I Expected Desert – Busride from Manali to Leh, India

I was as prepared for the journey from Manali to Leh, India, as my parents were for my birth. When I was born, they hadn’t had a baby shower, my mom hadn’t had Lamaze classes, and my dad was intoxicated from a Christmas party.

As I entered the jeep at two o’clock in the morning in sandals, see-through emerald Aladdin pants, and an onyx tank-top, the man who took my luggage said the seventeen-hour drive to Leh would probably be cold. I told him not to worry, I had the skin of the Hulk, and I’d manage.

If the man had just said the word “Snow,” I might have prepared myself as if I were climbing Mount Everest. However, I slipped off my sandals and fell asleep in the front seat of the jeep as content as Barbie.

Prayer Flags over the Baralacha Pass

Prayer Flags over the Baralacha Pass

I awoke three hours later to snowflakes ambushing my feet like the Japanese bombarded Pearl Harbor. I thought Leh was surrounded by desert. My uncovered toes resembled eggplants. Replacing my sandals was as productive as sleeping in a one-on-one meeting, which I have done.

I reconnaissanced the range and resolved that the driver’s window was open because he was using it to see the road. Solidified snow and withered windshield wipers obstructed his vision as effectively as a lion lying across the hood of the car.

In the seats behind me, two Aussies adorned in five layers of clothing were shivering like three-year-old baboons bathing in glacier water. The Brit’s lips were grapes and his body was as immovable as London. All I could detect of the two French was the blanket they had over their heads. The Israelis were incapable of speech but repeatedly paraded their fingers from a Nutella jar to their tongues.

The Traveler Jeep had no four-wheel-drive and our driver had no chains.

By leering through my window, the driver’s open window, and the frostbitten windshield, I gleaned that three feet of snow screened the road, we were one jeep in a caravan of four, and sheer cliffs surrounded us. To my left was an extreme incline and three feet from the right side of the road was the edge. I couldn’t conceive the ground. Apparently the driver was under the impression that proceeding through the Abominable Snowman’s land without any blizzard apparatus for vehicles was a good idea.

When he halted between two wooden shacks our driver departed without instruction. Anchored to our seats, we regarded each other with bewilderment paralleling my first experience with a banana.

As we emerged from our igloo, my feet submerged in snow like Britney Spears’ self-esteem after she shaved her head and attacked a paparazzo with an umbrella.

The tent community we stayed at overnight

The tent community we stayed at overnight

I scuttled with my fellow frozen sufferers to the nearest doorway and catapulted myself onto the nearest bench with the lithe of one who accidentally triggered a tyrannosaurus tranquilizer into their trachea. We were in a home that ostensibly converted into a restaurant during the day. Beds at night became seats in the day.

”Hypothermia,” the Brit moaned with tears in his eyes as he sat down, sounding more like a woman in labor than a trim twenty-two-year-old.

”Frostbite,” I replied as I felt feces festering.

When I requested a toilet location, I was told “Open.”

”Open” indicates that there is none. “Open” embodies wilderness. “Open” means you’re shit out of luck.
As I contemplated whether I could prolong the inevitable excrement another four hours when I surmised our next stop might be, one of the Israelis entered with a smile and a pair of yak wool socks in his hand.

Without words, the Aussies and I dashed out the door, through the snow, and across the street to the only other shelter in eyesight. The Brit hobbled in and railed rupees at the proprietor as we completed our purchases. He didn’t speak. I put on the socks with Michael Phelps speed and we clumped back to our chai.

Forty-five minutes later we still hadn’t seen our driver. He had been spurring through snow and reeling roads for ten hours. We concluded he must be sleeping. After four rounds of chai and an hour and a half he reappeared like the grim reaper. He nodded towards the jeep and trudged off.

