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Old 29th March 2011, 18:00   #1
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Default From Africa to Leh - The Journey of Two Souls

Note: This travelogue has been previously posted on another public forum. I am replicating it in this space. My wife and I went on this mad road trip about 2 years ago.

Day 1: Hyderabad – Adilabad – Nagpur – Itarsi (780km; 6:00 am)

The journey of a thousand miles may begin with a single step. But a journey of 4000 miles begins with a paradigm shift. Not a shift in ideology for that is an exercise in self-righteousness (hence a subject non-conducive to most deliberations) but a shift in location.

There I was half-way across half the world somewhere in the jungles of Africa working a pretty fulfilling job. Of course jobs tend to be fulfilling in direct proportion to the paychecks they bring in. Even so, not everything can be monetized and Marylin Monroe was right in crooning that the best things in life were free. Three years on it was time to move on to the proverbial greener pastures.

The wife and I decided to go to Ladakh. The sensible among us fly to Srinagar or Kullu and then drive up to Leh. The smart ones fly down to Leh. We decided that driving all the way from Hyderabad was the way to do it. In these times of fast food and T20 cricket, it is fairly easy to instantly certify us lunatics. Well, who am I kidding? In most times it would be fairly easy to instantly certify us lunatics.

Anyway. The move back to India was made and the appropriate car was bought – a shiny black Bolero SLX. As the yarn is spun further more details about the car shall be divulged wherever appropriate.

The jaunt began on 20 September 2009 at 6:00am from the Lucifer house at Ameerpet, Hyderabad. As it has now come to be widely accepted, yours truly got lost on a road straight as an arrow. It has never been satisfactorily explained how feats of such impressive magnitude are achieved time and again. Perhaps greatness is never meant to be fully understood. Despite all that we made it to Nirmal (about 270km off) in three hours courtesy the beautiful dual carriageway almost all the way through. National Highway (NH) 7 is possibly the best road in the country (shaayad ab tak Atalji lete hue hain us sadak par), which is not necessarily a good thing for it lulls you into believing that all roads are as benign.

About 80km or so from Nirmal is Adilabad, and then you cross over into Maharashtra. Whoever says Maharashtra has the best road network in India needs to have their head dipped in ice-cold water any day of the week and twice on a Sunday. The road to Nagpur is laced with at least 60 diversions, not counting the ones that are unmarked. It is hard enough making sense of them in the day leave alone the dangers of navigating after sunset for some diversions if not taken will land you in a 20ft deep pit. Most will plunge you into an abyss.

Nagpur is 485km from Hyderabad. 730 days of the formative years of my childhood were spent in this city. It is a good place to have lunch. As you enter the city soon after you descend the first flyover on your right you find the famous Haldiram’s food outlet. You could eat there if that is the sort of thing you like to do or you could drive down a little further and find yourself a proper dhaba.

When doing a road trip, the most important thing is getting the right directions. And filling stations are great at giving you those. There is a Bharat Petroleum filling station after the Sitabuldi flyover. You will know the flyover once you take it because on your left would be Lokmat Bhavan, the city’s tallest building. The fuel station is located at a traffic junction. Take the left and head out straight on NH 69, the highway to Bhopal. Fuel in Nagpur is terribly expensive. Tank up only if you are in dire straits.

35km from Nagpur is Saoner. Somewhere after that is the border with Madhya Pradesh (MP). I would describe the stretch between Saoner and Multai as that quintessential ‘Haryaali aur Raasta’ in Manoj Kumar movies. It is the most scenic stretch of road. Absorb in the beauty of the Vindhya Mountains for it gets unbearably dusty after that.

The camera is the tool of the annoying tourist. It is sometimes a very good memory encapsulating device. Mostly it is just a source of proof for ‘I was there’. Keep it handy, especially at Betul. Some of the sunsets over the lake (Sampanna Jalashay) there will seem more unreal than modern art. More visually appealing too.

Itarsi is where we halted for the night. Considering how big the railway station is, one is bound to expect more of the town. Only, it is too much to expect even clean sheets in a hotel room. By then, you are usually past caring. You just flop on to the bed and crash. It fully makes you appreciate the depth of the Hindi proverb:

Neend na jaane tooti khaat
Bhookh na jaane jhootha bhaath


That said, drive up to Bhopal if you are not tired. It is an hour and a half away with much better accommodation.

