Sarchu: A long freezing sleepless night

Start of the day (20 August 2018)

We woke up at 5:45 AM and got ready by 6:45 AM. Bags were packed in the night. Today we had to leave from Leh, we brought our bags down stairs, so that they can be placed in the backup van. Imran bhai had checked the bikes in the night. Breakfast, tea and coffee were served at 7 AM.

We said goodbye to the hotel staff and at 7:15 AM we had our ride briefing. Today was the longest ride of 260 Km, and we had to cross three passes above 4700 m altitude. The nearest fuel pump was available after ~ 350 Km in Keylong, towards end of the next day’s ride. So, we left Leh at 7:30 AM, with the aim to reach Sarchu before the sunset. Yesterday, we had got news of heavy rains in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh and were worried about the possibility of rain and more about closure of road.

Leh to Karu

We continued by the side of Indus for about 40 Km. This was the same road, which we had travelled on while going to Pangong Tso. The road condition was good so in just about an hour’s time, around 8:30 AM we crossed Karu.

A gompa
The Indus

Karu to Taglang La

From Karu the distance to Taglang La is about 75 Km. After Karu we passed through Upshi, Miru and then stopped at a small road side café in Lato after covering another 35 Km. We ordered mountain tea and biscuits for the entire group. Clock showed time of about 9:30 AM. We saw several bicycle riders on the road. Many people ride from Manali to Leh and Khardung La on bicycle. I had in 2016 read a book about one such journey, taken up by people from Mumbai.

After passing through Rumtse village the ascent to Taglang La started. From here the road rises very steeply and the temperature dives down in inverse proportion to altitude. The road had several sharp turns, and one or two places, we came across small streams. The altitude of Taglang La is 5328 m (17480 ft). We reached Taglang La at 11:00 AM. We stopped briefly and captured some videos and group photographs and left for Pang. This road had very less traffic in either direction.

Leh – Manali Highway. The Himalayas are barren but very colorful
Small town of Lato
Mountain tea break @ Lato
Ascent to Taglang La
La La La Taglang La
I at Taglang La
Michal @ Taglang La
The entire group @ Taglang La

Taglang La to Pang

We left Taglang La around 11:15 AM. The cold air at the pass started to cast a spell of sleepiness on me. As I was riding pillion at that time, I literally dozed off a couple of times. Realizing the danger, I somehow tried to remain awake.

After about 15 km from Taglang La, Pankaj, who could not sleep well yesterday night started feeling sleepiness. He was riding alone ahead of us, as Lalit was already sleeping in the back-up van. Pankaj waited for us to catch up with him and then handed over his bike to me. My condition was a little better than his. This was the advantage of having a shared bike, the disadvantage was that the bike would carry load of two people 😊. He boarded the backup van and slept.

After Debring the road was almost straight and the terrain was flat for next 35 – 40 Km. Around 12:30 PM we reached a place called More Plains. This place is especially popular among bike riders for off road rides. We saw stunning sand and rock formations in the golden valley formed by the Sumkhel Lungpa (?) river.

Manish, Wayne and other riders went for an off the road ride here. We captured some photographs. By this time, I again started experiencing sleepiness, so we decided to go Pang for lunch and a little rest. After about 2 Km from here the descent into Pang was very steep with a lot of sharp turns. Somehow, I managed to ride up to Pang. I washed my face with cold water several times, and had a cup of mountain tea, to get rid of sleepiness. By 1:30 PM other riders returned from the off-road ride. We finished our lunch by 2:15 PM and left for Sarchu.

At More Plains
Sand & Rock Formations
Sand and Rock Formations
Sebastian @ More Plains
Rodney at More Plains (Image Credit: Off road riders)
Off Road Ride (Image Credit: Off road riders)
The smile tells the happiness (Image Credit: Off road riders)
At Pang, some how I managed to ride (despite heavy sleepiness)

Pang to Lachalung La

From Pang the road condition also deteriorated to a large extent. The road now was broken with mostly loose small gravel. There was less traffic on the road in either directions. However, from More plains we experienced traffic of Indian Oil Tanker trucks, at times 3 to 4 tankers coming one after the other. At several narrow stretches we allowed those to pass by. Overall our riding skills were being tested to the fullest extent today.

