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Old 6th March 2014, 11:41   #1
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Default (Un)Chained Melody - 36 Hours of Snow, and the Manali Leh Highway

The ides of winter is an interesting time.
The snowfalls are mostly gone from the lower hills.

The upper mountains still get some every now and then, but the time of 6 feet pile ups are over. Even 1-2 feet is a rarity.
BRO gears up with their snow cutters and the massive machines.

Fighting weather the long arduous task of snow clearance begins.
Winter is not really gone though.

And every now and then, the Himalayas decide to show, who is the boss.
So with a big western disturbance looming we decided to head upwards.

Normally, winter upwards, for us and a lot of others is Narkanda, with its Thanedar track having all you want.

But when you have done and dusted it all, in the Safari, and in the Liva, you need something more challenging.
Something more exotic.
Something more alone.

So the candidates this time did not have Narkanda.
We could to to Jalori pass. With its last 5kms of climb being a slush fest, it would mean a fitting challenge.
But alas, there is the problem.
The PWD options in the vicinity of the pass are usually buried in deep snow, with no water, no food and no facilities.
Staying in the valley is a nice option, but then you completely miss out the chance of snowfall.

Moreover... every page 3 wannabe now has a "homestay" on leased land in the valley, and now its just another concrete jungle. Soon it will be like Shimla.
All these factors meant its out of the picture.

That left just one more option.
Manali.

Yes, Manali. With its pesky tourists in snow suits and the over crowded solang valley.
The land of hour long jams as taxis park here and there.

But a call to "airwolf" cemented Manali as our destination.
BRO had crossed Kothi, but there was so much snow on the road that the taxi's were still concentrating on the "Solang side".
That meant, we could have the Manali Leh highway all to ourselves, and we could go, in solitude, for as long as we dared.

So with the long snowy weekend looming, we started our journey on a rainy afternoon in Delhi.
Our destination for the day was our village home near Ropar. A perfect place to make a relaxed start next morning and reach Kothi with much daylight to spare.

We made good speed, and its half past 10 when we reach our stop for the night.
Our "escape from Delhi hyperlapse" Mobius dashcam with wide angle!


Thankfully, it has already rained, so slush is not too bad. And we can catch on a good nights sleep, before starting on the real journey!

(Un)Chained Melody - 36 Hours of Snow, and the Manali Leh Highway-20140227_222212xl.jpg

Last edited by tsk1979 : 7th March 2014 at 14:44.
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Old 6th March 2014, 11:43   #2
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Default Day 1 : The journey is not the destination

NH21
This is a national highway.
Cutting through the foothills reaching the lofty Himalayan heights.

But its a highway on in name.
In reality its the hell road.
From Kiratpur Sahib to Bilaspur, it has craters which will swallow the Safari whole. Calling them potholes would be like calling mount everest a hill.

And add to that the rain.
So from Kiratpur Sahib to Manali which should be an easy 5-6 hour ride is a bone jarring bone braking truck infested hell ride.

The rains and the excellent qualifications and technical know-how of NHAI contractors have ensured that even beyond the Truck zone, its hell.

I have very rarely taken any pictures on this route, and this does not change this time.
The goal is simple.
Reach Kothi before sundown.

We battle trucks and buses. Thankfully hardly any tourist traffic. Manali is very tame with little traffic, and lots of clouds. Its not drizzling yet, but the horizon shows all white.

Thankfully, the BRO has done a better job, and we reach the Solang Turn unmolested, from where its time to head upwards.

BRO has done a great job here to, and black tarmac greets us all the way to Kothi.
As expected, the PWD is buried in snow, but the Sagoo cafe guy has some nice warm rooms with running water. How he manages that throughout winter is a mystery!

But we are here. Our day one is done.
We are the only ones staying at the hotel. Our only company is the Force One 2.2 2WD which is trying to belch out a lot of smoke as a part of its high altitude testing, and a film set crew who are scouting locations for a film shooting about 2kms from Kothi. They are the only other 4WD here, with couple of 4wd bolero campers and a gypsy.

