When I woke up at 6.45 ish (surprisingly early) , I realised that it was a Tuesday and not a Wednesday. I intended to visit Rohtang Pass the same day but heard from the hotel staff and my friend from Himalayan Monk riders association (HMRA) that Rohtang is closed for maintenance every Tuesday. My friend did mention about going up till Marhi in case the road was open. Nevertheless, I ordered Aloo Parathas and went for a short barefoot walk. By the time I was back, they were ready so I had them with Chai first and then suited up immediately.
Another thing on my mind was to buy knee guards as I was fed up of my riding pants and was riding in regular denims, which isn’t a safe thing to do. I’ve mentioned the reason in my previous log. My friend from HMRA told me that there was a Quechua store in Kullu city and I should check there. I didn’t mind any kind of knee guards as long as there was some protection to my knees. Since Rohtang was doubtful for that day, I thought I should still give it a try. Marhi is a tiny pitstop place 15 kms before Rohtang, on the way to LEH. Rohtang pass was something I wanted to experience since it lies at altitude of 13,050 ft. above sea level, hence I could expect to get pictures of the snowy peaks. I wasn’t riding to LEH Ladakh that year but I wanted to at least look at some snow on this trip.
As a result, with luggage in place, the Duke of speed came to life at 8.25 AM while its engine took a good 4 minutes to heat up and then I sodded off through Kullu city. Kullu was just coming back to life as I cruised peacefully through the early morning streets. I was very optimistic on that day because I somehow expected the road to Rohtang pass from Manali to be open, I somehow expected to see snow and I also expected a Quechua store in Kullu to be open at 8.30 AM! I looked around a bit on the main road where I expected to find the store but couldn’t. On asking some elderly gentlemen and then some aunties about the store, they looked at me with surprise as though they hadn’t heard of it before. I bothered to look for the store for a good ten minutes but then chucked the knee guard idea and carried on. Traffic was increasing by the minute as school buses performed a good job of creating minute jams. Luckily, I got through in no time. I was out of Kullu with a clean road and a lot of greenery ahead of me. After a while though, Beas river that ran on my right showed itself in good light. Surprisingly, I saw a KTM RC390 parked by it. I took a break there and met 2 young guys who had ridden the RC from Delhi overnight and were drinking by the river. Only one guy had a helmet beside him and neither of them had any riding gear over them. Looking at the booze bottles made me want to get out of there. We spoke for a while as they were very curious about me and my 1 BHK KTM, it would be rude and provocative of me to ignore the drunks and go away. When I realized they weren’t that drunk yet, I requested them to not litter around, especially with the booze bottles since the surroundings were quite pristine. One of the guys turned out to be a real estate agent from Gurgaon, it was kind of him to give me his card and ask me to contact him if I faced problems around Delhi or Gurgaon. I carried on rather urgently after thanking him.
The views gave me enough distraction as I stopped frequently for pictures. A lot of resorts and hotels began to show up, a sign that Manali had arrived. I got stuck behind a HPSRTC Volvo tourist bus as the driver gave no way to pass and drove like his pants were on fire. After I managed to take care of that (not his pants), I got stuck in a traffic jam in Manali.
Manali is is like any other hill station city, full of ignorant, selfie- obsessed tourists crowding around. Of course, there are exceptions but the hustle- bustle made it a bit difficult to spot them. Then there were people on religious pilgrimages that visit Manali to receive blessings of the shrine in the town’s famous Hadimba temple.
All of a sudden, I lost my way when I got rid of the traffic and found myself heading towards the shrine of Hadimba. I saw a lot of people there, like too many of them so I didn’t consider entering the temple and prayed from the outside only. I asked a police man at the nearby check post for the correct road to which, he guided me but with a bit of hesitation. He informed me about Rohtang being shut since it was a Tuesday and I was like, damn!
I think the optimism in me went mad that day because I still decided to ride towards Rohtang. I hadn’t yet planned of what I’d do if the road was shut, I was eager to just ride towards the higher mountains and inhale some fresher air. A short halt was made after exiting Manali at about 10.40 AM where I called home to inform about my whereabouts and the fact that there maybe no network reception for the next 3 or 4 hours. I’ve always said this on some of my previous ride logs, it is extremely important to keep your people back home informed about your plans and whereabouts, it relieves them in many ways and also prevents them from thinking negatively in case you aren’t reachable on phone.
As I continued, I was anxiously looking out for police check posts that would prevent me from going further but there were none! The phone camera was in constant use every time I stopped. Roads weren’t in a great condition though but after all, they lead to Rohtang so one could expect them to be that way. I kept going straight without checking the map because I assumed for a signboard to appear somewhere. The mountains took over and civilization diminished on either sides. The temperature too, decreased gradually, making the ride more pleasure able. Hairpin curves arrived that made me a little skeptical because in pictures, the road to Rohtang seemed broken and slushy. Making an assumption that the BRO (border roads organization) would’ve fixed them, I carried on to find some small cafes and rental quad bikes that tourists could ride on. Then I was some horses that one could take a ride on along with a guide towards the mountains. I was confused if I should focus on the road or the view so I rode a bit slowly. Then arrived a check post with a rope tied between the barricades. I only saw vehicles coming from the other side but no vehicle got to go beyond the rope. I said to myself that this is it, Rohtang is actually shut. But then, I saw a board next to the check post that read “civilians not allowed beyond this point”. When did the army shut Rohtang for civilians?? I checked with a security guard in the cabin about my whereabouts and where the blocked road ahead of me led to.
