At the top of the steepest part of the climb up to the [Rohtang] pass there is an alp, an old camp site (Moorcraft brok his journey here), on which stands today the slummy settlement of Marhi, consisting of beer shops, dhabas and booths hiring out broken rubber boots and rubbishy plastic fur coats, scavenged by second-hand clothes dealers from the charity clothing trade, to shivering Indian tourists when they come up to walk on “snow-point Rohtang” as the snow line is called.
– Poul Pedersen & Neil Howard (Prince Peter’s Journey from Manali to Ladakh 5th June – 22nd August 1938)
Tuesday – 22 September 2009 â€“ 2:00 PM – Marhi (3320 meters)
Yay, I am in Marhi. Finally. I am in Marhi and I just had a chilled water bath in the open. The staff of the one-room wooden lodge â€“ Whispering Point (where I have decided to stay for the rest of the day and for the night), informed me that they could get me warm water. They told this to me when they saw me sitting naked in my mini-running shorts on an open cemented platform outside my room, about to let icy water gush towards my body from an old stiff black pipe whose other end was connected to a source somewhere high up on the hills. I told them I wanted to bathe in cold water. They smiled. I bathed. I wasnâ€™t sure when I was going to bathe again.
Marhi is a tiny village. I donâ€™t see homes here, I see only shops. There are about twenty odd shops â€“ most of them in the shape of temporary tents. Each shop / tent offers tea, coffee, lunch, breakfast, dinner and toilet only for customers. There is one booze shop as well.
Yesterday nightâ€™s sleep happened to be incredibly exciting. No animals showed up. If they did, they did not bother to wake me up. But I will tell you what, it kinda started raining in the night. I was like WTF but then I calmed down soon because I realized that the rain wasnâ€™t heavy â€“ it was just one of those mild drizzles. I was happy that I was crashing under the slight cover of a jutting rock and not totally under the naked sky. I would have been fucked otherwise. The rocky shelter kept me dry and the sleeping bag kept me warm.
I got up some time after midnight. The rains had stopped and stars were glowing in the dark sky. I could see Miss Short-story smiling at me when I saw a twinkling star. I could see LOLy still cursing me for doing this trip alone as I saw another flickering star. I could see life smiling at me when I saw the zillion smiling stars. And then I slept again.
After a refreshing morning potty under the sky a mere 50 ft away from where I had slept and a one-apple breakfast (the bananas had been consumed in the dead of the night itself), I was back on the bike. I knew Marhi wasnâ€™t far away. I had already made up my mind to take a break in Marhi and allow myself to get acclimatized for the day. So I rode lazily. I kept stopping wherever the scenic views captivated my eyes and wherever there were stalls offering chai and maggi. Both were in plenty. [some pictures on route to Marhi here, here and here]
A Bengali dude stepped outta taxi at the first stall where I had stopped. The taxi held inside his wife and one more couple. This dude saw me sitting in a thin white t-shirt when he and the rest of his group where clothed like Santa Clause except that the colours where not really red.
â€˜You ainâ€™t feeling coldâ€™?
â€˜You guys came in a car. I came on a cycleâ€™ â€“ this is all I could say. Sitting there, sweating in the cold morning, I felt so macho! And I felt so fucking proud for no reason.
At another stall, an 18-20 year old kid came looking for some pain-killer. He had hurt one of his arms and was in pain. The stall-owner rummaged through his medicine-box but could not figure out which tablet was a pain-killer. The box was then passed to me. â€˜Can you find any pain-killer in hereâ€™? I tried. I couldnâ€™t find any pain-killer in there. And then I told the kid â€“â€˜Hey, worry not. I have some with meâ€™. Soon the kid was set off with a dosage of i-brufen. It felt good to be able to help someone so randomly. It always feels good to be able to help someone so randomly.
An Indian Sadhu dressed in saffron whom I met in the same stall asked me where the rest of my group was. I told him I was on my own. He liked the fact. He told me how many junta carry their stuffs in support vehicles and all that and that how that wasnâ€™t real adventure.
Macho. So very macho.
In Marhi, I asked the staff of my one-room unit if I could do para-gliding somewhere. I had full day with me and if I were to glide, this was probably the best day. The staff pointed towards a hillock where a couple of men could be seen. I trekked the hillock and reached the men who had looked like tiny toys from where I had first seen them. Oh yes, they were indeed offering para-gliding. Yay! A deal was struck at 2k. It was exactly at this moment that I realized that I should have withdrawn more cash. I mean I had only 10k and I was shedding off 20% of the total on just the second day of cycling! Suddenly I had this eerie feeling that I might just run out of cash before reaching Leh. But then, there was no point in worrying anymore. It was already too late. It was time to glide.
A para-sail was loaded in an open-roof jeep and we headed towards the Rohtang Top. We went only half way till the top. The road was horrendous. Was it even a road? I could see only pebbles and stones and mud and dust. â€˜So, I would be cycling over this shit tomorrow and that too uphill for sixteen kilometers before I reach the top?â€™ â€“ I tried not to think about it.
At the gliding point, we got off the vehicle. The sail was spread on the earth, hooks from one end of the sail were connected to my guide, the tandem belts were strapped around my body and I was asked to run down a slope off the road, dragging my guide behind me. I ran down the slope dragging my guide behind me and before I could simply fall off the edge, I realized I had been pushed up in the air by a magical force. I was gliding. Like a bird. Free. Liberated. It was nice to waft around in the air, over the valleys. I stretched both hands and even waved them like a bird. I was soaring in the skies.
We landed on a green ground close to this place where I am staying â€“ Whispering Point. I saw a kid shooting me on his video-camera. I thought he was some tourist. Once the belts were off my body and I was standing again, the kid showed me parts of the video and asked â€“ do you want it? I was kinda surprised but nodded. 200 bucks only â€“ the kid replied. I said of course. Ah, so the kid wasnâ€™t a tourist. The kid was an entrepreneur. The young entrepreneur quickly transferred the video to his computer powered inside a tent set up on the green ground, burned the mpeg on the CD and made my day. Yay â€“ so I also have a video of me gliding in the air. Cool man. Let me stop writing and go pick up a bottle of Fosters now. I need to raise a toast to the hills – to life – to freedom – to liberation.
PS: It feels stupid to put up a post just a day after declaring that I would be slow in posting and all that but then I was absolutely jobless at office today and had all the time in the world! 😛
PS2: The video is too long to be uploaded on youtube as such and I don’t have time to edit it (there are certain things you CANNOT do in your office even if you are vella, and one of them is working on Windows Movie Maker)
PS3: To be frank – and like very very frank – let me tell you guys something. The truth about tandem para-gliding is that it looks so much more awesome to see others glide in the air than to do it yourself. When I was in the air that day, it never really felt like I was gliding just in the air. Everything seemed to be in too much of control. It felt more like I was sitting on a rope-way chair except that in this case the rope-way had 360 degrees of freedom. I guess it would be hundred times more awesome to sail in the air all on my own – when I have the controls, when the sail changes direction with a flick of my hands.Â Like a real bird. Real freedom. Real liberation.
UPDATE: gliding video edited and uploaded 😀