Kevin Swains
Travel Website
This is Kev's Travel Blog
To Leh
The trolley getting its first trial in Srinigar
Drass Town. Maybe the most miserable place in India.
Also the second coldest inhabited place on earth!

Strange things happen.
Halfway up a long pass when these guys await handing out free Rum or local rice wine.
Check out the tired feet!
Modifications to my belt by a shoe wallah in Drass
At the Fotula Pass.
My highest pass to date.
Looking back down the Fotula La

1/8/08 Srinigar to Drass (N34.25.791 E075.45.119) 2982m.


I bode farewell to Srinigar in the back seat of a shared Tato Sumo taxi. At Rs610 the taxi is just under twice the price of a tourist bus but way faster and infinitely more comfortable. I'm heading to Drass some 130Km from Srinigar over the Zoji La, the gateway to Ladakh.

The Zoji La is always an amazing pass. Look down towards Sonomarg and all is lush and green then spin 180 degrees and your bombarded by brown, barren hills.

I arrive in Drass, The second coldest inhabited place on earth and also to most miserable place. What would keep anyone here is way beyond me. Drass is only about 1Km long with basic shops and totally grubby restaurants lining the road.

Drass is the closest town to the line of control and close to the Deosi Plains in Pakistan and its location ensures a strong military presence here. That said the military seems to have been scaled back in the last four years.

I take my trailer from to taxi roof rack only to find it has a puncture....bummer!

I can't find my puncture repair kit so I go out to find a puncture wallah but Drass amazingly doesn't have one. That's how much of a hole this place is. I find an inflatable mattress repair kit in my bag and try to repair the tyre but there is a big tare around the valve and it takes me four goes to secure the leak, succeeding only after putting a patch on the inside as well as the outside and then wrapping the tube in elastoplasts to relieve any pressure and all seems to be good.




2/8/08 Drass to campsite (N34.35.11 E076.01.539) 2706m.43Km walked.


The big day arrives. The day that has caused me sooo much tension over the last few months. Today I start to walk with my trailer after much working out and worry about the task ahead. I leave the hotel with the trailer attached and head down through the main street. It's just gone 7AM and many folk are already up and about and platoons of army wallahs doing their early morning run.

I expected to feel a bit stupid pulling a trailer past all these people but I was feeling remarkably good.

The road is a little rough and the trailer seems to have some handling problem like a speed wobble, even though I'm walking no faster than 5Kmh. I leave Drass behind, rounding a left hand bend and heading up a slight climb when there is a crack and the trailer falls to the floor. I spin around to see that my trekking pole has broken and no longer usable. I knew it was a weak point but a breakage after 15mins is just taking the piss. I'm just glad it didn't happen in the middle of Drass!

It's a let down but also an opportunity to play boy scouts and I take out my Leatherman (titanium of course) and head to the nearest tree and cut off a nice branch to replace the trekking pole. After 20mins and plenty of chord for lashing I move off again happy with my repair and glad to have used my Leatherman. But after only 100m the rear of the trailer starts to drag on the floor. My repair is about as green as the timber I have used that is now bending severely. Bummer!

I'm out side someone's house with some good dry firewood in the front garden so I borrow a stick to reinforce my first repair. All is good again for about 200m when again the trailer falls to the floor. Some shaping with the Leatherman and a screw does the trick for an hour at a time. It's not the start I was after, obviously, but it's a minor setback when all said and done.

I plod along not taking too much notice of the scenery but instead concentrating on my trailer problems and trying to understand the forces that are causing he problems. I have only myself to blame for not giving it a trail run before my first day!

When I did this route previously I remember crazy kids begging for pens and they are still here and I have nowhere to run. At least when I was on a pushy they only attacked when I was going uphill.

Now they attack constantly and with added aggression. It's hard to describe just how crazed they are. It's like I'm a wilder beast and they are a hungry tiger with prey in their sights. Once the wilder beast is in their sights they run screaming `appi appi appi' (tourist) and pounce on my trailer, touching and grabbing 100% out of control. I try different tactics but none of them work. It's just something I have to live with.

It's very little odd to be pulling a trailer behind....for obvious reasons. I tend to be leaning forward continuously to gain forward motion with my head facing downward. It does nothing for my already bad posture of rounded back, whose blame lays squarely on my mother's shoulders!

After around three hours walking and four breakages I stop at a puncture wallah and beg some wire to make a repair. I use the wire for lashing and all seems dandy.

The locals take my trailer well and laugh and shake my hand when I tell them about my problems on my first day.

Unbelievably, there are no restaurants or chai shops all day and all I have to eat is biscuits and chocolate.

I pass through a few small villages with very basic shops but the kids are little shits so I pass straight on through.

