Have you one pen please?

We were warned, in black and white, how bad the road surface was on the route in from Kargil to Padum. At present it is the only way for people and supplies to get into the villages of the Suru and Zanskar valleys. it is a dead end road and the Zanskar valley inhabitants are cut off for 7 months of the year by snows on the 4400m Pensi La. It is 240km into Padum and 140 of them are rough and cobbly.

I was excited to be going back to Padum to see the changes after 25 years, Alan was less enthusiastic, given the road condition.

After the rest of our travels in these dry regions north of the Himalayan Divide, we were expecting similar dryness but the Suru valley that we started up is immediately north of the Himalayas so get some spill over of precipitation and un irrigated slopes were surprisingly green. The 60km to the government resthouse at Purtkichey were very pleasant, the road was smooth and the 500m of climbing easy. There were numerous villages, no chai shops and all the children we passed wanted ‘one pen please’, the adults ‘Hello, where are you going?’ in their singsong way of speaking English and head waving.

The valley floor was green from well advanced wheat fields and willows lined the road for the first 40km. We finally found sustenance at an army canteen – green tea only, momos and masala dosas.

Not far from our day’s destination we came upon a small, very fresh, very muddy landslide across the road that stopped all vehicles except us. We figure maybe a snow collapse high up had triggered the mud and sizeable rocks that formed a lahar type feature. Two nice locals helped carry my bike ¬†and panniers through the ankle deep mud. As the down valley bus disgorged its people at the slip we could wave goodbye and carry on. The resthouse had amazing views of Kun and Nun, two 7000m peaks that overlook the lower valley and are popular climbing destinations.

We planned only 40km to Parachik the next day and as the paved road deteriorated we got a taste of what was to come. The views could not be faulted, Nun and Kun dominated the peaks, and the villages and later gorge partially distracted us from the road discomforts. From our camp we walked up 500m onto a ridge that gave great views both up and down the Suru valley and of a glacier on the frontside of Nun which drops all the way to the valley floor.

We had been warned to leave early the next day because of the rise of side creeks in the heat of the day making crossings tricky, so we took heed and just got wet feet. A cyclist we talked to later almost lost his bike in a thigh deep crossing.

For 15 km from Parkachik the road climbed steadily alongside the brown churning river before levelling out. Sometimes our forward speed was only 6km per hour because of the road being more rock than sand. We bludged a cuppa chai from a climber and his support group that had been attempting Kun and had a pleasant break sitting on the grass chatting. We thought we may get to the pass that day but when it takes 6hrs to go 40km, another 30km and another 500m did not appeal..call us soft! Besides the village of Rangdum is in a beautiful spot and how much mountain splendour can one take in one day – it had certainly been one of our most stunning days.

Starting up the fertile Suru valley
Starting up the fertile Suru valley
Wild roses on the riverbanks
Wild roses on the riverbanks
The boys carrying my bike and gear across a small mudslide we narrowly missed
The boys carrying my bike and gear across a small mudslide we narrowly missed
Not a photo of my hairy legs but the ankle deep mud
Not a photo of my hairy legs but the ankle deep mud
Our first views of Nun (7100m)
Our first views of Nun (7100m)
Children sitting outside out tent
Children sitting outside out tent
Sunset over Kun and Nun
Sunset over Kun and Nun
Kun and Nun in the morning light
Kun and Nun in the morning light
View down over the roofs of the village of Parkachik
View down over the roofs of the village of Parkachik
View from the ridge looking back down the Suru valley
View from the ridge looking back down the Suru valley
The tumultuous Suru river
The thunderous Suru river
One of the many Himalyan giants sitting up side valleys
One of the many Himalyan giants sitting above the gorge
Challenging riding up a rough and often wet road
Challenging riding up a rough and often wet road
Happy to cross the visible boundary from Muslim to Budhist villages
Happy to cross the visible boundary from Muslim villages to Budhist villages
One of the more serious crossings that would stop us if we were later in the day
One of the more serious crossings that would stop us if we were later in the day
Green pastures & horses above the gorge
Green pastures & horses above the gorge
Magic reflections
Magic reflections
Granite walls and silt flood plains
Granite walls and silt flood plains
the ever present marmot
the ever present marmot
Views up the Suru valley towards Rangdum
Views up the Suru valley towards Rangdum
Looking back to the massif of Kun which dominates the view down valley from Rangdum
Looking back to the massif of Kun which dominates the view down valley from Rangdum
Kids on bikes in the village of Rangdum
Kids on bikes in the village of Rangdum
Late afternoon light and stripey mountain
Late afternoon light and stripey mountain, Rangdum monastry dwarfed (right of centre of pic)
Cows returning home at Rangdum
Cows returning home at Rangdum