Archive for 2013

Day 8: Dealing with Rohtang Pass

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.

Day 7: Manali Tourism

It was Monday. I was supposed to start my ride towards Leh, but I just didn’t want to do it, yet. Not so soon. I had already spent two nights in Manali but I hadn’t seen any of those tourist places in Manali. Besides, I had a very good reason not to ride that day. Through some trusted sources, I came to know that on Tuesdays, Rohtang Pass is open only for those who wish to ride all the way to Leh, and hence, the pass is devoid of any traffic. On rest of the days, the touristy crowd that come to Manali, drive to the Rohtang Top just so that they can get a new DP for their Facebook, which results in long traffic snares. Also, it’s a common phenomenon that all those who come to Manali for a weekend trip, start their Monday by visiting Rohtang Top before heading back. Hence, it’s best to avoid Rohtang on Mondays and if the schedule permits, stay in Manali for one more day and head out on Tuesday, you’ll get absolutely clear road.
Flowers outisde my hotel room
Apart from that, another reason behind me leaving a day later was the fact that the French group staying at the same hotel was also going to start their ride on Tuesday. They had a support van, a guide as well as a mechanic. I was given strict instructions from back home to join another group before I start the gruelling climb from Manali. Despite my apprehension about riding with a group, I asked the trip organizer Buddy (Mr. Raju’s brother) if I could ride alongside; he was totally fine with it as long as I was ready to wake up early and ride out by 4-4.30 AM.
Don't you wish you woke up to this every Monday?
It was a bright, sunny day - perfect for sightseeing. I thought, “Let’s leave the worrying part about next day's early wakeup call for later and enjoy my last day in Manali, for now.” Hence, I headed out to explore the city. On the first day, while searching for a place to stay I had come across this particular place called Johnson’s Café. A board near the restaurant's main gate read: “Best Restaurant for European Cuisine - Lonely Planet.” Just then I knew, I had to have at least one meal at this place. I decided to have an early lunch at Johnson’s Café before heading to Solang Valley. 

As I entered the open façade of the restaurant, I saw a mid-60s foreigner having coffee while her dog was patiently sitting at her feet. Being a dog-lover, I instantly started playing with the gorgeous Alsatian. At first, I thought she must be a guest at the Johnson’s Lodge, but it turned she’d been living in India since 22 years, at some village (whose name I forgot) near Kullu. Meaning, she’s more local than I am. After exchanging pleasantries and playing with her friendly Alsatian I took a table. Much to my surprise, rather, shock, they don’t serve lunch before 1-1.30. The clock was inching toward 12.30 PM and the waiter told me that the chef won't arrive before 1.15 PM. Beer and light snacks were all that they could serve. Best European Restaurant in town and no food before 1.30 PM? Oh, well.
Hot momos and the view!
I headed empty stomach towards Rohtang. The bike was constantly nagging and hence I decided to get it checked with Rahul the mechanic. Upon reaching his shop I realized he was AWOL. There’s a momo shop right next to his garage. I decided to fill my growling stomach while waiting for him. Sitting inside a wooden hut, overlooking white rapids, a snow clad peak in the background and gorging on some hot moms; is there a better way to spend your Monday? Even after half an hour, Rahul didn’t turn up; hence, I decided to take a chance with the bike and headed to Solang Valley.
When an unstoppable force meets an immovable object...
Though bike was constantly giving jerks while ascending the ghats, I somehow managed to reach there. Crowd, paragliding, crowd, zorbing, crowd, ATV hill climb, crowd, fast food stalls – that’s Solang Valley for you. Oh, and did I tell you it was completely crowded? Unless you have a cranky kid who really, like REALLY wants to do paragliding and/or tumble down the hill in a big ball, kindly avoid Solang Valley. This place is 20-25km. from Manali, and narrow roads on the ghats take about 30-60 minutes to reach. Same amount of time on the return trip and some more time to stand there and watch the amused tourists take turns to learn the spelling of ZORBING. In short, total waste of 3-4 hours. Don’t make the mistake I did. Instead, go to Vashisht and check out the hot springs and enjoy the peace & tranquillity. One of the regrets of my trip is not being able to go to Vashisht. 
Solang "Overcrowded" Valley
On a wing and a prayer!
Flying high!
Bike kept misfiring due to lack of oxygen all the way. I knew, there was no way I was going to make it to the top of Rohtang in that condition. On my way back, I got it checked with Rahul. He cleaned the plug and told me everything was fine. Turned out, while returning, I opened the choke before starting the bike and forgot to close it. Rahul told me it was a human error and the machine was absolutely fine. I suggested that we should switch the stock air filter with the bigger one that I had got from Mumbai, but he was overconfident that that wasn’t needed. I wasn’t convinced about it and deep inside I knew that there was some major issue with the bike, most probably due to lack of oxygen at high altitude, but I decided to rely on his judgment. Big mistake! (More on that tomorrow - on Day 8)
Cattles grazing the open field near Solang
Lamb Of ???
Since I skipped Vashisht and the fact that Solang sucked, I thought of checking out other nearby tourist places inside the town. Sign boards of Hadimba Temple are littered all across the Manali. I’m not a very religious person but I thought of checking out the hype hoping that it would at least be a grand temple with great architecture where I’d be able to get good clicks. Big mistake! The harrowing experience starts even before you enter inside the main gate. Typing Indian mentality is showcased in its purest form over here. Amusing tourist paying money to dress up in Himachali attire and getting clicked with a yak. Why on the earth would you want to wear somebody else's clothes and get clicked? I thought fancy dress was only for primary students.

