Aug 15, 2009

Leh 30/07
We slowly climbed through the city Leh, towards Changspa, the adjacent village, were most backpackers stay.
On the way we checked a new fancy hotel (in backpacker standards), which even offered us a good, clean, newly furnished room, with cable TV(!!!), but we decided continue the search. We knew we’ll be staying a while in Leh, and this hotel lacked too many things: a nice relaxed rooftop with view of the impressive Stok range where we can make our own chai, backpacker company (while cycle touring we have enough quality time of our own), a bakery (Rami needs his hit of apple crumble) and simple restaurants nearby. It was just too far away from everything.
We finally reached Changspa and stopped for an apple crumble – it was disappointing (and expensive). Rami nostalgically mentioned Raj’s bakery in Old Manali.
We started searching for a hotel. Gal was watching the bikes while Rami scanned the place. Leh was packed with tourists, places were full and prices were high. The situation was so bad – we even considered the option of waiting till midnight for a fellow Israeli traveler to leave his room, catching the midnight bus to Manali.
After 2 hours, exhausted and desperate, a Kashmiran from a near by shop whom Gal ignored for half an (“would you like to see my fine Kashmiran… crap?”), mentioned there is a vacant room in a guesthouse just behind where Gal was waiting. Rami checked it out and, surprise – surprise, it was perfect! A room on the roof with huge windows, offering perfect views of the beautiful Stok range form our bed, a huge roof – perfect for making chai and hosting guests and a shower with boiling water all day. The guesthouse was near the center of the backpackers with a crappy tourists food (Israeli salad – the local options downtown were not too tempting, except for the Kasmiran mutton opposite the main mosque), but yet, quiet and peaceful.

 From our guest-house balcony/roof
 The Stok range (from our roof)
 Unpacked! (4 Mary Poppins bags)
  Enjoying the roof (with Dudu)

Back home or to Zanskar?
On the last night of the Manali-Leh journey, Rami protested: “I had enough! I want to take a bus from Leh back to Manali, Delhi and home”.
This wasn't the way Gal wanted to end our 3 years of traveling. What about her master-plan of cycling into the Zanskar valley and the ‘Grand finale’ – trekking over the Grater Himalayan range, back to Manali? That way she will avoid the terrible bus journey back to Manali. It was also an opportunity for her to do some trekking; combining cycling and trekking is not as simple as one would think (only cycling shoes, no backpack etc.).
Already in Manali we Google-ed for information about doing the trek with bicycles – we didn’t want to put our bikes on miserable horses – but found nothing.
In Keylong, on the Manali-Leh route, we met a cyclist who had just done the trek carrying a bicycle and said that finding horses is tricky and we’ll need to carry our bikes most of the way, but it is definitely possible. It was enough for Gal.
After drilling deep enough, like only Jewish wives can, Rami surrendered.

Happy birthday to Rami 03/08/09
We celebrated Rami’s birthday, by doing nothing, relaxing on our fantastic roof.
Dudu surprised us with fresh cheese and bread from the market and bought Rami a T-shirt with a print of the Manali-Leh route (with a mistake in one of the passes altitudes).

 Dudu bringing fresh cheese & Tanduri bread.

Sick again
In Gal’s tradition – she was sick again.
She had high fever, her all body aching and she was exhausted.
2 days later we visited the local hospital. In contrast to the good hospital experience in Lady Willingdon hospital in Manali - this one was traumatic.
We arrived in the early morning and the nurses didn’t know what to do with us. The morning shift starts only at 10:00, so the tired antipathetic night shift doctor prescribed Gal strong Cipro antibiotics without even examining her. We decided to wait till 10:00 for a better opinion. We were the only ones there.
At 10:00 the crowds arrived and people were pushing themselves into the doctor’s room. At some point, feeling there is no other choice, we pushed our way into the doctors room.
The women in line before Gal had an impressive skin disease. The doctor was examining her without gloves, pressing here and there (“lets see what this does”), while we and another 20 people were watching. Embarrassed, Gal insisted the other doctor examines her…
Very quickly Gal freaked out and burst on all the people, especially the one pushing his nose with annoying remarks. The sympathetic doctor took us to a small private room. He apologized for the local ‘hospital culture’ and convinced us that Gal needs strong antibiotics.
We were ‘stuck’ in Leh for 4 more days till Gal felt better.

