Those accursed Ghats.
Trip Start Jan 27, 2008
30Trip End Apr 06, 2009
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The sun had not risen above the ridge yet, so I was pretty glad I had thought to put on the thermal undies I keep for such a purpose. Not too much in the way of bad road from Manali to Mandi really, some narrowing places around the bends, so one has to be careful and look down the road as far as is visible, guaging the timing of any approaching vehicle three or four bends down the road. By counting number and type of vehicle, one can get a rough approximation of timing on the oncoming traffic, and so one does not die a fiery death on the cliffside. One must needs be alert in this country.
The road winds and switches back down one slope after another, the rocky mountainsides with evergreens and snow on the upper reaches gradually transform to a more reddish-colored canyon-like country, much like many places in the American west where basaltic or granitic mountain ranges have at their feet the same iron-rich sediments and stone which created the characteristic orange-redness
Unfortunately, this was not my day. Coming through the outskirts of Mandi, one of the many stray dogs decided to ignore my horn, slowing and swerving, and the poor pup got nicked by my footpeg. His yelp, and my view of him running away shaking it off in my rear-view told me that he most likely be alright, and would live to be hit by a bigger and more lethal vehicle than mine. It might seem a trifle inhumane, but one does not dare stop for such things--local people can demand payment for a dog they had beaten with a stick just 2 minutes before, lining up to claim ownership of the poor starving beast when there is an injury, and demanding monetary reparation. Any of the few dogs that are "owned" here have collars and often leashes, as the owners know the danger of letting the creature run in the street. Still and all it was just a stupid little puppy without a clue, and I hope that he may be taken in as a result and maybe get a good meal. Probably not though, as dogs are a nuisance and have no practical use except to eat garbage, something which the wild asses and cows take care of quite nicely, thank you very much.
Trucks. Just about noon, the trucks started coming out, presumably because their owners had finally slept off the hangover of the local hooch and the sun had become too strong to sit still and sweat. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, they made their procession down the switchbacks and curves, over the bridges and up the far side at a virtual crawl. Many were going so slow that I could barely balance Rocinante and barely keep her running until I could do a dangerous overtake on a curve on which I had guaged that there was no-one else coming by the sole inference of my judgement. It is in such situations that a good clutch is essential. Having not much of a clutch in the flat is no problem, one can get a moving start and shift without if necessary, but without a proper mechanism in place on the steep hills on the road to Chandigarh, endless stalling out is inevitable
At long last, after a couple of muttered prayers to Gonesh to remove the goddamned hills which had become nearly insurmountable obstacles, I came down the last of them, and crossed the bridge to a dramatic flattening of the land. The Punjabi Plains had begun here. About a kilometer beyond the bridge, as I was beginning to think the worst had passed, a small popping sound from the rear of the bike and a sudden skating of the back end told me without doubt, that I had a flat tire. Yeesh. What next? A group of men on the side of the road were looking and smiling, so my annoyance did not last long. Indian smiles are infectious, it is not possible to be angry for long in such a place. With the dust from a million now speedy trucks between us, I managed to shout over, "Tire-Walla?"
They pointed with characteristic open hands up the road.
Pushing a laden Royal enfield bullet with full luggage racks is not easy. The racks interfere with your feet, so your steps must be measured and short, lest you bark your ankle against the rear
I always carry some spare parts with me. An Enfield is not only notoriously undependable and quirky, parts are not quite as easy to come by as the ubiquitous bajaj, hero honda, and yamaha cycles which far outnumber the archaic beast that is the bullet. The tire and tube sizes, just to make the situation a little more difficult, are different from the other bikes, just a little bigger, and dependent on dedicated unique parts. One of the necessaries, of course is an inner-tube. Pulling this out of the box, I knew I would at least be mobile in an hour or less, whether I slept under the Punjabi poplars that line the side of the road that night. A good thing too, as when they removed the tire tube, it was exploded beyond recovery, like a shredded piece of spanish moss hanging from a dead mangrove, patched numerous times and far exceeding its normal lifespan. Within the hour, I was back on my way. I would not make Ambala and the familiar hotel I had stayed in before on this night, Chandigarh would have to do, being but 80 kilometers of flat road ahead.
Chandigarh is the only city in India that seems to have a plan. Set up by a famous French architecht (name not remembered), the city is set in recognizable square blocks which divide it into sectors. In sector 35, I saw some hotels, but checking into prices, they were all too "mahenga" or expensive. I will possibly pay up to 500 rupees a night in an emergency, but not 1200 or so--I don't care if it is the frigging taj mahal. My cheapskate status is what allows me to travel in the first place. (and again, thanks to all of you who have helped with donation!)
My faulty clutch actually did do something for me this time. Stalling by a line of rickshaws near one of the roundabouts that are at every sector crossroads, a fat man came over asking, "You need room?" I explained that I would pay only cheap ("sasta"), and where could I find such a room. Sector 45 was the answer, and one of his cronies jumped on to his bike for me to follow him to the place.
Sector 45 looks like any other Indian city, a bit run-down and poor. Typical, except the main roads are straight, with a small service-road running between the storefronts and the main drag. Down a small alley by a hindu temple and up a side alley I parked Rocinante outside the door of the hotel. 400 rupees is fair enough for a nice clean room with attached bathroom, good hot water, windows, television and cheap room service. You learn quickly that little things, such as windows always figure into the cost of rooms. I was quite satisfied with my accomodation, proceeded to scrub the black soot and penetrating dust off my weatherbeaten body, and after a walk and exploration of the neighborhood (in which there were a number of other low-priced and clean hotels of the same variety), I settled my tired bones in for a good meal and sound sleep. Tomorrow might be a little less of a trying day.
Here's the name of the Hotel, in case you need to stay in Chandigarh:
#1345, Sector 45-c, Burail (inside balmiki Mandir Gate)
Good luck finding the actual place, but there is other cheap accomodation in sector 45 as well. Good food, clean cheap room, though not much English is spoken by the staff. Hindi is handy!