from the February issue...
Eventually the snow eased as did the ice, we were out of it and into clear weather. Wow, that was an experience, rode around another corner and there was a small herd of yaks on the road. The road’s so narrow and the yaks 3 abreast and we couldn’t get past them. There were five of us on bikes riding with the yaks which were running flat out for a couple of kilometres before they started moving to one side of the road.
We could then overtake them. My Canadian mate shouted over: “You’ve
heard of Running with the Bulls? We’ve been Riding with the Yaks!” ha
We kept going back to our hotel where, as
you can imagine, there was a lot to talk about. It was about 1.30 pm
and we decided the best thing to do was to have a beer, so we had a
pleasant afternoon sitting around in the sunshine in the beer garden.
Another couple whose bike had broken down, borrowed another to try
and get to the top. The guides didn’t want them to go because of the
weather, but they took off anyway trying to get to the top. But they
only got as far as the checkpost. The road was closed - the ice had
come five kilometres down the road in about 2 hours, amazing.
Looking around from the beer garden you could
see how far the snow had come down the mountains around Leh. One of our
tour guides, Ed, who also did hiking tours in Nepal was saying that the
weather had broken, and once it starts snowing that’s it till the next
So while we were sitting around
we discussed the trip back to Delhi. We were figuring that if we head
back the way we came (as we were supposed to) and the ice was bad on
those high passes we came though we’d have no chance of getting
through, and we would be spending more nights in the tent at Sachu -
which was very cold, and most probably end up in Leh again.
If it was bad they would fly us out and truck the bikes somehow said
our tour guide leader - this didn’t sound too good at all. We thought
it made more sense to go west towards Pakistan. A longer trip, which
sounded good to me, the only worry were militant Muslims around
Srinigar, where there had been trouble lately.
On the plus side the road was supposed to be better and the passes
not as high - it also sounded like a bit more of an adventure. We also
knew that Ferris Wheels go that way, so it couldn’t be that dangerous
We were all for it except one bloke - there’s always one. The
mechanics and guides thought it a good idea. We just had to convince
the Guide Leader, whose responsibility it was.
Over dinner that night we did. Great, new
country to see. It was going to cost a bit more, for the hotels, fuel
etc, and long day’s riding, but we felt it worth it. Next day we were
heading west along the Indus River in the Ladakh Valley - beautiful
scenery and the road was good bitumen - what a great decision.
The road didn’t last long before
narrowing, deteriorating into broken bitumen and then gravel, but it
didn’t matter as we were having a ball. There were a lot less trucks
I guess there were more the way we came as it was a more
direct route to Delhi. The trucks have only about four months, when the
road is open, to transport all goods for the locals before the snow
arrives. The road we were on now is also closed during winter and the
only access to Leh is by air.
were passing signs saying: “You are under enemy surveillance” from the
Pakistanis: we were right next to the Pakistani border. We kept riding
higher again passing a 1000-year-old Buddhist monastery, built on the
side of a mountain, before long we were looking down on it.
It was also starting to get colder - but there wasn’t as much snow
around here as what we’d seen in Leh. We then climbed a slippery, muddy
Pass, Fatu La (4147m), and we were surrounded by snow again. Chris was
great on the back as some of the mud was a bit of a handful, the bikes
only had a narrow, old style ribbed front tyres and a copy of a Dunlop
K81 on the back.
But the scenery was spectacular and then we
were heading up another mountain pass, Namika La, at 3760m. We were
also passing small villages now and again, these people certainly lead
That night we stayed in a hotel in Kargil, a
small Muslim town amongst the mountains. They are not supposed to sell
beer, but they managed to find some from somewhere. It was around here
that there has been conflict between Pakistan and India. It had been a
great day's ride, with some of the most fantastic scenery we had seen.
The next day we headed through
Drass, this is the second coldest habited place on earth. The
temperature regularly falls to -45C in winter and its record is -69C
about 35 years ago - that’s bloody cold. It was definitely colder
around these parts, we’d also struck a bit of rain, so a welcome Chai
tea at a local Dhaba was most welcome.
There’s not many Westerners come through this area so we caused a
bit of a stir, especially on 16 bikes. We then headed further west
towards the infamous Zoji La Pass. We’d heard about it, but had no idea
what it was like.
All morning riding east the scenery was again
brilliant - we reckoned this was more spectacular than anything we’d
seen so far. We rode higher, snow around, but nothing falling, till we
came to the top of the pass.
There were a couple of soldiers up there, so we
stopped. Chris took one look at the road and said I’ll hop in the
the top you looked down through the clouds, to the valley below, a long
way below. The road was narrow, muddy gravel with a stream running down
it. The first bend was 90 degrees with a sheer drop and there were a
lot more bends like this. Normally I don’t mind heights, but I couldn’t
look down - there were also landslips everywhere.
I rode down, nice and slow. We were relieved there were only a few
small vehicles coming up. The reason was because this pass is so
dangerous trucks are allowed down in the morning and up in the
afternoon. We knew that the trucks were coming up at 2 pm, and it was
only 1 pm - great.
It was a real buzz riding down there, the last
part was good bitumen with sharp U-turn bends and no trucks coming up -
great fun. We passed about 200 trucks down the bottom waiting for the 2
pm start as we arrived at a small town where we had lunch with the
It gave us plenty of time to talk about what we
had just descended. We were now in the beautiful Kashmir Valley. We’d
ridden about 250kms west from Leh through the Himalayas and now we had
a 200km ride through this fantastic valley, what a ride this is!
Chris was riding pillion again now. This valley
is described as the Switzerland of India. It's green (first time we’d
seen anything green for a long time), steep hills and Swiss type
chalets. When tourists used to come here it was a very popular ski
resort, but the troubles in Kashmir has driven them away.
There were now a lot of military and police
around with patrols everywhere. The locals were curious, but friendly
and all Muslim, it was another experience again. The river we followed
was also spectacular.
the end of the day we arrived in Srinigar. There is a beautiful lake
there and we were staying on houseboats moored to an island in the
middle of the lake - sounded great.
It was the beginning of Ramadam, so the streets were calm, although
there were soldiers everywhere including standing on rooftops.
Apparently there had been a 24 hour curfew after rioting only two days
before and three weeks earlier the road we were on had been closed for
a fortnight because of rioting.
There had been 38 people killed in shootings in
the past 3 months - I remember reading about some 15 journalists
kidnapped here in the West Australian just before we left. In the
mid-1980’s 650,000 tourists would come to Srinigar to holiday but
recently they are lucky to get 5,000 per year.
But, hopefully, with Ramadam we’d be safe. Most
people stared at us as we rode through the town to the gondola-styled
punts that would take us to our houseboats. And what luxury they were.
A deck out the back, lounge, dining room, and luxury bedrooms,
everything looked very old, but luxurious.
We had our meal on the boat waited on
by our personal valet/waiter guy who slept on deck. We were told not to
drink alcohol as the Muslims on board would be offended and the local
police wouldn’t be too happy either, especially with Ramadan, so we sat
drinking tea at the back of the boat. Shortly a Muslim bloke on a
gondola boat pulled up with heaps of goods. We asked if he had any
alcohol. He said, “Do you want whisky, gin, vodka, beer . . . ”
Our waiter bloke overheard this and said he had beer for sale in the fridge! We drank it all, another Muslim bloke came on board, saw us drinking and said, “Ah beer sold under the table, not over the table.” We had a good night.
... Last instalment June edition