[Part of my write up for the Leh Bike Trip]
Next morning we picked up our bikes from Jaipur Golden's office at Chandigarh's sector 26. The entire block was swarming with transport companies. One of the things I love about Chandigarh is how all businesses tend to occupy one block of a sector. I remember there was one block that only had bank offices – how convenient!
The bikes arrived generally unharmed. Mine had a small scratch on the number plate and Amey's bike had a bent saree guard but nothing that could hamper the trip. The amount of packing and the thought that had been put into it surprised me. Well worth it at 1500/- per bike.
On reaching the guest house, we quickly loaded up the bikes and bid adieu to the inn-keeper and the helpers. On seeing our city commuter bikes, they weren't too optimistic about our chances of making it to Leh. We took it as a good omen and started at 12:30. My odometer read 56020 kms.
We stopped outside Mohali for some spares for Sanjay's bike. The roads were excellent for the next few hours and we crossed a pass which has a HTDC on the hill top. I had two close calls on this road – once with another biker and the second time with a truck. A localite stopped to take a turn right in front of me. Distracted by the sights and the unexpected surge of clean oxygen, I rammed right into him. No looks or words exchanged and I carried on. Within 2 kms I had my next scare of the ride. While cleverly overtaking a truck from the left, he tried to close in throwing me over the edge of the 1 foot high road. I maintained a straight handle over the gravelly side road and managed to stop. Took a deep breath and promised myself not to self-inflict any more adventures, at least for the day. In spite of this vow and after being slowest on the straight long highways, on the hills I was suddenly the fastest in the group.
In the rush of munching kilometres we did not realize that we hadn't had lunch. It was past 3:30 and we couldn't find a place which had the kitchen open. After a bit of searching, we found a nondescript dhaba, owned by a Sardarji, who agreed to fire up his tandoor on the condition that we order more than 5 parathas. We enjoyed the authentic Dhaba experience – lip-smacking Paratha-dahi, accompaniments of chilly onion and salt, big lotas of Lassi, and a short siesta on the Khatiyas. And in that quiet reflective mood, we realized that it had taken us 3.5 hours for the first 100 kms and we had another 200 to go with just over 2 hours of light remaining. We had to be quick with only as many breaks as needed but I had to stop at a diversion in the road where one road lead to Dharamshala, 150 kms away. I would be lying if I said I wasn't tempted to fit in a side ride and relive the awesome memories of my trip to the Dhauladhars.
I reached Sunder Nagar at 7 and ahead of the others. It really was a Sunder nagar – there was a beautiful dam with a canal running parallel to the road. While I waited for the others they crossed me without me realizing it. I had stopped to buy surgical gloves, which would keep our hands dry in the rain and also provided protection from frost bite at the high altitudes we were to cross soon.
Next halt was Mandi at 8 PM – beautiful town but we reached after sunset and couldn't stay back as we were heavily behind on our schedule. We had some tea and sad burgers at a bend just before a bridge over the river.
Not knowing when/if we would have dinner we had Parathas at a hotel after Mandi and we set off for Kullu. At one point I turned off all lights on the highway and could only see holes in the sky... which almost lead to my third almost accident when Sanjay braked hard at a curve. His tail light was not working and I was leaning through it without braking. A small skid but I managed to hold on. Time to renew my vow?
(my bike lit up at the end of Bhunter tunnel)
The best part of today's trip was the three km tunnel that comes around 15 kms before Kullu. We honked and shouted once in it. A picture session followed after we were out at the other end and reached Bhunter village (which is about 5 kms before Kullu) at 10:30 PM.
(customary group pic that caught me in a weird expression)
We were planning for Manali but after riding 273 kms, Bhunter seemed a good enough compromise and we decided to halt here for the night. We stayed at Hotel Sunbeam (01902-265790) – clean rooms and it had parking within the hotel compound.
I was the last one to sleep, still excited about having made it. Thinking about how it had all come together for me. I'll admit, I was never too keen on a trip to Leh. This trip seemed almost mythical – like something that couldn't be achieved easily and something that I thought I wasn't ready for or excited about because it was so far (both metaphorically and physically). However, here I was, at the starting line of what many claim is the adventure of a lifetime.