Trip Start Jun 05, 2011
196Trip End Feb 28, 2013
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9/15 Leh to Nubra Valley then Shayok Valley☀☁
Khardong La at 5602m
Weather had been T-shirt in the day and polartec-cool at night until few days ago. Now it is getting steadily colder with each passing fall day.
We decided to rent a more powerful motorcycle, (compared to mellow scooters we rented in rest of Asia) a Royal Enfield 350cc, to scale these enormous mountains.
We stored our packs at our hotel and took off with minimum luggage for 3 days to isolated villages in Nubra Valley (130km). Again we had to get to the top of Khardung La pass on the highest motorable road in the world at 5602m (18380ft) which we had cycled down few days before -very exciting and scary at same time.
Only the last 10km before pass and 15km after was on dirt. Several times we had to wait for a bulldozer to remove boulders and rock as it widened the mostly one-lane road.. On top, it is cold and we felt the altitude, every step hurt - plus our heads ached.
We didn't stop this time for cup of hot tea at "highest cafeteria" in the world.
We met a nice guy from Israel, Ori, going to same place we were headed. We asked why he carried 10 extra liters of gasoline with him. There is a gas station in Diskit – the only one in the valley. He would rather be safe than sorry. There are stories of gas station being closed for days due to lack of gas. He was a lot faster than us and we leap-frogged him just once as he took a break.
Boy this is spectacularly rugged and barren landscape. We could see the hairpins down the valley up ahead and fantastic snow clad peaks of the distant ranges. After 15km more narrow dirt road beyond the pass, we got to the paved road just before a military base and small village, more of a rest-stop than a village with one restaurant/homestay and a few other buildings. Here we stopped for hot tea and decent, but unexciting, momos (Tibetan Dumplings). We basked in the warmth of the sun before moving on.
In spite of our ample natural padding, our rears got pretty tender. The weather was fantastic, blue sky, some clouds. At the confluence of 2 broad valleys we turned west following the enormously wide Nubra valley.
At about 5pm, and a mile before our destination, we encountered a group of giggling teen girls dressed in white, bathing in small pond bbbrrrr. We stopped to watch and they eagerly posed while we took their photo.
We got to small village of 'old' Diskit up the Shayok valley fork from Nubra valley. With an imposing monastery towering high on the mountain above it completing picture perfect old town with it's stone walls and flat roofed houses. We found fantastic small guesthouse where we nailed a room with views of the boxy multi-room, multi-story, 17th century Diskit Gompa (monastery) and the nearby new Chamba Seated-Buddha statue. Sunrise Guesthouse has new rooms with sit down toilets, cold running water, and even a warm water bucket shower, for $6.per night. It is a hundred feet from the landmark prayer-wheel cum bus stop off the main road and right in the middle of charming Tibetan 'Old Town'. Ori pulled up as we were finding a place to park the motorcycle. He had circled new and old sections of Diskit three times without finding a place. He chose a room just below our top floor view room.
After the best hot bucket shower ever, we met Ori downstairs for dinner in the old part of the guesthouse in the Tibetan dining room with colorful carpets and pillows. To keep it simple, we all ordered the Thukpa/thanthuk, and about an hour later, a huge cast iron pot was put in front of us with a thick savory soup loaded with fresh vegetables and homemade noodles. We enjoyed several helpings.
Ori (40) is an engineer specializing in solar power. He rented a motorcycle for a one-way from Manali to Leh (450km), an adventure for sure, passing 5 high passes and incredible scenery. He made us excited to try it ourselves since Srinegar is temporarily out of the question for us with the protests (ignited because of the inflammatory video) and recent killings of Americans in nearby Muslim countries. Hopefully, we can find somebody, through on-line forums and bulletin boards, to ride it back to Leh for us. Otherwise, we have to throw money at it and pay someone to take the horrendous but of course scenic bus ride to Manali and ride the rented motorcycle back to Leh. We’ll see.
9/16 Aound Diskit to Hundar & beyond
Bactrian Camels (the two hump variety)
Yak crossing the road
Smell of incense in the air
Sea buckthorn everywhere
We awoke to another glorious blue sky day. From our balcony we admired the sunlit mountains across the broad valley. Below us the flat roofed Tibetan houses with neatly stacked dried yak and cow paddies and wood for fuel for the winter and also feed for the livestock. Woman washed clothes in the rocky river and kids walked to the road where they will be picked up by school bus
After breakfast of Tibetan bread and tea, the three of us decided to head to the village of Hundar and the sand dunes.
