Manali to Leh, India – August 2009

By Bryan • india, photography, travel • 1 Sep 2009

Into the Ladakh.

Only on the highest highway in the world does ones jeep depart at the silly hour of 2am.  Actually, that is when I arrived at the local bus station.  The ride didn’t actually begin until around 4:30am.

Unfortunately, the early morning start meant that I would miss the opportunity to shoot Rohtang Pass, which is an unbelievable ascent from the coniferous forests of the vanguard of the Himalayans into the high altitude deserts of the plateau.  Night ascents have their own advantages.  Once above the clouds one is able to look down on the ascending vehicles fog lights dancing through the mists underneath a pure starry sky.

I woke up to breakfast here, about 100km and 6 hours into the 23 hour journey.

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The view from the breakfast table.

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Given the proximity to the monsoons (gentle this year), the landscape was quite green.  This is in start contrast to what we would soon be driving into.

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Moving up into the plateaus.  It was once switch-back intensive ascent after the another.  I lost count.

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Tata trucks were not the only users of the highway.  The single lane road created some interesting, if not downright freaky encounters with oncoming traffic.

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Apparently, despite a jeep full of travelers, we were on some kind of timetable, so opportunities for photo stops were very limited. Most of these photos I shot from the window.  My poor Pentax camera needs a serious professional cleaning after this trip.

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Road conditions were mixed with some sections receiving a new asphalt make-over, with some being pure dusty gravel, and others a combination of decaying 30 year old asphalt/concrete and gravel.  I used to think that the UAZ jeep from Mongolia represented the toughest jeep I’d would ever travel in…that was until I met the Tata “Mini-Deluxe”.  The killer suspension system more than made up for the skinny and balding tires.  That thing navigated the road ruins like BMW tank.  We picked up a couple of Brits who have been trekking in the surrounding hills – our driver was loading their gear on to the top.  My poor, trusty North Face pack got dusted like it had never been dusted before.

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Blasting through a glacial mess.

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Reaching a high point…and then…

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…tearing through a desert at 90 km/hr.

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We went through about five police check points along the highway.  Nothing major.  There is a substantial military presence in the area though, mostly engineering units delegated to road maintenance and repair.

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The majority of traffic was the venerable and colourful Tata transport/utility vehicle…and the occasional crazy 4-cylinder Suzuki hatchback.

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Making the final descent down into Leh.  Ah…Himalayan blue :-)

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Road slicing and dicing.

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Taking a short cut down into the valley to avoid some serious road-construction.

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Final ‘pit-stop’ before Leh.

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Upon entering Leh, we were all promptly checked for H1N1.  The fourth time for me in 4 months.

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2 Responses

  1. Hi, I live near Manali and have been on that road too many times; again this month. You may be interested in seeeing the photo’s taken earlier this year when the road was still not quite open for traffic in the website above.
    regards peter

    • Hi Peter,

      Thanks for the link – your photos are fantastic! What were you shooting? I quite miss that area now that I’m in Western Himachal Pradesh – its beenraining here non-stop…good for India, but bad for me (I can be a bit selfish I suppose!)…I’ve been waiting around for a trekking window…the dryness of Ladakh (while dusty) is a perfect trekking environment.

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