Wheels 2 Pindari (2012)
Step in the tenth month of twenty twelve and the happy trail weathers kicking off in India. When Michael McLean of ‘Mountain Bike Kerala’, invited me to join his clan of riders this October on an AM/Enduro style trip to Pindari Glacier in Uttarakhand, it was my default decision to hop in. Landing back into Pune after a wicked summer in B.C, Canada, it was again a quick pack and run affair for me to make it for this ride. As I made it to Delhi, Mike had booked train tickets for us to Kathgodam, Uttarakhand. Post the train ride and a short drive to Nainital town, we were joined by Pankaj Danu. A Nainital local, Pankaj has ridden the Pindari Glacier trail multiple times and is part of the ‘Mountain Bike Kerala’ team. With a quick bike wrench session at Pankaj’s house and sorting of bike spares for this trip; we decided to take a short spin down the popular ‘China Peak’ trails. As the story goes, from this peak one could see the Chinese mountain ranges. That was about two centuries ago. While in the present, the week saw three of us spinning trails around Nainital, Almora and Kausani town. While the weather was in our favor most of the time we made sure we were warmed up for the epic ride that was about to dawn soon. While Mike and I headed to New Delhi to receive our gang of riders, Pankaj got onto zipping in some final things for the Pindari ride.
A week into our build up ride, on Nainital, Almora and Kausani town trails, it was now time to be joined by some of the finest riders on the planet. Which included Tracey Mosely, whose got her shoe prints embedded on the Downhill World’s podium for a decade. James Richards, a trail hungry biker who is a serious competitor in the international Enduro arena. Dan Milner with his remarkable eye for epic imagery.Christer Lidslot, a mountain bike adventure seeker. Philip Warham and Lucy Martin, founders of ‘Bike Verbier’ (European mountain bike escapade organizers). Once our new clan landed into Delhi a train ride off the chaotic Old Delhi led us to Kathgodam once again. Settling in a hotel in Nainital facing the towns beautiful lake all of us got into full speed bike build mode. With wrenches flying, cables trimmed and tubes inflated, it was time to hit the warm-up trails down ‘China Peak’ and Pangot. A repeat for Mike, Pankaj and me, these foresty trails were a delight for our new soldiers. As dried leaves formed a mat over the pathways, drifting on blind corners over hidden rocks and roots was a good start for our Pindari ride. The following days had us shredding down century old trails like the apocalypse was upon us. Steep climbs and rocky descents all morning switching onto our shuttle van, had us hopping through towns of Almora, Kausani and Bageshwar over the week. With Dal Makhani, ChickenTikka, Tandoori Rotis for dinner and more blissful Kumao delicacies for breakfast, we were now strong to start our ride to Pindari.
As we drove through washed out roads and dodgy bridges from Bageshwar town, we arrived into a cold Kupcote village. Mountains in our sight and tea in our belly, we started our demanding climb towards Khatti village accompanied by our porters and mules. Khatti village is Pankaj’s home soil. After a full day ‘hike a bike’ action over steep cobbled pathways and boulders, legs screaming and eyes burning with sweat, we reached the peak at 3000mtrs. Followed by a super fun descent in cold winds and spooky light we made it to our accommodation facility in Khatti village at 2110mtrs. With a dinner that still triggers our taste buds, it was time to slip into our sleeping bags. Our stay was minimalistic, yet the four walls of our room were heavenly, full with glowing angels in the night sly! We were so tired that the freezing night temperatures never bothered us.
The Pindari peak was looking closer each morning. Once our hefty bags were strapped on the mules, our pedals started cranking towards Dwali Village. One of the hikers preferred bunk spots before heading to Pindari trail peak; Dwali is located at around 2700mtrs. As the sun started its climb up the sky, so did our energy levels. Tracey, James and Philip were training the treacherous climbs with a NOS system embedded in them. While the rest of us mortals continued the lung busting day of steep climbs, ‘hike a bike’ and slick rocky descents, the clouds decided to switch on the sprinklers over the magnificent landscape. Right on time before the showers blasted off, we rode into Dwali village. A platter full of steamed rice and spicy potato with lentil tagged with a glass full of tea, all served through a firewood powered kitchen, a welcoming sight indeed. As we made the kitchen into our little den for the freezing noon, our systems were getting fuled by multiple tea shots under the firewood smoke cloud. A sharp freezing night got us through to the D-day.
Finally the ride to Pindari peak dawned. With freezing water splashed on our face, a damp morning pulled our bikes over some nasty climbs. A much needed fuel (tea) stop at Phukiya woke our systems up for the spectacular views that were fast approaching. Occasionally sharing exposed singletrack with hikers, the nine of us kept our focus on ‘Point Zero’. The Pindari trail literally ends off a cliff face at ‘Point Zero’, thats where we were speeding to. Silhouette views ahead of us and locked away on our memory cards, all the hours of churning, fighting our minds and lungs through the week was for this one peak. The Pindari Glacier ‘Zero Point’. Before our final climb towards the peak, we were welcomed by ‘Pindari Baba’. A well versed individual, babaji served us the 999th cup of tea of this trip. Our systems fired up with sweet tea at 3800mtrs and blessing from the lords, our bikes helped elevate us even further into the magnificent landscape of Pindari Mountains. Surrounded by snow caped ranges caressing the clouds, our ride hit ‘Point Zero’. A surreal excitement was floating in our pack. Hi-5s flying hugs and tears of joy. Or may be it was fatigue that caused the tears. After some ‘Look ma I’m on top of the mountain’ photography, ace photographer Dan got into action mode once again to shoot us all down the epic mountain landscape. Blasting down from the peak, we were headed back to Dwali village. Twenty minutes into the descent the rain clouds decided to switch on the showers. With lubricated rocks and cold winds, our 2.3” treads scrubbed their way down to a lower elevation of Dwali village for the night.
Another day and another pedal swing got us back to Khatti village. As our beloved four legged mules took some rest from the hard day of walking, we prepped our two wheeled mules for the final weekend of this trip. The trail planned for the day was ‘death trail’. Aptly named, this fairly exposed dirt path with blind ‘death wish’ turns lead us across the valley. Exiting the forest with my fifty fourth pinch flat of the trip, the power cables and radio towers started to emerge. We were getting closer to civilization. Seeing Nainital town again after being in the forest for three weeks, I felt like post war Rambo. Delighted that we had accomplished what we set out for, the ‘Pindari Glacier’ ride surely got the best out of all of us. With near vertical climbs and exposed descents, the Pindari trail treated our bikes like Path finders on Mars. As the nine of us made it back to civilization in one piece, the bike bags were waiting for our bikes to get twisted open. Another glass of tea for the evening and it was a wrap.
Kudos to Michael McLean and Pankaj Danu from ‘Mountain Bike Kerala’ for getting this gig rolling full throttle.Hi-5 to the entire team who visited India just to rip the ‘Pindari Glacier’ trail. Tracey Mosely, James Richards, Lucy Martin, Philip Warham, Christer Lidslot and image capture wizard Dan Milner.