I keep moving till dusk when I find a camping spot (N34.35.11 E076.01.539 @2706m) away from the locals by the side of the road. I'm knackered having managed a respectable 43Km. Not bad for a first day. My campsite may not be perfect for camping having no water but at least it's out of sight of the road and nosy locals. Camping is always a problem, especially when walking. I like to keep out of view from all and sundry but finding a suitable spot during the 30-60 minutes during dusk is pretty difficult simply because if there is water available then there will be locals around and  in the mountains flat ground can be a problem.

As night falls I lay in my tent watching Morse code from the mountains to the nearby army base.



3/8/08      Campsite To Kargil (N34.37.460 E076.07.586) ALT 2703m.14.2Km walked


With four biscuits and about 20 pistachios inside me I set off towards Kargil, 14Km away.

It was a pretty bad night as far as sleep was concerned being hot and sticky and I pitched the tent on slightly sloping ground and always had to chock myself to prevent my rolling downhill. aim today is to take it easy to Kargil and try to get some welding done on my trailer (a trolley in India).

Within a few minutes I hit my biggest hill yet, which is tiny compared to what is to come. The gradient is mostly steady with a few steep spots that drag the weight of the trailer backwards making it a wee bit difficult. I try sliding my pulling belt down around my waist to gain better leverage and it seems to help. My pulling belt has to sit above my waist, wedged between my hips and the bottom of my rib cage. This is the only way it will sit as the weight of the trolley pushes the belt both up and down.

I'm still on a learning curve with the trolley. I expected to be able to run with it but the bounce in my running makes the trailers weight pivot around its axle and this throws our weight distribution out of sync with each other....damn shame.

At the top of the hill is a small village not marked on my map and amazingly the first building on the left is a chai shop, so I order tea and a packet of bikkies and take a pew.

There is a strange mix of people in the village, maybe more Nepalese looking folk than Indians. The chai shop chick is from Bangalore and has a gorgeous smile with absolutely perfect teeth and unblemished skin. She's also wearing a bight blue patterned sari showing off a bit of midriff. She's a fine bit of all right!

The village has a good feel to it and the children, who mostly look Nepalese keep a safe and quiet distance from me as I pass through....very strange indeed!

After two cups of tea and a yarn with the locals I head off through the village only to find a restaurant within 150m. I can't believe my luck. I duck inside and order more tea, fried eggs and paratha, then retreat outside to prevent being beaten up by savage flies inside.

The owner places two benches outside for me, I take seat and watch a local guy walking around and around my trolley while cleaning his teeth. It's always a good form of amusement watching the locals take in the trolley, as long as they don't touch. One guy yesterday asked if it was a camera tripod....

Anyway....I tuck into my breakfast while still watching the same guy walk in endless circles round the trolley while still cleaning his teeth. After some twenty minutes he breaks his silence and asks the other locals what it is. They explain to him and he cracks up with laughter. Whether he is laughing at his or my stupidity I'll never know?

More chatting to the locals confirm that there are indeed many Nepalese in the village. They are used as army porters ferrying supplies up the steep mountains.

I leave the village and pass by many well kept army camps with manicured grass and buildings colour coordinated with the regiments track suits.

On the whole the army let me be. I don't mean they have ever hassled me, they just acknowledge me and never stop me for small chit chat. I was actually banking on getting free chai off them at the check posts but so far nothing has come my way.

The houses alongside the road are clean and well kept with window boxes and masses of sunflowers. The small things make the world of difference to a places character and feel.

I'm still following the river and so slowly losing altitude. I think a Kargil I will start to climb.

With 2Km to go before Kargil my trailer breaks and takes three attempts before it moves again without breaking. It's the same problem as yesterday so not to worry. I was thinking about passing straight through Kargil up to this point to keep the mileage up but now I realize repairs won't wait.

A tout takes me to a cheap and clean hotel (with very smelly toilet) for Rp100 (U$2.4). It's a light place with windows on two sides and no curtains and has the most dangerous set of wooden stairs I've ever walked on. I hit the town and with a little effort I find a welder who spends about two hours making things good for Rp250 (U$6) and I'm happy, and at that price he's even happier!

For me Kargil has bad memories. Not that anything has ever happened to me here, I just always remember it as a miserable place for some reason. As a matter of fact the second most miserable place after Drass....

But this time it seems different for some reason and I don't know what that reason is. Maybe it's entering the town from a different direction and seeing it from a different perspective. Maybe it's just because I've been forced to hunt around the town to find a welder and that's given me a little more contact with the people? I do remember not being able to find a clean restaurant and this time I do find one and maybe that makes me happier?

I definitely feel happier having my trailer back in working order.


