January 2009, five months from August 2008. So, what’s the big deal? Well, the point is five months, five months of toiling in the office, five months of bearing with the rush of a city like Delhi, five months of doing the mundane and ordinary, and five months of restlessness and anticipation. In August 2008, we did our last Trip on our Royal Enfield bullets. Five months since, we were itching to hit the roads again. We? Well, that’s Vishal and I. Our biggest passion is to tour on our bullets. That’s our definition of freedom and fun. I may be sounding a bit reckless, but believe me we are not. Both committed family man we are. Both have big responsibilities and to this point, have done a decent job. There are issues that hold us back. Every time we plan a trip we face resistance. But that’s life isn’t it? Everybody has responsibilities and problems, so those can’t be excuses. To follow your heart you have to take a few calculated risks and overcome a few fears.
So, this time it’s Renukaji in Himachal Pradesh. I read about Renukaji on the Internet. Somebody wrote a few good lines about this quiet and peaceful place at the foothills of the Himalayas. Impressed by what I read, I discussed the place with Vishal. That was November 2008 and my kid brother Deep was to come from London in December. So, we planned a Christmas getaway and Deep was very much part of our plans. I wanted Deep to experience one of these trips, the adventure and thrill associated with it and he was also very eager. But things didn’t work out as planned as long as Deep was here. Some unavoidable circumstances made us abort the plan. The next available window was in January 2009, the Republic day weekend and we didn’t want to miss that. Vishal’s two brothers-in-law Neelu and Sonu wanted to join us (both ride Royal Enfields) and there were also Animesh and Puneet, members of our core group of friends, who were eager to accompany us to one of our rides. Neelu and Sonu eventually had to back out. So, the final team was Vishal and I with Animesh and Puneet as pillion riders. Let me introduce our friends here. Animesh, who we lovingly call Mama, is very close to Vishal and me and is also our favorite beating drum. We always have a lot of fun at his expense and he is wary of that. But he knows that Vishal and I are very fond of him and will be by his side through thick and thin. Puneet on the other hand is very close to Vishal and Mama but not so much to me. I never got much opportunity to interact with him. I’ll call him a recluse for the want of a better word. He is inspirational in many ways and is a poet to boot. One special thing I learnt about him on this trip was that all moving and shaking things lull him to sleep and our bikes were moving and shaking all right. But more on that later.
24th Jan, Saturday
As usual, our plan was to set off by 5-30 AM. I came back home late on Friday night and by the time I finished stuffing things into my cramster saddlebags it was midnight. I managed to sleep for four hours and was up by 4 AM. My family waved from the balcony as I set off at 5-15 and met up with Vishal at 5-30 sharp at Badarpur border. We reached ISBT kashmiri gate by 6 AM. Mama and Puneet had clear instructions to reach ISBT by 6, but true to their tradition they were late. We decided to ride up to Kingsway Camp to pick them up. The two arrived with the first light of the morning and it felt good to see them really excited. I always believe if you are not hundred percent for doing a thing you better not do it. So, we hit the GT Karnal highway by 7 and flew past Panipat by 8-30. We were cruising at constant speeds of 80 kmph. Wide flat highway and good visibility made riding easy and enjoyable. The only problem was my DSG mesh jacket. Mesh is not meant for winters. The chilly morning breeze was cutting into my flesh at high speed, thank God I had extra protection for my chest. We stopped for breakfast at Karnal at around 9-30. Those dhabas in Karnal were buzzing with tourists escaping from Delhi and it was a struggle to find a table. We eventually found one under the warm morning sun. It was time to call our families as we lazed around. Delicious tandoori paranthas arrived coupled with steaming hot tea, oh! It was heaven. We ate like it was the last meal for a few days. We spent about an hour there. As we were about to start from karnal, we noticed that the pannier on Vishal’s bike was broken. We had to go looking for a welder and were fortunate enough to find one in quick time. We like our rides to be eventful and enjoy this sort of unexpected interludes. After fixing the pannier we set off for kurukshetra. As per my information, the best road to Nahan was through Shahbad via Saha, Naraingarh, and Kala Amb. But Vishal had different ideas. We stopped after Kurukshetra and took the maps out to discuss the route. Puneet attempted to have a look but Mama quipped, “wapas aaja! Officer level pe baatein ho rahi hai” (Come back! Officer level talks going on.) We had a great laugh. Usually on our rides it’s just Vishal and I and however spirited we might be, we rarely enjoy anything apart from the ride and booze. But this time having Mama and Puneet with us boosted the fun element no end. One source of laughter was Puneet falling asleep behind me. He was confident he won’t fall off but we were seriously worried and that worry translated into