Jullay from Leh

Welcome to Prue and Ian's blog of their cycle tour of India

"Soaring thousands of metres above the rush, heat and chaos of India's plains, the Indian himalayaare a world apart. prayer flags snap in the wind on high mountain passes, immense yaks thresk barley at harvest time and the colourfultata trucks crawl up the hairpins like ants. The people, especially in Buddhist Ladakh, are cheerful, honest and gentle. The landscape is a reflection of their religion - white chortens line the roads and approaches to villages like pawns from a giant game of chess, burgundy-clad monks hitch lifts at the side of road, gompas perch on spectacular crags and everywhere the air is alive with the flutter of prayer flags Here is some of the most starkly spectacular mountain scenery you will find anywhere in the world"

Laura Stone Adventure Cycling

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Blog 4 Settling in to life in Leh

Since our arrival in Leh two weeks ago, we have had some wonderful experiences and met a diverse group of people.
 Although there is a vegie market on Main Bazaar Rd and a friut and veg on Old Rd, and many convenience stores we have been eating out on Leh experiences for our nourishment.
Therefore I present the      

 Menu for the Jullay Cafe

Starters - Little snippets that  make us smile / get angry or are just very confusing
  • The P.O. Experience (On the menu again) The parcel sent from manali still hasn't arrived. "It could be 2 - 3 weeks Sir" then "It could be 3 -4 weeks Sir". Apparently the mail doesn't go manali - Leh. Instead it goes manali - Chandrahdad - Dehli - Jammu - Leh. A bit like Wang - Melb mail going via Hobart.
  • Drivers. Occasionally a driver will drive past without blasting you with an air horn.
  • Shop Owners 1. "Jullay", "Where are you from?", "Would you like to rest in my shop?"
  • Shop Owners 2  We have become very friendly with some and they are extremely helpful ( Most shop owners are seasonal and from Kashmir. Local Ladakis tell us not to trust them.)
  • The religious Diversity. The Muslim call to prayer is gently blown across the valley by the same wind that flutters the Buddhist prayer flays. A Christian school with Czech missionary origins is prominent in the centre of town.
  • Living at 3500 metres. One minute your body is in control but the next you are huffing and puffing putting on shoes!
  • Indian. Interestingly, leh has been a town without beggars until recently. indian beggars from other states have moved in for the tourist season - really frustrates the locals.
Main Course - core experiences that define Leh
  • Tibetian Buddhism. The powerful visual statement of Buddhism's living history - stupas, gompas, prayer flags, monks amd prayer wheels dominate the scenery.
  • Ladaki - Although there is a degree of urban ugliness on the outskirts of Leh, the central area, old town and villages in the Changspa and Upper Changspa areas all retain a faithful historica feel. New houses are generally built in traditional design. The old town, with the former Leh Palace, Monastery and fort dominating the skyline, is a rambling mudbrick and stone 3D jigsaw puzzle. Australian OH&S rules would have it all taped off creating a no - go zone. here you get to explore (read I have bumped my scalp on 5 ft high doorways) climb dubious ladders, get lsot in a labyrinth of hallways, stairs, rooms, roof tops - all for Rs 100!
  • Ladaki Dish 2  Although we are experiencing Leh at its tourist summer peak, we are already being lured to return in winter. To experince the challenge of living off summer product, closure to most of the outside world and perhaps to walk the infamous Chadar - the frozen Zanskar River.
  • Australian. Apart from the odd "mate" heard in conversations our menu item here was meeting up with Barb and John Griffiths from Whorouly. Our 3 days together visiting historic sites, sharing meals and stories, and the smelly cyclists using their hot shower, were wonderful. Barb and john were also kind enough to bring over some extra clothes for us. Barb, the jar of apricot jam is still being enjoyed.
  • Hippie, Hippie Shake! Leh attracts it fair share of hippie culture.  A room at our guesthouse is filled with didge-playing, drum banging, dope smoking, tattoo-creating, incense-burning, motor-bike riding, yoga-positioning, flowerpower beautiful people. Individualism always makes us laugh. Hippiedom has its own very defined rules- no zip-off pants here Lachie!
  • Seasonal produce. Leh's fertile valley gives way to the stark mountains within metres. The snow-melt creates a water supply that transforms the valley's trees, vegie gardens and orchards into a productive growth spurt. The apples trees in our guesthouse garden have just had their laden limbs propped up for the rest of summer.
Desserts - are sweet events that make Life very rich indeed.
  • Discovering Lardak Guesthouse.(even though Stu Pengelly had recommended its charm)
  • Meeting locals - Kunzes Dolma and her husband Rinchen Tundup who have welcomed us into their home
  • Meeting fellow travellers. Tomas from Czech Rebublic, Julia from Germany, Tatianna from Siberia, Geoff from UK via Dubai, Paul from Sydney and Daniel from Dandenong. Shared meals and stories have been fun.
  • Comfort food.  After a particularly hot uphill ride/walk to Hemis Monastery, Prue's only wish from the parachute cafe's menu was ...banana custard!
  • School. The New Millenium School is on a 2 week holiday so we have had an unexpected extra 2 weeks to explore Leh and surrounds.
  • The Leh Cafe. It didnt take us long to find the best cake shop in town! Mango pie, plum crumble, chocolate banana pie are current favourites.
  • No alcohol has passed our lips
  • Mint tea - go out into your garden right now and pick a sprig of fresh mint. Infuse in hot water and dream of being in Leh! Lattes are sooo last year!
  • mango juice and apple juice from Kashmir and Kulu valleys are always menu favourites.
Photos can be viewed on   http://picasaweb.google.com/106588479237837990839

