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Indian Himalayas Part 4 – Nubra Valley

After waking up at 4 am and having a snickers for breakfast, I started pedaling uphill north of Leh. Six hours later, I was on top of Khardung la, which was at the time being the highest motirable pass in the world. The climb itself was long, but rather uninteresting. There was a Hindu temple at the top with a loud speaker emitting a horrible non-stop noise, so I was quick to start the descent to Khardung, where I pitched the tent in a garden of a family who invited me for dinner.
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Looking back at Leh from the climb toward Khardung la.

Khardung la

This is supposedly the highest motorable pass in the world.

Next morgning, the downhill continued through the so far most impressive landscape of the trip. Reaching the Nubra valley floor, I continued to the region capital of Diskit, then on to Hunder. The presence of
sand dunes and Bactrian camels makes Hunder feel very much more like Central Asia than India. It is fascinating to imagine the days of the Great Game, when caravans of these camels would transport goods (and explorers/spies) across the tibetan passes.
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The Nubra river, before it splits into the Shyok (left of mountain in center) and NUbra (right of same mountain).

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Bactrian camels, reminding about old times when the Nubra valley was a principial trade route to Tibet.

The road passed the huge Thoise air force base, past which civilians have only been allowed in recent years. Another couple of hours later, I rolled into the Balti village of Turtuk. It used to be Pakistani until the Indians claimed it by military force in 1967. The population speaks Balti and Urdu, and it feels more like Afghanistan than India. After leaving suspect electronics in Turtuk, I cycled on to see how far it was possible to get. While Turtuk is the last place the army allows tourists to visit, I was not turned around before arriving at the actual line of control. From there, one could see the characteristic immense granite faces of the Karakoram range, a region I hope to return to  with the bike some day.
The last days in Leh, I bumped into five German/US/Canadian motor bikers, who were traveling for some extended time. They were all going rafting the next day, and Tim generously lended me his bike – an Enfield classic 350 – in the meanwhile. With it, I went for a half day trip to the Hemis and Tiksey minestsries. Particularly the latter was an amazing place, truly from another age.
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The Enfield I borrowed and took on a one day monastery tour around Leh.

The last evening, I accidentally met two British cyclists (the only cyclists in addition to two Belgians, one Swede I met earlier). We had dinner at a roof top overlooking the palace in Leh, and exchanged trip ideas. They warmly recommended Morocco’a Atlas Mountains, which they claimed to be very scenic, while being conveniently close to Europe and cheap.
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The view from Il Forno, a roof top wood ove pizza place kn down town Leh.

In retrospect, cycling from Shimla to Leh, and on to Nubra, has been an interesting geographic and cultural experience – moving from the Victorian era style architecture in Shimla, on to the green lush hills of Hindi Himachal, to the Tibetan cultures in Spiti, continuing via the Changtang Morei plains with its Changpa nomad inhibitants to Leh, and finally onto the Balti villages of the Nubra valley system, at the foot of the Pakistani Karakoram range. Few such short trips manage to encompass as wide diversity in nature, culture and world religion (Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism and finally Islam).
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Looking back up the Shyok valley, from the spot where it narrows off before reaching the Pakistani border.

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Indian Himalayas Part 3 – Manali-Leh Hwy

After crossing Kunzum la, we took the detour to Chandra lake. It was a scenic place, and it was also where Filip’s rear tire side wall tore. We managed to source needle and thread from locals, and Filip made a good job of sewing the tire together, after which we moved it to the front wheel.
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Mechanical intermisson on top of Kunzum la.

Chandra

Chandra lake

After Chandra the road turned really bad with sand, rocks and a multitude of river crossings. Also, there was a strong head wind. Next morning I had a sore throat and took it easy while Filip cycled ahead on a detour to Manali to source parts for his breaking bike.
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Traffic jam caused by the bad road.

