Day 5: 19th June, 2011
I love morning walks. I woke everyone up at around 6 am and went for a short walk with Varun. Varun, we learned later, is a very popular guy in his college. He is the guitarist in his college band and is a great photographer. For someone with that kind of a profile and great looks, he is really really modest and sweet. We fell in love with this guy when we first met him and were hoping that his friend who would join us in Manali was equally interesting.
After a sumptuous but delayed breakfast and an elaborate accounts settling ceremony (where sparks flew between Shubra and few others), we started to load the luggage into the car. This is when we realised that somebody had fiddled with some of our bikes which we had parked in the hospital compound opposite to the hotel. Some tyres were deflated and some stands were unscrewed. So, we decided to split. I tanked up again and stuck to the group that went ahead. Another group stayed behind. We did not take many stops, but were mesmerised by the beauty of Himachal Pradesh and by the hospitality of the people here. We crossed numerous streams, beautiful forests, winding roads, rafting zones, river crossing and other adventure activities, restaurants by the side of the rivers, lots and lots of tourists and lots of excitement. A little before Kullu, the road threw us into a tunnel that was about 4.5 kms long. This tunnel should have been very exciting, but I was freaked out. One, I was not expecting a tunnel and I had my sun glasses on and couldn’t see anything properly. Two it was two way without a median and there were hardly any lights in the tunnel. It was pitch dark and only lights were from the headlights of the vehicles. Unfortunately my headlights were only a little stronger than a candle. That was one of the scariest feelings in the entire journey for me. I was too scared to leave the handle and remove my goggles. Three people were honking far more than needed and the engine noises were reverberating inside the tunnel that it made the feeling even worse. I was looking for the light at the end of the tunnel and all I could see was the head light of the vehicle coming from the opposite direction. I don’t think I breathed in those 7-8 minutes. I breathed a huge sigh once we were out of the tunnel.
The closer we got to Manali, the denser the traffic got. And believe me, the traffic jams were crazy. Practically every road in Manali was jammed and the line of cars was as long as 5-10 kms in each direction. We felt fortunate to have been on bikes as the jam was only on one side of the road and we were just zipping.
We reached our destination at 4pm which was a camp with tented accommodation at a beautiful spot. The tents were fantastic and the location was breathtaking. From here we could see the beautiful river, hot air balloons and numerous houses perched at different levels of the town. We had our lunch at a small dhaba just below the camp. We went to a near by bullet service centre and got minor servicing done. Just as we finished with our bikes, the others reached Manali. All of us got our bikes done and headed to the camp. It was love at first sight. It was very painful to move our entire luggage up the hill to the tents, so the camp manager accommodated our luggage in a warehouse close by so that we could transfer into the taxi next day. We met Ashwini (our friend from BNI) and her gang close by there. They were heading towards Leh around the same time as us.
We had quite a few jobs to do before we could retire for the night. We needed to fill up our tanks, buy cans for extra fuel, buy SPF50 and other medical supplies, draw cash, etc. About 100kms from Manali, at Tandi was the last petrol pump till Leh (which was about 325 kms from there). I learnt a good bit about SPF during this trip. Normally, I would guess that we were going to a very cold region and did not have to be bothered about the sun. I was totally wrong. As we were at greater heights, we were closer to the sun and were more likely to get sun burnt. This was a ride when I saw men bothered about their skin colour so vehemently for the first time. I learnt another lesson. Never go to a sooper popular hill station during its peak season on a Sunday. NEVER. I witnessed the worst traffic jam of my life at Manali. Much worse than anything else I had seen. The crowds were crazy. There were people everywhere. ATMs were not functioning, we needed to stand in long queues to get petrol (after a while, that also got over), most medical stores were sold out of popular products. Today was the day, we had to pick up Pat. Me, Nam, Varun went to the City Bus Station to pick him up. On the way back, Varun’s clutch plate got burnt. It was 10 in the night and we did not think we would find a mechanic. Miraculously, we did. A greater miracle was that he had a spare clutch plate. The sweet chap set it right for us at such late hours and charged a very paltry sum for it. Finally, we returned to the camp, had dinner and crashed. It had started getting very very cold from here on. We would run out of breath for the smallest effort we would spend. Washing our hands after dinner was one of the most tiring things we did.
Continue reading the Story here: The Himalayan Sojourn 1.0- Part 4- Manali to Sarchu
If you missed the previous story, you can read it here: The Himalayan Sojourn 1.0- Part 2- New Delhi to Sundarnagar