I go by bus. The longer, the better. Put me on a bus and send me down a dusty road that has never seen pavement. Give me poor suspension, grandmother’s with chickens, and a waning headache. Send me in a rainstorm down a descending dirt stream, send me in the hot season with a window seat in the sun. Make me choose between the hot musk of sour body odor that makes my stomach turn or the sandy air that coats my lungs and makes me heave and hack at my feet. And still I will go.
The Leh-Manali Highway spans 298 miles with an average altitude of 13,000 feet, with the highest pass at 17,480 feet. The term highway is used loosely as most of the journey is a single dirt-gravel lane that that passengers in both directions must share. The road is only open four months out of the year, the rest of the time being impassable due to the heavy snows from September to April.
The journey is long and painful. Altitude sickness in one form or another is imminent, especially on the second half of the highway after you enter the state of Jammu and Kashmir. But your pain takes a back seat. You can’t stop looking out there, out into that place that you are too.
*All photos were taken by Dara Denney on the Leh-Manali Highway.