Test vehicle
(Un)Chained Melody - 36 Hours of Snow, and the Manali Leh Highway-20140228_164601xl.jpg

(Un)Chained Melody - 36 Hours of Snow, and the Manali Leh Highway-20140228_164610xl.jpg

(Un)Chained Melody - 36 Hours of Snow, and the Manali Leh Highway-20140228_164639xl.jpg

The weather can turn anytime soon, so they go back, all of them. Its just us, and some really hospitable people of Sagoo Cafe and warm food.

Not a drop falls from the sky, and the barometer holds steady at 750mbars. But the air is heavy. We know its gonna fall.
So before the whiteout, we venture out, just as a test run.

BRO has new toys, and they have made good use. The café manager tells me they clear snow every day. Heavy fall, light fall... the cutter will come and clear it all. This time, they have set an ambitious target, and looks like they are all set to beat it. I mean, when have you heard them reaching gulaba within 5 days of starting to clear the road, and that too when it snows every day!

(Un)Chained Melody - 36 Hours of Snow, and the Manali Leh Highway-20140228_183354xl.jpg

The dark black road to the mountain. This... is the Manali Leh highway.. and winter still rules

(Un)Chained Melody - 36 Hours of Snow, and the Manali Leh Highway-20140228_183403xl.jpg

We have an early dinner, and under a dark overcast sky we sleep. And around 2:30am, if I am to trust the barometer, it starts snowing....
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Old 6th March 2014, 11:46   #3
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Default Day 2 : The whiteout

9 hours plus of sleep on a nice warm bed in a heated room is a wonderful thing. So when we finally got out the bed, I first checked the barometer record. It had gone down to 743 around 2:30am before climbing slowly again.

I did not need to pull back the curtains. I knew what to expect. Yes, the Himalayas had showered their white blessings.
And the snowfall was in no mood to stop.

This is the view from the window!
(Un)Chained Melody - 36 Hours of Snow, and the Manali Leh Highway-20140301_090838xl.jpg

In the cafe, we ordered paronthas. While stuff got prepared, we will prepare our vehicle. The snow was getting heavier and heavier.

Time for some chain installation.
We had practiced installation back home, but the cables would not come on because the front tires were buried in snow.
So we decided, we will just fit the chains, and venture out.

Imagine the feeling.
The Manali Leh highway, all white, with a foot of snow. And just us. No tire marks, no pesky tourists, no taxi madness.

Just the white elephant on the white road with snow falling all around.
Time to play?

So with the white elephant pointed towards Gulaba, we set out. Towards our private winter playground!
(Un)Chained Melody - 36 Hours of Snow, and the Manali Leh Highway-d70005808xl.jpg

Paronthas will take another 10-15 minutes, why not do a 1km test run, eh?
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Old 6th March 2014, 11:48   #4
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Default Day 2 #2 : Playground

So many times we have done this highway. Battled landslides, water crossings, traffic, permits, jams, landslides...

But today, this one shows a different face. The white. If there is beauty in black and white, its this.
(Un)Chained Melody - 36 Hours of Snow, and the Manali Leh Highway-d70005809xl.jpg

With a foot of snow on top of a layer of ice, I am apprehensive, but the chains grip tenaciously. There is that reassuring whup whup on the soft surface. We just pull on
(Un)Chained Melody - 36 Hours of Snow, and the Manali Leh Highway-d70005810xl.jpg

This is like a dreamland, we are the only visitors
(Un)Chained Melody - 36 Hours of Snow, and the Manali Leh Highway-d70005811xl.jpg

If you have ever been "leh'd" this bridge you all will remember, right after kothi!
(Un)Chained Melody - 36 Hours of Snow, and the Manali Leh Highway-20140301_103832xl.jpg

After the bridge the climb starts. Will she climb?
Yes, she will, and she does... Up and up we go!
(Un)Chained Melody - 36 Hours of Snow, and the Manali Leh Highway-20140301_103840xl.jpg

And leave our imprints in the snow
(Un)Chained Melody - 36 Hours of Snow, and the Manali Leh Highway-20140301_103850xl.jpg
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Old 6th March 2014, 11:51   #5
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Default Day 2 #3 : Testing 123 Testing....

