It was a bright morning in Manali as I began my journey to Leh. There were shops and kiosks selling all sorts of winter clothing for passing tourists heading up to Rohtang Pass, the first of five passes on the way to Leh. The climb started immediately and a series of hair-pin bends took sanDRina and me higher and higher. First, we passed through lots of green orchards and slowly it became too cold for the trees and there was only grass and then nothing but rocks. And then there was snow! Lots of it. The ride up to Rohtang Pass was chock full of tourist vehicles and at the pass it was a mela with tourists sliding down the snow and enjoying, probably, their first exposure to it.
I was thrilled to see snow banks at least 10 feet high on either side at the pass but that also meant that all that snow was slowly melting and wetting the road. After the pass, things got quiet and for me, the real journey had begun now. Coming down from Rohtang on the north side was a bit tricky with lots of thick mud to wade through. The road wasn't paved on that side and the melting snow had turned the dirt into a muddy soup.
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Once down at Gramphu, the route followed a river valley on good tarmac and I got to Tandi, the last petrol station until Leh, 365 km away. Soon after came Keylong, the biggest town in the area, but I pushed a bit further north and got to the small dhaba junction of Darcha. There were no hotels there, only temporary dhabas built for the season that, along with serving food, had some beds in the back for travelers. I was told by other bikers that staying in the dhabas was part of the experience of the Manali-Leh journey. Dinner was mutton curry with rice and fresh rotis.
Jay apologizes to you for not being able to post videos - there's no broadband en route and the 2G networks are barely enough to post these very updates. The wait only adds to the excitement.
Do stay tuned for a post-trip chat with Jay Friday, June 14, 2:45 PM IST. Register to be reminded.
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