Motorcycle Diaries (Part VII) Homecoming
I strolled past the neighbouring stupas before alighting on the Baby Tiger for the most legendary leg of our Spiti expedition. I paid the valley and its people my deepest thanks for hosting me and nursing me back to health. Even though I was still running a moderate temperature, today’s window was the only clear one we had to make a rain-free journey to monsoon-ridden Manali. And so, with a paracetamol and a half eaten Yoga bar in my pocket, off I rode.
The full moon slowly hid behind the Trans-Himalayan range to make way for the sun, and in Rangrik, I got to witness the spectacular sunrise from behind stark mountain peaks. Golden beams of light peeked through and illuminated the valley’s green fields, and as far as my eyes could see, Spiti was divided into fast-moving contrasts of the newly sunlit areas versus the others that were patiently waiting.
Before attempting our passage via Kunzum, we halted for breakfast in Rangrik while basking in the morning sun. Mamma clearly enjoyed her maggi noodles with lesser masala as I savoured a steaming cup of black tea. I needed all the energy there was to make it to Manali on the Baby Tiger, with or without my predestined falls. After all, I didn’t want to be that rider who loads her bike in the pickup at the slightest hint of inconvenience. I had come this far to ride with cautious abandon, and there was no way that I was backing down now.
The black tea and paracetamol worked wonders, and I had forgotten all about the flu by the time the ascent to Kunzum began. The gorgeous rivulets crisscrossed across meadows being grazed by horses and sheep. A few mountain goats and a large herd of cattle intercepted me and generously made way for the Baby Tiger. By now, the tarmac had bid my convoy farewell, and I had my traction control turned off. May the force be with me!
Even though I had driven past Kunzum some 5 times already, the experience of riding into its prayer flag paved entrance on a motorcycle felt overwhelming at a different level altogether. I had tears of joy inside my helmet clad face, and long after I had stopped, I remained dazed in wonder. My mother insisted that I pose for a few pictures, and it took me a couple of minutes to get back to the ground. I was flying a flight of joyous euphoria, and boy had Kunzum Pass ever looked so glorious.
Ever since I was a little girl, I have enjoyed climbing trees. My heart would feel full with every ascending branch, until I had reached the top. Then came bewilderment, because I had no idea how to come back down. A similar anguish confounded me as I grew conscious of the fact that the journey thus far had been a joyride compared to what awaited me. The descent from Kunzum had some sharp hair pin bends with a good amount of rubble, but I managed with slowed speed and confidence.
I felt some respite upon reaching Bathal, where I drank another cup of sweetened black tea and munched the remaining half of my snack bar. Onwards was the roughest patch there was, until Chhatru. I mentally prepared myself for a few falls. But through every water crossing, slush puddle and rubble, Baby Tiger defied gravitational physics. I was beginning to yee haw when I got carried away and rode over an island of sand and water, slightly off course from the main road. My accompanying drivers helped me steer back towards the Endeavour, and onward we went.
This patch mostly required me to semi-stand on my bike, such that the intense bobbing of the rear wheel didn’t suspend my riding judgement. Plus, it felt easier on the rear section as well.
My father’s batchmate from school had arranged a hot meal of rajma chawal in his picturesque farm house in Chhatru. Just when we thought we had ticked a reasonable amount of ‘world’s highest’ boards, we found another one, which said ‘world’s highest farm house’. I sure took some photos of Baby Tiger as he posed in the lawns of that estate.
Post Chhatru lay our last leg, and right before the tarmac began, Gramphu’s rocky waterways compensated for the forthcoming road finesse. I kept halting every now and then to soak in the last of the Kunzum-sided landscape. A pang of nostalgia hit me when I realised that with every acceleration, I was drifting farther and farther away from Spiti. The excitement of journeying towards a cherished destination seldom matches up to this nostalgia of parting with it. But for what it was worth, the sight of my two four legged children waiting for me helped me rev up my engine and glide through the familiar Atal tunnel.
By the time we entered the gates of Urvashi’s Retreat, the apple trees were sun kissed and the skies held up their azure hues. I patted my bike with as much affection and gratitude that my exhausted senses could muster, and even gave it an enduring hug. Cleo and Tsarina were elated to have us all back, and I had barely been back an hour before I connected my GoPro to the television. My granny had to see what we had just experienced!
In three days, it’ll be a month since this day of homecoming. Ever since, I have gone through my Spiti photographs and video footage numerous times. I even made a short film that comprised of some of my favourite GoPro recordings. My devices’ wallpapers bear the Key Monastery shot that I took on the morning of Guru Purnima. I do know that I will never have enough of this sacred land, not in this lifetime atleast, but its constant calling to me year after year makes it a pursuit that I had never dreamt of, let alone thought of living through. The only way to get over a vacation hangover is to make way for the next. No wonder that I am sketching out my Ladakh itinerary for September?
Julley Spiti! Until next time!