Entering Jammu & Kashmir is a MAJOR marker that will bring back the concept of time, even if it is just for a second (get it?). To take you back in time, the legends of Ghost of Gata Loops are here!
They say traveling is about the journey and not the destination. The quantum of information being thrown your way on the unique adventure that is Leh Road Trip makes you forget that time exists, so it is always a shock to the system when milestones are thrown your way.
“I was born lost and take no pleasure in being found.”John Steinback
Let's quickly dive into the details:
When travel turns you into a poet
*Disclaimer: Not a good one!
Ah, the joy of being lost! I crave for the days when I am lost, for that is when I feel whole. Having a travelers’ soul is a difficult business to be in, travel is never enough, with so many places yet to see, so many lives yet to be lived. FOMO runs deep, I tell you! I define my style of travel as nomadic, one with the surroundings and embracing all that can be absorbed, yet, moving on to the next place that can accept me as its own.
I know, the last post on Sarchu nightmares was a cautionary tale, sort of depressing, but in the most hilarious way. Today, however, we will take on a sunny disposition, and embrace the barren solitude (get it?). The only warning for today’s post – be prepared for lots of metaphors, I am on a philosophical roll!
Beginning of the journey – a day not known, the time has forgotten
As usual, a 5 AM start from Sarchu, marks the beginning of the next day. Sarchu is the last village of Himachal Pradesh, and you’re reminded that you’re halfway to the middle of nowhere. Here, civilization comes calling back in the minutest of ways – you will be required to register your travel with first the Himachal Pradesh Check Point and after crossing a bridge, with the Jammu & Kashmir (YAY!) Checkpoint.
Of course, the Standard protocol – the number of people traveling, vehicle number, from and to, is followed. Not only is this a way of keeping a check on the number of travelers, but it also helps in knowing where you’ve reached in the old school style.
For the actual route & what to expect, Places on Manali Leh Highway is a good reference point.
How do you experience everything?
In line with the expectations of this road trip, our drive towards Leh was sprinkled with multiple spots of HOLY-SHIT-level-of-beauty (Yes, I am aware I should be a writer, so eloquent!). There were multiple pit stops to stare into the horizon, with wonder in our eyes, completely shell-shocked at nature’s art.
The first stop brought to light our genius mistake of not filling up our water bottles. It makes sense; I am a walking and talking what-not-to-do-list. Of course, I can provide you with multiple excuses for how AMS got the better of us, how it was super early or how tired we all were. But, no, I take ownership in life (apparently, that is what adulthood requires!). Water was forgotten, and we are idiots! So, there you have it!
Here, I have to obviously push my standard advice about water being the most important source of life. Be best friends with water!
Rookie mistakes continue
The many pit stops filled us the first rays of sunshine on our faces, helping absorb the ever essential Vitamin-D, provided a chance to stretch a little and do a couple of squats and of course, ensure our pit stop selfies (TM) game was on point!
Naturally, we wanted to stop for longer, given the views were breathtakingly beautiful (and no, it was not the AMS making us breathless, I can almost guarantee!). Sometimes we just couldn’t break the trance, and peeling our eyes away from was always a task. But, moving forward is always for the best, always rewarding.
I know, we all make common mistakes, its a part of life. Hence, it is best to just laugh it off and enjoy the views and be better prepared for next time, life and learn!
Feeble Attempt #12482309 to describe exquisiteness
Here, I must mention that the drive is literally by the riverbed, and looking over the other side of the river bank was hypnotizing. Not to forget, there were immensely stunning sand formations that came about due to centuries of river flow – do check them out!
Feeling Loopy – The Gata Loops
Now, one of the major highlights of this part of the drive is the famous and infamous Gata Loops. Here, a series of 21 enthralling hairpin bends, aka loops, make for a thrilling ride. Of course, we are still at staggering height, and AMS is real, you guys!
