We crossed Lakshman Jhula, Rishikesh’s famous hanging bridge before the sun came up from behind the mountains. The bike putt-putt-putting as we slowly idled across the narrow metal plates suspended high above the Ganges river.
Our early start made certain we had the path almost entirely to ourselves. A handful of pedestrians walked along beside us, stopping to let us pass. An hour a later and this quiet moment high above the rushing torrents of India’s longest river will be long forgotten, crowds jostling in a seething mass crossing from Tapovan to Jonk.
As we pulled slowly up the west bank through Tapovan we passed mules laden with bricks headed down to a building site close to the river, each measured step, sure and steady under the weight their load. The early morning hush hung in the air like a velvet mist dissolving all sounds as the town gracefully eased into the momentum of the coming day.
The sun came up as we crossed from Uttrakhand into Himachal Pradesh. Cruising along on highway 7 we made light work of the 144 kilometres to reach Nahan by 11:30. Home to the Indian Army Special Forces Training School and headquarters of the Sirmaur District, Nahan is also the site of the Lytton memorial, of which there is little information save to say that it’s a huge triple arched gateway with a cannon inside the middle arch that stands at the edge of the maze of lanes of the bazaar, the corner of the football pitch and a few doors down from the Sikh temple.
At this early hour of the day we decided that the natural course of action was to continue onwards towards Dharamshala. Progress had been swift and with the rest of the day ahead of us we remounted the bike and took off at full speed. This rapid movement lasted all of a few hours until we ran into some very heavy traffic on the road towards Shimla.
From Rishikesh to Nahan the route was the reverse of the path that I’d cycled nearly there years before. The memory of this struck me as we approached Nahan and then more vividly again as we neared Shimla; I’d spent the night with a fellow bike traveler bedded down at the side of the road after a family had declined our request to pitch a tent in their back garden – the only flat area for many miles – this night was restless to say the least, and as the early morning toy train pulled itself slowly upwards we were glad to breathe into a new day.
We were now firmly into Himachal Pradesh proper; the altitude picking up a few notches demonstrated by the abundance of pines of multifarious species and the steep incline testing the mettle of our steel horse; Himachal Pradesh is known for it’s high quality charas and hashish, which is hand rubbed and a particular favourite with connoisseurs of such things.
Our day ended with a chance meeting of an Italian couple motorcycling form Italy to Nepal. Michal and Mirta were five months in to their epic journey and it was a joy to share stories of Central Asia; the great Silk Road cities of Samarkhand, Bukhara and Tashkent. The guys had had to fly their Africa Twin by cargo plane from Tashkent to Delhi due to visa challenges with Pakistan and permission complications for entering China with a motorcycle. Despite these difficulties they were now ten happy days into their Indian odyssey.
A thin silver sliver of crescent moon rose above our weary heads, like the steel of a Sabreuse slicing through the dusk of the crisp evening air. We had reached the town of Waknaghat, some 248km from our early morning crossing of the bridge over holy water. A great way to round off a very successful day’s riding.