Monday 21st June 2011

Road Tripping- Karma Yatri style…

My alarm rings at 5.00 am but its of no use. The rain gods are playing up a storm, a whistling wind makes waves of the rain curtain as I part my curtains to take a look. I’m not half upset getting back into the warm bed, the past few late nights finally catching up with me. There is no point worrying, because the Rohtang is famous for this. It’s a story going back almost a decade between Rohtang and me (I’m sure most Himalayan regulars feel that way) and the Rohtang scores 7 wins out of 10.

Late wake up. Few of us go to the spring (which as always turns out to be a brilliant idea).

The Group is appraised and they understand the Rohtang situation. We know that we can spend the day riding around Manali and attempt the real journey on the following day. A few minutes later, Im cursing, realizing that the following day was a Tuesday- the weekly maintenance day when the pass is closed to commercial traffic. This was getting more and more screwed up. Keeping everyone’s schedule in mind, it would be impossible to complete the planned Spiti, Kinnaur loop in the remaining days. Was Karma Yatri’s maiden voyage doomed to fail?

Vashisht came into prominence when sage Kala Muni meditated in these parts. It was exactly in these hot water springs where he had his moments of spiritual connect, received answers to life’s perplexing questions, unraveled the mysteries of the universe.

I stepped out of the dipping tank with a triumphant smile. We were departing in the next hour. The road trip was ON.

Packed, strapped and bill settled (get conned but learn an important lesson about being conscious of doing business with the right establishments). Everyone on their designated bikes, in the chaos of Vashist’s narrow lanes we did a short riding brief, the DO’s & the DON’T’s, had a short prayer and smashed the ceremonial coconut(it’s an Indian thing).

We descend to petrol bunk and tank up riding towards Naggar, snaking through the empty mountain roads. One of the prettiest pieces of Tarmac in the Kullu valley because of multiple reasons. Its on a higher elevation than the road running parallel on the other side of the Beas, thus giving spectacular vistas of the valley. Its longer than the parallel road thereby most commercial traffic avoids it, which means better roads, lesser traffic. We were riding in perfect sync, my rear view mirror allowing me to see the line of 6 bikes behind me, their collective thump echoing loud and happy. My bike which had been showing signs of minor trouble was now beginning to miss, creating loud back fires and frequent sudden loss of power. We stop for lunch along the river, a short distance before we hit the main highway. Sonu our mechanic gets busy with Maha Kaal, Tanu our driver disappears saying he will be back shortly, while we place a gargantuan order of paranthas galore.

This seemed like the apt moment to give an explanantion. Everyone was curious about the mornings developments. From contemplating cancelling the trip, we were now on the road. My frustrated demeanor had morphed into one of such glee and the group was eager to know why?

In that small fraction of a second at the springs in Vashist, I had decided to reverse the circuit. Instead of the conventional Rohatang based approach to Spiti, we would instead leave the Kullu valley via Jalori pass and enter the Spiti region via Kinnaur. It was exactly the same circuit but in reverse.

My bike needs parts which are available but can be fixed when we break for the day, another bike needs parts which have to be got from another town that are ordered to be delivered at a convenient point. Sonu begins to show frustrations, saying he has not been given enough/all parts (Jocy’s bikes’ petrol tap is leaking but is temporarily fixed) but we still continue towards Jalori pass.

Things seem to be getting better better and my initial worries begin to fade. We cross Bhuntar, approach Aut and the 3 km long tunnel. 5 out 7 bikes are bunched and we take a left at the exit towards Larji, driving on for a few Km before realising that 2 bikes are not with us. A Lovely stretch along the dam catchment, a brief stretch of riding into the great Himalayan National Park, where we spot an incomplete temple on opposite bank perfect to take a break. After a while I back-track to try and find the 2 which have lagged behind , worried they might have taken a turn to the right. I find them waiting outside the tunnel with Sonu (sitting in the back up vehicle) tinkering with one bike. I am told that neither bikes had head lights and therefore issues crossing the tunnel, but as they exited Jocy’s bike started spewing smoke from a wiring harness that had burnt to crisp. Sonu tries but can’t do much. We call the shop where we had rented the motorcycles. An angry monologue ensues and amidst much apology and proffered discounts I’m assured that the bike could be left where it was, it would be fixed and dropped off to our halt for the night. They would also send a bunch of parts for my bike and additional spares that Sonu wanted.

We re-group, ride a further 5 km to Larji where my bike finally breaks down. Sonu figures too many issues which he cannot sort with the parts he has. Asking Shanky & Sanju to lead a group of 5 bikes towards the Jalori asking him to stop at our designated guesthouse a few KM short of the Pass. I stay behind along with Anurag, the car and team. Akbar (from our rental shop) arrives, asks for a part we don’t have. Need to drive back 40 kms to Bhuntar and get the part. Asking Anurag to follow rest of the group, Tanu and I drive back to Bhuntar. Only then do I realize that Tanu is overly animated and he is driving quite recklessly. He was stinking drunk. I was beyond any reaction that late in the day, overwhelmed by the days events, which was probably the best reaction. He saw the anger and disgust on my face but did not hear the expected tirade, which probably made him realize his stupidity. He was the perfect back-up for the rest of the trip, not touching a drop of alcohol before we had settled in for the night. Get part and return. We have been conned with a broken part, in recycled packaging. The bike with the burnt wiring harness is fixed; we decide to send Maha Kaal back for repairs. One bike and the car arrive at Shoja and the beautiful guest house along the road. Our group of 7 bikes had now become 6.