The idea was brewing up from the days of that ineffaceable journey to Siam, the inner turmoil was strangely similar in both of us. We needed a relief from this mundane routine, which led to a vague outline of our next journey, actually three of us; the motorcycle was the third inextricable partner.The hesitancy was amidst two of the great Himalayan road journeys, whether Ladakh or Spiti. Although alien to both of them, a little exploration led to affirmation of Spiti valley as the purpose of our ride (the low volume of traffic, an aversion towards unexplored regions and the formation of loop that made us enter from (Shimla – Kinnaur) region and make an exit from Manali).
The summers in Northern plains of India are the next worst thing to it’s yellow journalism and they are surely the backdrop of our first day. We were fully loaded with a firm resolve to tackle anything – the saddle bag was comfortably set upon the seat, the backpack bungeed on the custom back stand, the rucksack was to be carried by the pillion and the action-cam firmly placed upon the helmet.It was six O’ clock in the morning, the daylight was already bestowing upon us its full intensity, when we started, the first stop came shortly after, to fill up the fuel tank (some hazy and muddled morning faces welcoming us or mocking the fools; who knows). The early morning is the ideal phase of the day to ride, with low traffic, cool and gentle breeze and an expanded vision, if the machine is maintained properly, you can cruise through at a constant pace without any irking. The summer fields flooded throughout as far as you can see merging with horizon for rice plantation (the nemesis of groundwater as far as ecology is concerned), an unruly bull and some sporadic daybreak workers are your first companions on the journey.
The Grueling One (Shimla District)
The first ease up stop was at Hoshiarpurian da Dhaba, just before Ropar city, a little tea break to ease off a bit, but the odd stares were little discomforting, albeit justifiable, as you don’t see many people, all packed up in jackets and gloves with strange things on their helmet in this sweltering heat. We went through Baddi and entered Kalka on the Shimla highway and were in for one of the worst track, the road was under construction, the traffic unbearable and driving etiquettes that are accorded from hell, reached Solan somehow and took a break at an oddly-high priced eating joint. When we were about to leave, the clouds trailing us were all ready to burst upon, our initial reluctance to cover up the luggage with tarpaulin costed us a free bath, but yielded us a skill to work with ropes in a jiffy, all packed up in rain-coats, our luggage secured, we decided to continue further in pouring rain, bypassing Shimla city we reached Sanjauli (a suburb of Shimla so pretty esthetically), the rain was in no mood to spare us and now the fog was its new partner in crime, a traffic jam before Narkanda made us feel like a dummy because of the ogling stares, directed upon us, from the folks stuck on the other lane (till date the reason is a mystery; and no we ain’t that hot looking either). The weather lightened up a bit after Narkanda as we started to descend towards Rampur Bushahr with ravenous Sutlej river now accompanying us, the bike was running fairly smooth and we reached Rampur comfortably, the plan was to call it a day but it was very warm in juxtaposition to what we had left behind, so we consented on going on further ahead and layover at a cool high altitude place, we took our next break at jeori for fuel (after this little town the quest for the fuel station becomes a real vexation , and they will get as scarce as hen’s teeth).
There was a little discussion to call Jeori the last station of the day but a weird instinct took us ahead in quest of a little town called Sarahan which is about 14 kms offset from main track, now the first 7 kms were pretty steep ascend and the queer part was that there was no road (if you can call a path paved with unevenly placed quarry stones a road).
In these adversities we forgot that we are in the apple basket belt of Himachal and are engulfed by apple trees all around, it took some time but once acquainted with our surroundings; the beautiful mountains, the sun beyond horizon, but still a vague shimmer in the sky, the local red-cheeked kids and those apple trees, we realized what divinity would look like and what the quest should be, the distance covered was almost 450 kms, a record (not a big believer of records though). This little town is a home to a holy shrine called Bhimakali (one of the shakti peeth dedicated to goddess Durga built in sutlej-valley style architecture), hence the majority of dhabas are vegetarian, we got a room at a guest house (plenty of them here), ate veg momos in dinner, somehow reluctantly and dropped our bundle. The next day started with evident fatigue and aches, though they receded themselves after a while. We loaded our luggage, had a breakfast of paranthas with rajma, vegetable, curd and some coffee at a small joint near bus stop – now the food is getting pretty good in flavor and generous in quantity as we are moving away from commercialization, the dilemma of owner’s girl to get cola she was requested for, was one comical event – an utterly bewildered face, like “what strange thing they have asked for? what does one do with it!”
