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Old 24th May 2013, 18:59   #1
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Default Of White-Outs and Landslides


The last time anyone had decided to drive non-stop from Delhi to Spiti was John himself. It has been almost a decade since that feat was achieved. What made that feat even more commendable was the fact that John had been shot - twice - in his guts and yet he managed to drive an SUV all the way from Delhi to Kaza without batting an eyelid. We intended to do the same thing, well almost the same thing, since I did not intend to get shot before undertaking this adventure.

If you are confused, I’m of course talking about Mr. John Abraham in the movie Paap (2003). But then again, as I type I also realize that there are many crazy guys on this forum who might have ridden/driven and undertaken such a journey, probably even more difficult ones. Needless to say, unlike Mr. Abraham, they too would have done it without two bullets in their guts. Anyway, personally speaking, if achieved this would have been a first non-stop 26 hr drive for us. Why did we want to do this crazy drive? Because that was the only way we could cover most of a white Spiti in the limited 6 days we had during the Holi break of 2013.

We planned to begin the drive on a Tuesday afternoon after getting free early from work, and head straight for Spiti. By our calculations we would have reached Kaza by around sunset on Wednesday. However, I must say folks, plans are just plans when regions such as Ladakh or Spiti are concerned where the best laid plans are easily thwarted by a flick of the weather God’s finger.

So, what was supposed to be an all Spiti trip turned out to one in which we covered 3 different regions of Himachal. We witnessed the heaviest snowfall of our lives, white landscapes everywhere and met up with fellow travellers at almost every other bend on the road. The trip was also about making impromptu plans and traveling as a group. But most of all, it was also about discovering a couple with weirdly similar tastes in travel as us.

The travellers: Aarti & Harsh
The machine: Our very own wild ass - Tata Safari 4x4, named Kiyang

The co-travellers: Mr. and Mrs. Tanveer Singh
The machine: Their very own elephant- Tata Safari 4x4, they call it WE

Day 0/1 (26th/27th Mar): Delhi - Landslide - Kalpa

Moon shines over a sleep Solan
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Day 2 (28th Mar): Kalpa - Chitkul - Rakcham

An ass and an elephant pose while it snows heavily, near Chitkul
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Day 3 (29th Mar): Rakcham - Jalori - Banjar

An early morning drive on fresh snow
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Day 4 (30th Mar): Banjar - Jalori - Teerthan - Manali

The colors of Tirthan valley
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Day 5 (31st Mar): Manali - Rohtang (attempt) - Parashar Lake - Bilaspur

Snow wall en-route Rohtang
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Day 6 (01st Apr): Bilaspur - Delhi
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Old 24th May 2013, 19:04   #2
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Default Day 0/1 (26th/27th Mar): Delhi - Landslide - Kalpa

As the D-day came closer, troubling news started to pour in from the region. They spoke of landslides and snowfall, and of roads not yet cleared for vehicles to cross. And of monsters so huge they could throw away vehicles into the deep gorge below. Well the monsters part was a bit too much, but the rest was true.

And who, you may ask, was the supplier of this news? A man with a weird name and a weirder background that goes along with the name. Many of you here might know him as Jamaica, and many would think that he belongs to Spiti. However, not many know that he hails from Jalandhar and shifts base to Goa every year in the summer. To add to that, he intends to visit Jamaica at least once in his life. How do I know all this? Well, we will get to that as the story progresses, for now it suffices to mention that it was Jamaica who had informed us of the landslides, snowfall and monsters on the route to Spiti and that it “might” be open by 21st Mar. You have to give the man some credit, because as promised the route did open a little before 21st Mar, only to close a couple of days before we had to leave. Another fellow traveler, Imran, had posted pictures of a huge rock that had fallen on the Hindustan- Tibet road, blocking it for vehicular traffic. So up until the penultimate day we were not sure of reaching Spiti, but neither one of us was willing to discuss/accept it openly. We would try as hard as possible to reach our destination, even if that meant getting stuck for a day or two enroute.

We did discuss this eventuality briefly on the night before we left, and hatched a plan. If we could not reach Spiti, we would head out to Manali, a place which we both love. Just to relax and to soak in Manali-ness.

It was difficult to work the next day with our scheduled time for departure slated for 5:00 pm. I kept looking at the clock every half an hour. At 4:30 pm sharp I called up Aarti and was off towards CP from Noida to pick her up. The drive had begun, but the target was far away. The idea was to give an all-night run a try. This would ensure that we manage to save precious time, a commodity which we had little of on this trip. This would also open up the possibility of long haul trips such as ones to the North-East in the future. Aarti could sleep at the back while I drove through the night and then we would switch at the crack of dawn.

We were soon at the set of Dhabas at Murthal, where we stopped at CCD to fill up our thermos with good black coffee. The otherwise deserted joint sprung into action with such a huge order. The cashier had probably not sold anything during the day because his face lit up on the mention of an order reaching almost 500 bucks! Maybe he lives to see another day at his shop before it closes down. Well, this is what happens if you decide to open up a cafe near the infamous dhabas at Murthal with them churning out much more flavorful delicacies.

The empty Cafe Coffee day at Murthal
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Thereafter, the drive was smooth and the traffic was light and it was not long before we broke for dinner at McDonald’s near Zirakpur. It was the last place where either one of us wanted to stop for dinner but dhabas were strictly out of question, as they provide an opportunity of overeating and hence slumber, which I clearly could not afford that night. So a place which serves “cheap”, “low-quality”, “non-edible” food was chosen. However, it does boast of some good and clean washrooms. There is no denying that.

