Early in the morning with the first light, we prepared for the onward journey. The head was heavier due to the sleepless ghastly previous night and mood gloomy. My body was not allowing me to drive hence, I preferred to sit aside allowing my colleague to continue onward. The weather was below freezing point with very cold wind blowing hard accruing the already atrocious condition to more barbarous. The only savior was that we were on descend now and gradually moving towards the plains and hotter climatic condition. Though, another high pass of Baralacha La was yet to cross ascending another 5030 meter, the whether was bettering with the Sun with its intensity. A 40 km drive through the panoramic landscape leads to the Baralacha La. The road from here is a constant descend upto Zingzingbar. Both the Bhaga River and the Chandra River originate from melting snow at opposite sides of Baralacha La, the former flowing southwest and the latter flowing first southeast and then northwest to merge at Tandi at lower elevation of 2500 meters. Tandi is situated at the bottom of the river valley at the confluence of the both the rivers which merge to form the Chandra-Bhaga River that is later known as River Chenab, downstream in J&K.
This was the immediate important destination for us because of the only petrol pump of Indian Oil, situated here which is 365 km from Leh, the next filling station on the way to Manali to Leh and vice versa. We were short of petrol and had to buy 10 liters from a local seller at Rs. 150/- per liter at Sarchu. The mileage of your car can defy you in this terrain and is advisable to carry a few liters of spare fuel as done by the bikers on this route. Another important place, Keylong lies between Zingzingbar and Tandi located at an altitude of 3080 meters is a favorite stopover for night stay and acclimatization for travelers from Manali to Leh. It is situated in the district of Lahaul and Spiti in Himachal Pradesh and remains unconnected for the whole long 8 months winter from the entire country due to heavy snow in the passes on its both end i.e. Rohtang towards Manali and Baralacha La and Zingzingbar towards Leh. The place is visited by many during its festival in July every year. The good news is that a tunnel is under construction connecting Manali to Keylong that will reduce the 5 hour journey to 30 minutes once completed and will be open for round the year. You could still see find, bikers testing stamina in organized trips, enjoying the nature’s toughest cardiac ability test. On the way we stopped at a tented restaurant at Darcha, again a temporary settlement till the snow fall starts, for some light meal for the onward journey.
The landscape changed drastically from arid dry to lush greenery and wet with slippery roads through the gushing streams and snow capped mountains surrounding the sphere. The road was ascending again towards Rohtang Pass to an altitude of 4000 meters. A village called Khoksar 25 km from Rohtang is the check post for foreign nationals to exhibit their passports and visas before the onward journey towards Leh. The steep high onward road is a visual delight with snow and snow every where on the high tops to the slopes. The journey upto Rohtang Pass is extremely delightful and picturesque. The quaint and scenic surrounding fills the mood with elation of euphoria. The Rohtang Pass and the valley is very hot spot and must visit to every visitor from Manali due to the persistent snow and many snow sports comprising trail on the snow bike, para-gliding, skiing, slope sliding etc. The place is always crowded during its season and a good source of income for the locals selling handicrafts, renting snow boots, heavy fur coats and caps, noodles commonly called Maggie, coffee and tea, cold drinks freezing the bottles by burying them in the snow, photographers with ethnic clothes on rent and lot more. Manali in the foothill is the most visited place by the domestic tourists and also by the foreigners because of snow at Rohtang almost all through the year. This is also a honeymooners’ paradise and couples in their best romantic poses can be found lost in their dream world with their dream partners.
We reached Rohtang at or around 4 PM and passing through the beautiful pass and its valleys amidst dense fog reached Manali at or around 5 PM. Since, Manali was visited many times by all of us and also due to the exertion of the long drive, we preferred heading towards our home without stopping. Steadily, we reached Sunder Nagar via Mandi in Himachal Pradesh covering another 140 km to reach as closer as possible for the return journey, on the following day. On the way we had some apples straight from the trees by courtesy of one of the owners of the orchard. We stayed in a road side Motel situated a few kilometers away from the town of Sunder Nagar, constructed alongside the river Beas at a bargain price of Rs. 1000/- for an excellent room equivalent to a super deluxe room of a 3 start hotel, with excellent facilities and river view balcony.
Lethargically, we started for the journey back to home and reached Delhi by evening with enormous sweet memories forgetting all hardships of the way. A total journey of 2200 kms in 9 days is the most memorable travel I have ever made in my life so far. My car has never betrayed even in the most adverse situations. Next day when we showed the photographs to our friends and relatives, the astonishing remarks filled the heart with joy and smile on the face. I still remember the journey while browsing the photographs and recall each event clearly one by one. My laptop has a screen saver of the picture of Taglang La and my office computer is loaded with the desktop picture of the landscape at Drass. Not many believe, it to be conquered by driving a small car all the way without a professional driver, the photos however, leaves them in awe. Many of my friends are now planning for the trip and insisting me to join them but honestly, I don’t have the dare to repeat this road journey again. Moreover, a lot more destinations are still on my list and want to cover them all one by one and share with all esteemed readers in future. Your valuable comment is most sought on the write up.
Tips to visitors:
1. The altitudes mentioned in the write-ups are approximate.
2. The condition of the road may vary every year.
3. Don’t ever drive drunk at any point in the journey.
4. Keep woolens handy, better to wear in layers.
5. Keep dry fruits, chocolates, energy drinks and plenty of water.
6. Don’t speed, even on straight roads and especially at elevations.
7. The water stream shall be crossed after examining the current if it seems to be high else wait till another local vehicle crosses it.
8. Keep safe distance at the edges of slopes, the gradients are very loose and may cause fatal.
9. Don’t tease or try to befriend any local female even if she is a kid, People are very conservative and may treat it wrong.
10. Don’t offer lift to any one even if they insist. Instances of snatching are reported.
11. Strictly don’t drive at night. Take a halt at the tents available at different points before its dark.
12. The entire stretch from Sonamarg-Leh-Manali is very scarcely populated and no instant help is available in case of emergency, so drive your vehicle very safe, avoiding any mechanical problem.
13. AMS is inevitable at such altitude even after acclimatization (as in my case), so be prepared and avoid staying long at the heights above 4000 meters.
14. Don’t run or jerk yourself at any point during the journey that may cause fatal due to scarce oxygen resulting into instant fatigue and symptoms of AMS.
15. Keep your eye constant on the road all the time, driving in mountains slightly differs than on plains and requires vigil. An inch’s turn may push the vehicle into the slopes or may collide with another vehicle approaching from the blind curves.
16. It is advisable to put the vehicle on halt and let the Army Vehicles pass rather, judging to cross by its side.
17. Don’t ever try to overtake unless the other vehicle allows you. This may be very fatal in the treacherous mountainous roads.
18. Try to stay at Leh for a few days, good for acclimatization and also worth in terms of venturing the places around.
19. Start early from Leh and reach Keylong for the night halts. Don’t keep any site visit on the way (as we did) to avoid staying in tents in Sarchu or such other high altitude stops, for a comfortable stay.
20. Last but not the least, enjoy the nature and mesmerizing landscape to its fullest but don’t do so while driving. Better stop at safer points to glance the beauty and taking photographs.
I intended to make the readers experience travelling with me, while reading the posts. Remorsefully, I did not plan a stay in Leh but I promised to visit the place soon. An extensive post on Leh will greet you all very soon. Please feel free to update me with your comments to improvise my narrating skill.