After leaving Jammu, the capital of Kashmir valley which is the Muslim majority disputed territory that borders Pakistan in north-western India, we headed up and into the Himalayas along a mostly paved road which took us over a beautiful pass before landing us in the not-so-pleasant town of Kargil. From there we took the turn off south which leads to Zanskar valley. Though we weren’t able to make it all the way down to Zanskar valley due to the snow (late May), we really enjoyed cycling there and back through this very beautiful region (Suru Valley) and would highly suggest it to others who come this way.
Distance: 450km (Jammu to Kargil: 300k, Kargil to Padum (Zanskar Valley): 150km).
Time needed: 1-2 weeks depending on how much time you want to spend off the bike along the way.
Highlights: Pass before Kargil, Suru valley, camping in the mountains.
Road surface: Mostly paved, pass very muddy.
Traffic: Kashmir highway some, Suru valley very little.
Best season: June – October; Completed May 2014.
Water/food availability: No problems; multiple rivers and small shops every few days.
Solo female: Not as bad as most of India, but still somewhat uncomfortable; stay covered and dress in Indian clothes to draw less attention, especially in the cities.
Overall difficulty: Moderate, with the pass before Kargil being difficult as it was muddy and busy.
Camping throughout Kashmir and Suru valley was easy as there are large areas of land with few people and multiple beautiful rivers. If you do camp close to a village (which we did a few times) expect attention, especially from young teenage boys as they are always bored and wandering around.
As with most of India, it was easy to travel throughout this region on 5$-10$ a day. A small local guest house costs 3-6 dollars a night, and a full plate of food (rice and lentils) is about a dollar.
If we had made it all the way to Zanskar – the pass was still covered in snow when we were there in May – we would have bussed back out to Kargil from Padum (Zanskar valley) because even though it’s possible to hire mules to carry the bikes and trek out and into Ladakh, we have heard many horror stories about people’s bikes getting damaged or the porters not being honest. We ended up just cycling in and out both ways through this valley which was nice as well, but if you can, I would highly suggest going all the way.
The children through this area are very insistent on demanding candy (or most particularly, pens) which gets a bit tiring after a while but the mountainous scenery more than makes up for this.
Before entering into Kashmir valley we visited Amritsar which we enjoyed as the Sikh people are welcoming, kind, and respectful, and because the Golden Temple is the most beautiful holy spot I’ve ever visited (extremely clean, free food done all through volunteers, very peaceful and quiet environment). We cycled from Amritsar to Srinagar, then Srinagar to Jammu which was quite hot and boring, so if you are short on time but want to see Amritsar, I would suggest a bus or train.
Many cyclists have the book (or copies/photos of the book) Himalaya By Bike which is a great resource. I used the web site the author of the book created which also has great information, and can be found through this link.
Feel free to comment with your own thoughts, corrections, or updates in order to help others looking to complete this route too.