Manali To Batal – One Bump At A Time

My bones will never be the same again…

Was one of the many thoughts that crashed into my mind today. It was a treacherous day.

Woke up at 4.30 a.m. to leave for the New Manali bus stand. The auto to Manali at 5 in the morning is a rip off. Hukum Chand ji said he’ll charge Rs. 300 for the 10 minute road because he had to wake up early. So did the others I asked. Let them sleep well. I’d rather walk. And there I was with boots a size or two too big for me, lugging my rucksack, to own my rightful spot on that god forsaken bus.

I had barely walked out of Old Manali when a Maruti with two drunken men offered me a ride till the bus stand. Jovial fellows. Slurring directions and advices for my journey ahead.

Dev even offered to drive me all the way to Spiti. But a crowded bus seemed more entertaining than a white maruti with a drunk driver. I bid them farewell at the bus stand with the parting gift of a handshake to the eager Dev with his huge outstretched hand, as if this was the payment he demanded. My hand for a moment.

Google told me the bus leaves at 5. No. It leaves at 6. It arrives in Manali at 5.30.

Yesterday I had failed to secure a seat in the bus. Today solved that problem for me. A woman was literally waiting for me at the stand to buy off her ticket. She had cancelled her trip as her child needed a doctor’s visit. Worked out well for me. Seat 29 W. A window seat at that. For the exact genuine price she had bought it for. No extra money. She even returned the extra ten rupee note that had snuck in with the other notes. And still houses are filled and are brimming with stories of distrust and hatred. The world is too bad it seems. Maybe it is.

And thank god for that ticket because I really did have no idea what I was signing up for. To stand in that overcrowded bus and go all the way to Batal. I had no idea how much time it would take and what the steep climbs meant for my over smoked lungs.

The last time I was in the region, I had gone up to Rohtang in a bike amidst a lot of traffic that had even caused a minor fall. Puneet’s idea. No space on the road. A truck coming headlong for us. The best way is to fall off the bike into the left side of the road guarded by the mountain walls. As long as we ain’t falling off the cliff, it’s okay.

A break after Rohtang top. Some much needed photo session

This time, early in the morning we had no such traffic hindrances to worry about. By the time I woke up from my nap the bus was past Rohtang. The cloudy, misty and cold Rohtang top made way for clear skies. Which then made way for a burning devil of a sun peering down the barren stretches of the spiti route.

It’s hardly a road. It’s something to do by with. To imagine acres and acres covered by thick inches of snow from October till April and even May! The snow then melts and washes off the hills and the far away cliffs, bringing down with it broken bits of rocks and loose soil.

The video above will show you how bumpy the road was

The hills here are washed out left overs this time of the year. Grey, red, brown and dusty. White dust everywhere. In my eyes, ears, nose, mouth and lungs.

The terrain is so tough it’ll make you want to cry. And I wouldn’t have realized it had that truck driver not run away blocking more than half the road with his untended vehicle. He must have given up and gone to take a nap somewhere. So we stopped the bus and everyone got off to build us some extra road.

Watch the video below for better explanation of this.

First there’s the wind, howling away.

Then there’s the sun and the dust.

Then there’s the breathlessness which says hi way too frequently. The worst is it makes me feel stupid. The terrain doesn’t seem too high up or steep. It’s flat mostly.

It is here that someone like me truly understands the blessing of having other people around. Thank god for people in this mountainous desert.

I didn’t realize that the journey had only started after Rohtang. Bumpy road after bumpty turn after bumpy stretch. Never ending juggling of bones.

Hunger hits every one or two hours. Hunger gives way to breathlessness and suffocation. Make me drowsy. Make me sink into semi awake dreams. I see strange things in my head. I don’t know if it’s part of the normal madness or altitude sickness.

The best I can do is unhook the damned bra. A little more space for a little more oxygen. I’m paranoid at times and this journey feels surreal. I can’t quite come to terms with what I’m witnessing here. Me in this bus and those sharp jagged snow peaks. So close by (or so it seems). Is any of this real? Could it be? But then what is real? Delhi is no less surreal at times.

A group of foreigners with two bottles of water each at the back of the bus are discussing the innocuous details of their life. Lame questions like – what are your hobbies? – have never ending answers punctuated with a profusion of umms and aahs. I want them to shut up.

The Nepali woman next to me, who has hijacked my window seat in the pretext that she might want to throw up (which Nepali throws up on hilly roads?), wants me to accompany her every time she needs to piss. She has her very young baby with her. Neither can stop fidgeting.

Her baby is a well. Unwrap edibles and hold it before her mouth, a pink tongue appears and the product disappears. All through the way. Chips, Munch, Kurkure, Eclairs, bun, Monaco, mother’s milk, water… Even when I got off the bus at the lunatically windy Batal.

My washroom companion with her baby in a frilly green dress.

There’s no respite here. The wind won’t rest. It won’t let me keep my eyes open. My hair, even after two layers of hair banding, pokes my eyes and my ears. Everything is desperate to fly off. You just have to look the other way.

But more about that later.

First you tell me what else and what all you want to know. Am I getting through to you? Do you feel entertained or informed or bored reading these entries? Do you think I can do this better? Share your ideas with me.


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