Kevin Swains
Travel Website
This is Kev's Travel Blog
Leh to Keylong-2
My second time up the Nakeela La after having an axle shear off the first time
and having to hitch a lift 170Km to Keylong and back to make a repair.
Roadworker on the Baralacha La
More roadworkers on the Baralacha La
Getting wet on the Baralacha La. 4950m
Locals playing with the trolley.
Now when I stop I remove the pulling arm as every Indian seems it's
his right to play with my trolley, and for that matter anything else I own!



Today I'm looking forward to lots of downhill and especially the 21 Gato Loops (hairpin bends) that are a real sight to see. I take it easy as Harry I playing up a little and amazingly I don't have and cream for him. I mean of all the medicine in my bag I don't have the one thing with my track record I'm going to need....Harry cream. I simply don't believe I don't have any. Kevin without bottom boil cream is like an astronaut without a rocket

Anyway....I'm tootling down the Gato Loops when I pull over to the side to let a few taxis past. My trolley and myself are on a small slope to the side o the road. The taxis pass and I take one step forward and feel the trolley drop to one side and turn around to see the left wheel on the floor. Quickly I unbuckle my harness to pick up the wheel before it gets run over. I'm simply expecting the quick release mechanism to have slipped and the wheel just needs popping back on. But I'm shocked to see that the axle has sheared off and beyond roadside repair.

I'd contemplated this kind of breakage but never expected it to happen as I'm way under the manufactures weight limit and anyway, there's no way to repair it anyway!

I think quickly and decide that I will hitch a lift to Keylong some 160Km away and try to get the trolley welded and roadworthy again. A truck approaches and I flag it down wanting a lift to Keylong but it will take him two days to get there. There is another truck behind so I flag that one down, while holding my wheel in the air to let him see that I have mechanical problems. He stops and he's going my way and wants Rp150 for the ride. I stick my gear on the roof and off we go.

The truck is a fuel truck and judging by the way it's jumping around I guess it's empty. While only 160Km to Keylong, it takes 6hrs of continuous driving to reach there at around 4.30pm.

I check into a guesthouse and fill my face as I'm starving. I then ask the hotel manager where is a cycle wallah to which he replies "there are none".

Nonsense I think to myself and hit the town with my broken wheel and my Leatherman to track one down. I ask a shop owner for directions and again get the same answer....impossible.

At this point I don't even know how the wheel can be repaired as it's a special design. I'm just wanting to find a steel axle or even just a piece of steel and take it from there.

I find an internet cafe as they always speak English and he points me 200m away, I knew there had to be one, but I arrive to find it's actually a motorbike repair shop....bummer!

Still....there are plusses here. He repairs Enfields so he must have been in contact with heaps of westerners and he must have a good mechanics brain to keep the Enfields on the road.

I tell him my dilemma and show him a photo of my trolley on my camera and ask for anything at all that might work as an axle. He's busy and tells me to go into the shop and dig around.

The shop is a disaster area with tools and engine parts everywhere. How he can run a business I do not know. Not that I care I want an axle and hunt around and after twenty minutes find something for an axle and as a bonus it's high tensile, the only problem is I need two and he only has one, but he tells me the welder can cut it in half and weld it longer. I don't know it will work but I have nothing to lose. It turns out the bolt is for the rear swing arm on a Royal Enfield so at least it should be strong. It costs me Rp190 for the bolt and a few nuts and then I jump on the back of his motor bike and he takes me to the elder....what service.

By now its 7pm but the welder says to bring my trolley and he we fix it up straight away so I run to the guesthouse and back and we get to it and after about an hour and a half my trolley has two new axles and a new hitch system. Again the welding may not be the best but it's the best available and maybe it may even work....only time will tell.

I pay him Rp150 and leave.





I wanted to go straight back to where my trolley broke today but I have to hunt down a chemist to get some bum cream first so I ask the manager where is there a chemist to get his standard answer, "there is no chemist".

Of course there is a chemist, every big town is littered with chemist, so I make my way to the internet again for directions only to be told the same and if I want medicine I have to go to the hospital.

So I make my way to the local hospital and cross the uneven path that will put people in hospital and then cross a small 3m high bridge without and safety rail to the main entrance.

It's very quiet inside and I follow my nose to what looks like a doctors surgery where one doctor sits with the door open and I watch him deal with two patients in less than two minutes before I walk in and tell him my problems. "No problem" he says and writes me a prescription for a tube of proctosedyl and tells me to go to the second window where I will be given the medicine for wonder there are no chemists in town.

