Never having been to Himachal or north of Punjab, only one word can describe Himachal and Ladakh…AMAZING!!!!!! Traveling through Himachal and Kashmir was a dream. I remember asking Nick a while back if there was one place he’d dream to live in, where would it be? He answered with ‘the hills’. Throughout my years knowing Nick, he has gushed about this area through his personal travels as well as past Raids—the people…the scenery…the terrain…the culture! Hearing his stories I felt like a little kid dreaming about this far off land as if it were a fairy tale. So to be traveling through this area with my hubby on our bike, I couldn’t stop exclaiming “where are we??? I can’t believe it!!!” and thanking God every chance I got. Except it wasn’t a fairy tale, I was not prancing through the fields, I was getting my a** whooped sitting on the back of the bike holding on for dear life.
After brunch in Manali we headed out on the Leh-Manali Highway pretty late in the day. We decided we were going to follow Raid to Srinagar and do it on our terms! We knew there was no way we’d be able to make it to Leh since we started so late, so our goal was to ride till we felt like stopping! Raid was stopping in Leh for 2 nights so we thought we’d catch them on the second night.
The first major stop after Manali is Rohtang Pass (altitutde 13,050 ft). Most tourists consider this as wow…it was so difficult to get here! But when you get up there it’s just a bunch of sub-par tea stalls. Even the vendors laugh at the loads of tourists taking pony rides and strolling around in their wedgie inducing snowsuits. No doubt the view is beautiful, but after you ride 15 minutes pass Rohtang pass you feel like you are in a different world. The scenery completely changes after that mountain! From Rohtang you still see the green of Manali but on the other side of the mountain it’s like..yup…we’re in the Himalayas. The road is also pretty decent going up to Rohtang besides a few Himachal sandwich situtaions with the usual TATA truck or army supply truck or unexperienced Delhi driver! As per our usual standards we stopped for chai and biscuits and decided we better bounce! We were takin it a bit too chill…we were getting fooled by all the chura wearing-overly glammed up newlyweds taking very unromantic pony rides amid the loads of Bengali tourists. Honeymoon over, time to move on!
We passed Rohtang and started our decline down. This is the rule, you go up the mountain, there’s usually a tea stall, then you head down. So to be honest the way down Rohtang sucks. The story of these extreme areas is that with melting snow turning into little waterfalls onto the road and landslides demolish the tarmac. So with our tank of a bike we try to find a good line, wherever there’s some tarmac we speed up and then we have to slow down with the rocky spots or loose dirt. To our right there was this crazy random sight! These vintage Maharaja cars (Rolls, Jaguar, and Mini Cooper) were propped up on scaffolds with big British flags. It looked like some kind of ad or film shooting. The back drop of snow topped Himalayan peaks was really beautiful. We rode our bike down to take some pics of the scene and as we got off our bikes the weather changed. The weather really changes in a matter of seconds here. The wind picked up and the film crew immediately started packing up, our happy asses did the same…but man the random things you see in the mountains!
As we were making the decline, Nick repeatedly reminded that he’d always fall on the Rohtang decline every Raid. Thanks! Let’s try to make it down. We passed a little tea stall where Nick was taken after hurting his leg last year from a fall. This tea stall is the city of Gramphu. After the bustling metropolis of Gramphu you reach the split in the road. To go to Leh you take the left split but if you’d like to head in the opposite direction east towards Kaza/Spiti Valley you head right. Of course we took the left split. Kaza will be our next trip!
I couldn’t believe the scenery around me, it was almost scary. The mountains are steep and massive…you really feel like nothing and you’re at the mercy of this land. Every turn exposed an even more beautiful scene. You also start to crap your pants more often…especially when you cross shady bridges of wooden planks next to a collapsed metal bridge with rushing water underneath you…or remenants of a fresh landslide…or passing blind corners with the good old vomit stained Himachal Transport buses playing chicken. These bus drivers are the true rally drivers of this region. And the bus patrons…God bless them.
Breathtaking as it was, it starts to get dark fast in the mountains. We hit Rohtang by 2pm so by 5pm this sun started to set. We hit Khoksar, our next stop was Tandi. And you better stop in Tandi…the next petrol station is more than 365km away! We pulled into the filling station and told the guy to fill the tank up. The attendant decided to give us some unnecessary extra and filled it up beyond the top. Nick politely asked him why he decided to do that and if he had a pipe or tubing so we could siphon some out. The attendant replied that the gas will settle down in the tank on it’s own and no he didn’t have tubing (neither did we, all our crap was with service). Nick politely asked him “What the hell…how do you expect it to settle?” Soon a group of men started to crowd around us, I had gotten off the bike to stretch. The owner of the pump came out and thinking we were trying to give his worker a hard time and he became hostile asking Nick if he had gotten into a fight with someone else before and why was he taking it out on his attendant followed by some other hostile words. That was my cue to get my ass on the bike in case we needed to make a run. Nick realized he had to let this one go especially with the wifey on the back, so we conceded and peaced out. It was almost dark we didn’t need any trouble.
So our path was Manali>Rohtang>Gramphu>Khoksar>Tandi>Keylong>Jispa. It was 9pm by this time and it was not a good idea to move farther than Jispa. Cold as hell we decided we needed a little extra comfort and indulged ourselves in a bottle of Old Monk rum at a theka (liquor shop) in Jispa. We found a hotel open and willing to take us in for the night (Padma Lodge—great place!). They were actually closing up for the season and planning to head down to Goa but were nice enough to take us in and make us some dinner. No heating in this part of the land so we got two big blankets (rajai) and we had our Old Monk. (Old Monk works wonders!) I started to feel really weird. I think the altitude got to me, I was tired, really thirsty, couldn’t eat and just generally not feeling good. Nick talked me into eating to keep warm and poured me an Old Monk and Pepsi. After eating and downing a couple of drinks we huddled in bed for warmth. It was silent. Occasional sound of the wind…no traffic…no honking…no people. Just our own breathing. We still in India?