Sarchu in Ladakh: Spending the longest night of my life

I reached Sarchu en-route to Leh from Jispa for a night halt at the Blue Poppy Camp here. The setting of this camp was highly picturesque – but the conditions equally harsh.

Getting out of the car, I was greeted by the camp’s managers warmly. And lots of chilly winds hitting the head straight, the warm Mountain Hardwear Dome Perignon hat made of Polartec 200 fleece and Gore Windstopper fleece picked up from REI of not much use in the conditions.

Located at an altitude of about 14,300 feet, my travel planner had advised me to break journey here on the way to Leh to get better acclimatized to the altitudes. Turned out to be a bad tip. For one, I could have done Jispa (where I stayed the previous night) to Leh in one day had I started early – provided of course the journey did not see any unexpected delays. More importantly, Sarchu was at a higher altitude than both Leh and Jispa. Why stay here then? The only reason why one needs to stay in Sarchu is if one is going to Tso Moriri from Jispa; Sarchu is the only place to stay en-route during the long journey. Else one should make a straight run to Leh. (Sarchu is technically in Himachal Pradesh, located on the border with Ladakh. But for all practical purposes, it is like being in Ladakh only)

Anyway, the manager asked me to take it easy and not walk around much. And stay indoors. I obeyed him as much as I could but it did not help matters. I got hit by Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) by the evening. Making it the longest night of my life. It was cold, and the howling winds were threatening to blow my tent away. I was lying in bed, with the body in a state like it was suffering from a flu or a viral fever. I was asleep and awake at the same time – and counting the minutes in my watch waiting for morning to come. I was supposed to be drinking a lot of water – but it had become very cold to drink in this weather. And how was I supposed to go out in the cold in the dark to discharge all the fluids I was taking in? The Catch 22 situation punched me in all ways it could. And this was all in the summer month of July.

Dawn did break eventually, and I was on the road as soon as I could after breakfast. Only for my troubles to continue till I reached Pang where an Army doctor helped me get back in shape. Even now, thoughts of the night in Sarchu give me the jitters. Not that it’s going to stop me from going back though.

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32 COMMENTS

  1. hey. its always interesting to read about Ladakh. AMS a deadly encounter. i was hit by it at Pang. makes u respect nature even more

  2. Hi, Its highly surprizing that the manager asked you to take it easy and not walk around much. And stay indoors.
    You obeyed him and THAT’S WHY you got hit with AMS.
    I agree you cant start running at that height but a light walk and remaining ACTIVE are the precautionary measures to avoid AMS.
    Thanks

  3. Hi Neelmani, actually I did walk around a bit without really ‘running’ around. But I guess I did not take enough water in. Or maybe I went into a slumber mode too soon – did not remain active long enough. But thanks for the tip – will bear in mind for the future.

  4. Hi Ajay,

    I am planning a road trip from Delhi to Leh via Manali from 20th September. We have got 15 days in hand. Where all do you suggest we stay in route?

  5. i got the same things….it was realy a longtest night,cool wionds,abnormal thaughts, and it was realy deadlu at Sarachu…but it helped me i kept moving and walking,positve thaughts helped me.

  6. We are planning to stay for two nights at Solang valley
    One night at jispa and one night at Sharchu.
    Reaching Leh the next night.

    Any suggestions , since medically it is incorrect to sleep at 14000 ft.
    It would be wiser to go to LEH directly from Jispa. but then the distance
    will take 12-13 hrs to cover. The whole idea is to enjoy the travel

  7. jhulay! this sounds like i could’ve written it!!!!!!!! i’ve never waited for day break as desperately as i did that night in July 09! i spent half the night with my head in the toilet!

  8. Hi, you enjoy a night at Sarchu,Intresting thing that u cant forget that night. I also stayed at sarchu 2 times with my family during my two last visit to leh, still want to complete third visit of leh by sarchu route, without sarchu stay, Leh visit is not complete, That is the thing of enjoy pain.

  9. I am sure you had a good time – it’s just that not everyone might adjust to it well. Probably I will try to stay there again the next time I go. :)

    Would you like to join us on some of our future journeys? Sign up for FREE at Club Kunzum: http://www.kunzum.com/club.

