We will finally start rolling at 10am, two hours later than planned. Serious mistake… If it is rather « soft » during the first kilometers (some tight crossings, we are nicely bypassed by motorcycles and cars, and of course some beautiful potholes are at the rendezvous), a first bottleneck is formed 2 kms before Galadu. Nothing bad: this is the checkpoint where we will have to pay a small road tax.
It’s after that that it gets rough, amongst the trees and as we see the first snow-capped peaks appearing: we wait for minutes without knowing what is happening, it progresses very slowly; on the opposite side, there is an alternation between the flow of vehicles and nothing at all. Fortunately, the atmosphere is pretty good, we do not get to hear more horns than usual, and a few try to disorderly bypass others. People come out of cars to wait and stretch their legs, or to cool off with the water directly melting from snow patches on the side of the road. Even if we are far from being the only ones on a truck, the size and looks of Arty do not go unnoticed, and we will not avoid telling the story (umpteenth times) of our trip « from France by road », and of course the selfies that Indians love (a little too much for our taste).
I end up going to the back with the kids for the lunch break… and we’ll stay there for the rest of the day, and the ride. Not bad: through the window, what I see on the road, trucks passing by each other to the centimeter, brushing against the rock walls, and the endless line of vehicles on the laces that we see in the distance, enough for me! Loïc will enjoy the peace and quiet to handle this long wait and this complicated road, away from my stress and noise of children.
Status report: 10 hours, 28 kilometers, shock absorbers still in place and the congratulations of the Indian public to the driver (despite a new collision at the very end of the circuit, to the detriment of a pothole that made Arty tip)! The night fell, we decide to stop 17 kms away from our destination, near a rest area, full of restaurants left empty by the tourists going down to Manali. Hop, no cooking, buying chowmein (noodles), dinner, and a big sleep with 5°C outside.
Even after waking up at 6am the next morning, we notice that many others preceded us with the first lights of the sun. We will finally reach the Rhotang Pass, after two good hours on a wide stretch of road and in quite a good condition, if we exclude the landslides, the parts collapsed or damaged by the freeze/the thaw. When approaching the pass, the famous piles of snow, nearly 8m high in places, make their appearance: we feel very small next to it!
That’s it, we arrive at the end, at 3800 m altitude…and it’s full! Crowded with people, in ski suit and boots, stepping on the snowy slopes. Some walk, others sled on inflatable buoys, while others just sunbath while eating grilled corn or spicy dahl. Almost no worthy parking lot: the majority of cars are parked on both sides of the road, which is already not very wide. We make our way, all the more cautious, just to get away a bit and park without disturbing other people. Done a few minutes later.
We will spend a quiet day there: sculptures in the hardened snow for the children, exchanges with western bikers who continue their route (more or less proper) towards the superb snowy peaks in the distance: Leh, Ladhak, Kashmir, where the highest roads in the world can be found. So many names that make us dream, but it will be for another time: we would at least need a month to enjoy it, and anyway our mount is still a little wobbly: one of the welds has again given in! Not very reassured on my side, but the part tinkered by Loïc does the trick and he is quite confident…
Once most tourists left, we leave to reach the next city, where we intend to spend the night before starting the descent the next day. Ah, good surprise: the breathtaking view of the winding road allows us to see that the traffic is much less dense than we expected… And why not a trip back by night? Very good choice: almost nobody, very good visibility with our super LED bar, and if some passages appear more damaged or difficult than in the light of day, at least, we can pass without any questionable crossings. Three hours later, we are back on « our » location in Bahang, it feels almost like home!
Next day between a new visit to the welder, a ride in the Old Manali for Loïc and a last visit to the sisters with clear eyes, Weena and her sister Kiran, momos’ grandmas. The passage through Rhotang also allowed us to get in touch with Graham, an Englishman who’s been in the area for a long time (like many foreigners who fell in love with the area), and who apparently has a workshop worthy of the name. So, at the end of the day, en route to the small village of Gojra, on the heights of Manali.
We find Graham the next day in front of his workshop, along the road. Indeed, very clean, orderly, an assistant from the village, good equipment: certainly, the hourly rate is not the same as the previous small workshops, but the quality of work should be felt!
So here we go for two days of work, interrupted by the Sunday rest, and two nights on a vacant lot that will be perfect: resumption of welding, recovery and repair of the air intake, disassembly and straightening of the passenger door damaged when pulling the mirrors, etc. The connection goes well with Loïc, who will take the opportunity to make 2-3 more repairs. Not much to do in the area while waiting, but I manage to keep the children busy, between the school, a cartoon, and the observation of the neighbors’ cow of or an anthill. And for the rest, their imagination does the work, and their endless role playing fills the gaps.