23 August 2005

The Army...

Those mountain goats caused a traffic jam at 16,000 ft.... there was a truck, our bikes, these goats, some chaps carrying rations from kullu to leh on horses... one of the horses died for whatever reason, so they just sent the others forwards and dragged the carcuss along to the edge of the road and pushed it off the cliff... it didn't fall far enough down the slope towards the frozen lake... so a couple of them climbed down and pushed it further down.

I'll write in detail about the Indian Army some other time... the army guy in that photo took the enfield for a ride... he was impressed with the handle-bar. That camp- Sarchu, is a strategic transit camp for all army troops heading to the forward posts along the border with Tibet and Pakistan (including the Siachen glacier). The camp is at around 14,000 ft., our highest stop-over for a night... learnt all about altitude sickness, with very little sleep that night.

I've seen a good number of open toilets, but this one is really OPEN.... there aint a tree in sight, no rocks to hide behind... interesting experience.

The sand is so soft... it puffs out when you walk on it... like landmines going off... very beautiful! Felt awesome when the sand sneaked thru my toes while walking.

The other army guy was the one who saved us when the enfield's air filter got clogged... he came out from his camp with a brush and some waste, stood under the high altitude for like half an hour, cleaning the air filter like it was his own... he got his hands dirty, pushed the bike and ran behind it to get it started... man, I had goosebumps-more like goosehills- when I saw him running behind me pushing the bike and giving me instructions to get the bike running properly... why did he have to do all that... the kindness of strangers.

When I wanted to take a snap of him, he felt bad because he had hurried out of his tent wearing slippers... he felt genuinely ashamed to be photographed wearing slippers while in his uniform... I can't describe what I felt then... just deep, deep respect. We had to move on, so we just thanked him and rode off... the image of him standing there under the blinding sun, waving us goodbye is etched in my memory.

20 August 2005

Stretching Out..

These are some of my favourite snaps from the trip... stretching out and joking around in the middle of the road... soaking in all the emptiness... sure felt like a lonely planet.

Gopal thinks he looks like an NGC photographer in that snap... hmmm, what you say?

19 August 2005

That's one of the hundreds of BRO guys that we saw each day... do we have any reason to crib over our lives? Is there any job more disorienting than that?

And the other photo summarises our entire trip... Gopal and I would run around with our cameras... we were always tired and our bodies didn't have as much cushion as Joy's... Joy, on the other hand, ate like a pig. He had so much energy all through the trip... every minute... too bad he didn't use some of it to wash himself often... if you notice, he's wearing that ridiculous thermal wear inside a slack t-shirt... these were early days for the poor white thing... a week down, he was still wearing it... dirty as dirty can be!

Joy's t-shirts are ummmm... unfortunate? As the days roll by, they change colours from say, yellow to beige to dirty (,) brown... people seeing the photos must be careful not to mistake it for a new t-shirt.

18 August 2005

Maddening Manali and Joy to the rescue!

Where do I start... yeah, Delhi... we roamed around Delhi for two days in sweltering heat... to get the bike spares and the luggage frame fitted on the enfield. We had slept for barely 5 hours when we woke up to leave Delhi at 5:30 am. The ride to Chandigarh was uneventful but for our first taste of bum soreness.

We had brunch along with some beer to chill out... traffic cops caught us twice, not for drunken driving, but for some absurd excuses like pollution check papers. Joy's internship at Deccan Chronicle (the newspaper) and his supreme confidence in the power of the press saved us from the cops. A typical exchange would go as follows:

Cop : What's your name?

Joy : What's YOUR name?Cop : <&^#@&^#^%> Singh

Joy tries to act like he's memorising the name.

Joy (with a confused, i-dunno-what-next look) : I'm from the press...

Cop gives a blank look

Joy : Staff photographer...

(Joy thrusts the camera in front of the cop's face, just in case there are any doubts)

Cop gets bored by now... I guess he decides that there are easy pickings elsewhere, so why trouble this potential-pain-in-the-ass.

Cop and Joy shake hands and Joy comes back with our licenses and bragging rights.

We enter Manali at 11 that night, convinced that we're going to struggle to find anyone awake to give us a cheap room. Much to our surprise- rather, shock- the main road is brimming with tourists. The following two days spent at Manali were characterized by dirty, overcrowded roads, with perpetual bumper-to-bumper traffic jams and half a dozen tourists breathing on your face at all times.

Rohtang Pass is perhaps the most crowded pass in the entire world. There is a 10 km long traffic jam, with dozens and dozens of cars and jeeps parked on the side of the road, with their engines switched off. The traffic jam became worse as we climbed higher up. Luckily for us, there was an army convoy belonging to the Indo-Tibetian Border Police Force heading towards Leh. They couldn't afford to be stalled by over-enthusiastic tourists; they had a destination to reach. So for two hours, they were our road-clearers. They threw erraticaly parked bikes onto the wall of snow by the side. They even pushed cars towards the sides.

Most of these tourists just park their cars on the side of the road and go off to play in the (dirty) snow. The attractions include pony rides, snow slides and junk food. But the most ridiculous things on show were these glittering hoardings which screamed things like "Happy 15th Anniversary!", with the number in the middle replacable. Over-joyed couples took photographs in front of such signs, lest they should forget the profound purpose of their trip on getting back home.

We spent 4 hours over a 10 km stretch on Rohtang pass. Just when we broke through the traffic and crossed the pass, we encountered our first stretch of bad roads, with walls of snow on either side melting under the midday sun to create a little stream on the road.

Here, it's apt to salute the work done by the Border Roads Organisation. They best define the concept of never-ending work under hostile conditions. In these higher reaches of the Himalayas, it snows every night, creating fresh walls of snow everyday, which melt creating perennial streams of water eroding the roads. The sheer number of potholes is unimaginable. So these hired labourers break-down rocks by the roadside, to fill up the potholes with little stones, and before they're done with existing potholes, fresh ones crop up, and the cycle goes on forever. Imagine sitting under the sweltering high-altitude sun all day, in such loneliness, breaking down rocks, in a landscape that is closer to Mars than to Earth. Their's must be the some of the most hardened minds, to survive this kind of perpetual harshness in life. Oh, and they're not too busy, not too immersed in their own world, to be courteous. Amidst all the difficulties, they smile and wave at travellers passing by. If you stop to speak to them, they greet you with genuine warmth. Oh, and I keep thinking that I'm having a bad time at work.

7 August 2005

More Photos...

That room at Keylong was perhaps the best one we had during the entire trip... warm water, nice beds, electricity, plug points... all for 150 bucks (divided by 3 ofcourse)! The prices were directly proportional to the no. of tourists... in places like Manali and Leh, we got lousy places for many times the price.

These photos were shot on the third highest road in the World, Baralacha La (La means Pass)... the thunderbird died all of a sudden... the air fitler was clogged and at 16,500 ft, the air tends to be rather thin... so we decided to go easy on the bike by unloading Joy and having him walk a km while I rode alone... it was downhill after the pass.