I left the hotel at 7:00 am and rode (wobbled, more like, now that I had a load again) up to Chail, where I stopped for two cups of chai at the first place open. There were a few people about and the town had a pleasant relaxed feel to it. Setting off again, I saw that a breakfast place was open so I had a couple of samosas and some vegetable pakora before setting off for real this time.
It was all climbing, of course. I was going from under 2000m to over 2500m, in about 30 km. I plugged away, happy to have the smaller chainring and a lower gear even if I didn’t need it (yet). After an hour or so, I checked the chain, and presumed that it had settled in with the new chainring quite nicely since it had gone from being tight to having too much slack. This was a quick fix: just loosen a bolt on the rear axle and adjust the Surly Tuggnut (the beer-opener looking thing), re-tighten the bolt and ride away.
The road was narrow enough that vehicles going in opposite directions had to squeeze around each other but the traffic, what there was of it, treated me courteously and always let me know of their imminent arrival by leaning on the horn. Apart from these interruptions, it was a quiet ride up through deodar forest that occasionally opened up to give spectacular views of terraced green fields far below. I adjusted the position of the front panniers (any excuse for a break) so that the centre of gravity of each was over the front axle rather than a little in front as they had been. Maybe that will help with the wobble! I stopped for a couple of chais at a village with magnificent views of more terraced fields dropping away from the village and rising back up on the hills opposite.
I was having a great day! And I felt more confident of my strength and could feel the benefit of a few days, rest.
Around noon, it started to cloud over and there were regular rumbles of thunder. It spotted for a while before settling in for a loud thunderous storm. Too bad; I was only seven or eight kilometers from Kufri. I pulled over to put on a rainjacket and to wait the storm out. I didn’t feel like trying to ride uphill in the heavy rain combined with small hailstones. But the storm had more patience than I and it was getting cool so began walking the bike. Although uphill, it wasn’t a serious gradient so the hike-a-bike was quite pleasant. Little streams were appearing in the hillside above me (and below me, too, no doubt but I couldn’t see these) and running a golden brown down the sides of the road. Or across it. I was glad to be wearing Chacos.
(Chacos are perfect for this sort of day – where there may be some walking/pushing involved. They are pretty solid, have good arch support and a Vibram sole. In contrast, my Keens cycling sandals have metal cleats and,if I have to push the bike, it feels like I’m skating. And, as an ex-Brit and not a Canadian by birth, my skating skills are non-existent. Anyway, Chacos rock!)
I hadn’t really packed for rain. I don’t have any rain pants and it didn’t seem worthwhile getting my warmer long pants on just to get them wet so I continued in shorts. And sandals. (It is India, right?)
The road topped out at 2630m just after a zoo. The word zoo describes literally the attraction and the antics of the two lines of traffic trying to pass each other on this almost single lane road that already had a row of vehicles parked along one edge (just in front of the ‘No Parking’ signs).
I got back aboard and rolled carefully down the steep road into Kufri. I was starting to feel the cold so I put on another layer, my wet shirt and rainjacket not being up to the task. I noticed one un-enticing hotel in the town so decided, despite the weather (now more of a steady drizzle), to carry on from Kufri down to Theog, a further 15 km along the main road (NH22, i.e. National Highway 22). This is the road that I will be following for the next week or more; here it is wide and the initial climb out of Kufri was short and gentle so, in spite of the expected increase in traffic, progress was not too difficult. Then came the downhill, again gentle, but I had to stop frequently to warm my hands (having decided also not to get my gloves wet). At one stop, I checked the temperature. It was 11.6°C! Cold and wet; this could be bloody England! No wonder I felt chilled.
I didn’t immediately notice a hotel in Theog so, when I saw a couple of policemen, I pulled over and asked about a hotel. One, an officer type, said I should go on to Narkanda (30 km uphill) or back 9 km (also uphill). I stressed that I really wanted to stay in Theog; the other policeman mentioned something to his boss who then instructed me to go on for another kilometre and turn right. He told me the name of the hotel but I couldn’t get my tongue around it.
In three-quarters of a kilometre, a policeman in a booth shouted the name of the hotel (Eckfant Warhtigan?) at me and pointed along the direction I was going; he seemed to know more about where I was headed than I did so the first police I’d talked to must have called. Further along, traffic became rush-hour mayhem; there were lines of parked cars along each side of the road, leaving just enough room for two normal-sized cars to pass. The problem was the trucks and the school buses. Another policeman was working magic and vehicles were squeezing past each other under his tutelage and in response to his persistant whistle and arm-waving. He saw me and pointed to a gap in the parking on one side of the road; I should pull over and wait. After a quarter of an hour, miraculously, his magic done for now, there was a gap in the traffic. The policeman walked me off on a side road for forty metres and showed me an uphill track, before returning to his regular traffic duties.
Which is how, ten minutes of steep pushing later, I arrived at the hotel Aikant Vatiga.