Aarti jumped in the back soon after that and I got the entire front row to myself. It was just me and a pot of hot coffee. Sadly, the thermos was really low quality and what was supposed to be hot was just about luke-warm. Ugggh, I hate it when good coffee turns lukewarm - but beggars cannot be choosers, right? I had no choice but to gulp that cold black coffee along with my pride.

I decided to take it slow from here onwards. It was a prudent decision to let other vehicles pass and keep it slow and steady throughout the night . It was almost midnight when we rolled into Solan. The view was very tempting and I decided to take a break and shoot the town down on a full moon night.

Solan by night
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Parked with blinkers on
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A moonlit sky near Solan - however some clouds diffused the light around
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Kiyang by moonlight
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I was doing about 40 kmph on the climb towards Shimla when suddenly from the corner of my eye I saw a slight movement. I was not driving very fast, but it did not take Albert Einstein to realize that the object, a deer, which was now moving towards the center of the road, would crash into me within the next second. Another thought flashed into my mind that Aarti was sleeping soundly on the rear seat and breaking hard would only cause her to topple over and hurt herself. I had the option to either hurt the deer prancing on the road or the doe eyed Aarti sleeping on the rear seat. The decision was clear - I had to brake hard, as hard as I could. The tyres were new and braking hard would decelerate Kiyang as much as possible. The incline would also help. It all happened within a time-lapse of about 2 seconds - Aarti fell from the back seat as I hit the barking deer at a speed of about 15 kmph. Thankfully, neither of the parties involved were injured too much. The deer did not make a sound, and pranced back to the hill-side from where it had appeared. Aarti hurt her shoulder but not too much. Kiyang chipped its tooth (a plastic component installed beneath the bumper), but the damage was not much. Needless to say, Aarti was a bit shook up as she was already against the idea of an all night drive, but soon sleep took over and both of us back went back to doing our designated tasks for the night - she sleeping, me driving.

Shimla by night - 1am
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Approaching Narkanda - 3:30am
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Clouds made it quite dark despite a full moon out
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The rest of the drive till Rampur was uneventful. A cousin of mine had also started riding from Delhi that evening towards Narkanda, and he informed me that he would halt that night at Pinjore. Tanveer called to inform that the road to Spiti was still not open and that he had gone towards Kalpa. There were a few pit stops on the drive - cops requesting for IDs, failed attempts to find an open fuel pump and some more to take advantage of the full moon night. However, by 3 am, the cloud cover ensured that night photography was out.

After a tea stop before Rampur and refuelling at Rampur, dawn happened. We were still a good 4 hrs away from the reported landslide. Deep in my guts I knew that we would not be allowed to pass.

Breaking dawn - somewhere near Rampur
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Old 24th May 2013, 19:10   #3
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Default Day 0/1 (26th/27th Mar): Delhi - Landslide - Kalpa - Part 2

The sun was up and so was Aarti, ready to take over the wheel. I tried to catch some shut-eye, but owing to bad road conditions and my rumbling tummy, I could hardly sleep a wink. At about 9 am, we stopped at Tapri for some breakfast. The locals had begun Holi festivities and colors were splashing around. Thankfully, they were too busy among themselves to notice a clean couple amongst them.

The omelette we ordered at the dhaba probably had all the salt produced in Kutch last year, but our hunger made us gulp it down with chai and bread. A quick call to Tanveer helped us decide our next plan of action. I was to draft the first information report of the roadblock at Powari based on which the couple at the top of the mountain would either descend from heaven (Kalpa) or stay put. If open, we would move towards Spiti as far as we could, or else we too would join them in heaven.

Sutlej meanders below as we progress towards Kinnaur
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Welcome to Kinnaur
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These tunnels on the road have become *a sign of Kinnaur
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Those jagged mountains and beneath it one passes into Kinnaur
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The road turns for the worse after Karchham
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It was huge and it had 6 men on it and they were drilling with all their might standing over it (no pun intended). The rock was there to stay. The enormity of the landslide is difficult to describe in words or to capture in any photograph. We knew at first look that we were not going anywhere past it. We chatted with a local GREF guy who looked in charge of the situation. He was forthright in his comments and said that if the scheduled blast at noon yielded the desired results, it was possible that the roadblock would be cleared later by evening. If not, then it would take at least one more day depending on how much damage the first round of dynamite inflicts. I was confident that these guys with truckload of explosives would be able to blast the bejesus out of the stupid rock in no time. Meanwhile, updates were given to the high and mighty above that the cannonball run had been stopped, and that the night halt at Kalpa was decided.

We reached at an almost empty Auktong hotel, where the duo was put up. The room boasted of a wonderful view but was carpeted, a hotel attribute that we both dislike. It wasn’t that cheap either at 900 bucks, so we decided to check out the other hotel we have always stayed at in Kalpa, Hotel Kinner Villa. It usually has an asking price of 2500 but we expected it to be a tad cheaper in this season. Thankfully, rooms were available, and I made an offer to the hotel owner which he could not refuse. The deal was done at 1,000 bucks. We soon came across Tanveer and his wife who were strolling in one of the apple orchards at Kalpa. After catching up briefly, we decided to part ways and meet later in the evening. I was in desperate need of some sleep, and was practically shaking by now.

