Manali to Marhi 43km
Marhi to Keylang 80km
Tessa made me all goosebumpy last night. She sang with a couple of local musos. It was fantastic. She was only going to sing one song, but they loved it, and asked her for more. Then they joined her on stage, and sang with her. While Tessa was performing, heaps of customers came in off the street. Two guys, dressed totally in white, and a little drunk, were very enthusiastic about her voice. They asked me how long my "wife" had been singing. I made the mistake and told them Tessa was my daughter, not my wife. Even more interest. Might have topped 60 buffalo if I hadn't decided that she was far more valuable looking after me.
So we could have got really high just staying in Manali and hooking up with some Israeli, but that's not our scene, so we jumped on the bikes, and started the climb to Marhi. All I can say is "Wow". 45 km climbing, 1500m, to 3390m. But the scenery was outstanding, amazing, and so not what we expected. Very Swiss, with conifers, huge boulders, and snowy tops. Then we had the herds of sheep and goats being taken to the high pastures. They were on the road, but would cut the corners, so we would just get past them, to find they had got in front of us again. The road was constant swish backs, easy gradient, but you knew you were climbing, and as you climbed, the views became wider and more spectacular.
Just over six hours, and we were just approaching Marhi, when it started to rain.....hard. And it got very cold, very quickly. Luckily, we found a lodge, with a very dark room, with no power, no shower, and no heat. I dug deep into my panniers, and found enough warm clothes for us both....I knew carrying them for twelve months would pay off eventually. Hot food was next, and when the rain stopped, a walk though this alpine village, being rebuilt ready for the hords of Delhi folk, who will be coming this way, to escape the heat, and experience snow. Some of the "houses" are no more than tin sheds, with a fire inside for cooking. Very drafty, and I'm sure very cold.
Then today, 16km, to the Rhotang Pass, just under 4000m. What an amazing experience. Lots of snow, up to six metres deep, through which the road passes. And lots of taxis, jeeps and mini buses, loaded with Delhi people, heading to the snow. So we are climbing up the zigzags, the road surface is not always perfect, in fact sometimes very rough, dodging all these crazy Indian drivers, rushing up to the snow. The road at times was a very narrow one lane, between huge walls of snow, over a rough bouldery surface, and we cyclists are expendable, and puffing because of the altitude.....fun, exciting, and dangerous.
And then it began to snow.....lots.
Eventually, we reached the spot, just short of the pass where all these people were experiencing their first snow. The traffic congestion was typical of India. Add horses, cars trying to turn, vendors selling food, leasing warm clothes, quad bikes, buses, and pedestrians trying to walk in slippery snow, at altitude......a circus. We carefully weaved our way through, having to walk our bikes past a standoff between an army truck with a dozen cars behind it, and a bus, with as many cars behind it, half way along a 500m corridor of six metre snow walls. We reckon they might be still there.
500m past the chaos, we crossed the pass. No traffic. No people. Just a few snowmobiles blatting about. And we started an amazing 16km descent. We both felt as if we shouldn't be there. It was magical. The road surface deteriorated, until it was just a muddy track, being ripped up by the odd truck and bus coming towards us. But having gravity on our side for once, the descent was awesome and at times pretty damn challenging. We were really having an adventure, isolated, challenged, and smiling.
We reached the valley floor, next to a milky river. The road surface improved slightly, and we stopped at the first village for a feed. We had all our warm clothes on still, as there was a cold wind coming up the valley. 50km along that valley, and several hours later, and we were two very weary cyclists who pulled into a hotel.
A big day. Lots of climb, lots of descent. Lots of amazing sights, lots of challenge, lots of smiles, lots of fun. We are definitely having an adventure. A Police Stop along the way told us we are the first cyclists this season. We are still unsure how far we will be allowed to go towards Leh. The road is still officially closed. Let the adventure continue tomorrow.