On the road. Finally.

Best Western Hunky Dory Resort and Spa. Km 34 from Pathankot.
Thursday 22nd June, 2016.  32.1 km today. (Wow!)

Average speed: Not very much. Saving the current track to a file, then clearing the current track means I lose access to useful data such as elevation gained, average speed, etc. All I can get from the stored file is distance. Maybe if I load it into Garmin Basecamp, I can find that info?

This is Summer Fat Camp (SFC) Day 2, i.e. my second ‘day’ riding.

SFC? Each summer, I use cycling as a means to get rid of some of the weight gained over the rest of the year spent working long hours, with irregular meal times, sitting in front of a computer. This summer, the need is particularly great: I had my gall bladder removed in February and immediately put on almost twenty pounds of low-hanging belly-fat. This makes me a good forty pounds overweight and, at 63.75 years of age, probably at high risk of a heart attack. My second priority for this summer is to lose as much weight as possible. (The first priority is to avoid that heart attack, so I intend to try to keep my renewed acquaintance with vigorous exercise as controlled as possible.)

The restaurant wasn’t open but I was made an omelette, laid on a piece of warmed white bread, to get me going (the management at the Venice Republic have been very helpful). It was 6:20 when I pulled my trailer (loaded, for the first time ever) on to the main road and headed away from Pathankot. A couple of the roadside stalls were setting up and I bought four bananas for later in the day. There was an early morning sweet smell of marijuana from the plants growing wild at the roadside.

The bike seems to handle alright with the trailer but it (or I?) makes for slow going, even on the flat.


Stopping for a shave.

When, after about 6 km, I took the left turn towards Dalhousie, the uphill started. I crawled along in my bottom gear – it’s a good thing I installed a larger sprocket on the rear wheel to give me lower gearing. I stopped at an ATM for some cash, at a barber for a shave (not a new blade; it was pretty rough) and at various places for a rest. The traffic was regular, not constant, and wasn’t a problem. Trucks, buses, Indian tour minivans, motorcycles and the occasional local on a single-speed Hero cruised past me. A family on a motorcycle stopped; the man (Dave, or is it Dev in India?) said he’d be back in a couple of hours and would give me some addresses of places to stay between where we were and Banikhet (which seeemed, correctly as it turned, out of reach for the day, 70 km from Pathankot and, at 1700 m, 1350 m higher).


The day started out cloudy and overcast and it started to rain lightly. Then it rained more heavily – a good thing really because it kept the temperature down. I was soaked but that didn’t make much difference, just rainwater instead of sweat. I could put on a raincoat if I felt cold. Flashes of lightning, followed three or four seconds later by rolls of thunder accompanied the rainfall but the thunder was not very loud. CTV News is informing me now, though, that 74 people in the north and east of India have been killed by lightning strikes in the last 24 hours!

The scenery was ‘the usual’: trees, hills, terraced fields. Quite nice but not remote yet. That will take a few more kilometres. The road passed through small ‘towns’, villages really. But big enough to have a polytechnic.

I had seen frequent signs for the Best Western Hunky Dory (really!) Resort and Spa but knew from Internet research that it was (very) expensive. (My wife said it could be a Father’s Day present – what a sweetheart she is!). When I reached the lane that led down to the resort, I was undecided. I had only covered 32 km and it was not quite noon. It was also raining heavily now and my first day on my old legs. I decided to check it out. They had rooms but for 5500 Rs. – about C$110! Then, before I’d turned away, I heard the words “30% discount.” “Fifty” I countered, knowing that it didn’t matter either way. A short discussion with a superior ensued and the man at the front desk nodded in agreement. So, I’m in luxury (sort of) with a big comfortable bed and a flat-screen TV showing replays of Euro 2016 soccer games. There’s even live coverage of Portugal – Hungary tonight. And another game at 12:30 am that I’ll pass on. I’ll also pass on the resort mud-bath and the jacuzzi.

20160622_097 - Copy

Dev’s information on places to stay might have been useful but he wasn’t going out of his way to help me – he would just look for me after dropping off his wife and daughter and carry on home when he didn’t find me.

Verdict on the day? I’m not sure. Not much progress but I knew it would be hard to start. I may have some sore muscles tomorrow. I don’t think I’ll make it to Banikhet, still 40 km away and 1100 m higher. (I think I climbed about 600 m today but the net elevation gain is only about 250 m, with current elevation about 600 m.)



