Tag Archives: biking to leh

Loops of the haunted!


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Its is one of the India’s most popular ghost stories. I wouldn’t say that this story originates at most unlikely of the places, as it is one of the most wilderness of places you will come across. It can unnerve you and mesmerise you, both at the same time. But I will certainly say that I am interested in ghost stories only for sake of reading thrill, not at the point of believing them.

Those who have travelled to Leh from Manali by road will have certainly passed through Gata Loops and would have heard story about it. Now a days those who ride or drive on this road, do good research before hand and hence have a fairly good idea of the place. On Manali-Leh road, after you cross Sarchu, 24 kilometres later you come across a series of hairpin bends or loops popularly called as Gata Loops. These loops take you to a climb of almost 2000 ft upto Nakeela pass.

Also read: Lonely at mighty Baralacha La pass

Actually Gata Loops are to Manali-Leh road what Ka zigs are to Shimla-Kaza road. Both are nothing short of engineering marvels. Ka zigs raise from level of Spiti river to Nako through various hairpin bends. Similarly Gata Loops start at 4201 metres or 13,780 feet and 21 loops take you to altitude of 15,302 feet. Both these roads have been created out of nowhere to get human access via road to most improbable of places.

But these loops are also part of India’s most popular haunted stories. Those who have been to this place might be well aware of the hearsay. I am just briefing it for the sake of those, who haven’t heard about it.

Also read: Himalayan Rides- Chandratal to Keylong

This story is about a truck cleaner who died here a lonely death when the truck broke down in increment weather and the driver walked to nearby village to get some help. Cleaner waited at truck to guard the belongings. But it was late October (as per stories) and no vehicles were passing through as behind that truck the Rohtang Pass  (which provides vehicular accessories to Lahaul & Spiti valleys) was already closed down. Moreover snowfall had blocked all approach roads. Driver got stuck in the village for days. Hence the cleaner was left to fend for himself without an help, food or water which resulted in his demise. Stories say about his ghost still wondering around loops and begging for water to all passerby. Locals have constructed a makeshift temple where lies a human skull and believing the story people leave water bottles at the place.

But as always happens with the ghost stories, there are many versions and another version says about a tanker finding it difficult to climb the loop and driver asked its cleaner to get down and put some stones behind the wheels so as to stop it from rolling behind. But accidentally cleaner came under the wheels and seeing this driver ran away with the vehicle, leaving the cleaner behind left to die.

Nobody knows when these so-called incidents took place. Nowhere I have even read the name of that so-called village where driver went to get the help. There are no accounts to corroborate and it is surprising as by any means story would have been just a couple of decades old. Irony is, now there are hundreds of plastic water bottles scattered at that serene place.

I went biking almost end of the season on this route. I was pretty alone in the sense that I was biking solo and that particular time that stretch was devoid of any other vehicles. I captures whole climb of Gata Loops on video. But I was not able to see or capture anybody or any abnormal activity. Though interesting, it was hard for me to believe that story! I will tell you another thing, while returning back from Leh to Manali I crossed this particular stretch alone in pitch dark as I had decided to take the night halt at Sarchu instead of Pang. But still there was no ghost on the way.

Beautiful landscape around

Well, such stories might keep your travel interesting. But even without this story this particular stretch of road is quite fascinating for the views it gives while climbing up. I will say, it is actually a photographer’s delight to be here. You can just stop at every bend and keep clicking. Its amazing how the landscape changes as you climb, down from the river bed.

Reaching the top

As with every part of this route, it is quite different in different seasons. End of the season in late September or early October would be without any snow but different colours.

Gata Loops actually takes you to a different topography, once you are through, towards what Ladakh is actually famous for.

You can just forget all the ghosts and wonder at this nature’s marvellous creation.

What you see across is actually a view point

You can see a view point in the image above. It also works as a resting point for travellers after all the effort taken to climb the Gata Loops and enjoy some beauty, which they would have missed in all labour to climb up.

Interested in ghost stories? Read: Haunted Fort of Bhangarh- Nothing Spooky about it!

You can see the video of my Gata Loops ride on my channel by clicking on the link below-


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Milestones to Ladakh : Manali to Gramphoo

Although the number of bikers to Ladakh is constantly increasing every year, but even then biking to this terrain is no mean business. It is physically challenging and psychologically draining. The human & the machine, both need to be best of fitness. This journey can be divided in different parts. Although few bikers would try to do it the other way by taking off from Srinagar to Leh and then returning from Manali side, but still Manali-Leh is the most favoured route; and, there are various reason for this to be.

First part of the journey is from Manali to uphill Rohtang La and to downhill Gramphoo on the other side. Rohtang La at 13050 feet is the first mountain pass en route Leh.

It is a scenic journey throughout

Between Manali and Marhi, you may find some little waterfalls emerging out of melting snow and many tourists enjoying them, but bikers rarely get interested in them.

You will find many shops on the way renting out woollens, jackets, gloves and shoes to tourists going to Rohtang and wishing to play some games on snow. Though there is nothing for bikers in it, but it might still remind few of us to check, whether they have rain covers to protect from intermittent rains and shoes to steer them through some running streams on roads.

Shops renting woollens and gloves

Soon you reach to intersection which dissects road to two directions, one to Rohtang (towards the right in the image below) and another to Solang (one going straight in image below).

Solang valley intersection

Thereafter starts the steady climb. Its gradual till the top and enjoyable.

Rohtang is a favourite excursion for all tourists coming to Manali. This has often resulted in an unabated mess at the pass. With things going out of control, NGT (National Green Tribunal) has stepped in. It has made some strict regulations, permits are necessary and green tax has been imposed.

