This is more of a vlog post. For the ordinary, the road from Manali to Rohtang Pass is quite thrilling, but for all those who seek the heights it is just a prelude of things to come. After all, at an altitude of 13,050 feet, it is quite less (more than 4500 ft) than what one achieves in this jaw-dropping journey from Manali to Leh.
Rohtang is more fun, a sort of picnic spot. But it gives a fair idea of what to expect next while moving to greater heights.
One of the most dangerous but still one of the most beautiful road journeys on the planet takes you through five high altitude mountain passes- Rohtang La (13,050 ft), Baralacha La (16,040 ft), NakeeLa (15,547 ft), Lachung La (16,616 ft) and the highest one of the route Tanglang La (17,582 ft).
Its a challenging but thoroughly entertaining route of around 450 kms undertaken on my favourite Royal Enfield Thunderbird, which you will be able to see at all the passes. Inspiring! Is it!!
I consider the stretch from Bharatpur to Pang to be the most eventful in the entire route from Manali to Leh. Eventful in the sense that it has got most fantastic variations in the landscape than any other stretch. Although Pang to Leh is also again a wonderful stretch but it is more of a leisure part and has less the challenges that Bharatpur-Pang stretch has to offer. That is precisely the reason that although I covered entire stretch from Bharatpur to Leh in a single day, but while writing about it, I have divided into two parts. That was only way to do some justice to it, as one single part would have been either too long or I would have to sacrifice some details.
Bharatpur was an unscheduled halt for me because of the landslide an evening before. But it was always worth as is every inch of this mesmerising terrain.
Way from Bharatpur to Pang was to take me through same spot which was buried under huge landmass the last night. Just three kilometres ahead of that spot was Killing Sarai. One of the more fascinating things of this route is the nomenclature os the places on the way and as I had said earlier, perhaps army or BRO has big role in naming them. Killing Sarai actually has a BRO depot.
After Killing Sarai comes the Sarchu. After Keylong Sarchu and Pang are the biggest transit camps on the way upto Upshi. Road upto Sarchu from Bharatpur is very testing.
But the early morning drive is very magical. You get to see the colours of nature like never before. You see, how the valley transforms, once it gets soaked in sunlight. First ray of light brings life to the region, life worth a gold literally.
Sarchu gets lively on the sunrise and before reaching you get the feeling that you are close to an army transit camp.
Sarchu is popular not just among campers but also among the truckers. You can find here many dhabas offering food as well as bed. Although some old-timers had said to me that Pang is better place for a halt than Sarchu. Although Pang is higher in altitude, but Sarchu is more windy. I was to experience that on my way back.
Sarchu has a small army transit camp. I had come to know that this camp has a satellite phone and one can make calls from there by paying call charges. Fortunately I had been able to make calls every day on this route, it was quite a change from earlier times. I had earlier used BRO satellite phone at Batal as well. I didn’t stop at Sarchu but headed directly to the transit camp to make the call. After that, I moved ahead towards Gata Loops.
After crossing the Sarchu camps, road goes along the river and one has to cross the river and then travel opposite on the other side of the river to move ahead.
Brandy Nallah is at the base of the Gata Loops. Don’t get confused by the photo above as it is perhaps wrongly written by BRO on this board. I don’t know, how they changed the ‘drinks’! BRO perhaps can. I am still not able to comprehend the idea behind these fancy names. Brandy nallah has now got a new bridge, thus robing the adventure of traversing through flowing stream.
Once you cross the Gata Loops, the climb doesn’t stop and actually we have to climb further for almost 10 kms upto the Nakeela Pass at an altitude of 15547 feet. This is the third pass after Rohtang La and Baralacha La en route from Manali to Leh. And these passes are constantly gaining height.
Nakeela and Lachung La are two passes overlooking each other and there is a big valley in between. So after crossing Nakeela we go downhill upto the Whisky Nallah and then climb again upto the Lachung La. Whisky nallah is still very tricky to cross especially in the early part of the season and upto late August. It can be troublesome during rains. But the place is yet tempting enough to have a camp or a restaurant or two.
At an altitude of 16616 feet Lachung La is fairly imposing but ride from Brandy Nallah to Nakeela and then Whisky La and Lachung La is quite decent. But things don’t remain always the same and hence the road changes dramatically after Lachung La.
Road obviously has all imprints of an BRO road including many small memorials for servicemen who lost their lives on this treacherous road either during any operation or while construction of roads. Road conditions might deteriorate but the beauty increases.
