Saturday, August 25, 2012


About 7 years ago (2005), I had a grand plan of traveling 2-3 months across the Himalayas from China to Tibet to Nepal to Northern India and ending my trip at Dharamsala. However, it did not materialize. I went to China & Tibet and ended my trip in Yunnan, China. In 2007, I explored the Northern India. In 2009, I went to Nepal. Finally in 2012, I went to Dharamsala. =)

I was beaming with joy when I arrived in McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala. It is a nice place and I like it a lot. More importantly, it is about fulfilling a wish and journey that I did not complete, and I could finally strike off 1 item from my bucket list. 

The other main reason to go for this trip is traveling with 2 very good friends. The last time I traveled with xf was back in 2001 (Sarawak, my first backpacking trip) and with ying was 2005 (Tibet). 

6 of us at Singapore Changi Airport

Prior to the trip, there were so much problems. 

1. Air India crews were on strike and we had to cancel 2 flights and re-booked it through Kingfisher (which is financial difficulties) and Jet Airway. After a few painful calls (including a customer service officer slamming down my call), we managed to find out that our flights had been canceled and we requested a refund. Then, a few days later, I received 90% of my refund. And I had to ask for my remaining 10% refund.

2. Kingfisher Flight. After we booked the Kingfisher flights, there was news that 15 Kingfisher planes had been grounded as the airline did not have money to pay the lease. This is a significant number of planes being grounded and we had no details if our flights are affected.

3. India visa. After sending the application forms, I realized that my new visa was quite different from my previous one (the embassy stamp & a signature was missing). We had to send back our passports to get it corrected. Unfortunately, this is an example of India's inefficiency.

4. Negative News. 1 week prior to our departure, there was a huge power failure in North India that paralyzed that region and news about tourist bus falling down in the mountain area. 

Well, our India adventure had started even before our departure. =)

Day 1 - Delhi to Manali (3rd Aug 12)

Beautiful Hand greeting us when we arrived at the New New Delhi Airport.
The old airport was in such a bad shape (limited retail shops, dirty, cramp, small etc...), and this a pleasant surprise as we would be spending a lot of time in the airport (we bought 4 domestic flights and Delhi airport is the point of transit for these flights).

American Express Lounge in Delhi Airport.

We left Singapore at around 11pm and arrived in Delhi airport at 2.15am (2.5 hours time difference between Singapore and India). Our kingfisher flight from Delhi to Manali was delayed from 6am to 9am, so we decided to spend our time in Amex lounge (Thanks to a friend's Amex Centurion card).

It was quite a small lounge, but at least there is wifi, free flow of food & drinks.The gals were sleeping on the sofas and I was sleeping on the floor. 

Showing discontentment. Haha...

Our flight to Manali (supposedly 0615am) was further delayed and we waited until 1130am when we were informed that the flight was canceled due to bad weather in Manali (it was the monsoon season). Terrible news, as our schedule was already very tight. 

There were no other flights available on that day, so the alternative plan was to either take the next day Kingfisher flight (which might be canceled again due to bad weather, and if that's the case, we were screwed) or travel 12 hours overland from Delhi to Manali.

Getting a refund from Kingfisher airline is a pain too. We had to queue up at the sales counter to get official letters from the airline (to claim travel insurance), and after that, I had to call the customer service hotline to explain my situation to get my refund. I questioned the sales counter: why do I have to call the hotline? Why can't they process everything? Why do they have to further inconvenient me? Why can't I use the airline phone to call the hotline? May be I am used to good customer service and efficient system, but I am also aware that I am in India and it is how it works there.

Ying called their previous driver to arrange a ride from Delhi to Manali.

The overland trip was 18,000 rupees (S$418, US$334), very expensive for India standard. However, on the hindsight sight, it was okay and we tipped the driver more as the road was more precarious and difficult than we anticipated.

Buffaloes crossing road.
Incredible India!


We had lunch in Delhi and left Delhi at 2.30pm. We stopped at around 11.30pm for our dinner in a small eatery in the mountain. Everybody was exhausted (partly due to lack of sleep the previous night and 2.5hrs time difference). Our driver was lamenting that he was very tired as it was difficult driving through the winding mountain roads and the headlights from the vehicles were hurting his eyes. 

(Taken by XF)

Well, the most dreadful thing was to know that our destination was around 200km away, which meant that we were still 4 hours away. We left the eatery at 12 midnight and we decided to play music to keep our driver awake. As the journey continued, it started to rain and it became foggy. It was really dangerous. Imagine driving in cold winding mountain road in a dark and foggy night at 2-3am in fatigue. I had many experiences of traveling in mountainous region, this is the most dangerous and worst experience so far.

