It seems that someone up there took pity on a Frenchman last night… 10 km after leaving Panikkar I take a short breather by the side of the road when suddenly two cyclists appear around the bend. They are Brigitt and Ivo, from Switzerland and they have been cycling non-stop for three years now. They have a sweet bikepacking setup and as a result carry very little luggage. It seems that their plans for the upcoming days are similar to mine, so we decide to cycle together. After a short 20 km ride we arrive in the village of Pakrachick and check in at the Alpine Hut, where the caretaker serves us a delicious rice and dal lunch.
In the afternoon we decide to hike up to Pakrachick La, where the views of the Nun and Kun mountains are supposed to be stunning. Halfway through the climb however I start feeling rough. I start getting stomach cramps and feeling dizzy. All of the sudden all my energy is gone. I stop, take some photos and walk down the mountain back to the hut for a big nap.
It is almost dark outside and I am still lying in bed when the bedroom door opens and Nico and Ant poke their heads through. I had sent them a message back in Mulbekh to let them know that I would probably arrive in Pakrachick today and stay at the Alpine Hut. Naturally they decided to pull a massive day on their motorbikes to make sure we could spend the evening together. Legends.
After breakfast Brigitt, Ivo and I leave the tourist hut and continue our ride up the Suru Valley. The sun is out, but soon the weather turns grey. The track is steep and full of potholes. Then the valley opens up and the road flattens, but a headwind picks up and it starts raining. I feel cold and miserable. The scenery would be amazing if the weather was nice, but right now the low clouds hide everything. I turn my mp3 player on and spin the legs mechanically, concentrating on the road. Tunnel vision. Eventually in the early afternoon we arrive in Rangdum. We order food at the only restaurant we can find and as our food arrives Nico and Ant pull up in front of the building on their motorbikes and join us for lunch. Nico has almost ran out of petrol and is on a mission to find some more. Brigitt, Ivo and I decide to call it a day, the weather is just too horrible. The rooms at the restaurant are nice, but expensive for what they are. We barter hard with the lady running the place, but she just won’t budge. It’s either the full price or nothing at all, so we check in at the tourist bungalows next door. We have a nap and wake up again in the evening, just in time for dinner. It is dark by the time Nico comes back from an afternoon of petrol hunting. After a lot of unsuccessful trips to different places around Rangdum it turns out there was petrol in the house next door. Typical. At the table behind us sits a couple of cyclists from Holland, Marianne and Arian, on the other side a motorbiker from Taiwan. The light of the restaurant shines dimly on our weathered faces. The place looks eerie and remote, so far away from what we are used to at home. I can’t get enough of this feeling. I wonder what Angela is doing at that exact same moment.
What I CAN get enough of however is my stomach situation. It isn’t getting any better. Quite the opposite really, I have to run to the bathroom one more than one occasion during the night…
We wake up to a blue sky. Hurray! In an attempt to improve my stomach situation I decide to cook my own breakfast. Mum always said that overcooked rice and bananas are good for an upset stomach. Luckily I have both in my panniers. I boil the rice until the grains are soft and fat and add the mushy banana. The result tastes bland but I force it down.
Nico and Ant leave before us. They want to arrive in Padum around midday. We follow them not long after. The scenery is beautiful, now that most of the clouds have cleared and we can finally see it…
The road stays flat for 15 km then the climb to Pensi La starts. Soon we join Marianne and Arian. The landscape is so amazing that I have to stop every five minutes to take photos. Every kilometer or so a new valley opens up on our far side, revealing formidable-looking snowcapped mountains . Eventually we reach a small stupa covered with buddhist prayer flags. A blue sign welcomes us in the Zanskar Valley. This is actually a “fake” pass, since we still have another 70 m to climb to reach the real Pensi La, but the place is quiet and pretty and we feel elated, so we take a long photo break.
Half an hour later we reach the real pass at 4.400 m, but we don’t hang around this time. Something we have all been looking forward to awaits us on the other side: the Drang Drung Glacier. We start the decent and around a bend there is appears. Magnificent and mighty. Marianne and Arian can barely contain their excitement. In the distance the Doda Peak (6.550 m) rises from the top of the glacier.
We take a short food break while admiring the view. That particular spot would be perfect for camping, but it is only 14h30 so we all decide to push on. The rest of the downhill is slow going for me, the road is much worse on this side of the pass. Ivo and Brigitt enjoy it a lot more than me on their mountain bikes.
We ride into the late afternoon, enjoying the golden evening light, until the sun disappears behind the mountains and shadows surround us. Ivo finds a quiet and flat camping spot away from the road where we all spend the night. The sky is dotted with millions of stars and the milky way rises from behind the mountains as I finally go to bed.
We leave our camping spot after a quick puncture repair on Brigitt’s rear wheel. My head feels fine, but my body is weak and I trail behind the Swiss couple. The result of four consecutive days of diarrhea and not eating enough. We pass many villages where friendly Ladakhi faces greet us. “Julley!” Shortly before arriving in Padum the dusty jeep track turns into tarmac. After five days on a rough jeep track, in normal circumstances I would kneel down to kiss the smooth surface, but right now I just want to get to Padum and rest. By now I have to take toilet breaks every fifteen minutes. This can’t carry on, I have to do something or it will ruin the rest of my journey. It is time to get better…
To be continued…
More photos of this part of the journey can be found here!