Across The Highest Saddles of the World on Enfields - expedition Himalayo Enfieldmo 2008
(Blue Land 2009)
The second mostly densely populated state of the world- India and its capital- 12 million Dilli, is the beginning of our journey for 6 adventurers who met during 6 months working in the travel agency Rajbas. It´s nearly impossible to get out of the city centre in the peak traffic on our heavy bikes without loosing each other. Firstly we were missing two of our friends for an hour and half but finally we managed to came together, find the way and continue to the north. Our borrowed Enfield bikes 500 cm are just fantastic and we love their the 50s design more and more. The first night after 100 km was a nightmare thanks to the thousands of mosquitos. But its´s our fault- everyone was too lazy to build a tent. We won´t risk another sleepless night and a malaria infection anymore.
The first part of our one-month long trip led us along China borders in the state of Himalčapradesh. The climate in the river Satluj Valley was nearly tropical which is great for a gross vegetation, eg. banana trees. One of the nights we spent in a 40°C hot springs (well, we´d apprecciate this a bit later). On the way between the valleys we could admire green rice fields on steep slopes. Nobody would grow anything on such places in our conditions but there are more than one milliard of Indians so that they use every piece of land. Sarahan village was our next stop. It´s a former rajah settlement with an amazing surrounding and one of the most exotic sights in north-west Himalayas, Bhimakálí temple. There are two high towers, beautiful slate roofs, shiny golden pinnacles and the top floor is for Goddess Bhima Kálí. She is covered in flowers and incences from the monks and she was veneratd for centuries by human sacrifices untill the 19th century.
Satluj river valley
We are riding along a carved out road against steep rock slopes to the town Recon Peo where it is necessary to obtain permission to cross the border of China. It takes officers all day, so we visit Kalpa village and an ancient Buddhist monastery, or gompa, in Tibet and Ladak. We wander around the once prosperous small alleyways in the centre, and see roads cluttered up from the monsoon season that has just ended. Twice we manage to get over a cave-in, but then we wait for hours for mud and debris to be cleared. Unfortunately the last 300m-long landslide won´t be cleared for years. Luckily the Indians are masters of lash-up and they´ve built a 500m long ropeway for food and firewood transport – and our 160kg bikes. We can´t use the ropeway for safety reasons, so we walk which causes a small delay.
An interesting Tabo village welcomes us in the dark. The next day we visit gompa. At the first, we see only wooden and clay boxes on the bank of the Spiti river, but soon realize this gompa hides the most remarkable Buddhist art treasures – multi-colored paintings with stucco relief. This monastery was established in 996 AD. The most remarkable masterpiece is Sughlhakhang, ”Hall of Illuminated Gods” with a beautifully decorated interior. We can´t wait to visit fantastic Ki Gompa, which has been built on a rock in the Spiti river valley, and spend the night in the highest electrified village in the world (4200m).
The landscape of Tibetian houses surrounded by barley fields is spoiled by satellite aerials and too many travelers. The night is a great acclimatization before crossing a 5000m high pass. The next one hundred kilometers are the most impressive of the entire journey, and the moments and views stay in our memories forever.
The most dramatic part starts after passing Kunzum Pass at 4450m. The deep gravel road is sometimes crossed by unexpected torrents and we thank our bikes for making it without complications through this terrain. The famous road Manali – Leh was finished in 1989 and is now the most popular way to Ladak. It is open just a few months of the year due to snow. It leads from the Kullu Valley across the highest passes of the world (up to 5328m)! The road surface varies from smooth asphalt with deep holes to a dusty dirt road with glacial streams crossing it. The road zigzags through an amazing moonscape where we meet only herdsmen, dirty workers and gloomy soldiers.
The 480km-long route takes us two days with one nighttime stopover in a tent for truck drivers. We want to try some local food, so we order a chicken coumen (noodles with chicken and vegetables). The chicken is a bit suspicious and looks more like marmot, goat or dog. They reply to our question with a smile: ”It´s a big chicken, sir”! Maybe it´s better to know nothing. That night is full of alcohol tasting, mainly with Sikh truck drivers, and they are impressed by our 60% strong applejack.
