For his bucket list, Amit has accomplished a bucket list road trip on a Royal Enfield Classic 350 with his two fellow friends and college mates from Rishikesh to the last Indian Village – the Mana Village and via Badrinath.
It was May & Amit has planned a bike trip to Rishikesh and Shivpuri. Initially, Amit had thought of doing it alone but with his new Royal Enfield Classic 350, the risk wasn’t worth it. All of his mates had bailed on him for such an experience. On the previous night of the ride, Amit got a phone-call from his college friends Sumit and Danish who wanted to join in but had no prior experience of riding on such a terrain.
“We had planned the ride for Rishikesh and Shivpuri which is just 12 kilometres from Rishikesh but is mostly mountainous terrain.”
Everything was according to plan. On their way back to Delhi, Amit came across a small sign on the left side of the road on NH58. He asked a local as to where the highway ended.
The man replied, “MANA Village – The Last Indian Village.”
Amit turned to his friends who already had a smirk on their faces. The curious souls decided to check out the Mana Village. The route was Rishikesh – Devprayag – Rudraprayag – Sri Nagar – Karnaprayag – Joshi Math – Badrinath – Mana Village.
From Rishikesh to Badrinath, it is a ride of 300kms, stretching over several mountain ranges. It covers the famous Pancha Prayag (Five Prayag) – Devprayag, Rudraprayag, Karnaprayag, Nandprayag, and Vishnuprayag, in the ascending flow of their occurrence.
Prayag, in Sanskrit, means ‘confluence’ and Panch Prayag represent the five sacred river confluences. The rivers are – Alaknanda, Dhaulaganga, Mandakini, Pindar, and Bhagirathi. Pilgrims take a dip in the river at these locations before embarking on visiting the holy shrines in the ‘Deva-Bhoomi’ (God’s Land), as Uttarakhand is commonly referred to.
The ride from Rishikesh to Devprayag at a distance of 65 kilometres is really smooth. Once on the hills, one can easily find eatables.
‘Devaprayaga‘ means ‘Godly Confluence‘ in Sanskrit. As per Hindu scriptures, Devaprayaga is the sacred event of the merging of two heavenly rivers, Alaknanda and Bhagirathi, to form the holy Ganges.
They rode for another 70 kilometres towards Rudraprayag. The roads were fine till Srinagar. Amit recalls having really enjoyed the long stretch. At a point of time, he was riding at 80-85kmph. One can hardly cross the 60kmph mark in mountainous terrain.
“Now you can imagine the condition of the road as I was riding at such high speed. Throughout the journey everywhere you have to drive slowly and carefully. It was the highest speed I achieved during the whole trip.”
Amit and his friends were true bikers on the trip, with no hotel-bookings done pre-hand. His travelling experience in the hills all these years have taught him a simple lesson.
“While it is good to plan a trip in the Himalayas, it is not wise to plan the stay, especially if you are riding on motorcycles – you don’t know when and where the weather and road conditions force you to ditch the plan and halt.”
The stretch from Rudraprayag to Badrinath is a wonderland with a blend of great roads as well as no roads. Amit found the roads to be delightful and a nightmare at the same time.
“Largely, owing to the good roads, thanks to the Border Roads Organisation, we continued our journey. Crossing Karnaprayag, Nandprayag, Chamoli and reached Joshimath.”
Joshimath is a popular hill station and a famous pilgrimage at a height of 1,890 meters above sea level in the Chamoli district of Garhwal division in Uttarakhand. It is the base for trekking to the famous Valley of Flowers. Connected with a 4-kilometre cable car up to Auli, a hill-station famous for ice skiing sports making it the longest and highest trolley in Asia.
Joshimath is also the home of the oldest tree of India, Kalpavriksha, which stands there from the time of Adi Guru Shri Shankaracharya, who established the town as one of the four ‘matths’ or monasteries, in the 8th century.
Badrinath is about 46 kilometres from there. The narrow single road on the side of the town takes one to the bottom of the mountain.
“One should target covering Joshimath latest by 3 pm and not invite risk. I was running late since the beginning.”
A local army personnel had advised them to halt and leave early in the morning due to bad roads ahead. Amit thought that it’s just 5 in the afternoon and there was no reason to not cover the last 45 kilometres of his journey. Another army man at the next turn asked him to leave hastily.
This led Amit to start thinking about the advice. Amit had noticed that for 15 kilometres after Joshimath, he hadn’t passed a single vehicle to-or-from Badrinath.
By every passing minute now, the bright sky was turning into the dark. In the next 15 minutes visibility turned down to 100 meters and it started raining heavily. Amit couldn’t see beyond the roads as he switched on the headlights. He rode for a few kilometres and fast which led him to a no-road-zone.
“You can’t find roads from here onwards. Literally no road at all. You have to drive through rough passages full of stones. It was continuously getting dark. I now couldn’t see beyond 40-50 meters.”
The group was moving as slow and steady as possible since it was a landslide zone for few kilometres. By 6:30pm, visibility turned zero and just then Amit heard water flowing. After a slight turn, they came across a passage with water flowing all over.
