Yuvraj Singh 22 years old, student and entrepreneur, Mohan Bisht 38 years old, banker and photographer, Gauri Rana 33year old, trekker and storyteller together in an adventure trip, struggling, fighting against the elements, with their bikes and among themselves to find out why had they undertaken this journey at all.
The bikes, two Enfield Thunderbirds loaded with food, tents and camping gear along with all repair kits and odds and ends. Also the all-important bottle of Regular Use Medicine (rum) was given the best and easy to reach pocket on the tank.
Being young has its advantages as does being old, but by being both, I really had great fun!
The night before we left we were partying in Nainital till the time came when nobody would allow us to enter their houses to sleep, including my aging aunt. So we started by checking out my imported gear right there in the Nainital Parking lot.
Day one began early with some morning joggers disturbing my sleep before the day broke out, any way after a quick packing and loading, (which became a daily torture later).I was ready to move out, but hold on, my friends were yet to arrive which they eventually did 2 hours later at the given time! I was early! Too early!
The drive down by the back road to the plains, and the race across to Dehra dun, all in a day’s work. Back to partying and checking out the different liquor shops, a dear friend who is a govt. official put us up in a lavish hotel with all meals paid or unpaid for. We were dying to be back in the hills again. This here climate was not doing our livers very good.
Now Yuvi, he’s a nice kid with seeming recklessness and a mean streak coming out of understanding city life, don’t misunderstand me, he’s got the good looks and the charm but he’s no one to cross. Drives fast and most time we were left inhaling his dust, well he was a gentle man too and would let the old goats lead time and again always impatient for more speed.
Getting to Nahan was a breeze, and from there we looked at the only map we had in the Outlook Hill Destinations, and decided to follow the trail to Rajgarh! Bet you haven’t heard about the place, well we drove and drove and drove choking on the dust of the numerous trucks laden with Himachal Apples, the truck drivers were thorough gentlemen always thoughtful for the lesser empowered, if they managed to see us through the thick dust. Well the bikes were starting to squeak and groan on the bumpy terrain. The said rest house never came but we came across a dhaba with some, 10 cots placed invitingly on the side of the road. This was where we were going to spend the night, a good meal off roti’s and dal and a clear night helped us get the rest we needed.
Mohan da, now he’s a cool customer, with only a little contact with him that too always inside a bank. I thought he would find travelling a little difficult, only I was mistaken and he seemed to thrive in the outdoors and was eating like a hungry dog and sleeping anywhere with his precious camera beside him. Well understandably I gave him all my money to manage, he would have to continue his job as my banker. His cool eyes studied the situation with infinite patience, this only comes to those who have been through worst, I was glad to have him as a travel partner in uncharted country.
Well the next day Started well enough with some strong morning tea and a quick getaway, the country was splendidly beautiful with us being the only tourists, the road became very good after Neripul/ Sainj down by the Giri river, reminded me of the Saryu back home. Then the climb to Chailla, Theog all the way to Narkanda, we were on our way to Sainj beside the Sutlej by the time the sun got strong, we stopped for a cool refreshing bath in the Sutlej. The water was pretty cold but good. Deciding to take the Jalori Jot way we passed by Ani, and at Khanag we replenished our supplies of Rum, also ended up drinking a bit. The climb up to Jalori seemed very steep and curvy, but most of it went unnoticed, as the rum was strong as well the scenery breathtaking. Part way up we ran into a wall of rain and all we could see was the road. There was a temple of the Devi at the pass and some hotels and restaurants of nondescript origins.
Parking the bikes at a friendly shopkeeper’s place we hiked to a small lake eerily placed among the great oak trees. Sarovalsar, it was called and the residence of the Nag Devta. A quite night at the Anna lodge with a fire burning in the hearth and the rum burning our stomachs.
Mostly I would call myself a storyteller, but I could see that my friends disliked my stories as the days went by, and I’m by nature a very adaptable person. So I became driver and guide to the best of my abilities, being the second son of the second son, I could at most times see into the future and inform the guys about the next food stop or booze shop. Well it was apparent that I was accepted as I was, with my explosive temperament and was sure to get help in any brawl. Not that I fought for any reason, it in my blood.
Heavy fog and a drizzle with a hot cup of tea, a darshan of the temple and the 2 hour walk back to Jalori got us in excellent mood to ride out. Going down the extra steep grade at a slow gait and passing some of the best forests in north India teaming with pheasants and fowls made it a great ride till we reached the bridge over the Tirthan river. Soon we were to join the main Manali highway at Aut, the ride got veery fast roads were excellent, and apple wine shops plentiful. The wine made us drowsy and we proceeded straight to Vashisht, got us a room and jumped into the public bath, really hot water. Refreshed we went out for a romp and to fix up our much abused bikes. Well Manali and old friends, they have a way of making you forget your tiredness, I don’t even remember how I got back to the hotel at night.
The rains had started now and we were drenched to the bone before we even started the bikes, my bike I call Lalpari. She had a way to get you upset each morning before she started with a big fuss, but everytime I took her to the mechanic she would start with a sweet purr. Today she made me cry in the rain before starting grudgingly. The climb up to Rohtang was living hell with sheets of water pouring everywhere. Mardi was a heaven sent halt for us before the summit, with apple brandy available cheap, our journey was suddenly very beautiful. The pass was not up to expectations, not a patch of snow! Our prayers offered at the top, we slithered down to the leeward Himalayas with the ever-improving climate following us. The food at Grampho was excellent, as was the local arrack. The drive onwards was anything but pleasant, cold winds whipping our faces, the roads gravelly and bumpy with the sudden cold deep stream to cross, the ruts of trucks making thing slightly more precarious.
As we followed kilometer after kilometer of this road, finally coming to Batal, a nondescript sort of a settlement with a few shops and no hospitality. Well all we could do was carry on to the fabled Chandra Tal, the motor road little more than a mule track, amazingly we saw jeep tracks leading into the valley. A helpful shepherd told us about the hotel with plentiful food and drinks, so we carried on, me dreaming about the great food and my friends about the good Hotel.
The route was quite unpredictable with Yuvi’s bike offering resistance in the water crossings. A lot of grunting, cursing and pushing got us eventually to the lake on time to see the sun set, a sight I will remember to the next world. All our worries forgotten we pitched up camp near a small ragged tent called the hotel. The food and company of pretty western girls was very good, to top it all the apricot liquor beat everything we had yet tasted.
Lila an Israeli lady was very sick with high altitude affecting her, and her guide had disappeared for help and hadn’t returned, so we gave her some garlic tabs and lots of rehydration water, soon she was singing on the top of her voice. The cold of the night and the height did give us a little discomfort, nothing the apricot wine could not cure.