The Graduation Ride

1st Sep 2015

“Let’s just go back from here, it’s not going to be safe after dark bhai”, said my brother, as we stood in the middle of a Himalayan desert with a sore back, a fully loaded Royal Enfield Thunderbird,attire in denial and spirits till high to make it to Delhi a whopping 1000 kms in the next 36 hours!

Why are we here?

Well, as fate had it I had to taste life for once. They say “Life” begins beyond your comfort zone, I was always fascinated by the tales of my elder bro. I was convinced that he was a lunatic, so was most in my family. But never did I know, I would soon bite the dust 

As I start writing the travelogue after 6 days, about our 4 days incomplete ride to Spiti- Lahaul valley, the memories are still fresh and haunting, we are in one piece but our bike, ‘Hooligan’ is not, our entrusted self-confidence has been challenged and but the road beckons!

I was bidding adieu to my previous company and relocating to Delhi with a new job and with whatever “berozgari period” I had in hand, my brother (henceforth Joe) wanted to get me Leh’d!

He called it “The Graduation Ride” but we had to adjust that due to time constraint. We had only 4 days to spare so Joe planned to take me to Lahaul and Spiti. I was naturally anxious, excited, and over-enthusiastic about this new episode of my life. It were mixed feelings leaving my people back home to set sail on the high tides of life, but I knew I had to do THIS!!

So I took a flight from Calcutta on 2nd September and reached Delhi late in the night. We came to our Noida residence at almost 1.30 at night, packed our bags and slept at around 3.30 am hoping to be on the road by 5 and looking forward to our first big day.

On the Road - Day1

Day 1

We could only start at 6 in the morning and after an uneventful ride of 2 and half hours we stopped for a “glass” of tea at Ambala.Joe tried his best to keep me amused but the jitters of the first ride were always there!

After having our share of snacks we started riding towards our destination through NH-24. As we were crossing Punjab the serene environment on the highway made me chime “Ik onkar” and all other Punjabi songs I knew. Thankfully Punjab in reality was way different from the way Honey Singhs’ make us think!

Although not a very religious person I felt like going to the golden temple once but we had to cover almost 570 km that day itself so we chose to ride on through the road side greenery in the company of a glaring sun and an equally glaring “Hooligan”.

By then we were exhausted with the continuous riding but the splash of cold water on our face and the taste of makhan marke alu k paranthe and sweet glass of lassi refueled our hearts and we reaccelerated our minds and gears. We kept pushing ourselves through the ramrod straight highway hoping for the mountains.

It was like we could feel the cold breeze of heavens but we could not touch it. As our impatience grew it was answered by the broken roads of Bilaspur and curves of Sundernagar. The highways and the polished roads had vanished and so had the polished people It was the alpines and other green trees and the most colorful Pahari people around.

It started getting dark at around 6pm and although we still had odd 100 kms to go we could not help but take a short break at Mandi as our legs and backs had given up. After another short break, we started riding as the roads only pointed up. Tried convincing myself that it was only a matter of another few kms. Joe kept saying, divide the distance into parts, it will look shorter!

As we reached Kullu I got back to myself thinking Manali, our destination was close. But as the roads were all dark, broken and at max of a width of 10 feet and be sided by Abyss I started feeling scared. As we went ahead I saw a crash of two trucks, a pretty bad one just at the edge of the hills at one of this corners we were passing through. I was very scared. I asked my brother to stop at the next village again and again but he sometimes ignored me, sometimes told me to hug him and sit tight as he rode on. But I was getting numb as we were continuously passing through these roads. It was continuously playing on my mind what would happen if we lose control or one of these big trucks hit us in this dark, What if we just could not follow one of these steep turnings and fell from one of the dark edges. My numbness just increased and after a while I could hear myself talking to my soulmate that I wanted to go back, I was scared and found tears rolling down my eyes but with no help. There was no response from her and only the breeze rubbed the tears rolling down my eyes. Amidst darkness I decided not to be scared anymore and after a while every second of passing silence was teaching me a thousand lessons. My brother asked me if we must stop but by then I had got used to the darkness, the fear was gone, it was a new ME!

After another 40 kms at around 9.30 pm we reached the exteriors of Manali and stopped at one of the hotels because our body had given up and for the next 2 days we needed good rest.

On the Road - Day 2

Day 2

The next day was a new start, I had washed previous day’s thoughts and we were ready to take on Rhotang only to find that we needed the SDO’s permission in order to do that. So we went to Manali SDO’s office and applied for the permit and got to know that we had to wait till 3pm to get the same. Joe was in a dilemma over the idea of leaving for Rhotang so late, as with the sun going down the topmost point on the Rohtang-Leh highway could be atrocious for someone on his first ride.