Kunzumpass downhill riding
We then arrive in the problematic state of Jamu and Kashmir and an unaccessible region – Ladak, La-Dags, ”The land of Ghats”, sometimes called ”a small Tibet”. There are symbols of a one thousand year-old Buddhist religion all along the roads: colourful prayer flags, prayer mills in the villages, medieval monasteries and gompas at the tops of the rocks. The next day we visit some amazing places in the Valley of Indu, we see the gloomy prayer halls, ornamental sanctuaries, murals of fantasy Gods and massive bronze Buddhas. The centre of this region is a Leh town (3550m above sea level), and used to be an important stop on the Silk Road.
Now it is a base for travelers from all over the world who want to explore local culture and nature. We set off for a five-day trip through the long valleys and 5000m high passes. We walk through little villages with tiny barley fields which are watered by ingenious canals. The life here is still the same as one hundred years ago. Suddenly we realize how difficult life is for these people and learn to live with just the necessities. By chance we become a part of a first birthday celebration. We can´t believe our eyes as we gaze at the beautifully decorated Tibetian women and their amazing dancing skills. It isn´t possible to refuse an invitation for chapati (barley griddlecake) and barley beer – chang, which is much stronger than we expect. Our travelling isn´t easy, it has now been three weeks on the road and there are only three of us now. By this time the others have given up because of some indigestion problems and altitude sickness.
After we return and get a little rest we set off in the direction of the plentiful glacial valley of the Nebra river. This time gompas and hot springs are not our target. It is the world´s highest driveable pass, Khardung La (5606m). We reach the top after about two hours of never ending switch backs and some military checks. This road has been open to the public only since 1994. Previously it wasn´t possible to get to the north of Leh. Today you can get there with special permission that is valid for 7 days.
Our traveling is nearly at the end. We only have 7 days to admire the beautiful lakes in Srinagar and then get to Dilli, which is about 1300km away. Everything is still so fascinating! There is Chos-Khor, 70km to the west, which is a spiritual island in Alchi, with ancient wall paintings and wooden sculptures. This place is believed to be one of the most important in Asian art history.
At the end of our adventure, we travel through a dangerous area between India and Pakistan. The conflict here culminated into war in 1999 and more than one thousand Indian and Pakistani soldiers died. That is why the road from Kargil is guarded by the military. The alpine part of the road going our direction is open from only 4 to 7 o´clock and is full of traffic. If you do not get up early, you have to maneuvre through hundreds of smelly trucks on the narrow roads. Three days and 450km later we get to Srinagar. We´ve decided to try an accommodation on a luxurious houseboat among water lilies. The owners care for us as if we are their best clients and not stinky bikers. We are valued guests because the war caused a total decline of tourism in this attractive area. Everything has to be very inexpensive. The following day we visit a floating vegetable market and a Mughalu garden and buy some souvenirs. We´d love to stay much longer in this magical place but the plane will not wait. We must ride the last 300km to Jammu and then take a train, with bikes in tow, 600km more to Dilli.
And that´s it! Our fascinating holiday ends. It is not easy to return our beloved Enfields. The last day in Dilli is devoted to shopping, taking pictures and sightseeing. We fly back home with a strong feeling that we must return one day.
Expedition Blue Land 2009
Paralympionic Jana Fesslová and Radek MC Outdoors
Itinerary: Kalka - Satluj - Kunzum La - Keylong - Leh - Khardung La - Jammu
Km: 2360 km in Indian Himalayas Moto: Royal Enfield and sidecar Rocket
We would like to thank partners who supported our mission imposible:
Astorie a.s., Geneze, Jihočeský kraj – hejtman Mgr. Jiří Zimola, Turkish Airlines, CK Rajbas, Car Club, MC Outdoors Agency, Lékárna supermarketu Terno, Press klub Syndikátu Jihočeských Novinářů, MotoClassic, Mr.Lafleur – Mandarin Oriental, Austrian Chauffeur Limousines, Otto Bock, Petr Hřib Adámek.
