We set off today! For the trip that was systematically planned from November 2009 over a series of meetings that happened at Trustpuram ground, Besant nagar beach, Marina beach, Palavakkam beach, Tower park, Ooty, Bangalore, and even inside a well near Tiruporur village!! And over conference calls that would stretch hours together… way past into the midnight.
After getting trained properly in first aid (by our very own Dr. Maran, thanks to Ranjith who helped us organize the workshop) and bike repairs, we were all set to head to Ladakh.
So when we did get on board the flight Naveen, Sujai and Aditya were there at the airport to see us off. Naveen, Nachu and NJ Balaji were supposed to join us as well but could not in the last minute.
So who are these lucky people who did make it? Ram the Biker, Suresh, Ram Kumar P, Chandrasekhar, Paari, Ajay, Venkat Ramani, Krish Simon, Aswin Anand, Rock Bala, Ramesh, Balaji, Arulmozhi… These definitely were not their names by the end of the trip.. A few got lucky and got 3/4 names.. Say for eg. Venk.. (my mouth stifled)
For all that we did today.. we are just grateful we are not behind bars!!
It started in the flight itself, to be precise, just 15 minutes from the time our trip began!
No amount of being told off by 2 beautiful air hostesses deterred our photographers from clicking snaps sitting in the flight… Come on!! you did not expect our photographers to just sit tight when they see the city zooming past under them in like a matter of seconds and clouds hovering our very own Nagalapuram..? Also.. did i not tell you there were 2 beautiful air hostesses…
So when we finally set foot in Delhi city, after being warned by the airport police for clicking photos in airport of course, we did our shopping. But is ‘shopping’ the word…? We sure had our share of Old Delhi and New Delhi, its metro, and long winding roads with nothing less than a million people jostling around doing the things they were doing. We took the metro, cycle rickshaw, a mini bus and all available forms of transport! We had shots and shots of lemonade, lassi, a weird mint cooler that burns your throat when it goes down…
We managed to find (some of) the things we intended to purchase.. Not all… It’s only reasonable … for when you have people who will bargain for a really long time and finally when the shop keeper decides to give you for the price you ask, changes his mind because the colour of the item has suddenly become averse to him!
This city is wonderful for when you think it’s still day because it’s bright, it’s already night, by Chennai’s standards… We took our time.. shopping and eating street food, not realizing it was eight and we had to pack our bags and go to the station in about a couple of hours..
We took our train, nobody was missed… (which is a good thing, rite? )
The train halted at the Jammu Tawi station early in the morning (read: 8 am). First thing we did was: have our breakfast (no prize for guessing).Ram P and Paari were trying to reach GATI to know the status of the bikes that were supposed to reach the previous day! By the way, our bikes were not just late… We were also fearing damage for we were told that the transporting vehicle that had our bikes encountered an accident! Venkat and Captain-Ram (and this is Ram the Biker of course!) took Venkat’s bike (this was shipped from Bangalore) to GATI’s office.
We were at the Jammu Tawi station’s platform… for what seemed like and WAS a long time.. Krish and Bala were sketching something (whatever they drew inspiration from I have no clue) Balu scribbling away in his journal.. a poem about our misery, probably.. Our bikes were in Ambala and on the move toward Jammu. It was established that we were not going to see our bikes that day… What we were wondering was… would the station officers mind if we stayed the whole day there, for by then everyone was comfortably settled.
It was then we were told that GATI has graciously booked us 4 rooms in a nice hotel just opposite to the station. It did turn out to be a nice hotel.
Disheartened about the delay, dejected about the accident, depressed about taking Zanskar Valley off our plan, we played cards, watched FIFA, went shopping, went eating, went sightseeing (we went to The Bahu Fort and to a newly erected War Memorial). Yup! We know better than to lament over things that cannot possibly be repaired.
Dented, broken, conked out they were… No bike was spared. Difference lied only in the degree of damage each endured.
The whole of the morning was spent on cajoling our bikes to take the trip. When the bikes were finally repaired, plastered and brought to the foray… we tied our huge and heavy bags to them and then mounted them (3 of the 8 bikes had turned into luggage vandis, 5 took pillion riders)…
And then it was time for our first group snap with the bikes…
We started early that afternoon, Anantnag being our first regroup spot. As soon as we got out of the city, there was a sudden dip in temperature… By the way, Jammu was as hot as Chennai, if not more… So when the temperature dipped, we were jubilant. And then wind blew, now now… do not imagine a gentle breeze that would go wafting through your hair.. This is the different kind that comes swirling, bringing all the sand there is straight to your eyes making you go temporarily blind despite wearing helmets and shades. We knew what we were in for. We stopped at the first motel that we spotted, garbed ourselves with rain jackets and our bags with tarpaulin covers, had a hurried lunch (biscuits and tea, yup! just that) and proceeded forward.
Drenched in rain, we rode… for some time and then the rain weakened to a drizzle. We took this long beautiful dark tunnel: By the time our eyes got used to the darkness, our little ride through it promptly came to an end. We continued to ride till it got dark.
We reached Kud, where we decided to halt. We rode some 110 kms today. Hotel Surya was where we stayed, at Rs. 100 or 150 per head. The hotel owners were also kind enough to permit the body attached to the head to hang around (which is a good thing because severing our heads would have become a major inconvenience for the rest of our trip). Food was delicious. We had rotis, rice, 3 or 4 kinds of sabzis… all cooked to perfection.
When we accidently found this glowing orb rising out of the clouds in graphic detail, we realized it was a full moon day … at such high altitude, it was picture perfect. And naturally, tripods were set and pictures were clicked.
Balu then played songs from his player aiding everyone to sleep.Y-A-W-N.. (dont YOU!). We slept peacefully till it was time to wake up and take that road again.
An Accident, Round and round the Dal Lake and MISSING people!
Day Four: Kud –> Patnitop –> Srinagar –> Sonamarg: 28-06-2010
We planned to start early… Did we? We did! But not as early as we had planned… Still… give us credit for starting at all Btw, we did not even reach the first day’s first regroup spot: Anantnag! So we decided to reach that place and have our breakfast. From Patnitop, we found armed military jawans by the road stationed 50 metres apart who did not like being photographed. I know!! The nerve we had… Just glad they did not take their practice shots at us.
This day is also a day of historical importance… The only accident in our trip happened today. This is what happened: Rider Aswin and Pillion Ajay fell off their bike as it skidded on an oil spill… Neither was seriously injured… Aswin got his arm and knee bruised. Paari who reached there first generously applied an ointment which was later found to have had expired a year or so back!!
It is very essential that I tell you this… In our first aid workshop, we asked Dr. Maran a lot of questions that he very patiently answered… It happened on a Sunday evening from 5 pm till 9 pm! The doctor was ready by 4.30 – most of us walked in at 5 – a few were tolerably late – Suresh entered: 8:45 dot!
