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Sep
09

NH1

IMG_0673Shortness of breath, world spinning, banging headache with the biggest views imaginable, That’s all part of the Khardung La experience.

Billed as the highest motorable road in the world at 5,359 metres, that’s a shade over 18,000 feet in English, although the measurements are questioned these days with more accurate calibration of such instruments.  All ways up, its high, in any language.

We are riding over to Nubra valley for a couple of days from Leh.  We have been on the road for a week already.

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Our journey started in Srinagar, to the west, with two nights on the peaceful Dal lake.  Houseboat accommodation provides a welcome rest bite from the busy streets and the honking horns.  If nothing else works on a vehicle in these parts it’s ok, the horn is, however, essential as a means of communication and is the one device guaranteed to aid road safety.  Tyres can be worn, bald, falling apart, engines can smoke unhealthy amounts of fumes into the atmosphere as they chug their way  round roads of questionable surfaces.  Bodywork can be intact, broken, hanging off or not present but the horn, loud and functioning.  It will save your life!

Our bikes have been ridden to us from the hire shop in Leh, approximately 280 kilometres away, over the high passes, we are encouraged by their arrival, after all if  they have been ridden here they must be servicable.  That’s born out by journeys end, a leaky sump plug, one puncture and a broken mirror are all that can be described as having been at fault in a combined 3,000 kilometres of riding.  That’s not too shabby given some of the terrain we have encountered.  Roads vary from billiard table smooth to part motocross track.

The Royal Enfield bullet is the perfect motorcycle for such an environment.  We had the 500 flavour, more than enough power to move along when conditions allowed, not too much to scare ourselves witless on mountain roads with huge drops and no barriers.  Importantly the single cylinder low down punch to carry itself, rider and kit up, over and round all the obstacles the Himalayas could place in our path whether they be man made or by mother nature.

The area has seen a surge of these trips in recent years; the Enfield is truly a way to unlock some of the region’s secrets, whether they be high passes, local villages or ancient monasteries.

From Srinagar we rode NH1 to Leh, overnighting at Kargil and Alchi.  Daz’s non hire bike gave us the only trouble, a loose battery causes a short that fries some of the bikes electrics.  I get everything working bar the ignition system.  Lights and essentially the horn now have power but there is no spark and my knowledge of such matters ends.  Daz secures a truck for the equivalent of £20.00, bargain, for the remaining hour to Kargil, our hotel and a mechanic.  A two minute fix sorts the issue, a replacement fuse, underneath the headlight!

Roadside cafe, breakfast and clearing the morning rush hour of Srinagar.IMG_0187

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The other form of tranport, I prefer the Enfield, marginally more powerful and I am in control, well, barely!IMG_0310 IMG_0295 IMG_0287 IMG_0277

The Indian army, took a tank to bits, carried it up here, reassembled it, much to the surprise of the Pakistan opposition, rifles against a tank, do the math!IMG_0239

We are now climbing to the edge of the Tibetan plateau.  The cool oxygen rich air of Dal Lake is now replaced by the dry, arid, thin air of high altitude desert.  At around 3,000 metres we feel the effects as we step off the bikes for a cuppa at the site of the worlds highest tank battle, Zozila.  Pakistan is only 60 kilometres over the mountains and tensions run high, even today in the contested land of Jammu and Kashmir.  Our bikes are unaffected by the the change in altitude apart from a lower tickover, soon rectified we continue to Alchi, crossing the Indus river, said to flow from the Lions mouth, the river drains over a million square kilometres and provides a lifeline to the many communities populating its banks.

The next day we arrive in the chaos of Leh.  Our hotel is situated in the more tranquil upper reaches of the city with easy access to the town, market place and restaurants.

A couple of days acclimatisation at this altitude is important before heading up and over the Khardung La.  Even so the pass leaves me wilting in the thin air, within ten minutes I am on the bike again, heading down to Nubra, the tarmacked side from Leh gives way to rough and not so ready jeep track, bumping and scraping down for an hour before the black stuff re starts and we can put a proper dent in the distance to our overnight camp.

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Nubra valley is a sight to behold.  The bustle and noise of Leh are far behind us, no power lines to spoil the view through our camera lenses.  We are soon sitting next to our tents pitched in an allotment come garden of our hosts, this is peace and quiet at its very best,  As the last afternoon sun tinges the colours in the surrounding mountains I crack a beer, a cold beer, I love the wilderness!

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All too soon we head back over the Khardung La, the altitude is more bearable this time and we have a cup of tea and a couple of chocolate bars, take a couple of pictures and this time enjoy the views.  Another day in Leh and we depart for Manali, 3 days ride away.  A long tarmacked climb takes us to the top of the Taglang La, the second highest motorable road, if anything the views are better that we have already experienced.  The jagged mountain tops softening in the far distance, the open expanse of the More plains below.

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As I level out on the plains drops of water appear on my visor, the road dampens, the air freshens, the beauty of the place is staggering,  Temporary encampments dot the landscape.  Weather systems surround us, blue sky and clouds to one side with wild, angry clouds bearing rain to the other.

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After a tea stop in Pang we continue to Whiskey Nala for our overnight stay at 4,500 metres.  A cold night warmed by the hospitality of our tented encampment, hot drinks and food are in plentiful supply; A fitful sleep waking occasionally gasping in the thin air.

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Morning brings the Gata loops, a series of 21 hairpin bends and my first view of the Tsarap.  Only the Baralacha La and the Rhotang La passes stand between us and Manali, a comfortable hotel and an ice cold Budweiser beer, there’s no Kingfisher available!

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A classic trip on the roof of the world, massive thanks to Daz and Andrea Clarkson-King of Pureland expeditions for organising our logistics, put it on your bucket list.

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