K&L 2: Zoji La to Leh

On the way from Ladhak to Srinagar (by taxi) on our previous cycle trip to Ladhak, Saahil casually suggested doing a cycle ride from Srinagar to Leh. Two years later, we finally got down to it - and it turned into quite an adventure. This is a continuation of part 1.

We left the warm comfort of the tents at 10 the next morning, wearing slippers since our shoes had frozen solid! The roads were downhill, but quite damaged by the winter ice. We patched 5-6 punctures that day, reaching Dras (3230 m / 10598 ft) around 5pm completing just the distance we had intended to complete the previous day. In Dras, we had our first taste of Wazwan with the Rogan Josh from the place across the hotel. We ate, showered and fell asleep, exhausted, by 9:30.

Leaving at a late 10:30 again the next day, we met another pair of cyclists - Amit and Binoy, who had started the day after we left Srinagar. They’d made it from Sonamarg to Dras over the Zoji La in a day! The road from Dras started of quite bad and had us afraid of punctures but quickly got better and quite fun. We’d even set up the Garmin camera, though it ran out of space in a few hours.

Reached Kargil (2676 m / 8780 ft) at 2:30 and after a bit of confusion about gadi walas and watch repair men, got brake pads replaced and tubes fixed (our patches weren’t staying on for too long for some reason - and we were a bit fed up of doing it ourselves) and ate lunch with Amit and Binoy. We decided to stay the evening in Kargil and rest for a bit. Ate ‘tagger’/‘tiger’ kebabs and some more Wazwan.

At Kargil, we’d decided to start being more careful about timings and food - the last 3 days we’d cycled until we’d had almost no energy. We left the hotel by 830 and were on our way a little past 9. We started off with a puncture and bad roads but made good time to Mulbhek (3304 m / 10840 ft) , reaching there by 2:30. Quickly losing interest in the Buddha statue carved into the rock, we found a restaurant. Lunch and 3 cups of chai later, we enquired about guest houses. Nobody was too sure, but there was a vague idea of a place 10km past the Namik La pass (3700 m / 12140 ft) 20km ahead. It was quite a steep climb up to Namik La but the lunch done its job and we reached the top by 5:30, Saahil seeing snowfall for the first time. The snow and wind had gotten quite serious at the top so we pushed of quickly down the sweet sweet downhill, stopping for chai and directions at Khangral. After unfreezing our fingers we head down 5km ahead to a guest house at Bod-Kharbu. Find the Guest house but turns out that there’s no one there. Eat maggi and omelette for dinner again, and are taken to a homestay. And of course, we clean our bikes have baths and a shave ummm… /s

Left Kharbu by 9 and had eaten two breakfasts by 10: coffee and omelettes at the Marathi Army Cafe - they serve wada pav, but we went too early; and fresh heavenly carb-filled aloo parathas. We climbed Fotula Top (4108 m / 13478 ft) around 2, and reached Lamayuru soon after. On the last trip we’d Fotula was the farthest point, so this was all known ground. We ate at one of the guest houses we’d stayed at 2 years ago. Passing Khaltse, our planned stop for the night, we pushed on to Nurla (3041 m / 9978 ft) . At Nurla, the (extremely pretty) resort we’d stayed at the last time was booked full, and the only other place in town was Rs 6000 a night, but we managed to find a very comfortable homestay.

From Nurla to Leh (3524 m / 11562 ft) was quite uneventful, eating at Basgo, ignoring magnetic hill, tea at Pathar Sahib Gurudvara. The road of evil, christened 2 years ago was an extremely long uphill with a bad headwind and dwindling supply of water. It was now sweet sweet downhill, possibly the fastest road on the whole trip, until the hall of fame museum. We stopped for a second tea here, and finally made it to Leh at 7, found a hotel and celebrated by complaining about the WiFi.

The next day we didn’t see our cycles - and we didn’t miss them. Arranged a car and walked around Leh a bit. Our driver was quite interesting - he showed up at 3 AM an hour and a half before we were supposed to leave, because he hadn’t read the time right (though that turned out to be a good thing). We reached Dras half an hour after the road to Zojila closed, but he sweet talked the guard to let us through. We took some vegetables for Sarjar, and reached Srinagar around 5 - watching 7 days of cycling unwind in 12 hours.

Spent the next day around Srinagar sampling the Wazwan and shopping, and headed home on the big jet plane.