Snow Storm 2017 at Dharali, Uttarakhand with Where Eagles Dare
14 Jan 2017 | Author: Prax Sans
This is a blog about my recent experience of the Snow Storm 2017 at Dharali, Uttarakhand with Where Eagles Dare in which I blog about my vivid exposure to various elements ranging from how i learnt to ride a motorcycle on Snow to capturing some of the most breathtaking landscapes of the remotest corners of Uttarakhand under the most challenging circumstances, I have been exposed to. Happy reading!
My 2016 Monsoon Trip to Uttarakhand gave me a new perspective to adventure Motorcycling & it was during this where I met Tilak Soni, the founder of a renowned group named Where Eagles Dare & an avid adventure & thrill seeker! He has Experience in Numbers, be it discovering a high altitude water body & naming it ‘Garud Taal’ or exploring the remotest corners of Uttarakhand.
Its precisely the wall collage at Tilak’s Homestay – Eagles Nest, Uttarkhashi that inspired me to do something close, if not similar. Thats when I started querying him about the next event as I wanted a bite of the pie!
Come December 2016, I get a call seeking my confirmation & I simply inform Tilak that I’m in but will confirm soon! The immediate action was to dial Lijit, my new found friend through my monsoon ride. I express my contemplation in attending SnowStorm 2017 & seek his suggestion as the circuit would more or less be the same what I already explored solo, less than 6 months ago. All Lijit said was just book your tickets & attend bro(with an emphasis on bro)!
Enter 2016 & with less than 2 weeks to go for the SnowStorm 2017 Motorcycling event, I start research on ‘Snow Riding Basics’ & my constant distraction made me not to go through the wonderful materials out there & soon enough the pride of riding for more than a decade took over & a voice resonated from within”Big F**k Prax! Come on, it should be easy!
I fly from Namma Bengaluru to Dehradun via Delhi & reach Uttarkhashi, Uttarakhand & meet the Tilak & rest of the participants. Post dinner, we attend a briefing on the plan of action for next 3 days. We were handed a very well composed winter survival handbook tailored for the needs of not just biking but some amazing survival tips in Snow. This book was compiled by Sandeep Goswami aka Old Fox & Tilak from their years of experience. We were even handed a customized skull cap, a camping knife that folds into the size of a card & a scarf. These were very well thought of I must say. Post this, we retire to our rooms & then hit the bed.
D Day – 14th Jan 2017
Circuit: Uttarkhashi – Harshil – Dharali – Uttarkhashi
We get up & get ready, get late, get to eat & finally are ready to leave! I walk upto the Hero Impulse I was allotted & ensure a quick pre-ride check is done. I get back to the hotel to gear up & then arrive at the parking lot just to realise that my bike was taken(stolen :p) by someone else! This gentleman who i had met minutes before was the same person who had asked me if I was renting an impulse too? little did i know that he meant if the bike on which he was seated(black impulse) while he asked about the renting bit, was the same bike he was referring to as he assumed that the black one was already chosen by me. I later had a funny moment around this & trolled Shelly Thukral & we both go on to become very good friends. In fact its during this event that I learnt that he’s 51 & he owns 2 Limca book of World records! He instantly becomes my inspiration & his riding skills, energy & fitness levels would continue to impress me over the next 3 days of the event, especially the camaraderie descending the hills.
The gentlemen in the beige coat is the Honourable District Magistrate of Uttarkhashi – Dr Ashish Kumar Shrivastava & next to him is Tilak Soni! The gentlemen in black, peeping or posing at the camera at the back is Shelly The Thukral.
We are soon flagged off by DM & we ride for about 40 odd KMS & stop for snacks at an eatery which had supplies just for us & the view was breathtaking!
The bikes, the Hills, the SUV’s, the river! Just awe – My Kinda pit stop!
30 Kms on from the pit stop, we reach Gangnani, a small notorious uphill stretch plagued by landslides. We negotiate it & make it through Sukhi Top; This is where I see Snow for the first time in my life!!! The child in me comes to play & the entire group starts having a fun time! Its then we had a SnowStorm check!
Tilak, our estmeed organiser briefs us about whats up ahead for us & passes few tricks to helps us not only to manoeuvre the Snow clad roads but on Primal Safety too.
I take some or almost all of his points cheezily as this enigma of riding for 10+ years strikes me hard & blinds me to believe that this is just going to be a walk in the park & hey, I had done this circuit barely 6 months ago & that too SOLO! Some corners are still fresh in my mind!
With this attitude I start riding through snow & I see Tilak & Shiv, a seasoned Offroader/tourer/admin for several motoring forum & a fellow Yamaha R15 rider who’s clocked 150000 in comparison to 270000kms on mine(brag, brag brag) offering advice & support to few fellow riders who were stuck in Snow. Meanwhile, the attitude inside me is buzzing & has made me over confident by now. Despite this, I negotiate the first turn superbly well. This took my attitude or ghamand to the next level! In comes a slope & Prax Sans ignores every tip thats coming along & decides to ride on the Ghamand saddle just to kiss Snow first hand & boy o boy the attitude had disappeared!