We met up again the next evening at the hotel Ibex. There was a nasty rain storm that evening and I figured Filip had stopped in Keylong, but he showed up soaked just at nightfall.
The next day was dedicated to crossing the scenic Baralacha la, marking the entry to the old kingdom of Ladakh. I cycled ahead and was met by a hail storm at the pass, so I sent  a message to Filip over sat, saying we’d meet further down the road.
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The river bed widened on the other side of the Baralacha la.

Another two passes later, we were on the Morei plains, being part of the Changtang, or Tibetan plateau. There was again a tail wind, and while cruising along, tents of yak-herding Changpa nomads could be seen partway up the surrounding hills.
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Last camp before climbing up onto the Morei plains.

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Leaving the valley floor and entering the Tibetan plateu.

We took off from the main road to visit the salt lake of Tso Kar. Filip hiked up a nearby hill, while I got food poisoned in a changpa tent. The following day was rather aweful. It was hot outside, and I could not keep any food down. To make things merrier, we were crossing the almost 5300 m Taglang la. At the top I had had it, shivering with fever. It did not feel like a good place to stay, so I rolled down to the first settlement and collapsed at the first place available.
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My tent next to Tso Kar…

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…and the Tent of a Changpa nomad passing through with his horse.

Eventually I woke up and went outside to have some tea. To my surprise, sitting next to me was Mark Brightwell, a Brit formerly with the Ghorkas, who I have been running with in Nepal before. It was nice seeing Mark, and I found out he was leading a five week mountaineering expedition, and was waiting for a doctor to be flown in from London, as their altitude medicine specialist had herself developed high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) and had to be evacuated. I’ll likely see Mark again in Mustang next April, as we are both friends of Rich, who is arranging the annual Mustang trail running race.
Taglang la

Looking back down from the Taglang la, after a horrible climb.

Next morning I decided I had recovered enough to move on, and it was all downhill through a colorful red valley, with many stupas and the odd monastery. The last part of the road to Leh was utterly uninteresting, and passing through unimaginably ugly army bases.
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This Buddha at Thikse monestary is over 10 m high, passing through three floors.

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Wall painting at the same monstary…

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…and the view from the room

It was nice to arrive in Leh, and recover from the stomach bug. Filip went ahead to Nubra, while I took another rest day.


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Indian Himalayas Part 2 – Spiti Valley

In Reckong Peo, we went through the process of acquiring inner line permits, necessary for visiting within 40 km of India’s troubled lines of control toward China and Pakistan. Filip’s bike had a rough start and we also spent time replacing four  broken spokes.
We cycled on into the valley, accompanied by a strong tail wind. In Pooh we stopped to see the village’s summer festival. I was hoping for the traditional deal, and was rather disappointed.
Pooh

Entering the summer festival area in Pooh.

Next day provided a long and beautiful  climb up to Nako. After the following downhill the Spiti valley opened up and changed character. We spent the night at Ki Gompa, with an excellent valley view. One of the monks told us that a new road was being constructed in a parallel valley. It was accessible via a not yet completed bridge, which would be possible to cross with bicycles. This route turned out to be one of the best so far. Since the bridge was closed, there were no cars, and the surface was perfect new asphalt.
Nako

The view from just above Nako is quite stunning.

Ki Gompa

Ki Gompa, where we spent the night, is spectacularly perched on a rock.

Spiti

Big scenery in the valley just after Ki Gompa.

In Spiti, I also almost lost my sat phone. They are strictly forbidden in the sensitive boarder areas. At an army check point, a soldier found it and asked if it was a sat phone. I told him it wasn’t, it was a GPS. He was not buying into it, but before he had the opportunity to examine it closer, I pointed out that it was not as good as the gps of the new iPhone, and handed mine over. It worked, he was sufficiently perplexed by this piece of Steve Jobs legacy to forget about the sat phone, which I tucked back in my front pack.
Tibetan village

In the inner part of the valley, the road passed through traditional Tibetan villages.

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The last 60 km of Spiti also offered interesting roads.