On Saturday July 25th,2009 at 1PM the group met at the Ruzyně airport for the first time. There was Jana and Radek MC Outdoors present together with the team of 9 adventurers and Lada from Rajbas. Our 10 hours flight to Delhi was OK, we had short time in Instanbul to change the flights but we managed. We have delivered by aircraft of Turkish Airlines also 5 boxes for the kids in Kargyak in Zanskar – this was prepared by Gabriela Lagnerova – the chairman of non profit organization Blue Land which operates in India. The boxes were delivered to Czech Embassy and they arranged further steps..
In the heart of India – expedition starts
After safe landing in Delhi we have started to experience first cultural shock. It is 4 AM, taxi driver is engaging his horn and flashing the lights all the time even we are stuck in morning traffic – he wants to show me how good driver he is – I shared information with him that I also drive limousine for Czech transport company Austrian Chauffeur Limousines…
Jane wants us to stop at the first on street sleeping man and make photograph of him, later we realized that everybody is sleeping on the street; bus driver at the highway, vegetable seller on his pulpit, many people just rests on the ground together with cows, dogs and other animals. In combination with hot weather, dark, smell of urine and unbelievable mess – this is the center of great India – Main Bazaar in downtown of New Delhi.
We spend a day in near proximity of Vivek hotel even we had a big plans how we will discover the whole Delhi. Heat of 45 degrees of Celsius is breaking our plans and we are glad to spend the rest of the evening in hotel Metropolitan nearby. This hotel has one big advantage compared to the others – they serve a beer.
It all begins to complicate when we want to order the beer in air conditioned bar downstairs. Waitress is very kind and apologize that she cannot serve the beer – we have to go to the roof – there is a terrace and we can have beer there. OK we started to look for the lift but to our surprise – there is none. What can we do now? Staircase is steep and narrow and there are about 50 steps to the roof.
But the beer and the rest of the group are upstairs so Jana jumps down from her wheelchair on the ground and starts to climb to the roof. Local staff is so surprised that there are just watching her with mouth opened and give her big applause when she reaches the roof. It is much better weather on the roof and we enjoy the afternoon in the company of teammates and Indian beer brands such as KingFisher or 10 000. It is much easier to get down for Jane and we leave for the hotel to catch up our taxis to train station.
The story of its own is the journey by taxi from hotel Vivek to train station. It all takes about half an hour and we go just couple of kilometers. But the traffic is so heavy, Jane is sitting in front on the left seat and our little van is very often just centimeters from other cars – it is scary. Our luggages were just thriven on the roof and tighten up with little rope.
Our train to Kalka will leave around 9 PM and 3 hours waiting in the heat and full train station of sleeping and sitting people on the floor is a nightmare. We are glad to exchange it for air conditioned train. In the morning in Kalka our bikes are already waiting for us, we unload them from the truck and head towards thirst kilometers. We are lucky – Jane’s wheelchair perfectly matches with the rear part of sidecar so we do not need any adjustments – we just use rope as our Indian taxi drivers. David and Petr helps us to carry two pieces of luggage on their bikes, thanks guys. The whole day is very hot, it is easier when we drive and wind is blowing.
We lost Dan on the first intersection in Kalka – since that time he is called Indian Chief and finally arrives to the hotel at 10 PM. We are now 14 – we have 2 mechanics with us – Sonu and Vinod take care of our bikes. We pass through green footsteps of Great Himalaya Range in the state Himalchapradesh and together with Jane we enjoy our ride very much. Jane is helping to keep balance of the sidecar by leaning out of it – I can ride more aggressively – in combination with nice sunny day and millions of curves we are in motorcyclist’s paradise.
After the wheel of sidecar jumps over side hole in the road and under this hole is 100meters of nothing, Jirka reminds me, that it might be better to drive more in the middle of the road – in reality it means that I have to drive the half of the remaining journey on the wrong side of the road. Thirst day we pass also the spa town Shimla, which is also the center of Himalchapradesh with population of 6 million inhabitants.
It became famous especially during the English ruling of the country because they choose it as capital city in summer times. Shimla is spreaded over 12 km long mountain with couple of peaks such as Jakhu – 2445 m.ab.s., Prospect Hill – 2176 m.ab.s.,Observatory Hill – 2149m.a.b.s. Elysium Hill 2256 m.ab.s. and Summer Hill – 2103 m.ab.s...
