Just wanted to let people know that we wil be away in the Khumba region for the next few days and off line. Can’t wait toget further up the valley after waking up early this morning and being treated to the sight of the peak of MT. Everest.
Will post photos when we get back to Kathmandu next week. I cant tell you how beautiful this area is.
Our next three days were a sage lesson in knowing your place in the world and never underestimating the Himalayas.
Tso Kar to Pang across the Morei Plains.
Our day leaving Tso Kar looked on paper to be an absolute doddle. All up about 45 km, mostly on gentle downhill slope and from what we had been told mostly blacktop. Oh how the arrogance of ignorance can bring you unstuck.
We were so confident that this was going to be an easy day that we didn’t get away till well after 9 after a leisurely amble up to the local Gompa, an overly large breakfast and a long chats with the WWF gang. We set off in high spirits and even though we had to battle through deep sand for the first two hours by the time we reached the highway we really thought that day was almost over. The road was black, the weather cool, the km marker telling us only 37 km to go. How could anything go wrong? Our false sense of security was futher hightened when we met a pair of french cyyclists going the other way who assured us that it was an easy run into Pang. Amazing how going the other way can make you oblivious to a horrendous, howling, headwind.
As midday came and went , it began to dawn on us that there were more and more roadworks on this road and the wind was picking up. After about 1, things went downhill fast. With ever km done the road got worse and worse, the skies started to darken and the wind began to howl.
What’s a sandstorm doing in the Himalayas?
It was about this time that we noticed the sky in the distance taking on a very peculiar shade of yellowy, grey.
Not ten minutes later and we realised that a massive sandstorm was coming our way and there was no where we could go to get out of it. Its a strange thing to ride into a sandstorm. Firstly, even though we were pedalling for our lives , DOWNHILL, we were still only going about 3km an hour. At one stage i genuinely thought that Eri was in danger of being thrown from the bike or worse beacause the winds were so strong. Unfortunately my command of the English language is insufficient to truly convey what it was like but suffice to say none of us will forget that hour anytime soon.
Where’s the road?
Sandstorm safely through, although quite shaken, our next little challenge on the Morei plains, was the apparent disappearance of anything resembling a usable road. It had seemed strange that for an hour or more we had seen trucks of all sizes and shades diverting off the road and go screaming across the open plain, kicking up plumes of dust hundreds of metres long. In the interestof safety we had been sticking to the road but at about 3 in the afternoon the road finally ran out, the wind picked up again and the rain began.
It was decision time and after much discussion and a little bit of choosing new gods and praying to them, we ventured out onto the plains. At first the going was tough, the ground was soft and getting softer with the rain, but about 1 km onto the plains were saved form the soft ground by bone crunching rutted tracks that we had to follow for the next 5 km. This was turning into one of those days, where you head goes down, you keep your own councel and you wonder what the hell you are doing out here. It took over 2 hours to cover the last 8 km’s on the Morei plain and when we finally got across, the freezing 5 km descent into the tent village of Pang was a blessed relief. Despite Amanda getting a puncture 100m from the finish line.
No ex-army parachute that had been converted into a makeshift tent had ever looked so good, no mice running around in the kitchen had never looked so welcoming and no dodgy 2 minute noddles had ever tasted so good.
Our easy little day had turned into an exhausting, at times frightening adventure, but at least offered a nice little primer to challenges of the up coming days.
After the monster climb up Taglang la, it was time for a rest in the company of the WWF team from Leh. At their base on the shores of TsoKar, we were treated to fantastic Ladakhi hospitality, fed and rested like a five start hotel and made to feel incredibly welcome.
The following day we were taken on a tour of the lake environment by Tashi – our host come guide. Leaving the deserted village of Thukje, we headed out onto the ghostly empty plain in search of wildlife such as mountain Ass, wild horses, the endangered black neck crane and marmots. The thing about this environment that really struck me was its apparent harshness, devoid of trees, noticeable life, or signs of human habitation. What we soon discovered though was that despite the image of robustness, this area is full of life but highly susceptible to the effects of climate change and every year those effects are becoming more dramatic.
