Manali experienced light drizzle and snowflakes fell dipping the temperature even further. We wanted to ride up to Solang but the weather detoriated further and so we sat near the Bukhari at a friend’s place and drank gallons of coffee and tea.
The weather cleared the next morning and we started out for Gulaba. The distance from Manali to Gulaba is hardly 30 kilometers, but the going is painfully slow. Snow is not the best of surfaces to ride on. Since we didn’t have the specific tyres, riding on snow was all the more difficult. When we reached Koti, we felt that all our hard work had come to naught. The Border Roads Organisation (BRO), which mans these treacherous roads, had put up a barricade. The BRO closes the route for vehicular traffic from the first week of November till May. The jawans manning the post certainly didn’t look the kind you would want to mess around with. However, our photographer Anuj with his wonderful sense of humor had very soon charmed his way to the jawans’ heart. The jawans were so much taken in by Anuj’s charm that they invited us to their barrack for tea and later specially opened the barricade for us to proceed to Gulaba. The jawans warned us not to exceed our four-hour deadline. And that was fine by me.
The BRO bulldozers had cleared half a kilometer from the barricade, but after that it was all snow. The bike kept slipping and sliding making it impossible to keep it in a straight line. Although it was difficult to ride, it was good, clean fun. On one downhill stretch, the road was covered by frozen ice. We rode in first gear with closed throttle, but all of a sudden the bike turned 180 degrees and we found ourselves flat on our backs. One moment we were slowly riding and the next moment the bike just slipped out from underneath us and there was nothing we could do. We still went around riding on the snow and our stipulated four hours were over all too soon.
The next day we set out for Solang, the centre of winter sports, and it was teeming with tourists. To reach Solang, we rode out from Manali to Palchan from where we had to turn left. Solang and the entire region have had quite thick snowfall and this has been a boon for the tour operators and agents who deal in skis, boots, snow scooters, gliders and other winter sports equipment. Solan was teeming with tourists and wore a very festive and colourful look. We rode a powerful snow scooter that was great fun. But we couldn’t try out the skis nor the glider.
Riding the Bullet on the snow was an altogether new experience. There were places where the Bullet seemed to be giving away on the hard ice, but on the soft snow it held its own in a very commendable manner. I have been travelling in a Bullet for quite sometime now and I found that the bike handles very well both in the hills and on the plains. In fact I think it behaves impeccably on the hilly stretches. I never ever felt that it would lose control. Since my bike is fitted with a CDI unit, there was also no problem with the timing.
We departed from Manali by midday and reached Chandigarh after sundown. We contemplated spending the night but the thought of riding through the straight and boring road to Delhi with the sun frying our brains didn’t seem too exciting a prospect. I had a story to write and time was running out so we rode through the night with a couple of stops for food and numerous stops for tea. By the crack of dawn, I was in my bed and a few hours later I was as fresh as the snow and hitting the keyboard in right earnest. ‘