It's 5.45am, and people started thronging around the entrance of the Manali bus stand awaiting the bus to Kaza. It is already late, and I asked the tea stall nearby if there are chances of the bus being cancelled. There was no reply; he was far too busy with his customers. A familiar horn blared, headlights came into view and there it was.
Our happiness was short lived when the conductor said that he will not allow standing passengers into the fully seated bus due to technical difficulties. Not being new to problems, we quickly made a team with other disappointed travelers and hired a mini-bus to take us to Kaza. As the sun started peeking out of the distant mountains, the bus crossed Gulaba and Marhi.
Weather was delightful but once in a while, a chilled gust of wind and fog would hit the green mountainside making us shiver. At 3980m, Rohtang pass had very limited visitors today and the
Channa sellers beckoned nearby tourists to buy their chatpatta channa. Down in the south, I love to eat spicy pakoda during rain but here on the Pir panjal range, the sour lemon soaked legumes had a scintillating effect.
The air became polluted as we descended down to Gramphu, the place where the road forks to Leh and Spiti Valley. The construction of the road blew the heavy dust, and so we had to shut our windows and pressed hard against the glass to get a glimpse.
Bikers started coming into view, ten passed, twenty passed, and whoah, I lost count. The rock covered road was not forgiving on the vehicles; they kept bouncing up and down in a dangerous way. The occasional streams tested the skills of the driver to the max. Passengers would get down before the flow and give a helping hand in pushing the vehicle if it gets caught between the rocks. Traffic started to pile up, and my patience started thinning.
Thankfully, we reached Chhatru soon. Identified by a small suspension bridge alongside a flat metal bridge, Chhatru housed a couple of cafes and camping spot. After loading on our snack supplies, we headed off to our next stop, Batal
Batal is where we visited the famous Chacha-Chachi's Chandra dhabha run by the legendary couple: Dorje Bodh and his wife Hishe Chhomo providing food, shelter, warmth and even love for the travellers since 1970's. Their reputation precedes them. Wait, reputation first, smell of their dal chawal next and finally them. There were a couple of other Dhabas nearby, but chacha-Chachi received the major share of the customers. I loved the dedication of the couple to the cause. With surgical precision and dexterous hands they served gravy straight out of the pressure cooker into the waiting plates and all the while I only saw pure passion and happiness in their eyes. The accounts and cash was managed by a third person.
Next stop, Kumzum La pass. The pass is marked by the stupas dedicated to "Kumzum mata", Wind whistled quite heavily and kept the Buddhist prayer flags flapping with an audible noise. The pass connects the Lahaul valley with Spiti valley at 4950m.
Now, this is where I made a mistake, I dozed off in the van. When i woke up I saw what you see in the photo below (okay, you already saw the picture at the start. No surprises I am sure)
Brown gold mountain side and crimson peaks below a blue white canvas. Along the banks of the river carrying fertile sediments thrived lush green bushes. The air was dry and windy and color palette was same as that of a desert oasis but the feel was different and included a deep awe. As we got closer to Kaza, mustard farmland took over and dominated the banks.
At around 5 we reached Kaza, booked a home stay and waited for the next day's adventure in darkness. If you are thinking why I said darkness, don't go for wild guess, It's simple: Power cut.
To be continued...