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Indian Himalaya Part 1 – Shimla

Arriving at DEL, I spent time at all four ATMs. Three failed to dispense cash in a number of interesting ways, while the fourth fortunately worked, although at 10 000 Rs per time Filip arrived shortly after me, and after buying a SIM card we managed to get in touch with our driver and headed off to the foothillls. After 2 h in a complete grid lock, things eased up to  normal traffic jam for another hour. Then we were on the country side. Flat, hot, and populated. Upon reaching the hills, we regretted not spending the night in Kalka and taking the historic narrow gauge scenic railway from there to Shimla the next day.

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Main square in Shimla – ready to roll.

Next morning we assembled the bikes.
Filip spent 2 h fiddling with his peculiar packing, then we were off! The climate was nice, and it is easy to understand why the Brits moved out here from Delhi in the summer. We passed scandal point, the cathedral and a pharmacy, then climbed out of town. The afternoon we cycled through lush hill sides with tree plantations. At one point we passed the Indian national high altitude training camp. The guy at the gate was very suspicious of us and far from keen on chatting. There was no obvious place to pitch a tent, but we found a dhaba where we spent the first night.
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Fruit plantations on the Himalayan foot hills, close to Shimla.

Next morning, parts of the national road cycling team went by as I had breakfast and Filip was packing up (now twice as fast as yesterday!). The day featured a 2000 m descent, strewn with Tata trucks and cows, providing an interesting obstacle course.
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This was the first of several sections of intesting road conditions.

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This is another example of interesting road conditions.

We reached the entry of the Spiti valley, after only being subject to one monsoon downpour. The landscape changed from green hills to narrow rocky river gorge. A tail wind funneling between the walls, blew us up to Rekong Peo.
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For long sections, the road was carved directly into the sheer mountain side.


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Faroe Islands

This summer we opted for a shorter trip, as we were not sure how Ingrid and the -2 month old baby would handle cycling (it went just fine).

Continuing on our tradition of the worst weather you can find, we chose the Faroe Islands. According to a man we met on a boat, the Brits called the islands the “land of maybe” during WWII, due to the unpredictable weather. They delivered from day 1, when the pilot announced that we would maybe be landing. It was a very bumpy and shaky approach, and with the runway not too far below, he decided this was not possible, and veered off. After 15 min the weather had improved enough, and this time he managed to slam the plane rather firmly onto the tarmac.

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Picture off our plane taken from the arrival hall.

After assembling the bikes, we were allowed to store the empty boxes for free at the airport (thanks!) and set off to Mulafossur, which is one of the most photographed waterfalls (and scenes in general) on the islands. There we found a little café, which was closed, but they did not mind two late guests.

 

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The mulafossur waterfall / tourist magnet.

Leaving Mulafossur, we cycled to a camping site not far from the airport. Wild camping is not allowed (due to the sheep?), so we stayed at camping sites throughout the trip. They were all really cheap and most of them luxurious with a modern kitchen, living room area, clean modern bath rooms and internet connections.

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Riding back from the waterfall.

Next morning we woke 05:30 AM to catch the bus through a long subsea tunnel, which we were not keen on. Then we cycled through really horrendous weather the rest of the day. Part of the day, we were on a small winding road in the mountains with (what could have been) nice views. It was still very enjoyable to be out cycling, and we found more than one café along the way. In the evening we arrived at Gjogv, where we had a local buffet dinner (mostly food from the sea, and lamb).

With minds set on bad weather, it came as a surprise that the rest of the trip provided mostly sunshine (although some wind). A local hiking guide told us that this was the best weather they had so far this year (perhaps in several years).

We cycled out to the tip of Kalsoy and hiked out to a scenic light house. The next day we made another excursion to Vidareidi. The road out was very scenic, but involved two long one-lane unlit tunnels, with small pockets every few hundred meters. Each time there was a light at either end, we had to hurry to the next pocket and squeeze in while the car or truck passed. This made the going really slow, but we made it through.

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Ingrid on a grassy hill near the northern tip of Kalsoy.

One of the more forgiving tunnels – with lights and all.

