Real story behind the horrifying legend of Gata Loops

May 2000. Manali-Leh Highway. Four friends on a couple of Royal Enfield Bullets reached a series of hairpin bends. All of them were in their 20s and were undertaking a bike tour from Manali to Leh. It was the second day of their journey. As they started the ascent, their spirits also soared. The views from the 10-km stretch of 21 bends, popularly known as 'Gata Loops', were spellbinding.

Gata Loops (File Photo)

This was at a time when the region had not exploded in popularity and the Manali-Leh road, beyond the Rohtang Pass, was only traversed by avid adventure enthusiasts or truck drivers. The road had been opened just a couple of days ago, after six months of heavy snowfall, and the wilderness could be savoured in all its glory.

After the 19th bend, the pair of motorcyclists suddenly saw a man, probably in his late 30s, standing in the middle of the road and asking for water. His maroon shirt was badly tattered and his appearance dishevelled. He almost looked like a beggar. The four friends were a tad taken aback as, on this road, all one usually came across were bikers or, rarely, a smattering of local villagers. In the midst of hairpin bends, encountering an unkempt, frail man was more than just unusual.

Gata Loops (File Photo)

However, they stopped and got off their bikes. One of the guys took out his water bottle and gave it to the man. But he gaped in utter disbelief as the bottle seemingly passed through the man's hands and fell on the road. The boys froze with fear and were unable, for a few seconds, to make out what had just happened. As they recovered from the jolt, they all ran for their bikes and sped off, even as the beggar-like man kept screaming for water...

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October 1999 (Flashback). It was the third week of the month and winter had started to set in. Snow had made its presence felt already at some places along the Manali-Leh highway. A truck carrying cargo crossed the Rohtang Pass in the morning. Soon after, it started snowing even more heavily, forcing a close of the pass. The Kunzum pass on the other side had been closed a few days ago. The region was shrouded in an uneasy silence as if apprehensively anticipating a thunderous squall.

Gata Loops (File Photo)

The truck reached the Gata Loops in the evening but was felled by the excruciating climb and treacherous road. It broke down at the 19th bend.The driver and the helper pulled out all stops to fix the truck but were unsuccessful. They decided to wait there for the night and avail themselves of help from passersby. They were oblivious of the fact that the Rohtang Pass had closed after they crossed it and hence their was possibly the last vehicle on the route.

After being stranded the whole night, the driver decided to walk to Sarchu, 24 km from Gata Loops, and bring a mechanic from there. The helper decided to stay near truck and safeguard the cargo. The driver trudged towards Sarchu. When he was a kilometer or so from the village, the skies opened up. The driver hastened towards Sarchu and as he reached, it started to snow like mad, locking down the entire area in its white, smothering embrace. It became impossible to step out of the house, leave alone take a walk outside for the next eight days.

Gata Loops (File Photo)

Once the weather cleared, the driver, along with a mechanic, began to make their way towards the Gata Loops. The driver's mind was engulfed with a sense of disquietude. His consternation proved right when they reached the spot. The helper was no more and had started to decompose -- hunger, thirst and hostile weather had taken their toll. The crestfallen driver buried his body near the spot.

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When the pass opened after 6 months, in May 2000, many people started witnessing a strange thing at the Gata Loops. A frail-looking man in a maroon shirt screaming for water after the 19th bend. When they stopped to offer him a bottle, they saw the bottle seemingly pass through his hands and fall on the road. This appearance terrorised all who passed the spot and, after much consultation, a small shrine, made of bricks, was constructed on the grave of the dead helper, to appease his soul.

Gata Loops (File Photo)

In time, locals and tourists who passed the spot started offering sealed water bottles, biscuits and bidis to the shrine. The practice is still followed and nobody has seen the spectre since...

Gata Loops (File Photo)

So, to this day, at the 19th bend of Gata Loops, a pile of sealed water bottles and packs of biscuits near a small shrine greet passersby. For the rationalists, they're a blemish to the breathtaking landscape; but for many, they are a benediction for the dead. The legend of Gata Loops continues to inspire fear and fascination in equal measure....

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