Saturday, July 06, 2013

Day 3 : Slip Slidin Away - Simon & Garfunkel (Keylong to Sarchu)

Despite being stuck in a sleep for the ages, my mind somehow registered Vishal shouting,“Garam chai (hot tea), garam chai” in his effort to get everyone out of bed and give him company for breakfast since he had woken up early. Yet again, the body proved to be stronger than the mind and I refused to budge an inch from under the comfortable blankets as I continued to sleep for another couple of hours. We were finally given the go – ahead to leave by 10 AM after receiving news that the road was clear and it was safe for us to take our bikes across if we did it quickly enough.

But while the weather gods could not delay us, one half of My favourite couple of all time (guess which half) and the Lady who could single handedly break down a Bullet worked together to ensure that we didn’t adhere to the departure time. Well in all fairness the accommodation arrangements did mean that they had to share a large room and more importantly a solitary bathroom, so I can’t really fault them on this one. Entirely coincidentally, I spotted the following on Facebook today and well I just have to put it up. Sorry ladies!

The roads were bumpy initially but the slowly gave way to some sweet tarmac and I enjoyed falling back and just gently rolling the bike through the S curves. The steady thump from the 350cc engine and the brakes that certainly behaved as though they were designed in the 1950’s made for an unusual but certainly entertaining and more importantly relaxed ride. The views were arguably even more spectacular than what we encountered on the previous day and soon many riders were falling back to take photos every few minutes. The group then stopped by a lovely little monastery, which gave us the perfect opportunity for another photo-op, as we waited for the rest to catch up.        

Good roads were never a constant companion but the Himalayan tricolore was in full display though my brain started having trouble taking all the majestic sights in continuously. We stopped at a lovely pool for another quick round of photos (I’m sure you’re sensing a trend here) after which we were told that we needed to put pedal to the metal if we were to get to have lunch on time. Once again I preferred to tail the group but I realized that there was a huge gap opening up between our guides in front and the group that I was riding with at the back. After ensuring that the group was all ok, I decided to push the bike a bit and start exploring the true potential of the grand old lady while I tried to cut down the, by now, massive gap with the leads. 

There is a more than a fine line between taking any bike flat out to its limits (and often beyond) and pushing a bike to close to where its boundaries are while maintaining a respectable distance from the danger zone. I chose the latter and boy did I have monster fun (I’m sure that’s not grammatically correct usage but it comes closest to what I actually felt) as I cornered away into seventh heaven for the next 20 minutes or so and barreled my way up the mountain. In many ways it felt like the bike and I were perfectly locked in each other’s embrace, far from prying eyes as we did the tango around those S bends and curves, a smooth symphony that only the two of us knew about. When people talk about biking nirvana, this is what they mean. In comparison, the previous day felt like the bike and I were thrown into a crowded dance floor of a large party, both of us trying to gauge each other’s moves while trying to find the perfect rhythm but making do with whatever happened instead.

The grassy slopes once again started losing their battle to snow cover and we were climbing towards the Suraj Vishaal Taal lake which was quite a sight and (no points for guessing) the venue of another set of photographs. On the plus side we even got to find out that some of our members could do the J’Lo pose even better than the original herself! I kid you not. Mercifully though, it was part of our female contingent that busted out the He'lyo I'm J'Lo pose. I shudder to think about what might have happened had one of the guys done it instead.

We got back to riding but were hit by a massive road block at Barlacha-La pass that would make even Bangalore's traffic jams look like the meekest of pushovers. When I was planning my trip, nobody ever warned me that we could be stuck in the middle of an snow laden mountain with nowhere to go and nothing to eat. Though their van was stuck behind us, the support group was good enough to walk up and help us with chocolates and fruit juices to keep us energized. Seeing as we had nothing else to do, we decided to be bold and daring and (wait for it) take a bunch load of photos to help pass time. Who would've thunk it, huh? The roads were covered with snow and ice and were extremely slippery to say the least which made whatever little progress we made difficult as we slid and simultaneously 'walked' our bikes forward few feet at a time.

"Whoa God only knows, God makes his plan
The information's unavailable to the mortal man
We're workin' our jobs, collect our pay
Believe we're gliding down the highway, when in fact we're slip sliding away" 

Slip Slidin’ Away – Simon & Garfunkel

In fact, with all the snow the roads often appeared to be single laned and we had quite the tough time navigating past lorries that occupied all of the visible tarmac. At times, we had to manually clear out snow by the sides of the road to move ahead of a stationary lorry which was easier said than done because even simple tasks required a lot of effort at that altitude and we were left breathless before we knew it. Exhaustion was soon a major factor and most of us conserved energy by just plonking ourselves on the snow while we waited for the mess to clear up. After what seemed like the longest time, with cold as an unwelcome but faithful follower we were finally clear and we made it for lunch at a very welcome and very blue tinted food stop. Almost unbelievably, the restaurant had beds with pillows and colourful blankets that doubled up for chairs. A more welcome sight for weary travellers there never had been.