Well… The doctor was explaining us basic first aid, he was befuddled when Aswin asked a question. We were all too… Anyone would be! The question he asked, without any further ado: “Doctor, how do I jump off the bike when I know an accident is definite?” The doctor could not answer, nor could we… It came to our knowledge that Aswin kept asking Ajay how exactly did he jump and escape with practically no/little damage throughout the trip! Last I heard, he is still looking for an answer. I implore the readers to reach him if you can answer his question.
The roads went twisting and twining the mountains…
We stopped for yet another group pic at the first view point:
We reached Srinagar. It is really weird that we neither witnessed nor heard a fire shot. Leave alone a fire shot, not even a stone being hurled; we did not see anything that we were warned against when we expressed our desires to our families to go to “Kashmir”. Not that we are complaining… Just that our story would find more takers if it had a little more “action”. But this is all hindsight. We got so lucky (or was it your prayers?) our trip had no misadventure of any sort. Though there were many tension filled moments, none were at the gunpoints of terrorists, for which we are extremely grateful.
Kashmir, the one we saw, had people who were unbelievably sweet and food indescribably delicious.
There were many eager kids waiting by the road…
Continuing the story, we went around the Dal Lake looking for Captain-Ram and Suresh who had a head start by virtue of their starting early. Even if they start an hour late they would be ahead us… We would surely not see them zooming past us, at the speed they go. They had maximum luggage on their bikes. The third one being Ramesh’s bullet… Sad, I know!
From Srinagar, since it was not dark as yet, we proceeded to Sonamarg. The plan was to go uptil Drass, but fortunately we did not and stopped at Sonamarg. But suddenly we realized that the “we” did not include everybody. One bike was missing. Simon and Ajay had continued on. We got separated and met them only on the final day of the trip! (If you had bought it, just give me a second to pat myself ) Suresh and Balu went after them and we were all reunited pretty soon. We had ridden approximately 290 kms today! You know what follows now, don’t you? Thinnuttu thoongnom
Bone-chilling Drass and Goose-bumpy Kargil War Memorial
Day Five: Sonamarg –> Drass (via Zoji la Pass) –> Kargil: 29-06-2010
In Sonamarg, we went up to see a glacier as soon as (okie.. a little while later) we got up.
Our bikes, free of the bags, took part in the photo shoot that happened at the glacier. We could see ice (atop peaks) from where we were. We could see ice melting and metamorphosizing into forcefully flowing water. We felt our fingers grow numb trying to feel the life of the gushing River Indus. We were dying to feel snow already.
We started from Sonamarg to Drass via Zoji La… (A little education at this point… La means a Pass and Tso means a Lake). Zoji La (@11,575 ft) was the first pass that we were going to surmount. It was harsh.
The road was not easy, with puddles or their absence. Excuse me! Not the absence of puddles… Absence of laid roads at some points! If there were roads, they had to have gravel or slush or both!
We were fighting our way through equally competing lorry traffic and a look down the very road we came by was frightening. Not as frightening as the view of the valley further down.
We saw a million miniature kites laid down neatly.
What was it actually?
The base camp (comprising brightly coloured tents) of people who go on Amarnath yatra!
As we got to the top of Zoji La, one bike was missing (AGAIN!). We decided to wait. For 2 reasons: It was RamP and Rock Bala who were missing. Come on! That ain’t reason one… We had packed some food and that bag was with them (now THAT is a reason!) Reason 2: We finally found snow!! Snow that we could walk on, snow that we could hold, make balls of, and throw at each other till our hands became blue and numb. We sent word through bikers and lorry drivers who were going in the opposite direction to tell RamP and Rock Bala that their group is waiting for them seriously concerned
So when they did make their entrance after losing a few things tied to the bike… rubber boots, some tools… (oh no! not the food packet), they were welcomed with huge snow balls from all directions. We were then on our way to Drass, of course after emptying that food packet.
When we reached Drass, it was an easy decision not to stay there that night. Drass is the second coldest inhabited place in the world! There was still daylight… So after gulping down hot tea, gobbling rotis and omelets, we continued to ride. Kargil was to be the next regrouping point but it turned out to be our haven for the night. Stopping at Kargil made our day’s kilometre count stop at 205.
En route, we stopped at a War Memorial dedicated just for Operation Vijay (1999). All of us experienced goose bumps here: many declared proudly, while others enjoyed silently. When we returned after saluting the martyrs we made a mental note to make ourselves worth being protected.
Food and stay in Kargil was a little overpriced compared to the rest of the places we stayed. Medical treatment was unbelievably cheap. Aswin and I (come on! you know me… Arulmozhi’s the name) went to “Kargil Hospital” or something named similar… The point is, the doctor was genuinely kind. Even Aswin’s father would have had some serious competition if he were there that day! He said the injury did not look serious, but ordered the wound be dressed… it was done immediately and impeccably. We were charged Rs. 2 !!!! Seriously, just 2 rupees! Everyone kept saying it must be a Government Hospital. Try any of our Government Hospitals here, I say!
The trip to hospital actually happened this morning (why is that important, I don’t know… I just like to get the details right After an hour of our usual exercise, yup! we had an exercise routine this trip —–> It would take us an hour to tie the bags to the bike if not more! Aswin took his bike on two practice rounds just to check if the bags would hold.
There was only one accident that occurred in our trip… Yes! But there were many that were narrowly missed and adeptly avoided. We would be mourning now for Suresh and Bala if they had not skillfully swerved that day when we were heading to Lamayuru.
There was also another one. RamP gave a caution honk at a blind curve and a foreigner who came riding in the opposite direction got a fright of his life and dropped his bike! Good thing he fell on the road, if he had rolled over there really was no possible way of rescue.
We were traversing through National Highway 1D: The road that did not exist then when the earliest of civilizations flourished by the banks of Indus, which continues to flow relentlessly. The landscape, whichever way you look at it, was absolutely magnificent. I mean, you turn right: it’s spectacular, you turn left: you’ll not want to take your eyes off, you turn back: it’s another stunning perspective, you look straight: it’s again totally bewitching (unless you are a pillion rider and looking at your rider’s helmet ! How do I translate this feeling?? Urm.. Imagine your favourite food… cooked by the best chef, and you are taking your first bite. It’s wonderfully yummy… more delicious than you thought! But you realize you have taken a big bite… Quite big, big you cannot handle, big that could choke you! Now, just alter that sense of taste to sense of sight. The grandeur of the landscapes was thus. Our untrained eyes just didn’t suffice.
