….Until I noticed that the speedometer wasn’t working and there was some jerk every time Anna raised the accelerator.. But somehow I convinced Anna that it must be due to some loose bolt and he managed to convince me that speedometer is the last thing that we needed. Bunty’ a local builder who had helped us get the plate all the way from Kullu.. was guiding us till Udaipur which was 60kms ahead. Being the only well experienced driver, Anna decided to drive on the off-road track till Udaipur.
I was ordered to sleep.. but sleeping in a Nano.. that too on off-roads.. was next to impossible.. So I took my camera and Gopro and began to capture the amazing wide scenery of Pangi Valley.. We were told by Bunty to avoid any turns and continue straight on Tandi road.
After covering 35kms we reached Mindhal.. a small settlement of 15-20 houses.. Even they were surprised to see a Nano on that road.. and assured us that we were not going to reach Keylong on the same day. By this time we had learned to ignore everyone who used to say that we won’t make it or the car wont make it till Leh…
We halted for few minutes, took some snaps.. some chips.. and Real Juice that too.. Pomegranate flavor *Yuck* and moved ahead..
It was getting dark and we were told about few streams that could be dangerous to the car. So we hurried up but the avg speed just increased from 18km/hr to 20kms/hr. Somehow we crossed those deadly rock cut roads and entered Lahual region by 8pm.
I was lying on the back seat and was wondering, “what if this journey never ended..??” and the sudden smile which came straight from the heart can’t be described in words. Lying on the back seat.. with your favourite track playing.. legs half out of the window.. watching mountains n valleys turn by turn.. with your loved ones.. heading to your dream destination.. and memories of past few days spent at a Village whose name you never heard of.. those Punctual faces.. some that I talked with.. some I wished to talk with… funny moments at the govt. hospital… view from the Hotel.. watching Enfieldmaniacs making their way.. Ahh.!! Life had never been so happening before.. 😀
And as I was lost in those happy memories.. Ganesh Anna woke me up and said.. “Machan, we’ve got a stream to cross ra..”
As I opened the door, I could hear the same familiar noise of the running water of the stream… and the chilling water brought me back to my senses. Though the streams were wider than Saach’s, they were easier to cross as if the pebbles were paved..
The slowly increasing speed showed the frustration of Anna.. Until we saw the river.. Chenab was showing it’s wrath and that made us go slow from there onward.. I had seen Chandra River in Spiti but Chenab’s Flow was worse.!!
As we had a lot of distance to cover, we kept on moving.. After crossing 3 streams and covering a stretch of another 45kms, we reached Udaipur. But we didn’t halt as it was the Tar road which was our main target and not the town. Finally we came across a dhaba and Anna stopped the car. It took us 6hrs to cover 85kms..We met a very nice guy at the dhaba who was happy to see kids who were addicted to travel rather than anything else. It always makes me feel good when someone admires what you do.. rather than making you realise that you are riding in a Nano.!
Moving ahead.. we crossed few more police check posts and villages..and at last we came on the Manali-Leh Highway at Tandi.
Before starting this trip, Anna and me had decided that we are not going to refer anything on the net regarding the route from Jaipur to Leh. That was so foolish of me.. but Anna being the eldest had got information from which we came to know that there was a petrol pump in Jispa which was 19kms ahead of Keylong.. The place where we stopped to exchange the drivers.. I came across this..
It was 1:30am, Niraj took the wheel and continued the journey.. I could see Lightening behind the mountain ranges.. that made me worried.. also I saw some trees and electric wire poles fallen along the road.. Sharma Ji always looked sleepy whenever he used to concentrate on driving. He never noticed anything going on along the roads.. And that use to make me scream out loud..
Well… after getting down to Jispa, I felt asleep but Sharma Ji woke me up and said that there was no petrol pump till Jispa. So we took those printouts and checked for the nearest pump. It showed Tandi which was 26kms behind, the same point where we joined the highway. Sharma’s pissed off face made me realise that again we were in deep trouble.. because we were already driving on Reserved petrol.. (usual thing) and that the car could go only 21kms.
Without thinking much, we took a detour and started back journey to Tandi.. It had started raining by that time.. Sharmaji used to drive in full swing and then used to take the car on Neutral to save petrol.. I felt asleep as I didn’t sleep during the entire journey.
A loud screeeching sound made me wake up and as I looked in the rear mirror I saw a live electric cable stucked with the wheel..
“Gaadi rok Bh******” I yelled at Niraj… Sharma applied urgent brakes.. and I opened the door, but then I saw the pole from where the wire came and it was sparkling out blue sparks. My eyes were wide open.. Without any thought… I told Niraj to take the car back slowly..
And the moment the wire got off the wheel.. it was pulled by the falling pole and it went off the road like a snake with sparks coming out of it..
Damn.!! What was that..!!?? I Looked at Niraj with a BIG ? mark.. Then I realized what was I about to do.. Free a Live wire with bare hands..??
I imagined myself like those people who touch the Railway’s current wire and get turned down into ashes.. That moment still brings goosebumps as I describe it. Then came the funny part, I turned back to Anna and he was looking at me and niraj with a blank face as he had no idea what could have happened a minute ago. That didn’t stopped me scolding Niraj.. but we had to continue as we were running out of fuel.
Two kilometers after that horrible incident.. Sharma ji had almost taken us into Heaven… YES.!! He had missed a sharp curve and the tiny little car was hanging on a cliff with only two tyres on road and front tyres was almost hanging…
As I looked back.. Anna had already jumped off the car and I couldn’t stop laughing… I still remember Sharma half crying and half laughing..
