Laughter After Three In The Mountains

2022 was coming to an end and I had a belief that how I choose to spend my 1st day of 2023 will determine my adventure trajectory in the year. I decided to do what I am most passionate about … it is BIKEPACKING.

From Bhopal to Delhi to Rishikesh II Pause II From Rishikesh to anywhere in the Himalayas for which I get bus earliest in the morning. My meta level planning – “Explore Rural Uttarakhand !!”

Spontaneity of the moment increases my dopamine and my bike knows that, it cooperates well with me in these spontaneous moments. It enjoys being inside the pitch-dark luggage compartment of train or being on top of a bumping bus enjoying the mountain views. I put google on flight mode and reached Karnaprayag on 27th of December all ready to start bikepacking from the next morning.

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With the sunrise, I started bikepacking on a mountain highway parallel to the Pindar River. I was loving the view and sound of the river but I usually avoid riding on highways and was actively searching for cuts that will take me to rural Uttarakhand. I found one and the sign reads Benital. “Tal” is a Hindi word for lake and this suffix was sufficient to decide my bikepacking route ahead. A quick google search further added to my curiosity as I got to know that Benital is an Astro village!!

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Luck was on my side but not the elevation. It was a continuous 27+ kms uphill road. Soon I was able to see an eagle eye view of Pindar River; it was looking magnificent. There was little to no traffic on the road I was riding which made these views even more peaceful. As my expedition progressed, I started experiencing rural Uttarakhand – Women carrying firewood, stocks of fodder sundried and stored on house rooftops, goats and cows eating fodder etc. I also experienced care and curiosity from village communities along my way. They asked about my whereabouts, wellbeing and made sure that I do not ride thirsty in these lofty mountains. It is this experience that I value a lot but little did I knew that these mountains had much more love to offer to me.

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At around 2 p.m., I saw tree number 59 and started wondering where was tree no. 58, 57 … 50 … and tree no. 3. Perhaps I was too tired and started overthinking.  A small nap under this tree to recharge myself worked very well. I cooked tomato soup using my portable gas stove and recharged my mobile phone from 0% to 59% using my Goal Zero NOMAD 10 Portable Solar Charger. These bikepacking gears are essential in making me a self-supported bikepacker but I started questioning myself – Am I fully self-supported? No, I am not. I needed someone to cheer me up.

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Universe listened to me and I started my journey further. Very soon it ticked 3:30 p.m. in my clock and the school’s clock too. It is the end of the school timings in the mountains and I was passing exactly from the school gate. I was exactly where universe wanted me to be. Around 20 to 40 school children were looking at me and my loaded bike. I observed amazement and curiosity in their eyes and smile on their face. They asked me questions, many questions.

I felt very good and I answered all their questions. I am from Yellow house. Yellow – Yellow dirty fellow. Perhaps they were seeing a bikepacking setup for the first time in their life. I hiked a bike with them as they marched with me till the next village – Ghandiyal where I stopped for a Maggi break at Benital home stay. The owner at the home stay did ask me to halt for the day and start expedition tomorrow morning but I decided to continue because I wanted to pitch in my tent at Benital and enjoy stargazing.

Around 3 more Kms from Ghandiyal and a gang of village children spotted me. They were all wearing colorful woolen sweaters and caps and they started running after my bike, touching all of it – The wheels, bags, brakes, lights, chain, helmet, seat, gears and pretty much everything. They loved me biking in the mountains, my bike and my beautiful Our Slug Life bikepacking bags. They dismounted me from the driver’s seat and hijacked my bike. Like a rain shower in summers. Like an oasis in a desert. Like a downhill stretch after an uphill climb … This laughter after 3:30 p.m. made my day!! Love was in the mountain air. 

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Time was on the run. It was 5 p.m. already and I had to cover around 10 more kms to reach Benital. I had gained sufficient elevation that I started seeing a far-off view of snow-covered mountains. It started getting dark when I reached Simtoli the last village before Benital. The rush to reach Benital and approaching darkness was stressing me and made me thirstier. A quick water refill in Simtoli and I resumed my ride with my Fenix bike light turned on.

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It was dark already and my bike light made it possible for me to ride through the surrounding dense forest. The road was slippery courtesy to the frozen moisture. It was around a Km left when a group of locals returning from Benital suggested me to not camp alone – return and come back tomorrow morning. They were concerned about me. I listened to them and decided to return. I knew that this means to go 10 kms downhill to Ghandiyal and take my break at Benital homestay but the mountains had a different plan for me. 

With control on my downhill speed, I reached Simtoli in 10 mins and asked the first person I saw – “Can I pitch my tent on your rooftop”. He said “No” and “You are welcome to my home.” Rana Ji offered me a bike storage space. He told me that our meeting was a huge coincidence. Had I been a little late we would have never met. Had I been a little early our bikes (His Motorbike and my Pedal powered bike) would have just crossed each other on the road. He also told me that he waited for a while in front of his house because he saw “Lights in the Forest !!”