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Blog 3 Welcome to Leh

Left Pang at 8:00am and steadily climbed up to a high point above town - 500metres higher. Suddenly we wre riding along a plateau above 4000metres. The next 40 kilometres were relatively flat and the stark countryside was fascinating. There were numerous nomadic farmer camps - herds of horses, goats and sheep.
At a drink stop I realised one of my front pannier racks had snapped. The tubing needed some sort of splinting before I had an accident at speed. The rack was already electical taped up from a previous trip but this break required more. After staring at the repair kit for a while, we had to saw a spare quick release rod in half and fit that in the tubing. Next a flatish tent peg splinted the outside, All was bound up in electrical tape and we were on the road again. After several hours of enjoyable riding we scootered down to a parachute tent for lunch - just amazing. Three or four cafes in the middle of nowhere.  A quick re-fuel and chat with some French travellers (in a 4WD) and we rode off through some extensive road works. Ahead was the ascent of Taglang la - the highest pass at 5358 metres. It was mid afternoon and really hot so we decided to set up camp. No shade and about 35 degrees. We pitched the tent on sand and rocks and spent an uncomfortable few hours until the tent created some shade. Finally the evening came and we donned the down jackets and headed off for a short walk. The local road crew guys had been picking something from the low shrubs. We investigated and found they were supplementing their rice meal with a small succulent leaf. We tried a few but they were fairly bland. Our dinner was purchased back at the last parchute tent and carried in a tupperwear type container. We were carrying a small kero stove but as it turned out our loads were lighter if we relied on the parachute tents for food. It was a gamble as not all were marked on the map.
The next morning were were away early for the grind up and over the pass. There was a lot walking and pushing the bikes. Walking rate was around 4 kms / hour and the riding rate the same! So it became a toss up. The road would disappear into the folds of the ridges up ahead and it became frustrating to find out that another kilometre or two lay ahead unexpectedly. Numerous creek crossing from snow melt.
Landslides broke the boredom and we waited as dozers moved massive amounts of soil and rocks over the edge. Finally, within 200 metres of the pass the road works team had blasted a rock face and the road was blocked for several hours. Traffic backed up behind us. Several tourist bus groups were becoming agitated due to AMS effects at the highest altitude they had been to. As soon as the workers were walking across the rockfall in a safe manner, Prue and I approached and asked if we could lift our bikes over as well. One worker said Yes and one said No. In the indecision we pushed forward and saved several hours that still awaited the motor bikes, buses and trucks. A slow ride up to the pass, the "proof we were there" snaps, warmer clothes for the downhill and we were off on a descent to Rumtse for the night. The road was a mixture of snow, wash-outs, mud, rocks and lower down, some lovely sealed switchbacks. My disc brakes needed adjusting again and the confidence certainly lifed when I could actually control my speed. Prue was zooming away out of sight below. Rumtse (Pop approx 100) finally came into view and we exhaustedly booked into the first parachute cafe. The fact that a group of locals were playing cards and drinking rum shots should have warned us that this was the town's hotspot and it was Friday night! Food in our bellies and our daily dose of mango juice under the belt had us in sleeping bags on the couches at 7:30pm AND the tent was just about to fire up! Luckily we were so tired the noise wasn't a problem - although I did ASK a a guy to quiten down at about 11 ish. The best omlette so far for brekkie. A walk around town was a great start to the day. The local school's playground was a dirt and rock strewn area but I'm sure the kids made the most of it.
Leh was 86 kms away so we took off through some of the most amazing scenery we had encountered. Its funny how good the scenery becomes when you are going downhill! The little villages of Gya and Miru and finally Upsti and the mighty Indus River. As we approached Leh and its relious significance, the surrounding country side came alive with stupas, gompas and temples perched on crags. The temples at Hemis, Thinksey and Choglamsar were incredible and we would return later to explore their riches. The afternoon sun was again intense and when we were finally within reach of Leh township, the road abruptly turned upwards. The last 5 kilometres were exhausting. Tiredness, heat, heavy traffic, a savage head and cross wind left me wondering why Leh wasn't welcoming us with outstretched arms. Prue was very strong and forged ahead waiting for the old man at every stupa. The journey's last kilometre was almost the most difficult of the entire trip as the road climbed steeply into the old town. At last we reached the flattist terrain in the old town area but had the early evening traffic to content with. We cycled slowly up a one way street (the wrong way) and eventually found a space to park the bikes and look for accommodation. We were quickly pouced on by a hotel tout and I went off and checked out his palace. It was too late and we were too exhausted to make fussy decisions, so 15 minutes later we were eyeing off the shower and double bed. The excitement of reaching our destination slowly set in.