More bridge
(Un)Chained Melody - 36 Hours of Snow, and the Manali Leh Highway-d70005812xl.jpg

Its not snowing yet, so we decide to turn back after just a km of romp. Before heading upwards, I also wanted to park the vehicle and double check the snow chains for clearance issues if any. And the paronthas will get cold too if we decide to head further up right now

U turns are tricky, but with navigation from my partner, we manage it. The chains help too, in cutting through the snow banks

Downhill also gives us a fair idea of how good the braking is
(Un)Chained Melody - 36 Hours of Snow, and the Manali Leh Highway-d70005814xl.jpg

(Un)Chained Melody - 36 Hours of Snow, and the Manali Leh Highway-d70005815xl.jpg

and thankfully, it starts snowing again!
Yay
(Un)Chained Melody - 36 Hours of Snow, and the Manali Leh Highway-20140301_103936xl.jpg
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Old 6th March 2014, 11:54   #6
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Default Day 2 #4 : All set..

After the U turn
Name:  20140301_105536XL.jpg
Views: 22289
Size:  92.9 KB

Some more random pics around bridge
(Un)Chained Melody - 36 Hours of Snow, and the Manali Leh Highway-20140301_105022xl.jpg

(Un)Chained Melody - 36 Hours of Snow, and the Manali Leh Highway-d70005815xl.jpg

Its snowing heavily as we park and I give the chains a good tug. All fine.
Is it snowing? Check
Is it snowing heavily? Check
Do we get tea and Paronthas ? Check
Does he get biscuits? Check
(Un)Chained Melody - 36 Hours of Snow, and the Manali Leh Highway-20140301_111407xl.jpg


All done... its time to head upwards again.... This time we aren't turning back after a km. This time, we will go faaaar!
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Old 6th March 2014, 11:58   #7
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Default Day 2 #5: Upwards... the First run

Its quarter past 11.
The barometer is going down, and the thermometer is going up. With 5 degree C, and falling pressure, it means one thing. Heavy fall is looming.

So we start for our upwards journey
(Un)Chained Melody - 36 Hours of Snow, and the Manali Leh Highway-20140301_111533xl.jpg

We cross the bridge, and start the hairpin climb. The snow cutter has not made its appearance and the snow is quite deep.

Pics will be taken on the return journey, so we just trudge through the meadow area right above kothi, and go all the way to the hydro plant. At the next hairpin, snow gets deeper, but we keep going up.

The climb is steep now, and the snow is far thicker. Eventually, there comes a point where I can feel her struggling.

The snow is so deep that now its piling in front of the safari.
Time to take a U turn?
(Un)Chained Melody - 36 Hours of Snow, and the Manali Leh Highway-20140301_121407xl.jpg

See how you see not just the tire grooves, but also the center lines where the under carriage has been plowing through. Safari has a GC of 21cms. That is the amount of snow on the roads. And also add about 6 inches packed into ice.

The U turn is executed after quite many 3 point turns. With the humongous turning radius, its like turning a 747 around. I feel like that pilot who landed the boeing a wrong airport.

U turn done, we heave a sign of relief. We have come up against gravity. Going down is going to be cakewalk

And yes the landscape is amazing. Truly amazing
(Un)Chained Melody - 36 Hours of Snow, and the Manali Leh Highway-d70005824xl.jpg

(Un)Chained Melody - 36 Hours of Snow, and the Manali Leh Highway-20140301_121413xl.jpg

Rolling in the deep....
(Un)Chained Melody - 36 Hours of Snow, and the Manali Leh Highway-20140301_121622xl.jpg

Towards Kothi, its turning whiter and whiter. The snow storm is here!
(Un)Chained Melody - 36 Hours of Snow, and the Manali Leh Highway-20140301_121629xl.jpg

The Elephant in her playground
(Un)Chained Melody - 36 Hours of Snow, and the Manali Leh Highway-d70005825xl.jpg

(Un)Chained Melody - 36 Hours of Snow, and the Manali Leh Highway-d70005826xl.jpg
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Old 6th March 2014, 11:59   #8
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Default re: (Un)Chained Melody - 36 Hours of Snow, and the Manali Leh Highway

Thread moved to Travelogues section
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Old 6th March 2014, 13:30   #9
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Default re: (Un)Chained Melody - 36 Hours of Snow, and the Manali Leh Highway

Wow!, I would love to drive my Duster in such situations some day and would like to see how it behaves. By the way, did you felt having snow chains on all the 4 tyres would have helped you better when you have a 4WD?
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Old 6th March 2014, 13:41   #10
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Default re: (Un)Chained Melody - 36 Hours of Snow, and the Manali Leh Highway

Loved the narration.

