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 breathed.
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:
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.
- 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 Traveller
- 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)
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:
Nothing, whether 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
had 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 speed.
On the winding roads.
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 horns
Loose baggy pants… for the swag effect
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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