Kevin Swains
Travel Website
This is Kev's Travel Blog
Leh to Keylong
Camping with Pashmina farmers at the foot of the Taglang La
At the Taglang Top Summit. 1.5days and 60Km of constant uphill.
My highest pass of the trolley trip and a lot easier than I expected.
95% of cyclists ets do this trip the opposite way around due to altitude concerns as
an altitude gain like this pass from Leh can cause trouble to some.
At least this way it's all down hill from here!
Nomads on the Mori Plains
At the Lachalung La
Road worker keeping warm at the summit of the Nakeela La
Hitting the top of the Nakeela La. My second pass of the day and literally running up it.
Camping near the Nakeela La
Homely comforts inside a parachute hotel.


12/8/08  Leh to Upshi (N33.49.780 E077.48.892) 50.2Km. 3420m. 9.10Hrs walking time.


The holiday is over and now it's back to work. It's uphill from here on....literally. My first climb is the 5328m Taglang La and 60Km of uphill to reach it....that's kinda mind boggling!?

As if that's not enough it's absolutely pissing it down as I'm taking breakfast in the guesthouse....huff!

I repack everything on my trolley to make it all waterproof before heading off.

The trolley is heavier than before, being packed with more water, food and now camping gas. I managed to find two canisters for Rp350 each which will make each packet of two minute noodles more expensive than a restaurant meal. Expensive it may be but it gives me heaps of freedom to camp where I want to.

I drag the trolley up the driveway and attach it to my belt and start to walk downhill for all of twenty meters when it automatically unhitches....bummer. I have to stop and tie it on and hope it works. It really is a shit welding job. As I walk along I stat to think of how to yet again improve the hitching system. My home made system was perfect, just too weak for the load. I need to come up with a method where I can communicate a simple lodgic across to the welder. A method that requires not working to a tolerance, something that I think I might have been asking for, even if the tolerance is big.

I pass through the streets of Leh, now muddy and puddled, but at least the rain has stopped. I've walked this way twice before but still attract attention.

Within twenty minutes I'm out of Leh town and on the main drag to Upshi. The road is pretty busy with many small towns dotted along the route.

The busses are jam packed heading into Leh and each passing bus gives endless laughter as we pass.

I hit my first small town and it's an absolute pleasure to walk through. It's always the old ones who seem to be the jolliest and indeed the most photogenic in their traditional colourful dress. All the way through people are chatting and going about their daily routine and when I come near I catch their eye, they do a double take and give their friends a nudge. They all then turn around with laughter, disbelief, shouts of goodwill, heckles, clapping and all with over the top body language with arms waving around and fingers pointing wildly in my direction. But most of all it's the faces of the people that I remember. They light up as I pass. Especially the old folk. A genuine big toothless smile that shows up every single wrinkle and blemish and all this while spinning small hand held prayer wheels. A true pleasure. The friendliness is truly overwhelming.

It's the same feeling through the next few villages before the small urbanality and diesel trucks fade into hot and sparsely populated villages.

While the diesel trucks may not be around in the same numbers now the volume of tourist vehicles is huge and must account for over 80% of the traffic.

Between Leh and Upshi are many mindblowing monasteries sited on hilltops with amazing mountain backdrops, hence the tourist trade. A kind of Shangri-La of Buddhism.

Amazing as the area is, a visit during tourist season will be more of an introduction to European culture than Buddhist. When festivals take place there are more white faces than yellow and with every white face wanting 1000 or more digital photos of yellow faces to prove that he has been in contact with an ancient culture, things often get out of control. Personally I think all cultural events should be camera free. A big statement, but we whities have a crazy camera culture and if you get in my way I'll shoot you!

Moving's an easy day today. My flattest day yet. The only difficulty is the often intense sun as I pass through high altitude desserts.

I make the town of Karu at about 5 o'clock. I was kinda thinking of staying here tonight but it's a little boring so I decide to push on to Upshi, some 12Km away. It's a big call, but why the hell not give it a go?

Immediately the road begins to climb slowly through more army camps and the rain begins to fall, so I pop on my cameo Gore-Tex and look like a local.

