It took us 3 1/2 days and almost 2000km to finally get to Manali, and there was hardly any fun in it. Indian highways are hell, but when we finally left the bumpy and densely inhabited road leading through the Kullu valley, we were extremely happy.
|Rush hour traffic out of Mumbai.|
|Indian highways: countless trucks, elephant racing all the time. Forget about any of them using a specific line, they drive whereever their drug-fogged mind guides them.|
|As a result, lane grooves everywhere.|
|There's a free spot on the right end of the rear bumper! Get on it, quickly!|
|Chicken instead of human, but similarly packed.|
|Kalimero, not knowing if he can get friends with these uncontrolable, huge guys.|
|Highway toll posts. Sometimes friendly, sometimes stupid. Needless to say, there are at least 3 persons in every counter.|
|A typical lunch place. With the recent monsoon, the way to get there is challenging.|
|The cook, trying to smile.|
|The boss and some of his friends.|
|People tend to get interested in Kalimero. Understandable, considering the steering wheel is on the WRONG side!|
|Camels crossing from the left.|
|Our dhaba on the way up to Manali. A typical overnight stay, a small restaurant with basic facilities.|
|Up to Manali, on the fourth day of racing north, the landscape eventually became beautiful.|
We left Manali behind and looked for a sleeping spot at Solang Valley at 2400m to start acclimatisation a bit. But we had to get back down to Manali anyways, to get the permit for the Manali-Leh- highway and for the italian pizza we were looking forward to for several days now. Michi met the owner of „Il Forno“ 5 years ago when he took the bus from Delhi to Manali and promised to come to his restaurant the next time he gets to Manali. The pizza and lasagna were great and the garden of the restaurant as well, so we asked whether we could stay over night.
|Il forno: a beautiful place!|
We also bought some diamox, a drug helping to accelerate acclimatisation. Once a diuretic, then an emergency medication for Acute Mountain Sickness, it is no a well-tolerated prevention drug and sold for almost nothing over the counter in India.
We were absolutely fine on Darmavand (except for the temperature) but as we had been at sea level for 4 weeks now and intended to go up to 5300m (with one night at 4300), we thought it might be a good idea.
|We paid 1.50€ for 3 strips of Diamox - ridiculously cheap.|
We spent the following day at Manali, sleeping in, washing some cloths, buying professional Diesel containers, some groceries and tons of water. The weather was great in Manali when we were there (Oct 6th) and everyone we asked told us the highway is open and streets are good - in contrast to many other experts (Indians and Germans) who told us that by mid September EVERYTHING is closed for winter, there are no tents and teastalls left, all bridges are gone and we should spare us the long way to Manali.
In the evening we started the first stage and slept between Solang and Mahi on the roadside. The next day we made the breathtaking Rohtang pass (3900m). There was a lot of traffic up the pass, trucks, jeeps, and passenger busses (most of them with the characteristic yellow stripes beneath the windows – the vomit express) and the street was in a much better condition than the one leading to Manali.
|Vomit express, coming down the pass.|
|A friendly reminder to pay attention while driving.|
At the pass was a big fair, everywhere cars, people selling tea and food, people running around in funny snow-onesies of fur-coats (at +20°C), ponies and donkeys carrying these people to the other side of the pass and annoying safran sellers.
We also had some tea and pastry, enjoyed the exotic athmosphere (for a high alpine pass) and drove 200m further down to take some more pictures.
The condition of the road was much worse now and we met/overtook/were overtaken by some „rallye cars“. Their only reliable identification sign were the stickers at the trunks and the fact that the drivers wore helmets. From the type of vehicle, you could not have guessed for a rallye: we saw VW Polos, Suzuki Swifts and Toyotas Corollas. Hey, and there was, very rarely, a 4x4 Toyota that might actually be able to compete in a „real“ rallye.
