Fri 15/Sat 16 Oct: LondonDelhi
We flew with Jet Airways, who were good, and stayed in the Maurya Hotel (where Dum Pukht unfortunately was closed for refurbishment). We ate with Bill Weir in Bukhara, having failed to recognise him in civvies in the hotel lounge.
Weve seen enough of Delhi, and derive little pleasure from being there. Bookworm, one of its attractions, had closed a little before our arrival.
Mon 18/Tues 19: DelhiJosimath (1860m)
A two-day drive. Relatively painless through the plains to Rishikesh where we stayed again in the Ganga Kinare. The second day was slow, with a long delay at a landslide area near Srinagar. At Josimath we stayed at the Mount View which was functionally adequate, and dined in the New Khanduri of which we still have fond memories.
Weds 20: JosimathMalari (3060m) (65km, 1900m ascent)
Drizzle was falling, and we left Josimath on a muddy road which caused Colins chain to snag once or twice, prompting unfortunate recollections.
The road rises a little initially before dropping down to the valley and starting to climb in earnest. There are hot springs by the roadside at Tatopani, and apparently better springs for bathing somewhere nearby. Occasional glimpses of mountains can be seen up the side valleys, but nothing as spectacular as you know the mountains to be.
We stopped at Surajthota, having done about half the distance and 750m of climbing. We found a dhaba which wasnt serving food at the time (11.30), but which had packets of Maggi instant noodles hanging in strings: we assumed that these were on offer and ordered a packet each. Sure enough they were served hot. It turned out that a take-away service was also available. A villager turned up and waited while his own noodles were cooked, and took them away in a recycled tetrapack.
Note: we stopped at the same dhaba in descent at a slightly later time and were served the standard thali.
The afternoon was harder and we became a little tired and hungry (but irritable? never!). We nonetheless reached Malari at 4-ish and negotiated our stay.
Malari is a delightful place. The buildings are almost entirely traditional, leaning higgledy-piggledy on each other with narrow alleys inbetween. The people are friendly and attractive, with obvious Bhotia characteristics. A single dhaba along the road serves tea and simple meals, and at night the local menfolk sit and talk and drink the local hooch.
Bill had told us that there was a guest-house here. We had to ask, and the friendly proprietor kept us waiting for an unconscionably long time, presumably because of a policemans prior booking. The policeman, meanwhile, told us that we had no right to be there without permits (which was nonsense, since the checkpoint is a long way further up at Niti) and strolled off. Eventually the proprietor let us have the sole unoccupied room on condition that we skedaddle and camp in the nearby fields if the policeman returned which fortunately he didnt.
Notes: the guest house was admittedly basic: at Rs 100 for the room, it was the cheapest place we stayed. Its a concrete building at the Niti end of town. It has a bathroom with running water.
We had allowed two days for the ride to Malari, but doubted that there would be any sensible place to break the journey (though Bill had done so). Thus we were a day in hand already. We contemplated riding on to Gansali and back, spending a second night at Malari, but decided against it.
Thurs 21: MalariJosimath (65km, 800m)
The return journey was a simple reversal of the previous days ride. The day started okay, and we took photos of the village in the sun. But as we descended the Dhauli Ganga valley clouds started to appear and a light drizzle started to fall; and by the time we reached Josimath there was no doubt that it amounted to rain.
Fri 22: JosimathNandprayag (1000m) (60km, 640m)
An easy mostly downhill ride through a string of villages with some good views back. The Mayapur post office which in 2005 was the cutest in the world is now a disused barn, with the building next to it performing its functions.
Notes: our original plan had been to stay at Birathi, but there was no running water there owing to flood damage. Nor did we precisely stay at Nandprayag, but in fact retraced a further 5km to stay at Maithana. There are plenty of concretey hotels along the road which look swanky but disappoint you when you get inside.
Sat 23: Day ride (45km, 780m)
We decided to spend our spare day exploring the roads on the right bank of the Alaknanda. Our route can be seen from the map. We didnt get anywhere, but the signposts told us where wed have got if wed continued along any of the roads.
As we were lazing about at the end of the day, we thought we ought to switch on our mobile phone, in case Mike rang with any change of plans. There was a text waiting for us! Lots of anxious fiddling as we tried to work out how to read it. Mike was wondering if we were at Ghat now, and where we were staying. ******! Wed forgotten that our schedule ended the day at Ghat. We promised Mike an early start the next morning.