Motorcycle Diaries. Road to Ladakh (Sarchu – Leh)

The flat terrain and straight roads near Sarchu did not last long. After crossing River Tsarap soon after Sarchu, the road starts ascending. As I scaled the good roads, I saw two interestingly named bridges – Brandy Bridge and Whisky Bridge! Wonder why they were named so!

Brandy Bridge!


Whisky Bridge !

Then came the Gata Loops! These are 21 hairpin bends that will take you 4190m to 4630m AMSL. You’d hit Gata Loops after 25kms from Sarchu tents. These bends took me up by more than 1500 feet in less than an hour’s time. The views from Gata Loops were too good. Clouds and the sundays were playing magic over the rocky mountains!

Gata Loops start

Stunning view from Gata Loops

Stunning view from Gata Loops

However, here I was reminded of the caution our group-leader Santhosh Vijay gave at Kaza about the oil-trucks and their dangerous habit of taking shortcuts at these loops. Evidently, these trucks ply between Ambala to Tandi and Leh ferrying petrol/diesel and the drivers get paid about Rs.35K for a return journey – high incentive for a trucker leading to hazardous driving habits! Watch out for them here!

Gata Loops End

At the top of the Gata loops is Nakee La, located at an altitude 4740m AMSL, which for some reason is not as famous as other Passes on this route. The terrain is very dry after Nakeela with no streams or rivers enroute. The ride ahead was monotonous as the road descends into a dry valley and quickly climbs up towards the next pass – Lachulung La, which is located at an altitude of 5059m AMSL.

NakeeLa

Lachulung La

Hereafter, the road becomes serpentine and moves down through a narrow canyon – this was all very picturesque! Sadly, I didn’t stop and take any pictures – I simply enjoyed the ride. As the road descents to Pang, life was infused into the scenery from the clear flow of a stream – Kangla Jal. It soon widens to appear like a river, flowing next to the army camp of Pang, at an altitude 4600m AMSL. Just across the road is an army camp where a sign proudly proclaims it as the ‘world’s highest transit camp’.

Pang was about 80kms from Sarchu. This was our first halt of the day. We met Dorma Aunty – the sweet lady who runs the Shanti Dhaba. Our RE teammate Aakash told us stories about her kind behavior and good food from his earlier experiences. After filling myself with omelets and rotis, we moved ahead towards Morey Plains. The plain area starts after covering around 4 km uphill road from Pang. The road is mostly on the plain for around 30–35 km, before it again starts to rise to Tanglang La.

Pang

Dorma Aunty’s Shanti Dhaba at Pang

Voila! The roads that led to Morey Plains were superb! I relished riding at 80kmph after days and days of bad roads! Ride’s going be superb now, so I thought.
How grossly mistaken I was!

Sandy, tiring Morey Plains

Carefully notice the speed-breaker-type roads!

After 20kms of very good roads, we hit the under-construction roads. Bad, very bad they were! It was as if I was riding perennially over speed-breakers! The area appeared uninhabitable and has no construction at all, and also no population, save the migrant construction workers. Its was an extremely tiring and tedious ride; we also were forced from time to time to off-road into sand and ride wherever the roads were blocked for construction – BRO is constructing a two-lane road here. I always find riding in sand really painful and painful it was even this time. As we ascended, the road became worse – it is all under construction. Heavy amount of gravel on the road made the ride very tiring and I was in fact forced to stop several times before reaching Taglang La – the second highest motorable pass of the world. This was the worst patch to ride till now.

Taglang La, finally!

Despite a mild headache (one shouldn’t wait at high Passes in such case), I rested at the Pass for a good 15minutes. I needed it, badly!

After the Tanglang-La descent, we reached our last stop of the day – Rumtse village, which is located at 14000ft AMSL. A brief halt here helped me relax with a cup of lemon tea and a chitchat with BRO’s road-workers, who hailed from Jharkhand. Such workers, I observed, were painstakingly constructing the road all through our journey. Far from there homes, they were engaged in hard labour at the most inhospitable terrains and in harshest of weather! Some toughness this act merits.

Rumtse

Leh is about 80kms from Rumpte. The road was not-so-bad and gradually turned good as we entered Karu, a town having the first petrol pump after Tandi. All through this stretch, small villages, green fields and kids saying ‘JULLEY!’ – a greeting in the Ladakhi language – will add life to the relatively straight road to Leh. We crossed Upshi and Shey Palace en route to enter Leh at about 7pm.

Leh – here I come! What an amazing feeling it was! No words can do justice to elation that I felt when this picture was being clicked.

Leh, here I come!

