Divesh Sarup, 38 and owner of a health care design company, and his wife Reva, 34, went for a biking holiday in October. ‘Just us, 12 chilly days, our Grand Vitara and Firefoxes, lots of music and the immense Kinnaur Valley’—that’s their recipe for a perfect getaway
How did you and your wife get interested in bicycling?
Cycle of life: Reva spins the wheel.
We got interested in cycling about two years ago. Instead of taking the car, I began cycling the 8km distance from our Sainik Farms home to my Greater Kailash-I office. I looked upon it as constructive use of energy— besides doubling up as a fitness measure. Sure, the traffic can be hairy, but we believe things like that are all in the mind. I’ve actually knocked 15 minutes off the commute.
Later, though, the city began to feel a bit restrictive. So, Reva and I began loading our bicycles on to our SUV and heading out on day trips to places such as Kuchesar and Neemrana. Wherever we would hit a bike-able patch, we would take down the cycles and bike a distance while our driver took care of the car. In a day, we would bike anything from 20-30km.
From short distances in the plains to the hills of Himachal, wasn’t that a big step?
Our friends thought we were crazy! We didn’t even bother to counter that. We were looking forward to discovering a place at our own pace. In that sense, road travel is way better than train or plane travel. But bicycles allow us to get even closer to nature. One does sweat a lot, one does get exhausted—but then, that’s what life is. You keep moving forward.
We had heard a lot about the Kinnaur Valley from friends who had gone there earlier. So we decided to explore it our own way—driving and biking.
What kind of gear did you need for the holiday?
Cycle of Life: An SUV helps on cycle-unfriendly paths.
The most important is the will to work hard on a holiday. The bike, too, has to be a gear-driven serious mountain bike: Apart from the frame strength and rugged tyres, you need superb brakes. We use the Firefox SFX-05, which suits us fine as we are not very rough off-roaders. We carry a first-aid box, a Swiss knife, a BSNL mobile phone that works in the remotest corners of the country, cycle repair kits, bottles of Gatorade and good old jaggery for a quick energy snack. Also, since it was very cold in the hills in end-October, we had to bundle up well.
Did you need to plan the holiday to the last minute?
Not really, because now there are specialized camp operators with convenient locations. We spent most of the nights at Banjara camps; maybe, the next time we go back, we can be more adventurous about our night halts. We also used (Lounge travel writer) Rishad Saam Mehta’s book Driving Destinations: It has the most precise details on distances, gas stations, etc.
We had a basic plan: We would load our bikes on to our Grand Vitara, drive to a certain point and bike trails in and around there. Then we would move on to the next point. This gave us the flexibility to maintain our pace or overstay somewhere if we liked it or even deviate from our route. That is what exploring means to us: The freedom to go down to a river bank, stop to admire flowers, stones, herds of mountain goats.
So your first stop was…
Shimla. We drove there in a day, and spent the night there before going on to Thanedar, 67km away, the heart of apple country. We cycled to Hatu Peak, a distance of 10km one-way. The narrow roads, the great height, the magnificent views, the solitude, the ability to stop and take a break when we felt like it, chat with each other—that’s what made the trip so special.
After a couple of nights at Thanedar, we drove to Sangla, a distance of 190km, through Rampur, Sarahan and Karchham. Every halt reinforced the idea that India lives in its villages. People everywhere were so friendly, so welcoming, if a bit surprised that we should be lugging our bikes everywhere when we had a car. In one village, I remember, schoolkids mobbed us because they had never seen bikes like ours. It was such an innocent moment.
Even Reva said she felt far more comfortable cycling in the hills than she did in Delhi: The lesser-known India is safer than the known.
But you had saved up the best biking experience till the last.
You could say that! Cycling from Sangla to Chitkul, the last village before the international border, was a revelation. It is a very steep climb along a very narrow road. Small rivers often flow across the road, making it tough to negotiate. Mountain biking is demanding anyway because of the rarefied air: On this route, for every 5km uphill, we had to go downhill for 2km. Breathing itself is exhausting. The total cycling distance, one-way, is about 28km.
Though there wasn’t much off-roading—in such a way-out place, it’s not advisable to leave the road—there’s hardly any traffic. And the views 3,500m above the sea were mind-blowing: All around were the snowcapped peaks of the Kinnaur range. The only scent was of the pine trees. And the only sound, water rushing over rocks. It’s a totally humbling experience.
And what was Chitkul like?
Oh, it is a quaint little village with one iconic spot: The Great Hindustani Dhaba. We rested here with a cup of hot tea and momos, and then cycled back. One day later, we were to cycle from Rekong Peo, 38km from Sangla, to Kalpa, a touristy town with a stunning view of the Kinnaur Kailash peak. It involves 12km of very tough cycling, and we couldn’t complete it: One has to be an athlete to undertake this stretch.
Notwithstanding the last disappointment, the overall experience was so positive, we have now decided to do driving/biking holidays in India for the next couple of years. Next on our agenda: Rajasthan in February and Lahaul/Spiti in June.
Shimla is about 9 hours from Delhi by road, via Ambala, Zirakpur and Kalka. It is a decent highway.
Do stop at Haveli, a posh dhaba at Karnal with clean loos and surprisingly good food, or Gyani da Dhaba at Dharampur, for its famed lemon chicken.
(Divesh Sarup, 38 and owner of a health care design company, and his wife Reva, 34, went for a biking holiday in October. ‘Just us, 12 chilly days, our Grand Vitara and Firefoxes, lots of music and the immense Kinnaur Valley’—that’s their recipe for a perfect getaway)
As told to Sumana Mukherjee Share your last holiday with us at firstname.lastname@example.org