Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The last road trip - part 3

it was around 3 pm when we stopped for lunch. With me and Bansal at the dhaba, babbar and cheeta j went off to find some service station to get the brake shoe repaired. I have done my last few trips in great discomfort. Goecha La, trip to sangla ....But the best part abt that was that I didnt get much to eat. And I tell you, it keeps you good. You eat less and everything goes ok including the natures call. right time everytime. However on this last road trip, with some excellent company, I found it difficult to avoid . So we had our good heavy lunch and by that time it was already 4 pm. We were to reach manali only by night around 9. Didnt matter much as anyways towns like manali and shimla are overcrowded during day time.

John by this time was feeling itchy and wanted to drive. However the leader of the group Mr. Aditya Babbar told him clearly that before he was to drive he was to do the other important things like cleaning the windscreen and refilling water bottles on the way. We crossed Kullu and it was getting dark around that time. We didnt stop in Kullu otherwise if its daytime, there are some nice riverside eating joints where you can dip your feet in water and have stuff to eat. Even otherwise I found Kullu more scenic than Manali. And yes did I mention the mandi to kullu 3km long tunnel. Theyve built this recently and i dont know how much distance is shortened by this piece of art but it surely is good. The long hollows amplify vehicle noise and make even 100cc hero hondas sound like the 1000cc monsters. There are stopover spaces along the road in the tunnel and though we didnt stop i think one should and be there for some time. The air though is loaded with exhaust fumes.

Its always easy to drive on hills at night. Easy to see the incoming light beams. But yeah you miss out on the route. Drive after that was nothing great good roads again and nothing interesting or exciting really. Bansal was experimenting with his sunglasses and found that it actually is better wearing them at night as they reduce glare and somehow improve visibility. How and why nobody could explain...

We reached manali at around 9:00 that meant we were on road for almost 15 hours which included some stops for food and drinks. But a good long day one and soon we were looking for a hotel to stay overnight. we planned to leave early at around 6:00.

I have always failed to understand that why is there a mall road in every hill station. Its plain junk I feel and a place for fat kids to have ice creams with their moms and papas shopping around. I mean why would you want to go to manali and shop. Kharab aadat jaati nahi logon ki.

We went out for food at around 10:30 after moving everything in the hotel room. And I was surprised to see people taking a stroll on mall road even at that time. We tried to have dinner at one of the many shere - shane - jashne punjab dhabas which are everywhere but to our bad luck none of them were willing to offer 4 highest level intellectuals a place to eat. Everytime we found an empty table, it was promptly given to someone else. Feeling rejected and dejected we searched for another restaurant and had out dinner.

John is happy that he got dinner that day. Babbar had told him at the start of the trip that we may not have get good food during the entire trip as he wouldnt want to stop driving. Here in this pic you can see that someone looks tired. The blue baniyan is no more.

Manali's Mall road at night. Though we couldnt see too much of mall ;-) I dont why do they call it Mall then

By the time we had dinner and went back to the hotel it was already 12:00 we decided to get up early at around 5 which meant I had to get up at around 4:30. Though we didnt get to sleep much but it was my soundest sleep after ages. I slept like a log and felt fresh in the morning.

Its always a pain to put everything back into the vehicle after each night. But the entusiastic Cheeta John came to our rescue again and to get into the good books of the leader of the group... he did all that and sundry. Ready to go, our next stop was sarchu at 4200 mts. Around midway between leh and manali. First stop for us was going to be the Rohtang pass. At around 4000 mts I had heard a lot about Rohtang and we were kinda looking forward to our first high pass.

Yes about the weather, it was raining and the roads were mud and water enroute. This and earlier was usual stuff. However we were to see mountains which were rock and gravel in the days to come and we were quite looking forward to all that............

To be contd.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The last road trip - part 2

It was around 6 in the morning when we started from Delhi. I caught up with the rest of the group at Rajghat and was pleasantly surprised to see a gypsy packed hexagonally with stuff and people. I was given the King size back seat which was luxury in the beginning but turned nightmarish towards end of the trip. How and why? We were to find out soon.

Well I dont really think that I should be writing about what stuff we packed for our trip. there are so many other places on internet and I am dead sure that when someone is seriously planning a leh trip he will find that information. so no point in reinventing the wheel and helping people with information doesnt really excite me. I realize i am not really one of the connectors from 'BLINK'. And besides that I feel that if you want all cooked information you are one lazy ass.

