Day 35-36, August 18-19,2017. Naggar-Manali- Khoksar.
Distance- 25 kilometres and 73 kilometres.
Duration – 3 hours and 10 hours.
More than Sunita her cycle needed a break- it was in tremendous need of servicing and maintenance as the past two
days track had been extremely taxing . Patches of road were in really bad condition due to the recent rains and heavy landslides. So today I.e. on the 35 th day of her expedition Sunita decided to take it easy and keep the distance short- Naggar to Manali a distance of 25 kilometres.
At Manali she gave her cycle at the workshop for servicing. At the same time she hired a Mountain Terrain Bike(MTB) for her sister Jen Choken who would be accompanying her on this last and most challenging leg of the expedition.. Sunita has a hybrid bike which means that technically the bike is suitable for a mountainous terrain also. However, keeping in view the very poor road conditions Sunita was in two minds whether to hire a bike with wider tyres for her onward journey or continue with her bike. She decided on the latter- a decision she would regret the very next day.
Earlier during the day before leaving Naggar she got an opportunity to plant some trees- something she had been missing since she entered Himachal Pradesh 4 days ago.
At Manali they also met Kieren D’Souza and Ashok who are ultramarathon runners. Jen is a herself a long distance runner and they had a lot to catch up on. Kieren D’Souza is the only Indian to have been selected for and completed the 246 kilometre Spartathlon held every year in Greece. It is one of the toughest foot races in the world and is run between Athens and Sparta.. It has to be completed in 36 hours.
They stayed over at their mountaineer friend Manus place. Manu had plans to accompany them till Rohtang Pass but he had a more pressing committment) he was a part of the rescue team which was helping recover bodies from the debris of the recent landslides in Manali. Manu had been a great support to them as he told them about the nuances of cycling in the high altitudes of Himachal Pradesh.
…….But nothing could prepare them for the challenges of Day 36 as they left Manali for Khoksar via Rohtang pass.
Today Sunita had Jens company as the two sisters pedalled out of Manali . The road was steep uphill as it involved going from Manali which is at a height of approximately 6700 feet to RohtangPass at an elevation of 13,050 feet above sea level . They were in a territory they love and they enjoyed the climb in the picturesque mountain surroundings, waving back at passerbys who cheered them on. But 10 kilometres short of Rohtang Pass they were hit by a dense whiteout. Visibility was zero and it started raining. The girls were drenched and shivering with cold and every pedal became a challenge. . Survival was the main consideration as there was no cover on the road where they could have taken shelter. Oxygen insufficiency and low temperatures added to the difficulty. This is the time it struck Sunita that she was carrying nothing in the name of survival kit.
“Those who come back shall climb again” – her years of mountaineering experience had taught her. At this
point of time survival was her first consideration as there was no way they could have survived if they got stranded on the highway. She decided to seek help from the vehicles passing by.Suddenly there was no help on the road and any occasional vehicle that passed by didn’t seem to notice them in the fog. It was with sheer will power, mental strength and Gods grace that they reached Rohtang. They had hoped to get a cup of tea at Rohtang to warm up their freezing hands but there was nothing and nobody available. The road now was downhill till Kokhsar which was still 20 kilometres away. Slowly but steadily they carried on boosting each others morale. By the time they reached Kokhsar they could barely stand on their feet as the found a homestay for the night.
After having rested a while and eaten a steaming hot dinner Sunitas main concern was her tomorrows journey as all the stuff they had in their bags was wet and that included their clothes and shoes. Not sure what she would do, Sunita told herself
” Tomorrow is another day. We will find a way to deal with it.”