Negotiating Manali Leh Highway – Day 1

Manali to Leh - road map
Manali to Leh – road map

A hot shower at 4:30 AM is not the best way to wake up, specially when it is raining and you feel comfortable and cozy in the bed. The rain wasn’t too heavy, but still more than a drizzle. Our driver was there to greet us and without wasting too much time, we were off towards Leh. On the right is a road map to the area. I do recommend a 2 day trip, simply because it is easy on the driver and so that you can enjoy the sights of nature at your leisure. Driving 18 hours in 1 day over a mountain terrain is a sure way of inviting trouble.
On our route we consistently traversed the landscape at a height of more than 3000 m. On the way up we came across the origin of river Beas, a waterfall of not an insignificant proportion that is fed by rains and melting glaciers. The first major pass we hit was the Rohtang La. “La” means a pass, so calling it RohtangLa pass would be doubly superfluous. RohtangLa is at a height of 13051 feet/3979 m. In the local language Rohtang means “the pile of corpses” It was raining heavy now, and there is always a chance that the rain can turn into a snowstorm. Our driver did warn us that his heart skipped a beat driving under wet conditions up to the RohtangLa.

Below is a picture of our SUV negotiating the rains and flash floods in the tough terrain.

Jeep negotiating flash floods on Manali Leh Highway
SUV negotiating flash floods on Manali Leh Highway

RohtangLa is a natural access point to the valleys of Lahaul and Spiti in Himachal Pradesh with an obvious extension into the Ladakh region. The Rohtang also serves as a climactic and cultural divide between the Indian mainland and the Ladakh region. the mountains suddenly turn arid and the culture changes to a predominantly Buddhist population beyond the Rohtang.
We made a couple of stops for chai and aloo parathas before hitting Sarchu by the mid afternoon. Sarchu is a nice place that serves as a natural midpoint halt between Manali and Leh. I am told that it has ultra modern tents and facilities for tourists, although from the outside, it sure looks like any other halt. Since it was only afternoon, we decided to continue to Paang, about 3 hours away, and camp there for the night. At Paang, we were first introduced to the Ladakhi culture. there were happy faces around us that seemed contended with life. the only glum looking soul was a German biker who asked me if I could help him with a spare nut, but I had to politely refuse, simply because I did not have any. We had a good meal of chicken soup, dal and rotis. Although I must say that the dal had a really interesting taste and could be spiced up with just the basic elements such as the salt.

Ironically, I had a few moments ago tasted the much famed Ladakhi salty chai here. It was pink in color, with a layer of fat and rather delicious.

For Rs.30 a night, we got a bed to sleep in and so passed our night at Paang. There were voices of singing and dancing nearby, but we were too tired to leave the comfort of our tents and take a peek. We intended to leave at dawn and head straight into Leh. As the night unfolded, more travelers were given space in our tents and it turned into a noisy affair. I was able to catch a few winks here and there, and in between the commotion.

All through this time, I had harbored hopes of seeing the ChandraTaal or SurajTaal in the Spiti and Lahaul valleys respectively. Our driver made a total mockery of my hopes by claiming that they were inaccessible. I was more than disappointed with not having seen the SurajTaal, which was a small detour on the way. not only that, he claimed that the VishalTaal was the actual SurajTaal and did not stop when we arrived there. It was saddening for me to entertain the thought of having missed out on SurajTaal. Maybe it calls for a whole new trip, and I am sure to return sometime again…..hopefully soon.

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