THE JALORI CLIMB----THE BIRD EYE VIEW
The campsite in Bahu is a very remote affair. With electric voltage as high as ZERO VOLTS the organizers were kind enough to let a few from the media team use the guest house some 8 km from the campsite, where we would charge our equipment and of course us. The chowkidaar Sharan Ram was also kind enough to provide us a few cups of “hot herbal tea”. If you know what I mean!
(Writeup and Photographs by HASTPA Team)
The fourth race day decided the best downhill rider, and the fifth from Bahu to Gada Gushaini would expose the best climber of the event. As we started the ascend from Ani we had hardly travelled 2-3 kms and our camper broke down. That was a big blow for the core media team for two reasons- 1) we had planned to reach early and cover all riders at the Jalori Top(the highest point of the race) and our plans were now jeopardized 2) Our Media and Communications mastermind Surabhi Tandon had to leave for Delhi that same night due to some personal reasons. Luckily for us the man who has the superpowers to set everything right MR Yadav Giri arrived at the scene in his vehicle. 15 minutes and we were on the road again. But the climb to Jalori is not like driving on the Bandra Worli Sea-link. Its more like driving on no roads. Even that bulldozer of a vehicle could not take that and broke down 8 km from the top.
Now started the hitchhiker’s account of the race. We managed to get on board a gypsy which belonged to the local Medical officer who was in-charge of this section of the race. Well the Chief Medical Officer allocates different Medical Officers and ambulances at different stages. So at every stage the medical officers are the ones who are very familiar with the topography, people etc.
We had started early from the campsite and were still at pace with the top riders. Naresh Barman and Sishir Man Karki were frequent crossers. We would overtake them and moments after they would decide to show us who is the boss and they would overtake us again. The riders from the Army who are veterans of MTB Himalaya love this section. The section is all about strength and mind over muscle. We all know men from the forces are good with all this. The pass was worth the trouble of getting up there! Everything is easy if you are from Nepal but for the rest the pain was evident. Every rider who we cross would have the same question” how much more left?” The answer was simple- ‘it does not matter!’
The first stage of the day finished at the highest point of the race ‘Jalori Pass’ situated at 3150 m above sea level.”Jalori is always tough” remarked one of the racers who had been coming for the rally through years. “Its tough but the most satisfying part of the race. The view from up there(the bird eye view) and the shakkarparahas(a local sweet made out of sugar) are things to kill for” he added.
The satisfaction comes at a price though. The climb to Jalori was an approximate 28 km with gradients as sharp as 13-15 degree on the last 7 km stretch. Even the likes of Richard McDowell had to drag their carbon framed bikes here! Lunch was served at Jalori. Hot and tasty as usual! Riders cooled down after the exhausting ride and paid their tributes at “Jalori Jyot” the temple after which the pass is named. The legend is the temple oversees till where you can see from up there. As the riders and marshals decided to descend down for the next stage the snow/hail gods decided to say hello. The t – shirts and shorts were not useful anymore.
The second competitive stage of the race started from Jibhi and ended at Gada Gushaiani. This was a gradual climb up to the base and looked like a piece of cake when compared to Jalori. The hills have this strange habit of surprising you with random things though. The climb was gradual but temperatures dropped to -3 degrees in the night. “It’s like home” Remarked Jack Funk from Alberta Canada. That night the camp crew had arranged for fresh water Trout fish for dinner which is a specialty of a place 100 km from Gada Gushaini . I must appreciate the effort the camp crew had put in to make things work. Though the real star of the day was- the bonfire!
Day6: Gada Gushaini to Craignano--- GODS RODE THEIR BIKES HERE.
We woke up to a layer of frost around us. Some riders had left their clothes outside to dry and they woke up to see them covered with a layer of frost. The cold temperatures made the riders and the crew lazy. A lot of us were from relatively warmer areas of India like Kohlapur, Mumbai, Orissa, Bangalore, Delhi and I admit I have never seen a bunch of individuals wait so desperately for the Sun to come out. Only in times like these you realize how well Mother Nature balances everything. Well after multiple cups of hot tea I set out for the daily chores of briefing the media team and putting the luggage in place. Gerry Mccuaig- one of our riders from Canada had a very severe stomach infection and with great regret he decided that he will not be racing anymore. When someone as tough as Gerry decides to give it up, you know he is not in good shape. Jack Funk his friend from Canada informed us about the fact that Gerry in fact needs transportation back to Shimla where he would join us for the closing ceremony. Me and Jack shared a story or two about Buffalo NY-the place where I lived for two years and the place where Jack’s cousin played Hockey(Ice Hockey in reality(Americans refer to it just as ‘Hockey’- why m I not surprised)).
The route was explained, camera lenses cleaned, and we set out. The route for the Day was- riding from Gada-Gushaiani to Kello Dhar and then a transport section of 120 km from kello dhar in campers to the base camp. It was to be a very long day!
The total riding for the day was 62 km of which 49 would be competitive. The first section of the day was one of the most beautiful I had seen. It was out of a book. Narrow trails, deodar trees, streams and green pastures. It was like gods rode their bikes here.
