Living in the claustrophobic confines of the urban environment makes a pressure cooker of the ardent motorcycle traveller. We need to get out. In search of all that is out there and everything within as well. This is the story of a ride where we went in search of traction!
But why traction? For a motorcyclist, traction is one of the fundamental components governing the man-motorcycle relationship. Too much and you get bored, too little and you find yourself kissing mother earth. Though as we found out, on ice, there is no such thing as too much traction! Riding on ice is like living on the thin edge of a knife, precariously balanced. To appreciate this balance, we headed to Uttarkashi on our steeds with their new shoes in the form of CEAT Tyres. The company makes a wide variety of tyres and all three motorcycles were shod with premium CEAT rubber. Sunil’s bike had the CEAT Zoom XL 140/70-17 and 100/80-17, Old Fox’s bike 200 had the CEAT Vertigo Sport 120/80-17 and 100/80-17, while my bike was running the CEAT Vertigo Rage 120/80-17.
Armed with this quality rubber we left from Delhi on a cold winter morning with a dark foreboding sky hanging low, threatening us with rain at any moment. The rain did come; fortunately, it was always ahead of us. Wet roads with mud and truck tyre tracks make a motorcycle downright skittish, and we gingerly made our way ahead as we admired the beautiful rain-washed countryside. The regular highway is a mess and the seasoned travellers in the group opted for lesser known roads, threading together a route through small towns on picturesque two-lane undivided roads. As Old Fox says of me that I am the perennial proverbial sweeper, while riding I bring up the rear and at the breakfast table, everybody’s food is swept down by me! Khatauli was the point where we got off the main highway and headed to Haridwar via Bijnor and Najibabad. After Haridwar as we started climbing into the hills, we got a few spots of rain, we didn’t pay heed to it and took our own sweet time clicking pictures of everything we spotted. Nature gave us a kick in our collective pants for dilly-dallying by chucking down a few buckets of rain, which made us run for cover and our rain pants! As we struggled to get the rain gear over our riding gear, Sunil said how ironic it would be if it stopped raining as soon as we got done. Old Fox with the wisdom of many years of riding behind him pointed towards the sky and gravely reminded us that we were in for some serious rain. Trembling with the cold and some fear we started our bikes and rode on, only to be bathed in golden sunlight after just a couple of corners! Nature plays truant even with the most seasoned amongst us. The bright sunlight also brought us to a dhaba where delicious parathas were wolfed down
followed by the ubiquitous sweet hill tea.
With the night sky fast approaching we quickened our pace as the opportunities for photographs dwindled. Very soon it was pitch black all around us and our speed went up further. At night one cannot admire the scenery, so the rider concentrates only on the road, giving him the chance to ride faster than he would during the day.
Finally, we arrived in Uttarkashi at around 9 PM, 15 hours after we had left Delhi. The memory of the long, cold tiring ride disappeared in an instant as we were welcomed by Tilak Soni at his home, fondly christened the Eagle’s Nest, with steaming hot bowls of soup, a bonfire and two extremely cute mountain dogs. Robin and Lisa, as the dogs are named, have stories of their own exploits, as the two have kept the neighbourhood free from the monkey menace and even attacked nosy parker of a leopard on more than one instance! Never before had we heard of dogs chasing down and attacking those bigger stronger cats. The warmth of the fire and Tilak’s hospitality made us all feel at home and we drifted into a night of peaceful sleep, undisturbed even by the hail that fell during early hours.
Only the next morning as we climbed out of our bunks, did we realize the beauty of the surroundings. The house was nested on the west bank of River Bhagirathi and we were treated to the soothing music of continuous flowing water, with the snow-covered peaks visible on one side and the sound of the morning prayer in the temple at the city centre on the other side. The joy of breathing in pure oxygen of the mountains is hard to describe, with the gentle pitter-patter of raindrops on the tin roof transporting one to a land so surreal, where even time seems to stand still. The dull grey sky ensured that everybody volunteered to spend as much time near the stove cooking breakfast, while nobody dared to dip their hands in water to wash either the vegetables and dishes!