A large group of German tourists were getting ready for short camel ride through the underwhelming dunes. It was probably more underwhelming to us after having seen massive dunes in the Gobi and Talikman deserts just last fall. We spent some time with the camels then followed two goat herding girls for stroll past plentiful stands of ready to be picked wild seabuckthorn. The valley has tons of wild seabuckthorn berries growing everywhere - very expensive in US,- high in vitamins. Apricots and small juicy apples are in season. So far we've been getting plenty of wholesome food and fruit.
Hundar is another small quaint Tibetan style village with one restaurant and a few small one-room stores. The mutton momos there were surprisingly delicious! We ordered a second plate but it turned out be too much to finish……
Ori motored off to see how close to the Pakistan border he could get, Dave explored the village preparing for winter while I watched life around the water pump. Homes here do not have running water.
We found our way back to Diskit and the massive mountainside monastery. It is perched on a cliff at the edge of a steep gorge. One false step at the edge and its curtains! We depleted our camera batteries before we reached the top. We were told the temple was closed but it turned out that a monk is on standby to unlock the various chapels for visitors. Dave went in two small cozy chapels with dust covered thankas, so dusty where the images are impossible to see, old masks stored in a glass case and Buddha relics, and of course, sacred texts. It was atmospheric and Dave could imagine monks chanting.
And we spent another night at our cozy little guesthouse. Electricity to the guesthouse and village was out and all took it in stride. Electricity seems to be a nice convenience but not a necessity here.
9/17 Diskit to Leh 120 km - 8 am to 3 pm
8 to 10 am - 45km to Khardung town
10 am to 1 pm - 35 km to Khardung La pass (snow storm)
1 to 3 pm - 40 km to Leh
Arduous but exciting trip back to Leh
We awoke to light rain and could see more snow higher up. Our bill was tallied; two night’s accommodation, dinner on both nights, and breakfast twice - $19 total. Cool!
Dave was struggling getting the motorcycle to start. Ori came over and helped by working the carburetor linkage directly while Dave worked up a sweat with the kick starter. The thing sputtered and died a few times but then came to life. Theoretically, we had enough gas to get back to Leh, but Ori insisted we dump one of his spare 5 liter cans in so we would have plenty.
We left Diskit together at 8 am and agreed to meet up the road since he is a fast rider. The light rain stopped and it looked briefly like the weather might clear. The temperature continued to dip and we put on every piece of clothing we had brought. Clouds socked tighter and we could see it was snowing up on the pass.
BRO (Border Roads Organization) places headstones every few kilometers with slogans encouraging save driving. Some memorable ones;
- After Whisky, Driving Risky
- Better Mr. Late than Late Mr.
- Gossip Kills!
- Speed Thrills, but Kills,
and Dave’s favorite;
-I like you darling, but not so fast
- Peep Peep, Don’t Sleep
-If married, divorce speed.
We caught up with Ori, at the picture perfect Tibetan town of Khardung, at small restaurant for some tea.
From Khardung on, it was hair-raising ride on the mud and snow covered narrow road to the top of the pass. The bulldozer churning up the road surface at one switchback didn’t help matters either. We bogged down there and became stuck in a hole left by the bulldozer. I jumped off so Dave would have less of a load to unstick. I helped by taking a video. Dave got out of the hole and off the road, finally, and we let the line of cars by. But less than a kilometer later, we caught up the logjam of vehicles which were slipping and sliding, all bunched up, many with bald tired tourist vans and some 4-wheel-drives as well. The vehicles that had traction went around the stuck vehicles causing gridlock with oncoming traffic coming down.
I sometimes walked in front of Dave, zigzagging through the gaps between the stalled cars. Getting dizzy and exhausted real fast at that altitude, I got back on the back. We couldn't feel our faces and with snot icicles running down, Dave joked that this reminded him of Dumb and Dumber recalling them riding a mini-bike in the winter in the Rockies. We were happy with the warm weather clothes we have been lugging unused though out the tropics. Still, we had cold toes and fingers though.
We checked the cafeteria to see if Ori was waiting for us. He was smart enough to get while the getting was good. The army closed the pass to traffic briefly but we were allowed to go since we were on a motorcycle. It was slick going down too but it was more mud than snow. We had to go slow so we wouldn’t slide over the edge. It wasn’t too many kilometers over the pass before the road was safe to pick up speed and by the time we got to the check-point, it was cold and wet, but safe.
Back in Leh, we had fantastic meal at Jevaan’s Italian restaurant with Ori, who arrived 45 minutes before us, and reveled in our foul weather adventure. Then we bought some local made ball of delish young cumin cheese and crackers for later and headed "home".