With the first leg of the trip a success, Bryan and I now had our sights on the getting into the mountains. From Rishikesh this didn't prove too difficult... In fact it was impossible to avoid any elevation gain. My ridewithgps planning was pumping out routes with between 15,000-20,000ft of climbing over 80 miles. Needless to say we were both a bit worried about this but we didn't really have a choice. It was either suffer in the mountains or nothing at all. Mountains it was.
Before our second dive into the unknown we were able to explore Rishikesh for the day. Having a bicycle here was perfect and it was a welcome break taking the bags off and spinning the legs out. Waking up in an Ashram with boys chanting certainly gave the right vibe to the place we were staying. A world away from Delhi where we'd just come from.
It's funny seeing the locations that cows get themselves in. Back home they're normally confined to fields but their Indian counterparts know the true meaning of being free. For such a humble animal they seem to inhibit no fear - walking head on into traffic, over cable bridges spanning the Ganges and everywhere in between.
By nightime Pranav took us down to the Ganges to watch the daily Aarti. It consisted of holy men dancing like a complete badass to traditional music of drums, sitars and singing. It was so good I didn't think to take pictures.
The following more we woke fresh. Revitalized from the previous days relaxing culture. The day ahead would be far from relaxing. There were actual serious doubts the night before if we could make it not. But we'd made it so far. There's something very alluring about mountains to a cyclist and probably just in general. We were certainly going to be in for a treat.
From Rishikesh we were heading due East to Dugadda, all on the same road. Which was lucky as my Garmin bounced out of it's mount and under a moped's wheel the previous night. I was having much luck with tech - a broken iPhone and Garmin so far. Plus Bryan's iPhone screen was suspiciously pale in color. But whatever, adds to the adventure.
The gent below deserves a special mention. I wish I was better at remembering Indian names but they're all so new to me I have new time storing names the first time round. We were approaching the half way mark of the day and going well but still hot and sweaty from the continuous climbing we'd been doing for a few hours. For the most part we were alone, even from each other as we climbing at different rates (Bryan always in front, me with no fitness). We'd passed a some villagers sporadically, most people in complete awe of us. Being second up the hill I always got to see their reactions to Bryan riding a funny looking bicycle. The most we got in way of communication with most people was a friendly smile or head waggle, most people did this and it felt great. As we rounded one corner, together on this occasion, the guy below was walking up the hill too. As we past him he smiled and said hello, turns out he spoke great English.
We exchanged greetings, explaining where we were from and what we were doing. He suggested going for a chai which is the first time that had happened to us on the trip and we felt very honored. We continued up the hill together, chatting as we went. I asked him about the stepped terraces that were all around us from the top to the bottom of the hill sides, literally everywhere. He explained they were made by generations of all the local families including his own. "How many generations has your family been living here?" I asked. He turned and shrugged his shoulders then smiled "I don't know, forever I suppose". I couldn't have asked for a better answer. It really made it really added to the remoteness and we felt humbled by his presence. Sadly the chai stall he had in mind was closed, I was mildly devastated. All I wanted to talk to this guy. Part of me hopes to go back one day and track him down and get that chai.
The next several hours were a mix of long winding roads, up for many miles and similarly down for many miles. Some of the roads were completely void of tarmac, consisting of small rocks and dust. Perfect for the bikes we had. However on one particularly long stretch we were treated to a descent paved with the very best fresh tarmac of endless switch backs. We were honestly shocked to be riding a road so amazing. Bryan said it was as good if not better than being at home in California. It was so good in fact that instead of slowing down for blind corners we took them at full speed (sorry mum).
Our planned stop that night was meant to be Dugadda. Unfortunately at some point during the day the host kindly informed us that the location of the airbnb wasn't actually there and was another 15 miles away and that we had to make Dugadda before night fall in order to make the cut off time for being allowed inside the forest, which was a tiger reserve. And tigers come out at night. Cool.
We successfully met Sanjay at Dugadda, barely came up for air, got back on the drops and began cranking for the forest. Sanjai was on a moped and we so wished he knew what motorpacing was but sadly it wasn't meant to be. We made it to the forest entrance in time and were greeted with a welcome chai. By now it was dark but we were in the forest so all was good. The night contiuned to get more bizzare when he thought we might want to buy cigarettes and stopped at another road side stall on the way. We weren't really in the mood for cigs but instead inquired about beer. We needed beer. Turns out there was only rum. Rum works. Turns out it wasn't any old rum. It was 'for military consumption only'. We weren't the only ones sipping on contraband either that night. The hosts cook was also several glasses deep. After I got my fair share we were obviously best friends.
The following day, not feeling too bad considering the harshness of the rum, we continued on our way East. More spectacular roads were ridden. Quite different to the previous day. We were definitely in the jungle now. We were due to meet our second host, Imran Khan. Who drive us to our final lodging and give us a chance to go on safari in the Jim Corbett tiger reserve.