Manali-Rohtang-Keylong

Every frame in this three day trip to Keylong, seemed almost too perfect to be true …as if the whole image had just popped straight out of a picture postcard.

We started at 3 AM from Manali and headed out towards Keylong in pitch darkness. Keylong was put on the table as the closest we could’ve got to experiencing a landscape similar to Leh-Ladakh. Since the roads up to Ladakh hadn’t been opened up yet owing to the heavy snowfall this year, our 10 day trip was actually now split wide open for alterations and modifications. We thought that if we couldn’t actually get to Leh, we’ll try and get as close as possible. We as in, ‘The List People. Finally three after years of college, that phase has come, where people start leaving in pursuit of chosen careers and further education. We wanted to check this trip off our list that we made over two years ago. :)

See that faint line?....Yeah, that's the road...

River Chandra on our way to Tandi

River Chandra on our way to Tandi

We crossed the scenic Rohtang Pass (13127 feet) to reach Keylong located in Lahul –Spiti district. Keylong is located at a height of 11055 feet and is just about 359 kms short of Leh. There are two routes to get to access Leh via road, one is the Delhi-Srinagar-Leh route and the other is the Delhi-Manali-Leh route. Keylong falls on the second route in the state of Himachal Pradesh and is a popular stop over for acclimatization during the 16-hour journey from Manali to Leh.

Rohtang Pass

At twilight, I opened my groggy eyes to see where we were, and what I saw took my breath away. For as far as my eyes could see, we were surrounded by majestic snow-clad mountains and along the valley the serene River Chandrabhaga flowed quietly throughout our drive. The entire view was surreal. Sonnets and colours cannot do justice to this kind of exquisiteness. As you stand there and soak in everything that your eyes possibly can, you invariably  try to come up with analogies and metaphors to describe this outstanding portrait of nature. After a while, all that goes away and all you are left with is a feeling of absolute gratitude, a sincere sense of thankfulness that you are here, at this time, experiencing this moment.

Take a look at this beautifully shot video as we were passing through Rohtang. Thanks so much Rahul, for uploading and sharing it and most importantly shooting it, despite the heavy amount of yak-yak-yak in the background! It really is spectacular. :)

Straight out of a picture postcard....

The best part of our three day stay at Keylong was the food. :) We ate at a tiny Buddhist place – Sonia’s Tea Shop, tucked away into quiet little lane. Sonia didi churned out the best aloo parathas, omelette and the local favourite noodle soup- Thukpa and of course steaming hot ginger tea. One thing I noticed  across Himachal is that, they make awesome chai everywhere. They don’t reboil tea once made, every time it’s a fresh brew and I’ve had litres literally on this trip. :) I ensure that food snaps are always taken, there’s something very refreshing about looking at them. It almost instantly brings back the taste….. :)

Thukpa - The Tibetan noodle soup

Thukpa – The Tibetan noodle soup

Sonia didi ke Aloo Parathe.... Little bites of heaven! :)

Sonia didi ke Aloo Parathe…. Little bites of heaven! :)

Apart from a couple of local monasteries, there isn’t much to see in Keylong. But if sightseeing is what you are looking for, this may not be the right place for you. It’s the kind of place you come to stay for at least for a week or a month. The environment is very conducive to reading, writing, painting and amazing conversations with a cup of chai in hand. I’d started ‘My experiments with Truth’  almost six months ago, but never got around to completing it, but finally wrapped it up here. [Confession : was reading the abridged version of Mr Gandhi’s autobiography for kids. :).]

One of the little Tibetan tea shops...

One of the little Tibetan tea shops…

This quiet town transforms into a tourist centre buzzing with activity in the months from May to August.  This is the peak business season  for local teashops and hotels. The rest of the year Keylong is almost cut off from the world as snow blocks all road passages. During winters, the temperature here drops almost up to -25 C. Government does provide transport services via helicopters from Keylong to Manali at a subsidized rate (Rs 1500/-) for the locals, but that’s still very expensive and hence used only in emergencies. So this exquisite little town is available to the world for only three months in a year. It was nice to come into a place full of smiling faces everywhere. We were amazed by the service at our guesthouse. I would highly recommend Nordaling Guesthouse to anyone planning to visit Keylong. [Ask for the ‘forever smiling’ Surinder Bhaiya :)]

