Kevin Swains
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To Leh-2
Bihari Road Workers
Breakfast Stop
Passing through a local village
Lamayuru Monastery
On the road
Kargil Town. Only slightly better than Drass!

5/8/08 Mulbeck to Haniskot (N34.18.319 E076.38.354) 3634m 7.46hrs walking.


Today is going to be tough. I remember a massive descent to Mulbeck before and now I have to climb it. A young guy fills me in with the altitude details and it's length and it all sounds impressive or should that be daunting?

Things start badly with another breakage, this time to the trolley puller on the rear of my waist belt. Initially it looks like bad news but I manage to repair it with some strong string. I've used more than five meters of string so far on repairs. Maybe string is the most useful item I carry, other than my Leatherman.

After two Km the climb starts. The sign says 14Km to the top. Tough but still a puppy!

Again the gradient is gentle apart from a few spots. It's a gradient I'll be spending a rather lot of time on over the next month or so.

Road widening is underway making the road surface unforgiving. All the way up gangs of coolies imported from the plains wield hammers and shovels, cutting the rocks the old fashioned way. They are always friendly and we pass greetings. They look as though they have never seen anyone pulling a trolley up a hill before.

After 2Km I can see the pass way in the distance as the mile markers count it down. It's often disheartening to look up at the road way in front and way higher and with 6Km to go I round a bend only to see the road sweep wildly way into the distance, around a massive cutting. I stop and get water from a stream but it tastes awful. In fact I've been taking water from deep water wells and often it tastes putrid....but what to do?

I drink the water and polish off a pack of bikkies before tiredly moving on. I'm feeling OK but a hill is a hill and will always tire. Psychologically things are tough and while I love the challenge of the climb, the mind focuses on the goal of the top but baulks at the thought of the ever spiraling road ahead.

Eventually after 3.5hrs I reach the Namika-La (N34.23.000 E076.27.588) at 3832M. The last 2Km are flat so the climb is really only 11Km long. I look back down the climb towards Mulbeck, now way out of sight and get the grin of a Cheshire cat. I'm blown away with the whole scene. It's truly amazing seeing the road drop away amidst the stark brown hills and fade into the distance past all the road workers who are now mere dots on the landscape.

What's behind is amazing, but what lays ahead is equally incredible. Today I'm being spoilt by mind blowing scenery and lapping up every single minute of it.

While I dearly love each and every single climb I do, there are a few down sides, both involving trucks. Firstly is the amount of noise and dust they make as they pass under high load and I carry a flannel which I place over my mouth as they pass. The other is the drivers who stop for a chat or to shake hands. It's a great gesture but these are old diesel trucks and when they accelerate away they leave me choking in a cloud of diesel pollution.

After 24Km I stop in some small village at the first chai shop I come to. I remember the shop well from four years before. I remember cycling through the village and then stopping in the chai shop with no one inside and then half the village came into the shop and stared at me. It was really spooky. This time when I enter there is a chai shop debate already in progress so they hardly notice me and I decide to sit outside for some peace and quiet and order two packets of 2 minute noodles and two chais.

I'm totally pooped and give my legs a massage to enable me to carry on.

I'm planning to stop at the 30Km mark as I'm told there is a guesthouse there but the locals inform me it's actually 16Km away. It's a blow but all I can do is plough on and see where I end up at 6PM.

The road begins to climb steadily again, passing through several army encampments. As I approach them I remove my GPS from my belt and stick it in my pocket just in case there are any check posts. For some reason both the Indians and the Pakistanis are still touchy about GPS units despite the introduction of Google Earth.

Surprisingly I pick up and manage to knock up a whopping 40.7Km to reach Hanaskot at 3643M after 7.46Hrs of walking and 746m ascent and to cap things of there is actually a government guesthouse here with big rooms, clean beds and thick blankets....can it get any better than this?



6/8/08 Haniskot to Khaltsi (N34.19.291 E076.52.670)


More rain at night left a light dusting of snow above 4500m in the distance, hopefully not a sign of things to come!

Just as yesterday a climb starts almost immediately but this time it's the Fortu-La. I can see the summit as I round the first bend and it's an impressive sight, watching the reflection off the windscreens way in the distance. I give a whoop and the hairs stand on my goose pimples. I'm ready and excited. I give off my whoop I can't help but think how similar I am to the screaming girl of yesterday?

The climb is much the same as the previous day with, being under construction and full of migrant workers. The road again sweeps wildly around the hills but this time I'm prepared and steam up the climb without regard feeling too good.




7/8/08 Khaltsi to Basgo (N34.13.450 E077.16.323) 54Km 10.20 Hrs walking.


I tuck into omlette, chapatti and chai for breakfast and get charged double on the omlette, to which I'm not amused and let him know he's a thief....not that he cares. I'm now in tourist areas and have to get into the habit of checking the price before I eat. I'm used to being in Pakistan where overcharging is almost unheard of....definitely not the case in India.

As I walk through the town I'm hit by a mixture of Tibetan chants and Ladakhi music which fill the streets and it makes for a pleasant sound.

As I head off into the wilderness inhabited mainly by tourist taxis an old Buddhist man with his donkey walks past spinning a prayer wheel and behind him a perfect mountain backdrop. It's like a National Geographic photo shoot.

The mile marker informs me that there is 150Km to Leh.....Mnnnn I think....I wonder if it's possible to do 150Km in three days? I doubt that it is possible but that is the whole reason of my journey, so I put the thought in the playpen in the back of my mind so I can play around with the possibility.