Picture this: A three year old kid is screaming his lungs out as he’s scared of the big yak but the mom is forcefully making him sit on that prehistoric creature because all she’s interested in is clicking her son’s “memorable” pic. Why would you torture your kid like that? I can bet my limb on this one, 20 years down the line, the only memory the kid will have of his Manali vacation is being forced to sit on a scary yak.
Deodhar Trees inside the Hadimba Temple compound.
As you enter inside the gate, it's like a scene straight right out of a Vikram Bhatt's horror movie. Try picturing, Raaz 1. You’re walking amidst 60-100 ft. tall Deodhar(?) trees, mist everywhere and the trees are so tall the sunlight never hits the surface. It can easily spook you if you're not surrounded my those half a million tourists. A walk 100 mtrs further and you come this never ending queue of so-called "devotees" leading into the temple. I’m not exactly sure how the temple looks from inside since I never bothered standing in the queue for an hour and find out what the insides of the tin shed that's there in the name of the temple looked like. No, thanks!
Hadimba Temple and the devotee thingies standing in the queue to get in.
Worse was yet to come. It had started drizzling. The road to Hadimba temple is a fairly steep climb. Any experienced biker will tell you that heavy rain is much better than a light drizzle. Simply because, while the heavy rain will wash away the road surface, the drizzle will simply make the sand on the road’s surface wet and slippery. I was riding downhill on this steep slope, a tight turn combined with the slippery surface and BAM! First fall of Bombay to Leh trip! First of the many, in fact. Apparently, I couldn’t get on the front brakes fast enough and only ended up going hard on the rear brakes; the fall was inevitable. No injury, except for minor bruising; but the bike took the toll. The number plate broke in two and the leg guard was also bent. I somehow kicked the leg guard in place but was left with a broken number plate for the rest of the journey. I tried tapping the broken pieces but somewhere between Keylong and Sarchu, the smaller piece fell off.

You wouldn't believe this. Even I didn't knew about it till few minutes back. When I was going through the pictures of my trip to find appropriate pics ones for this blog post; I stumbled upon the below image. I checked the time stamp and guess what? This was clicked about 40 mins before I had my first fall. Also, if you know Indian mythology, you'd be aware that Hadimba was one of the bad people in Mahabharat - a 12 feet giant who finally died at the hands of Bhima. I'm the last person to believe in superstition. I'm simply putting the facts in front of you, now you can believe whatever you want. Do you think 666 is the Number of the Beast? Or that my fall was any way related to Hadimba and that fact I didn't go inside the temple? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. 
666 - Number of the Beast!
Himalayan Country House is situated in Old Manali, near the Manu Temple. It's away from the crowded market and hence, it's peaceful and serene. Old Manali is still not completely taken over by the commercialization and has managed to keep their identity intact. You can see still see the typical old Himachali houses with village kids playing in the backyard, cows tied  to the pillar and haystack piled up on a side. If you're a photography lover, you can easily spend 2-3 hours around here. During the evening time, you see dozens of foreigners with gigantic DSLRs going on a photowalk around this area. Sadly, I only had half an hour to capture that old-world charm in my lenses, before it became dark.
This cute village kid was playing with his friends. He seemed more than happy to pose when I took out my camera and asked, "Photo?"
By the time I was done with the photowalk, it was 7.30ish and I was starving since the only thing I had during the entire day were those momos. I went to a German Bakery in Old Manali. It’s in a tiny lane after Drifter’s Inn. It wouldn’t be wrong if you’d name that lane as mini-Israel. Imagine this, the bakery and the cyber café next to it had name of food items and instructions in Hebrew. In fact, even the Nepali looking bakery fellow was conversing with them in Hebrew.
Old Manali: Like a time capsule.

