We were all set. The shared ride we booked was the only option to get to Manali. Last evening we negotiated our way to getting optimum space, or so we thought! The guy told us to come to the taxi stand by 7.15 am. It was a long ride and we had to get on the road at 7.30 am.
Seats were strictly allotted in the vehicle. In the front was myself, another guy and the driver. Behind was Bhim with three other guys. And the last one was allotted to a couple. They had a guitar, they paid extra fare so they could have the back seat to themselves. The girl was stunning at first sight. A nose ring and smokey dark eyes, very pretty and the guy with her was older, seemed like a musician.
We started off on time. The driver was pleasant, a happy go lucky guy and always smiling. Yesterday we had a brief chat with him when we were paying for our ride, Bhim was talking about the spectacular World Cup cricket finals that happened between England vs New Zealand. Almost everyone we met were talking about it. So I was happy when I saw the same guy driving us.
We made our way out of Kaza and were passing Himalayan villages starting from Rangrik. The massive valley opened up before us with the bright sun. The first 20 minutes was getting out of Kaza and passing through pretty Himalayan villages. Perched on an elevation with green patches, here a village meant not more than 8-10 traditionally built homes. I saw a lot of homestays. Locals using their homes for travellers/ backpackers who were on offbeat routes.
Then the driver said, here it starts… We were entering into the mountains, the ‘good part of the route’ was over, we were ascending. Rocks, narrow routes and very rough ride. We kept going up with the driver navigating narrow rough turns on rocks. We were surrounded by breathtaking landscapes, different colours of mountains with shocking blue skies in contrast to the super rough route.
It seemed like ours was the only vehicle on the road. Maybe it was because we started pretty early, I wondered how would one manoeuvre another vehicle coming from the other side. It was too narrow.
Suddenly out of nowhere we entered a small village and the driver told us to have a quick breakfast precisely for 20 minutes. There were ‘Nallas’ – streaming water coming all the way down from the Glaciers. There were three of them and it kept filling up, if we didn’t cross these three on time, it would completely flood the route and we would be fucked.
Bhim and I ordered Aloo parathas with Chai. The four guys were malayalis, young boys maybe 19-20 years. As for the stunning girl and her musician boyfriend, the moment she started speaking, everything was off.
A damsel in distress kind, dependant on her guy and very squeaky. Bhim said am no longer impressed. It got me thinking how much our attraction is on the physical aspect of anyone we see at first sight. It always goes towards looks at first, but after sometime it’s the brain and personality that matters and if that doesn’t exist then well..
Post breakfast was more rough, getting tougher by the minute. Hindi songs were blasting full on in the vehicle. To be honest, to sit crammed in a vehicle with so many people is not a joke, yet the energy was calming. We were glad there were no Delhiites making a fuss. All were pretty easy going.
The route again suddenly opened up like a wide open heart. We reached Kunzum la- the pass. This connected from Spiti-Lahaul to Kullu- Manali. We would get into wilder terrain post this.
The locals revered and worshipped this pass- she was a goddess. Kunzum Mata( mother). After this pass was a treacherous road, hair raising hairpin bends not meant for an ordinary driver, life endangering and no local would pass without stopping, praying for a good journey onward keeping everyone safe.
Three gigantic stupas with prayer flags, lamps and a stunning landscape surrounding it. It was sunny and pretty windy giving Kunzum la an otherworldly foreboding effect. I did my prayers for everyone’s safe journey.
As I looked ahead I saw the dangerous route we would be ascending to. It was no mean task. One requires a stronger heart and an even stronger stomach to get onto that route. God bless the driver who would have to use all his skills to get through this.
We got a good break there filled with silence and calm. It was only the wind, the magnificent Himalayas and the sound of the prayer flags in the breeze. The driver told us it was time to go and as we were getting in, there was a sudden influx of motorbikes, cars, vans with tourists. We got out in time before it became white noise. We had our moments of serenity.
Moving onto a heart in our mouth dangerous terrain..
To be continued..