We passed through Fotu La (13,479 ft). The journey through mountains at tremendous heights planted with endless blind curves seemed to stretch on. As we got down a mountain (we reached Khaltse), we were wondering if we should stop… Paari’s bike’s front tyre got punctured (Lunch! Finally right outside a mechanic shed! We (Ramesh, RamP, Paari, Simon, Venkat, Ajay, Arul) had our lunch at this motel right next to the mechanic’s. Rotis n sabzis, eggs, maggi noodles, tea was our 3 course meal as usual. Since we vowed to reach Leh that day we proceeded though worried what was causing others the delay.
It got dark and we missed the much hyped (but honestly, dubakoor) Magnetic Hill. It was around 8 pm when we entered Leh. The city was already sleepy. We were not. We were (yup! that’s right!) hungry. We, already a split group, got split further… We went about looking for a hotel Paari, RamP and Arul head in one direction, Ramesh, Simon and Ajay went in another. Getting split is a terrible thing because your goddamn phones do not work. (Only BSNL postpaid phones work, that too only in Leh and a few surrounding parts!)
We found Captain-Ram! And then one by one, everyone… everyone except Aswin! He had no pillion rider, only some bags… Remember, he went for a ‘test’ drive?
He was last seen while clicking away his camera… Avar kaanamal pona podhu, bright blue colour gulla vum, kannai parikum orange colour gloves um anindhirundhaar
Jokes apart, all were worried for him. Rock, depressed, did not know what he was eating, had chicken momos: he is a very strict vegetarian! Suresh did not even eat his very delicious, one of its kind Tibetan thali he gleefully ordered… he did not mind sharing his very scrumptious mutton with Ajay. He in fact gave him all of it! But it was Paari who actually cried. Uncontrollable tears rolled down. Balu caught this in his camera but that picture is now lost
Ananth, Aswin’s friend from Chennai called on Paari’s mobile and told us that Aswin was safe; he was in Khaltse and would start early the next morning and reach us at Leh. Relieved, we slept at Pamir Holiday Home, a nice find!
The Leh that we woke up to the next day had no semblance to the Leh that we saw the previous night. The streets were bustling with tourists, soldiers and vendors all running about their own errands. We mended our bikes, took permits from the District Collector’s office. Permits to stay in Leh and go around the charming places tucked carefully in the Himalayan and Karakoram Ranges (Khardung La, Marsimek La, Pangong Tso, Tsomoriri…). We went shopping, sightseeing and dining in the evening.
LEH… when I think of it, a million things flash before my eyes… The Gompas in lurid colours, the Tibetan market, the mountains, wizened faces, prayer wheel, rosy cheeks, dry fruits and spices, singing bowl, the star studded sky, the silence, stretches of never-never land, colorful prayer flags just about everywhere… HAAH! It is quite possible to say everything that we saw; it however is not possible to tell you what we experienced. It is a magical place that might make going back to where you came from seem like an unthinkably stupid idea, to say the least.
It was dusk, when we went about exploring the Leh palace. The palace was deserted but for us and a monk, secluded in a room, who continued to chant from his __ hitting a gong. We did not understand a word he uttered. But the sound of his chant and the instrument kind of resonated, hitting all the corners of the place, it came at us! It was so ethereal.
We did a little shopping and got back to our hotel. Some of us had bought singing bowls. We bargained a lot with the bowl, begging it to sing. The night was spent on mastering the skill
Aswin had come back, not early morning… He turned up early afternoon. For he had to go a few miles BACK(!) to see what he missed the last hour of his previous day’s journey. Remember, it gets dark at night? It is slower there, but it turns dark eventually.
Khardung La and Snowfall Sand dunes and Soccer
Day Eight: Leh –> Khardung La –> Kalsar –> Diskit:
We rode happy bikes today. No huge bags! We deposited all our bags in one of the rooms in Leh and started off to Nubra Valley. Our first point to score off would be: Khardung La.
We started with many photocopies of the Permit Letter. We regrouped in South Pullu and progressed together, as staying on top for more than half an hour, we were told, was not a very smart thing to do At 18380 feet oxygen must be very rare to come by.
Through steep climbs on slippery roads of ice and slush we reached the top that had a sign that read: ‘You are on the highest motorable road of the world’. Everywhere you turned there was snow… Snow that was not dirty or murky. Sparkling snow! WOW! In a while, when we were beginning to wonder, ‘How would it be if it snowed…’ IT SNOWED! For all of us, getting hit by tiny flakes of snow carried by a chilly wind was definitely an experience unprecedented. It felt wonderfully weird.
As we got down to North Pullu (also as we stopped shivering), we lined up our bikes for an hour long photo shoot. Our permit letters were checked both at both the Pullus. We had maggi noodles for lunch when we reached Kalsar. There was no option; Kalsar is a small village with very few shops. We were grateful they had food at all. Maggi noodles was proudly served in all the villages we went to like it was their native food. Oddly enough, Dosa too seemed quite popular! Especially in Leh where there were many takers — Hotels would display boards with their signature dishes where pizzas would figure smaller and dosas big and towering above everything else!
We rode on for some time. We had to stop suddenly… Guess what now? We could not believe that wewere looking at a desert… looked deserted too We found beautiful patterns on the surface of the sand; surely wind must have mistaken it for a canvas? (ennalaye mudila )
We decided to play football! One team was called “Team Mokkais”, comprising Suresh, Ajay, Venkat, Rock Bala and Captain-Ram (now you finally know why he is referred to as Captain-Ram). The other team was “Zoji La Defenders”! Team included: Chandru, Paari, Balu, Simon and Ramesh; Ramesh being Captain. Arul who knew little about football was made the referee and RamP and Aswin were the official photographers of the tournament.
Balu made this fun video:
5 minutes of playing required 5 minutes of resting (or, are strategizing or planning better words here?) if not which it might result in fatal consequences. We were insisted not to overly exert ourselves at high altitude. The time spent playing the game was nowhere close to the time spent on rescuing the ball from the stream that flowed the other side of the road. Ajay was the man who rescued the ball both the times. Only one goal was scored that day… Chandru was the one who did it… He was called Messi of Zoji la’s team by his team mates! (Chandru confessed he did not know this Messi person Suresh was given a red stone (equivalent of red card It was a clean but incomplete match. Very questionably Zoji La Defenders were declared winners. We had to find a place quickly to stay that night as camping in the desert and freezing to death was not a good idea (you have a difference of opinion there, don’t you?
We went to Diskit and checked in the first hotel we found. It was a new one and the hotel owner was quite fond of it and had elaborate plans for it too We promised we will check out the next morning positively, to fit our usual budget… (Rs. 150 per person)
One ha’ penny Two ha’ penny Hot water Springs Two ha’ humpy Two ha’ humpy Camel Rides
Did we get out of the hotel the next morning? Yes… we did… but we left our things in our rooms. We told the hotel owner we will be back soon. (He was not very happy) So, where did we go? For a bath! Yup for a bath… In the hot springs of Panamik.