View from the Room @ Nordaling Guest House

View from the Room @ Nordaling Guest House

Main Bazaar @ Keylong

Main Bazaar @ Keylong

Nothing about this 8 day trip up north went as planned or anticipated. But in a way, I guess that’s what made it so amazing. Keylong has to be the most beautiful place I’ve visited so far and it has come to be a teaser of sorts for Ladakh. So Leh-Ladakh is definitely on the list for next year. :)

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18 thoughts on “Manali-Rohtang-Keylong

  1. Chaitra,
    I loved your descriptions, the way you brought your senses into play, your photos and mouth watering descriptions of the food, and how the environment affected you, first by its beauty and then how it was conducive to reading, writing, etc. Beautiful photographs. However, from the start, I was at a loss as to where you were – in what country? I assume it’s the Himalayas and maybe Tibet, but never having visited your part of the world, I needed some pointer that wouldn’t require having to Google the names.

    • Absolutely valid point Penelope, I was in the northern part of India in a state by the name “Himachal Pradesh” and yes we were in the Himalayan ranges.

      It’s a beautiful place, Keylong, it has retained it’s exclusivity and peace …… would love to go back there again for an entire month. :)

  2. Chaitra ! Please, please and please take me along with you whenever you plan out your next trip.. :( :(

  3. Hi Chaitra,

    I enjoyed seeing the N. India area via the video. Desolate, yet beautiful scenery. The size of the mountains dwarf everything around them. Food shots make me want to eat at Sonia’s Tea Shop. I like the idea of visiting a quiet place to finish up on writing/painting activities — a place with few interruptions. That’s pretty rare today unless you go off season or off road or off the grid.

    My fav line was , “our 10 day trip was actually now split wide open for alterations and modifications.” That’s happened to me as well. Good to be able to improvise. It always leads to unexpected adventures.

    Thx! G.

    • Absolutely Giulietta, I guess that’s what made the trip so interesting …. a sense of uncertainty and not knowing for sure what’s coming up the next day….

      And glad you liked and more importantly mentioned the food pics, they’re an important part of my photography on any trip. :)

      A GB Shaw quote comes to mind,

      “There is no sincerer love than the love of food.”

  4. Hello Chaitra ! Vey nice photos with description.I was there in October but could not go to Leh as the road was closed.So ended the trip at Keylong.Hopefully next time when I am in India.

  5. Thanks! Keylong is such a beautiful place that I didn’t come back with a regret of not having made it upto Leh. Even I definitely want to do Leh-Ladakh next year!

  6. Dear Chaitra,

    I’m looking for a nice yet affordable place to stay in Keylong and it seems from your text Nordaling Guest House could be an option. Could you tell me more? (tariff, contact, etc.) Thank you so much!

  7. Hi Chaitra,
    I am planning to visit Shimla-manali in the second week of october this year. My case is same as yours. As we will not able to visit Leh this time, we are thinking to just touch Keylong.
    Please tell me how much time it takes to reach Keylong from Manali if we pass Rohtang pass before traffic jams.. i.e. around 7 in the morning?
    Is Manali-Keylong-MAnali possible in one day by hiring private local taxi?
    I know it may be quite hectic; but I would prefer to stay at Manali as it would not cost much as we would be living at country club’s resort.
    Kindly share your experience and opinion.

    Thanks and Regards,
    Prajakta

  8. Hi Prajakta,

    We left Manali at 3 AM and reached Keylong around 2 PM in the afternoon. We took off at that ungodly hour because technically tourist vehicles are not advised to make that journey at all, so our driver wanted to sneak us past Rohtang pass before 6-6:30 AM. The reason we couldn’t get to Ladakh was pretty much the same reason they wouldn’t allow vehicles upto Keylong as well – too much snow on the roads. And this really can be dangerous considering the terrain.

    We were naive and almost foolish to challenge the advise we got from everyone in Manali. Just because we paid a higher amount, the driver agreed to take us there but once we were on the roads we realized how risky it was and how quickly this journey could have turned into a disaster.

    One day is definitely not possible because it’ll take you half a day to get there and no taxi driver will be willing to make this journey back after dark. There’s snow on the roads, visibility is poor and roads are tricky.

    Hope you have a safe and exciting trip!

    Best,

    Chaitra

    • HI Chaitra,
      Thank you so much. Your information was an eye opener for me.
      I cancelled my one day plan to Keylong as soon as I read your reply.
      I would plan a night’s halt at Keylong or just cross Rohtang pass, would go 5-7 Km further and come back.
      Can you tell me after how many km further Rohtang pass the terrain looking as leh-ladakh starts?

      warm regards,
      Prajakta

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