Rhotang pass.

Trip Start Feb 19, 2006
Trip End Oct 01, 2006

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Flag of India  ,
Thursday, June 29, 2006

Still "chilling" here in Manali, a good place to land and spend some quiet time as my last few weeks in India will be spent moving around a bit.
The road to Rhotang starts out innocently enough, paved pretty well, and with strange little numbered shops apparently renting long fake-fur coats and "wellington" type rubber boots to the Indian tourists from Punjab and Delhi--most of whom, as it turns out, have never seen snow up close if at all and react rather strangely to it.

With William "sai-baba" on the back going up was not all that bad, for the most part. He has some motorcycling experience, and turned out to be a good passenger. There is an art to being a good passenger, some have it, some don't. It can be learned, but I guess the first step is to give up the deep-rooted fear that most people seem to have of dying in a fiery motorcycle crash high in the himalayas on a day of variable weather.
The "Sai Baba" of, course, fears nothing. I don't know if that is because he is fearless, or just a little absent-minded, but no matter, we both live to tell the tale. William, a wide-eyed and inquisitive kiwi (as, of course seems to be intrinsic of kiwis)
from a small farming town on the south island has come to India from of all places, Mongolia, and is an interesting character in his own right, full of youthful energy and enthusiasm. Except for the two days beforehand, when he seemed to be full of Giardic gaseous energy and stomach cramps, and became a bit of a "sai-baby. . "
We took a little time on the way up to of course stop and admire the scenery, the road at first passes through the outskirts of town full of those aforementioned funny numbered shops renting the Indian idea of cold weather gear, and a gradual climb with a few switchbacks leads to lovely views of the valley and the river, with clifflike slopes on the other sides of the river gorge.
Sheep and goats seem to graze virtually on the ledges of the cliffs, high up, hundreds of feet of altitude, and hundreds of ruminant feet as well, as of course most of them are still standing on four. Tried to get a picture of them on the way down, but of course, as always happens when you have interesting subject matter, your camera seems to be out of batteries at the critical moment. . No matter, what is is only what is, so I hope my cursory description supplies your imagination with enough visual to understand that them suckas was way up in dat piece. Dig if you will the picture. . Ok, back to the road. . where were we?

The road began to get some kind of steep and narrow, of course with the obligatory rough spots where it had been washed out and filled with a curious mixture of mud (manure, possibly?), sharp broken rock, and oil poured over the top of the hasty "patch." All of this makes for extremely poor grip, and makes me wonder who thought of this method, a way of "fixing" roads that just seems to actually "fix" drivers instead with extra danger.
At one point, there was actually a substantial brook-sized rivulet, full of clear water from the melting snow above, crossing the road. This thing was about a foot and a half deep, and cold. So much for my hopes that I might, for once, have dry feet on a mountainside. Also this river was full of round and large stones, just the kind of thing a motorcycle with street tires loves to go over. Right.
There was not a fall, however, with Sai Baba being a balanced (at least in the physical term) passenger. Though on one steep switchback I actually had to put my feet down and push to give Rocinante the extra oomph to get up the mud/rock/oil slope, we made it alright, both a little afraid that when we saw a couple of huge vultures ( I mean 7-8 foot wingspan) circling overhead that if we looked over the side we would see the remains of other, less fortunate day-trippers.
Indeed, we did see a vulturous feeding frenzy across a river from the spot of the leather-pants picture, but it turned out to be only a cow, not a hapless motorcyclist who strayed an inch off course.
Rocinante started to stutter a little bit, but a quick adjustment of the air intake screw on her carb did the trick at about 12000 feet. Reaching the top, (c. 15000 feet), the road was lined with cars, and of course, rubbish. Indians, it seems don't care where they throw bottles, empty bags, and all manner of other debris. Even if it is a high mountain plain, once pristine, and well above any kind of treeline. Littering is a national pastime here, and is done with the same gusto and enthusiasm Indians seem to live their lives with. Mostly this love of living is a great thing, but the littering starts to get to one after a while, especially if one has even a tiny bit of enviornmental conscioussness. I always make a big show of putting my rubbish in a pocket or bag, or, in rare cases where extant, a trash can.
There was one of these in the middle of the rocky muddy depression, surrounded by countless water bottles, bags, clothing, and with a few horses munching on corn cobs and any other edibles during their minutes off from hauling around giddy tourists.
Ten thousand pieces of trash around the can. One inside. **sigh** Will they ever learn? Even though the big rubbish bin had in perfectly legible (though slightly crude) lettering "USE ME!," no-one seems to care, or are too lazy to actually do as instructed.
In one of the pictures I think you can see a bit of the trashy meadow. .
The top of Rhotang being the over-used and touristy place that it was still afforded dramatic views. Huge mountains in the direction of Leh, a path that I will soon drive, though solo this time. .
The air, what there was of it at least was rarefied and clean. Indians ran around in the dirty snow, jumping and shouting in their rented fake-fur jackets and rubber boots. Someone was pulling a sled-like device up the hill, though there was nothing to stop one foolish enough to sled down that hill from slamming into a parked jeep or tata Indica. .
Childlike in their wonderment at the sight of actual snow, and probably lightheaded from the altitude, I can not help but crack a little smile at these city-dwelling folks enjoying something that is a way of life in my own home city. They sure do have a good time. .
After many pictures with punjabi families, William finally got on the back and we started the way down. It had taken two and a half hours to get up to the top, and took a scant hour coming down. Timing is everything. We just managed to get off the top before the hundred or so cars and jeeps started their own descent.
The sun grew low in the sky and gave nice deeper hues to the already colorful mountainsides, adding a bonus to the fact that the frigid air of the pass and high road became warmer each thousand feet. And a little thicker.
Both a little high from the lack of oxygen, the Sai Baba and I started to talk street and do a little rapping as we headed down the hill. ." get yo muthafuckin soot exhaust out of my face, I'monna pass you like a fuckin nascar race. Gonna pull out my gat, shoot you in the back, yo heads gonna go splat, like a siamese cat. . in a litter box, knock you outta yo socks, muthafucka trying to crash me into them rocks. . ." and so on down the hill. . "Why you do the shootin? I say, that motherfucka pollutin, and his horn be tootin, fuckin up my ears hearin', yo, those sheep be needin shearin'. . " Yo, word up my cau-ca-sion! Representin' from the Big D New Del-Hee!!
Though this is not one of the classic symptoms of altitude effect, I think that Gangsta rappin' about Indian roads and drivers deserves a slight mention as a sign somewhere. . . Either way we had quite a good time taking the piss out of the drivers and the roads on the way down.

Back at the Jungle Bungalow it was time for some dinner and well-deserved rest. .
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