First technical failures
Next day a truly motorcycle adrenalin starts - the rain is pouring the whole morning - it is similar to the movies from Vietnam war - subtropical nature shows us the wet part of it. Road from village Tatapani which is famous for their spa leads us to Sarahan by the Satluj river valley - we have to ride very carefully in the mud on the edges of 100 m of nothing under us. Downthere - there is the river, which is 1500 km long and covers approximatelly area of 395 000 km.
Our sidecar has a first problem - the schocker is already unfuctional - it holds the sidecar in one piece but Jane is sitting 10 cm lower then she was supposed to be - we are very unhappy about Tony center who rented us this sidecar especially when mechanics said that no spare part is available. Sidecar is nearly unfunctional - it goes always to the left and I have to use a lot of power to steer it straight. We have one of the mechanics sitting behind me to make it run straight - it helps a little bit.
Sonu is singing his indian songs - we are driving on the edges in mud but he is happy - he had never been outside of New Delhi so this is for him nice vacation. His motorcycle suit consists of sunday church trouses and very beautiful shirt - he has no helmet, protective gear or motorcycle shoes - so when it started to be rainy he covers his head with plastic bag - India is so incredible!
The schocker of sidecar is already damaged so we make it firm by simple adjustment - we just use next holes for attachment because they are here in a case something like this would happened after years of usage. Well we need it second day of our journey...
We anticipate further problems with it so we decide to make an supplement out or iron piece found in local service - Excelent Auto Parts. Mechanics do not know what we want to do - after half an hour of explaining that we are just producing the spare part they do not have, we finally came to solution and we have it done. We will need it couple of days later - for now we just throwed the spare part into sidecar and we continue...
We are still riding along the fantastic river Satluj - we had never seen before something so strong and such beautiful nature sceneries - Himalayas are incredible!
At the bridge where we were fixing the sidecar the interesting traffic situation develops. Bridge is narrow and is fully occupied by two trucks - from both sides of the bridge there are two roads and this road is famous connection between Kalka and Manali - so in 10 minutes there is about 20 trucks and jeeps from each side and everyone tries to go forward noone back. Each driver has a passenger who steps out of the car and is arguing with others how to solve this complicated situation. After another 20 minutes finally one row is moving back and slowly the bridge becomes free of cars.
We go with Jane and others to local refreshment place - it is called dhaba - everything is very dirty but we are very hungry. The advantage of indian cuisine is that they prepare meals after you ordered from fresh vegetables and this is also disadvantage - you have to wait - but you will get used to it pretty soon - in India the time slows down a bit and you are not in a hurry anymore.
This day we continue along the Satluj and the road sometimes goes through the rock tunnels or half way tunnels (one side is open). Generally roads in Indian mountains do not know outside of cities such things as bridges accross the valley, long tunnels or straight parts. Road is adjusted to nature - you follow milions of curves, you go accross the rivers, in valleys you will find firm road but when you start to climb up it is offroad for fourwheelers - amazingly small indian cars Suzuki sometimes can be seen on this - we just saw on Skoda Octavia and all other vehicles were trucks or jeeps. And of course motorcycles and one sidecar (ours..).
Today we reach the Sarahan - bhusar emperor site with monastery Bhimakali which is a wonderfull piece of Indo-Tibetian architecture. It was the place which was governed by Sarahan Banasura according to the legend. We have a great view of Shrikhand Mahadev (5227 a.s.l.). After vegetarian dinner Jirka is organizing party in his room - we are thrilled by his stock of czech salami and good sliwowitz....
The steep banks of Satluj river and water powerplants
We go the whole next day through a complex of new developments of water powerplants which in reality means that we go through piled dust up to 10 cm, along the big trucks and plants and time to time we have to stop because indian workers are blocking our road with pile of stones which falled from the rocks. We are already traveling the fourth day in very harsh conditions and Jane is already tired although she said that she got used to the views down to the river on the bottom of the hills.
Company Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam is running here the largest complex of water powerplants in India - it is called Nathpa Jhakri, which consist of 6 blocks and produces 1500 MW. What does it mean in reality? This little powerplant is producing energy for following states in India - Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, Punjab, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Uttrakahnd, Chandigarh a Delhi – from Dilli to the Himalayas the whole country.
