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Old 7th July 2010, 20:17   #46
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Default Day 5: Part 4 - the Checkpost

There were two options I could immediately think of. One is to go up a trail on the mountains on our left that we could see from our hotel window. And the other is to walk straight ahead and go till the army checkpost. Keeping in mind that the next three days I have a lot of driving to do, I did not want to do any climbing. Actually I do not mind going up, but coming down, if the path is too steep, gives me more problem, and legs tend to hurt if I overdo it, specially when tired. So chose the second option which looked to be a reasonably comfortable walk.

The school compound, seen from above.

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Once you walk for about 10 minutes or so, you leave behind most other tourists that are there. Its just you and the river and the mountains.

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The village that lies behind you now. You can see the trail that we took the previous day to the river bed.

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Going ahead, it is a nice comfortable path, and totally deserted. The river flows on the right. The initial part it was possible to walk along the river bed instead of the path I took which was a little higher, at the level of the fields. But here you can not walk along the river bed, as there is no flat portion down there now.

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As is the norm, any track has to have a water-crossing here.

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Further ahead, the banks of the river are flat again, and I can see a cluster of houses at a distance.

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Go a bit closer and I can also see a helipad.

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That is the checkpost, and unfortunately I have to turn back from here.

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By now the wind became a bit stronger. And it started drizzling. Mild drizzle, so no worry about being soaked in water, it was just wonderful to walk amidst that drizzle. But one outcome was that I could hardly take my camera out. This was the only photo I could take during my walk back.

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I met a few villagers on my way back. They were bringing back their cows. Started a conversation with one of them. Although that checkpost is the last point here till which they allow civilians to go, that is something more for outsiders like us. They allow the locals with their animals to go further than that for grazing. This person tells me that all arrangements are in place for a road being constructed till the army checkpost - all paperworks everything done. Construction will start anytime. I get a strange feeling. On one hand, people here should certainly have all the amenities, in particular, good roads. On the other hand, I can not help feeling that it would take away some of the charm of the place.


We also talk about other things. Closer to the village, I suddenly realize we are walking not along the river bed, not along the path on the edge of the fields that I took while going, but we are somewhere in the middle of the slope. While travelling with the animals, they avoid using the path above, because people have sown seeds in those fields. But they do not go all the way down to the riverbed because they have to come up again. So they use a trail somewhere in the middle. But while that is fine with them, I am not sure I will be able to continue right in the middle of that slope. Actually I was doing quite fine as long as I did not notice this and was engaged in a conversation, but the moment I became aware, I became apprehensive. There is no place for apprehension, uncertainty when you are walking in mountainous terrain. So we parted ways, I go down to the river bed for rest of the walk, and then came up after reaching the school below.


Back at the hotel room, have a nice hot cup of tea. And through the window, enjoy the hide and seek Sun continues to play with the clouds.

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Rain starts getting a bit heavier. By now it was a bit dark too. Try a long exposure shot.

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As darkness descends, the cloud cover, rain and the lonely river flowing at a distance gives a look that I can not express, neither in words nor in pictures.

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That night, it continued to rain as long as I was awake. The room we were in was close to the staircase, which had a tin (or asbestos? don't remember) roof which was dutifully transmitting the sound of the raindrops. Having spent my childhood years in Kolkata and now a resident in Delhi for over two decades, this was pure magic to my ears.

This was a day I will cherish for long.

(to be contd.)
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Old 9th July 2010, 20:22   #47
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Default Day 6: Part 1 - Goodbye Chitkul

When we get up next morning, rain has stopped, but the rain drops that had accumulated on the car have frozen into ice.

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It was much colder than the previous two days. The clouds have all disappeared, revealing an entirely different looking Chitkul.

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Unfortunately, we were to leave and leave early. Goodbye Chitkul. But we will be back. For a longer stay. Two days is too short a period here. We have our morning cup of tea, settle the hotel bill, buy some food stuff for the journey and set off. The hotel has been pretty decent, views from the rooms were the best you can get here and the food was good too. Here is their `meenu card' - if you are planning to participate in a spelling bee competition, you will find it very useful.

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As you leave, on your left you see all these drums. They were smelling of kerosene. I ask one person - he tells me there is indeed kerosene in those drums - they belong to the army.

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Our start is halted by first a big herd of cows and then this sea of sheeps. The group of cows was more unnerving than these sheeps though. I was scared that if one of them decides to rub shoulders with our car, I might be without my ORVM's for the rest of the trip. It also took us a lot of time to negotiate that group of cows because unlike these sheeps, they were going in the same direction as us. So merely stopping and waiting for them to go past you won't work.

