On the 28th day we rode from our camping spot near Abran to Rangdum over Penzi La in Zanskar Valley. This was part of our 90 day ride in the Himalayas covering Spiti, Zanksar, Batalik, Ladakh, Nubra, Shyok, Pangong, Hanle, Tso Moriri, Garhwal and Kumaon.
Day 28 Abran to Rangdum
It was the first time that it was hot inside the tent. I was sweating in the sleeping bag and kept waking up to drink water. This gave me ample time to think about the wolves and bears!
In the morning I got out of the tent to the sight of these big furry animals, pacing around the meadow. Cows and calves. Once they realised we were human and no threat to them, they gradually grazed closer to us.
The other bunch of animals, the Himalayan Marmot, were visible everywhere while we pitched our tent the previous evening and like magic, disappeared. I wondered where had they all gone. In the morning as I walked away from our camp I saw them in huge numbers again. They have an incredible network of underground tunnels which they use to pop up and then disappear with alarming regularity.
Which brings me back to cows, a rather unintelligent animal. My smelly socks were left to hang on my handlebar, the smell I had hoped would scare away potential bear and wolf attacks! One of these daft animals thought my stinky sock would make a better meal than green grass. It went for it and chewed up my sock!
We broke camp in the most laid back manner possible and headed out with very little water and no solid food. We had eaten everything the previous night and had only biscuits and such like left in our bags.
The both of us had drunk up almost every drop we had and there wasn’t a stream in sight. We took to flagging down passing cars and on our fourth attempt we got a litre of water from a kind passerby. Priority number one was resolved. Albiet temporarily.
As we passed a shepherds camp, from afar they waved and yelled, inviting us over. We went there to fill our bottles, which they gladly acquiesced and offered us tea and fresh yogurt from the many cattle there. Driftjockey declined the offer and I lost the chance to eat curd from Yak milk. Though we did get to taste traditional sun dried Yak cheese.
Soon after the shepherds camp we bumped into yet another cyclist. He was from Germany and unfortunately I cannot recall his name. Contrary to stereotypes, the Germans I have met have always been friendly with a whacky sense of humour. We stood in the middle of the road and chatted for a long long time! From where we stood, the climb for Penzi La was visible and I was antsy about getting across it. No matter the reassurances of the locals about this being one of the easiest passes to climb in the region.
We bid adieu to our German cyclist brethren and soon had the pass staring us down. We submitted and stopped to tank up. Food consisted of stale bread, cookies, Haldiram’s salted dal and an energy bar each. Basically we were about to climb a pass on an empty stomach. Not the way I like to ride.
100 metres into the climb, we stopped at a spring to fill up our bottles, only to see my tyre deflating faster than us. I had yet another puncture. This time it was the front tyre. Because it was tubeless, we pumped it up and were ready to go in less than 10 minutes. The climb to Penzi La wasn’t about the gradient, nor the altitude, nor the burning sun, it was all about the headwind. Climbing a pass is difficult enough, the headwinds only made it a hundred times worse!
When we finished the four switchbacks and stood in front of the magnificent Drang Drung Glacier, we realised that the climb wasn’t over. There was more to come! The climb had been on rock and rubble and my backside hurt from the continuous jarring. I walked up the last bit, not because my legs hurt, but because my bum did. At the top there were two small lakes and a shepherd’s camp on the side, an idyllic spot to sit and while away the hours, but we didn’t have time for that. We were running late and needed to quickstep it to Rangdum.
From Penzi it was a long descent which saw Driftjockey flying downhill, while I gingerly descended, trying my best to avoid yet another puncture. I was also trying my best to avoid cows, which have a tendency of not making up their minds about the direction they want to go in and running off the road only after we passed them. Cows can at times be so daft, they are almost human!
We reached the base of Penzi La, took a turn around the mountain and were in wow land. The Rangdum Valley has a big piece of open land in the middle with streams running throughout, surrounded on every side by mountains like sentinels. We reached there as the light was fading and the sky was filled with clouds, with a smattering of drops hitting our faces. We crossed the military checkpost, where the guard on duty waved us on after asking if we were Indians. Only foreigners need to show their permits there.
We had five kilometres to go, it was dark, the road was bad and we were exhausted. Village lights were visible in the distance. But no matter the amount we pedalled, the lights didn’t get any closer.
At long last we reached the village and were directed to a hotel. A real hotel, which was a tad surreal considering the surroundings. There we got a room and our first proper meal of the day. Even though it was a hotel, we were given soap and told to wash up in the water flowing past in the drain outside. Being city folk, washing our faces in a drain outside a hotel was unthinkable. We thought the hotel guy was joking. Until he drank the water to prove that he wasn’t!
It wasn’t a drain, but a brook, which had been channelled through the village. So that people had icy clean water at their doorsteps!
A long and tiring day came to an end with food in our belly and a roof over our head. A luxury for a tired cyclist. We had pushed our bodies on empty stomachs the entire day. The next day we felt the repercussions!
Route Profile: Abran to Rangdum
There is nothing between Abran and Rangdum. Only the climb of Penzi La!
No food or accommodation is available along the way. You need to carry everything. Stream water is available along the way. If that cannot be consumed, then one must carry water!
In Rangdum there is a hotel with a variety of decent rooms. The rooms are expensive. There is also a smaller establishment which provides food and accommodation, but it isn’t always open.
This entire stretch has a rocky single lane road with little traffic. It is unlikely that the road will improve anytime soon!
Expenses: Abran to Rangdum
Stay for Two ZERO
Food for Two ZERO
We had camped and were eating packet food previously bought.