|Post Sunset sky from the Hill View Point Park, Daringbadi.|
Apart from clicking photos, traveling oxygenates me. Not long ago, I used to be an amateurish travel blogger. How and why I shifted to photo blogging is not so interesting though. Solo backpacking suits me the best. First thing that clicks my mind when I hear 'traveling' is a motorcycle ride! The truth is: If you want to be happy for a day, buy yourself few drinks; if you want to be happy for a year, get married; but, if you want to be happy for a lifetime, ride a motorbike! The whole idea of occupying the saddle for hours, throttling steadily over open roads, taking the wind-blast over my chin while watching the odometer piling up more miles, stirs me up to the soul.
Whenever I get saturated with my immediate surrounding I go for a day-ride on weekends. But it had been a while since I made my last proper motorcycle trip (In 2012, I had rode 1026 kilometers on my 125 cc Discover in 6 days visiting all popular beaches of West Bengal in proximity to Bakkhali, Gangasagar and Digha. Do let me know if you want to read that old travelogue). It's a shame that I had failed to execute any long ride in last 3 years. Managing leave from office during Christmas time was tough. But I guess, my riding starvation was tougher, stronger and definitely more intense. Even without a chalked out itinerary in mind I scooped out a week long leave. Finally it was time to embrace my Pulsar 220 and make those days count!
|It is hard to resist the temptation of cruising fast on such a wide, smooth and sparsely congested highway as NH-5.|
Don't get embarrassed if it is the first time you're reading about Daringbadi. Strangely I found out that many Odia people living in the state capital, Bhubaneswar are unaware of Daringbadi despite its recognition as the "Kashmir of Odisha" among tourists! Lying at a modest altitude of over 3000 feet Daringbadi is a tiny hill station located in Kandhamal district of Odhisa. Winter snowfall in Daringbadi is a rare occasion but certainly not a myth. No, I did not ride to Daringbadi with any expectation of witnessing snowfall. This hill station was in my travel wish list for quite some time, and very recently one of my colleagues had dragged its reference over a cup of tea. He wanted to plan a group drive. Sadly, four wheels clearly beat two wheels when it comes of catching the taste of majority of road lovers. Although I didn't dampen his travel enthusiasm at that point, I exactly knew where to ride next.
Daringbadi is well connected through good roads with Bardhaman (my hometown). G-map showed a distance of around 710 kilometers which comprised mainly national highways. Neither I had rode to hills before, nor did I ever clock more than 300 (may be 320 at most) kilometers in a day. I avoid riding on highways after the sun sets. My rational self convinced me that munching 700+ kilometers in a winter day (when sun rises after six and sets by five) wasn't doable. So, I had to break my journey and pen down a proper riding plan.
|You can still recite, "Woods are lovely dark and deep..." when you're at Daringbadi.|
After several last-minute alterations, my five days ride itinerary turned out to be:-
Day 1) Ride from Bardhaman to Bhubaneswar. Overnight stay in Bhubaneswar.
Day 2) Local city ride in and around Bhubaneswar. Overnight stay in Bhubaneswar. Local sightseeing included- Dhaulagiri, Nandankanan Zoological Park, Udayagiri and Khandagiri caves.
Day 3) Ride from Bhubaneswar to Daringbadi. Exploring Daringbadi and an overnight stay.
Day 4) Ride from Daringbadi to Barkul. Boating on Chilka Lake. Overnight stay at Barkul.
Day 5) Return ride from Barkul to Bardhaman. Ah was it a goodnight sleep or a riding hangover that soon surrounded me?
By the end of Day-5, I had totaled 1820 kilometers, covering 622 kilometers in the last day. By now you must have realized that my solo ride to Daringbadi is getting lengthier than usual photo posts and culminating to a motorcyclist's diary. Well, for the sake of old good days shouldn't I let it be?
|Daringbadi is such a hill station where you'll get easily disappointed if you travel with the preformed mindset of sightseeing.|
Here I'm narrating my ride story of Day-3 only so as to keep your focus locked onto today's primary subject- the "Kashmir of Odisha". Don't worry, photos of Dhaulagiri, Nandankanan Zoological Park, Udayagiri, Khandagiri and Chilka Lake shall be blogged subsequently as separate photo posts with a promise of keeping them textually short. From the hotel I was staying in Bhubaneswar, Daringbadi was 244 kilometers away (as per G-map). None of the hotel guys seemed to have any idea of the route to Daringbadi. The map had told me how to go but my query was different. I wanted to know, "From where does the uphill road start?" (Remember, it was my first attempt on hills?)