The Frail Borders (Chitkul)
The last inhabited village on Indo-China border – Chitkul, was our next target and it lured us into Kinnaur district. We left Sarahan, passed the tacky stretch and after a while we’re on a rather smooth road, wonder if hydro power projects are the reason (bet they are and its working fine), en-route met some curious people – a lone cyclist on a Himalayan journey, an unaided son of motherland on motorcycle with a big Indian flag wavering on a special post on his bike (he was in some doubt and bought us to halt, to conform if his handmade map is taking him along right way, as far as we knew he was on fair track and as far as for him he was in a haste).
Moving past Sutlej valley we entered Baspa valley at Karcham, the road conditions worsened ahead, after crossing the Truss bridge, you won’t encounter any human dwelling till Sangla, there is an ascend in altitude, the road gets narrower, curves are blind and sharp, there are no guard rails and Baspa river flows by in a deep gorge as your right side companion (also, use of horn on road curves is better rather than its constant honking in a river bed). At Sangla, we stopped for lunch and noticed that our uncanny attitude towards riding gloves had presented us with sunburns on the hands (and they ain’t called burns without any reason).We had chowmein and mutton momos for lunch, our server Sonu was one busy man that day.
After Sangla the road condition starts to get bit better, the valley widens up a bit and the aftermath of a landslide that changed the course of the whole river could be seen, it flows through a jungle now – ‘those pines are still wondering why the land below them is always so wet and wiggling. A glacial stream from the wide valley overlooking a village, an artificial watercourse, proximate bare peaks, all of them are reason enough to trigger the aesthete in oneself.
There is an ITBP security post some kms before Chitkul (a customary check) and boom here we are, the closest we ever had been to China.Instead of going into village, we went down towards river first and were mesmerized finding a camping site there, got ourselves a tent in a snap. The village itself is like any other mountain dwelling, a temple, a school, local men playing cards whilst smoking bidis, the houses built in typical style (the ground floor being used to store wood and fodder in majority), there are few home stays (felt a bout of guilt when out of sheer curiosity we jaywalked into a home stay, got a very warm welcome by the duo of sisters, but had to break their heart eventually), back at camping site there were more occupancies, there was a routine bonfire in the evening – met a peculiar group of people here which included some wanderers, some stoners, a soul-hunter, amateur photographers in the pursuit of milky way and a local elder who never in his happy life had traveled outside Himachal. The night was disturbingly cold, which was worsened further by precipitation inside the tent. The chit – chat of an excited group broke our sleep earlier than usual, the sunlight made everything around alive and vivid, shining on golden pinnacles making them worth a treasure hunt and we planned the itinerary for the upcoming journey, heeding advise of a seasoned traveler.
The inferno (Nako)
We started bit early from Chitkul, had breakfast at Sangla, Sonu was again a busy man. The plan was to reach Nako by the day’s end, from Karcham we’re on NH5, the tar was burning like infernal fire, whoever says mountains have fine weather, hasn’t tasted much of its sunshine. After crossing Shongtong bridge, you’ve got sutlej on your right side and at the next station – Powari, there is a priceless fuel station, though you had to be extremely lucky to get fuel here (either it’s out of stock or there’s a maintenance issue), we waited here for almost 2 hours, as the pump had malfunctioned and decided to move on after a while, seeing no ray of hope. There is another pump in the vicinity at Reckong-Peo just 7 kms from main highway (the reputation it holds is also not a decent one), you will get fuel station at Kaza after this (which is more than 200 kms away and could be stretched up to 400 kms because of the off-track destinations in the way, so get yourself some reserve fuel), due to lack of time, Kalpa had to be skipped altogether. The drive till Spillow is a smooth one (an easy toggle between third and fourth gear), a little break here, a broken patch there, but after crossing Spillow get ready to rock and roll, for your own Mad Max – Fury Road reloaded experience, throw in some army trucks, a group of over enthusiastic off-roaders, a 30 kms long track of gravel and dust (you have your custom made death road). Asking for a pass from a bus or a car is next to death wish, in this case army trucks were pretty cool; a single honk and they will let you pass. There was another code-red situation at hand, the saddle bag got torn along its seams at various places due to bumpy ride, but the extra rope came in as a saviour and secured it comfortably again.
