Having pulled over as soon as I saw the engine check light come on, a hundred things started going through my head as to what may have gone wrong with the bike. Luckily for me, started with the basics, topped up the oil to level and lo and behold, problem solved. Still, having to unpack the few spares I had to get to the oil made me feel partly industrious at least!
From there on, the short ride from Srinagar to Sonmarg was a drastic change in landscape to lush green valleys with cool, fresh streams of water flowing by the road. A welcome relief from the dust and pollution of the past days.
The stay in Sonmarg was at yet another military camp, this time, with much less security restrictions than the last. Although the accommodation and food was great, along with a free tank of fuel from the army to boot, I promised myself it would be the last military stay for this trip, I needed to meet more riders
The next day brought with it a new challenge. Having now moved out of the chaotic traffic, it was time to encounter some “roads”. The first of these was Zoji La Pass, a 15km odd stretch dreaded by many on the Jammu to Leh route as it was quite often wet…and this without fail turned the stretch into a giant sludge pit. We had been keeping up with weather reports for the previous days and had somehow come across a 3 day dry spell. Although still very damp in places, the road at least allowed my road tyres some traction.
The original plan for the day was to ride to the town of Kargil, site of the India-Pakistan war in 1999 and then to do a day ride out to the Zanskar valley the next day to take in its snow capped peaks. However as I was stopped at a police checkpoint I got talking to a Canadian who had just finished close to a month touring in the region and he insisted that I try a newly opened route off the beaten track to Lingshed; a place with no paid accommodation (home stays only) accessible by a hiking trail turned bike trail. So armed with a photo of his map in lieu aof any of my own and placing my trust in another rider I set off to pass the town of Kargil and keep pushing onto this promised nirvana, only stopping to visit the war memorial along the way.
The realisation that I’d lived on beans and rice for 2 weeks in Brazil only to come back to an Indian equivalent
As time ticked by, I slowly realised that it would be a stretch to reach Lingshed the same day so started to look for a place to stay in the next town I got into; Mulbek. However it seemed that at around 4pm, with most places having had no customers, the guesthouses shut their doors leaving me with only the option for ‘glamping’ (glamour camping); a bit pricey, but without any camping gear of my own, it would have to do.
With a breakfast wrapped up, it was time to stop by the last petrol station for 400km if I was to make it to Lingshed and then onwards to Leh. Overnight I had managed to scrounge an oil can and assorted water bottles to be able to carry a spare 10L; more than enough.
However as I got on the road I started to feel nauseated, at first attributing it to the effects of the ever increasing altitudes I was riding at and periodically pulled over to calm myself down.
As I pulled into a small café to eat, one of the workers there commented on the strong smell of petrol which I had at first put down to the fact I was just carrying a whole bunch of it. Turns out the 5L oil can had been leaking at a steady rate with the fumes sending my stomach turning. With all attempts to seal it off failing I had no choice but to donate the fuel and hope that an extra 5L would suffice.
Unfortunately at the same café, whilst loudly discussing my plans to go to Lingshed, I was informed that the road had been covered by a landslide a mere two days ago and being Sunday, work wouldn’t begin till the next day…at least. So, having taken a gamble and skipped Zanskar Valley in lieu of this, I had no choice but to push on all the way to Leh
Slowly I could see myself delving deeper into Buddhist culture, monasteries and Tibetan prayer flags becoming abundant
Whilst I had dealt with a fair bit of bad road thus far and had a couple of moments, I had managed to keep the bike upright. But of course, it decided to go for a nap when completely stationary. Whilst stopped for a quick drink of water I heard a huge crash and looked up to see my steed on its side. No photos of the quick nap but the offender was some fresh and hot tarmac which had swallowed up the side stand. Thankfully the only damage was a cracked mirror and a bent clutch lever.
From here, it was back on the road into Leh to park up and get 3 days worth of road grime off