Another 412 MW will be produced by new plant in Rampuru where we go through as well. All workers are greeting sidecar with great interest - they had never seen something like this before going by. After 7 hours of fight with dust and heat we finally turn right up to the mountain valley Sangla where we will sleep tonight.
Sangla valley has lenght of 42 km and is in the 2700 m.a.s. In the middle of the valley you can find river Baspa - it is deep valley up to 900 meters. Very interesting Mount Kailash which is nearby supposed to be The God Shiva Home. After you pass Sangla you can continue to Chitkul - it is the last village on original indian-tibetian route. From here it is only 4 km by foot to Nagasthi - the last station in mountains - to continue further on is prohibited by the government - you are nearly in China - Tibet.
We enjoy an evening in Sangla and go to local restaurant - couple of shops can be found here as well. Weather is still very promising - thanks Shiva.
Sidecar was in the center of everyone's interest
I will skip for a while to our sidecar - noone knows such vehicle in India and all people were amazed when we arrived to their place. Workers stopped working (which would not be that big problem), ladies at the corners stopped chatting, mothers interupted breastfeeding, drivers were happy to greet us and dutch bikers asked us to try sidecar because they remembered sidecar from their childhood which they spent in sidecar URAL with their daddy.
In one village in the mountains the whole crowd of local sales woman wanted to have a ride and after two promotional rides I had to excuse myself because of lunch time and after that we escaped very quickly and silently - in our language we say by english way. If we would not do so we are still in that village giving rides to ladies untill those days....
The story of its own was the episode with munks in Lamayuru monastery. The oldest munk tried sidecar for the first time with me. After he approved it a crowd of small munks jumped into the sidecar and they had a rides instead of amusement park.
By other words - you do not have to have Ferrari to gain an interest of many people - sidecar in India will do it as well.
Our sidecar had one more great feauture - I bought a loud horn on New Delhi market and I had it mounted to our vehicle. In India there are no traffic rules - except the one - the strongest horn the more space you have on the road. We had a lot of space - our horn was really good one.
Permission to enter the Spiti Valley
But let us go back to our ride. We continue from Sangla by numerous curves back to the river again and we stop by the munk who lives in the rock which makes the tunnel for the road. His small house is nicely painted by yellow and red colors and he gives us his blessing while smoking a big pipe. We wonder what he has in his pipe and he shares a bit with Jane. We left really early in the morning so we reach Rekong Peo - the administrative center of the region at 8 AM.
Rekong Peo is a bigger village at the footsteps of Kinnaur Kailash Mountain Range in 2670 ab.s.l.. Small town is about 260 km far from Shimla and it is the center of Kinnaur Administrative Region. We are still in indian state Himachal Pradesch.
We have to go through the proccess of obtaining Application Form for Inner Line Permit which allows us to enter parts of the India which are very close to the China border - there is nobody seen around here for hours and it is quite easy to feel lost. We be entering country, which we learned about from the movie Seven years in Tibet - monasteries in Tabo, Key Gompa and others are the traditional buddhist sanctuaries with books, statues and chortens from 9th century and older.
We have to pay to the officer 150 rs and helps us to fill out the forms and takes our passports. Then we go to another officer in next house and wait here untill 10 AM. Officer takes our photographs and says that we have to wait another 2 hours. In the meantime I go to buy new shoes - my 10 years old UVEX has given up and I buy track shoes for 10 EUR. I want to throw them away and mechanic Sonu wants to keep them - shoes have no bottom part but apparently he wants to have it fix later in Delhi.
We are also stearing at women which are working next to the office - they use showels with ropes for digging the sole and fill up containers and carry them on their head up to next floor - this is the way how to start with building up the house around here.
From the center of village there is about 20 minutes walk to extraodinary monastery Kinnaur Kalachakra Celestial Palace Gompa which is famous for big statue of Budha.
After 6 hours we are happy to leave Rekong Peo and continue our journey towards Nako.
Lack of oxygen, rocks falling down and workers families living by the road
We are leaving Rekong Peo and we are climbing up to 4000 m.ab.s.l.. There is no sign of life around here - just big hills which are size of doubled Grossglockner but no greenery around us - just stones, rocks and dust from dirty roads.
