The place was new to them. They were in love, that’s all they knew. Himachal had only exhibited Simla to this young couple before. Simla, the desperate destination of yearning couples-had no surprises left for our protagonists’ anymore. So they chose to spend this vacation 250 kms away from it. They went for a village approximately 12 kms further up than the Incredible India destination of McLeodganj-Naddi.
Naddi in it holds a place, commonly referred to as the sunset point. Ofcourse, coz it has a mesmerizing view of the morning and dusky sun. But also coz it boasts of one of the most lovely sun pictures one can capture in the Himalayas. That is largely because Naddi is stark in the middle of the upper and the middle Himalayan range. And yes they elevate differently. Every morning, in that differential of the mountains, shines the glummest of suns-not yellow, not orange but a majestic crimson.
Naddi, just a 20 minute elevated road trip away from McLeodganj, offers mountain roads still unexplored for several Delhi biker-couples. If one chooses to rent a bike and spend the day on it, moving through these smooth but super-steep mountain roads, one may choose to stop at the following destinations to turn this bike trip into an experience of a life time. This bike trip may begin either from the cottage in Naddi, that our biker-couple had hired, provided they had bought their wheels along. But much to her dislike, it began from the Bhakshu market in McLeodganj. He hired a Machismo 500 but had little money for the fuel as always. They were directions to return within 5 hours. I don’t think he was in a mood to obey. Thankfully today, neither was she. Ofcourse, biking on an empty stomach is never advisable so they began by gorging steamy pork momos at the local ‘dragon’ shop and then followed it up with sumptuous ribs in bamboo curry.
Filled to the hilt, he kicked the Machismo. It began with its usual roar. The 500 cc vertical mounted engine revving under and the love of his life in an embrace behind and the soothing yet sharp mountain air in his face. After 17 kms of several down and ups was the Palampur Tea Garden. A traditional tea garden in the middle of nowhere, for it appears on the left of the twisted road just like that! If he would have thought that he could make the bike go up in one go, he would have been wrong. It was better that both of them decided to dismount and drag the bike up the last 100 mtrs or so. It was not just some tea garden, it was the only one in Himachal that produced Earl Grey and Oolong Tea amongst the regular varieties. A sip of Earl Grey makes one forget the sharpness in the air, he thought.
Making sure she got her free samples, and after taking full advantage of the owner’s generosity-they decided to approach the next destination. 30 minutes after they decided the same, they were still going around the same hill in circles. The person at the bike store had stuck a rough map in his pocket. That he spit his gum into. Ofcourse she couldn’t know that. Pretending to know where he was going, they passed the Head Post Office of Dharamshala. Finally people to take directions from-but to where? This building wasn’t your regular building. It was dilapidated as expected, but in the most fulfilling ways. The sloping roof, the white walls-were all wood. It also had the oldest man in the world selling aloo tikkis in front of it. Much like the peas inside the tikki, the price of 7 Rs each also came as a delightful surprise to them. They were told that they were barely 3 kms from the very famous Dharamshala Cricket Stadium-a must visit for all tourists. So, they took the exact opposite direction and tracking a village called ‘Salli’ for around 17 kms came across a mountain river pass. They asked around, this river was also called Kangra. It was the wildest gorge they had ever witnessed. The water, so fresh, didn’t just run. It walloped and danced like their younger selves-they thought. Finding a decent place to park, they descended down the hilly ledge to where the water was. It was rocky, slippery and slightly red in one corner-where the locals had reached before and established a make-shift temple. They hopped over a few other boulders and she slipped once. But they finally made it to the giant rocks in the middle of the river. Shoes came off and feet were dipped. She said she felt tiny fishes nibble at them. This memory of her as pure as the river, he knew, would nibble at him for years.
Another hour later, they set sail in presumably the right direction. Thankfully, the presumption was right. After around 19 kms of ascending mountains they crossed the creepiest of churches ever. St. John’s in the Wilderness-it was called. It was another thing that appears out of the fog, but this time to the right. They parked and went in. It was an Anglican Church made entirely of stone. No carvings though. The compound also harbored a cemetery for war heroes from the British times. Walking among the graves-they were scared out of their wits but the creepiness only got them closer.
Next stop, they knew, was going to be the last one for the day. It was the main Dalai Lama temple, most well known for housing ‘his holiness’ the Dalai Lama. But even better known for potato momos-one of the most unique dishes ever tasted. Gorging on those, they looked at their watches. 6 hours and several kilometers later, they were more enriched. They were smiling end to end, for they knew this was the first of several mountain biking trips to come. The sharp air had left no hair on their head as it was, when they set sail. But this was a vital grey. And they knew it would stay.
~ Author : Dr. Mohit Soni
~ Photo Courtesy : Dr. Ayana Bhaduri