The excitement of exploring Darma Valley could not let me sleep the previous night. Just 2 days back, when my friend had requested me to visit the place, I had only told him that I would be doing it some other time. Now, within a reach of few kms, I myself was going to be present there. What an irony!
I started my day around 5 am. We were supposed to leave by 6am. Mahesh, my local friend had told me that Darma Valley was close to 80 kms from the place and when I had tried to look up on google maps the night before, I could not get direct route towards it. Google itself stopped working. Now I knew why my friend was telling me that there were actually no driving roads leading to the valley!
Shit just went onto next level. I could not wait to explore and at the same time wanted to see how the roads were going to be. It was like complete unknown and very less people had been traveled to the location on bike.
It was a beautiful cold morning with fog all around. I had packed in necessary thermals and was also carrying my DSLR camera. Back of my mind, I knew that the scenes were going to be awesome just cuz we were treading into very remote territory.
It was great to ride in the foggy morning with valley running towards your right. It gave me the same feeling like yesterday. But, slowly slowly the cold started to penetrate my fingers even though I had bought the top of the line winter gloves from Decathlon, nothing could soothe me. After some time, it was even difficult to brake and clutch and since I was trailing them, I only wished they had the same feeling and would stop anytime. But to my surprise, I had to continue with the pain as I didn’t knew the roads.
PS: Cold burn is more painful than Hot burn.
Finally, after more than an hour’s riding, we came to halt at a small road side shack. I knew, this had to be for tea. What a relief it was! The time was 8:15 am. Along with tea, we also snacked on some Hot Jalebis. With the outside cold temperature and the sunshine slowly starting to pile up, the Jalebis tasted even better. This was our little breakfast break.
From then on, we almost rode non stop along small roads which were under construction. The roads went up and down like a roller roaster. At some point, it did scare the shit out of me. A little mistake, and you are down and nowhere to be seen.
The mountains were too big and still we hadn’t received the most luxurious item available here, which was sunshine. At around 9:45 am we stopped again at a roadside shack for having proper breakfast. This time we had Chowmein churned out from fresh dough. Mahesh told me that most of the villages along the valley had affected during the disastrous flood that had ravaged Uttarakhand few years back. Almost all of the houses had been swept away and there were huge loses. For most of them, it was a new beginning of life and they relocated to a little higher portion of the valley.
We could see some cluster of houses on the mountains opposite to the valley and I only wondered as to how the went on with their daily lives. I mean, the place itself was so remote and with no accessible roads. Back of my mind, I was thinking how did they manage to bring in the necessary daily essentials. I wished, I was there and interviewed about their life.
We again stopped after riding few kms to have our 2nd round of tea. We were taking it slow and there was no hurry. Though, we had planned to reach Jauljibi by evening.
Soon, we started to gain height and it started to get colder even though the heat from the sun was there. The cold was felt from the front while the sun heated our backs. Now, we started to see snow on the roads and also on the sides. The snow had accumulated in the regions where the sun did not reached throughout the day.
My nightmare began.
It was really challenging for me riding on black ice with a pillion. Often, we were greeted with cold icy river crossings and it had to be executed with proper planning. The main thing was not to get your shoes wet. But, before this, I had already had a fall 2-3 times on the ice. Somewhere, the rear tyre would get stuck in large rocks and slip on the ice.
Finally, around 1:30 pm we reached Darma Valley. Also, the base camp for Panchchuli Peaks is situated here. The view was just mind bending. For all, we had traveled around 80 kms since morning just to get a sight of this view. The road ahead was full of snow and we knew it would be difficult to ride on. Hence, we took a cautious call of parking our bikes and moving the remaining few hundred feet over foot.
The village where we were was migrated down to the city. It is the common scenario observed here as winters are very harsh. Hence, all the people from the villages migrate down to the city below.
We were just three people here and no one else. The wind was blowing and carrying tiny snowflakes along with it. During summers, this place is live with trekkers coming in from various places. Mahesh is a guide who organizes treks to Darma valley. The trek route was running below our so called driving road. Just like we had reached the base camp in few hrs, it takes days on foot having started from city and camping along the way.
Solo travel here is not advised during winters. It will be very difficult to get help if anything happens on the way.
We had spent quite some time at the place taking in the surroundings. We were so close to the magnificent peaks and I still could not believe that we had pulled this together on bike.
We decided to head back as it was 3 pm and we had to reach Jauljibi before it got cold and dark. At anycost, we had to avoid riding in the dark as the roads were too narrow and risky.
Riding on black ice is very tough. You don’t wanna move your handlebar often and NO front brakes at any cost. If, by chance, you hit them then for sure you are down on the road with the bike. The battle is more mental than physical. Moreover, you also need to keep you body stiff.
By now, we had started to feel the cold and sun was no longer with us. It had been enveloped by the mountains and we knew at the back of our minds that we really needed to move fast. But before that, many hurdles waited for us along the path to be cleared.
At the biggest water crossing, Mahesh’s and My foot went down in the chilled water. We knew what the next effect was going to be.
It was done. I couldn’t save my shoes from getting wet along the journey and soon the after effects has started to show. The feet started to become hard as rock and I was facing difficulty in shifting and braking. The cold had started to increase. It was a mental torture which I could not sustain or we both could not. All the 3 layers of my socks had become wet and now they were a liability to me now. They had to be removed and the feet given some warmth. Going ahead was not an option.
We stopped by some shack who seemed to be in good relationship with friends of mine. I think they ran a small hotel and gave us tea and bonfire so that we could get some relief from the pain.
By the time we left the place, it was 5 pm and almost dark. We knew we could not reach Jauljibi and were still far away from the place. We decided to stay at Sobla which was the nearest place and a village. Mahesh’s relative were staying at the place and we decided to head there.
We reached there in night amidst barking of the dogs. It was a starry night with a Waxing Gibbous moon phase. Initially, the lights were not there but afterwards they came. The picture of the surroundings in the night was really a sight to see. The village nestled among a ring of mountains. Silence pervaded everywhere.
For Dinner, we had chicken curry along with roti and rice and slept almost immediately.
Tomorrow, we were returning back to Jauljibi.