Back on the road in the middle of the morning, the timing is perfect to find the Perched Cats at lunch time around Mandi. Omnipresent monkeys on the sides, gorging themselves with barks of watermelons or mangoes thrown by the motorists, but the excellent bitumen of the day before has given way to a narrower band and a little more damaged, in short, closer to what we expected. The crossings get tough and driving becomes sporty, while we are still globally climbing.
It is at the corner of one of the many small villages crossed, that we will have our first kirmish… A beautiful crack! And s…! Nothing for Arty, however, the little van, which did not really give us priority while we were downhill, took the corner of our chest and is a little more damaged. The driver gets out, furious, and of course, comes to me first (in Hindi of course), since (for them) I’m on the right side of the road. Here we go with the discussions. We have just arrived in the country, without being aware of all the rules, so we make our mea culpa to calm the spirits and go away… So it is ballasted of a few dollars that we leave, a little confused. Nothing but worldly possessions, certainly, but it’s never pleasant.
The road continues unhindered to Mandi, where the traffic is very dense, varied (trucks, mopeds, tuk tuk…) and of course, very « honking ». We are looking for a nice place to wait for the Perched Cats. A waste of time, with the river on one side and the roads going directly to the villages on the other, we end up waiting for them in an area under construction, along the road. Not very bucolic, but easy to find, and a few minutes later, the camper of Julien, Amandine, Pablo and Gael, joins us. Super happy to finally get to know them, 2 months after our first contact on the « Pakistan visa » file, and of course the children are delighted to have little playmates speaking the same language! We will share a small meal, before taking the road in a convoy of 3 cars: Silvia and Davide, Italians from Australia and also on their way to Europe, have joined us. We all arrived by a different road, but after only a few hours of travel, everyone is a little scalded and tired: driving on the roads of northern India, it impacts!
Direction Manali, 80 kms away. The high season is coming to an end, and of course we expected a difficult road, but not an endless gridlock, accentuated by the stupid behavior of those who persist in wanting to overtake, whereas there is just the place for 2 vehicles! We will get out of it with…our 3 right mirrors damaged by a driver who will not even bother to stop, and will leave without being worried, despite the presence of the police whose only concern will be that we do not block the traffic! Definitely, bad karma!
Not less than 5 hours and only thirty kilometers traveled, all tired, we give up pushing further. Stopping at Larji for an improvised bivouac with our new companions. We will find a nice and quiet place, big enough for all to park, perfect to recover from all these emotions, and to share a good meal and a few drinks!
The traffic to Manali the next day will be much less busy, and our convoy will break up a little; Silvia and Davide, smaller and powerful with their pick-up, can have fun and take off. After a long journey through Kullu, between the traffic jams, the single-lane bridges, the tight crossings, and the low tree branches, a slam is heard at the back of the cabin. We think of a fallen branch from the gallery, small stop to check anyway: one of the dampers of the cabin has just given in, no less than that! The black series seems to continue… No more time to look for a place to have lunch, we take the lead while the Perched Cats who cannot do much to help us, look for a spot to stay put.
Well, we swallow it, but it is still day, no point in waiting to inspect all this in more detail. It is therefore under the gaze of the incessant stream of (Indian) tourists returning from the Rhotang Pass, and coming to return their ski suits and boots, that we will unload the gallery and switch the cabin. Obviously, we do not leave the crowd indifferent, and we experience a flow of people who do not hesitate to bombard us with questions and ask for selfies while the spare wheel is suspended to the hoist, or when I can barely lift the canteens. In short, ready for the inspection, but the night has fallen, so it will have to wait the next day. What a day!
We saw a better way to transition to forty year old! Loïc will spend the day in the grease, trying to dismantle the shock absorbers, go back to the Volvo garage (which confirms its uselessness), send numerous SOS on social networks, search for parts references, while I manage children, school and meals. Thanks to the bike loaned by the merchant (who understood that it was a BIG breakdown and that we will to squat the site more than the 2-3 days announced), we can have a good meal, but we will have to be satisfied with industrial cakes, fruit juices (wine being overpriced), and matches to use as candles for the birthday party!
This is the opportunity to take the bike out, which will help us to go shopping and to join for a night our friends who found a very nice spot a few kilometers away. All this, before unfortunately breaking down during an expedition to Mandi to try to find options for repairs.
Incidentally, what about the mechanical side? No miracle: we know that we will probably find no garage in the vicinity, nor spare parts, including in Europe. So we only have to do a temporary repair by welding to be able to take the road and join Ner Chowk, even Chandigarh (which is still more than 200 kms away), to do cleaner work and who knows, have more choice.
Here we go: disassembly, reassembly, average welding n°1, then n°2, reassembly, fabrication of a « housemade » emergency damper, loading of our canteens at the back in place of the motorcycle to lighten the cabin… After more than 10 days of rest, we are ready to hit the road again!
Before that, we try to enjoy a bit of that beautiful region: beautiful walk to the sacred waterfall of Jogoli and the charming (and very touristy) village of Vashist, outing with the children’s bikes to the Old Manali, and a small zip line session.
The Perched Cats and the Italians will have had, in between, the time to go back to say goodbye, before resuming their way to Pakistan. We will take the opportunity to entrust to Davide the proxy to recover our drone at the border. Disappointed at not being able to spend more time with them, but our karma decided otherwise!
Direction the Rhotang Pass, 50 kms further, where the hordes of tourists we see go for the day. I’m not keen to that idea at all considering the quality of our welds, supposed to only be temporary. But in default of Ladakh, Loïc is motivated to push forward, just to see the tons of snow on this pass at 3800 m, open 4 months in the year.
Come on, why not? Fingers crossed, and let’s go (almost) cheerfully!