We had hired a Sumo to travel from Manil to Leh. The travels guy had said that the journey would get us to Leh by late evening on the same day (16 hours). But when we were woken up by the driver at 2 AM, we realized that the journey according to him would take 22-odd hours instead of the barely bearable sixteen. After just two hours sleep, three of us packed ourselves into the back of the Sumo.
The initial two hours of the journey was in nearly complete darkness to reach Rohtang La by day break. During the descent from the pass, we could see the east skies slowly brighten up. After stopping in Khoksar for tea and snacks, we headed towards the chenab valley.
Past Keylong, the roads got really bad. This can hardly be called a highway. After passing keylong, we ended up at Darcha, near a bridge across some river. We stopped there for breakfast and had an excellent stuffed paranthas. I'd been eating the cheese slices with anything I get and this was no exception.
At Baralacha la, we all got out and had our first contact with snow. It was probably a mistake to pick up snow without wearing gloves, but I didn't have any gloves at all. But I did pick up some snow and ended up with my hands looking rather blue.
The whole journey was made even rougher because of the climbs and the descents. The various passes we went up and the further climb down was playing havoc with my breathing. To climb, six thousand feet in less than two hours and to climb down immediately is not my idea of fun. Somewhere in the descent to Keylong, I had thrown up.
Sometime near two, we passed on from Himachal into Jammu, into what passes for plains in this country of hills. The Sarchu plains would be more approriately called a plateau and is one of the first high alitude camps we ran into. We stopped there for lunch and as usual had the parathas, dal & rice. While we were in Sarchu, the wind picked up speed and it started to snow. As much as I'd have loved to see the snow flakes float down, I was more afraid of the road ahead.
We had to make it to Pang before five or we'd be forced to stay out of Taglang La till the next morning. The pace picked up and the driver literally drove through the road and the potholes at break neck speed. We eventually made it to the TCP at Pang minutes before five and were let through ahead. And we finally entered Ladakh district.
At this point, I was so high on adrenaline that I could hardly sit still inside the jeep. But Vinayak was looking very sick and tired. While we passed near all the eroded mountains of Pang, which looked very much like somebody had carved out a temple on the hills and up into the plateau (yet again plains) of Moray. Since I couldn't open a window without Vinayak complaining, there are no photos of that brilliant thousand foot (or more) canyon cutting through the edges of the plateau.
We went off-road from this point to cut across the plains directly instead of the taking the winding road that goes around the highest points. The experience was like something completely out of a hummer ad. That stretch of around forty kilometres was the most exhilirating drive of the trip, driven with the pedal to the metal.
Then we slowly descended to a much milder pasture country and joined back into the road. All those chocolates were working their magic and I was still in the best of my moods, though filtering out water through my body like a sieve. But we were faced with the final climb of the trip, the heights of Taglang La.
Taglang la is the world's third highest pass in the world. More accurately it is the 3rd highest motorable road at 17,582 feet up. We reached the top of the pass sometime nearer to 7 P.M with the sun setting in the background. I ran through the snow which turned out to be quite thick and soft. I broke through the top and ended up ankle deep in freezing slush. My other companions preferred to sit around in the shelter of the jeep, a wise choice as I was soon to find out.
While on the descent, I kept drinking water out of Vinayak's water bottle. But the constant stream of cold water into my body core, finally made me throw up (again). So here's a lesson for you - carry insulated water bottles. Anyway, I remember asking Rishi chocolates !!, to which he replied that it is in his bag. Drowsy as I was, I thought he was holding his bag when he was only sitting there with his hands in the jacket pocket. After stopping at Upshi for dinner, where I just had as much hot tea as I could, we headed on to Leh.
Closer to midnight and much closer to Leh, I had started having day dreams. I mean it was totally weird, I had my eyes open and I was seeing what was happening, but my interpretations were radically different from what was. I mistook the starry sky for some skyscraper and even tried to find a remote to change the channel (no, that's not a TV ... that's the windscreen of the jeep). Calorie deprivation, sleep deprivation and oxygen deprivation - is a very bad combination.
But by midnight, we were at Leh and driver dumped us at a guesthouse (previously arranged, I suppose). We pulled all our junk into the room, got an extra bed and were asleep before our heads touched the pillow. We wouldn't wake up till the next day for lunch and that plan, we stuck to.
Thus ends our journey uphill to Leh and what a journey !--
The longest part of the journey is said to be the passing of the gate.
-- Marcus Terentius Varro