Too early in the morning I awoke in my luxury bunk behind the snowsuit rental shop in Marhi, half way up the Rhotang pass. I feel great but… gosh. That sounds like… rain. Oh shit. Sounds like a light drizzle, but then there’s the sound of cars and big trucks going by, through a stream or something. Sounds wet. And it sounds cold. And its still pitch dark. 3:50am or something. So there’s something I didn’t know: all night the trucks travel the Rhotang.
Crossing the Rhotang in the dang rain? What a bummer. Wasn’t the hello I was expecting from Lahaul, but I guess its normal, I think I’ve only been across the Rhotang once when it wasn’t drizzling. Habit. I start to itemize in my rain what sort of prep I’ll be doing. Long wool tights, the wool ibex top, then that raincoat. Gee. Riding in the raincoat – I’m going to overheat. The classic sweat in a raincoat or freeze without.
I guess I’m lucky I can dress and eat in the dry, then head out. Hopefully the rain will abate when I get across the pass into Lahaul. If the weather is crappy I can cut it short, stop at the first dhaba on the other side.
I go back to sleep. Dreaming angry dreams. Grumpy me.
Finally I can’t sleep any longer. Its 6:45am. Not a bad sleep, especially without ambien, I seem to be over the jet lag. I put on my finest breakfast clothes and crack the door. BLAZING SUN. What the heck? The sounds I heard sounded just like rain but nope. Its another glorious day. Woo! I should have started earlier!
Head over and gobble up a 4 egg masala omlette, 3 cups of chai. Prices are reasonable and the people that work here are so great. Tibetans. The traffic has already started. Honking jackasses.
Anyway I load up and head out. The road is in great shape and I figure less than 3 hours to the pass. I need top stop a few times to pee but otherwise I feel great. I’ve got 3 packs of cookies and for lunch I figure I’ll be able to go down to a Dhaba on the other side.
Ride up is uneventful. Well… lots of traffic jams. Insane ones, more insane than the day before. I frequently need to push my bike along the narrow gap at the side of the road. Oh, and a guy on a touring bike descended past me as I climbed.
Something else I notice. The taxi drivers are complete and utter assholes. The big trucks, the military vehicles, the farm tractor pulling a trailer of water… those folks are totally pro. There’s a one lane dirt section, I wait for traffic to die down and then start across. Within a minute a taxi is right on my ass honking away. There’s no room to pass. What the heck does he want me to do? The trucks on the other hand are absolute gentlemen. They’ve got a long drive ahead, no need to panic over something that can’t be helped. Even more impressive was watching a line of trucks pull over to permit the water tractor to pass through. The trucks get it, they are professional and act to improve the traffic flow.
So many times I see a taxi pull straight into the face of a row of trucks on a single lane road. The taxi won’t reverse, the trucks can’t reverse and suddenly there is a 30 minute traffic catastrophe while the taxi attempts to drive around the trucks on the edge of the road.
If I was a cop I know where I’d focus my attention: pull the passes of the asshole drivers. Only take a few and word would get out and we might have professionals on that road.
The pass was breathtaking. Well. I mean the number of tourists at the pass was breathtaking. Its a big flat snowfield with about ten thousand tourists in snow suits. All… seeing the snow.
Many folks accost me. Seems like the style this year for men is Bollywood Gangster. They come lumbering over with pot belly and cleverly guess that my camelbak nozzle is “Ahhh! Oxygen!” Because noone could survive up here without it? And then they demand a selfie.
As I head down the other side I need to keep stopping for pictures. Never seen this view so clearly. Actually I’ve crossed this pass 6 times and have never been here when it wasn’t raining or at least drizzling. And cold.
The ride down the other side is sort of lousy. Quite a bit of traffic and the rough sections are pretty rough and wet.
Arrive at gramphu ( the first dhaba on the far side) and have some biscuits. Decide to keep going. Not sure where I’ll stop. In the back of my head is the town of Gondla which is about 20 miles down the valley.
I stop in Khoksar for lunch, 4 egg masala omlette and some cups of chai.
Sissu is lovely and I stop at a grocery for chai. I great to get out of the afternoon sun. The folks hanging at the store tell me its pretty far to Gondhla but my map says otherwise. I head out and after a pretty dang big climb I arrive at the outskirts of Gondhla. I stop to check my map and a kind looking guy is standing at the side of the road. “Where you headed?” “I’m not sure. Is this Gondhla?” “Yes. Do you need a guesthouse?” “Well… yeah!” And sure enough its the guest house I was told about. Nice people. Lucky I stopped where I did.
Most memorable thing. I asked the grandpa if the icefalls had changed. He said that when he was a kid the glacier went to the river. Pretty difficult to believe but thats a big change if true.
The day was pretty amazing. Mostly because of the great light. Oh and I guess because I covered a lot more ground than I expected. The tires aren’t holding me back. I stopped at about 3pm, did laundry and hydrated, ate a bunch of biscuits and chai.
I was lounging in the sun on the warm concrete when father and son started messing with a powered tiller. They can’t seem to get it started. Finally I get up and check out the situation. These are professional farmers, have a close relationship with their gear. I’ve no business interfering but… it looks like a brand new Stihl branded tiller, a really nice 2 stroke motor. No reason it shouldn’t start. They are cranking away and its not working. They suspect it is broken. I ask if this is new: Yes. Have they started it before? No. Are there instructions? Oh, yes. Son goes and gets them. I follow the very clear cartoon instructions. Set to off. Pull 3 times. Set to prime. Hold trigger on handle. Pull 3 times. On first pull it starts. Horay!! Stihl makes good stuff.
In the evening I followed the grandpa around as he did simple chores in the field, then walked the calf home to its mother.