Perched at 8000 ft, Narkanda is a hamlet famous for its ski slopes and the hideaway for those who want to get away from the hustle and bustle of Shimla. However, unknown to many and very recently to me, the region around Narkanda, offers incredible opportunities to hike and mountain bike the backroads that crisscross around it. This gem of an information was offered to me by Dhananjay of Being Out There, at a time when I was contemplating mountain biking around placid Kasauli. Narkanda with its rugged mountains, and alpine air, tugged at my soul and soon enough the seduction of the high Himalayas pushed my Duster with the Gary Fisher bolted safely on it, towards loftier mountainous terrain, amidst rain, mist and sometimes on many a forested area, thick fog.
The trail was Narakanda – Baghi – Khadrala – Nankhari – Kolaghat and back to Narkanda, a total of 70 kms.
I began my ascent to 9000 ft through thick conifer and deodhar forests on a desolate, lonely slushy mud and stone track. It had been raining lightly all morning, and there was a veil of mist. It shrouded the forest protectively and cycling in silence through this looming forest was an ethereal experience straight from the Lord of the Rings. After an hour of uphill biking I reached the small hamlet of Baghi on the highway and from here I cycled up towards Khadrala, through some picturesque landscapes of meadows, sheep grazing, stone and mud houses, voluminous white clouds casting their shadows on a dark green grape colored valley, with white sheets protecting terraces adorned with apple trees. Before Khadrala I had to take the road up towards the left which would take me back into the back road trails on the other side of the mountain, onto a road that would switchback to Narkanda over some challenging terrain. At this juncture, there was a major cloud burst and I had to cycle quickly towards a shelter and fortunately it turned out to be a tea house , in the middle of nowhere. Some locals stood huddled there in the cold and rain waiting for a bus while some tea brewed inside the dimly lit and smoky stone and straw shack. I now see younger boys and older men , that were once a fixture in the mountains seem to be a depleting demographic fast receding. And it was no different here. All young boys on their way to the next town to find work.
With the rain down to a drizzle, I mounted my Trek and rattled downhill towards Nankhari. The track was wide enough for a small car to pass, but this was remote country, and for the next 20 kms of thick forest, slushy and slippery mud tracks ( at various places over 6 inches of mud) and gurgling streams, screeching crickets, and chirping birds, I did not come across a single soul. The ride downhill was challenging, as the stony track was steep, and my front suspension jammed because of thick mud, as a result my arms took the strain of the jolts, the stress of it passing right through to my head. My old injured hamstring was beginning to strain and every knock made it hurt. Nonetheless, it was extremely invigorating to have been able to manage this descent. And that’s when I rode onto stream that had turned into a river and was gushing wildly across the road. That’s the first time I saw three locals, who had been apparently stopped dead in their tracks by this watery inferno, just like I was. They warned me against even trying to cross the stream on my own as I would be easily swept away to the gully below. Fortunately, a state bus was on the way and it would come around 2.30 pm. It was 2.15 pm. And that’s when I observed none of them wore a watch. Then how did they know ? I still don’t know, but I do know that at 2,45 the state bus roared over the stream, lurching dangerously side to side, with my bike and me in tow. I am amazed at the skills of the Himachal state bus drivers, to be able to drive safely on a 10 ft wide mud track in such difficult weather conditions. Once offloaded, I began my long climb once again and it was at this point, I felt the exhaustion of the day creeping in, and by 50th the km, it was full blown fatigue. Out of water ( the bottle cracked in the cage during descent due to the severity of the jolts) and low on energy, I finally called it a day at Kolaghat , about 16 kms short of Narkanda. I had been riding for 5 hours and gained an elevation of 3300 mts which was no small feat for me, as I had not climbed since December’ 12. The next phase of my adventure for the day ended with a ride on a truck that drove past mountainsides of apple and plum orchards ! By the time I reached Narkanda, the mud that coated body, had dried and formed a thin crust on my skin and clothes like a baked biscuit !
It felt good to be back in the hot showers and comfort of the Tethys.