Photos from India

Friday, August 29, 2008

The highest road in the world!

Even thought I was still not felling well, I decided that I had enough strength in me for a motorcycle ride. Nearby to Leh, the town I have been staying in is a road that travels over the highest motorable pass in the world. On the other side of the pass lies the Nubra valley which stradles the border between India, Tibet and Pakistan.

Years ago, I read a magazine article about someone making this same journey and I couldn't resist the opportunity with it being so close at hand. The journey began by renting a Royal Enfield, a classic British designed motorcycle that is the bike of choice throughout India. The bike wasn't running so great and to complicate the journey even further, the gears and the brakes were on the wrong sides. While this added a bit of difficulty to the trip, I decided it would be easily overcome along the way with a bit of practice.

As you can imagine,k it was a bumpy and curvy cliff side road all the way up to the top. The backwards controls on the bike were manageable but it seemed that every time I wanted to hit the brakes in a hurry, I wound up slamming my foot down on the gear shift instead! Keeping that in mind, I drove relatively slow the whole way and kept a close eye out for any oncoming traffic that seemed to always come whipping around one of the corners when you least expected it.

After two full hours and only traveling about 60 kilometers, I finally made it to the tip of the pass! 5600 meters or just over 18,000 feet and freezing cold except for the warmth provided by the noon day sun. The views from the pass were absolutely stunning! Looking South you could look down the valley between snow covered mountains and glaciers and see an endless chain of the Himalayas stretching from the East to West. To the North, the road tumbled down towards the Nubra Valley where any further progress was blocked by the Karakorn range in Pakistan.

It took another bumpy four hours to make it to the town of Diskit where I would be spending the night. While the permit I obtained to visit the area allowed me to go a bit further North, the drive on a rickety 350cc motorcycle had taken it's toll on me and I was ready to relax. I spent the afternoon reading beneath the massive granite mountains that surrounded my guesthouse and after an early dinner, fell soundly asleep. The next morning, I awoke to beautiful blue skies and spent some time exploring a local Gompa as well as the incredible views of the immense valley I was in. It was incredbile to see the dry rocky mountains soaring as much as 9000 feet above me. I can't even desribe the scale of how it felt to be there! Mountains everywhere you looked as far as your head could tilt back.

I slowly began my journey back over the pass toward Leh. The ride back turned out to be a bit more eventful than on the way over. I spent a good deal of time trapped in the middle of a military convoy of massive trucks. The convoy finally came to a stop in order to take a look at a car which had recently tubmeled over the edge of the mountian killing the 3 occupants inside. Appareantly, this sort of thing is a pretty regular occurence here as people tend to drive extremely fast down this treacherous road.

Getting closer to the pass it started to look like it was going to rain. I was wrong however, it decided to hail upon me instead! The hail didn't last long as it quickly turned into snow. Crossing the pass, the snow continued to fall and I have to say that I actually had a smile on my face to see snow falling in the middle of August! The snow gradually ended and I slowly rolled down the opposite side of the mountain back toward Leh. Happy to still be alive after surviving a journey over the world's highest road, I arrived at my guesthouse where I hoped for a hot shower to be waiting but instead settled for one that was quite luke warm. Having not bathed in three days, it sufficed to do the job and I followed it up with a banana shake and an enormous meal before wrapping myself up in my sleeping bag to avoid the cold cold night.


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