Vehicles lined up to get permits at Gulaba NGT check post

Check post is at Gulaba, which is roughly 24 kms from Manali. After this point, you can’t move ahead to Rohtang without a permit. But for bikers, permits are not issued here, it has to be obtained from Manali itself. Permit is issued for a fees of Rs 100 and you need a photo id card, PUCC for your vehicle, vehicle registration papers and valid driving license. Permits are separate for Lahaul valley (towards Leh) and Spiti valley (towards Kunjum and Kaza). Route has to be mentioned in application form. Permit for four wheelers can be obtained either from Manali or from Gulaba check post. Bikers going to Leh should be very careful about obtaining the permit, other wise one can loose precious time, energy and petrol, as I accidentally did. I missed the permit, was not allowed to go past Gulaba, had to go back to Manali to get permit. I lost almost four hours in the process and as a result could not reach my planned destination of the day.

Check post at Gulaba

From Gulaba we move towards Marhi. Manali-Rohtang is a scenic route of 52 kms and roads are perfect atleast till Marhi.

Just before Marhi

Marhi is an ideal point to have seem break before serious climb to Rohtang starts. You can even see the top from here. There are number of food joints here and lot of things to kill your time. People wary of cold, weather and thin air at Rohtang, like to spend more time in Marhi.

Marhi

After that roads start to deteriorate as we approach close to pass. AT many places, road is also being widened. Lot of construction activity makes riding challenging. Lets see what happens when the roads open this year.

Widening of road

Stretch from Marhi to Rohtang is also known for its traffic jams, prompting authorities to regulate movement of traffic. Narrow roads, high cliffs, bigger vehicles, potholes, streams, all these some times compound the chaos and for bikers it is a challenge to go past this mess.

Traffic chaos close to Rohatnag

It feels quite satisfying once we reach the Rohtang top, as it is first of the great passes on way to Leh.

Rohtang top

Its quite an atmosphere here with people all around, having fun.

Tourist vehicles at Rohtang top

Way to Rohtang is just prelude to the actual tough journey ahead. But it is still a major milestone.

Even army personnel like to pose here

After Rohtang only the locals going ahead or the adventures move ahead. Picnickers normally return from here.

Downhill ahead of Rohtang

Gramphoo is 15 kms downhill from Rohtang top.  Road from Rohtang top till 4-5 kms was good in condition but next ten odd kilometres to Gramphoo were terrible last year (2016) due to widening of road and large scale repair work.

Tough roads

One also needs to understand that road conditions on these two stretches is lot dependent on weather as well as month of travel. Early in the season (June) roads will be worse than what one will find towards the end (September-October). Month of travel will also decide the amount of snow and running water (nallahs) one might find on roads. Thats the reason, September end is considered to be one of the safest time to ride or drive on these roads.

Gramphoo

Gramphoo is the place where roads to Lahaul valley and Spiti valley bifurcate. Those going to Leh continue to move straight towards Keylong. And those going to either Kunjum Pass and Kaza or towards Chandratal lake take right turn at Gramphoo along the Chandra River. My final destination was Leh, but I also wanted to cover Chandratal lake, hence I took the road to Spiti valley.

Want to see a video of the route. Please click to the link below-

Changing colours of autumn… to be!

In India we miss colours of fall (autumn) as they are in many other parts of the world. Only place in India to come close to the beautiful golden colours of fall is Kashmir. Kashmir is indeed spectacular during fall. Fall colours are always amazing and to me they are as beautiful as colours of spring.

Autumn1

So, while on my solo biking trip to Ladakh this month I was looking everywhere for the changing colours as I was fully aware that autumn was just round the corner. And the difference in colours was very stark from Delhi to Leh. See for yourself:

These are the lush green fields of our Haryana, no signs of autumn-

Autumn2

The scene was quite unlikely to change until this side os the Rohtang Pass. But after crossing Gramphoo and moving towards Spiti, some wild flowers brought the joy-

Autumn3

But then, shortly after Gramphoo till Chandratal, the terrain is almost barren.

(You can read my post on Chandratal by clicking here)

It was life on hills to see, only when we reach back towards Lahaul and move towards Tandi and further to Keylong. Keylong, though still had some touch of green and colour. But with snow falling on surrounding hilltops, autumn might not be too far-

Autumn4

But the green was gone, once I entered deep into Lahaul valley. Just after the Gata loops, I could see this touch of golden yellow on bushes-

Autumn5

But it is quite different once you enter the Ladakh region. Even in Ladakh, the areas adjacent to Indus or Shoyok rivers are quite different from the ones away from them. But roads near Leh, started to give a glimpse of autumn, like this…

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…and this-

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This is a view from Thiksey monastery of surroundings-

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Even this image from top of a hill of the tents pitched for the Naropa 2016, near Hemis monastery gives a shot of some golden bushes in green surroundings. Its changing, isn’t it!

Autumn9

Once you cross Khardungla and move towards the Nubra valley, you are in store for some more surprises. Texture gets further different from here. Its a long valley sandwiched between two mountain ranges-

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Karakoram sanctuary near Diskit and Hunder has another round of flowers-

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But its the sunset at Hunder which gives the hue of autumn-

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In almost two weeks, the signs of autumn are surely making there mark in the Lahaul valley. The hills around Tandi and Keylong too have started to covert to golden hues. I actually missed some better shots than the one below to my folly and anxiety to escape imminent rains-

Autumn14

Back to the normal lands in hills overlooking Una, life was still green and a bit to early to call autumn here. Leaves would have turned yellow in Kashmir… to welcome the Harud.

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