DAY 10 ride 72 km.
I had planned to leave at 7, and so packed up accordingly. I was loading Laal when I noticed that overnight the rear tyre had gone a bit soft. Pumped it up, but it would not go beyond a certain pressure. Thought I would replace the tube and took off the wheel. I had two spare tubes with me, one a brand new one. I made a startling discovery. The new tube was too thin to be used with this tyre (26" by 2") and could only be used with a maximum of 1.75" wide tyres! I bought it from the usual shop and they always stocked the same tube, so I had neglected to check. How careless can one get? Anyway, there was the other one. I inflated it slightly before inserting and found a split along a seam. Not through yet, but it might not last long. I could put a couple of patches along the weak seam, but I decided to continue with the current tube.
I went to the shop where I had had dinner yesterday and had tea and fan (available again). The lady in the shop said it was only 5km to Gramphu. I started slowly up the switchbacks. It was cool and I kept the jacket on, unzipped. The gradient was not very steep because of the switchbacks. Gramphu indeed was at 5km. I stopped for aluparatha and tea. The old lady at the dhaba asked me about the route I had taken and seemed genuinely interested, even though she must be meeting tens of travellers like me every day. A Hungarian trekker from Budapest sat resting in the Sun. He had come from Leh and was now going towards Spiti. He had hired a bicycle from Leh and cycled the Khardung la. As I started off, a cyclist I had seen in Kokhsar after I had reached emerged from a tent/hut beside the dhaba with his panniers. I would have liked to hear about his trip, but he had not seemed very keen in talking, so I continued.
As the road climbed, the Spiti road coming up from the East was soon visible approaching from towards Chhatru, down the Chandra River. I had come up that road just over four years ago. It had been another great trip. The gradually fading memories of that ride have now been overlaid by another great set. I paused for a time, thinking back to that ride. I had come with my Hercules Top Gear bike. There had been five companions that day till Gramphu. Five New Zealanders I had met along the way. This trip, I had met no such tourers till I came up to the Manali - Leh highway. This ride had indeed been off the tourist trail.
The road kept snaking up to the pass like a beast writhing in agony. There was a kilometer and a half of heavenly tarmac, freshly laid, beyond which was the hell of fresh tarmac being laid. The rumble of thunder was echoing up the valley. I waited meekly by the roadside while one motorcycle after another roared past. I counted fifteen. 'Taming' the mountains indeed! Far below, I could see the other cyclist. There was a tent by the roadside from where a Lahaul Spiti Students' Association team was operating, cleaning the hillside, picking up the rubbish in sacks. Nice work! The last couple of kilometers to the pass are almost level. It was a quarter past eleven.
Switchbacks up the Rohtang.
It was cloudy on the other side of the pass and the pass itself was almost deserted compared to what it was normally like. There were only a couple of cars and very few of the shops were open. This being the holiday season (Dussehra was only a couple of days away), I had expected it to be quite crowded. I put three patches on the near-split in the spare tube, but did not put it on. Instead, I just pumped up the rear tire again. The other cyclist had meanwhile carried on with a wave.
The road again started on its bumpy way. Some patches were very bad, but none bad enough to remind me of Pangi! Some way down, I thought the rear tire pressure was too low considering the type of surface and furthermore, it kept preying on my mind. So, I stopped and replaced the tube. There were numerous places where roadworks were on. Far below, Marhi was visible, people jumping off the slopes above and para-gliding down to near Marhi or going far down the valley. Truck traffic was heavy here, mostly dump trucks. Marhi had a similar deserted feel to it. Most of the eateries were empty. I chose one at random and ordered a plate of paneer biriyani and raita. To my surprise it came super-quick and was delicious. I did not linger after lunch and was off soon. There is a bridge below Marhi. It is from here that all the dump trucks were bringing earth.
Next, I was in for one more of the 'awesomest' descents I have ever had, right there alongside the descent from Khajjiar. It was perfect tarmac, the weather was excellent, the traffic, still, was practically non-existent and the views gorgeous. What more could one ask for? I had somehow remembered some ascents along the way from my four-year-ago trip. There was no such thing. It was down, down, down all the way. Past Gulaba, Kothi and Palchan, I wondered how it would be going the other way. I always attempt to take all the passes the easier way. I have thus climbed Kunzum pass from the East and Saach pass from the South, and now Rohtang pass for the second time from the North. I had heard there were now some restrictions on non-Himachali cars going up the Rohtang Pass. Great! Lots of vehicles were waiting at Kothi that seemed to be a check-post of some sort, but I zoomed through.
Just after a half past three, I joined the queue of vehicles trying to cross the Beas into Manali. Work was on to repair the Mall road and it was quite chaotic. I rode down south and soon found myself almost at the end of town. There, I put up at the Manali View Hotel. Nice place. I walked up later to the center of town where I had stayed the last time. It was crowded. At the Himachal Tourism office, where I went to enquire about a bus for the return home the next morning, I saw in the window a brochure on Pangi. I took a copy. Its end-note said, "If you do visit Pangi, you will be among a privileged few. Please recognise that privilege and respect it." I have indeed seen Pangi very superficially, but I do feel privileged.
Day 10 statistics: 72km [Total: 553km] in 8h15m (ride time 5:54). Elevation gains: 844m [Total: 11665m].
Start altitude: 3130m, end altitude: 1880m, highest point: 3980m.
<Day 9 >Next?