They say journeys are more exciting than the destination. My road trip from Manali to Spiti was exactly that. When we reached Manali, only 2 taxis out of around 25 agreed to take us to Spiti. The terrain was strewn with treacherous turns. There were many incidents about landslides and other issues which delayed many journeys, keeping the drivers & tourists stranded amidst nowhere. So, most of the drivers were not willing to go. But apparently, these 2 had a lot of experience of driving in the Spiti terrain.
Out of these two drivers, we went with the cheaper one. It was already past 10 AM when we left from Manali and reaching Spiti today seemed unlikely. But, our driver was confident to reach Kaza by 8 PM. Little did we know that we won’t.
When we started from Manali, the good road left us very soon after we crossed Rohtang pass. That would be the last time we saw a tar road until we reach Kaza. Of course, if you ask about the landscapes and a surrounding range of enchanting mountains, the road was still good. But, to drive more than the speed of 40 on these roads would mean us banging our heads on the car’s roof.
We admired the changing landscapes along as we inched towards Spiti. But, the darkness started enveloping around us very soon. Around 6 PM, the headlights were already gleaming upon the surrounding mountains, highlighting a different feature with every turn.
We had crossed many waterfalls which eroded the roads in their way. These waterfalls are called as ‘Nalas’ which might be called a stream as the closest translation. They are fed by the melting snowcaps on the distant mountains which stand tall afar, stopping the clouds to move by their will. These snow caps melt throughout the day and pump water in these waterfalls. They, in turn, run towards the Spiti river with an increased might, eroding the roads on their way.
By the time we reached the most challenging waterfall stream, the distant snowcaps had melted, making the water level difficult to cross. It was around 7 PM. This stream was not known as ‘Pagal Nala’ (Mad Stream) for no reason. Out of all the streams we crossed, the ‘Pagal Nala’ had the most immense flow and a dangerous water level. It bounced furiously against everything that came in its way and let itself in the Spiti river. This part of the river was also much more boisterous as compared to the rather calm appearance at other points through the road. However, there were huge boulders between the road and the river. Due to this, there was no chance of a car getting caught in force of the waterfall stream and drifting in the river.
But, the probability of a car crossing the stream was low. Had it been around 4 PM, the probability would be higher. As we parked aside, waiting for the downhill cars to pass, I walked towards the stream. Despite the clear indications that a car with low ground clearance will not be able to cross the stream, many cars attempted. Even the mighty cars like Scorpio and Fortuner were getting stuck. Given the brawn and ground clearance of these cars, an attempt to cross the stream can still be justified. But when I saw folks with Wagon R & Ford Figo trying to cross the stream, I literally slapped my forehead. The cars kept getting stuck and the night grew darker, as we waited for the downhill traffic to clear.
Suddenly, the sky cracked open. The thunder echoed in the mountains and it started pouring. The rain was going to increase the water level even higher. Upon realizing this, people started panicking and wanted to cross the stream before the water level rises further. Due to this panic, the cars were stuck in worse manners. If the roads are bad, you would never gain much by going fast and acting impatient. Suddenly, a car hit a rock and came to a halt. The driver desperately rotated the keys in the ignition, hoping the battery would come to life. But, all hopes were shattered when smoke emanated from the car’s bonnet. Any guessed which car it was? It was a Maruti Swift.
It seemed as if we were going to spend the night in our car.
We felt like our last meal was ages ago! The clock showed 9 PM and the temperature was falling below our comfort level. With the rain not stopping, things would become more and more unfavorable for us. Tonight, was a test.
“Are you willing to go through a tough night to see the beautiful terrains of Spiti?” The rain God might have asked this.
“It seems like we will have to spend the night in the car” Our driver said what I hoped not to hear.
“What if we go back a couple of kilometers and spend the night at those yellow tents?” I asked with a shimmer of hope in my eyes.
“No use, it would not have any vacancy” He stomped hard on my twig of hope.
I looked around to see fewer cars around than before. “Maybe they would have gone to those yellow tents” I believed the driver and I tried to sleep.
That night was the longest ever! My entire body was paining due to the cold night, empty stomach, sleeplessness and stiff muscles. I tried to cover my body to not reveal any skin to the mighty cold. But, many layers and closed windows also failed.
Somehow, we managed to pass the night. But the sleep had been elusive.
I stepped out of the car as the Sun started to shine. I recognized a face with whom I had chatted before sleeping.
“Finally, it’s morning!” I said. “You also spent the night in your car?”
“No. We slept at the yellow tents. They had a lot of space & served hot food! You should have come.”
I looked at my driver and he turned his face away.