Himachal MTB is an annual cycling event held in foot-skirts of Shivalik ranges of Himalayas organized by HASTPA. Since the time I bought my RockRider 5.2, I had an eye on the event but didn’t know that I would be doing the toughest MTB event in my first year of biking only. With a very limited practice of some 500+ odd km in a place like Bangalore where finding mountainous off-road terrains for training are limited, I reached Himachal with the aim of completing the event and not competing as I was fully aware of my limits. After having a look at the race-book, Nikhil and I were confident that doing 70+ km on average for 8-days would not be that difficult since we had done a couple of 150+ km rides in and around Bangalore. Only thing of concern was, endurance. I had no clue whether my body was going to tolerate 8 continuous day of cycling as it was something I had never done before. Anyways what could be better way to find it than participating in the event itself. My very first MTB event, Himachal MTB 2010 was personally a success for me as I competed against top most mountaineering cyclist from Indian Army and Nepal. There were a number of times where I rode on my bicycle and saw fellow riders pushing their machines on uphill sections and could hear my heart making a thud noise. But the event was much tougher than what I expected. There were lots of stretches where pushing the cycle must have been easy than pedaling. It was a test of mind over body, a test of your spirit, a test of your skills, techniques, endurance and toughness. I was not as scared of getting hurt, as I was not completing the challenge.
Before I share my experience, I would like to thank United Spirits Limited for graciously sponsoring me for challenging Hercules Himachal MTB 2010. I was a great to complete the herculean challenge with “Royal Challenge”.
Here follows a brief of those unforgettable 8 days.
Day 0 : Bangalore to Shimla
Nikhil and I, reached Shimla on 22nd Oct, at around 7 am in the morning. The weather was good, cool and it was a bright sunny morning. We unpacked our stuff, assembled our bikes and left hotel room for a walk on Ridge/Mall, Shimla. We met a college friend (Vibhor) of ours at Mall and had our lunch. Soon we saw the sun disappearing among thick black clouds which was unseasonal. We rushed back to hotel amid slight drizzle and took a small nap to freshen ourselves from hangover of our 15 hours of journey from Bangalore.
Unfortunately, I had my first flat even before the event started but was lucky enough as I was carrying a spare tube. Its a piece of cake when you have spares. Weather gods seemed to be angry with us and it was pouring heavily. In the evening, we registered ourselves and received our riders` gear. There were 76 riders from America, France, Nepal and all parts of India (including a 14 member delegate from the Indian Army mountain biking wing). , including 18 ‘Eco riders’ who were to ride for the 1st 2 days with us to get a flavor of the ride. Mohit Sood(President, HASTPA) then briefed the riders and to their queries, followed by dinner. Meanwhile it was still raining heavily, and it continued to pour till the time we went to bed at around 11 pm.
Day 1: 0 – 61.5 KM ; Shimla to Sainj
I woke up late but managed to catch up with Nikhil who got up much earlier. I dropped my luggage at the luggage collection point and along with Nikhil left for the starting point of the event. Most of the participating riders had already reached Ridge, Shimla near the historic church and the event was flagged off by health minister of Himachal Pradesh. It was a usual late flag off at 11 am which was scheduled at 9 am. We left Shimla with spirits high and our minds prepared for things to come.
We rode around 14 km where the 1st competitive stage of the event was to start. Everybody was excited for the first competitive stage of 13 km. It was a complete off road stage and the previous days rain had made it slushy also. The stage saw few minor accidents and snags but Nikhil and I, completed the race without either of them. Now there was a free ride to lunch station and all the riders were greeted by hail, rain and strong winds en-route Baikhalti (our lunch station). Soon after lunch, the rain stopped and we headed towards Fagu where the 2nd competitive stage of the day was planned.
It was a 22 km ride to our day`s halt at Sainj. The road was bad and slushy, broken tarmac, gnarly downhill and it was extremely cold. There were numerous crashes on this stage with serious crash involving army riders. Nikhil also had a minor crash during this stage but I managed to reach the campsite safely. I consumed almost all of my rear brake pads due to excessive braking during the downhill and the slush along the rims.
