Captain’s Log: 30th May 2007, 1800 Hrs.
As instructed, the entire gang reached the dormitory in Manali to get ready to leave for Kalka. The bus that got us to Manali from Leh and its irritating crew of driver and cleaner (neither did the driver drive properly nor did the cleaner clean that well AND we were certain that both were drunk!!) were responsible for the journey to Kalka.
Manali – Kalka, we were told, was a twelve-hour journey, which was scheduled at 1900–1930 Hrs. so as to facilitate our boarding the Paschim Express (departure time 1010 Hrs. 31st May 2007) to Mumbai.
But to our surprise (rather shock), the old man declared that we had an extra hour to continue “interacting with the locals”. The bus apparently was delayed by an hour due to unknown reasons. Overjoyed by this rare opportunity, the gang got busy in “interacting with the locals” and ended up buying all kinds of stuff that was available cheaper in Mumbai.
Captain’s Log: 30th May 2007, 1900 Hrs.
Bags packed and ready to leave the gang was directed to reach a certain bus stop, a five-minute walk from the dormitory. Confusion and later chaos regarding the existence of this very bus stop was thereby very natural since despite walking for over twenty-minutes, the said location was nowhere to be seen. Also, the bus had been further delayed due to traffic on its way back from Manikaran (that’s what the travel agent conveyed).
Captain’s Log: 30th May 2007, 1945 Hrs.
The C.O.M. made us walk to the bus station. Some five-minute walk that was. But still no bus. Traffic? Maybe, maybe not! Was it going to come? It was nearing dinnertime. The twelve-hour journey was not supposed to include time taken for dinner. Our feet were aching. The inaction made us cold and the t-shirts we were wearing made it worse. Our warm clothes were already packed at the bottom of our bags.
Captain’s Log: 30th May 2007, 2230 Hrs.
The drunken travel agent was pleased to inform us that the bus and its crew had already left for Leh. But we were asked not to worry as he had arranged for taxis. Thirty-two of us and a lot of luggage. Eight of us in each of the four taxis (we presumed them all to be ten seater jeeps). Taxi No.1 Qualis, Taxi No.2 Sumo, Taxi No.3 Qualis and Taxi No.4 Maruti Omni!! (That too 5 seater including the driver!!) A careful “size-wise” distribution of the gang and its luggage ensured that despite certain discomfort all the members, drivers and luggage fit in the four cars.
Captain’s Log: 30th May 2007, 2245 Hrs.
The drivers tank up their vehicles but inform us that due to certain “taxi union” problems, we would leave at 2300 Hrs. and via a different route, passing through Nagar. “No problems… just get us to the station in time.” Akul’s walkie-talkie set springs into action. One handset with Akul himself in the last car (Qualis) and one with me in the first car (Maruti Omni, a.k.a. ‘Nature Club One’ as the C.O.M. was in it) crackled to life as soon as the journey started.
The gang was told that the guys sitting next to the drivers were to remain awake. A task next to impossible. Especially after a day that began with a trek to Jogini Falls, then a walk in the Manali Nature Park, an extended “interaction with the locals” and finally the four-hour wait for transportation. Also not much energy to stay awake, as we were yet to have dinner. But we had to stay awake. Sleeping in the seat next to the driver could mean the driver feeling sleepy too. How do we crack this riddle??
“Oooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo Huzurrrrr … tera tera TERA suroooorrr…” Sleep?? What that be?? With Himesh Reshamiya blowing his nose away to glory even sleeping pills would prove ineffective. Now that we were forced to stay awake and also to listen to Himesh’s songs I couldn’t help realise that our drivers were driving to the beat. Every hairpin bend in the road was negotiated on a ‘Dhichchick Dhoof’. It didn’t take us long to figure out that keeping the first and the last car informed of which exact song Himesh was singing in that particular car was an ideal way of using the walkie-talkie as well as keeping ourselves entertained.
The drivers drove their individual vehicles at a constant speed. A constant unwavering speed of 75 Kmph. Up, down, right, left, curves, straights, potholes and smooth roads all manoeuvred at a constant steady speed. The road desperately tried to slow us down and if not that to at least challenge the skill of our drivers. But our drivers showed one-upmanship by negotiating the curves while chatting on their cell phones or by taking off their sweaters while steering with their knees or even switching off the lights and driving in the pitch dark. Knowing that the regular road was not a good enough workout, our drivers even drove over a suspended wooden bridge over a wild river, which was strictly meant for “Pedestrians Only!”
Captain’s Log: 31st May 2007, 0300 Hrs.
We had passed Sundernagar (proposed dinner halt) long ago. Some women felt nauseas as the curvy roads and the high speeds churned their guts. However, lack of food in their bowels was resulting in mere spitting. There was also a theory making rounds that it was Himesh who was responsible for these irregular bowel movements.
I was receiving continuous messages on my radio handset that people were hungry and need to eat and some needed to stretch their legs. Roadside policemen seemed confused as to my identity as and when they saw me talking on the radio while zooming past them in our taxi. At around 0330 Hrs. I spotted a roadside dhaba and after due permissions from the C.O.M. instructed our driver and the others to stop for a meal. A hot and tasty plate of Rajma-Rice followed an initial cup of chai. Who paid the bills is to date a mystery for me.
Captain’s Log: 31st May 2007, 0730 Hrs.
Our drivers had got us within six kilometres of Kalka and took a quick and well-deserved break on the outskirts of the city. The weight of our eyelids were unbearable. Moreso because Himesh had now given way to spiritual songs, which our drivers thought were best played in the morning.
Captain’s Log: 31st May 2007, 0815 Hrs.
We reached Kalka Railway Station almost two hours before departure and profusely thanked the skilful drivers and their remarkable machines, not to mention Himesh Reshamiya who had entertained as well as kept us and the drivers awake and thereby alive.