I called home before boarding my flight at Dehradoon. It was July 28, 2016. My husband said there has been a heavy shower in Gurgaon and the likelihood was strong that I would get stuck in a traffic jam. At least my flight was on time. Little did I know that the massive Gurgaon Traffic Jam would be waiting for me!
When the aircraft was about to land at T3, I clicked the picture of NH 8 and it didn’t look good at all. After I got my baggage from the belt, I clicked the OLA App and to my surprise there was not a single taxi of any category available at T3. That was a first! Normally there is hardly a one minute wait and you get all kinds of taxis easily. When I came out the Meru and Mega taxi queues were going back into the terminal.
Now I had two options- to stand in the loooooooooooong Meru Cab line or to take the metro. However if I took the metro to Gurgaon, someone would have to pick me up from the metro station because it was getting late at night. Once again I called home and told them there were no taxis at T3.
Then the debate started- whether I should try to come to Gurgaon or should I go to my sister’s place in Ghaziabad? I was confused for about a span of five minutes. When I called my sisters she happily said that she would pick me up from the metro station if I decided to head her way. The minute my nephew (also known as Brat 2) told me it took him 3 hours to come home from work, I decided I would go to my sister’s place.
I took the airport metro line to Dwarka Sector 21 and then the blue line to my sister’s place. The metro was not crowded at all. Only at Rajiv Chowk the ladies’ coach got full. It emptied out again much before my stop.
I had started from Landour, and on top of that I have to take avomine because I have motion sickness on the mountain roads. After I sat beside my sister in her car, I was happy, I could finally relax and leave the thinking to her.
We reached home quickly and I was good to be at home. It was only after I started looking at the Facebook updates of friends who stay in Gurgaon, I realized what a massive traffic jam it was! I was lucky I escaped it by taking the metro and giving Gurgaon a miss altogether.
How I wish we would improve our infrastructure. How I wish we were not prone to such massive water logging. In fact while I was working I never enjoyed the rainy season, it is only after quitting my job I have started enjoying the rains. Earlier rains were synonymous with traffic jams. Now at least I have an option of giving them a miss!
After hot rice and daal at Chhatru for lunch, I managed to doze off in the jeep. Ranvir our amicable driver gave a shout after sometime, “Rama dekh jam laga hai” (wake up Rama, there is a traffic jam ahead). Ramakant ji was the head of our trip! His cry woke us all; there were 7 of us going to Batal from the Manali- Kaza route. At least 20 Sumos and other vehicles were piled ahead of us. One of the Tata Sumos was stuck in the Pagal Nala (mad stream) that comes after Chhatru.
Gradually, everyone got out of the jeep, it was only Ranvir and me who stayed inside to be out of cold and the mild drizzle. Ranvir confided in me, “Mein aata nahin Spiti, per rama ko mana nahin kar paya.” (I would have not come to Spiti but I could not say no to Rama). Ranvir was the guy who drove my husband last year to Chandratal as well. At the end of this trip we were making plans for visiting the region next year again and Ranvir readily agreed to drive again, but then I am running ahead of the narrative.
After a few minutes Ranvir also walked out. The some 20 minutes later I too was bored. I decided to venture out as well. A few kilometers before this jam there was a waterfall flowing on the road (which is a common feature on the Manali Kaza road) and a Qualis was stuck in it. But that one did not take much time to come unstuck.
You might have noticed that on these roads jeeps coming from the opposite directions often stop and drivers engage in a chit-chat. That is the only way to get information on the road as there is no mobile signal after Rohtang Pass till Kaza. When Ranvir asked a driver coming from the opposite direction, “road kaisa hai” (how is the road ahead) the other fellow replied, “takatak” (first class). Now standing at the Pagal Nala I was wondering if this was takatak then what would be bad in his definition!
Many vehicles that ply on the route have JK or HP numbers. They are the locals, they are the pros. You will find occasional HR, CH, GJ or other numbers and they are usually the rookies, cause of all jams. But this time the Sumo that got stuck had HP number and was named Spiti Express. Most of these vehicles do not have 4WD.
There was a small crowd around the immobile vehicle. A rope materialized out of one of the jeeps. The Sumo behind the stuck vehicle tried to pull it out by tying the rope to both the vehicles. The trouble was that the rope would break.
In the meanwhile we spotted 3 city slickers who seemed to be in a hurry. Apparently their vehicles were stuck downstream because of this jam. And all they cared was to get out and drive away using their walkie-talkies for coordination. Why they needed walkie-talkies for coordinating at a distance of 10 meters is beyond me. I always find brashness difficult to take in my stride but it was infinitely more jarring among the gentle people of the hills. Everyone knew that nothing could move till the stuck vehicle came out, other than these three city slickers.
However, getting back to the stuck vehicle, a new rope was found and two set of people tugged at the beast. Women joined in the fray. I was so amazed to see them wading in the ice cold water without a second thought or a glance at anyone. All I was good for was clicking pictures and making videos. With the combined effort of these people the vehicle with infinite reluctance, lurched out.
Finally we were free to move. It was expected that vehicles going upstream would go first. But our city slickers had other thoughts. They started moving their Fortunners and two other big vehicles downstream first. This agitated people a lot, but the hill folks managed to get them out of the way without creating any other traffic jams.
Soon, it was the turn of our jeep to cross the Pagal Nala. Other than Ranvir and me, everyone got out to reduce the load. That meant Ramakant ji, his brother Vishal, my nephew Dilip, our cook for the trip Hemraj ji and Bobby all had to cross the stream on foot. That was not too difficult, only it would leave your feet and shoes wet and cold. It is recommended to take the shoes off as they would remain dry and be a comfort later on.
On the first try we got stalled mid way in the nala. I managed to keep the camera on and my eyes closed for most of the time. On the second try we did manage to clear the nala. You can see the entire adventure in the video which was made as I said, with eyes tightly shut most of the time!
This was the start to our trip to Chandratal. I should have read the omens correctly but then I was too busy being happy that we didn’t end up spending the night by the road or worse still by turning back before even the trip had begin!
The first time I passed through the Rohtang pass (a little more than 50 km away from Manali) it was on my way to Leh. We had started at 2 am from Manali and when we reached the Rohtang Pass, an hour or two later, the place was bewitchingly beautiful.
As far as the eye could see, there was snow and silence. A narrow road passed through it and I thought I would like to visit it on its own. It is anyway a very popular tourist spot. I never realized the beauty lied in being there at the off-peak hours!
I passed through the Rohtang Pass again while coming back from Leh. This time it was 11.00 am in the morning and I just could not recognize the place. As far as the eye could see there were vehicles parked all over the place and temporary tents selling food have sprung up everywhere. The Pass was crowded and as we Indians litter like maniacs, the place was dirty beyond recognition. The views in the distance were still as beautiful but I am not sure that I would enjoy it much if it was a stand alone visit.
It also did not help at all that we sat in a traffic jam for hours. As the roads are narrow even a little bit of indiscipline can cause a long traffic jam on the mountain roads. As we were coming for Leh which is a very long and arduous journey with one night break in Keylong, all I wanted to reach Manali early and crash! But we had no such luck, the jam cleared only after a long time. I arrived in Manali completely tired and quite underwhelmed with the Rohtang Pass. I would say the real trips start after you leave Rohtang Pass behind!