Orthodox Jews - דוסים
7 years ago, while in a restaurant in India, we met travelers who entered the kitchen to light the fire on the stove. They were religious Jews, and in order for the food to be Kosher, they must 'participate' in the cooking. Lighting the fire is enough... religion... We met very few religious travelers at the time.
Now, we were surrounded by young religious Jewish backpackers here in Leh - thousands of them!
The most popular restaurants were the Kosher ones (a commercial decision) and בית חב"ד (Chabad house) was 'the place to be' on a Friday night.
During our whole life in Israel we were never in contact with so many religious Jews!

 The grandmother, cooking something
 A walk to the old palace

 Changspa valley
 Milking the cow (for Rami's chai)
 Stok range

Kardung La 07/08/09
Rami was freaking out of doing nothing, waiting for Gal to recuperate (again, like in Manali). So, after 7 days of not cycling Rami decided to attack Kardung La (5,604m), “the highest motorized road in the world” – a ‘must’ for real cycle tourists. Gal needed the rest (maybe she wasn’t real ;-).
The pass, the entrance to Nubra valley, is 39km from Leh, just behind the town – how convenient.
The first 24km were a newly paved road (for military reasons), passing a military checkpoint. Rami didn’t buy a permit – no one will notice a cyclist climbing, they only check vehicles. He was right.
The last 6km were a rough muddy road, but the whole climb – 2,100m, was a perfect 5% incline.
The pass wasn’t impressive at all, but looking south at the Indus valley and the Stok range was beautiful.
At the pass, Rami met a group of Israelis who have rented crappy bicycles – a popular tourist attraction; going up with a Jeep and down with the bicycles.
Feeling as the “responsible grownup”, used to long descends, Rami cycled down with them, keeping an eye. Near the military checkpoint, one of them stopped, not so sure about her bike. Rami quickly spotted the loose bolts barely holding the front wheel. He got tools from the soldiers, fixed it and zoomed off, thinking of the stupid, naive, young backpackers, cycling on crappy bikes on these deadly cliffs.

  Reached the pass
  Towards Nubra valley
 The army base on the pass
 Back down with Stok range always in fornt

 Leh, far bellow
  An army convoy
 A map of Ladakh - good to have!

Hot 11/08/09
After 12 long days of rest in Leh, we were finally on the road again.
We left Leh at 08:30 - quite early, but not early enough!
Just as we finished the 5km descend to the Indus valley we realized we'll need to get up much earlier. we were in the middle of a high altitude, bare desert with no cloud in site and the sun was burning us. Were was all the bad weather we had on the journey to Leh?

 The mama of the guest-house
 Goodbye Leh

Gal had the blues - constantly thinking of the coming end of the trip.
We remembered the coming confluence of the Indus & Zanskar rivers, not far ahead, as one of the most dramatic views from our motorcycle trip and were afraid of being disappointed now, after all we've seen.
After a short climb we reached the spot (we remembered it all) and smiling we enjoyed the spectacular scene.

 The famous cliff
 First view of the Zanskar river (Gal's favorite river)
 The Zanskar, joining the Indus

It got hotter & hotter.
We stopped for lunch at a road-stop restaurant. Just as we finished the terrible lunch Rami ran to the toilets to 'Shpritz' everything he ate. Diarrhea doesn't go well with this heat!
Around 13:00 we passed a tiny village (Basgo) and stopped in a new guesthouse, the only 'thing' for k"ms; no shop - nothing.
Not a successful cycling day, but the serenity was a nice contras after Leh. And the shade...

 Barley fields
 Ruins of an old castle
 Dried apricot or a tiny Brooks B.17 leather saddle?

W woke up at 04:00 and started cycling just before sunrise.
Around noontime we passed an 'exclusive' tent camp, on a cliff overlooking the Indus. Rami convinced Gal to ask about lodging, hoping for a huge discount. The nice Nepali worker took us in for 250 rupees (instead of 1,000). We were glad to stop early after a beautiful efficient cycling day.
We chilled-out the rest of the day, enjoying the load, gushing Indus river.

