They were 4 of them. Me and Rishi became pinion riders for the first two and the third one was riding with his girl, she was from Punjab I guess. My driver was from bangalore, I love that city. They drove at 60 on the narrow edges of the slippery mountains; the same mountains had given my heartbeat a missfire before. I started reciting hanumaan-chalisa loudly, he got the hint. He stopped to laugh and we saw the third biker slipping on a turn and falling with his bike and girlfriend on the road. We ran to help. The girl abused the driver, I loved it :P. Nobody was hurt but there was brown dust all over the girl, she took her time to clean up. The sun didn’t wait; we waited. Someone cracked a joke and I realised the guy had been careless before on the trip. None the less, we started again.
There were three camp-sites for chandra taal, obviously we were on the one nearest to chandra taal. Hmmmm…. not technically. The nearest one was ‘at’ the lake but the WWF guy at the camp-site we were on, hated that. They were polluting the environment. I wanted fire, rum, sky and the music. Hmmm…. a little late for that. I could have convinced Jamaica, our camp provider, to pitch our tent at the lake, but I guess the sun wasn’t with us. He assured me of a good nite 😉 and rather convinced me to stay at the camp we were staying on. He offered me free camp and food for me (only), but I converted it to forty percent off for all 6 of us. why??? I am sometimes a good boy. (read the word sometimes a couple of times, stress upon it). the camp wouldn’t have been possible without the bikers.
I met other travellers, they loved our guts to get there in an alto, only two of us. That IIT delhi passout girl was jealous or something, she kept on telling me how awesome all the places we skipped were. I skipped her after arguing for not less than 1 hour. what a waste of time. I was hanging around with Jamaica and the WWF guy. Jamaica knew everything about the valley, he served interesting stories along with some whiskey and eggs. We cooked and drank inside Jamaica’s tent. The WWF guy was a local reporter of the area to WWF. he kept an eye on local flora and fauna. The surveyed the entire spiti and lahaul valley. I applied for a job with him, he immediately rejected. I didn’t drink a lot, I had heard before, at half the height of mount Everest , you drink half of what you usually do; that makes you twice as high. I got some food and with this renewed energy I went back to argue with the IITian. I still didn’t win. We were now 10 of us in that food tent; it was getting very cold outside. I helped the WWF guy setup the time lapse camera to record the sunrise the next morning. Jamaica told me everything I needed to know about Khirganga-Mud trek, he could organise it for me. I noted there were snow leopard areas to cross during that trek, it will have to be well organised. I probably cannot camp in the jungle and walk for 7 days all by myself. Or could I? I thought of myself reading survivor books when I go back. I could do it with Luke. I didn’t know how to climb tress. Leopards can climb tress, right? Did snow have tress? Khatter knows the jungle, I should talk to him too; I remembered he wanted to goto the camp 2 of the great Himalayan national park which we had to cross during that trek.
The morning was so beautiful up there. One of the most memorable sunrises. I could stand up high on the hill, in front of me the sun rose, behind me the glacier top mountains shone. For the first fifteen minutes of the sun rise you can look straight into the sun. There were no birds. When I came down, the punjabi girl was brushing her teeth with water drawn from the chandra taal lake, I told her teeth was shining and one could see their reflection on them. I assured her that was a property of the water from the chandra taal. :p
The lake did reflect everything, the mountains surrounding them, the sky, the clouds and no birds; while it itself stayed calm and quiet undisturbed by the flowing wind. It was serene. I sat there for quiet some time.
There were small fish in the taal, I particularly showed the punjabi girl and assured her they were not in the water she used to clean her teeth. The camp guy was smart yaar, he must have used a sieve while drawing water. I wasn’t sure of fish eggs though. Arent they too small for the sieve?
One of the other people had an awesome camera, he loved to discuss about. He taught me some basics of good photography. I guess they don’t apply to me clicking from Rishi’s camera. However, I did make a mental note, if some day someone gifts me a camera like his.