Today we have to wait four times half an hour because of rocks fallen on the road - of course it is not anymore paved road and we go through regular enduropark. The workers are quite efficient so even road was completely flooded with the stones we can leave pretty soon.
At the road there is a lot of lone small tents which are very low - usually a family of 10 people is living in such tent. They all work on the road - fixing it with the stones and making concrete barriers manually.
Many times when I see them and I meditate about their destiny I recall people back at home which are unhappy about milion things such as too hot weather too cold weather etc etc. - here people are perceived that this is their destiny and they are happy who they are. Interesting to see....
In the late afternoon we are leaving the river and we start to climb following her right bank to small village Nako. The route is very dangerous and we are riding in unlimited curves which are slowly taking us up to the big mountain. We see our colleaques above us and under us and we have to ride another half an hour to get to the place where we saw them.
We are arriving to Nako around 6 PM and we are very tired. Because this is the only road which goes through this wonderfull countryside we have to search for an accomodation. After another half an hour we have it in the hotel which is not yet finished - but who cares. We are very tired and some of us has headache.
We are leaving Rekong Peo and we feel lost in the middle of Himalaya Mountains - now we have a river somewhere on our right and down in the valley and we are moving in the serpentine slopes of the majestic hills which we had never seen efore. We climb into the large altitudes (about 3500 - 4000 m ab.s.l.) , and the stone hills bear no signs of life – all around u sis just rock, gravel, sand and dirt.
The road is definitely not asphalt - the size of holes and gravel depends on the fact how far we are from the pass – it looks like Indian road builder Copany Himank has already run out of power, so the road as the regular offroad on the rocks and gravel. Today we have to wait at four falls - delay is not long but in the dust, heat, surrounded by trucks, waiting is not a pleasure at all.One worker with big tractor ignores Lada who is behind him with the bike and nearly drives into him when backing up - luckily at the last minute we managed to get bike out of his way so nothing serious happened.
At the road we see that there is many tents with the whole families living there.They live here all summer to help build the curbs on the edges of the narrow roads to prevent vehicles falling into the valley and to strengthen the edges of roads that are subjected to almost daily pile and constant movement of rocks down. Families who work here have sometimes up to 10 members.
All are housed under cover in the shape of letter A and live, work and do everything in the immediate vicinity of the road. They cannot go anywhere else - up and down, front and back of miles away you can see rocks and rocks only. In the dust of the road mothers are nursing their toddlers, kids play and all help with the construction of the road. Many times when I've looked at children working with the hammer and mums with babies doing the same work I thought of people at home who are dissatisfied with politics, family or financial situation .... It seemed to be very irelevant when you think of yourself to be borned and raised up in India…
In the late afternoon we leave river alone and start to climb from its right bank to the village of Nako. The path way is long and difficult. Hours and hours of endless switchbacks brought us to a small village, which is of course fully occupied with the tourists who came here in a rented jeep, so we can not find accommodation on the first attempt.
This day was also dangerous for other members of the team. George forgot that drive on the left and a dangerous section of almost collided with the oncoming vehicle. Odnesl to jenom pádem, ale i ten hodně bolel. Took just fall, but he hurt a lot.
Views of the surrounding mountains are magnificent, we eventually found accommodation in the unfinished hotel, which is situated behind the house with the big locked gate which the owner excitedly tells us that this is the Goverment Property (government building), and that we cannot park our bikes by our hotel because he cannot open the gate.
We are trying to argue all sorts of ways - to carry luggage 50 meters is nothing what we really would like to do. When we start to take gate off its hinges, the owner draws our attention to the fact that he will call the police immediatelly and overnight stay in his hotel will be aborted, and that was the reasong why we prefer to carry our luggages across the government property on our backs. We have a tough day behind us so it all seems a little bit pointless.