Pro Tip – DRIVE SLOW! You wouldn’t want to feel dizzy along with the AMS you would DEFINITELY be experiencing.
The loops started with signage indicating we’d reached the Legend (more on that below). Our excitement was escalating, thanks to the panoramic views of sunlight playing games with the mountains.
One bend after the next, as we gained elevation, our perspective evolved. As the view of the river became clearer, and the snow-capped mountains in the distance defined perfection, we were taking it all in, as fast as our brains to process the splendor. And we were, yet again, left speechless.
However, physically, I had started to feel lightheaded by bend #19. Right after the last bend, there is a vantage point for you to relax at and enjoy the view. Now, remember, you have climbed exceptional height through a very sharp ascend. It is advisable to stable your staggering steps, stop, drink water and take it all in!
The Legends of the Gata Loops
Now, not many are aware of the Ghost of Gata Loops. We were not in-the-know either. Halfway through, we saw a bunch of plastic water bottles all accumulated at one of the loops. A big discussion on how people are ruining the pristine beauty ensued.
Later on, we discovered about the Ghost of the Gata Loops *Insert scary music here – DUN DUN DUN*.
Is this worth it?
The mess that was the piles of plastic bottles is a shrine. Shrine for what, you ask? Well, many moons ago, a truck driver and his helper were on the way to Leh in the bone-chilling winter season. Due to the snow, the challenging terrain and the steep climb of the Gata Loops, the truck broke down.
Moreover, when you’re on this route, you know that passers-by are minimal. Here, the tale goes on to describe that the pass behind, i.e., Baralacha-La had been closed due to the heavy snowfall and storm after the truck had crossed. Because of not spotting any vehicles for hours on end, the truck driver decided to walk to the nearest village and ask for help.
However, because there was a lot of stuff in the truck, the helper stayed behind with the truck. It kept on snowing heavily for days, making it impossible for the driver to return to Gata Loops. Hunger, cold, thirst took the helper’s life.
Of course, things get interesting here. Over the years, the story was passed down, thanks to the local community, the taxis that play the way, and of course, the tightly knit adventure community. Some say they met a man when crossing the Gata Loops, who begged them of water.
When handing the water, they claim that they saw the bottle drop through the man’s hands. People who refused/ignored were soon squirming with mountain sickness; some even died of it. The locals took charge and set up a shrine in the memorial at the end of one of the Gata loops. Now, bikers claim to have heard a plea for water, food, etc. with a warning of bad omen if such a request is not met.
Ghost legends aside, be prepared for other myths relating to Leh – Ladakh.
Making sense of the Gata Loops
Challenging and uninhabitable terrain, along with scarce sources of sustenance, tends to support the creation of legends. Such superstitions become a way of life, spread through word-of-mouth, some true, some beyond understanding.
The hills are full of magic, and with magic comes forth such tales. There is an aura of other-worldliness, and even the most cynical of folks turn into believers of what-ifs.
I understand the gravitational pull of being on the safe side. But how far is too far? Is it worth it to spoil the pristine, untouched landscape of Gata Loops with plastic bottles to appease some ghost, whose biggest threat to you is you suffering mountain sickness?
Let’s be honest, you are, in all likelihood, anyways suffering from AMS when you reach dizzying heights of 4500+ meters. And if we have learned anything, we know how to take care of AMS before it gets worse. So, I end this article, asking you to respect nature and not the legends!
It is always best to prepare your Ladakh itinerary well and be prepared with essentials to carry along on your Ladakh trip always.
Next on Manali Leh Highway
Next up, legendary tales of this week will lead us to the twin passes for the next post, dear readers! Nakee-La and Lachulung-La were the MOST entertaining and yet, painful passes. These were followed by the toughest road and the most painful part of our journey, leading us to Pang.
Are there other ways that the Legend of Gata Loops can be respected, that doesn’t lead to a plastic jungle – do share! I believe our generation of travelers can, and should, revamp some of the old legends and update them in a manner that leads to logical respect!