02-Sep-2005 -- After logging my first self-guided confluence point (28N 73E) on 18 February 2005, I was solidly addicted. Exhilarating, eye-opening and leaving me wanting more, cp hunting in India has become my white cross. Scoring the cp, however, was just part of an overall amazing motorcycle adventure into India. So, soon after the 28N 73E trip to Rajasthan, we began planning the next adventure.
The quest for my third virgin confluence point 32N 76E began on Thursday, 1 September 2005, with the night train from the Old Delhi Railway Station to Pathankot in India’s Punjab. Our intrepid, Hindi-speaking Wisconsinite Indiaphile, Hurricane Mike Bollom, decided that we should meander through Himachal Pradesh’s Kangra Valley, which skirts the southern slopes of the Himalayas. Thursday morning we loaded the bikes on the truck. The plan was for the driver to red-eye it north, negotiating speed breakers, cows and the odd bribe-seeking cop; the bikes would then meet us as we stepped off the early morning train in Pathankot. Then, the truck would shadow us, carrying our luggage during our point-to-point journey from Pathankot to Nalagarh. Miraculously, this worked out well yet again. After we detrained, we unloaded the undamaged bikes, fired them up and crossed into Himachal Pradesh, throttling westward. On our trips, a deep, satisfying exhalation always follows my sudden realization that I am out of the lung-choking Delhi haze. In the foothills of the Himalayas, one is immediately struck by the clean air, green-brown conifers and simple village life. On the bike (as opposed to in a car), the unpredictable smells, feelings, and sights of India draw me farther on down the next unknown road. Our goal was to ride National Highway 20 past Dharamsala and spend the night in Taragarh at a beautiful Heritage Hotel nestled among pine trees at around 3000 feet. The next day we would head south to Nalagarh and stay in another beautiful, old vestige of India’s British Raj past. Originally, we then planned to drive the short distance from Nalagarh to Chandigarh and there load the bikes back on the truck. From Chandigarh we would take the Sunday afternoon Shatabdi Express to Delhi. We chose, however, to load the bikes at Nalagarh and cab it to Chandigarh for the train ride. The loading at the hotel was easier, and we were ready to be off the bikes.
The bike group, formerly known as the Delhi Death Riders (currently under a new working title: Chasing India) consisted of Mike Bollom, Mark Lemely, Gene Harrell, Tom Lemkuhl, Piers Vickers, Scott Dow and myself. After crossing into Himachal on the morning of 2 September, we stopped for breakfast. I had been talking up this cp and a possible other (31N 77E) with the guys on the train. I had done quite a bit of research on both 32N 76E and 31N 77E using Google Earth, a program that has sprung up since my last cp visit. This cool tool allows the user to zero in on any point on earth and receive satellite imagery and the topography of a place on the globe. I am certain that this program will end up proving invaluable for the next generation of cp-hunters. My Google Earth satellite printouts showed that 32N 76E was located square in the middle of the Pong Dam Reservoir. The maps indicated that getting to the huge lake would not be a problem. I anticipated possible difficulties with getting a boat to take us to the cp in the middle of the lake. Limited infrastructure in India makes this type of concern real. I was unsure as to whether we would be able to find a motorized boat and a driver who would be willing to listen to this crazy GPS business and take us hunting for an invisible place in the middle of the water.
During breakfast, most of the riders seemed to be down on the hunt because we had a long ride ahead of us that day and the next. It seems that Mike had underestimated the distances for a bunch pansy teachers. Indeed, I experienced saddle soreness for the first time in my life. At the end of a long day, as I would lift my flattened fanny from the seat, I could feel the blood pulse through my squashed ass flesh, pinpoints of pain blossoming into a bouquet of discomfort. Trying to sit again to resume the ride was like sitting on a seat of nails. Anyway, the only taker I could get was my faithful cp-hunting comrade from the 28N 73E Rajasthani trip, Scott Dow. Sans GPS, riding a pretty but technologically fragile vintage Enfield Bullet, and always game for adventure, Scott tilted his helmet up, lifted the visor and said, “Let’s do it.” After two kilometers with the group, Scott and I calved off south onto a surprisingly wide, well-kept road. The roads south must have been built for the construction of the damn, we figured. We wound through villages, and over dry, dusty terrain. Through the ungodly heat, my GPS, neatly tucked into the plastic sleeve on my tank bag, kept trying to shut off. I had to reach into the bag and continually turn it back on as the display threatened to shut down the overheated machine again and again; indeed, it was hot to the touch. Scott and I ride well together, sharing similar speeds and agreeing on similar cruising distances from each other. We quickly fall into a comfortable road rhythm together. We stopped a couple of times, shooting pictures of valleys and funky fields of fronds. A stealthy cow leapt from a small roadside bluff and almost took Scott out. We then almost hydroplaned…or reptile-planed…over a large lizard, but he managed to squiggle out of the way at the last second. Finally, we got to the general vicinity of the reservoir. We could see it from far away. It’s big.
