I’d been lucky with weather ever since Dehradun and now I was enjoying a small heatwave. With overcast skies the temperatures were high enough to get by with a t-shirt even late in the evening. This was going to be followed by a thunderstorm, but I’d worry about that when it got here. In any case, I had little idea of how far I’d get before the rain hit.
The road up to Gwaldam was the worst I’d met. No tarmac here, only large stones and thick dust. At some places, when a truck drove past, all visibility was lost. Not a place you’d want to be at without a respirator, not to mention ride a bicycle. To spare my lungs I hailed a bus and once again strapped my steed on the roof. The ride was shaky to say the least. On a bike you can attempt to steer clear of the larger rocks, but with a bus this road made for a rattling experience. Then, when a loud bang was heard from outside I got worried for the bike. Even more so when the sound started repeating with every larger jolt. Soon the bus stopped to check the issue and I hurried outside as well. Imagine my relief when I saw the driver fasten the rear hatch that had been swaying wide open, only to slam shut when the bus hit a rock. Nevertheless I gave the bike a quick look to make sure it would survive this gauntlet in one piece.
Arriving in Gwaldam felt like a breath of fresh air. Literally. The road construction was still ongoing, but at this altitude the dust seemed to figure less. Lunch was samosas, enjoyed on a tiny local path overlooking the Nanda Devi range. It’s peaks were playing hide-and-seek in the clouds while down below eagles were having their fun with crows. Or maybe the other way around.
The downhill was much more enjoyable with road construction already finished there. It took quite a while to descend down to Bageshwar, but the pine forests on the slope and green fields in the valley made for a different kind of scenic beauty. Passing by a bakery I couldn’t resist some freshly made pastry. It was excellent paired with local well water. Yes, I’d started drinking well water and I was still alive. My thinking was that if the locals drank it straight I’d be fine too. Unless it just tasted plain weird, which did happen every once in a while.
Rain was edging closer as I arrived in Bageshwar – another larger town seated at the confluence of rivers. This is a definite trend around here. This time it’s the Sarya river, which to be honest I might as well call the Ganges as it too ends up in there. I didn’t tarry there for too long though. Figuring that I might get stuck by rain for the following day, I wanted to get to somewhere more peaceful and with better views. Somewhere higher up. The sun breaking through rain clouds would make for amazing sights at the right location. Checking the map, the tiny village of Chaukori seemed to have an unusual number of hotels, usually an indication of a place worth visiting. So uphill I went again.
This uphill was a different one. First time to use my headlamp, as I arrived late into the night. Riding on narrow mountain roads in complete silence and solitude makes for a special experience. There was nobody else. The overcast sky meant that my lamp was the only source of light around. Only in the far distance could I spot tiny house lights and the occasional yellow strips of bushfires, something quite common here during this time of year. Being the Estonian I am, I wondered what the locals must have thought of me, arriving at the empty hotel this late on a bicycle. I also wondered whether they were still willing to cook some food.
I was fortunate. The manager/cook was still awake and he prepared the most delicious dal, rice and rotis for dinner. Best dal I’ve ever had. Maybe because I was ravenous, but still… yummm. Rushing to get here turned out to be a good decision. The following day was indeed a day of rain. The owner stopped by and assured me that Chaukori was the best place for viewing Nanda Devi peaks, but for now I could barely see across the courtyard. So I used the time to catch up on my chores.
I did laundry, a regular activity on this trip as I only carried one change of clothes. I caught up on writing as well. Until I discovered that the bike again had a rear flat. Which was a surprise as it must have slowly emptied during the night. It took me a while to find the puncture as it was so small, air wouldn’t escape unless at a very specific angle. I also found the culprit stuck in the outer tire. A small shard of glass had punched through, but not enough to actually puncture the inner tire. Bit by bit it had just worn the hole into it. My luck, as these were easily fixable and I could let the rubber cement rest properly before having to put pressure in again.
The village didn’t have 3G either, which was actually somewhat rare. To my surprise cell coverage in Uttarakhand was surprisingly good. Although every once in a while my sim would go through this weird cycle. It would show me that there was no coverage until I restarted the phone (airplane mode didn’t do the trick). After a restart I’d have perfect 3G for a good few minutes until the bars would start dropping. Then I’d be downgraded to Edge. After another few minutes this would further switch to GPRS until I was back to no coverage. But all of this only if I didn’t use the connection. Should I be browsing, the connection quality would stay the same. I blamed this on the Delhi SIM card; India has this weird roaming system even within its own borders.
All the while outside was raining. The temperature dropped to 3 degrees. The owner predicted snow. And then, just before nightfall, the sun broke through the rain clouds.