8 August – A convoy toward and away from Leh

Today we woke up (did we ever actually sleep?) stiff from the hard bumpy seats as well as being frozen like a popsicle.  I cannot imagine how cold Kanya and Justin were in their unheated tent.  After a small breakfast of crackers and tea, we set off again toward Leh.  Unfortunately, we were not going to make it there.  We made better progress today although it was still slow.  I reckon we covered about 60km to the small village of Rumtse where we met with the army manning a checkpoint.  They informed us that we would not be allowed on the road for the final 60km to Leh.  The road had been completely wiped out by the river and our drivers and Melanie walked ahead to confirm that fact.  The army said it would be at least a week before the road was passable again.  We sat around in a roadside restaurant for lunch while Khandro-la and the drivers decided what to do.  As the drivers from the convoy were desperate to get home to their families, Khandro-la allowed them to stop in Rumtse so that they could walk over the final mountain to Leh.  Many people were planning this 24-hour trek to get home despite the lack of any real moonlight or gear.  God save them.  She also arranged for some new drivers with cars and told us that we would be delivered to Manali, the closest main town that was accessible and would have hotels.  She told us to pay the drivers as she considered our trip to have ended.  I guess that is fair as the floods were not her fault.  I think.  Maybe karma was coming back to bite her.  Who knows?
Now we have a 390km drive to do down to Manali on a “highway” that was usually a two-lane, two-way blacktop collection of potholes joined together by some macadam.  Over the mountains though, it was mostly a muddy, slippery, dangerous track that barely had enough width for cars going in opposite directions to pass – assuming that there was one of them willing enough to move over next to the unguarded cliff edge.  I often just prayed.  The two cars that our leftover group was in got separated late in the evening as we tried to cross a deep stream.  We made it but the other car apparently turned back.  It was dark and we needed to find a place to sleep.  There were no streetlights, much less real roads so we were starting to get worried.   Our driver eventually found a parachute tent where we could spend the night and the fun really kicked in then.
A parachute tent is literally a tent made out of a parachute for the roof and sides.  It is held up by a planted pole in the middle next to the iron stove’s chimney.  The tent we were in had a 2m deep bench around the perimeter of the wall.  The bench and walls were covered in carpeting.  When we got inside, we were directed to sit on the bench.  Another group arrived at the same time as we did and five lovely young Israeli girls and their male friend took half of the tent and we took the other half.  By chance, the young Israeli guy sat next to Melanie (probably to protect the girls from the goyim) and of course Melanie separated me from the Israelis (definitely so that I didn’t go near the girls).  Once we had our places, the owner motioned us to lay back, then walked around the room covering us in thick, smelly, extremely heavy yak hides.  We couldn’t move they were so heavy!  But we were instantly warm too.  After we all had a laugh and started to try to quiet down and sleep – all in a single minute – I decided to say as a joke to the Israeli guy on the other side of Melanie “I just have two things to tell you: first, this is my wife.  Second, I have a very large knife strapped to my leg.”  He replied, with no humor whatsoever, “I am an Israeli commando and you don’t worry me.”  I had to keep my eye out for that one.

These are some early morning photos from where we stayed last night (in the car):

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