The mountains were becoming sterner. The Lahaul valley had rougher terrain. Beyond this range was Manali. Most tourists took Manali-Kaza route to reach Spiti, eventhough the route was much steeper. There were glaciers on the peaks; they were beautiful to look at from so close. I remember a particular one on the left side of the Kunzum Pass; the white glacier sat on the black mountains’ lap. I thought that was the Chandrataal Lake. Chandrataal Lake was where we were headed now.
It was a tough decision when we left Kibber. I wanted to take the road to Manali so that our journey was a circular one. I did not want to turn back to where we came, it was longer. The route to Manali was dotted with numerous small and a couple of big nalas. The floor of the nalas had big stones; Alto had a low ground clearance. We could be stuck. Landslides were also more often in this region. Neither of us wanted to go back, so we moved forward.
Kunzum was more of a driver’s spot. You had to drive around a small Buddhist temple. I guess the driver’s rejoice getting some space. I had another absolute still moment while in Kunzum, but it was not scary now.
I was the one who insisted. So I was the one who had to get down into the ice cold water of the nala and fill its bed with evenly laid stones. It took me some time, which felt like a really long time. After a while I stopped feeling, my legs were numb in the cold rushing water. Rishi was sitting smoking happily on the shore. He drove over the rock bed successfully but stopped later to let the clutch plates cool again. I took the time to take a dip; the water was very light and fresh and cold. When we reached the second, the first nala looked easier. And I have to admit it was Rishi’s skill at work on this one. We got stuck in the middle a couple of times. I had to push the car, we broke the right bumper of the car, but we crossed. I was starting to feel the ‘adventure’ in the journey. Did I just take a bite bigger than I could chew?? I was a little shaken by the sight of the helpless powerless car on the second nala. Help wasn’t easy to get. We had just our hands; and heads to work the way out.
Chandrataal was 5km off the highway. The sun seemed like it had enough time before setting (we didn’t have watches during the journey). So we took the diversion. And look my friend, the highway was taking our case. A 5km diversion needed a bravery award assurance to take it. And look my friend, we are brave. The car was moving with the least possible speed; one of the mountains was made of small stones sliding on each other; the road was narrow and had no banks. The car slipped a little to the left, my heart skipped a beat. Rishi geared up, braked and started to whine. Chandrataal wasn’t a good option. He wanted to turn back. I just happened to say, HOW??
The sun was setting. We had driven 7kms in the diversion and so far didn’t find anything. Did we take a wrong turn? We could only dive forward; the road was too narrow to turn back. The only options we had were to keep driving or just stop and leave the car as it is. We kept driving. The sun set and we reached a pitched tent in the middle of nowhere. I ran up to it, but it was abandoned. It had something packed up inside but the tent was torn. I was not to get any help there. Rishi realised we could possibly turn back the car at that spot. He struggled with it for not less than 30 minutes but made it at the end. We drove to Batal on the highway.
There are times I am a kid, and I want what I want, even if it goes against all the sanity. Actually, sometimes I just risk all my sanity, for that one moment of joy. I sometimes find joy in insanity. I wanted to go to Chandrataal. I started to pitch a walk.
I had figured out Chandrataal was not 5 but 15kms off the highway. Wherever I had noted that 5 km deal, I had overlooked the 1. Rishi just looked at me with “what the fuck” written all over his face in all the possible fonts. It was not a pleasant sight, so I left. I got tea and lit a cigarette. The French couple was leaving only tomorrow; the group from ‘linked in’ weren’t sure they wanted to tell me the plan. One other guy had just come back. You know it’s beautiful up there. I had to go.
What if I go alone? I may get late in coming back tomorrow. What if he leaves with the car? The bus will be uncomfortable. I took all my money and ‘necessary to survive’ things out of the car. Rishi was doing something with the tyres. I changed into jeans, it was cold. I can always go to Kasol. I can figure out from there. Just then a biker, we had briefly met before, broke the silence with his bullet’s roar. Two more followed. They were looking for the diversion to Chandrataal Lake. I got it.
I had to go.