For the week we spent in Rishikesh we couldn’t see very far into the mountains, but we knew they were out there lurking behind the clouds. So at 5:30 AM on Sunday morning we straddled our trusty motorcycles and zoomed off into the murky morning light. For those who have never seen Indian mountain roads, let me say they are a little daunting. The mountain roads run alongside massive natural valleys created by the rivers that run like turquoise ribbons down from the glacier capped peaks. Vast drops, blind corners (with no guardrails to speak of) construction and huge trucks make these roads perilous. Especially when you are two people on a bike with a hiking bag apiece.Our first ride was twelve hours; pace was slow due to unforeseen amounts of construction and moral was getting a little shaky. We stopped around nine with a little bit of worry as dark was falling and we were still many hours from our intended destination. After a intensive table council, involving dahl, pakoras, and chai, we had a new plan.
Our resting spot was a small temple clutching to the side of a ravine. We stayed with four kindly Baba’s that night. Despite their humble accommodations we were treated like royalty. We tasted some of the best cooking we had had in India served with a gingery spiced chai, and slept in a small outbuilding wrapped in thick woollen blankets. The Babas were up at 4:30 and I rolled my sore body out of bed at around 6:30. This morning was not without a dire warning about the path ahead. That night just before we had arrived at the Baba’s, a truck had plummeted of the cliff across from us hundreds of feet to the river below. It lay like a crumpled tin can wedged into the rock on the banks of the river. So with much trepidation we got back on the road and made our bumpy way to the town of Joshimath.
In the few hours of driving in the night we had been blind to the changing surroundings. The mountains had become jagged and far rockier and the forests had gone from a lush jungle to a dense coniferous. The weather was picturesque and it wasn’t long before we saw our first snow laden peak.
The shifter on Justin and Graeme’s motorcycle had come loose; a stop in Joshimath solved the debacle, within about ten minutes we were back on the road. Drove for a few more hours right to the edge of the Indian universe to a town called Mana. We had hoped to do the Valley of Flowers trek but weather was unsteady, and when the conditions turned unfavourable I was almost happy to turn back towards Joshimath. We stayed in a village called Tapovan in the only hotel for miles, and we ate in the only restaurant in town. The food was delicious and we discovered an Indian vegetable called sabji. Night had fallen as we ate, and with overstuffed stomachs we walked down into a small ravine with a natural hot-spring. We floated in the warm water for about two hours before reluctantly sacrificing ourselves to the knife like mountain wind and scampered back to the lonely hotel on the edge of town.
We woke up in a fairly leisurely fashion. We packed our bags with the essentials; left the bikes, helmets, and extra gear with the hotel manager and started our first proper trek. Destination: an Eco-Village called Subhai. The path wound up a mountain and was not exactly easy walking. Switch back steps and high altitude for four kilometres was slightly harder than what we bargained for. As we climbed towards the village, the woods gave way to beautiful mountain fields that run like giant steps up the sides of the mountains. There is no road to get into the community and all of the goods and building supplies are shipped up on the backs of trusty Himalayan mountain ponies. The arrival in the village was as breath taking as the walk up, it nestled in the crook of a mountain, surrounded by the step meadows and hardworking locals, tending to just about every kind of task imaginable. Subhai is entirely self sustaining, and while we were there it was in a frenzy preparing for a cold dangerous Himalayan winter. Crops of kidney beans, potatoes, a kind of sweet flower, ganja, sabji, and others I still don’t know the names for were laid out to dry on every other rooftop. We were shown to what was essentially the main building of the village, with a small shop, kitchen, and the friendliest hosting family. The view was spectacular and the food was the best yet in India. Everything had been cooked directly from the field, spices and vegetables alike, they also had milk and Indian butter called ghee from their own cows, not to mention delicious chai.
We were feeling road weary and Subhai was one of the most relaxing places we had been in India, so without much hesitation we decided to spend another night….