[Kargil, Jammu-Kashmir, India]
Greetings from Ladakh’s 2nd-largest city.
As careful readers may have noticed, in my previous update I radically underestimated my rate of progress on the bike. The simple-sounding 7-9 day trip from Manali to Leh actually took a grueling 14 days, 13 of them riding. In part this is because I’m an idiot, and in part because I made some new friends about 4 hours out of Manali and changed my plans entirely.
Original intentions abandoned (eat at the rustic, seasonal dhabas–snack shops–and sleep in the communal parachute tents set up along the way for travellers and truck drivers), I instead loaded up with groceries and warmer camping items and took the long way home, enjoying an unparalleled variety of natural beauty along the way, acclimatizing slowly to the altitudes near the top of the world, and generally living wild and free instead of finding myself tethered to a handful of artificial dots on a map.
Instead of travelling alone, I have spent every day of the last month with random strangers who have become my friends: Jean Daniel (JeanDa) & Leoni (Leo) from Switzerland, and Anthony, from Germany. When we met, JeanDa and Leo had been riding for 14 months, all the way from Switzerland. Anthony had been riding for 6 months throughout the Middle East and India, and I (ahem) had been riding for…4 hours.
7720 meters (25,328 ft) of climbing–and lots of pretty pictures and ibuprofen–later, we arrived in Leh. Aforementioned pretty pics, here.
Thanks to the niceties of local Jammu-Kashmir/Indian politics there was no useful internet access in Leh during most of our week-long stay, so–after a few scrumptious meals and more than a few strong beers–we listened to our collective Cabin Fever and got the hell out of Dodge, arriving in Kargil late yesterday afternoon to even more politics (local elections which shut down most businesses and spawned a few protests–hidden, thankfully, from our view).
Of course, this is only the barest outline, the simplest scaffolding, of a crazy tale involving time travel, road rage, broken bikes, gear quests, an iPod death and resurrection, combat with (and amongst) bodily fluids, a ghost lake, a francophile Korean with a stungun, money-grubbing Buddhist monks and assorted Western tourists with camera lens-sizes inversely proportional to their combined IQ and cultural sensitivity scores (aka “assholes”).
But this tale, this full tale, this fun and exasperating and mind-expanding tale will have to wait. For right now there’s simply far too much to do.
Which brings us to…”What’s Next?”
Sadly, our friend Anthony has to leave us after Kargil. His Indian Visa expires soon so he’s heading for Delhi, and from there back to Europe. If we can find any alcohol (not easy in this region), there will be lots of drinking and general celebration with, and of, new friends.
Once our merry band parts ways at the outskirts of town, JeanDa, Leo, and I head southwards, into the remote, ancient, stunningly beautiful Zanskar Valley. Whoa. The region is closed off by weather for 8 months of every year, and the road is mostly unimproved gravel, for nearly 300 kilometers. At the end of the road we can ride the bikes on single-track for a while longer and then we hire ponies to carry the bikes and gear over the 5090 meter Shingo La pass, returning to the Manali-Leh highway a few days north of Manali, and the end of my 2-wheeled journey.
This Zanskar experience will take at least 21 days (prolly closer to 28), during which your beloved narrator will have no access to modern facilities, much less an internet cafe or WiFi. You, my honored Transglobalistas, will have to use your infinite imaginations to track my progress during this time. I promise to regale you with many (and fully-sketched) tales upon my re-emergence into modernity, or what passes as such in Manali.
Look Good, Have Fun, and Be Safe.
And a fond adieu from your intrepid wanderer,