But today I cared less about anything and insisted on going. So all the morning we could not really do much apart from having a relaxed breakfast, going around Manali and sit by the flowing river and sink in the beautiful sun reflecting river Beas.

The moment we grabbed the permit it was “Go…Went…Gone”! As we ascended, it started getting chillier and the scenery gradually descended from “Trees with rocks” to “rocks with trees” to “only rocks”. We climbed higher and higher and things got smaller and smaller. We were surrounded by beautiful mountains, local temples and holy rocks. The roads hardly continued at a stretch for more than 200 meters so we had to continue on 2nd or 3rd gear of our bike. More than our bike we wanted to stop ourselves and soak our eyes in this unending beauty. My first tryst with snow happened here and we were riding right through it. I was overwhelmed, joyful and at my screaming best. Joe kept saying “Tor AMS hoyeche” . On another day, I would have controlled myself. But today – Nada!!

Although our body was tired by the rigorous road, we wanted to ride on. So we rode on further until it went very dark and had no other choice but to stop at the sight of some light. It was the Khoksar village.

As we entered the village, people stared at us with a sight of suspicion wondering if we were normal enough to ride through those broken hilly roads so late. But the weirdest was that we were planning to tent beside the flowing river with no idea how to put up a tent at almost 9 in the evening with a temperature of nothing higher than 5 degrees Celsius. So after having our delicious share of dinner at a hut from a locale couple. We started putting up the tent only to fool ourselves with the manual and the other tools. It was almost 10.30pm, there was no light at all except that of our torch, the whole village was asleep and we were dazed and confused and about to give up the idea of tenting when the person who had given us dinner came to help us and used his experience as a trek guide to help us put up the tent. So finally the tent was up, we took his light to light up our tent, put the bike beside and were set for one of the best sleeps of our lives under the starry sky.

Day 3

Day 3

After a much deserved sleep we started a beautiful day early in the morning towards Kaza which was odd 80 kms. Our plan was to visit local places and get back to Manali the same day. But someone up there had a different game plan for us

After munching some miles we realized that we were in the middle of nowhere, with no people, no roads, waterfalls continuing on the roads. Enroute we could only find few local people who were out to feed their cattle on the road. However difficult we chose to ride on, there was no thought at all of coming back, we were hypnotized by the mountains, the never-ending green fields and the waterfalls crossing through them. As we went further for almost 2 hours through the broken roads and unending beauty of this virgin place we found a place called Chatru. So we stopped for some food and a bit of rest to our sore backs. Eventually we found two fellow riders who were destined in the same direction as ours. After a bit of rest and short chat we started riding together. As we rode on we were welcomed by another type of natural phenomenon, ”The Himalayan Desert”. It was barren and dusty all around except for some passing streams from the mountains on the top, unfurled, wild and untamed. We slipped into one of these streams named “Chotadara” twice but saved ourselves from anything major. It was getting difficult to ride on with me as a pillion. I had once heard Joe say, “Roads…No roads…Little something…Nothing”! … Just keep riding. Never stop, And we never stopped!

At one such spot

Joe: “Let’s just go back from here, it’s not going to be safe after dark bhai.”

Me: “No way! I want to complete the entire circuit...” It’s now or never

Joe: “But you have to join office in less than 36 hours”

Me: “We will think about that later. Let’s ride for now”

Joe was quite taken aback with this reaction, but inside he was a happy man. A triumphant rider who now had a partner in crime. And I was happy to share the status of being a “lunatic”!