Without clearly knowing what I badly needed to know, an easy 244 kilometers was long enough to turn me over-speculative. I checked out of my hotel at 5:25 am and it was so damn dark outside. Pulsar's headlight fell short against the hindrance in night visibility posed by my helmet visor and the thin December fog. For the first time I wasn't enjoying the driver-friendly contour of NH-5. Cruising past sleepy trucks was no more enjoyable. A poor visibility can really kill the fun of riding and mess up with the confidence of a rider. I kept cursing myself continuously for leaving Bhubaneswar before the crack of dawn.
|The setting sun at Daringbadi was very kind to me. He painted the sky with picture-perfect hues.|
After riding for half an hour I felt like checking the route map once more. Just when I stopped the motorcycle and took the mobile phone out of my trouser pocket, I got a call from some unknown Bhubaneswar land-line number (what a coincidence!). It was the hotel reception guy on the other side, "Sir, I think you've left your backpack in hurry." All of my clothes, food and other regular stuffs are packed into saddle bags, while most valuable items like documents, extra cash and the camera are put in the backpack. Now you know the worth of that backpack right? There was a current of mixed emotions that ran down my spine. I was shocked, relieved and at the same time angry with myself. I was already 30 kilometers away from Bhubaneswar and it was still dark.
Stick to the awesome NH-5 till you get a prominent right-turn at Nirmaljhara (roughly 112 kilometers down Bhubaneswar). It is hard to resist the temptation of cruising fast on such a wide, smooth and sparsely congested highway. Thankfully, my Pulsar is wobbly beyond 120 km/hr mark. You have to keep restraining yourself every minute by repeating- "Speed thrills but Kills". The black tarmac narrowed considerably as I took SH-30 but it was decent enough for riding. From thereon every local people will be able to provide you the route guidance for Daringbadi but you won't need any help in most part of it, if you simply remember names of few places in correct order- Khallikote, Aska, Sorada, Gazalbadi and finally Daringbadi.
After you cross the Rushikulya River at Kalasandhapur, NH-59 will take you to Daringbadi (about 82 kilometers from there). Till Sorada, Rushikulya River shall accompany you. Beyond Sorada, heavy construction work was on progress. Riding on sand and gravels was not only time consuming and risky but also quite exhaustive. Steep uphill climb with sharp turns started 30 kilometers before Daringbadi. I could feel heavy breathing and occasional panting of the 220 cc dtsi engine. After all, its rider was a rookie on the mountain too!
|A large Hanuman statue will welcome you before you cross the Rushikulya River and enter Sorada.|
It is a broken, yet picturesque single lane mountain road through thick forest with numerous 'U', 'S' and 'Z' turns. Even in second gear rpm was mostly staying below 3000. The entire road had more langur population than vehicles. Sometimes I was apprehensive that they might loathe the lone rattle of my bike, but langurs of Kandhamal were real gentle-apes! Tarmac of NH-59 widened 5 kilometers before Daringbadi. Mountainscape by the side of the road got clearer the air at 3000 feet felt aromatic. There was room for the rider to breathe but not for the motorbike. The road was broader and smoother, yet loaded with frequent ascents and descents. That's how mountain roads are supposed to be.
If you're traveling to Daringbadi with your family or in a group, do not forget to book your stay well in advance; because the tourist infrastructure of "Kashmir of Odisha" is still in its rudimentary stage. There are limited options for accommodation. By 'limited' I meant only two staying options- Hotel Utopia and Deers Eco Resort. There is a NGO at Daringbadi called Jagruti which provides room on prior reservation but it wasn't my lucky day.
The manager at Eco Home showed me a ray of hope. Their dormitory cottage (5 bedded) could get vacated by evening. They do not provide the cottage on dorm basis though. You've to pay the whole amount of five beds irrespective of your group strength. On the other hand, an officer from Jagruti had assured me of a mattress to spend the night in their office hall (of course, after their office hours). I was too tired to play the broke backpacker role. So, I chose the former option of staying in the resort. Their hospitality was praiseworthy. The manager arranged for my lunch in a jiffy, took the custody of my saddlebags, explained me clearly what to see at Daringbadi while I was relishing the fish meal and finally promised to keep my cottage ready by the evening.