The lake sits in a beautiful valley surrounded by towering peaks, up to 6000 m high. Draped in beautiful white glaciers, the mountains gave the impression of majestic strength and environmental health. How wrong could this picture be. As it turns out, over the last 10 years the glaciers have retreated up to 20% and water flows that fill the lakes have reduced dramatically. There are no south facing glaciers left in the area and the remaining north facing glaciers are in dramatic retreat.
Even more worrying has been the lack of winter snow fall. On the valley floor and in the village last year for the first time in living memory there was no snow fall. This is devastating for the glaciers further up the mountains as they need to be replenished by significant snowfall if they are to survive into the future.
The great joy of being in TsoKar was being in the company of truly dedicated people who love their job and are doing serious work for the environment. Both Tashi and Nasi from WWF Leh, were fountains of information about the effect of climate change on the local wildlife. What became desperately apparent was that reduced flow from the glaciers meant lower lake levels by up to 20%. This inturn meant that the nesting habits of many species of migratory birds that use the area to breed, including wild geese, had been severely disrupted. So much so that this years breeding numbers were down by more than 30%. If this trend continues, there will almost certainly be dire consequences for the long term survival of these populations . Sadly, the Tso Kar region is not alone and glacial fed mountainous lake regions like this all over the world are suffering in similiar ways.
Climate change in Ladakh.
Climate change has come to this region in no uncertain terms and it was impossible to shake the feeling that the area had passed the point of no return and the future really is all about adaptation or abandonment for the local people and wildlife.
Because of its remoteness there has been little or no climate change, scientific research done and the Indian government with its priorities for rapid economic growth is not really interested in providing research that might suggest the need for curbing environmentally destructive economic activity.
Ode to a big hill - “Ahh Taglang La, you painful, frightening beast of a pass, Even now i can feel the pain you put through my legs and my head, but we beat you and it will always be one of the best things I ever do”.
Today was to turn out to be not only one of the biggest challenges of the trip but of our lives. You could almost taste the trepidation as we broke camp and wandered over to the local 0.0005 star restaurant for the obligatory omlette and chipatti. Away by 7.30, we started at a slow pace but none of us could stop thinking about the enormity of the day ahead. Although the climb looked deceptively mundane on the map, when you think about it, we had a 29 km climb, ascending through serious altitude nearly 1.2 km from 4200m up to 5330m. Even just thinking about those numbers still makes me shudder, but sitting here now supping a clod beer reminiscing, I can’t begin to tell you how proud i am to be able to say that we all did this beast of a climb unassisted, fully loaded and better than any of us thought possible.
The easy bit-
The first 5 km was relatively easy over a 200m climb, but things started to get tough when we came across a sign saying ” You are only 24 km from the Tagalan La”. What a truly cruel sign. To not also tell us that it was to be another 8 hours of steep, steep, switchbacks with the last 15km on truly appalling gravel roads and landslides, was almost criminal. Add to that scorching heat, Tata trucks and army convoys. You know what- it really did turn out to be one of the greatest challenges and most satisfying days of my life.
The first 10 switchbacks-
As the switchbacks started, we all dropped into our own pace and it soon became apparent that the way to beat this monster was to go at your own pace, empty your mind of what was coming up and just start spinning the peddles for hour after hour. At times we managed to spread out over about a kilometre and that sometimes translates into two or three switchbacks, but by waiting for each other, drinking loads of water, occasionally looking back and using common sense we began to tick off the kms.
The hard bit-
No matter how hard we thought the first bit was, nothing could prepare us for what was coming next. Actually we were prepared a little bit by a constant tide of cyclists coming the other way telling us just how crap the road was and how long we still had to go. Their departing cries of “good luck” and “your doing great” followed by a shake of the head and the “thank god i am not going that way” look really started to wear thin about 12 minutes after lunch. Things really got hard when the road turned from passable blacktop, to bone jarring, teeth rattling, boulder sized gravel. Throw in more and more traffic, roadworks and roads turning to rivers from glaiciers melting and the afternoon became quite interesting. Oh yeh and a landslide that held us up for about 45 mins we could ill afford to lose.
