The news came when the ride was hardly 3.5 hours old. Not a single rider in the MTB Himalaya, considered one of the tough ones because of the terrain and altitude, has ever achieved to cover 82km in just 3 hours and 20 minutes. Not a mean feat boy! Pinto proved us all wrong… he seemed to be too pricey to the photographers…to fast for rest of the pack!
We sent a press release immediately that turned out front page story in most of the newspapers howling: “Pinto creates new record in the Himalayas”. That night, at Gada Kuffar campsite, we found hardly anyone could take a picture of Pinto, the blaze. Thus, began strategy of “Chasing Pinto”.
Cut to Day II.
Ashish, next morning, punched a few kicks at a sleeping bag in which Samir, one of the MTB Himalaya officials, had slipped into the previous night. The order was simple: “Go and get some pictures of Pinto. He has already started the race. To cover 13km uphill till Matiana, he won’t take much time.” A bleary-eyed Samir took out his trademark black Canon bag and rushed towards the route. Meanwhile, i thought to have some tea and breakfast at Matiana Bazaar as Ashish was yet to finish his bath and Abhinav was making use of the sleeping bag pretty well in 15 degrees Celsius.
I met Gaurav, one of the photographers, at the same snacks shop where i was looking for a cuppa. After a rebuke from Mohit, the race director, on Day I night, all the six and odd photographers took position at different locations. Gaurav’s duty was at Matiana Bazaar. Let me write a transcript of a brief chat with Gaurav at the chai shop.
Good morning. How was the night at the camp?
Cool; a bit cold rather.
So, you are armed with all your zoom and wide lenses?
Yep. Waiting for Pinto. What do you want? Tea or coffee?
A cup of tea will do. But don’t miss Pinto today. We don’t have a single picture of Pinto. The press guys were asking for it yesterday.
Nope. I just ordered an anda-paratha. Will you have one?
Why not? But keep an eye on the road. Samir had left at least 20 minutes back to capture Pinto in his camera.
Wow! Such a hard-working chap. But don’t worry, i’ll be the first person to take his snap this morning.
Have you seen this Hindi daily? Look, how they have displayed our flag-off ceremony from Shimla.
Superb! We should not have missed a picture of Pinto. Sad.
And, the saddest part was just to come even before Gaurav could either finish off his words, forget the anda-paratha. Pinto, in a red jersey, whooshed past us to take the downhill from Matiana to Mahori. Gaurav’s camera was still on the table. I was angry. Gaurav speechless. Will another saga of “missing Pinto” start?
In another 10 minutes, Ashish and Abhinav came with the official car. I stepped onto it to reach Manan to set up a feed zone for the riders. This time i told Ashish we should be ready with our DSLRs. Maybe our pictures won’t have that “quality”, at least we can send Pinto’s one or two pictures to the press. Someone from the Mahori point told us Pinto had left the place a few minutes back. We calculated. We had just 15-20 minutes or so. This time, Ashish told me to take the SUV to 500 metres downhill and he would wait with Abhinav, Purushottam, bananas, juice and DSLR.
On that bright sunny morning, i was waiting with bated breath for Pinto. Our driver, Amit, yelled out: “Bhaiya, woh a raha hai Pinto!” Tetra pack of juice for Pinto in one hand, DSLR in the other. Which one to use? You can take a picture using one hand but cycling shots need two hands. Amit offered help; he would offer water, juice etc to Pinto. Dilemma over. Focus on DSLR. Ah! There goes Pinto…. on an uphill ride. The shot was over. I alerted Ashish over phone. Then onward, we never lost touch with Pinto. One photographer or the other would have tracked him for the next four days. And, Samir was lucky to have chased successfully to Hatu Peak (11000ft) on the fifth day. A pen drive-full Pinto was with us at the end of the race.
P.S. Samir, being a local lad, knew almost every shortcuts of the hills but Pinto did not give him a chance on Day II uphill. He missed Pinto despite being sent to the spot well in advance.