Challenges present you with varied emotional gradients! Do you have it in you to scale them with a singular pair of butts?
Dear reader, may I suggest that you spare time for ‘Lahaul & Spiti’ series of blogs (5 in total)? The only manner to enjoy reading them is reading them all or, at least, one post at a time. It is long, but that’s what to expect right?. Being new to writing, brevity is not one of my strong points. So hurry up, bring a cup or two of your favored beverage, and let us start.
Back in Jun 09 I joined a newly formed biking group called ‘Nomads’. When I first heard about this trip being planned I was excited. I had to start from Dehradun while the rest of nomads were to leave from Delhi the same day.
Day1 – 27 Aug 2009 | Dehradun – Nahan – Chandigarh – Ropar – Kullu – 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 than usual. Instead of Dakpathar route I charted Aasaan Barrage route to Ponta Sahib. It is a small dusty town near Dehradun, named after the famed Gurudwara itself. I entered Ponta from a bridge over the Yamuna river. The sunlight had broken making the water below turn to gold. I crossed the bridge into a hustle bustle of morning life and went down the road by dodging the trucks randomly crossing the road. Being on a first solo trip to Chandigarh I felt certain butterflies in my stomach, burp! my bad ;) Maybe that was just an empty stomach ;).
My subsequent destinations was Nahan and then on to ‘Kala Aam’. That ride was quite uneventful with friendly weather, wide, smooth and curvy, hilly roads, I topped 60KmHr mostly. I halted at Chandigarh-Panchkula highway to check on the nomads from Delhi. The first thing I remember was a news flashed by Lovey “Mama, please get those spare tubes from Chandigarh we didn’t bring them!”. It was a WTF moment, it meant first me locating the tubes in a city I wasn’t before, then reach the meeting point without being too late!’. A perfect day in the life of a nomad, I thought.
Dire times call for dire action, so I rang up a friend living at Panchkula. I got directions for a tyre market in Chandigarh which sounded like ‘Man ma…’, at this point my mind was not registering anything. My brain refuses to handle many instructions, names or places, it does not work that way, it excels at ‘interconnecting synapse’s and ‘taking things to their logical conclusion’. Now only if I could give a few useful pointers ;) I thanked him for his assistance and moved on.
9:55 AM: As luck would have it!
I am so ‘Jean Claude Van Dam _lucky? _’ NO!. The following place I halted was a shopping complex, it was not an ordinary shopping complex! You see, it was an MRF (tires) showroom. I wondered if that was just some luck that the make of my tyres was MRF as well?. I was overflowing with ‘lucky-motions’. I parked my bike, with a grin on my face, and went in. Curses! my fine luck ran out that very moment. They have only the front tyre tubes available with them. The friendly shopkeeper suggested me to take this bone (That why MRF is not supplying rear tyre tubes of Bajaj Avenger to the outlets/dealers) directly to the MRF office which as lady luck would have it, was nearby. Now as you can clearly see, my luck when on full swing, actually never runs out. Muwah ha haaa haaaaaa…(Evil Laugh).
I packing the tube when my phone rang, oh look its ‘friendly neighborhood Lovey’ (I was a little disappointed with him). I said “Yeah, so where are you guys?” he said “we are nearing Chandigarh” and asked me to meet them at Tribune Chowk. At that moment, I wanted so say ‘knuckle heads if you are going to pass me by then wouldn’t it be nice that we all meet here instead’, but refrained. As it is I felt bad for bearing them down with “get my tubes from Delhi” already.
I didn’t find the MRF company head office at the place I was supposed to look for, but then it is quite possible that I was looking the other way ;), but what I did find was a gully full of motorcycle repair shops. I think this was the place Ankur suggested ‘Mani Majra’. Now lady luck was back riding at full throttle, I needed an extra pair of bungee cords and I comfortably managed to get both and pressed towards Tribune Chowk.
10:45 AM: Meeting at Tribune Chowk
I have just passed the TC and there was no sign of nomads. What gives? Another halt for ‘ring a ding’, and finally it figured that I had turned a little earlier at TC runabout, so I had to take a long turn back to TC. I finally met up with the nomads. It was my first meeting with Manish, Sid (Sid) and Jatin. There were two more nomads: Lovey and his friend Sudheer(Sudi). We all shook hands and exchanged smiles. They were waiting for me for 10-15 minutes. If only those poor souls had figured it out that it was a sign of things to come ;).
We left for NH 21a towards Ropar. Until now I had an easy ride, driving nice and slow. Suddenly I felt that I was driving in an alien world.The NH21 was a four-lane highway passing through miles of farming lands, with highway comes high ride vehicles like trucks and truckloads of them. I could see my speedometer touching 80Kms, still most of the time I was trailing the group.