Hotel has a great view of Nako and mountains and also an amazing view of the beautiful lake in the middle of Nako. It also lured a Hrib and Hurtizon to try swimming at an altitude 3800 m.ab.s.l.. After 15 meters of sharp swim Hrib wants to return back in he starts to feel the lack of oxygen. Swimming back to the bank was the fight for saving his bare skin. Oxygen is simply not in the same concentration here as at home and we feel it at every step - we carry bags 30 meters and we have to take a rest.Or I have to push the sidecar when it does not have enough power and I cannot breef… Height is also reflected in the headaches and next morning we have to eat pills against it.
Next morning we leave around 12 AM beause our ride today will be much shorter.
Glacial rivers and mountains beauty
We pass couple of rivers and arrive to Tabo Monastery which is placed in the middle of the village with 350 inhabitants. In Taboo, there is a wonderful atmosphere - it is one of the oldest and best-preserved Buddhist monasteries, surrounded by majestic mountains and it is built in a slightly enlarged Spiti valley at a height of 3050 ab.s.l.. In the Himalayas, there is only one more important monastery - it is Tholing Gompa in Tibet. Taboo was built as a center of learning famous monk and the translator Rinchen Lotsavy Tsang Pa. In 1981 – 1983 a new prayer hall was built for his Holiness XIV.Dalai Lama of Tibet. The monastery holds very valuable collections - it is a Buddhist scrolls, statues, frescoes and painted tiles from the Mahayana Buddhist Pantheon. The entire complex is protected by the Indian government. The monastery has 9 churches, 23 Chorten (prayer chapel) and numerous rooms for the monks and guests. Since 996 there is not much changed in the monastery - lamas still practice their prayers, their day starts at 6 am and has a precise itinerary. Part of the monastery is a modest hostel, where we sleep on this day. I woke up at 3 am because crowd of dogs fights outside and make a huge noice over the entire valley.
In the morning we all meet at the shop which is called the German Bakery - sandwiches and cakes taste like in Europe, so we have coffee and we enjoy the breakfast.
We travel today from Tabo to KI Gompa monastery and stop in the second highest village in the world which is called Kibber – 4060 ab.s.l..
KEY Gompa is another monument monastery of this region. The monastery is one of the largest in the region and was well known as a university for monks - in 1855, there was about 100 monks living here. The collections include books from the Middle Ages, statues of Buddha in the position Dhyana and many beautiful murals. Exotic location and red robes of monks evoke different - a spiritual world that is unknown to us. Key Gompa belongs just as Tabo and Drangtse to Buddhist Gelugpa sect.
After photographing beautiful panoramas and familiarization with the history and beauty of the monastery we ride via serpentines to Kibber. Kibber is quite high and hotels are crowded so we decided to go back to the valley to Kaza. On our way to Kaza our sidecar breaks down and we have to go very slowly. Mechanics do not understand what happened again and local welder helps to make sidecar functionable again.
Kunzum La and sidecar broken again
First really high pass tested our capabilities and persistence. In the morning the sidecar broke down again – we have to use spare part which we made out of metal because the shocker is gone. On our way to pass the condition of the road becomes terrible and last 20 km it is regular offroad journey across the rocks, holes and rivers. We are very tired but happy we made it to the top. It took us 4 hours of riding up and same time down – on the way down we loose the pipe, our tire is flat and we have to wait for mechanics couple of hours because they are busy with other people. Finally we arrived to Chantru where we sleep in the garage tonight.
Kunzum La , Keylong , Sarchu
After we passed Kunzum La and slept in Chantru we continue towards Keylong next day. At lunch break we met dutch cyclists who were very happy to see our sidecar. The lady remembered very well her childhood in sidecar Ural and admired Jana and Radek. This part of the journey was also full of creeks and rivers which were crossing the road. We manage to pass throught most of them but there was one uphill which we could not pass without help – we were lucky to have support of Peter Hrib who helped us to push sidecar when it got stucked. Countryside is wonderfull and we enjoy every minute of traveling. In Keylong we stop for meal and we have small accident as well. Jana wants to stop rolling wheelchair which she is sitting on by catching the pipe of motorcycle – she got burned really badly. After couple of days without mobile phone signal we inform our families that we are allright and we also send first pictures from Himalayas via internet. We continue to Sarchu and we gain a lot of attention of local people – all are amazed by seeing sidecar in this part of the world. Tonight we sleep in the tent – beds are made from the stones and it is really cold during the night.