Reality strikes faster than anything at this point! Its this that I would say was the defying moment for me & had me reassess my riding skills, given the conditions were the first time, I was exposing my riding to! Next curve on, Prax Sans was on 200% attention mode 🙂
After whats called as Duck walking, Twitching, Sliding, Skidding & what not, we reach Dharali, a picturesque village nested 20 km before Gangotri and 3 km after Harshil. The place is absolutely mesmerising throughout the year & is Lordess Ganges’s winter home. The village also has a old Shiva’s statue & legend has it that Bhagirathi worshipped Lord Shiva to get Ganga down to earth.
Its neighbouring village is Harshil. Besides the in famous scene from ‘Ram Teri Ganga Maili’, the place(Harshil) is a scenery in itself & is home to some of the ancient tribes, a Chinese Monastery built in 1967, some of the juiciest apples one could eat & much more!
By now, the Support Crew of Where Eagles Dare get to work. The mech starts advising riders on how to park while the Hotel specially opened for us(during winters people move down hill) started making fire place & also began preparing evening pakodas, Snacks & dinner. The rest of the evening was more of networking & understanding the vivid experience each one of them carried.
I woke up early to click couple of sunrise shots but nature was quick to remind me that I wasn’t in my normal habitat & was in almost what you could call heaven! I put on my jacket & step out with my Camera & the boy from Mumbai didn’t just believe what he saw at that hour!
Snow Clad Bikes, SUV’s
This set the bar high for the rest of the days & it didn’t disappoint at all.
To me the below image reminds of Game of Thrones(hope you know what that is)
Tila Soni Showering Snow 🙂
Now the Training bit from Where Eagles Dare. We had some of the best Trainers ranging from Sandeep Goswami aka OLD FOX, Vivek Sharma, Shivanshu Singh & last but not the least Tilak himself.
Since this was a Workshop dedicated to Motorcycling on Snow, Riders were given a brief & were asked to experiment just as the saying goes – Practise makes man perfect & out comes the boys & their toys!
Meet Vivek Sharma & his mighty beast the Yamaha WR450F. He was hand-picked specially for this event. He’s also a 2 time Raid-de-Himalya winner!
Motoroids Delhi Correspondent – Dhairya Gupta!
Kavish, the Mukesh(the one with cancer usually shown at the start of a movie) – No he doesn’t have cancer :p
Then me!!! I finally managed to sneak my beloved RED impulse while Shelly stood & watched me having fun on it 🙂
The trainers – Old Fox & Tilak observing & constantly feeding inputs back to the riders.
With this, Day 2, Session 1 had ended & we break for lunch but we weren’t hungry for food but for more Snow Storm action! Hey the events name was SnowStorm 2017 so let’s reck some havoc & tame Snow & we did just that!!!
While other riders were hard at practise, Tilak formed a small group comprising of 4 bikers, Old Fox, Me, Subroto & 2 support crew members. We ventured deeper into the wilderness where we were experienced the true Snow Storm & were posed with a challenge of riding & driving through 3+ foot of Snow, But we didn’t give up! We went on & this time for a change I wasn’t riding & was asked to shoot pictures as this would later on be featured in a project currently under wraps.
The Snow Mafias
At first, I was struggling to get a good snipping point to shoot pictures as I was sitting in the second row of a packed Xylo & as we ventured further, my woes just got bitter thus making it difficult to shoot. Its this when ‘toofani’ struck & I decided to go the mini drone way & had Tilak stop the Xylo & hopped on top of it! Yes, you read it right, i was sitting(if you can call it so :P) on the roof while it was Snowing bad & the conditions(-5 to -8 degrees) were far from anything close to optimal for a photoshoot & the burden of carrying the 70-200 lens on a 70d mount just elevated the whole game!!! Besides there was a lingering thought of water damage to Cam & lens which i tried to avoid.
Each time I was close to clicking a shot from the moving vehicle, the ISO & other settings had to be retuned & if this was spot on, the momentum of the vehicle would change the set frame. It was total chaos up there & somewhere it made me believe that I had done justice to the Group name – Where Eagles Dare as I dared beyond the ordinary!
Some snaps from the mini heli-drone view
We finally reached the photoshoot location & we all got busy doing what we were ought to. Sandeep Goswami aka Old Fox started executing the frames he had in mind for the photoshoot while I had my own go! Soon the weather started deteriorating & it meant that the return journey would be tricky. We were quick to get a hand full of shots & wrap our shoot. Here’s a super shot video of the Nature’s version of SnowStorm.
