Gata Loops and the Myth Of Ghost.
Gata Loops are 21 hairpin bends ascending towards Nakee la on Manali-Leh highway. The climb through the loops begins 25 Kms after Sarchu, the entry point of Ladakh. Somewhere in the middle of these loops there is big pile of water bottles and some other eatable stuff, which is very unfair and harmful from the environmental perspective. You will feel bad and will wonder that who put those bottles there and why ? Here’s the story behind that pile. I went to Leh on bicycle for the first time in June 2017 and when I was reading some blogs for the planning of my trip I came across a story about the ghost of Gata Loops. It said that many years ago a truck got stuck in bad weather up there and the sick assistant died of thirst and hunger in the truck. When the road opened the next summer his ghost was seen asking for food and water from people, so someone built a small shrine there and started offering food and water on it. I got a little curious about it as I never believed in these things, so when I reached Gata Loops I kept an eye on both sides of the road looking for that spot but I didn’t see any bottles or such pile there.
My Struggle for Survival.
In 2017 I could have died of fatigue and thirst crossing this exhausting stretch. I had started the day’s ride as usual with one litre water and I was unaware of the road and terrain ahead. I was left with no water by the time I crossed the loops. Usually I refill my water bottle from some stream, river or melting snow but that day I was riding through a dry, barren and cold mountainous desert and it was going uphill so there was no stream or snow or any source of water. That was 8th June 2017, and I remember the same day a friend of mine was getting married and I was invited but I had chosen a different path so had a different destiny, and whole climb was so exhausting because of the high altitude and dryness in the air, wind was also blowing from the opposite direction and I was just imagining the delicious food other people were eating in the marriage and I didn’t have water to drink that day. I had few toffees in my bag and I would put a toffee in my mouth and keep it on the tongue and let it melt slowly for as long as possible. It helped to an extent but it wasn’t enough for the intensity of thirst and hunger I was going through. I would walk for twenty metres and stop for a minute to catch my breath. It was 12 in the noon which means I had been riding/walking for five hours. By 12:30 some Bengali tourists who were returning from Leh in a Traveler van stopped out of curiosity seeing a cyclist and before they could ask me anything I asked them for some water and thankfully they gave me a full bottle of water and a sandwich that saved me. I had to ride for another two hours after that to reach a dhaba in Whiskey Nallah. But thanks to the Bengalis for the water and sandwich that I survived. These things have taught me the intensity of craving, and value of small things and less quantities in our life because it’s all about timing and context and we should be humble in all circumstances, it makes us stronger from within and enables us to understand life and it’s unexpected circumstances and turns we go through. If you stay grounded, you will survive most of the battles in life.
The Trucker’s Narrative of the Ghost.
I went on my second trip in June 2019 and to my surprise this time somewhere in the middle of the loops I saw a big pile of bottles on my left side. I got reminded of that ghost story so I stopped there to rest for a while and got curious to see if it’s true or not. Though I was mentally prepared this time for this stretch and also took two bottles of water for that day but I was left with just half litre water when I reached that spot and the memories of June 8th 2017 had started coming back to my mind. So when I saw that pile of bottles I sat there for a while, nothing happened no ghost came. I picked a fresh bottle and drank half of it and refilled my bottle with the remaining water and put that empty bottle in my bag, I said “Thank you whoever you are and I am really very sorry for what happened to you! Rest In Peace!” And continued my journey. I stopped for lunch in Whiskey Nallah, 20 km from that spot, where I ate and rested. When I was having tea outside the dhaba there was a trucker also, around 40-42 years of age, I started talking to him. He had been ferrying his truck on this highway for last 20-22 years he told me. So while talking I brought this incident in and asked him if it was true to which he said it’s true but the real story is different. He said it happened around 20 years ago somewhere in 1999-2000 when he had started working as an assistant on a truck and this tragic accident happened and all the truckers were talking of it back then. So curiously I requested him to tell me the story he knew, so he narrated it to me.
“Two decades ago a truck was going from Manali to Leh, while crossing the Gata loops the truck was facing difficulty moving upward on a turn, so it started coming backwards. In order to give support to the rear tyres the driver’s assistant, a 20-22 years young guy, climbed down the truck and tried to put stones behind the tyres while the driver tried to keep it driving forward but due to the steepness the truck moved back downwards, the driver was unaware that the guy was still trying to put stones behind the tyres so in the process the young man couldn’t escape and got crushed tragically under the tyres and died at the spot. The truck stopped after ten meters in a plain rough spot by the road and fortunately didn’t fall down. The driver saw the crushed body of his assistant and he got scared. Hurriedly he rolled the body in a blanket and put it a few meters by the road, started the truck and climbing up in a very low gear soon he disappeared from the spot. Since it was a remote deserted area in the mountains where the frequency of vehicles on the road is also very low, so the once crossing once in a while didn’t notice it there. Few days passed and nobody went near the dead body and if anyone saw it they also avoided fearing they might get into trouble, and it was getting rotten and eaten by birds and insects. Some kind hearted people might have buried it and soon the winter was approaching, it started snowing and the roads got closed. When the next summer came, the highway opened for the vehicles so people started traveling again. It is said that many truckers and travelers saw the ghost of that guy at the spot of accident asking for water or food, so one day some truckers decided to build a small mazaar in the name of the departed soul and started offering food, water, cigarettes or anything whenever they passed by the spot. This practice became a routine every year and what you saw today is the result of this practice.”
I don’t know when he finished his tea and when he started his truck and left. I kept sitting there for a while and everything he narrated running like a film in my head. I was ten years old in 1999 at the time of that accident, and I had not even imagined in my dreams that 20 years later I would travel to such a remote place in the Himalayas and a trucker would tell me the story of a tragedy that’s just happened over a thousand kilometres away. That’s how life is, the greatest journey of innumerable journeys where every moment an event, an incident, an accident or any story takes place, a narrator and a listener start traveling that very moment from two far distant places to meet after years or decades and share that story when most people have forgotten it.