Hell on Wheels
We left Vashisht at 5:30 am and waited around at the bus stand at the chowk until well after 7. Any potential bus riders be warned! You do NOT have to wait around for 2 hours! The ride started out at the upper end of the dramatic spectrum – the old diesel monster huffed up snaking switchbacks carved out of the jungle at about 10 kmh. We were grateful for the speed limitation from the beginning, watching bits of gravel and dirt tumble from the muddy edges and disappear into the clouds below. The first couple of passes came and went, accompanied by a dull sort of thrill – so far to fall… 3700 meters, 5200 meters…
After Rohtang pass, the climate changed noticably – we crawled through the cloud layer and the mountains began to dry out as we descended. Battered corpses of Sumo jeeps lay where they fell at the bottom of unscalable ravines and we passed the occassional road crew stubornly hacking away at some chunk of stone or some impossible landslide with hand forged hammers. They all put up a cheer when we passed, “Juley!”
The bus finally broke down about 2 hours from Darcha on a hairpin curve descending to the river. Three hours later we were back on the road, but the nightly stopover was not to be as planned. Sarchu was at least a five hour drive, and the driver didn’t want to do it at night. We ended up pushing through to Darcha, where some Ladakhi people put us up in their roadside tents and cooked for us. It was a beautiful night, really – for the first time we could see the stars and feel a little bite in the air.
The next morning we continued on, passing Sarchu and the 5300 meter Taglang La pass – the second highest motorable pass on the planet. We all had headaches, and Bara was feeling fairly ill for a while, but the road dropped again fairly quickly as we followed the source of the Indus river down to Leh. The gorge and little villages along the way were spectactular – like driving through a valley surrounded by razor blades stuck into the hills. We plan to take a jeep back up there as soon as possible to explore.
We arrived in Leh at 10:30 pm, and proceeded to check every last guest house in the city until we finally were given a room at the Oriental guest house which had been vacated 10 minutes earlier by some French folks on their way to Manali. We slept real good 😉
Leh is an anomoly – an oasis in the middle of a mountain desert. Poplars and well-tended gardens surround every house. They grow barley, buckwheat, a wide variety of garden vegetables and herbs. The next morning we found a beautiful little homestay arrangement on Changspa road. Our host has a beautiful row of mints, some chamomile and bright red poppies. Our room has a view of the Ladakhi Palace from one window and the Yellow Hat Gompa out the other.
Unfortunately, I can’t upload any photos for a few days – there is a policy in most internet cafes not to allow photo uploads because it clogs the pipes, but I’m sure I’ll track one down sooner or later. Thanks for checking in,
Micah and Bara