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Manali To Leh Jeep Trip – Part I – Himachal Pradesh

Manali to Leh Jeep Trip – Part I – Himachal Pradesh

From Manali to Leh

First Section - Himachal Pradesh

This post belongs to my post series about Incredible India, and specifically to the section, Traveling India. 

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My Felix Felicis Day

On the 22.8.2018 I wrote in my travel diary:

How can two consecutive days be SO different from each other?

Yesterday’s blues

Yesterday I had to deal with some uncomfortable issues that popped up unexpectedly at home. I also felt physically bad. My stomach had not yet fully recovered from the trip from hell to Manali. Vashisht was a bit too filthy to make the visit enjoyable, but the main problem was I could not find partners for my trip to Leh. The Israelis were all coming back from Ladakh at this point, rather than traveling there, and posting ads at the Beit Chabbad or on the mailing lists did not help.

There was one guy, who was also interested in going – Yair – but being religious he also had strict rules on when we were permitted to leave to avoid violating the Shabbat by chance. I told him if something happened on the road it wasn’t his fault, and God will forgive, but to no avail. We exchanged phones and promised to share whatever comes our way.

Things looked bleak. I could not and would not go back to Dharamshalla. On the other hand I could not continue to Leh, so what to do? 

Today’s BINGO

But that was all yesterday. Today was a totally different ball game…

First thing in the morning, emerging out of my room to the lobby of the Tiger’s Eye Hotel, where Amrita succeeded to get me a very good deal, I saw a handsome-looking blonde guy glued to the hotel’s computer’s screen. He said he was trying to get a flight back home to Holland, but there was a problem with the connection. I said I also had a problem. I was trying to get partners to go to Leh. BINGO! Bram said: “We are leaving today at 11!!! If you want to join, be fast.” They already paid the fairly high price for the jeep willing to go it all on their own, so were happy to share the cost.

 All excited, I promptly called Yair and told him we were leaving 11:30, take it or leave it. I also called Amrita asking her to come by my hotel as soon as she could to say goodbye and get a farewell hug. Packing like a breeze, I was “ticking” it, which I’m pretty good at when direction and purpose are clear.

The Green Himalaya - Northern Himachal Pradesh

By 12 o’clock or so we were already on the famous road from Manali to Leh, getting out of downtown Manali’s traffic jam into the mountains that got higher as we moved on. A lot of trees and greenery, ten million awesome waterfalls everywhere, starting at the summits and cascading down to mighty rivers below. I have never seen so directly how rivers derive from mountain snow/glaciers. It is one thing to know intellectually that rivers emanate from snow melt; it is another to see it in reality.

     Water cascading down a high Himalayan mountain on the road from Manali to Leh, Himachal      Water cascading down a high Himalayan mountain on the road from Manali to Leh, Himachal

Cascading from glacier, on the Manali-Leh road.

Snow melt and glacier melt cascade down the green Himalayan slopes on the road from Manali to Leh, Himachal Pradesh

And then there was the fog, this elusive element that turns everything into magic for a few minutes and then disappears:

        Tree in fog on the road from Manali to Leh, Himachal Pradesh      Himalayan fog en route from Manali to Leh Greenery and fog Northern Himachal PradeshFogs in green Himachal Pradesh on the road from Manali to Leh

From the Flattest Place on Earth to its Highest Peaks

A few words about my partners. Bram was traveling with his girlfriend, Nikki. To make it easier for the locals, he presented himself as Brahma, and for the same reason they presented themselves as a married couple…Married or not, they are now expecting a child back in the Netherlands, and have just put the last touches of paint on the the walls in the baby’s room… 

Bram and Nikki came from the flattest, lowest country on Earth, the Netherlands, straight to the highest, most rugged and geologically-active part of the planet… They had never before seen a combination of desert with mountains and were thrilled. That was nice for me because genuine enthusiasm is highly catchy…

Another thing that connected us was Bram’s photographic zeal. The two of us kept clicking and ticking, jumping out of our skins and out of the car (Dave, the driver, was wonderfully obliging), leaving Nikki and Yair behind as we searched for the best spots to shoot our pictures. This was especailly true on the second day (to be described in my up and coming post “From Jispa to Leh”), where the views were simply astounding. 

