Pre – Ladakh
The build up to Ladakh was quite momentous for us a group. We were set to cross the three highest motorable roads in the world while being exposed to some otherworldly beauty. It was a very significant part of our ride.
This was halfway, and we’d ridden around 45,000km on the same bikes (albeit on different routes) to get here. Sure we’d enjoyed the occasional torrid time with exploding batteries and burnt out clutch plates – but all these little splats on the way to India, made our ride into Ladakh all the more special.
We continue on from Spiti Valley… (be we I mean David, Evelyn and I)
Locals were so very relaxed. Eyes crinkled up in a smile on round faces and fierce windblown cheeks, somewhat reminescent of Genghis Khan, as locals waved lazy hello’s back. I was passing through a supremely foreign culture much older, and with much more history, then my 29 years on earth.
Ten mins into the ride to Taglang La, Evelyn’s GS began cutting out weirdly on gear change, thanks to a very fiddly sidestand switch. A simple detachment of the wire connectors with David’s quick hands solved the issue.
Despite our quick mishap, the sun was out and we were happy for it – everything was damp from the previous days ride from Barachala La!
A snack of accidently crushed eggs (including crunchy shells…. mmmm!) and biscuits put both David and I to sleep, on a comfortable pile of rocks by the dusty roadside. Ignorant to the world, our 20 minute nap re-invigorated tired muscles and we woke up with renewed energy.
As we entered Moore Plains, smooth ashphalt and a wide road appeared. Fist punching the air, we were happy to have a break from the rougher riding consistencies we’d endured since Spiti. Ladakh had begun to shine.
The smell of goat and yak invaded my nostrils on the cool air of Moore plains, known for its nomadic residents and their roaming herds. Faded greens stretched out as far as the eye could see beneath the simple browns of the mountaintops. The white circular tents of the nomads dotted the landscape, accompanied by a jeep and watched over by the odd sleepy dog.
While I had been enjoying watching the grazing herds of yak, Evelyn had been busy smashing her camera – accidentally of course. I found her face down in the grass around the next sweeping corner, and after enquiring with David, discovered the brutal truth – her camera was no longer living a digital life. More a life of retirement now I guess.
Closing in on Taglang, a huge valley, carved wide with pastel colours, demanded my attentions as the cold nipped away at my bare hands. It was mythical that I could see so much of the world in one viewing. Roaring smoky trucks at this distance, looked no bigger then a spec of dust on a windowsill.
Snow dusted mountain ranges fought agaisnt murky storms in the far, far distance. Small icy rivers veined about beneath a marshmellow sky. Places like this consistently reminded me that I was just a tiny atom in this world of behemoths.
Smooth asphalt led to the highest point any of us had been in our lives – Taglang La, at 5328 metres (claimed). And funnily enough, I could breathe on the second highest motorable road in the world – finally it seemed I had acclimatised, though much slower then my Austrian compatriots.
Sucking in the cool air as a fog settled on the pass, it felt like some kind of achievement. I guess riding such a long way to get here added some kind of mystic nostalgia… I’d known I was coming to Ladakh for months, but hadn’t any idea of what to expect. Perhaps that was a part of the euphoric recipe.
Cities seldom have anything I require aside from hot food, alcohol, shops for the fiddly bits and wifi.
Leh is the major city of Ladakh, which is on the path to Khardung La (the claimed highest motorable pass in the world) and many other routes such as Zanskar, Nubra, Pangong and Srinagar to name a few. Our rest time in Leh gave us time to plan our routes leading through Ladakh, as well as gaining our permits to access said areas.
Leh was absolutely littered in Royal Enfields, you couldn’t go a minute without hearing yet another Bullet farting it’s way up the dusty streets. There was riders everywhere on these beaten up old things, and an absolute plethora of Royal Enfields newest creation – The Himalaya.
No different from other cities I had passed through, Leh didn’t feel like the magical place people painted it to be… chock full of the usual shops catered for tourists with dust and cow shit everywhere. A large majority of time was spent soaking up the sun in our hidden garden or asleep, catching some rest before the next leg.
The most interesting time in Leh was buying the beer. A half hour from closing time, I pried, pulled and butted thirsty punters apart to access the counter. It may sound like I was being a rude bully, but simply put, if you don’t fight your way in, you aren’t getting your beer. A polite “excuse me” gets you nowhere at the beer shop. Kind of like a crazy mosh pit minus the good metal bands and semi cold beer.
Before time had slowed down enough for my brain to process it all, we were at the pass, looking down at what was to come… so what better time for a wee break than now eh?
Morning welcomed our little camp of three with a healthy breakfast of hot chocolate and butter biscuits dipped in Nutella. Heading into the valley below us, we were all greeted with waves and smiles by cheery locals. Amongst the sweet villages packed with rice paddies and flower beds, golden roofed temples glowed warmly in the rays.
As we passed by a tiny quarry, men cracked apart huge rocks with immense hammers. It reminded me of a time some years past, when I used to split wood with a sledge and chisel as a kid… although you know, splitting a rock with a massive hammer, well… that’s a whole different ball game!
The most frustrating part of the ride was the Pangong Pso Lake road. Chang La was a mess… water crossings, consistent whoops, potholes and rocks thrown together, seemingly for the fun of it. Never ending potholes. No way out, just go straight through the lot. The only smooth surface was the mud at the top of the 5300 metre pass.
I couldn’t help but constantly swear in my helmet at just about everything. It was the most unpleasant pass I crossed… which may also have been attributed to drivers coming the opposite way pulling stunts like it was their last day on earth. It may as well have been a smash derby.
That said, it felt good knocking off the “third highest motorable pass” in the world. That made 4 (Taglang La, Khardung La, Wari La and Chang La) and whether they were inaccurate measurements or not didn’t matter… we’d triumphantly done the passes we’d come to do – and had a blast in Ladakh on the way through!