|There is a waterfall approximately 15 kilometers away from Daringbadi. It is a small waterfall but mostly you'll find the place free from tourists, giving you a beautiful illusion of owning a private fall!|
Although I kept the sightseeing checklist in my pocket I was least inclined to abide by it. Daringbadi is such a hill station where you'll get easily disappointed if you travel with the preformed mindset of sightseeing. Daringbadi is nowhere close to Darjeeling, Gangtok, Nainital, Shimla, Leh or Ooty. There is nothing remarkable or exceptionally great about Daringbadi that one might presume from the title "Kashmir of Odisha". It has pine forests, coffee gardens, beautiful valleys, small waterfalls and underdeveloped "food for photographer" tribal villages (opportunity to spot the most primitive tribe of India, Bonda). But then, which hill station doesn't have these natural bounties?
If you ask me what's so unique with Daringbadi as a hill station I do not have an answer. But If you need few good reasons to travel Daringbadi I can enumerate many. The drive from foothills to Daringbadi through thick forests is a sheer pleasure in itself. As I rode from Bhubaneswar I had taken the Sorada side of the mountain route to reach Daringbadi. But if you're traveling from Berhampur and taking the hills from Baliguda you'll be rewarded with the scenic drive through Eastern Ghats. Even in peak season like end-December Daringbadi wasn't crowded with tourists. My Vodafone network was non-existent and Airtel was like a thready pulse. Yet there were plenty food places and pit-shops. It is not at every sub-thousand meters altitude you'll find coniferous trees! It's not at every hill station you would find the sense of deliverance from your mundane life and claustrophobic civilization. Not being overly poetic, it is only at Daringbadi you can sit by the side of a highway and watch the setting sun while passerby natives look at you with sheer amusement for clicking such a common thing as the twilight sky!
|It is not at every sub-thousand meters altitude you'll find coniferous trees!|
|Tourists at Hill View Park busy in catching the fleeting sun.|
I rode into a pine forest and let my horse pose with those colossal trees. I visited a Government maintained coffee garden where few rabbits were busy in chewing cauliflower leaves. There is a waterfall approximately 15 kilometers away from Daringbadi. It is a small waterfall but mostly you'll find the place free from tourists, giving you a beautiful illusion of owning a private fall! I had already exerted myself enough for the day in covering bad roads, hilly roads and then in searching a stay desperately. With fatigued muscles and aching joints hiking up the waterfall to get hold of my motorcycle appeared as a daunting task. As you get tired you start losing enthusiasm even for the thing you love to do the most. My photo breaks were getting fewer.
I came back to Daringbadi to take the Baliguda road. Yes, being so close to it, it was almost impossible to suppress the itch of touching Eastern Ghats. I opened the throttle for about 25-30 kilometers till the road sign appeared "Ghat Road Starts". There was a mini zoo en route for Emu bird. I had seen enough Emus in this life. Urge for pushing over the enticing mountain roads outweighed the necessity to pay a visit to poor captive Emus. There were plenty of speed-breakers on the way. Eventually I found out, it was much more comfy to gently leap over them than maneuvering them with brakes. Cattle do return to their sheds by the sunset. So did I. Sunset had to be spotted right from Daringbadi. I rode back and hiked to the Hill View Point. The setting sun was very kind to me. He painted the sky with picture-perfect hues. "Kashmir of Odisha" had put on her magical cloak as the dusk progressed and she looked more hypnotizing than I could imagine. It was the right hour to hang my boots and straighten the spine.
|Termite mounds are common in coniferous forests of Daringbadi.|
Day-4 welcomed me with a clear morning and the atmosphere outside my resort smelled even better. After a heavy breakfast I left Daringbadi. Descending loops were waiting to taste the mettle of my two wheels. It was only then I realized for the first time how important the rear disc break was. I was already in "mission accomplished" mode and the destination for the day was Barkul. By then I had been riding continuously for four days and naturally, gathering from photo hunt was shrinking in volume. Still the sense of satisfaction kept me moving.
I came across at least six people on the way to Daringbadi who were immensely surprised and applauded at my solo venture. You might not approve your near ones if they ask for your permission to touch distant lands on a bike but the "same you" will get excited on meeting a long rider. I guess that's the mojo of touring on a motorcycle. After all there are two types of people in this world- people who ride motorcycles and people who wish they could ride motorcycles. Remember those Mark Twain's famous words: "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."? Take care mate and if you have any query regarding Daringbadi do drop it in the comment box.