The last day of the trip, we spent in Torshavn, which is the capital. It was the obly place where we saw real trees. There were also really nice cafés, where we sat most most days, drinking coffee, and a locally brewed, and rather tasty, beer.

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The last climb before Torshavn.

We met three cycle tourers while on the islands. One of them had spent a week, the two others three. Our conclusion from talking to them was that one week is adequate. While the scenery is fantastic, it all looks rather the same, and so you reach saturation (both in terms of scenery and rain) rather fast. We never got to a point where we got bored, but did not feel that we had to stress about in order not to miss out on something either.


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A busy spring

It has been a busy spring, and the blog has been down-prioritized in favor of work, and of course playing in the outdoors. Apart from everyday maintenance training, the two nicest events have been the annual training camp with CK Lunedi on Mallorca in April

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CK Lunedi on top of the San Salvador climb, Mallorca.

and long rides (and runs!) around Skåne

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“The longest day” ride. Thanks to Patch and others. Photo: Strava/Zorn .

Soon, however, it is time to depart for Faroe Islands, followed by touring in Ladakh/Kashmir/India. I’ll promise to post some pictures and texts once back…


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Sunnmøre ski tour

This year, again, we decided to spend time around easter in the Norwegian backcountry. We flew to Ålesund and rented a car, driving out to the Sunnmøre alps.

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Ok, let’s go skiing…

Weather was fantastic, almost a bit too fantastic. In fact, the snow line was way up in the mountains, making for hour long bush-whacking approaches in shoes, with skis and boots on the pack. The snow was really good, however. Pow up higher, and corn/slush further down.

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At least there was really good snow higher up.

Ingrid was unfortunately sick with a nasty cold, so the days consisted in quick solo tours before lunch, and excursions to the archipelago together in the afternoon. The days were long, so there was no rush.

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Afternoon excursion to a really nice hippie village on a small island.

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We had booked a hotel in Ålesund for the last night before flying out, but cancelled when we found this spot in a park.


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Canadian Rockies

Last little mini-adventure was in the Rockies with my wife. We started out in southern BC and skied the slack- and backcountry around Rossland. Then we drove north to one of our favorite places for backcountry touring: Roger’s pass in Glacier NP (where we spent a season earlier).

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This year, we were extremely lucky with the snow pack, which was unusually stable, allowing for some long tours up the Asulkan valley. Combined with stable weather, we ended up spending a lot of time in Roger’s pass. The two most memorable days were probably the trips up Ursa Minor and Young Peak, on which we turned below the summit due to a complete whiteout.

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On a completely different note – and inline with the main purpose of this blog –  a plan for biking this summer is taking form. The venue will be Kashmir and Ladakh, most probably a cycle from Srinagar to Shimla via Leh and the Spiti valley. Really looking forward to get back to Srinagar and to cycle some Himalayan passes 🙂


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Langtang

I’ve been busy with bits of everything, but finally found a few minutes to write up blog posts.

This fall, the tradition of combining work in China with spending time in the Nepali Himalayas, continued. While previous years have been focused on running, this year, I went with my new friend Filip, who I met last winter in Kashmir.

Filip had cut off his long hair and gotten new 70ies hippie glasses. As a consequence, I spent an hour looking for him at the airport (although, he was in front of me all the time).

We hired a jeep with Suabry Besi as destination. This is the same place I started out last year. Then I crossed the Ganesh Himal district of Dading to the west, this time we were heading for Langtang and Helambu, to the east. We made it to Dunche, where we got stopped by the police. Our driver said the road was blocked. Thinking it was probably a scam, in order to get us into one of the lodges at Dunche rather than carry on, we asked why, and got the answer ‘rock fall’. Fair enough, but we wanted to see this rock fall, as we would have to cross it on foot next day. The ‘rock’ was in fact a big truck, that had gone through the shoulder, and was now balancing on one side, considering whether to plunge into the abyss or not.

