Motorcycle Diaries. Road to Ladakh (Kaza – Keylong – Sarchu)

Day 6: June 28, 2012 – Kaza to Keylong

This was the day all riders were having nightmares about – we were about to experience the rather dreaded water-crossings en route. Our morning briefing and tips shared by the RE Team did little to prepare us. Yet, with the passion of riding in our hearts, we started our ride for the day.

RRG and ‘True’

Next 60kms to Losar was a great ride – I witnessed superb panorama all around – Spiti Valley continued to offer mesmerizing views. I encountered a mix of good to ‘not-so-bad’ roads during this stretch and we took only 90minutes to cover this distance.

Stunning Spiti

Stunning Spiti

Booking.com

Stunning Spiti

Losar is also a police check-post, where one needs to enter the details for self and the bike.

Break at Losar

A quick, refreshing tea-break at Losar charged me enough to ride 19kms uphill towards the first Mountain Pass of the journey – the Kunzum La, which is a tenuous link of the two valleys of Lahaul & Spiti, at 4551m AMSL. This pass has much-revered Hindu Goddess Durga’s Temple located a little off-route, which all travellers encircle, offer prayers and only then ride ahead.

Kunzum La

To me, Kumzum La Pass appeared safer and provided easy ascent and descent. The panorama as viewed from the top was breathtaking. The lofty Shigri Peak can be seen right in front in all its grandeur.

Shigri Peak from Kunzum La

Nature enthusiasts may note that the famous Chandra Taal (meaning the Lake of the Moon) is located before this Pass. From the town of Battal, a 6km motorable road takes you to the lake, which is situated at a height of 4300m AMSL. Though we didn’t go to this lake, I am told about the stunning beauty of this lake and that its deep blue-water is the source of the Chandra river.From Kunzum La, I descended the Pass and arrived at the Chandra Dhaba, our scheduled halt for lunch. Hungry us! See our meal-plate and you’d understand what was our sumptuous lunch for the day!

Sumptuous lunch at Chandra Dhaba

Resting at Chandra Dhaba

Here, we met travellers coming from the opposite direction, who told us the water crossings were fairly bad this time – and that there were several of them one after another! Shucks! After a 90-minute break or so, we resumed our journey.

Well, what we encountered hereafter made me opine – there is nothing that is truly waterproof while riding a bike on this terrain! Gumboots, rain-shoe-covers, poly-covers, expensive riding boots – all failed rather miserably from preventing the gushing water to seep in and soak us. It seemed the river changed its course and started flowing on what I call ‘no-roads’ itself! Some of us rode through this ordeal, some fell down and some needed support to pull the bikes out! See for yourself…

Riding amidst snow!

Water-crossings!

Water-crossings!

Water-crossings were aplenty – and as more and more came our way, I turned bolder, as if I decided to not let them scare me. Rode I on! For the more vivid experience, do watch the videos on ‘youtube’ posted by the Royal Enfield Media.

Police Check-post at Koksar

Gradually, we crossed all of them, and reached the town of Koksar, which is the police check-post. This is the point from where a route goes towards Rohtang Pass and Manali. We rode on after a brief stoppage of 30-minutes here; post completion of police formalities and feeding our tired bodies once again – the water-crossing had taken their toll! See my drenched shoes!

My drenched shoes!

From here on, the road towards Keylong was both good and wherever they weren’t in the 43km stretch, we didn’t mind – the worst of the day was long over!

Riding a total of 180kms from Kaza, we reached Tandi. It is a small village, located 7kms before the town of Keylong. This is where the river Bhaga meets the river Chandra to become the Chandra-Bhaga/Chenab.

Superstar of Signboards – Petrol Pump at Tandi

The adjoining signage would tell you the significance of this town to all road-travellers to Leh – it has the last petrol pump before Leh, which is still around 365 km away. However, I noted later that the next petrol station is located at Karu, which is 40kms before Leh; making the total distance without any petrol pump to 325kms. So, this is your last chance to fill your tank. You won’t miss it; there’s nothing else around and the sign is big enough. As they say, if signboards were celebrities, this one would have been their superstar for sure!

