The road due east from Chinyalisour follows the massive Tehri reservoir. The Tehri dam was completed in 2006 after decades of planning and the relocation of over 100 000 people. It is an impressive feat of engineering. When the reservoir was being filled, it also stopped the river from flowing, so understandably there are people who are very unhappy with the entire thing. Not to mention that it is built in an area of high seismic activity. However, with this dam the people of Uttarakhand no longer have to suffer the regular 14 hour blackouts that are still the norm in neighboring Nepal. So I guess that to make an omlette…
The road towards Srinagar goes over the dam, shortening the old way around by 30km. However people are not allowed to walk on it, so the only way for me to get across was to hop on a bus. Chatting with the locals they also warned me against taking photos of the place, as apparently the security here doesn’t have a soft side. From how I was told I couldn’t ride across the dam, I’d gotten a sense of it. The bus got me quickly to the other side and I could continue enjoying the scenery on my own.
To my eyes this new lake with its clear green waters adds to the beauty of the area, which would otherwise look dry and parched this time of the year. To complement the view, the white peaks of Gangotri showed themselves for a short moment, but at this distance their beauty was more in the mind’s eye.
I made my way from the Bhagirathi river basin to the other Ganges tributary, the Alaknanda through the cutest small valley in Uttarakhand. This road was hardly on the map and I was dreading for it to be gravel. So far I’d been lucky with black-top roads, something that my experience in Nepal has taught me not to take for granted. Before turning off the main road I mad sure to ask locals about what the road would be like. They assured me that it would be ok, but it was so much more. It was narrow, yes, but this place had almost no traffic whatsoever. This made for a truly enjoyable ride. The valley was home to a number of tiny villages and looked like an oasis of green hidden away amid arid hills. Looking around, this felt nothing like the South-Asia I knew.
The descent down to the Alaknanda was a fun long downhill with no traffic. It felt like a sweet reward after a tiring day of riding. I reached the river just after sunset and hurried onwards to reach Srinagar before it got too dark. I was also looking forward to some curry and naan. The Srinagar area was again more India-like and looked a bit like a semi-industrial area. The valley widens up over there, giving ample space for factories on the riverbanks. The place is populous and as I was riding out in the morning, I even saw a protest march making its way to the main street.
The higher up the valley I went, the narrower it became. By Rudraprayag, the wide bending river had become a stirring torrent between two stone cliffs. The entrance to Karnaprayag is even more dramatic with the road carved into the side of the cliff as the valley becomes a canyon. On both sides of the river, the steep sides plunge straight down into its thundering waters.
It was a long uphill. My elevation change was 500m but as the road kept going up and down I may have climbed almost twice that. On one of the downhills my rear brake gave way. By which I mean it it lost it’s regular stopping power and started sounding odd. For a while I was even wondering whether the pads could have run out this fast. It was just a case of new wires stretching and some calibration made it work again, but it did give me a small scare. I’d pay more attention to the brakes from there on.
One thing to keep me distracted from the exhaustion of constantly going uphill was the signs. There seem to have been several campaigns for safer driving here and the signs from them, most in English, were still standing. Their texts were hilarious: “Accidents bring tears. Arriving brings cheers” “Drink whiskey, drive risky” “drive with care, life has no spare”. Good stuff.
But driving habits are not the only dangers on the road here. A lot of the road construction that I came across was to repair or reinforce parts hit by falling boulders or rockslides. Before Karnaprayag I saw a fresh one. A long queue of cars was waiting on both sides of the spot where rocks had come down, everybody waiting for bulldozers to clear the area. A bike could already squeeze through there, but it took a long time for those cars to start moving. Looks like the road crews and response services seem to be quite effective over here, and plentiful.
Dinner in Karnaprayag was chicken curry and roti – delicious. The entire place smelled of chicken and they had their tandoor right in front of the eatery. It was the first time I could peek inside one to see how it works. I had no idea that roti was made by sticking it on the walls inside the oven. By hand. For taking out the chef used a stick, though. The entire process was impressive and entertaining to watch. I’ve enjoyed tandoori roti before, but I think like it even more now that I know how it’s made.