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Fair enough, we spent the night at a shabby place in Dunche. Next morning, we hiked pass the blockade, and hitched a ride on the roof of an already full jeep.

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Nepal 2016

The driver did the best he could to get us off that roof, throwing his vehicle down the switchbacks down to Syabru.

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After lunch in Syabru, and seeing a helicopter fly in with the corpse of another, seemingly brand new but somewhat warped, helicopter, we set off. Rather than following the river valley, we pushed on up toward Sherpa Gaon, where we stopped to take in the view, from a bench in the sun, before heading down to Llama Hotel.

From there, we moved on along the valley, and arrived in what used to be Langtang, by lunch next day. Now it was just a rumble of moraine, left behind by the landslide which took away the whole village following the second 2015 earthquake. Some new housed were being constructed a bit upvalley, but it was not a very cheerful place, so we pushed on to reach Kyangin Gompa, later the same afternoon. There we checked in to a tea house, which claimed they had warm water, but as it turned out did not. Our overall impression of the place was poor, and thanks to Filip, we relocated the next day.

After an early start, we hiked up some of the hills behind Kyangin. We were a little confused by the map we had, but in the end it did not matter much, as the view was just fantastic.

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After spending some time sitting on a rock, reading a book, and enjoying the thin air, we headed back down to the village, and visited the swiss cheese factory. Actually, it was the new swiss cheese factory, as the original one had been damaged by the earth quake. The manager told us that production was on hold, while waiting for government funding to rebuild the factory, but had some yak cheese to sell us anyway, which we found rather delicious. We were also told that there was a strong cheese making tradition in the valley, introduced by the swiss after WW2. I haven’t looked into the background of this, but have noticed it in other parts of Nepal too. For instance, there is a whole district dedicated to cheese in the foothills of the Khumbu.

The last day in Langtang, we started out by hiking up valley for a few hours, before turning and starting our descent. It would have been nice to spend more time, but I did not know how long the hike back to Kathmandu would take us. Going downhill was a lot faster, and we spent the night at the Llama Hotel once again. From there we crossed the river, and started up the brutal hill past Thulu, where we stopped for lunch. After a whole day of uphill, Filip felt tired and suggested we stop at a small chack on a ridge we had just made it to. I was a bit sceptic at first, but it turned out to be the nicest place we had stayed during the entire trip. It was managed by a young Tibetan couple. They were really nice, had a patio with a fantastic view and cooked the best thukpa soup I have had, to date.

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The uphill continued all of the following day, and eventually took us to the sakred lakes at Gosainkunda. It was nice and all,  but more touristy, and since it was end of season, only one – rather overfull – lodge was open. We took a plunge in the lake (I chickened out, but Filip did actually put himself underwater), then called it a day.

The plan for next day was to scramble up a 5000 m peak overlooking the lakes. We somehow missed the trail, and realized too late. Instead we made a really long push. Getting down to lower altitude also meant hotter climate, and we were rather tired by the time we arrived at the pass, which took us into Helambu. To the south was a sea of clouds, and we sat down for a while drinking tea, which we bought from an old man who lived in a corrugated tin box on top of the pass.

After a nights sleep, the hike continued over ridges overlooking cloudy valleys, covered in rhododendron forest, and with the whole central and eastern Himalayan line-up as a backdrop to the right. I never thought that Helabu would be as fantastic as it was.

Soon we were down among rice paddies and dirt tracks. Before arriving n the Kathmandu valley, we made a detour over Shivapuri peak, then hiked down the infinite downhill. Walking into town from the north is quite an experience. First we made it through farmland, then a district dedicated to breeding pigs, then fish, finally chicken. At the end of all that, there were factories where paper was manufactured old school-style, one sheet at a time. After the paper factory, we got absorbed into the chaotic city life of Kathmandu, crossed the ever polluted Bagmati river, survived getting across the ring road, and made it all the way back to our quite accommodation, tucked away at a convenient distance from Lazimpat and Thamel.

Hopefully, I’ll be adding some more pictures, once I get them from Filip 🙂