To be continued...

PS: Attached with this post is a picture of sunset over Sampana Jalashay, Betul, MP. This image was scanned from 35mm film on a flat bed scanner. Hence the low quality.
PPS: Due to a mishap of sorts, we lost one of our memory cards - the first 12 days of pictures. Fortunately, the film camera saved the day.
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Old 29th March 2011, 18:34   #2
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Day 2: Itarsi – Bhopal – Agra – Bharatpur (780km; 5:30 am)

After a night spent at Meghdoot Hotel, Itarsi on sheets that only ever get washed when Lord Indra himself decides to send in the sporadic shower of rain, the wife and I made a dash for Bharatpur before the first rays hit the tarmac.

The distance of about a 100km or so to Bhopal takes more than two and a half hours. This is why:
  1. You are traversing through MP’s infamous roads
  2. You will wait at least one level crossing out of the three as per law of averages
  3. You just have to stop at the stream running along the highway and get your feet wet
Most of MP is ghats. The views are breathtaking. The forests are still lush enough to seem other worldly. The wildlife seems not to care when you pass by. If you have the luxury of an additional day, take MP slow and breathe in nature at its best.

Bhopal is something else. It is possibly the only city on this planet where it is quicker to go through the city than take the bypass. The bypass is a 10km stretch resembling the result of a random gravel throwing contest. The Bolero struggled to average 12kmph. Yet, they have the gall to put up a signboard that limits maximum speed to 50kmph. Talk of rubbing salt into wounds!

Once you chug your way out of the bypass, things actually get worse. Apparently, everyone in Bhopal believes there is a different road to Agra. We must have stopped for direction three thousand two hundred and seventy seven times only to be told as many varied routes. I believe we clocked 50km simply going back and forth trying to locate NH 3. Here is a guide to a fellow traveller. Ask for directions to Rajgarh/Baora or the Ayodhya bypass.

NH 3 is driving heaven compared to all the roads post NH 7, especially the diversion laced NS 61/62 between Adilabad and Nagpur or the NH 69 between Nagpur and Bhopal, which is not saying much but it is the thought that counts. In fact, my wife formulated a theory that states ‘Highways get their numbers designated based on how motorable they are’. Of course, that theory does not hold water once you hit NH 1A between Leh and Srinagar or NH 1D between Srinagar and Jammu.

Gwalior is a picturesque town that runs a narrow gauge railway. Since I am quite enthralled by relics of the past, this was a moment that made my eyes light up like a child’s on Christmas. Seeing people perched atop the train reminded me of the movie ‘Gandhi’.

From Gwalior it is a couple of hours to Agra. The road dualises all the way through except for 10km in Rajasthan where you drive hoping that the car in front of you can find a way out. Neither does this stretch have roads nor does it have directions telling you how to locate one.

We learnt this the hard way, but to reach Bharatpur follow the signs to Jaipur that are displayed fairly prominently as you approach Agra. We lost an hour or so navigating through the city. The highway is lonely, more so when you are travelling with your wife at 9pm. It is dark, the darkest I have ever known a highway to be. It took us an hour to reach Bharatpur.

It being off season, rooms in Hotel Bharatpur Ashok Forest Lodge (an ITDC Hotel) were available. At Rs. 2300 a night during off season it is a tad expensive, but worth every penny. It is located inside Keoladeo National Park, and being a Government of India enterprise they treat you like Royalty. The food is delicious, the way it usually is in Government hotels.

A word of advice. Before checking into a Hotel haggle. Haggle for a good price. All private hotels give you discounts, even if they happen to be the Taj. When you are on a 20 day road trip, a difference of a few hundred rupees a night can make the difference between visiting a place and going around it.

Also, check-in into tourism department hotels wherever available. They don’t give discounts but they provide you standard amenities like fresh towels, hot water, room service, laundry, etc. at reasonable rates.

To be continued...

PS: Attached with this post are pictures of
  1. The Dhabha in MP where we had lunch. Notice the Bolero in the background.
  2. The restaurant of Hotel Bharatpur Ashok.
Both pictures have been taken on the N95.
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Old 29th March 2011, 18:48   #3
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Default Re: From Africa to Leh - The Journey of Two Souls

Nice write up!!!!

waiting for more!!!!
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Old 29th March 2011, 19:56   #4
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Good to see the writeup Rohit. It's good to read a humurous travelouge anytime of the day. Eagerly awaiting for more. I was expecting this to do something with the African Jungles but you are wandering into the wilderness of Leh. Keep it coming.
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Old 29th March 2011, 20:09   #5
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You have a way with words Lucifer. Superb narration style. Enjoying it thoroughly and waiting for more.

