Friday, April 27, 2012

5 July 2011 – Rohtang Top

[Part of my write up for the Leh Bike Trip]

In spite of the 270 kms ride and after sleeping at 1 AM, I was still up at 6:30. For some reason I don't feel tired or sleep enough during trips and am perpetually buzzed up.

The route till Kullu runs along the Beas and there are many rafting centres along the way. At one point the level of road and river are the same separate and the river would engulf the road if not for a dividing wall. Snow-capped mountains were visible in the distance and we were in the middle of a lush pine forest – too much beauty for me to process, I was acting delirious, shouting beautifulawesome, etc into my video camera.

Kullu is a nice little town – many boarding schools around. On entering Manali, there's an unofficial-looking bamboo phatak where you have to pay a tourism development levy if your vehicle is not from Himachal. Bikes are charged Rs 100.

Manali town is quite well developed. I went to a cyber first up to wrap up some office work (urgent promotion proposal) and with that left all worldly worries behind me. We checked the Hadimba temple and saw IL FORNO, the Italian restaurant recommended by Highway On My Plate, on the way.

(For Rocky and Mayur)

Me and Kunal went to a roadside stall for Parathas and Omelette pav all for Rs 35/. It was around 11 PM when we found that the only multiplex in Manali (Piccadily) was showing Delhi Belly. What luck! I managed to convince the security guy to keep a watch on the bags on the bike. The movie was just about OK with a few good scenes. An interval was forced in and the movie started late (strangely, they didn't play the national anthem) so we were out by 2 PM. I was surprised that the non-metro gals in there did not mind the crass humour. We left, wondering if we were too late for Rohtang but our tummies overruled and we began looking for a place to eat. Got a good place right opposite the Tourist Centre at the circle leaving Manali town. The place had a lovely view of Manali market.

(The bad roads and the badder bike)

People usually start for Rohtang early in the morning (around 5 PM) and everyone we met including the helpful gentleman at the Tourist Center gave us the same advice. We, in all our wisdom, started at 4 in the evening -- with no preparation but immense self confidence the mighty Rohtang could be conquered.

While the others left, I had to run a few errands. I picked up the things needed to repair punctures and a pair of gum boots (excellent decision) and had to retie the luggage once more. Got the bike checked at a mechanic and then tanked up. I ended up leaving Manali town at 5 PM. Not sure what was in our minds but we believed we could still make it to Keylong by midnight!  

(lovely vistas at the start of the Manali-Leh highway)

The Manali-Leh highway is easily the most beautiful and most adventurous road in India. And it starts with breathtakingly beautiful roads and scenery. However, the beautiful roads quickly went from good to bad to slush to non-existent. The pillion riders had to dismount and walk a lot of the stretches, which gave me enough time to take pictures. We were still making our way up to Rohtang wondering when we would encounter the sea of traffic it is so famous for. As it grew darker, it also began to drizzle and the audacity of our plan dawned on us. The road was getting slushier and the rain heavier.  

(The road starts getting bad after you come up the pass you see in the middle of this picture)

By 8 PM, it was completely dark and it started to pour heavily. The rain had turned any sign of roads to slush deep enough to engulf entire bikes – I kid you not! Miraculously, the next corner had a tea stall and we stopped. The rain had just started to enter our rain protection and another minute in the rain would have soaked us.

What followed was one of the most memorable nights of my life. The owners of the stall were from Manali and as the night fell, his relatives who had set up similar tea stalls poured in one by one. A traffic jam was forming outside because truck drivers would simply stop their vehicles when stuck in the slush. Some joined us at the tea stall while others went to sleep in their vehicles.

We weren't sure what we were going to do and the stall owners advised us that the best thing would be to turn back – the road would be bad but drivable, they said. It had turned very cold by then and the rain showed no signs of abating as we stalled for some time ordering Maggi, Tea, Rajma-Chawal, and anything else that they had in stock. By now the tea stall was swarming with a motley crowd of truck drivers, other tea stall owners, and a solitary calf that would constantly try to move closer to the radiating stove throughout the night.

Someone told us that a fight had broken out between two truck drivers after one of them brushed against the other. The guy who got bashed up was Ladakhi and the aggressor was from the plains. After listening to the gory details, everyone agreed that the aggressor was a goner. He would have to cross Keylong where he was sure to be bashed up by the entire town. A little while later, the bashed-up Ladakhi driver entered our tent and filled us with the details missing from the earlier narration. I couldn't make out from his expression if he agreed with the general consensus to have the other driver beaten up at his hometown.

