The further we went, the more special the landscape got. Even though we were on a long plain, the road was mostly covered with rocks, making it very difficult to manoeuvre.
We found small bushes of sea buckthorn with big and ripe berries. It is a fantastic plant, rich in vitamin C and even vitamin B12 – rare in edible plants. Sour, but the rich aroma reminded us of passion fruit.
A baby yak for you!
Living in the outdoors means that sometimes you do your laundry with a mountain in your back.
While camping on a horse paddock three kilometres from Kargyak we were approached by a teacher from the local school, who asked Mat to fix his bicycle. It turned out, that the bike – sold to one of the local guys by a passing tourist – was pretty good quality but in very sad condition. The fix had to be made on the spot (way above 4000m). At the end Mat managed to repair the loose headset (by cutting 3mm off the steering tube with a hand saw, on the stone), installed a missing link on the chain, then put it through the front derelliour (so they could use three gears instead of one fixed) where the cable was replaced. Some bolts were tightened, chain lubed, brakes trimmed and after two hours the bike was good to go!
We pushed our bikes towards a huge mountain on the horizon.
We mostly slept at yak paddocks, so we could have a close look at those amazing animals.
The feeling of being in the high mountains was totally overwhelming!
In the higher part of the trail good spots for camping are scarce. Most of the time a flat, grassy part of land was also used by horses hired by the tourists. The smell of horses manure stayed with us whenever we camped.
We met many tourists on the trail, at least 3-4 groups every day. Unfortunately the fragile Zanskar environment can not cope with so many horses feeding on the grass that is usually eaten by domestic animals (yaks). On the other hand, tourism is sometimes the only source of income for the entire villages. We met some independent trekkers, but not even a fraction of the number of people participating in long, well organized treks. We met a French couple of our age, full of health with a personal guide, a cook, two horseman and seven fully loaded horses!
This is the path leading to Shingo La Pass. That was our first high pass that we did not cycle.
We were quite on the top and it was already getting dark. The road down was very steep and we did not want to risk another hours spent on the trail lighten only by our headlamps. After going down the pass, we decided to put up our tent on a small patch of gravel, a kind of a small island on a wide stream.
That was the highest we have ever slept – 4986m!
It was way below zero that night, but we woke up surprisingly fresh – ready to go down, civilisation was only two days away!
The mountain on the back is already at the other end of the valley where a paved road runs.
Riding on a smooth asphalt after ten days of pushing was strange at the beginning, but coasting down towards Leh-Manali highway felt great.
This is the end of the “shortcut road to Zanskar”. And us, covered in dust, cold, hungry and tired. It was the hardest thing we have done on that trip. We do not regret that we did it – it was a great experience but we will never do it again!