Manali to Leh in 300 miles
On 21 June we took a car back to Manali in order to take the big trip to Leh and spent another night at Joshi’s Homestay but in a different room. We had lunch in New Manali in an absolutely fantastic restaurant called the Corner House and some of the best food I have had in India, albeit it wasn’t very Indian food. And I made a bit of a silly mistake dying my hair “flame red” which made me start to look like Aerial the Disney Mermaid cue lots of WhatsApping my hairdresser friends!
We went to the Drifter’s Café in Old Manali for dinner where there was a band playing… although Tiger was a bit grumpy and wanted to go to bed (so dinner became a takeaway) the absolute highlight of the day was them playing the theme from the Jungle Book in her honour!
The quoted prices from the official taxi stand in New Manali was 6,500 Rs Manali to Daramsala 7 hours in a Sedan car. From Manali to Leh is possible in a shared jeep for 3,500 Rs (£40) but it takes 16 hours and really we could only do a shared jeep if were over 2 days with Tiger. We chose the option of 18,000 (£203) over to days, stopping at Jispa on the way. We found a particularly charismatic driver, Rajender, who thoroughly looked after us!
On 23 June we set off for the 300 mile drive to Leh. We drove through flocks of sheep and wound our way up to “snow point” where a lot of Indian tourists just go to play in the snow. Considering this is a mountain road it was quite amusing around snow point to be in two lanes of queuing traffic….. at one point we were stationary and Tiger ended up having a cuddle in the back of the neighbouring car!
We went over the Rohtang Pass at 3,980m with Eric from Canada who was riding a bicycle and also saw some other very hardy cyclists attempting this on pedal power… inspiring, brave and maybe a little crazy!
Once over the pass we drove through Keylong to Jispa at 3,310m which now seems to be “the” place to break the journey (it always used to be Keylong), staying in the Padma Lodge which had very passable rooms but no wifi. The sign on the wall said “Pretend it 1947… No Facebook, no Wattsapp, no E-mail. Enjoy the nature!”.
We had a super early start on 24 June from Jispa and hit the Baralacha La Pass 5,030m at 8am with its metres of snow at either side of the road. At Pang, we stopped off for breakfast and met our first Ladakhi people where Tiger was a big hit with the little children.
Past Pang was where we saw the first of a long line of auto rickshaws doing the Leh to Shimla Rickshaw Run. Rajender and I stopped the first one to take photos. They were Brits (well, of course!) and just said to us “We are British but quick, we are in a race, we’ve got to go!” Then came another, and another… around 15 in all. Now it’s one thing doing this route on a so-called “two wheeler” i.e. a motorbike of which there are plenty of Enfields, but quite another doing it in a “three wheeler” i.e. an autorickshaw…. Impressive! We hope the Brits won in the end!
We continued over the Lachung La Pass 5,059m, then drove 21 hairpin bends to reach the Nakeela Pass 4,769m and finally after lunch where we met loads of bikers, we reached the Tanglang La Pass at 5,328m. Tiger was quite happy almost all of the journey before throwing up over my shoulder one metre from the biggest pass which is kind of fair enough so we hot footed it down to Upshi, Karu and then Leh.
We then had just two nights in Leh, attempted to dye my hair again (still very red but getting there), and did almost all our shopping at Sonam Dorje’s Dzomsa, an amazing laundry come water refill come local products shop where Robin and I used to regularly go for our lassis and berry juice sitting in the sunshine… they also did all my laundry which I’d much rather take to them than do in the hotel.
Finally it was the morning of 26 June and time to bid Leh farewell again. We took the flight with Vistara (part of Singapore Airlines) who treated us like kings and arrived down at Delhi’s Indira Ghandi International Airport, then short hop to the Treebo Trend Natraj Yes Please checking into our familiar suite to hide from the ridiculous temperatures outside!
For our last 2 days we visited Connaught Place twice, shopping for waistcoats and found an amazing Mr Ben type shop called Dechivands where we bought lots of military hats… what a find!
On 28 June it was home time with Virgin Atlantic’s VS301 flight to London Heathrow, via the lovely airport lounge which even had a massage room! Tiger did sleep a little in the bassinet but as it was a day flight just here and there but…. We made it. It’s rare I get so emotional getting picked up in a Chilterns taxi with my Doona car seat come stroller!
And so, we bade India farewell for now. Incredible trip to incredible India. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts to everyone who helped us make it such a very special time!