It was 3:30 pm by the time we woke up. It was a short snooze, a just perfect snooze. Light enough to refresh and not long to keep you up all night. We met up with Mr. and Mrs. T and headed to the end of the road. Alas, some road work was going on, so we couldn't take Kiyang much further. We decided to walk instead. The short walk to the village Roghi, which lies at the end of the road, was refreshing but nothing to boast about. The highlight were some recently cut glaciers and landslides. The vertical drop from the road is pretty steep at certain points where one can plummet all the way down to the Sutlej if one wishes, thereby earning it the obvious name - the suicide point. But it’s more of a suicide stretch where there are multiple points to jump from, if one wishes to engage in such an activity.

After walking for about a km, we headed back as it was getting dark and there did not seem much to see ahead. We mutually decided to spend some time sipping a particular drink made in a French village called Cognac. This activity was precluded by some anxious moments with 4x4 action when Kiyang had to be parked up the steep hotel driveway. Burnt clutch, when attempted without 4WD, followed by the Safari going into a small ditch at the parking lot. With the snow not completely shoveled off the driveway, it was a precarious climb which had to be eventually done after engaging 4L.

The walk towards Roghi village
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This snow would probably melt in another few days.*
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Aarti plans to test the 'suicide point'
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Mr. & Ms. Singh walk ahead
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Overcast was the keyword on this trip - we hardly got any sunset shots
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After that, in high spirits (literally), we caught up with Mr. Jamaica at Tanveer’s hotel for a cup of tea. (Yeah talk about mixing drinks). It was fun discussing topics ranging from new rules at Rohtang to a guest house in Kibber that boasts of WiFi connectivity! We left quickly though, as it was time to hit the sack.

Dinner was a simple affair, followed by a quick shoot of the moonlit Kinner Kailash. On checking the forum, I got to know that Eric (popsha) and Manik were in Kalpa, and made a mental note to give them a call. Thanks Yogesh for sharing their contact details.

Then, zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Moonlit Kinner kailash
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Moonlit kinner kailash with prayer flags
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Old 24th May 2013, 19:20   #4
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Default Day 2 (28th Mar): Kalpa - Chitkul - Rakcham

The next morning I noticed a lovely girl sitting outside the kitchen at our hotel. She was extremely pretty and had a nice athletic body. While I kept gazing at her, she kept staring at something inside the kitchen. Aarti was still sleeping inside while I was out ogling at this beauty in front of me. It did not seem right to make a move but I could not resist the temptation. My eye caught hers and she too reciprocated my love. It was pure magic. Before I could say “Kumbaya”, she started running towards me - with ears twitching in the morning sun, her tongue wagging and her long and bushy tail swaying with each stride that she took. She was in my arms and we hugged as if two friends were hugging after meeting each after a long time. Her name was Chinki, and she is a very affectionate 4 yr old - German shepherd. The morning spent with her at the hotel’s rooftop with Kinner Kailash and a relatively clear sky was amazing.

A very Kaplaish panorama from Kinner Villa rooftop
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Kinner Kailash stands shrouded in snow
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These peaks lie further east and are typically devoid of snow in summer months
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Prayer flags always look pretty with a white background
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And when its windy they flutter
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The apple orchards and houses below were covered in white
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So were all the peaks - wherever you looked
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Even the hotel was covered in white
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The driveway of the hotel - a view towards the parking lot
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The driveway - a view from the parking lot towards the hotel
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Chinki and Aarti sit close together with her eyes at the kitchen
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I returned to the room to find Aarti up and about and we were soon busy getting ready for the day. The phone rang, and it was Manik on the other side. They had reached Kalpa the night before on their dukes, and were staying pretty close to us. After a few mis-communications between Kinner “Kailash” and “Villa”, we finally found each other, exchanged stories and moved back into our own hotels to get ready for the day. It was Manik who first mentioned of an alternate road to Pooh which bifurcated somewhere at Peo. It was surprising that an alternate route should exist, since there were no taxis heard plying on this particular option. At breakfast, the alternate route theory was confirmed by the hotel guy and we thought it might be a good option to check it out. I called up Tanveer to inform that we would move ahead, to find out more about this alternate, and have a look at the site conditions at the landslide below. Sadly, the alternate route had closed a year ago as we later found out.

Eric and bhondu play along, as we wait for Tanveer
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I wonder how Bhondu manages to see anything through that hairstyle .
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A mobile shepherd
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The last view of Kinner kailash before we descent to the madness below
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Remember the movie Independence day, in which the president order a nuclear strike on the alien spaceship thinking this was a necessary evil to eliminate the enemy. However, as the story progresses we all know that the nuclear strike was hardly successful and there was absolutely no damage done to the spacecraft, whatsoever. I’m pretty sure that the GREF guys had felt similarly when they saw the outcome of striking that rock with dynamites. The rock was absolutely the same as it was the day before, barring a small crack that was visible over its surface. And it was then that it dawned upon us that our plans to witness “A different Spiti’ had come to an abrupt end.

The alternate plan was quickly drawn out. It had to be chitkul for the day which, as rumors had it, was closed for vehicles - but that was the best shot we had of saving the trip. So the two Safaris turned about as quickly as possible and headed towards Rakcham. I quickly called up my cousin Durgesh, who had spent the night before at Sangla, to inform him of our plans. We decided to rendezvous later in the day at Rakcham. I also received a call from Kartik and I updated the sad news to him that Spiti was probably out for all of us during this trip.

