The following was the first major obstacle on our photo-centric way through Spiti.
So we made it nearly two thirds of the way up the 13,051-foot pass before the traffic stopped — for the next five hours. First it was the mudslide. Then it was the hundreds of cars, trucks and buses fighting to be the first idiot through the narrow, one-lane opening.
With nothing else to do, we climbed to the top of the bus and cracked open the whiskey.
A few sips in we decided the whiskey’s name, Royal Challenge, must’ve come about thus: if you can get through an entire bottle of the swill without dying, then you, brave crusader, deserve to be knighted. Here’s how we fared…
Devon, a seasoned whiskey guzzler, kicked things off:
Then Steve, less of a pro, took up the rear:
The camera doesn’t lie: that there’s agony. Yet for some reason, we gallant guzzlers trudged forth with the Challenge. For about five minutes, as the bus lurched forward in a start-then-go-ten-meters-then-stop-repeat fashion.
Slightly unnerved by the bus-top ride, we mapped out an escape route: if the bus tipped right, we could jump into the bed of one of the gravel-hauling trucks to the left. Slightly drunker than planned, probably due to extreme sickness-induced weight loss and being atop a bus above 12,000 feet drinking, we took it. We must’ve looked just about as badass as two giddily giggling adult-aged boys possibly can.
At least until we realized that that very moment the start-and-stop traffic had cleared and our bus had shot far ahead of us, and that it wasn’t slowing down. The ensuing sprint through the mud and muck was no olympic achievement, but far too many hundreds of meters later we caught the bus — literally, by jumping and clinging onto the back ladder.
Naturally, ten seconds later the bus hit a new traffic patch, stopped, the conductor opened the door and, huffing and puffing past glares and shaking heads, the two stupid whiteys collapsed back into their seats.
Steve ate biscuits and wheezed; Devon closed his eyes and hung his head out the window for a half-hour, in case he should lose the Challenge.
Invitees to the Round Table we were not.
10 hours later, a total of 16 since our 6am departure, we arrived reservationless to a rainy, pitch-black, powerless Kaza. As if we needed a nice shitty cap to our nice shitty day, we opened our packs and discovered a half bottle of Royal Challenge. That swill would continue to haunt us not just through Spiti (see photos of that journey here!) but all the way to Amritsar, where we would unceremoniously polish it off on our rickshaw ride to the airport.