Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Road Trip, Indian Style: Manali to Leh

BRO: I'm Curvaceous, Go Slow.

BRO: Better to be Mister Late than a late Mister

BRO: Need a hug? Find a tree

BRO: Love thy neighbor but not while driving

Who is this BRO? And why does India have BroBrahs* writing their road signs?!

It was the first of many curious sights we encountered along the way during our 460 km, 2 day, 16 hour jeep ride over ridiculously high mountain passes and barren landscapes on our way from Manali to Leh.

Why would we undertake such a journey? Mostly for the mountains, culture and momos found in Ladakh. Before we got there though, we had to survive our jeep ride.
Manali to Leh; Road Trip!
The Road:
The road from Manali to Leh could best be described as "variable." At worst, you'd use the word "awful." I'm actually amazed a road even exists in some places as you go over 5 passes that are over 15,000 feet tall. The highest pass is the second highest drive-able pass in the world and gets you up to 17,582 ft above sea level.

When our guide book as published several years ago, the average time took 22 hours to make the drive; now that time is down to 16 hours or so due mostly to the fact that they are about half way through paving it. When it's nice and new, it is glorious. When it is still being worked on, you are bounced around like a puck in an air hockey bubble. Kate hit her head on the ceiling only once; I managed the feat several times.
Glorious pavement
Why no seat belts? Well the truck didn't have any and it would've mattered little in the end as the shear drop offs on the side of the road, while passing huge construction trucks with little warning, would've done you in regardless of any seat belt deployed.

Most impressive were the men and women we witnessed who were building the road, often with little more than picks and shovels. It's both a testament to human determination, as well as human desperation, that people would sign up to live in road side camps so they could hand sort stones for the road barriers at 17,000 ft.
Trust us; this is even worse work than it looks...
The Scenery:
The benefit to going this way to Leh was that we got to see some simply amazing scenery along the way. Wicked, snow covered Himalayan peaks. Huge mountain valleys, sporting autumn colors on the foliage. Expansive high alpine deserts that stretched as far as the eye could see. And some of the highest mountain passes, with prayer flags waving in the wind, that we have ever crossed. (Thank god we were in a car!) Take a look at some of the scenery:
High alpine desert valleys
The stark color contrast was stunning
Jay, this one is for you...
...And this one...
...and one more for ya!
The Food:
Where do you eat when you are on a journey where there are no gas stations for over 260 km and the road is closed from the first snow in October until the May thaw? Well at dhabas, of course. These parachute cafes pop up in the most inhospitable places and serve chai teas, morning omelets, dahl curries and chow mein noodles to hungry drivers and passengers alike. Is it the most sanitary of conditions? No, but what other choice do you have? On the up side, lunch for two never cost us more than 100 rupes, or about $1.55.
A parachute cafe en route. (The chow mein served here was actually delicious!)
The Road Signs:
Which bring us to the road signs, which entertained us the entire way from Manali to Leh.

BRO: Whiskey driving; Risky driving
BRO: Safety on the road, means safe tea at home
BRO: Go easy on my curves

Emily Wilfong, take notice, I think CDOT could learn something here! :)

The Verdict:
So were the long days in the car; Kate's occasional ashen looks of shear terror after looking over the edge of the road; and a brain jarring bumpy drive worth it? Absolutely. Fact is, there's really no other way to get to Leh over land and you get the added benefit of seeing some of the most remote, mountainous terrain on the planet from the (relative) warmth of a car; plus it allows your body time to acclimate to the high altitude as by the time you get to Leh you are over 11,500 ft up. So, in the end, we were very happy we took the drive.

That being said, we are pretty excited about the 1 hour flight we booked to get back to Delhi. Once on this road is enough.


*BroBrah Definition: Skier/snowboarder bums who love flat brimmed baseball caps and using the word "bro" for those not familiar with the term; typically found in a place like Vail, working the lifts.

And since we are talking about BroBrahs, here's the local ski rental shop on the side of the road!
Who wants a onesie?

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic post. Love the road side entertainment. Thanks for giving this desk jockey something interesting to read and think about. Safe travels.