With an early start the crisp blue sky and warm sunshine provided perfect cycling conditions. The ascent was less demanding than anticipated. The Baralacha pass levelled and the road stretched out. It felt as if we were cycling across the roof of the world. The road then curved and dropped down past the beautiful Suruj Tal lake.
The road then cut through a rock formation and snaked down into an open valley. It was quite a transition from the naked rocks, ice and snow into the fertile landscape of the Lahaul Valley. The easy passage across the pass seemed too good to be true. We had anticipated a rough hard ride through a bleak unforgiving windswept landscape and instead had been treated to a relaxed journey up and across stunning ‘arctic’ terrain and then down into a warm green valley. Brilliant.
The road dropped further and further and the vegetation improved to include bushes and conifers giving the scenery an alpine appearance.
We reached the encampment at Zinzingbar for morning tea and then went on to the dhabas at Darchu in the Zanskar valley for lunch. We passed through the pretty villages of Rangyo and Jispa before the road climbed and hugged the hillside above the valley. The road became a tough stony track as it fought past high rock faces. Occasionally it turned to smooth asphalt and provided exciting drops down through fast switching turns. It was like cycling in the Italian alps with scenery to match. There was still the occasional fast moving river to cross before the road finally reached Keylong.
Keylong is a fairly sizeable town with a bustling town centre. It is a place of pilgrimage with an important Drukpa sect Tibetan Buddhist monastery on the opposite bank of the Bhaga river and several other monastic institutions nearby. The murmuring sound of monks chanting at the Kardang monastery floats across to the town early each morning. With the amalgamation of Spiti and Lahaul districts Keylong has become the administrative centre for the area. It is well placed geographically with three major valleys converging at the spot. As a town it has a good atmosphere, relatively unspoilt by tourism and regards itself culturally closer to Ladakh than India. This is much evident in the people and their customs. The town is cut off by snow for almost 6 months of the year with supplies and access by helicopter only.
I decided to stay an extra day in Keylong before setting off again for the Rhotang La. Keylong is an excellent place to visit and enjoyed exploring the town and surroundings a lot. We took an evening meal at the hotel Tashi Deleg. It was one of the best meals I ate during my time away.