Good you did not start the journey from Africa to Leh by road. That would have qualified to be called a Lunatic
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Old 30th March 2011, 10:47   #6
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Thank you everyone for the kind words . The log continues.

Day 3: Bharatpur Sightseeing

One of life’s little luxuries is a proper English breakfast. And government hotels are great at serving you those. Perhaps it is a hangover of the Raj.

Half-boiled eggs, toast, butter, orange juice and tea were just what the doctor ordered after a gruelling two-day drive covering 1560 km. Not to mention the king sized double bed, a balcony larger than my bedroom back home, service so prompt that it sometimes gave you the impression that the hotel staff eavesdropped at your door, and a bath tub that would put most Olympic pools to shame. Such indulges are usually detrimental to an itinerary. Since we didn’t have any, we decided to stay an extra night.

Keoladeo National Park was created by Maharaj Suraj Mal for duck hunting. It gets its name from a Shiva temple located inside it. Legend has it that the Maharaja’s retinue spotted cows milking themselves atop a mound. When the Maharaja ordered the place to be dug up, a natural Shiva Ling was found. The Keoladeo temple was built on it.

There is another temple located just outside the gates of the inner park. Built in reverence of Sitaram Baba, a yogi who did penance there for 12 years, the Sitaram temple is known for its turtle pond. Hundreds of turtles, some weighing in excess of 50kg, come out in droves in response to a call from the temple priests who feed them flour balls. The turtles are believed to have dragged people into the water and happily feasted on their meat.


Turtles at Turtle Pond

The rickshaw wallahs of Bharatpur are trained guides. Our rickshaw wallah, Mitthanlal, claimed to have been trained by the man, Dr. Salim Ali, himself. His knowledge was impressive, at least to us novices. He spoke four foreign languages – Spanish, German, French, English – despite never having been to school.

We spotted Spotted Deer, Tiger Bird, Paddy Crane, Gray Heron, Sambhar Deer, Blue Antelopes, Blue Jay, Parakeet, Brown Patridge, Peacocks, and even a family of wild boars among other creatures. We embarked on a quest to locate the python pond. The heat eventually got to us and we returned.

Our guide-cum-transporter narrated to us the tale of this tigress. She had wandered down from Ranthambore, another forest paradise a few miles up the road. Not having company, she only survived four or five years. Yet visitors could safely walk through the park since the tigress confined herself to the thick forests. I am not sure how many tourists were informed of the tigress when they bought entry tickets.

The wife and I were so enthralled with the sanctuary that we have decided to embark on a Forests of India road trip in the coming years. In these days of instant gratification, it is a rarity to be in the lap of nature oblivious of the passage of time.

To be continued…
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Old 30th March 2011, 12:23   #7
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Since your intro thread where you mentioned this journey, I was looking forward for this travelogue. You really write well, do continue for the rest of it.
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Old 30th March 2011, 13:49   #8
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Day 4: Bharatpur – Delhi – Chandigarh – Nangal (583km; 5:30 am)

A day of rest had recharged the wife and I. We made a dash for Delhi and made the distance of 180km in a respectable 3 hours. Then we encountered rush hour.

Delhi has no bypass. There is not even a possibility that the city will get one, unless they are prepared to displace 10 million people. We entered Delhi all the way from Palwal to Ballabgarh to Faridabad to ISBT to Indraprasth Apollo Hospitals before hitting NH 1, more famously known as the Grand Trunk (GT) Road.

Built by Sher Shah Suri, this road links Dhaka and Lahore. It is a gorgeous stretch of tarmac – six lanes upto Panipat, and four lanes from thereon. We made good time, almost averaging 100k an hour. They say man proposes, God disposes. In Kurukshetra, man proposes, political rally disposes. The traffic jam was mind-boggling. As far as the eye could see there were vehicles lined up bumper to bumber. In all fairness, this was the first logjam of the entire trip. It was bound to happen.