At one point during this early part of the trip we stopped, with many other travelers, by a waterfall on the roadside. There were vendors selling roasted corn on the cob, a popular Indian fast food I got used to eating and which I liked a lot. The vendors spice it for you with lemon, hot chilli and salt upon request. The corn can be pretty black at times. I prodded Bram and Nicky to give it a try, which in the end they did, and liked it. I had two cobs of corn with no ill effect on my stomach…

             Bram and Nikki trying corn on the fire by a Himalayan waterfall , Himachal Pradesh         Bram and Nikki trying corn on the fire by a Himalayan waterfall , Himachal Pradesh

Roasted corn sold by a Himalayan waterfall on the road from Manali to Leh. Bram and Nikki are having their first taste…

Music International on the Top of the World

Dave – the ultimate driver

Dave, our driver, who spoke very good English, was the best possible jeep driver anybody could wish for. None of our needs, including the very frequent stops Bram and I kept requesting for photography, was left unmet.

Dave was also an excellent and resourceful driver –  a skill of paramount importance in the rough terrain of the high narrow winding Himalayan roads, where rocks, mud and crazy drivers can block progress, even endanger our lives.

Mountain driving and music

Musically, the trip was a bonanza. At home, Nikki and Bram had recorded a great variety of music, ranging from avant-garde to folk to classical. There were recordings of famous and inspiring Dutch female singers (e.g. Eefjede de Visser), as well as animal sounds, hip hop, children songs, Bach, Chopin and the Beatels. Their music seemed to miraculously always match with our surroundings and the mood, whether we were climbing up a big slope, meandering through a windy road, being stuck behind bulldozers working on the road, or just cruising along.

Yair, on his part, contributed some neat Israeli music, and Dave had his own good collection of Indian music to add to the mix.

This time no motion sickness

Between the music, the frequent stops, the careful slow daytime driving, the quality SUV, the great company and the open windows, this time around I did not suffer from motion sickness even when the road twisted and turned. (see my agnoized post on the road from McLoed to Manali for comparison…)

In a manner of preventive medicine, in the morning I had plain porridge with banana for breakfast, which proved to be just the right thing to start the trip with. Bram contributed some raisins to the dull dish…

"The Real Thing" - Mountain Vistas on the Road from Manali to Leh

Power of Earth and a lot of fresh air

As the road kept heading north, from a certain point onwards snows and glaciers started to appear in the background. I couldn’t tell which was which from that distance.

Snowy peaks shrouded in clouds. Road from Manali to Leh, Himachal Pradesh Awesome Himalyan vista on road from Manali to Leh

We, of course, all got excited and rushed to commemorate ourselves against this long-anticipated background…

      Yair posing against Himalayan snowy peaks. Northern Himachal Pradesh         Myself posing agains snowy Himalayan peaks. Northern Himachal Pradesh

Me and Yair posing against Himalayan peaks on road from Manali to Leh, Himachal Pradesh

Here were the Himalayas. This is what I came for, this was the real thing.

Daramshalla and Manali were great, each in its own way, but what we were experiencing here was on another scale altogether. This was the IT we were seeking for in large capital letters. High white peaks could be glimpsed at every turn; endless waterfalls, and the rivers below. There were also enormous boulders along the road, just “waiting” for the slightest push to roll them down towards the abyss.

    Bram playing silly and the gang on the road from Manali to Leh Our group and other travelers posing against snowy peaks on road from Manali to Leh The gang posing against snowy peaks on road from Manali to Leh, Himachal Pradesh

Our “gang” and fellow travellers on the road from Manali to Leh

The human element

As we moved on, the human element contributed its amazing beauty to the natural scene, with green plots of cabbage and other vegetables. Squash was stacked on the roofs and on wood piles. Some were terraced, some were oblique, following the contours of the mountain. Then there were sheep and mountain goats and wild horses.

The villages themeselves were very clean, nothing like Vashisht or Bhagsu. The plots were worked meticulously and esthetically. The rivers ran clean and free, but some hydroelectric projects were in the process of being installed.

We stopped at a small village by the roadside and had dinner. I had a hot and sour soup, black tea with ginger and a masala omelet. Yair, keeping kosher, made do with parantha. The couple treated themselves to a fuller meal.

       Buddhist village in mountain valley on road from Manali to Leh, Himachal Pradesh   Cultivated plots along the road from Manali to Leh, Himachal PradeshBuddhist village nestled among mountains on road from Manali to Leh, Himachal Pradesh     

 Picturesque Buddhist villages viewed from the  Manali to Leh road, Himachal Pradesh

No altitude-related issues

At one point we went over the first high mountain pass, the Rohtang-La at 3980m. A huge downhill followed before another climb to about 4200m.

I was so happy I did not give in to my fears, and instead “followed my dream” to get here! So much beauty, free to behold.