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After this, the journey was smooth. Unlike in our onward journey to Chitkul two days back when we took 3.5 hrs for Karchham to Chitkul because of our frequent breaks, today it took us about 1.5 hrs. After Karchham the bad stretch starts, but probably because we knew better this time what to expect, it didn't seem as bad. Other reason might be that there had been some rain and it was not as dusty. Take a tea break just after crossing Bhavanagar. Further ahead at Jeori, we start the uphill climb to Sarahan.

(to be contd.)
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Old 10th July 2010, 00:28   #48
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Excellent. Maybe the only detailed travelogue for this valley. akp would appreciate it mate if you can even fill in with some seemingly irrelevant details that you can remember about the trails and the general topography around chitkul. Might come in handy on of these days to one of us.
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Old 10th July 2010, 20:52   #49
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Originally Posted by wanderernomad View Post
Excellent. Maybe the only detailed travelogue for this valley.
Thanks, wanderernomad. In fact from what we have seen from the road while passing by Sangla, there is a lot to explore on foot there as well.


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akp would appreciate it mate if you can even fill in with some seemingly irrelevant details that you can remember about the trails and the general topography around chitkul. Might come in handy on of these days to one of us.
You can have a look at this page by Salil, who is an avid biker and a member of BCMTouring - he went up the mountain trail on the left that I avoided, choosing to visit the checkpost instead - there are a few shots of the entire village from up there, that would give you some idea. Unfortunately I came across this page AFTER we came back, else I probably would have gone up that trail.
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Old 11th July 2010, 02:07   #50
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Thanks for the link mate. Been there before but unfortunately that was a long time ago and things have changed a plenty by now. If I remember correctly the trail that you are talking about is part of the Kinner Kailash parikarma and is the start/ end point depending upon from which side you have started. This part of the HP is begining to really open up now.

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Old 11th July 2010, 09:01   #51
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Default Day 6: Part 2 - Sarahan

From Jeori, as you are coming from Rampur towards Narkanda, you have to turn left off NH22 for Sarahan, which is sitting near the top of the mountain on your left. In fact, if you know where to look, you can see the HPTDC hotel in Sarahan right from NH22 in Jeori. This is a 17 km drive, road surface mostly in reasonably good state. Roads are a bit narrow, but you don't have a sharp drop on one side - you are usually surrounded on both sides by apple trees.

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We checked in to HPTDC Hotel Srikhand. One of the best HPTDC hotels we have stayed in. Most of the rooms have a balcony that give you a great view. River Sutlej flows not so far, between the mountain where you are and the one right opposite, though it is not visible from here. That mountain on the other side of Sutlej is in Kullu district. You can also see the Srikhand range far ahead.

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The balcony is a great place to sit with your favourite drink and just relax. You can also see NH22 down below, from where one takes the road to here.

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Sarahan is a small place, to be explored on foot. We finish lunch, have a little rest and set out to see what the place has to offer. A couple of minutes' walk from the hotel will take you to the Bhimkali temple.

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Inside the temple complex.

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On one side are rooms that one can book for stay.

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I had tried to book here before booking with Hotel Srikhand, but rooms were not available for the day we wanted. After coming here though, I was happy that it turned out that way. Even though the HPTDC hotel here is more expensive, every rupee you spend is worth it.

We go out from the other side. Few more shots of the temple.

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We wander around aimlessly along the lanes.

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Lush green surroundings, with occasional hint of yellow..

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or red.

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A beautiful house - later one kid tells us it actually belongs to some small temple.

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Then we arrive at the gate of a beautiful house. This belonged to some King. Now his descendants do not stay here regularly any more - but they do visit from time to time. Some caretaker looks after the house.

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The gate seemed closed and no one in sight. We thought one can not go in. But then a couple of kids appear, they tell us we can in fact go in through the small side gate. There is a nice well maintained lawn, with lots of flowers and a few apple trees.

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On one side of the house, there were other fruits - plums, peaches.

Plums dangling from the trees.

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Seeing the plums in the trees make my mother and wife very excited, almost like small kids. In fact, during our drive through Thanedar valley and also our upward drive from Jeori to Sarahan where both sides of the road were full of apple trees, they were desperate to steal them. I had asked them not to. That had upset both of them. While in Thanedar I had succeeded with my strict instructions, on the drive to Sarahan, they eventually became too desperate and collected a few apples. Now they were determined to get their hands to some of these fruits. Fortunately, around this time the caretaker appeared. And when asked, he gave us permission to pluck a few from the trees. That made the day for both of them.