We knew that we had to report to ours offices the day after next,we knew we had only covered 80 kms riding for 6 hrs since morning, we knew it was a difficult 180 kms ahead till Kaza-Spiti valley, we knew that we had to ride for 750 kms the next day if we had to reach our offices on time, we knew we were taking an innocent decision but sometimes we just don’t think so much, we don’t calculate so much. And the greed for this beauty, knowing the unknown, passion for riding and love for hills took us ahead. The light grew dimmer and our roads became tougher as we left the other riders at Batal and rode towards Kaza. The broken roads were now pointing only upwards as we moved on for hours with the snow clapped mountains beside us. Our bodies had started giving up but we had to move on as we had almost 150 kms to cover with an average speed of nothing more than 15 km/hr. Clutching and accelerating again and again to rise the bike upwards through the bumpy roads had left my brother’s hands sore and swollen. So after riding for 3 hours when we had reached the top of the road we chose to stop at a temple with a beautiful piece of architecture. There we met few other tourist and a fellow rider, had a short chat but couldn’t rest for longer as it had already started getting dark accompanied by chilly wind coming from the snow clapped mountains. So we started once again but with a sigh of relief as we knew the roads now only pointed downwards. We rode on as after riding for another 15 kms we found metal roads after a long time. We could finally accelerate ourselves as we continued through the small villages and interestingly all of these villages had temples in between. It was close to 6.30pm but the daylight was still there as we hurried towards our destination. Now we had once again left the snow clapped mountains and were riding through the dusty, broken Himalayan desert. Joe kept on accelerating no matter there was a bump or broken road or up and down. There were few other rivers created from the water streams coming from the hills in which I had to get down from the bike. Sometimes I had to walk myself through those streams in order to check if there were any such potholes where the bike’s tire could have been stuck, sometimes I had to push when these potholes came and bike was actually stuck. We were just ensuring that the water did not enter the silencer as that would mean the end of our journey and we would be stuck at night far away from where we could have reached any mechanic. But thankfully all this were gone as we saw a board indicating Kaza was 70 kms ahead so got some zeal to move on. It was 7.30pm and dark now. We could only find some trucks behind or ahead of us which blew so much dust as to paint our faces totally black. We rode on further for almost an hour through the dark by the side of the flowing streams. It was silent everywhere except the “butbut” sound of our royal enfield echoing all around through the mountains. I could not feel much anymore, my body was all numb now. All I wanted was to just reach Kaza spiti and sleep. The brain was not working anymore as my brother kept on thrusting his hand through the air in order to relax them a bit. But after a while he chose to stop as his hands were dead now and as he opened his gloves I could see his fingers were all swollen, the skin of his hands ripping off, all red. We stopped for a while in the dark, in the middle of a perfect no man’s land. The trucks had now stopped moving due to the darkness but we couldn’t do that as we had 30 odd kms further to make. So we gathered some energy from nowhere, gathered up all our strength to cover the last few kms as my brother exchanged my gloves and rode on. After further 1 hour of riding we reached Kaza spiti at around 9.30pm and discarded the idea of tenting and booked a hotel as we had 750 kms to ride the next day and had to leave early at 7 in the morning to do the same. The fellow tourists further inspired us by saying that they had actually taken past 6 days to cover 421 kms from Shimla and said it was impossible to reach Delhi the next day. So we chose to ignore them, took a shower in hot water and slept like never before.

