I was made fun of for again making an attempt to travel. Couldn’t care less about the people. But I was really concerned about making the trip happen. Rain, landslides, unexpected work, health – it could have been anything! The Mashobra trip had been jinxed the previous month.
We did the research, made a few phone calls, and made more bookings than we’d have made if there were more people travelling with us. I cannot describe the thrill of having done this trip. It was just Swetha and me. At home I had to say that we had one other person with us, but that was only so that my parents don’t lose sleep for six nights. Two girls. Two girls!
Spiti was a tempting option, but that would have taken an extra day of travel each way. Keylong and Jispa seemed to make more sense. And so we left for Manali on Friday, the 13th. Now you know why I was hyper about the whole ‘jinx’ nonsense. But I figured that Friday, the 13th works well for my travel plans. Last time, in January, I was at the Andaman Islands. 😀
Anyway. The semi-sleeper Volvo was fairly comfortable. It was going to be my longest bus journey. I was paranoid about motion sickness too. But there were no issues on that front. I didn’t sleep much. Instead, I looked out of the window for most part. Well, I was also forced to smell some gross sweat from unpleasant neighbours and there was very little I could do about it. Gah!
Two pit stops and we were in Manali in 14 hours. The weather changed from humid to cool. Liked it!
|Dinner on Day 0|
At Manali we figured that while the bus to Keylong was due in a few minutes, the probability of getting a seat on it was low because the bus comes packed from Kullu. There I related to a conversation with someone at the HP Road Transport office a few days ago. I had thought the guy had lost it when he said that there are no buses from Manali to Keylong – all of them start from Kullu. He was kinda right. I was wrong. So we took a shared cab instead. And so began a smooth drive up the green hills.
|Soon after Manali|
Short lived. We reached Marhi at 9:30 am where traffic is stopped from 8:00 am to 12 noon because Rohtang cannot deal with the excess traffic. We used the first one hour to freshen up and get breakfast. Then Swetha went paragliding and I started feeling sick. 12 noon became 1:00 pm. I was in half a mind to go back to Manali. Too much pollution. Crazy headache. More paranoia – this time about mountain sickness. But we started from there only to get stuck in slush and traffic at Rohtang. It was bloody annoying. We moved slowly. Watched a lot of bikers struggle. Also saw many tourists whose destination was just Rohtang top. Soon there was some hailstorm. Oh, and the roads never got better after we crossed the slush. The traffic reduced and we drove on bumpy road till we reached Koksar, the entry to Lahaul. Koksar, followed by Sissu had delightfully awesome roads. There is construction work going on for an 8km long tunnel directly from Manali to Lahaul. What relief will that bring!
|This was in the centre of the windscreen of our shared cab. Killed so many shots for me that this photo was an absolute must!|
Thereon we also had Chandra river move with us. It was beautiful.
It was 5:30 pm by the time we reached Keylong. We had bookings at Jispa for the night. Ghemur, to be precise. And the last bus from Keylong was leaving in a few minutes. But my headache had left me with no energy to move another step. We’d been on the road for 24 hours. So we decided to call it a day and went to the first lodge situated next to the bus stop. It was nice and clean. Had an obviously amazing view too. And I dozed off soon after checking in.
|View from the balcony|
For breakfast, we went to a restaurant that Swetha had discovered the previous night. Gorged on awesome food and enquired a little about places to see around the place. Everything was so quiet and relaxed. I almost wanted to not do anything at all. But after contemplating a few permutations and combinations, we decided we’d keep Keylong as base as opposed to camping in Ghemur the whole time. It was more economical and comfortable.
The Sunday was dedicated to monastries all over Keylong. And the relatively thinner air ensured that we stayed away from trekking.
|Drive to Kardang Gompa|
The path leading to the monastery was filled with colourful, fragrant flowers.
|View from Kardang Gompa. There was no way I could have trekked up till here!|
There was a prayer going on when we reached this monastery. So much positiveness in the room! The people were nice too. We had chai with them. Made small talk too.
|There was a photographer in the caretaker!|
This was the only monastery where we were allowed to click photos inside. The main lama’s son has a Facebook account!
|The view here was surreal|
|I could not resist|
|Swetha almost fought with this flag which seemed to refuse to get clicked properly|
|He was too sweet – was very tired but gave me a perfect pose.|
Deepak Taal brought tears to my eyes. What can I say to describe the feeling.
|This doesn’t capture even half the beauty of the place|
I was beginning to literally get breathless by the time we reached here. And so I did not even bend down to get a pretty picture.
|Swetha at Baralacha. Me with the wrong lens 🙂|
|What did I know that my nose was getting flaked and burnt here!|
I really realllyy wanted to hike a ride with a biker. Planned it in my head too. Would have ridden pillion from Baralacha to Zingzingbar or Darcha with Swetha following in the car. Approached one guy from Maharashtra as well. But he didn’t have space on his backseat. Nor did a lot of other bikers I watched driving past. I waited. But it was not meant to be. Very disappointing.