One of the other truck drivers turned out to be a very interesting fellow. He was a regular on this stretch and claimed to be the nephew of the owner of Kamal Sandhu transport. He took out a packet of Charas and masterfully rolled up some joints. Soon after the tent was filled with smoke and chit-chat. He gave us a crash course in local customs and mythology. We found out which festivals are celebrated in Bhadra-mahina, which Maharishis did Tapasyas in the mountains around Manali, and learnt all about the unheard of beautiful places like Shirshor, which he said was a short trek from Rohtang. 

On learning that we were from Mumbai, his first comment was that Kamathipura is awesome. We looked at each other and decided that the best response was to just nod at anything he said. More gyaan followed: 
Rohtang ka mausam aur Mumbai ka fashion, kabhi bhi badal sakta hai.
Tumhari bikes Rohtang nahi chadengi, truck pe ladh do, Keylong chod deta hu!
He signed off saying that we should watch out for his truck (#8207) if we needed any help along the way. If you happen to spot this truck, follow him till he stops somewhere, accidentally bump into him, and enjoy the conversations that follow.

We continued talking to the tea shop guys. Ramnath, Belu, Kushal, and Hans Raj Hans – lovely company. Once they realized that it would be impossible for us to move anywhere, they readily agreed to let us stay in their tarpaulin tents. We ate whatever was left for dinner and I managed to get some network and made a few quick calls. The rain continued to pour on through the night while we continued the chit-chat sessions with our guardian angels. Rohtang top was another 5 kms from where we were stuck but this final stretch of the road, they claimed, was also the worst.

(Hans Raj on the right and Kushal on the left)

There wasn't enough space in that little tea shop for us all and we were led to the other stalls after short hikes along the mountain slopes. Me and Sanjay went with Kushal and Hans Raj to their tent. Hans is a brilliant fellow, same as my age, but he's already married and has a couple of kids. The proud owner of Hans Raj cafe – the solitary sign board inside his tent reads: 
We were up in his tent talking about everything under the sun. He owns a small apple orchard in Manali and sets up this tea stall four months of the year ...because he claims to love the view! (remniscent of Mahesh who cited the same reason for working at Triund) Incredibly passionate about leading a relaxed life, his constant refrain of Tension leneka nahi, bhooka soneka nahi (Tension take not, hungry sleep not) played its part to soothe our nerves as we slept close to 4000 m on that dark, cold, rainy night. We lay on the blankets on the floor of his tent while the conversation veered from one topic to another. Finally at 2 AM, we blew out the last candle and tucked in under the many layers of quilt.

At the end of the day my odometer read 53385 kms. Less than 100 kms in the day – probably lesser than any other day of this trip but that was never the point of this trip. The experiences we had more than made up for any such logistic concerns and our brilliant decision of starting for Rohtang at 5 PM had turned out to be the best decision of the trip.

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Thursday, April 26, 2012

4 July 2011 – Kullu

[Part of my write up for the Leh Bike Trip]

Next morning we picked up our bikes from Jaipur Golden's office at Chandigarh's sector 26. The entire block was swarming with transport companies. One of the things I love about Chandigarh is how all businesses tend to occupy one block of a sector. I remember there was one block that only had bank offices – how convenient!

The bikes arrived generally unharmed. Mine had a small scratch on the number plate and Amey's bike had a bent saree guard but nothing that could hamper the trip. The amount of packing and the thought that had been put into it surprised me. Well worth it at 1500/- per bike.

On reaching the guest house, we quickly loaded up the bikes and bid adieu to the inn-keeper and the helpers. On seeing our city commuter bikes, they weren't too optimistic about our chances of making it to Leh. We took it as a good omen and started at 12:30. My odometer read 56020 kms.

We stopped outside Mohali for some spares for Sanjay's bike. The roads were excellent for the next few hours and we crossed a pass which has a HTDC on the hill top. I had two close calls on this road – once with another biker and the second time with a truck. A localite stopped to take a turn right in front of me. Distracted by the sights and the unexpected surge of clean oxygen, I rammed right into him. No looks or words exchanged and I carried on. Within 2 kms I had my next scare of the ride. While cleverly overtaking a truck from the left, he tried to close in throwing me over the edge of the 1 foot high road. I maintained a straight handle over the gravelly side road and managed to stop. Took a deep breath and promised myself not to self-inflict any more adventures, at least for the day. In spite of this vow and after being slowest on the straight long highways, on the hills I was suddenly the fastest in the group.

