When I got up in Sarchu the next day, I knew that Pang was 75 kilometers away. What I didnâ€™t know was, what lay ahead in the route.
‘There are no passes in this route, right’? I asked the owner of the stall where I had put up for the night. He was making the morning tea for me and the other customers.
‘There are two passes in this route’, he replied with a grin as he handed me my cup of tea.
‘Shit, is there any place I can halt at before Pang’?
‘No. By the way, the first pass is at 16,200 ft and the next at 16,600’.
Stop scaring me you asshole.
‘I see. Would I find food somewhere in between’?
‘No. But common, if you have done Rohtang La and Baralacha La and have reached all the way to Sarchu, you can easily do these two. Here, have your bread-omlette’.
I realized it was going to be a tough day. When you are mountain-biking, a ‘pass’ means a lot – it means that you have to climb up some crazy mountain. You can never appreciate the struggle that mountain-climbing on a bike involves till you have tried it yourself. I am not complaining because after all it is this very struggle that makes mountain-biking what it is – you torture yourself while ascending, reach the top and then roll down. That’s pretty much the pattern and every time you do it, you feel good about life and everything else. Every time you do it, you feel like a winner. But then two passes in one day? This was like squeezing two day’s of struggle into one. The very idea was frightening. And yet there was nothing I could do about it. So I quietly finished my breakfast.
Since I had done Rohtang La and Baralacha La and had reached all the way to Sarchu, I could easily do these passes. Yeah right!
A sculptor from Delhi who had arrived in Sarchu the last night on his Safari with his wife, a daughter and a dog, wished me all the best. He had come from Leh and was headed towards Manali. He left for Manali. I left for Pang. Biscuits and two rotis were all I had to eat till I could reach Pang. I had no idea how long I was going to take to reach there, if at all. Two bloody passes!!
The fantastically well paved downhill straight roads that had brought me to Sarchu continued for like twenty kilometers once I left Sarchu. I almost forgot about the passes that lay ahead. I was once again enjoying a zero strain ride; hands off the handle – stretched in the air imitating the wings of a flying bird, toes resting lazily on the peddles, eyes devouring the picturesque landscape. Many a times, I stopped and clicked pictures. Everything was like a dream. I didn’t want it to end. And then it ended. The dream ended when I saw a yellow sign-board.
(The fantastically well paved downhill straight roads that had brought me to Sarchu continued for like twenty kilometers once I left Sarchu)
The signboard declared the start of Gata loops – a set of 21 hair-pin bends, each loop taking you higher up on the mountain that lay in front. When I began the ascent, I thought I would keep a count of each loop. Somewhere during the ride, I forgot the count.
I guess only five more loops are left. Five. Four. Three. Two. One. Eh, more uphill? Ok, I guess only two more loops now. Two, one. Eh, still more? Alright, I am not counting them. Fuck.
(caught somewhere in the loop)
When I finally spotted yet another yellow signboard which said ‘Gata loops end’, I was so fucking relieved. I was so fucking happy. And then I realized that something was wrong. Something was horribly wrong.
The loops had ended but the road was still going up. When I saw no trace of any pass even after a kilometer, I felt like banging my head on the tarmac till I could bleed to death. It’s difficult to keep cycling on uphills but it’s mother-fuckingly insane when you don’t even know how long the agony is going to continue! One kilometer. Then one more. Then another. And then I was crying. I wished I were carrying the details of the route with me. And then I stopped wishing and kept pushing. Before I could collapse, I finally made it to the first pass of the day – Nakeela, at 4.9 K above sea-level. Phew!
The downhill after Nakeela ended so soon that the very prospect of taking yet another pass left me shocked. The place from where the ascent for this pass number two started was called Whisky Nallah. Pang was 30k away from Whisky Nallah. I had no fucking clue as to what percentage of this 30k distance was uphill. This was bad. This was so bad that for quite some time, I simply kept sitting at Whisky Nallah, munching biscuits and sipping water.
I had to gather myself. I wondered why they had named this place Whisky Nallah. Before the Gata Loops had begun, I had crossed a bridge that had been named Brandy bridge. I wondered what was this thing about naming bridges and valleys on liquors? And when I couldn’t come up with any answer, I decided to take on the second pass.
I don’t much remember how I climbed up. I cannot recall anything – what I saw, how I felt. Nothing. The physical pain had become irrelevant. The eyes were not registering any image. My entire consciousness was focused on just one thin – reach the top. It worked. The resoluteness of the mind drove me to the top after a mammoth effort of two hours. The Lachulung La top. The second pass of the day. Over 5k above sea level.
From then on, I didn’t have to peddle much but the roads that had been good so far, turned into an annoying bed of boulders and pebbles and shit. The road passed through narrow gorges which shone in various shades as the sun kept getting lower over the horizon. I was happy I was finally in a state where I could at least admire my scenic surroundings. When I finally reached Pang after being on road for eleven hours that day, I was very sure I didn’t want to ride my bike the next day.
Inside the tent that I chose to stay in, a BRO labour was having Maggie. He was delighted to find out that I was from Bihar. Like most labours out there, he was from Jharkhand. He left after finishing his Maggi.
A guy who had brought some firangs from Manali to Pang on horses, came later to have tea in the same stall. He had been a guide on a fourteen day trek. The firangs had left on a jeep and he had to take back the horses. But the horses were too weak to move for at least a day. So he needed to stay in Pang.
The labour from Jharkhand, got mixed up between the horse dude and me, when he returned after buying some booze from the stall.
‘So how did you come to Pang’? the labour asked the horse dude, thinking he was a cyclist.
‘I walked all the way’, the horse dude replied.
‘How could you have walked all the way from Bihar’?
I had a nice laugh and then I went to sleep. I think I saw horses in my dream.
I was five and he was six
We rode on horses made of sticks
He wore black and I wore white
He would always win the fight
He shot me down, Pang Pang
I hit the ground , Pang Pang
That awful sound, Pang Pang
My baby shot me down
End of Diary #10