How is the Jio network in Manali
Day 1: Early in the morning I get on my fully packed bike and set my sights on Upshi, which is almost 50 km away, as my destination for the day. I want to take it slow, after all, there are almost 500 km ahead of me and a turnaround is impossible.
In bright sunshine I set off and drive to various Buddhist monasteries such as
and Thiksay over. I keep seeing waving travel groups, motorcyclists and school children who stretch out their hand in greeting. Although I recently sent home 5 kg of excess baggage (souvenirs) and sent another 5 kg (expendable baggage) to my buddies in Delhi, I still feel too heavy on the road. Unfortunately, this is not due to my enormous (still non-existent) pelvis, but to all the provisions and the newly organized winter clothes. Sleeping bags, sleeping mats, scarfs, etc. are necessary to survive the cold nights out here. Allegedly, there are still guest houses or homestays to be found for the first 80 km, then only shacks and now and then tent cities. An old Ladakhi proverb that I had recently read says: "Never start your journey too warmly dressed or on a full stomach". This means that you should always have some extra clothes and additional provisions with you, which is understandable in a stone desert like Ladakh (translated: land of high passes). Apart from the fact that there is no stable network coverage, you never know when the strike will take place again (because as already experienced, for example, two religious minorities marry "illegally" and the population stopped working for an indefinite period in protest), or suddenly The weather changes, or a landslide blocks the road, or, or, or.
Shortly before noon I reach Upshi,
where I have to show my ID at a police checkpoint. There is a Tibetan restaurant next door, where I stop for a couple of delicious momos and ask myself what I should do with the new day in this nest. After a delicious Masala Chai, I decide to extend the day's destination to another 30 km and steer to Lato. The Leh - Manali Highway begins to increase and so I take a drink break under a shade tree. Shortly afterwards, a half-loaded pickup stops next to me, the driver of which cranks down the passenger window and looks at me questioningly. He says he waved to me beforehand on the way to Leh and whether I would like to go with him for a while. Speechless and exhausted, I nod to him, load the back of my bike and get on. In the car I find out that he is on his way to Gya, one of the oldest settlements in Ladakh.
It is about 15 km away and, as I then see, consists of a handful of houses and gompas. I thank you for the unexpected ride and offer him to pay something for it. Phunchok declines and instead invites me to his home for tea and biscuits.
There I also get to know his mother and the 6 month old niece.
We exchange addresses and I move on to Rumtse, located at 4200 m, well fed. Even though it's barely three in the afternoon, I'm already preparing for the upcoming cold by looking for accommodation early on. Apart from a little agriculture, one apparently lives from transit tourism here, but the choice of accommodation is limited.
At night it gets bitterly cold and La, the first and, at 5300 meters, also the highest pass of my journey over the five mountain ranges, lies ahead of me all day. Since the air is out for today and tomorrow is an arduous ascent, I sit down at my hostel with an adjoining “restaurant” for a hot cup of tea in front of the house
and let the mountain sun warm my rumen. In the evening, a couple of civil servants (you can recognize them by their tracksuits and boots) join me and prepare a campfire on the side of the road.
The hostel's mother watches what is happening and comes up to us with a canister without being asked. She pours some of it over the few pieces of wood and disappears back into the house. What an experience ... but apparently nothing unusual out here. As I learn, the military are waiting for their transfer to another barracks and are having a good time the night before. I ask the boys about the Kashmir conflict and neighboring China. I also want to know what is going on with Pakistan, because the Indian population near the LoC (the disputed border line), feels more like the neighboring states than Delhi. I am told that parts of the population are financed and even supplied with weapons from abroad in order to maintain tension and gain influence. The whole thing happens from the highest point, one does not want to comment on it. From an ethnical point of view, neither Kashmir nor Ladakh have anything to do with India and independence is out of the question because of the strategic importance along the former Silk Road. India is a multi-ethnic state, but this part of the claimed territory is completely different from the rest of the country. You feel like you're in no man's land, thanks to the colonial rulers of that time.
Day 2: It was a cold night, definitely well below 0 C °. Fortunately, my down sleeping bag kept me warm, and it was definitely worth lugging around with the bulky thing. At the omelette breakfast with tea and chapati, I dread the over 1000 meters of altitude that are waiting for me. I don't feel in the mood to take on 30 km of constant incline on holey roads and decide to chat with a trucker and ask for a lift up to the pass. He hardly speaks English, but his two cargo assistants translate and so he agrees.
The military captain from yesterday runs into me again, we say goodbye again. He kindly assigns one of his subordinates to me to help me load the bike.
It starts, the road up is bad and I'm happy to be able to skip this part of the route. However, instead of letting me out at the summit as discussed, the trucker just drives on. I am amazed, but hold still, at some point it will stop on the other side, I think to myself. After a wild ride, sometimes with short cuts over impassable slopes, we reach Pang, a military base just before the double pass Lachung La (5059 m) / Naki La (4740 m).