I'm glad the road is rising at last as every meter climbed now is a meter saved for later on. But after a good 100m of climbing I start to descend and loose all my height gain....bummer.

By now it's dark and I'm walking the last few Km by head torch, carrying a handful of stones as dogs become territorial as I approach. I've already launched stone or two on a dog at an army check post as he made his way towards me barking. Just a few small stones always does the far anyway!

I reach Upshi at last after 50.2Km, again a bloody good effort. Upshi is a small place set up at the junction of three roads serving the needs of passing traffic. A large brightly painted distance board dominates the main square at the "Y"junction and around the junction sit many restaurants and shops, most of which close during the winter. There's a pleasant feeling about the town, kinda laid back even if it's not too appealing.

I find a guesthouse but it's already full and I end up the only person in a grotty seven bed dorm for Rp50. I ask where the toilet is and get told `no toilet, open toilet out the back'. She's correct. There is no toilet and I squat amongst the large area of stinky turds that lay sleeping on the hillside 50m from the back of every hotel and add to the filth. There's also no running water and I have a quick wash under the hand pump in the square.

As I have a good feed Upshi fills with truckies parking up for the night making way too much noise and pollution for a peaceful meal.

I retreat to my dorm and pop in some ear plugs to dim the noise from the trucks and the bell that dings on every revolution of the large prayer wheel that sits directly under my window.

After several hours I eventually fall asleep until 12.30am when there is someone whacking at the door and I answer to find seven motorbike tourists from Bangalore wanting a place to sleep

So in they come with a heap of saddle bags and I get no more sleep for the next two hours. Not what I wanted with the mother of all climbs beginning tomorrow!




13/8/08 Upshi to Taglang Campsite (N33.33.919 E077.45.049) 38.1Km. 4544m alt. 7.3hrs walking.


The sign says 60Km to the Taglang La (the second highest motorable road in the world) and a local guy informs me that there is no downhill at all on the way. That is one hell of a hill but at least the distance means the gradient will be somewhat easy.

While this road is popular with cyclists, almost no one goes from Leh to Manali but only from Manali to Leh. This is simply due to the huge altitude gain that I'm about to incur in the next 60Km. The sudden altitude gain can lead to acute mountain sickness and other altitude problems (including death), hence why most people choose the other direction. But I have a mission and that forces me into this direction, plus I think I have enough altitude in me from Drass to safely push me over the pass????

All that said, dragging a 40Kg trolley up the Taglang is an unknown quantity and I, about to become a world authority on the subject have no idea how or even if it is possible or how far one can go in one day. I'm expecting things to be tough, indeed I'm wanting things to be tough and realistically expect two nights sleeping en-route to the top.

I leave Upshi and start to climb, slightly apprehensive of what lays ahead.

The milestones inform me its 14Km to my first town, which is where I plan to refuel. As I approach the town I can see many chortens and suddenly remember passing through this way only to be begged for pens and sweets from every child around and this time is no different. I pass an old granny who tells her grand kid to beg for a pen and then road workers all beg me for a biscuit....unbelievable!

What's more unbelievable is that there is no chai shop and the nearest one is 8Km away, so I take out a packet of bikkies and eat them as I go.

The road is easy going passing through amazing rock structures, the strata vertical, showing each layer through millions of years, and each layer has eroded at different rates leaving impressive rock buttresses running to the road. I don't remember any of this the last time I came down this road. I guess I was too busy enjoying the downhill?

I stop after 8Km at Lato (3996m) and tuck into Maggi noodles, my new non stop diet and as I sit and eat around twenty Enfield motorbikes pass by all with foreigners aboard and several push bikes. While this road may be an Enfields playground it's good to see many Indians on their motorbikes making the trip.

After refueling I set off for another 8Km where I plan to stop and sleep at Rumse and make it within an easy two hours. I buy more supplies of biscuits and noodles just in case I spend more time reaching the next point of civilization. Then I order a tea and get charged Rp10....a tourist price....bitch! This pushes my switches and I let her know she's a cheat and storm off into oblivion, having decided to make tonight a camp night.

