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Dizzying Heights

Khardung La

The 30km of road from Leh up to the police check point at South Pullu is unusually good and correspondingly you rise the 1200m from Leh (at 3300m) in about an hour. Far too quick.

The remaining 14km of the road was the usual mountain pot-holed track but by then drowsyness was beginning to kick in. I tried counting A1B2C3 etc. to keep awake but found that every single time the letters went ABCDEC... what? I haven't dared try this at lower altitudes in case I really am that stupid.

The annoyance of that kept me awake though it didn't prevent the loss of depth perception which on bouncy mountain roads with no barriers etc. isn't a brilliant problem to have.

I made it up without incident and caught up with a couple of the guys from the camp at Sarchu. We had a chit chat and took some photos (including the all-important Beer on Tap entry -- not sure how good it looks, wasn't 100% compis mentis, I do recall I can't hold a pose).

Loitering at the top (5375m-ish on my GPS, a soldier wandering about agreed the official figure of 18630ft is wrong) seemed to clear my head a little and I set off down to find the entire Delhi Royal Enfield posse on the way up. Much waving (from those daring to take their hands off the bars).

The road west to Kargil is a bit hit and miss. Some bits are well surfaced two-lane highway and you can whizz along but woe betide anyone who whizzes over the brow of a hill. There is a moral that you should drive no faster than you can see to stop in and in India that is painfully true. Regularly, on the brow of a hill your beautiful tarmac becomes rough gravel. There is no "works" warning, of course, your only heads up might be that the other lane of tarmac has a suspiciously large amount of stone dust on it. Best be going at an appropriate speed.

I stopped to help an Aussie who'd ripped the stem off his inner tube and then broken the o-ring on his foot pump before his mates eventually decided to come find him. I eventually left them when they were being far too honest and stopped at a check point where, apparently, someone had waved at them from underneath a tree. If you want me to stop, wear a uniform and look as though you care.

The military is on manoeuvres here a lot and on the single track highway this causes some hefty jams in the twisty mountains sections (which is most of it).

Eventually, I made it into Kargil and stayed at the not very good Hotel Greenland at lat/long: n34 33.470 e76 7.635

I started using the Internet but the power went and I gave up. The shop guy pointed me at a basic restaurant where one of the Aussies popped his head round the door at nearly 10pm asking about rooms. He reported they'd had another two punctures.


I left unclean as there wasn't a drop of water in the hot taps and I couldn't be bothered finding anyone (despite possibly being the only guest).

Like yesterday the road was very photogenic though today seemed a little overcast and threatened rain throughout the day.

The high point, literally, was the Zoji La, at a mere 3500m wasn't anything to write home about (hence me not mentioning it...?) however on the West side of the pass, the road winds down into a rather beautiful alpine valley bedecked with thousands of brightly coloured tents as it's the festival of (something) and the place is packed.

The problem is that the road, and, just in case you're not following the plot, this road is labelled a National Highway (ie. A-road) and is the only road between Srinagar and Leh (the two major towns), is a crude cutting out of the mountainside. In the crudest possible sense.

If you've ever taken a walk in the hills and the path isn't gravel but seemed to work its way over the bedrock so that the path is constantly uneven, bits of rock jutting out waiting for a million pairs of shoes to wear it down then that is what this cutting was like. Except the peak-to-trough of the juttings was close to 30cm. And the road is going down an incline of what felt like 30 degrees (though probably a mere 10) and its single track and there's no barrier and it's a straight drop down.

I have no real idea how I didn't lose the bike going down and I cannot imagine how you would get a bike up that road. Maybe the feel is different coming up but if you caught a rock at the wrong angle, slipped the clutch and the bike lurched you'd be off over the 1000m drop into the valley below.

Truly terrifying. It's one of those situations where you have to blinker out everything around you and concentrate solely on the few feet in front of your tyres.

One saving grace for me, I think, is that there was a massive traffic jam at the bottom of the hill and the uphill traffic had been held up for the entire duration of my descent. I only had to miss a broken down petrol tanker and an Army recovery vehicle heading up in front of a large convoy. I took a picture back up which showed the petrol tanker hadn't moved so I guess it would be just another obstacle.

A relatively quiet run into Srinagar after that...the usual good roads, dusty tracks and traffic jams caused by greedy drivers as there was no visible pinch point.

Currently at lat/long: n34 5.212 e74 50.679

Hotel Swiss, Srinagar, Jammu & Kaasjmir, IN

I misjudged the scale on the map and headed out a long way to eat an odd deli-wrap cum panini thing before heading next door for an expensive beer.

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