Two hundred kilometres of beautiful scenery, army trucks, big ups and BIG downs.
Our Mission, which we had foolishly chosen to accept was to ride from Leh to Kargil; over two hundred kilometres in four days across a variety of terrain, the highway being in varying degrees of disrepair. Gravity was on our side as Leh is 3500 metres and Kargil is only(!) 2704 metres above sea level. However there was still plenty of room for big ups.
On day one we stopped for lunch at a town called Saspool where there was an ancient Buddhist temple with a five metre gold plated Buddah. Unfortunately but unsurprisingly we weren’t allowed to take photos of the Buddah. More impressive than he however were the cases and cases of manusccripts written over centuries by the monks that had inhabited the monastery. As with many monasteries in Ladakh now, migration from the villages into the cities has meant that the smaller monasteries are becoming little more than tourist attractions or plain abandoned as the monks move to the larger ones. So much human endeavour essentially encased forever to be rarely if ever read, to me as a bibliophile seems a travesty. Then again, are the works important as immemorial texts or is it the act of writing them and the value that they had for the authors.
At the end of day two was a monster of an uphill with fourteen switch backs. Feeling physically great for the first time since I was in Ladakh I stuck on my headphones, blasted Iron & Wine (thanks Dave) and slogged my way up. At the top of the hill I stopped at a bridge in the middle of a long straight for a breather. An army truck approached from behind and I pushed myselfÂ off the bridge so it could easily get past. As the truck over-took me, the passenger in the middle spat out the window at me â€“ I watched the phlegm fly right in front of my face. As the truck drove on I could see said middle passenger turning around looking back at me. I would be very interested to know exactly why this army dude was so offended by my being there, and a subsequent argument I had with the wise Sean over the incident revealed that whilst it might not be expected behaviour, he expects there to be rub when very different peoples are mixing.
Day three was spent stopped at Lamayuru. By the end of day two more of our party were in the support vehicles with a concoction of illnesses than were riding bikes. It was spent as a mixture of wandering around the village, playing Kings and Arseholes or Brahmins and Dahlits as it became known, eating and sleeping. I had my brand new sunglasses thieved by a four legged fiend and I don’t care how cute that bloody little puppy was, I wanted to perform a ‘look in the dog’ operation on its cute sunglass consuming belly. More fool me for forgetting that it was loitering waiting for the optimal moment to strike and I leaving my bag unzipped at the top. At least it took the glasses and not my passport. Turns out it had a penchant for books as James was lucky to nab it just at it tried to get a hold of his diary and run off.
It was also in Lamayuru that Will, a nice lad from Sussex who went to Oxford learnt about his alter-ego ‘Whetu’, who went to Waikato Polytechnic, got a degree in hospitality, has set up franchises of children with different mothers (three at the last count) and loves nothing better to do than watch rugby and drink beer. I am not sure what inspired the construction, whether it was Whetu’s ability to utter only mono-syllables, is capacity for accents or the complete incongruous contrary notion of the whole thing. I think people just got bored.
The last day turned into holiday breaking point. Instead of doing the leg spread across two days we were now attempting it in one. This meant an early start, but unfortunately for Whetu, he came down with the worst sickness this day and delayed us by two hours. He tried soldiering on up the first incline but within half an hour had the last part of his cycling trip driven away. As the day progressed his stomach pains got worse and worse until we had to send the van on ahead to Kargil where he could get proper medical treatment.
By around 2pm we managed to reach the mid-point of our journey at Mulbekh where we would have been spending the third night. An eight hundred year old carved Buddah greeted us for lunch, but unfortunately for him none of us were in an appreciating mood. As the second leg started ‘Red Fox’ aka Andrew (each of our bikes had some inspirational wild animal plus adjective name) and his toe clips started to set an intense pace. Andrew had been in diarrhoea hell up until this point and only on this day did his true colours start to shine. Unfortunately for everyone the third rest day had meant that we had consumed most of the water and proceeded to completely run out 15km from the finish line. Chaos ensued and what was supposed to be an epic trip turned into and epic trip plus seething slow burning pain and anguish. Hmmmmm… India isn’t easy.
The final ride into Kargil at sunset was epic. The town of Kargil is predominantly Muslim and on the other side of the river to our approach. As we were descending towards it the initial view of the river valley, city and surrounding mountains forced us to stop and absorb. The road was equally spectacular in its ability to be the main road between Leh and Kargil yet remain a completely destroyed dirt track. Apparently in two or three years time the road is going to be a two lane each way highway but right now I am not seeing that happening. The hotel at the end of the journey had hot water (an Indian luxury) and curry which made for not-eating on my part. At about this stage I have begun to spit the dummy on curry for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Not only cannot I not either hold down, stomach or prevent from pissing sh#t, but just the smell makes me feel nauseous.