Fire on the road
(Taken by XF)

At around 4am, before we reached Manali town, we were stopped by a road block. There were trucks parking by the side of the road and fires burning (as warning signs) on the ground blocking the traffic. Apparently, there was landslide in front (the road collapsed into the river), but we could not see it as it was very dark.

Fortunately, there was a Quality Hotel nearby and we check-in for a good rest at 4am+.
It was a terrible night. I was very exhausted and worried. Luckily, nothing terrible happens.

Day 2 - Manali (4th Aug 12)

"Manali (Hindiमनाली) at an altitude of 2,050 m (6,726 ft) in the Beas River Valley is a beautiful hill station nestled in the mountains of the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh near the northern end of the Kullu Valley[1]. It is located about 270 km (168 mi) north of the state capital, Shimla.
Manali with a population of approx. 30,000 is administratively a part of the Kullu district. The small town is the beginning of an ancient trade route to Ladakh and from there over the Karakoram Pass on to Yarkand and Khotan in the Tarim Basin.
Manali and the surrounding area is of great significance to Indian culture and heritage as it is said to be the home of the Saptarishi, or Seven Sages."

Colourful Shoes.
Feeling happy and refreshed.

The road collapsed into the river on the side.
It was too dark to see the extend of the damage the previous night. It was quite scary.

Locals working to re-construct the power pole.

Based on our original itinerary, we were supposed to start our 2D1N overland journey to Leh. However, due to the landslide before Changla Pass, the road was blocked and we had to stay in Manali for another day. And if the weather condition did not improve, the road would remain closed. We could only hope that weather would be fine tomorrow.

A boy performing acrobatic stunts on the street.

I was not impressed but sadden by his performance. A boy like him should be studying, not earning money on the street. 

Manali street view

As Manali is a tourist town, inevitably, there are a lot of beggars. Two young girls approached me for money, but I offered to buy them cakes instead. To my surprise, they took the cakes to their family and share it among the big family sitting on the side of the road. I was happy, but sad to see a whole family sharing 2 pieces of cake.

A sweet desert.

In the late afternoon, we took a auto-rickshaw to visit a small town called Vahisht (A backpacker hangout place). It was a quiet town set in a hill, with nice restaurants, Hindu temple, shops and hotspring.

Our luck was really down, even the auto-rickshaw broke down on the slope towards Vashisht. PZ was lamenting that things were not going our way, and she was taking it as a sign that we were not supposed to continue our journey.

Nice roof.

View from Peace Cafe in Vashisht.

We had a long discussion on the plan forward. All the signs were negative. It was still drizzling in the evening, the weather forecast was thunder storm for the next few days, and there was a report of landslides and people getting killed in the other northern region of India. 

I realized that weather is such an important part of life in this part of the world. A bad weather could just ruin the whole trip. We came with many alternative plans that do not make sense (like travel overland to Srinagar), flying back to Delhi (not sure if there is flight), going to Varanasi instead.... and XF was quite serious when he said that he would buy a ticket back to Singapore.

At this point, our trip had came to a halt. It all depends on the next day's weather.

Despite the uncertainties, we had fun squeezing 6 of us into a small taxi back to the Manali town. 

Day 3 - Manali to Keylong (5th Aug 12)

Fortunately, the weather was good and we set off at 630am.

A collapsed bridge.

Clear Blue Sky. 
(A stark contrast from the previous day's cloudy and rainy weather. I guess we weren't so unlucky afterall.)

These are what I came here for....
Blue Sky, Majestic Mountain ranges, Green, Fresh Air and Colourful Tibetan Prayer Flags.

And also company of great friends. =)

XF & Ying.

We had fun taking photos.

Some people travel by standing on the back of a truck.

Some chooses to cycle... Respect!

At a checkpoint, the police officer told us that we could not go forward as the road ahead was closed due to landslide. Our driver, Ramesh, told us that we had to go back to Manali town as the road was closed. We protested as there were other vehicles that went ahead. Finally, we got our way and went ahead to join the long queue of vehicles waiting for the road to be cleared.

Beautiful Scenery.

Mobile Kitchen

Our Van in the muddy road.

Even though I don't really like our driver, we had to give him credit for cutting queues, and he parked his car  infront of the long queue. 

There was a truck on the edge of plunging into the steep slope. The excavator was helping to get truck out of the dire situation.

After the truck was saved, the excavators were clearing the road. 

The landslide.

An entrepreneurial guy who was selling sweet corn (which was meant to be horse feed). Well, the gals tried it and agreed that it was really horse feed as it tasted horrible. Haha...

Our driver suggested us to walk across the landslide area (as it might not be safe for us to be in the car when he drives). We totally agreed with him, as the road was muddy and soft, and we did not want the car to be stuck in the mud while we were on it.