The ride to Panamik via Sumur village was brilliant. The perfectly laid roads made a 60 km ride seem like a 30 km one. The village welcomed us with brightly coloured flags, banners that read WELCOME and some more text in wingdings font we could not comprehend. The banners and the decoration we later learned was for Dalai Lama who was going to visit the Sumur Monastery. Hope he will forgive us for us for reveling the honour that was meant for him.
The road that we took to Panamik served primarily army vehicles transporting supplies to the Siachen Glacier (The highest battleground on earth @ 21,000 feet- where Indian and Pakistani armies have been fighting a “No-Win” war for more than 17 years). Click on this link if you want to get deeper into this:http://www.siachenglacier.com/indian-army-activity-siachen.html
Captain- Ram was the first to reach the hot spring. He got in the water and the next second rebounded out like a spring! It was too hot apparently! We had to find a different place…
We found another spot close by where the water had comparatively less dense clouds of steam over it. There were also a few bathing cisterns (well, we presumed that was what they were from the look of it). We got in, this time after warily checking the temperature, for we did not want the cisterns turn into large cooking vessels of humans.
The water was rich in sulphur. Everyone splashed around in the spring, I went about tracing the source of the water, only to find colossal sulphur deposits over rocks, and as the altitude increased, the air became more pungent with the smell of sulphur. Finally when the source was discovered, it turned out to be a modest crack in that grainy mountain!
On our way back to Diskit, we stopped at Sumur Monastery. The colours would be the first thing that would bowl you over. They are just brilliant. And then there are the paintings and sculptures of Budha. The monastery was bustling with activity. The monks and everyone else to seemed to be readying up the Gompa for Dalai Lama’s visit. We gave ourselves a quick self explained tour of the place and got out for we had an angry hotel owner waiting for us at Diskit!
We reached Diskit, the keys of our rooms were with Ajay and Aswin who were not to be found! They did not stop at the Sumur Monastery… We had promised to checkout at 1 pm. We did not. We could not. We went looking for them (Krish decided to stay put). There was only one place where they could have gone: The sand dunes of Hunder.
The coveted double humped camel ride in the desert was what everyone was after there. Aswin took the keys back to the hotel. Krish thought it would be appropriate to throw ourselves out before the hotel owners got to it… He cleared all our bags from both the rooms and left them outside in the terrace so the hotel people would not lose any business. It was a little past 2 when he did that. When we returned from Hunder after the camel ride, happy and equally guilty of what we did, it was a little past 3! We took our bags and bikes and checked out the hotel, after paying the hotel people extra of course… it was a little past 4!
We planned to stay at Kalsar. Chandru and Krish went ahead but came back pretty soon as they found Kalsar had it had fewer staying options. While they were gone, we visited a huge Buddha who was readying himself for Dalai Lama’s visit… and as the day was still young, played football. It grew dark and we had to find a hotel in Diskit. The rooms that we had stayed the previous night were no more available. We were talking to the new occupants (this was during a little past 3 and a little past 4)… bikers from Mumbai (?)… They enlightened us on this unmapped road that they took from Tangtse to Diskit, if we did take that road it would cut down our distance by 180 kms!!!
(Diskit to Leh via Khardungla=120 kms, Leh to Tangste = 140 kms… Adding up, 240!
Diskit to Tangste via Agham-Durbuk = 80 kms!)
But the route they warned us was just HELL for 30 or so kms.
It was a blindingly bright day… Our daring bikers decided to take their solemn bikes to Tangtse via Agham and Shyok…
Forewarned, we rode anxiously. Honestly, nothing could have prepared us or the bikes for that road. But, we never turned back… (oh! we did occasionally just to make sure everyone’s coming).
Yup! the road that was actually NO road! only space cleared through mountains made of gravel and small loose rocks, and once or probably twice flattened by, what could be assumed, a faulty road roller.
One by one… sorry! many by many (don’t care if this is even an accepted phrase, for that is what happened) screws came apart from our bikes! Ramesh had to wire up the crash guard of his bullet to its rear!!
Today we also met yet another biking group: all Whites covered in all black, tearing away in bullets past us; this group was headed by an iron woman! Still rummaging for her pic…
So it was just us… 2 groups of bikers in that unmapped road… hoping to reach Tangtse, audaciously riding, picking up the various things that continued to come apart from our bikes!
It definitely was one hell of a ride that ended abruptly. There was hooting and cheering… And we wondered what… You wonder what? Suddenly, magically… there was a road… a properly laid tar road!
The riders got off the bikes, got down on their knees and kissed the road!! They really did: here’s the proof…
After a few minutes of riding, we found that the road that began abruptly, ended abruptly! We continued to ride till we reached Durbuk. Some miracle none of our bikes busted. We entered the sole tent that accounted to quarter of Durbuk’s population and tried a very sour fried rice (sour soru!), ribbon noodles that tasted ridiculous … We finally had to settle for the always-available-and-delectable maggi noodles!
After this, we continued our ride to a Tso… Remember? I told u what Tso means… No! It’s not so spelt wrongly!! It’s a lake… We were heading to Pangong Tso… You would have seen this lake… if you had seen 3 idiots… This is where kareena kapoor rides her scooter, toward the end of the movie, to meet Aamir.
Pangong Tso looked like a beautiful place in the movie. So we assumed it would be too, for real. When we reached Pangong Tso, it was… (well, I am very tempted to say… words fail me, but it would sound stupidly redundant… so let me try…)
The lake was magnificently there! Just there… No sound, no movement… It was still and striking, reflecting the rays of the sun which was beginning to set discreetly.
It was V-A-S-T… it seemed to stretch on and on… And, it looked like some kind of a brilliantly polished metal dropped from the sky amid the mountains.
We played chappakal… What? You don’t know chappakal? You probably know it by a different name. You throw a stone on the surface of the water in a way that it goes bouncing and bouncing and bouncing on the water surface before it sinks eventually. You count the number of the time the stone bounces and declare the winner. Yeah! I read your mind. I’ll stop right here explaining chappakal
One last feed about the etymological significance of chappakal (plzzzz): the word chappakal is derived from 2 tamil words “chappa”, which means flat (also, simple as in, “chappa matter” and “kal” means rock/stone. The word itself recommends you to be wary of the choice of stone you should be using if you desire ultimate bouncing effect.
Did I tell you there was one rock which felt so bad we did not throw it in the water?
Yup! There was one! So, it… sorry! HE decided to get in the water himself riding his bike!
He did not know these 2 things or did not care…
The water was inhumanely cold!
The rocks (real ones!) by the bank were loose and would get plunged into the sand with thrust weight!!
So as soon as he got in, many others did too, to rescue him and his bike which kept submerging with every passing second…
After shooting a few group pictures, solo pictures and landscapes we decided to retire for the day. We rode back to Tangtse where we stayed at Hotel Chang la Queen. (We did not know there were tents by the lake, nicely heated and available at affordable costs then).