Thursday 23nd June, 2016. Somewhere between Naunkhad and Banikhet.
28.7 kms. About 750 m of climbing for a net elevation gain of about 450 m (at 1100 m now)

I set the GPS alarm for 7:00 am. Not very early but I wanted a breakfast before setting of and it looked like the restaurant didn’t open until 7:30 am. I realised that I didn’t have a convenient clock to look at during the night so I dug out my little pipsqueak travel alarm and thought its alarm was turned off.

I watched almost all of an amazing soccer game between Portugal and Hungary, one of the last games in the group stage of EURO 2016. Hungary had already wrapped up first place and were going through to the knockout Round of 16. Portugal, against all expectations, were not assured of advancement having underachieved in their first two matches. Hungary scored, then Portugal. Ditto. Ditto. It was 3-3 when I dozed off, waking up to a blank screen (not sure why, it wasn’t that late, but I couldn’t figure out the remotes for set top box and for TV). So I have no idea if the result stands at 3-3 or there was more scoring in the last few minutes. Christian Ronaldo, Portugal’s captain, prima donna and, arguably, the best soccer player in the world, was not happy.

Of course, my travel alarm woke me at 5:00 am, still set from the previous morning. Shit. I did manage to get back to sleep for about half-an-hour until dreams about failing brakes woke me up with a knot of anxiety in the pit of my stomache. A bit overwhelmed by this trip, I have been having panic attacks, unsure whether I still have the physical wherewithall (?) to get back in shape and manage to pull off at least some of what I’ve planned. No logic to it; I could just go home if I wanted. No-one is making me do this stuff. Except myself and my self-esteem. Or is it just ego?

The oily parantha for breakfast got my guts gurgling right away. I hurried through breakfast and rushed back to my room. This didn’t happen when I had a gall-bladder.

It was 9:30 and already toasty by the time I checked out of the Hunky Dory. Definitely too late. My thighs felt rubbery from the previous day’s efforts and I soom accepted that I’d be walking up all the hills and riding on the flat and downhills. There will be a lot of walking on this trip. I got to Dunera, a busy little retail village, and restocked my water, bought cookes and bananas, feeling pretty much wasted by 11:30 am. I’m not sure exactly how hot it is – high thirties, I presume. I put my temperature sensor on the top of the trailer to see if that gave a better reading. It registered 58°C, so I put it back in my handlebar bag.

(A couple of birds are determined to gain entrance to my room. They keep attacking the windows. Is there a nest somewhere in the room, I wonder? Or are they attacking their own reflections?)

I ground on, ever more slowly, passing the first hotel around 12.30 pm. It’s probably a good thing that I quit when I did yesterday, rather than continuing on in the downpour. Trohly seems to have developed a creaking bottom bracket. Or maybe my pedals. (I suspect the bottom bracket because when walking the bike, the left pedal always stops at the six o’clock position; a pedal problem wouldn’t do that.)
I crossed into Himachal Pradesh (HP); there was a checkpoint on the Punjab side. An immaculately attired Sikh officer invited me for a cup of tea at the adjacent stall. In my sweat-soaked clothes, I felt a mess. I tried to find out about where a hotel might be but he didn’t know HP. One of the men mentioned Hunky Dory but that was in the wrong direction. The E-Kant was also mentioned, and that was the first hotel I passed. In fact, the only one. Although feeling light-headed and woozy, I carried on; it was still too early and I hadn’t even covered 20 km.


The rest of the day centred around searching for somewhere to sleep. At one village and checkpoint, I was directed to a forest rest-house but they weren’t interested because I hadn’t made a reservation. I heard from different people that the next hotel was 2 km, 5km, 8km and 10km ahead (all the same hotel, I think). I got the name of the place, Dundiara Bungalows, from an elderly gent; he offered the 8km distance.

20160623_103 - Copy

I saw a sign for a home-stay, boasting luxurious rooms, but it was down a steep lane. I asked a man (excellent English) from a parked HP government vehicle if the Hindi script with a ’30’ in the middle meant 30 metres. He said yes, but I could see 30 m down the lane and there was no building. I asked for a favour: could he use his phone to call the number on the sign and find details for me. There was a long phone conversation where I recognised only the words ‘Department of Tourism’ and ‘overcharging’. Apparently, she was closer to 60m down the lane and had a room for one night only at 2800 Rs (about C$60). One of his men pointed out a cluster of buildings in the distance and said there was a hotel there, about 10 km away. It didn’t look that far but I was told the road contoured ‘into the mountain’ and came out again.


When I reached the buildings seven kilometres later, there was no sign for a hotel. There was a restaurant that looked pretty basic but a lady was sitting in the forecourt so I asked ‘Rooms?’. ‘Yes’ she said. Thank goodness! This room is 800 Rs, bartered down from 1000 Rs. It’s basic and well-worn (except for the electrical system which looks modern) but clean. Another elderly gent took my passport details and I’m just about to go down for egg curry.

