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Published: July 12th 2017
Leh to Kardung La. Highest pass in the world.
The next day was a well earned leisurely day off in Leh, getting to know the place and discover the delights in store. Leh is a mixture of ancient Ladahki mud brick buildings and concrete hotels. The streets are very dusty and as usual, traffic is chaotic and there is a constant background noise of hooting horns, cows mooing and people trying to sell you things. In addition,during the day there are sleeping dogs lying everywhere. The problem is that in the night, if one dog barks it starts off all the rest and there must be a thousand or so of these street dogs in the town.
One of the delights of the town is the bakeries. Apparently many years aboard group of Germans came to Leh and discovered that the bread was terrible. Consequently they set up several bakeries and as a side line, started making amazing cakes. The Ladahki people seem to have forgotten about the bread but the cakes are amazing and of every different sort you can imagine. I what with the tour leaders to the apptly named Yum Yum café and after a delicious Chinese chicken salad we all had a huge slice of apple pie. Even more amazing, we persuade them to make us a bowl of custard to go with it.
The people of Leh go overboard to look after tourists as about 15 years ago they opened the airport to commercial flights and the tourist industry has consequently boomed. Unfortunately the tourist season is very short, starting in May and ending at the end of September. The reason for this is that the climate is extreme. In the summer temperatures climb to 35 degrees with intense sun but in the winter Leh is often cut off by snow over the passes and is constantly well below zero. the average low in January is minus 15. Consequently the building season is the same as the tourist season and people are very busy in the summer.
After our rest day we had a leisurely start and hopped back on the bikes to climb the renowned Kahdung La, claimed highest motorable pass in the world. It is only 40km from Leh but it still took us a couple of hours to reach the summit. Towards the top the bike belonging to Kate, the group outrider started to run badly. I was following immediately behind her as we were both riding fairly fast. It was clear that her bike needed some fettling and the spring holding the side stand up on my bike had fallen off so we both stopped by the side of the road. After a chat, I showed her how to make snow angels in the snow drift at the side of the road and then we threw snowballs at everyone of our group who passed us. Well, you’ve got to haven't you? Eventually, bikes fixed by our amazing team of mechanics, Jamal, Javed and Suji, we were off again to the summit. At the top we found a couple of our group sliding down the snow banks, just for fun.
Unfortunately Kate then started to succumb to altitude sickness and shortly pretty much lost consciousness. She was given Diamoxin by our tour doctor and sat in the van with an oxygen mask for a couple of hours on the trip back down. It took her a couple of days to recover from this incident and she does seem particularly susceptible. There is no telling who will be hit by altitude sickness. Often it is fit young people but not always.
We stopped at Thikse monastery on returning to the Indus valley at the bottom of the pass. Thikse is about 15 miles from Leh and it transpired that we were spending the night there. The monks are a very entrepreneurial lot and there is an excellent hotel and meditation centre at the bottom of the hill below the monastery. The food was great and in huge quantities and the rooms were the best we have stayed in. The eating area was full of Japanese and Americans on meditation courses and the place was very busy but very organised. Very different to Leh! In late afternoon many of the group walked up the steep hill to the monastery but I stayed behind, intending to make a day trip back to the monastery a few days later. After a delicious meal, we retired to an early bed. We still hadn't recovered completely from our epic trip.
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