Our plan was to start at 8 AM, but what we had not accounted for was that The Himalayan Sojourn 2.0 did not have a back-up vehicle, which meant we had to load up luggage on our bikes. This very first day, it took us about 1.5 hours to just load up our bikes. In the days to come, we figured easier ways and short-cuts to this, but this was going to be a half an hour affair every morning on a riding day here on!
After a sumptuous breakfast at Hotel The Palmdale in Zirakpur, we were ready to go! There were the customary pictures, selfies and pictures of the bikes that we lined up in front of the hotel, and at 9 30 AM, we were all set! There was a route from Zirakpur towards Manali, without needing to enter Chandigarh, and we decided to take that instead of go right through Chandigarh city.
The usual route from Chandigarh to Manali is on NH 205 which was the best to take from Chandigarh. However, the shorter route from Zirakpur was on NH 105 via the famous Pinjore gardens and Nalagarh. Both the routes would join near Bilaspur, about 150 kms from Chandigarh, or 120 kms via the route we took. Knowing that the other route always sees huge truck traffic, we had decided to take this alternate route. Not the best call I have taken, I would say! The road was great till Pinjore from where we deviated towards Bilaspur. Then it started. There was slush and broken tarmac. And funnily, today wasn't even supposed to be the day where we start riding on bad roads! Haha! Anyway, some good practice for everyone, I thought to myself. But the minutes turned to hours and the odometer wasn't moving as much as it should have. We have barely done about 40 kms in the first hour, and even lesser in the next hour!
A steep incline had started, and there were no chai shops or people! Just road construction workers, JCBs, Trucks and the heat! Finally, there was a chai shop, and we took out first break.
Soon after, the road started to turn into just a track with loose stones, sand and pebbles! We even wondered if we were on the right track. Were we lost on the very first day? Turned out we weren't lost after all, and this was really the NH 105! At about 2 PM, hungry and sweating we stopped for lunch at a small roadside eatery just before entering Bilaspur town. We had done 120 kms in the past 4 hours and a half.
The thing about food up north is that it's usually always great! To me, it has always seemed that- smaller and dingier the place, the yummier the food! It was true in this case too. Yummy paranthas, dahi, lassi, paneer, and what not we belted for lunch. And then when it was time to start riding, the laziness had set in. You know the kind of laziness that you feel after a heavy meal at a South-Indian wedding on a hot summer afternoon? This was that. You crave for a bed and some shade; a ticket to what they call "jannat"!
But we had to shake it off. We were nowhere close to our destination for the day. We couldn't let the laziness get the better of us. With all this self-motivation, the journey started again!
The roads we great once we touched NH 205 a few kms ago, 2-laned, winding hill roads with great tarmac. The thrill of riding on these, you all know it! Negotiating curves after curves, the ride had started to get exciting. Despite the heat, despite the traffic, despite how it seemed like two-wheelers got no respect at all from big oncoming vehicles, we had gained momentum and each one of us was loving it! We set targets on what time we reach where next!
Bilaspur is a pretty big town, which means quite a bit of town traffic. We made it to the next town of Mandi pretty soon, for a stop at the Royal Enfield service centre. Pops' bike was having issues with the clutch, pretty serious issue. The bike was running on half-clutch even when it wasn't. As a result the clutch-plates had burnt completely. Sunil's handle was bent with VRL's transporting, and he had to get a new one fixed. What should have taken 20 minutes turned out to be a 2.5 hours affair. We left from Mandi at sundown, with 110 kms more to go. These weren't like other 110 kms that get done easily in 2 hours. These were mountains roads, running alongside rivers. With sunlight beginning to fade, we all knew we were going to need to put our headlights to good use already.
We split into smaller groups for ease to riding. Lijo and Jay had started off from RE earlier than the rest of us. Sunil & Rashmi, Shruthi, Amrutha, Pops and I rode together, while Uday, Satvik and Sai who started a little later from RE were riding together.
We did one stretch of 60 kms and stopped for chai. The roads were pretty deserted, with not many people coming down from Manali so late. It was about 8 30 and we had another 50 kms to go. The tiredness was seen on everyone's face. The thing about tiredness, atleast to me, isn't that I have rode a lot or for long hours. Most often, I get tired when there end up being too many breaks at short frequencies. For me boredom of waiting leads to tiredness.
Temperature had started to dip. We were on an incline the whole day, but with the sun vanished, and the incline becoming steeper as we were riding towards Manali, there was a significant change in temperature. Finally at 10 30, we were entering Manali.
We checked into our hotel- Hotel Pine Grove, a simple nice hotel around the main market area of Manali. The one thing on everybody's mind was food! The hotel staff were courteous enough to prepare food for us quickly despite the kitchen being closed. We had a content meal, chit-chatted about the adventures of the day, and soon retired to our rooms.
It had to be a very early start the next day. There was no messing around with Rohtang La. When I was here 5 years back, Rohtang was an absolute mess, despite the beauty of the place. Traffic was chaotic, roads were terrible. I had prepared everyone for the worst. And so, awaiting the adventure of tomorrow, we slept early. Each one had their own thoughts that night- some excitement, some anxious, some a little scared. All in all, the truth of Rohtang would be seen the next day. Good night!
Here is a short video of our ride on Day 1 from Chandigarh to Manali.