Often times, the last leg moves by the fastest, and no matter how beautiful, you can’t contain the excitement of seeing your destination. Having been on the road for 3+ days, and Leh *almost* in reach, the energy levels will be at an all-time high. Of course, this is not to say the journey isn’t beautiful – because you will still be bombarded with beauty. But, this beauty will also bring back civilization in your life and you’ll start appreciating the whirlwind you’ve experienced. Also, reaching Leh has so much more build-up and excitement than actually being in Leh!
From where we’ve been, to where we’re heading
This post is the grand finale of our beautiful journey towards Leh. Previous posts in chronological order are:
- Manali to ZingZing Bar – moving from the familiarity of lush green mountains to isolation of the barren vistas
- Baralacha-La with all its magic
- Infamous Sarchu and how AMS is real
- Dizzying Gata Loops and the Legendary Ghosts that came with it
- Reaching Pang, through back-to-back punches of Nakee-La and Lachalung-La
- The rewards of tough journeys – More Plains
As with most good things in life, the end seems to come abruptly and one longs to be back in the midst of things. Change is a funny thing, it makes you miss the constant; even if that constant has become being in the middle of nowhere, with almost no civilization around.
My favorite source for planning and preparing for the Manali-Leh road trip was the Travel Guide and Complete details of places on the Manali-Leh Highway
Pin Drops for places to visit on return to
After the fervent beauty and tranquility of More Plains is Debring, wherein you might spot some civilization. This is also the place where path breaks for Tso Kar Lake. While you will not be able to reach Tso Kar on your way from Manali to Leh, as Inner Line Permits are required, if you are travelling the opposite route, i.e. Leh to Manali, you can arrange for a detour.
It is highly unadvised to go directly to Tso Kar (if you can arrange for the permits via agents etc), as your body will not be acclimatized.
The last pass before reaching Leh!
Tanglang-La is the last, and the highest pass on our route from Manali to Leh. Needless to say, it was freezing cold and the lack of oxygen was intense. However, having been through 2 passes already in the day (had it been only a few hours since our morning began at Sarchu? How can one day be so eventful, all before 1 PM?), none of us got particularly sick. The board at the pass claims for this spot to be the second highest motorable pass in the world.
Quick note: A lot of passes would claim to the the “xx-highest pass in the world”. However, I would like to highlight here that new passes are being built and infrastructure is getting developed continuously and the boards might not get updated to depict accuracy. For example, yes, Khardung-La is *one* of the highest passes and not the highest pass.
The route leading to Tanglang-La is a steady climb and since you’re already at exceptional heights, it doesn’t take a toll on your system.
However, be aware of how AMS is reacting for you and take cognizance of what steps must be taken. Also, these are isolated locations, no food, water, civilization, wildlife, flora, fauna would be available. However, presence of everything else is aplenty – beauty, calmness, harsh climates, adrenaline, sheer ecstasy!
Descending towards Leh
Upon descending, you will come across a signpost that will get your heart pumping happiness. Yes, it is possible for the heart to pump something other than blood, head to this particular signpost, and you will see. This signpost beckons you to sit up straight and take it all it, for this is your first glimpse of the Ladakh Valley.
In all my previous articles, I have mentioned how upon all turns the views change from 100% beautiful to a completely different and starkly contrasting 100% beautiful. Till now, we have experienced the lush green of Manali region, the beautiful black mountains with the exquisite white snow of Baralacha-La, the barrenness around Sarchu, the brown and beautiful plains at More Plains, the dizzying heights, the structures in the mountains due to centuries of bouts with the winds, and now this – Burgundy splendour.
What is so exceptional about these particular hills, and the attractiveness of it is that you’re driving along the river bed of our striking Indus River, with white Stupas of all forms and sizes for your eyes to seek out.
Side note: Have I used the word beautiful too many times? Possible! However, I am running out of adjectives. The elements of surprise never end on this journey and you’re kept on your toes throughout.
Throughout our journey, we were in search of a particular bridge that is showcased in many Bollywood movies and has beautiful prayer flags all around. FINALLY, finally, finally, we spotted our beautiful bridge!
We stopped the car, chilled by the river, tossed a few stones to see the # of splashes one could create, one of us suffered a nose bleed (AMS can last a long while you guys!) and just relaxed by the serene crystal clear water. I have NEVER seen water this pure before, it is a sight to see and remember.
Small Towns, Big Dreams
Here, the drive will lead you to comfortable heights, you will notice your breathing easing up for the first time in many days. We often laughed over how we never noticed the art of breathing. Then, being in Leh changed our viewpoint, we became so much more appreciative of breathing and our outlook in life evolved to just be happy with the real things that matter, like, oxygen.
Now, the driving is easy, with almost a plain descent and minimal turns that are easily maneuverable. Here, you reach Upshi, the last police check post with standard run-of-the-mill questions – From, To, number of people in the vehicle, vehicle number – to be noted. About 10-15 kms ahead is a petrol pump in Karu. This is where you’re bombarded with civilization – cars, an actual township, a full-fledged army cantonment, the city of Karu!
ANDDDDD WE HAVE ARRIVED!!!!! Cheers to the mother of all journeys, the beauty of all beauties, the passes that lead you to enlightenment – the joy of being in a place we have all dreamt of for YEARS and have been leading to for the past many days is in front of us! Words won’t do justice to this place, and I will not attempt to describe my feelings, for it might colour your experience and create a bias.
Go with a clean slate, and experience your experiences with an open mind. Form your own opinions and build your own memories. I know for a fact that this is one trip that people plan for years, decades even and is a commitment that many yearn to make and are afraid to take the leap due to many fears.
Just book your tickets and go. Personally, I know I was excited before the beginning of this trip. However, the months before, having seen many many videos and read many many blogs, I was also scared of what-if’s and could-be’s. Yes, there are certain things you must read up on – AMS, the route, the pain points etc. But, overall, it is a journey you must embark upon to truly witness.
Not to forget
Of course, no post would be complete without some tips, tricks and mementos to keep up your sleeve!
- The most beautiful memories are made from the things you can’t factor in.
- Go with the flow and enjoy the ride, there are happy things waiting for you out there! Trust and you shall be rewarded!
- Even the softest of creations can cover the most intimidating mountains with enough willpower to shine. Do your thing, and you will achieve your purpose!
- There are blessings in disguise everywhere.
- Learn to appreciate the hardships and you will move ahead (literally!)
- To take away one life lesson, it should be that the most important things are the ones we don’t ever think about, oxygen for example.
- Further, lack of oxygen can lead to foggy and delayed decision making. Try not putting any undue pressure on yourself and listen to your body.
- Similarly, be best friends with water, also do carry your own water bottles and fill them up, as and when necessary and available.
- Obviously, your tribe defines your vibe!
- And, developing a sense of humour helps you move forward!
- Please, avoid traveling at night on this route and Ladakh in general.
- Lastly, DO NOT OVEREAT. But, do drink lots of water. Also, garlic helps with oxygen flow.
Adios, Manali-Leh journey! Hello, memories!
Also, I know I have said it before, the community you develop during and after this trip is one you will cherish for a lifetime. Whether it is helping a stranded biker with a busted tyre, or giving feedback on the route ahead; just a thumbs-up for a peace sign by the few people you encounter in your path – you are forever connected. For your soul has a piece of the place that I left a piece of my soul in, for our stories might be different, but, will have the same enchanting background, for our struggles that might have been at different times – I will forever understand you. This journey changes your life, your viewpoint is changed and you are a calmer version of yourself, more connected to the truths you understand. And having been on a similar journey of growth, I understand too.
So, friend, welcome, to the small club of wandering souls. See you out there!