I’d hoped for somewhere to spend two nights, to recover somewhat. I don’t think this is it, though. Unless I spend all day reading in my room, there is nothing else. The TV doesn’t work; the fan does, which is more important.


There is a sign lying on the ground outside my room that says ‘Dundiara Bunglows’ in 6 km. There are also pictures of toilets, a tea cup, a cocktail glass and a plate with knife and fork. Maybe this is the Dundiara, but it doesn’t look like they’ve ever served alcohol here. Or maybe this establishment has pinched the sign because it was diverting business away. I’ll have to see what I can find out over dinner. If this isn’t the Dundiara, I can have a rest day of 6km. I’ll keep you posted.

Have I only been in India for ten days? It feels like forever, a measure of the stress and strain I’m feeling.
Friday 24th June, 2016. Dundiara Bunglows (as spelt on the sign). Rest day.

As I came down from my room at the back of the building, I could see car headlights moving up the hill opposite. Damn, that looks steep and intense. More fun and games to come.

Dinner, egg curry and rice, were good. The ‘elderly gent’ joined me while I waited for the meal. He is 70 years old (only seven years older than me, maybe I’m getting elderly too). He has a daughter that has been to polytechnic though I didn’t learn what subject, and a son who is a post-graduate physicist. Some branch of his family owns the restaurant/hotel and he is just here to help out. There is also a couple with a young son who appear to live here and run the place. All very friendly, with a smattering of English.

Apparently, this small collection of building is Dundiara Bunglows, so named because of a PWD rest house located here. Dundiara itself is a bit further on. And Banikhet is about 11 km further on (of probably relentless climbing up 600 m to 1700 m above sea-level).

Half an hour after I went to sleep, I woke up, restrained as I was robbed. I couldn’t move or resist. Damned nightmares! I don’t usually have vivid dreams but that has changed here due, presumably, to my unsettled state of mind. Part of it may also have been due to having my movement restricted by a sleeping bag liner, not wanting to lie on the bed sheet/covering. It took a while, and more sleep medication, to get off to sleep again.

I woke at 6:00 and slept again until 9:00, having decided to spend the day here to rest up a little. I read for a long while today, not absorbing much of my novel but fairly comfortable under the fan.


The managers of the Geetanjali, minus the ‘elderly gent’

Saturday 25th June, 2016. Banikhet. 11.7 km, up to 1650m.

Not much to say about today. I forgot to take a photograph of anything, maybe a first time! Breakfast was delivered to my room at 5:40 although it was a struggle to eat. On the road by 6:30. A short day, finished at 11:30, having pushed 11km up to Banikhet at around 1650m. Hotels here are pricy, most quoting 4000Rs initially and considerably less appealing than the Hunky Dory. I checked out room for 2000Rs, down three flights of stairs, dim, none to clean. Carried on through Banikhet, taking the Chamba turn (most tourist traffic goes right on to Dalhousie). Found the not very cottage-like Chobhyat Cottage indicating ‘Rooms Available.’ Again quoted 4000Rs but bartered down to 2000Rs. India is not such an inexpensive place to rent rooms anymore, especially in the tourist areas in high season!

Chamba is 45km away, and downhill for much of it. Hopefully, I can make it there tomorrow!

Sunday 26th June, 2016. Chamba. 48.1 km, down to 950m. (including ascent of about 600m)

Downhill to start, with my rear brake responding well to last night’s adjustment. It seems to be performing as it should now.


Looking up towards Dalhousie.



Before long, the surface deteriorated into bumpy patched and repatched tarmac. Overcast, threatening rain, humid. Of course, it wasn’t all downhill; up and down, slow up and down, through pine forests.


The stone says 0 km. To where, I have no idea. And there is nothing here as far as I can tell. Maybe it’s telling me it is lunchtime. I struggled with breakfast, managing only half of the breakfast staple: oily parantha. Then off to the bathroom. There is a pattern. For lunch, I had a cold parantha. I nibbled at it, chewing to mush, then downed it with a swallow of water. Managed half a parantha. Three more halves in my pannier. Can’t wait.


There is a lake below with a road on the far side. That is the short way to Sach Pass but I don’t have what I need to head up high – I need a supply of food. Maybe fuel for my stove if cooking is an option. I’ll have to buy some packets of Maggi noodles and some biscuits.


The road descended, almost to lake level. It felt very hot. I bought a couple of bananas, I have no problem with them.

