Via the Rohtang La

Trip Start Nov 02, 2011
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of India  , Himachal Pradesh,
Saturday, March 31, 2012

Keylong isn’t exactly open for tourists yet, in fact it turns out that I’m the first one they have seen in six months as all the roads into this area are closed, the whole place becomes shut off from the rest of India for a full six months every year.  I speak to the owners of one of the guest houses and he opens up for me providing a lovely room at a very reasonable price.  

Once I’ve my bearings I walk down to the Commissioner’s office and ask about getting the local’s helicopter back out of here in a few days.  I fill out the required paperwork and although they’re a bit undecided they eventually agree and I have a tourist fee of 7000Rs to pay, I must admit I gave myself a bit of a fright getting here so I’m going to take the easy option and go back over the pass by helicopter.

I enjoy Keylong, it’s right in the valley and has monasteries on either side which are impressive, I find out the routes and how to get to them and decide to visit as many as I can.  First I go to Kardang Monastery which is the main one and is right across the valley from Keylong.  It’s a steep climb up which is fairly tough the higher up I get as the snow gets deeper but I’m rewarded not only with stunning views down the valley, but I’m invited in to share tea and lunch with the lamas.  This was yet again a fantastic experience I’m sat cross legged (well sort of) and have tea, there are four woman all except one are older, plus two men one old one young – the young one speaks good English and he passes on details onto the others about where I’m from and how I got here etc. they find me funny sitting a bit awkward having my tea but it entertains them.

Lunch consists of home grown potatoes, with butter and curd and I think chili spice, first I peel the potato, then mash in butter and salt, add curd and top with some spice… it’s really very good and I would never have thought to put these together!  Once we’re finished I’m taken into the monastery which is quite new built as they had to reconstruct many parts, but some of the original painting have been salvaged and are hundreds of years old.  Interesting place, wonder if I should tell them I met their boss?

On my way down I go through a small farming village and a crowd of the young local girls all take to me and end up showing round their village, they are so sweet and want me to stay and play chases round the monastery prayer wheels with them… I find it hilarious I’ve only seen deep respect in these places but here’s these five girls tearing round them trying to catch me, it was fun but I was exhausted afterwards.  I visited many other monasteries in the valley but only manage to talk with another three lamas, again they made me tea and offered biscuits while we chatted away before going into visit the monastery.

I've walked every direction I can for hours on end, I love the road signs in particular but I also come accross the last petrol station on the Ley road for 365 km (227 miles approx.)  better not miss this one if your travelling.  I got one of the local buses to take me to Udaipur which is basically the end of the road in this cut off area, I find it all a bit unfriendly with everyone looking at me.  I managed to find accommodation but they really didn’t want me staying but there’s nowhere else.  I get tea and some breakfast as go sightseeing, there’s the Triloknath mountain top monastery here which I’ve some to seek out.  I walk from the guest house the whole way and it’s a bit of a trek there and back so I’m beat by the time I get back – again it was well worth the visit and kept me busy all day.  I took a walk up the main street and settled on a dhabba for dinner, three guys are sitting and ask me a dozen questions about how I got here, again they think it was madness me coming over the pass the locals only come over in an emergency normally, they said the whole town has been talking about me which is how they heard there’s a tourist in town… so basically when they leave they tell everyone the gossip.

I order dinner and just as I’m finished the Police ‘find me’ to question me on why I am here and more importantly how I got here.  I explain that I’ve checked in with the authorities in Keylong and that I’m just here to visit but they’re playing good cop bad cop and I don’t quite know where it’s leading.  After loads of questions again I’m asked for my passport and they take all my details from it and reluctantly leave me to it, they are really not happy that I’m here.  So after an early night because there is nothing to do, I rise early and jump the bus back down to Keylong.  

I end up being interviewed in Keylong on my return but this time it’s by the local TV crew along with ‘Shamsha’ from the commissioner’s office for being the first tourist into the area this year.  They’re delighted that I’m here and want to know all about me and what I think of Keylong and the surrounding area, although slightly embarrassed I get through the interview and I’m told it will be on Channel 5 on Saturday’s news.   I like Keylong and the people here,  no-one bothers with me kicking about, all the children say hello every time I pass and all giggle away to themselves when I reply or try and stand to talk to them, it’s cute.

I ended up jumping another bus to Jispa and spent the night in a hotel which they opened up for me, although it had been pre-arranged by Shamsha from Keylong but there’s nothing here.  I ended up walking out the road and saw some great road signs, but the best part was the journey out here by bus.  The sheer drops, the cliff edge road, the countless hairpin bends – it’s a real rollercoaster of a trip which is brilliant, next morning when I get up I just do the return trip which seems even more spectacular, these roads are featured in the Indian version of Ice Road Truckers… check it out. 

So my trip in Keylong ends and it’s time to get to Manali as my Indian visa expires on Thursday so I need to get back to Nepal – India border by then.  I asked about the helicopter out and they hope for Sunday, but unfortunately on Saturday night I’m told that the helicopter has been pulled for the next five days which means I am going to have to walk back over the Rohtang La, and to be honest I’m really not looking forward to it.Shamsha helps me arrange firstly a refund of the helicopter fee, then a jeep for the morning but I need to leave at 2:30am to get down to Khoksar to start walking with the mountain rescue guys before sunrise.  

The jeep journey down to Khoksar is lit by the brightest moonlight I’ve ever seen, it’s a scary ride though crossing even rivers in the daytime is dodgy enough but doing it in the dark is freaky!  At one point we’re stuck in a river and I don’t think we’re going to manage out, but these jeeps are powerful machines and we manage.  Then the jeep nearly bounces off the road and it takes my driver all his skill to keep us on it, hopefully this isn’t what today is going to be like!

In Khoksar they’re around 20 men all sleeping in the rescue post, four of them plus a member of the post are walking over the pass this morning but they’ve been waiting on me, I provide my passport details and check out but meanwhile get chatting and they all saw me on the TV last night giving my interview with Shamsha… ha-ha I’m famous.  They all think it was madness me coming in but are glad I enjoyed the experience and wish me well on my travels. Although it was quite a journey heading back over the pass, it was nothing in comparison to me getting here, the rescue post guy makes sure we get over ok and down the other side.  Shared jeeps are waiting which take us down to Manali, this time I see all the hairpin bends and sheer drops and it quite a road!

It’s funny on route there’s guys hiring out ski suits etc. on the side of the road, Indian tourists come here to see snow (normally for the first time) and try out ski-ing or zorbing or paragliding and there’s a chairlift nearby in the Solang Valley which I visited before.  I’m delighted that I made it over the pass again and back into Manali which is a beautiful place, I would love to come back one day.

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