17:30: The Truck: Km 295, Manali-Leh Highway
It’s well past dusk and the darkness of the mountains has cast its veil upon us. Not a star in the sky, not a light in sight. Instead, thunder echoes through the canyon as the rain beats down incessantly. The darkness of the moment is broken by a small five-watt bulb in the cabin of the truck. The five of us exchange stories of the mountains. The truck driver and his cleaner are making their first trip to the Himalayas; they’ve realised that it’s not for the faint of heart, or a beat-up truck. The mechanic and his helper – old hands who fix stranded vehicles on this treacherous route tell me how climate change is tearing up the fragile ecosystem here. The roads here were engineered and built for rain shadow. Rainfall here used to be a drizzle or a light shower at the most, once a year. The last two years though, the weather has been unpredictable and the BRO (Border Roads Organisation) and GREF (General Reserve Engineering Force) are unable to build roads as fast as the rain washes them away. As for me, I’m just a motorcyclist on an annual pilgrimage seeking adventure. I can’t help but wonder out loud, ‘Will this be my last?’
I learn the truck driver and his help haven’t eaten for two days. They were supposed to stock up in Pang, which was still 10 clicks away. I emptied my pockets, all seven of them stocked with chocolate. Wet, but still a hungry man’s best friend. I give them everything and plead with them to help me get the motorcycle across. They agree, but only once the rain subsided, though.
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