After reaching the northernmost road of India at Gorkha Ridge, we had no way to go but south! As we travelled from Turtuk to Agam as part of our 90 day ride in the Himalayas covering Spiti, Zanskar, Batalik, Ladakh, Nubra, Shyok, Pangong, Hanle, Tso Moriri, Garhwal and Kumaon.
Day 52 Turtuk to Agam
From Turtuk, it would be south all the way. More or less!
It was the first time I saw a spring in the step of Akshay and an eagerness to wake early and leave on time. He woke at 4 am and was ready within the hour.
The reason was that we were to catch the only bus from Turtuk to Diskit. If we missed the bus, we would have to pedal the same route for almost 100 km. I was equally eager to get on the bus.
How did I manage such a quick turnaround time?
Thanks to the Cycliste luggage system. Unlike Akshay who had to tie his luggage on the bike, I didn’t. The seat post bag becomes a backpack, with only the frame bag staying fixed. This saves a lot of time and effort.
We loaded our bikes onto the roof of the bus. Mine much easier thanks to it being devoid of luggage. Lifting Akshay’s fully loaded bike onto the bus was quite an onerous task.
We didn’t get place to sit and I used my Bombay local train skills to sleep while standing!
After mixed success we got a place to sit on the very last seat. We got thrown around and smoked fresh diesel fumes! I thanked my lucky stars that my stomach was empty, else everything would have been on the bus floor.
It took us four hours to reach Diskit from Turtuk by bus which would have otherwise taken us a full day of riding. A time-space conundrum which is difficult for us cyclists to comprehend. We are so used to going super slow!
At Diskit we were happy to see our bikes safe after the bumpy bus ride.
We had breakfast at the dhaba opposite the bus stop and while I tied my luggage onto the bike, Akshay hailed a pick-up truck which was headed to Khalsar.
Before the driver could change his mind we put our bikes in and clambered aboard.
What we didn’t know was that we were in for the ride of our life. The jeep hurtled along the road, as we hung on for dear life. One hand on the jeep railing, the other on the handlebar of the bike. Balancing self and bike, life and death! The jeep zoomed, swerved, braked and skidded as if teaching us a lesson for taking a lift!
By the time we reached Khalsar our breakfast was digested. While in the jeep we saw Thomas’ cycle parked at a hotel, but we were going so fast that I only managed to whisper out between clenched teeth to Akshay, “Thomas…”
We were to meet Thomas near Tso Moriri. He was on schedule and we so late, that he was at the end of his ride and we at the beginning!
Our hitchhiking flummoxed one BMW GS rider. He had seen us in Turtuk the previous day and then saw us eating breakfast in Diskit. He then saw us drinking chai at Khalsar.
The poor fellow was shocked we insignificant cyclists were faster than his mighty machine. We of course were cheating!
Road to Agam
From Khalsar it is a 3 km climb to the turn off for the Shyok Valley route. I was happy to do the climb without stopping even once. My climbing ability had improved since starting at Shimla, which seemed aeons ago.
Once we turned off the Nubra-Leh road, traffic all but disappeared. It was once again a pleasure to ride without being hassled by speeding four-wheelers.
The ride till Agam was on empty roads. No steep climbs, scenic valley and a light breeze made for ideal pedalling. I only wished that I had my road bike because the smooth asphalt!
Greedy humans, always wanting something more than we have.
At Agam Akshay stopped at a homestay to enquire about accommodation. They were charging 500 rupees only for dinner after we pitched our own tent. The people running the place must have been smoking something strong, maybe the same ‘maal‘ as the current American president!
Fortunately a kilometre down the road there was a dhaba at the bifurcation for the Shyok and Wari La routes. We got food there for cheap and information as well. A B.R.O. DETT was just 12 km away and armed with the info we rode on.
DETT’s That Cannot Be Repaid!
At the DETT, the uniformed men were most helpful, warm and forthcoming and allowed us to stay the night and dine with them.
There we chilled with Balbir from the army and Akshay got him to do some night painting for his family.
One thing I noticed as was in Zanskar Sumdo, the army guys keep a distance from the GREF personnel. They do not consider them equals.
The camp had a guard named Moti, who along with her seven pups lit up every time a headlight was visible in the distance. I couldn’t imagine a dog could bark continuously for so long at a stretch!
Some of the personnel persisted in calling us sir, which was as weird as it gets. They are the tough people braving it out, we just a bunch of idiots having a good time. I guess they do it as a matter of habit.
One told us stories about digging the mountain to build roads only to find heaps of bones buried there from the Indo-China war decades ago. More Indian lives were lost to the weather than Chinese bullets.
There are no winners in a war.
We were given bedding and space to sleep in a vacant ice hut. The wonderful people there are building a small refreshment point and accommodation for the wary traveller. They plan to run it on a no profit, no loss basis.
As my head touched the pillow, I realised, the day was the strangest and coolest birthday I have had till date!
Route Profile: Turtuk to Khalsar to Agam
Details of the road from Turtuk to Khalsar can be read in the previous blogs.
From Khalsar onwards there are just a couple of small climbs which need to be navigated on an otherwise flat’ish’ road. After Agam there is a bifurcation with the right fork going up Wari La and the left along the Shyok Valley. Go left! Both routes go to Pangong Lake, the right requires you to climb two high mountain passes, the left doesn’t.
Food and accommodation is available in Khalsar. The next place is Agam village. With one small dhaba and a tiny homestay. The B.R.O are building a basic dormitory style accommodation in Agam. They already run an eatery under a tent.
Expenses: Turtuk to Agam
Bus Ticket for two from Agam to Diskit 110
Food for two 580