15th September 2014, Monday……Day(5) Keylong-Sarchu 107 km
Got up fresh and very late at Hotel Nalwa, Keylong. Had very strenuous ride the last two days. Ride from Bairagarh to Killar through Saach Pass and then from Killar to Udaipur has to rank amongst the toughest rides in India. It took me around 8 hours to cover 72 kilometers from Bairagarh to Killar and 9 hours to cover 80 kilometers from Killar to Udaipur. I thought I have already covered the most difficult part of the ride in the early part and felt the remaining part to be very easy and enjoyable.
I have always had trouble crossing Rohtang Pass. I have not crossed this pass ever without trouble. So I was happy to bypass it this time. It is a gateway to Ladakh, Lahaul and Spiti Valleys. So by bypassing Rohtang Pass (13050 ft, ASL), meaning pile of corpses in Bhoti language, without entering the gate and instead crossing more dreadful Saach Pass (14500 ft, ASL) over the same mountain range Pir Panjal….I was on the main Manali-Leh highway now.
Keylong (10100 feet, ASL), situated on the banks of River Bhaga, is 126 kilometers from Manali and is the administrative centre of the Lahaul and Spiti districts of Himachal Pradesh. Its the last major town before Leh and has almost all basic facilities. It has number of hotels, guest houses, eateries, provision stores, medical stores, auto repair shops etc.
It is advisable to stay here for a night to avoid acute mountain sickness (AMS).
The Leh-Manali Highway, 490 km long, connects Manali (Himachal Pradesh) with Leh (Jammu and Kashmir) and is open for only about four and a half months in a year in summer between May or June, when the snow is cleared, and mid-October when snowfall again blocks the high passes. Out of which, Manali-Sarchu (230 km) is in HP and Sarchu-Leh (260 km) is in J&K..
Leh–Manali Highway is designed, built and maintained by the (BRO) of Indian army. It is capable of supporting the heaviest of army vehicles. It is flanked by mountain ranges on both sides featuring some stunning sand and rock natural formations. The highway crosses many small streams of ice-cold water from snow-capped mountains and glacial melts without a bridge and it requires driving skill to negotiate fast-flowing streams.
Jispa (10800 feet, ASL), 20 km north of Keylong, has a helipad, a post office, and a monastery. Travellers often stop here the night. It has a hotel, a mountaineer’s’ hut, and a camping ground. It is advisable to stay here to avoid acute mountain sickness (AMS).
Darcha (11,020 ft, ASL) is a settlement on the banks of River Bhaga. It has power and telephone connections. Some buses stop here for the night and the travelers sleep in tents. The settlement is the end-point of a popular trek beginning in Padum. It has quite a number of roadside food stalls and dhabas.
All passing vehicles must stop at Darcha police checkpoint for checking.
Sarchu (14070 feet, ASL) is a major halt point with tented accommodation on the Leh-Manali Highway. Himachal ends and Jammu and Kashmir begins here. It lies in between Baralacha Pass and Lachulung La Pass.The journey along this highway, at high altitude and variable road conditions, normally takes two days, so travellers and tourists use this spot as an overnight stop. Army camp is sited nearby on the banks of the Tsarap chu river. This spot can also be used as a start point for the difficult trek into the Zanskar region of Ladakh.
Beware of acute mountain sickness (AMS). Many people who do not stop at Jispa or Keylong face some difficulty here due to high altitude, excessive cold and low oxygen level.
I enjoyed riding throughout beginning 12 noon from Keylong. Stopped at few places for eating and clicking pictures. Did not face any difficulty whatsoever. In comparison to Pangi road this road was an absolute heaven. The landscape throughout was amazing. Beautiful green meandering Bhaga river is a treat. Standing at beautiful Baralacha La was a feat and would remain in my memory lane forever. There was one big water crossing in between Bharatpur and Sarchu, even that did not pose any challenge.
On reaching Sarchu I found a nice place to stay in a tent run by a very nice couple from Zanskar. Other than me, a couple, which was traveling in their own maruti zen car from Solan, also stayed in the tent. The Zanskar couple had a cute little kid which kept us in good humour throughout. The couple served us nice dinner which we enjoyed like anything. We all sang songs and went to sleep early as it got very cold and chilly.
End of the 5th day of my solo bike ride to Ladakh 2014!!!