Friday 25th june 2011 ()

A series of soft knocks with the rhythmic “Julley” forced me out of my sleeping bag, I opened the door to Asha Didi, who placed the tray with a Tea Thermos and glasses on the balcony table. With folded hands and a smile that accentuated her crows feet, she asked if we would be staying another day.

“Then breakfast will be served within an hour because I have no other booking and must leave for working in the fields,” she said, sweetly explaining that it being the season, for both crops as well as tourists, she had no other option but to be as efficient as she could in this short time window.

A hurried breakfast of steamed rotis with pickle, jam and chai. Asha Didi asked Sanju to clean up a little, and even without waiting for us to leave, said goodbye. She just wanted us to latch the door on our way out. It was unbelievable. There was no concept of locks, thieves or willful destruction in their society and it was normal for them to leave their houses completely unattended.

We walked down to our bikes, strapped the luggage in silence. At 3894 meters, it was an effort even to talk. We decided to take an alternative route to Kaza and instead of backtracking down the road we traveled yesterday; we would instead descend from the other side of the mountain. The road existed, but if we were to describe the condition, then “barely” would be the perfect adjective. We reached Kaza with nothing more devastating than a puncture which Sonu fixed in a jiffy.

We parked at the highest, retail Petrol outlet, in the world (many such, “Worlds highest” claims exist in this region), the bunch dispersed to make phone calls, withdraw money, do some shopping and reconnect to the outside world at large. Sonu was going from one mechanic shop to another trying to buy parts and make some hasty weld repairs.

I am not too fond of Kaza, so I found a small dhaba near the Petrol bunk and was left alone, to ponder my thoughts,- the events of the past few days and the final stages of this first trip clearly visible. We had passed the worst and apart from the initial hiccups had come through unscathed. The group had borne everything with a smile and each of them had a new found confidence. A lift in their__16__ – that comes from having traveled in the Greater Himalayas.

We had all started 5 days ago, relative strangers, on an unknown journey- A motorcycle trip through some of the most challenging terrain in the world, and on one of the most idiosyncratic machines in the world. A group of 8 (and 3 team members) with only 2 who ever had ridden a bullet, 2 who claimed they had ridden before (a weekend at Goa) and 3 others who rode bikes but it was their first encounter with the legend.

The group broke my trance, their chatter shattering any sense of calm. Over a hurried lunch of Thukpa and Momos it was decided that we would extend another day and attempt the ride/trek to “Chandra taal”. All necessary arrangements had been made and we rode out of Kaza, heading towards Losar our halt for the night before attempting Kunzum La the following day.

Sheeba decided to try her hand on the bike and surprisingly she took to it like a natural, and within no time she was cruising along as though she had done this all her life. I took over from her over a rough patch. I was discussing something with her, I lost concentration and had the most spectacular crash of the trip. There was no damage done but the drama involving the crash, Sheeba’s almost diving over my head right in the middle of a puddle and Aby’s roaring laughter (once he was assured that all were safe) made it animated discussion through rest of the day. We were lucky that none of the others were around to witness it. I was worried Sheeba might be angry and would want to return to the SUV.

“Sit behind me. I think I can ride better than you.”

Wow! Talk about an anticlimax. Well, I loved such reactions and was only too happy to oblige.We caught up with rest of the group a short distance before Losar on a flat plain near a lake. We were in the mood to fool around. Flicking stones was fun for a while, trick photo sessions were amusing, Aby recounting Sheeba’s crash was hilarious but after all that, we decided to have a high altitude race. We chose the track, got into position and Jocy started us off. In classic comic timing, as Jocy counted us down, Prithvi took a tumble and along with tripped Anurag. In less than 10 seconds, the race turned into a mass of laughing bodies, gasping for breath as uncontrollable fits convulsed our bodies.

Further riding, along spectacular vistas, some amazing bunched synchronized riding saw us whipping across the end of Spiti valley and upwards towards Losar and Kunzum La. We were seeing more snow now that we had begun to ascend and I remembered a stretch of road, which has walls of ice, a earth mover clearing the stretch at the beginning of each season. We stopped by one, in order to get a film of each bike passing through when Shanky caught my eye and we both looked towards the slope of snow with the same look on our faces- It was sledding time- Not needing any further incentive, I rushed up the slope, sliding along the firm snow. The group soon caught the madness, and the sights of us 10 overgrown children, sliding down a slope of snow, having snow fights and generally fooling around might have scared any passerby but luckily we were the only ones around.

The last stretch of the day could have been called a, “boat trip” rather than a road trip, the bulk of it being under water. It was late in the day and the bright sunshine caused the glaciers to melt, and as the day wore on, more and more of the road was flooded by the melting flow of the glaciers. This is why we called this trip a “road trip through the land of dancing rivers.” Everyone was far more confident and accustomed to the motorcycle by now, and faced the challenge with excitement, all of them coming through unfazed, but drenched.

Sam Song hotel had an inviting fire, blazing outside. I hurriedly checked out the dorm, fixed the price, ordered dinner, dying to get out of my wet shoes and thaw my numb feet. One by one, we changed into warm clothes, entered the warm communal room, chatting with the charming host, savoring our drink and relishing the hunger spiced food.

A perfect setting for a night of well earned dreams.