On the 24th day we rode from Purne to Ichar pushing our bikes over some life threatening singletrack. 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 24 Purne to Ichar
The previous day in Purne we spent at the campsite staring at the slope on the other side of the river.
‘The Slope’, we shall name it to instil the requisite amount of fear in the hearts of the non-believer.
We had breakfast staring at the slope, trembling in our boots. A 21 horse caravan rumbled past us carrying food and luggage for a big group of trekkers. Another 4 horses trotted past, this time loaded down with 4 bicycles and their owner’s luggage. A reminder to us that most cyclists choose to trek this route with their bikes on horses. For good reason. Because there was ‘The Slope’.
We paid the food bill at the campsite, it was the first place where I felt we had been ripped off. Almost everything was double the price. We had eaten in more remote places, but no one else charged such a premium. The food was good, but the pricing left a bad taste in the mouth!
From the campsite it was down to the river, across a tiny bridge and then ‘The Slope’!
A 2 km stretch of trekking on a horse path, which at the best of times was a foot wide, sometimes narrowed down to four inches wide, with the rock slipping under the weight of boots and tyres. To spice things up there was a 300 metre vertical drop to the raging river below.
To top it off, the angle of the climb was outrageous, we had to use every muscle in our body to push the bike, with almost no foothold. Space enough either for our shoes or the tyre. The river gushing below, tempting us into a mistake and taking us victim.
We took almost 2 hours to cross that 2 km stretch. At the best of times I am scared of heights and this wasn’t the best!
Driftjockey saw me struggle with the discomfort of heights and volunteered to push my bike and then his across the tricky sections. I would have to just walk! It was an extremely generous offer, which was hard to refuse under the circumstances. But we were in this together and I needed to take responsibility for myself. With fear and trepidation I pushed on.
Two Feet Wide Luxury
After the initial couple of kilometres, the path widened to two feet. Oh! The luxury of having space to place one’s feet and tyres both without running over each other!
As things started to settle down we got oncoming traffic. A string of horses going the opposite way. The horses wouldn’t stop, so we had to! We found the widest bit of track, pushed our bikes against the mountain and stood with bated breath. The horses shied away at the sight of us and tried to find a way around us.
On a path two feet wide, with a drop down to the river. Not very smart animals I must say. They feared us more than the mountain! They literally had all four hoofs on the absolute edge of the path, with luggage on their backs and the path crumbling below them. And these beasts of burden still feared us exhausted cyclists more!
We finally made it across the mountain ridge and could see the village of Cha across the river. From there we would be back on a jeep track and could make good time. There was only one small thing to contend with. The bloody river. The bridge which should have taken us across was washed away. Leaving two stumps on either bank. The jeep track was so near, yet a lifetime away.
Bridge of Hope
With no option, we continued pushing our bikes on the trekking route. There was a light of hope, there was a walk-able bridge which had been built after the main one collapsed. Unfortunately the climb on the other bank was impossible for our bikes. So we pushed on and stopped for lunch.
Once again hope was lit in our hearts as we were told of another swinging bridge a stone’s throw away. The second crossing looked more possible, so Driftjockey and I left our bikes at the top and walked it to the bridge. The cable bridge was quite long and at the centre it rocked violently sideways, trying it’s best to throw us off. On the other bank the first hundred feet of climbing was exceptionally steep on smooth rock. Driftjockey was optimistic of carrying the bikes and luggage on his back across the swaying bridge and then up the steep bank.
It was a risk too great, we had already pushed our luck beyond breaking point. I rather push my bike on the trekking trail than risk a loss of life. So we clambered back to our bikes and continued pushing. Or at least me, Driftjockey tried to ride as much of the path as possible for his daredevilry.
A couple of hours of pushing later we reached another village and the third and final cable swinging bridge. Fortunately the third didn’t sway as violently and Driftjockey walked both bikes across. I just didn’t have the balance or gumption to walk my loaded bike on wooden mats tied to metal cables across a river. The climb on the other bank was easier than the previous two, but only so. It took us half an hour to climb to the top and finally reach the jeep track.
We still had enough daylight and continued riding to the next village. But we were already drained from the antics of the first half of the day and struggled. As the light faded we spotted a village. As we approched the village, we realised it wasn’t on the main road, instead a couple of hundred metres of climbing was required to reach it. When we did reach Ichar, we got to know that a wedding was going on. The entire village was deserted as everyone was attending the wedding.
It had gotten dark by then and with the help of lights lit in people’s houses I searched for accommodation. It turned out to be more difficult than anticipated because there was no one to ask. After a vigorous search and getting lost I found a kind gentleman who showed us to a homestay. He was a saviour angel for us.
In every other village in the Himalayas, we had been told to park our bikes without fear of theft or damage. And true to their word, our bikes were always safe. There were occasions when I left all my luggage on the bike for the night without worry. In Ichar thanks to the wedding, everyone warned us to remove our luggage and lock our bikes, because drunk wedding revellers were liable to fiddle. So we stripped our bikes of everything and slept.
Route Profile: Purne to Ichar
There is a new bridge being built near Phuktal Monastery. This bridge over the river will connect Purne to Cha. Thus making the entire effort we put in on the trekking path redundant. It will be significantly safer and easier to do in the years ahead. Good for the locals and travellers. Bad for adventurers! But as one local said, “Crazy people like you will go find some other dangerous place to travel through”!
There are villages along the way, with only one providing food. There is place for camping in a few places but no built up accommodation available along this route.
Expenses from Purne to Ichar
Food and Stay for Two 1930
Food for Two 135