Having lost a couple of hours in Kurukshetra, we got to Ambala around 1:30pm. The Bolero was refuelled. The occupants of the car needed topping up as well. We located the legendary ‘Puran Singh Ka Mashoor Vishal Dhaba’. It is situated very close to the bus stand, diagonally opposite the railway station.

Fable has it that the dhaba did such brisk business that the owners of nearby eateries brined Puran Singh with two bottles of liquor every day to shut his shop for at least one meal in order that they could do business too. Quite a few dhabas have sprung up in the vicinity with the same name, and it can be confusing to discern the original. Fortunately, the man at the filling station had armed us with a nifty clue. The dhaba with the copper pots in the kitchen is the original. The rest have steel or aluminium pots.

Lunch was a gluttonous fair of chicken curry and keema masala. The common sense adage of eating light when on the road went straight out the window.

From Ambala, it was non-stop to Nangal. You cannot but notice the prosperity in the state of Punjab. It is almost instantaneous how roads become better, fields become greener, canals become deeper, cars become bigger the moment you cross into the state. Few places can give you the kind of driving pleasure that this place can. Your senses just come alive.

Nangal is a sleepy little town on the foothills of the mountains of the Bhakra Dam. It is basically a township for all the employees of Bhakra and Beas Management Board (BBMB). With the experience of Bharatpur still fresh in our minds, we wanted to spend the night at the Tourist Bungalow. Only, the place had been closed down many moons ago.

It was blind luck that we located Khanna Lodge somewhere near the railway station. For Rs. 600 a night for AC accommodation, the place was not bad at all. Heck, even adding the tips and dinner we rounded off the night for a modest Rs. 700.

To be continued…
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Old 30th March 2011, 15:53   #9
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Lucifer - isn't this the name of that famed adversary of Theron & Mandrake?

It was only at the end of your last post that I breathed. This used to happen when I used to read Alistair Mclean.

You do have a way with words...spellbound..

Am glued to this thread...waiting for more..
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Old 30th March 2011, 16:12   #10
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Thank you for the mighty complements, gd1418! Made my day .

Day 5:
Nangal – Bilaspur – Sundernagar – Manali (300km; 5:30 am)

So, the wife and I have covered over 2000km in our Bolero. Credit to the car. She is an absolute beauty. There was this one time where I miscalculated an overtaking manoeuvre just before Guna, MP. To avoid the oncoming truck, I swerved into a ditch off the highway. Nothing. The car just stood there and took it. Even the engine did not stall. I think I should write a ‘thank you’ letter to M&M. This was not the only time during our 17 days on the road that the car saved our lives.

Moving on, we checked out of the Khanna Lodge at our usual time of 5:30 only to find out that access to Bhakra Dam is allowed only after obtaining the necessary permits issued by the PR office of BBMB. The permits were issued fairly easily though we had to wait till 8:00 am for the office to open.

The car and its cargo were thoroughly checked at the two check points enroute the dam. We didn’t know it then, but this was the only instance in our expedition when security was this strict. Cameras aren’t allowed near the dam. However, when we told the CRPF officer that we would go on to Manali via Naina Devi he simply let us off with a warning to not take pictures until we crossed the police check point past the dam.

Nehru had once remarked that no one can truly appreciate the gargantuan task that the Bhakra Dam is until they see it for themselves. Okay, may be he didn’t put it exactly this way but then I don’t quite have the gift of the gab that he did. At 210m tall, the Bhakra Dam is the highest gravity dam in the world. Built in the valley of river Sutlej it is flanked by two mountains. It has four flood gates. The dam has an 1100MW power station, and many smaller power generating units downstream. By the way, these are trivia that I remember off the top of my head. For exact information, refer to wikipedia or some other credible source. I am not liable for any errors or omissions.

But this bit is true. The dam is magnificent. Even though we were not allowed to even park the car anywhere close to the structure, its grandeur hits you like a wrecking ball. No photograph I have seen has ever done justice to its majestic form. Visitors aren’t allowed on the dam or anywhere near it. The best you can do is drive past it and absorb its greatness.

It was not long ago (2001, I think) that some of my friends had visited the dam. They did all the touristy things – click pictures, pose next to the anti-aircraft gun, and generally frolic around. Terrorist threats have put an end to all that. I suggest go there fast, perhaps in the next couple of years or so. The way terrorism is taking over our lives it won’t be long before they close this road to the public completely. That would be a shame. If the Taj is a wonder of an era gone by, then this dam is a tribute to the sheer human will to surmount impossible odds.

