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Day 14: Bus to Sarchu

Sarchu Travel Blog

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Leaving Ladakh at Upshi.

The road safety campaign extends beyond Leh. As we drive across the desert, following the slim green band of cultivation along the River Indus, we're treated to an assortment of useful warnings: 'Peep Peep, Don't Sleep', 'Drive Like Hell – You'll Be There' and 'Be Mr Late Rather Than the Late Mr', which is marginally our favourite. The road surface is good, better than you'd expect in such a remote place. The reason, of course, is that the highway is built and maintained by the army, or 'The Mountain Tamers', as they like to call themselves. It's not road safety they're worried about up here, its invasion.

 

Michael Palin - Himalaya

 

The alarm went off at 5:15 AM, I got out of bed and hit the light-switch.

Last toilet for 312 kilometers.
Nothing. Leh's power was still out and the hotel's generator wasn't running. It's quite an experience trying to get dressed and pack your last stuff in the dawn's twilight coming in through the opened curtains. Fortunately after fifteen minutes the familiar sound of the whirring generator started and the lights went on.

Breakfast was a bit simpler than we had gotten used to, especially compared to Dorje's trekking food. Seemingly Rabi wasn't feeling much like baking eggs at this time of day.

At 6:20 we were in the bus that would take us across the Himalaya. A bit of a run down affair with flowered carpeting on the ceiling. Still, it had more leg space than any other vehicle we had been in so far.

 

We made our way southwards over the Leh - Manali highway with its safety signs, once again passing Thiksey and Shey.

Climbing the Taglang-La.
We had a short tea and toilet stop at Upshi and then the bus began its ascent towards the Taglang-La, the world’s one but highest motorable mountain pass (5328 m). The highest mountain pass being the Khardung-La (5602 m) north of Leh. Both are higher than both the Tong-La Judith and I had crossed on our journey from Tibet to Nepal two years earlier and Everest Base Camp. This would be the highest we'd ever been!

At 5000 meters we had already snaked our way into the clouds and the body started acting strangely. Muscles in my arms and fingers started cramping up, breathing speeding up and a slight nausea haunted my stomach. We had a short delay because of roadwork and then continued up the mountain for the last 328 meters.

 

It was freezing cold on the Taglang-La and melting snow was falling from the sky.

Climbing the Taglang-La.
As you can imagine this was not a place to linger and after having our obligatory pictures taken at the sign stating the height and how 'unbelievable' it was we quickly got back in the bus and continued downhill, occasionally passing road workers that were improving damage to the road. Seemingly these man and women are recruited in the poor Indian state of Bihar and receive 80 rupees plus food and lodging per day for one of the toughest jobs in the country.

 

After less than an hour the landscape had completely changed. We had dipped beneath the clouds again and at 4700 meters wide plain stretched out between the mountains; the summer grazing grounds for yak, sheep and goats seemingly referred to as the More Plains.

After almost 50 kilometres of these windswept plains we suddenly descended into a deep gorge ending at the small road workers and army depot Pang (a name quite fitting for an army depot). Although not recommended we had lunch here since it was already half past two and the next town was many kilometres and one mountain pass away.

Roadworks at 5000 meters high.

In one of the 'restaurant tents' we ordered a safe meal of tea, vegetable soup and fried rice which went down quite well on our hungry stomachs. At 15:30 we continued our way towards today's second pass. A stunning landscape with high jagged walls of rock on both side of the bus and huge protruding stones that seemed to be coming crashing down upon us rolled past us.

 

After passing numerous cargo and full trucks coming from the south and the occasional tourist bus we finally reached the Lachalang-La (5060 m). Unlike the last pass this one was below the clouds, but it was still windy and ice-cold, so we only spent a few minutes here before continuing downward into the beautiful valley beyond.

After passing a tiny tent camp at the bottom of the valley (seemingly referred to as 'Whisky Nullah') the bus climbed the last pass of today, the Nakee-La Pass at nearly 5000 meters.

At the Taglang-La.
On this pass there were fewer prayer flags but lots and lots of little stone towers. At six o' clock we started our last descent of the day via the 21 'Gata Loops', a seemingly endless series of very sharp switchbacks spiralling downward towards a broad valley with a river and patches of green.

 

We continued along the river and by the time we pulled into Sarchu (4100 m) at eight o' clock, darkness had already fallen over the Himalaya. We had now officially left Ladakh and entered the province of Himachal Pradesh.

It took a bit longer before we reached the 'Goldrop' campsite, a collection of tents with double beds and a separate toilet 'room'.

At the Taglang-La.
It was freezing cold at this location of 4400 meters, but what else would you expect of a location right in the middle of the Himalaya. As you can imagine everybody immediately ran to the 'dinner hall' where warm tea was being served. Judith, Paul and Anneke spotted a couple of big red dice on the table and immediately began playing dice. It took another person to explain to them that the dice were actually pepper and salt dispensers. Yes, the ‘Sawadee Tour of Destruction’ had arrived!

 

The dinner buffet consisted of chapatti, dhal, rice, paneer ... In other words the usual standard vegetarian Indian dish. I wasn't very hungry, either because Judith and I had just devoured a bag of spicy Masala chips in the bus or because of the lack of physical activity today and the tiredness of the trip. After dinner everybody quickly went to their tents. It was so cold that Judith and I decided to unpack our sleeping bags again and put the blankets that were provided by Goldrop on top of them. In this cosy and warm little nest it didn't take long before I was snoozing away after slipping in my sleeping bag at 21:30.

At the Taglang-La.

bamiforall says:
Didn't you bring your "KRUIK" for cold feet????
Posted on: Aug 19, 2008
bamiforall says:
He,Ed just finished your SYLVAN dvd again(this time without being under the influence of some (yak)beers!!??!!Great stuff,count me in for the 29/11 at the "nieuwe Pul""

Hope you've got some more pics for us to visualize your stories.

Posted on: Aug 19, 2008
Devika1985 says:
awww :D
Posted on: Aug 19, 2008
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Leaving Ladakh at Upshi.
Leaving Ladakh at Upshi.
Last toilet for 312 kilometers.
Last toilet for 312 kilometers.
Climbing the Taglang-La.
Climbing the Taglang-La.
Climbing the Taglang-La.
Climbing the Taglang-La.
Roadworks at 5000 meters high.
Roadworks at 5000 meters high.
At the Taglang-La.
At the Taglang-La.
At the Taglang-La.
At the Taglang-La.
At the Taglang-La.
At the Taglang-La.
Beyond the Taglang-La.
Beyond the Taglang-La.
Beyond the Taglang-La.
Beyond the Taglang-La.
Pang.
Pang.
Lunch at dhaba in Pang.
Lunch at dhaba in Pang.
Lunch at dhaba in Pang.
Lunch at dhaba in Pang.
On the road to Sarchu.
On the road to Sarchu.
On the road to Sarchu.
On the road to Sarchu.
On the road to Sarchu.
On the road to Sarchu.
Second pass of the day, the Lachal…
Second pass of the day, the Lacha…
View from the Lachalang-La.
View from the Lachalang-La.
View from the Lachalang-La.
View from the Lachalang-La.
Between two Las ... spot the cryi…
Between two La's ... spot the cry…
On the Nakee-La.
On the Nakee-La.
Just below the clouds at the Nakee…
Just below the clouds at the Nake…
On the road to Sarchu.
On the road to Sarchu.
On the road to Sarchu.
On the road to Sarchu.
Dinner at Sarchu.
Dinner at Sarchu.
Are they dice ... or ?
Are they dice ... or ?
Sarchu
photo by: edsander