Darcha to Patseo (About 15 km)
Deepak Tal is a man-made lake at Patseo. It is the most beautiful ‘one-slide-summary‘ I’d ever witnessed. If you are a trigger happy photographer, your day is made. Any angle, any side guarantees a perfect picture.
From Patseo, suddenly the terrain changed its characteristics. It turned to the dry arid Ladakh styled look with a blink of an eye. It was majestic. Barren land all around and leading to tall snow capped peaks in the backdrop.
Patseo to Baralach La (About 15 Km)
On your way to the mighty pass we crossed Zingzingbar. Zingzingbar is the base camp of Baralach La, most famous for the painted peace signs on rocks that some creative souls have left behind. It also has a local eating joint Peace Café.
The loos here are basically ‘find a big rock and hide behind them. Ok! That was the last of my bathroom stories. I promise !!
Mountains continue to grow taller and more arid as the road progresses north towards Baralach La. We had heard some horror stories the previous night from travellers crossing the pass,of the snow having melted and weather being really bad, due to which vehicles got stuck and so on.
But little did we know that this part of the journey, that we feared the most, would turn out to be a box of chocolates. A really pleasurable ride with sunny weather, good roads tunneled between 10-12 feet of snow. One of my favourite parts of the journey.
Suraj Tal, another lake at Baralacha is bigger than we had recently crossed. It stands against a backdrop of views of snowy peaks. The road runs along Bhaga River all the way to the pass where it emerges from the middle of rocks as a small stream. To the other side of these rocks is Suraj Tal, probably connected to the stream through an underground channel. When we crossed it, it was completely frozen. I was told that in the later part of the year, camping agency operate camps & tents at Surajtal. There is also a trekking expedition via this route.
Baralach La to Sarchu (About 40 Km)
After driving on the fourth highest motorable road in the world – Baralach La, we were on our way to Sarchu. By now the vegetation had thinned considerably from the first day. The mountainsides had no green covers and were primarily nude rocks which made the erosion carvings look spectacular.
Sarchu is a tented camp in on the boundary between Himachal Pradesh and Ladakh. Situated between Baralach La to the south and Lachulung La to the north, it’s a comparatively low-lying area at an altitude of 4,290 m. We needed to register at the check post in Sarchu before proceeding further, so made a mandatory stop here.
Sarchu has some Army lodging, one can see barracks and even a Medical Room, but other than that you can just find tents and make shift arrangements. Although, I did notice, that the only other permanent brick structure here was the liquor shop and as you’ll see all along the trip, ‘Godfather’ ruled the advertising word.
We had lunch in a tent owned and run by two ladakhi women. The warm dal chawal and Maggi were our saviors by now. Actually just hot water would taste heavenly in the windy cold weather outside. After lunch we were on our way to the loops.
Sarchu to Gatta Loops (About 10 Km)
The other side of the canyon from Sarchu was the base of the Gatta loops. The mountain surface were now in all hues of brown – chocolate brown, muddy brown, reddish brown. There were so many shades of brown that dominated the landscape, you’d think you are looking at an artist pallet as they mix and match to create a new shade of brown.
The Gatta Loops are a series of 21 consecutive switchback climbs; they are actually really sharp bends, one loop leading to another; through which one gains 1800 feet in 7 km or so. I had read a lot about this seeming to be a never ending feature, and I knew now why it was bestowed with a legendary status. Gatta Loops was an amazing sight from top; the 21 hairpin bends look like some mischievous boys drew a race track for their toy cars.
When biking to Leh it is advisable to travel at a slow pace to allow acclimatization but most importantly to enjoy the stunning locations. Where in the world can you cross a river, snow capped mountains, dry arid land, windy canyons, kids maze and still have half of the journey left for the day??
Two more passes to cross and it was mid afternoon already !
(c) Photographs by Sharninder Khera and Nitin Joshi