From an another era.
I bought my pastry and sat on the steps of a closed shop opposite the bakery. Three Isrealis were sitting next to me at that time. Couple of minutes later, two more joined them. Few minutes later, a girl arrived and everyone hugged and greeted her (they probably met her after a long time). Then one more guy came and welcomed her with a hug. Two more guys joined them. First guy introduced her to these two, and they too greeted her. Within no time, the group swelled to 12-15 people with everybody knowing everybody else. In the fifteen minutes that I spent over there, I saw just 2-3 Indians and more than 25-30 Isrealis walking through that lane. In my opinion, the ratio of Isrealis:Indians staying in the hotels down that lane is 10:1.

I bought a couple of choco chip cookies from the bakery, so that I can grab a quick bite before starting my riding next morning. From another shop, I bought chocolates to keep me energized during the ride. This shop also had rolling paper, cigarette filters and loose tobacco. In fact, the shops leading up to this lane had all sort of pipes and bongs. No prizes for guessing why!
When you have such an ambience, there's bound to be great music.
I had one too many pastries and the stomach was full but I really wanted to go to Johnson’s. Since I was going to start my ride next morning, I decided to fill my petrol cans in the night only, so that I don't waste any time in the morning and can hit the highway. Hence, I carried the saddle bags to the pump so that I can fill up the petrol cans and also top up the tank. As planned, I went to Johnson’s for a sumptuous European fare. As expected, the place lived up to its name - cool ambience, delicious food, good service and great music.

Last meal in Manali - beer and delicious continental
As always, my day can never be over without anti-climax. After 2 days of bright sunshine, it started pouring down just as I was about to leave from Johnson’s to my hotel which was 3-4 km. away. The saddle bag was on the bike and everything from tool box to the petrol cans were getting wet but there was little I could do. About 20 minutes later, the rain eased a bit and I rushed back to the hotel. Mind you, just few hours back I had a fall in wet conditions and I couldn’t let that happen the second time given the fact that I was carrying 10 litres of extra fuel in the saddle bags. Well, I'm not that bad a rider either. By the time I reached hotel, the rain had again gained momentum. Thankfully, one of the helpful staff members of the hotel rushed out with an umbrella while I untied my saddle bag and carried it 2 storeys back to the room. 
Ready to fly!
On Day 8, I started my ride towards Leh. First hurdle - the 'infamous' Rohtang Pass. But hold on, it's not as easy as it sounds. I face issues with my bike in middle of nowhere. To know whether I was able fix it or not, wait for the next post!

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Day 6: Manali Productivity

I woke up in the morning with a pleasant surprise, the rain clouds gave way to bright sunny sky. I kept all of my clothes outside in the balcony to dry out. 

Since check out timing at most hotels in this part is at 12 noon, I knew that if at all a room was going to get vacant it would be after 12, yet, I didn't wanted to wait for too long and miss out on the room to someone else. Hence, around 11.30, I packed my bags and headed to Himalayan Country House which was barely 200 mt. from that piece of crap where I spent the night. When I reached there, much to my relief, Mr. Raju informed that he does have a room for me but since the guests checked out minutes before I reached, they were getting the room cleaned & ready for me. I had to wait more than an hour for it, but I wasn't complaining. The housekeepers had to clean & prepare not just my room but 7-8 more rooms for a French group. Since I didn't had a single grain of food in the morning at hell hole, I decided to have the breakfast at HCH's restaurant. The cook was nice and was more than happy to alter the recipe of their Spanish Omlette and add a few more ingredients as instructed by me, to suit my taste.

While waiting for the room, I learnt that the French group has 14 tourists and they were also there to ride to Leh. Apparently, HCH also runs a tour company where they organize treks and bike trips. After the checking in, I decided to get a bike wash since earlier day's Mandi to Manali ride had turned my bike's colour from black to mud.

