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The road to Almora - Uttaranchal - India
Thursday, 06 September 2007
After a relaxing stay in Champawat we hit the road for Almora in Uttaranchal (Uttarakhand). This Indian hill station is known as a place where many travellers / foreigners stay during the monsoon. At least somewhat bigger than Champawat and probably with a few more (shopping) facilities. The road to Almora was quite eventful to say the least. It’s only a 120 Km stretch but in this region you’re pretty fast if you can reach an average of 20 Km/hour. Being here with a truck in the monsoon brings about a whole new unprecedented dimension to our trip!

They day we left Champawat hill station the weather was excellent, clear sky and not too warm. The road is reasonable but narrow – it’s high enough to be somewhat out of reach of the monsoon. Only a few landslides with sporadic on-going road construction. The route is one-lane so every curve must be approached with a lot of honking. The traffic here is mainly busses, trucks with a few motorcycles.

The area is pretty rural, people live an organic life and use the road for carrying grass, wood and transport sheep and cows. Every now and then small villages arise on the mountain slope, narrowing the road – making it a challenge to get through with our wide truck. At some points the road gets so narrow making it impossible to pass any traffic. Luckily traffic intensity is low!

The views are great on this route, we certainly picked the right day to travel. You’d miss out big time when it’s cloudy or rainy. The crisp air in the morning and the smell of wood fires in the morning made us think of the place at the Annapurna trek. Although much of our attention goes to the driving, some views where excellent to just stop on the road and watch.

There’s very little space too park anywhere along the route. This is A to B road, no effort is spent on parking space or rest area’s. Stopping means parking somewhere on the road or when lucky with two wheels on the shoulder of the road.

From Champawat the road goes up to about 2100 meters. Around 2000 meters it stays at this height till it suddenly drops too around 600 meters 30-40 Km before Pithoragarh. It suddenly got hot and sticky again, reminding us of the monsoon in the lower plains. Here we reached the river with Pithoragarh on the other side across a big bridge.

From here the road goes up again and gets even more narrow. With a 3m90 wheelbase and 10 tons it’s pretty intense driving – even at low speeds of 10 – 20 Km/hr. Again many small villages with people looking up on the loud roar and our frequent honking.

On the whole route we found one location to spend the night for trucking nomads like us. [N29 31 55.6 E79 58 45.5]. It’s an old part of the road wide enough for trucks to park and out of sight of any traffic. From Champawat it’s about 3-4 hours driving.

We reached Almora hill station round 4 pm and parked on the only parking spot on the Mall – opposite Holiday Home Hotel [N29 35 26.7 E79 38 49.0]. It’s a busy road so we got our share of attention. Almora is build round a hilltop with one road going round and the Mall connecting the loop in the middle. It’s just wide enough for our truck.

After a quiet night we decided to look for a place to stay on the Binsar road to Kasar Devi Temple about 8 Km from Almora. Again narrow, steep and quite a drive. After about 10 Km on this road we gave up. No place to park, even when asking locals. Hotels in Almora have practically no parking space either. Disappointed we backtracked and decided to try lower mall road. Again the same, narrow and no place to park. Till we got lucky – we found a big empty field just below a teachers school on the lower mall [N29 36 32.2 E79 39 40.8]. Unbelievable place, a big open space with no-one there!

As usual we just parked to see what would happen. After a few hours the first young boys started to appear, as it always does in India. Amazed by our presence they instantly started the inevitable staring act with great enthusiasm and determination – standing, sitting, walking round, trying to get a glimpse of what’s inside our truck. That’s how many hours can easily be spend.

Anyhow, we decided to stay anyway. It’s more quiet than the Mall road. Again a quiet night till sunrise at 6:15am. Cricket time! The same boys again now playing cricket – for about 3 hours. Somehow the cricket game was able to grasp the full attention of the Almora “lower mall road” staring crew, our truck had become a normal part of the scenery. But again you can easily safe up a huge amount of staring till later in the day after school anyway – and so they returned later in the day with a large build-up of staring being directed at us.

When talking to the staring crew it became apparent that arranged marriages are still very common here. This makes mingling between boys and girls totally unnecessary from start, you’ll be provided with a marriage partner by your family anyway. It would make things only more complex if one would meet a local girl at this hang-out. It would probably cause big problems with family on both sides later in life. Although illegal in India, a wedding gift from the parents of the bride is still normal in rural area’s in 2007. A self arranged marriage would destroy this gift for sure.

The next few days we became sort of a local event on the lower mall road. The weather wasn’t that good so prevent running low on electricity we started our generator for the 2nd time on our trip. This time Murphy’s law struck us bad – our 24V-15 Amps Mastervolt battery charger just blew up on us when the generator ran our of petrol. A straight short circuit somewhere in the charger.

Knowing how hard it is to find multiple-stage chargers in Asia we moved quickly – this charger is a critical device in our truck. It tops up our living batteries, starter batteries and at the same time operates as power supply when we need a lot of electricity. Without it we have to drive or hope for a lot of sun to get some electricity. Next day we were out in Almora parked at the only parking on the mall road – and started looking at various computer shops for an UPS as near match for a battery charger.

Again we were in for a surprise at lunch time. The intelligence squad of the Almora police decided to check us out – someone had called them they later told. It became clear we couldn’t park there and we were staying illegal in Almora. Every foreigner must register at the foreigner registration office using a CFORM. Usually when someone books a hotel this form is filled out and all is well. Anyhow, we explained our situation, the difficulties to find a place to park with a truck in Almora and our blown battery charger. In any case we needed to register first – so escorted by 5 police men in a police vehicle to the foreigner registration office. After lots of copies of visa’s, passports and vehicle papers they proposed us to stay at a 1st  class site with parking along the road to the Kasar Devi [N29 38 32.9 E79 39 46.1] temple. Now escorted by 2 policemen we drove up the narrow Binsar mountain road again.

Arrived at the 1-st class holliday Resort, called Imperial Heights - we saw a construction site [N29 38 12.6 E79 39 55.1] with a new parking freshly cut into the mountain. (It will probably  open in october / november 2007.) We saw the building site before, but then it was parked full with trucks of the construction site. The police men talked our way in and we could park in a corner. In any case this 1-st class holliday Resort has a superb view on Almora and surrounding hills. The rooms and restuarant have a breathtaking view on the valley. We decided to see how long they would let us stay here.

The next day we found a real battery charger by accident. A computer shop called “Digital Almora” run by Mr Manoj Rawat had a new ELNOVA ( 24 volt – 7 Amps Indian made charger on stock. A two stage (boost & trickle) charger with old school electronics and a big heavy transformer. Very happy with this find we bought the charger instantly – installing it the same day. Next we managed to arrange a warranted replacement of our Mastervolt charger shipped through a distributor in Singapore. Just in 4 days it already arrived in Dehli – excellent service by Mastervolt. To get it to Almora proved to be a little more difficult – DHL doesn’t ship there so we arranged a courier ourselves. Getting it ourselves meant a 500 Km drive, a stay in the heat and rain of the flatlands and finding a place to stay.

Looking back Almora and its surroundings are somewhat similar to Champawat however there is far more tourism and development. Mainly all tourists are staying on Binsar road to the Kasar Devi temple. Our encounter with the Police intelligence unit brought about a strong feeling they favour the foreigners to stay there and not in Almora itself. Parking facilities for travellers with mobile homes is fairly limited in Almora and on Binsar road– even for the smaller sized vehicles.

More later about life in Almora and Binsar road.
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