If you are an adrenalin junkie and like to explore unchartered territories you may want to read about my motor biking experience in the Zanskar Valley, Indian Himalayas.
For me it all started with a flashback to a 1980s USA hit called “Escape” , better known as “If You Like Pina Coladas” (https://youtu.be/vLom-87AmO8) which relates to an add in the paper reading like this:
"If you like Pina Coladas
And getting caught in the rain
If you're not into yoga
If you have half a brain
If you'd like making love at midnight
In the dunes on the Cape
Then I'm the love that you've looked for
Write to me and escape."
Roll forward a few decades and exchange the personal ads’ column for Instagram and you have a similar scenario (minus the twist in the tail). I found an Indian photographer whose camera work seemed to say to me (have you got the tune in your head?):
If you like deserts in the sky
And getting caught in the ice
If you’re not into luxury
If you find danger nice
If you’d like making love at midnight
And long talks with to your mate
Then I’m the love that you’ve looked for
Write to me and escape…
I wrote… and this is:
As I had zero experience about motorbike riding, I was an unknown quantity to this very seasoned rider. When I asked (as I got on the bike for the first time): “Where is the seat belt?” he knew I was joking but the reality remained unchanged. How was I going to react to the rough roads ahead? Even I didn’t know.
This stunning, remote and wild area has no paved roads and is sparsely populated with three hubs: Rangdum, Padum and Zangla after which the valley closes in and you can’t go any further
The Picture Postcard View Of Rangdum Gompa
The Lamayaru Mobnastery Too Takes Your Breath Away
We started in Leh and aimed for a short introductory ride to Lamayuru via Kargil.
Bikers, rejoice! The road from Leh to Kargil is awesome. Cut through massive mountains, it feels like threading a needle through sheer rocky overhangs. A bit like flying Astro Boy style: pointing your helmet forward and letting go. I was being tested. Speed. Turns. And a “Are you ok?” from time to time followed by a reassuring tap on my left calf (only place he could reach) every time I said YES. There was truly no fear. Just absolute trust on a serene and powerful rider.
Drang Drung Glacier On the Kargil - Zanskar Highway
LAMAYURU TO RANGDUM:
We knew this was going to be a longish day, only we didn't expect it would take us three days to get there...Idyllic, whitewashed farmhouses with sunflowers, foxgloves, hollyhocks and marigolds bobbing their heads in the late summer breeze, dotted the landscape. Then the road deteriorated. Badly.
At 4:30 in the afternoon and some three Km from Parkachick, after riding past the snowed peaks of Kun Nun glinting silver in the sun, we felt something was wrong. We had a puncture. It took about an hour to change the tube. As the wheel went back into position it did with a hiss. Like an angry snake…A faulty valve was letting air out. Fast. There was no choice but walk to the village in pitch-black darkness. Walking was difficult over the jumble of stones. Meeting a couple of Balti farmers on the road was a miracle but the fact that they took us in, gave us a room and fed us dinner was an even greater miracle.
The Balti Family who took me in and gave me shelter
No shops in Parkachick. After many comings and goings a puncture wallah was located with the help of the family’s younger son Abdul. We were now ready to continue but it was too late in the afternoon to tackle Pensi-La and get to Rangdum in daylight. Another night with the Balti family brought us really close to the teenage daughters who came into our room at any opportunity to look at pictures from our cameras.
Teatime at Parkachik
PARKACHICK TO RANGDUM, or ‘No room at the Inn’:
Awesome ride, despite the road conditions. Only there was no room for us at the only hotel there. A group of trekkers had beaten us to it. We ended up at a guesthouse just 200m up the road. Lucky we got somewhere to stay…
RANGDUM TO PADUM:
Some bikers do Kargil to Padum in one go. Most of the ones I have heard from, regretted the choice. It is far too long. Kilometres mean nothing in this terrain. The truth is that you won’t be able to get past second gear for most of the time. Water crossings abound. Too early and they are icy. Too late and the volume increases as it is all snowmelt from the higher peaks.
Drunk On the View At Penzi-La
Drunk on wilderness and beauty, and before Pensi-La, we had the sinking feeling something was wrong with the back tyre again. Lightening doesn't strike twice on the same spot, right? Hmmm…The repair patch had practically exploded under the relentless beating of the road. Now we had no spare.
Abandoning the bike by the roadside, we hitched a ride with a truck back to Rangdum where we knew there was no shop to buy a tube. But miracles continued to happen: a lone rider from Kerala coming in the opposite direction gallantly parted with his only spare tube and would take no money for it. There are people like that in this world…
Another night in Rangdum. This time at the big hotel. Early at breakfast we heard an Australian voice. It belonged to a Nepali woman, member of the Australian Himalayan Foundation on her way to…Padum! She gave us a ride back to where the bike was. Nomadic yak herder’s right at the bottom of Pensi-La generously offered us a hearty meal of freshly made paneer, dahi and rotis. There are no eating-places on the run from Rangdum to Padum.
Two streets. One cross. One of the two main capitals of the Zanskar Kingdom, the other being Zangla. Only that just after Pensi-La, part of the metal structure keeping the seat and back mudguard away from the tyre, seared off at one rocky impact. We had to find a welder. Yes, you guessed it…We spent an extr night to had it fixed…
PADUM TO ZANGLA or The end of the road…
This is an idyllic, picturesque and isolated village where the King of Zangla still lives. Not in the Old Castle anymore but down below. Time has stood still here for centuries. The whole village was engaged in harvesting and cutting grass for their animals’ winter fodder. The drowsy drone of bees and the smell of haymaking were so relaxing we bumbled around for two extra days.
A cute hamlet of old farmhouses great for an overnight stay on the way back, instead of Padum.
Has the oldest monastery in Ladakh (11th-century) with original frescoes perfectly preserved. A must do.