We washed our bikes, collected our luggage, took a hot water bath, had our dinner and quickly jumped into our sleeping bags. I don`t even remember when I fell asleep but remember burning my shoe in an attempt to dry them at bon-fire.
Day 2 : 50.5 km – 112 km ; Sainj to Tanni Jubber
Next day, I got up at 6:30 am in the morning, had my breakfast and start
ed inspecting my bikes for snags. Apart from poor brakes, my rear derailleur was not working properly. I approached the technical assistant for help and somehow he managed to remove mud from it and make it work. Although he suggested changing the derailleur but in absence of a spare, I had to manage with the same derailleur. He fixed my bike’s front suspension and I was ready to go. Day 2 onwards, Nikhil and I rode almost separately.
I rode to Chaila where we had a mass start to our 1st stage(12 km) of day 2. The stage had an uphill section, off road, broken tarmac and heavy slush just before the finish.
After finishing the 1st stage we headed towards the BIKE AND HIKE section wherein we were supposed to carry our bikes. We crossed a stream of water and climbed a tough hike for about 2 km before we could push our bikes.
After 8 km of bike and hike, we reached our lunch station. We got to hear that Padam, 2008/9 champion of the event was pulling out of the race due to a knee trouble. After lunch, we entered into 2nd stage at Palvi. The ride was tough and started with a downhill section of 2 km wherein I managed to overtake all fellow riders except one. After the downhill, most of this 13 km stage was an unride-able. I saw most of the riders pushing their bikes on those curvy hairpin bends with steep incline of 13-15 %. I was at some peace when, I came to know that almost every rider except Indian Army and Nepal riders had pushed their cycles for most of stage. At the end of stage 2, I met Peter who was stuck there with a flat. I jumped in and helped him to fix his flat and after which I started riding towards the base camp which was a 14 km free ride. The weather was chilling but I decided to pedal hard and did a pacy ride to campsite at Tanni Jubber.
At the bon-fire, I met Bharani and fellow Eco-riders who were heading back to Shimla after two days of ride with us. Later, I got my bike inspected by Navin (Member of Safety and Recce team) who fixed my derailleur and other minor glitches in the bike. I then settled in for a quick bath, had my dinner and jumped into my sleeping bag.
Day 3: 112 km – 192.5 km ; Tanni Jubber to Kullu Sarahan
A long day was on cards as we were supposed to ride about 80 km on this day. We left our campsite at 8 am and after a free ride of 6 km, reached the starting point of 1st competitive stage (Day 3). Stage 1 was a curvy downhill section of 22 km on tarmac, which I feel everyone enjoyed as it was more about control than pushing the pedals. After the finish, I rode 20 km with Nikhil to reach the starting point of stage 2.The uphill section from Dutt Nagar to Peep-Dhar was more than challenging and was very tough under a shining sun. I completed the stage with effort and waited for Nikhil at the lunch station. Now the real challenge of the day was 3rd competitive stage (so far we were doing only 2 stages a day). I was feeling tired but was up for the challenge and was eager to finish the stage and head towards our campsite. Unfortunately, I had a crash just on the finish line trying to pass Ramesh Kumar Jogi who clocked 2 second less than my timing in stage 3. Luckily I escaped only with few bruises on my left leg.
I waited for Nikhil at the finishing line(Baghi Pul) and then both of us left for the campsite at Kullu Sarahan. We were riding hard to reach the campsite which was 13km of off road ride from finishing line of stage 3. It was getting dark and soon we found ourselves stuck in middle of our ride. We still had to cover about 6 km before we could have reached Kullu Sarahan. The cold wind was draining us of our energy. Luckily we met a few riders (Brinda, Jogi, Harshal) on our way and all of us started to head towards the campsite. Finding it hard to ride and even push our cycles in those chilly winds, we loaded our cycles on a safety jeep and reached the campsite in another 30 minutes.
