Wednesday, 18 September 2013

It had poured whole night long. I was supposed to wake up at 4 and start my ride with the French group at 5, but the world knows, dawn & I have rarely seen eye-to-eye. It felt like a sin not to sleep till 7 in the cozy warmth of the blanket while it's cold and raining cat and dinosaurs, outside. It was nearing 10 when I finally started my ride, by which time the rain had stopped and the Sun was shining again. My target was Keylong or Jispa, depending on where I reach till daylight fades away.


Between Heaven and Earth!
My first hurdle - the infamous Rohtang Pass. Manali to Rohtang top is 51 km. As soon as I started the climb, I realized that the bike is having issues. The same problem that I had while heading to Solang Valley, resurfaced. Remember, I said I made a mistake listening to Rahul mechanic and thought everything was okay with my bike? This was it. The bike kept misfiring and was giving lot of jerks. It's a known fact that you don't get a mechanic between Manali and Keylong. Half way up the Rohtang slope, I came across what looked like a tiny settlement of 10 odd shelters. Chances were slim of finding a mechanic but I kept looking around and soon came across an armyman who was working on his military pickup. I asked him if he could help and his reply was, "Give me any car and I'll mend it in 15 mins, but I don't know a single thing about bikes."


Off to Rohtang!
I checked my phone - NO SIGNAL. Could neither call Rahul mechanic nor my mechanic in Mumbai and ask for a solution. There was no way in hell I'd be able to ride up the Rohtang Pass in that condition. Now, I had two options - either to ride back to Manali or mend it myself. If I were to ride back to Manali, it would be impossible to reach Keylong on that day and I'd have to stay one more day in Manali. Out of question. Time to get my hands dirty.

Upon seeing the 'MH' series number plate the army guy realized that I'm from Maharashtra. He instantly got friendly and told me that he's also from Maharashtra (I vaguely remember him telling me that he's from Sangli). He suggested that though he didn't know much about bikes, if I wanted to work on my bike, I should sit next him and do it so that if I get stuck, he can help me figure out the problem. That sounded a logical. He also offered me to use his tools. I unloaded all my luggage off the bike and started working on it.
The exactly place where I mended my bike - in middle of nowhere!
I had a round-about idea as to what was wrong with the bike - the air filter. I started facing issue once I started riding up the slope. With increase in altitude, as the air kept getting thinner, the misfiring and jerks were more severe. In short, all signs suggested that the issue's with the engine not getting enough oxygen to burn the fuel. My mechanic from Mumbai had told me about it and had given me a spare, bigger air filter for this exact scenario. Half an hour and lot of hesitation later, I was done changing the air filter. I could only hope that THAT was the only issue and it's been taken care of. But I could never be sure till I start riding. Also, another issue had popped up, the kilometer guage had stopped working. Well, that wasn't something that would hamper my ride, so I didn't bother much about it.

By this time, he too was done mending his army pickup truck. Upon realizing I'm going to Keylong, he said, "My colleague is driving this (pickup truck) to Keylong and if you want, you can ride alongside so that if something goes wrong, you can load it up in it till the next town." That was music to my ears. It was almost 1pm by then. If I were to ride with them, I'd be required to wait for another hour or so. I was in double mind, whether to ride with the insurance policy and ride past sunset OR to take the big risk and march on alone and reach Keylong in daylight? Just then, few riders passed by; I stopped one of them and I explained him my bike's issue and asked if he could help. He told me they're riding with a mechanic who's 15 mins behind and he could be able to help me. He suggested, I join them and if something went wrong, their mechanic who's few kilometers behind would help me out. It turned out, these bikers were also from Mumbai. I finally had company.

Icewall dwarfs the bike.
I started riding with the group towards Rohtang top. Just couple of kilometers down the line, miracle! The kilometer gauge came back to life! Well, that's good. Now I can see exactly how slow I was riding through mud and snow.

Snow! Well, that was the first time in my life that I had seen snow. Till then I had seen it in movies and shows, about people riding between icewalls; and there I was, doing exactly that. Just then it started snowing. I cannot possibly describe the beauty of riding in high mountain passes while it's snowing. The snow was neither hailstones nor christmas-y snowfalkes, it was somewhere in the middle. They were slightly smaller than the beans that you put in your bean bags and though you can hear the tip-tap of the snow hitting your helmet, at no point you'd feel threatened. In fact, even when it hits your body directly, you don't get hurt. In short, it was just perfect! 
The only thing that's not white is the tarmac. Cleared by the military, of course.

