The view at the top was spectacular! The entire pass was laid out before us. We were at level with the snow clad peaks surrounding us. Colourful prayer flags were strung around.
A sign board proudly announced that we indeed were at the highest point of the Leh Manali highway. We felt on top of the world!
Except that they were gigantic! And this wasn’t really the sand at the beach.
These were the mighty Greater Himalayas, withered with age by their only constant companion – the ferocious winds.
Being in the presence of such raw nature – these mountains without as much as a trace of life – was overwhelming.
This road didn’t get here by magic. Brave men and women had braved rough weather, toiled hard to create it.
Like this man, we saw from our bus on Tanglang la.
They come from far off places where they have no real employment opportunity. When the road opens for traffic, these road maintenance workers come here for work. They stay on these mountain passes for 4-5 months a year.
In these months, they earn around Rs.20K (roughly 300$) to take back home.
The only highlight of their day is the 2-3 buses that cross this road. Otherwise they are completely disconnected from civilisation.
Hats off to their endurance!
Mountains the shades of browns you didn’t know and land formations you didn’t think possible are the characteristic of this pass!
Opposite the motor-able road, this is probably part of the trekking route from Leh to Manali.
Every glimpse of the Indus river flowing below brought with it a green oasis.
Our minds started to wander.
To the people who crossed these mountains by foot. Years ago. Not by choice. Out of necessity.
To the people who have set up camps here, the BRO employees—the ones who maintain these roads. What makes them choose this job? How do they stay connected? How do they get their supplies?
How does this place look in the winter? Covered in snow?
Do the mountains ever get lonely? But they always have winds for company!
Wandering and wondering.
This also makes the Leh-Manali highway vulnerable to massive landslides. The landscape is all very stunning; but with such strong forces of nature at play, there is never really a guaranteed safe passage!
It was a roller coaster ride we will never forget.
As if the thrill of just scraping by the bend wasn’t enough, the driver decided to add some fun. A short cut was what he needed. He got off the tarmac road. Onto the ground, in between the loops.
The bus rattled. As did our teeth.
We were just hoping this short cut doesn’t cut short dear life!
Deep valleys, hairpin bends and steep curves were now “just another day in office”.
The sun was high above our head and the glaciers were melting in full flow. Our bus crossed through what feel like rivers.
We realised we were coming close to civilisation. Soon we would see people! And shockingly, the thought of seeing more people gave us joy!
Coming from Mumbai, a city of over 20 million, we never ever thought that was possible!
Soon after, we reached Keylong where the day’s journey ended.
But before that—there was the Rohtang. A pass no driver dares to cross in the night.
After a couple of hours, in broad daylight, we were at the start of the Rohtang Pass. The crowned prince of the Leh-Manali route. Or a dreaded monster!
Imagine the bus (rickety, with smooth tyres!), negotiating a hairpin bend on bumpy gravel at a gradient of what feels over 60 degrees. Suddenly, there’s a truck in front of you. And the bus has to reverse.
But we couldn’t see any of it, because, well, the valley was covered in fog. Or mist. Or were they clouds? We didn’t care! And were we glad! It was all just too much to handle!
“If the bus falls off now, at least I have seen the most majestic place on earth.” Yes, this did cross our minds.
We firmly believed our driver was a magician. And our bus, The Chariot of the Gods!
Top tips for traveling on the Leh Manali highway
- As we have said before, we advise on traveling this highway north to south – from Leh to Manali. We do not recommend Manali to Leh journey.
- Make sure you’re sufficiently acclimatised to the altitude. Medical help will not be easily available on the way. If necessary, stay for a day longer in Leh. If probe to motion sickness pop a pill.
- Book your tickets for the Leh Manali journey a day in advance. You’ll need to go to the bus stand, where the bus would be waiting.
- Stay hydrated. Yes, you will not find proper toilets along the way. But don’t skip on drinking water for the fear of wanting to go to the loo.
- Stay warm. Hands and feet can go numb, which is a bad idea at these altitudes. You can use these hand warmers and body warmers to stay warm.
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