I have just cleared the remains of splashing insect from the visor. The poor soul couldn’t see me coming, hey! neither did I ;) through the neat & clean visors I could see Lovey and Sudi frantically waving hands. A road seems to break off from their standing place I realized 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, boy straight he did and faster he rode, legends has it that it took Sid 25 Kms to tag him down.
Meanwhile, during the chase Sid probably thought dippers and the constant horn would stop the beast. It didn’t even occur to him that ringing Jatin would help (Of course, we didn’t try it, but hey, that doesn’t mean that Sid shouldn’t try ;). Both made their return to the diversion where we baked ourselves in that hot, busy and very very dusty afternoon.
The road out front had turned hilly, after 30 odd Kms we stopped for petrol. It was about 4pm and sun had been away the whole day, warming things up. Warmth on hills is charming and I was feeling sleepy. There was no one in front of me so I stopped over a small dhabha for a refreshing cup of tea. I washed my face before leaving and in a little while I caught up with the rest of them dozing off on a side road. Sid and Jatin were onto bike repairs. I inquired about my timing WRT to theirs, it was 10-15 min ;) that’s an improvement even if I disregard the time spent at my earlier halt.To be true, I had this figured while I was driving on highways, watching them rip through. On the hills I am not a shabby rider ;) been riding on them hills for a good long time.
Continuing on the NH21 we crossed the Dehar power house. At the turn ahead, we saw Sudi waving hands crisscross, sign to break here, just to mess with him I went a little ahead acting as if I missed him completely ;) I could hear him saying “Ooooww …Come on! He didn’t even see me!” I stopped and we were all smiles. He was waiting for us at a hotel. Good thing we hadn’t eaten anything since the morning, because the late lunch was “murder of Parantha’s”! Considering the young brigade it was not as savage as it could have been ;). We managed to leave at 6:30PM. From here on we were about 150Kms from Manali. We thought 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 roads were not crowded. I distinctly recall driving along a gorge for some time till we reached Sunder Nagar. The scattered light before complete sunset made the longest reservoir relive the name of the town for that instance at least. We drove faster through Ner Chowk after which it was completely dark. We crossed the glittering Mandi in night. After Mandi the Byeas river kept us company for a 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 traffic tunnel‘, we have heard of this technological marvel a 2806 meter long tunnel on hills. Me, 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 feet high and 40-60 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. It took me a few moments to get going. Through all the 2806 meters of concrete tunnel I couldn’t find any traces of them. My guess was those pulsar junkies must be having speed fun. Hello! _they have ditched me_.
Not at a right time I thought, Aut to Manali was about 80 odd Kms of pitch dark road. I experienced fluttering butterflies again – 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 true meaning of the word adventure.
After crossing Aut the visibility declined, 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 the pace for quite a long time, maybe about 30 odd kilometers. I strikingly recall that with every passing moment I was getting charged up with adrenaline, taking risks on overtakes and on turns in a hope to catch a glimpse of one. Thankfully,with rush comes heightened senses and I became consciously aware of myself, watching my response under duress which was good. I braked on a side of the road, watching the river in the dark. I knew I didn’t have the luxury of backup as I was the one trailing ;), the phone was of no help at a remote place like this. My Sole aim was reaching Manali, and it was not too far, so for me it did not matter if it is 9 or 10:30PM instead. With that thought I began cleaning the visor.
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.
I was nearing Kullu, I stopped a few times for directions. Himachalis have good roads going for them, probably that made them slack about everything else. Four kilometers you will not find any sign board, not even a single milestone, and suddenly there will be too many at one place. I had a creepy feeling with the front tyre as it was not getting a good grip and I had to slow down at turns, too much at times.
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 in Manali according to my approximations ;). I saw an inclined road glittering with lights just ahead, I crossed a nice looking hotel named President ‘such a cliché’. 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 thirsty and gulped down a water bottle.
I was about to ring Sudi when the screen on my mobile flashed. It was a message from Saudi: “V have reached Manali. Give me a call asap”. Oh so ditcher’s have reached before me, they must be gloating, I thought. I rang them and our talks it figured they are actually about to reach Manali. Hey, wait a minute! 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 1 Kms from Manali main city. I geared up and rode of quickly to touch Manali before them. 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 cut the ribbon! May be the heroes are born this way, whadya say Sudi & Lovey? ;)
Lady luck was shining on me literally! I mean all the places around me was basking in its orange glow, I looked around to check on the size of aura, turned my head and saw a high! No, very high! And very big array of bad-ass lamps. Oh!!! The source of the glow was this lamp, so what? I did reach Manali first and that’s a fact ;). 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 and 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 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. 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