Two days after landing in Leh, on the 14th, I began my mountain biking trip to Nubra valley. Moutain biking happens to be a very popular activity in the Himalayas, and sadly, not too much among Indians The last Indians who actually made biking look cool were the brothers Ratanlal and Sanjaylal Sharma way back in 1992 : Link
I was set with my backpack and the whole biking attire and was dropped in a jeep at Wari La, which is at around 17,000 ft. This day went on to be the toughest day where I “almost” cursed myself for the trip. Riding down Wari La was fun, considering the road was very bad, broken at places, with ice and snow scattered around. Trouble began when I completely missed a village called Agyam, thanks to a local who did not know head or tail of what he was talking. Critical since I did not carry any food and planned to feast at Agyam. The next 35 kms were really tough, not a soul in sight, surrounded by rocks and mountains and biking into some heavy wind. I finally reached a village called Ronjhuk, where a father was carrying along his ill son on foot to the next big village, Khalsar. I offered to send help from Khalsar, but I guess even he saw that my condition was already bad and offered me food at his sister’s place, an offer I gladly accepted. My next mistake was after reaching Khalsar and sending back help. Initially supposed to be my place for sleeping, another smart villager advised me to go to the next village on my way Sumur, where facilities were far better. It was already 4.30 p.m. 1 1/2 hrs to sunset and 20 kms to go. The only good thing was his supposed claim : the road to Sumur is completely flat, no climbs. The less said about those 20 kms, the better. Thankfully, some jawans at an army post helped me with water and I barely made it before sunset, 90 kms from Wari La in one day, but I was 20 kms ahead of schedule.
After vowing to take it easier the next day, I began lazily at 9 from Sumur to Panamik to see the hot springs. There I met a few jawans who were having their lunch and were happy to chat. After they returned back to their truck, another soldier came towards me, visibly happy. Turned out he was from Maharashtra too (Jalgaon). Not wanting to reduce his joy, I had to use my best Marathi (better spoken for a soldier away from home than pumping someone’s pride [:)]). A few hugs, snaps and goodbye’s later, I was back on road to Sumur for lunch.
The next part was quite easy, Sumur to Khalsar to Diskit, save a few steep climbs, but I made it comfortably by 4.30 p.m., 80 kms for the day, and 60 kms ahead of schedule. This was followed by a quick hike of a few hundred feet to the Diskit monastery, truley one of the most beautifully located monasteries. I discovered that The Karmapa would be visiting Diskit the following day and there would be celebrations and cultural performances. So I decided to stay back and rest for a day at Diskit, which was completely worth the time since I got to see the traditional Ladakhi celebrations the next day.
The 4th day I had to get back to Leh by crossing Khardung La, at 18,480 ft, the highest motorable pass in the world. But I was in no mood to bike up to Khardung La and no jeep was in a mood to go to Leh, since all the people were still coming into Diskit for the Karmapa. Fortunately I got a minibus, threw my bike on top and rode an easy ride to Khardung La. The top is Khardung La, covered in snow and extremely chilly, has a nice little hotel, with one glass wall facing the valley. After the customary Maggi and snap at Khardung La, it was time to ride down, the toughest I had to concentrate since I wanted to get down in the fastest time I could, baLach (you have to know Marathi for effect). Finally, I managed to complete it in 1.20 hrs, 45 kms, 7000 ft down, but completely worth the effort when Mr. Dorje, who rented me the bike, quoted “You are crazy !”.
It was back to my guest house, a quick shower, food and sleep.
Reflecting back, I think the only thing that kept me going in my difficult times while biking was not courage, not spirit, not confidence, not supernatural powers. It were the roadside boards at every km displayed by Himank, the company that builds roads in Ladakh. When you read signs like “Peep peep, don’t sleep”, “Be gentle on my curves”, “Don’t test my curves” and “You are on a highway, not runway” (which I am sure had a Puneri mastermind behind it), you cannot help but smile and move along.
Mountain biking – check.
Continue reading final part here.