The day got off to a slightly late start. So, after a quick breakfast, we loaded up the bikes in order to set off to find the mysterious highway that had remained out of our reach the day before.
Faith (my motorcycle) had plans of her own though, and decided that this was a good morning to not start. A hundred kicks didn’t make a difference, and the self-start was entirely useless. The battery must have discharged somehow, and I figured that once she was running again things would be okay. A push start was the only option remaining. Since it was my bike that wasn’t starting, it was only fair that I do the pushing. So with my every muscle in my body (and every other part that could possibly contribute to the effort) I pushed my bike, loaded with luggage enough for a family of five and a six-foot-plus-not-particularly-light monster of a man (read: Karthik). By the time she finally started, on the third attempt, I felt like I had suitably compensated for all the cardio that I had skipped since birth.
Not keen on getting lost again, I checked for directions with a few people on the way out. The information we got tallied with what we had been told the day before, and Brahmpukhur was still the place that we needed to find. We rode through some quiet and narrow roads towards Arki and a short distance thereafter discovered the highway to Brahmpukhur. After nearly a 100 kilometres spent on roads that had no whisper of any place that sounded even remotely familiar, we finally saw a huge signboard across the road which pointed us in the direction of Mandi, which in Himachal-highway speak meant that we had finally found our way back onto the highway to Manali. What a relief.
The ride towards Mandi took us to lower altitudes, which meant that things got hot again. Thankfully though, unlike Rajasthan, the wind was reasonably cooler. Thrilled to be back on seemingly more familiar turf again, we made our way towards Mandi at a good clip. Until we hit the dreaded stretch of road near Sunder Nagar. This 15-odd kilometre stretch of mud and slush is currently, in my opinion, the darkest spot on the highway from Chandigarh to Manali. It is like riding through a traffic jam in a dust storm. The only way to deal with it is to get past it as quickly as you can. Despite the terrain being anything but smooth, I blasted my way through out of a fear of suffocating inside my helmet. I unfortunately did not think to take a photograph of the nightmare.
Once we had crossed Sunder Nagar we took a short break to recover from the madness. It was at this point that Karthik and I started considering Prashar as our end destination for the ride day. We didn’t really know much about the place, except that it was reasonably high up in the mountains and that there was a lake there that was said to be quite lovely. It sounded like a promising idea, and we decided to mull over it a bit as we rode towards our lunch stop at Mandi.
As we crossed Mandi, we started looking for a place to grab some lunch. After riding several kilometres in vain trying to find a dhaba, we eventually went back to a little grocery shop that we’d seen along the way. The shop also doubled up as a tea stall that also served omelettes and toast (or as we call it “bread-omelette”).
I struck-up a conversation with the shopkeeper and a few other customers over the course of lunch. I told them about our plan to head to Prashar. Since we didn’t know anything about the place, I was keen to know whether we would be able to stay there for the night. They spent a lot of time warning us about the roads and trying to suggest that we instead just keep heading down the highway to Manali. Eventually, they made the mistake (in their minds at least) of telling us that we would probably be able to find a place to camp near the lake. That was all the reassurance we needed.
Once the plates were polished clean, and after stocking up on some basic supplies (bread, jam and water), we began the nearly 50 kilometre ride towards Prashar. The first 25-odd kilometres were made up of a smooth stretch of tarmac that wound its way up some mountains before descending steeply (and I mean very steeply – at one point it felt like I was on a rollercoaster ride). The ascending and descending happened on repeat until we reached a place where there was a little stream flowing across the road. This happened to be the first time on the ride that we put the bikes into some water. It also marked the start of the change of terrain.
From there on, the road conditions deteriorated rapidly and soon we were riding on a narrow road made of nothing but gravel and stone. The route also began to climb quite steeply. We made an effort to ride on the inner side of the path (i.e. the side that was further away from the edge) wherever the terrain would allow it. In some parts, there was no choice but to ride along the outer edge. The fact that there isn’t much traffic on this route was a godsend because it meant that we could switch sides quite freely.
It was my first time on such terrain, and as exciting as it was, it was proving to be quite challenging. There were sharp U-turns at steep inclines that were entirely made-up of loose stone. This meant that I needed to ride slow enough to not skid or lose grip, but at the same time maintain a pace good enough to not lose balance and at the same time manoeuvre the motorcycle through a 180 degree turn, which couldn’t be taken in one motion, because I had to steer to avoid rocks. Phew.
Whilst I was obsessing about the seemingly nerve-wracking climb, it dawned on me that if going up was such a task, making my way down was likely to be significantly more difficult. Once I had something else to worry about, I ended up absolutely enjoying the rest of the ride up. Silver lining and all that jazz. And yes, my brain functions in some strange ways.
It took us nearly two hours to ride the remaining distance. The views you take in along the way are quite stunning, but do not prepare you for what lies at the top. As you approach Prashar, the road opens into the most stunning views of a seemingly endless array of mountains. We reached the top just as the sun was setting, which only made the view more breathtaking. I could not peel my eyes away until the sun had completely vanished behind the mountains.
Then it was time to find a home for the night. Since it was now already dark, we made our way to the first building that we saw upon entering Prashar, which turned out to be the Forest Department Rest House. While they had rooms for rent, it seemed criminal to waste a place like this by spending any time indoors. So, after a chat with Roop Singh, the caretaker of the premises, we pitched our tents on the lawn near the edge of the property, with the hope of waking up to a majestic view of the mountains.
Now at nearly 9,000 feet above sea level, I had finally found the weather that I had hoped to seek out in the mountains. Temperatures dropped to less than 10 degrees celsius as the evening progressed. Roop Singh cooked us a simple dinner of rice and dal, which was the ideal comfort food for the weather. He’s a chatty and friendly chap who was quite excited to have company. As we ate our meal, he regaled us with stories from his years of being a caretaker of different properties across Himachal Pradesh. Since there wasn’t much to do thereafter, and that the exhaustion from the taxing 170-odd kilometre ride was beginning to set in, we retreated to the warmth (even if only slight) and comfort of our respective tents.
Because we had no idea where we wanted to go when we started our day, and because we were not averse to going anywhere, we had landed up here, at this spot that was unlike any that I’d seen before. Being fluid was working out well, so far.
- The road from Kunihar to Brahmpukhur is narrow and not in the best of shape. Needs to be ridden with care.
- Once onto the highway to Mandi, the going is good and the ride gets exciting.
- Beware of Sunder Nagar. The stretch where road work is underway is simply awful and can get quite messy and uncomfortable.
- If you’re going to Prashar, be warned that the route is narrow and the path is steep and rough. Needs to be ridden with extreme caution. It definitely makes for a challenging and fun ride.
Roop Singh, the caretaker at the Forest Department Rest House, can be contacted at +91 9418411746. We paid INR 100 a head to pitch our tents on the property.