We walked in a single file and I was ahead of the gals. While we were crossing the landslide area, I saw a big rock (half a human size) rolling down from the hill, and people around me were asking the gals to hurry up as the rock was rolling down towards their direction. 

It was quite scary and the gals (could not see the rock) were struggling to cross the muddy road. Fortunately, that big rock stopped halfway. It was quite an episode.

The view of the landslide after we crossed it.

Traffic Jam and a dirty Glacier.

Our unplanned trekking expedition.
We decided to meet our driver at Rohtang Pass (4000m), which was supposedly 30mins trek away (as told by an Indian tourist).

We weren't properly acclimatized and the gals were struggling with this trek at 3500m++. Well, I had to admit that I enjoyed the trek. It was cooling and the air was fresh. In the end, we saw our vehicle and hop onto it. Luckily, as the Rohtang Pass was very far away.

I think our luck had changed for the better, as the road was closed again shortly after our vehicle passed through. We really had to thank our driver for cutting queue, otherwise, we would be stuck in the mountain for one day.

Beautiful Scenery along the way.

Keylong, where we were stayed one night.

"Keylong (or Kyelong or Kyelang) is the administrative centre of the Lahaul and Spiti district in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, 126 km (78 mi) north of Manali and 120 km (75 mi) from the Indo-Tibetan border. It is located along the Manali-Leh Highway, about 7 km (4.3 mi) north-east of intersection of the Chandra Valley, the Bhaga Valley, and the Chenab Valley; on the banks of Bhaga River."

I really enjoyed the dinner, as the hotel owner was playing soothing Buddhist music.
It was a really peaceful evening.

Day 4 - Keylong to Leh (6th Aug 12)

We woke up at around 4am, as we got ready to depart at 4.30am (pre-dawn), as the overland journey to Leh would take around 14 hours. I was the first person to walk towards the vehicle, which was parked outside the guesthouse and it was very dark. I took a few step back as I wanted to open the door and I fell into something and kept going down. I had no idea what I fell into, as I was falling in total darkness. It happened too fast and I asked myself when was it going to stop. 

The driver heard my shouting and came down to help me. I fell into a staircase. Fortunately, I was carrying my bag and wore thick clothing which cushioned some of the impact. I had wounds and bruises on my hands, shoulder, knee, thigh and my head. Fortunately, all these are minor injuries (I could not open my mouth fully for the next few days and different parts of my body still hurts), and I did not have fractures or major bleeding.

In fact, as I am writing this entry (more than 3 weeks after the incident, my finger and knee still hurts).

PZ was saying that it was "fortunate" that I was the person falling into the stairs, as it could be anybody. I agree with her, and if any of the gals fell into the stairs, the injury could be much worse than mine.

Beautiful Sunrise

Beautiful Reflection

We had fun with sequence shots again. Haha...

Love the Blue Sky and its vastness

Working in the city, I really miss the view of vast blue sky.

Beautiful strips....

More sequence shots

On the road

Hot breakfast in the middle of the cold mountain.

(Taken by XF)

Turquoise Lake

Barren Landscape



The winding road up the mountain


I always respect these cyclists trying to cycle through these tough terrain over 5000m. I found my 2 days overland trip to be tiring (and I was traveling in the comfort of a vehicle). These cyclists got to face extreme weather conditions (freezing morning, hot afternoon), strong sun, lack of water & civilization, altitude sickness, sleeping in tentage, and finally, the long winding & punishing road of the highland. 

On the road (Taken by XF)

Beautiful Scenery
(Taken by Ying)

(Taken by Ying)

Interesting rock formation

More interesting rock formation

Using a bit of imagination, it looks like a group of celestial beings, standing proudly on the hill overlooking the mountain ranges.

More interesting rock formation.

Abandoned Vehicle
(Taken by XF)

Taglang Pass @ 5,328m

"Taglang La, elevation 5,328 metres (17,480 ft), is a high mountain pass located in Ladakh region of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir.
The elevation in metres, which is taken from a local sign, is in agreement with SRTM data. The sign incorrectly claims 17582 feet, which would be 5359 metres, and incorrectly claims the world’s second highest motorable pass. It is reached via 21 Gata loops along the Leh-Manali Highway.
There are higher motorable passes at Kaksang La, Chang La, Khardung La and several more locations in Tibet."

View from the pass

Punctured Tyre at 5000m.

Fortunately, there were some road construction workers who helped us to change the tyre. We tipped them for their help.

At this elevation and point of time, quite a number of us were suffering from altitude sickness. PY was so feeling so sick that she was really quiet and stayed in the car the whole time. Ying had vomitted quite a few times already. The others were having mild headaches and breathlessness. Our resting heartbeat was at a high of 90-100 counts/minute.

Jagged red mountain.