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Old 1st February 2016, 00:57   #1
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Talking Ride to Shoja & Mandi for a Snowy Christmas

Friends,

I bought RMLC on 1 November 2015. As a married man and a father, I don't get much time to ride. I did the quick Abhaneri ride to complete the run-in for the first service.

But the big daddy ride was yet to come - a Christmas ride to be part of the All India Meet (AIM) for the HVK Forum on Facebook.

The HVK AIM - some Context
Before I dive further, a quick note on the AIM. This group holds their annual meet somewhere less touristy (ergo Shoja over Shimla!) and motoring enthusiasts from around the country (and abroad) drive down to the place in convoys! It is a staggering effort, mind boggling by every means. The organization was simply crazy - they had thought about everything in advance - the FAQ was a work of art. They had a dedicated set of volunteers and clear communication channels. The marketing for the destination was so masterfully done on FB by HVK -it deserves a case study in itself! Even on the drive - the day's destination wasn't revealed till the preceding day! My wife and colleagues were amused - I was going for a ride without knowing the destination. The organizers had allocated people to different whatsapp groups as well for coordination. Information flew thick and fast. They supported folks with on the go road updates / last-minute hotel bookings / restaurant advice / emergency repairs etc! In fact, struggling under a 24x7 project, I lost track of the messages and updates. That is why I took the RMLC. more on that later. Of course, bringing and accomodating 200 people (yes!) in such a small place results in painful compromises in terms of accomodation (families had the best acco, with others following in a logical hierarchy). Information flow to each member cannot be individually tailored either - there's the risk of feeling a bit lost and on your own at times. While no one's perfect and hindsight can be perfect, I think the team here did a pretty stupendous job. I am not sure if there are many volunteer events which can replicate this scale in this context.

Day 1 - 24 Dec
As life would have it - a project started shortly before the ride, and completely consumed all 24 hours of the day. I was swamped to the extent that I bought my new riding gear within 1-7 days before the ride. Some like winter gloves were not even bought!

What that means is that I was able to set up my gear for the first time, about 15 min before the ride! Not a good position to be in, honestly. But I was getting to do a good long ride and I wasn't going to let anything come in the way.

There was a constant threat of fog in North India over the preceding days so the big group (70 cars/1 biker) had already reached Chandigarh on 23rd second half - they were planning on leave at 7am on the 24th. On a good day, I could leave Gurgaon by 1am and be in Chandigarh by 4:30/5am. But when things can go wrong -they usually go horribly wrong.
  1. Strike one: In my case courtesy all the work delays (and an uber that ran off with my gear!), I was able to leave at 0100 hours on the 24th with zero sleep in the tank.
  2. Strike two: The jugaad winter solution of silk hiking gloves under the summer gloves was a colossal disaster as soon as I crossed Delhi (warmer due to busy traffic). Even cheap "winter" gloves that I had as backup didn't work.
  3. Strike three: I had two punctures in quick succession near Murthal itself.
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All of this meant regular breaks for punctures or to warm my freezing hands and by 5am I was at Karnal and was feeling really sleepy. As luck would have it, you have absolutely no hotels on the highway. A couple of places located in oyorooms weren't visible on the ground so I gave up on that and by the time I found one that did, I found out that they don't take guests for the same day checkout after 5am. Waste of an hour. So I ingested more caffeine and somehow stumbled over to an oyo in ambala by 7am. That was the slightly run down but totally VFM and safe Hotel Grace. I checked in quickly, paid the princely sum of 750 bucks for an 11am checkout, pre-ordered breakfast for another 300 and then went to sleep. Clearly I was not going to ride with the convoy!


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On the Banur-kharar road:
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Woke up at 11 and then I got out in half an hour, eager to hit the road. By around 2pm I was near Kiratpur sahib, but a timely call from Tanveer told me to avoid the Bilaspur mess and instead take the yummy twisties via Una. Coming from him, I instantly changed my plans and rode on to Una. The road from Una to Mandi was simply amazing. It is a must do for bikers - there is next to zero traffic, the corners are wide and sweeping with very little gravel / potholes.