The altitude itself had very limited effect on me throughout this trip. The slow, gradual climbing made the change in altitude “digestible”. I took one pill I bought in a pharmacy in New Manali, but I don’t think it played a major role in my well-being.

On the second day we reached the highest motor-worthy mountain passes in India, up to 5360m at Tanglang-la, and I was still doing well. I only felt a slight effect when rushing out of the car to take a picture and running out of breath. My body commanded me to slow down.

I wonder if my earlier acclimation to these heights on my trip to South and Central America in the 80s had to do with my resilience. 

The Road from Manali to Leh - Stuck

All along the road people, including women, with bandannas wrapped around their faces, were working shoveling and doing hard work on the dangerous embattled Manali to Leh road. Oftentimes they seemed darker than the average local folk, and I gathered they were recruited from the southern parts of India.

You can read about the challenges of maintaining roads in the Himalayas here

At one point a new tunnel was being dug. It will shorten hours of driving into a 9 km highway from Manali. Stunning, but I wouldn’t wish to miss that beautiful road for nothing!!! Faster is not necessarily better. To the contrary, we travelers come to India among other things to slow down and merge with nature and the adventure.

Road work on route from Manali to Leh

Maintenance work on the road from Manali to Leh

At a certain point we were stopped. They were fixing something down the road.

As we were waiting, an Indian beauty with an apprecciation for her own looks used the opportunity to pose for her admiring boyfriend on a rock by the side of the road:

     Indian beauty posing on rock as we wait due to maintenance on road from Manali to Leh      Admiring boyfriend takes pic of Indian beauty posing on rock on road from Manali to Leh

Indian beauty posing on rock for boyfriend as we all wait for the road to be cleared

Himalayan Evening and a River Running Through It

The following pictures are in chronological order, but as the jeep moved through the landscape the sky and the sun constantly changed positions.  Pictures that seem to be taken later in the day might actually precede brighter ones:

Clouds over green mountains. North Himachal Pradesh.

Bhaga River, Himachal Pradesh, on road to Jispa

Bhaga River with evening clouds   Bhaga River with evening clouds. Himachal Pradesh

Bhaga River with clouds and mountains on road from Manali to Leh

From these incredible vistas we now reached a point where the tree line became visible, with high desert above it and snowy peaks peeping beyond it:

    The tree line showing as we head north on road from Manali to Leh.    Snowy peak and tree line. Himachal Pradesh. The road from Manali to Leh.

The tree line is clear once we are far enough north in Himachal en route from Manali to Leh, predicting the desert to follow…

Himalayan Moon Rise with a Flute at Jispa, a Rest Place on the Road from Manali to Leh

Night magic 

We had a debate regarding accomodation for the night. The place was called Jispa and there were several tenting options. We eventally settled on the next-to-cheapest one, but it was very decent and clean and right on the river.

The picture does not do it justice, but by this river, under this mountain, when the moon rose, I had a so-called peak experience. Everybody was settled in their tents by then, yet I went outside with my flute to a point overlooking the river to play. Huge mountains towered on the other side. While I was playing, it seemed as if soft light started to emanate from the mountain, almost at its top, just a smidge below.

My neck was over-stretched as I endeavored not to miss a second of this spectacle. And a spectacle it was.The height of this moonrise, unsurpassed in my entire life experience before this auspicious moment, gave a glow to the entire mountain. When it finally showed up I screamed – involuntarily…

The lady in the moon 

It came with a halo. The familiar face was there, just like at home. In theory I had seen this moon lady before, on the other sides of this planet (Israel, America north and south), but not like this, NOT LIKE THAT!!!

I knew theoretically that it was the same moon I saw rising over the Samara Gorge in Crete, Embudo Station in New Mexico, or our Kinneret when we did our sea-to-sea initiation hike with the scouts. yet that obvious piece of knowledge, in the current context, somehow took me by surprise. I never saw the moon rise at such height. It felt like it could not be the same entity, yet of course, it was.

  I am posing against rive Bhaga by Jispa acomodation Jispa tenting accomodation on road from Manali to Leh, Himachal Pradesh Jispa tenting accomodation on road from Manali to Leh, Himachal Pradesh

Jispa tenting accomodation, half way on the road from Manali to Leh, by the river Bhaga

This magical event sealed my Harry Potter Lucky Day before sinking into deep sleep in my spacious tent under Himalayan skies.

Here is the link to “The Road from Manali to Leh, Part II – Ladakh“.

For more upcoming posts about India and on other topics:

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