Pang is further 1400 feet downhill from Lachung La and hardly 14 kms but even this small stretch has lot to offer and Kangla Jal is indeed top of it. Like Brandy Nallah and Whisky Nallah, Kangla Jal has also go a fancy name with unknown history. But this too is one of the most challenging spots. I have seen images and videos of riders and drivers trying to negotiate the knee-deep waters of Kangla Jal in full flow. This also has got a new bridge now to make the ride smoother.
This place makes a beautiful view on both sides- climb leading upto LachungLa on one side and slope leading upto the Pang on other.
View on other side of Kangla Jal is literally amazing… jaw dropping literally. You can feel amazed about the landscape as well as the engineering marvel of constructing roads and bridges here as in the image above.
View keeps unfolding as you keep moving down towards Pang. Like the one above or like below…
As soon as we end this slope, we cross the bridge and enter the wide valley which houses Pang village.
Pang is another favourite camping site and a transit camp.
Lot of construction is going on at Pang to construct new hotels and Dhabas. Few of them have been there for years like the one where I had my lunch..
At over 15,200 feet Pang is also said to be one of the highest army transit camps in the world.
Valley broadens at Pang. Lower part houses the campsites, restaurants and dhabas while higher one houses the army transit camps. Again, the camp here has the facility of satellite phone, which can be used by adventurers to make emergency calls on payment of call charges, the are usually very nominal.
Pang is a must stop for all readers and drivers for a small break. And as I said earlier, it is also nice place for overnight stay.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It’s September. Seemingly best month to travel to Leh through this treacherous Manali-Leh highway. Best because of weather and the road conditions. Snow has melted around. But roadsides without snow also snatches away some of the thrills of this route, that one can experience in the months of June and July. But reaching here is never a mean task, more so if you have decided to travel all alone.
So, here I am at mighty Baralacha La pass, all alone. How it feels to be here standing lonely with not a living being in sight at an altitude more than half of the Mount Everest, with just your faithful bike to company!
Journey so far has been fascinating to say the least. At every step you keep feeling that how you have been longing to be here, inevitably. I already had a share of adventure on my detour to Chandratal.
Once you cross Keylong town, there is another small village Jispa on the way 20 kms from Keylong. Jispa is actually the last inhabited place before you reach Ladakh on this route. Though there are a few camping settlements and couple of transit camps also on the way. Jispa has also been traditionally popular among campers for first halt after Manali. Adventurers will prefer it over Keylong as Jispa is located along the banks of Bhaga river and is obviously more scenic than Keylong. Jispa also gives a high altitude acclimatisation as it is at an altitude of over 10,800 ft. As one of our fellow writers Ajay Jain from kunzum.com says that Jispa is more of a destination than just a halt on Manali-Leh highway. It Indeed is. You move ahead after crossing Darcha and reach Patsio. Darcha is more of a police check post where every vehicle has to make a entry before moving further ahead.
Patsio is also fast emerging as a camping destination. It is higher at 12,300 ft and there is a small glacial lake named Deepak Tal.
Between Darcha and Patsio are few running streams which have to be crossed. One of them just before Patsio is particularly tricky one to negotiate as the flow of water is forceful and it doesn’t lets you judge the stones and pebbles correctly. So, though it is not deep, but crossing this on stones makes it tricky and as happened with me, I got struck in the middle of the stream. It took me a lot of effort to pull my bike out, and that particular moment I thought… is it foolish to be all alone here!
Further ahead, the next zing of the route is truly Zing Zing Bar. Another of pit stops. Benefit of going in September is also that, you get less number of streams to cross, otherwise Zing zing bar is famous for one of its ferocious nullahs. It is a refuelling depot for BRO vehicles, but also has some shacks, restaurants and a few camps. The name of the place is still a puzzle form me. But mind it, that many places enroute have been named by the army troops in all these years.
And then you reach Suraj Tal, just below the Baralacha La. Suraj Tal is quite below the road and it is not easy to reach there. You need time as you have to trek down upto the lake and then come again to continue with the journey. Not feasible for all those who are on thorough trip to next stop over. But those who stay at either Patsio or Zingzing Bar can afford to go upto Suraj Tal. For some strange reason army has renamed the Suraj Tal as Vishal Taal in memory of an young officer who died in this region.
You can also watch a video of Baralacha La, Suraj Tal and Deepak Tal on my channel on YouTube by clicking the link below-
From Baralacha La the road goes down to a small settlement named Bharatpur. Roads and the weather are so unpredictable here that you never know, what happens next. What certainly is predictable is the beauty of landscape around. As we see in the images below.
