Riders of Rohtang - XPD India Gets Underway
Expedition India was never going to deliver an ordinary start, or an easy one, but it was spectacular when teams finally got underway this morning.
It was a fine morning with a chill breeze in the air and the mountains catching the morning light under clear skies, but it was a frustrating one for the teams who were up ready to depart at 07.00. News came through from Stephan Muller that the road up Rohtang Pass was too icy to risk and a new start location would have to be found, so there would be a delay.
Teams had more breakfast, slept or hung around in the hotel reception, keeping warm and waiting. It was case of Ready, Steady ... Wait. Some were a little nervous about what was happening (especially those who were at the cancelled race in China), but now acclimatised to India and the fact things happen in their own time they understood the situation.
The start was reset to 08.30, and everyone jumped in buses, cars and trucks to head for the pass, but it took until after 08.30 reach to a gateway at the foot of the pass, driving through multiple landslides and passing banks of snow by the road higher than the car roofs. There were teams of mules on the road as well, and it was lined with shops selling coats and onsies for the Indian tourists who go up to the pass.
With the bike boxes unloaded on a bend in the road, piles of snow all around, and lots of vehicles to park and to let pass it was a chaotic sight. The teams gradually managed to find spaces to pull their boxes aside and assemble their bikes, some up side tracks, others in amongst the roadside snow piles. After a frantic 30 to 40 minutes the bike boxes were all finally loaded into the truck again and the race was ready to go!
The start arch was set up between two walls of snow above a tight turn in the road and with a wave of the Indian flag the race was off!
The start of the ride took teams back into Manali, with checkpoint 4 at the hotel they’d just left! It was a ride unlike any they’d made before because they had to make a way back down through the landslips, riding through debris and avoiding boulders. They were avoiding everything else too, mules, pedestrians and the manic traffic which was all but gridlocked in town, a stationary mass of honking metal. Vehicles were so tightly packed that it was all but impossible to squeeze through with a bike, but after reaching CP4 back at the Anant Maya Hotel the route left town and the gridlock behind.
Part of the team instruction is to ‘follow the rules of the road in India’ ... but I’m sure none of the racers have yet figured out what they are!
I saw Nth Adventure and the two Navy teams near the Hotel and they were very strung out, probably 500m or more. They were not aware of the 100m rule but it would not have made much difference as they looked unable to ride together, never having practicsed a skill which is very AR specific and often taken for granted.
They were all able to regroup at the Hotel and left Manali to head out of town and complete the ride, which will be the first many tests of how they develop as a team in the race ahead.