Day 88 Delhi to Leh (11,111 feet)
Another early morning start, our flight was scheduled for 6.20 so we left the hotel at 04.00am! We had the same taxi driver as we arrived but having spent a few days in Delhi his driving felt very safe and sensible, amazing how your views can change in such a short time.
The return journey was the same as the journey to Delhi, lots of people sleeping rough, lots of stray dogs and lots of dirty streets.
When we got to the airport we could not see our flight on the flight board, so with some trepidation we approached the check in desk, where we were informed our flight had been delayed until 09.10am! On a positive note the person who checked in our luggage took pity on us and agreed to do a combined weight allowance for our luggage including bikes (excluding hand luggage) he worked it out that we would have to pay £2.50 per kilo, so he knocked a further couple of kilos off for us, we had thought we would have to pay £90 for each bike but the final bill was £120 for both bikes. As the bikes weighed more than either of us, and would take up more room we didn’t argue.
We were both tired but resigned ourselves to checking in our luggage, eating breakfast and chilling. We had to wait a few minutes for some Italians who were also travelling to Leh with their bikes, unfortunately they did not speak very much English as we would have liked to share routes and plans.
As the morning wore on it was clear to see our plane had been further delayed and we didn’t take off until gone 10.00am. Thought the broke clouds we had some awe inspiring views of the Himalayas on the plane, they made us feel excited but very nervous, they were huge and the area looked so vast and barren, it was hard to imagine how we would cycle our bikes across the mountain range.
As we got off the plane it was cold, windy and drizzly yuk! It was not what the weather forecast had predicted.
In the arrival lounge (a small room) We met a girl who was travelling on her own through India called Anne Marie she was also staying in Leh so we shared a taxi with her, although she didn’t have accommodation booked she was not too impressed with ours and chose to book into another guest house further up the road.
Our Guest House was a real disappointment, Gary had been keen to book the cheapest, we did look at the pictures on line and in fairness it looked OK, and maybe it will be when it’s finished but it’s not right now whats more it is really dirty and noisy (even the sheets were dirty, we asked for them to be changed) it is true you get what you pay for. I was all up for changing guest houses but Gary was happy to stay, it would have been a lot upheaval with the bikes and panniers but I was not a happy bunny, the majority of camp sites we’ve stayed in have been cleaner.
On a positive note we were offered tea and biscuits whilst our room was cleaned, the tea in India is an acquired taste which Gary liked and I didn’t it is very sweet and milky yukkkky.
We agreed I would unpack whilst Gary put the bikes together, the bikes had travelled well the only damage was to Gary’s back mud guard had buckled. As Gary was unpacking the bikes two cows came into the court yard for a sniff around, as they couldn’t find anything to eat they soon lost interest and went in search of food somewhere else.
One of the staff members at the hotel was fascinated by the bikes and spent a good hour watching and helping him to put the bikes together. As a thank you Gary allowed him to ride my bike, he thought the young lad would take it round the block and back but he was gone for a good half hour, he was thrilled to bits and thought the bike was the best, very good.
We went for a short walk around Leh, it is much bigger than either of us thought it would be. There’s lots of shops, cafes and tour companies. There were shops selling clothes for the climate or specifically for tourists i.e. naff teeshirts, shops selling cashmere shawls and other shops selling souvenirs. There were also an array of shops selling items for the locals including butchers (cutting up sheep in small stalls, army supply shops and small grocery stalls. We have been told the town has grown in the last decade to cater to tourists and we could see that it was still in this period of transition, there was a lot of construction sites everywhere. No doubt in the next 10 to 20 years the town will have an indoor plaza a tarmac road with water fountains and the works which will be a real shame because the town is currently very rustic and fairly basic. The locals still shop in the area in their traditional dress, you can also see cows, donkeys and dogs wander the streets looking for food. It is not as dirty as Delhi and there are signs up asking people to dispose of their rubbish sensibly. The town feels laid back, quite spiritual (lots of monks and people dressed in festival type clothes) and safe.
Day 89 Leh
Gary had an unsettled night, his body was adapting to the altitude, which caused his heart to flutter although this didn’t fully wake him up he was aware he was not in a deep sleep. He said he quiet liked the feeling as he was warm and comfortable and was able to drop back off to sleep quite easily.
Other than a few aching joints and feeling of slight tiredness we both seem to be coping well with the altitude.
In the morning, I updated the blog whilst Gary packed away the kitchen items in our panniers.
We ordered breakfast, which sounds much grander than the reality, Gary went in search of breakfast, he struggled to be understood and eventually said can we have what they’re eating pointing to two people eating their breakfasts. This was brought to our rooms a dish of omelette with fried bread, it wasn’t the worse breakfast I’d had but not great.
To acclimatise we agreed to sit down and read Tom Bruce’s book Biking to the Roof of the World which included a cycle ride from Manali to Leh. It was really good but missed some important information like what gear did they take, how many meters did they climb each day etc. However it did give us some information which we used to plot our journey.
After a lazy morning we went into town with a list of supplies, we managed to get most of them including maps from a really nice book shop which had a modern interior with a coffee shop, however we struggled to purchase any paraffin and needed to go back out in the evening to buy me a coat which would be more waterproof than the one I’d purchased in the UK.