The elephant in black would have been awesome with the white backdrop.
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Old 6th March 2014, 14:56   #11
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Default re: (Un)Chained Melody - 36 Hours of Snow, and the Manali Leh Highway

Quote:
Originally Posted by gurha View Post
Wow!, I would love to drive my Duster in such situations some day and would like to see how it behaves. By the way, did you felt having snow chains on all the 4 tyres would have helped you better when you have a 4WD?
Yup, definitely. Infact all 4 tires equipped section coming up. In soft snow rear chains were good enough, but once we reached ice, the front chains were a boon, esp downhill. Ice offers little braking or steering control.
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Old 6th March 2014, 15:01   #12
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Default re: (Un)Chained Melody - 36 Hours of Snow, and the Manali Leh Highway

This quick travelogue is another gem of yours, Tanveer! It actually gives a feel of what snow is like. I have seen more snow than this and have suffered it too. But all of that is in a very urban/ dependable and reliable roads/ geographies (read up state northern america). It still cant compare with the run you had. Although the elephant (safari) is able to play in the white land as if its home, the much credit is to the "mahut" who steered it to fun and safety.

Great narration as always and pictures do help recreate the situation for us readers. Thanks for treating us with great threads
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Old 6th March 2014, 16:03   #13
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Default Day 2 #6 : Downwards again

The road downhill. Its actually a lot easier
(Un)Chained Melody - 36 Hours of Snow, and the Manali Leh Highway-d70005829xl.jpg

The white cliff faces. Never seen this highway like this
(Un)Chained Melody - 36 Hours of Snow, and the Manali Leh Highway-d70005830xl.jpg

A cloud moves in
(Un)Chained Melody - 36 Hours of Snow, and the Manali Leh Highway-d70005831xl.jpg

We drive downhill, and I realize I have to be a little slow. With no chains on the front I don't have very good braking control.

these are the meadows right above kothi, after the first series of switchbacks after the bridge. In season you can see lots of taxis parked here and tourists posing.
But today....
(Un)Chained Melody - 36 Hours of Snow, and the Manali Leh Highway-20140301_123615xl.jpg

This white paradise is ours and only ours
(Un)Chained Melody - 36 Hours of Snow, and the Manali Leh Highway-20140301_123623xl.jpg

(Un)Chained Melody - 36 Hours of Snow, and the Manali Leh Highway-d70005832xl.jpg

The forest
(Un)Chained Melody - 36 Hours of Snow, and the Manali Leh Highway-d70005834xl.jpg

This is a black and white paradise
(Un)Chained Melody - 36 Hours of Snow, and the Manali Leh Highway-d70005837xl.jpg

With a dash of yellow and red
(Un)Chained Melody - 36 Hours of Snow, and the Manali Leh Highway-d70005838xl.jpg

Our footprints in the snow
(Un)Chained Melody - 36 Hours of Snow, and the Manali Leh Highway-d70005839xl.jpg

The snow is as deep as the floorboards
(Un)Chained Melody - 36 Hours of Snow, and the Manali Leh Highway-20140301_124051xl.jpg

We park and walk around enjoying the solitude. Can you imagine parking your vehicle right in the middle of manali leh highway
(Un)Chained Melody - 36 Hours of Snow, and the Manali Leh Highway-d70005841xl.jpg

Nobody's coming here for sure.
(Un)Chained Melody - 36 Hours of Snow, and the Manali Leh Highway-d70005842xl.jpg
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Old 6th March 2014, 17:20   #14
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Default re: (Un)Chained Melody - 36 Hours of Snow, and the Manali Leh Highway

Beautiful log Tanveer!

Tell me one thing, how do you identify which one is road and which one is edge of the hill when you drive through such a thick layer of snow? And even in October you had starting problems with the elephant, so what did you do in such deep winter? Any special precautions?
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Old 6th March 2014, 18:15   #15
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Default re: (Un)Chained Melody - 36 Hours of Snow, and the Manali Leh Highway

So the off-road no-road journey thread pics finally are in TL . Quite difficult to believe that this is he same Manali-Leh highway.

You are one lucky chap, just come out of house, drive few kms and you are in snowland . Did you use 4H/4L all the time?
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