We left what had been our home for 10 days in Dharmalaya for what in our mind was going to be the big adventure ending our cycling journey: the highway from Manali to Leh. Reaching Manali was a pretty easy ride where we could appreciate waste handling policies (just through it down the road) and also first encounter with roads where nature beat human power.
Just before reaching Manali, we decided to avoid a 3km tunnel by following the old road on the other side of the valley. It was perfect until we met that big rock. Panniers off the bike, it took us only 10 minutes to go through the rocks, and the following land slide 2km further down the road. Adventure was what we wanted after all!
A few kilometres further we were joined for a tea by an Australian touring cyclist, Fin. We stayed together in Kullu and then cycled up to Manali together, enjoying a beautiful ride on another old road (without land slides but with tea shop in the cascades! -cold feet and hot throat).
The three of us stayed one week in Manali, getting a bit sick, waiting for the road to Leh to open and also waiting for our friend Huetzin with whom we had agreed in Oman to do this journey together.
Everyday contradictory information was coming to us regarding the road: “it will open tomorrow”, ” not before July “, ” it is open”, “10 m high of snow!”, ” official opening on the 15th of June”.
Knowing that Huetzin was only a couple of days behind, and being bored of the horrible traffic in the streets of Manali we hit the slopes out of town towards the Rothang pass on Thursday 11th of June, with a perfect weather for a 2000m climb.
At the last village before the pass Mahri, 16km from the top, we stopped to have lunch. Although Fin had stopped 1km before there being seduced by an omelette on the side of the road. After a rather disappointing meal, we decided to call it a day as our body started to feel the altitude and the clouds we could see at the top were getting very inhospitable.
We bargained a room full of empty bottles of whisky and cigarette buds for 600 rupees and took refuge in it till the morning.
We happily left Mahri behind and started the final climb being taken over by tenth of taxis bringing Indian tourists to play in the snow for a few hours at the top. By the time we got there it was chaos. Imagine a finish line of the tour de France where every spectator came in taxi and wanted to be brought to the really last metres. Taxis where trying to park, do u turn, over take, look at the view and all of that on a single lane road half covered with snow with local buses from the other side of the valley trying to go through, pure chaos!
Fortunately tourists did not bother to go further that the play area and we were almost alone on the road when reaching the actual top and be thrilled by the view of the next valley where peaks and glaciers were shouting at us : “Welcome to the Himalayas!”