There were several beautiful rock and sand foundations. The mountains were brownish/ grayish in color. When we crossed the Lachalung La, the time on the clock was 3:20 PM, almost 1 hour after starting from Pang and the distance covered was ~ 20 Km. The altitude at Lachalung La is 5065 m (~ 16620 ft)

More Sand and Rock Formations
Road is mostly loose gravel

Lachalung La to Nakee La

At 4 PM we crossed Nakee La at an altitude of 4739 m (~ 15550 ft). This was the last pass of the day. After Pang, we did not see any place selling tea or water.  We stopped at the pass simply to drink water. Then we continued our journey towards Sarchu.

Have the clouds formed a figure?

Nakee La to Sarchu

From Nakee La we had to cover another 45 Km to reach Sarchu and our place of stay. A 5 Km portion of this road had 21 hairpin bends (Gata loops) with continuous downhill gradient. Driving on this section proved to be quite a difficult thing with a spell of rain. The views here were very beautiful.

From the end of the Gata loops the Tsarap river appeared on the side of the road. At this point it was about 4:30 PM on the clock and we still had to cover 40 km to reach the place of our stay in Sarchu.

Gata loops were the highlight of the day

Tsarap river flowed by the side of the road. There were several rock and sand natural formations on the side of the river. We crossed the entire town of Sarchu and a couple of large water streams. In the last 6 to 7 kms, there was no road literally. It was just a patch of loose gravel, and sand as road construction work was in progress. We had to drive with extreme caution as applying brakes would resul in instant skidding. The clock showed time of 6:15 PM when we reached Adventure Camp, Sarchu. Sarchu is about 5 to 6 Km ahead of the Jammu & Kashmir & Himachal Pradesh border.

Today was the longest day of ride with almost 11 hours and 260 Kms. Everyone was very tired with the ride, but the climax of the day was yet to come. Adventure Camp was a camping site and we had to stay for the night in tents. There was no mobile network. A satellite phone was working and we paid Rs. 40.00 per minute to call home and inform that we have safely reached Sarchu.

@ Sarchu
Our accommodation at Sarchu

Rescued by an Old Monk

After the sunset on the horizon, the temperature dipped drastically. In addition to temperature reaching almost 0 Deg C, strong winds, increased the chill factor to sub-zero levels. The mercury dips below -25 Deg C during winters here. The tents were in an open ground and there was no protection from the wind. We could not think of stepping out of the tent, which was somehow holding up against the winds and today everyone was unnerved. Around 7 PM, we decided to call the old monk for our rescue and requested the backup van driver, to go to Sarchu and invite the old monk. They returned at 8:00 PM.

Around 8:30 PM we went for dinner. There was no electricity in the tented dining area, just a couple of small solar powered lamps. As soon as we stepped out of the tent, we realized the importance of having the old monk on our side.  The session with old monk continued till 10 PM, and everyone shared their wisdom and stories. Old monk was also shared with the staff at the camp and our backup van. The hotel staff has to rely on the old monk and its friends to survive in those harsh conditions! Finally, when we realized about the dinner, it had turned cold. We ate just a little and returned to the tents, around 10:15 PM.

At the tents there was no electricity and we realized that, the tent entrance did not close completely. This allowed the wind to enter the tent ☹. The quilts that were provided in the tent were heavy that it required a lot of effort just to open them. When I pulled the quilt over me, I felt the weight. Putting it out would, almost freeze me. Around the mid night, after washing my hands with freezing cold water, I felt no sensation in my fingers for several minutes. The winds, sound of traffic on the road, and the fluttering of the tent did not allow me to sleep till almost 2 AM. The Leh – Manali highway is very difficult to drive on, but the traffic continued in the night as well. Around 4:30 AM, I woke up and sat on the bed, waiting for the sun to rise. Pankaj got up at 5 AM. This was by far the longest night of the whole tour. I enjoyed every moment of riding in the day and the night. Once in a while such experiences are necessary to show us what a tiny place we occupy in the world.