banter. Through the day I kept on waking Puneet up from time to time. Anyway, from Shahbad we took a right turn for Saha. Getting off the highway was a welcome break despite the road condition deteriorating slightly. Highways become monotonous after a while. Country roads are more interesting comparatively. We rode smoothly and missed the right cut for Naraingarh. Stopped to enquire and then rode back a few kms to take the diversion. The right turn there was not that prominent and there were no road directions either. Anyway, kala Amb from there was 16 kms. At Kala Amb, we crossed the state border and entered Himachal Pradesh and immediately the roads became steep. Mama by then had got bored of the flat roads and had started complaining about it. Himachal Pradesh brought life back in to the ride and we really got in to the mood. On the mountain roads you get to feel the real power and control of bullets but this time we got a real feel of its strength. Both machines were heavily loaded with two riders and heavy luggage but they pulled up effortlessly on the third gear at speeds of 40-50 kmph. Soon we climbed up 20 odd kms to reach Nahan. A decent hillstation that it was, it didn’t promise much to me. We decided against stoppimg at Nahan and progressed towards Renukaji. Renukaji is at a lower altitude compared to Nahan and the immediate steep descent made that evident. Some descents were actually so steep that I took them on the first gear with zero acceleration. Actually a number of sharp turns made those slopes doubly dangerous and the road condition weren’t great either. But conditions soon improved and we reached Jamta. It was 2-30 on the watch and we decided to take a tea break. One remarkable thing there was the temperature. We naturally expected it to be colder than Delhi, but it was rather hot. We could feel the heat on our face. The locals predicted rain by the evening and that worried us. Where a passing shower would have been a great relief, a persistent rain could land us in deep trouble. We set off from Jamta with Renuka just 30 kms away. As I was riding I could feel the heat making me dizzy under the helmet. Actually I was wearing a soft woolen cap under my helmet that warmed up ferociously in the heat and made my skull hot in the process. Soon we reached a valley and stopped to cool off. I took the helmet and the cap off and that was such a relief. We cooled off for a while in that serene valley. There was a bridge with a shallow river flowing underneath. We later came to know the river as Giri, the main tributary of Yamuna. It was close to 4 PM and we were just 8 kms away of Renukaji.
Soon we entered the small town of Dadahu. It appeared to be a small commercial center with a few hotels and a variety of shops. We crossed over the lovely bridge on Giri that was visible from Dadahu. A few drops of rain fell on us as we entered Renukaji dham as if to welcome us. Whatever we saw exceeded our expectations. A lovely natural lake and an adjoining pond, a picturesque hotel by the lakeside, a couple of beautiful temples, and a small wildlife reserve were the things that immediately met our eyes. What was striking in its absence was a crowd. At 4 in the evening on a Saturday we didn’t expect such a beautiful place to be so empty and peaceful. We were impressed.
Himachal Tourism’s impressive hotel Renuka was apparently the only decent place to stay in Renuka and we went to enquire. To our surprise the hotel was full, but the hotel manager told us about a few small guesthouses by the side of the small and decorated pond, which we later came to know as Parshuram tal. Mama and I went to enquire with the guesthouses on foot. No rooms there as well, but the manager of one of the guesthouses told us about Kubja Pavilion situated at a distance. I, kind of jokingly, asked for the key of the black old bullet that was standing there. To my surprise, the manager immediately gave me the key, as the bullet was his. It was a great experience to ride an old bullet as Mama and I rode up to Kubja Pavilion, an ordinary looking staying arrangement a few hundred meters away. But the surroundings were not ordinary at all. A wide yard with scattered eucalyptus and pine trees, it started just where the jungle ended. There were lots of open spaces whichever way we looked. The place seemed to strike an immediate cord with us. A few small children playing in the yard informed us that the caretaker was away but rooms were available. We then went back to our friends and took the bikes to the pavilion yard. As we waited for the caretaker we took a good look at the place. At the front there was this mountain we came down from. The road going up was clearly visible. At the back it was a thick forest of a variety of trees and bushes. On the left and right, it was an extension of the yard with lots of fallen leaves and dead trees. All in all that place had an amazing wild look to it, we all just sat there and admired. Oh! I forgot about the tube well in the yard that looked like the main source of drinking water. There was no sign of the caretaker as we waited for an hour. So, we asked the kids if they could show us one of the rooms. They readily took us inside the gate. There were five or six small rooms inside the main gate along with a auditorium kind of thing with a stage on the left. But the room disappointed us. The amenities