Himachal Pradesh is made of the stuff dreams are made of. This may or may not apply for you but is the
ultimate truth for me, and my buddies of course. We have taken road trips to a lot of destinations in
Himachal and still a lot are left to discover. We try to take a different destination each time but if
in case there is any bit of confusion or indecision (which by the way is a rule and not exception); we
head straight towards the magical world of Old Manali. We visit Old Manali at least once every year and
in fact, it is our usual base camp for the launch of most of our road trips. You have got to be
there to believe it.
On one such trip, we (the six of us) decided to visit the Chandratal Lake in Spiti Valley. Once again we
landed in Manali from Delhi and hired the customary Royal Enfield bikes for our endeavor towards
Chandratal. All things checked and packed, we started our journey with the dreams of the star-studded
the sky which we would be witnessing that night at Chandratal.
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The first stop was Rohtang Pass which is a destination in itself. It was June and the peak time for
visitors to be there. Daily hundreds of cabs packed with tourists pursue between Manali and Rohtang
Pass causing painstakingly long traffic jams. Thankfully we were on two wheels and whizzed past the
stranded pool of cars stuck bumper to bumper for kilometers swiftly. We conquered Rohtang in just about
a couple of hours and stayed there for a couple of minutes to perform the extremely essential practice
of clicking selfies in a few typical poses with the picturesque landscapes in the background for the
rest of the world to know of our exploits once we get back. After the soul-satisfying photo session, we
all braced ourselves up for the grind of the road ahead. For those who have the state of it.
We felt that they were right in stopping us and we dropped the plan then and there. If not Chandratal
then where, was the topic of our group discussion. Keylong, a small town in Lahaul Valley was 52 km
ahead on the road that we were on and we voted for a yes in the full majority. Another couple of hours and
the dusk and Keylong, both arrived at the same time. The plan was to spend the night there and head
back to Manali the next morning. We did our bit of stargazing as planned (in the morning) but just at a
different location. All went well and we started back towards Manali in the morning.
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Manali, Chandratal and Keylong all came and went but we did not get our story there. The beauty of
travel is that more often than not it is the journey that defines the trip and not the destination. Our
story was waiting for us on the way.
We had hired three bikes for the six of us and were changing riders when required. We took our first
stop at Khoksar on our way back. Khoksar is a small village from where the uphill journey back towards
Rohtang starts with Gramphu at midway. After the refreshments, we decided to quicken things up a bit and
set Marhi (known majorly for eateries) which lies on the way from Rohtang to Manali. Just to avoid any
confusion we all decided that no one of us will take the shortcut (from Gramphu to Rohtang) to avoid
falling apart as phone signals were alien to those locations and tracking each other would have been
nothing short of a misadventure. That shortcut was much steeper and in bad shape than the designated
route and was mostly avoided by everyone. All said and done we started again. Two of them on the first
bike were not riding but racing and zoomed ahead. I was on the second bike and the bike behind us was
moving like a cow grazing in a grass field. After just a few minutes, all three bikes were at a
substantial distance where we could not see one another. The first bike was long gone and the
competitive spirit in us on the second bike just got a hit. As that much talked about shortcuts arrived
we stopped, stared, and started on that shortcut to catch up on the first bike.
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We were cheating on our own plan but who would come to know we thought. “We would soon catch up with our friends ahead and ride happily ever after” just as we summed up this thought, we felt the bike becoming heavier and harder to
move. The rear tire got punctured and we were left stranded. We were not just stranded but we were stranded on the route which we were not supposed to take. We were stranded on the route which we knew our friends would not take hence wouldn`t find us. We were stranded on the route which everyone avoids hence it was very difficult to get help. And to top it all, we were not carrying the tool kit, it was on either of the other two bikes.
No words could describe the feeling that we were feeling there standing next to our punctured bike
staring blankly at the flat tyre as if praying to it to miraculously heal itself. What had we done, it
was the forbidden fruit and now we would have to pay for it. Some of the things that crossed our minds
- The closest mechanic was in Manali which was around 60 km away out of which 10 km was steep
broken uphill road and how do we manage to pull the bike that too a heavy one like Royal Enfield.
- What if we leave the bike there and start walking but how far could we reach.
- What if our friends think that we were actually the first bike and were long gone so they don’t
wait for us anywhere?
- If we leave the bike here and somehow manage to reach Manali and bring the mechanic with us the
next day to find out that the bike has been stolen. In that case, we both pay the bike`s cost to the
owner, or will our friends agree to share it equally.
- Do we have enough battery left in our phones to use its flashlight to find a way in the dark
- And last but not least, what if no help comes our way. Would we be able to fend the vultures
off which will try to eat us alive?
As these thoughts kept running lap after lap in our brains we heard a vehicle coming up on that road.
As it came closer we could make out that it was a bike that too a Royal Enfield. From even closer, we
could see it was the third bike of our group. They stopped at seeing us and we approached them and
before they could ask anything we fired a barrage of questions towards them. Why are you on this route
when we had decided not to take it?
The options were being discussed. The most practical one of them was to drag ride the bike by the
lightest members out of us while the other three manage on one bike. This also did not work out. In the
meantime, grey clouds had surrounded the higher parts of the mountain and were looking ominous. At that
height, water usually comes down in the form of snow or hail and we were in trouble multiplied by a few
times. The brainstorming was on and I was given the job to walk on foot till whenever and wherever
possible in order to look out for the first bike if they would have stopped somewhere to wait for us.
I would have walked about a couple hundred meters and at the next turn, I saw the first bike. What the
hell? Even they had taken the shortcut is all that could think at first. Why can`t anyone work
according to the plan? It was funny when we thought of this that night but not now. As they saw me
coming towards them alone, they ran towards me with a haunted look on their faces. Where are the others?
Why are you alone? Any accident? All these questions were thrown at me to which I replied in the
negative to their relief. I narrated the incident and then we all with their bike reached back to the
Now we were six people stranded there and the situation of being able to reach Manali was taken care
of. Now the only thing left was that we could not fix it and left and then if the bike got stolen would
our friends agree to pay equal compensation. Before this topic could come up, another bike approached.
We waived and asked him to stop to which he did. We explained the situation to him and asked for help.
He said he was too tired to stop and help as he was riding nonstop from Leh. The Baralacha La Pass in
the way was covered in snow and he had to tackle that too so he was too tired to stop and help us. We
knew his condition but he was our only hope and we could not let him go. We pleaded and pleaded and
finally managed to convince him to help us. He actually was a bike store owner/mechanic which he
later told us, who was riding back on the bike that one of his customers had hired and left in Leh as he
went back by flight. He did not help us, in fact, he went on to change the tyre all by himself. We could
only offer him dry fruits in return at that time as he strictly said no to money. He did the trick in
10 minutes max and went off as if nothing had happened.
What could be the odds that a bike mechanic would appear out of nowhere at such a moment? For us, he was
God. There at that juncture, God was a bike mechanic who took us out of a possible life-threatening
situation. As soon as he left, the expected hailstorm came roaring down, and having no place to hide we
jumped on our bikes and rode away. With hail shattering upon our helmets and sunglasses, and our hands
growing blue and numb, it became extremely difficult and dangerous to ride. We had no option so we
changed riders every few hundred meters, warmed our palms by placing them directly on the silencers, and
kept moving on until we reached a few kilometers down from Rohtang where the weather was warmer
compared to the pass. A cup of boiling tea and a plate of hot Maggi was all it took and we were ready
for the next adventure.