Our plan today was to go to Marsimik La and go back to Leh.
Little did we know about Marsimik La, when we planned that plan!
To surmount Marsimik La, which stands at 18, 632 feet, one has got to be fit physically and mentally: a little crazy! Marsimik La is definitely the highest pass in the world. But Khardung La is way more popular because it connects Leh and Nubra Valley (and it was therefore made motorable). Marsimik La serves no such purpose and so the idea of building a road to Marsimik La was abandoned as they thought it would be risking lives pointlessly!
The ITBP (Indo-Tibetan Border Police), who checked our permission papers at the check post, advised us to drop the plan as the weather was not entirely favourable that day! But we could not afford to postpone… We either do it that day or take it off our itinerary… The latter was not to be considered, of course! (C’mon! after having gone that far…) So, we told the officers we will not take any stupid risk. If the weather turns bad, we’ll turn our bikes and come right back. After a lot of convincing, they finally let us. We were warned, it would not be like Khardung La… In Marsimik La, categorically… no shops, no roads, no signboards, no people, no nothing!!!
The 22 kilometre ride to Marsimik-La top, actually was a desolated dirt track, generously laden with gravel, mud, boulders, dust and sand. The normal rumble of the engines of our bikes turned to a high pitched whirring sound as we continued our ride undeterred.
Sometimes we found more than one track that would go winding through those craggy mountains (these tracks are the army vehicles’ tracks). We were dependent solely on our gut feeling on which route to take! Here, you take a wrong track, chances are pretty high that you might roll down and find yourself wake up in China!
The temperature mercilessly dropped as we climbed. It was foggy and it also began to snow. And the steep incline was making it all the more difficult for the bikes… THAT incline would positively sap all your inclination to reach the top!
After riding for about three quarter an hour, we reached a tricky spot. The pillion riders got off and the riders very deftly managed to get the bikes out of the huge ruts on the dirt track. All of us regrouped after this. A few of us walked a certain distance. Take my word! Any physical action there would take ten times your ususal effort!
Since we had to deposit all our cameras at the ITBP check post. We used the only camera: Ajay’s. He “forgot” to leave his camera there. Ramesh here declared that he did not think he would be able to continue, as he knew his bike’s condition … So many sad smileys because I was his pillion rider that day… I decided to return back with him too. We were the first to drop out!
I said FIRST… So a few others did too? Did anyone make it at all?? Hmmn.. let us let the story unfold itself.
The ride back was equally tough. The sky found it appropriate to open up at this point! It began raining! We decided to wait by Pangong Tso, as we had spotted a hotel the previous day. Also, we were ravenously hungry. We assumed everyone will come there naturally as there were no place else if you wanted food.
After a long and wet ride, we stopped at a small hotel which was run by or served primarily by army men. We found a lot of interesting items on the menu and on the posters stuck to the wall. When we made our choice and was about to order, they declared the kitchen closed!!! Ramesh could not believe the words he just heard and I… rapidly began swearing in Tamil… Not knowing what to do.. we bought packets of chips. I guess they took pity at us and agreed to make (what else) Maggi noodles for us!
And while we were waiting, I heard something familiar! Wondered if I was mistaken.. But it was definitely a tamil song playing in their small TV, and I also heard Tamil words being spoken too! They were speaking Tamil and they understood Tamil! Never have I been sooo embarassed Blushing with shame, I apologised for my words…
As we finished our noodles, we also realized they were in a hurry to close the place… Now, entered Paari and Ajay!!!
They had returned too! Not very far from where we had… So it wasn’t just us, we thought… We had company! 2 bikes (and 4 people) did not make it…
Wondering about others, we found another hotel close by, a warm cosy tent actually
We were there for a L-O-N-G time, eating everything they had… and no one came… Either everyone else made it or returned and went back to Tangtse, to our hotel.
Suddenly entered, Captain Ram and Suresh… Ram said… actually, hollered: “First CTCian!” … and then we knew THEY DID IT!!! Ram, Suresh and Venkat went till the END! (that sure should have been a good place to stop ) Now, Venkat and Ram P joined us too…
The rest of the afternoon was spent on sharing, reliving, re enacting our success story of the day… Venkat was definitely behind… literally “behind” this success! As he was the one who would get down his bike, push Ram’s bike every time it got stuck in the slush and then somehow push his bike himself…
And Suresh… Know how he did it? He was with the rest of the group (Rock Bala, Simon, Aswin, Balu and Chandru), they were waiting for more than half hour there (which is actually very dangerous, especially because it had begun to snow and the temperature was positively sub zero!) Suresh, in fact, only went looking for Ram, worried about him… and to persuade him to return back… In this process of Ram Retrieval, he made it too!
Everyone then had got down the pass, and one group(Aswin, Balu, Simon, Rock Bala and Chandru) had headed straight to our hotel, Chang la Queen in Tangtse, and the other (Suresh, Venkat and both the Rams) had come to this hotel where we were and thoughtfully relived all the action for us.
Ram was telling us how it was at the top… (where he was, for close to an hour, waiting for others!) and how he had to “race ahead” (meaning: fell off some 4/5 times!) his bike while returning to escape freezing… and how they did not even have a camera to shoot pictures when they did finally reach the top! But luckily Venkat had his mobile… that explains the pictures (Now, what do you think Ram was waiting for? people or camera? )
They went on and on about our undoubtedly biggest feat of our trip (which is why I am doing too) when Ramesh said: NOOO! Adi vaangnadhu naanga dhaan, Cup engalku dhaan!
The rainy day gave way for a glorious evening… We decided to go to Spangmik, a 10-12 km ride from where we were. This stretch, I rode! Venkat magnanimously let me ride his bike (No! That is not why I said he was behind today’s success at Marsimik La!) It was an indescribably beautiful ride by the Pangong lake itself; it lasted only 15 or so minutes, (my starting the bike took more time!)
Tell me, how many blue colours you know?
Seems like a stupid question to you?
Well, your answer will fall somewhere in the range of 1000 to 2000, once you have been to this place, especially during a sunset.
When we got back to the hotel, everyone had something to share about the day (but, of course!)
Did you know Chandru was found missing! (one of my favourite oxymorons)… After reaching the hotel… he was so dizzy… he just crashed on the bed… So what’s the difficulty finding him… on the bed, you ask? Well, the bed he crashed was not in our room… It was the hotel owner’s private room! Evidently, Chandru didn’t care. Actually couldn’t!
We woke up to another rainy day. Actually, it wasn’t really raining. It was drizzling softly. Since Marsimik La took a whole day, we had to make a few changes in our plan… Tso Moriri took the beat! We had to give that a pass, for there was no time… (Tso Moriri is a lake, a beautiful one… we were told… but not as beautiful as Pangong… Doubt if anything is… )
The drizzle gradually took solid form and hit us softly… We reached Tsoltok shivering and trembling from cold. At the Army post there, we were asked to warm ourselves in the “heater room” and were given a big andaa (cauldron) of steaming soup which couldn’t have been more welcome.
