Day 19 – Raid De Himalaya
Had a chat last night with a close friend. He is going to be in Kullu in time for the apparently famous Kullu Dashera. Hmmm… could be a nice idea. Kullu. Manikaran. Kasol. Dharamsala. So when I wake up in the morning, I have a three way dilemma on my hand.
#1 Go to the DC’s office and get a couple of days’ permit and leave for Tso Moriri.
#2 Leave for Kargil and travel through Zanskar Valley.
#3 Leave for Manali and join up with my friend.
After deep haranguing with my brain for about 20 minutes, I decided on Manali. Decision taken, I go down and put up my luggage on the bike and look heavenwards. The skies are ominous. All these days the skies have been nice and sunny and the one day I decide to scale the very interesting and very treacherous Manali Leh Highway, the skies decide to test me. But I go ahead. I am not the one to be deterred. 5 minutes later, I am in the only petrol pump in town which right now looks like is doling out free sex. All the taxis of Leh are lined up and no one’s getting any. I decide to try my luck at the pumps in the next two towns, travel 60 kilometers till Upshi to be told that there is no petrol. Still not the one to be put down easily, I backtrack 60 kms to Leh and et my fill of petrol. High on adrenaline and petrol, I reach Upshi. Again. This time around, there is another surprise.
At Upshi’s bridge over the Indus, traffic is not allowed. The cop manning the bridge tells me the Raid De Himalaya is expected to cross. No traffic from anywhere is allowed till the last vehicle is in. 2 hours I am told. It was 11 am. So I wait. Soon enough, the vehicles begin trickling in. The first one is a Gypsy. Then one more. Then the bikes. One by one. Roaring by.
Now I have never been any closer to a rally than I have been to my TV. This is an eye opener. Now mind you the vehicles (well most of them anyway) are on their transport section. That means they have a maximum speed limit. So rather than roaring away to glory they are measuring their approach trying not to be faster than they are supposed to be. Even then, the whole thing is quite rocking. I head to the support vehicle taking the time and chat up the guys. Paid volunteers, they say. Explain to me the whole Raid and what they want to do. What the plans are. The guy says I could tag along (purely unofficially) the next day when the Raid goes (again unofficially) to Kargil. I ask about the track and he says it is too risky to try with a stock bike. Well we will see.
I wait for another 3 hours. Cars and bikes keep coming in. I am fascinated with each one of them. There is one woman on a Honda 650 bike. Few women in the cars too. Something is churning inside my belly. I realize it is that four letter word called WANT. I want to be in that group. Rather than taking photos, I want to be riding.
I finally move back to where my fully loaded bike was standing. And this time, next to it is standing a heavily modified Karizma and its rider sipping what I believe is a very very well deserved cup of tea. I chat him up. He is from Ahmedabad. Has been coming to the Raid for the last three years. Learnt everytime. Still managed to have a few falls. No major damage though. Did a load of modifications. I click a few pictures. I ask him what does it take. He is short on money. Shoe string budget, he says. But all that it needs is some heart. I couldn’t agree more.
He finishes his cup of tea and is off. I decide to tag along. I follow him to Leh (including one close call with an Army truck). They all have congregated at a petrol pump outside the city. I see them and pangs of jealousy run through my veins. My hands are shaking. I need to be there. It doesn’t matter how many wheels I am controlling but I want to be there. I NEED TO BE THERE.
So here’s the message. Mr. Deepak, if you are reading this, open your eyes wide. If you do not get your four wheels in order, I am getting two of my own and coming here. You better believe this.