The second landslide - the smaller one
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The bigger landslide which quelled all hopes of passage
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Sutlej weaves her way through precarious gorges.
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The white elephant leads the way.
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Lady luck had mostly forsaken us on this trip, just before Rakcham we were stuck again on what felt like another road-block up ahead. Expecting the worst, we assumed, at first that it must be a another landslide. This time it was a truck-slide. A fully loaded truck carrying tonnes of steel rods had slipped off and was now hanging precariously over the edge. It seemed that one push would have sent it down to the raging Sutlej below. A part of the truck was blocking the road and traffic had come to a grinding halt on both sides. Rescue mission was underway with two bulldozers trying to tow the truck back up - but due to site constraints it was logistically very difficult to pull it back up. Eventually a brilliant mind, thought of an idea - why not take out one steel rod at a time to make the vehicle lighter so that one bulldozer could pull it up. And then they started working - one steel rod at a time. This was going to take ages now and so we went back to our ‘trucks’ - made some quick ready to eat MTR lunch as we waited. Thankfully the wait was not long, probably an hour or 1.5 hrs and the truck was successfully pulled out from its impending doom.

Dozers try to reach the fallen one
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The fallen one - precariously perched at the edge.
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Even in this precarious situation the guy takes a call - while on top of that hanging truck.
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Old 24th May 2013, 19:31   #5
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Default Day 2 (28th Mar): Kalpa - Chitkul - Rakcham

The rest of the drive to Sangla was pretty straightforward. The climb from Rakcham to Sangla was a familiar territory with broken tarmac in the beginning and a massive landslide area towards the end. There are numerous villages on the opposite hill with roads and hikers’ tracks criss-crossing the terraced fields, making everything look very beautiful.

The beautiful terrace fields on the opposite hill
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Oh how much fun, it will be, to just stay here.
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Sangla village seemed to have grown quite a lot since our last trip to the region back in March 2008. It is one step shy of becoming a concrete jungle. Well maybe a couple of more steps shy, but it is getting there. However, as soon as one steps out of the village, a wide valley completely devoid of things city like welcomes you. It is quite a pretty sight, with a curvy Baspa winding through a valley covered in snow.

We were rolling on towards Rakcham when a call from Tanveer informed us that the road towards Chitkul was heard to be almost open and that they were moving ahead to check that out. It seems that lady luck was smiling at us, finally. Beyond Sangla, the whiteness of the valley kept on increasing steadily as we started to gain altitude. With the sky still overcast, there was a good chance of us catching snowfall later in the day. Upon a turn on the road, we saw a white Apache coming towards us. It was my cousin riding back from Chitkul. He was in absolute bliss - and I must take part credit on that front. The thing is that after much convincing he had planned his first solo ride to the hills during this Holi break. Riding through a snowy Sangla valley was truly a wonderful experience for him and he was really enjoying himself. He mentioned that the road was not open all the way till Chitkul but probably a 4x4 could drive on the partially cleared road ahead.

The wide Sangla valley
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Farmers toil on their land
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A beautiful village near the river
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Snow out settlement on the way to Rakcham
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The quintessential bridge shot from Sangla valley
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And the quintessential vehicle shot in the Sangla valley
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A layer of white everywhere
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The road ahead - towers Rakcham
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We parked his bike on the side and he sat with us in the Safari. We then marched ahead towards Chitkul. Soon we reached the stretch where he had had to turn his bike around and for good reason. The road ahead was a sheet of ice. We engaged 4H and marched on. We also caught up with Kartik and his team (Rajeev, Rajib and Tanya) in their Swift & Gurkha. They parked their Swift on the side of the road, and all of them jumped on the Gurkha to move ahead. The road pretty much ended after a km from there, and we could see a dozer still working furiously to clear what was left. The dozer was out of fuel and further clearing till the village could only happen the next day. Soon the Gurkha arrived, and after parking all vehicles on the road, the Gurkha, WE and Kiyang gangs started on foot towards Chitkul village.

The snow was a bit soft and was caving in at certain points. I was perfectly comfortable in my Quechua shoes, but Aarti and Durgesh were struggling at places with numb toes. The walk itself was nice initially only to turn into a muddy & dung infested lane in the village. At this time it best decided to head back, as the weather also seemed to be taking a turn for the bad - or should I say for the good. Snowfall seemed imminent.

Kiyang marches ahead breaking walls in its path
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Well it was the bulldozer which broke those walls, the icy sheet of a road beneath
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Safari owners unite!
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The work-horse which makes such trips possible
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We climb towards the village
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Durgesh - my cousin
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Aarti seen here with a Chitkul background
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An angry bull stops us in our path
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The Dzo is also not amused with our trespassing
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Picture pretty housing
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Back at the parking lot, a picnic had begun. All the 3 vehicles were well stocked in cooking apparatus, however the Gurkha needs a special mention here. The back seats had been removed and a single man folding bed had been made instead. On the other side of the bed was a customized cabinet - well equipped with an inbuilt stove, a kitchen sink and drawers for utensils. Rajeev started to brew hot tea for all of us while we took out our small stove to cook some Maggi. The picnic also consisted some very bright coloured candy that Mrs. Singh was carrying, it was delicious but a few spilled candy on the white powdery snow revealed the true color content of the tasty devil. The picnic lasted for an hour and can be best described as one bit 4WD potluck. Whoever said that birds of a feather flock together was indeed correct.