I checked in at Hotel Namgyal Palace on the Fort Road. A leisurely hot-water shower took away a lot of pain of the tiring day. Good food and nicely done room soon made me forget all the miseries of the Sarchu tents!
The next day was to be the rest day – I was in Leh and there was so much to see around. And then, we were to drive to Khardung La – world’s highest motorable road! With these thoughts, I dozed off…

19 Comments

  • Nandan Jha says:

    Welcome to Leh.

    Do you think that Morey plains are equally tough for 4 wheelers as well ?

  • SilentSoul says:

    good post…the photos of Gata loop are mind blowing

    thanks for sharing guptaji

  • ashok sharma says:

    stunning photos.it is very rare to see such good photographs.vivid colors of the surrounding are eye catching and mind blowing.
    keep roaming,keep sharing.

  • D.L.Narayan says:

    A fantastic journal, RRG. The series is really engrossing and your pictures are simply superb. It is amazing how such stark and forbidding places can also look so beautiful.

    Hats off to the people of the BRO for constructing roads in an inhospitable terrain and to people like Dorma Aunty who runs the Shanti dhaba. It has a lovely ambience and I wish you narrated more about that place.

    I guess that in such places, Whisky and Brandy must taste like Amrit; which is why they even name bridges after them. Much better than naming them after politicians, I suppose.

    Can’t wait to read about your experience of driving on the world’s highest motorable road.

  • YADVINDER BHARTI says:

    Hi RRG Well written dear. U have written in such a way that the one who is going to Leh first tim can reach there having good knowledge about the whole tour. RRG plz tell about the temperature during day and night. As u were in a group u didn’t have accommodation problems everything was planned before hand. Can someone travelling solo put up his own tent at various places or name some places where rented tents are available. Infact Me along with my wife planning for the trip next year.Can we both ride one bike me as driver and she as pillion. Eagerly waiting your reply-Yadvinder

    • Yadvinder,
      Thanks. Glad you got inspired by the travelogue.

      1. Yes, you and your spouse can travel on a bike. I have seen a lot of people doing that. An RE 500 would be a good bet, though, to bear the weight – it has superb torque that is needed to beat the elevation of roads.

      2. Temperature is pretty bearable at nights, barring places like Sarchu and Debring. It is about 12degrees at Kaza at night. Day-temperatures, if sun is out, are very good and rather warm. However, the weather en route is very unpredictable – no sun and rains can be really challenging.

      3. I have done solo/individually planned trips on the terrain like this and it is not very difficult to book the stay – my wife and I did it last year. However, I don’t recommend that you put ups tent just like that anywhere. Water and mountains – both have their own nature and being – my experience doesn’t permit taking chances unless I have done decent homework.
      However, if you are a real traveller, who likes to travel unplanned, you can always stay at the Dhabas like Morey Plains, Chandra Dhaba, Bharatpur, et al – they provide warm bed/beddings at only Rs.100-200 and are safe too.
      Do let me know, if you have any further queries.
      Best,
      RRG

      • YADVINDER BHARTI says:

        Thanx RRG for boosting morale. I have Thunder Bird 350 Will it be comfortable for two of us? In fact my wife gifted me this machine and we are planning Leh for the last three years ever since we got TB. We were planning it with some group from Mohali but they changed their schedule at the last min. Since my wife is working in Hospital we have to plan the leave. On the other hand leave can be cancelled at the last min. sometimes so cannot get bookings done much before. Due to our strange problem we have decided to go next year alone. When we talk somebody who has done leh most of the people advice going in a group. So we couldn,t dare to go. This year both of us did up to Kanam ( a small village 10 km on a side road from Spello.covered around 380 kms (Kanam to Chandigarh in a day on 26thof June. Generally we start our Journey around 5-5.30 a.m. but that day we started at 8.30 a.m. and were stuck in Blast for 1hr 30 min. Thanx once again RRG. I will keep on trouling u with my queries.

        • If you have a TB, I recommend you drive into Leh via the Manali route and come back via Srinagar route. You could also come back via Manali route – that may be boring! Also, NH1 is very good roads.
          I recommend you plan the trip between 20-June and 15-July – you’d need about 16 days to so this trip, with out 3 rest days packed in between.
          I am not sure that going in group is a necessity – solo trips are as good as an idea. However, I recommend some good deal of planning and preparation – right from working on physical fitness to knowing how to mend you RE, in case of break downs.
          You have one good year – I am sure time in on your side and you guys will make this trip by putting in efforts – they’d be worth a lifetime’s experience.

    • Also, rented tents are available at Hunder, Sarchu and Debring. Rest all places you get accommodation.

  • venkatt says:

    Rishi, Once again great description and pictures.

  • sunil ranjan says:

    excellent description about this trip and morever grt encouragement for couple

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