355km. 12 hours (inc stops. Approx 10 hours riding time).
The plan today was to ride from Amritsar to Chandigarh, pop into the Triumph dealership there and arrange an oil change for the bike, and then continue on to Shimla and the Hotel Chadwick View, where we have booked seven nights accommodation.
Google Maps suggested that it would take 4.5 hours to cover the 240km from Amritsar to Chandigarh, and an additional 3.5 hours to cover the 115km from Chandigarh to Shimla. As it was we were on the road for about 12 hours and it was a long, long day.
Claire and Emiel are travelling up to Shimla as well, so we all had breakfast at 08:00am at Mrs Bhandari’s Guest House, and were on the road about 09:00am. After negotiating the crazy traffic in Amritsar we picked up NH1 and started to make good progress towards Chandigarh. This national highway was three lanes wide (six in total) and we cruised along behind the Landcruiser, sitting on 100kmh, getting a little damp in the morning rain.
About midday we had a short break for a drink, and then it was back on the bike for the run down to Ludhiana where our GPS told us to leave the highway for Route 95. The traffic in Ludhaina started to get a bit manic, roadworks had ripped up the road, and my GPS chose this moment to have a fit – first repeating over and over the name of the road we needed to take, and then refusing to update the visual map. I pulled over so I could reboot the GPS, and after a quick chat with Emiel we pushed on, trading the relative calmness of the NH1 for a bit of bump and grind as we worked our way through the traffic and out onto the dual carriageway Route 95.
Chandigarh is a big city and it took us some time to make our way through it – one major road had a series of roundabouts on it and it quickly became obvious that the locals here either don’t know or don’t care about how to handle them, but we managed to steer through them unscathed and located the Triumph dealership I was looking for shortly afterwards.
Krishna Automobiles in Chandigarh is an umbrella company for BMW automobiles and Triumph motorcycles, and we parked in the BMW car park – with our motorcycle and the big Landcruiser immediately attracting attention from the staff in the showroom. Karen and I have become accustomed to the professionalism and courtesy extended by the various BMW dealerships we’ve visited during our travels, and Krishna Automobiles were no exception.
All four of us were looking pretty worn and ragged when we waltzed into the showroom, but we were quickly reclining on their comfy sofas, having a coffee and some biscuits as I explained my requirements to the Vice President – After Sales. We took a walk to the lower floor to see the Triumph mechanics as they assembled new Thunderbirds and 800XC’s straight out of the box and talked oils for a while, before heading upstairs again.
The four of us wandered across the road to the ‘Big Bazaar’ – a large, multi-storey shopping mall equivalent to what you would find in Joondalup – but even better as on the ground floor we passed a clothing store with a few Royal are fields in the window, a Harley Davidson showroom, and a beer hall selling 25 different kinds of beer. The Triumph showroom was just across the courtyard – Karen and I will have a look inside when we come back here next week.
We went upstairs to the food court and had our first KFC Zinger Burgers ™ in ages. The shopping mall was very busy, KFC even more so – full of young Indians eager for a taste of western culture.
We sauntered back to our vehicles, mounted up and headed off in the drizzle, passing a shanty town of tarpaulins and raggedly-dressed children just a short distance away from the ritzy shopping mall – a stark contrast if ever we’ve seen one.
It wasn’t long before we started up the Himalayan Highway – Route 22 towards Shimla. It was late in the afternoon when we left Chandigarh, and as soon as we started to climb up the foothills the going got much slower with the road shrinking to two lanes (total), and a lot of slow trucks ahead of us. The driving became quite frenetic along here in a dog-eat-dog style – if you weren’t prepared to risk your life and overtake the vehicle in front then you’d get eaten up by all the cars and buses and trucks coming from behind as they had no qualms about overtaking around blind bends and into oncoming traffic.
The wet and mud-slicked road surface didn’t help improve my disposition, and it was a battle of nerves to keep on pushing on, and the distance markers to Shimla ticked down painfully slowly. In Solan we pulled over to try and call the Hotel Chadwick View to tell them we were on our way – as the hotel had requested this – and to briefly chat with Emiel and Claire and see how they were going. It was almost dark at this stage and we still had about 46km to go – it was evident we were going to arrive quite late into Shimla.
The traffic lightened up a bit after Solan, but it just takes one erratic truck to ruin your day and I was constantly on tenterhooks, at times unable to see the edge of the road on my left through my rain-smeared visor, and being dazzled by the lights of oncoming vehicles. For most of the time I rode with my visor up, ingesting clouds of thick diesel smoke belched out by passing trucks.
Our hotel was a few km north of Shimla, and the road into it was broken and pot-holed. Emiel drove down the steep, twisting track first and I followed cautiously behind, tired from the long day and unable to fully sight the curve of the hairpin bends in the darkness as the lights of the bike just shone straight ahead. The track became even more broken up and it became a bit of a night-time off-road adventure ride in places.
I was relieved, and the others were as well I think, to finally arrive at the Hotel Chadwick View, but it wasn’t long before elation turned to gloom when we inspected our rooms and found out that the ‘deluxe rooms’ we’d reserved online lack basic things like showers. We managed to get upgraded to rooms that featured western toilets as the first rooms just had squat toilets, but even then the rooms were very primitive.
The hotel manager arrived in his zippy little car and he whizzed me back almost all the way back to Shimla so I could get some beer and water for the four of us as we all needed a drink, whilst his wife prepared some basic food for us. The drive back up the hill verged on the terrifying – Colin McCrae and his WRC driving buddies have nothing on an Indian in a hurry.
Emiel was asleep when I returned, struck down with the gut-rot he’d been battling with all day, so Claire came upstairs where Karen and I were, and we drank beer and chatted whilst we waited for dinner to be served and which arrived at 11:30pm.
We chatted a bit more after dinner and then it was time for bed, but not for sleep as first Karen got the heebie-jeebies from a big spider in our bedroom, so we shifted to another bed in another cubicle in our odd apartment, and there she got attacked by bed bugs or something, so it was after 02:30am before we finally settled down to sleep.
It had been a very long day, but I was pleased that we’d managed to get some things organised in Chandigarh for the bike. I would have preferred to have reached Shimla in daylight to have enjoyed the scenic view on the way and to have had a safer ride – this road features in the TV series “Ice Road Truckers – World’s Deadliest Roads – India” – and having ridden it in the wet and the dark I’m happy to tick the box and not do it again.
Tomorrow we’re going to relocate to another hotel – the Chadwick View isn’t turning out to be the relaxing locale we had anticipated, and none of us would survive a week here.