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.