While riding that 200 mt. stretch from that crappy hotel to HCH, I noticed that front disc brake was making weird noise.Their resident mechanic who was readying the REs before handing them over to the French group confirmed my doubt that the front disc brake is ruined and would need replacement for which I'll need to go all the way out of town towards highway where there are a bunch of bike shops. Couple of people in the area suggested that I should go to Rahul of Rahul Bike Service, as he is pretty good for all non-REs. He seemed like a genuine guy. When he removed the old brake pads, that's when I realized the extent of wear & tear the earlier day's ride had put on my brakes. I was as if the rubber on the pads never existed only. 

I'm holding both the brake pads - old & new. The above one (with rubber padding) is new one. The one below is the old brake pad.
Cost of changing the front brake pads was 160. He told me that generally he charges 200 (including labour charges) but because I came across as a decent person, he was charging less. I knew he was bullshitting yet I gave him 200 bucks and asked him to keep the change. The first thing that I were going to encounter after Manali was the notrious Rohtang Pass and I wanted a genuine mechanic to be just a phone call away if anything went wrong. I paid those extra 40 bucks to buy his loyalty. I took down his phone number and told him that the next day I was going to leave for Rohtang and if anything went wrong, I'd call him up and he should provide me technical support. He agreed. Why wouldn't he?

I was carrying a pair of Cramster city-riding gloves which are good only in city/warm conditions, since they have pores in them for ventilation. My hand would freeze if I wear them at Rohtang. While my bike was getting her spa treatment done, I met few bikers who were returning from Leh. I asked them about shoes and gloves. They told me about a particular type of cheap Chinese gloves called -20°C, which won't work at -20° but are good enough to get one through the snowcapped passes. Also gave me directions to the shop where I'd get gumboots. I had heard about cheap gum boots from many other people. I headed to the market and bought myself all of those stuff. 200 bucks for the gloves and 300 for gum boots. Sorted!

It was 7ish and since that the Spanish Omlette was the only thing I had, I was starving by now. I came across this small restaurant tucked inside one of the bylanes, in the market. As I wanted to taste authentic cuisine, I ordered Thenthuk. The soft-spoken, teenage Nepali boy who was my waiter told me that Tibetians (and Nepalis too) eat Thenthuk during winters; it keeps the body warm. It was filling but it was pretty bland. Most people who're not used to eating bland or Tibetian food, won't like it. I had to add a lot vinegar, chilli water and soya sauce to get a decent taste.

You'll get same type of bakery stuff throughout the Manali. There's a German Bakery in every lane, with the same kind of cakes and stuff. It seems, as if the entire Manali buys their bakery products from the same German fellow. While, my Thenthuk was being cooked, I experimented with a couple of more bakery delicacies. 
I tried this croissant thingy, I believe it was called Russian something, don't remember the name. It was sweet and chocolate layered between the bread alongwith coconut garnishing.
After that, I tried this salty thingy. Again, I don't remember the name but it looked like toy as you can see above. It tastes very similar to breadsticks. In my opinion, it would make an interesting 'biting' with drinks.
Thenthuk. Tibetians generally eat it during winters to keep their body warm.
While randomly going through the by-lanes, I stumbled upon this shop which was nothing short of a gold mine for biking and treeking gear. Fittingly, it's called Trek Shop. I bought a bag cover for my backpack. Over and above, I bought something that helped a great deal throughout the trip - jute covers for my shoulder bag and saddle bags. And while branded companies charge a bomb for mediocre quality saddlebag covers, these jute covers are not only inexpensive but they also do a great job of keeping the stuff dry 95% of time. We got chatting and he realized that I'm a serious biker and not one of the other amusing window shoppers who come to his shop only to ask the price of the gadgets. He hates it when people ask for discounts. He believes that when he's already selling great quality, self designed stuff at prices that's 1/4th of the branded, flimsy stuff; how can people expect him to charge any less? And, well, he's right, I think. I told him about the biking jacket that I was wearing at that moment, as well as about all other riding gear I had. Also informed him about the type of highend biking stuff being sold at astronomical prices to Harley & Ducati riders in Mumbai, and discussed marketing opportunities for his stuff in cities like Mumbai & Delhi. Here's a man who won't even give even Rs. 5 discount to anyone but when I asked him the price of this magnetic compass, he gave it to me saying, "It's complimentary for you, take it!"
And people think, I'm introvert. Ya, right!