I go straight to the mens toilet and apply cream to Harry.

Harry is all excited thinking he's getting sun cream applied, assuming he's going to be out for a while, but I tell him what it is and where he's going the sun don't shine!

Walking back to my guesthouse I realise that Harry needs one more day to recover as the pain is pretty intense so I hit my room and catch up with my diary.




Having check out the local busses back to Whiskey Nullah I decide to try my luck at hitching. The local busses leave at crazy times of 5am and 5pm, neither of them good for me. They also want to charge me the full fare of Rp395 to Leh and I don't want to pay it.

So at 7.30am I plonk myself at the side of the road outside my guesthouse and wait for passing trucks and it takes twenty minutes before one arrives and he goes straight past. I'm expecting many trucks to pass me by as they will probably be only going as far a Keylong.

The third truck along stops and I ask him how much he wants to Whiskey Nullah, "as you like" he replies.

"As you like" is a common term used in both India and Pakistan and means exactly the opposite of what is says. Basically it means "as you like, as long as it's more than what it's worth".

Knowing this I offer him Rp200, already Rp50 more than it cost to get to Keylong. He chats with his offsider, then turns to me and says Rp500. I immediately turn away and sit down on my rucksack, not even wanting to barter with him. I'm quite prepared to sit by the road for another eight hours now. I don't deal with tossers.

So I sit and wait, and wait and nothing comes. I can't believe it.

Then after 1.5hrs of sitting by the side of a very dusty road two trucks arrive and the first one stops and I offer him Rp250, he accepts and sticks my trolley and rucksack above the cab in the storage section and off we go.

Again I'm in a Tata truck but this time a newer model. It still rattles to buggery but the inside is plusher, the upholstery being decked out in Indian railways blue vinyl. So basic it may be but I get to lay back and take a snooze when I want to and more importantly it's easy on Harry!

It takes 7hrs of non stop travel to reach Whiskey Nullah and all without a driver change, very naughty indeed.

We take off my trolley and I head to the dhaba where I was four days earlier. The look on their face is a picture. I was only here for chai and Maggi noodles but we had a good laugh together so it's nice to be back and they make me really welcome.



20/8/08    Whiskey Nullah to Serchu (N32.54.470 E077.34.924)
           48Km. 4312m. 9.06hrs walking


It was the first time I'd been cold during the night last night. I slept in the parachute tent of the dhaba and had two hugely thick blankets all to myself.

The good side to cold nights of course is crystal clear mornings and warm days and today is perfection.

I leave the dhaba with a gift of an apple, a rare item in these parts.

Outside are around ten trucks having been parked up for the night. The drivers and offsiders are all walking around wrapped in their blankets trying to fend off the early morning chill. Doors are left open on the trucks letting air into the stuffy cabs and as I walk through the trucks the sound of Bollywood ripples from within. It's a great start to the morning.

I set off yet again up to the Nakeela La and can't help but muse at the fact from the first time up here, yelling at the top "I want more". I didn't actually mean more of the Nakeela Pass but for whatever reason I'm here again and loving it as much as the first time.

A quick photo stop on the top simply for "photo log" purposes before heading down towards the Gato Loops. Amazingly again I see the same view and thing how sexy it is.

I hit the loops and come close to where my wheel broke and as I do so I become very nervous and half expect it to happen again, but obviously t doesn't.

My repair seems pretty good, especially the new harness attachment. Maybe almost as good as my original. It's great to walk normal again without the frustration of the connection continuously jamming.

While the 21 Gato Loops may look both incredible and impossible from the top, they are obviously hard work going down. Having an altitude drop of 466m, which as usual plays havoc with my feet under the constant breaking. My feet have hardened somewhat but they are still quite soft considering how much mileage they have done. I have to admit that I'm giving them hell on a daily basis!

The wind picks up at the bottom o the loops an I shelter behind a road sign while I make Maggi noodles before moving off on the flattish section of road with 24Km to go.

Today has been a little odd. It seems like every car, truck and bike is stopping next to me for a chat, or people are hanging out the windows clapping and cheering as they pass, motorbikes are all giving me the thumbs up and trucks giving e fancy beeps as they pass. I not complaining at all. I enjoy the little bit of interaction more than the praise to be honest.

The last 15Km are going around an impressive gorge with a slight river in the bottom. I see a few short cuts across but I think of Harry and decide to did the hard yards.