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Things were going good and I was having fun till I hit Kalkhar - a small village 12km before joining the manali highway at NerChowk. Those were the absolute worst 12km to ride on - full of gravel and loose rubble. Took me well nearly 1-1.5 hours just to cross them. Regardless, it was now 7pm and the destination was 90km away! I wasn't sure whether dinner would still be available when I reached so I stopped half an hour to have my long delayed lunch. Another bad idea. The food was good though. Its a nondescript little dhaba, 3km after mandi just after the IOC pump on the RHS. If in doubt, ask the BPCL Mandi pump staff for the best dhaba in town!


One advantage of night riding in these parts is the near-absence of traffic. So I had a blast, covering the ~60km on narrow roads from the dhaba till Jibhi (a village 7km before Shoja) in just 1.5 hours. Just before Jibhi I met a convoy of AIM cars and one of them told me to head on to Shoja for dinner. Except the scenery got positively cooler as I got closer. After Jibhi, I could see the mountain having a snow cover and occasional patches of snow on the side. I was priding myself on finally catching up with the group and looked forward to a good night's sleep, when my day dreaming was broken and I was stranded on this big stretch of black ice next to a piddly stream. This is something I have always anticipated and avoided/managed in most of my past himalayan rides, but completely forgot about, in this one! Doesn't look menacing does it?
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What followed was much drama - I was stuck there , standing in the exact same position in sub-zero water, for almost 30 min till the next AIM convoy arrived. They were coming down from Shoja for staying in the various rest houses in Jibhi. The first good samaritan on the scene said while coming up to me - oh Ice? No tension. We'll have you out in a ..... bang! Just as he came closer, he slipped. The next gent also tried to reach out to hold the bike as he reached, and promptly fell. Now that these gents understood my concerns in depth, the whole gang (some ten odd folks) started deliberating. Initial attempts to lift the bike after removing luggage failed - the CBR is 170 kg! The bike had skidded in this period to be pointing to the hill while its tail was ~2m from the edge. Finally an offroader, Vipul (?) suggested that someone should press down on the rear tyre to give it more traction. That was enough to get me out of the immediate black ice and park the bike on the shoulder of the hill. Temperature outside was in the vicinity of -10 with winds!


With the bike parked - I jumped into Vipul's Pajero Sport (the only car I'd trust at that time!) for the short ride into Jibhi. I was allocated into the Jungle Book homestay where the lovely ladies of the house cooked some finger licking good dal-rice for me at 12:30 am! I tucked into the bed under a few layers of quilts and dozed off in the company of my Kindle.


Here are some pics taken while I picked up the bike the next day:
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Days 2/3 of the ride will follow later in the day in subsequent posts!
All pics from the phone. Apologies for any low quality pics!

Last edited by aah78 : 3rd February 2016 at 20:39. Reason: Fixed: Bag - > Kalkhar. Edit 2: Jan -> Dec
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Old 1st February 2016, 11:50   #2
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Default Re: Ride to Shoja & Mandi for a Snowy Christmas

Excellent beginning.
The bad stretch you mentioned is Kalkhar-NerChowk section. The road conditions are bad owing partly to road expansion work and partly to frequently digging of roads for telecom cables. Baring this particular stetch the ride from Una to Mandi is way better and smoother than NH 21.
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Old 2nd February 2016, 11:06   #3
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Talking Re: Ride to Shoja & Mandi for a Snowy Christmas

Here's a quick update that didn't get posted last night as I slept off while composing it.

Day 2: Christmas
I woke up only to find that the Jibhi town had itself experienced minor icing! The bike was not getting rescued soon. So we settled into a leisurely breakfast of god awesome aloo paranthas at Jungle Book homestay.
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Starting at 11, the rest of the morning went in rescuing the bike - as you may guess, black ice on a downhill is the perfect recipe for jitters. And this time I had no one else to help me. So I walked the bike through the initial sections, and then rode down only when I was sure of the terrain. Some of those photos are already there in the initial post.
Here's a photo with other HVKians at the homestay after I made it back.
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Then we went up for a well deserved lunch. Only to find a tree fallen in our path. No problem - boys will always have fun! This was Rajesh at work.
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The HVKAIM organizing team had done a splendid job of setting up in the PWD RH grounds in Shoja. The venue itself had some issues due to the weather- the rest house had so much frozen snow at the stairs that some residents were slipping! But folks tried to help where they could. We had a full multi course feast. I forgot to take photos though! Here's some photos from the venue and the nearby views.
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After that we came back to Jibhi for a well deserved dinner (some of us didn't want to risk it late at night out of black ice fears) and a bonfire among newly made friends!
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PS: I love the iPhone pictures. Decent enough to leave the SLR at home and capture more moments!!

