I have always had an eye for small details which enabled me to recall routes/roads/landmarks easily. I sat in the bus counting minutes and seconds since our quick breakfast at a diner earlier at 6 in the morning. The moment we reached Kullu, my heart pounded hard and my brain started thinking while the rest of the passengers were asleep.
“What is my plan?”
That is when i heard a loud shriek behind my seat. I turned back and there was a man who had woken up from a potential nightmare. What could induce a nightmare on a journey to a real paradise? I thought to myself and eventually went back to the plan i did not have.
Hiring a motorbike from Manali was a part of the plan. I was a fan and i knew the right guy to hire one from. Spiti Valley was running in my thoughts as a destination but the cost and feasibility of the journey was something I was yet to figure out. So I hoped my budget would be enough if i get correct prices from Manali and left Spiti as a blur in my mind. As we approached the bus station, i stood up and started packing my bags like a veteran Manali explorer, way before everyone else. And just like a veteran explorer would do, i wasn’t about to take a taxi to my hotel right away this time. I paid Rs.200 for it the last time for walk-able distance. We tied our rucksacks tightly, well, one of us unwillingly, and started walking up towards mall road where we could hire a motorbike.
As we were moving up the road, i noticed a man catch up with us, matching our pace. It was the same man who had that nightmare in the bus. I expected a small conversation and there it was.
“Which way is mall road?”
The conversation started that way and i gave precise answers on the direction. I asked him to accompany us as we were heading the same way. He introduced himself as Hari, a travel enthusiast from south India who came for a vacation from his work. Our little talk took us to the inevitable mutual question any traveler without any destination would dread from.
“Where are you headed?”
I had no answer for it, so i dodged it plainly by saying Manali. But i told him about my strategy to hire a motorbike and offered to take him to the shop with me in case he needs one.
“Where are YOU headed?” I asked.
“I don’t know, maybe Leh or Spiti, I haven’t decided yet.”
What a great follow through! I met him five minutes ago and found someone with the same enthusiasm I had for an ambiguous place up in the mountains. We skipped the whole Mall Road area on the way to meet Avi. He runs a motorbike lending shop called the Himalayan Hawk and was the only person i could trust in the area as he was quite honest with his trade during my previous visit. I sat down and started a conversation about Spiti Valley which intrigued all of us over a cup of tea. Even Avi, being a local resident of Himachal did not have much to say about the existence of Spiti Valley. But he seemed as excited as we were and gave us some discount on the bikes on the term of friendship. We were enthralled!
While Hari lit up a cigarette, simultaneously checking his Royal Enfield he was supposed to ride solo on, I got to know more about him and his journey in the meantime. We settled the bills for the bikes and I asked Hari to stay at the hotel room I had booked in Aleo, near Manali for the night. It usually takes me at least an year to get accustomed to people enough to stay in one room, but here i was, making quick decisions with him. I liked how changed i had become in past few weeks. He said yes and we headed on to the hotel on our new bikes. He eventually had to pay extra at the hotel for spending the night there.
Back in the hotel after doing some quick research on my beat up smartphone, i put on the hat of the guide in Manali and potentially for Spiti as I was the only one who had been all the way up till Himachal before out of all of us. Prior experience matters, I assumed. Spiti Valley costs several stops in the middle on motorbikes. The whole stretch from Manali all the way to Kaza spans around 200 kilometers. I could not find many articles or blog entries on the shape of the route which made me assume that the roads, if not mint, could be not-that-bad.
Around afternoon, we decided to ride towards Solang Valley close to Manali to get used to the mountain roads. Bob wanted to ride solo here and Hari did not mind lending his bike. I let Hari ride my bike and we spent our time going full throttle admiring the picturesque valleys.