In 1995 we biked in the area north east of Delhi; including the Himalayan foothills and the sacred towns of Rishikesh and Hardwar in our trip.
At 11:30 local time we touched down at Delhi’s Indira Ghandi International Airport. We were able to leave our bike-boxes at the left-luggage department for 0,25 US$ a day. Outside the air conditioned arrival-hall it was 35 degrees Celsius in the shade. Hot!
The first miles…
After checking the bikes we ventured into Delhi’s busy traffic. There was an endless stream of old trucks, busses and auto-rickshaws. The closer we got to Delhi proper the busier and noisier the traffic became. After two hours of cycling a thin layer of black dirt formed on our arms and shirts. Our destination for the first day was Ghaziabad a town east of Delhi.
Despite the heat, the vicious mosquito’s and the noisy traffic we slept very well that night. No surprise after 10 hours of flying and 45 kms of cycling.
Gaziabad – Gajrola
Woke up at seven by a room boy who was bouncing our door; ‘chai’ was coming up for breakfast. Just outside the city we met two other cyclists; dutchmen on a world tour! The road was busy with traffic and many local cyclists and pedestrians etc. Between villages it often was surprisingly quiet. Easy to find a good spot to have lunch with bananas, peanuts, cookies and the mineral water we had bought in Gaziabad.
Gajrola was a prosperous little town. The even had their own Rotary-club. Our hotel was full of people but it just was an engagement-part that left soon. That night we seemed to be the only guests. At bed-time our small thermometer still was pointing at 32 degrees Celsius. The ceiling fan was operating, but only at full-speed. The choice was difficult: be blown away or to cook slowly!
Gajrola – Rampur
Another very hot day coming up. The Tourist Bungalow at Moradabad looked very inviting to us. They served a good lunch but more important: icy-cold Pepsi’s!
We really needed that extra rest because before us was a another challenge. Cycling trough Moradabad. The traffic was a chaotic beyond belief. Hundreds of overloaded trucks, cars and rickshaws were crawling through the centre of this already very crowded and busy city. It was only km’s after we had passed Moradabad that the traffic was thinning. At this part we only had to get of the road every 5 or 10 minutes to make way for one of the hundreds of trucks on this stretch of highway. Our map was showing our destination Rampur as a city with up to 500.000 inhabitants. Surprisingl upon arrival it looked more like a village.
Not wanting to repeat our hot and sleepless night we checked in a hotel room with AC. Wonderful, until the power fails. The hotels generator was doing ok but of course was not powerful enough to make the AC work.
Rampur – Haldwani
After the junction to Haldwani at least 80% of the traffic disappeared. Everything seemed to be greener and quieter. We were now cycling through endless sugarcane fields. Just after lunchtime the road started to climb very very slowly. The mountains were coming up!
Finding a hotel in Haldwani was not easy. As usual this Indian town had no real city centre. As experienced India cyclists we made our way to the local police-station. The local police is mostly very willing to help visitors. A 3-star officer immediately called a boy to bring us to a good hotel. Without his help we would never have found the friendly Kailash View Hotel.
Haldwani – Naini Tal
Just outside Haldwani we suddenly were cycling on a real mountain road. We had to shift to mountain-gear and high above us we saw the hairpins yet to climb.
The good thing about this climb was that the air was getting cooler and cooler. Our thermometer was pointing at only 25 °C and locals we encountered, were wrapped up in warm sweaters and shawls when we finally cycled along Naini Tal’s Mall.
Finding a hotel was no problem. Numerous places to stay here. Our’s had no hot water but a room boy immediately brought two buckets of hot water from the kitchen. No problem; just ask for ‘ek balti garam pani‘.
In Naini Tal you can have fine views of the surrounding Himalayan giants. To enjoy these views you’ll have to go up on a ropeway. Be up there as early in the morning as possible otherwise you’ll miss the views and have to go up twice as we did.
In Naini Tal proper there are many small shops and eating places. Thousands of local tourists come here every year to escape from the deadly heat in the plains below. We bought no souvenirs but instead a good map (not to scale it said) of the region and discovered there were many more roads then our Nelles roadmap was showing.
Another day in Naini Tal
Finally we saw Nanda Devi; the mountain that used to be the highest peak in the former British Empire!
