14th May, 2014. Kulu City, Himachal Pradesh
The bike won't start and the rain won't stop. We think it's flooded with rainwater. I'm up at about 7am and watch it rain for 4 hours. Heavy. I eat boiled eggs and drink coffee. Bill is 680Rs, which I think was reasonable. In the end I put on my wet pants from yesterday and take an immodium. I put on the wet boots.
The plan is to free-wheel the bike down the mountain to Banjar, I'm told it's all downhill. Shri Ram, a cyclist with a group staying next door offers for me to come down with them at the same time. I accept and at noon we head off.
It's not too muddy, less than yesterday. The rain stops. I try to start the bike on the slope, it kind of starts but then won't properly catch or rev. I give up and freewheel on. I go ahead as I'm faster than the cyclists.
Half an hour.
One small slope I have to push the bike up, it's exhausting.
I follow the road through a small village and over a bridge then there's a slope. I manage half of it and am then stuck. I ask passer-bys to help and we get it to the top. I freewheel down only to find another hill - a long one.
I sit and think. I abandon the bike - I'll head to Banjar on foot and see if I can get a mechanic to come to me. I put the panniers on my back, staring children stand close by, and start walking. For abut 20 minutes, uphill, when I notice a parallel road on the other side of the river, going downhill...
I walk and think.
I had told the children I was going to Banjar and they hadn't said anything...
I find an old man and he confirms it - wrong road.
I turn around and walk back, load up the bike in front of the giggling children and push it back up the hill. I have no idea how, sheer annoyance I think, and freewheel into the village. Then I remember the steep slope I came down to get into the village, too steep to get back up. Close to tears now I forlornly try to kickstart her as I get my respiratory system back under control.
The sun comes out.
After a while a smiling man appears and offers me chai. We drink and chit chat and try to fix the bike - plugs - he thinks they're wet. Half an hour, nothing. He calls the mechanic in Banjar for me, he's too busy to come today and might be too busy to come tomorrow too. The nearest mechanic is 60km away, he tells me.
This is a blow.
Next his cousin comes up, a man with a wonderful presence and smile. He chats and sets to work. In full sun he dries things and sandpapers the plugs. Kick, kick, kick, life! Not pretty life, but life. He dries the earth and some screws and we retire to drink chai. He wants to show me a waterfall, 10 mins away, would I like to eat? Would I like to stay tonight in their guesthouse? I'm tempted but feel a strong desire to get out of this valley that has been so hard. It's sunny and I'm afraid tomorrow will bring more rain. So, I fondly decline and say goodbye.
What lovely, lovely people.
I find Banjar and pass through, afraid to stop the bike. I find a river and cross the bridge and follow the road. The road began to climb and I moved through the valley. I climbed a lot. Less traffic, road gets worse, rivers of mud now. Steep. Sullen hill folk stare, some trying to make me stop the bike. Eventually I reach the top of the mountain, an hour later, and the road simply ends.
A difficult emotion to describe.
Thank god the bike didn't stop there, and thank god I had enough fuel to get back down. Ah, the fond journey back down to the river and bridge. I arrive at the bridge and find myself on a different road, the road to Kullu (after asking). To this day I have no idea how I missed it - I didn't even see it the first time.
Now flat, decent(ish) road. Some speed. I ask someone the way every 15 minutes. Another hour and I find the tunnel.
A few km of smog, I really thought I might be overcome with fumes and collapse. What I place to break down, I shuddered at the thought as I rode through it. To the other side - Aut. In Aut was a juggernaut that surely shouldn't be driving around India in general, let alone in little villages. It was jammed tight in the middle of the road, moving back and forward an inch at at time as fifty waiting cars leant permanently on their horns to help things along. I stay revving high to keep the bike alive for 15 minutes before I could squeeze past.
I passed my destination, Bhuntur, without even realising it - it was where I'd been advised to get the bike fixed - new oil! I'd been told. So I pushed on to Kullu City, whispering encouragements to the bike. Made it just as it was getting dark. I go to the first hotel I see, 600Rs, nice room, average cleanliness.
8pm. Realised I'm so tired after my 8 hour epic that I need to stay another night and faff as well as sort out the bike tomorrow.
Ate in a posh hotel across the road. Kashmiri Dum Aloo, 150Rs, Rice 40Rs, coffee 40Rs. Free wifi in bar afterwards didn't actually work. :(
Hotel and wash clothes (sign says it's forbidden), collapse and insomnia for hours.
Up at 9am.
Chinese Fast Food Corner at 11am for breakfast.
Notes: I can barely sit down. If asking directions, point in both directions and if the answer both ways is yes, then they don't know.
600 Room 100 Lunch 1,100 Bike repair 100 Key cut 150 Dinner 400 Beer + pakoras