We got out of the tent after a while, with a very heavy heart (heavy than our damp clothes)…
We continued our ride to Leh through light snow and rain.We crossed Chang La, (3rdhighest pass????) where we bought souvenirs (watches and caps that read Chang La) for concerned parents, anxious girl friends and a few significant others… We were given another steaming but very sweet liquid… Hot tea, they said… Anything, boss said we
De-freezing our limbs, ensuring our blood was back in motion, we started from Chang La.
Hold on!!! I forgot this… Watch this video at your own discretion!!!
Don’t try this at home! It can be very dangerous… … for people watching you!
We got down Chang La through beautiful stretches of snow and snow clad mountains… Snow and ice have now become commonplace to us… They were like everywhere!!! We passed a beautiful village: Sakti.
We stopped when we reached Karu where we had rotis with subzis and eggs. We called our homes from the pay phones there, our mobile phones were rendered useless everywhere (everywhere except Leh).We started from Karu and stopped in 15 minutes! We did not reach Leh. We did reach a nice flat terrain though. Foot ball!! Again!!
3 people from Team Mokkais had scaled Marsimik La… and they therefore thought it appropriate to change their team’s name to Marsimik La Conquerers! The match was now between Zoji La Defenders and Marsimik La Conquerers! Balu found these names unnecessarily stretched out… He therefore rechristened them: Suseela and Maasila!!!
Maasila won… sorry Marsimik La Conquerers won the match hands down… Captain Ram scored 6 goddamn goals!
We made time to visit Hemis and Thiksey Monastery too… It was Dalai Lama’s birthday that day… The 2 monks we met in Hemis said, they had a “Big Puja” that day and gave usprasadham… Not laddu/puliogare… We were given Kitkat and a few other candies! Hemis was definitely a world in itself… A tranquil little world it was
It was late in the evening when we reached Pamir Holiday Home, where we had stayed and deposited our bags before starting to Nubra. We found our bags safe and Monty (young, eager-to-help owner), was happy to see us… but there was just one snag! The rooms… they were gone! Had new occupants!
Monty offered us their living cum meditation room to stay the night! Grateful, we promised we will leave first thing in the morning… This time we did! With our bags…
We vacated the rooms in the morning. But did we get out of Leh?
Nope! That we did not.
A few of our bikes required some repairing and revamping. So, as the bikes and the bikers got ready, we planned to move and wait at Upshi (58 km from Leh). A brilliant idea it seemed then, well… was actually not!
We naturally got split; first time in the whole trip.
What’s so bad about the group being split, you ask? Let me tell you.
It is not just you are missing company… It is that…
You just do not know where others are…
Or, are they even there?
(I told you, in Ladakh mobile phones worked whenever they fancied!)
Simon, Aswin, Ram, Suresh and RamP started first and… what they did… where did they go… we did not know!
When Ramesh and Balu were doing up their bikes, Paari, Ajay, Arul, Venkat and Rock Bala finished their final round of shopping in the Tibetan markets of Leh… Prayer wheels, flasks, bags, mufflers, woolen gloves… (cramster’s gloves, honestly, were hopelessly useless!)
When the bikes were finally ready, we fastened all our stuff which again took quite some time… When we were all set to head out, it was 4 pm!
When we reached Upshi, it was a little past 6! The team that started first was not to be seen anywhere… We searched the whole of Upshi… all the hotels, shops… (will take only 15 minutes I assure you!) We debated on what should be our course of action… We could not reach them and the sky was turning dark and air, cold. The bikers who were coming down the opposite direction told us it was definitely not a good idea to climb Tanglang La at night. But postponing would leave us dangerously behind our plan… only 2 days to reach Manali!
The biking groups (who kept coming the opposite direction) all stopped at Upshi for tea/food/fag. We asked them about the roads to Tanglang La, Barlach La and Rhotang La… Everyone had but one uniform answer (we wondered if they all had met and sworn on saying this only!)
“What? You are hoping to reach Manali… IN JUST 2 DAYS…?”
“You gotta’ be kiddin, man!”
“Forget it, dude!”
Aaargghh! I know they are different words… But they all mean the same
We contemplated various (AAALL possible) options. Even parceling off the bikes from Leh was mulled over! Balu offered to go find the other group wherever they were and stop them from going any further, so we will be one group again.
It was 8 now and totally dark. We decided not to ride any further. Even singly! Balu! Thanks… But you are not going anywhere!
We finally settled on starting early morning from Upshi and riding nonstop. We called NJB and Naveen and told them where we were and our plan and asked them to pass on this message in case the other group called.
We had our dinner in this fine little motel, run by these 3 sweet women who were witnessing our 2 hour long animated discussion with profound interest… of course, they did not understand our words… But we were certainly good business… the momos we gulped down through the discussion, we had no count!
We checked in a dorm. As we were settling in…
Balu rolled of the bed, Arul had a catch in her stomach, almost everyone cried… all from laughing… laughing hysterically… thanks to Ajay. The video and the details were requested not to be divulged. So, sorry
As I closed my eyes to sleep, I was woken up!
Said I, “Ajay! Stop with your jokes… We have got to start early tomorrow…”
“Exactly,” came pat the reply, “start… NOW!”
WHAT?! Surely, it cannot be dawn… No! Not so fast… Even by God’s time!!
But No! It WAS morning!
Operation: Find ‘em!
Day Fourteen: Upshi –> Tanglang La —> Lachlung La —> Baralach La:
We started from Upshi even before I was properly awake.
Fortunately, the riders were… I think.
We, 8 people on 5 bikes started our search for 5 people on 3 bikes, our estranged team… blood brothers!
As avowed, we rode nonstop. But when we reached Tanglang La we had a duty to perform. You do not forsake your duty. No! No! We started from Tanglang La as we finished our ceremonial dance!
We got down Tanglang La by roads that were being laid (or maintained/repaired) simultaneously as we rode!
In a bike trip, a rider definitely has the vantage of negotiating his way through the snowy mountains which is definitely a surreal experience, like making your way through heavens! but he has got to be careful… extremely careful… every single second… but a pillion “rider” can sit back (:D) savour a view in all angles, I mean… can cock his head up and turn it all 360 degree and take in the view through his eyes, nose, ears and mouth (just eyes won’t suffice, I told you!) all in s-l-o-w m-o-t-i-o-n.
We reached the plains and stopped. By a hotel, actually a balmy tent which had 2 circular domes: one served as a kitchen cum dining space… and the other a dorm! Made of neatly arranged quilts and pillows propped over cement slabs! Not cots… Ingenious indeed!