View photos from our journey Manali to Leh by following the link below


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Blog 2 Journey to Leh

After a night in the hotel (with brekkie in bed!) we hit the road again. A beautiful sunny day. I had the solar panel tied on to the back rack to maximise the charging power for the camera batteries that night. The Sunday traffic was generally light and many of the locals were out doing the washing. Boys from the road crew camps were everywhere either washing themselves or hanging their cleaned clothing on any available space - usually the safety railings on the side on the road. Namaste was the word of welcome as we passed by. Many Nepalis were part of the road crews.
Several big river crossings  broke boredom of the dusty rock strewn surfaces we faced most of the day. Several large convoys of Indian Army trucks passed in the opposite direction - returning empty to that big supply depot somewhere south?? I laughed to myself wondering how many Made in China items the Indians move up here.
As the morning disappeared the road became sealed and we entered the township of Jispa. A young guy was out riding his bike and stopped to chat. He was the local post master and invited us home for a cuppa. The cuppa lead to lunch and lunch lead to an overnight stay.Gailchhen , his brother and mother were just so welcoming. We toured the family farm, shared photos and we were just so fortunate to have a window into local life. I asked Gailchhen if he invited strangers home very often and he recounted a story from 6  years ago when a Bollywood star stayed the night. So Prue and Ian from Wangaratta were up there in the Jispa  social stakes! Guess what we had for lunch? Yes the old D and R!  Preparing dinner involved Prue and G's mum cutting up vegetables on the front verandah and G's brother Tanzin making chappatis. I took the opportunity to wash the bikes and lube the chains. The next morning Mum (55 year old - so bonded well with Prue) was up at 5:30am and off to work in the fields. We had a leisurely brekkie with the boys and after photos headed north again. We both couldn't believe our luck at meeting Gailchhen on his Sunday day off.
 As the morning worn on the weather deteriorated. A very deep waterfall crossing didn't help. By 1:00pm we reached a remote parachute tent cafe. A young couple with a 1 1/2 year old had taken up residence the day before. A bowl of two minute noodles and vegies went down well. Our bike mojo (mascot) - a stuffed kangaroo came out and entertained the baby for 30 minutes. When we left, the kangaroo had a new owner. It rained most of the afternoon and a soggy pair finally arrived at the the foot of our next big pass at another parachute cafe in the Zingzingbar area. A warm night was had but we had a lot of wet clothing with no chance of drying it.
The next morning snow was falling and we both decided that what laid ahead was quite dangerous with our lack of back up warm clothes.
At this point of the blog Christos Milliankos needs to look away.
Christos bussed the Manali - Leh Highway several years ago. He said to us " There is no way you will be able to cycle all the way. I'll bet a bottle of Moet on it." A handshake sealed the bet.
If anyone sees Moet on special between now and when we get back, please buy a bottle for me to give to Christos.
In the snowfall I organised a lift up the hill in a diesel carrier. A roof box over the cabin was ideal for our bikes and panniers.
