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Crossing the Void

Manali-Leh Highway

It’s 2:30am and the bus still hasn’t arrived! We have been awake since morning and sleep is now slowly creeping up on me. The bus was supposed to arrive at 2am, but this is India… Finally headlamps break the dark night and our minivan has arrived. Our bags get tied to the roof and off we go! Lucky for me I got the broken seat, but since the van isn’t full I lie down in the back and try to get some sleep. I wake up every now and again to the sounds of no engine. Dammit! We’re stuck in traffic! I guess everyone is trying to get up north while the weather is safe enough to do it. The Manali-Leh highway has only been opened to foreigners for the past 22 years; before this they had to go from Srinagar (in Kashmir) to get to Leh and due to the harsh weather conditions the road is only officially opened from July to September.

When it gets light I sit up and look out the window- there are trucks, cars and motorbikes in front and behind us. Some cars are getting stuck in the sludge of icy mud, hence the holdup. There is too much fog so I can’t see how high we are, but I know that the Rohtang pass is 3978m so I have a pretty good idea of what lies below us…

For the next 12 hours I experience a mind-blowing attack on my senses. The “highway” (haha, if you can call it this) is rough, bumpy and potholed and takes us scarily high up in the mountains and down low in the valleys. We pass scenery that I just can’t describe; for to give words to it would take away its magnificence. We pass turquoise lakes, hanging glaciers and soaring peaks. The environment up here is desolate, dry and so bleak. But all of this adds to the grandeur and mystical atmosphere of the landscape. We stop a few times to pee and get some food. I do love peeing with a view ;-)

We were supposed to do the 485km all in one go, but Deepak (our driver) decides to stop in Pang (a tiny tent camp settlement) for the night. Pang lies at 4500m, so I suffered from a little bit of lightheadedness and nausea. It was such a cool experience! There we were, literally in middle of nowhere- with nothing but the bright night’s stars above us and the looming mountains around us. Huddling together in the makeshift tent; we ate veg thukpa (delicious Tibetan noodles) and drank masala chai. We all slept in one big tent with heavy blankets to keep out the bitterly cold.

We get up early the next day and take to the road. When we reach the second highest pass in the world we stop for a break. Taglang La lies at 5360m! It’s quite an incredible feeling to be this high (especially since I didn’t have to hike it ;-) ). From here it’s all downhill to Leh.

After a few hours we arrive and I am glad to be out of the van and on solid ground again. When I think back to the journey, I actually can’t believe what I saw and went through to get to Leh. I recommend this journey to anyone that wants to experience something totally out of this world! And even though you are stuck in a car for 20 hours- the landscape is so fucking fantastic that soon you forget all about how uncomfortable your seat is, or that your ass is getting numb. And together with a little help from my friends- the journey flies past! Leh and its surroundings is a whole other story, which I will tell another day.

(There are photos on Facebook from this trip)

Posted by piratejax 13.07.2011 01:02 Archived in India

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