The picnic
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A pano of the picnic
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Black Label and White mischief
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Or Kiyang and White elephant if you prefer
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We broke up soon as the temperature started to plummet rapidly and eventually it started snowing. The snowfall was the heaviest I’ve seen in my lifetime yet and was a lovely experience. After a few shots in the storm we all headed back to the only hotel at Rakcham, Hotel Rupin River view. It was already twilight - by the time we managed to reach the hotel. After checking into our respective rooms, we again rendezvoused for dinner and drinks from a pretty French village. The food, drink, conversations were followed by another bout of snowfall which had begun outside. We all knew that the next morning would be a sight for all of us, as we tucked in...

We also had to decide on a course of action for the next day, reports from Jalori mentioned that the pass was probably still closed...
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Old 24th May 2013, 19:41   #6
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Default re: Of White-Outs and Landslides

The next morning was something else. The snowfall was pretty heavy the night before and huge flakes were sticking on the vehicles even as we hit the sack. The morning as expected was an absolute white one - and a clear weather to complement it. I was up by 6:30 and was out of bed in 15min flat. Durgesh was already up and soaking in the vistas around. It took us minutes to decide to drive up the road towards Rakcham and take Kiyang for an early morning spin. Easier said than done though. The few inches of snow was difficult get off the windscreen - but the trick was achieved by some hot water from the bathroom geyser. Tanveer came out strolling at the same time and we all decided to head out. The drive was lovely and a bit dangerous at the same time. 4H was engaged just to ensure so that we had traction on all four.

The thickness of snow increased as we ventured further but not too much to be of a botheration for Kiyang. We stopped at plenty of places to shoot and eventually took a U-turn at THE bridge. It was almost 9am by the time we were back at the hotel.

A white layer over Kiyang - notice how thick it is over the wind-shield
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The same story was true for all vehicles parked upfront - of course
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A family in this Thar was traveling from Delhi - strangely there were not on forums
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Durgesh's Apache gets a nice coat of white as well
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The view up ahead - out of Rakcham
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The path - as created by Kiyang
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The snow was wet - notice how it clings to the tree and makes it droop
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Engaging 4H was a good idea
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Untouched snow on the path
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The valley was covered in white
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The bridge where we took the U-turn - which was a bit tricky as well
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Surprisingly the stream was unfrozen
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Love this shot - for some reason - the stark tree with that white background
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The tracks made by Kiyang
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Almost back at Rakcham
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The poor man had work to do - shoveling snow off his rooftop
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The peaks were lovely
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with fresh snow over them
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A bridge over river Baspa
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Old 24th May 2013, 19:46   #7
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Default Day 3 (29th Mar): Rakcham - Jalori - Banjar

]It was already quite late by the time we reached the hotel. Aarti was nowhere close to being ready, and it was already 9am. We did not have our directional bearing for the day either. Getting ready for the drive was a matter of minutes - however the direction of the drive was still an unresolved issue. Durgesh had already planned and was moving towards Kalpa for the day. As for us, we could not head towards Spiti - that road was well blocked, the second landslide and ensured that. The other options were Sarahan, Daraanghati, Rohru, Theog or Narkanda. The problem with them was that either the approach roads were closed (snow) or there were too many long weekend tourists in that area.

Tirthan valley was another option but was subject to the vagaries of Jalori Jot. Report were trickling in that it was still not open for vehicular traffic. A call was made to Sumit Tyagi, a close friend, who runs his own resort at Banjar. Sadly he was not in the valley - but his wife was. She mentioned that the roads were open but the top was all slush and not advisable to do - specially if it was raining. Those words were music to our ears, and Tirthan it had to be then. The only trouble was that we were already quite late in getting up and about and Tirthan was far way off.

We were up & away by 11:30am, pretty much as late as we have ever been on any of our previous trips. We are early risers but in this case, there was no destination for which we could get up early for. The drive back towards Sangla resulted in a gradual reduction of white as we moved towards lower altitudes. We caught up with Rajeev, Kartik & gang at Karcham having a cup of tea and maggi - all home made in their traveling Gurkha. We resisted the temptation of stopping for quick cuppa - Tirthan was still a long way off.

The one with the goatee looks upon us curiously - damn tourists it says
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The kids dont mind us too much though, but they dont venture too close either
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The broad Sangla valley, lest we visit it again
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The question is: Why did the colorful chicken cross the road, in a white Sangla valley?
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Aah, those snowy peaks, we leave behind, they would make for some very interesting day hikes
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The last bend turn offering the wide view of the valley - the concretification starts ahead
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The horrible 'road' beyond Karcham
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A few kms down the road, I found Rajiv (rkbharat) parked on the side of the road with Tanveer’s WE next to it. So we had finally caught crossing each other - with he headed towards a fantastic snow trip to Sangla. All of us were in a tearing hurry to reach to our respective destinations, hence the meet up was short and sweet. We exchanged notes on the road conditions ahead and marched on - only to stop later for a quick car wash recommend by Tanveer. Apparently a lot of vehicles coming from Wangtoo stop at this waterfall to get a quick free car wash, it was fun to be honest. I would recommend it for everyone, but do ensure that you have your windows shut firmly and the gaskets leak-proof.

