Day 1 — Manali — Rohtang Pass — Khoksar — Gramphu
Perhaps I should start my journal the night before Day 1.
We all met for dinner at our favourite butter chicken and tandoori chicken restaurant. The food was really good and affordable. Everyone kept saying how this was our “Last Supper”. Indeed it was, for me. Well maybe perhaps for them as well since they are returning to Singapore. I had a hearty meal of naan, butter chicken, and tandoori chicken and felt really satisfied. I thought I had a night to enjoy before leaving tomorrow. Oh how wrong I was.
After dinner, I was told that we were leaving at 4:30am. There goes my beauty sleep! I could no longer relax and enjoy some movies before leaving at say 9-10am? I went back to the hotel and started packing.
All packed and ready to go!
My alarm rang at 0350 hours in the morning. I quickly turned it off as I did not want to wake Javier. I washed up, packed my remaining things, and went to the balcony for some Wi-Fi and a quick snack of breakfast bars that Raymond gave to me. I really should bring some for the next trip, as they are really delicious. I messaged my family and some friends and then went back to the room to do one last check and bring my stuff out. Raymond was awake at 4:30am to send Edwin and I off. How nice of him! Everyone else was probably sound asleep and looking forward to going home. Well on the bright side, it will be my turn in 9 days!
The jeep arrived at 0430 hours sharp. We loaded our things and off we went. Bye civilisation, see you in 9 days.
Before we drove off, we stopped by Manali centre to load the supplies and pick up the porters. It was interesting that the streets were bustling with activity at 5am. People were getting to work and dogs were fighting.
Overloading the roof with stores so we can fit 10 people into the jeep.
We took about an hour to load the supplies and left for Gramphu. Surprisingly, the roads out of Manali Town were already crowded with vehicles and we took awhile to exit the town. Shortly after that, there was a distinct smell of fresh mountain air. At this point, I knew we were far from civilisation. As we approached the top of Rohtang Pass, we saw a line of vehicles held up. Now that’s not looking good for us.
As it turns out, there was heavy rain at Manali last night. It was a really cold night but thankfully, all of us were comfortable under our blankets. If it rained at Manali, that meant that there was heavy snow at the top of Rohtang Pass, at approximately 4000m above sea level. The trucks and buses that were not prepared for snow filled roads were trapped in the snow as there was almost 2 feet of snow overnight. Everyone got out of their vehicles in an attempt to move the trapped vehicles to the side of the road so other vehicles could pass. We were trapped for about 4 hours! Thankfully, all the snow would have melted by August so we would not face this problem when we are back.
Our porters helping to free a truck that was stuck.
We cleared Rohtang Pass at about 1230 hours and it was lunch time. We dropped by Khoksar, a small settlement, and had very simple Dal Bhat for lunch. As I sat down to eat my food, a thought suddenly came to my head: I would be eating this for the next few days. Oh well, it ain’t that bad!
Dal Bhat, the raw onions were good though!
A little shack at Khoksar.
After lunch, we drove as far as we could until the roads were blocked. This was near Gramphu and we unloaded our things. Our journey in began at 1330 hours. It was going to be a 46Km walk in and a 46Km walk out. We only had 8 days. Time is not on our side! Despite the delay, we were determined to cover as much distance as we could today. As we walked in, we saw more and more snow. Our altitude at that point in time was the same as Training Camp, and all the snow had melted at Training Camp, but not here. It’s probably due to the fact that this valley has heavier snow fall. It was quite daunting as I was not expecting to see snow, and snow was going to slow us down by a lot. It’s only the first day and we are already far behind schedule. This is made worse by the fact that there’s a lot more snow than we expected.
Valley filled with snow. That does not look good at all.
We arrived at this steep section of snow. There was something ominous about that slope. I felt like something could go wrong. I was in trekking shoes and it’s not a really good idea to be wearing these in semi-hard snow conditions. I approached the slope with caution, trying very hard not to slip. Much as I tried, I slipped (It could perhaps be a self-fulfilling prophecy). I slid down the slope and went over a few rocks. My instincts kicked in and I immediately adopted the self-arrest position. I came to a stop in a few seconds. The end of the slope was really far down and it was rocky. Imagine if I didn’t stop in time. The consequences could have been disastrous. I lay flat on the snow for a breather. I could not afford to fall again. If this happened on a more dangerous section. It could be fatal and it would be a long time before help arrived. Thankfully, I escaped this fall with only a slight abrasion to my elbow.
It started raining hail and the pieces were quite large. They were about the size of rice grains and coco pops? It was really irritating as the pounded on your head and face. We stopped at 1700 hours as the wind was getting really strong and the clouds were coming in. It could start snowing any time. At this point, we have walked 8.5km in 3.5 hours. It wasn’t fast enough. The snow was slowing us down. I hope we can clear 18km tomorrow.
Tiny little balls of hail.
Vegetable soup and Papad! Best way to end the day.