Finding the tourist trail
So far, every day of riding has been different. The first day was a transition from the sprawling masses of Chandigarh to quiet back roads. It was also an introduction to lazy cows in the middle of the road, homicidal lorry drivers attacking from every angle, and the ever-present dust. The second day was physically tough as is covered a lot of unpaved roads in very poor state of repair. When you weren’t hanging onto the bars for dear life, you could appreciate the pine-covered mountains rising steeply from the valleys, and monkeys peeping at you from the cover of the trees. The third day was an endless row of apple orchards on the hills, and the best roads so far – smooth, twisty and surrounded by non-stop views of rivers, wood, mountains, and yes, the apples. Today’s ride from the Tirthan Valley to Manali (elevation 2050 metres) was different again – we went through more urban areas, which provided a better view into local life. These were bigger towns, not just one crisp-shop hamlets.
It seemed that the area was a bit more affluent as well, at least if you go by the bikes we saw. There were more Royal Enfields (still a premium brand by Indian standards) among the Bajajs and Hero Hondas. I spotted some bigger capacity bikes too, mainly of Indian origin.
I’m still happy with the Himalayan. Today we got a chance to ride a little faster on a couple of stretches of highway. I even got the bike up to the fifth gear – so it does exist! Even at these slightly faster (but still not actually FAST) speeds, the bike handles well. As long as you have more patience than the locals with overtakes it’s all good. On the tarmac sections even the wooden suspension doesn’t bother me.
It was good to see our group having pretty much acclimatised to the frantic flow of traffic. We were all dipping and diving in and out of the traffic like locals. The nerves of day one were long gone.
On the way to Manali, we stopped at our guide Moksha’s orchard where she grows organic apples, pears and apricots. The trees are on a steep hill, and I was pleased that someone went to pick some samples for us – I wouldn’t want to go scrumping there, I’d end up breaking a leg. The apples tasted great though.
After a fairly short day’s ride of 112km we arrived in Manali. There’s no doubt that this place is firmly on the tourist trail. As soon as you arrive you see the signs in English – ‘Amigos German Bakery’ was a personal favourite! Then you spot the rows of shops selling tourist tat – including models of the Eiffel tower. And among the melee there are suddenly many more European faces. The town is very clean and easy to mooch around. It was really nice to be in a more happening place after a couple of nights in the country.
I happened to stumble across a Buddhist monastery in Manali, with a big statue of Buddha in the main hall, bells around the building, and prayer flags flying in the wind. India is a country of many religions, and although 95% of people in this area follow Hinduism, there is still space for minority religions such as Buddhism.
As much fun as it was to wander around the shops, and get a little break from the ‘real’ India, I couldn’t wait to get back on the road with my Himalayan.
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