Here, the RE team came to our rescue. Depending on the mileage our respective bikes were giving, they purchased and stored spare petrol – 3 to 5 litres per bike. Typically, a 500CC RE needs about 3l and a 350CC needs approximately 4l to make it to Karu.

Keylong is the administrative headquarters of Lahaul-Spiti and is an oasis of green fields, on the banks of Bhaga River. It is located at an altitude of 3080m AMSL. After a long-hour’s wait at the Tandi pump, we rode towards Hotel Dekyid located in the town of Keylong. It had turned dark by this time and we rode carefully on the bad-roads, continually asking the locals about the address of the hotel. I reached the hotel at about 8:15pm. It was a neat and clean hotel, which was a RE regular for years – the several years’ Odyssey stickers were the testimonial of this fact!
A hot shower can do wonders to your tired back! That done, I ate a light dinner and went of to sleep by 11pm.

Day 7: June 29, 2012; Keylong to Sarchu

Morning at Keylong

As the ride was of only 130kms, the riders thought it would be an easy day. I knew it wasn’t going to be so – we were to cross world’s third highest pass today – Bara-lacha La and then ride into the Sarchu Valley.

Our first halt of the day was Darcha, which is a small village located about 32kms from Keylong. We crossed the scenic town of Jispa enroute, where the greenery was highly captivating. Good roads with few bad patches took us about an hour to reach Darcha. All passing vehicles must stop at Darcha’s police checkpoint for checks. We left Darcha soon after and started the ascent towards loopy roads that led us to Bara-lacha La in another 90minutes or so.

Situated at 4890m AMSL, Bara-lacha La is about 40kms from Darcha. The name means ‘pass with crossroads on summit’ (roads from Ladakh, Spiti and Lahaul join at the top). This high mountain pass in the Zanskar range connects the Lahaul district in HP to Ladakh in J&K.

Police Check-post at Darcha

Snow-clad Bara-lacha La

Snow-clad Bara-lacha La

Bara-lacha La was all clad in snow. Luckily the roads were devoid of any snow, making it easy of us riders to sail through. You’d notice that unlike other key milestones, I haven’t posted any image of a plaque reading Bara-lacha La – actually, I could’nt take any – there was a huge jam ahead, as we climbed up the Pass. I saw an oil-tanker overturned and fallen out of the road, taking the signage with it!

Thankfully, the truck hadn’t taken the plunge. It seemed to be a very recent accident – the driver of the truck was safely back on road and was assessing the damages done. The Border Roads Organization that manages these roads was very quick to respond; they had already arrived with a crane and were working out a rescue plan.

Advantage Biker! We quickly made our way through the mounting traffic and descended to the famous Bharatpur – our lunch halt of the day. This place is something – all full of colourful dhabas!

Bharatpur Dhaba – Riders’ Haven

Bharatpur Dhaba – Riders’ Haven

The images would tell you how we sank into the cozy mattresses and treated ourselves to food – maggi, eggs, et al! All through our journey, Dhabas like these acted as saviours for us riders – warm and hospitable locals, trying their best to serve us, without any intention to overcharge for anything they sell!

Our break at Bharatput was a long and tiring one – 3.5hours; the support vehicles were stuck in the jam at Bara-lacha La! Waited and waited, we all felt drowsy and lethargic! It was only at 3:30pm that the support vehicles arrived and we resumed our ride towards Sarchu.

Ride into Sarchu

45minutes later, we entered the Sarchu valley. Sarchu, also called Sir Bhum Chun, is a tented camp town located on the boundary between states of HP and J&K. As we rode into this beautiful valley, rows of tents could be seen one after the other. This was our overnight halt – first night in tents. Since the journey along the Leh highway is at high altitude and variable road conditions normally takes two days, the travellers and tourists use this spot as an overnight stop.

