Day 17: 25 August 2013: The rescue vehicle arrives – who’ll rescue it?

We get up in the morning leisurely knowing fully well that nothing else can be done and we just have to wait for the tow-truck which shall arrive anytime now. So we pack our bags and settle the bills with Chacha and keep waiting…


Our shelter for last 4 days

Our shelter for last 4 days


It’s 1100 hrs and still no one’s arriving. We start worrying as we shall have been home yesterday itself as per the plan. Couple of calls made to Mahindra helpline and we come to know that the person who initially agreed to the rescue has withdrawn and then they’ve arranged another tow truck with much difficulty and so there would be some delay. Of course we know it won’t be easy.. no body wants to travel in this terrain especially when there are no roads at all.

In the leisure time, I start talking with Batal Chacha. He says that he walks from Manali to Batal at the start of season in April-May when there is still snow all around and leaves Batal during October. Dawa also works as a guide and camp organizer in the season. They have a home in Manali. Chacha has a daughter who’s married to someone at Delhi and residing at Majnu Ka Tila. Dawa says that he works as a money-exchanger during October to April at Delhi along with his brother-in-law. That leaves a question in my mind – what do Chacha and Chachi do during the off season? I ask him the question and Chacha replies that he sells the stone and junk jewellery at Bodh Gaya. Bodh Gaya? Wait! That’s near my native place!! Where at Bodh Gaya?? And then I get an answer which shocks me to the core – “sadak ke kinaare” (on the street side). What a soul!! He’s not feeling sorry about himself, rather is proud. I concur, he’s not doing something wrong. But just think of it – Godfrey Philips awardee couple selling junk jewellery on street side! Chacha also shares how he sheltered and saved 100+ people when snowfall started and how they saved one of the person whose condition grew fatal due to cold and why he received the award. He says that every year someone or the other gets stuck at the fag end of the season. At times people don’t even have money to pay him. They promise and go, but only one person has sent money once reached to safety. He also shares that the PLM Dhara hotel at Sissu, that has been newly built is of one of his relatives who used to own a small dhaba, but has been wrongly charging customers and amassing money. Says he can’t do similar stuff and is happy the way he is. I suddenly feel more proud to have met such a noble soul.

Sipping tea and clicking some pics around, we pass our time. I see that Chachi has setup a small shop of artificial jewellery too and out of gratitude, I purchase some – almost all of them! πŸ™‚




Finally, we see a tow truck coming to the Chandra Dhaba. Yay! We get excited – it’s time to go back to home! πŸ™‚ The truck arrives and down comes a young driver – barely 22 years of age – our saviour!



We pull up our socks and put on the shoes. Let’s load the XUV5oo and let’s get going. Not yet? What??



The driver says that he has to fix some things before we can start – that the pressure rod and some parts have taken hits on the treacherous road and are bent now. He’ll have to straighten and strengthen them before we can embark on the return journey. So he take a big hammer and gets below the tow truck. I’m worried a bit – as the day progresses, the glacial melts will increase and some of the water crossings would become a major challenge. However, he won’t budge. He may be right, after all only the driver knows his vehicle.


Waiting to be fixed. Notice the crumpled ramp legs?

Waiting to be fixed. Notice the crumpled ramp legs?


What? It'd take more time?? No!!

What? It’d take more time?? No!!


So, after the pressure rod, it’s time for the ramp to be fixed.


That's one

That’s one


And the second too!

And the second too!


Having fixed that, we load our car on the truck, and then the driver asks if we have something to strap the car as he has very less material! Isn’t his duty to carry strapping material? He says it is not required as the car is normally towed only on hook but since it is a bumpy ride, he wants the wheels to strap. Somehow, we find some strapping material in his truck itself and strap the car.





Strapped and ready.

Strapped and ready.


Everything done, it is already 1430. We’ve had our lunch, have packed our belongings and have settled our bills, however, now the driver says that he needs to have his lunch. So be it.. where we’ve spent so many days, couple of hours doesn’t matter. Chacha has been very generous in settling the bill and refuses to accept the cost of numerous teas that we had today. We click some more pics with Chacha & Family.


