Thurs 4 Nov: KapkotSama (1990m) (27km, 1135m ascent)
We were heading now for Munsiyari along roads for which we had little information. The only accommodation we knew about was at Birthi, famous for its waterfalls.
After Bharari Bazaar the Sama road begins a sustained climb up the side of a valley; the surface, unfortunately, is not especially good as tarmac goes. It took us 3 hours to reach the pass, a well defined notch with good views. There were no facilities along the way, not even chai.
A brief descent was followed by a section which roughly maintains its height, looking down on a different valley. A little later we arrived at a road village in a slight notch or it may have been an outlying extension of Sama. Its at the junction with a dirt road which drops down another valley to the south.
Here we were pleased to see a new-looking guest house, the Panchachuli, where we stopped for lunch. As we ate it we discussed our prospects, and seeing as wed already accomplished a fairly tough climb and had little idea what was coming, we thought it wise to stay for the night.
Notes: the guest house is a bit of a death trap, mind, with low concrete door arches and unguarded drops.
The village is made up of shops serving the road, all of which seemed mysteriously quiet: the proprietors had nothing more to do than visit each other to pass time.
We set off in good spirits towards Munsiyari. We had breakfast at Sama itself and resumed our ride. A couple of people mentioned the road being dangerous but didnt give any more information, seemingly held back by the language gap.
The road was wonderfully peaceful. It started to descend the side of a valley giving superb views of ridges ahead; then it cut across the ridge and descended on the other side. When we were nearly at the bottom we rounded a bend to see... that the entire road had been swept away by a landslide, and that there was a cone of steep scree with no path across it.
We turned back, hoping not to have to regain the 1000m we had lost, hoping that wed see an alternative route that wed missed in the descent. We asked at a house, and were told that we could carry our bikes across the scree... or return to Bageshwar and take another road.
So we turned back. At Sama we bought Diwali garlands for our bikes and briefly investigated the road to Lethi, thought better of it, and continued to the guest house wed left a few hours earlier and had lunch.
There was a bit of climbing before we regained the pass, and then a fast descent on an imperfect surface to Bharari Bazaar. We kept going and started looking for a chai stop, but places were shutting up in preparation for the Diwali celebrations and we werent far from our destination by the time we eventually paused for a rest.
At Bageshwar we stayed at the Narendra Palace, and all fears due to its unpropitious location were set at rest. It was more than comfortable, and our room on the river side was sheltered from any road noise. We had a balcony with a view to the town across the river, and were able to stand watching the Diwali fireworks.
Notes: but there is a mystery. When we got home and constructed our map from our observations and GPS readings, it appeared that the dirt road south from the Sama guest house would have allowed us to regain the Munsiyari road at the cost of only a short detour. Were we misadvised? Is the map based on false assumptions? Or were there further landslides requiring a wider detour?
We had difficulty in deciding whether to try to make our way to Munsiyari by another route, which would entail taking a taxi because we were now short of time, or whether to turn our back on the mountains and ride south to Nainital. In the end we did the latter.
We rode through Bageshwar looking for breakfast, and a young local Niraj caught us up and rode alongside us. He spoke excellent English and was riding a bike WITH GEARS!
We were therefore pleased when, soon after lunch, we encountered the Binsar Valley Resort before even reaching the turnoff for Binsar itself. The resort is indeed luxurious, and makes boasts about its situation which are quite ridiculous given the majestic scenery further north:
... with a beautiful valley below which is simply breathtaking to look at! ...
Sun 7: BinsarJageshwar (1800m) (55km, 1400m)
Our plan now was to ride to Nainital in three days via the temple complex of Jageshwar, and then catch a taxi back to Delhi.
Soon after setting out we fell in with a German cyclist Heinrich, the first cycle tourist we had encountered. Wed seen his bike some weeks earlier outside a dhaba on the road south from Josimath. He was a laid back guy, quite interesting to talk to.
The Nest & Wings map shows a minor road to Jageshwar via Paleo Bend. When we came to the junction we were told that it was closed due to monsoon damamge, so we had to take the longer route via Almora. At Kapar Khan we had another choice of roads, the smaller of which lies somewhat to the east of the larger. We took the smaller road but they seem to carry roughly equal amounts of traffic, which was now heavy enough to be disagreeable. There were some good views of Panch Chuli in the distance.
As we approached Almora (passing increasing numbers of expensive resort hotels) we split from Heinrich, whose riding style lacked urgency. We skirted the town and began a long descent, stopping for lunch part way down.
Jageshwar is a slightly untidy place with several inexpensive guest houses. We stayed in the Pilgrim Lodge, which looked more comfortable than the others and was quite plesant. It turned out to be owned by descendants of the Chands who built the temples, and to have a custodian Mr. Daniels whose grandfather had come from England in the army and never left.
Mon 8: JageshwarGaram Pani (950m) (74km, 1030m)
We rode back to Almora and found the bypass honking, smelly and ugly and the road to Nainital. We were tempted by an alternative route via Muketeshwar, but stuck to the main road on which the traffic volumes were positively unpleasant. A long descent was followed by an easier section following the course of the Swal Nadi river, on a surface which had suffered many washouts.
By mid afternoon we knew we needed to find accommodation because Nainital, though not very distant, was more than 1000m higher. At Garam Pani we saw a sign to a simple Nature Resort on the other side of a suspension bridge, and the prospect of putting the river between us and the road made it irresistible. The resort is run by a plains Indian who had previously worked in IT but wanted to move away from the city.
Tues 9: Garam PaniNainital (2050m) (32km, 1200m)
It was a fairly short distance to Bhowali, a truly hideous junction at which we were able to leave the worst of the traffic. This was followed by a long and fairly enjoyable climb to Nainital which we reached before midday. We booked into the Shirvani Hotel high above the lake, and returned to the centre for lunch and to arrange our onward journey. There is nothing pleasant about Nainital.
Notes: we booked our car through Standard Tours, who seemed efficient and fair.
Weds 10: NainitalDelhi (by car)
Our driver was on his mobile phone during the descent trying to sort out repairs. There was nonetheless a delay while we waited from new tyres to be delivered to the repair yard and while they were fitted.
And then we were off on a long frustrating drive. Seven hours was the quoted duration, two were lost because of the tyres, but eleven was how long the journey took. Every year there is more traffic and the roads become slower; the outskirts of Delhi are particularly bad. We had to call in at our old hotel, the Maurya, to pick up bags wed left behind, and continue to the Imperial where we were staying.
If you can afford the Imperial, it certainly makes a contrast with Rs 100 guest houses.