A journey in the lap of Himalayas

Amit Gupta

Amidst this grand spread of vivid beauties, the mountains, the streams, the meadows and the snowline of Himachal are a true spectacle that can inspire many a artist – be it poet, painter or philosopher. A drive on the Manali Keylong Leh route passing through the high altitude of Lahaul and Spiti district of Himachal Pradesh offers a blend of all this and much more. A travel on this route is nothing but a poet’s delight and a photographer’s heaven.
Given the adverse road conditions and unfavorable weather, one needs a passion to venture into this one of the most challenging roads of the country. It is advisable to carry full winter gear in all weathers. The first encounter with unpredictable weather can start as early as Solang valley, barely 10 km out of Manali when the bright, radiant Sun can be overshadowed by a dark cloud within seconds.
Travelers generally take the first halt at Marhi, which, besides being a chai-pakora station, is also the reporting centre for all vehicles plying on Manali Leh route. After a hot cup of tea and paying obeisance at a local temple, one moves ahead on the most mesmerising ascent of the journey – the gigantic Rohtang Pass which stands tall at 3979 metre on east Pir Panjal range. Gorges and colossal rocks scare the challenge the travelers on one side while a gigantic Himalayan range casts a spell on the other! Maneuvering many needle-shaped turns, with slopes exceeding 40 degree, and encountering lonely stretches, much hustle and bustle awaits the visitors atop Rohtang. The Pass, which in Tibetan means a pile of corpses, leaves everyone awestruck with its grandeur and humility!!
The Himalayas, which look gigantic upon ascent, bear a plain look at the Pass. Altitude is the sole indication of enormity. The mountain, though huge, remain humble before humans atop! The Pass, notorious for its unpredictability, is also known for Beas Kund – a spring – the source of river Beas, which originates subtly underneath a blue and grey closed structure. A few serene moments at the Beas Kund convey that rivers, however fiery, have a humble origin!
Humility is best taught there than elsewhere!
A few turns later, one encounters a place with many flags. At 4111 metre, this is the highest point of Rohtang. Vendors often crowd there with stalls for chana-kulchas. Who can resist these hot, nee warm, snacks in the biting cold and chilly breeze? Alongside, one can also enjoy ride on the newly introduced all weather bikes, giving a feel of a mini adventure sports arena.
The real beauty begins beyond Rohtang, where the nature unfolds its mystique, virginity and purity! The lofty Himalayas seem to be kissing the sky. Due to high altitude, the Sun gets so close that the shadow of clouds can be clearly seen on mountains – a rare spectacle, that deserves to be aptly captured. One can witness the distinct change in vegetation. The tree-line gets away, making way for small bushes. The mountains become naked, sandy and rocky. In the absence of thick forestry and reduced distance between ground and the sky, the sharp glare of the Sun makes the donning of goggles inevitable.
A few kilometers later, one enters Khoksar, the first village of Lahaul Valley. The stopover, at the bank of river Chandra, present a typical hill side atmosphere – a river bank, a suspension bridge, a giant naked rocky mountain, bad road, a PWD Rest house alongside and small roadside shops offering paranthas, noodles, momos, rice and Siddu, a local dish. One ought to push in something, as this is the only major stop on this road, before reaching Keylong.
As one moves deeper into the Lahaul valley, the terrain becomes so beautiful that one forgets the displeasure of travelling on unmetalled roads. At many places, mountain streams flow over the road whereas at many other places, the pot holes, accumulated rainwater, landslides, bumpy tracks are the only signs of what we call a ‘road’. Unmindful of this, one must enjoy the grandeur of Himalayas, interspersed with waterfalls, streams, rocks and gorges. Wild roses and alpine flowers deck the slopes in an unforgettable feast of colours. Suspension bridges add excitement to adventure. Atop one such bridge, one can see the beautiful Sissu fall cascading over the cliff from a high valley between two mountains. Crossing another bridge takes one to Tandi – the confluence of rivers Chandra and Bhaga. From here, the two rivers travel in unison as ChandraBhaga. The meeting point, with rocky ranges and a plain village Ghoshal in the background, is so spectacular that it appears in promotional photographs for this region.
Mountains, rivers, plains, greens all meet at one point and create a breathtaking display of the richness of nature. After humility, unity is another lesson taught by Nature on this route!
Legends add feather to this natural crown of Tandi. It is believed that the marriage procession of Lord Shiva, passing through the tall mountains, had left sinusoidal imprints, visibly distinct from other impressions on this range. There are other mythological stories relating to Draupadi and Rishi Vashishta. Tandi is said to have come from two words ‘Tan Di’, i.e.  Rishi Vashishta is said to have relinquished his body at this point.
Travellers need to top up their tanks at Tandi, which has the last fuel station before Leh, another 365 km from this place.
Spending moments of leisure at Tandi, one drives ahead for Keylong – a name that ignites passion and challenge; a name that epitomizes undaunted human spirit of living in frozen conditions and virtual solitude.
For travelers looking to go beyond, Keylong is the ideal place for a night halt, as it is headquarter of Lahaul and Spiti district. Besides a HP Tourism Hotel, Keylong has many private hotels. One can visit nearby Udaipur valley or proceed towards Leh, through the beautiful Jispa valley and the famous Darcha valley. Keylong town also has a small monastery besides a local market (called as The Mall – akin to any other hill station!) which sells items such as woolens, handicrafts and olive oil.
Whichever direction one takes the next morning, one cannot afford to miss the eternal charm of a dawn in Lahaul.
A gleam of light peeps through the curtains and wakes up the tourists quite early. Pulling open the curtains can leave everyone, and not just a nature-lover, overwhelmed. The morning Sun is golden and glaring. The meadows are shining and splendid. The cattle graze quietly and birds chirp politely. The moments are full of cheerful calm and radiant resonance. It is a unique experience to wake up to such a serene yet extravagant morning, which echoes Dickinsons’s verse,
“Nature’s first green is gold, her hardest hue to hold; her early leaf’s a flower, but only so an hour.”
One can look forward to the journey beyond, fully overcome by the Mystical nature – indeed incredible and unfathomable!