“May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view.”
After climbing up and over the highest pass, the English lad I had adopted along for this four day adventure and I rode into what is referred to as Numbra Valley. Because this road approaches both China and Pakistan, the military presence is very heavy, though there are not many other inhabitants. There are few villages between Leh and Tukturk (200km), and Tukturk is the end of the road (unless you are Indian military) north into the Indian Himalayas. Since most of the valley is no higher than 3,300m, there are animals, such as donkeys and large yaks, who roam freely along the river, and where there are people, there are trees and a bit of refreshing green. The rest of the landscape is barren rock with a few sand dunes between the high peaks.
The first night we ended up staying in a guest room in the police outpost at one of the army camps. The police officers were very curious about my stove, so we entertained them by showing it off, and cooking some Maggie noodles (the cheapest meal composed of noodles with a curry packet) and eating dinner with an audience. The other nights we camped in beautiful places (there really are no ugly places here) and spent every evening watching the multitude of stars appear. It’s amazing how many more stars there are here, far from the artificial lights that are usually impossible to ignore.
Ironically enough the hardest day, the last one, should have been the easiest. It was 70km of relatively flat terrain with ample oxygen (at the low altitude of 3,000m-3,500m). Unfortunately there was a head wind, which happens to be the hardest, most frustrating thing for a cyclist. At least when you are pushing up a hill, you don’t mind going slow because, well, you are going uphill. When you are on perfectly flat ground though, it’s heartbreaking to look down at your speedometer and realize it’s reading a good 10km slower than you think is possible.
About forty kilometers away from our goal there were a few villages which were starkly different than the rest we had encountered throughout the Ladakh region. This region looked surprisingly Pakistani, unlike the Mongolian/Tibetan feel the rest of the area has. The children were very friendly, and would run up for a high five whenever we passed. At one point, a whole school group of children ran out, yelling, from a field to the road in order to wave and run with us as we passed by. The best though was once we arrived in Turktuk. To get to the one restaurant in town there was a very steep and bumpy climb. I was slowly trudging up when about fifteen boys, all under the age of twelve, came running up to us and started pushing me up. It was absolutely hilarious, and I’ll always remember laughing and swerving as three young boys ran full speed ahead pushing my bike faster than I could have pedaled it. Peeking out from a window at the restaurant we could see all the children (and a few adults) playing with the gears and breaks, very intrigued with our bikes. After about ten minutes though, our bikes were forgotten, and the boys all ran off together to their next great adventure.
One of the many monasteries in the region.
Talk about camouflage! These houses, made of stone, look exactly like the rocky landscape around them.
Imagine living here! Talk about the middle of nowhere.
Not a bad way to spend an afternoon.