Day 4

Day 4

We woke up early morning and prepared ourselves by 7 am for 770 kms during the whole day and only to hear that the petrol pump won’t open before 9am.We only had petrol to serve ourselves for 8-10 kms and the next petrol pump was 25kms away. So we requested the petrol pump attendants and they got ready to open the petrol pump by 7.30 but again we have difficulty as the power is off. So we finally are able to leave by 9.30am as we start riding towards Shimla which was 421 kms far. We see the roads were good and motor-able and discuss amongst ourselves that if we are able to reach Shimla even by 14 hours then we can easily reach for my office the next day morning. As we ride on the roads started detoriating after a few kms. We ride non-stop but the unending roads and numerous villages continue. We even skip our breakfast but time flies away as we pass through the apple gardens and the dusty NH-505 and its afternoon. We ride on as we don’t see a single hotel open wherein we can stop and have some breakfast. After riding at a stretch we find that the road has ended and there is a “mummy” temple in front of us. So we ask the local people the route to Shimla and they inform us that we had taken a wrong turning and have come 8 kms off route. So we turn ourselves back and soon after we realize that our bike’s rear break isn’t working anymore. So we have no other way but to stop at the edge of a cliff, with no civilization in sight let alone a mechanic. We tried repairing the breaks there but didn’t work out so we choose to continue with the ride depending just on our front break as it was already 4pm by then. As we come back and take the road we were supposed to, we find it to be all broken. At one of the toll gates the army informs us that it was going to take at least 18 hours to reach Shimla further. We again choose to ignore them and continue. The journey was getting more and more difficult without the breaks and roads all broken. Sometimes we skit in the stone chips and pebbles all around, sometimes we lost control and ended up right at the edge of one of the cliffs. But soon after to our relief the rear break starts working and we ride on. We keep on riding but the roads don’t seem to have any end. After few more hours it starts getting dark and we have no idea where we are. The same unending hills and rivers continue and suddenly we realise that our bike was sounding weird and we turn back to see that the silencer pipe had fallen back somewhere. So my brother rides back in search of the silencer pipe and I stand there at the edge of a cliff as several vehicles pass by. After 15 minutes as I don’t see him coming I start getting tensed about his safety so I start walking back and soon I see him coming. So we resume our ride with the broken silencer pipe fit somehow and the darkness falling upon us. After few more hours of riding we reach a place called ‘Poh’ and it was dark. As we ride in the shown direction towards Shimla preceded by Rampur and Tabo we see that the road has ended. So we ask the local army cadets from one of the barracks and he says that due to a recent landslide the road has got blocked and the only way to cross this was riding through a hill. The hill was nothing less than 5000 ft above from where we were standing. So basically we had to cover odd 40 km instead of 9 km crossing that steep hill in dying darkness with our bodies totally given up. Nothing was working in our favor and we were devastated. We had literally lost all the senses and we knew that taking that ride of the steep hill would mean nothing but committing suicide. So after a blank gaze at each other we restarted riding over the hills. Just after two turnings at one of the steep turnings my brother almost lost control and we fell down. As we lifted the bike, we found that the silencer pipe that my brother had somehow managed to fix had fallen down once again. So there we were in the dying darkness standing at one of the corners of this mountain with no clue how to fix it, no idea what to do next, no physical or mental strength to get back up riding. After few faint attempts at fixing the silencer pipe we saw a small truck coming from down. So we had some light of hope but the truck took a sharp speedy curve and hit our bike’s luggage carrier bunk and stopped going ahead to check if that had broken something. As we waved for help the truck ignored us and moved onwards. So we were there alone once again with lights visible right at the top of the hill which were approximately I don’t know how far away. We could just faintly see round and round curves that had led to it. I, at a point felt as if we were not even alive anymore and all this was happening to our souls. This trip was no more an adventure for us. My brother was frustrated and was screaming on me and blaming me for the situation. Had we returned from Manali this would not have happened. We could have easily spent another beautiful pleasant night under the moonlit sky. But here we were struggling with our life against an 11000ft mountain. His hands looked burnt now by the continuous accelerating of his bike. But I managed to keep my cool. The person who was crying out of fear on the highway was now, way more matured. I knew that whatever was happening might be tough but was something we would cherish for the rest of our lives. So we somehow put the bike in a piece and resumed our riding through the dark broken mountain which had been through a landslide just a few days ago. We moved closer and closer to the top, the faint lights we could see were clearer now. So after riding for more than an hour we reached a small village at the top. After few honking a person came out so we asked him if there was a place nearby where we could sit back and relax. He pointed down and showed a place called ‘Tabo’ and instructed us to go there. We saw the village and it was a sight of relaxation after a long time. The village looked very beautiful by the local hydroelectricity project that was going on. It was like a garden full of white flowers. So we gathered all our courage and rode down to Tabo. It was 11 in the night when we reached Tabo and no part of our body was ready for any ride further. So I spoke to the HR person in my new office and postponed the joining to the 2nd half of the day and targeted to leave Tabo by 4 in the morning and reach Delhi by 2 in the afternoon.