The bleak weather was not conducive to motorcycling and we gave the bikes a rest and trundled down to the town marketplace. It was extremely surprising to see the quality and variety of items being stocked in those small shops. Far more than bare necessities were being sold there, everything that a person requires to be comfortable. It shows the rapid rate at which the country is developing where commercialisation has penetrated everywhere. After a vitamin rich lunch and a traditional Rajma-Chawal dinner, we headed out looking for a leopard in the dark. Tilak has a Bolero Camper which is equipped with everything you might require in the jungle, including a powerful handheld spotlight to look for those leopards who love to hide. Though we didn’t spot any big cats as they hate to be out in the rain, it was a pleasure to be out in the middle of the forest at night, enjoying the silence of the woods. Though sitting in the jeep did remind my long cramped legs why I prefer motorcycles! Little did I know that we were in for another date with a four-wheeler the next day as we headed for Harsil. The weather still hadn’t improved and we piled into Tilak’s little Maruti Eeco. A vehicle which might not look like much compared to the jeep, but was far more comfortable to fit in five large sized men. As we climbed out of Uttarkashi towards Gangotri, the landscape changed every few kilometres. From the river bed we moved towards the source of the river and the terrain changed from being hospitable for civilisation to rugged and inhospitable. Yet people live in those challenging conditions without giving it too much thought. The slap across our urban face came as we saw some young children running around the place, smiling, laughing and playing the fool without paying heed to the bitter cold. And to make matters worse they hardly had any proper clothes on, just a light sweater and a couple of them were even roaming around barefoot! Seeing them like that sent a chill down my spine as I saw the thermometer reading out a mind numbing 1 degree centigrade in the middle of the day! We finally reached Gangnani which had a hot water spring in which Sunil decided to enjoy a bath and while he found himself immersed in hot water; we warmed our shivering souls with hot tea. After the much needed hot meal, we proceeded only to be shocked at the beauty that stared us in our face. Small snowflakes were wafting through the air and landing ever so gently on my hand and then suddenly disappearing. A magical moment as you feel the kiss of snow and the world around you blanketed in that same tiny stuff. The chocolate brown mountains covered with snow, decorated with the green trees and an azure blue stream passing below looks so delicious, that you want to eat that cake! The black tarmac was standing out in protest against the pris tine white snow, but it was a losing battle for it, as we climbed higher the road was covered in a few inches of snow. We reached a point where our car couldn’t go any further and even a military Gypsy had to turn back. With nowhere to go but home and lots of time on our hands, we got down to the touristy business of things and made a snowman and threw snowballs at each other! A lovely day came to an end back in Uttarkashi as we planned to head out again the next
day on our motorcycles.
The next morning we welcomed the glorious sunlight after the preceding few grey days! As we warmed up our motorcycle engines, we knew that it would be the ultimate test for the CEAT tyres as the ice and snow beckoned. But long before we reached the white stuff, we had to deal with the mud and slush of the previous day’s snowfall. As the snow melted the soil mixed with water made a lovely cocktail which every biker learns to fear. But the going was far easier than expected thanks to the rubber we had on.
The big block design of the Vertigos kept the nimble Duke surefooted at all times. On one stretch of road we had to take a break as the road was blocked by a tow-truck trying to remove a vehicle that had fallen down the side of the mountain. As we sat around whiling away our time, we struck up a conversation with a passing shepherd. This guy tended to his 400 strong flock of sheep and mountain goat with the help of just another man and two sheepdogs. As the winter approached he would go down to the valley and back up the mountain again when the summer dawned. And this nomad’s life was all that he had known since childhood, even though he had family just a few villages away from where we stood. The clock ticked and the sun was fast disappearing and we had still some distance to cover to reach snow.
The bikers broke away from the group and zipped ahead chasing the sun and the snow. We rode as far and as fast as we could, finally hitting icy patches. Keeping the bike completely upright, we navigated the tricky sections of ice with feet stuck out like out riggers and a small prayer on our lips. At one spot I moved ahead and asked Sunil to follow slowly so as to capture some video footage. In my two minute video shot, Sunil had managed to move ahead by a\ whopping two feet! We finally accepted nature’s verdict and dropped anchor there and waited for Tilak in the backup car to bring us piping hot chai and parathas. An experience it is to be in the middle of nowhere munching on delicious food. From there we did an about turn and headed back to Uttarkashi for our last night in the hills, having had a ball of a time in the snow and being properly impressed with the tyres. We celebrated by hogging on delicious mountain goat cooked in a fine local curry.
