On the 71st we cycled from Whiskey Nala to Bharatpur on the Leh-Manali highway as we crossed Nakeela Pass. This was part of our 90 day ride in the Himalayas covering Spiti, Zanskar, Batalik, Ladakh, Nubra, Shyok, Pangong, Hanle, Tso Moriri, Garhwal and Kumaon!
Day 71: Whiskey Nala to Bharatpur
Whiskey Nala needed some good old rum to see me through the night!
It was cold, well below freezing point cold.
The previous night as I went to bed in the dhaba which was constructed out of an old parachute tent, the old man who ran the place threw a blanket and two quilts over me. As I snuggled in, he actually tucked me in as if I was a little kid. As a 31 year old, it felt strange, yet really nice. I was happy to be tucked in like a kid! We are all kids with a facade and charade of adulthood.
The cold outside ensured I stayed in bed for as long as possible. Till some boys in a jeep from Karnataka stopped at the dhaba for breakfast and did a splendid job of singing at the top of their voice. Sleep was out of the question with those frogs in the tent!
I cursed them with all my mountain madness. The jokers were hell bent on taking the mud shortcut which had seen multiple bikers crash the previous day and I wanted to watch them do it.
Out I jumped from the tent and watched them trundle up the hill. Much to my amusement and sense of satisfaction they got stuck. I wanted to sing Kannada songs loud enough for them to hear it and feel my pain! Karma is a …
As I was sitting around, a convoy of military trucks passed through Whiskey Nala, with a couple of them parking behind the tents. The rest of the trucks moved on, with the two staying behind. The dhaba folk ran to the trucks with jerry cans, pipes and cash. They pumped out fuel from the tanks and paid for it. How legal was this transaction is anyone’s guess!
The Kerala boys from the previous evening barely slept because of the altitude. They looked exhausted early in the morning. So were the bikes. The electric starter wouldn’t work in the cold and they didn’t have the energy to kick start it. My cyclist legs were put to good use as I kick started most of their bikes! Rentals from Chandigarh are never trustworthy.
After seeing off all the other night birds of Whiskey Nala I climbed. The campsite is at the base of two passes closely stacked together. And one climbs from the first pedal stroke.
The climb to Nakeela was an easy peasy four and a half kilometres, which was disposed off without a break.
From there the road descends all the way to the bottom of the famous Gata Loops, with a lot of usage of the brakes! Fortunately I wasn’t climbing this difficult section.
It was cold and there was no joy descending the loops as my body shook with the mercury level.
From the base of the loops the road is undulating till Sarchu, the next place of accommodation and not a distance that can be covered in a hurry.
Cycles are fast
At the base of Gata Loops the road was being repaired and traffic had come to a grinding halt. The joy of being on a cycle was overwhelming as I could ride past everyone, as they sat and twiddled their thumbs!
The truckers saw me and let out a loud whoop and cheer as I went past. While the car dwellers stood around in the middle of the road obstructing traffic!
An hour later the trucks came past me. They were hell bent on getting their pent up energy out. They raced each other on the narrow sinewy tarmac, scaring the living daylights out of me.
I pulled over to the side and waved as the world’s highest truck race happened right before my eyes.
Out here anything that happens can safely be given the prefix of ‘The World’s Highest’; be it truck race, dog or toilet!
Ghost Town: Sarchu!
Sarchu felt like a wild west town with cowboys with their six shooters at every corner. There was an abundance of dhabas on either side of the road. Each a small tin shed, most of them closed and barely any human movement. Just a flutter of a lost wrapper in the breeze.
I stopped at the first one which was open. It was run by a girl painting her nails and putting bucket loads of face cream. Business was that slow!
I enquired about the ghost camp. The government had shut down most camps there, because the numbers had grown astronomically, creating a filthy mess in the area. It was good to see the government clamping down on the exploitation of the mountains.
A quick snack later I got up to pay, but she refused to take money for the many cups of tea I had gulped down. Small privileges a cyclist enjoys!
She was kind enough to give me onward directions. She told me not to spend the night in Sarchu, in her dhaba, rather I could easily cross Baralacha La as it was just 16 km away.
I wasn’t convinced. Memory told me it was significantly more. But she persuaded me. I got on my bike and cross checked with another old gentleman sitting around.
He was of the opinion that it was closer to 14 km. A bit more confident in the words of the locals I moved on.
Two kilometres down the road there was a board that stated Baralacha La was 32 km away! No way in the world could I climb a pass that far away.
Sarchu is the border between J&K and Himachal, a fact I was unaware of as I cycled through.
One look at the difference in tourism infrastructure between the two states and it is obvious even to the daftest person around. Himachal is filled with camps with cool names and slogans using words like nature, adventure, fun, eco etc. Places which have a tinge of luxury evident even in that inhospitable land.
On the other hand, J&K’s idea of tourist luxury is three tin sheets put together with one stale mono inside! Good governance can make a world of difference.
I trundled on as the road gradually climbed towards Baralacha La. The kilometres refused to tick down fast enough while the sun sped towards the horizon. There was no apparent human settlement till I passed a big BRO camp in Killingsarai.
Accommodation is available at the camp if you are desperate. I was close to desperation! There was nothing exceptional about the camp barring the name. Later on I got to know the correct name is Keylong Sarai, which kills its only USP.
Being Wrong is Good
I was in the mood of torturing myself so I plodded on. A couple of bikes passing in the opposite direction told me that no accommodation was available till Zing Zing Bar on the other side of Baralacha Pass. Life wasn’t looking good…
Fortunately the bikers were wrong and 8 km before the pass, was the tented dhaba accommodation of Bharatpur.
It was an oasis of luxury for a weary traveller. Being Himachal, the owners were from Manali rather than Leh. The icing on the cake was the smell of mutton being cooked on a slow flame. A mouth watering prospect for dinner.
Even when the dhabas are empty, which is for the most part of the day, the people keep themselves economically occupied. The women knit woollen caps and socks for sale, while the men cook in anticipation of late night customers.
After dark a bunch of motorcyclists entered the dhaba to stay the night there. Some wanted to ride on, while others chose the safer option. Eventually better sense prevailed and they stayed the night.
The dhaba owners had a dog who barked through the night. Coupled with the cold, it ensured no one got out of the dhaba to go to the loo. No matter how badly they needed to go!
Route Profile: Whiskey Nala to Bharatpur
The route from Whiskey Nala to Bharatpur is made up of two climbs. One big, the other small. The small climbs is 5 km to Nakeela Pass and the big climb is from Sarchu all the way to Bharatupur, which continues up to Baralacha La.
You also descend the famous Gata Loops, which is much more fun than climbing these loops!
After Whiskey Nala, the next point for food and accommodation is in Sarchu on the other side of Nakeela and the Gata Loops. Sarchu has per bed basis accommodation, where you get a bed in a dhaba. There are also many camps with luxury tents.
Killersarai or Keylong Sarai has a big BRO DETT, where there is a possibility of accommodation.
Bharatpur is a cluster of 4-5 dhabas where food and accommodation is available. It is prudent to stay at Bharatpur for the night if you reach anywhere after 3 PM. Else you will be crossing Baralacha La around sunset when the weather can turn, catching you out. At that altitude, the worst case scenario is death.
Expenses: Whiskey Nala to Bharatpur
Food and Stay 490
READ THE 72ND DAY’S BLOG FROM BHARATPUR TO KEYLONG OVER BARALACHA LA