Manali ST bus stand
I finally had a face to assign to the voice that no less than two hours
ago was my only haven providing the much required assurance (read: the bus wouldn’t
leave for Spiti without us) to someone whose fate was messily intertwined with Murphy’s.
Rajesh was replacing Mr. Prem i.e. Rajesh was going to be at the helm
(read: steer the Tempo Traveller) taking us through 195 kilometers from Manali
through Rohtang Pass and Kunzum Pass to Spiti.
I pirouetted (cue *dramatic effect*) and stepped into the Tempo
Traveller and stood face to face with (as already mentioned) 10 seemingly (and
very certainly) disgruntled co-travellers. The three of us muttered our awkward
‘sorrys’ and settled on the only seats in the vehicle – the ones at the end –
And now to breathe life albeit through words to help create the
character that is Rajesh --
Hair spiked up (with water because the aridness of the geography aids
in creating the desired effect thereby makes styling gels irrelevant. #Bacchat (Hindi for 'savings')
Oh! And sporting them rainbow tinted shades
And… a very ‘Johnny Bravo’ grin plastered across the face.
With some breathing done, we realized we were well on our way.
And further away from the night that had been
But it’d be the furthest we’d ever be from Murphy
With no more matchsticks to manage (you’d get the reference if you’ve
read the previous two posts), I haven’t the vaguest clue when I was out cold.
Now if you’ve travelled the road from Manali to either Spiti or Leh, you
know why it’s called the world’s worst road
. If you haven’t, you must understand
that there is no road. It’s mud, stones, gravel and boulders all the way. This is no
exaggeration. And yes, also streams of gushing water no matter what the altitude.
The, well, roads and prayer flags adorning the way all along
Now don’t get me wrong. There’s a certain beauty to driving through the most rugged parts of this country in particular.
And I am a fan too.
Look ma no road
But allow me to complete the picture for you. We, the ‘Chosen
Thirteen’ aka ‘The Taken’, were on nothing short of the Highway to Hell because
at the helm was none other than Satan’s spawn himself aka Rajesh (I realize
this is my calling: running into all spawns of Satan, that is. Here's about a chance encounter with another from March earlier this year).
My alleged ‘haven’
from earlier shattered to shards; especially when you realize that your driver disregards critical pieces of information:
- So while he may aspire to drive a Volvo someday
(by his own admission), in his (and our) here-and-now we were seated in a Tempo
- Or that this rugged environment we were voyaging
through, demanded to retain its control (not be controlled in return) and
therefore speed limits were meant to be adhered to (not ignored)
There's further evidence in this NatGeo Traveller India post : 'Driving Himachal: Two Road Trips You Must Take Now
' that enlists these two points among others towards the end, viz.
Drivers have to be experienced.
Take it easy on these trips. An average of 25 to 30 kilometers per hour is quite a good rate of progress.
Now imagine ‘The Taken’ miss a heartbeat or two at every bend in the road (which
was at every 50 meters or so) – what with there being nothing but a straight
drop into the gorge on either side of the road at all times during our journey
(even later through Spiti)
Here a gorge, there a gorge
Understandably then I was no longer ‘out cold’ and if I’d learnt anything
from the previous night in Murphy’s company it was this: (quoting Calvin) “...It’s
never so bad that it can’t get worse”
. To claim that we began and stayed in a
state of limbo is perhaps short of an underestimation. Needless to say we did
drive in the wrong direction and had not just a flat tyre (for a second time in
17 hours) but also ran out of oil on our way from Manali to Kaza in Spiti.
Through the six days here’s what we learnt about Rajesh:
four-wheeler or two legged, could or would be allowed within his span of
vision. He’d overtake. Just like that. Narrow windy roads uphill or downhill
always inconsequential. He’s
made state transport bus drivers and
trucks take a reverse just so that there was enough way for him. Heard the
adage: It’s not the size of the dog in the fight; it’s the size of the fight in
the dog? He’s that dog. He’s been overheard on countless occasions declaring “He
(read: every other driver except The Self) doesn’t know how to drive”
Driving with abated breath on the edge. I kid you not.
He never was nor
will ever be the stick nor the carrot guy. Reprimanding him for his driving
prowess (pun intended) yielded nothing than did planting the seed in his head
about how being a good driver would translate into some handsome tips at the
end of the six days.
In one instance, on a day we were trekking or riding on yaks, he was asked to wait on standby until one hour after we'd initiated just in case we'd need the Tempo Traveller to ferry someone who couldn't pull through the first leg. He sped off in under 15 minutes.
Need for speed? Hell no
This was his first
time in Spiti. And every moment was commemorated with a selfie (while ‘The
Taken’ checked themselves for dislocated spinal cords and numb feet.
He can drive
through a downpour.
At the same unfathomable
On the winding
And still overtake…
…only the wiper
blades ain’t working at all! #BeatThat
He had friends EVERYWHERE. Every other tourist vehicle driver would stop, as if in reverence, they’d shake hands, exchange pleasantries and then be off on their way. It is therefore no surprise that he introduced us to a chap off the road as his protégé! Makes you ask yourself the question: So, what are some of your achievements? Never mind that
So, then, now allow me to deconstruct for you that caricature I painted in
words at the start of this post to describe Rajesh:
Fair and pimply… and still quite the kid. We were still ascertaining
his age until the end. One of The Taken who’d chanced upon his Aadhar card
mentioned that the year of birth read as 1997)
Hair spiked up (with water because the aridness of the geography aids
in creating the desired effect thereby makes styling gels irrelevant. Hashtag
Bacchat)… May be just to camouflage those
Loose baggy pants… for the swag
Shirt pulled over a tee… to add
to that swag effect
Oh! And sporting them rainbow tinted shades… as a veneer to mask that evil glint
And… a very ‘Johnny Bravo’ grin plastered across the face… because we were all plain dead meat
In the end, we The Taken survived.
Was it our collective luck?
Or were the gods (who some of us may have invoked now and then) a
bigger devotee of Rajesh?
^^That's him. Two of The Taken had evidence that we were in fact driven by this Spitian Yeti and therefore this isnt a figment of my imagination
After my Photo-Essay on Spiti, I got asked what about the place (given that I'd provided a clean chit to the people) caused me to label it as being hostile... A little more on the experience called Spiti and an attempt to answer that question in my next
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