11.30pm. I struggle to stay awake. I walk through the dark streets with my flashlight and get to the parking lot where 100 Oceans Bar is. There are about a dozen other foreigners already there, waiting. The Leh-Manali Road is only open, technically, from July to October each year. The rest of the time it is covered in snow and ice, and then there are frequent landslides. The departure time is set as midnight, and we are supposed to arrive by 7 or 8pm the following day. Roughly 20 hours. On a bumpy Indian road. Great.
Right around midnight, the 3 minibuses appear, swerving around the corner and pulling into the parking lot. We have been told the license plate numbers of our drivers, and mine ends in 9595. And here he comes, this Buddha-belly possessing piercing gazed, disarmingly smiling driver. I love him. It’s pretty cold since we’re on a road that goes up to over 5000m and it’s the middle of the night, but I manage to sleep a good amount with the rocks, twists and turns and open windows. The whole drive is stunningly beautiful, winding through glaciers, boulder-strewn valleys, bizarre rock formations of all colors – I have a great little connection with two Polish boys and the hours just pass. Of course, though, at the end of 18 hours we’re all ready for the ride to be over. It’s amazing, approaching Keylong, in Himachal Pradesh where many people break the journey for the night, we just emerge onto this pine-studded mountainside and from then on the GREEN was back. Not quite to the same shocking hues as in Kashmir, but after a few weeks in Zanskar and Ladakh, with the barren granite, harsh rock faces – awe-inspiring but so extreme – it felt like there was new life being taken in with each inhale.
Manali – what a trip. New Manali, at the bottom of the hill, is a small, crowded, dirty, noisy Indian city; go up the hill to Old Manali and it’s ‘hippie’ pothead heaven. It was, though, nicer than I had expected. So I spent about 20 hours rejuvenating, hanging with the Polish boys, and then took the night bus to Dharamsala.
Which is when I finally slipped off to sleep with my window open, letting in the pleasant mountain breeze, and woke up to liquid on my face. Foul-smelling liquid. The lady in front of me was violently motion-sick and vomiting out of the window, which was splattering onto me, as well as about the next 6 rows of passengers behind me through their respective windows. A true travel moment. Wow.
I arrived in Dharamsala at 4am in POURING rain. I thought I would get there at 5.30am, and told Tashi that so I thought, hm, what am I going to do?! I step off the bus and there he is, standing right in front of me in perfectly dry maroon robes and the ubiquitous rainbow umbrella. I love you. So I sleep in his room until my accommodation will let me in at 6am. The monks in his house were probably a bit surprised to see some random Japanese girl show up and pass out in the monk’s dormitory. Ah well.
The next several days were amazing with Tashi, lots of long walks, talks, meals, just perfect. It’s funny how multi-faceted India is and how I have really grown to love certain parts of it so much and feel so at home here now…would never have thought that could happen based on how I first saw it when I got here for the first time in 2009.