Legs rested. Stomach filled. Bike ready.
Night before I went through everything. Gave away everything I wasn’t bringing. No need for diamox, no need for ambien, no need for those wire clippers. Etc. Bare minimum now.
First pass is the Rhotang, its 13.5k feet. Not high compared to what is coming but also not a good place to get altitude sick. Once over the Rhotang I’ll be above 10k for more than a month. I have every motivation to take it slow.
Wake at 5am. Since nothing is open early in manali my plan is to ride without food until I find a place for breakfast. Pack quietly, move like a ninja so as not to wake my dorm companions, carry bike down the 2 floors of steps and adios to Zostel Manali.
Take a similar route as my preview ride, down to new manali bridge, then along the river on Shnag road and eventually cross the Beas at Palchan. Since I’m travelling earlier today the Tranquil Inn isn’t open, I’d need to wait 45 minutes for breakfast, which isn’t happening.
I pass the turnoff for Majhach and head back down towards the river. My phone’s map shows me a few coffee houses along this road, but I zoom past because they look either closed or really decrepit. Or both.
I’m starting to get really hungry when I pass some kitch gates. A Fancy Resort is here. Urvashi’s Retreat. Gates are closed and bolted but there are groundkeepers wandering in the parking area. The place is catering to the indian elite that wish a nice civilized vacation in the mountains. I ask a groundskeeper if they have breakfast and he points me upstairs. Inside is a gorgeous wood dining room, terrific views and a huge buffet of breakfast foods. I buy in for $8. Two good pots of french press coffee, a 4 egg masala omlette with cheese. Some fruit and yoghurt. Some oatmeal. Yeah. This is really it for food.
Again I ride across to Palchan, then up and up. I enjoy the clean cool air and the switchbacks. I try to stay over so as not to anger the Taxi Gods.
Not much to say except that it is a really really nice ride. If you like to climb this is a really good climb. Pick a nice day and preferably have an unloaded road bike. Knobby tires and 25 pounds of gear sort of dampen the experience a bit, but still a wonderful way to spend a day.
A thing I particularly enjoyed: passing the same cars 3 times on my way to Marhi. Yes I’m slow as shit. But the traffic jams are miles long so the cars average an even slower rate. Some cars were full of people that cheered me each time I passed. A few taxis did there best to block me from passing.
Eventually the road leaves the forest and into the alpine, and then into just barren rock. Tough country even though its only 10k feet. Finally I round the final switchback and reach Marhi, my goal for the day. Its just about noon and I would like to keep going but… this is still the Manali side of the Rhotang. Once I cross the Rhotang I’m above 10k feet for a long time with no way to descend. I’ll acclimitize here and make sure I feel good in the morning.
At Marhi I find a budget accomodation, 500rp. The tibetan woman sets me up with a nice bed in a bunkhouse. I’m the only occupant. She’s doing laundry and when she’s done I clean my clothes too. Having so few clothes I’m going to be doing laundry daily for the next while.
As the sun sets the domestic tourists return from seeing their snow. The cars zoom through marhi with a rage of honking.
I don’t know how the locals at Marhi can take the abuse they get from the tourists. Insane prideful littering. Yelling at the shopkeepers like they are dogs. I had trouble keeping my temper. If I was a shopkeeper I’d tell them to leave my shop. Speaking with the locals they all said they couldn’t wait for the season to end, that it was so hard to deal with the tourists and their abuse.
I asked a tourist about it, he explained that these Himachal Pradesh people were “no good” and were always trying to cheat them and rip them off…
They seemed like great people to me. I wanted karma to reward the tourists, but it occurs to me that they’re the ones so stupid as to spend 18 hours in a cramped car in traffic in order to play in the snow for 3 hours. Hopefully they’re altitude sick.
I eat at a local dhaba. Food is good. People are great. Sunset is lovely and the air is terrific. If there were no cars and tourists this place would be pretty nice!