A pair of white eagles circled overhead in an aerial ballet in the absolutely blue sky. I have mentally travelled this road when reading the write-ups previous travelers had posted on the internet. But now that I am actually riding my dream, the road speaks to me one-to-one. I didn’t know roads could talk. This one does, exuding warmth & welcome.
Moving away from habitation at 30kms per hour with Khoksar still hours ahead, my new friend keeps me entertained through road signs to make me laugh & keep me alert. One says: ‘Darling I love you, but not so fast!’ Another challenges: ‘On my curve, check your nerve.’ Yet another advices everyone to: ‘Drive on horse power, not on rum power.’ The BRO (Border Roads Organization) must have a wry sense of humor. They must need it too. All along the route from Manali to Leh and northwards towards Siachen, then westwards to Srinagar, the BRO maintains these high altitude roads, some of which get washed away by glacial melt every afternoon and have to be rebuilt by the evening.
By early afternoon I come to Khoksar, a sparse habitation with a few shops & shelters on either side of the road. Here, on a wooden table painted green, I have my first of the ‘dal-rice’ meals, which is staple food in these areas. The only other choice offered on the menu is instant noodles.
A hundred kilometers from Manali is Tandi, a significant dot on the map because here is where one tanks up on petrol. An ominous sign has warned me that there is no petrol available over the next 375 kilometers but I have been alerted to this through the grapevine and have come prepared. The gas station is a single pump affair. The young attendant is a friendly fellow and helps me top up 14.5 litres in the tank and also fills the two extra three-litre cans I got fitted in Delhi.
River Bhaga keeps me company as I enter Keylong, just eight kilometers away from Tandi.
Keylong surprises me with its size and modernity. There are shops selling just about everything – from food, fruits, vegetables to consumer goods like TV’s and refrigerators. There are Chinese restaurants and schools with smiling children dressed in vivid uniforms. There is a BSNL tower to give good connectivity on my mobile. I compose a collective ‘wish you were here’ message & send it to my friends.
Keylong looks like a ‘happening’ place. I would have liked to stay here a while longer but Darcha, which is to be my halt for the night, is still 40 kilometers away and I want to reach it before dark.
Afternoons are a glorious to be riding a motorcycle on narrow gravel roads which snake through the Himalayas. With the sun already close to the peaks, the play of light colors the landscape in shades that vary from bright yellow to gleaming gold at this altitude, I’m now moving much above the tree line and there is not a patch of green to be seen anywhere. I am alone again; my group has still not caught up with me and I’ve been going at a speed of no more than 20 kilometers per hour. Perhaps I’ll see them in Darcha.
Soon the narrow road begins to broaden and in the distance I can now see a few large circular tents next to the river Bhaga which has been flowing alongside all this while.
Darcha will never qualify if it is its ‘night life’ one is talking about. With just about two tent hotels and a police checkpoint (another tent), this is a desolate place.
About the author: ( Ajit Harisingani is a qualified speech pathologist with interests like cross country motorcycling, writing & singing. He currently resides in Pune. This is an excerpt from his book ‘One Life to Ride’ which details his motorcycle journey to the High Himalayas. )