People often ask me, "Didn't you got bored riding all alone?" Look at this view. Just look at it. How can you possibly get bored riding over here?
Bucket list: Ride in snow. 

Just a day before, there was a snowstorm and I had come to know that they there was knee-deep mud and huge water crossings. Hence, it turned out to be a super-smart decision to start the ride on Day 7 and stay another day in Manali. While riding in the mud, I had my second fall - the weirdest one of the trip. I was riding with that Mumbai group and there was absolutely zero coordination between everyone. They'd race one another and would be more interested in just overtaking than making sure that all the group members are together and safe. I knew from early on that riding with their group for too long won't be a good idea.
Shri Sukhdev Singh Gill - The Father Of Manali-Leh Highway. Lest We Forget.
I was with riding behind two bikers from their group, one of them had a Honda CBR 250 and the other one was Riding Enfield. We were making our way through sticky mud. At a point, I thought both of them would clear the sticky patch and hence I accelerated but then CBR brake and so did RE, I had to apply sudden brake and I tried to put my feel on the ground but due to the mud didn't get a firm hold on the ground, lost my balance and fell, but not on the ground. While rummaging through mud, you're in 1st gear, barely going at 10-15kmph, where your priority is not speed but to get out of muck in one peice. While I was trying to get out of mud, a Maruti 800 (yes!) was coming from the opposite direction. We were on the narrow ghats and the momet when I lost my balance, the front wheel of the car was parallel to me, about 6 inches away from me. Hence, instead of falling to the ground, my bike fall on the car and my right leg got stuck between the bike and the car; while the left leg was hanging in the air. The bike had leaned on the car at about 60 degrees, my one leg was in the air while the other was stuck between the two vehicles. I could neither get my left feet to touch the ground, nor I could make my right leg to push me and the bike up. 

Thankfully, the driver stopped the car as soon as I fell. Everyone from the car rushed out and helped me get up. Unfortunately, my bike's handle left a dent on his car above the front wheel. I apologized 2-3 times. Neither of us were riding fast. Everyone knew with the kind of surface we were riding on, it can happen. I lost my balance and slipped, it's not like I ran into him. Had he not been there, I would've been down in the mud. He just happened to be at the wrong place at wrong time. One of the passengers said, "It's okay, dude. Happens." But when I looked at the car's owner's face, it told a different story. He was obviously disappointed and a bit angry too. But since it was nobody's fault, he too didn't say anything. I apologized to him once again before carrying on with the ride.
Rohtang Top - 13050 Ft.
Soon I reached the top of Rohtang. First big pass conquered. Everything covered in snow; the only thing that's not snow is recently cleared piece of tarmac. Absolutley Beautiful!! I started the descent from Rohtang alongside the Mumbai group. 

We stopped by at the foothills to take a breather. At the side of the road there was a fresh water stream. The water was as clear as it can be. Not to mention, cold too. No way I was going to leave the opportunity to drink from it. Borrowed a bottle from one of the riders, filled it up with crystal clear water and drank almost half a litre. It's often said that water is tasteless but this water had a certain sweetness to it. Not sugary sweet, but mild, leaves-you-mesmerised kind of sweet. I had never tasted such a tasty water before or since. Also, it was the freshest and purest water I ever drank. You may think that I'm making a big deal out of water, but well, you'd know the day you taste it. Even while writing this, I'm salivating. No kidding!


The water accumulated on the ground is coming from the stream - from which I drank water - which is flowing behind the rocks.

We reached at Khoksar check post. Right next to the check post was a small dhabba. It was later noon by now and all of us were starving. I sat down with the Mumbai group and had 2+ bowls of maggi. Also, that was the first time that I saw all the group memembers together. But, their coordniation ended at the table. Some of the bikers stayed behind to check up on some of the issues faced by one of the bikes, while others charged ahead. I soldiered on since I didn't wanted to get stuck in middle of nowhere becuase of their idiocy. 

I read the village of Tandi famous for being home to the last petrol pump for 365 km. The petrol cans that I was had filled from Manali were constantly losing petrol. The biggest reason what they these were 5 ltr petrol cans with big mouth unlike the petrol-specific cans. The reason I chose them is because their square design fit perfectly in my saddlebag, as if it were custom made, and the tall petrol cans simply didn't fit in. By the time I reached Tandi, I had lost more than a litre from each cans. I had started with 10 litres, but by now I was left with barely 7.5 litres. Since the next pump was 365 km. away, in addition to the full tank and topping the cans, I also emptied a 1 litre water bottle and filled with petrol for added security.

14 ltr. petrol tank + 8 ltr. can (2 litres of spillage) + 1 ltr. bottle = 23 litres. 