Last edited by phamilyman : 2nd February 2016 at 11:40.
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Old 3rd February 2016, 00:44   #4
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Default Re: Ride to Shoja & Mandi for a Snowy Christmas

Day 3 / 26 Dec
The day begun late, as always. The breakfast was at a nearby guest house which wasn't anywhere as good as the Jungle book (reachable at 94183-69795, 98058-62682, 01903-227024). Here's the modest room we shared:
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The breakfast was just not comparable despite a larger variety. But with more people, the conversations were varied!

I set off at 9:30, just before the convoy's departure. Convoys are complex beings - coordinating 70 cars in the middle of nowhere in three sub-convoys was quite a task. As one of the only two bikers, and as someone who was revisiting the himalayas after ~3 years, I decided to sneak in a visit to the Tirthan Valley so that I could catch up with the convoys in due course!
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Subsequently, I caught up with the last sub-convoy , and rode just behind them, leisurely clicking snaps. I was the last person to take the left turn from Bajaura. I had learned that the actual drive to Prashar Lake had been cancelled due to snow. The views of the snow-clad mountains were so awesome, and the food truck had just overtaken me, that I took it easy.
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Till I ran into the wee bit of dirt tracks containing snow. My bike runs the OEM Contigos, which are basically "widow-makers" in such terrain. Thankfully the Bajaura Mandi route had little drama after this initial km or so of light snow, so I was spared. Else I was cursing my luck. Thankfully the organizers had setup lunch (finger licking good biryani) at a really nice view point, so we all used the occasion to catch up with everyone, click the last set of pictures and say good byes.
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But little did I know that my luck was going to worsen from here on. After bidding everyone goodbye, I was the first to reach Mandi town around 4:30. However, due to the iPhone's stupid restrictions on Googlemaps, I got lost within the city. I tried to get the KTM's knuckle guards installed but to no avail. I settled in for a long knuckle chilling ride ahead, finally leaving mandi shortly after five.

Things completely went into the toilet from here on. Just after six - I ran into the infamous Kiratpur expressway construction, 30km before Bilaspur. This is the nemesis of the CBR's OEM tyres.
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It may look innocuous (localites were flying on the road on all shapes of bikes) but my CBR was dancing all over even at 15 kph. This crappy stretch of ~10km took me the good part of 1.5 hours including a few phone calls to friends for help. Finally reducing the tyre pressure (I was running 33 instead of 29 in the rear) got me some modicum of stability and helped me out of there. The road was nicer hereon, but ~30 or so short of Kiratpur it turned into crap again. Thankfully this was just a really dusty dry dug up road with potholes so I could maintain some decent speeds, finally reaching a dhaba ~5km ahead of Kiratpur at 10:45pm.

From there on, it was the usual good highways all the way back home. Fog stayed away too.
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Old 3rd February 2016, 09:43   #5
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Default Re: Ride to Shoja & Mandi for a Snowy Christmas

Quote:
Originally Posted by phamilyman View Post
The HVK AIM - some Context
There's much more to add, but just summarizing things in one sentence - The entire town of Jibhi & Shoja were opened just for the AIM, otherwise there's nothing much happening in those 2 towns during this season.

Thanks for sharing your experiences with CBR phamilyman and please...don't ever say its low quality pics, they're superb, atleast to me, it makes a great appeal in natural context than having it processed

Last edited by aargee : 3rd February 2016 at 09:44.
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Old 3rd February 2016, 10:03   #6
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Default Re: Ride to Shoja & Mandi for a Snowy Christmas

Nice account of the ride bringing back my memories of the same ride that I did with the BCMT gang. So what is this googlemaps iPhone limitation?
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Old 3rd February 2016, 12:01   #7
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Default Re: Ride to Shoja & Mandi for a Snowy Christmas

Quote:
Originally Posted by aargee View Post
There's much more to add, but just summarizing things in one sentence - The entire town of Jibhi & Shoja were opened just for the AIM, otherwise there's nothing much happening in those 2 towns during this season.