Here we stop for a quick breakfast consisting of parata and chai. After nobody is interested in unloading my bike and doesn't talk to me in any other way, we continue shortly afterwards. The so-called road still looks miserable, not to mention lost paths,
or trucks that have already been cannibalized. I wonder if I could have made it with all the luggage. Somehow certain, but probably noton the bike! A short time later we reach Serchu, a small town consisting of corrugated iron huts with a tent and a cord barrier, at the end of which there are two checkpoint policemen.
The trucker asks me to get out, he would want to spend the night here and that would be the end of the line for me. He also charges Rs 1000 for a ride. I get out and check the condition of my bike. I refer him to my dented and partly missing drinking bottles, as well as the defective lock-out system of the now scratched RockShox fork. Reluctantly, give him Rs 500 and leave. At the same time, I'm happy to be halfway to Manali. A few minutes later, the guy rushes past me with his two assistants. Besides a cloud of dust, it also leaves me with a stale feeling. Hitchhiking is a game of chance everywhere, but having to pay for it without prior agreement was new to me. Meanwhile I push the battered steppi along the gravel road and decide to stop at the "Lee Meridian",
where I order Thukpa including a bed for the night.
Up here between the rocks, the landscape looks barren and desolate. In the setting evening sun I enjoy the last warm rays before the thermometer points towards the cellar again.
As soon as it gets dark I put five blankets on myself and crawl into my bathroom-less, draughty corrugated iron hut. At least there is a toilet behind the "house". Light comes from the solar battery, but you won't find any sockets for charging. In the long run you can only endure it here as a local, or as a yogi living in renunciation ...
Day 3: Early in the morning I pack up, eat a few scrambled eggs with the usual chai tea and then ask at the checkpoint about the condition of the pass road towards Baralacha La (4890 m). They advise me to look for a lift, as the way up, who would have thought that, is not particularly good. After yesterday's experience, I'm not thrilled about it, but spending the day between potholes is not an option either. So I chat to a guy with a pickup, ask him if he can take me to Keylong (an outpost of civilization) and talk to him on the spot about a possible price for hitchhiking. “As you wish” he replies. Well then ... I charge the almost still bleeding Steppi and for another 100 km I am spared a route that even our all-wheel-drive pickup has to cope with. Around noon we finally reach the village of Keylong located at about 3200 m, I pay the driver 500 Rs and get 100 back. I thank you for the opportunity to ride and return to the nearest guest house. As I found out later, there is hot water, WiFi (more or less) and from the roof terrace a view of the valley that would make any Alpine country green with envy. For less than one euro you can get a delicious Tibetan lunch in the restaurant next door, and the climate is pleasantly warm. I stay two nights and enjoy the newfound "luxury".
Day 4: With the goal of reaching Sissu, which is only 30 km further, but almost 800 m higher, I set off shortly after 9 am. I reach my destination unexpectedly in the morning, but then decide to use the remaining daylight and drive on to Koksar. I pass tiny towns without names, with people who have built their houses into the rock, probably to protect them from wind and weather. It's a mystery to me how they survive out here in the middle of nowhere, how they live and above all About what. A short autumn is just around the corner and by November at the latest the road will be buried again under meter-high snow and ice. Until the onset of snowmelt around March / April, the highway is impassable and therefore closed. I'm lucky to still be able to drive under good conditions and admire the people who have learned to survive in this harsh environment.
The last pass, Rothang La, also known as the “Leichenberg”, is already (in) visible from a distance, shrouded in clouds. It's getting colder and colder and the wind blows mercilessly in my face. Pretty knockout I reach a base camp consisting of several tents and consider spending the night there. However, nobody is to be found on site and the tents are equipped with locks, so I have no choice but to drive further towards the smoke screen. I unpack my long trousers, winter hat and gloves, the sudden change in climate is hard to believe. It is amazing how quickly it gets worse towards the first mountain range, the "other" India. You can already imagine what it looks like over there where the monsoon rains down. It is another 15 km to Koksar, the last bastion before the pass, a stone on the side of the road. Fighting the wind is torture, but I make it to one of the few guest houses that are just before the start of the first hill on the way to the pass. I get down and look at the condition of the hostel. Acceptable when you have no other choice. Just before I decide on the room, I hear the brakes screeching in front of the house. It is an overcrowded bus, which I am told comes from Keylong and is the last one on the way to Manali today. I run over there immediately and ask for a ride including a bike. You agree for an extra fee. I am relieved and with my shouldered Steppi climb the metal ladder on the back of the bus wall onto the roof with one hand, almost delirious. With the two surviving expanders I buckle it up, give him another good talk and then squeeze myself between countless other passengers behind the front door. To a certain extent I feel like Tom Hanks in Cast Away - my mind urgently needs a break from all the exertions ...
My decision to cover the last part of the route to Manali on my own was unfortunately unsuccessful; the climate and my strength just didn't play along anymore. Nevertheless, I am glad that I survived the trip to the other side halfway safely. My fingertips have been open wounds for days, sometimes bloody, sometimes dried up. The harsh climate up here is definitely not for the effeminate city dweller - but it is definitely an unforgettable experience ... !!
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