Lahaul Diaries – A drive to Keylong

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Lahaul Landscape
Manali
Raison – Manali Drive

Last weekend, we decided to take a weekend trip to the Lahaul Valley. The destination was Keylong, the district capital and Triloknath, a highly revered pilgrim center. From Raison it is a journey of about 150 kms by road. A vehicle permit is required from the District Magistrate’s office in Manali for driving across Rohtang Pass which is a protected area. Since we planned to go on a Friday, my daughter and her husband went to Manali a day before with the vehicle registration and pollution certificate papers and submitted it along with the permit form. The permit was issued within 10 minutes with which we began preparations for the journey.

We started at 5 a.m. from our home at Raison. With very little traffic at this hour we had a pleasant drive to Manali with magical sights of clouds floating on the Beas River. As daylight was breaking, we drove across the bridge at Manali and onto the Rohtang road.

We were stopped at the first check post here and were required to show the permit and make an entry. Just as we started the climb to Rohtang, we got caught behind a bus which was unable to manoeuvre around a huge rock blocking the road. This reminded and warned us how common landslides were in the mountains. “How long shall we be stuck here?” was the question on everyone’s mind? Luckily, some of the passengers of the bus were able to shift the rock to the side of the road with the help of a crowbar and the traffic moved on.

Suraj Tal _600 WM
Driving through Rohtang Pass

The road was reasonably good and we reached Rohtang Pass in about 90 minutes driving via Palchan – Kothi – Marhi. Rohtang bore a completely deserted look and we were surprised and saddened to see the lack of snow on the slopes so early in the year. Unmonitored tourist traffic, sports activities, garbage pile up and global warming has indeed taken its toll. As we took the customary photos at Rohtang, we could feel the chill and huddled into our heady duty jackets and woollens. The drive down from Rohtang to Khoksar via Gramphu was terrible and painstakingly slow. The car had to be manoeuvred through fallen rocks, huge holes and slush. There was no sign of a road whatsoever. Compared to the drive upto Rohtang, the descent was a nightmare. What a relief it was when the car halted at Khoksar and our bodies finally stopped shaking. After making an entry at the Khoksar check post, we proceeded to have a filling breakfast of deep fried aloo parathas at a dhaba and washed it down with hot cups of tea.

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Khoksar – Keylong Drive

The drive from Khoksar to Tandi takes about an hour and a half. The road is comparatively good in this section with a few rough patches. The scenery throughout the way is simply incredible. I cannot put into words the beauty of the blue-green mountains, gleaming glaciers, the picture postcard like houses with farms around them and the whole valley filled with white, yellow, pink purple and blue flowers. It reminded me of the wonderful Kaas Plateau of Maharashtra. Kaas was flat table land covered with flowers like a carpet; here the whole mountain sides are abloom in magnificent colours like resplendent tapestry. During spring, mountains always look as though they have just been created. Come rains and these very slopes appear so much more newer and fresher. The sight of the tall snow clad peaks reaching towards the sky and disappearing in the clouds brought to my mind the opening lines of Kalidasa’s ‘Kumarasambhavam’. In this epic poem the great poet has compared the Himalayas to a measuring rod for measuring the distance from Earth to heaven. It indeed is a fitting simile!!

Chenab
Driving along the Chenab

When we started from Kullu we were driving alongside the river Beas. From Gramphu we travelled along the Chenab River which merges with the Chandrabhaga River at Tandi. Due to the recent rains, the rivers were swollen and flowed with a fierceness and deafening roar. The countless waterfalls and streams all along the mountain sides were an unforgettable sight. The water gushing over the rocks was so white that it deserved to be named “milk on rocks“!! There were small makeshift bridges at many places with the streams flowing underneath. We also had to drive through numerous streams flowing on the road.

Lahaul
Keylong

We reached Keylong around noon. After checking into Dekyid hotel, the best stay option in Keylong, we had lunch and retired for some well deserved rest until evening. After the evening tea we started for the Shashur Gompa or Monastery, located 3 kms from Keylong. It is built high up on the mountain and a narrow dirt road with unending hairpin bends leads upto it from the highway. The Gompa itself is not very big but considered more important than the other two Gompas of Keylong (Kardang and Tayul). A festival of dance called Cham or devil dance is celebrated during June-July and had already occurred this year on 26th June. The view from the terrace of the Gompa is breathtaking, especially of the setting sun.

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Step farming on the Keylong hills

We were blessed to behold the sight of rainbow formed in the clouds against the rays of the setting sun. On one side, the ice covered peaks shone in a golden glow and at the other end the peaks appeared silver and bronze. The ranges in between were emerald green with the sight of the river cutting across the valley. The road loops looked like a long serpent. We kept clicking pictures to capture the beautiful sights and take back as memories. We reluctantly drove back to Keylong market. The market has a few shops typical of tourist destinations.

We decided to have dinner of steaming Thukpa and noodles at Hotel Geyspa in the market and returned to the hotel. We planned to leave at 9 am the next morning for Triloknath Temple located on the Tandi-Kishtwar Road about 46 kms from Tandi. As I drifted away to sleep I couldn’t help but think what a day it had been! My first glimpse of Lahaul had definitely taken my breath away and left a lasting impact on my mind. Tonight I would dream of pink and yellow flower carpets, gushing waterfalls, glistening glaciers, blue snow capped mountains and monks chanting hymns.

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