This is the second part of a multi-post series covering our trip to Ladakh, a remote region high up in the Indian Himalayas. You can read Part 1 here.
25th July, Day 1 – Chandigarh (1000 ft) to Manali (8000 ft)
It was finally here – the day we were to begin snailing our way towards the land of the mountain passes, nestled some 12,000 feet(!) above where we were that morning (Bombay a.k.a. Mumbai) – with the usual pre-trip feeling of nervous excitement in the pit of my stomach (:D).
Thanks to our 2.5 hours flight from Mumbai to Chandigarh being on time, we were on our way to Manali just around noon. I’m usually a stickler for planning my own trips but just this once, I gave in to letting an agency make the travel and accommodation arrangements for the two of us (in a group that included 13 others). This was mainly because tourism in Ladakh is relatively new and information isn’t the easiest to find. In retrospect, I could have done it on my own – and will, the next time around.
The 300-km drive from Chandigarh to Manali took us almost 9 hours and was very bumpy in some stretches because of a) the general poor maintenance of Indian highways and b) because of excessive wear-and-tear because of the heavy monsoon rains. The highlights of the drive, of course, were the cool mountain air (when it was not being infused with black smoke by the many trucks on the road) and the last couple of hours which involved us driving right next to a very, very turbulent (because of the monsoon rains) Beas river.
When we got to Old Manali, night had fallen and the shops aimed at tourists were pulling the shutters down. We bought the essentials from a convenience store next door to our B&B, Drifter’s Inn. Drifter’s Inn was a basic, but comfortable accommodation – except for all the noise from the road outside that well, ‘drifts in’. Manali, especially Old Manali is a charming, little hill town and we would’ve liked to explore it by day, but there was just no room in our tight itinerary. We crashed for the night in anticipation of our 8 am start for Jispa, the next morning.
Bonus fun fact – Manali is most famous for its, ahem, weed (Manali/Malana Cream sound familiar?) and hence, is Hippie Central in India (along with Goa, maybe). Even if you’re not interested, you will be offered the stuff directly or indirectly by every person you meet in town.
Day 2, 26th July – Manali (8000 ft) to Jispa (11000 ft)
8 AM – The worst thing about travelling with a large group is the timelines which are never adhered to (grrr). After delays and more delays, we finally met our Ladakhi guides / drivers who were in charge of our sightseeing and travel (and our lives) for the next 9 days. The drive was like crawling through a white curtain of fog for the first 2 hours till we reached Rohtang Pass. The only noteworthy things about Rohtang Pass itself were the constant smell of horse-poop and tourists posing in only t-shirts in the snow and fog. But one hairpin turn later, the fog lifted and it was like we had been flown into a different world of beautiful views of waterfalls and snowcapped mountains and blue skies.
This was also the day we had our first trysts with the ‘hole-in-the ground’ loos – if you brace yourself for it, it may not be worse than you expected it to be (never ever part with your toilet paper and hand sanitizer). But it is important to know that you signed up for more of this in the coming days – but trust me, the sights will more than make up for it. Our on-the-road meals were at local shacks where the options were usually limited to fried rice, instant noodles and dal-rice. We also came armed with a kilo of snacks like nuts, biscuits, granola bars and chocolate bars that served us well in times of need.
The entire journey from Manali to Jispa on Day 2 was supposed to take 5 – 6 hours but ended up taking about 8 hours and we only got to Jispa, where we were camping for the night by about 6 PM, thanks to our late start and lots of stops along the way. We stayed at ‘Camp Jispa Journeys‘ for the night, where the tents were pretty fancy, with proper beds and private toilets with flushing. The campsite was also very scenic – with a river in the backyard that you could spend the evening by.
Having been warned by our drivers about the looong drive coming up the next day (12+ hours on the rocky mountain roads by their estimate), we retired early for the night because Day 3 was supposed to start at 5 AM.
Days 1 & 2 in summary – Road distance covered – 300 km (Day 1) + 150 km (Day 2) – Elevation gained – 0 ft (Mumbai) to 11000 ft (Jispa) above sea level
Day 3 – Jispa to Tso Moriri (a very remote and beautiful lake 15000 feet above sea level) coming up next – and also when things started to get, errr, very dramatic…