming with each passing moment and of course to bring another dimension to adventure a big question mark ‘the fog’, little did I knew I was right on all counts ;-).
As soon as I got out of Tehri, there was a certain eeriness in the weather as expected not a single soul was to be seen, all kuccha/pucca houses that appeared occasionally in the scene appeared shut, so unless I am in a chit-chat mood I won’t be knocking on them, not today not even to sit out in open for absolute cracker of our Indian tea for tea in such a weather begs you to be sipped, for it will give you nice aroma and will make you feel fuzzy, warmer and content, this experience could even give a tea loving Englishman a deep heartfelt jealousy.
This was an absolute drivers paradise out here. On my left was pure whiteness deep from valley to sky and beyond, it was a screen of cloud painted with silhouette of trees. At front was pure black road duly washed ready to be driven on well decorated with yellow reflective paint lines on both sides. On the right again mostly in fog were impressions of boulders and hills along with trees. The world I was in was magically painted in shades of black and white, to complete the effect the direct sunlight just let a touch of gold. The grey in the scene varied with every rotation of tyre gliding over the road; it varied whimsically in tune to the smooth hum of a relaxed engine.
“I was driving slower than expected at a 20-25 Kmph, my adversary which only existed in the rainy season have started to dictate terms.”
Chamba and Beyond
It took me about 30 mins to wade 10 kms, time was nearing 7 pm and I have just crossed Chamba. It started to feel a little lonely as light went down drastically, making me switch to head lamps. The ambient light had that dead grey tone to it, the head lamp was not penetrative enough for the fog, and it brought me down to halt eventually, thinking my next move over a breather will help, I got down from the bike and took off the helmet and removed the shades which I have completely forgotten by now.
Those precious 30% photons were kept away by polarized shades, the extra light hidden inside the darkness of shades was like a balm on a sour body, I was happy and recharged, even if for a short while, I had a control over moves of my nemesis. Just a while later the fog made it’s another critical move and began to descend and condensed as weather grew colder. The white wall was thick enough to prevent me seeing beyond a few meters, the riskier nature of drive had the upper hand and I respectfully kept driving through it, the only play I had been when at any point the fog will leave any patch of road unguarded and I taking advantage could rev hard till alert fog sentry in groups leave no option but to slow down again. This became the rhyme of the drive for a while, and I was playing along.
It have to be said that when you are waiting for time to pass, it makes you really wait for it.
A few kms ahead of Chamba I had just turn towards right through a whiff of thick cloud and suddenly the road ahead of me appeared to vanish. It remind me of a patch where boulder have broken the road towards valley while I was on my way towards Ghuttu two days back, I slowed and turned to right to safety, at this point fog visibility might have been about 2mts I suddenly sensed myself on collision course with a black motionless car on the right. Passing it by gave me the impression that car was vacant and rendered immovable with its bonnet crushed from one side by some heavy object, a collision or a lose boulder I could not know and I found it pointless to stop for investigation while I have problems of my own to deal with.
All that commotion had made me more aware and deep respect for nature now began to root in. Keeping a close look at both watch and the speedometer tell me that it was close to 7:30 and 10-15 Kmph. I might have endured 10-15 odd kms since Chamba and this was one of the quietest and loneliest stretch. This situation had moments of tensions in my head and on the road, in my head since
I was getting little agitated by the fact that I have not yet reached Surkanda still or maybe I had? I didn’t knew since the fog made it impossible to look beyond a few meters. Death of ambient light meant I needed to switch to full beams, a moment I dreaded the most as I had found out in my experiences that the last thing you want to do in strong fog is switch to fullbeam.
The scatter of your own light becomes blinding more than the fog itself but ‘marta kiya na karta’ reluctantly I switched to full beam, I still have to cross 10 odd kms to reach the safe place Dhanaulti in this state. I ran out with foxing nature with my tricks, within a few seconds I have to make an emergency stop, as the scatter left me confused of my position, I couldn’t see anything other than a white light, kind of like those alien ship lights.