were a bit too ordinary for our liking and I feared cleanliness more than anything else. Two small cots with dirty looking sheets and pillow covers were all the rooms had. It put some doubts in our minds. There was still no sign of the caretaker so we thought about hotel Devicos Plaza in Dadahu of which I had the phone number. We called up the hotel and learnt that rooms were available. So we decided against Kubja Pavilion and made a move for Devicos Plaza. Got a big room in the hotel with arrangements for an extra bed to accommodate the four of us and that too came at a surprisingly affordable price. The hotel looked lovely, warm, and comfortable, something we are addicted to. Anything with a bit of extra comfort kind of drags us towards it. Signs of aging I guess. Anyway, we made ourselves comfortable in the room with our bikes secure in the parking zone. It was time to relax and beat the fatigue. So, came out the bottle of Johny Walker Red Label Scotch whiskey. Vishal made this luxurious arrangement. He never compromises on the booze factor. That’s our luxury within a luxury. Mama and Puneet are non-drinkers so, Vishal and I did the honors. First sip of the Scotch whiskey and we both exclaimed “aah”. The red label was smooth as silk. So, we drank and gossiped and watched TV and soon started feeling bored. I don’t mean any disrespect to Johny Walker though, it was still smooth. But we felt let down by our own selves. We thought we could have had so much more fun in Kubja Pavilion, in the midst of the jungle. It must have been something about the place that made us eager to do something out of the ordinary. We felt suffocated in the confines of the luxurious hotel room. We couldn’t even inspire our resident poet Puneet to serve up something from his rich stock. After dinner we went out for a walk. It was around 11 PM and Dadahu had gone quiet. We could hear the low murmur of the river Giri. Everything except a few dhabas were closed. Truck drivers put tables in the open and chatted. We walked a long way and then went back to the hotel. We all needed good sleep. But the excessively soft bed didn’t help us at all. Vishal and I had irregular sleep through the night but Mama and Puneet snored on.
25th Jan, Sunday
It was still dark at 6 AM as I woke up. Vishal too was awake. We discussed the plan for the day as daylight broke out. We had a few options, viz. riding up to Kasauli, Chail, or Shimla. All were at distances in the range of 100-125 kms from Renuka and could be reached in flat 3 hours. So, the plan was to explore Renuka in the first half and then check out from the hotel by 12 noon to hit the road. By 7 we got ready and set out for Renuka. The bridge on Giri looked splendid from a distance. A flock of ducks flew playfully from one end to the other to welcome the rising sun. The river itself looked fresh and cold. Everything seemed in perfect harmony and almost too good to be true. Reality struck and the rear tire of my bull went flat. With a few small shops and a tea stall around, it was actually not a bad place for such a misfortune to occur. Vishal immediately rode back to the hotel to grab the toolkit. Came out the tools, the footpump, and the spare tube. It took us about an hour to put the spare tube in to the tire and get going. We had lost some valuable time. By the time we reached the Renuka Lake it was 9 AM and the sun was shining bright. A few sages and devotees were either bathing or paying tribute in the holy lake. As we got nearer, we could see hundreds of fish swimming in the shallow water. I hail from a land of rivers, ponds, and fishes. Since childhood I have had a thing for fishing. I just can’t explain how excited I felt at seeing 10/12 kg mahseer swimming close to the shore. Nobody killed those holy fish, so they prospered on the abundant atta pastes offered by the devotees. We got in to a photographing frenzy for a while and almost didn’t notice what was probably the only nuisance in that otherwise peaceful place, monkeys. There was a buzz around the lake and temple and it was all because of those monkeys. They were there in scores, stealing, snatching, or picking food. Everybody from the guy selling atta paste to the little girls selling prasad (offerings to the gods) items seemed to be wary of the monkeys and wielded big sticks to scare them off. All the noise there came from those irritating creatures and an angry Mama opined, “these monkeys play no positive role in the eco system and eliminating them won’t do any harm.” We laughed but thought nobody except Maneka Gandhi would mind if the monkeys ceased to exist. We then walked to the right of the lake and reached the wildlife reserve. We parked our bikes outside and entered the park on foot. It was already 10-30 and we didn’t have much time if we wished to leave Renuka by 12 noon. Vishal offered to stay back at Renuka for the day and we all readily agreed. We thought there were a lot to explore in Renuka and it won’t be right to leave in haste. So, we relaxed and enjoyed the park and the lovely marshland within it that nestled a variety of birds. That marshland was actually an extension of the Renuka Lake, the shallowest part of it. The first animal we came across was a leopard, not out in the open though, much to our comfort. But we didn’t get much of a look at it as it stayed inside its bedroom within the enclosure. Disappointed, we