On the Leh - Manali Road
Our 1000km flight from Delhi
to Leh gave us no real idea of Ladakh's isolation. We set back south by road - 475 kms to the foothill resort of Manali
, the next main town. It's a 2 or 3 day journey. We took 3 days. We left Leh at 8.30. Cultivation gave way to mountain desert and metalled road gave way, off and on, to gravel track, all constantly under repair. 2 high passes, Taglang La 5328m and Lachung La, 5060m. The Pang gorges had astonishing rock formations; the Gator Loops - 24 hairpin bends in succession, brought us at 5.00pm on day 1 to Sarchu
, 240km from Leh.
In the middle of nowhere, but over 4000m up. It's basically a number of campsites where travellers break the journey. Our tent had an ensuite - and yes, it worked!! Then a 7.00am start through rather lusher country to end day 2 at the small beautifully situated town of Keylong
, 350 km from Leh. They were widening the road on this sector. The net effect, apart from some 20km of smoothly surfaced highway, was 110km of unmade road with startling drops, tight bends and fantastic views. The hotel in Keylong provided fine views and satellite tv. The only programme in English we could find was Zee Studio showing Shakespeare in Love. The ads were for life assurance and hair products. Odd, really!
Day 3 - another 7.00am start, for the last lap, 125km to Manali.
The Gorges of Pang
As we moved down towards the Himalayan foothills, the scenery became more "Alpine". It rains here. there are numerous fields of potatoes, pine woods, long waterfalls, glimpses of distant glaciers. We saw several eagles hovering as we headed over Rohtang, our last high pass. And our most hair-raising! Fantastic views from the top. Then as we descended, we hit a huge traffic jam. Part of the road had been washed away. An army convoy of 58 lorries (they were numbered!!) had priority coming up over the temporary, hugely muddy road, on a hairpin. Many needed to be pushed by a JCB. We waited 4 hours for our turn to descend, reaching Manali at 4.00pm. There must have been over 100 other lorries waiting to ascend. So, about 24 hours on the road for the 475km.Manali Moments:
From the Gator Loops
In season Sept - Nov, Manali is a favourite of Indian honeymooners. The Honeymoon Hotel advertises "The experience of a lifetime"!! Late Aug is out of season. We are the only guests in the Shringar Regency. We were the only diners last night in a large dining room, and the only breakfasters this morning. Then we took a local taxi along the River Beas to a modern Hindu temple at Kullu. Along the road, they are bringing in a huge apple harvests, with vast baskets of apples carried on men's back, to sheds, and then taken down to what looked like wholesale markets. We passed The Drive-in tree House Cottages, and then The Little Flower Visitation Senior Secondary School, where around 20 nuns in full habit were lined up outside. We were shown around Vishnu Devi Temple by a man very proud of his contribution to the exquisite, delicate carving.
Back to Vashisht, on a hillside above Manali for lunch, and past the English Wine Shop with Child Beer. Vashisht is an odd mix of workaday hill village and new age resort. The hot springs attract women doing the laundry and men washing themselves. Young westerners in baggy triousers and dreadlocks wander around. The World Peace Cafe provided a good lunch and great views. Then back to Old Manali with its wooden houses and stone roofs, and the 16th Century Hadimba Temple. It's a wooded structure, more akin to some Scandinavian timber church than what one imagines as a trad Hindu temple, and is situated in the middle of tall deodar pines. We watched Indian tourists wander around, taking photos, calling inside to do puja. Then back to the still empty Shrigar.