It's a known fact that at high altitude, the average goes down. Even in worst case scenario, if I'm getting an average of 25 kmpl, that would give me a range of 450 km. Safe enough!


Tandi: Next filling station - 365 km. In other words, do you have the balls to go further?

By 6.30ish, I reached Keylong. I just wanted to check in to a hotel and rest, hence, decided against riding to Jispa which was another 45 km. While leaving from Khoksar, one of the idiots from Mumbai group told me, "Oh, so you're going to stop at Keylong only? That's silly. Ride till Jispa at least. We're planning to go all the way to Sarchu (another 110km)." While I was looking for a room at Keylong, their group had gathered around and were discussing what to do. The overconfident moron was adament that they'd ride to Jispa (50 km. further) at least. Few hours later, while fooling around, I bumped into them once again and found out that they decided to stay in Keylong only. I was more than happy that I wasn't staying with them.
That view!

Basking in the Sun.
But I wasn't 100% satisfied with my room either. It was easily one of the most pathetic rooms I've stayed through out my trip. Keylong is a small settlement on the Manali - Leh highway. There are barely 4-5 guest houses in total and the first and 90% of the buildings are spread over a 400 mtr. stretch. I somehow managed to pick one of the worst guest house. Dirty room, TV not working and though he promised hot water till for 2 hours I didn't got any. I made the guy clean the room but I was still waiting for hot water. It was nearing 9pm and I was feeling cold after riding in the snow. After asking him repeatedly to fix the plumbing of the hot water pipe, the helper tells me, "Kyun ghadi-ghadi bula rahe ho? Thoda adjust nahi kar sakte" (Why are you calling me again & again. Can't you adjust little bit?)  That's when I blew the lid and said, "What the hell you mean by 'adjust a little bit?' The weather's chilling, all I've asked for is hot water, that also you can't give me? I'm paying you for this so you better make sure I get it." His boss intervened and got hot water issue sorted for me.

After the hot bath, I went out in search of food. It seemed, there's just ONE decent restaurant in Keylong, where you can have a hearty meal. I entered the poorly lit restaurant and took a single table opposite this huge group of boys. They started talking to me and when they realized I'm on a solo trip, one of the guys said, "Dude, we salute you for your effort. We're 12 guys, going to Leh in two Scorpios and yet we're being cautious in the wilderness. And you're doing all on your own? Wow." They boys were from Delhi and were talking to me with utmost respect. Just when my mindset about "Dilli boys" was starting to change, they lived upto their infamous image. 

The restaurant was poorly lit and there were only guys inside - besides this noisy group of 12 boys, there was me and another table was occupied by 3 more guys. A girl entered the restaurant to check out if there was place to sit while her other friends waited said, but when she saw only guys were there, she left. That was enough to unleash the horny beast out of those Delhi boys. Though she had left, they couldn't control their testesterone and started commenting loudly, "Where are you going, sweetheart? We're right here", "Come here babe", "Scared of us or what?" and such other lecherous comments. I couldn't help but think what is it about them that makes them turn to monsters at the sight of a female? And it's not like they belong to backward class/poor people who're incapable of understanding morality. They all belonged to middle/hihger-middle class, educated families yet their mentality was stuck in their pants. Just a minute back, they were talking to me (a stranger) so respectfully and within no time they went from being gentlemen to horny a**holes? 

Just then my food arrived and I got busy eating and kept my interaction with them to a minimum. Out of the blue, those two Bangalore brothers called me to ask where I've reached. Turned out they too were in Keylong. Though they started a day before me, they were stuck in Keylong since the day before, as the roads were closed due to heavy snow (the same bad weather that struck Rohtang, had also disrupted traffic at Baralachala Pass). I caught up with them after the dinner.

The elder brother told me, "This guy (younger brother) will be the younger person EVER to go to Leh. He is 20. I don't thin anyone younger than him must have ridden to Leh." Ya, right! Dude, I understand that you're proud of your brother but please keep your enthusiasm in check.

He promised me that we'd start the ride together the next day but after having already experienced the Manali incident, I took his word with a pinch of salt. Only good thing that came out of that meeting was when I narrated the issue that I faced before Rohtang, he told me about this particular mechanic who's a master at tuning the engines for high altitude passes. 

I hit the bed wrapped up in a couple of blankets hoping that the pass would open up the next day and that the mechanic would sort out my bike.


Blackbird left her footprints in snow!
P.S. Bear with the substandard quality of pics, all these images were taken from the mobile since I had packed my camera in two layers of plastic due to snow and overcast conditions.

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