>Ladakh Part 1( Delhi – Manali )


DELHI-MANALI( 560 kms )
DELHI – LEH ( 1325 kms )
We leave Delhi at 6 am. It is
quiet and there is no traffic. On a road trip, it is always better
to get out of the city before its population comes to life. My co-travellers are oblivious to the significance of the moment as we head out of the city and on to the Grand Trunk Road built by Sher Shah Suri in the 16th Century. It stretches all the way from Kabul to Calcutta, and is, as Kipling described it ” a wonderful spectacle…green arched..shade flecked..a river of life..the backbone of all Hind “. Things have changed since Kiplings days and National highway No 1 is no more a wonderful spectacle but rather quite ordinary in the dim light of dawn. The roads clear and we drive past pea green fields to Karnal, Panipat and then Kurukshetra. Panipat and Kurukshetra need no introduction, but Karnal was the site of a historic battle between Nadir Shah and emperor Mohammed Shah in 1739. Nadir Shah , the victor ransacked Delhi and took back with him, the iconic Peacock Throne. I think that maybe, back then battles were actually fought simply for material gain, succession and territorial annexation and not really religious subjugation as modern historians would have us believe. The Mughal emperors may not necessarily have seen themselves as one community exercising authority over another. They were just probably Mughal emperor fighting Rajput chieftain. Period. We 
reach Chandigarh at 10 am and take the road to Ropad. You have to watch the road carefully here. If you miss the strategic turn, you will be on the way to Jullunder and not Manali. One more turn at Kiratpur ( or you go to Ambala) and we are in the foothills. We go up and down a couple of ranges periodically and reach Bilaspur in time for lunch. Time is spent looking for the famous Lakeview Cafe, but no luck, so we settle for a little niche in the wall that serves us aloo zeera, parathas and yellow daal. Three kms after lunch, tummies full, we come upon Lakeview Cafe. Sigh. C’est La vie. As we stop for tea, it starts to rain. The sun filters in mild shards of gold and the narrow roads are wet and misty as we climb alongside the Beas which shrinks and swells periodically. Rope bridges are strung precariously across shallow spots in the river, and locals tug themselves along to the other side. Definitely not for the fainthearted or plus sizes . We take a turn and are suddenly driving through the mountain. The Larji project is cutting a road through the mountain and travel time so you don’t have to go all around. The tunnel is lit but not tarred. We drive into Mandi, and reach Kulu, or Kulanthapitha `the end of the habitable world’ ( as it was once known in ancient times. ) at 5.45 pm . The Kulu Valley is about 80 kms long, and its earliest recorded inhabitants were in the 1st century AD. Manali is still 40 kms away and we are looking for a lantern and kerosene to add to the equipment we have bought in preparation for the trip ahead. We go from one store to another but no luck. Many hardware stores later, we finally find one ! In Manali market. Manali is full of Kashmiri kitsch and fake Pashminas for naive tourists. We drive up, out of the town and now the Kulu valley is dark, huts dotting the hillside lit up like fireflies. In the 70’s , Manalai was found to produce fine quality charas so uninvited settlers flocked here for a taste of heaven. The Government cracked down hard and this Shangri-La was disbanded. Legend has it that King Manu, the law-giver, stepped off the celestial boat here, to re-create the world after devasting floods. in an interesting parallel to Noah’s Ark. I read more about it later in the mythological tale origin of the Matsya Avatar, the fish incarnation of Lord Vishnu where the little fish expands in size and tells King Manu to collect a pair of every species and set sail before the floods. I now know Manali is where the journey ended. We are now looking for Highland Park, and we are tired. 12 hours spent cramped in the jeep and everyone is a tea kettle waiting to let off steam. Tempers rise. Group 1 says “lets stop looking”, Group 2 says “no”. So one group goes on into the dark to find Highland Park and two of us get off at the nearest available bed, Hotel Ekanth. I am disturbed. On a journey that will test our bodies and temperament, we are already crumbling.

One comment

  1. >Good homework 🙂 I liked the turn or you miss … and of course all the details as well as the theory about wars. Nice.

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