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Joy of Travel part 4

The long ride to Nairobi


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I am writing from the comfortable Dubai airport at 3:00 in the morning. Forgive me if my thoughts run astray. A 4 hour delay on top of a 6 hour lay over bumped our flight to Nairobi back to 6:00 am and it has been a long night in the Airport. If we were not traveling on a shoestring we may have opted for the in airport hotel but the long rows of recliners in the terminal are good enough for us. Prolonged waits and long travel days have been the theme since we departed Leh so let me back up a little bit.

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Meghan was able to finish the book “Super Freakonomics” on our trip to Nairobi

An 18 hour bus ride? You must be kidding me. Unless we wanted to throw down for an expensive airline ticket the only way out of Leh without backtracking is the long road to Manali. It is not an easy road either. Four mountain passes in the 14,000 to 16,000 foot range were spaced out on a long bumpy road that is only open a few months out of the year. This year the road had been plagued with repeated closures leaving people stranded for days in the few weeks since it first opened. We decided to be adventurous and with a bag full of food and water we boarded the 11 seat “tourist tempo”, or beefy mountain minivan that would carry us along the way. Our journey began just after midnight, just as the kickoff for the world cup finals was happening in South Africa. Meghan passed out pretty quick but I was up all night. We passed the first mountain pass just as the sun started lighting up the sky. Ahh, sunrise in the mountains… this is not so bad. The drive continued to hold my interest and the time passed relatively quickly.
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The road disappears as we traverse high alpine plains

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Seasonal parachute tent restaurants catered to the flow of traffic on the desolate Leh-Manali route

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Making our way up the 2nd pass.

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View from the road

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Third Pass

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First signs of trouble

At about the 15 hour mark we had crossed the 4th pass and were making our way down towards Manali. We came across a huge traffic backup and learned that a landslide that we thought had been cleared had started sliding again. Our driver weaved around as many trucks as he could on the narrow mountain road and got us close to the front of the line. Traffic was held up in both directions and the road was a total mess. I wish I could give the situation justice with my words, it was truly an India moment.

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Trucks lined up above the landslide area

Back home the road would have been closed, traffic would have been turned around, and road workers and policemen would have been called in to repair the road and maintain order. Not the case in India. There was 2 cops and a guy with a bulldozer (a strange occurrence considering everywhere else we had been on the way in and out of Kashmir was covered by the military). A few trucks would gun it through the landslide area bouncing around in the deep mud hoping for some sort of purchase to get them to the other side. After a few trucks got through and ruined the track one would get stuck and this happened about every 5 vehicles. At this point about fifty guys would run out an push until the truck made it out and then a huge cheer would go out from the crowd. Next the bulldozer would come through and smooth out the mud essentially putting a Band-Aid on a gaping wound and the process would start again. I watched this for over an hour and saw about 12 cars get through.
While all this was going on the mountain was actively sliding and rocks and mud were coming down from above. This was mostly from two sources, a muddy hillside were rock and mud slowly made its way down to the road and a craggy rock wall were huge boulders broke off and shot like missiles across the road. At the fist sign of any movement from above one of the two cops would start blowing his whistle, everyone would start screaming, and anyone that was in the slide zone would start running for safety. Keep in mind we are on a mountain pass and the road drops off steeply on one side for hundreds of feet. I had visions in my mind of a mass stampede sending the slow and the weak in attendance tumbling down the mountainside. After about 4 hours time, just as night was falling, a large truck became stuck beyond the help of the masses and the road, by default, was deemed “closed”. We were about 5 cars away from giving the danger zone a go and I don’t know if I was frustrated or relived at this point. I was at about 40 hours without sleep so the whole thing, like this evening in Dubai, is kind of dream like.
Our driver in a last ditch effort spared us the cold night in the jeep at 14,000 feet listening to a landslide! All we had to do was shoulder our packs and walk down the mountain. Did I mention it had started raining again? It really would not have been all that bad if we had not recently lost our good headlamp and the batteries in the only one we had were just about dead. Never the less we made it down the rocky mountain path that cut off a big chunk of switchbacks and only had to wait about an hour out in the rain for a 2nd “tourist tempo” to arrive. 24 hours after departing Leh we were glad to find a bed and were quick to sleep.

We knew that we were going to need some rest in Manali even before the landslide fiasco so we planed 4 days to just chill out. We had been recommended a lovely guest house that was a 10 minute walk alongside a mountain river through apple, apricot, and plum trees. The apricots and apples were in season and we could pluck and eat them along our walk.

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River with guest house in the trees

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Mmmm

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Manali Guest house

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Typical Indian Chai Stand, Manali

From Manali the Travel fun continued with a 10 hour overnight bus to the capital of Punjab, Chandigarh. Here we would spend the day exploring the town before hoping on an overnight train to Jaipur the following Night. Despite the lack of sleep we had fun exploring Nek Chands Fantasy rock garden. This was a massive 25 acre maze of rock and recycled building materials that felt part Aztec ruins, part mosaic nightmare.

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We knew we would be safe on the bus after the driver lit an incense offering to his plastic dashboard diety!

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Nek Chands Fantasy Rock Garden

Two Days rest in Jaipur and on to another overnight train that after 20 hours would finally bring us to Mumbai! We really enjoyed Mumbai and considering it was the monsoon felt like we got really lucky with the weather. We got a break in the rains to do a lot of exploring by foot and enjoyed an evening on the sea side walkway that leads to Chowpatty Beach. We also were able to witness the impressive rains of the monsoon season both inside and out.
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Porters taking a break outside the Train station in Jaipur. It was fun to be back in Rajasthan for a few days.

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Busy railway platform on the way to Mumbai

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Don’t crap on the tracks… at least in the station please. The trail bathrooms were not more than a dressed up hole in the ground.

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Mumbai from Seaside Boulevard

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Meghan at Chowpatty Beach, Mumbai

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Victoria Terminus Train Station, Mumbai.

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Caught out in the monsoon

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Mumbai traffic laws… No trucks, horse drawn carriages, or ox carts.

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Our last Thali in India… we will miss the food.

Back in the Dubai airport our big layover only lasted an hour longer than expected and we were in the air for the 5 hour flight to Nairobi. Fortunately we had arranged a pickup at the airport knowing we would be tired and she was their waiting for us when we cleared customs. We pre booked a “room” at the Wilderbest Camp. This was an old estate on the outskirts of town that had a few rooms inside, luxury safari tents outside on the grounds, and traditional camping tents scattered around. We were in the later. Over the Next few days we will be making our plans for Africa and hope to be out on Safari before our next posting!

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Hitting the Tarmac in Nairobi

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Meghan and our campground host the tortoise.

Posted by pmunson 03:57 Archived in India

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Comments

Your experience in the landslide on the way to Manali caught even me up in fear!!!...but you two seem to be amazing survivors of terrifying conditions and lack of sleep! Thanks again for a great read.

by Mom M

What wild travels!

by Ellen

Wow what a trip out of India!!!You two are really flying under the radar in a way..So glad to see the pics of a safe passage, especially the one in Africa safe and sound with a turtle...you got my heart jumping about the drive and walk out of danger. Reminds me about skiing in the 60s and being caught on Loveland pass and the seven sisters are coming down and trying to think is it better to continue or turn around. We were five in a grandpas vw bug...Dad

by robinchandler

Pete and Meghan,
I am glad you had the good sence to walk out of danger on your trip to Mumbai. I liked the picture of tire tracks in the sand -- the highway! You two like adventure! Glad you are safe in Africa (I hope) after skirting around the big world's trouble spot. you are having a facinatig trip.
Love,
Dad

by Dad

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