Six gleaming Mahindra Centuros stood idling in the porch of the Park Plaza at Zirakpur. The hectic running around of the previous day had done the business. All that was needed was for the six of us to clamber on board, point the broad headlight towards the mountains and roll out.
Leaving Chandigarh for Manali isn’t for the faint of heart. The initial highway is narrow and undivided and is peopled by traffic consisting of those who seem to have only one destination – the casualty ward of the nearest hospital. But we sliced through this madness with speed and precision. Energy levels were high, the road was long and we were all humming tunes within our helmets.
When the mountain roads began, there was a little disappointment to be sure. The NH21 was this amazing ribbon of winding black tarmac the last time we buzzed it on a motorcycle. This time, it was shattered and desperately in need of a complete new do over. Massive potholes, broken roads, traffic making random direction changes to avoid both… let’s just say, it was a very involving ride.
A long fourteen hours later, we rolled into Manali. As we sat down to dinner, two things were very clear. First, the hard part of the ride begins tomorrow, when we cross the Rohtang pass, our first high-altitude pass. The forecasts are all dire – there’s negative temperatures, snow, rain and thunder waiting for us, it seems. And second, the Centuros are proving to be hardy little motorcycles that are exceptionally agile and are able to handle both the punishment and the smoother corners (the few we got) really rather well.
Tomorrow, we cross the Rohtang Pass, stop at Khoksar at Sharmaji’s Dhaba for his famous meat rice before heading for Jispa. If it all goes to plan, it should be a fairly short but spectacular riding day.
The network connectivity will be iffy once we cross Rohtang and so the updates will cease for a few days.
Images: Suresh Narayanan
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