"Toilet" stop in the wilderness

“Toilet” stop in the wilderness

As the Aussies, French, Israelis, and Brit filed past me the excrement congregated in my body, threatening to blaze like the Big Bang. I bound behind the building to find sheets of snow and no barriers to bend behind. Panicking like a schitzo as my anus leaked liquid waste, I lowered my loose, transparent Aladdin pants and perched near a concrete step.

Poop projected from my ass with the force of a sperm whale’s ejaculation. I couldn’t cease the deluge any more than I could speak Mandarin, interpret Arabic, and dream in Japanese simultaneously. I sighed with the contentment I would convey should I scrutinize a hot air balloon in the shape of a penis. I looked around for toilet paper. I distinguished with dismay that I was on the back deck of the house. There was snow and a leaf stack, and my hippopotamus-sized stool sat three steps from the backdoor. The jeep’s honk honed in my ears. I launched some leaves over my discharge, stoned some snow into my posterior, and duck-waddled to the jeep, my socked feet shoved into my sandals and cold creeping through my bottom.

Ten minutes later I observed discoloration on my right pant leg. I had excreta on my pants and sandals, melted snow in my underwear, and wore a tank-top in a snowstorm.

Our caravan continued with the persistence of telemarketers. The two-wheel-drive Traveler Jeeps persevered through the three-foot snow until they slid from the road like vehicles on ice skates. Once the glide generated, the automobile reversed until the wheels wedded with the snow-covered concrete cleared minutes before. The three vehicles trailing reversed in a four-car retreat that resembled ducks doddering backwards.

One man materialized like Harry Potter and with a Neanderthal shovel, spaded the snow from the path until the jeep found a foothold. The jeep drove for six feet before spilling from the street again. Harry Potter would reappear, shovel and disappear, only to manifest five minutes later. His shovel doubled the prized possession of a caveman and looked like the metal had been fastened to the wooden shaft with string. In two hours we progressed two hundred meters. The Indians were apparently under the impression that a bulldozer and chains were unnecessary. Our passage over the 16,020 foot Baralacha Pass made as much sense as Sylvester Stallone naming his son Sage Moonblood.

The Manali-Leh highway

The Manali-Leh highway

Although my sheer pants provided as much warmth as an icicle, I adjudicated that as I wasn’t afflicted with explosive diarrhea or barking bloody feces, I was as happy as an orphan adopted by Oprah Winfrey. The other passengers didn’t share my enthusiasm.

The French remained immersed in their blanket, the Brit was reduced to an infantile state, and the Aussies were so assured of our impending death that one of them deemed it logical to smoke a joint in the snow to tranquilize himself into a soothed state. Instead, as we skidded over the snow towards the edge of the cliff, he assumed the cracked character of one with Paranoid Personality Disorder.

When our driver desisted driving at eight o’clock at night, I asked what was happening. Earlier, while we had sat like perplexed dung beetles, he had exited the vehicle for twenty minutes to have a conversation and for ten minutes to relieve himself. He replied that we were staying the night at the surrounding tent community.

”Excuse me, but can we please get our bags down from the roof? A few of us have sleeping bags,” the French female requested.

”Ya, I actually have a shirt with sleeves in my bag,” I said.

”No, bags stay on roof,” he said and then stalked off like Hitler.

The Brit cried.

We crept into what looked like a circus tent to discover a stove and sleeping areas.

“Blanket,” the Brit said and thrust money at the owner. He burrito-wrapped himself and then pronounced, “Chai,” between shivering lips. The rest of us relapsed in conversation while he curled into the fetal position.

The next day the snow shifted to desert and our progression was impeded by road blockades and detours instead of arctic conditions more suitable for polar bears than Westerners. Our journey, originally supposed to last seventeen hours, endured for thirty-two. We later learned that the pass closed as we were on it.

Traveler Article


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Older comments on I Expected Desert – Busride from Manali to Leh, India

Kara Carlson
17 October 2009

Hey everyone… as the author I’m just wondering what people honestly think of this story, the style, the content, etc. Any suggestions and/or comments would be much appreciated!