Monday, October 6, 2008

The Run to Manali- Stage One

We stayed in Shimla two nights so we could get our inner line permits. Each man we asked pointed us to another building down the hill. We finally found the right building and filled out the forms.

While we wrote, the six or seven government agents argued amongst themselves as to which permits we needed and whether the road was even open. They decided that we should get the permits in another town, ripped up our completed forms, and thanked us. Classic. Turns out the extra night being chewed on by Hotel Victory's bedbugs was all for naught.

We woke in the morning to no water which meant no shower and no breakfast. We loaded the bikes with Manali the day's goal. Kagen's bike needed a bump start then we were off and running.

The map showed our road turning from primary to secondary at Kiar, where we decided to get fuel. Traffic was thick and dusty to that point but thinned considerably. The nice boys on motorcycles formed a line to the fuel pump. We were quickly corked by all the locals cutting us off to jockey for position. It took about half an hour to fuel up. I saw an empty petrol station three hundred meters down the road.

As soon as we turned on to the secondary road the riding turned into what I had imagined. Narrow, winding roads climbing up and down valley after valley. Steep hillsides terraced with corn, barley, or rice and sprinkled with homes and two thousand foot drops to the valley floor.

Road conditions were a mixed bag. Asphalt(some of which was being repaved using a wood-fired furnace), gravel, and sand. The sand turns to peanut butter with just a small amount of moisture. The sand and gravel come from landslides which seem to happen every time it rains.

Road crews constantly work to replace what the rains have taken away. They fill gabions with rock they chip by hand from the uphill side of the road. Several corners have rocks piled to guide you to the inside lane because the outer half of the road has undercut and sunk.

People are everywhere, it's almost impossible to look at something and not see a person. The men repairing roads, women in bright attaire cutting hay, hauling ridiculously large loads of said hay, or moving goats and cows to new pasture, or just sitting on a corner watching the day go by.

I saw such a man on a corner and we made eye contact. I let out a toot of my horn for the blind corner and had to hit the brakes because a backhoe loaded some of the sloughed hillside into a waiting dumptruck. At least the shovel leaners in the states will give you some sort of a slow down wave.

Most intersections aren't on our maps so we point and shout out the next town. After six or so decisions using this method I asked a woman standing by a shack at a paved intersection. She seemed confused so I tried a bigger town. She pointed two directions, one of which was the way we had come.

We flagged down a twenty-something on a bike for a second opinion. He agreed with her, we could get there each way but the way we had come would take eight hours, the other only four. Apparently we missed a turn somewhere and took a two hour detour.

We asked the biker to point where we were on the map. He couldn't but was adamant about which way we needed to go. We thanked him and stopped a truck full of park rangers. They couldn't find us on the map either but agreed with the man on the bike. They were also headed to Manali so we figured it would be safe to go the same way they did.

The detour took us over 3233 m high Jalori pass. The road up was steep, I kept wishing I had a lower gear to shift into, and rocky, like driving up a dry riverbed. We met some great folks at a little store/shrine at the top. We snacked on cheeto-like chips and hard-boiled eggs before the downhill.

We made it back to the highway and the madness picked up right where it led off. We could have pushed another hour to Manali but decided that after a hard ride it would be smart to stop at the first town with a decent place to stay.

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