I left for Auli on Feb 1 from Chandigarh. I covered 500 km in two days with a night halt at Tapovan, Rishikesh.
I started late afternoon, around 2 pm on my bike (Interceptor 650 cc) for Rishikesh. I reached Rishikesh by 6:30 pm, covering 240 km. I was riding well protected from cold with a rider's jacket, two layers of clothing inside, and ankle-length shoes meant for trekking in snow. I was also wearing a full-face helmet for the first time since I started biking in 2014. With no wind pressure, I could enjoy the power of my bike riding at 100km/hr.
I stayed at an economical hotel at Tapovan, Rishikesh. It was windy but not very cold as I strolled on the street in slippers. After having dinner, I had tea at Chai Sutta Bar - a franchise chain serving tea with unique flavors like paan, adrak, kesar, etc. Loved the ambiance and the songs played. I requested a guy at the shop to click my pic.
Back in the room, I was asleep by 9:30 pm.
I start from Rishikesh the next day at 5:30 am with the hope of reaching Auli by 3 pm. The roads were good. And riding up to Srinagar was a great experience with no sharp curves. I had stopped for breakfast at a hotel near Devprayag. With no great views on the way, I focused on riding alone and did not stop to click pics.
I had my first glimpse of snow-laden mountains 40 km short of Auli. The road from Joshimath to Auli is narrow but well paved. Just 5 km short of Auli, I had my first fall on a patch of black ice. I saw the patch and was stationary yet could not balance the 225 kg bike with saddlebags weighing another 20 kgs.
I was unhurt except for a slight burn in my left ankle from the left exhaust of the bike and soreness in a finger of my right hand. I did not wait to check on my wound and instead moved further to be extra careful and avoid skidding again on the black ice patches. The last 2 km stretch to Auli took me 30 minutes.
I stopped at the first hotel when I reached Auli. The guy from the Manik Hotel was waiting for guests when he pitched me to stay at his hotel. I checked in and went for a bath after having Maggi for lunch. The room was spacious with an add-on room plus a heater.
The weather was sunny at 3 pm, turned windy and cloudy by 4:30 pm, and snowing by 6 pm. The weather forecast was proving to be accurate. I was disappointed reaching Auli as I could not see snow, except scantily giving a barren view of the hill station.
At 8 pm, the snowfall was intense. I hoped for having a white-washed view of Auli the next day. I was served dinner at 6:30 pm as it was getting cold and staff wanted to close the kitchen sooner due to increased chill in the air.
Next day, I woke up to witness snow all over - the road had one-foot-deep snow, pine trees, and rooftops all turned white. My bike was covered in snow too. I had breakfast and decided to walk in the snow uphill towards the ropeway starting point. I clicked pics and made video calls to family showing them the snowfall.
I spent 5 hours around the ropeway station clicking pics. I walked back to the ropeway starting point at 6 pm to have a night view of the hill station. I had my dinner at the restaurant near the ropeway. Walking back to my hotel post-dinner, I got a good pic of the hotel downhill.
Next day at 6 am, I decided to return but was not sure if I will be able to ride with heavy snow on the road. The sky scanty clouds indicating of no more snowfall for the day.
I got mixed advice from the locals- few said that current snow is softer and easier to ride on. If I stayed a day extra, the snow will turn hard and my bike may skid more. Some suggested staying back as there was little vehicle movement expected to get any help if needed as I was riding solo.
Finally, I decided to give it a try and leave Auli. At 8:30 am, I had a rough start as the bike's rear tire skidded while I tried to accelerate to move over a hump of soft snow. I moved on after deflating the tires a little. This helped to lower the skid.
After a few bends downhill, I was alone with my bike in first gear with a half-pressed clutch most of the time. I tried using rear and front brakes once, but the skidding increased. I learned braking won't work.
I shut the engine off to avoid burning the clutch plates. A passerby on a 4X4 Marutiy gypsy suggested that I was doing the right thing using a clutch and keeping the bike in gear while the engine is turned off.
