Tag Archives: rohtang pass

Japan Tsunami 2011 en route to Shimla

As I drove up the twisting roads to Shimla in the foothills of the Himalayas on 11th March I learnt of the severe earthquake and the tsunami in Japan. I also learnt of a relative who was in Japan to attend business meetings. It was two hours to sunset and my aim was to reach the Shimla before darkness fell. I didn’t want to drive uphill on the mountain roads in the dark. I drove with only a 5 minute break for a Limca  and reached the hotel as the sun slipped behind the hills.

Over breakfast in the hotel’s restaurant the next morning I watched the news on BBC World. I learnt of a rumoured nuclear leak from a power plant about 150 km from Tokyo. I SMSed my relative stuck in Tokyo so he’d redouble his efforts to get out. Unaware of the  electricity situation and to help conserve the battery of his cell phone I didn’t call. The delivery report of the SMS was enough.

On the Ridge in Shimla children enjoyed joyrides on horses, people licked ice-cream and had their photos clicked with the Church in the background.

As I climbed up the steep slope to Jakhu temple, in faraway Japan, the threat of a nuclear disaster loomed big upon the small nation struck by the earthquake-tsunami. I looked at the scenic Himalayas and wondered if they were rumbling inside. The Himalayas are in a highly seismic zone being one of the youngest mountain ranges. The thought refused to bother me.

I climbed up the steep slope calmly huffing and puffing while the monkeys pranced lightly on the trees.  I felt tranquil and the monkeys didn’t appear to be threatened by the Himalayas, either. I wondered how the situation could change in a flash and devastation engulf us. Yet, I just enjoyed the invigorating mountain air which brushed my cheeks, ruffled my hair and rustled in my ears.

Meanwhile, thousands of kilometres away in the Fukushima nuclear plant 200 operators stayed behind to mitigate the effect of the nuclear disaster. With clothes probably seethed with radiation their last ditch frantic efforts are for the benefit of not one person but for all the people who might be affected by the nuclear radiation. Maybe they hum, under their breath, Everything I do, I do it for you.

The ‘Fukushima 50‘ are the living embodiment of the Bryan Adams’ song, Everything I do, I do it for you. The answer to the question, Who’d be affected by radiation, is blowin’ in the wind. The direction in which the wind blows would decide that. As BobDylan sang, ‘the answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.’

There are others like the ‘Fukushima 50.’ Here is what my relative told us upon his return.

The earthquake struck while the visitng team from India was in a meeting with a Japanese firm. Initially taken lightly, the smiles turned to fear and then to resignation when the earth didn’t stop shaking for a few minutes. The meeting resumed 45 minutes after the earthquake and ended sooner than planned. The drive to the hotel took 3 hours instead of the usual 35 minutes because of the heavy traffic. They were driven by a senior official of the Japanese firm they’d been meeting. Even though he had no information about the whereabouts of his wife and daughter the Japanese official felt it his duty to first drop the visitors safely at the hotel before looking for his family. The night in the hotel was spent in the lobby. Nobody wanted to sleep in rooms many floors above the ground. The hotel staff provided blankets, tea, coffee and dinner. The next task was to get to the airport. An Indian, a business associate, who’d been in Japan for 40 years, took it upon himself to see them off safely. He arranged taxis and didn’t leave till the boarding passes were in their hands.

Manali, Rohtang Pass, Solang Valley, Kullu, Manikaran from Delhi

The cold and rarefied air at Rohtang Pass was new and unfamiliar to me. The snow covered stark mountain sides were refreshingly alluring at one moment and scarily ominous at another. It clearly wasn’t a place to walk forward while looking back over my shoulder. I did slip a few times even though I walked slowly and  placed my feet firmly in the snow. The rubber boots kept my feet dry but did not keep them warm. It was all so different from life back home. Or was it really.

The food stalls at Rohtang Pass rival those at any of the Diwali melas that spring up in the parks in Delhi towards October. Maggi, bhutta, eggs, tea and coffee can be had without worrying about the litter at 13051 ft. There’s no point in driving up the highest motorable road in the world if one can’t carry on with the great Indian tradition of using the road as a dustbin.

The traffic jam at Rohtang Pass resembles the gridlock at Ashram, Indirapuram and Gurgaon. It makes one feel at home. The cold air at the high altitude keeps the car cabin cool as one inches forward at fifteen minute intervals. Some of the drivers are as reckless, careless and probably as drunk as on the roads in Delhi.

Some people try to overtake even if the road is only wide enough for one car to pass through. A bus and a truck jostle for space on a hair pin bend because the drivers are bent upon testing each other’s driving skills to the utmost. The prospect of a 200 m straight fall for either vehicle into the valley below makes the duel more exciting.

The mall at Manali is as crowded as Ghaffar Market, Ajmal Khan Road, Chandni Chowk, Sector-18 in Noida or the malls in Gurgaon. What’s missing are the drivers trying to wade through the pedestrians because the administration has closed the mall to the traffic.

The tiny Maruti Suzuki Alto makes its way along the grinding and winding road up to Rohtang Prass easily. The Tata Indica fumes and lumbers up. The big quasi-SUVs (Chevrolet Tavera, Mahindra Scorpio, Tata Safari) that are poor cousins to the Mitsubishi Pajero and the Toyota Land Rover climb up easily. Some have luggage piled up on the roof because they have been hired for a trip to Leh/Ladakh.

Most bikers announce their presence with the thud-thud of the Bullet echoing off the mountains. The smaller bikes keep you company noiselessly. Neither weaves through the traffic unless there is a traffic jam when a biker’s natural flair for streaking through traffic comes to the fore.

What else did we do in Manali?
Day 0 we boarded the overnight Volvo for Manali from HPTDC’s office in Delhi
Day 1 arrived in Manali and spent it on Mall road and the garden at the bottom by Beas river.
Day 2 was spent driving from Manali to Rohtang Pass, having fun at Rohtang Pass and a stop at Solang Valley on the way back to Manali
Day 3 we drove to Kullu, Manikaran and boarded the overnight Volvo from Kullu for journey back to Delhi
Ever after: Remember the refreshing Manali air, the rejuvenating holiday, the simple and relaxed life, tough uphill walks, hot tea in cold weather, shopping for trinkets

Be well prepared for the fickle Rohtang Pass weather. Light woollens required for the cold Manali weather. Pack a synthetic down jacket to keep you warm in Manali. Do not fly to Manali. The drive to Manali is full of twisting turns and enchanting mountain views. Take the bus. The Volvo bus is very popular. Or, drive your own car. Flying economy class to Manali is not possible since there is no airport there. You can fly to Kullu which is nearby. Best to stay in a hotel close to the mall. This way one is assured of a chemist near the hotel in case of an emergency.
Deforestation in Manali is seen on the hills since many trees have been felled. Wonder if there has been a rise in temperature in Manali over the years as a result. I regret not having chai pakoda in Manali. I did have fresh sweet lime juice in Manali which tasted great. Mobile signal was strong in Manali. Didn’t see any Ola or Uber in Manali. Didn’t see any radio taxis in Manali.