Journey to the Abode of Snow, Part 3: Manali to Leh
The journery started at 2 a.m. I was excited to be heading towards the famous Leh. The driver of the bus said that he needed to pick up another passenger from Vashisht. After picking him up, I found that he was also from Kerala. What were the odds right? In a group of 14 people, 2 unrelated people from Kerala. His name was Shafeek and he resigned his job to do a trip all over India. He gave me a run by of the places he visited and I felt a twang of jealousy. Soon, I fell asleep.
I woke up around 4 a.m. due to swaying motion of the vehicle while crossing the Rohtang Pass. The view terrified me. It was pitch black all around, the road in front of me was covered in mud and the bus was sliding through the mud. The head lights illuminated only a portion of the road ahead, and the worst thing was that there were some vehicles coming from the opposite direction really fast. The driver was doing around 40-50kmph(maybe less, maybe more but the speed was enough to scare me) through the mud and was sometimes even slightly drifting through the hairpins. After this, the details are bit fuzzy because I am not sure whether I fell asleep or I fainted from the terror unfolding before me. A BIG SALUTE to the riders going through Rohtang. Only those who have experienced it will understand how dangerous Rohtang is, especially at night, with all the mud.
Somehow we made it to our first stop. I am not sure where it was exactly(probably Gramphu). I had tea and made small talk with Shafeek and another traveller. I did not want to eat anything else because of the ardous journey ahead.
The route is mostly barren, and after Keylong you don’t even see trees. There are different coloured soil and rocks standing tall while the cold harsh wind tears them down one grain at a time. Even though the scenery never changed, I was not bored at all. I could hear the cold, dry wind howling into the vehicle and the sunlight reflecting off the mountains. Around 10 a.m. the driver stopped along the highway for everyone to take a loo break. Most people jumped out and ran towards a cliff face. I guess it was the cold wind blowing that made everybody’s bladder so full. I really wanted to take a leak but the cold wind made it too difficult. We continued our journey onwards, and soon reached Sarchu where I frantically searched for a loo. Sarchu, is an intermediate camp also known as the Vomit Hilton because of the altitude. I found a toilet, but you needed to buy something from the adjoining hotel/shack/restaurant/God knows what, inorder to get the key. I told, I needed tea and maggi and went to pee. The latrine was nothing more than a hole in the ground connected to the cliff face through a pipe. It reminded me of a scene from the movie, Slumdog Millionaire.
Here, AMS hit me pretty hard and I had a headache that felt like my skull was splitting into pieces. I did not know what to do and I felt weak, really weak like I was going to pass out. Luckily, Shafeek helped me with some tablets and another hot tea. I felt better. Breakfast was tea and Maggi( the universal food out in the Leh-Himachal region). Gata Loops flashed past by and I saw the people from BRO working to clear and repair the road. Kudos, to those guys for working in such hostile environments without seeing another soul. Only after you see what they do, and how they do it, will you truly respect them. Hats Off to the BRO.
More plains, a beauty beyond description. A place where clouds float so close to you and the land is as flat as a dinner plate. Nestled among mountains, it was picturesque. I saw donkeys and foxes running along the road and it really felt nice. Next stop was Tanglang La, the second highest motorable road in the world. I was so excited that I jumped out of the vehicle and ran towards the board. Bad idea, really really bad idea. Another bout of headaches and with the feeling like white hot knives being thrust into my brain, I decided to take things slowly. Tanglang La, was peaceful and serene.
Around 5 p.m the vehicle reached Leh. Adarsh, my friend had recommended a guest house to me. I walked around and found the place. The owner was a lady and she said she could also provide dinner for me. Since Adarsh had spoken very highly of the food, I readily agreed. The room was spacious and cheap, and the dinner was heavenly. It was simple rice, dal, vegetables, curd and pickle. I slept peacefully and happily knowing Khardung La, was close by. Next stop, Khardung La.