I had my first fall of the day just 2 km downhill and it took three attempts to lift the bike as I was also skidding while trying to pull the bike up. Breathless, I decided to halt and rethink my options. I had no help around and no options except to move downhill.
Two kids- one in class 10 and another in class 8- met me and stayed with me while I ride past their village. They helped me lift the bike on three occasions. The kids were well-mannered and respectful to me. They talked about playing PubG using a VPN.
"Parents may scold you for playing games on mobile." They smiled and said, "No, since we limit the usage and they ok with that." I wondered about these kids from a remote village using VPN to play a banned game in India.
I continued pushing the bike past the bend where the kids stayed back. A few meters ahead, I looked back to wave and thank them. They could not see me. Our meeting ends there and I continue my ordeal to ride further down.
Post a few bends downhill, the snow was less intense except in some patches. I covered 7 km in 5 hours and the remaining 7 km to Joshimath in another 1.5 hours. The deflated tires made rolling the bike tougher and tough to balance on the road with no snow.
I had a piece of cloth tangled in the spokes of the rear wheel with a part of it stuck into the chain. I parked the bike and tried removing it when a passerby (Pankaj) volunteered to help me. He not only soiled his hands with grease and oil but shared his contact no to call for help needed anytime while driving back home.
The toughest stretch of riding ended but my shoes were soaked in water and I could not have ridden further. I stopped 70 km from Auli at a village called Chamoli Gopeshwar. Before halting at this hotel, I had checked out a couple of other hotels but they were all shut due to offseason and covid restrictions. On one occasion a hotel owner refusing said, "Please don't be angry for saying No as the hotel is under renovation." Such simplicity is missing in our daily lives in the cities we live in. I was impressed by his statement and may not forget this instance ever.
Check-in at this hotel was an equally good experience. The owner welcomed me, asked for food first, and then shared his personal heater to dry my shoes and socks. He cooked chapatis and made turmeric milk for me. I found him simple, content, and committed to his work.
I could not sleep well that night due to aching arms and legs. I called my wife back home to dare not ride solo again, in fact, give up biking forever. "I am 45 and it's enough of biking like a stupid with no preparation. Maybe I start bicycle touring henceforth."
At 7 am the next day, I leave the hotel after a tea with the target to reach Chandigarh after riding for 14 hours. But after reaching Rishikesh, my wife and friend suggested avoiding overriding and staying at Rishikesh for a night.
I checked in at a better hotel this time at Tapovan that overlooked Laxman Jhula. I attended the Ganga Ji aarti at Ram Jhula. I was in bed by 9 pm but not before having a cup of paan flavored tea at Chai Sutta bar.
I checkout at 4:30 am and it was windy but no hint of fog. I worried about encountering fog on the highway and after a 70 Km ride, I was riding in the dark with dense fog. I could hardly see anything. Riding alone was going to be tough and followed a car till daybreak.I was riding with the windshield of my helmet lifted. Cold air gave me teary eyes blurring my vision.
This was not my first solo ride but it was tougher simply because I did not prepare well enough to ride in the snow. I have been riding to higher altitudes both in winters and in summers - Ladakh region, Spiti region, and parts of Kashmir and Himachal too but never encountered snow as in this trip.
Some learnings for riders:
a. Black ice is risky and if riding in winters to hills have shoes with the anti-skid sole.
b. Warm shoes with two layers of socks prevent the feet from freezing while riding in winters.
c. When riding in the snow without bike chains - which are tough to find in India- shut the engine off and use gear and the clutch to roll the bike. I did not have a sharp downhill stretch so maybe I could control the bike without braking. But for steep downhill, bike chains are required.
d. Right time to ride in snow? Avoid when the snowfall has just begun. Roads are slippery then. Riding with a thick layer of fresh snow is easier. Avoid riding when the snow has turned hard.
e. Avoid riding solo to remote locations but also avoid a pillion as it will make it tougher.
g. Experience slow touring