Not everything goes as per the plan though. When I had left in the morning from Keylong, target was to reach Sarchu and if possible Pang. As happened with me when all of sudden after Bharatpur and just before Killing Sarai, I encountered a mighty landslide which forced an unscheduled night stopover at Bharatpur. A shack owner coming from the spot stopped me on the way and informed me about the incident. He also offered to come back and stay in his restaurant for the night. I still thought to see for myself and kept moving till the spot which was further one kilometre. Finally I could see it myself. That happened just a short while ago and workers already working on the road were miraculously saved. One of the JCB machine was buried under the rocks. I spent some time talking to the workers and photographing. I was told that there was no chance of clearing of the traffic before night. Bigger JCB machines were yet to arrive from Killing Sarai on the other side.
Turning back from the landslide, I reached back to the four shacks lined up side by side along the road. All of them were almost designed in similar fashion. Beds lined up on both sides in the front portion and then kitchen and store on the back. Makeshift pit toilets were on the back of the shack. River was further 50 metres behind.
Early close to the day gave me some time to roam around, enjoy the beauty, take photographs and also time to read, write and interact. As, soon the number of stranded vehicles had increased. It seemed that all the beds in all four shacks had already been booked up. That tiny camp site has been brought to life because of that landslide.
You can also see the video of this journey from Keylong to Bharatpur on my channel by clicking the link below-
Having completed the Chandratal mission, I had to be back to Leh route. So, it had to be the same route back till Gramphoo. But in place like Himalayas, riding on a same route gives you different feeling every time. Chandratal indeed was an accomplishment, a sort of dream coming true. But still, Leh was my destiny.
Gramphoo to Keylong is a straight forward route. But owing to widening or repair of roads, it has gone tough at many places, sort of dangerous at times.
There are numerous landslide zones on the whole route and, at many places either roads are being widening or repaired to prevent landslides. This is a vicious circle, as widening causes further adverse impact on hills and the ecosystem. Well, for riders and drivers, they are immediate challenge as well.
Clouds were chasing me as soon as I had left Batal. They finally caught me up by the time I reached Khoksar. But since my final destination for the day, Keylong was not far away, hence instead of driving in rains, I decided to take a tea and maggi break.
Roads are largely good after Khoksar till Keylong, except for some rough patches.
Before Keylong there are two another beautiful stopovers- one at Sissu which is now soon to get a water park close to Chandra River on the roadside.
And then there is Tandi, which is actually confluence of Chandra and Bhaga rivers which convert into Chandrabhaga or Chenab river and flow towards Kashmir. Tandi is 7 kilometres before Keylong and is also the last filling station before Leh. That’s the place where all vehicles will fill their tanks to reach Leh securely.
But overall an enjoyable ride, nevertheless. So lets go on this virtual ride to Keylong enroute Leh. You can watch the video of this ride from Chandratal to Keylong on my YouTube channel by clicking on the link below-
Chandratal to Gramphoo: 65 kms, Time taken 4 hours 40 minutes.
Gramphoo to Khoksar: 5 Kms
Khoksar ro Keylong: 47 kms, Time taken just about 2 hours.
Total distance covered: 117 kms.
We will now move to more challenging and more beautiful ride ahead. Keep tuned in!!
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We are on a virtual ride to Lahaul & Spiti valley. Every rider or driver or adventurer enthusiast going to Leh or Kaza is very much keen to know about the road conditions on these arguably two of the most fascinating road journeys in the world.
Its a journey, everybody would like to embark upon. So, here is a first hand experience of the trip, which I have broken down into different segments, or we may say shorter distances to give a more detailed overview of the trip.
In the earlier parts of the journey, we have travelled from Manali to Gramphoo, then Gramphoo to Chatru and Chatru to Batal. Now after spending some time with Chacha-Chachi of Chandra Dhaba at Batal, we move towards Chandratal. Once we cross river Chandra after Batal, there is an uphill drive.
After a couple of kilometres, there is a diversion. Road uphill goest o Kunzum pass and then to Kaza. While road straight goes to Chandratal. Its is a pretty straight forward route after that along the Chandra river in the vast expanse of the valley.
Its a beautiful journey but road condition is pretty much the same as has been from Chatru to Batal. Its a bumpy ride to say the least with a couple of running streams to cross. Flow of water in the streams will depend on the timing of the journey. Enjoyable journey upto the camping area near Chandratal lake. These streams look quite easy ones but pebbles below the water sometime make it tricky to maintain the balance of the luggage loaded bike. SO one has to be extremely careful.
In my last post on this trip, I had mentioned that how tough the terrain is and how hostile weather can be here. With the interiors of valley difficult to reach, it makes the rescue operations in any event of crisis very challenging. Hence there is also a helipad and control station after Batal on way to Chandratal. But this one is across the Chandra river on other side.
You can watch the video of this road journey on clicking the link below:
Big flat valley provides an ample space for camping. First couple of camps actually are half a kilometre before the main camping site. Main camping site is right on the base of the uphill route towards Chandratal Lake.