Dorje Bodh aka Batal Chacha in Centre

Dorje Bodh aka Batal Chacha in Centre


Hishe Chhomo aka Chachi with Tony & Avi

Hishe Chhomo aka Chachi with Tony & Avi


Dawa Tashi with Tony

Dawa Tashi with Tony


Finally, around 1500 hrs, we depart from Batal. Me and Tony sit in the driver’s compartment and Cheena and Avi sit in the car. The agreement is that whenever Cheena and Avi feel that the car is jumping too much indicating that the straps have gone loose, they’ll blow the horn.


Let's go!

Let’s go!


Barely couple of kilometers ahead, the driver asks whether the truck owner had asked something to pay him. We did had a talk and he had asked for 2000 INR to be paid to him for fuel, which will be reimbursed later. We tell him and then he says that while starting from Mandi, he had been given only 1500 INR for fuel and that there is low fuel in the truck which will need a refuel. However “Manali tak to chal hi jaayegi” (this will definitely go till Manali), he says and says that we’ll refuel at Manali. We argue with him as to why didn’t he told this at Batal itself as we could have arranged diesel from the Chandra Dhaba since diesel is what they burn in stoves.

Wherever we see dhabas on the way, we ask him to seek diesel, but he refuses stating that he’ll refuel at Manali. Multiple times during the journey, Cheena honks as the car is jumping too much and we stop to tighten the straps again. Nothing much to do as the terrain is bad and this would keep happening.


Tightening the straps

Tightening the straps


Couple of kilometers ahead, me and Tony smell something burning. We apprise the drive of the smell. He acknowledges, stops the truck, starts searching the source, but fails. He picks up a screwdriver from the dashboard and puts it away stating that this might be causing a short circuit and hence the smell, and drives further. Couple of kilometers ahead, we again get that smell, he again checks the wires and then again shifts the screwdriver! He says that if something is wrong with the wires, he’ll get them checked at Manali or Mandi and that nothing was serious. And we continue to proceed ahead with the smell, passing the water crossings with the light fading away.


water crossing near Chhota Dara

water crossing near Chhota Dara


Darkness has descended by the time we start the ascend to Gramphoo and then to Rohtang. We cross Rohtang in pitch darkness. There are no tourists, no vehicles and no jams unlike that we heard of numerous of times. None of the shops are open and in fact we could make it that we are passing Rohtang top only by chance when I notice the marker in the headlight of the truck. The time reads 2059 hrs.

We start the descend and cross Rani Nallah and then Marhi – I’m keeping a check on the GPS maps which the driver likes much and asks if he can get the application on his smartphone! Between Marhi and Gulaba, there are numerous hairpin bends and few are such sharp that a long vehicle like our tow truck has to reverse once and then cut again to make it. At one such turn, while reversing, the engine stops and the vehicle starts moving forward on which the driver quickly applies brakes. And then he announces – “Diesel Khatam” (diesel is finished)Β [icon icon=icon-ban-circle size=14px color=#000 ] In the darkness, we can feel that there is a gorge besides the road.

This invariably means that he can’t start the engine and reverse, and if he just removes his feet from the brake, we’re definitely going to fall down the road. There is perhaps a truck coming from the other side and he can’t take the turn until the tow truck clears the turn. The driver of the truck gauges the situation and quickly makes it that something is wrong. He parks his truck to the side of the road and comes to us in a jiffy. In the meanwhile, me and Tony jump out of the truck and ask Cheena and Avi to jump quickly. The other driver asks what the issue was and our driver replied that the diesel was finished. The other driver scolded him as to why he didn’t got it at the top? The other truck driver senses the urgency and issue and picks up a big stone from nearby and starts hitting on the front tyre to turn it towards the road. Since the engine is stopped, the steering won’t work and this is the only way to make the tow truck navigate the hairpin bend. We all assume and believe that this couldn’t be done and now the truck with our car will go off the road. However, after sometime, the other driver asks our driver to release the brakes slowly and the tow truck barely manages to navigate the turn with one tyre of the rear double tyre set hanging off the road. Phew!!! We thank the other driver who has helped us and asked if he has spare diesel. He hasn’t and says that many trucks would be coming this way and some of them may spare some diesel and so he leaves.

