14.09.2008 10 °C
The cold desert region of Laddakh had fascinated me since my early days. I had always dreamt of visiting the regions that lay beyond the mighty Himalayas, which were considered insurmountable at one point of time. Now the time had come to realize my long cherished dream and I along with my wife (Runa) set out on this adventurous journey in the month of July 2006 . We started from Delhi and after exploring some of the beautiful hill towns of the state of Himachal Pradesh, we finally reached Manali which is the base for all travels to Leh-Laddakh region. There are two land routes to Leh (capital of Laddakh region), one from Manali passing through Keylong and other from Srinagar passing through Kargil. Both these routes are open for vehicular traffic normally between July and October, though it may open a bit earlier and close later depending on the prevailing climatic conditions. The distance covered is almost the same in both the routes (around 470Kms).
We had booked our Manali-Leh trip with HPTDC (Government agency) as it is considered safe and reliable. It was priced at around 50 USD per person that was reasonable as they also provided accommodation and food at the place where the bus halted at night. We boarded the bus at 11:00 AM at Manali and set out for the long, tough and adventurous journey, which was spread over 2 days with an overnight halt and we were expected to reach Leh next day at around 7 in the evening. We were instructed to munch on to chocolates and have plenty of water, as we would be passing through numerous high mountain passes (many of them more than 5000 metres). Runa was getting a bit scared but excited too, she smiled at me but I could see an element of fear wrapped beneath her beautiful smile. I was amused to find that we were the only Indians, quite surprising since we were traveling in Indian Territory. The foreigners were of diverse nationalities but I could see a lot of them were from Asian countries, like Korea, Japan and China.
The bus started with everybody praying and wishing for a happy and safe journey. The weather was good and traveling alongside the Beas River we crossed the picturesque village of Kothi and the beautiful Solang Valley. The scenery changed from tall coniferous forests to lush green pastures as we started our ascent to the first of the numerous mountain passes, the Rohtang Pass (3900 metres). Rohtang means “Pile of Dead bodies” and is the gateway to the rugged region of Lahaul and Spiti. Rohtang is considered as one of the most dangerous pass in the region because often tourists get stranded here due to sudden deterioration in climatic conditions. The bus halted at Rohtang and we went to a small Dhaba (road side restaurant) for lunch and also had nice hot tea to refresh ourselves.
With everyone back in the bus, we now started the descent from Rohtang to the Chandra Valley to reach Koksar (first village of Lahaul & Spiti). The bus halted here for a while as it was a police check post and the passports of foreign nationals were collected and verified . Moving along the valley slopes, surrounded on both sides by towering peaks and glaciers, we passed the villages of Sissu, Gondla before reaching the confluence of Chandra-Bhaga River at Tandi. Crossing the bridge and after traveling for a while, we reached the beautiful town of Keylong(3350 metres) which is the headquarters of Lahaul & Spiti district of the state of Himachal Pradesh. Night halt was planned at Keylong and the bus went straight to Hotel ChandraBhaga where dinner was served while accommodation was arranged in a Tent outside the hotel premises. It was wonderful to spend the cold night in a tent with thundering waterfall close by and towering snow clad mountain peaks on all sides. We slept for a while and woke up at 3:30 in the morning, freshened up and got back to the bus, which started at 4:00 AM sharp. Packed breakfast comprising of boiled egg and butter toast was served in the bus.
Moving along on a desolate road, we started our ascent to another mountain pass, Barcha La. It is often referred to as the “Twelve Horned” pass forming the head of three spectacular river valleys, the Bhaga, the Chandra and the Yunan. Overcoming the Barcha La we started our descent and reach the town of Sarchu, where the bus halted briefly for refreshments at one of the numerous small Dhaba’s lined along the roadside. We again start our ascent from Sarchu and reached Lachlang La (5059 metres) and pass through barren landscape and rugged terrain to reach the village Pang. Beyond Pang, there is an incredible plateau (Moray Plain 4800 metres), which extends for 45 Kms and is encircled by rolling hills and snowy mountain peaks. We again started our ascent to Tanglang La, which is at a staggering height of 5328 metres and is also the second highest pass in the world (Highest being the Khardung La (around 6000 metres) on Leh-Nubra valley route). It was an overwhelming feeling when we reached Tanglang La, it was snowing there, the bus stopped for a while to allow us to click some pictures of the majestic pass. All of us were shivering and many of us experienced dizziness and breathlessness, which is a symptom of high altitude sickness. With everyone back in the bus, we descended for a while before we reached the small town of Upshi, which is the gateway to Leh. There was a brief halt here for some refreshment and beyond Upshi it was a relatively smoother 50 Km ride to Leh along the Indus river valley. We could see a large number of Buddhist monasteries, gompas, stupas and prayer wheels as we approached Leh. Finally at around 7:00 PM we reached the town of Leh and the bus halted at the main bus stand. We were quite worn out, yet thrilled and excited and happy to see the hotel staff waiting for us. We drove straight to the hotel, had a warm bath and refreshing tea to soothe and relax our body and soul.
Thus, an epic journey spread over two days passing through spectacular landscape, High Mountain passes, awesome valleys and deep gorges came to an end. Even though it was a long and tough journey, yet we enjoyed every bit of it and were on the edge of the seat, admiring and appreciating the natural beauty all along the route.