Sarchu Tents

Inside my tent!

No sooner the sun went down, the weather turned dramatically colder, and the howling winds were threatening to blow my tent away. Within a span of only an hour, we experienced freezing cold. The riders quickly queued up to refill their tanks from the stored petrol. Remember RE team stored additional petrol at Tandi?

I quickly ate my dinner – food was pathetic! However, it is important to have a filled stomach, so I ate somehow. Immediately thereafter, I tucked myself inside the quilt and an additional blanket on top of it! It was so cold that I slept with my warm-inners on!
Sarchu is a place where you can first experience acute mountain sickness and that could be dangerous. Thus, our doctor asked us to set an alarm for midnight, when we would get up and check upon the health of our roommate. Once that done, I slept peacefully.

Day 8: June 30, 2012; Sarchu to Leh:
Slept peacefully last night, only to wake up to a freezing morning at 6am and to find there wasn’t any water in the tap – it was frozen in the pipes! I simply brushed my teeth using mineral water, washed my face and geared up. Soon after, cozy sunrays made it confortable to bear the morning chill.

Morning briefing at Sarchu

During the briefing, I could notice considerable excitement. After all, this was the day for which we all were waiting eagerly – today we would finally ride into Leh! Another reason the anticipation was higher than usual was the fact that we would cross three famous passes today – Nakee La, Lachulung La and the second highest pass of the world – Taglang La! We would also cross Morey Plains today – the cold desert at 4000m AMSL!

Signage at Sarchu – ab Leh door nahin!

Our ride for the day was about 255kms. With comforting sun over our heads, we started at 8am. Our camp was located about 7kms before Sarchu and as we rode ahead, I could not help but get absorbed in the nature’s abundance – the sky was never this clear over my heads and the view never this captivating. The view of rock-formations around River Tsarap were unbelievable.

However, as the day ahead was going to be long, I enjoyed the panorama but I didn’t stop much and rode continuously towards the famous Gata Loops. We crossed Sarchu’s police check post; Leh was 250kms from here. After this, we entered the boundary of the J&K state.

To Be Continued…

  • SilentSoul

    Beautiful description RRG. specially the 4th foto i liked the most.

    There are so many travelogues on Leh, specially by bikers, but each of them have a separate fragrance of this place. Going with such a huge group that too in an organised tour, facing lesser difficulties in terms of stay etc. is another different way.

    Did you have any solo trip too ?

    • SilentSoul,
      Thank you. Glad you liked the travelogue.
      I agree with your thoughts – every biker travels the same road to Ladakh, yet comes back enchanted and experienced in his or her own unique manner.
      I have done many solo trips all over. I keep riding…
      Best,
      RRG

  • AUROJIT

    Hi Rishi Raj,

    Enjoy sharing the experiences of of this thrilling venture. Well described, with riveting pics.

    Thanks.

  • ashok sharma

    great photographs,breathtaking scenes.beauty in abundance.very good post.keep biking,keep writing.

  • Surinder Sharma

    Hi RRG,
    Very nice photos and good description. India is so beautiful. Stunning Spiti
    road looks so good. Thanks a lot for sharing your journey.

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  • Ok, so the Kunzum is all brown. When we passed through this, it was all white with snow-slush all around. A Sumo was stuck there and that in itself gave us enough goose-bumps.

    Though I had a great desire to come back, I was not too confident (with wife and a small kid), but seems that if one plans a journey a little further in the summer, it is better.

    The freeze at Sarchu is a great piece of info, to help one plan better. Keep going on RRG.

    • In all my earlier and latest experience, I would recommend traveling on these roads between June 15 and August 15. That’s a good time. Specially if family.

  • Aurojit/Ashok/Praveen/Surinder,
    Thank you. Glad you liked the post.
    RRG

  • Passing those water bodies must be requiring courage, determination and overall great concentration. Thanks for sharing your experience with us.