Wait! Right there! I read your mind… You are mistaken! We did not stop for food… Though the aroma from the kitchen of aloo and curry cooking came wafting through the air it was not that that drew us there. We all felt a strong foreboding premonition… Our blood brothers were here…
Suddenly, a man came emerged from nowhere and produced a small chit of paper. What bothered us was he did not ask for the code word! LOL!!! Right! am dropping this tenor now.
The chit read:
We finally heaved a sigh of relief! They were not held as captives, they did not skid down any pass, they were all there… somewhere en route Keylong.
After a swift brunch, we started to Keylong. We saw another biking group ahead us in a few minutes, going the same direction. We recognized each other, acknowledged and waved… and started exchanging our stories.
We were wasting time? No! My bad! I should have told you!
This biking group was Suresh, Aswin, Simon and Rams!!! Our group! We found them!
We did not get off the bikes… We continued our journey.
Tears of delight… ahem! did not flow from anyone’s eyes… but we were certainly glad we found them!
We were ONE! Again!
We reached Pang, crossed Lachulung La (we failed our duty here, no time for our dance ritual )
We went through beautiful stretches, the place looked unlike anything we had seen before in this trip. It looked straight out of “Mummy”, the movie.
Sarchu had a lot of very appealing traveller’s tents. But we just could not afford to stop. We continued to Barlach La. Of all the La’s that we navigated this trip, Baralach La was without doubt the most beautiful.
We first saw lakes which had ice floating on them and then completely frozen lakes and long stretches of land adorned only by snow…
If I had mentioned sparkling snow anywhere… forget it! White does not get any more white than the snow of Barlach La. (better than tide venmai I swear! )
It was like a HUGE luminous white carpet… that was gradually turning pink and a slight orange hue!! Our eyes were not playing tricks surely… It was the sunset… It all happened very fast.
We never stopped as it was beginning to grow dark! Our ride from Barlach La came to an abrupt stop where biting cold water flowed ferociously… through the road! We crossed one bike at a time. We all inexorably got our feet wet The cold crept up our boot, sock, skin, flesh and stopped when it reached the bone, its end I suppose!
The numbness and the chill wore off in exactly… I do not know! My feet were still cold when I hit the sack that day! Next morning… it was not, thankfully.
After crossing that particularly harsh spot, we reached Zinzingbar (10/12 kms). We got in the first built structure that we saw and occupied it. A pleasant tent with a pleasant-er owner! He made sure we were all comfortable, provided surprisingly clean bedding, cooked for us…
We all retired after food, drinks and liberal amount of inane jokes and laughter.
I took the bed right next to the kitchen (a 4 ft x 4 ft space next to our beds!) for want of warmth and woke up predictably in the kitchen the next day!
We were told Barlach La that we crossed last night had been closed for about a week! Somehow wherever we went the doors were opened for us! We never knew they were closed previously and there was no traffic allowed in or out! (and doors… not to be understood in the literal sense… metaphoric doors… in metamorphic rocks , weren’t metamorphic rocks were found in Zanskar… whatever… continuing the story…
We started from our magical tent that somehow protected us from freezing out even when the temperature was perilously bordering around zero degree!
Our ride today was so different from all the days that went by. If I were to let the whole trip (so far) to pass in a swift motion before my eyes, I would revel in a medley of colours: bright blue (of the sky and Pangong Tso), white (snow, of course), red (the monks’ garbs and the cheeks of everyone there!) and a multitude of brown shades (a pallid brown of the desert to a murky brown everyplace else!) But alas! there was no green, no appreciable green… But today, it was only GREEEEN everywhere: left, right and centre… no no… not centre… that was where we were
The snow melted to a white water that flowed down the mountains at some places and fell off the mountains at many others. The ride was breathtakingly beautiful… some places, you just have to stop the bike, take in the view, as much as your limited vision would allow… and make a nice picture postcard and stick it to your mind (or, mount a camera on the tripod, take shots and stitch them for a panoramic view and publish in flickr/picasa) or BOTH
Scoot now! The day’s plan was to reach Manali.
To reach Manali, you have to cross Darcha. Did we cross Darcha? We did…
After Darcha, came Keylong… Was a piece of cake
Then came the Rohtang Pass… which we heard was a pass that was usually thronged by tourists. But when we reached the pass, there were none except us! Not a single soul… like in all the other La’s.
Oblivious to that eerie fact, we enjoyed sliding down the snowy slopes from the sledges that were there unattended.
WHOOOOOM (no R, because the sledge has no engine), a sledge would merrily slide down the slope, in about 10 seconds. Taking the sledge back up the slope would take 3-4 minutes and would exact at least 200 calories! and all the air in your lungs
We reluctantly let go of the sledges and started our bikes…
We would not have if not for the fog that enveloped us… oh so affectionately… rendering anything beyond 10 feet’s distance suddenly nonexistent!
The ride down Rohtang La to Manali, we assumed should take not less than 2 hours…
We congratulated ourselves for proving everyone wrong… (remember the bikers at Upshi who told us it could not be done?) We would be reaching Manali in a couple of hours, and would courier the bikes back the next day and take a bus to Delhi and not miss our flight!
Drunk on our little triumph, we very slowly went riding down Rohtang La as the fog that engulfed us… hung on to us, more affectionately than before!
Half blind, quarter frozen, three quarters conscious we rode till we found a lot of people on the road, out their cars and off their bikes… Talking fervently…
NO! we did not hit a tourist hangout!
These people were stranded! Yeah… and so were we!
Remember I said somewhere about us getting lucky everywhere we went…
Well, that was definitely wearing off!
Assuming it was just a minor traffic congestion that should clear off eventually; we played cards for a while…
This was also when our phones started ringing… after a long long time… Hari, Karthik (of CTC) and all my family, individually!! called us demanding to know our whereabouts and safety… My sister had texted a very concerned message with her choicest swear words to all our mobiles… (which I hear is under circulation ) Everyone’s phone began beeping, one at a time all delivering the same message… NO! am not writing the sms here for self preservation reasons… Enough damage already
While we were reassuring everyone who kept calling that there was nothing to worry, our trip had no misadventure of any sort… we heard a man saying:
“There has been a landslide!!!”
Know what? He was mistaken…
The landslide was happening now! Not “has been”…. NOWWW!!!
Our bikes were the last in the queue of vehicles that were waiting… we wondered now, for how many hours!
No vehicle was allowed to pass in either direction!
Now, this just can’t be it!
We took a quick vote and found none of us wanted to die there (we always operated based on consensus u see? ) We started our bikes to somehow put as much distance as possible between us and Rohtang…
We made our way through the trucks and cars to a spot where 2 BRO officers were there giving instructions over their walkie talkie not to allow any vehicle to pass! They kept looking up worriedly now and then..!
