I was woken by thunder. It could have also been one of the Indian Royal Enfield’s on the street, but regardless it was raining outside. Once the rain had stopped and I’d finished my fruits and biscuits I got going again. On the way out making sure to dodge the owner lest he’d make a fuss about the staircase again. The streets of Saharanpur were muddy but empty, completely unlike the loud colorful buzz of the previous night.
Going was slow. Wind was against me and the road had become a steady gentle uphill. On the upside, it was less dusty here than before. The road to Dehradun goes through Rajaji National Park and the closer I got to it the greener the surroundings. There is no gate or sign to indicate that you’ve entered the park, but you know it when you get there. Suddenly the straight and flat road you were driving is no longer neither straight or flat. Reaching Rajaji I had put the plains behind me and entered the foothills of the Himalayas.
Rain caught up with me as I entered the park and forced me to start seeking shelter whenever it got too heavy. Stopping for shelter, however, never got boring. Company was always to be found, as ‘a foreigner on a bicycle’ attracted a crowd everywhere I stopped. I had my first chai of this trip in Mohand on the park’s southern border. The tiny chai-shop there became my shelter and lookout for watching locals go about their business in this increasingly rowdy weather. Soon two local teenagers came to make their acquaintance and practice their English. Afiq and Sundeep, one a local, the other from Jammu were both in Mohand to attend high school and hoping to continue onwards to college. Both were also eager to help me learn more Hindi. Rain was the perfect setting for that.
In the afternoon, when the weather eased up, I got my first taste of hilly roads in India. Here traffic crawled to a halt. Landslides and bridge construction created bottlenecks that Indians seem somehow naturally unable to navigate. Cars from both directions would try to skip past the queue, but in doing so completely block all space on the narrow roads in both directions and then end up jammed face to face. Traffic can come to a standstill with nobody willing to yield. I’ve become convinced that “reversing” and “giving way” do not exist in the Hindi dictionary. On one small slope a truck and a tractor had tried to squeeze through a bottleneck at the same time which had jammed the traffic as there was simply not enough space. I passed them outside the barrier and enjoyed the quiet road for over half an hour before cars from the jam caught up to me.
The Rajaji National park is drawn around a line of hills south of Dehradun and is designated as a tiger conservation area. However, from what I could see, tigers are not the reason for discouraging pedestrians from walking here (well, tigers might be the reason, but I didn’t see any). I’m convinced that the reason is monkeys. The roadsides were crammed with hordes of them. They look small and cute, but contrary to the ones you find closer to villages or around temples, these ones were feral. Thrice I had one chase after me, teeth bared and orange peels clutched in its tiny fingers. Funny little things. But also a bit scary in larger numbers. Food for them is more scarce here as there is less trash to live on. Garbage scavenging monkeys were otherwise a very common sight in most villages and towns.
Rain came back in force as I reached Maa Daat Kali Mandir at the top of the hills where the road turned down again. The downhill from there to Dehradun went swimmingly, in both meanings of the word. I arrived there quick and wet and checked in to the first hotel I could find. Fortunately for them, the rain was still coming down strong. Fortunately for me the local diner across the road had delicious biryani. Together with some tandoori naan it made for a very pleasant end to a day of wet biking.