I had thekthuk at a weird time, 7ish. Hence, I wasn't too hungry for dinner but I saw this cool looking place called Drifters' Inn & Cafe on my way to the hotel and got tempted to visit it even if for just half an hour. After dropping of all the stuff I shopped, back at my room I went to the Drifters' Inn which was a short 7-8 minute walk from the hotel. 

Great range of beer, good food, cool ambience and great music - you can easily mistake this place to be somewhere in Bandra. Added bonus - Wifi! Since I was all alone, I was sitting at one of those high chairs, ordered a beer and was enjoying the music while waiting for my food order to arrive. Two girls and a guy were sitting at the opposite table. We soon got chatting and I found out that they were from Mumbai too. They invited me to join them on their table; and I ended up spending rest of the evening with them along with good food and drinks. Unfortunately, I forgot their names and forgot to save their number too. All I remember is that two of them were a couple and the girl who was single was a Horticulturist. (If you're reading this, just want to let you know that it was a fun evening with you guys. Feel free to ping me!)

Till now I had only heard the stories but that was the first time I realized what being a single traveler means!

All in all, it was a great Sunday. Got all of my work done with respect to the protective gear, got my bike in tip-top condition and prepared myself with all the essentials to start the real climb up the high passes. 

Travel Tip: If you're a biker, trekker and/or an adventure frek; and if Manali features on your itinerary, even if you've not got all your gear, worry not, Manali has some great shops for adventure stuff. However, sometimes, they might've ran out of stock and it may take  a week or so for a particular item to arrive. Hard luck, in that case. But unless you're stuck up on a particular brand, you'll most likely find a substitute.

Day 5: Mandi - Manali, Madness

When I finally woke up, I realized that I was feeling cold despite being wrapped up in a thick blanket. The night before, I did set an shut down timer on the A/C but then later on, while I was exploring the A/C remote, I put undo the timer and put it on some stupid program mode because of which it stayed on the whole night. Turned off the A/C and within minutes I was normal.
(The above information was not really important, but since I'm writing the travelogue, I thought I might as well write it.)

I opened the curtains and realized it was raining cats & dogs. And dinosaurs & crocodiles. While waiting for the rain to subside, post-breakfast, I decided to stroll around in the heritage property and get some clicks. The restaurant had guns and knives on every wall, and the passage was adorned with these old portraits and other royal items. But my favorite one was the bar, with low ceiling, semi-circular beams and antique lamps; it looked spectacular.

The day time shadows creates a surreal effect.

"There were voices down the corridor,
I thought I heard them say..." ~ Hotel California

These gorgeous lamp shades adorned the bar ceiling. Each one is an unique piece.

Guns, above the restaurant door.

If there's a Zombie Apocalypse, this is place I'd want to hide out. Look at the amount of firepower this place has, man!

The garden right outside the bar has beautiful wrought iron seating, which is used for open-air, candle-light dinner. Unfortunately, couldn't dine there the night before since I was too tired.

There's nothing much to see in the town but if you're going to have a stopover at Mandi, before reaching Manali, and if the budget permits, I recommend staying at Raj Mahal Palace Hotel or at least have your dinner there. I didn't order much food so can't comment on that but looking at the standard of the hotel, I'm sure it'll be good too.

Finally, realizing that the rain was not going to stop anytime soon, I decided to make a move, nonetheless. Heavens had opened up by the time I tied the luggage and started the ride. About 10-15 km. down the highway I encountered a couple of bikers. I stopped by to ask if there was a problem or needed help. Turned out they were just sightseeing. After introductions we decided ride together all the way to Manali. We stopped along the way at many places to check out the breathtaking views and to get the clicks. 

These Bangalore brothers told me that they had booked a tent outside of Manali and that they don't mind accommodating one more person with them in the tent. But, they weren't as nice as they came across, at first. About 20 kilometers outside of Kullu, one of the brothers decided to start racing and started zooming away. Though he had a more powerful bike, I was able to keep up with him while the second brother lagged behind. The roads were slippery, it was still pouring and yet this guy wanted to ride like a maniac; probably to get rid of me or something. Since I had to stop for a refuel, I let him ride away, thinking I'll call him upon reaching Manali as he had already shared his number with me. But as expected, he didn't receive the call.