A somewhat better stretch of the highway
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The return of the tarmac
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Nice alpine roads towards Rampur, watch the bends though - they're blind
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Let me go ahead and take a plunge first
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Passing through the fall
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Let me back up a little, and try again. I missed a spot back there
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My turn - my turn
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Oh well, it's just too much fun. Aarti's turn.
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Earlier in the day, breakfast was heavy and was gobbled pretty late - I would rather call it brunch, hence neither of the couple were hungry. The ‘mela’ at Rampur was inviting with some delicous food offerings but the lack of parking opportunities made us take our lunch stop quite late in the evening at around 6pm. With Tirthan valley still far away, a call was made to inform our friends there that it might not be possible for us to cross Jalori tonight. We planned to stay at either Ani or the PWD rest house at Khanag.

While we were crossing the bridge at Kingal, an RE C-500 stopped in front of us- it had a sticker on it. Time for another meetup perhaps? It was none other than our Akshay Saini accompanied by a friend of his (I’m sorry I do not remember your name buddy). A quick exchange of words was enough to know that we were all headed in the same direction. Needless to say, the bikes zoomed ahead, and the cumbersome elephants lumbered along.

It was pitch dark by the time we reached Khanag. The stop options at Ani were quite pathetic so the PWD rest house it had to be for the night. The conundrum was that we were 6 of us and there was only 1 room available. The guard would not give us the VIP room without a booking even that late in the evening. It would have been really difficult for the bikes to march ahead in pitch dark on a slippery and wet Jalori, so the safaris took upon the challenge. We decided to march on instead of them, and in hindsight it was a good call. The bikes would have had a lot of difficulties at that hour climbing on a patch which was eventually done in 4L by both our vehicles.

We reached Shoja at about 9:30 pm or so, with not a soul in sight. We stopped by a few hotels but they were all closed. I guess Jalori had just about open for vehicles and the guest houses were still preparing for logistics to open for the season. After attempts at about half a dozen hotel, I thought of calling up our friends at Camp Himalayan at Banjar. I half expected her to sound asleep that late - and so she was. Sleepily she explained the directions and asked us to not think twice and come along to her resort. God bless you both, Sumit. We managed to reach the resort at about 10:30pm or so and the staff guided us to our cottage for the night. We hung around for a while and eventually hit the sack at about 1:30am or so, after chit-chatting a bit. It had been a long day, and yet again we were in a place with no directional bearings for the next... Nevertheless, tomorrow will be tomorrow and something or the other will be figured out.
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Old 24th May 2013, 19:55   #8
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Default Day 4 (30th Mar): Banjar - Jalori - Teerthan - Manali

Although we had slept late, I was up by 7:30am or so. Fresh mountain air and the chirping of birds does that you. In this case it was a woodpecker going at it, against the window of the attic above. The cottage in which we had spent the night was deceptively, a multi-storied cottage and with a sleeping capacity for about 6-7 adults. The interiors were very well done with everything in wood - and such cottages spread across their huge complex - giving privacy to individual cottages at the same time. The views are idyllic and one could stay and perhaps read a book, and enjoy the comforts of the lovely resort. Sadly, we are just too young and energetic with too much pent up energy to enjoy a vacation such as this, at least till now.

The beasts parked and ready for more action
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Camp Himalayan - or as they proudly call it the mother's lap
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The dining area was lovely
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The entire complex has lots of trees inside it, make it picture perfect
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One can see the cottages lined up at quite some distance from each other
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An apple plantation is all what separates two cottages
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This is the cottage that we stayed in, see - doesn't seem like a duplex does it?
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A sparrow? is it?
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To each his own - toy. The grown up with a mobile, while the kiddo with a slate.
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The Singhs were sleepy and were still in the attic upstairs. Aarti was getting ready while I decided to go out for a stroll and ‘try’ to capture the beautiful property. Sadly, I could not do justice to the place. Up in the dining area above, a lavish breakfast was waiting for us. Sumit’s wife was also up and about and we caught up over a nice cup of tea. There were other guests staying at the resort as well, and I ended up having a long conversation with people around me who had given up their city life to dwell in the Tirthan valley. Feelings of jealousness was upon me and it reached a crescendo when a huge german shepherd ambled inside the dining area. Aarti joined in soon too and the breakfast went on, I think it lasted for good 3 hrs in total. Time flies by, when you are in company of like minded people, a phrase that would essentially sum up this trip eventually.

The Singhs joined us soon, and we discussed the plans ahead. They had to start heading back home the next day while we had another day to kill in the mountains. A consensus was reached and we all decided to head towards Jalori and then head our separate ways to bid adieu at the Aut tunnel. The Singhs would move onward towards Punjab, their hinterland while we would move towards Manali - one of the few ‘hill-stations’ that Aarti & I still love.

The Jalori Jot ascent on this side of the mountain is far more treacherous than from the Khanag side. Even on a bright sunny day, with mostly dried up slush it is a killer. I remember an over-heated Sumo Grande the last time we did this stretch back in Dec’ 10 with a group of friends. Kiyang had no such qualms on climbing Jalori though - the progress was slow but steady. Who would have known that two short and successive meets were on the cards on the climb. First up was Akshay along with his friend who were headed towards Tirthan valley for the day. After filling up his friends’ punctured bike I proceed ahead, only to bump into the rallying sardar of the forum - Jasdeep. It was a pleasure to briefly interact with him for the first time - face to face.