The driver parks the tow truck to the side of the road and we place some stones under the wheels to stop it rolling down as it is on an incline with the engine downwards. We try using the diesel that XUV5oo would have in it’s tank, but the pipe won’t work and even after trying too much, we’re not successful in pulling out any diesel. Fortunately, the tow truck driver has a 5-litre container and we ask him to go and procure some diesel from Manali. He argues that all the petrol bunks will be closed by now and he would not find any. Bah! That’s ridiculous!! This is a major highway and my GPS navigation application show that there are 5 petrol pumps in and around Manali and all of them can’t be closed, and this is just 2140 hrs. At least one would be operating 24×7! So we push him into a truck coming from the other side and going towards Manali.


Parked besides the road.. stranded!

Parked besides the road.. stranded!


About an hour later, three trucks come and stop near us and our driver alights from one of them. The three trucks are going towards Kaza to load peas and their owner is also with them. They provide us 10 litres of diesel for 800 INR – not at too much of premium considering the conditions and we willingly pay. They pour the diesel in the tank and then ask our driver to crank the ignition. Nothing happens. Oh! Since the diesel has finished completely, the it would need priming the pump. So he tilts the engine compartment to expose the pump and one of the truck drivers starts pressing the pump vigourously and the owner asks our driver to crank the ignition – Nothing happens! Absolutely nothing!! Once, twice, thrice… same result!

The truck owner asks one of his drivers to go into the cabin and see if he can crank. The moment he goes in, he exclaims… there is smell of burning! “Abhi se aa rahi hai” (it has just started now), our driver exclaims. We contradict and tell the truck owner that this smell has been coming from long. And so all the truck drivers and the owner start looking for electrical fault – some short circuited wire. After aΒ  while, the owner asks one of the drivers to check the fuse and he almost screams as he opens the box – Three fuses are blown and one of them is for brake! The owner slaps our driver – “Saale tu gaadi chalaata hai, tujhe pata nahin hai iska? Ye saari electronic hai aur tujhe kuchh nahin pata phir bhi drivery karta hai? Khud to marega, in bechaaron ko bhi marwa dega tu!” [icon icon=icon-frown size=14px color=#000 ] (What kind of a driver are you that you don’t understand your vehicle? This is all electronically driven and you don’t know anything, still keep on driving? You’d die of some accident, but why are you dragging these gentlemen with you to death?).

They provide us with spare fuses that they have and then try again cranking the engine priming the pump with renewed vigour. It won’t budge!! Suddenly, one the drivers notice that the diesel outlet pipe from the tank is situated at the rear end of the tank and since the tow truck is on an incline with the engine facing downwards, 10 litres of diesel won’t have even reached the pipe. They inform that we would require at least 10 litres more of diesel and then only the engine would start. “Hum jitna kar sakte the utna sab try kar liya, ab aapko aur diesel laana padega. Hamaare paas aur hai nahin warna hum de dete. Abhi hamein spiti jaana hai matar laane aur udhar pump hai nahin. Aap kisi aur aate-jaate gaadi se maang lo” (We’ve done and tried all that we can, now you’d have to source more diesel. We don’t have anymore spare, else we would have given you. Right now we have to go to Spiti to load peas and there is no petrol bunk there. Ask for it from the vehicles passing by). We thank them for all their help and they proceed towards Rohtang. The time reads 2300 hrs.

All this while, knowing how the driver has jeopardized our lives, we all are fuming [icon icon=icon-frown size=14px color=#000 ]. We ask him to go and source more diesel to which he denies “ab nai milni diesel, so jao” (now the diesel won’t be available, let’s sleep), and he jumps into the cabin to sleep comfortably. We’re in a fix. We do try to sleep in the cabin and car, but couldn’t. For we know that it’s a steep incline and the stones we ourselves have kept beneath the tyres may give way anytime and the entire truck would fall into the gorge. Stranded and walking on the road and at times trying to sleep, we spend our night….