This might not seem like a problem but as the day wore on we were down to about 3 km an hour and getting back down to a reasonable altitude after climbing that far can be a life and death consideration. The shadows were sarting to get long and i couldnt shake a growing sense of urgency as the pass seemed to be getting further away rather than closer. As we got into the last 3 kilometres it started to become real that we would make it over the top, but like xmas, you know it would come but it seemed to take for ever. It was astonishing to discover that after all that climbing the last 500 metres would be the toughest. Axle deep in black sand we had to dismount and push, but at last at 4.40 we finally reached the top to be greeted by a howling wind, 20 Royal Enfields and the realisation that we really couldnt stay long and needed to start the 20 km descent before it got dark.
The descent and the arrival of an Angel
As we started our descent the fatigue kicked in and in many ways the ride down was shaping up to be as challenging as the ride up. Ten minutes in though we had an almost crash worthy surprise when around the corner came Tashi from WWF on a motorbike. I can’t even tell you how happy we were and our joy turned to elation when he said he had food and hot tea in his bag. A boiled egg has never tasted so good. I cant remember being as revitalised by anything so much as that brief 20 min break by the side of the road, with Tashi’s little stash of gold.
From then on it was all down hill ( in a good way) but with Tashi as a guide and the promise of a warm welcome and hot food ahead of us with the WWF team, an unscheduled extra 15km’s in the dark seemed a small price to pay. Little did we know just how great our time would be at Tso Kar.
Just a quick update to let you know that we are back in Kathmandu after a fantastic trip through northern India and southern Nepal.
Now as we have been told in no uncertain terms by some of you, we have been behind in our posting. In our defence we were away from anything remotely resembling a working computer with an internet connection for most of the time. Since back here we have been spending most of our time in interviews with the Nepali media with one appearance in the Kathmandu post last Thursday and plenty more to come. We also did a radio interview with a freelance journo for NPR in the States, so we have been non stop.
The big news and sad news it is, Amanda my dear little sister, was on the plane back to Sydney yesterday. Alas work calls but I must say we are very appreciative to her boss’ for giving her the time off to come for as long as she did.Thanks kiddo it was absolutely fantastic having you along for the ride and we look forward to the films when you can get them done. It’s weird not having you here.
1. Blog as much as possible.
2. Go trekking in the Imja region to look at Glacier lakes in the Everest area.
3. Get ready for the ride out of Nepal and into new adventures in Sikkim, Bhutan and Bangladesh.
4. Continue to lose weight – I have lost about 10kg so far and more to go. Can’t tell you how good riding over the worlds highest roads on a fully loaded bike is for wiehg loss. Stay away from fad diets, get yourself on a bike.
Anyway am off to write a newspaper article for one of the local papers, so keep checking back for updates over the next few weeks.
Stay tuned i promise we will be posting more often when things slow down a bit.
Read Kathmandu Post article here
Thikse to Rhumsie.
After leaving Thikse I had just one question… is repetitive creaking a bad thing when you’re setting out on riding over the second highest road in the world?’
Naturally my first reaction was to panic, the sound suggested to me that something was wrong with my bottom bracket bearings. I don’t know a whole lot about bike mechanics but I do know that, like in life, if my bearings disappeared then that was the end of my adventure. I tried to twist and turn my feet, hoping that the sound would stop. How could my bike do this to me now? Gavin and Eri had ridden ahead and I cursed them for having perfectly new bikes. Within a couple of moments, the tool set was out and the pedals were off my bike. I was imagining myself having to throw it away and sit out the trip on a bumpy, crowded bus. Gavin interrupted my thoughts by discovering that it was just a dodgey pedal, not the bottom bracket.
Relief is an understatement. We rode on, my consistent creak letting everyone know that we were coming well before we were in sight.
The heat was rising very quickly, and we were hoping to get as many kms under the belt before the sun really kicked in. It was very dry, dusty and bare. I half expected Mad Max to coming driving by. The mountains around us were becoming higher and it felt like we were entering a completely different world.