It was overcast again by the time we reached the top and a hailstorm started soon thereafter. We took shelter at a ‘dhaba’ at the top where a pleasant conversation ensued with the owner. An interesting part of the conversation went like this

Dhaba Owner (DO) : Kitni umar hogi aapki wife ki (pointing to Aarti) - (What is her age?)
Me: xx years. (Of course I’m not going to share that here!)
DO: Aur, Aapki shaadi ko kitne saal ho gaye? (How long have you been married)
Me: x years. (Again confidential information)
DO: Aap apne bacchon ko nahi laaye ghumaane? (Why didn’t you bring your kids along on this trip?)
Me: Abhi bacche hue nahi hai! (We don’t have any kids yet).
DO: Oh, Tab aap is mandir mei zaroor jaana. Is mandir mei jo bhi shraddha ke saath jaata hai, uski muraad zaroor puri hoti hai.
(Then you must go to this temple and pray for kids of your own).

It took me a while to comprehend that the dhaba owner believed that we are trying for kids and not able to manage one of our own. I thought of explaining to the dhaba owner the concept of delayed progeny, but then thought otherwise.

Me: Jaisa aap theek samjhe, Zaroor (definitely, I shall seek blessings).

Up at a white Jalori
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The walk towards Sayalsaur lake
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Seems like someone took the effort to climb up that snow path
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And we climb down Jalori, yet again - this time in broad daylight
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Once the hail abated, we started our descent. For some reason, the passenger window was not rolling back up so we had to search for a denter painter workshop somewhere in Banjar. We rolled downhill and found one such mechanic right by the river. He took an hour to ‘jugaad’ fix the power window after which we headed towards the Tirthan valley for a quick spin before the group split for their separate ways.

Little did I know we had another meetup lined up. Phamilyman was in the valley with his phamily and was put up at Raju’s guest house. A round of cuppa and biscuits at a dhaba ensued as we chatted each other up for a while. It was only by 4pm or so that everyone broke up and went their separate ways. Phamilyman went with his phamily to Raju’s cottage, the Singhs bid adieu at the Aut tunnel while we headed towards our final destination of the trip - Manali.

The green Tirthan valley
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A colorful Tirthan
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Up the Tirthan river
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Step farming at its best
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Enroute we figured that our favorite hotel was available, a rarity for Johnson's lodge. Seizing the opportunity we booked it over the phone and were there at their gates by dinner time. A debate ensued on where to eat and for the umpteenth time, Il Forno won hands down - however the restaurant was still to open for the season. Thankfully our alternative dining option was lovely as well with fresh trout being served hot in all kinds of sauces. We chose one portion of garlic butter and other was walnut if my memory serves me right.

Post dinner it was time to find some sweet nothings at the mall road, sadly the bakeries down there were pathetic and we treated ourselves to some lovely hot gulab-jamun sold on the roadside. It was a culinary heaven.

The plan for the next day was decided, we had to go towards Rohtang, at least as far as up they would let us. And by they, I mean both the HP administration as well the lord almighty above...

A curious cat ambled inside our room at Johnson's lodge. Aarti took the opportunity to kidnap it.
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Johnson's Lodge.
Of White-Outs and Landslides-dsc_1184.jpg
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Old 24th May 2013, 20:01   #9
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Default Day 5 (31st Mar): Manali - Rohtang (attempt) - Parashar Lake - Bilaspur

[quote=vardhan.harsh;822718]We were up and ready to move towards Rohtang by quarter past six, early next morning. I figured the timing would be sufficient to beat the early morning check-post at Kothi which sole reason of existence is to stop non-HP registered vehicles to move towards the pass. We were armed with a packed breakfast of baked goodies and some fruit juices to make a picnic out of the whole escapade. The sun was out and it was a lovely bring and sunny morning.

The highway was devoid of any vehicular traffic at that hour - possibly due to lack of snow tourists at Manali and of course a closed Rohtang does help in keeping things uncrowded. We made quick progress and had crossed Kothi without any hiccups, thankfully. It was still very cold outside, but very comfortable inside in the cozy interiors of Kiyang.

It was a supposed to be a simple U-bend at the outset and, as always, I slowed down to take the inclined U-bend at a sluggish speed in 1st gear. There was a deep ditch on either side of the U-bend with rocks, lose gravel and mud. It was smooth tarmac, so needless to stay I did not have 4WD engaged. To my utter shock the vehicle stalled while taking on that turn! I had not expected this by any stretch of imagination. Thankfully the car was not sliding and was stationary up that incline. Perplexed, I switched to 4WD - 4H immediately and gave it a rip. I could hear the wheels spinning while Kiyang started sliding laterally towards the ditch. This was weird. This was never experienced by me before. I slammed the brakes immediately, and the lateral sliding stopped.

We were neither moving forward nor backward with the hand-brakes engaged. I engaged 4L now, a gross error on my part given the conditions, thinking that brute torque would resolve this issue. The lateral skidding was even more now and I could not hit the brakes before the car skidded off the tarmac and into the ditch towards the right. The left wheels were on that slippery tarmac while the right was on loose gravel with huge stones next to me. I was still in 4L and the entire vehicle was tilted with one set of wheels much above the rest. I had my heart in my mouth. It was time to think!