With new energy I make good uphill time. I'm surprised at how easy I'm finding the climbing and motor on without feeling the altitude. My breathing is easy considering I have a trolley attached to my bottom.

After 6Km I stop at some parachute tents and take more Maggi noodles. On this trip my principle is to eat when I can for obvious energy purposes.

This trailer thing is very odd at times, like arriving at these dhabas. When I arrived everyone watched me make my way up the road pulling my trolley behind, unhook it and take a seat outside. But when I leave they all ask me where is my cycle? I tell them I'm walking but then they ask where's my cycle again. This goes on and on and becomes very frustrating and I explain very slowly that I am walking and they even watched me walk unto this point. I then hook on my trolley, at which point they suddenly realize that I'm walking and burst out into laughter and we part with waves and I'm wished good luck. Frustrating it may be constantly explaining to locals that I'm walking but at the end of the day I wouldn't want it any other way. It's way too much fun!

I walk on the road following a clear water stream and as long as this stream stays nearby I'll keep on walking and after 38Km of uphill the road hangs left away from the river meaning I have no choice but to make camp. The only problem is there is already several local tents where I want to camp and I don't want to camp near migrant workers. But as I approach there is a well dressed man in a puffy down jacket smiling at me asking where I'm going. I tell him I need to camp where they are and he invites me down to their tents.

It turns out they are government pashmina farmers from Upshi and spend summer in the high pastures. They are all friendly and watch me set up my tent and even bring me a cuppa tea....perfect!

I make it an early night as more rain falls.




14/8/08 Taglang campsite to Mori Plains campsite 4652m. 41.4Km. (N33.25.718 E 077.50.684) 8.18Hrs walking.


I climb out of my tent and look skywards, literally, and see what lays ahead. The road starts to climb on endless hairpin bends pushing higher and higher and I can see trucks miles away in every sense of the word. I'm awestruck. It really is taking the piss. While taken aback at the site and the challenge ahead a big part of me wants the fun to begin, but first I make apple surprise porridge and chai and pack my bags.

The farmers crawl fro their tents as I'm packing and bring me a big cup of black tea which is most welcome. It's been a good camping spot.

I head of and hit the hairpin bends and begin to climb....and climb. I put my head down and being a boy think of nothing to pass the time. My plan is to take forced rest stops every one hour to relax and take it easy with the altitude. Realistically things will be getting very tough as I hit the 5000m mark.

After two hours and 12Km I make my first stop, making an altitude gain of nearly 500m.

It's not much of a rest stop with twenty minutes and a packet of chocolate bourbons and a handful of pistachios.

The road keeps on climbing. The surface is often rough and always under construction.

Eventually I reach to point at which I could see the trucks from the campsite. From down there it's in the heavens and must be the top of the pass. But now I'm here I see yet more climbing ahead and many more kilometers to tread. It's very impressive indeed!

As I make ground on the summit the road condition deteriorates into mud from roadside springs. My Gore-Tex shoes live unto their name and are worth every penny.

I make the summit (N33.30.512 E077.46.353) after 22.4Km of continuous uphill and 802m of climbing.

I still feel good, incredibly good. I still don't feel the altitude and I'm surprised by the fact. I steamed the last few Km to the summit.

There is one tourist taxi already at the summit as I walk to the info stone ready for a pikkie.

I thought the sight of some nutter pulling a trailer might get their attention but obviously not and I have to shout to get their attention and to come and take my picture. The chic comes over as I squat wanting for her to take a shot but I'm horrified to see that she seems to be pointing the wrong way. She snaps a pic and gives me the camera. At this point I'm lost for words. What the hell don't you understand about this, I think to myself. She's taken a nice and pretty portrait with all of the prayer flags fluttering in the background. Maybe it's nice for you and your group of friends over a glass of wine, but I ain't interested in prayer flags one's about ME!

What can't she understand about "please take a picture of me". ME ME ME and only ME. 60Km of uphill dragging 40Kg behind and I get prayer flags....

She snaps one more and this time gets it right.

I duck into a disused parachute tent and cook up some Maggi noodles before heading off down to the Mori plains.

The clouds roll in bringing wind and rain. It's not heavy but very annoying. I stop and pop on my thermal top and Gore-Tex and keep warm and dry.