Next: Would we ever reach Mandi?


Total Distance covered: Approx 86.7 kms

Driving Directions from Batal to Gulaba: Follow the directions given in the linked post, in reverse order to reach till Gramphoo. Take the sharp left fork at the tri-junction to go towards Rohtang Jot (Pass). Pass by Rohtang Jot and then by Rani Nallah followed by Marhi.

Google Map directions for Batal to Gulaba travel:

Day 13: 21 August 2013: Part 1: Keylong to Batal

We woke up late knowing very well that we have to travel less today. Finished with the daily rituals, we realize that today was Rakshabandhan, and all of us had carried Rakhis from our sisters. We make a couple of phone calls to home as now the next network availability would be at Kaza, we help each other tie the Rakhis on the wrists and then we go for the breakfast.

Bhatia saab had given us option yesterday that if we want to leave early, he can get the breakfast packed too as it was complimentary with the rooms. We have ample time today and not rushing, hence we’ll have the breakfast at the Hotel Chandrabhaga itself.



Having done the breakfast, we loiter around a bit. We talk about cleaning the car, but then decide against it – the car should look like it has been on a long trip to Ladakh and Spiti! πŸ™‚ So we write YAYAWARS on the thick layer of dust accumulated



Finally, we hit the road around 1140 hrs.

Coming out of Keylong town..



Pristine rivulets and beautiful vistas are giving us company, and so is River Bhaga..



Soon we approach Tandi bridge…



… and witness the confluence of Chandra and Bhaga rivers, henceforth known as Chandrabhaga.



Now we would be driving along Chandra river till we reach Chandratal (almost). Multicoloured mountain on the way…



We see multiple rivulets merging in the Chandra river



Beautiful hamlets situated amongst the green mountains, towering peaks, ice capped peaks, glaciers, and glaciers giving rise to waterfalls… we see them all…


Can you notice a chorten in a cave?

Can you notice a chorten in a cave?



Soon we approach Sissu…


Sissu Lake

Sissu Lake



The roads are fully metaled and drive is a pleasure with outstanding landscape…



Glaciers are melting and to see that, you don’t need to zoom, it’s evident on the road itself!



Suddenly, the valley opens a bit and we can see Chandra river giving us company, with many streams merging into it. The fields have peas growing..



Lost in the nature, soon we reach Koksar and cross the bridge…



One beautiful about this part of Himachal (or shall I say Lahaul & Spiti) is that every 100 meters, you see a water fall or a stream coming down the montains and at times flowing on the road…



The roads have gone worse, the metal has vanished and it’s all slush and muck, the reason of course are the streams coming on the road. And we are quickly gaining altitude.. Gramphu / Gramphoo is near it seems…



Indeed it is Gramphoo



At Gramphoo, we take the left fork going towards Kaza. Very soon, we see that the streams have ably taken down the road. BRO, however, is on the job and they make a way quickly…



Multiple small streams are flowing on the road and we are enjoying making splash, at times driving carefully…



However, there is a majestic waterfall ahead which is result of glacial melt. We can see that clearly. A Maruti Alto is standing with couple of people walking around…



We drive nearer and notice that this is not so simple water crossing.. the water is flowing with all its might for around 150 meters of the road (or shall I call it a track), which appears damaged. Some horses are also there near the waterfall. One person is coming back after taking stock of the situation. I ask him if it is manageable. He says “You’ll have to try.. at least you have bigger wheel base..”

Can you see the horses?

Can you see the horses?


I decide to take stock of the situation myself and so I get down and walk ahead in the water. The current of water is good, but not enough to sweep away the Cheetah..



More than the fear of being swept away, it is the underbelly hits that I’m worried about. One mis-adventure and we’ll be stuck. So I keenly observe the placement of stones on the track and wave Cheena to drive and follow my directions.



