Gata Loops is a name that is unknown to everyone except for a few who have traveled on the Manali Leh highway; or planning to do so. It is a series of twenty one hairpin bends that takes you to the top of the 3rd high altitude pass on this highway, Nakeela; at a height of 15,547 ft. As a matter of fact, this steep and winding section of the road is considered as one of the tourist attractions of Manali to Leh road. People who do know the name Gata Loops know it because of its stunning location, breath taking scenery around it; and the difficult ascent involved in order to reach the top. But that is not all; there is also the ghost that haunts these loops; that only a few people know about.
During my first trip to Ladakh, we were staying at a camp site in Jispa. It was 2005, a time when very few people, mostly motorcyclists and adventure enthusiasts, would dream of taking the arduous journey on Manali Leh highway. There were no other guests at the camp site; and all the other tents except for the one that we were occupying were empty.
It was slightly past 9 pm and my fellow traveler Shoaib had already gone to sleep after the day long journey from Manali to Jispa; but despite being tired, I just could not get myself to sleep. I was standing outside our tent, enjoying the pitch black and peace of the night and valley around; when I noticed that the kitchen light was still on. The kitchen set up too was actually inside a tent. I walked over and found the guy who was running the camp preparing a cup of tea for himself. He asked me if I would like to have some and my answer was an immediate yes.
After comfortably settling down on a chair in the kitchen itself with a cup of tea in my hand, I struck up a conversation with him just to kill some time. He proved to be quite a chatty fellow himself and pretty soon was telling me almost everything; about himself and the place, how cold it gets here, how he moves to Manali in winter and so many other things. I actually did not mind him talking because this was my first trip to Ladakh; and I was able to get a lot of information from him; stuff that could be of use while traveling.
After a while, just when I thought to go back to my tent and get some sleep,when he asked me a question that got me caught up in the conversation again.
“Do you know about Gata Loops?”
“Yes I do, we will be crossing it tomorrow” I replied.
“No not that”, He started sounding mysterious, “Do you know about the ghost?”
“There is a ghost that lives there. The place is haunted”
“There is a building out there?” This was going to be my first time at Gata Loops but somehow I already knew the answer to this question; still I asked to clarify.
“No not a building. That entire section of the road is haunted” He replied.
“What?” I laughed, “Why would a ghost live there on the road, out in the cold”
“Its not his choice” He kept that serious tone and expression on his face, “He is bound to that place because his body is buried there”
“Really? Who was that poor fellow? Someone who thought that this place is scenic enough to die here, be buried and just be here forever?” My tone was still of a mocker.
“No, someone who was just unfortunate enough to get stuck on the road and ended up dead”
“Tell me about it”, Now I sounded curious and he started telling me the tale of the trucker who died on the Gata loops.
Several years ago [he couldn’t tell me exactly how many years ago], it was late October when a truck with its two travelers, the driver and a cleaner, crossed Rohtang and moved on its way towards Leh. It had already started to snow at a few places and the driver was warned but he had a time limit to reach Leh; which meant that it was too late for him to turn back and take the Srinagar Leh highway which was still comparatively safer. It was the last truck to cross Rohtang as it snowed heavily the very same evening at the top and the pass closed. Kunzum Pass was already closed weeks ago and there were no vehicles coming from Kaza as well which means that it was the last truck plying on Manali Leh highway.
The driver managed to bring the truck safely all the way to Gata Loops but this is where disaster struck. On one of the loops, his truck broke down and came to a complete halt. After trying for hours, the driver couldn’t fix whatever was wrong with the vehicle. They waited and waited but no one crossed them by because they were the last vehicle on the route. so the driver decided to walk to a nearby village and get some help. Cleaner however was ill and not in a condition to walk. He was so terribly ill that he could barely stand up but what was he suffering from our narrator couldn’t tell.
To add to this, Truck was also loaded and could not be left abandoned with the cargo because of the risk of getting robbed hence the cleaner stayed back with the truck to guard it; and also because he was in no condition to walk. The driver walked and walked for miles until he found a tiny village but Alas, there was no mechanic there. He somehow managed to make a phone call to Manali to get someone to come and fix the truck but to his bad luck, while he was still waiting at the village, the weather closed in. It started to snow heavily and became impossible for the driver to get back to the truck.
It took several days for the weather to clear and all this time; he was stranded an the village. Finally help came from Manali and they all hurried back to Gata Loops; to the spot where the truck broke down only to find the cleaner dead. Poor chap was left alone on the road for several days; in freezing temperature, in poor health, with no water and nothing to eat and eventually died of thirst, hunger and cold. The truck was fixed but it was impossible to drive it either to Leh or Manali because passes on both sides were closed. So the driver drove the truck to the village he was stranded in; and waited there until it was possible to drive across Rohtang and return to Manali.