Mountain desert, promo sidecar rides and jeep transfer
The last part of the famous Manali Leh route was for us really dramatical. We started early in the morning for this 250 km long journey. In 11 AM we have passed Barachula – another pass on our way. Route was sometimes much better but most of the time it was unpaved route with rocks and holes in it. We have lunch in mountain hotel – tent with one room for dining and one bedroom. Local ladies want me to give them ride in sidecar so I have to do test rides with them while Jana is having lunch. We are traveling through very beautiful part of Himalayas. Jana is already very tired and in the mountain desert she feels very exhausted. We have to ride the same route with many trucks delivering petrol to Leh – it is very unpleasant to pass them uphill because of their smoke in our face. We nearly reached Taglang La pass but in the long steep hill our sidecar brokes again – it is one of the conection pipes which was already welded in Kaza. Jana is loaded on the truck and continues another 50 km with petrol truck. Then we arranged for her change to jeep with motorcycles and she is escorted with 5 local bikes to Leh. I travel without her having big stone in sidecar so I would be balanced. I arrange welding in the evening and arrive to Khayul hotel late in the night.
Leh - the main town of Little Tibet
Leh has an unforgettable atmosphere and we spend there 3 days. We use it for exploring the local traditions and customs, stunning architecture of the city, sending postcards and buying souvenirs, and we visit Khardung La, Buddhist monastery Hemis Gompa and other places.
Leh is situated in the valley of the River Indus between Ladakh and Zanskar Himalayas. Temperatures range between -30 °C in winter to 40 °C in summer.Leh has about 30 thousand inhabitants,and as well as the entire Ladakh it is a part of the State Jammu and Kashmir. The existence of Tibetan Buddhists and Muslims in Leh brings conflicts between different religions. Muslim churches and Buddhist monasteries were destroyed during the conflicts.
We climb to Khardung La after one day rest in Leh. Jana is happy that she made it to the highest motorable road of the world. Khardung La is only 50 km away from Leh and you can continue riding to Nubra valley. Last day in Leh we found in parked sidecar on the main square a piece of paper with written message from my colleague from work Dusan who is also visiting Leh. Local lady told us that he was looking for us with his partner Alexandra. We were riding accross the Leh and calling Dusan, Dusan really loudly but they did not hear us. It was very busy traffic and many people on the street. We met the same day in the evening and had a lot of stories to talk about.
Indus valley, Lamayuru and Fotula pass
Drive along the Indus River in Srinagar is quiet - asphalt is perfect and only when crossing Fotula it changes into off-road terrain. We sleep in monastery today. Lamayuru monastery is built over a deep valley and views are magnificent. Lamayuru Monastery is dedicated to Tibetan Buddhism in western Ladakh, 15 kilometers east from the saddle Fotula, in an altitude 3510 ab.s.l..Immediately after the arrival the monks occupy our sidecar, first I have to give ride to the superior, and when it is officially approved, young monks can try it as well. 5 boys in the age 6- 10 jump into sidecar and ride with me around the village. Next morning I participate in morning prayer together with the tourists who arrived by taxi from Leh at 6 AM.
Next day we continue to the Kashmir accross Fotula pass. Sidecar is again broken and we are looking for local welder in Kargil. He is half way blind but he welded it well so it was OK untill the end of the tour. We are to Srinagar famous for its lakes, houseboats, street wars, mughal gardens and carpet factories. We stay couple of days on houseboat and continue to Batote and Jammu. We give bikes back to rental people and say bye to our mechanics.
We are waiting 5 hours in 40 degree heat on the train station on the platform - one of the worst experiences throughout the journey. During the night we travel do Delhi and in the morning we arrive to hotel Vivek. We rest during the day in Metropolitan hotel and are leaving India during the night. The media storm that occurred just after our return documented that the wheelchair users can make incredible things – such as to ride in the sidecar to the highest motorable route of the world.
Blue Land Expedition 2009 ended successfully, we drove 2345 km in difficult mountainous terrain and India surprised, amazed and touched us
Author: Radek Kriegler
Photo: Jana Fesslová, Radek MC Outdoors, Petr Adamek Hřib