Sweet Solang Valley

Trip Start Nov 02, 2011
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of India  , Himachal Pradesh,
Thursday, March 29, 2012

From McLeod Ganj it was an early bus to take me to Manali, it’s a picturesque town, it has the stunning Himalayas as its backdrop and is a host to all sorts of activities.  I’ve been recommended to stay in the old town which is extremely quaint with it’s very old traditional style buildings which are amazing although they look like they could fall down at any minute.  Many of them house the buffalo and cattle, goats and donkey’s, again these homes are purpose built with the ground floor being the working area and I have to laugh the first day at this tiny woman chasing the cows in to be milked.  Many of the homes have hand looms set up which the women work, and are making all sorts of scarves, pashmina's etc. it’s nice to see them in action.

I ask a few of the local trekking places about crossing the Rohtang La and they all tell me it’s closed, no options just closed.  Despite this I head down to see the Deputy Commissioner for Mountaineering, Ramjeev Sharma who is an inspirational man, and makes crossing it sound very straight forward, he’s busy today so I’ve arranged to come back and see him in the morning.  I spend my day sightseeing in Manali firstly visiting the Hidimba Devi Temple, although this is very famous it’s very plane in comparison to other places I’ve seen which ads to the appeal, I have a wander round and even get to go inside the temple briefly.  I visit other local museums and places of interest and enjoy the chilled out atmosphere of Manali although I think it feels this way due to the amount of pipes etc that are smoked!  On my way back to Old Manali I’m asked directions by a young guy on an Enfield, it just happens to be near my digs so I jump on the back of the bike and just show him, he’s from Canada but has been out in India for a few months and is meeting friends.  It turns out that they are in the same guest house and we bump into them for the next couple of days.  I arrange a trip with the hotel to take me out on tour on one of their Enfield’s which results in me heading up Hwy 21 towards the Solang Valley, I love the noise of the Enfield and the roads are an amazing combination!

So I head back to see Ranjeev, he has sumitted Everest twice, and has led many expeditions in the Himalayas and various other countries and makes crossing the Rohtang La sound very possible.  Although it gets it’s name from the amount of people who have died trying to cross the pass in bad weather (i.e. Rohtang La means pile of corpses) I figured that if the locals are able to get in, I’ll be able to get in.  There are Rescue Posts set up either side of the pass, so he arranges for me to check in at Murrhi the following morning and they would walk me up to the top of the pass.  I’ve to get a shared jeep from the square around 4am the following morning which will take me as far as the road is open then go and check in.

Okay so it all sounds good, only part I missed was the checking in at the Rescue Post!  The jeep I was in, plus two others all stopped at the end of the road and around 30 men were crossing the Rohtang La, when I asked how to get to Murrhi check post they pointed… it was way behind us on top of a hill and I couldn’t see anyway to get there, so I decided there and then to cross with the locals and asked 2 guys if I could join them.  Everyone looks after each other on the mountain and it really is the toughest walk I’ve been on… it’s the weather, really strong head wind with huge hail stones which are really sore, it’s deep snow underfoot which has iced over and in really steep parts is very dangerous.  The wind caught me a few times at the wrong place which nearly sent me off the mountain and my two companions had to hold onto me more than once, in places it was frightening but we just had to get on with it, I’d made my decision so had to go with it.  This is the only trek I could have given up on though, I was completely exhausted battling the elements and I couldn’t wait to get to the top of the pass as the wind apparently dies.  It was quite a trip to get there though and ended up doing a bit of rock climbing which I hadn’t bargained for, and nearly broke my nose when I fell with my pole in hand, ouch, anyway I made it to the pass totally relieved, but more was still to come!

At the top you can see just the top of road signs and roofs the snow is so deep up here, the surface is like nothing I’ve experienced before and I would love to record the sound of the crunching hollow ice underfoot.  When we get over to the other side and look way down into the Spiti Valley I’ve no idea how we are going to get down, it’s a sheer drop.  We all rest up and consider tactics before making our move and slowly getting down the first part, I’m delighted though that further on I can see everyone sledging down the mountain, what a thrilling day it turns out to be.  We sit on our backsides and push off and steer as best as we can, and I’m just in fits of laughter it’s exhilarating and definitely the biggest ride I’ve ever been on!  It still takes us a good couple of hours over though and I’m tired with a numb bum by the time I can see the village and the road being cut out of the mountain below.  

After crossing the whole way, I get to the snow ploughs that are carving out the road - slip off the edge of the snow and fall 30 feet onto the road… ouch again… I luckily managed to break my fall around half way down hitting a snow ledge and I am very lucky I didn’t break something. We keep going and eventually get to Khoksar Rescue Post where I check in providing my passport details, a pat on the back, and a cup of tea, they were expecting me!  There’s nowhere to stay here though so I again head off with the locals and jump a shared jeep up to Keylong through walls of snow and dangerously high cliff roads which are infamous.  What an adventure, I was lucky though!

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