    Look forward to seeing you on Kunzum more often.
    Cheers…Ajay

  10. Is it ok to stay in Sarchu if one is driving from Leh to Manali? All the above comments are about Manali to Leh and the accompanying acclimatisation problems. But in our case we would have been duly acclimatised in Leh etc. Please advise. Also can you reccommend a place in Sarchu? We will be with our two kids aged 9 & 6

  11. Tented accomadation is available of all catagory in sarchu when the road From manali to leh is open, As you are coming from Leh, so you will not feel any big problem during your stay at sarchu, What I feel there is that you have to rest completely when you are at Sarchu, avoid Alcohol, smocking and full meal, take max. liquid. Hope a nice trip. We are also going third time to Leh only by road & from Manali to Leh route, when the road will open.

  12. During my trip of 2011, we have booked this Goldrop camp by paying 3000/ in advance at their Manali office one day before reaching there.When we reach there by 8.30 PM in night, camp manager say that all the tenty are fully occupied, so you have to stay some others tent, he escort us to other camp, which is in very bad shape, so we feel cheated, but have no option, stay there and pay the balance amount to the other camp. Our tarrif for goldrop was Rs.3600/ with extra bed, while in that camp where we stay it was Rs.1600/ for a night. However our advance was adjusted in tarrif of our Leh hote. But this is not a good thing as in Sarchu you have very few option in while reach in late night. Also we pay advance to its real owner still we have to suffer, Night stay at Sarchu , have to spend whole night without sleep.

  13. Hello dear, your story make me remind the my experiences at Sarchu, where i also spent a night counting the minutes and i was worried that if i could not come out of the disease what will happen as the nearest station from there was about 225 kms and i cannot be survive. only glucose drip could save me but it cannot be provided there any way. In fact i was suffering from GERD (Gastroesophagus reflux disorder)and the posture of sleeping on leaning mountain made me about to start vomiting but my vomiting is so dangerous it cannot be cured without inter venous injecting glucose. I was thrilling with fear, and the cold was freezing my arms which i bring out of bed……..

  14. We had a similar experience at Sarchu.. It felt a really long night. I also kept waiting for day break and was thinking whether i would make it? But in the morning as i came out of the tent it changed dramatically seeing the pristine views and the clear whether.

  15. Hello Ajay

    I am just finishing my blog “Restless Lands: Frontiers of Pakistan and Northern India, 2012” (Travelpod)which is the story of our journeys my husband and I undertook last year. I was just writing up under my last entry “Reflections” – some of our more memorable occasions. Camping at Sarchu Heights was definitely one! I did have a laugh to read about your stay there. It still gives us shivers too but we did end up having a very funny, if rather dreadful, night there! Yes, I’d go back but I doubt my husband Alan would after his ordeal with altitude sickness! We thought that Ladakh was simply spectacular and we loved our breakfast at Pang. Best wishes for your travels! Wendy

    • Hi Wendy – so good to hear from you. This is the best part of travel – the quirky experiences we have along the way. All is fun as long as we come home safe. Are you planning just a blog or possibly make it into an e-book or a traditional book? Here’s wishing you many more travels. Doesn’t (almost) everything else seem incidental when you travel? :)

  16. +Ajay Jain: I thank you and all the comment(ators) for a healthy input. We are planning to go this July. We are all 60years plus!! We are driving up from Manali…Your advise and warning would be highly welcome. Please feel free to write on email too: rupindersra@yahoo.com

    Thanks in advance.

  17. Hi Ajay,
    I am going to Sarchu by 8th June, my plan…. ..from Delhi fly to Srinagar, then to Kargil, Leh, and Sarchu overnight at tented accommodation, by reading your article that quite worried me, I intend to bring diamox, and, do I need to bring sleeping bag?
    Thanks and have a good day.

    • Hi Tan Tat Bee, A sleeping bag is always a good idea in Ladakh. The accommodation is not always available and you might not get clean beds in remote areas. Sleeping bags will keep you warm and feel more hygienic. Enjoy your trip.

  18. All dears,
    I read all your experience about night stay at sarchu.
    I would like to say only one thing that don’t be panic by thinking about AMC by reading or hearing from anyone. Follow some basic fundamentals and enjoy the nature.Although I did,t know anything about High alt. or snowy weather I went Leh by my LML vespa scooter in 1993 from Delhi to Leh through Manali – Leh highway having night stay at Manali, Keylong, Sarchu.
    Since I have visited Leh so many times by this route by LML Scooter as well as with my Maruti Esteem car in the same way. I just follow the instructions given by the local people.
    My wife also visited Leh with me in 2012. We crossed Khardung LA, Chang La and Tanglang La 4 times each as we took night stay at Tsomoriri and Pangong Lakes with altitudes of 15000ft. each.
    Now I am planning again Delhi – Srinagar – kargil – Leh – Sarchu – Manali – delhi. by my Maruti Esteem with my wife, daughter & son in the first week of September.

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