25 Sept 2013

Tour Of Kangra '12 ~ post by Aman Puri

It was my first out station cycling tour and I didn't know what to carry and what to leave out. I have a bad habit of filling up my bags with everything possible, and I did the same on this occasion. I was very excited and eager at the thought of riding in the mountains, though all I knew was that I could use the 24 gears properly, which was essential as knowing the correct use of each gear assumes greater significance in mountain riding, especially during the climbs.

On the day of the departure, I found myself standing outside Himachal Bhawan with my parents. I didn't know anyone except Supratim who had gone to buy some sweets from Bengali Market due to a delay in departure. As I stood with the other cyclists, a rider came towards me, smiled  and said, “Oh! So you are Aman Puri? I have heard a lot about you!” I was quite taken aback coz' though it wasn't anything new, hearing it put like that even before the start of the tour, added to the pressure and put even more responsibility on my shoulders. I smiled back and just said, hello.
As the bus headed out towards Mclodeganj in Kangra, Himachal Pradesh, I began interacting with those sitting near me. I also took some lessons from Supratim who's a very experienced rider. Next morning when I woke up, there was complete silence as everyone was still asleep. The only sound was that of the bus driving into the mountains on a beautiful and chilly winter morning in January. We reached Mclodeganj and were to stay there for the night, the next morning being the race day. Now the event isn't actually a race, I just like the sound of the word, it’s basically an exploring tour, riding 300 KM in three days in the mountains. The next morning as I went downstairs from my room, I was in my cycling gear when Robin Grosner asked me, “Hey, you are Aman Puri, right? You ride every day? I see your posts on facebook.“ At the time, I didn’t know him, but again I was surprised and happy too, as I realised people knew me, so I didn't feel alone in the tour any longer. 
Day 1: 40 riders set off on what was to be a mostly downhill ride of 70 km on the first day. Being my first time in the mountains, I was going quite fast due to excitement, at times clocking nearly 60-70 kmph on downhill. The day went off fine as I found riding downhill easy and didn’t feel any muscle fatigue. The food was good, the butter chicken awesome and I ended up overeating as I was very hungry. It was a pleasant sight seeing the monks, and I made friends with Raghav Gangotra from Delhi, Pooja from Mumbai, Robin and Anita from Gurgaon among others.
Day 2: 38 riders started off on day 2, which was to be the toughest day as the maximum climbing had to be done. The ride started pretty late, at around 10 am and by then the sun was bright and shining, so we began slowly. We rode through breathtaking scenery of the majestic mountains in almost pin drop silence with only the sound of birds and our bike chain and tyres. Being Out There had planned the route well as there was minimal traffic towards this side of the mountains.
I made friends with Sumender, the fastest rider on the tour. He was training hard for the Leh tour and was always ahead of me at least by 40 min, while Supratim was 15-20 min ahead of me. As I said, although it was not a race, I was timing myself. So, Sumender used to be the 1st one, followed by Supratim and then me. Day 2 was a pretty harsh one and I still remember how I made those climbs. Although we started together, once everyone got into their own pace, we rode alone.
It was the last climb before lunch point, the toughest one, and I was feeling so hungry that I ate a whole box of chewing gum. I was feeling somewhat weird and still very hungry, so I looked for some edible leaves, which I guess were Tulsi as I stopped to rest for 30 min. Then Anita, my newly made friend from day 1, rode in and came to my aid with some biscuits that she was carrying along. I ate up all of them and we rode together till the lunch point, which was a very steep uphill.
After eating Maggie for lunch, I took off for the remaining 35-40 km. It became completely dark and we were riding till 8 pm or so. Then when no one reached the end point, the sweep vehicle came to take us to the BIR paragliding center where we were given rooms to stay for the night and recover from the hard day of riding 90 km.
Day 3: It was a nice sunny day again, with around 80 km left to be covered in a mix of downhill and uphill. After the 40 riders on day 1, we were down to less than 30 riders on day 3. Some riders had gone back home, some had  got injured and some had dropped out and were in the sweep vehicle to watch us riding. Since I had plans to ride the fastest on this day, I wanted everyone to go ahead so I could ride comfortably on my own. 
I was the 3rd or 4th last rider to start. The downhill was full of gravel and quite slippery as I almost had a fall in the first 10 min of the ride but luckily managed to retain my balance. But my luck didn't hold out for long as after 30 min, I had a bad fall and slipped downhill on gravel along with my bike for at least 2 meters. I was bleeding from the scratches on the knee and elbow but was happy too as it was my first cycling fall. Then as the knee began to hurt, I called up the emergency numbers we had been given. There was no signal, so I waited for 15 min for somebody to turn up, but when nobody came, I started riding.
Luckily, soon after I came across a rider from the BSF who had a medical kit. As he started administering first aid to my bleeding knee, Francis, the reporter from Sports Illustrated magazine came up. He reminded me that he had told me on the previous day not to ride so fast on downhill. He said that I rode faster than cars and now there I was getting patched up! I laughed along, saying that I had just happened to lose control this time.
The team asked me to sit in the car but for me it was just another normal injury. Then the bike mechanic from Firefox told me the derailleur was damaged and he couldn't be sure how long it would last. I decided to give it a try and started riding again, but the derailleur broke after 5 km. I was very sad as now I wouldn't be able to ride my bike and dejectedly sat in the sweep car. But when the car happened to stop after about 2 min, I just knew I had to do it! So, I stepped out of the car, wore my cycling gear again and told the team to arrange a spare bike for me. They told me that it was 6-7 km away and asked me to sit inside again, but I refused and ran till the next point with my injured knee. I was okay although everyone was giving me shocked looks. I walked/ran till the next point where I got a BSA bike, It was pretty heavy but I had to ride, so I started off slowly this time as the bike was new to me and I was scared of riding on a 1-1 gear combination, which seemed too much with the tough climbs and a heavy bike only made things worse. But I did it. 
At the end of day 3 and also the end of the tour, Supratim who had also suffered a bad fall and me were taken to the hospital for injections. It was quite bad when they used spirit to clean the wounds, but every bit worth it! The next morning, we headed back to Delhi. The Tour of Kangra was a turning point for me as not only had I gained experience in riding but also made great friends. Apart from Dhananjay and Francis, there was Rajpal who became famous for riding in formals, his son Assespal who was the youngest rider. Then there was Malhar, a techie from B’lore, two guys from Hyderabad and Adusyanti, the official photographer with an American accent, Ashish Kaul from Noida and many others. My first tour in the mountains was an amazing and unforgettable experience. 


  1. Nice and inspiring would like to go on such trips...;-)

    1. Aditya Mehra, thanx : ) n all the best for ur MTB trip soon : )