About 20 min ahead of the dam is the Naina Devi Temple. Unlike temples of Northern India, this one has stayed clear of indiscriminate commercialisation. I recall the Kashi Vishwanath Temple at Varanasi and how the priests there were looting people in the name of devotion. Naina Deviji is a welcome relief. Also, it is surprisingly a very clean temple. The police bandobast, though, is almost as heavy as the aforementioned temple.

Post darshan, we continued our drive to Manali. We stopped for lunch before Mandi (about 85km from Manali). At Mandi, we stopped again this time at the Mahindra service centre to get the steering wheel looked at. Either the Mahindra mechanics are good or the car is a simple piece of machinery. May be it is a morsel of both. A quick bolt tightening did the trick, and soon we were off.

From now, we would only keep climbing up the mountains for the next week or so. The Manali ghats are gorgeous, and the road is a peach. There were stretches on which I could do 80kmph in fifth gear. Despite that, it took us almost 10 hours to cover the 300km to Manali. We were spent and exhausted. We checked into The Hadimba Cottages, an HPTDC hotel, had dinner and called it a night.

To be continued...
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Old 30th March 2011, 16:30   #11
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Day 6: Manali Sight Seeing (100km; 10:00 am)

Earth has not anything to show more fair
Dull would he be of soul who would pass by


Wordsworth comes to the rescue of us lesser mortals describing for us some of the sights of nature that we are unable to describe for ourselves. Of course, that poem was inspired by a view atop Westminster Bridge. Even so, the sunrise at Manali evoked in me the exact same thoughts.

The Hadimba cottages are built on a hill. It is one of the few hotels in Manali that can boast of rooms with a view. A good night’s sleep, courtesy the brilliant room heater, had us energised.

Our first stop was the Solang Valley. It is picturesque. It reminded me of that song ‘Abu Khuda’ from the movie ‘Jab Jab Phool Khile’. If you are the regular kind of annoying tourist, you know the kinds that like to make a fool of themselves, you could go horseback riding. If adventure is in your blood, you could go paragliding. If you want to breathe in fresh mountain air and experience nature, you could take a walk to the top of the valley.


Wife at Solang Valley

We climbed a vertical height of 50m (that is what GPS told me). At those altitudes, it was an arduous task. But it was worth it for it gave us a brilliant vantage of the entire valley floor. On the flipside, we were terribly hungry by the time we made our way down. A quick bite of hot delicious Maggie was our salvation.

It is a short drive to Naggar castle from Solang. The castle is simply gorgeous. It has a restaurant on the first floor which serves amazing sizzlers for this part of the world. There are a few bakeries near the castle that serve certain European cuisines. So, as Douglas Adams says, where one shall go for lunch is a tough choice to make. But if sizzlers do to you what they do to me, then I would suggest the castle restaurant.

Someone told us that there is a lovely waterfall about 30min drive away. Now, as any traveller in India eventually realises, these time approximations are dicey. Depending on the part of the country you are in, half an hour can mean anywhere between 20min and 90min. If time is of the essence, then it is prudent to not undertake journeys based purely on the time it may take to get to the destination.

We had the luxury of time. Even though the road for the last couple of kilometres or so is a dirt path hardly wide enough for a single bus to get through, we were glad when we got there. The place is called Jaana. Apart from us, there was only one group of tourists. I like that. The bane of tourism is that too many tourists render the place unworthy for tourism. The waterfall is just like those we see in cheap photographs that we buy to cover up that stained spot on our living room walls.

On our way back, we stopped at an apple farm and bought us a crate of apples. 18-19kg of apples cost us Rs. 600. That is about Rs. 30-35 per kg. Compare that with the Rs. 120 per kg rate in Hyderabad! If you are driving a truck like the Bolero, get a crate. They pack the crates so well that the apples stay fresh for almost a month.

Before calling it a night, we got the car washed. The road would be getting unbearably dusty once we crossed Rohtang Pass, and the Bolero deserved every bit of pampering. We topped up the diesel tank, and filled a contingency 35l can with diesel since we had heard enough about the 365km no-filling-station stretch.