Day 5

Day 5

As planned we left the hotel early at 4 am in the morning and started riding in the dark. The roads were better now but that wouldn’t reduce the 700 kms that we had to travel in 11-12 hours in hand. So we rode continuously apart from stopping at a place or two where the flock of cattle stopped us. We planned to reach Shimla which was 350 kms away by 9 in the morning. We rode continuously for around 4 hours until the bike started making weird noise after crossing Rampur. We stopped to check and found out that 4 of its spokes had given up. After trying our hands we realized that there was not much we could do about it and had to go to the nearest mechanic’s shop which was 10 kms away. He checked and said that he did not have the spokes but he could repair so we could continue. By then it was 10 and there was no more chances that I could make it to the joining in my new office. So I informed the same at my office and they were okay with me joining the next day. That was a huge sense of relief for both of us and now our target was to reach our home somehow in one piece. The bike was repair after almost 2 hours and resumed riding. The feeling that we were leaving the hills saddened us but we were more excited to get back home, take a fresh shower and have a short nap. So we kept on riding through the plane roads of NH-22. We passed different people, different villages, the sun shining high on us and reflecting mountains waving us goodbye. The roads just led one to another and we kept on riding. Our next stop was at a dhaba near Shimla at around 3 pm. We were hungry and starving so literally attacked the roti and tarkari and finished them in a moment. After 15 minutes we were on the roads once again. We were back into civilized people and polished roads. As we crossed through the crowd of Shimla, we saw people who looked very beautiful. Men and women alike had sharp features and they were all pink in color. We being boys somehow managed to pull our eyes of the girls and concentrated on riding. After few further hours of continuous riding we were tired now. It was getting dark and we wanted to leave the hills before it got darker. But it seemed unending now. The same hills that we were craving to see and feel while coming were becoming tiring now. We were continuously looking for the milestones which were marked as Chandigarh and rushing past them. At round 7 the hills had ended, we had left the amazing Himachal. We were now just seeing flashing headlights of cars and speeding through when our bike suddenly started making noise once again. We immediately got down and realized few more spokes had given up. Our hooligan was now tired and started giving up after the whole terrain. So we went to the nearest mechanic and got to know that he wouldn’t be able to repair it. Also he informed us that the nearest mechanic was nothing less than 15kms away. So we ourselves managed to put the spoke in some shape and started riding. After almost 10 km the bike started slipping so stopped and found out that the tire had punctured. It was 9.30 in the night and half of the shops had closed by now. I got down and my brother started walking the bike. We were searching everywhere for a mechanic but half of them were wither closed or not able to repair a royal enfield. After almost half an hour we finally found a person near Pinjore who was ready to repair. So after further one hour we were set with 10 spokes of our rear tire removed. We resumed our ride without any second looking back. Now we were doing a speed of 100 km/hr on an average and our destination was looking close as we were continuously passing several vehicles. We were passing the milestones in hush and home was looking closer. After a moment as we were crossing Punjab. We were hungry enough so chose to stop at a dhaba and have two big glasses of Lassi as we wanted to have dinner only at home. As we resumed I was enjoying the last few hours of our ride as I closed my eyes and a strong gush of wind hit my face. We were dominating the roads, our spoke-less ‘Hooligan’ was back into form. He was dipping the big Lorries and they were continuously allowing him the main road to rule on. After this event continued further for an hour or so we were now left with the last 100 kms. But as they say good things don’t continue for long. It was close to 12.30 in the night and the bike started vibrating once again and we found out that it was punctured for the 3rd time in the day and in a bitter situation than ever. We were standing by the side of the road as there was not a single person whom we could ask where the nearest mechanic was. So after standing there pointless for 5 minutes we started walking. The road was leading us nowhere. We were clue and idealess regarding the needful when we saw a small light at a distance. We went near and found a police person who took us to nearby mechanic where some were already drunk and some were WIP. One of this guys who was WIP introduced us to the mechanic whose eyes were already red and was about to fall. We showed him the puncture and the broken spokes and he straightway rejected the proposal of repairing it and got slapped by the other guy. In no moment we had become best friend to the WIP guy and he looked to have taken an oath to get our bike repaired. His name was Bhanu and ensured us that he would see that the bike is repaired by any means. As we were talking, another guy came from the shop and started offering us drink. As we refused his hospitality increased by a level and he offered us tea from the nearby dhaba and instructed one of his friends who had fallen asleep to bring two glasses of tea. He introduced himself as Mahavir, brother of Bhanu and bebrothered us as well. As series of universal brotherhood went on we could see that the mechanic was sitting and drooling holding the punctured rear wheel with the set of toolbox which he hadn’t touch yet. As Bhanu and Mahavir started introducing themselves we found out they were rugged son of rich local Hariyanwi farmers who did nothing apart from drinking during the night and sleeping during the day. As Bhanu started taking selfies with my brother, Mahabir started showing me pictures in his mobile in which where somewhere he was holding a revolver, somewhere he was hitting others. After a moment the tea came for us and we wouldn’t complain that we were not enjoying their company apart from the fact that our bike was not touched yet. As we informed Bhanu about the mechanic not doing his job he went ahead and slapped the mechanic once again and instructed him to repair. Now the mechanic seemed to put some attention to the bike. Sometimes we exchanged numbers, sometimes we heard rap composed and sung by Mahabir for us, sometimes they saw pictures of our ride. As this quandary continued for half an hour more, the bike’s tire was out of its realm and the mechanic after continuous effort was unable to take out the tube from the tire. So Bhanu was angry once again and now slapped a 10kg hammer over the tire. As he was returning after taking the tube out of the tire the mechanic informed us that the tube had a big hole which couldn’t be fixed anymore. We would have to get a new tube now at 1.30 in the midnight in some distant village of Haryana. We were getting disturbed and nervous, fun was over for us but we couldn’t do anything to help ourselves. Bhanu tried getting the tire from somewhere local but the results were obvious. After few more hours of this chaos we had lost all hopes and the mechanic had informed that the tire could only be fixed in the morning. So we requested them to somehow make us reach home and Bhanu offered his uncle’s car. So after paying Bhanu’s uncle a hefty amount of money we finally reached home with an incomplete ride and humongous amount of crazy memories that we only could cherish and look forward to once again all our lives.

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