Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Passage to India V

18 September

Our new companions from Israel had a difficult time riding up the passes on their Enfield, which turn out to lack the power to carry them both on the ascents, so I offered Aya a place in the car with Edod driving ahead on the bike, which was funny because it almost gave us the feeling of driving in a motorcade. Beyond Ani the road lead through lush pine and deodar forests and although we wanted to cover as much distance today as possible, it was to tempting to stop for a coffee & cigarette break. That view had to be enjoyed slowly.

Neither could I help myself to secretly envy Edod for his bike. I didn't talk about this to Soni because it would have broken his heart to know that there are thing even more beautiful than his beloved Mahindra Scorpio.

But the best part came when we arrived to the Jalori pass between Kullu and the Sutlej valley where suddenly the whole Great Himalayan Range stretched out far on the horizont beyond the Kullu hills, with the skyline gently rising towards the east. I mean: this landscape is not tilted. It's just that God didn't use a ruler when he created the world.)

The way down from Jalori-la was more difficult to navigate. It was narrow and very steep; after an unlucky attempt to out-maneuver a bus coming in front of us, we got stuck on a boulder. It took some time to get the car free but eventually we did it. Soni was horrified to see that there was a 3 cm scratch on the chassis now. I assured him that this would be a good time to update his CV because Mr Sinha will no doubt fire him for damaging the brand new SUV so badly. He agreed and told me that he wants to retire to his cousin's textile business anyway. He was really sad. Too bad that at that time I couldn't tell him: by the end of the trip he was to drive almost 3800 klicks on some of the world's worst roads and yet, this little scratch will be the only damage to the car... amazing!
We said good-bye to Aya in Gunthar, close to Kullu town, asking her if she had left anything in the car, no-no she said reassuringly. Of course we found her biker's helmet, unfortunately only in Manali. Anyway, the weather became hot and the trip boring in the afternoon, and I killed time by letting Soni chase a pick-up carrying some worshippers and an idol that was looking like an Indian version of Santa - without much success.

Among the ugly concrete buildings in Kullu valley, usually having an advertisement painted on them for concrete from which even more ugly buildings could be built, occasionally we glimpsed the odd traditional house with drying apricots in the courtyard; they reminded us to how beautiful these villages must have been before cheap and boring concrete was introduced.

Anyway, we were dog tired by the time we arrived in Manali; I had high hopes to see this town again as I was very happy here in 1994, but now I couldn't understand why I liked it. Crowded and overrated, that's what Manali is now. Maybe this old shopkeeper was also reflecting on times gone.

Rest of the day spent with trying to contact Aya, who besides the helmet only left her email address so I couldn't call her, and I wanted her to get the helmet back because driving a bike in Inda is hazardous enough but without helmet, it's only for the suicidical which Aya definitely didn't seem to be...

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