Not really broke, no. The car now got stuck on a boulder, the size of a drum. We were not being unnecessarily adventurous. The good bits of the road has large pebbles and the not-so-good bit has boulders. The smallest boulders were the size of the skull of a full grown human and the largest the size of a refrigerator. Thankfully the refrigerator sized ones were on the sides and the largest that a motorist is expected to drive over are not much larger than drums and coffee tables. As Pp tried to drive cautiously while jolting the car as less as possible, the underside of our car got stuck on one of these drum-sized rocks. No matter how much he revved the engine, the car only rocked. One of its wheels found no surface to grip and the car stayed put. There was not another soul around. The good news was that we were stuck at a very narrow point in between two refrigerator sized boulders on the Kaza Manali Highway. That meant that all traffic from both sides was no longer simply duty-bound to help us, but they would be forced to help is for if they did not manage to dislodge us, traffic would be stuck. The bad news was there was no way the delicate patchwork of wires and borrowed nuts would survive this assault. That meant that while we would definitely not be stranded at this particular spot, we would now be stranded on the roadside at another spot in the middle of nowhere.
R and I went back to the rest house to ask for help and Pp stayed with the car. The young lad at the rest house said he did not have telephone facilities and no tools with which to help us. Soon enough though two mini-vans, one from each direction made their way to our car and people jumped in to the rescue. They loaded people in the car and weighed it down and as soon as the wheel found traction, it jumped ahead and was out of the rocks. We thanked our saviours and they went their way. However, as soon as we got into the car, the banging noise immediately told us that the contraption that had held from Kunzum till Chhota Dhara was no longer in action and that the bolt and the wire were lost. We parked the car by the side on a wider portion of the road and waited.
Before long a truck stopped and then another sedan and very soon the driver of the truck and the three men from the sedan were helping Pp. it took them close to an hour, involving the spares kit from the truck and from the sedan. It also involved rocks from the roadside, mud from the river-bed, a little bit of blood, a lot of sweat and cusswords, all hallmarks of male camaraderie, the camaraderie of perfect strangers trying to fix a broken car.
Eventually it was fixed and the trucker pronounced us good to go till Delhi (yet again). We, very foolishly, tried to offer him some money for all his help, and he chided us gently asking us to pay it forward. This trucker too, like Ankit from earlier, turned out to be as good as his word, and when we did reach Manali and had it checked out by a mechanic we were told a first-class job had been done. We thanked the stars that had sent him our way on that day at that hour.
Upon our return we posted pics on Instagram and shared our travel stories with friends and family. However, what stayed with us most, of that trip were those three words, “Pay it forward”. Thinking back to the times we stopped on our way to Manali passing along bottles of water to thirsty cyclists or how, since then we have never been able to simply whoosh past stranded motorists on the Mumbai Pune Expressway as we used to earlier, I realize that the chain of events set in motion by the broken wheel has indeed changed us and hopefully for the better.
We had gone to Himachal to visit the Kunzum Pass, strut about having struck off another item from our bucket list, add a few pictures on Instagram and maybe, once in a while feel the heaviness of nostalgia and talk about “that time in Kaza…”. What we came back with was something else entirely. We came back with Knowledge, the knowledge that we are oblivious to the most obvious of truths, that everything in this universe is transient and the only thing that lasts is love; love that we show through our actions, of helping a stranger stranded on the road, of sharing food and wine around a fire on a cold night, of promising to go slow when the other cannot keep up; for love shines through the cobwebs of memories long after posts on Instagram have been pushed to the bottom and bucket lists have been shelved for good.