We found this small Italian joint La Forno. It is located just before the hotel we were staying at. Run by an Italian lady, the place serves quite possibly the best pasta in India. The ambience is great too. I would highly recommend this place to everyone. Even if you are just passing by Manali with no intent to stop, make sure you do it during lunch.


La Forno

To be continued…
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Old 30th March 2011, 16:47   #12
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Day 7: Manali – Rohtang – Keylong – Jispa (150km; 5:30 am)

Laloo had once remarked to a quip about Bihar’s roads, “Arrey, oo to Hema Malini ke gaal jaisan chikni hain!” Trust Laloo to veil an issue behind the garb of his repartee, though whether he meant Hema Malini’s cheeks of the yore or of today is open to speculation. But the road from Manali to Marhi is smooth like Katrina Kaif’s thighs in that hair removal cream commercial.

Then the road starts to get progressively worse. BRO is working on double-laning the roads as a result of which even the existing single lane is a bit like the Deccan Plateau. I tried to save the Bolero from as much damage as I could but one stone did manage to sneak under the footboard and completely twist the steel. That hurt. Sadly, there was more hurt to come.

Upto Rohtang, the vegetation is of green coniferous forests. Streams flow in abundance. Then almost suddenly, as if someone throws open a switch, the mountains turn brown. There is dust all over the place. The terrain is reminiscent of the desolation of Afghanistan in Khuda Gawah. It is a cold desert, with sparse growth of shrubs. All around are snow capped mountain peaks. The scene appears to be straight out of a science fiction movie.

We had breakfast at Khoksar. It was the usual fair of aloo parathas plus the added variety of momos. The momos were absolutely killer.

We stopped at a stream to fill up the windshield washer bottle. The water was ice cold. One slip and pneumonia comes calling. Three army jawans who were on their usual beat were pretty impressed that a car from AP had been driven this far. Quite an ego kick that was !

From Rohtang, it is a descent till Jispa. Despite its high ground clearance, the Bolero got pretty battered and bruised. I am still at a loss to explain how people do this journey in small cars. It isn’t that the car struggled to get over bumps. That part was a breeze. But it was all the stones hitting the under-carriage that was disturbing. I can only imagine how bad this can get for a front-wheel drive car. Despite that the Bolero behaved very well, climbing every mountain and crossing every stream with the air conditioning on.


One of the many river crossings enroute - I wonder how people do this in their hatchbacks or sedans

We reached Jispa around 1:00 in the afternoon. The tented accommodation had packed up. With the only choices of Ibex and Padma, we checked into the former. At Rs. 1400 a night, it is expensive. There is cheaper accommodation available at Keylong, which is about 45min before Jispa.


Chandra River at Jispa

Our corner room at Ibex gave us a great view of the Chandra River. Being as it was the end of the season (26/09/2009 was the exact date), all the rooms were available. In hindsight, we cut it real close. Only a week or so after we left Leh it started to snow.

To be continued…
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Old 31st March 2011, 00:43   #13
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@ Lucifier - You write very well, its a treat to read your log

Quote:
NH 3 is driving heaven compared to all the roads post NH 7, especially the diversion laced NS 61/62 between Adilabad and Nagpur or the NH 69 between Nagpur and Bhopal, which is not saying much but it is the thought that counts. In fact, my wife formulated a theory that states ‘Highways get their numbers designated based on how motorable they are’. Of course, that theory does not hold water once you hit NH 1A between Leh and Srinagar or NH 1D between Srinagar and Jammu.
Btw, NH1A is between Jammu-Srinagar and NH1D is between Srinagar-Leh. Guess you got it the other way around !
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Old 31st March 2011, 12:16   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dragonov View Post
...Btw, NH1A is between Jammu-Srinagar and NH1D is between Srinagar-Leh. Guess you got it the other way around !
Thanks for correcting this . And thanks for the complements too.

The log continues.

Day 8: Jispa – Sarchu – Rumtse – Leh (330km; 5:30 am)

By now all these 5:30am starts had become routine. The human body is a wonderful machine. Except for these 17 days on the road I can’t quite recall ever having woken up in time to see sunrise, though there have been times when I have gone to bed after the sun has risen. At any rate, the sun rises in our cities are not reason enough to wake up.