After refueling at Kullu, I carried further on those wet and broken roads towards Manali. The entire 115 km. journey from Mandi to Manali was rain-soaked. There was not even a single 5 minute interval for which it didn't rain. Also, throughout the journey, I was riding next to either a dam, a river or a gorge. And not to mention, the views were spectacular. Despite all the broken roads, rain and the fact that I was shivering by the time I reached Manali; I truly enjoyed the ride.

A friend of mine who started for Leh with his biking buddies just a week before my trip gave me a contact of one a hotel owner, one Mr. Raju and strongly recommended that I stay there. I looked up the name of the hotel - Himalayan Country House, on the internet and found lot of positive reviews about the place. I called up the person once I reached Manali. Unfortunately, his hotel was packed. I tried searching for a room for about 2 hours all over Manali but couldn't find a decent one. Most places were either packed or too expensive. Mr. Raju had told me that if I couldn't find a room, I should give him a call and he'll arrange something. Hence, I did so. He gave me a contact of another recently-opened hotel. Room looked decent, but the view was great and the balcony was a bonus. Since I was shivering and tired, I decided to check in.

View from the room
And then started my misery.

There was no hot water in the bathroom, an eternity and a tip of 50 bucks later, the sole waiter brought me a bucket of hot water. The bathroom already had soap and towels. After the hot bath, I grabbed the towel and realized it's cold & dripping wet. I hadn't even unpacked my bags where I had my personal "DRY" towel. And there I was shivering and cold. I somehow ran and grabbed the napkin from my backpack, dried myself, got into dry clothes and jumped inside the blanket.

I was starving since I didn't had a single grain of food since the morning breakfast. Ordered hot coffee to get my batteries recharged. The coffee was good, exacting to my taste - hot & strong. In fact, that coffee and the view were the only two good things about that place.

Coffee with that view!
The hotel's kitchen where the housekeeper stayed had entrance for opposite direction for which one is required to either shout at the top of the lungs or walk out in the rain and call him personally. After shouting for more than half an hour, his highness appeared. At this hotel, a menu system was unheard of. The guests are required to eat whatever they cook, since the expect guests to eat from outside. After more than an hour, I got the food served in my room - couple of pathetic tasting vegetables, okayish dal, few roti & rice equivalent to a family of 6. I had no choice but to kill my hunger with huge amounts of dal-rice. They charged me 200 bucks for something that you'd get for 30 bucks at a lowly joint outside Dadar station; and yet you won't eat it.

As if this wasn't enough, the hotel owner, who at the time of showing me the room and negotiating the price was all sweet and nice, decided to put me under more agony. Since I was feeling cold, I asked for extra blanket, the housekeeper told me that they don't have any extra ones left. Pissed, I decided to take this up to the owner, thinking, since he was nice to me earlier, he'd be helpful. On the contrary he started yelling as if he was a evil hostel warden.

Here's the conversation we had at 10.30 PM:

Me: "I need more blankets."
Owner: "But you already have one blanket."
Me: "But I need one more."
Owner: "All the guests in other rooms have one blanket only. If they can survive with one blanket, why can't you?"
Me: "Who are you to tell me why I can't survive in one blanket? I feel more cold and hence I want another blanket."
Owner: "If you can't survive with just one blanket then go somewhere else. We don't need guests like you."
Me: "Fine, I'll leave first thing in the morning. Screw you."

I called Mr. Raju and informed him about the incident. Since he had referred me the place, he was feeling guilty about the situation. He knew me only via my friend's reference and a couple of phone calls, never even met; it wasn't like I was a regular guest at his hotel or something, he could've easily told me that he doesn't want to get in this but he somehow felt responsible. He told me that that was the exact reason why he generally doesn't like referring other places because then when such things happen, his reputation & name gets spoilt. He told me that I should check out and come to his hotel in the morning and that he would arrange a room for me at any cost.

If you're traveling to Manali, do not, I mean, DO NOT stay at this place called New Friends Hotel (or something like that, don't remember the exact name) near Manu Temple, unless you wish to have the worst ever accommodation experience of your life.

Thankfully, I regained my body heat post dinner and one blanket sufficed. With knowledge that the next morning I'll be checking out and hopefully go to a better place, I went to sleep after exhibiting my wet clothes all over the room.
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