Scott and I drove to the southwest corner of the lake, where the dam actually sits, because we thought that this would be a likely place to find watercraft. Dehydrated and dusty, we approached the road that leads over the dam. By bored, armed men, we were told that we would not be allowed to cross over it. At this checkpoint, I told Scott that I thought I’d seen a billboard for a resort hotel adorned with a poor, hand-painted image of a woman water skiing. We decided to drive back the click or two to check it out. Indeed, there was a hotel there; it was creatively called Water Sports Complex. We shut off the engines. I walked up to the building while Scott stayed with the bikes. Inside a room with three desks sat six men, enjoying what seemed to be an all-day chai (tea) break. I asked if any of them had a boat and was free. Sure enough, one of the fellows owned a powerboat. I asked if I could pay him to take me out on the lake. He wanted to know why I wanted to go out on the lake. This is where the “fun” always starts. Up to this point, I had done just fine with my broken Hindi. Now, I needed to enter into GPS/confluence point explanation that never goes well with my poor Hindi skills and another’s limited understanding of cartography and GPSs. I began to explain as well as I could what this was all about. The six men looked at me as if I had a big turd on my head and didn’t know it. I retreated to Scott and relayed the situation. He came in with me. Scott is the Athletic Director at our school (American Embassy School) and has a number of Indian staff in his charge. He is good at negotiating the Hindi/English gap, even though he does not speak Hindi. Calm, even and expressive, Scott used my GPS and Google Earth printouts to explain the concept to these six fascinated Indian dudes. Suddenly, one of them uttered a “hey-I-think-I’ve-heard-of-this-kind-of-thing-before” grunt. He then burst into a cascade of Hindi to which the other five waggled their heads and mumbled “oh, oh” (i.e., “uh huh”). Eventually, the boat fellow, B.S. Guleria, agreed to take us out in his boat.
I use the word “boat” loosely here. Mr. Guleria’s vessel is a large wooden rowboat, spackled with chipping fiberglass. A beat-up black outboard teeters on the back with an old tube that slants into a cracked plastic fuel receptacle. Guleria’s shirtless and shoeless minion schlepped down a supply of fuel that he dumped into this red container. We were off at a speed roughly faster than that which Scott could row. Guleriaji had to adjust where our positions in the boat so that we provided proper ballast in his precarious ship. Safe this was not, but it did not matter, for we were on our way to conquer yet another uncharted point. We watched the eTrex drop below one mile from ground zero and continue to click down.
As we approached, the thought of how difficult it would be to zero out occurred to me. I’m a cp hunting purist. I need all zeros on my display if I’ve come all that way to find a cp. All the times that I’ve ever zeroed out before were on land, and on land a fair amount of dancing was involved in grabbing the cp long enough to shoot the picture. How would this work on water? My fears were confirmed. When we would hit a perfect 32:00:00.0, we would be off on 76 and vice versa. Patient and accommodating, Guleria kept throttling back and forth and in circles as the waves bobbed us around the point. Finally, we got a feel for where the point was and from which way the wind/current was coming. Scott grabbed the paddle that was wedged in the side compartment of the boat. We had Guleria motor just a bit up wind and kill the engine. Scott directed us the best he could with the paddle and then: Bingo! We were there. We shot photos, shook hands and rejoiced.
32N 76E sits in the Pong Dam Reservoir. This lake is a Mecca for birders. Much has been written on it due to its ecological importance. Jan Willem den Besten, in Birds of Kangra, offers a good description of the area surrounding the cp:
Pong Dam reservoir is 65 km from Pathankot and 115 km from Dharamsala. Nestled in the sylvan surroundings of the Kangra valley, the sprawling Pong Dam wetland has emerged as a major habitat for migratory birds in the country as also an attraction for bird watchers… Built in 1960, the Pong Dam reservoir is the only place in the country after the Bharatpur Sanctuary where the red-necked grebe descends every year. The water body occupies an area of at least 18,000 hectares and extends up to 30,000 hectares at the peak monsoon. An area of about 20,000 hectares within the radius of 5 km has been notified as the buffer zone. However, there is abundant aquatic vegetation on the lake and mixed perennial and deciduous pine forests on hillsides girding the lake to provide enough food and shelter to the migratory birds…Under the social forestry programme a large number of eucalyptus trees have been raised in the area to enable migratory birds to seek shelter on these trees.
After claiming victory, Scott and I said goodbye to our new friend and motored north again. We stopped at a small, roadside tea stand and drained a liter each of water. We had to return to the spot that we originally split off from the others because it was the best road to get back to Highway 21. From there, we headed into the hills toward Taragarh. Filthy, exhausted and triumphant, we pulled in to Taragarh Fort at 6:00PM and immediately commenced the boasting and bragging. Once again, the hunt was spectacular. I look forward to the next.