Soon legions of taxis whizz by, heading in the opposite direction. I can't believe how many there are and assume that a Buddhist festival in Leh has just finished and now there is a mass exodus.

More roadwork's, but this time with local men and women laborers, brings howls of laughter as I pass and the buggers want to put a bag of cement on my Trailer....:)

I'm still thinking of the possibility of making 150Km in three days but the valley is sweltering and I'm covering myself with water at every water hole. I'm also starving, when a chai shop pops up by chance and a young boy makes me two minute noodles and I chill for 45mins.

Three more tourists stop for noodles and they inform me that there has been no festival in Leh, it's just full of tourists....GULP!





8/8/08 Basgo to Leh 44Km (plus 6Km without trailer) 8.46hrs walking.


I leave the National Highway Restaurant with the promise that I will write to them when I return to Australia as they are very concerned about my safety and ask if I know how to fight!

Of course they are not wrong. I'm a sitting target and any half wit realizes that I'm loaded with money and electronic goodies, including me. It's something I'm very aware of but I have strong beliefs, maybe crazy beliefs that again are the reason I'm here

I pass through the traditional quiet village, the flurry of tourist taxis not yet making their way through. I hear mumblings and look to my left to see faces pressed tightly at small windows watching make my way past. The next house has a family, mum, dad, brother and sister stood framed in a perfect family portrait at the window all smiling and shouting Juley.

I'm not feeling good today and woke very weak after such an effort yesterday. My feet are also deteriorating and I walk flat footed from the blisters caused by too much downhill travel.

After 6Km I stop for chai and biscuits at Nillum? at a row of tourist chai shops. All is peaceful for about ten minutes until the hoards of tourist's attack, at which point I decide shoot off.

The villages are very friendly and gone are the crazed one pen beggars. Or at least I think so when I pass one house set some ay back from the road and two boys start to yell and chase me down. One of the boys is full on and screams and screams what sounds like ` America, America'. I pick up the pace to lose them put they keep screaming and are catching me up. Then I realize what they are actually screaming and it's `apricot, apricot'. I laugh and stop as they catch up with about a kilo of apricots. They want Rp20 for the lot but I only want half and give them Rp10 and they give me the lot and all they say is `no problem, no problem, no problem'. At least I won't now go hungry!

I have no idea what lays ahead and the road starts to climb and carries on for 10Km. More taxis stop and take my photo as the road sweeps around. After several hours of climbing I look back and can see Basgo way down in the distance. The road has taken a massive sweep around to get here and I curse the fact that there isn't a direct road to this point. Then after fifteen more minutes I hit a junction with no signpost and a man with many donkeys heading down it. I asked him where it goes and he replies Nillum....bugger!

Anyway....I'm buggered up the pass and see what looks like a restaurant but it turns out to be a Sikh Gurudwara (templey thing). There I wash myself down with water as my body is struggling with the combination of heat and hill. Then at 3492m I reach what turns out to be a false summit, the real one is nearly 100m higher. I also pass by magnetic hill (N34.10.278 E077.21.172) where the sign says to park your car in the middle of the road, release the handbrake and watch it defy gravity. Of course I don't have a car but my compass goes mad as I walk with it not knowing which way is north.

Every step is now a slog as I count down the meters to Leh. Stopping 10Km from Leh for lunch I can't help but notice the tourist menu with tourist prices to match, a sign of things to come.

As Leh approaches an unwelcome wind blows. Leh has a no plastic bag approach but judging by the amount of bags crossing my path and catching on the barbed wire the message is not getting through. The traffic also becomes thick with busses, trucks and endless army vehicles and walking by the roadside looses all it's pleasure. The gradient also picks up and Leh palace may be visible in the distance but getting there is proving to be a problem. Now everything is purely army army army with barracks galore. Leh's position to China, the line of control and more so the Saichen glacier ensures the army will be hanging around here for many years to come.

Eventually I arrive at my usual guesthouse (N34.10.214 E077.34.482) after 44Kms of travel at just after 6PM. I check into the spare room which is not normally used. I'm pretty much out of it and can't even remember where I stated the days trek from. Despite this I dump my gear in the room and go for 1Hrs walk to get my mileage up to 50Km. My GPS signal is useless finding only one satellite in the evening compared to an average of six during the day.

Anyway....I can tell I'm waffling shit now still being very tired.

I'm staying in an area called Changspa, what used to be the quiet end of town . Now it's choc-a-bloc full of budget guesthouses, restaurants and shops selling the latest traveler fashions and of course internet cafes. The place is heaving with Israelis, hence the weird clothing on sale, and Hebrew signage is everywhere, even the computer keyboards are in Hebrew.

It's my third time to Leh in the last nine years and each time the tourist numbers seem to triple and with it the westernization increases and the feeling of being in India diminishes. It could be Goa or Daramshala looking around here.

Ladakh is a fragile place when it comes to tourism, just like Nepal. The problem with the kind of tourists both places are attracting and their lack of consideration for the local environment and the people. The money that can be made from tourism is massive compared to what a local can make off the land or in the traditional way. This takes the youth from their families and into a western environment. The youngster's now wearing western clothing and speaking fluent English and riding around on Enfields, the traditional ways now effectively disappeared.

The volume of tourists, local and foreign also increases the litter problem. Soft drinks are no longer available in reusable glass bottles but instead only in PET bottles and the locals throw them out the car window no matter where they are. Foreigners drink from plastic bottles and consume food not native to these parts making more rubbish with no means of decent disposal.

It's a problem being tackled by NGO's here and water bottle refueling shops are doing good business.

As one may tell I'm no big fan of this place, at least not in peak season.