The railway ORH in Manali is perched at a vantage location on the Manali – Leh highway. I love to sit out in the garden early in the morning catching the first rays of the Sun, enjoying the mist and the distant hills with the accompaniment of the gurgling Beas River. During the season time the River is a favourite with tourists for rafting. However, on this day with the definite mission of the Trans Himalayan Expedition in focus I had to leave the Manali ORH at 5am. I sorely missed the early morning rendezvous with the mist, sun and hills. I drove via Kullu with the Riverkeeping company and made steady progress. Nearing MandiI started wondering why I should not push through to Mussoorie instead of halting at Shimla. That could saveme a day, which could help me during the tougher part of the expedition through Nepal and Bhutan, in case there was any slippage in the schedule.
I made excellent progress till 55 km short of Shimla on Bilaspur-Shimla highway. I appeared to be well in time to bypass Shimla before 1 pm. With such calculations in mind I was going down the face of a hill following a truck. I was quite close to the truck and was taking a bend when it suddenly braked hard. I reacted to the vehicle in front but was too close for comfort. Inevitably I rear ended the truck that had braked without any warning and rear lights of the truck were not functioning. The impact was not so heavy but I could see the bonnet caving up with a crisp crunchy sound that told me that the grill was affected too. I parked and got down from the car. The truck driver too came around. He told me that he had to brake suddenly as cattle crossed the road! When he found that the truck was not affected as the rear crash guard had taken the impact he drove away as I was inspecting the damage to my car!
Prima facie it looked as if the bonnet and grill alone were damaged; thought that the Champion’s looks were affected. I cursed the truck driver and the intemperate cattle and got into the car to resume the journey. As I was starting up the driver of a truck behind me said that the radiator seems to be leaking. I was alarmed. Further inspection revealed that the coolant had indeed drained out fully! I was in a bind because I would not be in a position to drive any distance without the coolant. However, the driver turned out to be a Guardian Angel.He saw the despair on my face and volunteered information about a garage not far from there and gave me directions to reach the Sharma garage.
Ashok Sharma, the owner of the garage, turned out to be the next Guardian Angel of the day. He expertly surveyed the damage and proclaimed that the radiator has been punctured and hence, would need to be dismantled and repaired. He also warned that if any plastic parts of the radiator is damaged he would not be able to repair without getting replacements from a dealer. I had no option but to give him the go ahead to dismantle the radiator and decide what had to be done. It took a long time to dismantle it. Mercifully, Ashok told me that he would be able to weld the damage and I would be able to resume my journey in a few hours. While the welding works were on I repaired to a small restaurant and had a huge lunch – the stress had made me hugely hungry.
In about four hours the radiator was dismantled, worked on and refitted. However, the damage to the bonnet could not be rectified. The Champion hadto continue the expedition with a bruised nose! Ashok charged about Rs 3500 for the work, which was very reasonable given the damage. He also told me to take the next 25 km to observe the temperature change in the meter. He said that I would have to keep topping up water to dilute the coolant. With goodwill and instructions I set course for Shimla. Plans had changed yet again;it was to be the original destination of ORH Shimla.I reached the rest house after 254 km of eventful drive from Manali.
I had a room in the rest house maintained by the Division. The cleanliness of the room was nowhere near the standard of the ‘Headquarter controlled’ ORH. One of the major challenges attached to driving to the Shimla ORH is the poor availability of car parking space. However well the space is managed it is still very much short of requirement. I barely managed to keep mine temporarily at the entrance to the station. The decals on the car invited a lot of attention from passersby as did the bruised nose of the Champion. After I had made myself as comfortable as I could be in the rest house I went for a short walk to the Mall and Ridge, the two most visited locationsin central Shimla. Shimla, having been the summer capital of the British Raj, has some majestic buildings. One of them is the erstwhile office of the Railway Board! Other attractions include the Viceroy Lodge, Christ Church and Jakhoo Temple. The Shimla railway station is a UNESCO heritage site.
After I returned from the walk I met Sanjay Gere, Station Superintendent, Shimla railway station. He attested the log sheet and did the honors of affixing the sticker on Himachal Pradesh on the Trans Himalayan route map decal on the side of the car. With his assistance I also got a car park controlled by the SS, and which was protected by a chain and padlocked. A couple of beers and tepla and achar helped me unwind after a stressful day behind the wheel, during when the second accident of the expedition had been logged!