The good roads around Mandi gradually started displaying the occasional pothole, the pothole at regular intervals, collections of potholes as I moved towards Kullu. It was now about 2 am, and I I headed towards a waypoint that I had marked out previously on the GPS. With what seems to be inadequate checking as to where that waypoint actually was. I crossed the river after the Mandi Kullu tunnel and things seemed fine. The road got narrower and more winding, but the surface was largely free of potholes. Tired as I was I just followed the GPS, but after almost 45 mins I could see that something was not right. Usually at 4am one does not find people in rural areas to ask directions, but I got lucky, in the form of a group of shepherds leading a huge flock of sheep.
Apparently I was pretty close to Manikaran, a place of some tourist importance, and, more importantly, quite some distance from manali, and, even more importantly, very far from the road to Manali. Turned the bike around, and retraced my path, got back to the correct side of the river and bounced along absolutely rotten roads all the way to Manali which I reached about seven. The checkpost that gouges the public that feeds Manali was operational, and now one can even make the permit allowing one to cross Rohtang over there. Neither will ever be checked, but after lightening one’s wallet to the tue of Rs 300 odd for both these items, I could proceed . In a way this was a good thing as it freed me of the bother of making the document later in the DC office – I’d have that much time to myself instead. Crossing Manali, I checked into hotel Valley view in the town of Vashist for reasons that I’ll show you soon.
It was near about 8am now as I checked into the hotel and was desperate for sleep, as over the last 48hrs, I’d only had catnaps totaling about four or 5 hrs. No matter, the day was a “sleep catch up day” of sorts as per my schedule even though I had managed to reach more than 12 hrs after the original ETA, mainly due to the atrocious roads in so many places. But I was not to get any sleep right now – I contacted my friend Ravi Thakur who runs Himalayan Caravan, and apparently he was only going to be free till 10:30 am, and he suggested that we meet at his guest house for breakfast. So sleep was again put on the back burner I had my first bath in 55 hrs, and we had a great time catching up instead. Meeting old friends blows fatigue and tiredness away like nothing else. It was almost 11am before I got to hit the sheets at my hotel
Predictably, I slept till lunch (lovely fried trout with veggies and fries next door), and then again after lunch. There was a task pending though, changing the rear tyre to the dual sport one that I’d been carrying all the way from Mumbai. So I dragged myself out of bed at six and went off to accomplish the same. Fortunately, Vashist has an excellent tyre service shop (Chinar tyres or some such), and the tyre was changed without much fuss. I decided to jettisson the tyre originally fitted on my bike even though there was another 3000 km possible on it as I felt that the lug type pattern would be more confidence inspiring over the bad road sectors that I had just covered.
Coming to why I chose Vashist and more specifically this hotel to stay. Vashist is on a 2 km slope uphill all the way, from the main road. If you do not have your own transport, you either have a good, long aerobic workout getting back to your hotel OR you are at the mercy of the local auto ricksha guys. So that keeps rates down. Embarrassingly down – but you have to have your own transport as Manali then is a hop and a skip away, and you pay a fraction of what you’d pay for the same room in touristy Manali.
But the second reason is what you can see from the bed.
A bit closer to the window
To the left
and to the right
A closer shot of the riverbed
And that’s Manali in the distance
And at night
A bit closer
All work done, I decided to roam around in Manali a while, but there’s just that much to see, and after an early dinner, it was off to bed for the next day’s short ride across the mighty Rohtang. I only had to get till Keylong, so there was no compulsion to start early either, I could afford to miss the sunrise.
TO BE CONTINUED…..