The rest of the road down the pass was even more beautiful but in the valley (Tandi) the road was narrow and very bumpy. With the trees carrying wonderful red and yellow leaves, we know why it's called „Indian Summer“.
|One of these cars has 4x4 and a good ground clearance. The other one is participating in a rallye.|
|It's getting dusty...|
We had some food at a hotel in Keylong (a la carte!) and stopped somewhere behind Darcha (3300m) for the night. The night was very quiet (hardly any traffic) and not windy at all.
|Tea sellers getting a tour.|
Baralacha La is the first of the three very high passes to Leh and took us and especially Kalimero 1500m up the next morning. The street was again in very good condition, and you could see a lot of people working for that at the side of the road. This part again was breathtaking, for Kalimero because of the altitude and for us for the superb view - the colors! Red-brownish, green and gray mountains with white hats in front of the bluest sky we have ever seen. We did not feel the altitude at all (except when running from one photo spot to another) and were just grateful and glad that we took the hell ride to get here in time. The pass was up at 4900m, so this was kind of a test for all three of us, whether we would be able to master the following 150km, most of which were above 5000m. We were fine, and Kalimero climbed up without any signs of weakness. He did, however, have some serious black smoke diarrhea, especially at the steep slopes. We offered him some Diamox as well, but doubted that peeing more would have an effect for his acclimatization – plus, he was so proud of being housebroken, not losing oil or diesel, that he refused it proudly.
|Up on 4924m.|
|Kalimero was not the only one with black smoke diarrhea.|
In the afternoon, we arrived at Sarchu on 4200m (aka the Vomit Hilton, because it is the only overnight stop if you do the highway in 2 days). Many of the (partly very luxurious) tent cities were already gone, but there was still enough offered for us to spend the afternoon and evening there, to enjoy the warm sun and check Kalimero one last time before going above 5000m. The night was quite cold (puddles were frozen in the morning), but we were happy about our gas heater: in contrast to Diesel heaters, ours worked fine and kept Kalimero comfortly warm during the night.
The next task was to climb Gata loops in the morning.
In fact, the whole Manali-Leh highway simply consists of passes you either ascend or descend. The only real flat track is the Morey plains at 5000m, which we were to pass soon. We were still fine, but occasionally felt some tickling in the fingertips when walking to fast. With these clear signs of AMS, we were eager to pass the highest pass on our route, the Taglang La with 5300m, on this very day.
Pang seemed to be a last post of civilization at 4600m (again, a tent city consisting only of tea stalls and military trucks), before we headed up to the plains.
Kalimero now also suffered from some AMS, because he could master steep inclines more and more only in the low gear, the first gear was too long (of course, some very wise Indian drivers gave us the precious tip to use first gear, when we drowned Kalimero's engine on a very, very steep incline). Kalimero has had some altitude problems before when going above 2500m: the exhaust seemed somewhat clogged, most likely because of the combination of black smoke and the glorious EURO3-Umweltzonen-catalyzer. Driving with high rpm usually helped, but at altitudes above 5000, this was not a very fitting solution – there was just too much black smoke, no matter how the adjustment of the injection pump was.
|Up on the plains. Finally, no incline.|
|BRO taking care of the road.|
|Detaching Kalimero on the top.|
|The second highest motorable road of the world!|
|Already getting late..|
So, we had to accept the weakness of our most important team mate. In fact, the last incline to Taglang La, we crawled up veeeeeery slowly in the low gear. It was already getting late (a combination of too many photo spots and a small engine in a heavy car), so we were not too proud to ask one of the racing truck drivers to pull us up for the last 200m of altitude. With a little help from these friends, we finally made it to the second highest motorable pass in the world, and the last stretch of the Manali-Leh-Highway was 80km and almost 2000m vertical drop to the Ladakh capital Leh.
We saw an amazing sundown while descending, and rushed through the valley. It's a shame to do so in this beautiful landscape, but we both had a quite severe cold and reasoned it might not get better with another cold night at 4something above sea level.
So, by the evening, we arrived in Leh and booked a room in the first hotel we could find.