The body of the cleaner was buried at Gata Loops by the villagers, right at the spot where he died. Next year when the highway reopened, people started noticing a strange thing. There was a beggar at Gata Loops who would waive at the passing vehicles to stop and begged them for water. Some people did not stop but the ones who did and offered the beggar some water saw the bottles drop right through his hands. The word spread and sure enough people were scared of the ghost who begged for water; thinking that it might harm them if they stopped or curse them if they didn’t. In order to pacify the ghost; the locals set up a small temple at the spot where he was buried and made offerings of water.
Since then, whoever passes by and is aware of the story leaves some water at the temple, as an offering.
“Have you seen this ghost?” Was my question after the guy finished his story.
“Do you know anyone who has seen the ghost?”
“No but tomorrow when you cross Gata Loops, look out for a dump of water bottles. That is where the temple and the grave of the dead cleaner is.”
And sure enough, the next day while we were ascending on Gata Loops; I noticed a dump of water bottles in front of a small temple made of stones with a red flag fluttering on top of it. It looked weird and quite an eyesore if middle of such a scenic place; but i also noticed that all the water bottles were full, seal packed.
The Ghost of Gata Loops
So is the legend of the ghost of Gata loops where people still stop and make offerings of water. See the small enclosed cave like thing between the bottles, made by putting bricks together? There is a real human skull placed inside that. Next time you are on this highway, take a moment and check it out.
As it turned out, there is a different version of the story as well, as shared by a reader in the comments section below; which I will copy paste here.
“I heard a different story. There was a bus that broke down on that bend. So the conductor got down to place a stone behind its wheel to stop it from drifting. But the driver was not able manage the vehicle and ended up crushing the conductor by rear wheels. Conductor had some life left in him and was asking for water but driver fearing arrest left him there to die and fled the spot. Hence the demand for water”
Since then, I have been to Ladakh several times and climbed up the Gata Loops. I never left a water bottle there because it just looked like a waste and littering to me; but also I have never experienced anything supernatural. No one ever waived at me to stop or beg for water. If you however have been to Ladakh and have a tale to tell from Gata Loops; or know a different version of the ghost story; please certainly do so in the comments section below or at our Community Forum.
We just crossed this place on 7th August 2022. Though my husband mentioned about this place but as non believers we did not offer anything . Later of the day we have started facing problems . First another car hit our vehicle from rear and the bumper fell off . Throughout the journey we had to stop and tie the bumper with belt , cable etc.
Before 80kms of Leh our new all terrain Tyre punctured . It was pitch dark and deserted . Somehow we managed to change the Tyre. After reaching we found another Tyre bulging . The issue did not get fixed and we had to change our plans and go back . Our friends are still stuck in Pang because of heavy rain . Problems one after another .
So it made me believe that there is something in that area Called gata loops which curse you if you do not offer something .
Ok I never visited that area, but My friend visited There. He said that on some long road he saw a man standing with a shawl covered his whole face,only eyes where visible which were red. That man asked for water, which my friend of friend gave it , then he asked for biscuits , they said they don’t have any biscuits (my friend was with his other friend) and they left. After they reached some hotel. Now the strange part is why he said he need biscuits, he would have said he need food or anything else. Then the dude sitting with friend said that he had biscuits in bag. They were shocked. Then they visited some hotel, and they said the same story as you mentioned.
Don’t know the story my friend is true but after searching and reading other people views, it might be true
Hi Vargis, your blogs are awesome and helpfull , specially for beginners,
Comming back to this blog, that bottles need to be cleared, it’s harmful for nature as well as for the ghost to drink from a plastic bottle which may get contaminated with bacteria, someone can make a big desi pot and people can pour the water in it.
Today I also crossed gata loops in 2021 however I did not notice bottles or any one begging for water
There is a series on Amazon Prime Video called “Deadliest Journeys” that brought me here. It is the episode entitled “Ladakh”, and they cover the ghost there! Check it out!
Thank you Vargis for this story….I travelled with my punto in 2010….and my clutch lever broke at gata loops….I did not know of this story back then…it would have been fascinating if I had know…
[…] Gata Loops are a series of 21 hairpin bends that take you to the top of Nakee La, the third high altitude pass on the Manali Leh route. The climb will be a strenuous one and will definitely take it out of you. Nakee La is at an elevation of 4,739 meters (15,547 ft). One by one you will ride up the bends and keep gaining tremendous amounts of altitude. There is also a ghost story related to this pass that you can read about at The Ghost of Gata Loops. […]
I cycled gata,loops in july 2003 by myself ….didnt see a ghost nor bottles …but up on nakeela,plains i had a very odd occurrence….as i was riding across the plain i saw out to my right what appeared to be a wolf running fast directly towards me …i wondered what to do so i rode as fast as possible hoping to out ride it however it continued towards me gaining gaining until it was upon me and ran right across the rode in front of me and continued to my left at speed …i stopped and watched as it ran towards a group of yaks …..phew it actually never saw me just the yaks …..
