Driving the same road – does it vary?

Some, but it’s the road from Manali to Leh and it’s magic stays undiminished no matter how often I travel it. There are more people on it, at Gramphoo the chai shop has got left up above the road and Koksar is almost merged, there are a few more dhabas. The meat curry was just as good and the overheard biker conversations just as lurid! The Lahaul valley is greener and more prosperous and utterly beautiful. Jispa is almost a township of many more camps and small hotels. The Padma lodge was nicely located and quite comfortable, though the camp across the road by the river looked much more inviting! Bara Lacha Pass brings back so many amazing memories, not least being of chocolate pudding and cream! The plains of Sarchu and the sculpted rocks beyond are timeless. The Gata loops and the spot where we crawled out from trekking the Tsarap gorge to be discovered by the nice Military policeman, oh so many moons ago. All so familiar, well remembered and so very relivable.The road to Ksokar is paved and what was an abandoned village is a thriving homestay enterprise, though I doubt any of the original owners are there. The lakes themselves have diminished, but the bird life still seems to thrive. Didn’t see the ubiquitous marmots – nor heard the whistles, but there were a lot more Kiangs than in the nearer past.Met some young people doing studies and comparisons – intense and interesting, sure we must have been so too at the stage…..now it was just nice to sit and stare, remember and build a new memory.The intention to go to Tso moriri was canned as some of the team was not feeling upto the altitude, but we drove to Leh via Mahe and enjoyed the drive. The Indus, that grand river, that always gives a thrill…the name evokes tales of travel, romance and adventure! I have never seen it like this – blue and green, such low water levels for this time of year. Lovely to look at but a harbinger of not nice things. Leh is a changed town that I am getting lost in, but it seems a lot of good, positive things are happening and so many young people doing interesting homestays, cafes and trips. The one’s that made it happen for us were Hajra and Mayas friend Jigmet of Mantra Himalaya with his happy cafe and interesting concepts. Behzad with his photography tours and super homestay in Nubra.A lovely meal at a really rather special restaurant called Bon appetite – Jigmet walked us up and up tiny alleys to emerge out into a lovely garden and quaint restaurant. It was dark but I am certain the views were spectacular. The food was excellent – lasagna, Mediterranean Nan was my favourite. Chocolate momos for desert.Driven over the Khardungla into one of my favourite valleys, Nubra. It is a gentle space of vastness. Cross the highest motor able pass into this Shangrila of spreading silver waters and sand. Striated and screed mountains and beautiful vegetation. It’s like land before time, a garden of Eden where all the so called super foods grow in wild abundance. Thorny thickets of ———-abound, Alfa Alfa is fed to cattle, hillsides of springing lavender scent the air. Wild garlic gets crushed underfoot as you walk. It’s an uncanny mix of sere brown mountains and this lush abundance. Clean, clear water and vividly blue skies. I cant get enough of it.We walked slowly up to the monastery where the Dalai Lama is coming next week to hold teachings. The burbling stream ran alongside, the myricaria and roses blushed pink and the lavender sprayed up in beautiful bushels of….I guess..lavender. Spires of poplars spear the blue, blue sky and the willow woven fences make most interesting dividers. You can fill your water bottle from the stream like in the old days. There doesnt seem to be the usual plastic blocking every water way and tree stump. I think I fell in love with a perfect spot. Dinner al fresco surrounded by wild garlic, swaying trees and lanterns, life does not get much better. I say that so often and how blessed it is to be able to do so.A drive across a river bed, a walk up a rocky outcrop in the middle of the river just short of Panamik and found a lovely lake in the middle. Came back to a marvellous picnic laid out by Sajjan and forgot his name. Perfect day – then the dunes at Hundar and hordes of people to see the camels and the dunes , but it is organised and clean most impressive. An evening around the bonfire with excellently crafted Rob Roy’s and a ‘Gajjar Chillum’! Most interesting and utterly hilarious. This is Behzad and Voygr hospitality and it was brilliant.The drive back from Nubra was very quick and we were back at our hotel in record time. The fatigue is setting in and I slept. Dinner at bon appetite again – Behzad invited Kendrup who is the warden at hemis national park and a snow leopard tracker cum conservationist. It was a tremendous honour to meet him and hear of all the work that is now happening in these amazing mountains with both the people and the other life that still manages to co exist. Good to know all these great people that add to the experience. Had an uneventful if beautiful drive to spend the night at the plains of Sarchu in a windy tent. I must say I do not fancy tent living any longer unless it is my own. Woke to rain on the roof and the thought of the Baralacha nalas made for a swift departure. Rained all the way but thankfully we crossed Bara lacha with just a smattering of slippery snow. The icing on the cake was an empty Rohtang it being Tuesday – pure bliss to not have to ask men, women, children in deep winter overalls, sweltering in the hot sun up high, avidly looking for non existent snow! Home by 4 with no crowds at all. Blessed that everything went so right.

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