4/8/08      Kargil to Mulbeck (N34.22.714 E076.22.000) 3289m 39Km Walked


With an aching left foot arch I head off wanting to reach Mulbeck, 40km away. It's a pleasure to walk through Kargil and to be witness to endless smiles as I pass by.

I remember entering Kargil from the opposite direction four years ago and I'm aware of a big climb ahead of me. I'm looking forward to it as it will be the first major test for my trolley and for me.

I hit the hill as armies of migrant workers pass by in the opposite direction, picks and shovels slung over shoulders, many hand in hand, their faces way to dark for these parts.

The hill winds it's way up gently as most roads around here do, but much is under construction and the surface rough and loose. All the better for a test bed.

I'm having a few niggles with the pulling system and spent last night trying to solve them with little success given the shortage of materials. As far as I know they are only niggles and won't prevent me making it to Leh, where hopefully a decent selection of materials are available.

The hill passes with no problem at all and I'm even surprised how easy it was. The trolley and contents may be over 30Kg but only on a few sections did I even feel any excessive weight pulling me back. Then again this hill at less than 200m altitude gain is a mere ant hill compared to the long high altitude slogs I have ahead in the coming weeks.

At the top of the climb the hills are pushed to the sides making for a large open plain. Suddenly things have a feeling of vastness about them and for the first time in India there is silence, even if only for a while. To my right in the distance is my first sighting of a snow capped peak while straight in front of me to the east beyond the open plain are brown barren hills, not quite making it to mountain status.

Many small overloaded busses pass by heading into Kargil with men on the roof and often three guys hanging from the front and rear side doors as it's the only place left to stand or at least hang. I'm hoping that the volume of traffic heading to Kargil means that the road ahead is well populated and chai shops available? That would be nice....

Anyway....after 20Km with only one brief stop for a juice at a local shop I decide to stop and make some instant noodles. The way has been well populated but with no chai shops, or at least no open chai shops. In every village there are what look like numerous shops but all are closed and give the feeling of a ghost town.

Not being able to find any camping gas cylinders in Srinigar my only means of cooking the noodles is the old fashioned way of sticks and fire. I find a lovely quiet spot by the river with heaps of dry firewood which I collect. At this point I'm all excited for the first time in my life I will cook with real fire and not that fake gas kind. I stack the timber with cardboard in-between and light it, only for it quickly to go out. So I give in quickly and get out the toilet roll and stick a big wedge of it with the sticks and quickly I have the world's smallest fire. I soon learn that this fire business is not that easy and I'm forever running back and forth with more little sticks for the fire and blowing into the embers to keep them alight. By the time I've cooked up my noodles and chai I'm sweaty, stinking of smoke and pretty pooped by the whole affair and totally over the whole adventure cave man thing. I just hope that I can buy camping gas in Leh!?

With a full tank I head on through the now tight valley past wheat fields and rows of poplar trees.

The architecture is rapidly changing with the increasing influence of the Buddhist culture with mud brick walls, strong windows with impressive carved lintels and compacted dirt roofs laid on top of kriss-crossed tree trunks that protrude over the edge of the house. The villages are also often very neat and orderly.

As I round two hairpin bends a family come out their house and wave, full of smiles and an old man cuts across the bends to meet me. He's a happy chap and asks me to go to his house for tea. I tell him I'd love to but I can't go back down the hill and must keep moving forward. Then I hit a small hill and he gives me a push up, what a guy.

The best thing about having an adult local alongside is that it somehow stops children from attacking (sorry, following) and to prove the point as soon as he leaves some psychotic girl comes screaming straight at me. I turn around and tell her to be quiet, which she manages for about ten seconds and then she never stops. As per usual she hovers closely to my trolley but then makes a swoop for my empty Coke bottle that I use for filling my normal bottle to avoid cross contamination. soon as she swoops I stop and give her a mouthful and point her to the other side of the road and not to touch. Again she manages it for ten seconds before starting to scream again, attracting two young boys. I explain to the boys not to touch and they obey my words, but when the girl starts to scream they join in and all goes to shit. The girl then again swoops and I loose it and in no uncertain terms `look here you little fucking bitch, go near my trailer once again and I'll rip ya fuckin head off' and after that tell her to go home (now fuck off). Her face was a look of horror as I shouted at her and for a minute I thought that she was going to cry and I amost felt guilty, but instead she took two steps backwards and then started to scream again....what to do. I wish my trekking pole wasn't broke as I'd give her a good whack with it.

After about two minutes a local about 19yrs old came past on his pushy and asked if all was Ok. I told him the kids were a pain in the butt and immediately he jumps of his bike and starts throwing stones at the kids. As if by magic the kids clear off. I'll try that method the next time:)