Hey! This post was written with the same amount of emotions as that one about 52 hour bus ride. With posts like this I don’t plan, the writing happens itself.
The experience was rough, beautiful and full of meeting interesting people. Let’s begin.
PREPARATION (What preparation?)
It was a fast idea. Well, Klemen was reading about the Zanskar valley for a few days. But when we saw that the transport to there (shared jeeps) will cost quite a lot we decided to rent a motorbike.
Klemen thought we will get a scooter but the rent-a-car shop introduced us a real bike. Have any of us ever rode a bike? No. Did we sign a devil’s contract for renting it? Yap. Were we thinking how amazingly adventurous it is to ride a bike to nowhere? Absolutely.
And when I say ‘to nowhere’ the description is quite correct. Yes, we did our reading about the valley but mostly about 1) what transport to use to get there and 2) how do people live. The second point was also the reason for our excitement.
The valley is otherwise totally secluded in the winter. There is just one road going there and the snow blocks it completely. We are talking about altitudes above 3600 m.
Let’s go back to our road. We read zero descriptions about it on the internet. Sometimes that is stupid.
ROAD TO PADUM (capital of Zanskar valley)
As it proved to be the case the road changes after 60 km of bad paved road to dirt road with water from melting glaciers, rocks of all shapes and sizes and hugantic holes.
The first day we did around 100 km and came really tired to the city Prakachik. I fell asleep dressed exactly as I was on the bike. 9 layers of clothes up, 2 down, 2 pairs of socks. Outside temperature below minus degrees Celsius, us exhausted and the heating nonexistent.
The second day we managed to make 100 km in 9 hours. The desert road soon started going up.
Klemen - this is a pass.
I think I read about it somewhere. Pensi La.
The road went from 4100 m to 4700 m of altitude.
Because of all the puddles from the glaciers our shoes got wet. Klemen had bad luck and all three layers of his pants got wet also. So we were soaked, it was super windy and the snow was starting to fall. The road was becoming worse and worse.
Finally we reached the highest point and started descending. But the road was so insanely bad. I have no idea how Klemen managed to safely drive on it and I have no idea how all the trucks do it. I kept thinking - there must be a highway somewhere but nope, this is the only possible route to the valley.
When we safely made it back to the valley GPS told me a village called Abran is just 40 km away. We went as fast as possible just to get there before it gets dark. But we didn’t even know if there will be any possibility for sleeping.
What suprised us at this point was the fact that there is 60 km (at least 4 hours drive) of complete nothingness on this road. Meaning you are alone with the desert and snow plus there is no signal. If something happens you can just hope that someone will drive by. And it is not a busy road.
My mental states were changing between singing Jan Plestenjak’s songs, screaming that this is abnormal and deep tiredness.
In one moment I thought we are on the moon, in the other that we are on the Mars and in the third that we are riding to the end of the world.
WHO LIVES AT THE END OF THE WORLD?
At around five we came to the small village. On the field people were working with yaks, sheeps were loudly introducing themselves. One guy offered us a room and we realaxed immediately.
I was hurting everywhere, our feet were in wet traines for a few hours. But you forget all of that quite quickly once you change in dry clothes. You go for a walk around the village and say hi to people. We devoured the dinner! Since we had no idea that the distances are so big and no restaurants in the middle we packed no snacks.
The first experience of homestay in Ladakh was amazing. To be able to see this rock and mud built houses from the inside. People are used to the cold and since there are no trees to chop they heat themselves only in the winter with dried poop of yaks. So I was again dressed with 9 layers of clothes and gloves on my hands after it got dark.
When the next day we ACTUALLY MADE IT to Padum there was a high five.
CIRCLING THE VILLAGES
We drove 10 km form Padum to Karsha. What a picturesque village! Small stone-built houses well rooted in the steep rock. And at the top of the village the biggest buddhist monastery of the valley.
I washed my hair in the stream, We changed the clothes we haven’t for three days and then washed everything (also in the stream). Mmmm, sunshine, warmth.
The three days we have spent calmly in Karsha were so nice. Immediately when we have arrived we felt the energy of the people. Calmness, how nice they are. Their loud greeting JOULEEE that everyone was saying to us while we roamed the village. We were so tired and we really took it slowly. Ate good food in a new homestay, read books. Klemen strolled the village a bit more and came back with the information that he will surely come back. That he feels like home here.
This valley is mostly buddhist. When we made some contact with the monastery at the top of the hill we were invited to come for a morning prayer. The next morning we HARDLY made it up the hill. The altitude made it so difficult to breathe and after every 5 steps you had a choking feeling.
We arrived to the top of the hill and went into a big room. A canteen? A temple? Something in between?
Nicely decorated place where all monks sat with the kids (aged from 4 onwards). They were sitting on low wooden spots and had small tables in front of them. They were munching on some chai and fried bread. We were seated somewhere in the back and the next 40 minutes we were just absorbing and observing.
At first everyone was eating quietly. But then the old monks started with the prayers. Mantras? I don’t know but it sounded amazing. Whoever wanted sang along. Meaning some were eating, some praying and some quietly making conversation with their neighbour.
We were driving through other villages too, drove to see buddhist monuments far away. But mostly just wanted to be there. Present, laugh with kids, greet old ladies and enjoy the sun.
But in the meanwhile the stomach upsets started again. Toilets in the Ladakh houses are dry compostable toilets - which I find great! What I find a bit less great is that they wipe themselves with old paper. For example old English notebooks. I tried a few times. And then my butt said STOP. It hurts.
We were on the road for four days when it seemed natural to finally shower. I asked our host in the homestay we were sleeping in where can I do it. Bathroom? We don’t have one. Men wash in the stream. Women (if and when they do) do it in a bucket inside.
That lead to me and Klemen quickly washing ourselves in the freezing cold stream at night.
ROAD BACK (Can’t we just put the bike on a truck?)
We hit the road full of enthusiasm. I did quietly just wanted to load the bike on a truck but it seemed like too much of a hassle. We will manage this two days! We can do it!
Soon at the beginning of ascending the Pensi La pass we started to hear weird sounds. More and more weird sounds coming from the bike. We checked and estimated it is probably some chain problem and also hoped we can do another 40 km to the first stop. In the whole confusion we also fell into a ditch and made a dent in the tank. Shit.
We came to the village just when the snow storm started. Is anyone here who knows how to fix the bike?
No, the first mechanic is 45 km away. Ok, ok. No panic.
We sat in a small tea stall for at least an hour and waited for the worst wind to pass by. We actually tried to continue the journey but we quit after 500 m. No way. The sound was horrible, the last cogwheel was on the edge. It was seriously worn out. The bike had enough and announced capitulation. And we went back to the tea stall.
After two hours of waiting for any vehicle to show up either from the left or from the right on this desert road - an empty pickup shows up. Besides it a half empty jeep. We make a deal about the price of the transport. The bike is neatly tied to the pickup (and later they had to retie it with 3 more ropes because the road was really really bad) and we started the journey to Kargil.
We have arrived in the city in the late evening. We went directly to the rent-a-bike shop. Who is to blame that the cogwheel is worn out? Who will pay for the dent in the tank? Who will pay for the ride? It was a fight that lasted for around two hours. But at the end we managed to somehow get a good deal that we thought is fair for both sides. Well, the other side was quite angry when we closed the deal. Nonetheless when we said goodbye their faces got cheerful and they asked us to take one selfie together.
And at the end I really have no idea what was crazier. The experience or us.