[…] water by the shrine for the ghost. I have covered this story in great detail in another article, The Ghost of Gata Loops, that I will urge you to […]
[…] steep climb, a set of 21 hairpin bends known as Gata Loops. Interestingly, Gata Loops also has a ghost story of its own. Nakee La really gives you the feeling of being in the middle of nowhere. It is also the spot on […]
It was a very good blog to read. I crossed this place and heard the story on 02nd Oct’19. My version is a mixture of your post and the one you took from comments. Your blog put together a clearer version of the story.
[…] Also read: The Ghost of Gata Loops, Ladakh […]
Guys whatever is the story but littering plastic is not permissible after all it’s a beautiful place but very sad to hear the tragic death i can say a lonely death loneliness itself is very painful and on that dying for food and water just imagine the pain i pray to Allah even our enemy shouldn’t goin that such situation.
My suggestion is to put some money in a locker at that place and that donation should go to the dying destitutes or those who are children of victims who die in accidents on high elevation mountains i know this is not possible but somebody should take initiative and plant a locker near the grave of that cleaner and a board asking for donations in loving memory of the cleaner and i am sure every tourist bus driver will stop the bus and tell passengers the story of cleaner not that he is haunting the hill pass it will be an insult to the person who died with such a pain so automatically every tourist and passenger will donate generously and i hope the central dept will take care of the locker and the fund. what is your opinion vargis is this possible or the govt will give a blind eye to this illogical effort. What you say guys can the govt or the people of that area can understand the value of water in that snow area
It’s sad if this thing happened to the poor guy, if you would like to pay homeage , plant a tree at this beautiful place I am sure his soul will be happier and name those plants against the people who have lost their lives there.
I had a fruitful tour on my bullet throughout Leh-ladakh trip , people are friendly and I can’t think their souls would be bad either …so no ghost stories for me…
Thanks for your inputs brother
Yes what sudhir is saying is correct we should not litter the place and shouldn’t leave a water bottle since water is very precious more than gold on that road bcoz without water survival is zero we can’t eat snow for survival why to waste water instead everybody should plant a tree in memory of that cleaner so that those trees will give others shelter in rain.
Nice story, and excellent art of telling of story. I visited LehD in June 2018 between 8th to 18th with four of my colleagues in a SUV. and we were not aware about that this place is haunted.
First of all,
We also observed many water bottles at this place. The first thing came in mind, that why people left so many plastic bottles, ie: just to ruin natural beauty.
I also request to all readers, if they are planning to visit in coming years or time, pls do not spoil the nature.
Do not spread plastic anywhere expect dustbins.
Thanks Ved. And I completely agree with your views. Those water bottles are indeed a sore sight
Even I heard the same story. Didn’t experience anything extra ordinary at Gata loops on my ride too. However, it was more interesting to cover the stretch knowing this.
One more interesting thing which I noticed was, besides those mineral water bottles, there were beedi packets and even match boxes as offering to the wandering soul 😀
I did not notice the beedi packets Salil but I guess it makes sense. Something to keep the ghost warm in cold nights … 🙂
Thanks for sharing your experience Salil
I have been to the place and as you mentioned no hassles. I was not aware of the story but my pillion rider mentioned soon we crossed the mark as he has read it somewhere. We have crossed the place in the dark too , some where near 7:30 but had no issues and never offered water.
Your blogs are really good and helpful. Planning for a ride from Shimla to kaza and kaza and Manali by April End 2018
Thank you for taking the time to drop a note Sanal. I appreciate it.
nice really informative would love to visit ladak soon
Tell this stories to water bottle companies so they sponser the spot….. A unique way of advertising there brands
When i read about gata loops in newspaper,i was very curious to know about it.thanks for sharing ur experience.
Thanks for taking the time to drop a note.
So, if you are thirsty and nearby GATA loops, you know now where water is! 😀
Haha … that is another way of looking at it
myself and my wife, in 2018, only driving from Kolhapur to KTop via Gata loops. I heard the story, and was not ready to beleive. but, as we were only 2 persons in our Gypsy, to avoid any un forseen events en route, supersteshiousally, dropped a water bottle. i felt sorry for nature, But…
And, I don’t smoke, so cigarets or beedis were not with me to offer.
Beyond all superstition the place now needs to be cleard for ecological reason to keep the Himalayas clean and pristine !
One of my favorite Ghost Stories from now on.. Thank you for sharing 🙂
Thanks Pawan Bhai
i am also fine,,
Damn! Those bottles! I would surely leav some hot drink for him and a bottle…
Yeah hot drink in that cold weather would be quite good
I heard a different story. There was a bus that broke down on that bend. So the conductor got down to place a stone behind its wheel to stop it from drifting. But the driver was not able manage the vehicle and ended up crushing the conductor by rear wheels. Conductor had some life left in him and was asking for water but driver fearing arrest left him there to die and fled the spot. Hence the demand for water….
Thank you for adding this information Mandar
Thanks for sharing the story Vargis. Ghost is there or not is unimportant …. need to feel the experience of the Cleaner who died & your heart will speak to leave some water …might help someone in future
I agree Pritam
What if we don’t give water bottle in temple
Nothing happens … I did not leave a water bottle behind and i am fine