Day 3 McLeod Ganj to Manali

How to begin?

It was long, arduous, difficult, frustrating, a bit dangerous.....and yet exciting, adventuresome and satisfying. I will try to explain all of this below, but first let me say that you may not get this blog for several days as I'm holed up in a no-name motel/hotel that does not have any basic services (I mean no toilet paper or shower) let alone wifi service. But I'll get to my current abode status at the end of this tale.

Last night the monsoon rains came down so hard that they woke me up several times. It's now been raining, almost non-stop, for 48 hours...and it is a heavy rain. The air is heavy, your clothes are damp and moisture everywhere. Just walking from our hotel entrance and loading the car is a chore. For one thing, we're at 6,000 ft. and the rain is so intense that in just a couple minutes we're soaked. But we loaded and set off down the road.

Immediately we notice no horn (you remember, one of the three necessities for driving in India). More importantly, within a few kilometers we notice the car had no power. As Brant attempted to give it gas, the engine would choke out. As Brant discovered, the car had taken on so much rain and water from the road that the air filters had become completely soaked with water to the extent that they were preventing air from getting into the engine and hence no proper igniting of fuel . We had a similar problem in the Gobi Desert in 2013 in the Peking to Paris Rally, but there it was sand and dirt that clogged the air filters. Our solution today was to remove the air filters and just run with the rain shields.....problem solved we were back on the road, but running late for our next Time Control. Fortunately for us, there were several construction stops and diversions and the organizers added 33 minutes to the section so we made it without penalty.

Next came the Regularity. As you recall yesterday we did very well; missing perfect time by one second. Today, no such luck. We were 21 seconds early.....a horrible time.

I can't figure out why, but I suspect there is something wrong with the stop watch we are using. In any case, the results are depressing and will put us at the bottom of our class table.

Now the real trouble of the day came. Following the Regularity we had about a 120 km drive to our hotel in Manali and about 2 and 1/2 hours to do it. Sounds simple -- not in India.....and not in a monsoon. Even the organizers recognized the difficulty; there were notes in the roadbook telling us to be patient with the traffic starting 60 km from the city. These cautionary notes were an understatement. Traffic was impossible. The small villages and towns were clogged with evening traffic, including school buses, tourist buses and tuk tuks going every which way.......and it's starting to get very dark and the rain is getting more intense. A drive that should have taken us less than two hours took us closer to four hours. As we got closer to Manali, we had to cross back and forth across a raging river that was about to exceed its boundaries and envelop the homes and businesses on its shores.

We got to about 2 km from our hotel and could go no further. A landslide had come down over the road and it was impassable. We had run into another landslide earlier on the drive up the river valley to Manali, but we waited about 30 minutes until some work crews cleared a single lane for traffic. No such luck here in a Manali. What to do? Brant and I decided to consult our maps; cross to non-hotel side of the river; take a small mountain road 10 km up river to a bridge; cross to the hotel side of this raging river and then drive 10 km down river to our hotel. By ourselves, we set out. This small mountain road proved to be very difficult to navigate, which was now in total darkness. At one point there was hugh make-shift waterfall pouring thousands of gallons of water on this little mountain road. We got by that obstacle, but about 5km further we lost the road and ended in someone's backyard. The homeowner (who spoke English, which is rare in this part of India) told us that our little mountain road was closed because of yet another landslide.

City of Manali from across the river

We showed him on a map where our hotel was and asked for directions to get there. He said it was impossible to get there tonight. He suggested that we turn around and find a hotel on this side of the river and then try to continue our journey tomorrow. With no other choice, we decided to take his advice and headed back down our little mountain road, again navigating around the giant waterfall and newfound boulders that the storm had just pushed into the road. When we got back to the intersection where our mountain road joined a small village, one of the organizers was in the middle of the street flagging us down. He directed us to a school yard where other competitors had gathered. After many minutes of confusion the organizers put together a plan. Cars were to be left in the schoolyard; competitors needed to hail a cab or tuk tuk; proceed across the river to the hotel side and get dropped off at or near the landslide. From there the competitors had to walk 600-800 meters across the mud caused by the landslide in total darkness except for flashlights and in a driving rainstorm at 6,500 feet of altitude. On the other side of the landslide, we were to be met by hotel vans that would drive us the remaining distance to the hotel. I was not crazy about this plan; we decided this was not for us, although I must admit that a majority of the competitors decided to walk through the landslide.

Brant and I found this no name hotel across from the schoolyard where all the cars are parked. Best described as rudimentary, we each have a room on the fourth floor (its's a walk up; no elevator). No heating, one facecloth, a toilet, but no toilet paper, no shower, but very luke warm water to wash your face. A second hand bed and a third hand carpet.......but it keeps the rain off you.

Brant and I went to our emergency rations. Dinner was served in my room. It consisted of one can of cold Progresso chicken soup (Brant's favorite) and one can of albacore tuna (my favorite); several Oreo cookies and bottled water that we salvaged from our car across the street.

We have not heard from the competitors who took a walkabout last night through the landslide. I get no iPhone reception up here (T-Mobile, if you care); Brant does get some reception (Verizon). As soon as morning breaks we'll start trying to make contact with others.

A couple of personal thoughts:

1. Last night reminded me a little of our P to P experience where we had to leave the group for six days, proceed on our own, get our car fixed, and finally rejoin the rally. The confidence gained in that episode helped last night in staying calm and focused on solutions instead of complaints.

2. While yesterday, and especially last night, was frustrating and a bit dangerous on that lonely little mountain road, there was something satisfying about it. Like most of you who will read this blog know, I've had the good fortune to live a life with very few physical hardships. I've always had a roof over my head, clean clothes, food, proper sanitary conditions, a good easy life, for which I am grateful.

Yesterday, I saw a population of people that has none of that. They have a hard life.....made all the harder by whims of Mother Nature. The villages we drove through have no sewage systems, no clean drinking water (except maybe a public well with a hand pump), and only intermittent electric power. For a few moments last night, I was out there with them and I began to seriously appreciate their life's burdens: inadequate housing, poor sanitation, back-breaking physical labor, very few opportunities for socioeconomic improvement, rudimentary transportation, unfathomable rainfall. Yet for all this hardship, they are a happy people. The color of their clothing (especially women) is bright saffron, red, yellow, orange. They wear their very best, even in the monsoon rains. They celebrate continuously. Many towns came out to see our cars with band, singers, sound trucks.....all welcoming us. There seems to be wedding going in every other village. Bright streamers, bands, singers, dancers, smiles on every face in town.

3. So there you have it; the contrast and contradiction that is India: Unbelievable hardship that has produced a happy and grateful people.