We left at 8:00am
An hour and a half up the road we came to a stand still. A "roll over" in front of us caused the problem.
4:00pm we were on the move again.
Half an hour later at the top of the pass (4500metres) we came to a complete standstill again as about 100 trucks created a traffic jam. Think Mt Hotham around Mt Blowhard. A snow tunnel 2 metres high. Everytime a truck moved another truck moved into the space until no-one could go anywhere. No shovels No chains and No one going anywhere! Our driver shugged his shoulders, cooked up a meal in the cabin and settled down for the night. I scrambled up on top to get our sleeping bags and the three of us had a very cosy night. I drew the short straw sharing space with the gear stick.
 The next morning nothing happened until 10ish when someone managed to orchestrate a move that unlocked the puzzle. A very rushed descent had Prue and I a little worried. The driver relaxed with smoke filled with some Kashmiri hashish. We filled him up with some chai and an omlette at the first parachute tent we came to. Just down the road a major bridge was out. We had already had to rearrange steel plates on another bridge. But this one was suffering sub-structure issues. We sat in the truck for an hour and a half while BRO road crews fixed the problems. Finally Sarchu - the agreed drop off point, came into view. The rain and cold snap at Sarchu lead us to re-negotiate a new drop off at Pang. We arrived at 7:00pm. What was to be a two hour tour ( as per Gilligan's Island for all of you Baby Boomers) turned into a 35 hour cabin fever inducing 110kms.
Clean the crystal Christos.

Photo album can be viewed at    http://picasaweb.google.com/106588479237837990839

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Blog 1 The Journey to Leh

We arrived in Dehli late on the 29th of June and slept in the new Domestic Airport awaiting our 6:30am flight to Kullu. The clouds withheld the views until we were ten minutes out of Kullu. The excitment grew as we could see the foothills of the Indian Himalaya and the amazing landuse. A quick trek up from the airport to the main road and we were lifting our bike bags onto the top of a local bus heading for Manali - an hour and a half away. The traffic was hectic to say the least and I wished our bikes were fitted with massive air horns for when we were to join the throng the next day.
Manali is the Bright (NE Victoria) of the Himachal x 100. Thousands of Indian tourists and a few westerners. A $12.50 a night hotel was comfortable and had plenty of balcony space for putting the bikes together. We had already sent extra clothing over to Leh with Barb and John Griffiths from Wang and now realised we still had too much gear to to cycle over the second highest road in the world with. A trip to the P.O. was required. How long did it take? Post your guesses and the nearest answer will receive a year's supply of Dahl and Rice.
1 Find the P.O.
2. Be there at the right time
3. Follow all the rules
4. Box the goods (We were ahead here as we brought over an Aust. P.O. 5 Kg box as padding for the bikes and in anticipation of the Manali job.
5. Take your box to a Tailor.
6. Find a Tailor. The tailor sews a tight fitting cover of cheese cloth, hand sews the last edge and then drips wax over the sewing at 5 cm intervals.
7. Back to the P.O. (No  they weren't closed for lunch)
8. Stand in Queue. Get annoyed as locals push in.
9. Finally - label check and pay the rupees.