In the rush of munching kilometres we did not realize that we hadn't had lunch. It was past 3:30 and we couldn't find a place which had the kitchen open. After a bit of searching, we found a nondescript dhaba, owned by a Sardarji, who agreed to fire up his tandoor on the condition that we order more than 5 parathas. We enjoyed the authentic Dhaba experience – lip-smacking Paratha-dahi, accompaniments of chilly onion and salt, big lotas of Lassi, and a short siesta on the Khatiyas. And in that quiet reflective mood, we realized that it had taken us 3.5 hours for the first 100 kms and we had another 200 to go with just over 2 hours of light remaining. We had to be quick with only as many breaks as needed but I had to stop at a diversion in the road where one road lead to Dharamshala, 150 kms away. I would be lying if I said I wasn't tempted to fit in a side ride and relive the awesome memories of my trip to the Dhauladhars.

I reached Sunder Nagar at 7 and ahead of the others. It really was a Sunder nagar – there was a beautiful dam with a canal running parallel to the road. While I waited for the others they crossed me without me realizing it. I had stopped to buy surgical gloves, which would keep our hands dry in the rain and also provided protection from frost bite at the high altitudes we were to cross soon.

Next halt was Mandi at 8 PM – beautiful town but we reached after sunset and couldn't stay back as we were heavily behind on our schedule. We had some tea and sad burgers at a bend just before a bridge over the river.

Not knowing when/if we would have dinner we had Parathas at a hotel after Mandi and we set off for Kullu. At one point I turned off all lights on the highway and could only see holes in the sky... which almost lead to my third almost accident when Sanjay braked hard at a curve. His tail light was not working and I was leaning through it without braking. A small skid but I managed to hold on. Time to renew my vow?

(my bike lit up at the end of Bhunter tunnel)

The best part of today's trip was the three km tunnel that comes around 15 kms before Kullu. We honked and shouted once in it. A picture session followed after we were out at the other end and reached Bhunter village (which is about 5 kms before Kullu) at 10:30 PM. 

(customary group pic that caught me in a weird expression)

We were planning for Manali but after riding 273 kms, Bhunter seemed a good enough compromise and we decided to halt here for the night. We stayed at Hotel Sunbeam (01902-265790) – clean rooms and it had parking within the hotel compound.

I was the last one to sleep, still excited about having made it. Thinking about how it had all come together for me. I'll admit, I was never too keen on a trip to Leh. This trip seemed almost mythical – like something that couldn't be achieved easily and something that I thought I wasn't ready for or excited about because it was so far (both metaphorically and physically). However, here I was, at the starting line of what many claim is the adventure of a lifetime.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Words that should be banned from every legal contract

What is the point of a contract that cannot be easily understood. A legal contact should be easy to read and those signing it should have a clear idea of what they are getting into. That can easily be done by replacing these obtuse legal terms with natural English. In most cases you just need to delete the preposition added as a suffix, which adds to the confusion and adds nothing to understanding the document. Look at these words:

  • Whereas
  • Herein
  • Hereto
  • Hereby
  • Hereunder
  • Thereof

Words like...

  • Aforesaid
  • Foregoing 
  • Thereafter 
  • The same 

...are usually never clear on what they are referring to. All the same's can easily be replaced with it.

There are also many long-winded phrases that can easily be replaced with a single word:

  • Shall consist of but not necessarily limited to - like
  • For and on behalf of - for

Another effective tool for confusion is the use of serial or's in long sentences. Haven't lawyers heard of bullets points?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Cycle ride to Aarey milk colony

Lazy Friday night. 

I get an abrupt message from Jimmy that I need to be prepared for a cycle ride tomorrow morning. Not a problem, I say.

Further correspondences reveal that there are four cyclists from different parts of Mumbai all converging at New Zealand Hostel of Aarey Milk Colony. I ask Jimmy to wake me up just before 5:30. He doesn't miss his deadline but I am still late. Rode for the next 75 minutes through empty roads along the route in blue and met up with the others.

Random chat.

The ride to Chota Kashmir ends up adding more kilometers but it turns out to be closed. Was it that we were too early? Ride back to Picnic point and have breakfast, mixing tea and lassi at the end. Playful banter, jokes, and we bid goodbye to the Western suburbanites. Another 75 minutes and I am back home. Strangely, I don't feel tired but I can make out that my legs got a thorough workout. My relatives have come over and it's a long day ahead before I can sleep!