Himalayan valley

A jaw-droppingly gorgeous remote Himalayan valley on the Manali-Leh Highway

I’d planned to stay two nights in Keylong to reinforce my body’s acclimatisation to 3200 metres. It was a small and charmingly remote place quietly pottering along in its own little valley, cut off from the rest of the world (literally, in the internet sense; whilst ‘net access had surprisingly reached Keylong, it had been down for two weeks and no-one seemed to know or care when it would be restored again).
It pissed with rain all day, so I confined myself to my room, briefly braving the outdoors in the mid-afternoon brandishing an umbrella to wander over to the bus station and purchase my bus ticket for the following morning’s journey up to the northernmost outpost of Leh. The bus would be leaving at a body-aching 5am, and I wanted to ensure one of its seats had my name on it.
The next morning the alarm ripped me from sleep only to discover there was a powercut. Luckily I had packed everything in preparation the night before, but stumbling around with a weak mini-maglite torch was not fun, nor indeed was the icy cold shower. I picked my way through the eerily quiet streets only to find to my dismay that the Leh bus had been cancelled; the road was blocked by fresh snowfall (what I’d seen lower down the valley as rain). I’d have to try my chances tomorrow, which meant another day in Keylong, whose charm was wearing off as my impatience to continue the journey grew. Its haphazard spellings could only provide so much entertainment.
My luck was in the following day. Not only was there juice to power the water heater and provide a much-needed 4am hot shower, but also it seemed to be all go at the bus station. I followed the scrum and grabbed a seat near the front in a bid to limit the careering around corners and therefore to stave off travel sickness, and five other Western backpackers soon boarded and sat nearby: a friendly Scottish couple, a cheery Brit gal and two slightly more aloof Frenchies. The rest of the bus was packed with locals undertaking what must rank as one of the worst commutes in the world. Some poor latecomers didn’t even get a seat, and had to squat in the aisle.
We were in good if sleepy spirits as the bus chugged upwards to the first of two summits we’d be reaching today. At the rest stops – tiny settlements of tents and little else – we sipped chai, wolfed back life-giving Maggi noodles and traded traveller tales. The road was busier than I expected, and we experienced a couple of lingering delays upwards of an hour due to traffic jams caused by the brightly decorated Indian trucks getting stuck passing each other at narrow points, or blocking the road due to having broken down. The road was particularly unforgiving on the old suspension.
Around 5pm we arrived into Pang, another settlement of tents, albeit larger than we had seen so far. We were surprised – and disappointed – to learn we wouldn’t be continuing on to Leh, but rather would be overnighting here. Thinking about it, it made sense: the driver had been on the road for twelve hours and it would be getting dark soon. The mountain hairpins were treacherous enough in broad daylight, let alone in the dark.
Pang’s altitude was 4600 metres (15100 feet) and I could feel the thinness of the cold air as I drew breath, my lungs seemingly pulling on nothing. My pulse had picked up its pace, but I was relieved to find that my body was otherwise coping well with the altitude. That evening, after more chai and Maggi noodles, we all kipped in the back room of one of the local tents under huge piles of warm duvets and blankets, and I slept soundly, thankfully experiencing none of the nausea, sleeplessness or wild dreams that altitude can bring.