A month after riding we took the day off in Kargil and then headed up the amusingly named Hamboting La, as we rode from Kargil to Garkone. This was part of our 90 day cycle ride in the Himalayas covering, Spiti, Zanskar, Batalik, Ladakh, Nubra, Shyok, Pangong, Hanle, Tso Moriri, Garhwal and Kumaon!
Day 31 Kargil
The third rest day in a month of cycling.
Even after all the negative reviews I had heard of Kargil I quite liked the place! We really didn’t need the rest, what we needed was a break. A break from cycling, from travelling, from photography, from being half decent humans. We needed to let go of everything and do absolutely nothing. The most important reason for staying an extra day in Kargil was free WiFi at the hotel! No matter how much we boast about disconnecting and unplugging, we really at the heart of it want to remain connected. And that was the crux of staying in Kargil.
We woke up late, connected to the WiFi, and forgot about the world outside, concentrating only on the world within our phones.
Just to mess with our plans, BSNL, the state run phone operator on which this part of the world survives, stopped working. We were stuck in a town with no Internet. We had absolutely nothing to do and all day to do it! So Driftjockey slept and I watched a terrible TV show on my phone. 3 hours of utter rubbish.
Driftjockey woke up long enough to go for lunch. It was bloody hot outside. How hot could it be in the mountains you ask. Hot enough for us to use the fan at night, hot enough for flies to be buzzing about continuously, hot enough for us to eat five ice creams between the two of us! That hot.
Incredible India, Incredible Lunch!
Lunch was quite an incredible affair. We went to a tiny eatery hidden away above a tea stall. Food consisted of mutton curry with rice and vegetables, backed up by a spicy chutney. They served two humongous pieces of mutton, with marrow and tons of fat. Driftjockey had one look at it and turned vegetarian! He ate the curry, chutney, vegetable and rice, while I took the responsibility of doing justice to the delicious mutton.
After lunch we bought apples, went to a bakery and had cake, cream rolls, bought biscuits and then had ice cream. After all that we had spent 250 rupees on lunch, for two people! Kargil was turning out to be awesome.
We contemplated walking around town, but the heat turned us back to our hotel. I was happy our room didn’t have a TV, else Driftjockey would have been tuned into ‘Sheela ki Jawaani’ or something similar.
We were to give our bikes a once over, charge our electronics, copy data and generally do useful rest day stuff. We did nothing. Except one thing.
The room was filled with flies because of the heat, we waged war on them irritating critters. Driftjockey and I took turns attacking them. He chased out 15 and killed 2, while my score was 10 and 8. I felt like Rambo, instead of a bazooka and machine gun, I had a killer curtain. The room went quiet, the silence of a graveyard, finally we could sit in peace without the flies. Till Driftjockey got impatient about the Internet, ran down to the reception to find out, left the door open, welcoming the flies back to the room and we were back to square one!
We were two zombies in the room till one phone pinged, then the other. It was game on baby, we were back in business. Calls, messages, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, MotoGP all were brought up to date. What was happening in the real world, who was killing whom, which country was blowing up which, didn’t matter! For Driftjockey it was rather a singular devotion though. He spoke to his girlfriend for hours. So much so, that I thought I was back in a college hostel! Is talking on phones still a thing in 2018, I wouldn’t know!
By the time we were satiated with the Internet, it was time for dinner, which was once again quite the gastronomic affair. We had kebabs and a dish I was having for the first time, Mutton Rista. Both were fabulous along with a curd gravy, which went well. And once again we were charged peanuts for the meal. After all the Punjabi, Himachali and Ladakhi food, it was good to be eating ‘real’ food!
Day 32 Kargil to Garkone
As we exited Kargil, the love for the city didn’t end!
We got delicious grub for breakfast. The omelette had actually been whipped before being cooked, the tea was just right, the subzi-roti was delicious and to top it off we had mutton samosas. I though life couldn’t get better, till they gave us the bill. 126 rupees for breakfast for two people, this was the cheapest meal I ate on this trip.
With fond gastronomic memories we left Kargil and started climbing into the sky. Since the highway didn’t interest us we took a back road. We took the Batalik road. From Kargil we climbed to Hamboting La for 30 km. The weirdest part of which was seeing the town hours and kilometres after having left it behind.
An army jeep stopped next to Driftjockey’s bike and asked him which part of Kerala was he from. It is at such times that it is apparent how diverse India is, yet we all have a stamp of the village we are from.
Unlike other parts of the mountains we passed through, this stretch had all old people as road repair workers. Not one worker was below 50. Surprising and alarming in equal measure. Everyone we spoke to assured us that the climb was easy. They were right, climbing the pass was a long drawn affair, but at no time was it too steep.
Once at the top of Hamboting La we had our last sighting of Kargil before we dropped down. The descent was steep and we were going pretty fast, at least Driftjockey was! It was 5 in the evening and we had a couple of hours to reach Batalik and find accommodation. With light reducing in the sky we made good time, but stopped to admire the sudden change in scenery. From the barren desert mountains on the Kargil side of Hamboting La, we were suddenly in lush green fields and orchards.
Finally we reached Batalik with the light fading, happy with ourselves. At the military check post there, we were told that no accommodation was available in Batalik and were misinformed. That came as quite the rude shock.
The soldier on duty made up for the shock as he was quite the funny man. He said only fools like him and us find our way in such inhospitable places. He couldn’t wait to get out of there and we were stupider because we went there of our own accord!
Jokes aside, the living conditions are tough for the soldiers posted there. And all those fools sitting on their sofas in faraway cities clamouring for war, blood and battle are idiots who haven’t spoken to a soldier on the border. If you had even a semblance of feeling within, you would be clamouring for peace. It is easy to sacrifice other people’s lives; especially when they are distant nameless, faceless soldiers.
The guy on duty called a local, who told us about a village 8 km away with a guest house. So we went in search of this village.
Garkone is a tiny village, as tiny as they get. It doesn’t even have an access road to it. There is one private and one government guest house. We chose the private one. We had to lock our bikes to a tree hidden from the road and carried our luggage up to the village guest house. That 10 minute climb with our luggage on our backs was far more exhausting than the entire day’s ride!
The guest house catered to foreign tourists as few Indians land up on this route. Another reason why the soldiers were so happy to see us. Indians cycling in such remote areas is a rare sight.
The lady running the guest house told us tales of the Kargil war in that village. Most of the village had been relocated to Leh, crops destroyed, homes emptied. Some of the villagers had stayed back to help with logistics and cooking. Our host was one such. She had stayed back and was a source of innumerable tales.
A fabulous day came to an end in a room with a view. A view of a plum tree loaded with fruit…
Route Profile: Kargil to Garkone
The road from to Batalik is a few kilometres after you exit Kargil. There is a road marked left. 4 km after that left there is a U-turn, which is the actual road to Batalik. From there the road climbs constantly. The climb is very gradual.
There is no shade on this stretch and only one dhaba midway between Kargil and Hamboting La.
The first accommodation available after Kargil is in Garkone. There are no separate dhabas along the way either!
Foreigners as well as Indians need a permit to visit this region. Since we were Indian cyclists, the military let us through. Only after checking our IDs.
Expenses: Kargil to Garkone
Day 31 Food for Two 1045
Day 32 Stay for Two for two nights 1000
Food for Two 228