Day 3 Part 3: ‘Ghatta Loops to Pang’

Ghatta Loops to Nakeela Pass & Whiskey Nullah (About 17 Km)

The road conditions worsened quickly. Tarmac was now being replaced by bumpy roads and soon we were left with loose gravel, stone chips, mud, slush and a lot of running streams. This was one of the worst mountain roads I had seen till now, and it was to continue all the way till Pang.

The Nakeela pass after Ghata Loops was actually a pretty soft pass, though it is just little shorter (15547 ft) than BaralachLa (16500 ft), unlike others it’s easy to just miss it. It’s one of those things that just creep up on you. That’s where the legend of Nakee La being dangerous both in terms of AMS and road accidents comes from.

Basically, riders in just about an hour have climbed about 2000 feet, the air is getting thinner and no one has realized the slight headache yet. Plus by now everyone is tired. The thought of still having to cross another pass is looming in the head. Apart from the human body suffering from symptoms of AMS, the motorcycle will also under-perform in such conditions. A ‘critical battery’ popup would be very appropriate here!

One of our group rider encountered the classic symptoms of AMS, usually accompanied by headache, nausea, dizziness and vomiting.  We realized this when we reached a makeshift tent at Whiskey Nullah. We met a couple of other groups there, and almost all of them had one or two people suffering from AMS.  On my husband’s last trip too they had riders from the group needing oxygen.  The best way to avoid AMS is to drink plenty of water. The oxygen levels are low and H2O is 1/3 part oxygen, this is exactly what I was told at the Medical Aid room in Pang. (More about that on Day 4).

The tent owner gave us some hot lemon tea and made all of us have some glucose biscuits. We rested for a while till our friend felt a little better, but we were not sure if he was well enough to ride.  It was getting dark and we had to make some decisions – stay the night in the tent or move on. There was just one thought in our minds. Pang was just 30 km and medical aid was easier to get there. It was about mind over matter. We decided – we must reach Pang.

Although we had gathered courage and motivated each other as much as possible, things were not going to be easy. We had to deal with innumerable streams running with freezing cold water from the melting snow. The second halves of the day have the maximum streams flowing untamed on the road. The wind was howling and the temperature was reaching icy cold levels.

 

Whiskey Nullah to Pang (About 30 Km)

We crossed the Lachungla pass a tad bit higher (16616 ft) than BaralachLa within half an hour of starting from Whisky Nullah. The roads, or what was left of them were of no help and at our top speed of 30 km/h we were making slow progress.

As if things were not bad enough we encountered the deadliest water crossing yet. What makes a water crossing dangerous is not the length or the depth as much as the speed of the water. This was a raging river and deep. There was an abandoned truck on one side and a narrow gap for us to ride, naturally!

Can you hear the horror movie soundtrack yet? Listen intently to the gushing stream sound effects, howling winds and 4 bikers looking to the left and right? Now what??

Well, nothing much. The pillions took of their shoes, rolled up their jeans and walked across the icy cold water. Took out the cameras and put it on video mode. The bikers took a deep breath and maneuvered the bikes to the best of their abilities across the ragging river. We all made it.

We got to know the next morning that a lot of other bikers got stuck there at night and the Army guys at Pang had to send reinforcements to help them out. The Army, BRO and other defence forces of our country are just AWESOME. I don’t think I say it often enough.

Apart from the excitement of all the water crossings, working under time constraints and a headache from AMS, the ride is ‘Pure Bliss‘. The landscapes en route to Pang are breathtaking. It’s like you have landed on the moon or on the sets of Chronicles of Narnia /LOTR.

 

We saw some frozen waterfalls, amazing wind eroded Bagha Canyon walls and lots of dry arid features, tunnels and some things I can’t describe.

We finally reached the Army Transit camp at Pang, our destination for the day. A visit to the medical facility for a dose of pure oxygen, then dinner and off to bed. We could hardly move and the men in the Army unit were playing cricket. We didn’t even have the energy to think – HOW?

We had completed half of our six day vacation and in a couple of hours we would be starting the journey towards the highest motorable pass in the world.

 

(c) Photographs by Sharninder Khera and Nitin Joshi

Day 3 Part 2: ‘Deepak Tal to Pang’

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