Unbelievable is not it?
Manali Travel Blog› entry 23 of 29 › view all entries
Anita has to be in Bombay at the end of June, so we realized that if we wanted to see anywhere outside McLeod Ganj we'd better get a move on. We decided to go to Leh (pronounced "Lay"), the main city in Ladakh, a region in the state called Jammu and Kashmir. The timing of my India trip has been pretty lousy weather-wise; some of the places I really want to see (namely Rajasthan) are out of the question right now because of the heat and monsoons. But this time I got it right: The road to Leh is open for only about two months per year (usually June and July), inaccessible the rest of the year due to ice, snow, and generally too-cold weather.
So, we reluctantly left McLeod Ganj and started the long journey to Leh. The first leg was a bus ride to Manali, a hill station that's the starting point of the road to Leh. We took an overnight bus that departed at 8:30pm and arrived at 6:30am. It was, in a word (or two), not good. The road had crazy bends, was narrow, and unbelievably bumpy -- so bumpy that I was lifted out of my seat several times. Once I hit my head on the little fan (that didn't work) above my seat. I slept maybe two and a half hours.
We went straight to the Sunflower Hotel, where we had a reservation.
After booking our seats for the ride up to Leh, we walked around Manali. I don't know, maybe we just didn't see the right parts, but it was nothing thrilling for me. We took a walk to look for the hot springs everyone talks about, and though we asked for directions many times along the way, we got lost and ended up climbing a steep hill that was obviously not the main route. The springs have had structures built around them, so people can take baths in them.
Somehow we managed to stay awake until our 2am departure, thinking we'd sleep on the ride to Leh. The "jeep" (really a mini-bus) was scheduled to depart at 2am and arrive the following evening at 7pm -- a 17-hour drive on the Manali-Leh Highway. We finally got on the road at 3am, and right away we knew we were in for a rough trip -- an unbelievably windy road, the driver constantly honking the horn, and traffic! Unfortunately I felt nauseous right away, and had to ask the driver to pull over.
When we finally got going in earnest, I wished I'd napped earlier in the day -- sleeping on this bus, with all the twists and bumps, was going to be impossible. In the early afternoon we had to stop (along with dozens of other vehicles) and wait for 30 army trucks to pass, which took over an hour. At that point I heard a rumor from another passenger that we wouldn't make it to Leh that night, and would have to sleep in tents. My college roommates used to joke that my idea of camping was staying in a Motel 6, and they weren't too far off. I've come a long way since then (mostly in India), but sleeping in a tent in the Himalayas wasn't a thrilling prospect.
We all claimed mattresses, used the great outdoors as a bathroom, and climbed under the surprisingly thick, warm blankets. I woke up at 5am, my breath visible in the freezing cold. We got going by 7:30am, but by 7:35 had yet another delay: One of the other buses we were traveling with had a flat tire. It did seem quite comical at that point. I now know that the area where we slept -- that literally consisted of eight giant tents -- is on maps of India, and has a name (Pang) as if it's a town.
Soon after leaving Pang we got to the second highest motorable pass in the world, at over 17,000 feet. The views were incredible, but the altitude was literally dizzying. The rest of the trip was fairly uneventful, though just as uncomfortable. We finally arrived in Leh at 2pm on the dot, which meant that the trip took 36 hours door to door. We had a reservation at a guest house for the previous night, but with no cell phone reception in the middle of the Himalayas, we had no way to call to explain our absence and make sure the room would be available when we arrived. Thankfully it worked out fine; our room is very comfortable and clean, with an incredible view of the mountains.