All of us quickly ran towards bon-fire and warmed ourselves before grabbing a cup of tea and some snacks to refuel ourselves after an arduous day of riding. The campsite was very cold, coldest of all the campsite till now. We could see the snow at the back drop. After a heavy dinner, I slept, with me still feeling cold inside the sleeping bag forcing me to pull out my shawl from my bag.
Before sleeping I heard some rumors of day 4 being declared as rest day. However, nothing was concrete so I slept early. Nikhil went out with his camera to capture star trails and the snow glittering in moon light.
Day 4: “Take a breather” at Kullu Sarahan
I woke up at 6:30 in the morning when Nikhil told me about day 4 being declared as a rest day. I crawled back into my sleeping bag and slept again.
The unscheduled resting day started with bright sunny morning. I woke up at 9 am after 12 hour of sleep and was lucky enough to get breakfast. I washed my cycling gear, shoes and kept them for drying in sun. Also cleaned my bicycle in the icy cold water stream coming from the glacier. It was all fun with many riders lined up along the stream to wash their machines. Nikhil and I decided to trek to a nearby waterfall after lunch. I was hesitant initially but later on took up the challenge to trek. On our way we were joined by two members of organizing committee (Dhananjay and Naysa). All four of us took a route less explored, had to struggle bit through thorns and bushes but we managed to reach a waterfall which seemed to be untouched.
Naysa and Nikhil captured few shots of a humming bird at the waterfall, whereas Dhananjay and I had an acquaintance session. We wanted to trek to the snow at the hill top but had to return back to the camp site because of quickly growing dark.
At the campsite, we did a quick bike check, oiled our bikes while enjoying evening snacks at the bon-fire. Everybody seemed so relaxed and rejuvenated after day long break, after three tough days of cycling.
Campsite was darkened by low voltage at the night and everybody was struggling to get their gadgets charged. At the bon-fire met Vijay and Sumit, two photographers from Delhi who were part of photoquest.
The dinner was delicious that night with “kheer” being the cynosure of dinner. We were all set for the next days` challenge of doing maximum kilometers in a day.
Day 5 : 192.5 – 281km; Kullu Sarahan to Bahu, and the famous chase of orange rider
Day 5, we were up against the most challenging terrain so far of the event. A steep off road downhill stretch of 13 km with tight curves all along the road and stones scattered all over the road. Organizers were aware of risk involved, so they were sending riders in a batch of four. The stage witnessed an insane chase where-in I dropped all the fellow riders. I had a minor crash at the end of the stage and got few scratches on my legs. The toughness of the stage could be judged by the fact that almost 60% of riders had a crash at least once during the stage. Four of the army riders also crashed along the stage, with Nikhil also crashing twice in the stage.
After a free ride of 4 km we were at the starting point of 2nd competitive stage. This 21 km stretch was again off-road with gradual uphill and downhill, and dusty too. I exhausted my water reserves in this stretch, so had to pull out at a waterfall to fill some water.
The stage three was another 13 km uphill stage on tarmac. In the start of the stage, Brinda and I were competing when we saw a huge “grey langoor” crossing the road in front of us but luckily we slowed on time. After 3rd stage we had a free ride of 23 km, gradual uphill and then steep downhill. Vikas, Sudhir, few others and I started our ride towards campsite but since all of us were exhausted after 3 competitive stage, we were riding at about 10 km/hr. Soon the sun disappeared and it started getting dark. All of us were without any lights and were slowly heading towards the campsite. On our way we met an official vehicle and vehicles headlight guided us to the campsite on a dangerous task. All of us were relieved once we reached the campsite as only few had completed the challenge of 88.5 km ride for the day. It was joy within as we saw almost 20 riders coming in an army truck. I greeted Vikas and others on our feat and settled in for snacks around bon-fire.