Camping at an altitude of around 4200 metres is a fascinating experience.
Till some years back, camping site near Chandratal Lake had just one camp. Now there are many camps and more than 150 tents for adventurers to stay. They are run by different local operators though.
Tents are good, clean, cosy and with various size options. Operators also provide meals and breakfast. Most of the prices of the tents include stay with meals (generally breakfast and dinner).
You can watch the video of this camping site on clicking the link below:
This place is culmination for many treks as well as base camp for many expeditions to nearby peaks. Adventurers mostly come here to see Chandratal Lake. Many bikers will just visit the lake and then move ahead towards Kaza or Manali. I stayed here overnight in Tenzin camp and made two visits to lake- one in the afternoon and another in early next morning. If you stay here overnight, than you can also enjoy beautiful sunrise here in the morning, like this one-
Both these peaks are favourite among mountaineers seeking an experience of 6000 metre climb. These expeditions are also done from the Batal.
Having covered Chandratal Lake, now we will turn back on the same way upto Gramphoo and from there turn towards Keylong on way to Leh.
I was heading towards Chandratal lake. I had no intention to go towards Kaza as I had already travelled to Kaza some time back. From Chatru I had a very tough ride to Batal. As I said earlier, Batal is a very important stopover. Once you cross the river Chandra at Batal and move uphill, there is a diversion. One road further up takes you to Kunzum top and then to Kaza in Spiti valley. Another road takes you deep inside the Chandra valley towards Chandratal. We will travel that distance next time. This time we are just talking about Batal.
Batal is located at farther end of a wide fat valley. Valley narrows at this point and then again widens up towards Chandratal after a few kilometres. It also gets important as there is tough climb upto Kunzum pass after here. Chandratal is also further 14 kilometres from here. Hence it makes a good resting point and have some food and fun. But it is also a good place to stay overnight.
Batal now has a few dhabas. Some time back there was only one- Chandra Dhaba. Actually Batal has now got associated closely with Chandra Dhaba, both of them have acquired a sort of legendary status. Chandra Dhaba, more so because of its owners Dorje Bodh and his wife Hishe Chhomo.
44 years is not a small period and this ever-loved couple fondly called as Chacha-chachi has been running Chandra Dhaba for last 44 years at one of the most difficult terrains in the world in most hostile conditions, weather and poor connectivity. Its not a mean business. They do it for the love of their work and this place. They have been providing adventurers- bikers, drivers, passengers, trekkers, et.al. with food and shelter for all this long in their very humble and jovial way. But not just this, they have also been helping and rescuing the travellers and adventures caught in sudden weather, snowfalls, landslides or any other emergencies.
This extraordinary couple is now part of many adventure folklores for decades and deservingly enough, have also been recognised with many awards, including Godfrey Philips bravery award. You can also a watch a video of a candid chat with Chacha Dorje Bodh by clicking on the link below-
Now few more dhabas have come round, although Chandra Dhaba still retains its premier status. In this region, all dhabas also double up as night shelters for the travellers. They are very handy for all those, who have to make emergency halts because of either getting late or adverse weather conditions. Travellers also make scheduled halts at these dhabas when they don’t want to carry tents with them.
These dhabas are descent place to stay. Mostly there will be beds inside the dhaba on one side, like a dormitory. Dhaba owners will be providing the sleeping bags and blankets. Since the dhaba and the kitchen will also be inside in the same area, therefore it will be cozy and warm in the night, while it would be freezing cold outside. Dhabas provide the breakfast and meals.
For all those, who love extreme adventure, there is plenty of place around to pitch tents and enjoy starry nights. Besides, there is also a PWD rest house in Batal, just opposite the Chandra Dhaba, and also some igloo shaped fibreglass fabricated forest huts.
Buses going from Manali or Keylong to Kaza also stop here for some time. Truckers with essential supplies of the region will always make a halt here. Actually earlier, when there was no road connectivity to Chandratal then, people will make Batal as the base and then trek to Chandratal. Even today, whenever that road is blocked, or just for adventure, people will trek for 14 kms from Batal to Chandratal. There are people who will take a bus from Manali, get down at Batal, trek to Chandratal and come back, and then they will either take another bus to Kaza or back to Manali.
Batal is at an altitude of 3910 metres and it is located in a very hostile terrain. This place remains inhabited for almost six months from April end to October end. Rest of the time it remind inaccessible and even reaching through helicopters might be tough task during winters. Even during so-called summer months of adventure season, occasionally there might be heavy snowfall leading to road blockades. One should always be prepared physically and mentally for any eventuality.
But once you are here the beauty of the nature only steels the resolve to go further.