Published: August 8th 2012August 8th 2012
Ok so from Manali the road to Leh in Ladakh is long, really bumpy in places, crosses about 5 passes over 5000m but presents some superb high mountain scenery. It really is a roller coaster ride at times with the bus speeding around corners with sheer drop offs!
After a long day you arrive in the relaxed city of Leh in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. It is somewhat isolated with the highway only open in the short summer otherwise it is necessary to fly from Delhi. There is also a large military presence owing to the proximity of the province to areas of Kashmir disputed by not just India but also Pakistan and China.
That aside Leh has a relaxed feel about it the people friendly and many traveler comforts. The city is also making a serious effort to preserve the fragile environment by encouraging refilling of water bottles from safe drinking water stations and recycling of plastic water bottles. Although still dirty by our standards, the Himalayan people do share a concentrated sense of ecological awareness. My visit here also coincides with an official visit by the Dalai Lama to Ladakh
There are many Tibetan peoples in Ladakh and the area is predominantly Buddhist with many working monasteries. After getting here and a look around I did a warm up trek into the Markha Valley where if you do not have a tent you can stay in traditional Ladakhi home stays with local people and where aside from the odd solar panel daily life is very ancient where life has changed little in centuries. It is also a pleasure to sample the local produce including many fruits, juices and wines.
After the Markha Valley trek I met up with Kieran and we did a white water rafting day trip down the Indus river – a little wild in places but good fun! Once back in Leh we planned the walk out of Ladakh which was to be from a town called Rumtse on the Leh Manali highway to Tso Moriri, a large salt water lake via Tso Kar, another salt water lake – both at around 4500m.
The trek was ok, camping all of the way carrying all of our own food and finding and treating stream and spring water. It was a little hard with heavy packs in the heat at altitude, but certainly picturesque! Most other trekkers that we saw on the trek had pony assistance etc and we saw only 2 others carrying all of their gear like us. After walking to Tso Moriri I bailed on the walk back to Himachal Pradesh for Manali to take things a bit slower for the last of my time in India after nearly two weeks of trekking. On arriving in Korzok at the end of the trek Kieran decided to climb a nearby peak as a 2 day side trip while I managed to meet some Indians on holiday who kindly let me share some of their jeep safari out to the main road to Manali. We visited villages, monasteries, waterfalls, hot springs, more lakes and saw wildlife all in a few short hours! !- in fact I probably saw much more on that than I did on the trek and it was a little easier on the body! I also ended up staying where they stayed in Korzok - a great well kept guest house with a Raj era feel and hospitality about it! It had a restaurant and the rate was inclusive of dinner and breakfast. For dinner there were 5 choices including chunky homemade potato chips! Just what was needed after 6 days on trek!
On getting back on to the Manali highway I was dropped of at a makeshift tea and refreshment tent, one of many roadside temporary facilities that provide simple drinks and meals to the short busy travel summer and almost straight away got a lift with a Spanish couple going cycling a lot further down. So it was another hair raising at times day on the Leh Manali highway. We did however have a nice Dal lunch complete with some delightful small green chillies simply sliced in half seeds in and then very lightly marinated in a jar – the perfect accompaniment!
I arrived at a place called Darcha on dusk. On walking through the small town a shopkeeper asked if I needed a bed for the night and could offer one for 100 rupees (just over $2). Turns out there were a couple of other travelers staying there before carrying onto Manali (as I was) the following day one by local bus that I also caught at 7am the following morning.
As it turned out there had been quite heavy monsoon rain the previous day and there was a large landslide blocking the road into Manali. This presented two choices – either wait it out or walk around it and try and get some transport further down – which is what I and a few locals opted to do – walk for about a half hour and then pool together for a taxi into Manali. In Manali I had another couple of days relaxing – including another couple of meals of the tasty local trout. For about $20 I had an entrée of chicken fillets stuffed with blue cheese, a full oven baked trout with sauté veges and mashed potato, 2 glasses of the locally produced white wine and homemade ice cream and hot chocolate walnut sauce!
The next destination after Manali again is Dharamsala or McLeod Ganj and is also the home of the Dalai Lama and Tibetan government in exile – a busy little place - not as relaxed as Manali but still with all of the usual traveler facilities, including many good value guest houses, restaurants. It is also possible to do yoga and meditation courses and spend some time finding out more about the Tibetan cause. There has also been quite a bit of rain as I’m now back at around 1000m and into the Monsoon rains. So far though it only rains solid for a little while before clearing up.
After taking a bit of time to soak up the atmosphere and explore the local temples I’m going to head off to Amritsar in the Punjab for the Golden Temple – one of the world’s most holiest pilgrim sites and home to Sikhism before spending my last week in India in Delhi and having another look at the Taj Mahal in Agra.