I was told that there was a deviation towards Rohtang pass on the same road before the bridge that I had missed out on but there isn’t any board there, it’s just one single deviation. The road I was riding on would take one deeper into Solang valley where a tunnel is being constructed that would help one cross Rohtang without hassles in the future. “Ahh” was my reaction, I rode back quickly towards the Rohtang deviation and gave it some gas. I saw a solo cyclist on the way and gave him a thumbs up. The road got narrower but was smooth. Greenery was at its best and all you could see above them were clouds crashing into mountain peaks. Suddenly, I realized that there were hardly and vehicles on the road. In today’s times, that is an awesome sight to behold! I did get a surprise at a hair pin curve though as I ascended altitude. Goods lorries from J&K stormed down the road and there was hardly any place for me, they were nice and experienced to have adjusted the lorries in tight situations.
One can feel the vibrations of the place change as you climb altitude (only if your extra sensory perception isn’t blocked), those are the vibes that one gets when population declines and its only one force that controls movement of mortals in that area- nature. I was anxious, excited and fearful of whether I will be able to ride further or not. I spotted a police check post up ahead but decided to not decelerate unless I was asked to. Then what? I wasn’t asked to stop so I carried on 😀 Wohoo!
Suddenly, the mood of the clouds changed. It was mountain country, so you could expect it to be sunny and then it could snow the next second. Dark clouds gathered over that went on for miles. My action camera was clicking pictures for me, I hoped it wouldn’t rain else I’d have to keep it back inside. It began to pour quite badly that I had to stop immediately, put on some rain gear and dismount my action camera. Thanks to the confidence the KTM offers on extremely wet hairpin curves, I carried on fearlessly but peacefully. The roads were surprisingly good for an area that changes weather so rapidly! Some slushy surprises did exist on the way but they were good fun! Fog then covered the area as the rainfall came to a halt. Visibility was just 500 metres in some spots. I encountered beautiful streams on the way as I kept stopping for pictures. I thought that If this place was so pretty and astonishing, how would the areas in the Ladakh region be? I decided that if I rode to LEH anytime through this route, I would cover a distance of only 150 kms per day as the views would definitely force me often to stop and stare at them.
I saw some tents as I approached a pretty water reservoir. There were some tourists and a local person selling food items. As I curiously rode, I saw some cars ahead after which a temple appeared and around it there were many tent dhabhas and bikers. A few metres ahead, a board read ‘Marhi 10650 ft’. I stopped to have some hot tea, the weather and views just called for it. As I sipped chai, 3 army trucks came down the road and stopped for snacks. On inquiring with a jawan from the Indian Army whether there was any snow visible in Rohtang, I learned that they were returning from LEH. The Jawan sincerely advised me to not go up to Rohtang which was another 15 kms ahead for the sake of pictures as it was completely covered with a lot of fog and it would be of no use going there just to look at fog.
I took the Jawan’s advise seriously and thought about it, there was indeed no point going ahead if I couldn’t look at the views. I looked up at the signboard that read ‘LEH- 444 kms’ and thought I would definitely come back soon for the views up ahead with better preparation as I was low on the number of holidays left (technically, I had no holidays left since I was under loss of pay 😀 ) and I was also low on the amount of memory left in my phone and other cameras after all those abundant shots I took in Rajasthan and other areas. I wasn’t carrying jerry cans for extra fuel too since there was no petrol bunk on the route to LEH for 380 kms. I told myself that LEH would happen soon, and of course, with better preparation. I decided that Marhi would literally be the turning point of my 2015 West India tour, a tour which had no destination at all. After having chai, I spoke to a fellow biker named Satya Ankani as he had stopped for a break too and learned he had finished the LEH circuit in seven days and was on his way back home. That’s too fast for a guy like me though 🙂
I fired the Duke up again and made a U turn on the roads that would take me back home and rode towards Manali and Kullu. Little did I know that the final destination to my West India tour would be a tiny place somewhere in the mountains called Marhi 🙂
I rode through the clouds this time while descending as magnificent views played hide and seek. It drizzled heavily too for a short while so the action cam had to stay inside. I halted at the reservoir again and was then approached by a group of men. They came upto me after seeing the KA registration number plate on my bike because they were from Karnataka, Bangalore as well! We spoke for a while in Kannada and took pictures before continuing my descent. I then stopped again when I saw the solo cyclist (the same cyclist I saw earlier) as I was curious. His name was karan and was riding solo on his bicycle from Manali to LEH Ladakh! What an adventure that would be eh? We had a short solo travelers chat and bid each other goodbye, I wish he reached LEH safely. I was partially happy too that my long solo ride finally got a destination and the fact that I was heading back home. 🙂
I had noticed a pizza cafe on the way while ascending on the outskirts of Manali so I headed there, but took a good two hours to descend from Marhi. After making some calls, I ordered a medium Veg Pizza prepared on wood and lemon tea at 3 PM, it was delicious and pretty filling!
My hotel was still 50 kms away but I had lots of time in hand before it got dark. In Kullu, I finally found the Quechua shop after a smart kid guided me towards it. Knee guards weren’t present as it was a shop that mainly sold hiking gear. Hence, I carried on without any regrets and reached the hotel at around 5 PM and had a cup of nice hot chai on the lawn. Pictures of the ever changing colors in the sky above the mountains had to be clicked and then I reviewed all images captured by the action camera on my phone. It was my last evening among the mountains so I took a short walk outside. The next day, I was to reach Chandigarh early, head to a KTM showroom there and get the Duke a service. I don’t know how I could get all that done in a day because it could take me 8 hours to reach Chandigarh and considering the sale of KTMs in major cities across India, there could be possibility of postponement of service to the next day. All that meant I had to start early so I called it a night at 10 PM.