The descend was just as beautiful. Brown and green had so many shades playing on each rock. The sunlight made things even more spectacular. Finally, it was Indian Ocean that matched up to the settings.
I went into a daze for a while. I thought about things that should not matter any more. I cried over people I should have left behind. Just that reality is hard to let go of. And imagination is easy to drift along with.
On the way back, we stopped at Darcha for lunch and followed it up with some time by the Bhaga river. Soon after finding a comfortable spot, I slept for a while. Later, I was randomly throwing stones in the water and felt a lot of the pent up anger. But I let that pass. Swetha and I walked over rocks to the middle of the river then. Some fuchsia flowers were beckoning. The anger turned into positive energy. Clicked photos. Posed for photographs. Felt HAPPPY!
That night we camped as per our original plan. Sherab’s Jispa Journeys is quite popular online. We had read many testimonials about them. And it was a comfortable stay. I had one little fall there. That is a necessary condition of all my travels.
|Our attached bath with mighty cold water!|
Strong winds made the place quite cold. We had a group of art-appreciating Americans for company. I felt the star-filled night sky was better company. The moon was amiss, but the sky was oh-so-beautiful!
In the morning, one of the guys from the camp staff took us to a rundown castle in a nearby village. Khunder tha! And in retrospect, we put ourselves in a vulnerable spot by going there. In retrospect, we did do some things which we should not have. All credit goes to the supremely nice and hospitable people of the region. We were thankful to them at the end of each day. Being and feeling safe in this country is a luxury. We were handed that on a plate.
From Jispa we drove to Udaipur and Triloknath via Keylong. We weren’t too keen on the temples there, but with that we would have covered all of Lahaul. Sounded fair.
Lord Shiva had little space here. Most of it was Buddhist idols and space
|Outside Udaipur Temple
Apparently this is made of one single tree. Very pretty carvings. Photography not allowed.
The roads were worse. And I think it was unfortunate because that area is more populated than the tourist-y one looked after by Project Deepak. The vegetation is also thicker here.
We came back to Keylong for the night. The two morning buses to Manali leave at 4:00 am and 9:00 am. The second one would have meant again a whole day of traffic jams before reaching our destination. And it would also have meant cutting it too close for our 5:30 pm bus from Manali to Delhi. So we left in the dark at 4:00 am. Hyper-ness about seats in the front of the bus, and we landed with ones next to the driver. I sat on the wheel. 😐 But we reached Manali in straight five hours. Oh oh, actually we almost missed the bus when it stopped at Marhi for 15 minutes. We were told we could get breakfast there. But we’d just had one bite each of our poori bhaaji when we saw our bus leaving. RAN! I think the driver and conductor laughed. Some others must have too. Even we did after settling in our seats again. Missing it would have been quite an adventure!
Neither of us had been to Manali before. Amiya and Swetha’s friends suggested we spend time in Old Manali as it is quieter and cooler. So we went straight there. Good cafes, yes. Cheap clothes, yes. Expensive jewellery, pff! We hopped cafes. Ate a lot! Found one with a clean loo too. Talked endlessly for the sixth straight day. Given that neither of us are much into jabbering, I think I would have fallen in love with Swetha if she were a guy. We were both amazed at how much we had to talk!
The ride back home was on a government Volvo. It had Bol Bachchan playing. Piss-off! Thank goodness I had my ipod!
I feel refreshed. I have regained the power to identify and more importantly ignore assholes. I have to go back and further up, yes. That is still due. Next year, I shall try again.
Pliss to note:
# Disappointing amount of dust and pollution in all of Lahaul.
# It is not easy to get local food there. Everyone takes the easy way out.
# Go to Udaipur only if you have special religious interests or too much time to kill. It’s a long drive with nothing too exciting to see.
# Cross Rohtang by 7:00 am or waste a whole day in traffic and pollution.
# Being less than 300 kms from Leh and turning back is very difficult. The heart is a silly, greedy thing!
# There is no network beyond Keylong. Even at Marhi. Airtel doesn’t catch the BSNL network even if tried manually. Good or bad, you decide.
# Learn how to manage light while clicking in this kind of landscape. I messed up an unbelievable number of shots!
# I had read that this year non-HP cars are not allowed into the region. But I did see some DL and HR cars. You might want to check on that from a reliable source once.