The night was once again very cold but I slept very well under three heavy blankets this time. Pang is a bit more developed than Sarchu in that there is a concrete block of toilets that consist of a hole in the ground. After a delicious breakfast of aloo paratha with an omelet, we set off for the last day's ride of the journey to Leh.
Pang sits at the bottom of a plateau and a series of hair-pin bends brought us up to 4,780 m (15,678 ft) and the Morey Plains. It's strange that there is a 40-km stretch of almost flat terrain up at this altitude. The road was initially brand-new tarmac and it made for a sublime ride in the morning chill. The pavement ended and we were off-roading to the end of the Morey Plains. At the northern end of the plains, the route started climbing to the last and highest pass of the Manali-Leh Highway, Taglang La at 5,350 m (17,548 ft).
Watch the video postcard from Taglang La:
Along the whole way, we saw lots of road construction workers who were hammering at rocks to make gravel for the road. We passed their campsites and saw them washing their clothes and themselves in cold glacier streams and wondered what would entice someone to come and work in such harsh conditions. Most of them looked like migrants from other parts of India and the last camp we passed was at 5,000 m. But the one thing that was common among all of them was their cheerful attitude. They all waved as we rode past and I gave them a salute and waved back and thanked them for this back-breaking work they were doing.
From Taglang La, the view changed with no more stunning red mountains or crisp blue sky and the clouds were back. We rode past snow banks and slowly descended down to Rumtse, the first proper village with brick buildings that we had seen since Keylong. Another staple on the Manali-Leh Highway is Maggi noodles. Every dhaba stocks this and makes it fresh for a warm, filling meal for the hungry traveler. We enjoyed it and then rode past a very large army base and then came civilization shock: traffic and erratic driving.
We got to Leh and rode past the old town to Changspa for a hotel on the hilltop with a grand view of the snow-capped mountains that we had just crossed. Henry, Clara and I celebrated the completion of the Manali-Leh Highway with some local Godfather beer and a hearty meal of meat; lots of it as we had not eaten much of it since leaving Manali. Then came a lovely, deep sleep in a comfortable bed.
The Manali-Leh Highway is one of the most amazing rides I've done and I'm glad nothing went wrong with sanDRina or my health in those high altitudes. What a privilege it was to see the sights of snow-capped mountains backed up against a surreal, blue sky with glacier streams gushing all around. Incredible India indeed!
Ladakh, India's northernmost territory in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, is India's largest district with an area of 86,904 square kilometers. Leh is the district headquarters. Historically, it has been strongly influenced by Tibetan culture and a majority of Ladakhis are Tibetan Buddhists.
View the slideshow: Ladakh - India's great mountain kingdom