We persuaded them to please let us go… ‘just 8 bikes’, we said and ‘we NEEEEED to reach Manali tonight’ we insisted. The BRO officers finally let us (still am not able to put a finger on what really made them). I guess, only when you are really desperate, you look desperate.
This place had mud of astonishingly batter like consistency! It was way too deep and liberally present like nowhere else. If we had not had to ride our bikes through it, it would have been such a fascinating thing to look at!
We made our way through this mud…
Was everyone coming?? they’d better, before the BRO officer changed his mind..
8 bikes? 8 bikes???
Yup! All present
We got down the mountain and found a hotel…
8 bikes? NOPE!!!
After a few minutes…
After several nail-biting minutes…
OH!! PLzzz… Where is Balu and Krish??
Their story better be good, when they come!!
AARGHH!! They finally arrived… with a story of course.
Balu had spotted a cow that was drawing in its last few breaths! Must have slipped from a cliff… They fed him some water… … and yeah… hence the delay.
We found a hotel to stay the night… to reminisce about our eventful day…
Hey! I didn’t tell you the hotel we found last night was in fact in Manali!
So we made it to Manali… after all!
ALL OF US in one piece! Actually 13 different pieces! 13 being our count…
We had to just bid good bye to our dutiful (definitely not beautiful now ) bikes and catch a bus to Delhi and board our flight…
Evvalavo pannitom… LOL :)
So did we parcel our bikes to Chennai? Nope! We couldn’t from Manali
Why can’t anything go as planned for a difference, eh?
The nearest place from where our bikes could be couriered was Mandi (105 kms.)
So 8 bikers started to Mandi and 5 of us went about exploring Manali.
When we went to book our tickets to Delhi, it definitely did not sound good, when they said there were NONE!
We tried all the Travel Operators to no avail
We finally found a government bus stand… They’ve got to have it, we hoped…
“5 tickets to Delhi, please”
“725 rupees madam”
We were not so doomed after all
We had 3 hours to kill… After promenading the streets of Manali, we packed our bags to the bus stand.
_______________________________________________________________________________________ We went to the bus stand a little early to load all our bags… They asked us to leave it on the top. We lifted all our bags and bound it with the ropes we had. The bags kept coming… We know we had a lot of bags… but surely not so many!! Clearly someone mistook us for someone else
… this is why you should not hang around in a place once your work’s done there!
When we ensured our entire luggage (and a few others’ too) was loaded, the bus’s engine roared! We had no time to buy food!
Ram and I disappeared asking Chandru, Ajay and Rock to buy us 5 minutes…
I bought some egg sandwiches, deep fried chicken from the platform… We found later, neither was good But Ram must have got something… You think? Nope! He came back empty handed! This was what he said he did: “2 children came to me, asking money… I didn’t feel like giving them money, so I took them to a shop and bought them some food… Since it took much time I came straight to the bus! ” Now, why didn’t he buy us food…???
Seriously, Ram, how much more time would it take to say 7 whatever than 2 whatever?!
The bus started with a loud rumble, muffling the growls from our bellies
We seated ourselves in a cramped space… honestly, that bus must have been specially manufactured to transport dwarves, elves, gnomes, pixies, elves or Lilliputians…
We wanted to confirm if we were at least placed comfortably time wise…
We enquired the conductor, around what time would the bus reach Delhi in the morning… and got no response!
We asked again and got some response, which none of us understood!
We waited till he came to us… We knew he would, like it happens in all the buses.
When he finally came to us asking for the tickets, Ram looked for them, taking as much time as he could while we asked all our questions and got all the answers
Our bus was to reach Delhi around 8 or 9 am… Woo-hoo!! Our flight was to start only 4 pm!
HEY! Have you no care for the other group that went to Mandi?
You have been listening to only what we 5 were doing!
Why didn’t you ask about them?! :)
Very well, here we go…
They called us after parceling the bikes from Mandi. It was a scenic route and the roads were a biker’s dream, they said! They also went through a 3 km tunnel… It was all perfect… till they told us they had problems finding transportation from Mandi to Delhi.
They after much difficulty rented a car (Toyota Qualis)… It was around midnight when they started and the driver was all sleepy, but he had to drive the whole night, if the group were to reach Delhi!
So, did he drive? YES
Did the group reach Delhi? YES!
Is there something that I missed? YES!!!
The sleepy driver, slept!
The car banged against a tractor! It would have been a head on collision if Ram P hadn’t turned the steering wheel at the right time, sensing the impending danger. Ram the Photographer —> Ram the Savior
The accident was not completely averted though… Remember what happened to RMS Titanic when it collided the ice berg?! Despite it veering, it crashed! (cha! enna oru comparison, I know )
Ramesh, Balu who were sitting at the back woke up to an ear splitting noise (????) and a shower of shattered glass all over their front!
The rear window smashed to smithereens… but luckily none was hurt
Thankfully, the rest of the trip was much less eventful and needless to say nobody dared wink much less sleep
We, in the bus, woke up (how we even slept I have no idea!) and wondered how far we were from Delhi…
It was around 8 when… the bus… reached Delhi, you think??
NO! It was around 8 am when the bus stopped… A FLAT TYRE!!! —- 30 mins!
It started and stopped again… for another 30 mins… to mend that flat tyre!
It was 11 am when we reached… no! not Delhi… Chandigarh!!!
After that, the bus picked up speed ——– 30 kmph! and we had no seat belts!
Seriously! the speed at which the bus moved will make you want to get out of the bus and run and reach your destination!
Chang la, Lachulung La, Baralach La and even Rohtang La did not delay us like this
US: What time will this bus reach Delhi?
CONDUCTOR: Yes, yes! Thank you!
US: Will this bus reach Delhi by 3 at least?
CONDUCTOR: Yes, yes! Thank you!
And after spending 2 weeks in a cold paradise, we had forgotten the effect a sweltering sun produces on bare skin!
After 4 hours of profuse sweating, we got down at the Delhi bus stand (pinna? bus enna… innum sattru nerathil platform no. 7 ka vandhu serum? )
We took 3 autos to airport and found the other group already waiting for us. They had time to brush off the glass and even for a quick bath!
We however had just enough time to check in the baggage, collect our boarding pass, gulp down Kentucky Fried Chicken and get on the plane!
We did not cause much trouble in the flight while returning… Our cameras were more drained than us
When we got out of the flight in Chennai, the air engulfed us like a warm blanket… (sorgame endraalum… )
My mom and my sister were waiting for us with sweets and balloons!! and Aditya too had come to pick up Ajay. When we all took one final group snap at the airport… we realized our trip had ended! A trip of 17 days… really did not seem like one!
No mom! Didn’t mean it that way! I really did miss u a lot… Now, where is that sweet?
Peter Van Geit
Biking Monday, January 3, 2011