I am officially addicted. I am always hungry for more and more driving through terrains that would be considered risky, unpredictable or even suicidal! During one of my drives to Uttarakhand with my dear friend Sanjay, we visited Mana village. It is the last Indian Village on the Indo China border. Everything in Mana Village is marketing as ‘last’. The ‘last’ post office, the ‘last’ tea stall, the ‘last’ police check post, the ‘last’ school etc. I think they should rename Mana Village as the ‘Last’ village! While driving back from Mana Village, we crossed a sign post on our left which said, ‘This road leads to Mana Pass. Worlds’ Highest Motorable Road constructed by BRO. Height 18,399 feet. Distance 53 km’.
Our collective instant reaction was, “Can we drive to Mana Pass?”. We went to the nearby Army post to find out.
“Not allowed. You need special permits from the Army and District Magistrate’s office”, one of the officers’ at the post said bluntly. We left Mana and started driving back towards Delhi. It was a long 16 hour drive during which all we talked about was Mana Pass and resolved that we will come back armed with the permits and become the first civilian team to drive up the Highest Motorable Road in the World.
The record breaking journey began on a pleasant October morning. I reached Sanjays' place at 3 AM, we loaded his Land Cruiser and hit the road towards Joshimath.
We reached Joshimath by evening, got the necessary permits from the District Magistrate and Police, and headed towards Badrinath, the pilgrimage town which is only 4 km before Mana Village.
“Tomorrow morning, we will become the first civilians to drive to the highest motorable road in the world”.
The morning sun felt warm and we were in high spirits. We packed the Land Cruiser, applied sun screen on our faces, had our breakfast and took a deep breath as we took our seats in the car and started the engine. The Mana Pass sign post was only 3 km away from our hotel.
In 15 minutes we reached the post from where we had to start ascending towards Mana Pass but unfortunately the Army refused to let us go any further.
“Sorry, we cannot give you permission to go to Mana Pass as there is an exercise going on in that region”, the Commanding Officer declared firmly. Our hearts sank.
“But, sir, we have the permission from the District Magistrate. Why can’t we go?” Sanjay asked
“Sorry, permission is denied. If you want, you can go to the Army G1 office in Joshimath and see if they will give you permission. If you get permission from there, come back and then we will let you go. Have a good day.” He said and walked away as we stood there almost frozen. For a few seconds, none of us said anything.
Disappointed, we drove back to Joshimath and went to the G1 officer to for help where we were directed to meet the Colonel in charge. We narrated the whole story starting from the District Magistrates’ permits to being refused entry by the CO in Mana Village. After 3 hours of questioning, once he was convinced that we were determined, passionate and almost obsessed with the idea of driving to Mana Pass, he said:
"Let me see what I can do”. That one line was a glimmer of hope for us. He found out the name of the CO who had denied permission to let us go to Mana Pass, picked up the phone and called him.
“Major, I believe this morning 3 gentlemen from Delhi met you requesting permission for Mana Pass. You denied them permission. Well done! You did a fine job. No one is allowed to go there during the exercise and you handed the situation perfectly!” he said.
Sanjay and I looked at each other feeling a little embarrassed.
“When do the birds fly away?” he asked on the phone
“Hmm, hmm, hmm” that’s all we could hear from him as the Major talked from the other end of the phone.
“OK, that’s perfect. I will tell them to come and see you again tomorrow. Jai Hind” he put the phone down.
“Right. Gentlemen. You can go back to Mana Village tomorrow and start driving up to Mana Pass after 10 AM tomorrow morning. Permission will be granted. Will that be ok?” he asked
We were shocked. Just like that, without any special permits, processes or permissions, the Colonel had got us the green signal for Mana Pass.
We were back in the game! Phew! We had the DM permits and we also had the consent from the Indian Army. Who could stop us now?
After spending the night in Joshimath, once again we drove to Mana Village in the morning and headed straight for the Army Post where we again met the same officer.
“Good Morning Gentlemen, so you all are back! We will let you go to Mana Pass today but it will be at your own risk. Is that acceptable to you?” he said cheerfully
“Of course! No problem! Thank you so much sir!” we all said in unison.