Challenges present you with varied emotional gradients! Do you have it in you to scale them with a singular pair of butts?
Back on Jun 09 I joined a newly formed biking group called ‘Nomads’. We were going to do a Spiti circuit through Manali, Chandrataal, Spiti valley and finally Shimla. I had to start from Dehradun while the rest of nomads were from Delhi.
Day 1 – 27 Aug 2009 | Dehradun – Chandigarh – Manali
5:47 AM: Dehradun
The freshly replaced odometer on my bike registered 317 as I set out from my house. The weather was partly cloudy and a little chillier. The trip till Dakpathar went by fuss free from here I took the Aasaan Barrage route for Ponta Sahib a small town near Dehradun, named after the famed Gurudwara itself. As I entered Ponta from a bridge over the Yamuna river the sunlight had broken through clouds making the water glitter as gold.
My subsequent destinations were Nahan and then on to ‘Kala Aam’. Ride was quite uneventful with friendly weather, wide, smooth and curvy hilly roads. I averaged nearly 60Kmph and finally took a break at Chandigarh – Panchkula highway to call on the team from Delhi. I was relayed bad news by Lovey “Mama, please get those spare tubes from Chandigarh we didn’t bring them!”. It was a surprise as I always believe in “No news is good news”. Anyway, at the moment it meant that I now have to locate tyre tubes in a city I have never been to and then reach the meeting point without being too late!’. A perfect day in the life of a traveller, I thought.
Dire times call for dire action, so I rang up a friend living at Panchkula and got prompt directions for the tyre market in Chandigarh which sounded like ‘Man.ma..’, at this point my mind was not registering anything. I thanked him for his help and moved.
9:55 AM: As luck would have it!
I was lucky the next place I stopped was a shopping complex, it was not an ordinary shopping complex! You see, it was a tyre showroom just the make of my tyres. Overflowing with ‘lucky-motions’, I parked my bike and went in. They did not have the tubes available for my bike. Annoyed with such shortish luck I might have shown a bit of frustration to the shopkeeper but the friendly shopkeeper suggested me to take this up with the MRF supplier. As lady luck would have it that supplier was nearby and he pointed me that way.
Before I could locate the Supplier I managed to find a small tyre repair shop which was just opening as luck would have it, I think this was the place Ankur suggested ‘Mani Majra’.. This small shop had more tubes than that big MRF showroom and I got one promptly. My phone rang just the time Delhi folks were near Chandigarh and asked me to meet them at Tribune Chowk
10:45 AM: Meeting at Tribune Chowk
I have just passed the TC and there was no sign of nomads. Another halt for ‘ring a ding’, and finally it figured that I had turned a little earlier at TC run about. I finally caught up with ‘the nomads’. It was my first meeting with Manish, Sid (Sid) and Jatin I had already met up with Lovey and Sudheer.
We left for NH 21a towards Ropar, till now it was an easy ride, driving nice and slow for me but now it felt that I was driving in an alien world. The NH21 was a four-lane highway passing through miles of farming lands. I could see speedometer touching 80-90Kms, still most of the time I was trailing the group probably because I was a greenhorn to biking still and these were youngsters I was now riding along with.
I have just cleared the remains of splashed insect from the visor, now through the clean visors, I could see Lovey and Sudi frantically waving hands. A road seems to break off from their standing place I realised they wanted me to take a right turn on the diversion. This was my first experience with the concept that the forerunners keep tab of back runners, I was learning the secrets of group biking.
2:00 PM: Jatin “The unstoppable”
While I stopped Jatin did not. I am playing with the half-baked info here ;) but it seems that Jatin probably thought that these guys were cheering him up to go faster and straighter, straight he go and faster he did, legends have it that it took Sid 15 Kms to tag him down.
Meanwhile, during the chase, Sid probably thought dippers and the constant horn would stop Jatin. Both made their return to the diversion a while later where we baked ourselves in that hot, busy and dusty afternoon.
The road now had turned hilly, after 20 odd Kms later we stopped for petrol. It was nearing 3pm and sun had been out the whole day warming things up. Warmth on hills is charming and I was feeling sleepy. As usual, I was trailing the group at this time there was no one in sight so made a quick decision and stopped at a small dhabha for a refreshing cup of tea. While the tea was being prepared I took the time to wash my face to refresh. In a little while, I caught up with the rest of them dozing off on a side road waiting for me.
Sid and Jatin were onto bike repairs. I inquired about my timing WRT to theirs, it was 10-15 min gap that’s an improvement if I disregard the time I spent at my earlier halt. At the moment I am sure they were not but being a novice rider I was in comparison mode keeping tabs on my driving on highways, watching them rip through and figuring out on the hills I was not shabby but then I been riding on hills for some time now.
Continuing on the NH21 we crossed the Dehar power house. At the turn ahead, we saw stopped at a hotel, food thing we hadn’t eaten anything since the morning. We managed to leave at around 6pm and from here on Manali was about 150Kms, if we skip any halts we will reach Manali by 9-9:30 PM just in time for dinner.
