There is something that has to be said about harebrained plans. More often than not, they work out just fine. This is the story of two wanderlust-bitten young travelers who recognized not the whims of nature or the vagaries of highways. This is the story of the lessons that they learned from their first bike trip.
The protagonists of this tale are Praveen and his self-confessed better half, me. It was year-end and we were itching to leave Udhampur for a vacation. Young that we are, reckless that we may sometimes be, we decided that wherever we go, it had to be on the hubby’s bike. After thawing out many options, we zeroed down on Manali.
Praveen dusted his gigantic rucksack. It seemed big enough to carry half our home in it. The packing of our travel kit is always his responsibility, for the army does train its soldiers to pack well. Civilians like yours truly stuff things in suitcases and bags for the sake of transporting them from one place to another. In my humble opinion, packing does not have to be a work of art, a point on which the hubby disagrees.
So, he came to me with the rucksack. “I have put all my stuff and only one-fifth space has been taken!” This got us both excited. I stuffed another pair of shoes, an overcoat, a few mufflers, and caps. Let it be said, it was for the sake of fashion and not utility.
The next morning we left. The highway from Jammu to Pathankot is a treat. Dotted with many dhabas, tea stalls, and little ‘know-me-not?’ towns, it offers a welcome respite from the twisty, turny roads of the mountains. On Pathankot bypass, near Mammun Cantt, we halted at Café Coffee Day. On a clear day, you can spot Pir Panjal range from where you sit. We had covered more than 100 km from Jammu in about an hour an half. Not bad. We had another 100 to go to reach Palampur, our first stopover.
The road from Pathankot to Palampur is a nightmare. Potholes and patchy bits take the joy out of a bike ride. However, somewhere along the way, Dhaludhars run parallel to the road. The beauty of the towering mountains does take one’s mind off the road then.
The sun sets early in the hills. We reached Palampur at 1930 hrs. It was deathly chilly, disgustingly damp, and strangely depressing. After a hearty meal at a Dhaba in the middle of the town, we felt proud of our first day on the bike. The next morning we left Palampur at dawn. We reached Mandi, 107 km from Palampur, in a good two hours. The road from Mandi to Manali, another 110 km away, turned out to be the best leg of the journey. Maybe it was because the whole stretch was extremely beautiful or because we were witnessing nature in its rawest form, so untouched by the greed of humanity.
Maybe it was because we were much more relaxed. We will never know. The road turning on the back of mountains, the truck drivers who allowed you to overtake them so easily, the deepest light blue sky and the darkest green trees, the cleanest breaths of air, and the Beas that began accompanying us from Mandi traveled with us till Manali.
After crossing Kullu, we were a mere 45 km short of Manali.
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The snow-topped mountains peep every now and then. There are little villages with wooden houses characteristic to Kullu valley, handloom shawl shops, and little stalls with the rafting gear on the way. We reached Manali in the late afternoon. The next day was spent exploring the town that offers not much to a seasoned traveler. The shops are either eating joints or Kashmir emporiums. The third day in Manali was a momentous day in our infantile married life.
We were heading for Rohtang Pass, on our bike. On the way, our hands froze and our toes became numb. There was snow everywhere. Thankfully, the road was cleared up. At Snow Point, 13 km short of Rohtang, the civilians are allowed to proceed for a staggering sum of two to three thousand rupees per person. This is a nexus between the police and the locals.
We crossed Snow Point. The road was like a kuccha Rasta. 5 km short of Rohtang and the bike got stuck in an iced depression. The road had a layer of ice and both of us were finding it difficult to remain standing. It was scary. While hubby and I were digging through the ice with rough stones, mentally I was taking stock of the amount of food I was carrying. I realized that it was going to be a tough choice- either we will perish for the want of food, or it will be due to numbing cold. If during the day it was -3, we had slim chances of making it through the night.
Help arrived in form of a jeep carrying people to Lahul-Spiti valley. Somehow we made it to Rohtang. The sight of mountains and clouds dwarfing under our height was worth the trouble. We sat down on the edge, had our meager brunch of chocolates, chips, biscuits, and hot water. Parents on both sides were called and a few pictures clicked. Then we headed back to civilization. I wish I could say that Rohtang was a life-changing moment for me.
When you are sitting that high, without anyone around, you are supposed to realize the frivolity of this life and its transience. You are supposed to feel humble. Rohtang for me was more of a reminder of the life I had chosen. Six months back I was unmarried, working for the world’s best company and always a happy, lone traveler. Now I was married, had someone to share my travels with, and much happier. Rohtang was like the diving line between the past and the future.
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