Fortunately, the two days in Padum were enough for Hannes to recover from the diarrhea as far as possible.
Undoubtedly, Hannes’ re-established health was greatly needed for the next stretch of about 230 km to Kargil. Because about 150 km of it was an utmost terrible dirt track. Imagine a road made of cobblestones, however, not of uniform size and shape but in a mess sticking out randomly. On top of that, of course, it wasn’t a flat section at all and, for instance, we had to overcome another pass of almost 4500 m. With an estimated average of about 7 km/h we were definitely more crawling than cycling and even the few cars and trucks were just twice as fast. However, at least in retrospect, it was worth it: picturesque and beautiful sights every now and then, with glaciers, 7000 m high ragged and iced peaks, little remote villages, a monastery, and two quite and nice camping spots along the way.
Now, when we finally left the high-lying valley – only about 20 more km to go till the tarmac began again – things suddenly changed. We left Buddhism country, entered lower grounds and therewith a region with majority Muslims. More densely populated, with considerably larger number of children and, according to our perception, a slightly more harsh attitude towards each other. At least while leaving the valley towards Kargil, kids usually were asking for money (“one (ru)pie”) instead of a friendly “hello” or “julley” as common in Buddhist Zanskar and Ladakh. Now, longing for tarmac and lacking a decent camping spot due to the increased number of people, we finally cycled into the darkness and pitched our tent after sun-set. Consequently, the next day we were able to reach the city of Kargil on tarmac very early and allowed us half a day of rest. Kargil is a bustling little city embedded in very dry and dessert-like surroundings. People of many different kinds filled the roads and ran the many shops, restaurants etc.
Luckily, in one of the cramped stores, supposedly a cycle shop, I found an old man who was willing to change my rim – a spare rim, Hannes’ brought from Germany – within a couple of hours the same day! The defect of my old rim now became visible in the form of a long crack and I didn’t want to take a risk, especially having the long downhills in mind still to come.
As soon as the sun was setting in Kargil the roads emptied quickly and the city got quiet and dark. Despite the new hydroelectric power plant next to it, power is only available for a short time throughout the day, if at all.
The dessert-like scenery didn’t change much on the next leg after Kargil. For two days we continued cycling through dry and stony landscape, now on almost flawless tarmac that we had to share with hundreds of military trucks, ceaselessly relocating men and material between the numerous military stations along this road.
Still, thanks to another two passes (3800 and 4100 m), few villages appearing like little oases in that dreariness, and a beautiful monastery, these two days had some enjoyable surprises in store for us. However, when we finally entered the Indus-valley later on the second day after Kargil, it was getting boring and our motivation was seriously damped. Eventually we managed to stop a pick-up driven by a amazingly friendly Ladakhi who gave us a lift for the last 60 km to Leh, the lively heart of Ladakh.
The busy city of Leh, one of the highest permanently inhabited cities, offers almost everything you could possibly wish for. And we mainly enjoyed the greater food variety, e.g. including the so called German Bakeries. However, at least for me, the joy didn’t last long: the following day it was now my turn to get sick from the food and I was confined to bed for a whole day. Never mind! There are worse places to do so, and, best of all, Hannes’ and I were able to meet our parents in Leh who were trekking in Ladakh the last two weeks. Compared to them, Hannes’ and I were fortunate so far concerning digestive trouble: for instance, five out of eight days of trekking they ‘had the shits’ 😉