The confluence point of Spiti and Sutlej is called Khab Sangam and as soon as you cross the bridge, the whole scenario changes, bloody everything is brown, the river, the mountains, the river bed, the landscape, sun – each and everything had that gritty yellowish-brown tinge, except the road, which albeit properly maintained is a bundle of an infinite zig-zags
(Now especially in case of two wheelers, always try to go through outer radius over any kind of bend in mountains, it’ll provide you a smoother and balanced transition without much need of braking, rather than turning around shorter radius, there is always an aversion to risk in latter case, either to lose balance or come to a sudden halt).
We reached Nako by the evening, straight away went to a camping ground situated above the lake, but the price of a single tent was enough to give us nightmares for quite a time, in the end sense prevailed, found ourselves a guest house in the village and were instantly told, to order in advance if needed anything special in dinner by our animated host Mr. Raj (Two chickens were taken out of existence that day, to satiate our fancy).
The village is little different with its little nooks and corners, numerous jumbled up lanes and amiable residents, who are a little protective about their lake which they proclaim as holy.
The water-body could be better termed as a pond rather than a lake, it is small, clean and surrounded by wild willows, is useful to locals and their cattle, also part of the village is situated on its bank. The plan to visit the old monastery situated above the village had to be cancelled due to time constraint and fatigue. The next morning was an unbearable one, a sudden bout of headaches had entrapped us both, the situation got better after tea, here we met a group from Kerala, they were goofing up a bit with google assistant yesterday night but turned out to be pretty warm and zealous people, they were on a photography expedition, got an invite to visit Kerala, which although we visited some time back, the real “God’s own country.”
The Mummy (Gue)
We left Nako to pursue in search of the mummy, but encountered a group of asshole-bikers instead (never overtake on curves, blow your horn or flash a dipper before overtaking and please use your rear view mirrors before coming to a halt) – “these roads and terrains are made to ride safely, not to compete in a moto-rally.” Photography is strictly prohibited in the region because of the proximity to China, we learned it hard way at the police check-post (a random event of photography prohibition turned into an issue of national threat). After check-post there is a small bridge and from here you turn right from the major road, towards Gue, be alert or there’s a high probability to miss it, after the turn, the river suddenly turns black in colour (not black and beautiful like Yamuna in Delhi, but in a wild, untamed way), shale mountains are loose and bare and as we moved further, the wild rose shrubs became abundant – “no matter which turn you take in these mountains, always be prepared to witness something completely different and enchanting.” A keen observer may notice that as tough the conditions are, one will still find folks working for the amelioration of road (whether its construction of road, cleaning debris and small stones, marking of distance or some random man warning others of any hazard ahead).
The Gue monastery is situated above the village, here you will come across the strange phenomenon of nature – The mummy, “the mummy, as told by locals is of a hermit who took a samadhi to fast and perish himself, so the village can get rid of scorpions, it was infested with.” The mummy was found in 1975 during an archaeological excavation in the region and was found to be more than 550 years old, the monk’s name was Sangha Tenzin and he was 46 years old when the process started and it took him 3 Years to solidify into this living fossil with his Skin, hair, nails and teeth intact, albeit believed by locals that he is still alive and is in dhyana, there’ll be a second coming. Even stranger than the mummy were the borosil glasses in which we were served tea at a joint here.
The Primordial (Tabo)
The foundation was already laid for an ancient Himalayan expedition, hence our next stop was Tabo, the ride conditions were better after Gue, the road is wide enough, maintained aptly, it is somewhat plain with minimum contours and manageable bends, the valley outspreads itself and the motorcycle pays its gratitude to the surroundings, as now it can drink less and drive smooth.
