The morning I was to leave Macleod Ganj and head back down the mountain was grim to say the least. I woke to sheeting rain and mist swirling around in the valley that leads down from the town. I didn’t really want to ride in that weather so I thought I would give it an hour or two to clear up before heading off. Optimistically I was hoping to make it to Bilaspur 160km away that night but with this weather I figured I would just see how far I could get.
While I waited I went back to sleep for a bit and then grabbed a good breakfast while keeping an eye on the weather. After finishing eating it had brightened up a bit so I thought I’d brave the ride.
This was perhaps foolish as it didn’t take long for the rain to start up again and it is not fun descending a mountain in the rain, especially when the road is pretty terrible. My brakes got a real workout as every time I built up some speed I had to slam them on in order to slow down where the road had degraded completely. Even where the road was smooth enough I had to use the brakes as it was wet and there were a lot of steep curves.
On the plus I got to see my favourite sign again:
Visibility was not great, which was annoying as I knew there were some really beautiful views I was missing. That said I was concentrating so hard on the road for the most part I would have missed them anyway.
All in all it was not the most fun I’ve had on a bicycle. It just rained and rained, stopped for a little bit to make me think the day would improve then rained and rained again. My bicycle got covered in grit and dirt and was making all kinds of unhappy noises.
I was feeling even less motivated than I had done when it was cold. At least when it is cold everything still looks beautiful, when it is wet it just looks muddy and grey…
The day had to end eventually and thankfully it did at Hamirpur which I cut very fine to reach before darkness fell. This was because Hamirpur was up and over a large hill which I had to climb before arriving. A large very steep hill, which was not exactly what I wanted after the day I had…I told myself to stop whining as I went thinking about the Tibetan monk and his twenty days in the Himalayas in winter.
Finding a hotel in the town I got myself fed and watered and hoped that the morning would dawn bright and sunny.
Of course it didn’t but luckily it didn’t look quite as evil as yesterday so I hoped it would actually clear up today. Also I had to clean my bike a bit before setting out and fix my brakes as the cable had stretched I had had to use them so much the previous day. Luckily by the time I was ready to leave there was some sun poking through!
And so I bid the hotel guys farewell hopeful for a nicer day’s riding.
I got my wish for the most part and there was bright sun for the majority of the day and some very spectacular views in the hills of Himachal Pradesh.
People were friendly and quite surprised to see me for the most part as there were not many locals on bikes in these hills let alone foreigners. A lot of the time I would hear people say ‘something something bike something’, which I assume translates as ‘Look some idiot on a bike!’.
I had lunch from here:
As I went the climbs and descents got longer and I’d find myself grinding up hills with trucks and then whizzing past them on the way down. It is quite exhilarating shooting down a hill at 50kph, nipping round a truck while trying to avoid an oncoming one and a donkey that has just decided to wander into the road…but don’t tell my mum.
There were a lot of the Indian trucks on this route and for the most part they were pretty good about giving me enough room as they went past, in spite of there not being much room in some cases! The worst thing about them was the dust they kicked up which I could feel in my teeth as I rode.
Towards the end of the day the weather managed to throw in some heavy rain to make sure any cleaning I had done in the morning was totally wasted. Luckily the rain didn’t last and I dried off again at least.
Then it was time for the final climb up to Swarghat where I was trying to reach for the night. I didn’t have any idea how high up it was just that on the map the road looked pretty windy which suggested it was high.
After an hour of climbing this was confirmed as I finally reached a hotel at 1000m just before the sun set. The climb had been pretty gruelling at the end of the day and at one point I’d even tried hanging onto a chain attached to the back of a truck that was barely moving faster than I was – this was not a great idea…no harm done though!
The hotel I found was called the Moutain View and it certainly had that. It was one of the most incredible views I’d seen from a hotel with the himalayas off in the distance.
Leaving the hotel, I thought I had reached the top of the mountain – I was wrong. I had another 200m to wake me up before I reached the actual town of Swarghat. Then it was straight down – not up and down, just straight down. On fairly smooth but occasionally very very bumpy roads.
Just past the troupe of monkeys is a curve that if you miss you’ll end up flying off into space with a very very long drop.
It is hard to describe descending at speed on Indian roads, not knowing what’ll be round the next corner – a vehicle in the middle of the road, pot holes you can lose your bicycle down or incredible views. You definitely cannot take your eyes off the road or your fingers off the brakes.
Once off the mountain it was nice and flat to Chandigarh. On the way I stopped at a roadside Dhaba, where they sell food for a snack, while there some guys came over to say hello. It turned out that they were in India visiting family and were from Peterborough a town very close to where I grew up.
Arriving in Chandigarh, it was soon apparent how different it was from your average Indian city. It had been designed by Le Corbusier in a modernist style and was built on a grid pattern. There were long wide leafy boulevards to cycle down as I arrived. The Lonely Planet describes it as having been designed for cycling in… from what I experienced either the Lonely Planet is wrong or Le Corbusier never rode a bicycle in town. Navigating it on a bicycle was really hard as trying to move across big leafy multiple lane boulevards is hard on a bike and also there are lots of crossroads that are tough to cycle across. I hated it immediately.
I was walking and it was early here:
After a couple of days my opinion didn’t improve as it turned out to be expensive as well. At least it had one interesting sight: Nek Chand’s Rock Garden. This was a truly fascinating and strange place built by Nek Chand from all the detritus and rubbish of the places they had demolished in order to build the new city of Chandigargh. There are eerie and beautiful statues and totally man made waterfalls.
Apparently Florida isn’t the only option for retirees…