The sunlight was fading, so we switched on the headlamps as we continued towards Mandi. The road was not crowded I distinctly recall driving along a gorge for quite some time till we reached Sunder Nagar. The scattered light before complete sunset made the long reservoir relive the name of the town for that instance. We drove faster through Ner Chowk after which it was completely dark. We crossed the glittering Mandi at night. After Mandi the Byeas river kept us company for a good long time, that stretch of night driving was the first pleasurable driving we had the whole day. Himachal has no doubt one of the best motor-able roads, if not the best in India.
8:35 PM: Of tunnel and tunnel ditcher’s
After Mandi came ‘Thalot-Aut tunnel‘, we have heard of this technological marvel a 2806 meter long tunnel on hills. Me along with Lovey and Sudi entered it together. The first thing that strikes you inside is the unique noise, a mixture of vibrations of passing vehicles with the echoes of their exhaust note, it played variations when there were more vehicles. Now entering any tunnel is an experience in itself, but this was something novel. If one were to describe the tunnel, it was about 30-40 feet high and about 40 feet wide and for such a big tunnel, it was very well-lit, two rows of lights repeating to infinity.
I felt resistance from my body while getting off the bike, been sitting in this posture for so long. I shot a few pics lazily, and as I re-packed the camera, Sudi and Lovey had left before me. It took me a few moments to get going and through all the 2806 meters of the concrete tunnel, I couldn’t find any traces of them. My guess was those pulsar junkies must be having speed fun.
Not at a right time I thought, Aut to Manali was about 80 odd Kms. I experienced fluttering butterflies – would it be the fear of the unknown? Or was it the awareness of being alone in the dark so far away from home? Or was I hungry again? ;) I was now reflecting back on the meaning of the word adventure.
After crossing Aut the visibility declined a bit, dust specks on visor were another annoyance. Considering the flies and the cold air, removing the visor was out of the question. I kept up my pace for quite a long time, maybe about 20 odd kilometres. I strikingly recall that with every passing moment I was getting charged up with adrenaline, taking risks on overtakes and turns, in a hope to catch a glimpse of those two.
I was now enjoying myself. Darkness and cold became pleasant companions. Trees on road side were changing their place and height rapidly, the dance of leaves in the spread of the headlamp was a mesmeric driving experience.
Thankfully, with rush comes heightened senses as well and I became consciously aware of myself, watching my response under duress. To calm my nerves I halted on side of the road, switched off the bike and started at the river sparkles in the dark. I knew I didn’t have the luxury of backup as I was the one trailing. The phone showed no signals at the moment. I sat to retrospect, my Sole aim was to reach Manali and it was not too far, so for me it does not matter if it is 9 or 10:30 pm. With that thought I began to clean the visor and then pressed forward comfortably for quite some time.
10:00 PM: Manali heights
I bumped the big illuminator button on the wrist watch, the green light glowed, it was 10:10 PM. That means I must be near Manali according to my approximations. I saw an inclined road glittering with lights just ahead. Just a little further up some shopkeepers were shuttering down. I stopped in front of the one who had stopped on watching me arrive.
I was about to call Sudi when the screen on my mobile flashed, it was a message from Sudi: “V have reached Manali. Give me a call asap”. Oh so they have reached, they must be gloating, I thought. I called and from our talks it figured they are actually about to reach Manali. Wait a minute I thought ! when did I overtook them? Now that, my dear reader, was a very big question.
I inquired with the shop owner and it so happened that I was about just 1 Kms from Manali main city. So without loosing time I geared up and rode off. I kept speeding till I reached a square which had the unmistakable look and surroundings of a central place at a town like this. All day long I was trailing, come our destination, and I was the first one to reach.
Lady luck was shining on me literally! I mean all the places around me was basking in this orange glow, I looked around to check on the size of aura, and saw a high! No, very high! And very big array of lamps. I rang up Sudi and they were still ‘about to reach Manali’, as soon as I had finished the conversation I saw other nomads, Jatin, Sid and Manish approaching towards the tower from the other side. I waved hands as they saw me.
Joy, discussions and experience exchange was in full swing. By now we have attracted attention of the many hotel brokers, they were probably waiting for some late comers like us. In that slow season they took to us like a fly to a gur. One of them was way too much into it, he spoke in Punjabi, Mumbaiya hindi and god knows what not.
After 5 mins I saw Sudi and Lovey approaching from the mall road, the same road I had come from. They had taken the wrong turn in a hurry. We ordered food from a nearby joint and moved into a nice hotel. Folks took a bath and gathered to enjoy food and their share of Daru, While they discussed the route for tomorrow, and I went off to sleep.
- Distance covered – 508 Kms
- Time taken 15 Hrs
- 4 Stops
- Refuelling 750Rs