See how desperate they were to reach those trees.

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My wife almost starts jumping up and down everytime I have to reverse the car on mountain roads, or if I stop the car close to the outer edge of the road on a cliff. And here she is standing on a wall, with no fear whatsoever, all for a few plums.

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Me and my daughter sit and enjoy the show.

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This house, close by, belongs to some relative of the King's family.

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Looks like there is a small gap in the cloud to make the peaks visible to us.

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After some more walking around, we come back to the hotel, to have our evening cup of tea sitting in the balcony.

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Later we go out to a small shop between our hotel and the Bhimkali temple to have some momos and thukpa, just to break the monotony of continuously having north indian dishes all through the trip so far.

Tomorrow it's going to be a long journey for us. We go to Jalori pass and then further on to Rewalsar. And then the last leg back home the day after. We wanted to spend more time at Sarahan, it appealed to us a great deal. Along with the nice peaceful nature of the place, one other thing that will strike you is how clean it is. Very unusual for an Indian town with a temple. The locals seemed to have taken special initiative to keep it clean. For example they are actively practicing a no polythene policy here. So again another place we would definitely like to come back to.

(to be contd.)
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Old 11th July 2010, 11:13   #52
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Hai AKP,

Great account of your travels and nice photos too to, thanks for sharing them. Love the snap with lots of plums, mouth-watering ones

Brings back memories of my trip to Kalpa-Chitkul with my family in August 09, the road from Rampur is a toughie, but the scenary makes it worth the while, the Baspa river valley is one of the best I have seen anywhere.

Adding just one picture form that trip...... not to hijack your thread with my own pictures.
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Old 11th July 2010, 11:45   #53
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Hai AKP,

Great account of your travels and nice photos too to, thanks for sharing them. Love the snap with lots of plums, mouth-watering ones
Thanks, Ramkya.

Quote:
Brings back memories of my trip to Kalpa-Chitkul with my family in August 09, the road from Rampur is a toughie, but the scenary makes it worth the while, the Baspa river valley is one of the best I have seen anywhere.
Yes, I just wish we had kept more days for that region.


Quote:
Adding just one picture form that trip...... not to hijack your thread with my own pictures.
No question of hijacking - on the contrary, you are most welcome to add your pictures. And thanks for the names of the peaks - except for the Kinner Kailash and the ShivLing, I didn't know the names of the others, though we saw them all the time for those two days.
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Old 12th July 2010, 18:40   #54
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Default Day 7: Sarahan-Jalori Pass-Rewalsar

We had our breakfast early and checked out around 8:30. Came down to Jeori and proceeded towards Sainj from where we go off NH22 towards Luhri. In Luhri, you cross Sutlej and immediately turn left and proceed alongside the river towards Anni (or Ani). This stretch was fine, but roads were a bit narrow and seemed deserted. Once we reach Anni, we stopped for tea. Wasted a bit of time, first, because I wanted to park the car in the shadow which was hard to find, and then at the dhaba due to a misunderstanding as a result of which we kept thinking why are they taking so long to give us three cups of tea and the dhaba owner kept thinking why are they not telling me how many cups of tea to serve! The situation was so funny, we couldn't even get upset.

After Anni, there are small localities on the way every once in a while.

We had to stop for sometime here because there was a shooting going on right in the middle of the road. Nothing very fancy or glamorous though - just some documentary by Himachal Tourism.

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Taking a short break after Khanag.

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Road surface was in very bad shape for the last 4 km prior to Jalori and about 11 km after it. These were also the steepest parts of the route. While the part before Jalori is more twisty, the part after is steeper. However, roads here were wide enough, so that steepness was not that much of a problem, despite the surface. We had driven to the Hatu peak in Narkanda in our earlier visit in April and if you have done that, this one would seem a lot easier. The difficulty of the drive to Hatu lies more in the narrow road - in combination with its steepness, it makes it a bit difficult, specially if you have to face vehicles coming from the opposite. Only other thing you have to be careful about here is, while going down on the Aut side, not get carried away by the straight stretches - the descent is quite steep, the vehicle can pick up speed and can go out of control if you are not in first gear. There are lots of signboards to remind you about being in low gears.