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Rana Ji and his family was very kind to me. They offered me hot water to clean myself, sockets to charge my electronics, ears to listen my stories, kitchen to warm my hands, stories to quench my thirst of curiosity, hot delicious food to satisfy my hunger, bed to sleep and all other comforts that a home offer. I also got to know the interesting stories about Benital. This was my bonus for experiencing rural Uttarakhand which is changing by the tick of a clock. Rana Ji told me that usually by this time of the month the village gets covered by a thick layer of snow but this year it is much delayed. I knew whom to blame – Climate change.

Such great was the hospitality and being in the moment that I completely forgot about stargazing in the night. I slept while talking about …… In the morning, I was offered a delicious breakfast. I thanked Rana Ji and his family, said goodbye, and started for Benital

It was a drastic change from thick green forest to vast meadows overlooking distant snow-covered mountains. Benital is extremely beautiful and only 5 households live there. I was thinking about the peaceful life of mountain communities that live here and how lucky I would be if I can stay here for a month living how the local communities live here – In peace and in harmony with nature. The lake amid the meadow was covered with tall grass and I completed a parikrama around it.

I sat on the meadows for couple of hours enjoying the views of mountains and beautiful landscape. I also saw foxes that were very shy and start running away from me. A local village man offered me a cup of tea and appreciated my determination to climb Benital. It was time to start my return journey from Benital and moments after I begin descending it started to snow. I said a final goodbye to Rana Ji and his family, wished them a happy new year in advance and started my bikepacking journey further.

As I was descending, I asked myself where will I be on New Year? I got the answer – Somewhere in rural Uttarakhand under the stars and stargazing from wherever I will be. If someone asks me if I ever regret missing the stargazing opportunity at Benital – an Astro village. My answer will be “Life is too short to regret and I gained far more from this bikepacking expedition. I experienced the love of rural Uttarakhand especially after 3:30 p.m.” 

Fast forwarding my bikepacking story to 100x times …. I went from Benital to Dewal … Stored my bike at a homestay in Dewal … Hitchhiked from Dewal to Lohajung and started BrahmaTal trek. On 00:00 a.m. of 1st Jan,2023 I was doing exactly what I wished to do at Benital.

Stargazing with my tent pitched in adjacent to a lake – Bekaltal. Lucky me and this is one of the several reasons I love bikepacking. It offers me a flexibility to explore Incredible India.

30 thoughts on “Laughter After Three In The Mountains”

  1. All the best Utkarsh. It’s a very good article. Keep sharing your experience. I also liked your writing skills and your photographs.

    All the best and keep progressing

  2. I loved your description and i am personally very much inspired by your wholesome journey…keep updating us and hoping to see the video version of all these…
    Best of luck for all future endeavours 👍

  3. Hi Utkarsh,

    It’s really amazing to read your travelling experiences. Apart from travelling & all , the best part is you are staying with local and having experience of their lifestyles & culture. I have experienced it, so I can relate it. It’s the best things to make lifetime memories.

    Keep going man, lots of Hugs & good wishes.!

    Best Regards
    Atul Tiwari

    1. Hi Atul

      Lots of hugs from my side. Glad to know that you relate to and have experienced the best part of travel – People, their culture and traditions. The World Is One Family – Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam

  4. Such a creative writing it is.. superb blog, nd ur great explaination power made it lively.
    U travel to watch beauty, visit India, know world..
    This is what .. real beauty , beauty of hearts .. real India, that opens arms in the warm welcome of strangers.. thanks for sharing ur experience
    Keep sharing

    1. Thanks a lot. I am glad you liked my blog and way of storytelling. I also agree with your definition of real India. It indeed lies in the beauty of it’s people. Keep looking my website as I plan to publish more and more stories from our Incredible India !!

  5. Hii utkarsh ji
    Vikram rana this side..
    It’s really amazing to read your have mentioned each and everything… Even I small things you noticed..
    And it was pleasure to meet you… And I got a chance to host you at my home..will planning to come Bhopal and meet you..

    1. Namaste Rana Ji

      You are the star of my story. Thankyou to you and your family for hosting me. I loved Pahadi hospitality and also hope that through my post more people get inspired to visit your beautiful Benital. My family welcomes you with great heart at Bhopal.

  6. Amazing blog bhaiya! Definitely a feel good read and best of luck for the future. To infinity and beyond 💯♾

  7. I felt as if i was in the mountains. Beautifully penned travelogue Utkarsh. All the best for all your future endeavours

  8. All the Best Utkarsh. Congratulations on your hard work, dedication, and passion……… Keep creating valuable content and inspiring others with your words. So happy for you

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