Saturday, June 12, 2004


Lure of Leh

H. Kishie Singh

THE Hemis Festival begins on June 28 in Hemis, 42 km from Leh. Many people would like to drive down to this J&K town, taking the fabulous Manali-Leh road. It is a long hard drive, which can be demanding on the vehicle, driver and the passengers. Here are certain precautions that should be observed:

The car should be in complete roadworthy condition. The checklist should take account of tyres, brakes, fan belts, coolant, windshield washer fluid, wipers and the engine.

Even if you aren't going anywhere, your car should be in roadworthy condition. Summer temperatures are very hard on the car. In this heat, you should be carrying a bottle of water and a hand towel in the car. You can use the wet towel to wipe your face. This will not only help you feel refreshed but will also keep you alert.

Next comes, fuel. You'll need to carry spare fuel. The message in the photograph is clear. Driving in low gear on the Manali-Leh road, almost 480 km over high passes, any vehicle will guzzle gas. There is only one re-fuelling station at Tandi. You must carry fuel for 500 km. In case you have to turn back before you reach Leh, you should have the fuel to do so.

Days can be very warm and scorching. Sun-block creams as well as baseball caps are helpful. In the rarified atmosphere, the ultra-violet light can play havoc with your skin. Wear long-sleeved shirts. The night temperature can be sub-zero in the open. Warm clothes are a must and must be kept handy, not locked up in a suitcase. A blanket and a sleeping bag would be handy items, especially if you have young children travelling with you. Drink plenty of fluid all day long to avoid dehydration.

The air you take into your lungs is exceptionally dry. It soaks in the moisture from your body. As you exhale, the moisture gets expelled, and this results in dehydration. Dehydration can be prevented by taking in adequate fluids.

Oxygen can be in short supply, especially on the high passes. Lachalang-La is at 5065 metres (16,684 feet) above mean sea level and Taglang-La is at 5369 metres (17,688 feet). You would be gasping for air, and so would your car.

Oxygen deprivation means that at this altitude, the human body is functioning at 40 per cent of its capacity. It will first affect you, the driver. It slows down reflexes and you might not even become aware of it. The road is deceptively dangerous. It is a very good road, tarmac most of the way. The Morey Plains, a beautiful plateau, includes long straight stretches and lazy 'S' curves. Remember, you are at 4700 metres (15,510 feet). In a short 40 km drive, you will crest the Taglang-La.

With oxygen in short supply, it is advisable to carry a small cylinder of oxygen in the car. At the slightest hint of dizziness or uneasiness, a 10-15 second inhalation will revive you. If symptoms persist, seek medical aid. Army personnel, who have field hospitals, are extremely friendly and helpful. They are situated in imaginatively named places like Brandy Nalla and Whisky Nalla.

An oxygen cylinder can be found at chemist shops which supply to hospitals.

There are very few tyre repair shops on the Manali-Leh road. To carry a second spare tyre would be a wise move. If you are in a Gypsy, help will come along. Most taxis on this road are Gypsys or Sumos. Both have 15-inch tyres. Today's cars have tyre sizes ranging from 12" to 15". Don't expect help from the next car that comes along. Its tyre size may not be the same as yours.

You should also be mentally prepared for some hardships. And bikers would need to be extra cautious. They must wear a helmet. It could be of great help if your head comes into contact with the road.

Happy motoring.