The attitude of the shop keepers in Leh is so much better than in Delhi, there’s no calling out to you as you walk down the street (Aunty come here) instead you’re welcomed with a polite Jullay and depending on their english ‘where do you come from?’ . You can barter but as the price is low so we only did this where we felt the price was marked up too high, in contrast to Delhi there was no expectation you would buy and no hard sell. Although there were some beggars on the streets they were not in your face, most were disabled and sat on the floor with collection tins. Also say on the hard cold floors were old ladies selling vegetables and men offering shoe cleaning services.
Whilst out shopping we bumped into Ann-Marie who we had seen at the airport, I should imagine if you stay in Leh for a week you would recognise most faces in the area. We spent an hour or so shopping with her, she’s from Yorkshire and has been travelling through India alone a very brave lady.
In the afternoon we took a trek up to Leh Palace, normally we could have walked up the hill and steps without any effort but we were both breathless and had to stop a couple of times to catch our breathes. The route to the palace was covered in rubbish and cow and dog mess not very pretty. The palace itself must have been an impressive building years ago but now is a shell of its former glory but you could walk up all 8 floors and had a really good view at the top of all of Leh. We’ve heard people described the area as really pretty, we’re not sure where they were looking but to us it looked like a quarry with lots of shacks and run down buildings that were sprawled over a 6km radius. The snow capped mountains are magnificent if a little daunting and there are a couple of green vegetation areas but mostly the area is grey and very barren and tired.
We stopped in town to buy me a waterproof coat, the man who sold us the coat was most impressed with our plans but confessed he’d never cycle the route because the road is far too dangerous, he wished us good luck on our journey.
We had dinner out it was really cheap (£4.80 including cokes), unfortunately Gary had a bit of an iffy tummy not helped when he visited the bathroom which apparently was disgusting with no wash facilities. This nearly put me off my Thali but not quite.
No Wifi again in the hotel
In the spirit of sharing I woke in the middle of the night with an iffy tummy (thank you Gary), Gary woke up feeling fit and energetic.
After a rather mediocre breakfast the previous day we had breakfast out (£3.80) and located another hotel on the internet. Before booking we went to have a look at the room and to check out the internet connection. Both were marginally better than the hotel we had been staying in and as an added bonus our new hotel had a large balcony so we could make our own tea and coffee. It meant checking out a day early but at least I could have a shower and we could use the internet.
On our way back from the hotel we stopped to buy some local clothes, so that when we’re on our bikes we don’t stand out as europeans, it is polite here for women to cover their legs so I bought some baggy pants which I had to exchange for some slimmer ones as they were impractical to ride on the bike. Gary has opted for some baggy pants and a stripe Indian style shirt. The clothes are really cheap, you could easily replace your whole wardrobe for £50.
In the afternoon we took went on our first cycle ride in India, we had aimed to go to Spituk near the river Indus but didn’t get this far, because I was a little worried we might over do it and I had an iffy tummy. After 5 miles of down hill riding to the river (921 feet) we agreed to cycle back up to the hotel. Before heading back up to the hotel we took a walk over a very wobbly, eco decorated bridge as we were half way across three ponies started to walk towards us making the bridge feel even more precarious. The ride up to the hotel was hot (37c) but much easier than I thought it would be his was mainly due to the lack of panniers, so we agreed to cycle up to Khardung La the following day, this pass claims to be the highest mountain that can be passed by car/bike. Unfortunately after doing some research we realised we needed a permit to do this ride and this could not be authorised until the following day at 11.00am. The ride up to the peak would have been at least 6 hours and a further 2 hours for the ride down, so we agreed that we would be taken up by car and cycle down. We’ve been told the views are worth the fee (2,5000rupees) and the permit costs (600 rupees) each the equivalent of £37 for both of us.
In the evening we went out to a local chinese restaurant called ‘chopsticks’ (this had been recommended in the Tom Bruce book), the food was excellent but a little expensive. We met two guys that we had talked to separately during the day. Josh from Oxford was on a two year trip around India and the South East Asia, he was really charming but a little tired as it was his first day and he had been on the go pretty much all day and Varun who lived in Bangalore and was going to mountain bike the Leh to Manali Highway taking in some diversions on route. It was great to have some company and to hear what other people were doing in the area. We exchanged details with both of them in the hope that our paths will cross in the future.
When we inspected our new hotel we should have checked the bed, it was as hard as nails and the pillows were flat as pancakes. Fortunately it did not affect our sleep, we used our camping pillows and slept really well. Unfortunately we both woke with really bad bellies and took it in turns to use the toilet – love is sharing Delhi belly together.
Once dressed we ventured out to find a local pharmacist, dosed up we went for breakfast and to wait for our inter state passes so that we could go up to Khardung La. The internet was down in the whole of Leh so we had to wait to until a connection could be made to make the online applications. We spent the morning checking in with the agency but as they had not be able to process the applications by 1.00pm we decided to cancel. Gary was not feeling great and didn’t fancy sitting in a car for a couple of hours. Instead we took a leisurely walk around Leh which is slowly growing on me and headed back to the hotel for a lazy day on the sunny balcony, Gary went to bed for an hour in the hope he would feel better after a snooze. I spent an hour uploading the diary.
In the evening I persuaded Gary to come out for dinner but he wasn’t his usual self and didn’t eat much, we were back in the room for 8.00pm. Hopefully he will feel better tomorrow as we had aimed to set off to Manila in the morning. I have uploaded the diary tonight as the Internet connection is really poor so we probably wont get to update the site until we reach Manila, we estimate this will take about 7-10 days.