Saturday, August 21, 2010

Ladakh July 2010: Part 4 - Concluding Part (Manali, Delhi, Bangalore)

In part 1 of this series, you accompanied us on a local tour of Leh. In part 2, you tried to imagine how the Pangong experience might be, and ascended up the highest motorable pass in the world into Nubra. In part 3, you read about our exploits of TsoMoriri and TsoKar, and of our bidding farewell to Ladakh and halting at Keylong.

In this concluding part of the series, I recount our journey from Kelyong to Manali, and then to Delhi before flying back to Bangalore. Technically, this installment is not part of Ladakh since we had exited it and entered HP the previous day. But, try dissuading me from writing this part!

Day 10: Mon, 26th Jul – Keyong to Manali
Anticipating heavy tourist traffic at Rohtang pass, and eager to avoid it, we left pretty early from Keylong – 7 a.m to be exact. Our idea was to reach Manali by lunch time. But that was not to be.

We had already taken leave of Trashi the previous evening, and he had arranged a Tata Sumo for us to take us to Manali. We headed South out of Keylong and were greeted with the lush greens of Himachal Pradesh. Road widening was going on at several places. We stopped for fuel at Tandi, which, as I mentioned earlier, is the first petrol pump after Leh!

At 9, we stopped for tea at Khoksar. After that, it was an hour long climb to Rohtang. Just a few kms shy of Rohtang pass, at Gramphoo, we saw the deviation towards Lahaul and Spiti valley (a place which I hope to visit in the near future). Passing right through the clouds was a mesmerizing experience. We stopped for snaps at the pass, but since there was no snow here, we didn't see any of the usual attractions – yaks, snow-scooters etc.

We left at 10:30. The condition of the road down from Rohtang to Manali is pathetic. And tourists had already started arriving in hordes from Manali – that did not help in any way. We got stuck in a traffic jam and we were at a standstill for almost 3 hours. Even after that, we inched our way through North-bound traffic.

It was late afternoon, almost 4 pm when we reached Manali. Here we checked into a very reasonably priced hotel and set out to explore. It was raining so weren't in the mood for too much sight seeing. We spent about half an hour at Ban Vihar (where Sandy and Santhu had their snaps clicked with really fluffy rabbits), and then did some shopping (for shawls and sweaters).

After that, we just roamed around in Mall Road. We purchased wooden key-chains with our names calligraphed on them by a street artist. It was impressive, I tell you. We also met a Bangalorean who was on his way to Nubra to shoot a film for NGC. After dinner, we watched TV before turning in pretty late.

Day 11: Tue, 27th Jul – Manali – Delhi
We woke up leisurely (must have been only the second such instance during the entire trip), and were ready only by 10. We checked out, kept our luggage at the hotel and set out for the day.

After breakfast, we walked up to Hidimba temple, in the light rain. On the way down from there, Santhu fulfilled his wish of photographing apples from touching distance. It was noon by the time we were back down at Mall road.

We then crossed the bridge to the left bank of the Beas and spent over an hour there, taking in the cloud-shrouded, conifer-filled mountain slopes. By the way, the “left bank” is with reference to the direction the river flows. Beas seemed to be furious with someone. This river wasn't flowing – it was blasting its way through! It inspired Santhu to write a few more short poems, and cough cough .. yours truly coughed up a few lines of poetry too .. in Kannada!

We finally returned to Mall road by 2, and by the time we had lunch it was 3. We then visited the Buddhist temple which is bang opposite Ban Vihar. We spent more than half an hour here since we liked the calm and quiet of the place. We then proceeded to collect luggage from our hotel and took an auto to Manali's “private bus stand”, which is the filthiest bus stand I've ever seen. Our 5 pm Volvo to Delhi departed on time but the rain and fog meant it was slow progress.

We stopped around 10 pm near Mandi for dinner. The dhaba was not exactly clean – but it was cheap all right. 120 bucks for dinner for 3 people – and that bill includes one lassi.

Day 12: Wed, 28th Jul- Delhi-Bangalore.
There was a road block for about half an hour (must have been around 4 a.m). By 5:30, we were still at Chandigarh. We stopped for breakfast around 7 am somewhere after Ambala on NH1. I have written before about this absolutely fabulous road, and we were soon hurtling down the straights at 3-digit speeds. It was sad to see pedestrians trying to cross six lanes taking on zooming vehicles at places like Panipat and Karnal.

We entered Delhi around 10 and it was well past 10:30 when we finally alighted at Janpath. We hired a taxi for Delhi sight seeing.

First stop was India Gate. From there, we went to Mahatma Gandhi's house and then drove past Parliament and Rashtrapati Bhavan. A lunch break later, we went shopping in Karol Bagh. Needless to say, we returned with several bags, mostly of clothes that we had purchased for our folks. After all that shopping, we weren't in a mood for further sight seeing. We dropped the idea of visiting Qutb Minar and instead drove straight to the airport where we reached before 4 pm, for a 6:45 flight.

Killing time at Delhi airport is not at all a problem. To add to it, our in-flight dinner experience on the onward journey was not exactly good. So we decided to have a very early dinner at KFC at the airport. Our Jetlite flight took off a little late, and we landed in Bangalore only around 9:30.

I expected that we'd exit the airport more than half an hour after that, and that I'd have to wait for a bus back home. I was wrong. 20 minutes after touch down, we were outside the airport. What's more, a Volvo to my area was ready for departure! By 10:05, we were on the highway, and believe it or not, by 11 pm, I was home! It took me a day to even realize that the trip was over!

There are vacation destinations, and then there's Ladakh. It is more than a place. It gets into your psyche in a way you wouldn't believe possible. I am unconditionally in love with Ladakh and I have already made up my mind to return there 2 years from now. Next time I am there, I want to do a small trek (maybe 2-3 days); and I want to visit some of the restricted areas (Hanle in particular).

No words, no pictures, no videos have ever done justice to the place, and none will ever do. You have to experience it to believe it.

Travel Tips:
It was raining throughout in HP, Manali almost till we reached Delhi. And we didn't have an umbrella. It might be prudent to carry one if you are planning to pass through Manali. Throughout the 4 month tourist season in Ladakh, its monsoon in HP.
Regardless of the direction you are travelling, always aim to reach Rohtang pretty early (by 10 am). You never know what kind of traffic jam you might get into up there, and you don't wanna be stuck there in fading light.


Deepak said...

Great one again, all the posts will help anyone planning for the Leh-Laddhkh trip.

Purba said...

Had no idea you had a travelogue as well.

Very well chronicled. Have heard so much about Ladakh and we were in fact planning a visit.

But with the cloudburst in Leh and the devastation that followed, things look very iffy now.