August 09, 2010

Pilgrimage 2010: Manali-Leh highway

People we met casually asked us what our plans were like.  Everyone was surprised that we are taking the Manali route while returning from Leh too.  (There are two routes to Leh from Delhi: one via Srinagar and another via Manali.  Manali route is harder and more scenic than the Srinagar route.  People usually enter Leh through one route and leave by other.)  "You want to do that route again?", "You would save time if you go via Srinagar", "Don't you want to see Kargil/Tiger Hills/Dal Lake/etc." were the typical reactions of people.

On our way to Leh from Manali we had faced a lot of difficulties.  It was raining in Pang, a place where it usually never rains because of its high altitude.  We had to stop at Pang for a night and because of the altitude neither of us could sleep well.  I even experienced a very mild AMS.  Because of the mild AMS, I had to walk out of our tent in rain to throw up.  (I still remember some local lady telling me Kahaan jaate ho?  Gir jaaoge! meaning "Where are you going?  You will fall!")

The next day's ride was even worse.  Around 11 in the morning Saravanan signals me to stop.  We both stop and he says both his hands are completely unresponsive.  "Take your helmet off and breath well", I tell him.  But his fingers just wouldn't let him do anything.  I take his gloves off, help him take the helmet off.  We both eat something we had, and drink some water.  We keep our hands on the hot engines and the exhausts of the bikes.  We did this all while it was raining!  After a few minutes Saravanan feels a little better and I tell him that we'd ride to some place where we get food.  A place where we can sit and relax without getting wet.  We stopped at the first tea shop we saw and ate hot Maggi, drank tea before we continued.

After all this, we both didn't want another Pang in that trip.  That's one reason why we didn't spend the night in Pangong lake -- "no high altitude nights any more", we had decided though neither of us had explicitly said that.  This made both of us hesitate a little to take the same route back.  For various reasons I firmly decided that we will take the same route, and Saravanan agreed too, albeit with hesitation.  (I kept telling myself this quote from The Matrix: "The real test for any choice is having to make the same choice again, knowing full well what it might cost.")

It didn't rain on our way back.  That made the ride a lot easier.  We had been expecting the worst experience of our life, but the reality was way different.  We saw how good those roads were.  (All this while "There are no roads at all" was our impression about that route!)  Because we wanted to reach Manali as early as possible I had decided that I won't stop to take pictures.  So my focus was only on the roads.  And on the sceneries around.  This time I saw everything in a new light.  I saw the beauty and breathtaking views of the terrains, as if I was seeing them for the first time.  It was a much pleasant experience riding back.

Yesterday evening Saravanan told me: "Riding back on the same route was probably one of the best decisions we made."  We would have missed such a beauty if we had taken the Srinagar route, and worse, the image of Manali-Leh route in our minds would have been of a "roadless difficult terrain that's beautiful here and there".  But in reality, that route is one of the most beautiful things I have seen in my life.  I'm glad I didn't fall for the Srinagar route's "new terrain" bait :-)

See Pilgrimage 2010 for some background on what "Pilgrimage 2010" is.

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