went to meet the bears and they were more generous. A family of four, two adults and 2 cubs, the bears were found relaxing in the sun and also, posed for some nice photos. But the biggest attraction in the park were the lions and one had to be lucky to get a glimpse of them. The lions were given an enclosure as similar to their natural environment as possible and they had enough space inside to hide. We gave up hope of seeing the lions and reached the small canteen to have steaming hot maggi and tea. As we walked out of the park, we could see nilgai and hog deers in their respective enclosures. That was it, a small but attractive animal park. We could envision a lot of scope for improvement as we came out of the park and walked to our bikes. It was decided that we would checkout of the hotel and spend the night at Kubja Pavilion, something we should have done last night itself. We rode up to Kubja pavilion and booked a room. Within an hour we checked out from Devicos plaza and stuffed our luggage in our new place of stay. Mama, on the way, came up with the noble idea of bathing in the Giri and we all jumped at the prospect. We took our towels and an empty water bottle and went to bathe. The shortest way to the river was to climb down the small hillock by the bridge. We parked our bikes by the side of the bridge and walked down the steep path to the riverbank. Vishal and I, with our superior fitness, climbed down real fast and watched with a lot humor as Mama and Puneet struggled on their way down. They reached the bank safely though. We made two mugs by cutting the water bottle through the middle and proceeded to have the best bath of our lives. The cold water felt pleasant in the sun as we splashed away in the river. The fear of catching cold finally made us come out of the water and dry ourselves. But we were so happy. Though Yamuna flows through Delhi as well, bathing in it would kill a buffalo let alone human beings, such is the level of pollution. So we made the most of a crystal clear stream in the mountains. The cold water enhanced our appetites, so we rushed to our bikes and reached the nearest dhaba. The dhaba served some delicious dal makhni and tandoori rotis that we gorged on. We were tired owing to the amount of walking. That combined with the bath and food to make us really sleepy. We rode back to Kubja Pavilion.
The evening saw us relaxing in the pavilion yard. As Mama and I sat on the chairs we found there, Puneet could be seen photographing the clouds, and Vishal just lay straight on his bull. I couldn’t remember the last time we were this lazy. Our eyes traveled far but we didn’t move. It was as if we were transported to a different world. We watched the Sun set lazily behind the mountains. As darkness tookover slowly, we couldn’t see a single electric light anywhere except a couple of dimly lit tube lights in the auditorium. It was some unbelievable setting we found ourselves in. It looked naturally wild and we were determined to make the most of it. The plan was to light a campfire and cook our dinner ourselves. But we were not prepared with proper utensils and had to set out to make arrangements. We reached near the Giri bridge again and ordered tea in the tea stall. We thought the easiest thing to cook for dinner would be maggi noodles, so we bought four packs of it, and with it two large packs of potato chips, some other timepass snacks, soda, disposable glasses, et all. Puneet managed to borrow a pan and four spoons from the nearby dhaba and we were delighted. We had the bare minimum we needed for the night. Mama also bought a couple of tennis balls as he thought we could play some cricket in the auditorium. I asked him about the bat and he was pretty confident that we would find a plank or something inside the pavilion. As we bought our stuff, our tea was ready. A cup of tea with the smell of smoke never tasted so delicious. We were extremely excited to be doing something out of the ordinary especially after last night’s disappointment. We rode back to Kubja Pavilion. To our surprise, the halogen light above the main gate, which we thought won’t work, was actually lit. First thing, we secured the bikes inside the pavilion gate. The caretaker told us two things, one was that the light would be on only till 9-30 and other one was that we couldn’t play cricket inside the auditorium. That didn’t disappoint us, as there was enough light outside as well thanks to the halogen. The caretaker’s young son seemed to like us and brought us a plank shaped like a cricket bat, one he played his cricket with. As Mama and Puneet were busy with bat and ball, Vishal and I sneaked in to the room to give our friend Johny Walker some company. After a couple of large ones each, we came out to join the play. The caretaker’s son Rohit also played with us for a while till his father summoned him inside. We could understand them being slightly wary of city-bred outsiders like us. Anyway, we continued to play in teams of two, Vishal and I versus Mama and Puneet. And to be fair to everyone, in ended in a tie. We were pretty tired owing to the amount of running around, so we decided to rest and gather firewood. That was something that place had in abundance and within minutes we gathered a heap. But there was no point lighting a fire with so much light around, so we waited for the halogen to be put out.
