On the 26th day we rested in Padum, after 16 days of riding continuously! On the 27th day we rode out from Padum to Abran as we headed out of the Zanskar Valley. This was part of our 90 day ride in the Himalayas covering Spiti, Zanskar, Batalik, Ladakh, Nubra, Shyok, Pangong, Hanle, Tso Moriri, Garhwal and Kumaon.
Day 26 Padum
The first day of rest after 16 continuous days of riding.
As I stepped out of bed the joy of having nowhere to go was tremendous. The muscles in my legs let out a creak and a twang as they protested and finally calmed down once I did absolutely nothing.
The morning was spent in bed, catching up on all the electronic data generated in the previous week. Photos and videos backed up and saved, ready to be processed at the end of the trip.
I headed to the bakery and picked up cream buns and coconut macaroons, which were delicious, more so since we had been living off dal-chawal. The rest of the day was spent at the public phone booth, making endless calls to inform people that I was alive!
We got so bored staring at the ceiling of our room that we went for a walk. A small walk! We marched to the Padum Palace which to be honest was nothing more than a regular house of the region. The only grand thing there was the plaque!
Indian Foreigners and Internet!
While returning to our hotel, a couple of locals looked at us, thought we were foreigners and one said to the other, “ye log west indies ke lagte hai (these people look like they are from West Indies)”. Their stereotype possibly coming from watching cricket. I was quite happy to be mistaken for a life loving Jamaican! Driftjockey was left a little more confused as the same morning someone thought he was Sri Lankan.
Driftjockey spent a large portion of his day using the extremely slow WiFi. The satellite phone Internet is super slow and it is then shared by multiple people. Treacle flows upwards faster than the Internet in Padum. But then, beggars can’t be choosers!
We were sharing the hotel premises with a group of people who had an ‘odd’ aura around them. In vain I tried to guess what it was. Finally their driver sat with us and let the cat out of the bag. They were all government employees and reeked of babudom. Something to rival the slowness of the Internet!
A day spent eating, sleeping, data transferring came to an end with an excellent Tibetan meal consisting of local mountain mutton dishes.
Day 27 Padum to Abran
Things got off to a flying start in Padum as we were given a 40% discount.
Driftjockey had negotiated the deal at the hotel, with his Keralite Hindi and the Zanskari Hindi of the hotelier, there was a pleasant surprise. He had agreed for 700 rupees a day, while the hotelier had agreed to 500 rupees!
Getting out of town was another pleasant surprise as the road was asphalt. Till a point, then it went to ruin! Another surprise was the number of hatchbacks in the Zanskar valley, 9 out of 10 hatchbacks were Hyundai Santros. Not a vehicle popular in the hills at the best of times and these were far more rugged mountains. Driftjockey was so excited that he stopped to take a photo of every Santro he saw!
10 km after Padum, there is a holy lake with a statue of Buddha in the centre. It being holy we tiptoed around it, only to see the locals bathing in it! Very difficult to guess what ‘holy’ signifies. Accommodation is also available in that village, which was the last place with an eatery.
South of Padum, where we had come from, is a trekking route with every village providing food and stay. Not on the Northern side, the villages had no food or accommodation options available. Primarily because tourists travel by cabs and don’t need to stop as frequently as trekkers or us poor hungry cyclists.
We survived the day on store bought juice and biscuits. One such meal was over a dead sparrow. Not Jack Sparrow, but a real one. I was so exhausted, that I didn’t see the dead bird near my foot, till I finished my meal of biscuits.
The road was undulating for the most part and on the rocky broken section I tried chasing Driftjockey down a slope. Tried is the key word here, as a previous tubeless plug in my tyre punctured the freshly installed tube on a massive bump in the road. That not just deflated the tyre but Driftjockey’s spirits as well. Unsurprisingly since he was in charge of the repair!
Police state and state of the police!
We also encountered a checkpost run by the state police. These are very different to those run by the military. At the military check post the soldier asks if we are Indian, at times takes down our names, else just waves us on. At this police check post, there was nobody in uniform visible. Only a lady with a register in one hand and a child in the other! We spent a whopping 10 minutes getting ourselves registered. I gave my driving license for identification instead they asked for my Aadhar card! Is the government trying to keep tabs on every movement of their citizens? It is infuriating.
Abran was the last village with food and accommodation before Penzi La. So we stopped for food, to chill and get an idea of the layout of the land ahead. Our original plan was to reach Rangdum on the same day. We soon realised it wasn’t possible, what with having to climb a pass as well.
Bear and Wolf Country!
We decided to camp a few kilometres after Abran, but before the pass. While we were at the dhaba a couple of guys landed up and struck up a conversation. One of them was studying the great Himalayan brown bear and was in the area for that purpose. The bears had been visiting the villages every night and this as expected had made the villagers nervous. This young man was going around installing solar lights which keep predators at bay, by randomly illuminating the surroundings and confusing the animals. This solution had previously helped reduce man-animal conflict in the surrounding regions.
We were told to camp near the shepherds and not leave food open. Bears have an amazing sense of smell. Keeping that in mind we pitched our tents within sight of a shepherd camp and ate our packed dinner before crawling into our tents.
We had packed chapattis and omelettes for dinner and breakfast. Because of bears we ate all our fresh food and had nothing left for the next morning!
As I lay awake in my tent, the words of the animal conservationist came to mind. We pitched in an area known to have a lot of movement of bears and wolves. I said a little prayer and slept off, hoping that wolves didn’t like skinny cyclists for dinner!
Route Profile: Padum to Abran
The initial few kilometres out of Padum is asphalt. The road thereafter is a broken jeep trail. There are tiny villages along the way with food available, though mostly packed food from a shop and not cooked food. Accommodation was not available.
Abran has a dhaba bang on the fork, where you can spend the night and get food. The price of food is unnecessarily steep, it is best to enquire the price before ordering.
After Abran there is nothing till Rangdum.
It is best to pack and carry dry rations from Padum itself for this section.
On an ultralight setup and fresh legs it is possible to ride from Padum to Rangdum in one day, with an early start and late evening finish. Else you are going to have to stay somewhere in the middle, near Abran.
The road gradually climbs all the way to Abran and then a little more steeply after Abran. Before Rangdum there is Penzi La which makes it near impossible to cover the 100 odd kilometres in a day.
Cost: Padum to Abran
Day 26 Food for Two 470
Day 27 Stay for Two for two nights 1000
Food for Two 580