We had just finished our first Himalayan trip as Karma Yatri. The group had left, we had completed all formalities with the bikes and back-up vehicle rentals and I to proceeded onwards to Kalga. After a couple of days of absolute wallowing- in the joy of a dream begun, in the delightful post road trip aches , and the tender caress of the Parvati Valley, I started penning down a retrospective travelogue of the 5 Valley trail.

This marks a formal beginning to our adventure. We hope you enjoy the read and are intrigued to be a part of a new Karma Yatri adventure

Tuesday 15th June 2011

I board the Rajdhani, from Mumbai towards Delhi. I call Shanky, informing him that the house keys are left with the watchman. Last words of encouragement and a final re-confirmation of his travel plans, ticket status and arrival timings.

Wednesday 16th June 2011

Arrive in Delhi- Depart for Manali by bus

Thursday 17th June 2011

I arrived early in the morning at Manali and took an auto rickshaw to Vashist. I didn’t want to get bothered about making a decision on a room as yet, so instead, I headed straight for the hot water springs, stripped in the crisp morning chill, stuck my feet under the water overflowing from the dipping tank. It takes time to get used to the heat of the water, but once you have step by step accustomed your body to its sharp heat, a soak in the dipping tank feels like the most pleasurable sensation in the world. The view, the surrounding, and the early morning peace- it’s indescribable.

I called Bhuvnesh, regarding the bikes and the pick-up car and was assured that everything was as per plan.

I found a small room, took a short nap and arrived for a late lunch at the Universe café. I ended up meeting a couple of boys from Canada, who looked like they had been in Vashisht for a few days and were regulars at the restaurant. They were best friends from high school but were for the past 3 years living in different cities. They were now on a 6 month holiday, starting in India, leading them wherever. Our conversation was easy and they had a very friendly personality, effortlessly exchanging stories, the restaurant staff joining every now and then. I rolled a smoke, they opened a bottle of whisky, Jigme, our waiter conjured a guitar. I was thrilled to be in the mountains and it was a starting perfectly, they energy and vibe I was seeking was all around me and all I had to do was soak. We parted ways in the early hours of the morning that ended with an early morning dip in the springs.

Friday 18th june 2011

Vashisht was bustling by the time I woke up. I was surprisingly clear headed and felt rather purposeful. I was at the eve of a paradigm change in my life and I needed activity and a sense of action to justify that change. I chalked up a list of stuff I felt needed to be done. The first was a call to Bhuvnesh, which not so surprisingly took care of the next 6 points on the check list. Essentially, Bhuvnesh had organized everything and he assured me that the situation had not changed since our last conversation. He agreed to meet the following day where we planned to do a physical check of all bikes and equipment being used on the trip. Next was a call to Shanky to confirm that the group was en-route to the train station, the bulk of them starting in Mumbai, another joining at Baroda and one couple who would join them at Delhi.

I had already reached the last item on my check list. I had to look for a hotel and once again it was the hot water springs that gave the solution.

The 3rd eye café, a few steps above the hot water springs had a really nice communal room, which when I walked in, was filled with a noisy group of Western tourists, seated on the floor on either side of a long table. A group of 10 people of mixed origin who seemed to be part of a seamless group. Wow! Introductions led to discovery that they were originally a group of 4 friends from France, who were joined by 2 guys from Holland when they met at Pushkar, similarly meeting an Italian couple at Dharamshala and the final addition being 2 girls from America who had become a part of the group at Kasol. They were now planning to travel together to Leh. Relationships of the road.Wow!

Saturday 19th june 2011

Bhuvnesh was in the midst of dispatching a rafting group when I met him at Raison. He still maintained that everything had been re-confirmed and physical check of the equipment would be a mere formality. Now this was convenient for me because it meant I could avoid the 20 km return to Manali (which is where the bikes were) and instead proceed directly to Kalga, a village in the Parvati valley in order to conclude an important transaction. I would regret this decision the following day, however, in hind sight it turned out to be a critical moment in the formation of Karma Yatri.

River Parvati at Kasol. The force of the river causes the water to froth, creating a blanket of mist over the river

Parvati Valley always looks its splendid best and today was no different. I was riding Maha Kaal, a friends thunder bird 350 cc which apart from a minor technicality, was riding beautifully. I crossed Kasol, swept along Manikaran and was swerving on an empty stretch of tarmac, distracted by the hundreds of little waterfalls dotting the mountainscape. A sharp honking broke my reverie-finding myself heading straight towards a Tata pick up, I jammed my brakes, caught my front tire on a patch of gravel, slipped and crashed into the side of the mountain. A minor gash on my right calf, my confidence slightly shaken, I gingerly pressed onward my mind now focused on the road and re-enforcing my intent on warning the group of such mishaps due to lack of concentration.

I parked Maha Kaal at the base of Kalga, and began the 30 minute hike, up a steep mountain trail leading up to a small village of about 30 homes, my regular haunt for the better part of a past decade. I reached Sun Set guest house, only to find Sanju, a really closed friend of mine, was not around. I call his number and he assured me of his arrival in a couple of hours. He kept insisting that I promise not to leave before he arrived.

He was running up the path shouting my name, waving a bottle of whiskey in his hand and literally jumped into my arms.

“I missed you Hashim Bhai.” he said breaking our solemn hug. ” Now! lets have a drink”

The bottle of whiskey was empty. We borrowed blankets from the guest house and slept in the dining hall. We had to leave at 5 am, in order to be back in Vashist. The group was arriving early in the morning and someone had to be there to receive them. We were very drunk, very tired and very happy. I, because Sanju insisted on being a part of Karma Yatri (me not realizing then,but I had found an integral member of KaYa) and Sanju, because he was excited about the prospect of the upcoming road trip and a new adventure.