Disappointed in the first phase of the Great India Drive that he didn’t find snow, Ishan continues his relentless search. But, with uncertain weather conditions and many hurdles in his path, will he hit the elusive jackpot?
If you remember, in the first part of the Great India Drive, we spent several days on the road covering various locations all over Himachal Pradesh in the hunt for snow – but all to no avail. However, in the second leg of our journey, following a couple of nights of heavy rain and thunder, the chances of us finding some snow flakes seemed to be better than ever before. Or, at least, that’s what we were banking on.
In the many discussions that I had with my friends and sources in the region, a particular area came up repeatedly – and this piqued my interest. One, it was an area that had hardly been explored. And, more importantly, it was highly recommended by a dear friend who’s a Himachal expert and a fellow nomad – Vikram. He insisted that if there was a place where we could find substantial snow in the middle of this blistering heat-wave, then it had to be in the Chanshal range. So, that’s where we headed.
Having spent over 16-hours on the road the previous day, we decided to halt at Rampur Bushahr to get a good night’s sleep, and the next morning left for the small town of Rohru.
The town of Rohru is famous for its high-quality apples. In fact, it’s popularly known as the ‘Golden Belt’ in Himachal because of the high yield of the fruit. But the town’s proximity to the high peaks of the Chanshal range and the Pabbar River makes it prone to natural disasters. It suffered a major disaster just 20 years ago, when over 300 people died in flash floods due to a cloudburst. In fact, the town frequently experiences similar disasters that cause damage to infrastructure, farmland and human life.
With relentless rains, the approach to, and the terrain around, Rohru was challenging. We were faced with never-ending stretches of narrow, single-lane mountain roads to reach the town. The incessant rainfall and the odd spell of fog every now and then made progress tricky and slow. However, the lovely mist helped us capture some great shots.
After an arduous and long drive, on reaching the town, our first task was to find a hotel – and that’s when our luck ran out yet again. Having stayed in some lovely properties through the course of our journey, the HPTDC hotel in Rohru was a dingy, ill-maintained place. But, our only consolation was that, if we did manage to find snow – as Vikram had predicted – we would only have to spend one night there. In this hope, we settled down for an early dinner and called it a night to the sound of relentless rain and thunder.
Welcome to Scotland
The next day, we awoke to a very different picture compared with what we’d become accustomed to over the past couple of days. The sky was clear, the sun was rising slowly, and the weather looked perfect to tackle some tricky terrain. And tricky it was – as we left the town for Chanshal we encountered a huge landslide, which had washed away the road completely. To cross that stretch, you literally had to drive through the Pabbar River and then tackle a steep, slushy climb to make it to the other side. However, with its high ground clearance and ample power, the Tucson made it through without a fuss.
The roads after this stretch were quite beautiful, with the Pabbar River flowing alongside. Plus, the Victorian architecture was quite prevalent in the bungalows lining the narrow roads. Combine that with the steady climb, the rocky terrain and the cold weather, and it made us feel like we were driving in Scotland.
Thankfully, for us, as we started climbing higher up, tell-tale signs of snow started showing up. What began with a light smattering of leftover snow, slowly turned into an area full of the white flakes. A lot of this snow was fresh too, and we could feel the tyres of the Tucson slipping just ever so slightly as they struggled to find traction in these tricky conditions.
You shall NOT… PASS.
But, here we faced a major problem. A big tree that had been uprooted in the torrential rainfall of the day before had completely blocked the road ahead. The possibility of ready help from passers-by seemed remote, as we hadn’t seen a single soul on the road while climbing to reach the pass. Trying to cut the tree was impossible as it was a fully-grown Rhodedendron tree – at least 30 feet in length. And crossing it by driving over it wasn’t an option either. And this is where my brain, for once, thought of a creative solution!
You see, when we undertake long road trips, we are pretty much prepared for all kinds of emergencies – from landslides to breakdowns, and more. So, among the items in our travel kit – such as snacks, medicines, potable water and toilet paper – we always carry a sturdy towrope. So, in a brainwave, I reckoned that tying the rope to the tree and pulling the tree off the road by towing it with the Tucson could be an option. After all, if we couldn’t clear the road that way, we’d have to return to lower plains anyhow – so there was no harm in trying.
With the rope tied securely on both the car and the tree, I slowly started reversing the Tucson. The tyres gradually found traction on the slippery surface and the immense torque of the 2-litre engine meant that we actually began pulling the tree off the road. And voila, within a few minutes, we had managed to not only pull the tree to a side but also clear the road without much ado. In all fairness, what seemed like a long shot at first, turned out to be a rather easy solution in the end. Full credit must go to the Tucson’s torque and traction and the sturdiness of the towrope. For once, I’ll let my brilliant response to adverse circumstances take a backseat…
The Great Gamble
So, tree out of the way, we kept climbing closer towards the peak – and the snow around us just kept getting deeper. The Tucson, despite being front-wheel drive and with no snow chains on, climbed without any complaints. However, a couple of kilometres short of the peak, I realised that going any further was futile as we had already found more snow than I had ever imagined in this trip – and lingering at the back of my mind was also the thought that I hadn’t seen a single human being around us for over the last four hours. Plus, since the pass was still closed, we’d have to turn around anyway.
So, with the gamble succeeding – not to forget the hard work, calculated risk, expert advice and dollops of luck – and enjoying the snow covered surroundings, we felt good about turning back and heading home after more than a week on the road. We had achieved what we had set out to – have an epic adventure and push the Tucson to its very limits. We had done this, and more – and the Tucson didn’t even break a sweat.
The story of our journey home – avoiding traffic jams and battling bad roads – is a story for another time. For now, it’s time to bask in the glow of having accomplished what we set out to do.