Tabo or (Tabo Chos – Khor) monastery is the oldest still functional buddhist enclave in Himalayas, dating back to 996 C.E, founded by Rinchen Zangpo on the behalf of king ‘Yeshe-o’ of Western Himalayan kingdom of Guge.
The monastery has large number of frescoes displayed on the walls and a priceless collection of Thumkas (scroll paintings). The Mahakala Vajra Bhahirava (Gon-Khong) temple is forbidden to ordinary visitors, as is said to be the temple of fierce deities and can be only entered after a protective meditation (though we who travel upon Indian roads, are always under a protective spell).
Tabo caves are artificially excavated hollows, used as dwellings, place of meditation by monks, to overcome the harsh Himalayan winters (the splendid limits we humans resolve to, for existence), such caves are spread all over Himalayas.
The next odd 25-30 kms are pure outer-world experience, one of the most beautiful stretch of road human can travel upon “the valley prodigiously wide, the serpentine road making its way between cluster of pinnacles, a group of denizens gathered for a cricket match, the gushing Spiti in a haste to reach the ocean, wind defying bushes and one marvels upon what kind of emotions mountains are capable of kindling in a human soul.”
The Abyss (Dhankar)
About 40 kms before Kaza, there is a right turn that takes you through a twisty road to an ancient village, situated at an altitude of 3894 m (12774 ft). The village is a unique concoction of cliffs, monasteries (old and new), houses on the cliffs and in the pit – nestled together, an ancient perishing fort settled on a cliff top (Dhankar served as a capital of Spiti kingdom in 17th century). We went to fort straightaway and then got ourselves a nice and cosy home-stay on the cliff, it is managed by the ladies of the house – ‘the life here is not so easy and served on a platter as we – the urban population are used to, the water is precious and is fetched bit by bit from a distance, the public transport is non-existent, hence the resources are difficult to accumulate but the adamant, always smiling, chirping attitude of locals makes it one pleasant place.’ We saw our room, didn’t even untied our luggage and were straightaway set upon the trek to the lake, which is 40-50 minutes steep ascend from the village. Although it had been a weary day, still we climbed the hill very swiftly overtaking others, especially a group of young Israeli’s (two sturdy-stout Indians get better of a battle trained group and it feels pretty good, hahaha…), the lake is set along the backdrop of a breathtaking landscape, the calmness and tranquility of the place transcend oneself to another realm (once everyone left and only we were left there).
While, returning, we darted back (don’t know what took-over us that day) and were back at the village in a haste – tired, lost in the thoughts, contemplating over an estranged, a reverie, “gazing in the abyss – it gazing back at us”, the confluence of Spiti and Pin (crazy amount of rivers meeting each other), a gloomy twilight and the spell was broken by two cheery local ladies – “Boys, why are you two staring in the valley dazed and confused? We noticed you two from far away, a little giggling and rest it was jovial conversation”.
Back at our room we were joined by new neighbors, a group of boys and a bunch of Israeli girls – now a common bathroom is a real pain in the ass under these circumstances, the dinner was served early and in the kitchen itself – rajma, rice, a vegetable and tingmo (a dumpling without any filling) , majority of people we encountered in the valley were vegetarian (monks, ghumpas, sermons, religion, scarcity – the reason could be any of the above). “Counting stars or spotting constellations under a mystical sky, sitting atop a cliff, surrounded by glowing opaque clouds, humming along Zeppelin – well if this can last a lifetime.”
The Colours (Pin valley)
The gruesome headache was back again next morning, butter tea did the job this time, had our breakfast and were ready in a flash because we had forgot to untie our saddle bag yesterday (another part of the nation and perhaps it would have been good-bye sweet bag, but here you can rely upon the course of nature, you are not responsible for everything). A little guidance can save you many miles, which we also saved that day, an alternate route was suggested by our hosts and in an instant we were on NH505. A trail on the other side of the river was running parallel to us and three Royal Enfield – Himalayans could be marked, not so much by vision, as by their standard – standing riding posture (a custom posture inherited by each and every Himalayan rider we encountered en-route). Next it was us who were on the same trail, as it takes you to Pin valley (land of colorful mountains, blue goats, ibex and snow leopards), any expectation to get a paved road is shattered as soon as you enter the gate welcoming you, it was familiar – gravel, mud, dirt trail again. The little glacial streams bought into existence by sun and muddy snow, the colorful valley, a grazing cow and green fields transfigured, even what we encountered in past few days, there are few villages in the route and the last village of this route is Mud albeit, you can trek into Parvati valley from here. It was touch and go for us, we were back on our way to Kaza.
The Circuit (Kaza – Langza – Kaza – Hikkim)
We reached Kaza in the afternoon, filled up at world’s highest petrol pump (While you wait in line, keep your calculators ready or your abacus skills might come in handy, as there is only an analog meter on the pump, which measure the volume, but still you’ll pay less than plenty of other places in the country), had some espresso shots at a cafe, tried to map the next portion of journey (because it gets tricky after Kaza, as when you go for the (Langza – Hikkim) circuit, you have bundle of options (either come back and stay the night at Kaza; stay at someplace falling in the circuit; complete the circuit, visit Key and back to Kaza; complete the circuit and move on to Kibber or Chicham via Key). We chose the last one but there was something else in fate for us, we wandered in Kaza for a bit and left for Langza, the road is a gradual lonely climb but an occasional blue mountain goat or an ibex can accompany oneself.
Langza is a cold deserted grassland, a statue of Buddha overlooking upon whole valley, still in the ether – “why one suffer? How to end the suffering? The noble eightfold way – true understanding, right intention, correct speech, right action, proper livelihood, meticulous effort, right mindfulness and pure concentration.”
But the boys weren’t that lucky, just after Langza, on the way to Kaumik (the highest motorable village in the world), the clutch wire gave up and the location can’t be better than this, just inches away from the highest motorable village (a foolish mistake, it felt like a thirsty soul lost in ocean, surrounded by water and yet you can’t taste even a trifle), you don’t have a spare clutch wire and now you are back to Kaza, without working clutch on a deadly, curvy and lonely descend, although reached down in a single piece at-last but luck wasn’t with us that day, back in Kaza the traffic police was super alert (they had to check the documents), (when you don’t have a functional clutch, just go along a descend and put it in first gear or someone had to push the bike if the road is plain. If you have to start it on an ascend or you have to take a turn then its whole together a different scenario, just pray to get into that super-saiyan mode or if you can manhandle the machine, tis the moment, will even save ecosystem). If you are in a hunt for a mechanic, go back into the city from fuel station side, keep left, another left, right and straight, you have arrived, on left there’s a mechanic shop under wanderer’s nest. One can encounter strange happenings at a mechanic, in such a place (broken rims, broken shockers, broken spirits, know it all preachers, guidance debris and know not what-else), the clutch wire installation didn’t take much time, we got ourselves an additional piece each of accelerator and clutch wire this time. Being on a tight budget and Kaza being fully packed in the peak season, it was decided to move up again and stay at Kaumik or Hikkim, by the time we reached Hikkim it was twilight, we encountered only a monk in the way, baffled a bit, we searched for a place the entry of the village, but rejected there, searched further and in the end got a room at a home-stay cum dhaba, it is managed by a colorful man ‘Raju’ (district – Gaya, state – Bihar) and Tsedup.
The view from the room was nature’s own canvas, the weather was colder than Dhankar, along usual gossip we had our dinner, were informed that the toilet is not the kind we are accustomed to and the hole in the corridor take humans to the lower floor of the house, where the family resides.
Highway To Hell (Hikkim – Key – Chicham – Batal)
The source of headache i.e. low oxygen level and high altitude was diagnosed and taken care of (we had the medicine with us all the time but in our puny mind, culprit was fatigue all the time). After the ceremonial posting of postcards back home from the world’s highest post office at 7:30 am in the morning (the post-office serves both as, residence and office of the postmaster – an easy-going and friendly guy, as who cares about any business, at 7 in the morning).
We reached Key monastery situated on a hilltop pretty fast, parked the motorcycle, gave the monastery a quick glance (most of it is bolted for visitors) and were away to Kibber (the beautiful wildlife sanctuary is named after the village only, there is an austere 3 day trade route – trail to Ladakh from this village).
We bypassed Kibber and passing over Asia’s highest bridge (situated at an altitude of 4037 m, the Chicham bridge is a suspension bridge built over a gorge more than 1000 ft deep).
We took a stop at Buddha cafe in Chicham, had an electrifying bout of carrom-board alongside mutton momos and milk coffee, local kids with ruby-red, stout cheeks cheering us (you will find a primary school and electricity in each and every village of Himachal, no matter how remote the region).
Our bike shorter of breath, the hunger for torque increases on climbs, at the same time low Oxygen level messes with the fuel combustion and when the surroundings are so desolate you are bound to get lost not physically albeit metaphysically, the river is lonely and the earthen mounds are as big as towers, next we passed a village called Kyoto (not a single geisha we caught a glimpse of), you can forget asphalt or tar, whatever you are accustomed to for next 2-3 days after Kyoto and take out an extra jacket or inner else the wind is strong enough to split a human in two (Oh, the thrill of baring it all to wear extra clothes on the road in middle of nowhere), had a coffee at Lossar (the last village of Spiti valley ,here fill up your credentials at the police check-post).
Kunzam pass we are coming – “the thrill, the proximity to road, the intimacy with the surroundings, the holy triangle formed by your point of contacts with bike, when you are gliding just 5 inches above road, anywhere you can go and you wonder why bother flying humans, this is the little trick.” Next thing you know, you are riding on a mountain pass, riding through the mountain pass, through the mucky snow, it’s raining, the customary round around the roundabout of Kunzam Mata temple (even HPRTC buses get themselves blessed by taking a round), the sheep herds, the shepherds, a sheep dog, a road blockage ahead and the trance was broken, you both realize you haven’t talked to each other for past 2 hours. It took an hour to clear the road, while we were stranded without any shelter in a blistering cold rain and wind.
The next station was Batal, we got ourselves a bed each in the PWD rest house (if you can pretend mattress to be bed, then nothing else matters), we were the only people in the rest house – the only solid structure you will find for miles in any direction.
There are few makeshifts structures in Batal which provide both food and shelter, we went to one of them called Kangri dhaba ran by a group of men from kangra district, there were two more riders who had come from Bharmaur side through Sach Pass (this stretch is one of the world’s most treacherous), a jolly Britisher and a group of drunkards. We were planning on to visit the Chandertal lake and return by night time but were advised against it, as the route includes two water crossings (called pagal nallah or mad streams locally). By the evening the snow melted during the day time increases volume and flow both of water many folds. So here we are seating in an ancient inn, entranced, adventures of multitude of personalities; a firang in a midlife crisis, here out of a reason he doesn’t want to recall or due to fine images, plants can evoke in you, a duo of shepherds, too busy with their bidis (even wrinkles on the face of the older one resembles contour of the region), very friendly hosts, two inquisitive boys and a stream of continuous glacial water in the kitchen backside but the climax to this dramatic day was the entry of a holy, vegetarian (even garlic is forbidden), death-defying daredevil family; at 10:00 pm a horde of 4-5 men, 7-8 women and a mysterious amount of little ones entered the establishment, they were coming from Madhya Pradesh and were advancing towards Kaza, all this in one go (sane humans don’t travel on these routes, insane ones choose day light and there are some cosmic beings like this family who prefer hours of darkness). At night, still, we were the only two in the rest house, without electricity, the howling wind so fierce, it can make one repent his follies hahaha… , far away a lumber in a dreamscape.
Highway To Hell Continues (Chander Tal – Manali)
We put away our luggage at Kangri dhaba and left for Chander Tal early morning next day, the conditions were even worse on this track, hardly after few minutes we encountered the first water crossing, just as we entered, the adrenaline kicked in, elevated the senses, a bit of hesitation and we were on the other side. The road is pretty uneven i.e. elevated and broken in the middle and sunken on the sides, the other, bigger water crossing is just before the lake, here the water runs deeper but a little push from pillion and there you go. There is a camping ground 2 kms before lake (The tents here are costly, so plan accordingly) and also a check-post, after which the vehicles can go till parking, from which the lake is barely a 10 minute’s walk.