When I came back to Batal, the French couple was leaving for chandra taal. I gave them some “O My Good, its awesome” vibes. I didn’t do that for the group from Linked in. With the tea and smoke done, I was all ready to go ahead, but the car wasn’t. One of the tyres at the back had lost all its filled air, it wasn’t punctured, it just lost the air. We replaced it with the tubeless stepney which didn’t have any air anyway. The closest puncture shop was 42 kms away at the foot of the Rohtang pass. driving 42 kms on stones on flat tyres??? Welllll…. Alto lets go.
We drove slowly, the bikers drove past, they were driving too fast. We still had 3 nalas to cross before we can reach the Rohatng top or the puncture shop. The flat tyre was actually helpful in keeping the car stable. At the second nala, a family in a luxury innova waited for us. The driver helped us to cross the nala. He drove often in that area, he knew how to handle the rock bed of the nala. He didn’t like us coming there in a alto either. I think he was jealous too. All of us stopped for a while after the nala, we had to cool the clutch plates. The small boy was 9 and studied in standard 4. I quizzed him on where did the 5 yrs go? The dad shared a smoke with us. He was the head of retail vertical for a very reputed It company. Bang!!!!… I came back to my senses. I am a retail analyst. I went back to the 9 year old boy and assured him I was also in std 4 when I was 9 year old, so nothing to worry about. Daddy gave us a lecture on Alto. Why doesn’t he carry a lighter, I didn’t give him mine, I could have. The driver did lend us his portable air pump. It took us 30 mins to fill air. Rishi made a note of carrying a portable air pump, he had figured out where to get one.
The Innova driver stopped for us at the third nala also, although he drove faster and reached the third nala before us. People are so co-operative. Everybody cared for each other. That was the only way to survive. This is one of the reasons I like remote places. They live together, however each one of them were.
We had to drive a little ahead on the Leh road from the rohtang base to get to the car repair shop. We were now on the ‘road’. It felt heaven. the car never felt so smooth. We stopped at the repair shop for quiet a while and saw enthusiastic travellers starting their journey to Leh. It felt like the adventure was done, now it was time to go back home.
I needed another tea and another stop and another sunset before i called it the end of our trip. So we stopped on the Rohtang top. There were people. There were police. we still didn’t have mobile signals. There were shops and horses and tourists. so many of them. there was traffic and road signs and barricades. ahhhh…. get off my back. I got off at a small dhabba, the nepali guy made some tea while his wife made maggi for us. I sat there as if I didn’t want to go, I didn’t want to. Did I ever tell you, I pay heavy sometimes for thinking the way I think? The whole Rohtang top was now covered with thick fog or smoke or cloud, one of them. Visibility was near zero. Its OK we just have to drive down hill all the time till manali. Or was it OK?
The Nepali guy told us about the Rani nala, the last nala we were to cross. And it was famous, not for the stones, but for all the slush of fine sand and mud mixed with water. That was really difficult to cross. The car just sank in. we could have been in the middle of it with all tyres in the air. No visibility on top of that. The road looked clearer in the camera than what we could see with our eyes. No point switching the head lights on, we could at least figure out things when the head lights were off. I didn’t want to get down, there was no way I could have pushed the car in that slush. To make things worse big vehicles like trucks pushed their tyres into the slush and made like narrow gulleys with considerably high banks. How will Alto with low ground clearance cross that? The adventure wasn’t over yet. I could see the ‘ufff’ feeling on Rishi’s face. He had just started to enjoy the smooth drive on the tar roads. Rani nala was 7 kms long. What do I say, we had a ball of a time crossing that. But we did. Again, I will say it was Rishi’s driving skill. Rishi was now the best mountain driver I knew. He had earned it.
We stopped to catch on some peace of mind after the rani nala. It was dark now, I guess because of the fog or cloud or whatever it was. we still had 85 kms drive till Kasol. We were to stay over in Kasol. Soon we realised it was time to go.
We had to go.