Review by Sunil Gupta
CEAT Zoom XL 140/70-17 and Zoom Plus 100/80-17 Review
If you are a regular on the xBhp forum and particularly the Pulsar 200NS Ownership Experience thread, you’ll find one thing in common that is mentioned by all the 200NS owners that the stock
tyres (Eurogrip) were useless at anything north of 50 kmph. And that was my biggest worry when preparing for the Uttarkashi ride. So a tyre change, both front and back, was top priority. After reading up on the forum and doing market research, I finally zeroed in on the Zoom series H rated tyres that were recently launched by CEAT, one because I’ve used CEAT Tyres previously and was
never let down by them, and secondly there were available for both front and rear. The rear tyre available was slightly upsized at 140/70-17 compared to the 130/70-17 stock. The front was available in stock size, i.e., 100/80-17. A simple ‘plug and play’ setup for the Pulsar 200NS.
So, my bike was fitted with the CEAT Zoom tyres well in time for the ride. The difference was visible visually as well as performance wise. The slightly upsized rear added a bit of visual bulk to the bike to enhance its muscular looks. On the performance front, I couldn’t have been happier. The bike felt more planted on the road even at triple digit speeds and there was much more feedback from these than the stock ones. I was cornering with far more confidence throughout the twisty road from Rishikesh to Uttarkashi without ever feeling the of loss of grip even when cornering hard. The tyres proved their worth in gold during this ride as we had encountered rains throughout our ride from Meerut to Uttarkashi and the rain water had filled the already broken roads with mud. Never during the ride did I face that “oh crap” moment even under hard braking or a slightly over-enthusiastic twist of the wrist. The bike gripped the fresh snow with equal confidence, nly made helpless by the hard frozen ice on the road that was as slippery as walking on a piece of glass coated with lubricant! The CEAT Zoom tyres front and rear get a vote of confidence from me after having used them on broken tarmac, off-road, slush, snow, twists and turns and pretty much everything that nature and government infrastructure threw at it!
Road to Gangotri – A Story of Administrative Apathy (Old Fox)
Roads are the lifeline for a nation. Quite akin to the circulatory system within our bodies. Clogged arteries can only bring disease and even death. Harsh words but that’s how things take a turn when even something as basic as a good road is not made tenable for such a large section of productive, law abiding and tax-paying citizenry as is the case with Uttarakhand. Uttarakhand straddles probably the prettiest part of accessible and habitable Himalayas up North. So does Himachal but comparing the two is like comparing apples with oranges. The road transport and public utility infrastructure, though not up to the mark even in Himachal (the pathetic state of Kinnaur is a case in point) is still so superior to that in Uttarakhand that you seem to be travelling in different worlds altogether. I have travelled through a large part of Kumaon and found the roads still acceptable but venture into the Gharwal region and you might as well be riding/driving on the moon going by the potholes and craters pock marking the surface! The road to Uttarkashi that goes further to Gangotri is majorly in a bad state despite it connecting one of the foremost productive regions of the state with the rest of the country not mentioning it being a very important part of the Char Dham Yatra route.
The Yatra is actually the prime-mover of the state economy, especially Gharwal and the need for good road connectivity should be so very obvious in its logic even to the most intellectually decrepit. The road forms the base of the economic pyramid which apexes upwards into transport, hotels, amenities et al, elements that lead to economic and cultural growth. And yet year after year all one gets to see is bare basic repair work that is just enough to keep the traffic moving somehow. Or should one say the traffic keeps itself moving because it so needs to. Fixing crumbly mountainsides surely does not require rocket science. Just political will on the part of the political masters and an equitable honesty in execution by the administration. In fact the above two are the very reasons for the existence of politicians and administrators. The third month into the official closure of the two major Dhams on the Uttarkashi route vis-a-vis Gangotri and Yamunotri and
yet there’s not even a whisker of progress into fixing the road so that the following season the same pilgrim and tourist traffic can travel safely and quickly. More than 10 hours from Delhi to Uttarkashi in times of lowest traffic density and in the best of vehicles – some 400 odd km in all of which more than half is in the plains – through areas that have seen habitation through thousands of years is nothing short of pathetic bordering on the criminal denial of our fundamental rights. Fix it please, fix it quickly or continue losing revenue and tourism to other Himalayan destinations. More than the revenue, this is abjuring the resident populace of both its right to safe travel and to economic growth.