It's tough to do 5Km on one side of the river, only to cross a bridge and do the same 5Km up the other side.

With 5Km to go I'm knackered and my breathing becomes heavy as the exhaustion takes hold and between the stench of rotting road kill and diesel fumes I don't breath much of the fresh Himalayan air.

After 48Km I reach the less than impressive sight of Serchu with a 2Km radius of litter to greet perspective customers.

Serchu is a 150m strip of parachute tent dhabas, all of which seem grotty, or seedy.

When I was here before I was pestered by pissed locals and I don't want that to happen again.

I stop at what looks like a good dhaba and an Indian guy approaches me, wanting to take my photo. I agree and he takes out his tripod and shoots away. We chat a little. He's a banker from Bombay and is traveling by Royal Enfield motorbike and he does travels the Manali to Leh every year. We check out the room situation and decide to share a large room for Rp300 out the back. It's the best option for both of us.




21/8/08    Serchu to Zingzingbar (N32.47.250 E077.20.892)
           4341M  46.8Km. 8.33hrs walking. Up 688m Down. 712m.



Another crystal clear morning hopefully means a good day over the Baralacha La.

My original plan was to camp in some ruined building at the top of the pass which is 30Km from here but now I'm thinking I'll push down the other side to the parachute dhabas of Zingzingbar.

A good breakfast sets me of to a flying start still following the gorge but unfortunately not able to see into it as the road is some 200m away.

Around 7Km from Serchu are lovely "Swiss style" hotel tents by the roadside, much better than the that at Serchu. I thought they must be for foreign tourists but there seems to be more locals than white eyes.

I was hoping to refuel at a dhaba here but the bugger is closed so I push on while skoffing a pack of bikkies.

I make 20Km with ease finding the slight uphill easy and thankfully my feet recovered well during the night.

One thing sticks out this morning. The amount of diesel I'm inhaling is beyond belief and even more than yesterday.

The climb up the Baralacha La starts after 20Km through crowds of road workers. The air is thick with bitumen smoke and fumes and the laborers are as black as the bitumen.

6Km from the pass I stop at some tidy parachute dhabas and take rice and dhal. Just as I begin a French cyclists passes and stops on seeing me. He's heard I'm on the road and so he joins me for a chat and I spook him out knowing where he stayed two days ago, simply because I was in the truck going to Keylong. was nice to have a wee bit of company with someone of a like mind.

By now small showers are drifting from the pass and so I decide to pop on my thermal top, only to find it's not there. I check and double check but there's no two ways about it, it's gone. It's a big loss. I think I forgot to tie it to my trolley when I took it off in the morning. It's the finest Australian Merino wool and will be impossible to replace in India.

What's gone is gone and I move on, pushing more good speed up the pass until 200m from the top when it begins to piss it down. I Gore-Tex up yet again in the land where it never rains.

The weather has been poor in the mountains since I started in Pakistan. Where I am now should be like a dessert but right now the clouds keep on rolling in and doing the dirty on all us thrill seekers.

I do a quick snappy at the pass getting the camera soaked through while on the self timer and keep going. Despite the torrential downpour I'm loving it inside my Gore-Tex kit and I begin to descend to Zingzingbar some 16Km away.

As the descent starts I see an oncoming tourist pushing his push bike towards me. I can't help but laugh at the sight of another idiot getting a soaking. As it turns out it's an oldish Indian guy pushing his very heavy cycle up the pass in torrential rain wearing only a cheap raincoat. This guy is really tough!

Eventually I make it to the dhabas some 15Km downhill. There are four dhabas and each one has been saturated by rain and plastic sheets cover what they can inside. The price for sleeping is fixed at a well overpriced Rp100 (U$2.5) but I have no choice but to pay it. The tent owners are Nepali and so have almost perfect English and are always smiling and friendly. I take dal, rice and chapatti before settling down on a piece of plywood for a mattress and getting little sleep.




22/8/08     Zingzingbar to Gemur (N32.96.684 E077.08.795) 3277m

            41.4Km Walked. 7.19Hrs Walking.




23/8/08     Gemur to Sissu (N32.28.843 E077.07.321) 3040m

            47.9Km Walked. 9.05Hrs. Up 663m. Down 787m.
It's been a pleasant night in Gemur with a jolly good host and a total bill of Rp120 (U$3) for bed, breakfast and evening meal. 




24/8/08     Sissu to Chhatru (N32.19.126 E077.21.943) 3270m

            35.6Km Walked. 7.13Hrs. Up 635m. Down 537m.