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Published: July 10th 2017
Thukje to Leh
The Indian Himalaya is made up of a series of parallel mountains ranges running from north west to south east. In order to get from Shimla to Leh you have to climb the passes over all of them. They are, in order starting from the south west, the Great Himalaya Range and the Zanskar Range, then just north of Leh there is the Ladakh Range, and finally, running along the border with China from Pakistan to Tibet there is the mighty Karakorum Range which includes near the Pakistan end as one of its peaks the huge K2.
We left Thukje after breakfast outside the tents in the intense sun and road back along the single track road across the Moray plain and back onto the main road leading towards the end of the plain and another pass. On the smooth tarmac, humming along in the fresh morning air I realised that being limited to 50mph by the low power of the asthmatic Enfield engines actually had benefits. We didn't really need to concentrate on the riding and instead could take in the breathtaking scenery of the seemingly endless plains and surrounding mountains, the nomadic goat herders and continually changing rich colours of the hills.
Eventually the road began to climb higher and higher and inevitably the tarmac disappeared and we were back to bouncing from rock to rock on the climb up to the top of Taglang La, the world's second highest pass at 17,582ft. All of the top three of the world's highest passes are within about 100 miles of each other and we were to be clearing all of them in the next few days. Despite the height, there was no sign of my slight wobble caused by the altitude the night before. After yet another cup of chai at the top of the pass, we headed downwards through hairpin after hairpin, every time hooting our horns just in case we met a lorry or even worse, a tour bus. I'm sure that there must be a special school for tour bus drivers to learn to drive like they do. They all drive the Indian version of what look like Mercedes vans converted into minibuses. They are all driven flat out and must be incredibly strong to take the beating that they are subjected too.
On reaching Rumtse the road improved and we were back on reasonable tarmac, humming along towards Leh and civilisation. Leh is the capital of Ladakh, the northern most region in the state of Jammu and Kashmir in India. The region is about twice the size of Switzerland and it is completely covered by mountains, hence the name which translates as Land of the High Passes. It is inhabited by people of Indo-Aryan and Tibetan descent and has its own language. It is one of the most sparsely populated regions in Jammu and Kashmir and its culture and history are closely related to that of Tibet. Ladakh is renowned for its remote mountain beauty and culture.
About 20 km after Rumtse we reached the amazing Meru gorge. The rock formations here are like nothing I have ever seen before. Huge slices of rock coloured bright purple with strips eroded down the gorge leaving hard parts sticking out like dinosaur back bones. These went on for mi!es, interspersed with pink, grey and orange rock formations. We stopped several times to take photos but the really don't do justice to the magnificent rock formations.
Eventually we reached the Indus River which flows west from Ladakh, across the border into Pakistan before turning south, eventually reaching the sea via an enormous delta close to Karachi. After yet another army check point to show our permits for the restricted and tightly controlled Ladakh border region, we stopped for a leisurely lunch near Thiksey and then it was a short hop of about 40 km to Leh and our hotel, passing on the way the extraordinary Shey Stupas close to the very ancient Shey palace. Stupas or Chorten are religious monuments and can vary between a small pile of white-washed stones and a sizeable monument 40 feet tall. There is a field of these numbering many hundred close to the old Shey palace and monastery, built around 1640 and summer home to the Ladakh royal family. Unfortunately most of it is in ruins now although you can still see the enormous copper Buddha covered in gold. At 40 ft high it is said to be the second largest Buddha in a Ladakh.
Eventually we reached Leh and the mad traffic, dust, noise and driving chaos before finding our way down a dusty narrow side street lined with trees and liberally strewn with cows and sleeping dogs to our hotel, a little oasis of green peace.
After a rest in our rooms, unpacking some of our luggage and relaxing on the balconies in the intense sun we went out for another evening meal together. This one was at a pizza restaurant. Leh is very cosmopolitan and full of travellers. Consequently you can buy almost any type of food there, deliciously cooked and very cheap.
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