Back in Jun of 2009, I had joined a newly formed biking group called ‘Nomads’. Being cousin of the original group members made it easier for me to be known to the group. For the first trip, we decided to do a Lahaul & Spiti circuit via Manali, Chandrataal, Spiti valley and back to Shimla.
Group had 6 folks five from Delhi, Sid, Sud, Manish, Jatin and Lovey and I from Dehradun.
Eventually, the day arrived and we all left early to reach a meeting point at Chandigarh.
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 it was about 5:30 am and at this time of the day the roads are empty and the trip till Dakpathar was fuss free.
From here I took the Aasaan Barrage route to Ponta Sahib a small town near Dehradun, named after the famed Gurudwara itself.
In a while I entered Ponta from a bridge over the Yamuna River, the sunlight had broken through clouds and sun rays were falling on the river below making the water surface glitter as gold.
My subsequent destinations were Nahan and then onto ‘Kala Aam’, ride was quite uneventful with friendly weather, wide, smooth and curvy hilly roads. I averaged nearly 50 kph and took a break only when I was near Chandigarh – Panchkula highway to call on the team from Delhi.
I was relayed a bad news by Lovey “Mama, please get those spare tubes from Chandigarh we could not bring them!” I had previously asked Lovey, to bring a set of tire tubes for my bike from Delhi as I could not manage to locate them in Dehradun.
Anyway, at present it meant that I now have to source those 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.
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! The first shop I reached was a tyre showroom itself and not just that it was the same make of my tyre as well. Overflowing with ‘lucky-motions’, I parked my bike and went in. Unfortunately, they did not have the tubes available for my bike but he pointed me to a supplier not far from his shop.
Before I could locate the Supplier I managed to find a small tyre repair shop which was just opening, I think this was the place my friend suggested ‘Mani Majra’. This small shop had lot more tubes than the big showroom and I got the ones I wanted promptly well a size smaller but I was not going to complain.
Just at the time my phone rang the Delhi folks were nearing 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 them. It was my first meeting with Manish, Sid and Jatin. I already knew Lovey and Sudheer.
We left for NH 21a towards Ropar. I was driving nice and slow until now. But now I felt like riding in an alien world. The NH21 was a four-lane highway passing through miles of farming lands. I could see speedometer touching 80-90km, 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 riding along with.
We must have gone for an hour or so I have just cleared the remains of splashed insect from the visor, through the clean visors; I could see Lovey and Sudi frantically waving hands on the right side of the road ahead.
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.
Eventually, both made their way back to the diversion a while later and we all moved, the road now had turned hilly, after 20 odd km later we stopped for petrol.
It was nearing 3 pm and the sun had been out the whole day warming things up. Warmth on hills is charming and I was feeling sleepy. I was trailing the group at this time there was no one in sight, so I made a quick decision to stop at a small Dhabha for a refreshing cup of tea.
While the tea was being prepared I took the time to wash my face and hands to refresh and stop it from going into sleep again. 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 with respect to theirs and it was a 10-15 min gap that is an improvement if I disregard the time I spent sipping tea.
At the moment I am sure they were not aware but being a novice rider I was in full comparison mode keeping tabs on my driving on highways, watching them rip through and eventually figuring out on the hills I was not shabby.
Continuing on the NH21 we crossed the Dehar power house. At the turn ahead, we stopped at a hotel for a late lunch.
We managed to leave at around 6 pm and from here on Manali was about 150 km; 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 sunset made the long reservoir relive the name of the town for that instance.
We drove faster through Ner Chowk after which it was dark and we crossed the glittering Mandi at night. After Mandi the Beas River kept us company for a good while, 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.
I along with Lovey and Sudi entered it together and we were at the back of the pack.
Now entering any tunnel is an experience in itself, but this was something novel. I felt resistance from my body while getting off the bike, been sitting in this posture for so long. I just took out the camera and 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 could not find any traces of them.
THEY LEFT ME
Not at a right time I thought, Aut to Manali was about 70 odd km. 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.
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 stared at the river sparkles in the dark.
I knew I did not 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.
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.
10:00 PM: Manali heights
I bumped the big illuminator button on the wrist watch, the green light glowed, and 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 has reached Manali. Give me a call ASAP”.
I called and from our talks, it figured they are actually about to reach Manali. Wait a minute I thought! When did I overtake 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 km from Manali main city. So without losing time I bought a water bottle from him drank half of it and placed it in my backpack hurriedly.
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 and a 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 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 the 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 guy. One of them was way too much into it as he spoke in Punjabi, Mumbaiya Hindi and god knows what and we chose him to guide us to a nice cheap hotel for a night break.
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 somewhere.
We ordered food from a nearby joint and moved into the hotel. Folks took a bath and later gathered to enjoy food and their share of Daru, while they discussed the route for tomorrow, I went off to sleep.
- Distance covered – 508 Kms
- Time taken 15 Hrs
- 4 Stops
- Refuelling 750Rs