Day 6: 20th June, 2011
Morning we all woke up, loaded the taxi and hit the road again. Our grand plan of beating the traffic was disrupted by 3 things: Waking up late, loading the luggage into the taxi and the queue at the petrol pump.
The bikes were all filled up, but we needed to fill the cans. Finally, we left Manali around 8am. The cars had started to form bee lines. Today, we were to cross the first pass – Rohtang Pass. We started riding up with lots of enthusiasm, unperturbed by the traffic. We took a break at a point before Rohtang for tea, leaks and for pictures. Then we hit it again. Just when I thought the traffic at Manali was maddening, we could see worse. Some of the bikes were taking time to acclimatise. The pick ups had gone for a toss, some of them wouldn’t start, others had loose clutches. We did not have a mechanic and thought we had made a mistake by not taking one with us. Pops, Mohan and Satvik were the one eyed kings here in the land of blinds. We did what we could do best and headed further. We were warned as well as assured that Rohtang was the worst pass.
The traffic was pathetic. It was crowded beyond a picnic spot. All the tourists were mugged into hiring warm clothing (that were colourful, funny and ridiculous) which made Rohtang look like a dress rehearsal for clowns in a Circus. The first sight of snow was where we could see maximum people. Our bikes’ passing was like an icing on the cake for these guys who had just woken from their slumber from their Taxis. The roads were horrible. They were just muddy paths, but thanks to the excessive rains and bad weather there was knee deep slush everywhere. The roads were this way for almost 20-30 kms. The initial stretches were scary. After a while we became oblivious to the weather and the slush. We were behaving as if we belonged there. It did not bother us that our hands, pants, boots or helmets were covered with slush. Team work was at its helm.
Somebody was stopping other vehicles to allow our vehicle to go, somebody was pushing bikes that were stuck in slush, and somebody was carrying stuff for others. Varun tried something very innovative, which blew in his face. The only way to ride in the slush is to ride right in the middle of it, where other large vehicles have already loosened it a bit. You must rip through it with your legs in the air and be prepared to either fall or stick it into the slick. Varun tried to beat this and decided to ride on the side of the road where the slush had not been touched. Already, his bike’s pick up had dropped way below the standard and his bike got straight into the fresh slush which was deeper and harder than the middle. The result was that his bike and he were in deep s***.
Me, Pat, Manju, Nam and Deepti decided to get our hands dirty. What happened in the next few minutes was unbelievable. One attempt, his front wheel was out. Second attempt, his second wheel was out and Varun was a free bird again. Amidst all this, we witnessed some drama. We had decided to ride single till we crossed the slush. We crossed it and were waiting for our pillions to come there. Everyone else returned, except Deepti. When she finally came, she hugged Bali and started weeping. A little behind there was a guy on a bike who slipped and fell off the cliff and injured himself quite badly. She ran to see that guy, thinking that was Bali. I will never really understand why she wept when she knew nothing had happened to Bali, but everyone else seemed to understand and that looked like a scene from one of the serials on star plus.
We crossed all the slush and were told the muck is all over now. That was a relief. Most tourists were coming only till Rohtang and the traffic and the crowds were slowly vanishing. The scenes were getting more and more pleasant. Just when we thought the toughest parts were over, we came across snow covered roads. These were trickier than the slush. Just when you would think you got a grip of things, the ice would melt. The tyres would skid like nobody’s business. This is where Shubra lost her cool quotient and got “psyched”. We reached Keylong fully exhausted as well as excited having done it all.
The rest of the group went ahead and were looking for a hotel, when me and Namitha were up against another drama. There was a girl who was alone in a Sumo who stopped us just before Keylong. She told us that she had come to Keylong with a group of her friends, but somebody in her group had misbehaved with her. She was scared out of her wits and did not want to stay with them. We were not clear what had happened with her or who her friends were, but she did not trust anybody – even the taxi driver. I spoke to her boy friend in Mumbai, who requested us to somehow ensure she reaches Manali. He would then fly to Manali and pick her up from there. I checked her documents and felt satisfied that things were straightforward. So, I allowed her to stay in the same hotel that we had booked. I arranged for a taxi to take her to Manali the next morning. That was a night’s sleep that was well earned.
Day 7: 21st June, 2011
As I had mentioned earlier, I love waking up early and going for a walk. Today was no exception. The sun rays from the window are the best wake up call in the whole world. I freshened up and went to the terrace. The view was terrific. There were beautiful green mountains just in front, lovely snow capped mountains a little further and numerous fields growing different kinds of flowers, potatoes and peas. I couldn’t have found a better place to meditate and meditate, I did. One of the best 20 minute sessions I had. Just as I opened my eyes, the Assistant Manager of the hotel was doing some chores on the terrace. I had a great chat with him about the locality. I learnt that Keylong is one of the largest producers of Green Peas and Potatoes. I went to the local vegetable market with him and had carrots, apricots, lichees, cucumber and some other exotic fruits for breakfast.
We started quite late and decided to reach till Sarchu that night. We crossed Darcha and then hit the Baralacha La pass which was undoubtedly the most beautiful stretch we rode on. We were warned that as the sun comes up, the ice would start melting and rapid rivers would form across the roads. This was scary. The water was fierce, the road was muddy, stony and deep. We gathered all our courage and crossed it. We braved wet shoes, shooting stones and crossed more such rivers. The pass was moderate in all respects – weather, roads, ride, etc. But the scenes were terrific. This pass had the most amazing amount of snow, beautiful lakes, many of which were frozen, frozen rivers, caves with icicles, et al. Some of the most challenging river crossings were there on this track. But by now, we had all become experts in crossing rivers, however violent and deep they were. We rode all day to reach Sarchu only late in the night.
Sarchu was freezing. By far, the coldest night we had spent. I believe the temperature that night had gone as low as -8 degrees. We found ourselves a large tent which had about 8-10 beds and another tent right behind that would accommodate the bachelor boys. That was the cheapest accommodation we had got thus far, the shabbiest, but I think most of us slept like logs.
Few more pictures of our ride from Manali to Sarchu
Continue reading the story here: The Himalayan Sojounr 1.0- Part 5- Sarchu to Leh
If you missed the previous story, you can read it here: The Himalayan Sojourn 1.0- Part 3- Sundarnagar to Manali