Finally, we were on the last leg of the first phase of our trip. We would be leaving the plains and entering the Mountains. After a long wait, we finally get to see snow and I get to drive in the Himalayas.
First task of the day was to repack our jeep. We unloaded the entire vehicle and repacked everything. Hitherto the woolens and winter gear were stowed away, now they came up. All the summer clothing was stowed away. The gloves and jackets came out and jerry cans were readied to be tanked up.
The roads were good initially but then started becoming rough as there was construction going on all over the place. I started slow as I wanted to get into the hang of mountain driving. The last and only time I had driven in the Himalayas was back in 2014 on our return from Gangotri when I drove my friend Tilak Soni’s Eeco for a stretch. My first objective was to tank up the vehicle with winter grade diesel as that was one of the requirements for the snow drive. Jeep itself was running close to reserve as I had planned so we pulled into a fuel bunk to tank up the jeep and then the jerry cans. We bought a total of 100 liters of Diesel, 40 liters in the tank and 60 liters in the jerry cans making our effective range close to 1000 kilometers. I was sure that that should suffice even if we were to be stuck for a few days in some remote area.
We stopped for breakfast at Hotel Haveli in Dharampur. Aadi had recommended the Haveli chain of restaurants as perfect breakfast spots, she used to frequent them when she lived in Chandigarh and I must admit it was not a bad choice at all. With the vehicle tanked up, we tanked ourselves up with loads of buttery parathas and continued. A short distance from Dharampur we passed Solan. I know I had heard that place but could not really recollect the reference, i.e., until I saw to our left a board saying Mohan Meakins Distilleries.
When one is in the presence of divine, the body reacts like an automaton. In my case, the vehicle immediately veered left into the narrow road going up the hill towards the plant. I stopped the vehicle only in front of a barricade with armed guards around. This was my Mecca, this was my hallowed ground. This was the home of Old Monk Rum. I had inadvertently reached the original factory of Mohan Meakins Distillers who make the much-venerated Old Monk Rum. People who know me can vouch for my affinity for this vanilla flavored panacea. I had hoped that there would be some sort of Museum here where I could pay my respects unfortunately the uniformed ruffians guarding the premises mistook my zeal and suggested I buy my bottle from a wine shop down the road. Further having cemented the choice of the title of this blog as “Jaane Kya Dikh Jaaye” we carried on towards Shimla.
Around noon, we neared Shimla and realized that we had arrived at quite a predicament. The capital of Himachal was crowded with crazy traffic all around the place. Google, Our Hailed Lady of Misdirections blessed us by showing as an alternate route that was promised to be less crowded. True, it was less crowded with cars, but for a reason. We had to literally drive through a bus stand, go through extremely narrow alleys through crowded markets and drive up a literally hairy street where even my jeep had trouble making a particular hairpin bend but we finally made it outside Shimla. The jeep’s engine was growling at the exertion and now our bellies were too. We stopped at an ornate and well-decorated restaurant, which had so many wooden fixtures and carvings we wondered at the industriousness of the proprietors. Surely culinary skills were not their greatest asset. But then again we are merely tourists and not officials of Income Tax department so the nutritional needs satisfied we started on the last 35 odd kilometers to Narkhanda.
Just a few kilometers in the elusive snow started to show itself on the roadsides. Excited though we were we did not stop like the other day travelers and continued. We crossed Narkhanda, a tiny village perched atop the mountain and navigated to our destination: Tethys Ski Resort. The path led us off the road through a narrow bumpy dirt track and we finally reached the resort with its vast parking spaces.
The Tethys Ski Resort consisted of two primary residential towers with a hall for barbeque and great sitting areas around. After a quick check-in, we settled down for the day. The first phase of our trip was over. We had reached Narkhanda. The rest of the day and the next day would be for rest and to meet up with the rest of the convoy who would start arriving soon. The empty parking lot would soon burst at its seams with off road vehicles from all over India. Soon the major part of our trip would start – Snow Drive with 4×4 India.
It was a good feeling to relax with a hot cup of coffee on the verandah of our room looking at the snowcapped mountains in front of us. The room was airy and naturally well lit and the verandah was a bit rickety, I was initially unsure if it would support my weight. The area around the resort was full of apple orchards, denuded presently with workers clambering over miraculously over slender branches to do trimmings. After a drive of around 3000 kilometers across the length of the country, we started to relax. We had driven through more or less familiar terrains until now. The next few days would see us drive over terra infirma – snow – a terrain completely alien to us.
But then again that is why we signed up for the Snow Drive!