After waiting for our permits for 3 days, we set off from Leh at last. We've arranged to have the permits dropped off by Manzoor (the manager of Virgo Travel to whom we address many thanks) somewhere on the road to Karu, best compromise we found to avoid having to wait yet another day. To pass the time during these forced days-off (and also because I'd had a bad cold for more than a week), I went to see the local doctor. Diagnosis in 3 minutes flat : "You cough a lot, antibiotics". Hum... Well for less than £3 all included (syrup, paracetamol, antibio), it's hard to complain...
Choglamsar, Shey, Thiksey, Stakna, Karu. I now know the road almost by heart. Going downhill makes things seem much more pleasant. Manzoor catches up with us just after Thiksey with the golden tickets. Noone stops us at the 1st checkpoint. We start climbing the first big pass (Chang La 5360m) and find a not so pleasant camping spot in one of the loops at 4000m.
The next day, I still cough and most of all feel absolutely shattered. After 2 hrs I've hardly climbed 200m, there are more than 1000 left, I give up, sorely disappointed, and I accept - for the 1st time - to get on a truck. Feeling of failure, intensified by the long wait for a vehicule that will eventually take on board bike plus pilot. 2 hrs later while I'm still by the side of the road, I see Pierre who's riding back down to see how I was doing (well not so good...). Just then, a police truck agrees to stop at last. We both get on. I sit in the cabin with the driver while Pierre and the bikes are at the rear amidst scrap metal. The road is impressive seen from higher up. The precipice always seems very near... At one point, we see - coming in the opposite direction - another truck carrying the wreck of what must have been in the past - before probably jumping off a cliff - a military vehicule. "Ah, single lane roads" says our driver, laughing and pointing at the smashed wreck. We drive backwards down the road, looking for a wider place where we can pass each other, wheels on the verge, then past the verge... Well I definitely don't share this sense of humour. Ending the trip here, in such an ungraceful way... No, I don't want to think about it! After 20 minutes of hazardous manoeuvring up and down, we eventually drive off again towards the pass. Phew !
We finally reach Chang La !
5360m according to the Indian road sign, our GPS says 5380m. Who's right? Quick snack at the top. We unload the bikes. Going down is hard work. I feel sore all over my body. The 35kms to reach Tangste seem to last for ever. We stop at the 1st guesthouse, and I slip under several layers of blankets. shivering with fever. The rest of the trip is promising indeed !
I feel better in the morning, though still tired. We plan a short ride today so as to get some rest (about 40K, +/- 400m height gain). But there are quite a few rivers to ford, including a big one with water up to the knees and a strong current that forces us to unload the bikes and carry everything by hand. Pierre does all the job, an absolute gem that man ! The arrival on Pangong Tso is tremendously beautiful, the landscapes are breathtaking:
A long descent is awaiting : 60km / 2200m down, with inevitable streams to ford and a few more climbs along the river Shyok.
Short tour in the valley the next day. Pierre goes up to visit the beautiful monastery in Diskit while I take a rest in the village (already seen it last summer). We cycle past the sand dunes near Hunder, and try to see how far we can possibly go towards Pakistan. The answer is quick to come : not very far ! A bridge outside Hunder, guarded by armed military who don't seem to be there for fun, and a sign "Cautious, no visitors allowed beyond this point" deter us from trying to go any further. That's too bad.
Break in the sand. In the background on the right, the Nubra Valley goes up all the way to the Siachen glacier, at the border of Pakistan and China, highest battlefield in the world. On the left, the Shyok river flows down to the lower plains of Pakistan.
It's now time to get back to Leh. We decide to give ourselves 2 days to cover the distance of 120kms and the 2200m climb. On the road to Khardung La, the last pass of the series, a jeep with Indian tourists coming in the other direction stops by: "Two French people coming this way. Cycles same same like yours but a bit different. Two wheels". Hum, we look forward to meeting those 2 Frenchies who ride reccumbents on Ladakh's roads. In the Nubra Valley, they're really gonna think French people have funny bicycles.
Camping around 4300m by a river above Khardung village. What a surprise early in the morning, while we stick our heads out of the tent to check on the weather : we see - hardly 100m away - a wolf. No time to take out the camera, it's already gone far in the mountain. It's the 2nd time we've seen one (the 1st time was when we camped in the Sarchu Plains just down Baralacha La). This is quite surprising so close to the roads which are - to some extent - fairly used, and only a few kms away from houses.