"The butterfly counts not months but moments, and has time enough." ~ Rabindranath Tagore


Travel Diary of Himachal: Part 2

Bharathi R. proceeds on the next leg of her journey from Manali to Leh having travelled across Spiti and Kinnaur. Looking back on the trip the only way she can describe it is: AWESOME!

21st June

Rest & Recreation day: eating, sleeping, chilling out. Vashisht is one of the few places in India that I define as a chill out place with everything going for it: great food, cheap acco, superb views, and interesting company. The view from the veranda is beautiful, a great moon shining on the Beas flowing below, the wooded valley across, Sagittarius and Scorpio and the Great Bear hanging upside down. The only sound is the roar of the river and the rustle of the wind.

22nd June

I get up at 8 am and after one last dip at the hot spring, breakfast of masala dosa and filter coffee, we all leave aboard a totally jam packed bus for Keylong. We labour up to the Rohtang Pass for three hours - 49 kms! The pass is a veritable Mela abuzz with Sumos and Marutis and Indian tourists getting their induction to snow in the measly patches. We clear the prayer flags at the crest of the pass - great views - and drop down to Koksar on the other side, where we have a tea-break.

More About
Himachal Overview
J & K Overview
Ladakh Overview

Travel Diary - Part 1
Return to Manali
Manali to Leh
Road to Khardung La
Dharamshala Diary


Kareri Lake
Deo Tibba Trek

Holiday Packages
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Outbound Tours
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View beyond Manali

The view keeps getting better, snow capped mountains, tiny waterfalls from the melting glaciers, green valley of the Chandra River and some very picturesque villages en route. We cross Paagal Nala - appropriately named, the crazy stream has washed away half the road and we teeter dangerously on the other half!

At Tandi, the Chandra meets the Baga river, coming in from Baralacha - they flow in sync as Chandrabhaga, but soon lose their respective identities and are known as Chenab. We cross the bridge and pull into Keylong to capture a golden sunset and halt for the night. Keylong is the mandatory overnight stop on the Leh-Manali road, so the place has several guest houses and dhabas catering to transit passengers. Somebody offers me a room - attached bath 150, common bath 100 bucks - I negotiate an attached bath for 100 bucks! There are no foreigners arriving here, courtesy the US and British embassies warning citizens to leave - so supply far exceeds demand! An absolutely adequate room - clean double bed, fresh sheets and tiled bath with an immersion heater for hot water. Departure next day is at 3:30 a.m.

23rd June

I get up, look at my watch and bang myself so hard that my forehead hurts for hours afterwards! It is 5 am and the bus left while I was still snoring! Mixed feelings, sad because of the 320 bucks I paid for the bus ticket, happy because I get a day's stopover in beautiful Keylong and can hike around to some great hilltop monasteries and neighbouring villages.

LadakhI muster the most woebegone and pitiable expression I can and go to the bus stand and present my case and the useless ticket. The grumpy clerk says, "What can I do if you slept? Come back at 10 am and talk to the station manager!"

Off I go for breakfast - tea, alu parantha and two-egg bhurji costs twenty bucks! Feel good with a full tummy - I hike up to Shashur gompa, 3 kms away on top of a hill. It is 6:40 am and the views get better with every tired step, my internal combustion engine is warming up from the climb and the cold wind is stinging my eyes and singing in my ears. I like early morning hikes. At 8:10, I reach the gompa - sit sprawled on the steps, and watch the 180 degree views - the gompa is locked and I can't see anybody around.

Keylong has snowy peaks on both east and west, and the sunrises and sunsets reflect golden on the peaks. The green valley unfolds below with the Beas flowing a long distance away. The town itself is an ugly sprawl but the one lane bus stand and its transit lounge are quite a distance away! I return there to meet the station manager and enact an impressive theatrical performance, to which he asks me to return at 6 p.m.

I go village hopping - Sissu, Gondla with its funny fort, Tandi - with great photo opportunities. Back to Keylong - I receive a seat number for tomorrow's bus, but don't dare to pester the clerk for a window seat. He reminds me not to oversleep again. I nod religiously, and leave very happy, having saved 320 bucks.

24th June

wild flowers I manage to get up at 2:45 am, have tea and head sleepily for the bus. The moon is shining, and everything looks eerie in the stillness of that hour - nobody else is awake in the wide world except the poor passengers of the Leh bus. The conductor is nodding off. I hope the driver doesn't. We are ready for takeoff, there are three no-show passengers, good to know that I am not the only passenger in the history of Keylong to sleep through a 4 am departure - I quickly grab a vacant window seat.

We reach Darcha, one hour and 39 kms away at 5 am and stop for breakfast. The dawn is breaking - feels great to be alive, there is such a fresh scent to the air. As we climb up the valley, every peak looks golden. The meadows are flowering - yellow, pink, purple, white, a profusion of colour.

Just before Paysio, we pass a beautiful tiny lake, so clear and calm that all the surrounding peaks are reflected in its placid waters, how I wish we could stop here! There is a small army camp and helipad here, and I can't help noticing that such a small camp has two "wet" canteens!


Ladakh We begin the ascent to Baralacha pass, it looks like God's own ice cream parlour serving only three flavours - vanilla, chocolate and choco-chip. Dark brown mountains and lots and lots of snow, everything is dazzling in the glare of the 7 am sun. The bus driver is forced to wear sunglasses.

There are rocks everywhere, not big boulders but enough stones and snow patches to make you feel you are driving through the moraine of some glacier! The rockfall has also toppled many of the distance markers, most of them are lying face down or sideways on the roadside - reminds me of the toppled statue in Shelley's Ozymandias! We clear Baralacha and stop at the next settlement for a much needed cuppa.