Day 6: 281 km – 339.5 km ; Bahu to Chwad
We were riding Jalori !!! I was more than excited as was riding to Jalori pass at 3250 meters which is considered the toughest ride of the event. It was stage 1, a 28 km competitive stage on circuitous uphill terrain with last 4 km having a very steep incline of 15-20 % on broken tarmac. I rode with Giridhar almost throughout the route and both of managed to complete the Jalori climb well ahead of most of the riders. We clicked a few pics at the Jalori pass, had our lunch and headed towards start of stage 2. Stage was on gnarly off-road route of 21 km and had some very steep and dangerous downhill with rocks on one side. I did the ride at a pretty decent pace but fixing my derailleur slowed me at least with a couple of minutes. I also got a blister on the palm of my left hand as my suspension was not good enough for the gnarly off road.
The ride to campsite was a smooth 15 km downhill ride. It went like breeze with most of riders riding at a pace more than normal day`s ride of mostly uphill section(I zipped close to 70 kmph at a stretch). Just before the camp, I clicked few picture of the camp and the riders passing me. At the campsite, we were greeted by the school staff( we were camping in a school ground) and, hot french fries and tea !!!
Day 7: 339.5 km – 404 km; Chwad to Narkanda
Though 64.5 km seemed to a shorter distance when compared to 90 km which we did on day 5, but everybody started sweating when Dhananjay confirmed that its a complete uphill day, even the free rides. Soon everybody was gathered for a stunt performane on bikes and bicycles. Aneesh, one of the official performed a few stunts with his Pulsar. Some riders also tried the same with bicyles but with limited success. Padam refused to entertain the crowd due to his knee injury.Since morning I was feeling a bit feverish but decided to continue.
We were flagged off by the principal of the school and students of the school. Most of them were looking at us like we were some aliens from other planet. The first stage started after a free ride of 26 km from the campsite. All of us rode in a peloton and were escorted by safety vehicles till the start of 1st stage at a village named Chaila. On my way to the first stage, I stopped at medical van and popped in a Combiflam. I also got my hand plastered which I injured at the end of day 6. Afterwards, we rode on the banks of river Sutlej on narrow roads reaching Chaila just in time. The 1st stage of 16km on off-road uphill had a very tough 4 km ascent in the beginning of journey. I could see a number of bikers pushing their bikes on this stretch but not me. I overtook around 10 riders during the this section and finished the stage. After having our lunch at the finish line, we rode 12 km uphill on NH-22.
The 2nd stage was again an uphill off-road/on-road stage but more than the track, cold was going to be crucial and so was dark. I had a small leak in rear tyre which went unnoticed till the start of stage 2. Due to fever and shortage of time, I was not in state of fixing the leak as it was getting dark so I decided to continue with same tyre after pumping some extra air. En-route, I saw a snake wriggling on the road but luckily I noticed it in time. Just before the finish, I got a cramp in my left calf muscle(because of exhaustion due to fever and cold). I was among the last batch to be flagged off from the start of 2nd stage, but finished the stage ahead of 7 fellow riders. Narkanda, our campsite for the day was the coldest halt of the event so far with temperature dipping to sub-zero at night. Soon we came to know that we are camping on a winter ski slope. It was nearly freezing outside the tent and windy and a small leak in my rear tyre turned into flat. Nikhil also had a front tyre flat but considering the cold we decided to fix the flats in the morning. Just before dinner, had a lengthy chat session with riders from American and France.
Day 8: 404 km- 470 km ; Narkanda to Shimla
In the morning we fixed the flat tyres, checked our brakes (as day`s free ride was going to be downhill on highway) and, oiled our chain-set. After breakfast, all of us had a group photo session and then we said goodbye to our tents and the cooking team as it was our last day with them. We left with memories of those snacks which used to warm us after the day’s cycling, those finger-licking sweet dishes which were hard to resist even when we should have rode with less food, those mass dinners at the bon-fire with Brijesh and his songs (Kehta hai joker saara jamaana…….., Kisi ki muskarahaton pe….).