Until the car moved a bit and made us realize that it can fall any moment and that we should be saving our lives rather than laughing like idiots..
So I came out of the car.. called anna and pushed her back and somehow got her back on road.. Phew.! The roadtrip was getting worse with every hour.. As I got in, I could see sharma ji getting sentimental.. and saying “Saale, marte waqt bhi mera sath nahi chda..”(Din’t leave me even while dying) And I forgot all my anger.. Phew.! Shit happens.. that’s all I could say..
Anna took back the wheel and drove the car till petrol pump.. last 3kms stretch on neutral mode.. amazing he is.. during that time Niraj was trying to explain that he wasn’t sleepy..
We reached The pump at 4:30am.. and had one more problem.. that was the pump opens at 6:30am. So we stood in the que and slept off in the car itself. As we woke up, we saw 50more vehicles in the que and those who had returned from Leh told us that they took 12hours and some took 10hours..
We refilled the extra fuel gallons and estimated that we would require 14hours to reach Leh. Unfortunately, we had spent all our time i.e. 3days in Khillar so we were running a day behind. Anna drove till Deepak Tal and had missed a check post that got me worried as I didn’t want any more trouble. But the dhaba guy told us to get it done at Sarchu. To my surprise, I saw a group of foreigners littering around the super beautiful Deepak Taal.
As we crossed ZingZing la, all we could see were barren brown shades of mountains, army camps and cantt. and army trucks.. “Trishul”
On the way, there was a bridge being repaired so every bike, car, truck and Cycles.. were stopped.
It was no new thing so see Majority of People from Maharashtra. Those who were more adventurous, took the alternative route of the stream. People were praising each other and their rides.. and as we joined the cue, everyone was like.. “Fuck dude.! That’s one hell of a ride..” In reality, all they meant to say was that.. “saala nano kaise aa gayi.!?” 😛
As I opened my eyes, I saw both my takudoos sleeping.. which was quite obvious thing after previous nights incidents.. So.. it was my time to take the wheel and complete the journey. Sarchu to Pang is a stretch of 190kms with 2 passes in between..
As I was the only one who was awake.. I decided to wear my gloves which I had specially got for this drive and play Martin’s UMF’16 set while driving. I used to calculate time with the track. So I drove for 3 hours on the challenging Gata Loops and crossed Nakeela Pass(15,547ft), which I found as the 2nd most difficult pass after Saach(14,000ft).
Also, I managed to escape from 2 close to death incidents which my friends are still unaware of.. 😛
We halted for brunch from where Anna’s health started worsening.. Now I had many things to do at the same time.. to keep Anna and Sharmaji motivated.. to capture the amazing scenery around.. change the tracks every time and most important of all.. to drive carefully..!
Later, sharma ji took the wheel as he wanted to drive on atleast 1 Pass.. so he completed lalchung la(16,616ft) and made it till Morey Plains.
Niraj was driving in full swing on the buttery roads of Morey Plains.. The terrain changes so drastically as you climb you from Pang. Morey Plains offers a view of what you call as the exact definition of Ladakh.
By the time we reached Debring.. the sun had began to set and we had to stop for a refill. During the whole journey, Petrol was leaking off the gallons so the whole car was smelling petrol. We had a relief as we emptied a can into the car. I continued to drive.. but my happiness was short lived as I saw a thin line drawn on the mountain ahead.. it was a pass.. a big one.. The car was already tired after a day’s non stop journey.. It never crossed 60kmph.. Also it never ran in 2nd gear.. so.. every time it used to get slow Sharmaji used to laugh at me.. Being the only source of entertainment, I continued the driving.. As we reached the top, we were overwhelmed with joy to see that our Takudoo had made it to the second highest pass i.e. Tanglang La(17582ft). Also, we were glad that this was the last pass of the journey and the road was in very good condition.
It began to snow as we crossed the pass. Things changed, and my driving skills too.. I finally understood how to save fuel by driving in Neutral gear.. 😛 As we got back on the curves, Sharmaji’s fear came back.. but he couldn’t stop smiling.. I knew that it was due to High altitude sickness.. so I ignored him and continued to drive. But, after some point of time.. I felt like a hand was coming close to me and adjusting the rear mirror.. I felt it many times and then it clicked me that I was getting hallucinated too and that we should lower down as soon as possible.
It got dark and as we reached Rhumtse, we realised that sharmaji didn’t make any calls to his beloved Bapuji. The only place where one can find a network is Upshi which was 52kms ahead. So Without thinking much we continued the journey. Anna was sleeping since afternoon due to headache.
For some reasons, my driving skills were exceptionally well.. and I could make that out on Sharmaji’s face.. with every curve he used to tell me to slow down and I used to speed up.. The more I drove the car, the more I fell in love with it. And finally we made it to Upshi by 9pm.
Entering JnK was a headache.. We were forced to pay Excise duty for which Sharmaji questioned the authority and got into a quarrel but unfortunately we had to pay. After the most important call of the day, I somehow got in touch with our teammate Chirag, who was supposed to join us for the expedition. He assured us that all the arrangements had been made and that we need not hurry. After listening to Chirag’s word, I was relieved. Next important thing was Food.!! After rejecting 2 dishes, Anna finally had half chapati.
So after so much of adventure in a day we finally reached Leh. Anuj and Giri Sir greeted us but we were too tired to tell them about the entire journey. The next thing that came in my mind was the expedition.. Stok Kangri.. for which all this efforts were taken…
To read about the whole expedition, please read “Journey from Land of Rama to Land of Lama(Part-3)