(Title courtesy of Bret and Cheryl)
We are safe and sound in Manali now. We arrived a couple of hours ago. As you might have guessed, we DID end up taking two days to travel. The first day we travelled from about 5 am to 7 ish pm (13 hours). Though we were 75% of the way, we stopped in Keylong for two reasons: we knew it would be tougher to find an affordable room at midnight and we wanted to see that last 1/4 of the trip. We are so glad we did. Not only was Keylong a really nice little town (with a very accommodating restaurant that promised our home-sick Brit an apple custard and then came back and embarrassed said "how about a pineapple custard?") but there were some great sights to see during that last leg. (I wish it were more convenient to download photos!)
First, I'll say that our taxi driver was excellent. He was an intense young guy (mid 20s, probably) who obviously knew all the tricks of the trade in driving on a rough road with passengers. He would take the smoothest and/or safest track through the obstacles as he could. Sometimes that was rocks in the road, sometimes a stream, sometimes a herd of goats, sheep, ponies, or other cars. He drove at a safe pace most of the time and we were all very pleased with his performance.
We left Keylong at 5 am, because the taxi driver was worried about "traffic." At first, that seemed like herds of goats and sheep, then just after we went over the last pass to Manali, we understood. Apparently that pass is also the Indian version of a ski resort. No infrastructure, of course. No lifts, no buildings, no parking lots, only yellow and blue tarp tents, with parking along the dirt road and a lot of packed and dirty snow. All the Indian tourists were dressed in "onesie" style snowsuits or fake fur coats, with rubber boots (we saw the rental shops, about 700 of them, stocked with these items further down the mountain). We navigated through the parked cars, and then had to pass waves of cars travelling in the other direction, often on a 1 1/2 width road, and often with ponies (for pony rides) crossing the road in front of us. Then, if we weren't delighted enough, some large flocks of sheep and goats were herded along the same road. I have some great photos and promise to post them.
In Manali, we had a bit of a row with a hotel keeper, but are now safely ensconced in hotel rooms at New Dharma Guest house (link courtesy of Tania's excellent help in a previous post, but not as close a satellite photo as before).
We are not sure if we're going to Nagar (a small mountain town) tomorrow, or staying here for three days, then continuing to Chandigarh. Either way, the clock is ticking away my last week in India.
Hope everything is going well for you guys. Nathan, I have a special stash of chips and beer under the stair, saved for Armageddon. I guess I can get more.