Free ride of 35 km on NH-22 started with a minor accident when Giridhar was banged by a passing mini-truck. Luckily he escaped unhurt. Initial 5 km of the ride was good but the next 10 km stretch was very dusty with broken tarmac. We stopped at a village named Theog, had tea and sweets. I could notice dust deposited on my legs and face. The last stage was the same as 1st stage of day 1, but in opposite direction. I was chosen to ride with the fore-runners of the event. I rode the last stage of the race with elite professionals from Nepal. I gave them a run for their money for about 5 minutes before stopping to fix a snag in my rear derailleur. Since day 5, I was regularly stopping every 5-10 km to fix a snag in my derailleur, due to which I think I lost about thirty minutes during competitive stages. I was loosing grip on my tension spring of the derailleur and was facing a problem shifting gears. Giridhar and Vikas overtook just about 3 km from finish. I tried to catch them but was watched them haplessly surging ahead (I was riding in a single speed due to a problem in rear derailleur ). I was the fifth rider to cross the finish line was greeted by everyone at the finish line.
The joy of finishing the event was enormous and gave a call to my parents on the feat. I took out my camera and started taking shots of the fellow riders who were coming one after other. Soon Nikhil finished the race, and I greeted him on his completion of the stage and the race. The atmosphere was electric with every one riding high on their completion of the toughest cycling challenge in India. Once everybody crossed the finish line, we headed towards Ridge for podium finish. The winners were honoured and all of us headed to our hotels.
In the evening we had a prize distribution ceremony. After the ceremony, all riders had dinner together and bid farewell to organisers, friends. It was tough to say goodbye as I was going to miss the ride next morning. The lacuna of the ride next morning was filled by the excitement to share an experience of lifetime with family and friends, and a promise to myself, of coming back next year and making a name on those ranking charts.
And……Jalori !!! I will be back !!! 2011 or maybe in 2012 to remove that blackride to Jalori !!
Photo credits: Varun Chaudhary, Sumit Sond, Ankit, Jimsee Bold…..and others for the photographs.
On the 2nd of October, Nikhil and I went on a cycling trip from Bangalore to Anchetty and back, as a part of our practice for Himachal MTB. The route that we followed was Silk Board -> Hosur -> Anchetty -> Kanakpura -> Silk Board and the total distance covered was 215 km. We started at 05:30 am from home and reached back home at 10:00 pm.
Nikhil and I started off from our home at Silk Board at 5:30 am on the 2nd of October with the intention of going to Anchetty in Tamil Nadu and coming back on the same evening covering a distance of 180 km.
We reached Hosur at 7:15 am where we took a banana and chocolate break. The route from Hosur onwards was mainly through rural areas. The sun was now bright and high and the day was gradually getting warmer. We cycled on and were greeted by people, mainly children, where ever we went. People inquired our reason for cycling, where we were going, where we were from and so on which allowed us to meet and talk to a of people.
We entered the forest around Anchetty where we descended into a valley. We were continuously looking for wild animals but only spotted monkeys. We reached Anchetty around 11:30 am from where we turned towards Hunsanhalli. The area was now very rural and the surrounding very pretty and quiet. We were cycling in the valley and surrounded on all sides by hills. From Hunsanhalli, we had planned to cycle to Thally and Anekal and back home but some one suggested that we take the route to Kanakpura.
We liked the idea as it made our route a complete circle. We had some dosa and frooti at a village after Hunsanhalli, which energized us, and then continued towards Kanakpura. We were tiring but electral and water kept us going. In between, a lady on seeing that I was looking for water but could not find any, took my bottle and filled it up from her home. We reached Kanakpura at 5:30 pm passed straight through. We decided to head towards Bangalore and take as few breaks as possible.
En-route to our way back to Bangalore, it started raining and got dark, but we continued. We took breaks to have a sip of fuel (electral + water) and stretch. We congratulated our selves on hitting 200 km (I have an odometer on his cycle) and continued towards Bangalore. We finally reached back home at 10:00 pm covering a total distance of 215 km.