With a little bit of difficulty, we manage to pass with one underbelly hit. After parking the Cheetah, we all come back to enjoy the waterfall and then we notice its majesty…



Taking a look back, we get better idea of the devastating effect it can have. The guys in Alto are still waiting, probably they’d turn back…



We drive ahead and pass by some chortens…



And the waterfalls at every 100 meters (at times even at lesser distance) continue…



Gradually, we lose altitude and the valley also opens up. We would now be driving almost at the level of river…



The road has vanished. At times, we are driving on just tracks over pebbles, similar to the Merak to Chusul drive



We cross Chandra River over a bridge and reach Chhatru.


Oh Yes! Now that we are in Himachal Pradesh, the “La” of Ladakh have been replaced by “Jot”



We do not stop here as the time is just 1520 and since we are in valley, we are a bit conscious about losing the daylight. So we drive ahead, cross many rivulets through bridges, meet many horses…



Road conditions notwithstanding, the vistas are beautiful.. very similar to that of Ladakh.. similar various coloured mountains, snow-clad peaks, just that these are a bit green and as in Ladakh, a river is giving us company…



At times, it feels like we are driving in the riverbed itself, with small pebbles underneath and big rocks all around..



Basking in the natural beauty and soaking it as much as we can, we reach Chhota Dara / Chhota Dhara



And then, we actually drive through the river bed..



Oh yes! Actually it is the river bed indeed!!



Gradually, the mountains are losing the greenery and becoming barren, much like Ladakh. Whoa! This is the reason Spiti is also called Mini-Ladakh!!



With occasional waterfalls and water crossings, the landscape continues, and so does the drive on the riverbed…



The Sun plays hide-n-seek with the clouds here too!



From a distance, we notice some small buildings / hutments. And finally we see the board for Chandra Dhaba. This is Batal. Although the time reads 1645, I have to meet Chacha.. have heard a lot about him and I can’t wait to meet him. So we stop here and start clicking pics. Little did we foresee the future that we would get more than ample time to do this…


The Dhaba

The Dhaba


A PWD Rest House has come up at Batal. Good for travelers!

For the record, this is the nearest dhaba from Chandratal where you can get accommodation and food. The Dhaba has also got a satellite phone which can be used to contact the world. All in all, oasis in desert.



We get inside and have maggi and tea as we hadn’t eaten anything since we left Keylong. While it is being prepared, I talk to Chacha and tell him that I’ve heard a lot of good things about him. Chacha is always smiling and points to couple of laminated certificates and newspapers that are hung on the wall. Oh My God!! Chacha and Chachi are Godfrey Philips Bravery Awardees!!! And the name is Dorje Bodh. This is why people call him by various names – Batal Chacha, Dorje Chacha, Dorje etc. We get ourselves clicked with him – it’s and honour to be in the same frame! And then we read the story of how the couple have saved over 106 people when they got stuck in snow. Great souls!!

Batal Chacha and Me

Batal Chacha and Me


The certificates

The certificates


Next: Batal to Chandratal


Total Distance covered: Approx 100 kms

Driving Directions from Keylong to Batal: From Hotel Chandrabhaga at Keylong, drive straight ahead towards Manali. Just ahead of the town, take the left fork at the tri-junction to remain on Manali highway. Drive straight ahead and do not take any cut to remain on the Manali highway and reach Tandi. Keep straight (an acute right turn goes towards Kishtwar and Sach pass) to cross the bridge over Chandra river and pass by Sissu further ahead. Couple of kilometers ahead at the tri-junction, take the left fork to go towards Koksar and Gramphoo. The right fork goes to the opening of Rohtang Tunnel which is likely to be completed sometime in future. Driving ahead, take the right fork at Koksar to remain on the highway and keep straight to reach Gramphoo. At gramphoo junction, keep straight (towards left) to go towards Kaza, the right fork goes to Rohtang and then Manali. Shortly after crossing the waterfall, there will be no road, just tracks. Keep following the tracks, cross as many bridges as they come and arrive at Batal as there is no other road between Gramphoo and Batal.

Google Map directions for Keylong to Batal travel: