A password will be e-mailed to you.

We were winding up one of six major mountain passes that we had to cross that day driving on the Leh-Manali highway — a 479km stretch of dirt track that traverses the Indian Himalayas into Ladakh when we got stuck in the world’s highest traffic jam. We were blocked by an avalanche of snow that had just fallen and covered a section of the road.

Leh Manali Highway

Screenshot, YouTube, Julin T

With a trail of fifty trucks snaking down the track behind us and growing larger with every passing hour there was no chance of turning back. The only way was forward. The road had to be cleared and it needed to be done before it started getting dark and the temperature plummeted, leaving us and hundreds of others stranded high up on an exposed ridge.

With a trail of fifty trucks snaking down the track behind us and growing larger with every passing hour there was no chance of turning back. The only way was forward. The road had to be cleared and it needed to be done before it started getting dark and the temperature plummeted, leaving us and hundreds of others stranded high up on an exposed ridge.

A digger that had been drafted in some hours before arrived on the scene and started shifting tons of snow off the road. A group of men smashed down on the ground with pickaxes and shovels to break up the large chunks of ice that had now formed. Truckers on week-long journeys delivering supplies into this remote region — one of only two roads into an area the size of England — sat patiently in the thin air and burning sun on the crest of a 17,000ft pass.

dangerous roads

Although not from my actual trip, this gives you an idea of what the road looks like.

The view was stunning; blankets of snow could be seen in all directions. A frozen emerald lake stretched across the valley before us. The air was so thin that just a few steps up a snowy embankment required several pauses and sustained heavy breathing. The sun was intense, bouncing off the snow and hitting us at every angle. It was difficult to keep your eyes open for long periods without feeling dizzy and dis-orientated.

After four hours the road was cleared, we crossed the ridge and began our long descent into the valley. The sun disappeared over the horizon, the temperature dropped and towering peaks high above us faded into obscurity. Unbeknown to us the underside of our fuel tank had been pierced by a rock and we were losing diesel. The engine stopped and we coasted down the rest of the way.

Unbeknown to us the underside of our fuel tank had been pierced by a rock and we were losing diesel. The engine stopped and we coasted down the rest of the way. For the next six hours, we hoped the headlights and the brakes wouldn’t fail us. Eventually, we reached the very bottom of the valley where we camped in cold canvas tents under damp duvets, shattered but relieved to sleep from the day’s twenty-two-hour drive.

In the morning I awoke, shivering with drops of dew dripping off my nose. I ran out of the tent and toward the first ray of daylight. During the morning Stanzin, the driver of our van had precariously drilled a hole straight through the floor just behind the driver’s seat and diverted the fuel pump into a jerry can. After some hot noodle soup, we jumped into our battered van and looked tentatively at the newly converted half-exposed fuel-tank. We wondered whether it would take us the rest of the way. Without pause, Stanzin turned to us with a grin and bellowed ‘NO SMOKING’ as we roared off at break-neck speed.

Adventurers wanted

Live & travel off the beaten path with our email newsletter. Weekly travel tips, cool things to see, and more. No spam, ever.