The day of reckoning had arrived, the day we had been waiting and preparing for almost half a year. The day when we start on the Snow Drive Expedition to Spiti. As a portent of events ahead I got a truly auspicious start on this day – My jeep was not starting.
I had done the due diligence previous night, I had left the engine running for sufficient time before I retired for the night to make sure it did not get too cold and get locked up. But voila! Lock up it did. Thankfully, I could not be in a better place for such a situation. I was surrounded by veteran motorists, people who had been off-roading longer than I had been driving, people who had been driving jeeps before I got my first license! And of course the very friendly and experienced staff of Tethys Ski Resort. We tried multiple things and finally we poured hot water over the engine. Then a few pumps on the carburetor and the jeep roared into life and I started breathing properly again. I was informed that the mistake I did was I left the bonnet of my vehicle facing outwards into the wind. In colder areas, I am supposed to park it in such a way that the engine is sheltered and I must put insulation over the engine immediately after halting to preserve engine heat.
After breakfast, Aadi and me checked out of the resort and re-loaded the jeep. We had to do some improvisations to ensure the rear view was clear. Soon Shibu Varghese, Sanjeev Dogra and Puneet Sharma, another off-roading veteran, called roll call. They gave us a welcome talk and gave us instructions, dos, and don’ts to be followed. A rough itinerary was shared and basic guidelines were set. Sandeep Dogra, Sam, would be the lead, Puneet would be the tail and Shibu would be the sweep for the convoy. Shibu distributed the snow chains and sleeping bags that he had organized for all of us. The Tethys staff also distributed the stickers. Though a bit saddened at the destruction of a palette of dust from across India that I had collected on my jeep’s hood I cleaned up the jeep and applied the stickers.
All the convoy members had now assembled in the parking area it was an eclectic collection. There was a large and boisterous group from Gujarat, and then there were people who had driven from Mumbai and Chandigarh. A couple had come from Indore and of course Shibu who had driven from Kerala picking up Pran from Bangalore. Seeing such a large and veteran crowd, I immediately clammed up into my natural shell of introversion. However, I had observed good portents too. I had observed many of my fellow expeditioners loading cartons of Old Monk. With patrons of Old Monk all it takes is a couple of pegs to break any ice.
Around 11AM, the convoy started rolling out. Our destination for the day was the town of Rohru, which would serve as our basecamp for the next few days. However we were to go an off road track via Kharapathar to reach Rohru. This was supposed to be an initiation for the novices amongst us to get used to the feeling of driving in the snow. Puneet and Sam may call it an initiation but my knickers were almost soiled on that first day’s driving itself. The first time vehicle lost control I nearly soiled myself and I had to gradually ease into the realization that vehicle will not be under total control, merely loose and suggestive control that I can ease the vehicle into only with heightened skills and awareness. The terrain was slush and snow interspersed with slippery ice, the path was narrow and treacherous. Sam had instructed us to engage the 4H while entering this road so it was quite manageable.
After what seemed like a very long time at around 1PM, we finally stopped at a clearing with a magnificent view of the mountains. There was snow abound and people made merry playing with it. After about an hour of rest here, we carried on towards Kharapathar through more or less similar roads.
We reached Kharapathar around 4PM and stopped in front of a restaurant. That was when we realized that we were famished. The restaurant was doing a brisk business serving meals and soup, Aadi and me decided to order soup, which was ready and available immediately. The soup was simply magnificent. After first having vegetable soup I had some mutton soup which was out of the world! After having multiple servings and thoroughly sated we continued towards Rohru.
The Tethys by the River Resort at Rohru is a little ways outside the town and set along the river valley. There was a beautiful two-storied building with a number of tents set up in the grounds in front. Everything was quite ready for us by the time we reached the camp. I parked my jeep correctly away from the wind, insulated the engine with gunny bags and tarpaulin that I had with me for the purpose and we made our way into the resort. Apart from several tents of varying sizes there were also three rooms available in the building that were available for choosing of the couples. We waited for the other families to make their choice and when made available we chose the last room for ourselves. This was a simple yet magnificent hunting lodge with a mezzanine area for children to bunk up. Having refreshed ourselves, we set out for the tent grounds where a buffet was laid out.
Dinner was a splendid affair along the banks of the gurgling Pabbar River and with amazing views of the snow clad mountains all around us. Thrilled as we were I was also quite apprehensive. The day’s drive itself was hairy for me; Puneet had reassured us that this was merely a gentle introduction. The real drive would start the next day. Hoping against hope that he was only kidding behind an excellent poker face we retired for the day.