We spend about half an hour at Jalori Pass. There are a few shops that offer tea and very basic foodstuff like Rajma-Chawl etc.

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Jalori Jot. There were a group of small school kids visiting there.

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Fanta seems to be very popular with them.

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There was one small `incident' during our drive from Chitkul to Sarahan that I forgot to mention. This was between Chitkul and Sangla. We were coming downhill. There was a small muddy stretch which was a bit steep, and a truck coming from the opposite had got stuck. The road was narrow and there was no space for me to pass. But from a distance, it seemed to me that the road just in front of the truck was wide enough for me to wait and let the truck pass. But when I came close, I discover there was not enough space there. Meanwhile the truck was getting some help and about to start. So I signalled to the truck and reversed immediately to a place a little behind me that is wide enough. As soon as I start reversing, our cabin gets full of a burning smell. Now I have never ever experienced a burning smell from my car, so I could not figure out what was it from. Two candidates I could think of was the break pads and the clutch plate. But this was surprising. Because, one, the car is a not even a year and 15k km old, and I have driven it with as correctly as I could - no excessive clutch, no excessive break. Got down and felt the tyres, they didn't seem too hot. Opened the bonnet, nothing wrong that I could see there either. The truck had by now passed, so I just carried on, a little cautiously and with some doubt in mind. The smell slowly disappears. But I keep the window glasses down a bit so that I can hear every sound, and smell anything that the car emits. A little later, suddenly the same smell - but again it disappears after a while. And it happens again. This was a matter of concern, because the next day which is today, we were to go to Jalori Pass, which is one of the steepest passes around. Then it strikes me suddenly. It is happening everytime we pass a truck coming from the opposite - we are going downhill so they are climbing uphill, and we are on the outer edge of the road whoch means they are between us and the mountain on our right, so the smell is probably coming from them. Then I wait for the next truck, and sure enough, there is that smell again. Rest of the trip - after we came down to NH22 and even during our climb to Sarahan from Jeori, there was no repeat of that smell again, so I was fairly sure it had to be those heavy trucks going uphill.

But the whole thing did have an effect on me. I decided to give the car ample rest during the climb to Jalori today. So in addition to our usual breaks, I also stopped a few times, specially after Khanag where the steeper stretches are, to let the car cool down. As a result, our drive for the day became a really long one. On hindsight, I feel I had overdone it; still I think it is better this way than facing a crisis.

After Jalori, the downhill drive starts.

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We cross Shoja, Banjar, Larji and a few other places in between whose names I do not remember. There are a few small stretches of very narrow roads in some of the localities. If there is a bus or truck (or any other vehicle for that matter) coming from the other side, it becomes a pain to make space for them.

After Larji, you arrive at Aut. On your right is a 3 km long tunnel, leading you towards Kullu. And left goes towards Mandi. We decide to just go through the tunnel and come back before continuing our journey towards Mandi, just to experience it, because we have never driven through a long tunnel before. But there was nothing really exciting in the drive through the tunnel. At Mandi we have to ask around a bit for the road to Rewalsar, which is a state highway, somewhat narrow and winding climb again.

Reach Rewalsar quite late. Almost everything is around the lake - so was our hotel, the hotel Lotus Lake. Right behind this hotel is the HPTDC hotel. There is not much to write about the place, as all we did was have dinner, sleep, get up, have breakfast and leave. From that brief encounter, I have to say we were not terribly impressed.

Just a few snaps taken on the next morning.

Some temple on the lakeside.

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The hotel didn't have any parking space. But they had an arrangement with a monastery so that the hotel guests can park their car inside the compound of the monastery. Next three snaps are from that compound, taken on the next morning.

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(to be contd.)

Last edited by akp : 12th July 2010 at 18:41.
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Old 12th July 2010, 18:54   #55
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Default Day 8: Rewalsar-Delhi

There is not much to write on this day. Except for a brief course we attended from Punjab traffic police.

