The land of high passes, Ladakh, is reached from the Manali side by proving one’s worth – having to cross five high passes. The biggest challenge of this route is the double whammy of Nakee La and Lachalung La (also pronounced Lachulung La, Lungalacha La). Let’s deep dive (or steep climb? We need new phrases for the hills!)
Passes have played a key role in trade, war, migration – both human and animal by making the mighty Himalayas more navigable. This must not be confused with passes being friendly to life. They are tough, they test you – physically, emotionally and mentally!
The biggest challenge is climbing dizzying heights, getting back down, not significantly, and then having to immediately ascent again. It is hard to catch your breath and difficult to enjoy the views. I am sure they were beautiful, but that doesn’t mean I got to enjoy them.
Generic Tip: I suggest you read Leh-Manali Highway’s detailed description of the exact route, location, information on geography and what to expect!
Let's quickly dive into the details:
Up and Down we go
After reaching dizzying heights in a sharp ascend, thanks to the Gata Loops, I have a mild headache and also feel slightly nauseous. Justifiably, the multiple sharp bends were more to blame than the AMS. Still, it is a painful feeling, which keeps you from enjoying your surroundings.
Philosophical Tip: This trip is all about wisdom and being unwell is also an experience we all have to go through to appreciate the magnificence even more.
Here we go: Nakee La
Here, at the end of Gata Loops, we have already climbed significantly, and reaching Nakee La does not seem as tedious. This pass is the third highest pass on the Manali Leh Highway, and it is no joke. I barely remember the views. As self-inflicted peer pressure is such a motivation, I was pretending not to be too unwell.
Needless to say, I am sure you must have guessed, I failed miserably! Not having eaten anything for the day, and not having substantial water – vomiting was a failed attempt. But, that was an indication of the toll the strenuous travel had taken. Yet, having goofballs as friends is also an advantage- they don’t take your illness too seriously, and that motivates you to do the same. As I said, peer pressure can be a gift
Himalayan Lessons: Developing a sense of humour helps you move forward!
The scary descent of Nakee La
Getting back into the car, we discovered that a bottle of hand cream has exploded. Now, we could have chosen to throw away the now useless bottle and clean up the excess cream. But, no, that is not how our brains were functioning.
The owner of the said hand cream, proceeded to bang the bottle on any surface he could find, hoping gravity would do its work and the cream would go back in. Of course, that was not happening as there was pressure created inside and the cream had expanded.
AMSing on Nakee La
While this was happening, someone called my name, and I realized that my ears had popped! The voice came from so far away. Coupling this awareness with the banging of the hand cream bottle – my head exploded. Suddenly the comprehension was too much; I felt my body was not well, and I didn’t understand what was happening.
As the situation was getting serious, we stopped. I got out into the cool breeze, not feeling a thing, not hearing the roar of the winds, and unable to breathe properly. Finding the pain point right behind my ear, massaging it a bit – I finally (thankfully) understood that my airways were jammed. Clearing up my nose was an instant relief – I could breathe again, oxygen flow to the brain was restored! Yay!
Healthy Tip: Lack of oxygen can lead to foggy and delayed decision making. Try not putting any undue pressure on yourself and listen to your body.
The in-between: Whisky Nala
At the end of the descent, there are a few Dhabas. This place is known as the Whisky Nala. However, we experienced no water flow here. I stayed in the car, not feeling too great, still. A lot of water helped tonnes! This 20-minute break of not driving, hydration, and chai were God-sent. I felt warmer! Everyone else ate food. However, I was in no condition and passed.
Here we go, again: Lachalung La
Immediately after, the ascend for Lachalung La began. I was scared of what lay ahead. But, thankfully, I did well. My stint of AMSing behind me, I genuinely enjoyed the calm and serenity. However, now, the monster of AMS hit another fellow- and since this was coupled with breakfast just below, their hurling was far worse.
However, since we had been-there-done-that as a group, thanks to me – my friend’s sickness became a relatively carefree experience for the rest of us. While he gagged his guts out, we were not too worried – we decided to descend without further ado, and the irritability started waning slowly.
In June, the roads were pliable for both Nakee La and Lachalung La. However, upon descent from Lachalung La, the condition worsened. It was a terrible drive. The 45-minute drive took a toll on us, and most of us were already tired. It was not even 11 AM, and exhaustion was apparent – some of us dozed off. As the navigator, I was keeping the driver company. The hills had changed shapes, forms, colors, and presented us with immense art.
The mountains became the clouds
Do you know how everyone sees something different in the shape of the clouds? Well, we spotted structural faces; a mountain was giving us the middle finger, a family of three chilling, and many other things. Even though the road was bad, and my friend driving was irritated still – the mountains kept us both occupied. Now, I can’t say the 45 minutes passed in no time as the road did not exist – but the entertainment was wonderful.
Now we were approaching the bridge towards Pang, which is the iconic natural arc that everyone loves! We should have stopped here, but, tiredness, exhaustion, hunger did not permit.
Pang, Ginger-Lemon Tea and Rest!
Of course, thanks to the first sign of civilization, the blue skies, the barren hills, a terrible make-shift hole-in-the-ground “bathroom” and some amazing Thupka, we were sorted! A group of bikers coming from Leh told us the route ahead was ascent!
Here’s the amazing thing about the Leh Ladakh road trip; you tend to earn your views. Whether it was the ascent drive after the pain of Sarchu, or the amazing surprise after Pang – such a ride, and always an adventure!
Please do stay tuned for MORE happiness!