A small bike and hike at the start of the day set the tone for the riders. It was a transport stage at the beginning, very scenic, but equally difficult. The first competitive stretch, a 20 km downhill on dusty roads from Gada Gushaini, was truly a downhill rider’s paradise. From almost any point in the road, one could see other riders cruising down the slopes on the stretch of road above or below. Darshan from Chandigarh met with a small accident on this section. His bike took a small trip on the Cliffside while he decided to stay up. Hats off to his spirit he decided to continue with a twisted wrist and a bruised leg!
Lunch followed at Chhatri near a stream that was spilling over onto to road, before riders could take on the 2nd and final competitive section of the day. From Chhatri they rode, using great strength at the uphill sections and zooming past on the downhill section, all the way to Kello Dhar 29 kms away.
From Kello Dhar to Craignano, riders got a respite. They loaded their bikes into campers, before finding a seat for themselves and from here they were driven by road to the final campsite of the race at Craignano. Oh! As for the race details, it was business as usual at the top. Mr gopal Narayan wasn’t letting go of his lead upfront, The kiddo Aayman followed him closely while the Brit Richard kept the pressure on from the 3rd place.
For us on the Media team the trip dint get over there. Needless to say we kept newspapers and other agencies informed of the events at every stage but this transport stage presented something that was very close to my heart as a kid. We crossed this place Tatta Paani which would translate to hot water. The place has an icy cold, ferocious Sutlej cutting through rocks on one hand and right next to it are steaming natural hot sulphur water springs. We reached here pretty late in the night and using our ever so reliable Nokia phones and flash lights reached the banks of the river for a small 10 min break! My friends from down south were very very amused to see another wonder of the north. I told you hills have this habit of surprising you with very strange things. Another curvy narrow road to the base camp followed-A simple good night followed and Oh! The stars were bright here!
Day7: Craignano to Shimla--- THE LAST LAP
Final day of the race saw everyone wake up to a very relaxed morning. The ride was hardly 30 kms. The bigger task of the day for the organizers was the podium ceremony, Prize Distribution ceremony and the after party (that’s always crucial). Arranging the logistics for these three events one after the other is a very daunting task, especially with very top of the order government officials on the guest list. You must understand how difficult it is for them to take out time from their busy schedules! No pun intended.
The morning did not bring about the sub zero temperatures like Gada Gushaini . But it brought something worse with it. It brought about that sinking feeling of parting, that hollow feeling which makes you retrospective and introspective about life in general where you ask yourself the question- what now? “I’m Glad it is over, but I don’t want it to end” said one of the riders. Over 8 days in the remotest of places on the planet you are humanly bound to form that bond with one another. It’s a bond you can’t explain to your family and friends when you go back. It’s the sheer joy of experiencing a lot of pain together. No one in Bombay will understand how you stood shriveled up in multiple layers of clothes, waiting desperately for a ray of sun to fall onto you, but the boys from Kolhapur will connect immediately and so will the cameramen from Delhi. That’s the bond I am talking about. It’s the bond of experiencing together. It transcends everything else like city, class, name, gender, power, money. It’s beautiful.
The ride started from Craignanoo and the competitive section was roughly 20 km. Remember I told you how hills have a habit of surprising you? Yea so in congruence with that our route markers came across a land-slide on an otherwise very pleasant October morning in Shimla. The trail for the ride was closed.
Well like for other gazillion challenges that came their way the organizers decided to take things into their own hands, the beneficiary this time was- Public Works Department, and in two hours, cleared the road for the riders. Vehicles(4 wheelers) still could not use the trail and were directed to Shimla through a different road and all safety/media operations were carried out on bikes. Knowing HASTPA would you be surprised if they had kept the best for the last? I would not be. The last section according to a majority of the riders was the best. “It was scary at times, I think the landslides helped the adrenalin flow”, said one rider. The riders loved every bit of it. Mr Aayman Tamang topped this section and finally bagged a yellow jersey for himself. Overall standings of course did not change with Mr Gopal Narayan clinching the 8th MTB Himalaya title. A school dropout at 16 Mr Aayman Tamang won the 1st runners up place- He is just 19 and has his prime waiting for him. The Ironman from the Great Britain Mr Richard McDowell showed why he is still feared in races down south. He bagged the 3rd place and says he will back with more next year.
The prize distribution ceremony saw many elite officials in the government, come and speak about the benefits of Mountain Biking and Eco tourism and applauded the role riders and HASTPA have played over the years to promote the sport of mountain biking. “ The idea is to get Shimla on the Mountain biking map of the world “ said Mr Mohit Sood- President HASTPA.
Well the much awaited dinner party followed. We assembled at Hotel Landmark in Shimla- riders, volunteers, organizers and family. Gerry is thankful to Kingfisher premium for killing his stomach infection. I don’t remember much of the night but I am told it was a good good night ;-) . See ya in 2013!!!!!
Writeup and Photographs by HASTPA Team