The run down from Tanglang La was fast and furious. The Southern side of the pass was dust and rocks. Much of the road was almost non existent and provided a bumpy mountain trail that threatened to rattle a bicycle to pieces.
After the almighty slog to reach the pass it was an opportunity to release energy and freewheel down. It was dangerous and exciting. It would be easy to take a spill. I tried to avoid using my brakes and overheating the ‘kool stop’ salmon MTB pads which had served me so well during the trip. A biggish rock leapt up and caught my right shin. My aluminium fuel carrier jumped out of its fitting beneath the cycle frame and suffered a huge dent. Lastly a fixture on my rear carrier came loose but it held together until the mudguard slipped. I was forced to make a ‘pitstop’ to replace the lost Allen bolt and Joachim caught up. It was all great fun.
During the descent it was possible to view the remains of some old buildings and a series of crumbling chortens in the valley. However it all looked long abandoned and as if from a different age.
The valley stretched out into wide plains with high mountains providing distant surroundings. These were the More Plains. It was a barren ‘alien’ desert with very little vegetation and stretched as far the eye could see.
A collection of roadside dhabas created a welcome oasis. One provided tea and a thali for lunch. Once the worst of the sun had passed we bought supplies and set off again through the More plains.
Nomads herded goats and yaks across the plains. I stopped at an encampment and asked to pitch our tents. I was shown an area between their own tents away from the goats. At several tents men sat shearing goats. The goats, with their legs tied together, did not mind being clipped. However the softest wool on the belly of goats was pulled from them using a large comb. The goats cried like babies!
We set off the next morning following another chilly night with the plan to reach the ‘parachute’ camp at Pang (4,600m). The road stretched out ahead for miles and miles..and miles.
Finally a wide river curved below and led quickly to Pang and lunch. The ride down into Pang was in itself quite thrilling.
At Pang I met and chatted to a French couple cycling to Leh. After the usual thali for lunch I cooled my legs in the river behind the dhaba.
The scenery after Pang changed quite dramatically. The road led through tight turns past rocky outcrops and chasms cut by fast flowing rivers. By late afternoon we encountered one such river that flooded the road. Motorcyclists were having some difficulty crossing with their machines.
I waded across and considered possible options. Given the time I thought it wise to stop, make camp and tackle the river early the next day when the water level had dropped. I also had to replace my front inner tube as it had developed a slow leak resulting from a thorn embedded in the tyre. It was only the second puncture since my trip had begun. All credit to the Schwalbe XR tyres.
Early the next day I climbed up to a cave in the rock face. I gingerly clamoured over a thick sheet of ice and admired the icicles that had formed from dripping water and created little ice mountains on the ground beneath.
The river had become a stream. I ferried my front panniers across before walking the bike to the other side. Together we set off again. The scenery was incredible. Finally, and climbing once again, the landscape opened out with large drifts of snow pulling us towards the Lachulung Pass.
The Lachalung Pass at 5,065 metres marked the second major pass of four including the Nakee La. The weather had held up well and the ride had been a dream.
Crossing the river Indus at Upshi represented, from my point of view, the real start of the journey to Manali. The scenery changed quite radically as the road weaved through canyons towards Tanglang La. About 60kms from Leh we made camp by a river. I was impressed by my Swedish companion’s stamina. As a novice cyclist he had completed a fair distance without any major difficulty.
The valley widened and the road passed through the Ladakhi villages of Rong, Gya and Rumtse. A stop for tea and then off again.
My intention was to ride beyond Rumtse (4,100m) and get as close as possible to the main ascent to the pass. At 5,328 metres the Tanglang La was to be the first and highest pass to cross. There were two main considerations and which also applied to the other passes: Firstly the altitude. I felt it important to further acclimatise before attempting the climb. The potential combination of exertion and altitude sickness could become a serious problem. Secondly it is important to avoid crossing rivers and streams in the afternoon. The snowmelt greatly increases flow often turning gentle streams into raging torrents of water crossing the mountain roads.
With the pass within striking distance I set up camp just short of the start of a major and somewhat daunting ascent. The road snaked up and towards the deep snow through a series of loops. At 4,700m it became the ‘basecamp’ to rest and acclimatise before tackling the Tanglang La. I decided it would be sensible to stay camped at that altitude for another night.
The night was bitter cold and ground water froze. I realised my ‘3 season’ Mountain Equipment Dreamcatcher 300 down filled sleeping bag was barely adequate. Waking early the following morning I walked up the valley across a thick blanket of snow and took a long view at the pass towering above in the distance. Tiny looking lorries wound their way slowly along the road. It felt like a massive task to join them.
Returning to camp I was delighted to find myself sharing my route back with a large herd of yaks. Two herdsman had brought them down from a side valley to graze in the grassy meadows. Once the morning sun hit the valley everything quickly heated up. I sat with the brothers and shared their salty tea made with yak butter. In return I gave them rice which they cooked for their lunch. The yaks spread some distance down the valley. By late afternoon they began to walk back up and without any persuasion from the herders or their dogs.
The next day went well. It was an early start before the sun could begin to makes things uncomfortable. The long haul through the loops took us up past wet stony broken roads. Road workers laboured to shore up the worst parts. Thick frozen drifts of snow created high walls alongside. After many hours cycling, the road arced up hugging the mountains until finally reaching Tanglang La at 5,328m above sea level. What a morning!
At Tanglang La I made a celebratory fresh coffee using my paraffin fueled MSR dragonfly stove and mocha coffee pot and enjoyed the view from the second highest road pass in the world. It tasted great.