On the toughest day of the ride, you want to wake up feeling the strongest, but then things don’t always turn up in your favour. Woke up feeling a bit under the weather, popped a glucose bolt tablet to keep the energy up and grabbed on usual breakfast of bread butter and jam.
Luckily the initial part was all downhill - the switchbacks which had taken us a good 40 min to an hour to climb were done in 10 min. The path continued downhill crossing a few bridges, lots of army Jawans going for their morning run and barren hills around. We cruised till we were level with the river and continued our journey to cross one final bridge before the climb started.
It was supposed to be a 40 km climb - the first part winding up through the gorge that the river had carved over the years. This was probably the hardest and steepest part of the climb. Everyone halted after the initial leg of the climb to get some respite and ofcourse, click some photos. After the usual round of selfies, portraits and profile photos, we saddled up continuing on our way to the switchbacks.
Switchbacks in Maharashtra usually mean medium grade slopes between the turns and sharp climbs on the turn. Luckily in the Himalayas, the switchbacks are much easier. You have a low gradient between the turns and a lot more distance between them, and a medium gradient on the turns making these switchbacks quite easy to ride. All of us kept pretty good pace on the climb, with the occasional stop for photos. On one such stop, Amal picked up a few grass blades from the roadside and asked us to smell them. The fresh sweet and citrusy scent of Juniper bought a certain freshness to the tiring morning. For the next few days, all our our handle bar bags were adorned by a few sticks of Juniper.
The climb continued till Kah on good tarmac and was pretty easy. The entire group cycled together and no-one lagged behind. After Kah the tarmac gave way to the usual dustbowl of a road and the climb continued. This time no switchbacks, just plain old winding road in the barren mountains till we reached a diversion towards Nako (our destination for the night).
A quick stop for refreshments at a cafe, and the climb continued. We were greeted by a small oasis of green in the middle of the barren landscape. Those 10 min of climb through the shade felt lovely in the afternoon heat.
Finally after an arduous day of climbing, we reached at par with Nako. It was still a few km away, but the climb was done with. As me and Amal stopped to click some photos of an old doorway, a car with a few teenagers stopped beside us. They had seen us climbing and had stopped to check in on us. Whether we needed water, or if we needed some help. It was good to see strangers caring about cyclists in the midst of the mountains. We thanked them, assured them that we were ok and continued on our ride.
We missed the turn to our campsite, but that in turn led us right into the village of Nako, and the photographer in me jumped with joy. (yes, even after the 40km of climbing). Nako is a beautiful village set on the slopes of a mountain range and overlooking other ranges on all sides. The village itself is made of mud houses with splattered paint walls and beautiful wooden doors. I knew I was going to have a field day while walking through the village.
The campsite was found in due time, and a lunch of Chowmein, Thukpa and momos was served. We ate to our hearts content, while Sangha (the Tibetan Mastiff ) kept an eye on us. Within an hour most of us were napping after cleaning the bikes and ourselves.
We woke up to strong winds and a bit of rain in the air. For a moment, I was afraid that my chance to capture the village of Nako would be washed away. Luckily for me, it rained on the mountains in front of us, which allowed me to capture some beautiful images, both of the rain and of the village of Nako.
Dinner of soup, rice and chicken manchurian was served along with daal and paneer. While packing for the night, I noticed that I had misplaced the eyepiece of my camera. A quick search provided no results. Although the photos would not have been affected, it would definitely have caused some botheration while clicking the photos. Deciding to search for it one more time before starting the next day, I retired for the night. One of the toughest day (At least on paper) was done.