Sunday, 24 June 2012

Access Denied Part 2

Day 317, 23/06/2012 - ???, Kalsi, u-turn, Vikasnagar, Paonta Sahib, NH7, Nahan: 53.85 miles, 5:45:04, 27.2 mph max, 9149.5 miles total

What a frustrating day. The highway to Chakrata is also closed to foreigners. I was turned away by a smiling but firm policeman, and had to bring out my map and re-route again.

I did enjoy the first bit of riding, though, breaking out of the Yamuna gorge and into light woodland alongside one of the Yamuna's tributaries. The debris from the previous day's deluge still covered the roads, which for a moment reminded me of an English autumn on country lanes, until I was struck by the heat and the lush greenness of the foliage.

Although there was a possible route along minor roads on my Eicher map, this was not supported by Google maps, and I wasn't willing to take the chance of being turned back again, either at another restricted zone or at a dead end. The Eicher maps are pretty good, except when they're not.

My new route, therefore, is up to Shimla and from there I'll retrace to my planned route along the Lahaul and Spiti valleys and up to Leh. It probably adds at least 70 miles to the journey, as well as being along busier roads, but it doesn't affect my plans that much; as long as I get to Leh I'll be content. I could ride 25 miles a day and take a week off, and still be in Leh in less than a month, which leaves plenty of time before my flight from Delhi on the fifth of August.

It was frustrating still to be in the plains and enduring the heat, though. It was an extremely dull ride, until the last five miles, where it was a bit too interesting.

As well as the 500 metres of climbing on the five miles up to Nahan (another former British hill station atop a ridge, continuing the theme which began with Mussourie and will continue with Shimla in a day or two), my gears started playing up. Literally: the lever has lost friction, and the bike won't stay in the lowest gear, which was crippling on such a steep hill.

While I was asking the internet for help, loads of cheerful Sikhs came up and demanded photos, although I tried to explain that I was busy. They didn't believe me.

I've fixed the problem well enough, for now. I've had some news from home (not too bad, thankfully) which prompted me to have a day off in Nahan, and I can think of worse places to spend a day. It's not as tacky or crowded or as expensive as Mussourie, has a few relics from the Raj, including the Lytton Memorial, commonly known as Delhi Gate. I think this is a memorial to Robert Bulwer-Lytton, former Viceroy General of India, rather than Edward of "it was a dark and stormy night" notoriety. Nahan has a relaxed air and a huge open space at the centre where people are playing cricket and football and netball. It's still bloody hot, but the maximum temperature is about 37 degrees, rather than the 40+ lower down.

I hope to get to Shimla in one day, but I doubt I'll be able to. It's nearly eighty miles, 1200 metres higher, and I'll be crossing enough hills in high temperatures to suggest that one day is a bit ambitious. However, as I have to take time off in Shimla to organise my in-line permit (which is required for foreigners who plan to travel along the road through Lahaul and Spiti, as it goes within a couple of miles of the sensitive Chinese/Tibetan border), I don't need to worry about saving my strength for the next day. I'm also hoping for it to be cooler as I get away from the plains. The roads I'm following go well over 5000 metres, where the effects of the altitude will make cycling extremely tough, but at least it'll be a different challenge to hills-n-heat, and I think I deserve a sweet spot between the cruel heat and the gasping altitude where I can sit back and enjoy the cycling.

Actually, forget that. I'll just be pleased if I can ride along all the roads without being turned back as an unwelcome foreigner.

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