The Rough and Tough Ride to Manali
At the break of dawn as the Muezin called to prayer, we took the "Deluxe Bus" from Leh to Manali. During the breakfast stop Elias had to give medical assistance to a patient with an epileptic fit. The break was prolonged for two hours because a new bus had to be organized, since ours was defective.
The pass road of the first and highest pass (Tangenla, 5300m) was in terrible condition: pot holes, untarred, streams of the snowmelt undwerwashing the road. Even after crossing the pass, the condition of the road did not improve. Again and again we passed working people repairing the road: Men and women, who smashed granite stones with a hammer at the roadside to crushed stone. Burning tar was mixed in metal tubs with the crushed stone and distributed with shovels. The only machine, a steam roller, tried to smooth the bitumen. The biting smell of tar was in the air. Proud men and women, who build the roads of the highest motorable roads in the world!
The landscape of the high altitude desert with its plains scattered with stones, with rapid mountain rivers in deep valleys and steeply winding roads. We passed military convois as well as innummerable oil trucks supplying Leh with petrol.
At night time we reached a camp at 4500m. A beautiful full moon illuminated night. The icy cold wind strained at the tent.
The journey was again delayed by three hours in the morning. A tyre had to be changed and the passports had to be fetched at the military checkpoint. An old chain-smoking Italian was forgotten in the process and fortunately came with the next truck behind us.
Susanne sat at the window and looked into deep canyons. Her hands, sweating with fear, tightened on my thigh. But it was a young Englishman who rushed to the bus driver and asked in a panic to be allowed to get off the bus as it was being manoeuvred in a hair bend curve.
After some 500 km we crossed the last pass and Manali was graspingly near. We were looking forward to a hot shower, a good meal and a warm bed. But the bus suddenly stopped 24km before our goal. "Land sliding. The road is blocked!" A tank vehicle had got stuck in the mud in a curve. The traffic had completely jammed up behind it. Jeep taxis had overtaken the queueing trafic blocking the road in both lanes. When it was finally possible to pass the tank vehicle it was not possible to pass the jeep taxis blocking our journey. Rumours had it that the problem could first be solved the next morning when the police or even the military came to restore order and regulate the traffic. In the bus spirits rose with guitars being unpacked and songs sung. In the meantime all had learned to be patient.
But by a miracle skillful heads had managed to manoeuvre the vehicles through whistling and shouting, so it was possible to pass. Our bus squeezed itself in the dark between standing trucks and the drop down on the other side, partly with the bus tilting dangerously to the side and scraping along the standing vehicles.
A broad gap, which had a drop of ten meters into the depth from a small bridge under construction had to be manoeuvred around for quite some time. On passing the gap one of the rear double tyres hung in the air. Hold your breath - and then a large sigh. The bus driver and its assistant were greatly applauded for their skills.
One hour later we reached Manali after 30 hours of a rough and tough drive, completely exhausted, dirty and with painful bones and backside. A quick shower and deep sleep.
Yesterday we heard that we had been lucky. The week before a bridge had collapsed and people had to spend three nights somewhere in the desert.
Susanne and Elias, 23 August 2005
Read on with Manali

Steep hairpin bend curves wind themselves up a
barren landscape to the Tanglangla-Pass

Workers tarring the road

A truck with the front wheel in the air

Closer to Manali the countryside gets greener and greener and the clouds of the monson hang over the mountens

Vehicles in both "lanes" stop our onward journey

High spirits