 First light - lets go...
 A typical Ladakhi house
 Beautiful desert road
 Wild somethings

 Water systems in every village

 Another scary bridge to a tiny village
 All day cycling near the mighty Indus
  Stopping early.
  Apricot season
 Our luxurious tent
 Gal crossing 'our' scary bridge
 The exclusive tent camp

We got up at 04:00 and started our cycling day with first light.
After a military checkpoint we left the Indus river to a secondary road, the back road to Lamayuro, leaving the trucks behind. The road climbed through a deep gorge and up it's steep wall towards the tiny village with its ancient monastery.

 Romantic breakfast at 04:30: eggs & Chapati from last night
 Last goodbye
 Classic bridge

 More of these whatever's

 Leaving the Indus on the secondary road to Lamayuro
  Entering a gorge

 Climbing out of the gorge
 Is that the end, over there on the left?
 Bad road...
 Looking down
 2 German cyclists ahead, barely visible
 Well, there's more...
 Nice climb

 Gal, in the distance
  Finally, Lamayuro monastery!
 Views from the monastery

 Rami follows the kids to fetch water
 Looking down at the village

We started our day with a quick climb to Fotu-La (4,108). As we reached the pass, a pilgrim's bus stopped and a horde of exited Ladakhi Buddhists attacked the prayer flags, adding new ones to the many layers of old, beaten flags. They were on the way to Padum (our destination, about 10 days away), to the yearly Dali-Lama seminar.

 Leaving Lamayuro, early morning
  The climb to Fotu-La
  Gal, encouraged by the road signs
 Gal looking back
 Fotu-La with it;s prayer flags
 Pilgrim buses
 More flags

We continued down to a dry, deserted valley.
We were hungry.
We passed a few 'nothing' houses and later a few more. We finally reached a small restaurant, but it was closed; the owner went to the Dali-Lama thing.
A hot hour later we reached another shit-hole village. Luckily, it was a Muslim shit-hole village - the shop owner of the only shop around didn't go to the Dali-Lama happening.
The shop wasn't was we fantasized: it had sugar, eggs and Maggi instant noodle soups,and garlic.
We ate everything in the shop, took some sugar with us and filters lots of drinking water.
We were determined to climb Namika-La (3,700m), out of this shit-hole valley. The road was bad, sandy & dusty, and we were fighting a head wind with not much day-light left -> rami was bitter!

 The other side of the pass


 And climbing again...
 Nothing villages with no food!
 On a bad road :-(
 With annoying Bihari road-workers! (poor fellows)


It was towards sunset when we reached the pass, which divides the Buddhist & Muslim worlds.
A few k"ms later we were on a newly paved road (Rami forgot his bitterness) and we zoomed down to civilization. We made a quick stop at the first village, in a bakery, buying a tasty local something, and continued, hoping for a restaurant.
The road descended gently through fields of we quickly reached Mulbekh, a small village with everything we needed: a heavily neglected government guest-house and an Indian restaurant.
Later we met a group of Geo-Physicists from Srinagar, who are studying the glacier decay.

  Down again
 On a new road!!!
 Civilization!!! Food?

Kargil 15/08
After a short cycling day we reached Kargil, the only city between Leh & Srinagar.
Since Rampur (Kinnaur, Himachal Pradesh), 2 months ago, we haven't been to a lively, noisy town (We don't consider Manali, old or new, as a 'loud' Indian town). We enjoyed walking around the market and eating the Muslim mutton and we prepared ourselves to the last cycling chapter of Our bicycle Trip - Suru & Zanskar.

 Diversity from the dry desert
 Muslim girl
 Muslim man
 A village up above

 Welcome to the Muslim world!
 The Suru valley, our destination
 Bikes parked, laundry done - just like home ;-)
 Just another alley of Kargil
 Visiting the huge Indus, around every corner of Kargil
 A local enterprise
 Water pumps everywhere
  We're still in silly India