>MANALI -ROHTANG : 51 kms ( 2.5 hrs)MANALI- KEYLONG : 171 kms ( 8 hrs)
|Rohtang Pass. Beyond this milestone is a sharp curve, precipice and mist|
Aloo parathas for breakfast. Group two has called to check if Group 1 is okay. Group 2 is sullen. In the face of this intra-group hostility I contemplate flying back home to Bangalore.I am informed that the airport is in Bhuntar, 45 mns down the mountain. Turbulence on the ground is definitely more preferrable to mid-air so I decide against it. I open the window to a full view of the valley and friendly towering mountains in front of me. The world tilts back into focus and I am happy.The room is empty. My room mate, it seems, is apparently on a secret mission to steal apples right off the trees from the orchard below. More tiffs as we leave Manali after a breakfast of aloo parathas, but I am unconcerned as the air has sharpened now, with mini larkspur, rhododendrons, sweet pea, larkspur, ferns and lichen clinging to the rocks. Film crews have milked this distinctly Alpine landscape for decades, filming many song and dance romantic sequences here instead of the original Switzerland.
Manali is still a popular honeymoon destination and many bashful couples wander around uncertainly. Clouds roll across the road and the air gets nippy. We drive past camp sites by the river below and stop for tea just below Rohtang. It is a treacherous pass with the weather changing in seconds. Careful vigilance is required here as a car can disappear off the road in the wink of an eye.
Apparently,the road from Manali to Rohtang is open barely for 3 months a year, early July – September. Rohtang is about 13,050 feet above sea level and I take slow deep breaths to fill my lungs with precious oxygen. You have to take slow steps here, stopping every now and then to just breathe. Clouds pass through us now, leaving behind a thin film of moisture that clings to us lovingly. Some of us decide to walk, and some want to play football at the pass. We turn around the bend and the landscape changes instantly.
Harsh rock faces, boulders strewn around with layers of slate building up into towering snow capped pinnacles, this is no man’s land. Most tourists come up to Rohtang and head back, only the truly adventurous carry on ahead. It is breathtakingly barren, carved with a tough scalpel – Lahaul Valley. You can take the turn to Spiti and Sangli from here, but we are carrying on to Leh. Lahaul and Spiti are cut off from the world for over 8 months a year and the only sign of humanity are the army trucks – Shaktimans full of sad looking jawans. We stop to wash our tea cups at a waterfall and G insists on drinking `pure mineral water’straight from the source. I tell her it might be full of uric acid instead and she stops immediately.
Lahaul district consists of the Chandra and Bhaga river valleys and is a typical trans-Himalayan landscape although the Rohtang Pass cuts through not the Great Himalayas, but the Pir Panjal, its subsidiary to the South. Lahaul and Spiti were both parts of the vast Guge kingdom of Western Tibet, but in the 18th Century, Upper Lahaul came into the influence of the Kulu Raja, while Lower Lahaul went to the court of Chamba.Most people here are Buddhist and speak an indigeneous language called Bhoti.
We drive alongside the Chandra River now. Not a soul in sight.The afternoon sun turns the grey landscape into gold and amber. Not much flora-fauna, but G spots a handsome youth in the village and is fairly content. Not much grows here except for barley, wheat and peas. We ford waterfalls that have spilled over on to the road. At 3.30 the gas burner is brought out, potatoes are peeled, onions chopped and we eat a strange mixture of daal and veggies from the pressure cooker.
|Just before Tandi at sunset|