The Himalayas within reach…
Naini Tal – Almora
Made a good start with a 30 km descent on a good road. Of course we ended up at a river and had to climb out the Kosi valley again. In Almora the Tourist Bungalow offers ‘cottages with mountain-view’. Unfortunately those cottages are located at the end of a steep series of steps; so we had to carry our bikes all the way up to get there.
Almora – Kausani
The countryside around us looked very similar to what had seen on a previous trip to Nepal. We passed through numerous small villages where the friendly locals waved to us and said ‘namaste’ all the time.
The cycling on this stretch of road is superb. Great views and plenty of places to stop and relax under a shady tree. Only the last 5 km’s to Kausani we had to do some real climbing. The road was layed out in many hairpins so even that was no great challenge.
Kausani is a small village. It’s actually not more then a junction with some hotels, shops and small restaurants. After a good meal with rice, sabji, dal and chai we went to bed early. Tomorrow at sunrise there would be an excellent opportunity to have some more great views of the Himalayan range.
Kausani – Gwaldam
Got up at six o’clock to experience one of those magnificent Himalayan sunrises. It was icy cold outside with all the locals wrapped up in blankets and warm coats. As the sun climbed above the horizon a spectacular panorama lighted up. Snow covered peaks as far as one could see. This was one of those moments that make a trip extra memorable.
This is mountain-country so after a good breakfast we descended the first 20 km to the village of Bajnath at 1125 m. Great views all the way. Met a friendly old man in one of the villages who put small flowers on our heads, apparently coming from the local temple. We thanked politely and kept the flowers under our caps the rest of the day.
In the afternoon the road steadily climbed to the village of Gwaldam. Again hardly more then a street with a couple of houses and of course a Tourist Rest house.
The Tourist Rest house. had good rooms and the bed sheets even looked clean. We washed ourselves in the usual bucket of hot water and discovered that diner would be served at 9 o’clock already. After a long day cycling we were lucky to be able to persuade the cook to make a dinner at 6 o’clock already. He would do “very fast cooking..” he said!
About landslides and precipices…
Gwaldam – Karanprayag
According to our map the next 80 km would be going downhill only to our destination, the town of Karanprayag on the Alaknanda River (one of the tributaries of the Ganges). Instead of enjoying an easy ride downhill we could only ride very slowly because the road being extremely rough and bumpy. Continuously we passed landslides and stretches were the road was damaged beyond repair by the recent heavy rainfall. As our Lonely Planet described the situation: “this road was in an extreme state of disrepair…”.
The road didn’t get better, and the grades became less steep. At the end of the morning we saw an good example of monsoonal damage. Our road was completely washed away over a length of several hundreds of meters and had only just opened for pedestrians and cyclists.
Only a few miles further bad luck stroke. On a curve where a small stream crossed the road our wheels slipped and we both fell. Nothing broken or damaged we looked over the edge of the road (no barrier or what so ever) and saw a very deep and rocky precipice.
Karanprayag – Pipalkoti
Of course bad luck never comes alone. In the afternoon one of the deraillers broke; a stone hit it somehow and damaged it beyond repair. The only emergency repair we could do was to shorten the chain and continue on a one-speed-bike.
The good side of this little accident was that it happened at almost the highest part of our trip. From here we would continue back to the flat plains around Delhi, where a 18 gears are not a necessity.
Pipalkoti – Joshimath
Our breakfast restaurant was a pure-vegetarian one; so no omelets for breakfast but parathas; delicious and very filling small pancakes. With a one-speed bicycle the steep mountain road to Joshimath was no problem as long the road was going uphill. Before lunchtime we had already covered 25 of the 37 km’s to Joshimath.
After lunch a last steep 5 kilometre hair-pin climb and easily we pedaled into Joshimath. A busy little mountain town with several places to stay and numerous shops.
At 8 o’clock in the morning we walked into the dinner-room of our Tourist Rest house. We were surprised to see that all tables were already occupied! The rest-house staff were using them as beds and had not woken up yet!!
At 9 o’clock we were waiting with 3 other indian tourists at the office of the ropeway to the views at Orson. Officially at least 15 passengers were needed for a departure; in-officially 10 would be enough we were told. But, as things in India go, we left one hour later with 8 men on board.