After 20Km of downhill I decide to make camp after reaching the Moro Plains. I set up my tent during a lull in the rain partly hidden from the road being a mani wall (a wall made of rocks engraved with prayers) that amazingly gave me shelter four years earlier from a fierce wind.

I duck inside just as the rain falls.




15/8/08 Mori Plains camping to Pang (N33.07.767 E077.46.965) 4512m. 46.6Km. 8.40hrs walking.


The rain fell all night and played havoc inside my tent. Again the single skin theory worked against me. While the tent is waterproof the condensation buildup inside is considerable, almost being a shower by itself. I ensured a good airflow with the vents but again there was simply no breeze to reduce the condensation. My sleeping bag is now wet and has little thermal properties when laden with water, so with a wet tent and sleeping bag I have to reach Pang some 47Km away.

I pack everything away while it's not raining and make breakfast when the rain hits again. I stand around, cold, in the rain while eating my porridge. I'm already in a bad mood without the rain. I'm cursing at everything. Everything is wet, it's raining and I'm tired from the previous day's effort.

I set off at a slow plod across the Mori Plains, all between 4600 and 4700m.

After 8Km I'm drained and take an energy gel and a pack of bikkies. The rain comes and goes and many more storms miss me by a few hundred meters. The Mori Plains may be beautiful but today I can't see any charm here.

The trolley is really annoying me and I stop often and faff around too much. I know I'm tired when I faff around.

The weather is also pissing me of. One minute it's hot and the next minute it's cold.

I'm in hot mode when all turns black in the front of me and what looks like the mother of all storms is brewing. I immediately stop and waterproof myself up, just in time as the wind and rain hits head on with ferocity. I lean forward, fighting the wind as it beats into me and my head down to shield my eyes from the rain. I can't run and there's nowhere to hide. I'm sure the passing taxis are loving the sight of me?

The road is undulating and tiring and the Mori quickly becomes monotonous. Give me curves, big hills or long downhill, anything but undulating and straight!

My moving speed is down to 4Kmh which is woeful, so I decide to only eat bikkies and push on instead of cooking a feast of Maggi noodles. Anyway, there's not really anywhere to shelter from the wind.

For some reason I pick up begin to make good speed and reach the end of the plains and give out a cheer as I do so.

Now it's only 5Km downhill to the parachute dhabas (restaurants) of Pang.

My trolley is a disaster downhill and I have to hold it to stop it coming unhooked all the way to Pang.

Pang is a welcome sight and I crash the first dhaba and almost collapse on the floor. A cup of tea brings me around.

I want to wash but the river is filthy so instead clean my feet with hand cleaner.

My feet, while doing good under the extreme conditions are always tired. I try to wear clean socks daily which is not always possible as there maybe no washing water or the weather is too wet to dry them. I also swap shoes to prevent blisters

and wear different combinations of socks for the same reason. I'm still very much learning about my feet, despite having had them all my life....

While walking past the dhabas of Pang I notice a tandem bicycle and call inside to talk to the Dutch owners. If I turn heads then these guys must do the same.

I go back to my tent and hit the sack early.

At around 11pm five Indian tourists enter the dorm making a racket with no consideration for me. Eventually I tell them to be quiet or go outside to talk; this is a bedroom and made for sleeping. They mutter under their breath about this is their country etc and its independence day and I wish them a happy independence day.

There's one thing I've learnt over the years with Indians. You have to be firm and try to teach them some respect. Mention the word respect and they will back down, as did just happen in the dorm. If they would have continued to be noisy I would have asked them why they celebrate Independence Day. I mean what has India achieved over the last 61 years? I bet if I asked the average Indian that question a large proportion would say nuclear weapons. Great! They've eventually got pre-independence technology. Even worse it's technology to kill the Pakistanis, who are literally their brothers, only divided by independence and the invisible border line. If I wanted to be even blunter I could simply ask if the people can feed themselves. Do they have clean water, education or basic health care and the big one, how can you celebrate independence when corruption is way above poverty....a frightful thought!

