(RF-Real friend, Me- Me)
RF (calls): Hey man ?? where you at?
Me: Chitkul bro....solo riding
RF: holyshit...you're awesome man !!!
Me: haha...i know
RF: I want to have your babies
Me: ahah...wait...what ??
since we have started off this blog with a heartwarming, you may wipe your tears, true story lets get to the blog.
It had been a few months now since I had done my one day ride to hatu peak. Ergo, I was oozing with wanderlust....so much wanderlust that no amount of hashtagging would suffice. so I started planning another one. After the narkanda ride I got comfortable with riding for long hours. so somewhere in January, I started looking for a place. while cooking up one of those khayali pulaos, I had made a map for a ride that I eventually someday will do. In that map, there's a detour to this village named Chitkul (3450 m). which is the last inhabited place on the Indo-china border. ''The last inhabited village'' tag has a ring to it, doesn't it? The distance from Chandigarh is about 370 km which I knew I'd b able to cover easily provided the roads were fine.
so I mapped the route on google maps took a screenshot and kept staring at it for about 3 months, just waiting for the right moment. I have this weird superstition where I don't tell anyone about my travel plans, leaving a couple of people out, cuz I feel that might jinx the plan as it has happened before. finally, the day of departure was fixed, 14th April 2017. the day before that, I was packed and ready to go and I get a message from a friend of mine, Aman. he was one of the two people who knew about this trip. he said he wanted to tag along so I texted "awesome !!!!" with enthusiasm and extra exclamation marks to make it clear how enthusiastic I was.
we were supposed to leave at 4 in the morning so that we have a couple of buffer hours in case the road was closed somewhere. 3:30 AM he was at my place and we left by 4 as planned.we reached Shimla around 7:30 which was really slow. Aman wasn't feeling comfortable riding as he had just finished his work shift and without sleep, he began riding. so without taking any risk, we thought it'd be wise if he travels via bus. He parked his bike in Shimla and boarded the bus and both of us went ahead solo, in a way. Escaping from ....something.
I stopped for breakfast in a restaurant near kufri. The place had just opened. I parked my bike and went in. ordered what the waiter suggested and relaxed. sometimes I feel that I trust people very soon and someday this niceness would just bite me in the ass. The waiter came and asked if he could park my bike somewhere else as the tourist taxis were to be parked where my bike was. without giving a thought I handed him the keys. now, he was in my line of sight. he was supposed to take the bike to the left but he went whizzing past to the right. and I started calculating that was it worth stealing my bike and leaving the job that he had. calculating his salary and my bikes supposed resale value. a couple of mins later he came back and parked where the bike was supposed to be. as it turnes out, he was a bike enthusiast and owned a bajaj avenger 220, mine is 200 2010 model. we ended up discussing our bikes specs and he gave me complimentary yogurt to go with the bhaji-bhatoora. Being nice pays off sometimes.
After the breakfast, I felt energized and rode off. for the next few hours, all I could hear was the sound of my bikes engine, the wind, and my melodious singing. In those quiet moments, your brain tries to fill in with weird thoughts and songs so that you don't realize how empty your life is. Before I knew it, I was humming "didi tera dewar deewana" out of nowhere. job well-done brain..!!
The fun begins once you enter the kinnaur gate and climb altitude real soon. driving on the roads carved out of the mountains, the curves and bends its just too much fun. I'm a novice rider and these roads at times were challenging for me. little stretches of sand, mud and just tracks were testing me. Though I see these challenges as teaching moments preparing me for the long ride I have planned. I decided not to use GPS and just trust the sign boards and humans. The construction work was still in progress. After Wangtu, I was welcomed by this newly laid out stretch of tarmac. The scene in front of me was like one of those wallpapers you see where a long never ending road is in front of you with snow capped mountains to the sides more like a postcard and I was in it.
I reached Sangla (2700 m) at 3 PM and started looking for a place to stay. It was drizzling a little bit with the cold, sharp wind hitting my face. I was riding through the city. Right there I had a moment, a moment so surreal that I can't explain it. I don't know why but I felt certain weightlessness I had never experienced or maybe I did and had forgotten what it felt like. you know that split second when you reach the highest point in a playground swing set and then gravity pulls you back. That split second was prolonged it seemed. I was just staring into the valley assimilating where I was. A local guy saw me and recommended a guest house named Shruti guest house. I went and checked in there. very hospitable people and their food very homely. I ate and took a nap. I woke up to the sound of kids playing and went to the little garden they had behind the guest house. couple of kids were playing cricket so I joined them.
Aman arrived at around 5. Rest of the day we spent relaxing and walking around. we had a little chat with the owner of the guest house about the history/mythology of sangla, the climate change he has experienced in his lifetime and how unrelenting the winters can be.
Next morning we headed towards Chitkul. I wish I had a DSLR with me to capture the beauty of that place, following an obvious inception of ''Mohit Bhardwaj Photography'' Facebook page. The road got tricky but we were having fun. Hit some Himalayan traffic and rode through melting snow. For me, I experience the destination all the more if I hadn't compromised the process of getting there. For biking exposes you to the environment so you share a tangible connection with all the elements. I can never truly enjoy traveling sitting in a can and just gazing out of a window......also I don't know how to drive so....theres that.
Chitkul is a small village with not many families, though they have many guest houses so one can stay there. The view is captivating. We sat on the banks of baspa river, clicking pics and playing with snow. It was fun.After a while we had lunch and drove back to the guest house. You remember those kids I was playing cricket with? well one of them was nikunj, the owner's son. What small packet of energy he was. He kept calling himself MS DHONI so, I just went with it. He brought us chocolate and candies. Jumping on us and just playing around. We roamed in the market in the evening. I bought prayer flags for my bike. Playing every experience in my head on repeat, I slept. Next morning, Aman boarded a bus around 6 for Shimla and I left around 7:30 AM.
The journey back is never fun. There is no excitement. Somehow the place you're leaving feels more like home. Maybe because we are all playing characters in a bigger scheme of things. And at times we break out of our characters and take a little retreat. Once thats over, we have to recede back to the personas we play every day. yeah, I just did that...philosophy bomb....it's overwhelming right. Go eat some ice-cream now. finish reading first.
The entire ride I just kept looking at the rear view mirror. Took more stops than I should have. Reached home all tanned up looking like that fair and lovely shade strip. The one they use to measure how racist you are...yeah....that one. Anyhow, all in all, it was a great trip. This tour did everything travel promises. I felt I have grown closer to my friend, met amazing people, grew as a rider.....and turned into a storyteller.
now I just can't stop telling stories.... he talks about himself in 3rd person.
he promises that he'll be back with more stories.
''so long friend" he says
go eat that ice-cream.