I don’t recall the exact time when we finally got our lunch of rice and daal with veggies along with hot tea but sufficient to say that it was much later than our usual really late mountain lunch. The bitter cold from the morning ride and lack of food along with the altitude sickness meant that many of us had to take tablets and grab some sleep under the inviting blankets  to combat powerful headaches. My head felt like the weight of half the world was on it but it wasn’t as bad as what some of the others got. Technically I’m incapable of making that statement with full confidence, after all how does one gauge the level of one’s headache against another’s? 

It was also around this time that I noticed the Lady who could single handedly break down a Bullet was wearing traditional woolen socks that had me blinded for more than a few seconds. The picture below is exactly what I clicked with the camera and has not been altered in any way. I think I still see coloured dots even today on account of the more than extravagantly shaded socks. Argh, my poor eyes! 

Despite the copious amounts of rest, both exhaustion and altitude sickness refused to go away for most of us, and we saddled up and headed towards our destination for the day - Sarchu. Actually we all saddled up but the rest of the group headed off as my bike refused to start and I had to wait for the support crew to finish their lunch and help me with the bike. It was a long lonely ride as there was no sign of the group anywhere and the support crew was way behind as they slowly brought up the rear. I realized that I had to be really cautious as one wrong move would mean that I would be off the road and become a part of the lovely mountain slopes that other travellers would photograph blissfully unaware that a poor human being was also an unwilling part of their pictures.

The one good thing about riding in the Himalayas is that the road you are on is the only road through that area so you really have to be a blundering buffoon to get lost there. So I soldiered on, keeping my eyes open for any sign boards that told me that I was nearing my destination. At one point though I had reason for worry as I encountered one of the steel girder bridges that had huge gaps between the flimsy metal sheets that were strewn on them and I was sure nobody in their right minds would have ridden over it in that condition. And by huge gaps, I mean gaps large enough for small children to fall through. I am not making this up! Here's a pic from our Australian couple from one of the many such bridges that proves it. 

I actually had to get off my bike and pull the sheets back in place to ensure that my bike did not end up with half its front wheel stuck in the middle of the bridge with not a human being around for miles. Mercifully though I soon reached the outskirts of Sarchu where our group was to be put up in a camp. And since there was no sign of any mobile towers anywhere along the route, nobody had cell phone reception after reaching. Meanwhile I hadn't seen any signs of reception on my phone since Manali. Thanks for nothing, Vodafone!

The view that we enjoyed from there was quite remarkable. The bluest of skies and the most imposing of mountains had us lost in thought for a while before we grabbed some hot tea in the food tent. As part of the whole roughing it out experience, we had to stay in tents that had no running water which meant we had to restrict ourselves to face washes and the deodorant treatment to look fresh at the end of a long tiring day. God bless whoever came up with the idea of deodorants

I for one kept marveling at how small I felt when compared to nature’s mighty creations which is something really difficult to explain. Look at the picture below and see if you can spot three riders from our group on the bottom left. They are the ones that look like tiny ants. Now look at the mountains behind them and you will start to get a picture of the scale of things.

After changing into warmer clothes we gathered for dinner which was once again a totally fun affair as the group’s chemistry meant that we had a ball of a time. We even ended up discussing how it was easier for men to leave their initials into lemon snow (I’ll leave it to your imaginations to figure that one out) than women and how difficult it would be for Russians with long names as they tried to dot their I’s and cross their T’s. There was so much funny stuff going around the table that I couldn’t recall the last time I had laughed so much. 

A nice hot soup and tasty food were much needed for all of us weary wanderers and even the campfire that provided more smoke than heat couldn’t dampen our tired but upbeat spirits. We had survived an exhausting day spent riding over a 100 kms but we knew worse was coming – over 250 kms across varied conditions to get to the much hyped Leh. But for today, all that we wanted was a bed to sleep on and a blanket to wrap around ourselves. My new trusty accomplice, the dreamless deep sleep, was needless to say, not far away.

Click here for Day 4 - Sarchu to Leh


Nefertiti said...

amazing amazing pics... except the generalization about women! I am truly offended. hmmphhhh

Neil said...

So now Im in trouble for saying the truth? What has this world come to?

Averil Rozario said...

Congratulations Neil.well written and grat colorful photgraphy...just love it!The "Female"description gave me a giggle..hi hi!!No more comments sweet cousin!!!Njoy::!!!