Sunday, July 14, 2013

Day 10 : Take It Easy - Eagles (Sarchu to Jispa)

Now our trip to the Himalayas would never be truly complete if we didn’t take a picture of all of us bowing down in front of our machines, a pose that has become synonymous with Indian biking in recent times but one that marked the respect that we had for our partners in crime over the last week and a half. It was ironic in so many ways because the Bullet stood for everything that I never understood, a supposedly nostalgic approach to biking that covered the fact that the bikes were too big and suffered from insufficient braking and used technology that was contemporary when my dad was my age. And yet there I was, knowing that despite the fact that my modern small capacity Japanese motorbike with its razor sharp cornering abilities and stop on a dime braking would remain the bike for me, I would leave the mountains with a new found respect for the grand old lady. 

Distance wise we didn’t really have to cover that much but the imposing Baralachala pass needed to be crossed and we would also encounter the beautiful Suraj Vishal taal (roughly translating to the Lake of the Sun God) on the way. Now that we had mastered long distance riding, the initial riding effort for the day seemed to be fairly non strenuous and just as we were starting to enjoy the riding we pulled up for a break at the same blue tarpaulined place that had offered so much relief to us when we had started our trip.

Bear in mind this was the same place where my eyeballs took a massive beating with the revelation of the strangely coloured socks earlier so I was careful to keep my line of sight strictly above everybody’s knees this time. To add to the problems, I had to occasionally resort to lip reading because my ears were ringing from the continuous drone of the loud exhaust and hence I used to miss half the things people would say but trust me, lip reading isn’t easy when your poor eyes keep seeing strange colours at odd times.

“Take It easy, take it easy
Don't let the sound of your own wheels
drive you crazy
Lighten up while you still can
don't even try to understand
Just find a place to make your stand
and take it easy”

Take It Easy – The Eagles

What a difference the span of a week made. The last time we were here, most of us were suffering from exhaustion and altitude sickness and many just curled up and slept for a while. Today though we were itching to ride, not wanting to spend too much time sipping hot tea and twiddling out thumbs. With minimal traffic, the pass as such didn’t have any surprises for us this time around and we enjoyed riding through it and stopping at the lake for a quick round of pictures. 

Once again what a difference the span of a week made. The first time we were here we just couldn’t take enough photographs. Now it seemed as though nobody wanted to click any pictures as we had already seen this and so much more and were seemingly tired of clicking endless pictures of mountains and streams and lakes and snow and traffic and bikes and gorges (or were they canyons? I will never know, will I?).

We came across Anu and a big group of foreign riders that he was now leading at the lovely pool we had encountered on day 3. Despite having ridden with and interacted with the man for just a handful of days, all of us were genuinely happy to see him once again and we just had to take a bunch of photos with him before we parted ways again. Our trusty mechanic would now be going along with this new group and we bid farewell to him as well. We had a marvelous time riding at the back with him and the driver from Tso Moriri and all the stops to fix the bike had meant that we shared a connection that was difficult to describe.

On the other hand, given the seemingly super human capabilities of my pillion (who obviously feigned ignorance on the whole matter) I was hoping that nothing else would fall off though to be fair they did have another mechanic for the return leg. On second thoughts there wasn’t much left to fall off the bike, I was now left with only the seats, the engine and the tyres while the Lady who could single handedly break down a Bullet walked around with a halo above her head. We also noticed that some of the foreign riders had taken the opportunity to take a dip in the pool which was thought provoking given that we hadn’t had showers for the last two and a half days since there was no hot water at any of the tents but here they were jumping in at the sight of clean (and might I add bitterly cold) water. This is what it looks like when one group of riders is going one way and another group is going the other on a mountain road.

The riding wasn’t without it’s fair share of drama though as we had to cross numerous streams that were quite deceptively devious in sections and it took a bit of faith to ride through with no idea of the actual depth and presence or absence of stones, pebbles and jagged rocks under the innocuous dirty water. Back in Bangalore I used to shudder at the very sight of a small puddle of water on the roads and took so many precautions to go around the tiny water body that passersby would have been forgiven if they thought that there was a small crocodile lurking somewhere in it. Here’s us riding through the first of many streams, notice my pillion’s bright yellow helmet and orange waterproof cover for her bag, another thing which probably caused some of my temporary blindness!

Well the streams just kept getting deeper and more difficult to cross, this one in particular even managed to get our seasoned guide Boney to fall off his bike in front of us. If you have been patient enough to read all my posts so far (well hats off to you, even I fell asleep reading my travelogue last night but that had more to do with exhaustion that lack of quality content, I swear!) you should check this video of the second half of our group barreling their way across the stream. I also just noticed that all the riders in our group got the women pillions across without a hitch while the lady on the left of the video who belonged to another group preferred to walk than leave it in the hands of the biker in question.

We stopped for lunch soon and I led the group as we trooped into the small restaurant to find astonished stares from all the ladies and girls inside, each and every single one having stopped their eating to drop their jaws and look at us as though we had just landed from another planet. Well I hadn’t removed any of my gear so they could’ve been forgiven for their reactions and I even said out aloud, “Greetings, we come in peace” but not one single person even broke into a smile. Not wanting to give them perpetual nightmares we walked out and had our lunch at the tables outside where we got strange stares from the women folk as they left the restaurant. True story. The tarmac that we were treated to after lunch was fantastic but we reached out hotel within ten minutes or so and after lazying around on the swings for a while we were glad to hit the showers as we tried to the get the cumulative mountain dirt of the last few days off ourselves. 

After freshening up we waited for tea to be served and were treated to another round of snacks by My favourite couple of all time that had ferried it all the way from Bangalore and across the mountains. How could you not love a couple that travels with their favourite food items? With just one more day of riding, it was time to collect all the photos and did the total number of photos exceed my wildest expectations or what? With over 9400 pictures, I dreaded coming back to Bangalore and going through all of them before I would start writing about the trip. I was sure my fingers would fall off just from clicking the Next button to view each of the photos. 

We decided to try some games, this time mercifully of the non-physical kind and first up was a game of verbal volleyball that involved name calling instead of knocking an actual ball around. Despite knowing everyone so well, we ended up struggling with names when it came down to passing control within the team and sending it across with the limited time and soon we learnt the art of looking at one person but calling the other’s name and other little nifty tricks to confuse the opposition. A simple enough game that was surprisingly truckloads of fun.

Next was a game of police and killer that had the group sit around in a circle facing each other and while they all bent over and closed their eyes, the game organizer would walk around and tap the designated police guy once and the killer twice while the rest of the group would be untouched. With this done, the group would sit normally and it was left to the killer to knock off the group by winking at them one by one (which they would then announce) while the police would have to try to guess who the killer was. It’s a great game for large groups and since nobody knows who the cop or the killer was, you could thrash talk your way through the game to throw everyone off your scent and / or just for kicks. Once again massively entertaining and we even had instances where people wrongly claimed to have been killed only so that they could leave the game and go grab a jacket from their room because it was too cold outside!

After dinner we all gathered around in one of the rooms to share our experiences and to borrow a corporate term, key takeaways, from the last ten days and it was a cauldron of thought provoking moments, hilarious incidents, personal challenges and raw emotion that had us in everything from contemplative moods to rolling on our sides while trying to stop the laughter from hurting. Honestly, though I didn’t know it earlier, this sit down session was the final piece of the puzzle that we needed to make our pilgrimage to the Himalayas complete before we returned to the real world. 

Click here for Day 11 - Jispa to Manali

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