It's already nine month since I returned from my long trip. About time to spend some weeks traveling by bicycle again. Ladakh & Spiti I have chosen for this trip. 22 years ago (!) I was there for the first time. Of course I am curious to see one of my very first cycling destination again.
But first I need a new bicycle, as I didn't bring mine home anymore from San Francisco. I chose to build a touring Mountain Bike and for transporting my gear I want to try something new too, it's called bikepacking. All about that you can read here.
At 7 o'clock in the morning I land at the army airport in Leh. As always the first meters are shaky because I am not yet used to the heavy bike, the bags are not yet properly packed after flying and last but not least I am already at 3300m. It's already mid September and just as I hoped it is peacefully quiet. Only few tourists are still around. I take some days to get used to the altitude and organize a permit before I am heading off.
Tso Moriri a big mountain lake is my first goal. To get there I first have to follow the Indus river for quite some time. The Indus is a river I again and again meet on my travels, but always in a different country. In Pakistan along the Karakoram Highway and when I cycled to Skardu, then close to its source in Tibet on the way to Mt. Kailash and of course here in Ladakh, India. This ride reminds me much of Pakistan. It is again this narrow, rocky gorge. Over a long distance it is hardly possible to camp, so little space there is in the valley. I finally end up spending the night at a road construction camp. Most of the road construction workers here in the north come from Kerala in the very south of India. They live and work under extremely basic conditions along the road. Of course they welcome the change when I spend the night at their camp.
Finally I leave the rocky gorge and climb over a first high pass. On the other side I reach the lake. A fantastic view with the snow covered mountains in the background. Over a very rough pass, across a lonely valley I get back to Tso Karo and with that to the Leh-Manali highway.
Of course I was very curious of how Ladakh has changed over the years. One of the biggest difference is, that there are now lots of Indian tourists, supposedly triggered after a very popular Hindi-Movie was shot in the region a few years ago. And then there is the army which has a much stronger presence these days just like everywhere in northern India. I am very pleased to notice that the roads have hardly changed. On the few flat sections they are being expanded but especially the sections over the high passes are pretty much as rough as they always used to be. No wonder, the route across all the steep scree slopes means, that they almost have to be rebuild on a yearly base after all the countless landslides that occur all the time.
The most spectacular pass on the way south is probably Lachulung La. While climbing over 5000m you pass through a great valley, flanked by an impressive vertical granite pillar of gigantic proportions. Going downhill is no less spectacular at the Gata Loops with it's endless switchbacks down an impossibly steep slope.
After Barachala La I have left Ladakh, now in Lahaul. Here it looks much like in the alps, with lots of green and impressive glaciers in the background.
In Darsha a well known trekking route to Padum in Zanskar starts. 10 years ago I did that trekking. Even then they already started to build a road along the trekking route. I don't know how much of the route is done by now, only that it's not finished yet. When I pass the village, I decide to do a side trip and see if I can get to the top of the first pass on this route.
The route quickly becomes very difficult. The road mostly looks like a bulldozer has just made its way up the steep rocky hillside. This climb is really a challenge. Bot now, once I am on my way, I simply want to get to the top. When I finally reach 5090m high Sugo La I am exhausted but the view of all the surrounding mountains was certainly worth it.
North of the Rotang pass I leave the main road, heading for Spiti valley. To get there I have to cross Kunzum La. I still remember well when I cycled that pass 22 years ago. The road was in an awful condition. 75km of very rough road. As soon as I am on the road, I have a big grin on my face. It hasn't changed a bit and is still as bumpy as it used to be. It's good to see that some things just don't change.
Spiti is another little piece of Tibet in India. It is an incredibly dry valley. Only the melting of water of the surrounding glaciers makes sure there is a little bit of green. There are even fewer people living here then in Ladakh, only a few small villages exist across the valley.
All over the valley there are some very important Gompas (monasteries). The first and best known is in Key. It is situated just like you would expect a Gompa to be: very exposed on top of a steep hill, like an eagles nest. The views from up there across the valley are stunning. A monk invites me for tea and then shows me all around.
The next Gompa is in Dankhar. Again I first have to climb 500m vertical meters to get to its exposed location from the valley floor. The main attraction here is probably not the Gompa itself, but rather the houses of the small village that cling to the impossibly steep rock face.
The Gompa in Tabo looks more like a Kaskah in Morocco with its earth colored walls. It is more then 1000 years old, making it the oldest in the whole Himalaya! The doors to the temple are little and inside it's very dark at first, with light only entering through a small hole in the roof. At first I see nothing. I sit down and wait. After a while my eyes have adjusted to the dark. Wow! and then the pictures on the walls start to emerge from the dark. Absolutely stunning. By now, I have visited countless buddhist Gompas but this one is special, some of the mural paintings I have ever seen.
The valley gets more and more narrow and becomes a gorge. Until there is no more space left for the road. So it climbs over the hill into the next valley.
The last village in Spiti valley where I spend the night is Nako. An place like from another time made of small stone houses, creating a maze like structure with many Mani walls and Chorten. But best of all are the people. They are all very friendly and especially the older ones have great looking character faces, truly unique.
FinallyI reach the Sutley river. Sutley? Of course, if I only followed that river for about 100km upstreams I would already be in Tsaparang in the middle of the old Guge kingdom where I once cycled. If only there were no borders...
Through the Kinnaur valley I now follow the Sutley river downstream. Things are getting greener again. There are lots of apple plantations here and now is just the time when they are picked. I doesn't take long and people along the road start to give me some. After some weeks without fresh fruits theay couldn't taste any better.
Places start to get bigger, traffic is heavier and generally things are getting a bit more chaotic on and next to the road. In other words I'm getting back to India.
I finish this tour in Shimla, a typical Indian hill station where I enjoy some resting days before heading back to Delhi.