Then a long lonely stretch through grassy plains, the only sight of another human being is an occasional Gujjar with his flock of hundred plus sheep and a single sheepdog which controls the entire flock with consummate ease. The landscape is as desolate as it can get and incredibly beautiful! We cross Serchu, a little bridge divides J&K and Himachal. Spiti and Ladakh are the closest to Tibet.

Ladakh We climb Nakki La at 15,700 ft and then descend and traverse a long stretch through plain roads before climbing to Lachilung La at 16,600 ft. Another descent, another long stretch through the 'plains', then climb to Tanglang La at - 17,800 ft... the second highest motorable road in the world after Khardung La. Ascending and descending four passes of close to 5000 meters in a space of about 100 kms is my idea of an incredible journey. Every time we climb,the snowy peaks beyond start peeping out slowly from behind the close-by ridges and we get dramatic views at the crest of every pass.

There is a huge rock tower soaring near Pang, it looks like the desi version of Trango Towers. We stop for a late lunch at Pang after our bus literally swims across a stream since the bridge there was dysfunctional. A lorry just ahead of us can't climb the steep embankment and ends up blocking traffic for an hour accompanied by colourful Punjabi swearing from the several Sardarji drivers! There is a long line of trucks - it is not surprising that the Manali route has surpassed the Srinagar route as the conduit for supplies to Ladakh.

Tanglang La was the high point of the trip - both in terms of altitude and views. We were so high that we could see almost to the horizon, counted some two dozen snowy summits and there was one hell of a lot of snow. Felt like it was the top of the world.

A long level traverse upto Rumtse follows. There is a crumbling fort here. Ater the brown landscape - the green of the village fields is most refreshing! Again desert landscape, until we reach the village of Lato, where the landscape turns a vivid red, almost the colour of sugarbeet. The mountains here have some incredible rock formations for a few kms - about 200 ft high and 70 feet long but only about 10 ft wide - looked almost as if somebody had cut away alternate slices of the mountain!

prayer flags We reach Upshi at 5pm. The Indus river appeared almost from nowhere. It is a little stream here, but what a magnificent course it takes - harbouring ancient civilizations, millennia old. Running through three countries, indifferent to the coming and going of Vajpayees and Musharafs...an eternal life!

A We reach Leh at 6:40 pm, and I am reminded of my last trip into Leh six years ago, also at sunset hour, coming in from Srinagar. Leh Fort is as usual reminiscent of the Potala. I tell myself, next year at Lhasa... we go where our dreams take us!

I tuck into a really jazzy hotel this time - my body has earned the rest. Carpet, fresh sheets, white towels, TV, a great lounge, room with lots of character, Tibetan paintings - and what clinches it for me, running hot water! The tab 200 bucks after bargaining down a 350 buck quote (I said 200 bucks and before I could say Tso Moriri, the staff pressed the key into my hand, ended up wondering if I had overbid).

Nubra Leh is another favourite chillout joint of mine, walk into any restaurant and you will find notices for treks, expeditions... I tell myself I will do the Pangong, Tso Moriri, Nubra Valley trips next time I am here, God knows when! It has been a great trip - I have spent 6 k so far, two weeks, about 2000 kms, and about 2 k on surface travel alone.

I attack the German bakery - cherry pie and chicken shinitzel with banana milkshake. I sit watching the Leh fort shining in the sunset.. I have just completed what is arguably the most spectacular journey in India - the most memorable in fifteen years of travel here. It is an awesome landscape and for the quality of exposure in terms of ethnology, geography, history, culture, religions, architecture, cuisine - you can't beat this trip. This is one trip where you can start solo, and will find some very interesting fellow travellers - it is a demanding trail yes, but incredibly rewarding too... as we crossed the Lingti plains with its fine sandstone formations, I was wondering what great spirit the explorers of the seventeenth and eighteenth century must have possessed, to set foot on such a desolate unforgiving landscape.... and yet it is so beautiful, it moves your soul!

25th June

Am largely on sleep, eat and contemplation mode! I walk down to the Leh airport to buy an Indian Airlines ticket to Delhi on 26th. The airport is guarded like a veritable fort with only cannons and crocodiles in moats missing. Indian Airlines is one of the few airlines in the world which make it as difficult as possible to buy a ticket! Tickets are apparently freely available and I will have to return at the time of the flight, when the staff will be around. The only reason I am looking at IC is that the flight leaves at 8:30am, and the Jet Airways departure is 6 am - don't want to risk sleeping through a 4 am check-in.

26th June

Hit the airport at 6:30 am, struggle through security at every stage because I have no ticket as yet, and can't find the Indian Airlines counter - the Jet flight is delayed and I happily settle for a ticket to Delhi onboard Jet. The difference in quality of service is amazing! No hand baggage allowed, Leh is super-high-security airport, and the security checks are not funny - many passengers are fighting! I am told it is worse on Srinagar flights.

The flight is spectacular, though not quite the same as the Srinagar-Leh flight! We fly over the Stok, Zanskar and Great Himalayan range for the first half of the flight - it is beautiful, the sharp ridges, the shapely glaciers and snowy summits that look close enough to touch. Mountains as far as the eye can see!

I get off at Delhi airport at 9:30 am, it is like coming to the Sahara from Siberia. I put away my load of woollens with a heavy heart.

"All good things come to an end -
How fading are the joys we dote upon,
Like apparitions seen and gone -
But those which soonest take their flight
Are the most exquisite and strong.
Like angel's visits, short and bright,
Mortality's too weak to bear them long!"

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Editor: Romola Butalia       (c) India Travelogue. All rights reserved.