Driving on the Roof of the World (Leh, India)
Driving along National Highway 1D right outside of Leh, India (in Kashmir). Half of the year these roads are closed due to extreme snowfall, as they pass right through the highest parts of the Himalayan Mountains. The roads are maintained by the Borders Road Organization (BRO) and it’s actually really hilarious because every sign alongside the road says something like “Slow Down, Tight Curves BRO”, which constantly made me giggle. We drove the entire highway from Srinagar to Leh, and even before that we had driven from Jaipur to Srinagar. All within a 2 week period of time. Talk about altitude sickness! It surely was an adventure on the rooftop of the world!
In this video we are trying to drive to Fotu La, one of the highest mountain passes in the entire world (roughly 13,000 feet above sea level), and a pass that gets about 60 feet of snowfall during the winter. However, it was blocked due to a huge landslide (this was in May and the snow was still melting), so instead we turned back around and went back down (thank god, because I could barely breathe in the van we hired to carry us and our camping gear and actually had an oxygen tank because the air was so thin), and ended up camping down below, just outside of the city of Leh. Which also was perfect because half way through the night our campsite was attacked by a ghost or a yeti (abominable snowman) of some sort, which was absolutely terrifying.
We had stayed for a few days in Leh, and had wandered the markets and found an outfitting company who would lend us tents, sleeping bags, and other such gear for a camping trip. We (I was traveling with several friends) all rented a bus to carry all of the camping gear, including oxygen tanks for the pass crossing, and attempted to get through the pass to a remote campsite. As stated, we didn’t make it, but we did decide to turn back and camp anyways. To make a long story short, we had a helper with us who was a cook as well as a driver and general handyman, and after the sun set and we were all sitting around the campfire, he was off to the side, in a large tent, cooking our meal (lal maas or goat curry of course).
We all were sitting around the fire, drinking, having a good time when we hear a muffled scream and someone choking from the direction of his tent. Of course, a silence fell over us all as we looked over in his direction and about 3 seconds later, he goes flying out of
the tent like someone had thrown him! Now he was not a big man but he wasn’t small either–I would guess maybe 160 lbs–and by the time we all ran over to him to make sure he was ok, his eyes were rolling back into his head, he was foaming at the mouth and screaming about how “they are coming for us”. Everyone was completely freaked out and started praying and chanting the hanuman chalisa, which is a Hindu devotional hymn for protection. One friend had holy ashes in his wallet and started wiping ashes on our foreheads to ward off the demons. I went to grab a hot coal covered stick from the fire and stood guard over the shaking, huddled masses.
Eventually we all moved into a different tent, and sat together, praying for the ghost to leave us. As we had left the fire unattended and we were camping in a wild area (not a campground) that happened to be full of dry plants, I kept an eye on the fire as I was worried that the wind that blew that evening would cause a wildfire. As I was looking at the fire through the side of the tent, I saw it flare up to a large height, and began to worry seriously. As I was about to unzip the tent, I saw a large, human sized shadow walk between the fire and the side of the tent, and I honestly have never been, and probably will never be, so scared in my entire life! I froze. I told everyone to hush and to be quiet. I didn’t know what to do. I knew whatever it was out there was massive and strong and larger than any man in the group of men I was with and obviously much stronger than me.
After the fire died down and the crunch of the footsteps disappeared, one of the group decided to try to call from his cell for help. Now mind you, this area is very remote. We are talking no cell service, no roads near by, no houses for many miles, no electricity, nothing. I thought our best bet was a nearby Indian army base, and I hoped they would see the fire and maybe stop by in a couple of hours. But one of my friends was able to get weak cell coverage and was scouring his phone for the phone number of the outfitting company whom lent us the tents and dropped us off where we were camping. No one else knew where we were, and since we were totally unprepared, we had no idea where we were either and it would have been impossible for any of us to describe where we were, as we had driven many miles off any conceivable road to reach the spot where we had pitched our tents (which was also surrounded on 3 sides by a small river).
Mysteriously, the number for the outfitter was erased from his outgoing call list, which was noticeable as it was the last number he had dialed before the driver left. The driver had on purpose had him dial his number “in case of emergencies” so it would have most definitely been the last dialed number in the outgoing call list. But it was gone. He started to really get freaked out that whatever had attacked our handyman was not human but an evil spirit, and as this happened, again the handyman fainted and was out cold.
Luckily, after about 30 minutes of being in the cold tent, in the dark, scared shitless, the phone magically coughed up the number and he was able to get enough cell reception to call the driver, who came an hour or so later to pick us up. You have never seen a group of men run so fast to a truck in your entire life! We left everything behind, all the tents and gear and waded across a freezing stream to rush the van as it came for us in the night. The headlights approaching were a sight for sore eyes, let me tell you! We were also successfully able to carry our passed out handyman with us, and he was revived later on that evening at the hotel. Everyone was so scared, we all slept in one room, 5 people per bed, everyone shaking in fear and unable to even untie our wet, cold shoes.
The next day, no one wanted to return to gather the gear but as we had rented it, we had to return it. I went back to the site, along with one other guy, and as we were picking up the gear and undoing the tents, I saw MASSIVE barefoot prints all along the ashes of the fire and around the fire pit we had made (well I had made, my friends had never camped before in their lives, and probably will never camp again after this experience, lol). It was the most bizarre shit I’ve ever seen–these foot prints were the size of 2 bricks in length and maybe 1 brick in width. It freaked me out a lot, and I hurried and packed everything up and that afternoon we hit the road back to Srinagar, stopping along the way at one of the most insane dhaba/rest houses I’ve ever stayed at in my life.
But that’s another story for another day….
To Listen: Excellent road trip songs!
- “Party All Night” by Yo Yo Honey Singh, from the movie “Boss”
- “Banjaara” from the movie “Ek Tha Tiger”
- “Mein Sharabi” by Imran Aziz Mian and Yo Yo Honey Singh, from the movie “Cocktail”
- “Aaj Mera Jee Kardaa” by Sukhvinder Singh, from the movie “Monsoon Wedding”