The road to Leh is re-opened and we take an empty minibus on the 17-hour journey across the Himalaya to Ladakh. We set off at 2am and cross the first high pass in the dark. The road is a crumbling mess and it's impossible to doze. We rattle past the ghosts of Tata trucks parked up along the roadside and chase jeeps taking the same route. After a couple of 'tea and pee' stops we start the climb to the second pass at 4950 metres. We are soon zig-zagging up a road walled with fresh snow. The sun has risen and the surrounding whiteness is dazzling. Descending the other side, the landscape has become barren mountain scenery - a wild desolate place with snowy peaks, shallow winding rivers and endless shades of brown. There are roadwork teams of southern Indians labouring to improve the worn-out road - members of the Border Roads Organisation. Their road safety signs keep us entertained:
after drinking whisky driving is risky
driving faster causes disaster
More hairpin bends as we ascend to 5060 metres before leaving the tarmac and crossing a sandy plateau. There are occasional herds of sheep and the tents of nomads but it's imossible to imagine how either survive in this high-altitude wilderness. We bounce and buck over a fractured road and crawl up to the final pass at 5300 metres just as the sun is starting to dip. In twilight we wind down into a gorge of vivid red rock before finally emerging into the Indus valley. The road follows the river to Leh and we are entreated by further signs:
it isn't a rally enjoy the valley
safety on the road means safe tea at home
Our driver drops us off, looking none the worse for wear after a gruelling drive and we are welcomed with a hot flask of safe tea at our guesthouse.