Our next port of call was breakfast in a small town. Eri and I went in search of a bathroom and we were directed down a little side street. The only building that we could find was a tiny shack. Unfortunately the front door was obstructed by a whole lot of wood and mess. We went back to the ladies who had helped us before to tell them it wasn’t open. One of them looked at us as if we were the most stupid people in the world. She quickly led us down the street again, and stopped at a paddock that had a small brick wall and cows lazily standing around. On the ground were little mounds of surprises. The toilet was indeed open. We took it in turns to keep watch for people, but it wasn’t people that were the problem. After speedily doing my business I turned to find that the cows had blocked me in and the only way out was through a minefield of pooh. The smell of the paddock was making me wretch and the huge cows just stared as I danced around the mounds. It was the quickest toilet escape ever.
Soon we were back on the bikes and getting through our first big day of riding. The hills started to appear and they didn’t seem to end. By the time we reached Lato for lunch we had done about 60km and climbed about 800m and we were really feeling it. Maybe we had enjoyed the cuisine of Leh a little too much over the past few days. A little man in a parachute tent cooked us up some delicious dahl baht, and we sat in the heat amazed at the riding we had done. The nutritional value of lunch and in particular dahl baht was really proven. Within an hour we all felt human again and jumped back on the bikes to find that we had the energy that we needed to keep climbing.
We didn’t see many people while riding today. The obligatory trucks rolled by as well as some army trucks and tourist jeeps. Most people honked their horns and the truck drivers waved while laughing insanely at us. We came across a couple of schools and the kids came running out to meet us after hearing my creaking bike.
When we reached Rhumsie, our home for the night, the Leh WWF team were there waiting for us. They were on their way to Thsokar, on the other side of the mountain for their research. It was so nice to see familiar faces after a big day of riding. As soon as we stopped they plied us with milk tea and helped us set up camp. They had great fun in figuring out the engineering of our tents, and laughing at our sighs of exhaustion.
We were camping at 4200m above sea level, and that made us very slow while moving around and concentrating on putting up tents. We had to take it easy and be aware of altitude sickness, particularly as the next day would require us to climb to 5330m above sea level over the Taglong La pass.
After bidding farewell to the WWF team we snuggled up in our tents and I think all of us lay awake for a little while, conetmplating our first and highest pass crossing tomorrow.
After spending the morning with the WWF Leh team, (otherwise known as the some of the freindliest people in the world) we finally rolled through the gates of Leh and started our way to Manali.
The locals were busy doing their business and those that noticed us were surprised to see 3 fully laden bikes go by. They all yelled out ‘Jollay’ and although we were excited to start the next leg, there was a tinge of saddness about leaving.
The first few kms of riding were windy, dusty and full of nerves. We were acutely aware of any strange noises or groans coming from our bikes. After hauling them all the way from Japan and Australia, we were now leaving the security of Leh and had to rely on our (basic) bike maintenaince skills.
Todays ride was relatively short. Just a few hours of riding to get the trip started and shorten the climb on the coming days. We had a chance to test our packing and learn how to navigate pot holes, trucks, kids and cows with a full load on the bike.
At one point we came across a field of Stupas. The large white monuments sat serenely across the a huge area of land. As we rounded the next corner we could see Thikse and its spectacular Gompa sat staring at us from the top of the hill. This is where we chose to spend the night. We had enough daylight hours left to scramble up the hill and check out the Gompa.
In one of the temple rooms we were lucky enough to come across four or so monks working together to create a mandala. An artpiece that took a lot of concerntration, discussion and frequent referencing of a printed picture, only to then be blown away for another mandala to be created on the same space. It was heartening to see that even these guys had spirited conversations with each other, disagreeing during the process of working together. It seemed to us such a shame to destroy the beautiful piece they created after all that hard work.
I guess it was like our ride. We were learning to work together with each other, the locals and even our bikes. After all our preperations, the first day of our Leh-Manali adventure was already over and we had to prepare for new discoveries tomorrow.