With appreciable punctuality, the caretaker switched the halogen off at 9-30 and instructed us to lock the gate when we came back inside. Vishal served another round of scotch as we got down to light our campfire. There was a fire spot at the edge of the yard by the tube well. With four bricks systematically arranged, we had our furnace ready. There was also a half burnt chunk of wood that was pretty huge and we thought if that caught fire there would be nothing like it. We then gathered some dry grass to start the fire. Vishal’s latest buy, the swiss knife had an inbuilt firestarter. So, we decided to try it first. Sparks flew everywhere but the damp grass resolutely refused to burn. We then resorted to the more obvious choice, the lighter. But to our surprise, the damp grass and twigs seemed immune to the lighter as well. Even drops of our expensive scotch whiskey didn’t seem to help. I got some petrol from my bike as the last hope and it worked like magic. The fire jumped up and took our spirits along. We soon consolidated it by thrusting twigs, branches, and bamboos in abundance. Soon the fire became stable and it was time to cook our dinner. Mama got water in the pan from the tube well and we placed the pan on the fire. As the water came to boil, maggi masala went in. The crushed maggi noodles followed and our maggi expert Vishal got in to business. But when there were four heads, you could expect inputs from each one. Thankfully too much of expert opinion didn’t end up spoiling our dinner as Vishal took the pan safely off the furnace. Then, we placed the huge half burnt log above the fire and got down to dine. A couple of empty sacks served as the mat as we all squatted around the pan and made short work of the noodles. The log had caught fire in the mean time and made the fire strong. With our bellies full it was time to savor the dark night by the campfire. We could hear a number of unfamiliar animal calls from the jungle nearby. The locals had told us about the abundance of wildlife in the region and also that some of those were definitely carnivorous. We definitely heard the call of the wild but were not inclined to answer it. We sat about nervously with the safety of the fire. Although there was no apparent danger of a leopard or bear coming out and attacking us, we were definitely on our toes. We were also extremely happy and excited. We didn’t expect that kind of an experience on this trip. Contrary to last night, Puneet was in full flow and his shayari enhanced our moods and the atmosphere manifold. We all enjoyed and acted brave till the fire went dim. It was beyond midnight and we had run out of firewood. It was no longer wise to stay outside. So we gathered our stuff to move to the safety of our room. I remembered one rule that one should never leave a fire burning in the forest and put some water on the fire with the help of Puneet. Inside the room, we occupied the beds on twin sharing basis. We could have got two rooms, but the idea was to stay together. Once into the bed, I found the sheets, pillow covers, and quilt to be very clean even though they looked old and ordinary. We had to move out of Renuka next morning. I thought I would miss the place. A place where the days are peacefully loud and buzzing, and the nights are violently quiet and dark. A place where you could rub shoulder with the wild staying within the confines of civilization. I prayed to God that Renukaji should stay the way it was for eternity, that cruel commercialization should never reach this abode of menacing monkeys and fearless fish. With these thoughts I went into sleep with the call of the wild playing the perfect lullaby.
26th Jan, Monday
Vishal, as usual, was up with the first light of the morning. The noise he made waked me up. We got ready to experience the Sunrise in that pristine place. Mama and Puneet didn’t bother to move though. So, we started our bulls and went by the lakeside. The fishes were still sleeping somewhere in the depth of the lake but the devotees were calling them by putting loads of atta pastes in the water. The monkeys, on the other hand were already in business. We got some lovely photographs of the sleeping lake. The eastern sky was slowly taking color behind the mountain. We waited eagerly with our cameras. Almost an hour passed but still there was no sun. We then understood the reason. The mountain that shielded the Renuka Lake from the sun was so high that sunrays wouldn’t get to the lake before 8-30 at least. Disappointed, we went to have tea in HPTDC’s Hotel Renuka. We went back to Kubja pavilion by 8-30 and started packing. By 9 we were ready to bid goodbye to Renukaji with the wholehearted promise of coming back.
On our return journey, we stopped for breakfast at jamta and at the same dhaba where we stopped for tea two days back. Our journey from then on was pretty uneventful barring the dense fog near Kala Amb all the way upto the GT karnal highway. We stopped for lunch at Karnal and digged in to our favorite tandoori paranthas one last time on this trip. It was Delhi nonstop from there. Back in Delhi, we dropped Mama and Puneet to their places and rode back home. It is said that a rider never comes back from a ride. We definitely left some parts of us behind in Renukaji.
1. Vishal Chopra, astride a silver Bullet Electra 350cc with Mama as pillion rider.
2. Anandarup Nandi, astride a silver Bullet Electra 350cc with Puneet as pillion rider.
Thank you for reading through, it’s
Anandarup Nandi, signing off.