The Uttarakhand Adventure

Just spent the last three weeks riding my motorcycle in the Himalayas exploring the remote areas of Uttarakhand with Alvin de Souza and Felix Furtado.

  • Rode in the snow to the Chanshal pass on the border of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand.
  • Rode to the Yamunotri glacier, the source of the Yamuna river.
  • Rode to the Gangotri glacier, the source of the Ganga river.
  • Rode to Niti, the last Indian village north-east of Joshimath on the road to the border with China.
  • Drove to Badrinath and Mana village in a Border Roads Organization (BRO) 4×4 vehicle and walked through 20 feet high walls of snow.
  • Rode to Budhi, a village on the Kailash Mansarovar road bordering Nepal. Got stuck behind a massive landslide and spent the night in a tin shed on the banks of the raging Kali river.

On 2nd April, Alvin and I loaded our BMW G310 GS’s in his Isuzu V-Cross and drove to Noida. We parked the SUV at a friend’s place and explored Delhi for a day while Felix flew in from Goa and rented an Avenger to join us. For the next 16 days, the three of us rode our motorcycles through the lush green forests of the Uttarakhand Himalayan mountains. It was a truly liberating experience after what all of us had been through last year.

We had tested COVID negative and had taken the first dose of the Covishield vaccine before leaving Goa. But we made it a point to always wear a mask and maintain safe distance when interacting with the locals. Not just for our safety, but more so to protect the locals from getting infected by us, just in case we had picked up the virus along the way. The healthcare infrastructure in some of the places we visited was virtually non-existent. Getting to a doctor would have been a day long 4×4 adventure. Getting to a hospital would involve medical evacuation by military helicopter.

The locals were overjoyed to see us and earn our business. Like most people depending on tourism, 2020 was an absolute disaster for them. The person whose horses we rode up to the Yamunotri glacier hadn’t seen a client for two years. The lady in whose house we spent the night on the Kailash Mansarovar road waiting for the landslide to be cleared was in a state of financial despair. She didn’t have money to pay school fees for her two boys staying and studying in nearby town of Dharchula. Her husband had died a few years ago leaving her to fend for herself. Even the five star hotels we stayed on our drive to and from Noida wore a deserted look. The mental exhaustion in people eyes was evident and always stayed at the back of my mind as I rode through the natural beauty of Uttarakhand.

We lost count of how many screaming ambulances we gave way to on this three week trip. Yesterday as we were driving from Pune to Goa we passed two tankers carrying medical liquid oxygen. They were being escorted by armed police convoy. This was a grim reminder of the world we were returning back to. We were aware of troubling signs before we left for Uttarakhand. But I didn’t entertain the thought of cancelling the road trip. Not even for a moment.

It is my belief that the world we live in has changed permanently. COVID is here to stay and we need to learn to live with it. I refuse to lock myself up at home and wait endlessly for this to end. I will travel to explore every nook and corner of this beautiful planet before I leave it. But I will do so responsibly. Not just for my safety and that of my loved ones. But also for the safety of those who become part of my experience along the way.