Some snaps from the photoshoot
We were happy with a dozen good clicks & decided to head back to Dharali before the weather got even worse. The day to me was highly productive as few memories would be etched forever & the experience of doing something on this scale was beyond imagination & my investment on the trip had already paid off. More importantly for me, I had done something which I had never thought of – EXTREME SNOW PHOTOGRAPHY & the learning was immense!
Once we got back, we were delighted to have tasty pakodas. Post this, I went on to click more pictures & this time I focused purely on candids & of course some wanted ‘FB Profile’ pictures 🙂
With this Day 2 had come to an end & we all got busy packing as we were to leave at 930 am the next day. The briefing said that the breakfast would be served by 8am & we leave on dot but hey its IST!
Post dinner, we started our machines to ensure we do not run into starting woes but there had to be few candidates & one of the Jeep’s had a frozen tank & fuel filter & this meant it had to be started by warming it up. The petrol heads tried few methods but nothing works & in comes Tilak. The great Indian Jugaad was ON & he used a pressure cooker’s steam to warm up the lines & after a few attempts ‘Kaboom’, the Jeep fired right up.
The Jeep belonged to Param & he didn’t move the jeep since being parked on day 1. With all machines starting fine, we decided to have dinner & head to our rooms & called it a night.
The next day hardly few were present for 8 am breakfast & all took their time & soon the departure time of 930 had diminished & the clock daunted to be 1030am. Eventually everyone was out & post breakfast, we all did the ‘Groupie’ thingy & took few pictures of the entire group.
We started our ride down & the heavy Snowfall since last 2 days elevated the whole game. It was now time to put to test what we had learnt & the level of confidence was certainly up compared to our onward journey & we all seemed to be doing it right! Somehow this feet of no one twitching or sliding added extra weight on me & suddenly i had become way too conscious & I wasn’t enjoying it. Soon enough Shelly notices this & stops me to give sound advice & told me to let go of everything & just enjoy. His words of ‘what max will happen should you fall’ was a confidence booster & it all fell in place & i start enjoying my ride back & was able to put my inhibitions behind.
The ride back just got tougher & tougher as we progressed; there was minimum of 2 ft of snow right through & the presence of black ice(Snow coupled with slush, mud & derby – worst form of ice).
Luckily Tilak had foreseen all of this & had used his influence to get the BRO(not the typical ‘bro’, this ones’ Border Road Association) folks to clear the roads & they just swung into action at the right time. A Hitachi Excavator cleared most bits of the road for us & we just rode/drove happily ever after.
Eventually, we crossed the notorious Suki Top & it is precisely then, me & Shelly decided to fall back as I wanted to click few shots of the entire convoy from top. Outcomes the canon 70-200!
While I was at it, Shelly snapped a pics of mine & it feels good for a change when someone clicks you :P
After this, Shelly & I decided to put on our Go-Pro’s & switch to pace mode. We literally chased each other downhill & we put the impulse through its places! At times it used be Shelly fire breathing behind me & at times, it would be me! footage coming soon. We then reached Shiv Linga resorts, Uttarkhashi & our SnowStorm 2017 journey had officially ended.
We were felicitated at the Uttarkhashi Maag Mela by the SDM – Nitika Khandelwal & were then were invited to ‘Ghad Bhoj’ where the star was the Gharwali(pronounced as Ghadwali) thali.
A Ghadwali thali typically comprises of Madua Roti(Buck wheat), Pahari Rajma Daal, Sisunak Saag(a gravy made out of Bichhu Ghas), a spicy green chutney, Jhangora Rice.
Delicious would be an under statement & this gave me a sense of tradition in every bite!
Post this sumptuous dinner or feast, we got back to the resort & the ones leaving early morning for neighbouring states got busy packing while I hung out with Shelly, Kavish, Dheeraj, Lijit, Ricky, Suneer & few others. Soon enough we were greeted by the ones leaving early & all of them had just one note – Lets meet again & ride soon. This is how typically most of the biker gatherings end & some of us do meet up again.
I stayed back at Eagles Nest for couple of days & was loving every moment I spent here. I got to spend quality time with Sandeep Goswami & Tilak. I got to learn so much about the kind of work Old Fox does. He’s an Aeronautical Engineer by education & a consultant for several prestigious firms. He even reviews most of the new bikes for xBHP & his most recent review was that of the Bajaj Dominar.
Meanwhile, this scale of event hadn’t unfolded before in Uttarakhand & soon enough we were on print & digital media!
During 2013/14 floods Tilak was the on-ground correspondent & almost all the flood footages you might have seen were shot by him. He even helped save quite many.
Finally, Sandeep Goswami left too & it was time for me to leave as well but i did do a couple of things ranging from exploring nearby eateries, Leopard spotting at night, Off-roading/exploring a new circuit & some Bird Photography.
And I until my next blog, I leave you all with the ‘Great Himalayan Griffon’.