Jispa has the most brilliant night sky. I could see Orion, Ursa Major, Ursa Minor, Venus, Mars, etc. with the naked eye much more clearly than in any planetarium I have been to. And when the sun rose, it was almost as if we were witnessing the light show of the Gods. The peaks were sunlit while the rest of the mountain was submerged in darkness. The river added its own music to go with the show. Simply superb!


Sunrise at 15,000ft

From Jispa it is a climb all the way to Sarchu. It was here that we had our first brush with snow. It looked so soft and flaky that we reached out to touch it only to realise that it was harder than concrete. This weather for this part of the drive was freezing. Fortunately, we had the luxury of a heater in the Bolero. There was an inconvenient side-effect to it in that the windscreen kept misting up. We had to lower the windows a little to keep that from happening since the Bolero’s air-vent system does not give you the option of fresh air intake. If anyone knows of a better way to manage this please share it with the rest of us.


Our first brush with snow - a little before Sarchu

Sarchu is the border between the states of Himachal Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir. For first timers, the border closes around 4pm. Time your run accordingly. At 4200m above msl (mean sea level), this was the highest breakfast we ever had – hot Maggie served soup style with vegetables and a hot cup of tea.

The landscape is so barren it almost feels like the deserts of Rajasthan. The mountains don’t seem very tall, which is mostly because you are standing pretty much on top of them but the altitude varies between 14000ft and 17000ft. These are some of the highest roads in the world and you start to appreciate the Herculean efforts of BRO as your climb gets higher.


An expanse of desert at 4200m

For those who have heard of rumours of a second Manali-Leh route, rest assured for these rumours are true. We bumped into a couple of GREF (General Reserve Engineer Force) engineers who confirmed this. When complete, this road will have India’s largest road tunnel with a length of 10km. Now, compare that with the current record holder Jawahar Tunnel that has a length of 2.531km! This road will be an all-weather road which means no more planning the Leh excursion around predicted snow fall. Yay!

The drive from Sarchu to Pang is through Gata Loops, a set of 21 hairpin turns. Soon after you exit the loops, there is a milestone indicating Pang is 41km away. Make sure you stop at this marker and admire the canyon-like structures. If they don’t make you feel you are standing on some alien planet straight out of a Star Trek movie then you don’t watch enough science fiction movies.

And then out of the blue you hit what I choose to call The Ladakh Flats. It is a stretch of road of about 40-50km length where BRO has not bothered to build a road (in the place where it is the easiest to build one). The land is flat. I am not kidding when I say that I have seen tables with more bumps in them. You can go about making your own road, which is what most of us novice off-roaders do. Of late, the environmentalists have been quite vocal about eco-system damage due to this mindless driving.



The Ladakh Flats


Once you cross The Ladakh Flats, it is an ascent to Rumtse. At one point, we crossed the second highest motorable road in the world at 17,582ft. The wife and I were both hit by altitude sickness for the first and last time on this trip. Light headedness and nausea were expected. We couldn’t imagine it would be this severe. Heck, I even had to take a dump by the side of the road. Quite an experience doing that at 17,500ft!

Bless the Bolero for its air-conditioning! The sun was scorching, hot enough to cause sun burns. The wind was cold. Had it not been for the air-conditioning, we would have been in much worse state. More than the sun, the air-con kept the dust out. The dust in this region is fine enough to be used to lubricate engines. Hats off to all those who do this on two-wheels! I am not ashamed to admit that I wouldn’t be able to do this without dust protection.

At Rumtse, we stopped to have chai and ciggy. That got the circulation going again and we could make the 78km to Leh in under 90min. But the damage had been done. The two of us were in quite a fragile physical state. We found the first possible hotel and crashed.

To be continued…
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Old 31st March 2011, 12:25   #15
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Default Re: From Africa to Leh - The Journey of Two Souls

This log is quite an interesting read mate. Really enjoying your anecdotes. Keep it coming! Visiting Naggar Palace was a good idea, better is to stay in there.

Quote:
Originally Posted by lucifer1881 View Post

... I am still at a loss to explain how people do this journey in small cars. It isn’t that the car struggled to get over bumps. That part was a breeze. But it was all the stones hitting the under-carriage that was disturbing. I can only imagine how bad this can get for a front-wheel drive car...
That's accomplished with a lot of grit, spit and a whole lotta duct tape! Ok ok, at least the first one.
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