“Faith is the bird that feels the light when the dawn is still dark.” – Rabindranath Tagore
I had to have a plan or evolve a method to not depend on just regular vision, that a thought struck me, and I moved a little closer to the edge of the road on and over the white or yellow reflective paint marked on the road, the reflection of lamp light on this paint strip gave me a bit more sight through the fog, enough for me to be confident again.
On average humans can pace walk at about 6-7 kmph, I was not far from that despite being on a bike. While the driving conditions were certainly not ideal they were in fact getting really threatening by now, Fog have gotten worse from bad so much so that I had hard time keeping the main headlamp on. Without much options I have to now switch the lamp from parking light – night lamp – head lamp. I made a mental note of installing special purpose fog lamps for any such misadventure in future.
I sensed few voices and could see pale glow of lamps, my first instance was that finally I have reached Dhanaulti till a voice coming deep from the fog spoke to me in Hindi, “अरे भाईसाहब कुओं जोखिम”. I stopped and a guy appeared from the fog probably from one of the shops nearby, shops because the air brought the smell of freshly deep-fried pakoras, my mind stood confused for a second and suggested to sit there and munch on warm pakoras along with a fresh cup of hot tea. I have forgotten all about the fellow as he looked straight into my eyes with questions. I replied with a heavily articulated smile “वो तो उठा चूका बस अब ख़तम होने की देर है” and he inquired if I plan on to go beyond Dhanaulti for which he considered insanity. The place ahead was under rains and it’s too cold to drive wet for another 30kms, besides it’s no guarantee that the fog will be any different from till Dhanaulti.
Good thing was that I was at Surkanda and I have only less than 8kms left to Dhanaulti. The time was past eight already and I could only take one step at a time, so I thanked him for the warning, decided against surrendering to senses which were fixated by delicious smell of fresh pakora and tea and that too in this cold weather. I promised myself to break at Dhanaulti if what the man at Surkanda said was true.
If I thought the fog couldn’t get any denser, I thought wrong it did and visibility have now dropped to a meter maybe less, speedometer read near 3 Kmph. As I moved my head from speedometer I went over a wood log and bump, my heart started to beat faster and I barely managed to crash the bike on road, I was safe but till when? ;-).
This stretch had very thick vegetation consisting of trees and many of them were the Deodars dev, I have never experienced any boulders here either so my mind was at rest about driving near the edge of hill. Seeing that some part of light beam striking the hill reflected back providing better illumination overall, I confidently switched to high beam, fortunately on Fazer its the left part of the headlamp setup and voila I could finally be safer and this was a lot better than walking it was reassuringly safer but not necessarily faster as still couldn’t see much farther. Focus my dear Watson, said me to myself as I straighten the bike and kept the snail pace.
The fog’s had humidity and that have started to seep the cloths and the eyelashes wet. I endured that till I had turned towards over an open turn and suddenly the hill had now shifted to my left, luck fortunes the brave? eh?. It seems that all those loner trips on Sundays to Dhanaulti and more had their final useful say, I recognized this part immediately I was quite near to Dhanaulti I knew this place almost like back of my hand, I needed to do this till about 2kms from here now.
Those last 2kms took me about 15mins to complete as I kept crawling at slow pace towards Dhanaulti. As I got closer to the place the thrill of what I had accomplished today kept growing deep within my heart, I felt high, I felt good, I felt euphoria and that unimaginable ride made a permanent place in my fuzzy little heart.
I managed to reach Dhanaulti at about 8:55 A good 1:45 hrs late and 30kms behind schedule I set, at this time in place I was supposed to be at Mussoorie, finalizing next step. None the less I was very glad and I went straight into Dhanaulti Guest house, took a deluxe double room and ordered myself meal reserved for kings, ate a lot. Crashed in the bed and that euphoria lingered inside my head and heart the whole night and a few days to come…