No hardships mean no fun. Simple. Something wrong should happen. Something unexpected unanticipated. I was just reading about death of 11 climbers on K2 and thinking what would I think or do or miss or remember if I am somewhere where there is a 50:50 chance of being on the right side of the mountain or the wrong. Life and death. Sure that would be exciting. At least from a distance :-) And I am sure if I keep on making the 10s of plans which i usually do I will end up in that kinda situation some day.

I was really impressed with John. First impressions. Never wrong :-).

Cheeta J (on way to delhi karnal bypass): Hi hitesh? How are you yaar?Main John. Kya karta hai?
Hitesh: Kuch nahi karta yaar
Cheeta J: Sahi hai. Aur kya karta hai

anyways thats how we started. I think after about two hours someone asked ki kitni der ho gayi hai and we couldnt help saying "bhai aaraam se raho abhi bahut hai bahut gari chalani hai"

One thing which was central to the trip was driving. Since it was supposed to be a driving trip essentially and Cheeta J and B forced Babbar on the trip they wanted the lions share of the driving pleasures. After multiple repeated assurances by both me and babbar they finally agreed to drive when its the toughest. While coming back and on the mountains so both of us had to share the boring task of driving through 250km of tarmac on a humid cloudy summer day with a constant verbal attack from behind our seats. John was at it. and bansal watched :-). All kind of permutations and combinatorial calculations were going on in Cheeta B's mind. Of the total trip length how much will he drive? We again assured everyone that on such a long drive....its not a question of if but that of a when.

Till chandigarh it is plain jane boring and just a drive and even thats not tough. You keep the steering and the speed at 90 and thats it. well yeah our gypsy had a special feature. it couldnt cross 90. but its not meant for that. we were to appreciate its ruggedness high on the mountains and through streams and rocks.

first stop came at karnal where we had some paranthas and butter. The moment we parked the gypsy out came john and out came his camera. John is quite natural at photography. And he handles his camera with care. It is carefully wrapped in a yellow sheet of polythene and then again in a poly bag and then nicely snugged in the camera case with a velcro hold to secure it. (actually reminds me of the scrap book vinay has in the movie Bheja fry. wrapped in the yellow polythene bag). After making an effort to get the camera out in minutes when finally you see the pic.....aha ah aha its worth it.

Hes even got a filter and a protective cover on the camera which makes it look like a mini canon.

Babbar: Abe itne bare camera se to yahin se dikh jayega leh laddakh
Cheeta J: Nahi yaar aaj clouds bahut hain

We started off after a decently heavy breakfast and by this time John had shot what not! fan, water bottle, all the singh kings around and what not. Give him a camera and he will miss boarding a plane to shoot. Marvelous.

Nothing not routine happened till we crossed chandigarh and even after we crossed chandigarh nothing non routine happened. We took a short break once we crossed chandigarh and decided to have some snacks (fried, oily stuff) and beer besides a lush green yellow summer field. Yeh Beer mujhe kabhi pasand nahi aayi. I always drink it to confirm that I still dont like it.

Below you can see john shooting something. Hes got an eye for even a non-existing detail. The time john spent on shooting bags and sundry...I could have done a photoshoot of Katerina Kaif in the same time.

Cheeta J and B and countryside

Babbar, me and John after a beer each. Not that we looked different before the beer but mind it there was going to be a difference soon. It always begins like this. Enthu, smiles, beers and jokes and then there is panting, cribbing, hunger pangs but no good food, and more and more endless driving. Thats actually the fun part. Notice the BLUE BANIYAN here.

Next few hours were non descript boring kms just 100kms short of manali. The hill driving part starts with bilaspur. the roads in this part of the himalayas are better than the higways. you can drive at 90 with a power steering. that was when Babbar woke up from his sleep and took the wheels. Now Babbar is not one of your ordinary drivers. He is gonna take part in the Tour De Himalayas sometime in september and guess who will be the navigator and the cleaner and the parking boy......the award goes to Cheeta J. So goes without saying Babbar likes to give a tough time to his gypsy at times and that exactly what he did for about 15 minutes.

What we had after 15 minutes was smell of burning brake shoe,john hanging from the door handle and all the non-drivers looking at each other with relief. Not that babbar was not going to drive slow because the rest 3 of us didnt appreciate it that much but because we had a break shoe problem (potential) even before our real trip started and babbar couldnt drive fast now.

to be contd.......