Thanks for sharing your experiences with CBR phamilyman and please...don't ever say its low quality pics, they're superb, atleast to me, it makes a great appeal in natural context than having it processed
Thanks for the kind words sirjee.

All of the photos are processed actually - just auto-color balance only. You're right. At that time of the year, except for some solitary mad cap adventurer or locals, there's no tourism in those parts!

Quote:
Originally Posted by extreme_torque View Post
Nice account of the ride bringing back my memories of the same ride that I did with the BCMT gang. So what is this googlemaps iPhone limitation?
On iPhone, the stupid google maps does not announce route directions on the non-OEM wired headset (bluetooth works though), unlike android. That meant that I had to keep the map in my head, something that i rarely do these days. Taking the phone out regularly due to 2 layers of gloves was not practical either. So I easily got lost within the city. Unnecessary waste of 15 minutes due to stupid technology limitations.
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Old 3rd February 2016, 12:49   #8
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Default Re: Ride to Shoja & Mandi for a Snowy Christmas

Good to hear about your trip experience.

Do share additional pics in case you have any. Also a small correction - I guess in your opening post you meant 24 Dec instead of Jan.
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Old 3rd February 2016, 16:57   #9
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Default Re: Ride to Shoja & Mandi for a Snowy Christmas

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I guess in your opening post you meant 24 Dec instead of Jan.
The meet was held 24, 25 & 26 December 2015

Last edited by Eddy : 3rd February 2016 at 21:53. Reason: Corrected Typo
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Old 3rd February 2016, 18:35   #10
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Default Re: Ride to Shoja & Mandi for a Snowy Christmas

Lovely log there Phamilyman!!

The Una stretch you mentioned, I drive there atleast every 3-4 months while going to my hometown and every time just keep dreaming of riding my bike on it. It will be an absolute blast on a bike. I would rate it probably as the best stretch of road for any biker in north India.

Its 62 Kms of nice paved road with every type of corner imaginable.

CHEERS!!

Rachit
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Old 3rd February 2016, 21:34   #11
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Default Re: Ride to Shoja & Mandi for a Snowy Christmas

Quote:
Originally Posted by mpksuhas View Post
Good to hear about your trip experience.

Do share additional pics in case you have any. Also a small correction - I guess in your opening post you meant 24 Dec instead of Jan.
Correct. No more pictures - we were either chitting/chatting or I was busy riding - tough for a biker to click pictures!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Rachit.K.Dogra View Post
Lovely log there Phamilyman!!

The Una stretch you mentioned, I drive there atleast every 3-4 months while going to my hometown and every time just keep dreaming of riding my bike on it. It will be an absolute blast on a bike. I would rate it probably as the best stretch of road for any biker in north India.

Its 62 Kms of nice paved road with every type of corner imaginable.

CHEERS!!

Rachit
Thanks for your kind words.

Reg the road - Indeed - it is truly world class! You're lucky to drive there so often! I would definitely divert there on my next manali ride just to ride on those roads!
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Old 4th February 2016, 16:52   #12
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Default Re: Ride to Shoja & Mandi for a Snowy Christmas

Quote:
Originally Posted by phamilyman View Post

The HVK AIM - some Context
The HVK group holds their annual meet somewhere less touristy (ergo Shoja over Shimla!) and motoring enthusiasts from around the country (and abroad) drive down to the place in convoys! It is a staggering effort, mind boggling by every means. The organization was simply crazy - they had thought about everything in advance - the FAQ was a work of art. They had a dedicated set of volunteers and clear communication channels. The marketing for the destination was so masterfully done on FB by HVK -it deserves a case study in itself!
How true Been there thrice with the HVK fraternity, twice at the AIM and once on a monsoon drive, it was nice.

Thanks for sharing this on TBHP, I wish all those tbhpians (or any of those) who attended this meet to share their pics and logs here.

Regards.

Last edited by Ddrive : 4th February 2016 at 16:56. Reason: Corrections
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