Anyway....thankfully they are quiet:)



16/8/08 Pang to campsite (N33.02.484 E077.37.604) 4672m.34.7Km. 7.03hrs walking.


Today has to be a tough day, I'm tired from yesterday, my hardest day yet and I have to passes to cross, one just over 5000m and the other just under 5000m.

I do 2Km of downhill before starting to climb up to the Lachalung La.

Again the trolley is annoying and keeps sticking on my waist belt. I know how to repair it but it needs welding again and that will have to wait till Keylong, some five days away.

More superb scenery and rock outcrops make my way up to the pass a pleasure and I shoot many happy snaps.

After around 15Km I stop for Maggi noodles. I'm by a small stream and surrounded by awesome rock architecture. A perfect picnic spot.

I reach the top easily after 22Km (N33.06.195 E077.37.782) at an altitude of 5079m. This time some chic takes my pikky and is willing to take as many as I want.

I move off quickly as another climb awaits after a brief descent.

I can see more hairpin bends ahead leading down to whiskey nullah, a small river. But I can also see a short cut that looks like it may be possible with my trolley so I head off down and immediately wish I'd took the road.

The track is nothing more than a sheep track, initially with large rocks that throws my trolley everywhere. Then it gets smoother but on a severe camber and I have to pull the trolley up and along to prevent it slipping downhill. It all gets too much and I decide to go directly downwards on the scree slope. I put hold the trolley in the front of me and dig my feet into the scree slope trying to slow both me and the trolley down the hill. I manage it but I can feel sores or blisters on the top of my toes from the effort of breaking.

I walk back on the road for a few hundred meters before seeing a 4wd track heading directly to the dhabas at the nullah. I don't want to go through all that scree stuff again and this track looks good and not too steep so I hang a right and head of down.

But....the weight of the trolley makes me go faster and faster. The surface looks good but in reality it's like trying to stop on ball bearings. My feet are barely moving but skating along, it looks weird from where I'm stood. Eventually I manage to stop after moving across to a smoother surface...BUT....something fells different. Something is not right. Damn....I've blown out a hemorrhoid....

"Hello Harry, it's a long time since I've seen you".

"Yes, more than one year I think. Just thought it would be nice to hang out with you" he replied

"Whatever Harry"!

Up to now all has been surprisingly good in that department and I go and blow it!

I reach the Dhabas having saved 4Km with my short cut but if I had to do it again I'd take the long way. Harry might like hanging out with me but I don't like hanging out with Harry.

I took into more Maggi noodles while making yet another attachment repair, this time with a bolt, a rubber handlebar grip and some wire, all of which has been found on the road and it works well as I make my way unto the Nakeela La.

I'm almost running up the road now, putting in an absolutely unbelievable pace. It's only 9Km to the top (did I just say only 9Km?) and it takes me no time at all and as I approach the top I get an adrenaline rush and push on harder. Psychologically I'm doing a double pass so it should be tough. But after the Nakeela La it's all downhill and my brain knows it and as I reach to top I'm like a man possessed. I'm finding it to easy, way to easy and shout out "I want more, I want more". I'm fully pumped up and enjoying every single second.

At the top I take a few self portraits before setting off again. I see a workman warming himself on blazing bitumen and ask or a photo, to which he obliges. It just looks odd to me. I leave and tell him "tar for the photo" but my wit is lost on him:)

I motor on down the pass arms pumping wildly as I'm still full of adrenaline. I look ahead and see the road sweeping downhill in the front of me through big brown hills. All I think is how good it looks, how god damn sexy to be exact. Then for some unknown reason I point at the road I the distance and start yelling "you, you, you". I think I must be telling it, Kevin's here and he's going to get you. Then I point and shout again, but this time I go further and shout "you, you, you, you sexy thing you sexy thing" as in the song and sing it over and over for the next half hour.

Moments like this are priceless. For one thing I have no one but myself to talk to so I have to get my kicks from somewhere but more to the point it's a natural release after putting in such an effort, even if it was easy....make sense?

I enjoy the downhill while looking for a place to camp as dusk approaches. As usual there is little to choose from as the road is cut deeply into the hillside but eventually I find a beautiful but exposed spot and enjoy a good nights sleep.