From Rewalsar, we came down to NH21 at a place called Ner chawk. Took a tea break at the HPTDC Hotel in Bilaspur. From there on to Rupnagar. Here there is a `Y' junction where you have to take a right turn for Banur. As soon as we start taking the turn, a traffic policeman appears from nowhere and asks us to stop. He asks us to show car papers. Fine, I show him the rc card. Big mistake, as I was to find out. He just grabs it, and he is no more interested in us. I stop the car on one side, and run after him. There is a small shop near the junction where 2/3 more traffic police personnel are there. Our person hands over the card to one of them. Now this person tells me I would be challaned because I jumped the signal. Signal, what signal? There was no signal, and no traffic police to be seen anywhere when we were turning. But who will listen to me now - he had my rc - so it is what he says that matters. Maybe if I could speak Punjabi or act like a man with connections, it might have helped. But not everyone can do that. I can not. He tells me, we will impound your rc and you have to come back, pay fine and take it back. Then he offers me an option, which is of course why all this drama in the first place. He tells me, you can pay Rs 500/- and get it back now. Else, you have to come back later and also pay Rs 1000/-. After a little more argument, I give up and hand him a Rs. 500/- note, and surprise, he gives me back my rc and also Rs 100! So that's their rate, Rs 400/-. It suddenly occurs to me. I think I have read about this all, about traffic cops in Punjab extracting money from out-of-state vehicles, including this rate of 400/-, in some forum or the other, possibly on tbhp itself. But it is difficult to keep such things in mind all the time until you have actually experienced it. So course attended, lesson learnt.

Now the traffic police in Punjab take teaching very seriously. They not only give you lessons, they also give you tests, to see if you have learnt your lesson well. Ten minutes and a few kilometers ahead, another junction and there is one traffic police engaged in some conversation with a truck driver in the middle of the road. There is no space for me to overtake the truck, so I patiently wait for them to finish. Once the truck goes ahead, I also proceed. The policeman now turns his attention to us and signals me to stop. This time I completely ignore him and drive ahead. I don't even bother to drive fast, just continue at a modest speed. Once I cross him, the policeman does not show any interest in trying to stop me. He just gets busy finding his next victim.

At Banur, there is yet another junction and again some traffic policemen. This time the road was a bit wider and there were a few other vehicles. I drive alongside another vehicle so that they can not see my number plate and continue. Also, as my wife told me, she noticed that they had caught some other DL registered car and were busy with them.

So the lesson, which is by now clear - do not stop; and even if you have to (sometime due to traffic congestion), never hand over any of your papers to them. Once you hand over any document, your bargaining power is gone. Anyone who has experienced this and has some tips to offer, please come forward and share them.

After this, there was no further surprises till we reached back home.

Time now to plan our next trip.

Thanks everyone for reading.
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Old 13th July 2010, 17:01   #56
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Hey buddy, I am loving the way you've been describing all your experiences and augmenting it with nice snaps. So how long did it take you to get acclimatized to the grind of NCR after 7 days of Himachali bliss!

Traversing Jalori Jot is really interesting during monsoons, when you have a heavy downpour along the route. The deep mud slush, combined with the steep incline really tests your nerves.

EDIT: Sad to listen about the harassment from the cops, but that's how they are, especially in Punjab. In general, you should never hand over your paper(s) before confirming why you've been stopped. If the reason provided appears false, argue fiercely till the cop becomes disinterested (have experienced it) or agrees to take the bare minimum bribe that you're ready to shell out. (I ain't approving bribing a cop, but that's how things work in our country)

Another suggestion, though never tried it, is to carry a list of the names of SSPs/MLA/MLC for the areas you'd be crossing and try goofing up the cop by showing you have contacts. Mind you, this would require a good degree of confidence while lying to convince the cop.

Last edited by lordofgondor : 13th July 2010 at 17:12.
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Old 13th July 2010, 20:20   #57
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Originally Posted by lordofgondor View Post
Hey buddy, I am loving the way you've been describing all your experiences and augmenting it with nice snaps.
Thanks. Feels great to know someone likes it.

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So how long did it take you to get acclimatized to the grind of NCR after 7 days of Himachali bliss!
That acclimatization process has been going on for more than 20 years now. At times I love the city, at other times hate it, but am I acclimatized to the grind yet? Not sure.


Quote:
Traversing Jalori Jot is really interesting during monsoons, when you have a heavy downpour along the route. The deep mud slush, combined with the steep incline really tests your nerves.
Will try it some day.

Quote:
EDIT: Sad to listen about the harassment from the cops, but that's how they are, especially in Punjab. In general, you should never hand over your paper(s) before confirming why you've been stopped. If the reason provided appears false, argue fiercely till the cop becomes disinterested (have experienced it) or agrees to take the bare minimum bribe that you're ready to shell out. (I ain't approving bribing a cop, but that's how things work in our country)
Thanks for the suggestions. This is the strategy I thought I'd adopt next time, other than not stopping at all. The other suggestion you gave is something that doesn't come so naturally to me, need some practice for that!
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