Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Uttarakhand by motorbike.

Let me introduce my buddy Manish: proud owner of a Royal Enfield Bullet motorbike, originator of India on Bike tours, and a truly decent human being with a zest for novelty that mirrors my own. When he called me up with a proposition to travel north to Uttarakhand state by bike, I was committed even before he finished speaking.

Saturday morning before sunrise, I piled on the sweaters, strapped my bags to the bike with bungees, and we took off away from Delhi. Within half an hour, I felt comfortable tucked behind my trusty driver, numb to the windchill, hardly blinking as we weaved back and forth between vehicles, making passes into head-on traffic. There is order in the chaos that defines Indian driving.

The only real fear I had was of drifting to sleep and falling off the bike, but so enraptured was I with the feeling of wind in my face that the time passed quickly. I absorbed myself with the sight of farmlands passing into villages passing into small cities, and with the sweet smell of sugarcane, the regional crop.

After 6 hours on the road, coffee pit-stop included, we arrived at the town of Haridwar, our first destination for the weekend.

Located on the sacred Ganges and home to some 3000 temples, Haridwar is a place of intense religious significance. We walked along the bathing ghats in the main part of town and simply observed all the activity.

The Ganges river is the blood vein of India. It is the focal point of Hindu spirituality, an auspicious place, a place attached to life and death and salvation, not to mention a tourist draw that provides employment for millions. The river is worshiped as a holy being in itself. In the eyes of Hindus, it is very much alive.

Next, onward to Rishikesh, an additional hour drive north. We arrived as the sun was setting, just in time to catch the beginning of a public puja on the Ganges banks, attended personally by a well-known guru and a few of his disciples.

For the next two hours, everyone in attendance proceeded to get "spiritually drunk", as Manish aptly put it. The puja was beautiful both to take part in and to observe.

On Sunday, Manish and I left the tourist hub of Rishikesh. We drove further north along the river to the quieter village of Shivpuri, nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas. Riding a motorbike on the twisting mountain roads was heart-poundingly fun, and made me pine for my own two-wheeled beauty back home.

Okay, this was obviously staged, but that doesn't make the photo-opp less awesome.

The actual operator of that beautiful machine.

The roads were lined with slogans like these. My favorite was "Alert today, alive tomorrow."

The Ganges river ran right outside our campsite where we based ourselves for the rest of the weekend. Whereas the Ganges of Varanasi looked hardly clean enough to touch, the water here up north was close to the source of the river, and sparkled blue.

Our campsite at daybreak.

Manish and I spent the rest of the day climbing rocks, doing some light hiking around the area, eating a lot, and running our mouths around a campfire.

Monday morning, I braved the chill and got ready for my first experience white-water rafting on the river. It felt a little strange for me to worship the Ganges one day and float down it the next, but I forgot that quickly when I was being pummelled by the waves.

We rafted 25km downstream, and shot a total of 7 rapids ranging up to class 4 difficulty. Each rapid had a name, including Crossfire, Rollercoaster, Golf Course, and (my favorite) Good Morning. Some we passed through without much difficulty. Others, especially Golf Course, had waves that loomed 10 feet high and had me holding on for dear life. I can't wait to try it again.

At one point, we parked our raft and Manish snapped photos of another group maneuvering through the rapid we just finished.

I felt so small against the river and the surrounding mountains, a feeling that is at once exhilarating and frustrating.

And then, all too soon, it was time to go home. We packed up the bike once more, and drove through the sunset and nightfall all the way home to Delhi. The way home had some close calls with semi-trucks, potholes galore, and terrible visibility, but we made it home safely.

A thrilling weekend with fantastic company More pictures up on my Facebook soon.


Manish said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Manish said...

normally I hate saying thanks but a sincere Thanks to you, not for this lovely blog but for being so nice and cooperative during our entire tour. It was a team work and I was glad that you agreed for this tour and I found a nice, active, humble and positive partner for such adventure tours………… Faye you rock dear

Robin said...

I am ridiculously jealous. Motorbikes *and* whitewater rafting!!!!

Siri said...

Oh WOW!!! I am sooo so jealous of you Faye! This sounds like such a great adventure. Good luck with you rnext ones :)

Rochelle said...

The shot of you on the bike, though staged, is so badass!

Pieter said...

As always, it was a pleasure to read about your wonderful adventures Faye!

Lexie said...

faye! i think this is my favorite entry so far. the pictures are amazing.