“I was already cold inside. I only had a single shirt and a t-shirt under it. No gloves and freezing temperatures.”
After a few kilometres of tough riding, the group made it to Badrinath. He met a bus driver there who had offered him water to drink. The man had been driving through the same impossible terrain for years and credited it to Badrinath’s grace. They took shelter at a hotel in Dharamsala and the next morning visited the Badrinath temple.
“Visiting the temple is another task. You have to queue up for the entry-token, which has a time mentioned on it and that entitles you to another queue of devotees at the allocated time. I headed towards the Tapt Kund first to take bath in hot water before getting into the temple.”
As they reached the Jaypee Power Project, they saw some workers sitting around the fire. On inquiry, they found that the temple was about 15-16 kilometres away. The last 10 kilometres that they had covered already felt like a 100.
After visiting the temple Amit feels the weariness from the road trip to have been washed away.
Before leaving for home, the excited group headed towards the Mana Village – the last Indian village which is around 3-4 kilometres from Badrinath.
Just before the town, there is a big sign from where the road separates and heads towards the Indo-Tibet International border, 20 kilometres away. No civilian is allowed beyond the point.
The Mana village is quite small. Amit and his friends parked their vehicles at the entrance and walked for some 300 meters. They visited Bhim Pul and Vyas Gufa on the other side of the village. While walking back to the entrance of the town towards their vehicles, they were lost.
“It’s funny but it’s true. A town which is hardly spread over 300 square meters of land, and I forgot my way back and got lost.”
The criss-cross narrow passages in the town make a maze. Most of the houses there are locked during winters because of people shifting to Joshimath.
The overall experience for Amit on the road trip to the Mana Village has been a matter of closure. The trip connected him to his ‘bull’ (a Royal Enfield Classic 350) and his friends. Before a trip, he had to think about it twice but now he believes that his ‘bull’ can take him anywhere.
“After this trip to the Mana Village, I have fallen in love with my new Royal Enfield Classic 350 all over again – this is the bike for the true bikers – always game for a new challenge.”
Amit accepts that they had a lot of difficulties ahead of them on the trip.
“Flowing water on the main road, with a ditch full of slippery stones. We gazed at it. Is it for real? How would we cross this barely 12 feet wide road, with a ditch full of stones and running water?”
The bucket lister admits to being scared. He could see the same with his friends. No one around till their eyes could see.
“The journey from Rishikesh to the Mana Village really tests your inner strength. It breaks you from the inside. I thought I had reached but I was only halfway. One wouldn’t want to go ahead from here but cannot stay here as well.”
For aspiring enthusiasts of motorcycle travel looking forward to this trip, the bucket lister has some tips that would definitely make sure that your road trip goes smoothly,
- The best time of the year to cover this trip is the month of May – The first week of June onwards, when the gates of Hemkunt Sahib open, the traffic increases manifold. However, early June is good, in case one wishes to cover both the shrines. Amit recommends to avoid the rainy season – danger of accidents increases a lot.
- Never ride without a helmet, including a visor – There is no such thing like a cool breeze kissing your face. The bucket lister recollects how his visor had marks on it from that hit it like a bullet after coming under the tires of a car ahead of him. The visor is the only thing that kept him from going blind.
- Speed thrills and kills – Especially on the mountains. An average distance covered at 40kmph is simply great. Aim anything higher – you’re are risking way too much.
- Adjusting – One may need to sleep in the tiniest of the rooms wherever weather forces one to stop. Sometimes, one may have to get cozy inside a sleeping bag underneath a bus-shelter.
- Learn to repair your motorcycle – DIY is the key. Do carry the toolkit and spare tire-tubes. You may need them at the unlikeliest of the places.
- Courage is good. Undue risk can be fatal – Don’t drive once it goes dark in the mountains. Start early. Drive slowly. Stop riding before dark.
- Don’t honk on the hills – Drivers there value the code of the road and give a pass on their own wherever feasible.
- Hydration – Water breaks are important. Keep yourself hydrated and avoid hogging at nights. Poor stomach kills your stamina.
- The ride to Mana Village is meant for riders with an intermediary to expert riding skills. Beginners should first do few two days 400-500kms trip to test their stamina.
Amit has so much more to explore on his bucket list. He wants to take a road trip to Leh-Ladakh, another from Delhi to Kanyakumari. He wants to ride on the World’s Highest Motorable Road – The Mana Pass near the Mana Village.
“Yes, the Mana Pass, and not the Khardung La Pass because contrary to general public opinion, and misinformed even by the Guinness World Records, local summit signs, social media posts and countless websites, the World’s Highest Motorable Road Pass is not the Khardung La 5,359m at (17,582 ft) but the Dungri La(Mana Pass) 5,610 m at (18,406 feet).”
When it comes to achievements, there’s nothing big or small. What matters is taking that first decisive step. Amit Banna chose to take a road trip through unchartered territory. That decision was the very moment which decided whether he would accomplish his bucket list.
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