The vehicle was not toppling but it was close to that, or so I feared. Moving forward seemed difficult, with the incline increasing on the gravel side - and limited traction on the left side. I engaged the reverse gear and ever so slowly, guide the left wheels off the tarmac and went back on the other side of the road, climbing back on the non-slippery tarmac, just before the U-bend. And now I could see what I had only heard of so far - BLACK ICE. I had no idea how horrible it can be and what it could do to vehicles even as heavy as a Safari! I had only imagined a layer of ice cracking under the immense 2.7 on weight of our car, but no...

Once the nemesis was understood, it was easier to conquer it. The trick was momentum. With no-traction on the black ice section itself, the only way to cross over it was to ensure that the vehicle comes at a minimum momentum and then glides over the ice. It was imperative not to accelerate or decelerate on those horrible patches itself, to avoid lateral skidding. With the strategy in place we proceeded, but only with frayed nerves. The next attempt with momentum was successful and we continued our climb towards Rohtang, a bit shaken.

A scorpio with tourists was honking madly behind us, so naturally we let it pass. I tried to gesture to get him to slow down but a CH-01 registration plate vehicle does not listen, does it now? ;-). We found the scorpio on a U-bend ahead where it too, had slid off the tarmac. Thankfully no damage was done but their facial expressions said it all. There nerves were frayed as well.

The rest of the climb till Gulaba was through a white snow-field everywhere with fresh powdered snow all around. It was a sight to behold. And with no tourists around, frolocking in the snow, for many, would have been a dream come true. But we have had our share of snow, and frolocking did not entice us that much. The target to reach Marhi did. We had plenty of black ice sections on the road ahead, but the strategy was in place. Hell we had not even engaged 4WD anymore to conquer it. It was trivial now.

About mid-way between Gulaba and Marhi the road became narrower and powdered snow was found in heaps on the mountain side of the road. This powdered heap was a result of high speed icy winds flowing over the freshly deposited powdered snow and at many places it formed a heap blocking more than half the road. The 4H mode was engaged and one tyre going on the heap with the other one getting traction from the tarmac - we marched on - slowly. The right tyres went over the heap and compressing it. We continued our march for about a km or slightly more till we came across a patch where one huge heap was blocking the entire path. It was time to take stock of our risk taking capacity. I mean the car could still march on but it was fraught with danger. The sun was up and it could trigger a mini-snow slide at any place, thereby blocking our return. Or possibly we would get stuck on one of those heaps as well. I got out of the car and walked a 100m to take stock of the situation ahead. The road was like this as far as I could see - implying a slow progress - if at all with Marhi and fraught with risks. I was so missing the white elephant and its inhabitants at this time. The white and black duo would have reduced the risks considerably and it would be a fantastic adventure. But, it was not so - and hence we returned from the juncture.

Empty roads towards Palchaan
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Reached snow line quite early.
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The road was narrow at places but perfectly clear till here
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Thou shalt not pass
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Walking a bit ahead to recce
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This is why tyres are made to be tough!
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About turn
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Sunny, bright and white
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White powdered fresh snow
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Snow walls
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Another shot of the snow walls
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Ambling down
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Approaching Gulaba
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Down and down we go
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This is where the traffic is allowed these days
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The wide valley greets us again
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The ride back to civilization and Manali was uneventful. We passed a couple of tourist taxis on our way down. Even the black ice was giving away under our weight now, but the sun shining brightly on those sections. Things were rosier now. We stopped for breakfast, heating up the croissant using our stove and the warm baked goodie was just the comfort food needed.

It had been a tiring morning, and we had a limited period of shut-eye the night before. So we crashed for an hour - and checked out of the hotel at dot 12:00pm. The ride back to Delhi would be long, so we had to stack up with a nice hearty breakfast - at the German bakery next to the stream coming down from Old Manali and then drive all the way to Delhi.


Or is it, now?
Well we did decide to wander towards Parashar lake later that evening...
So sit tight - there’s a wee bit more to come.
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Old 24th May 2013, 21:07   #10
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Default re: Of White-Outs and Landslides

Mods note: Thread moved from Assembly Line to Travelogues.
Beautiful images and thanks for sharing.
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Old 24th May 2013, 22:38   #11
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Default re: Of White-Outs and Landslides

Fantastic narration of an adventure we all enjoyed reading. The pictures are fantastic. Eagerly awaiting more please!
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Old 24th May 2013, 23:17   #12
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Default re: Of White-Outs and Landslides

Fantastic sirjee. You are making full usage of the 4WD - was a pleasant surprise to catch you folks besides Mr & Mrs Tanveer >

Interestingly, we hadn't been able to sync up with tanveer in NCR past 8-9 months! And wahan ho gaya!!
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Old 25th May 2013, 00:43   #13
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Default re: Of White-Outs and Landslides

Just one word AWESOME, Hats off man, Amazing log. The only thing i said to me after reading this is, 'one day'.

This is my dream, hopefully i'll fulfill it soon

Thanks for sharing, Awesome pics and narration.
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Old 25th May 2013, 02:19   #14
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That's an awesome travelogue. A safari, the mountains, Chai, maggi, dogs and a cat too! Brilliant combination!

By the way, when is it a good time to do something similar in a 4x2 safari?
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Old 25th May 2013, 06:56   #15
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Default re: Of White-Outs and Landslides

@akshay: in march 2012, all sorts of vehicles including altos were making the trip to Spiti (only to get blocked by the landslide). Snow chomping of course needs a 4x4!
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