A stream called Chandra originates from the lake flowing along bed of wild flowers, marshy grasslands and the lake itself crescent shaped, hence the name (Chandra means moon in Sanskrit), the turquoise colored water with inherent calmness on the edges while rippling and shining in the middle, there is a walking trail along the bank, we spent some time on the banks, the urge to take a dip was out of bounds but subdued none whatsoever. The place is very clean, “so it’s a plead to visitors, frequenting these beautiful, fragile parts of Himalayas to keep it clean and free from litter and plastic – always carry a bag along with yourself to put away waste and try to use as much less bottled water as possible.”
We didn’t spent much time at lake, wore our drenched shoes and socks (courtesy of water crossings), returned back to Batal, ate a hearty meal of mutton, got some unsolicited advises from fellow riders coming from Manali side, dodged a puppy eye’s plea for a bike-round and geared up ourselves for the upcoming part – the dreaded one, we left Batal at 1:00 pm and the back breaking never ending journey started, after a while we encountered another water crossing, a bit tricky because of big boulders and a sudden slope, with a splash you enter the water and boom you are out, the second one was the big and daunting one but was crossed subtly (came to aid for a group of bikers who got stuck and the girls along with them were more of a liability and less of any help), the way till Chattru is clear, the Chenab hopping and leaping alongside, an odd rusty bridge and puddles are the only obstruction.
After Chattru one encounter’s some familiar greenery, gravels on the road diminish in size, there are three big water crossings and few little one till Ghumproo, one of them is especially menacing for big vehicles, especially cars as it has some huge stones, almost kind of an elevated flat platform which are real bumper killers (we witnessed three executions), the bikers fared much better (these crossings some times don’t have a solid ground to maintain traction, its all mud and river aggregates, keep the bike in first gear and don’t try to transmit to second or third gear, use both your legs to maintain the balance – a little rinse in water won’t hurt anyone or else get a pair of gum boots, don’t try to fly through them as you never know what’s in store ahead, subjugate your ego and ask for help if stuck – gallantry can be proved under suitable circumstances which, these are not).
We were told many a times that there is nothing to worry once you reach Grumphoo, but boy oh, boy! people, you have no idea, the road we just got through was nothing in front of what was in stock ahead, the traffic was unbearable in context to what we had been accustomed to in past few days (the highway goes to Leh), there was a line of trucks ahead of us and an eager group of organized expedition cars behind us, the road is paved with indigenous potholes or vice versa. Just before Rohtang we were hailed by a hailstorm, mist and eternal darkness, got ourselves into the raincoats haphazardly, the helmet-visor filled with mist had to be kept open and those hail pellets hit you like shrapnel on the face and knuckles pretty painfully. Tailgating sundry other vehicles we reached a small station Marhi at long last, had a load of hot piping tea and there was a bloody riot in egg section because of us, it was still raining, there wasn’t an inch of us and bike, that wasn’t damp, it felt queer to be back in civilization and looked like it’ll be all fine from now on, but the convenient perceptions human built on aren’t always that simple, almost 10 kms before Manali there was a traffic jam of the decade and the Indian urban rider in us woke up just at the moment – a cut here, a straight head-on tackle there, a dipper, a screeching tire burn, a policeman dodged, tailgating local two-wheelers and bang we had entered Manali.
Manali was a jam packed conglomeration of, weekend, summer vacation and football world cup, the streets were filled with people as far as the vision can go and the incessant rain was in no mood to remit the vengeance bestowed upon us, even frolic Old Manali wasn’t spared from this mayhem, the hotels and guest-houses were full (even staunch folks sheepishly said sorry and showed us the full occupancy that day), the cafes were bustling with live singing and hooraying over the world cup, we found a place to rest somehow, went for a late night dinner to Mall road (egg and tea stalls are found 24/7 here).
the torrents were over, “an evocative night-blooming jasmine scent in breeze, cicadas and crickets rhyming in the high pitch, their beholders, deodars and two boys walking in a mizzle, musing whether it was a reverie, trance or a tangible revelation.” That’s all.