The views of Nanda Devi and the surrounding snowy giants were superb. Now the peaks were so close, we missed the mistery that surrounded those same views for e.g. Kausani.
Joshimath – Badrinath (v.v.)
Although our initial plan had been to cycle to Badrinath we now decided to do a day-trip by bus. All the traffic up and down to Badrinath is one-way, due to the narrow and very steep road. It took us almost 3 hours on this bone-shaking road to finally arrive at an altitude of more than 3400 meters.
The small town of Badrinath looked entirely different from the villages and town we had previously seen on this trip. This was how we imagined places like Tibet and Ladakh. A fierce cold wind was blowing, buildings covered with corrugated roofs and everywhere pieces of plastic rattling in the wind.
We just followed the pilgrims that had come with our bus. By the end of october this town would close down. It was getting to cold already for the people from the hot Indian plains, to come up here. We visited the colourful temple and returned to our bus. As soon as the sun disappeared behind the Himalayan mountaintops the temperature almost immediately dropped to just above freezing.
Downhill to the Ganges…
Joshimath – Rishikesh (by bus)
We got up at 5 o’clock to get the ‘fast’ bus to Rishikesh. We were asked to pay for putting the two bikes on the roof of the bus but since everyone seems to be loading his complete household on that same roof without extra costs we simply refused. It took us 11 hours with only two short stops to descend on winding mountain-roads to Rishikesh on the banks of the river Ganges. We realised that traveling form Joshimath to Rishikesh had taken more time then flying from Amsterdam to Delhi!
Rishikesh has hundreds of ashrams and temples all along the holy river Ganges. The numerous little shops that sell religious goods are an attraction in itself.
At sunset holy ceremonies (called ‘Aarti’) were performed on the banks of the river. Priests are lighting enormous oil-lamps and were chanting holy hymns. An experience definitively recommended to anyone who visits Rishikesh.
Rishikesh – Hardwar
The encounter of the day was, without doubt, with a brightly painted holy elephant. A perfect opportunity to make some good pictures for this website.
Because Hardwar is the town where the Ganges officially enters the Indian plains there are even more bathing places and places to stay then in Rishikesh. Many hotels have their own ‘ghats’ where guests can descend into the icy cold water directly from their room. Although the mountains are a day ride (by bicycle) away the current is still so strong the actual bathing places are protected with steel bars to prevent pilgrims from being ripped away by the current.
Hardwar – Bijnor
Nothing surpasses a very early morning walk along the banks of the Ganges when the first light of the sun paints everything in soft colours. After that memorable morning experience cycling was almost as relaxed. Especially after we took a shortcut ( 8 km before Najibabad ). From there the only traffic were cyclists, pedestrians and oxcarts. Life along this narrow and bumpy road was very rural.
After arriving in Bijnor finding a decent hotel was not that easy. Nothing suitable seemed to be available and english-speakers seemed to be rare in this town. Finally we found a gentleman who told us that the top-accommodation in town the Inspection House was. Normally reserved for traveling government inspectors! With his help we got a large colonial style room for one night. Without local help these kind of places are almost impossible to find or to get in!
Bijnor – Meerut
People in this area were probably not used to a lot of foreign visitors. When we bought a cold drink in a small shop in less then a minute dozens of villagers surrounded us and were staring at those two otherworldly creatures.
Meerut, a large city with more than 1.000.000 inhabitants, did not have a lot to offer for cyclists who seek reasonable accommodations. Hotel Shaleem, the best place in town according to our LP-guide book, was really nothing special.
Meerut – Delhi
The remaining kilometres to Delhi were easy on a wide and well maintained road. In Arakashan Road, lots of budget middle-class hotels here, we found a cool room at the quiet side of the hotel. Of course for a discounted price.
To Delhi & back home!
It was a Sunday when we were cycling to the airport to return to the Netherlands. Delhi’s Sunday morning traffic was only a fraction of what it is on a weekday. Plenty of time to stop at the India Gate and Mamayuns Tomb, the predecessor of the Taj Mahal.
At the end of the day we rode the last mile to the airport. A last holy cow was blocking the road before we finally pushed our bikes into the departure hall. As if it was saying: please stay…