Arriving to Leh we rejoined the honking orchestra of military trucks, auto rickshaws and any kind of vehicle that desperately wanted to overtake us (and the world) in the single lane under construction. It was tough to accommodate to the new situation and let go of the solitude of the wild mountains. You think travelling by bike is a slow progress but situations like this still seem too abrupt. We took a periphery road and avoided the main bazaar, got lost in little alleys looking for the quietest guest house we could afford and found 2 lovely rooms in a typical Ladhaki house surrounded by a park of Buddhist gompas. We had a hot shower, a HOT shower! After 10 days of washing by bits in snow melt this was the highlight of being back in civilization.
And the other highlight was to be able to eat something out of the dhal, rice, omelette and chapatti world. Although Leh can be an empire of Royal Enfields (this is the brand of every motorcycle you will see in India and part of its original design is a terribly inefficient exhaust pipe that sounds like a space ship taking off), we managed to stay far from the road and the noise and rested for days. We knew the Manali-Leh adventure was over when Fin left. He had to take a shared van in order to make it on time to Delhi to catch his flight. Nobody was looking forward to his departure and even less to his journey. The majority of these vehicles are driven very badly and his was no exception. The good news is he arrived safely and the bad news is his bike was damaged.
As for us 3 we decided to continue the trip and leave the Himalayas by bike. After a couple of days we resumed the road westbound with final destination Srinagar. The first day was sticky, some sort of mental and physical resistance to the road. The fumes from the heavy traffic getting out of Leh made it even less attractive and the head wind didn’t help. But once we had the first descent and arrived to the first village the mood started to change. The landscape is very different to the previous journey, there are villages, the land seems so fertile and the locals are tender and smily.
We slept in a village, shared a beautiful room full of windows and the following day made our way to Lamayuru. The last part of the day we started the climb towards our first and highest pass of this part of the trip. At first the road was steeper than we had experienced but then the gradient dropped and finally we could experience those super human powers Fin promised we would feel after spending 12 days above 4000m climbing mountains. The climb was really enjoyable, never felt breathless, no wind, little traffic and astonishing views.
The descend was smooth until the wind started blowing again against our direction and the road started to be up and down. We were really ready for lunch break around 2pm and needed to gather some energy for the next pass of the day, Namika La, only a 300m climb but the wind can make it rather tiring.
The landscape was beautiful, very rocky, very abrupt and very smooth all at the same time! We sailed down hill for 10km and arrived to a village were we saw the first mosque after Leh. Gradually we will be moving from the Buddhist Ladhak to the Muslim Kashmir as we get closer and closer to the frontier with Pakistan. We could not travel to Pakistan so this is the closest we will manage to get to their culture.
We finished the day in Mulbek a small village spread out in a few km where we found a quiet room in a family’s abode. It was so lovely and peaceful there that the following day we decided to enjoy the morning in this quiet village and resume the road in the afternoon.
Arriving to Kargil was less promising, first big town on the way, we took a wrong turn and spent an hour visiting ridiculously priced rooms. We finally found the way to the old town and the craziness of the bazaar. 90% of the population of Kargil is in the streets, the majority are men and for the first time in weeks, children are begging for 10 rupees (even those that come back from the shop with food in their hands). We found a basic room in a hotel that was close to falling apart and went out for food. It was not a simple mission as we were right in the middle of Ramadan and the sun was yet above the horizon.
On the way out of Kargil we returned to wilderness and peace. We followed the agitated river with crazy current and spent all morning up and down. I had a puncture for lunch and we took refuge of the sun under the shade of some trees by the river. The temperature is hot again and this reminds us that we are leaving the Himalayas… we start feeling nostalgia and some sort of fear to return to the crowded plains. But this is the way forward and that is the only way!