Monday, August 11, 2008

The last road trip

4 guys of highest possible intellectual level group together and plan a gypsy safari to Leh and laddakh. I knew from the beginning (i cant believe i didnt know that there is a nn in beginning. i havnt checked the dictionary still. trust mozilla. that tells me why i got those exceptional scores in english during school) that it was not going to be a picnic. none of my last few trips have been picnic style. A normal trip is much harder. I mean frankly i dont know what to do on a normal trip. see things? that hardly takes a look. what else. See all the four intellectuals are single these days so the trip had to has its share of unexpected turn of events to keep them busy which it had and now it looks like that we liked it too.

Star Cast:

John "nny gaddar" (Cheeta J): 'saale haramjaade beh****** maa******, teri m********'. Thats john for you. When he is normal, he can be found asking for paracetamole in a hardware paints shop. Seen doing his early morning Tandav here below. To get his temper right for the day.

Babbar (Sher. Babbar Sher): ' itne mein hi thak gaya cheete.....abhi to september mein rally mein bhi jaana hai. udhar road bhi nahi hogi. Aur itni jaldi jaldi mat su-su kar...der ho rahi hai gaari chalani hai'

Bansal (Cheeta B): Sab dekh daalo

Myself (John says write Boris 'chaddi' Becker)

John and Bansal were pestering Babbar with requests to set up a road trip to leh for sometime. Babbar told me *off the record that the requests were slowly turning into threats of kidnapping (i know its the wrong word but it kind of fits) babbar in his own gypsy and making him drive all the way to leh and laddakh. Babbar relented when he was told that he will taken to Shimla and manali and will be forced to spend a day and night each on the mall roads eating Rs 7/- softies. I know he hates those kind of tours. Thats how Babbar was forced to take a holiday from work and made to research possible trip plans.

So we had a 18 day plan, a 15 day plan, a 12 day plan and a 9 day plan. Cheetas (John and Bansal will be known as Cheetas from here on). Cheeta J and Cheeta B were of the opinion that Cheetas can always do a 12 day plan in 9 days. How? Simple. No sleep. Looked like a decent one to me.

So this is how our plan looked like on paper:

Day 1 Delhi - Manali (570 Kms)
Day 2 Manali - Sarchu (230 Kms)
Day 3 Sarchu - Leh (260 Kms)
Day 4 Leh ----------------------------- Get permits + Local sightseeing

Day 5 Leh - Khardung La - Panamik (Nubra Valley) - Siachen Base Camp (get permission) - Leh (185 + 185 + 40 + 40 = 450 Kms !!!) (Overly Optimistic. If we get permission for Siachen Base Camp, then on the way back might have to stay at Diskit/Hunder, that adds 118 Kms for next day. Screw it.)

Day 6 Leh - Pangong Tso - Leh (170 + 170 = 340 Kms) (Add another 80Kms if one wants to go to the 'actual' highest motorable pass Marsmik-La) (This place deserves 2 days actually)

Day 7 Tso Moriri (Korzok) (210 Kms) (Carry extra fuel)
Day 8 Tso Moriri - Tso Kar - Sarchu - Keylong (342 Kms)
Day 9 Keylong - Manali - Delhi (118 + 570 = Kms)

I have been to earlier road trips with babbar and hes one of the few drivers I can totally trust. I mean I dont hang on to the door handles and press my feet againts the floor. Its hard for me to sleep in a moving thing (trains are ok. the reference frame takes care of the moving problem. thanks albert. einstein for those who dont know albert on a first name basis. Haaiinn) but with babbar i generally i manage to get some sleep.

Babbar was training his gypsy hard for the road trip ahead. He made a few trips to Gurgaon in the gypsy to get the feel. We also got the feel. The bums didnt really feel right after those short drives to convergys to eat paranthas. but one of the Cheetas was happy doing these regular sorties to Convergys to eat paranthas. There is so much to see there :-) . Must be. Even we had feelings but some of us are more honest and daring. No?

So once we had decided on the duration, rest was easy. We packed our bags with whatever we could think of would be required during the safari and off we went. The bags remind me of something now. Have you seen someone carrying a suitcase on a trekking trip. Total disregard for backpacks. Backpacks suck. While I was loading my sucking backpack in the gypsy I came across a suitcase nicely packed and placed at the back.

To be contd.......