A quick lunch and then on to the bikes.
The ride up to our first pass (Rotang 3978 metres) was a quick reality check. Why didn't all the proposed training eventuate? 
The early stages of the highway were lined with ski hire and ski clothing outlets. Shacks, sheds, tents - all displaying their Shop Number. I have a couple of photos to sent up to Ray's Ski Hire at Myrtleford. Pete and Kylie - the closest tele gear I could make out was an old set of alpine skis with only the front binding screwed in! Cars were flying past with skis hanging out the windows,
The next concern which would be a problem for the next 12 days was the diesel bletching trucks and buses. The Manali - Leh Highway is only open for 3 -4 months and was late to open this year. It is a strategic route for the Indian Arny to restock their offensive against the Pakistanis and the Chinese ( $1,000,000 US/ day since 1988 - that's a lot of rupees!) It is also the restocking route for diesel for industry in Leh and for the Air Flights in and out. Consequently the road can be very congested and not a good place for two cyclists in their 50's needing  clean functioning sets of lungs.
Those who have ridden with me on long rides will know I'm a dreadful cramper - its in the genes as my sisters will attest to. I have now had international cramps!
We finally pulled into a road workers' camp half way up at Gulaba. Initially the workers didn't want us to stay but we charmed our way in.  Within minutes we had an audience watch as we unpacked, put up the tent and generally got organised. The brave on-lookers had a ride on the bikes and I was quickly challenged to play volleyball. Two hot black teas appeared for and gradually the crowd thinned and went about cooking their own dinner. We walked back down the hill 200 metres to a food stall for an omlette and chai.
We woke to the audience again! We packed up and headed back up the hill.
The day traffic of tourists heading up to the snow was incredible.  Every so often a car would stop for a photo shoot with the cyclists. Lots of  " Do you know Ricky Ponting?"  "Have you ridden all the the way from Australia?" and of course " Do you know my brother. He lives in Canberra?"  Everyone was very very friendly. Plenty of young bucks who wanted to sit on our bikes and have their snap taken - we should have charged 20 rupees a pop. Finally reached the top late in the afternoon. The resort area everyone was heading to was not a pretty sight. Late spring snow, big carparks, stalls selling everything an Indian tourist wants. The most interesting thing for me was the equivalent of a "Towies" cricket match happening in a carpark. Very passionate and very skillful.
Over the top of the pass. Warmer clothes put on and we headed down 30 or so switchbacks. Road conditions were mixed. Full on streams, boulders, mud - all in poor light. Finally we camped on a sloping meadow between switchbacks. A herd of wild horses kept us company. Chocolate and sweet biscuits for dinner and a few cramps before sleep!
Day Three we cruised down to Koksan for brekkie and a passport check.
Our destination for the night was Keylong. A very hot day and again, challenging road conditions. You name it and we had it today. Rocks, stones, dust and big creek crossings. Prue is getting very confident at powering through the water, although one required a shoes and socks off and a bike carry. Everyone we pass greets us with a "Jullay" 
First flat tyre on Prue's bike. It took so long to pump up the new tube at altitude. Later on when we were crawling up the highest pass all I could think about was how we would inflate a tube if we had to.
Keylong came into view and we booked into a hotel for the night. The wash in a bucket was so good. Two Indians motor-cycling the route were great company. One had completed his Masters at Monash several years ago. We strolled down to the lower town to an up-market guest house for dinner and FIFA match on the big screen. What a day of contrasts.

Photo album can be found at       http://picasaweb.google.com/106588479237837990839