Time then to climb back up, to Chamba. The last two or three kilometres seemed to take forever, with me pretty much exhausted. Fortunately, the Iravati Hotel was on the near side of town, just up from the bus stand. It’s a typical Himachal Pradesh Tourist Development Corporation hotel, dated but very elegant. I’m in a light room with a fan, given a 25% for ‘single,’ and pondering my future.

A discouragingly brutal day. It is becoming increasingly clear that I do not have to fitness to get over Sach Pass, and the rest of my trip hinges upon my success on the pass. There is nowhere else to go from here, except back to Delhi and then a reappraisal. I could get a but to Manali but am not in shape for the initial climb over the Rohtang (meaning ‘Pile of bones’) Pass. I need to be high to be out of the heat. Feeling pretty bummed out about it all.

To be frank, I haven’t really had any fun since arriving in India. It’s probably culture shock to some degree but it’s not as though it’s the first time I’ve been here. If, after a month, I’m still not having fun, I’ll probably pull the plug on this summer trip altogether. If I don’t make it over Sach Pass, that may come more quickly.

I’ll be here in Chamba for three days, at least. Mainly to get ready for the ascent; time to change tyres. I should also adjust the handlebar height; it seems too low and, by moving spacers, I can gain an inch.

Hiding away in the room today, though. Surprisingly, the hotel has wifi.




    • No, it’s not much fun. It might get better but I’m worried I might get into a situation I can’t get out of. I’m considering packing it in; it might not be the right time for this.

  1. Dave

    India continually throws curve balls; as you probably need reminding, after things get so bad they tend to get better.

    Keep on keepin on, at least for a little longer.

    • I would except it get’s committing pretty quickly. If it was steady uphill (like many routes in India), I’d give it a go. But it’s up and down, with about 9500m of climbing from where I am, most of it on rocks or dirt. I think, given my fitness and health, that discretion is the better option. I don’t like it, but I just didn’t think this out carefully enough. There is only one place to stay that I know of, and maybe a few ‘dabbas’ that might offer Maggi as sustenance. So, I’d have to load up more, taking food for a week or so.

      There isn’t anything else I want to do in India at the moment so it looks like I’m baling.

  2. Dave,

    Could you arrange some sort of “transportation/support” to help you get to/over the pass? Maybe it is not a black or white situation (i.e., cycle over the pass without help or pack and fly back home)… Is there a way you can carry on with your trip while reducing the level of commitment, at least for this stretch?

    There are a number of factors that make this trip particularly challenging, including your recent surgery and that this is the first time that you pull a trailer (as a fellow “trailer-tower” I can tell you it took me some time to get used to it!!). I think that all you need to start enjoying the trip is more time on your bike and in India… but you don’t have to be overly ambitious! Not making it over the pass only by your own means would not be a “failure”! You are a very resourceful person, and I’m sure you will find a way to continue with your trip! You should allow yourself some time to recover your self-confidence… only then you will start enjoying the trip!

    • I thought about that, Eduard, but decided against it. In general, I wasn’t having a good time and, yes, my self-confidence was shot. But I decided to come home, and am now visiting my mother in London for a couple of weeks. I will be back in Canada to enjoy some time with my wife before school starts again.

      At the moment, I still feel this was the right decision for me. I need to make some mental adjustments regarding my capabilities; it has been a very humbling experience. Mind you, a little humility is no bad thing.

      Thanks for your kind words and thoughts,


      • If you feel that this was the right decision, it was the right decision! What is the point of carrying on with the trip if (in general) you are not having a good time?
        It is very hard to gauge the challenges of an adventure like this in advance, particularly when there are so many variables into play (remoteness, fitness, health…). Adventure is what makes these trips so exciting, but adventure comes with uncertainty, which means that sometimes the outcome is not what you were hoping for! Would it be exciting to play a game that you know you always win?
        Don’t be too hard on yourself. You just got a dose of frustration… so you can better enjoy new adventures in the future!
        Also, there are lots of less committing cycling options that would help you get in shape and get your self-confidence back! Now that you are in England, have you considered crossing to the continent and go see the “Tour de France” in the Alps or the Pyrenees? You could cycle up to one of the beautiful ports, and wait for the professionals to pass by. It is a cycling festival/party… I went several times when I lived in Barcelona, and I cannot recommend it enough! If you make up your mind send me an email and I can probably recommend a good port.

        • Thanks, again, for your support, Eduard. Yes, this is the time for a readjustment of my goals and capabilities. Frustrating, but still a learning experience.

Leave a Reply