Zanskar Valley, nestled in the heart of the Indian Himalayas, is a place where dreams come to life. Enveloped by towering peaks and adorned with glistening rivers, Zanskar feels like an untouched paradise.
The valley's isolation due to heavy snowfall during winter has preserved its pristine beauty. But, for adventure seekers like Dhanush and me, the challenge of cycling through this remote, rugged terrain was an irresistible allure. With our bicycles loaded with essentials and spirits high, we embarked on a 13-day journey from Keylong to Kargil over Shinku La.
Day 1: Gramphoo to Keylong
Our journey kicked off in the charming village of Gramphoo.
Our first day’s ride was from Manali to Keylong with predominantly asphalt, a stark contrast to what lay in store. Vehicles sped past us, engulfing us in clouds of diesel smoke.
Nevertheless, the promise of modern amenities drew us to Keylong. A hot shower and a proper bathroom felt like luxury in the wilderness. Perched atop a cliff above our hotel, a monastery beckoned. In spite of our fatigue, we ascended the steep path for a mesmerizing view of the valley.
Day 2: Keylong to Zanskar Sumdo
With Zanskar’s adventures ahead, we pedalled from Keylong to Darcha on smooth but uneventful roads.
A chance meeting with a fellow cyclist from France, working in Indonesia and riding an Indonesian bike, gave us a glimpse of the unique characters who embark on such journeys. In Darcha, the last outpost for phone connectivity and modern comforts, we replenished our supplies and made crucial phone calls.
Soon, we turned off onto a route under construction. The road, intended to become an arterial route connecting Manali to Kargil, was a challenging path. As we navigated the ascent, we noticed labour camps along the route, overseeing the road's expansion. We camped near one such camp, our tents overlooking a roaring river that both soothed us to sleep and startled us awake. The day concluded with a simple yet filling dinner, blissfully unaware of the epic adventures that awaited us.
Day 3: Zanskar Sumdo to Ramja
This day was a perfect reminder that even the best-laid plans can go awry.
We woke up late and set out unprepared. Expecting breakfast at Zanskar Sumdo as indicated on our map, we soon discovered no village or dhaba in sight. In our hunger, we approached a summer camp of the Border Roads Organization overseeing road expansion. They were taken aback by our lack of preparation and invited us for lunch, regaling us with army humour.
The steep climb to Shinku La, though, proved to be relentless. On a segment just before the summit, the road seemed to disappear.
Shinku La, essentially a melting glacier forming a river, had left us soaked and cold. We crossed numerous streams, with our shoes repeatedly getting wet.
Day 4: Ramja to Karjyak
We set out with an early start, intending to conquer the challenging Shinku La. The relentless climb, though, seemed insurmountable. At a crucial point, my slipper was lost to a fast-flowing stream, an offering to the water gods. The summit proved both demanding and visually stunning, its icy expanse almost surreal.
The descent, though thrilling, left us soaked and even colder. At the bottom, we met locals traveling on horseback. Driftjockey couldn't resist racing the horses, and despite their shortcuts, our brave cyclist managed to outdo them, even if a bit more cautiously. We learned about the wild dogs that roamed the region and that horses were too large for them, hence the open pastures at night.
The subsequent ride led us through more freezing streams, relentless hardship, and picturesque encounters, including the Himalayan Marmot. We reached our day's destination well after dark, exhausted but ready for the warm embrace of a local homestay, where hot tea and a hearty dinner awaited. Our day ended with a 12-hour sleep, a testament to our fatigue.
Day 5: Karjyak to Maling
As the first light kissed the valley, we left Karjyak, a remote village echoing with the silence of the Himalayas. The road, narrow and meandering, led us through barren but enchanting landscapes. Our tyres crunched on the gravel, and the serenity was broken only by the occasional gust of mountain wind.
We traversed through picturesque villages, their stone houses standing proudly against the stark backdrop of rugged mountains. The locals, with their warm smiles, seemed to be the guardians of these desolate yet beautiful lands. The children would wave, their eyes filled with curiosity as we pedalled by.
At Maling, our destination for the day, we encountered an oasis. The village, nestled at the foot of a mountain, was a surreal blend of green fields and rustic stone structures. We pitched our tents in a scenic spot, next to a stream gurgling with icy water. With a starry blanket overhead, it was a perfect night to stargaze and reflect on the vastness of the universe.
Day 6: Maling to Purne
The sun rose gracefully over Maling, illuminating the valley with a warm golden hue. Our journey continued, the promise of new adventures propelling us forward. Cycling along the azure Zanskar River, we felt dwarfed by the towering cliffs that seemed to guard the secret of the valley. Their majesty was humbling.
Passing through the village of Purne, we couldn't resist stopping to explore. This quaint Himalayan settlement felt like a scene from a storybook, complete with charming homestays. We were welcomed with traditional Ladakhi hospitality, a reminder of the kindness that thrives in these remote lands.
Day 7: Purne to Ichar
With each pedal stroke, the landscape around us changed. We left behind the green fields and entered a rugged gorge, the narrow road clinging to the steep cliffs. Riding through the awe-inspiring beauty of nature, it was impossible not to feel a deep connection with this untouched realm.
Ichar, a picturesque village we reached by evening, welcomed us with open arms. Here, the rhythm of life was different, a reminder of the simplicity that the Himalayas teach. Our tired bodies rested in the embrace of a cozy homestay, where the evening was spent listening to stories of the mighty Zanskar River.
Day 8: Ichar to Padum
As we continued our journey, the anticipation of reaching Padum, the largest town in Zanskar, grew. The road was rough, and at times, it felt like we were threading the needle between mountains. But the sights were worth every drop of sweat.
Finally, Padum unfolded before us, a bustling hub in the heart of the valley. The town, though modest, was a treasure trove of supplies, a place to recharge and connect with civilization. Padum also marked the halfway point of our journey, and we took a day of respite to explore the town, replenish our supplies, and recharge our spirits.
Day 9: Padum
Padum offered a chance to pause and reflect. It was a place where we could soak in the local culture, from the bustling markets to the peaceful monasteries. The serenity of the place, coupled with the warmth of the locals, left a lasting impression.
The day in Padum was an opportunity to rest and bond, as well as an occasion to prepare for the challenges that lay ahead. As the sun set over the remote Himalayan town, we couldn't help but marvel at the journey so far.
Day 10: Padum to Abran
Leaving Padum behind, we ventured into the wilderness once more. The road, although unpaved and at times treacherous, led us through an ethereal landscape. The raw beauty of Zanskar never ceased to amaze; every turn was a new painting, every valley a different story.
The day's journey was arduous, with numerous challenging ascents and descents. But we were driven by the promise of more astonishing landscapes, and the feeling of freedom that cycling in this vast wilderness provided.
Day 11: Abran to Rangdum
We set off towards Rangdum, a remote region that felt like it existed on the edge of the world. The ride was tough, but the promise of reaching Rangdum Monastery was our guiding light.
As we approached the monastery, perched dramatically on a hill, we couldn't help but feel awe-inspired. The journey was not just about physical challenges but also about exploring the spiritual depths of this land. The sight of the monastery amidst this rugged terrain was a testament to human perseverance and devotion.
Day 12: Rangdum to Parkachik
Our adventure continued, and with each passing day, our bond with this pristine land deepened. Our path took us through more breathtaking landscapes, and we were continually amazed by the warm-hearted locals who called this challenging terrain their home.
Arriving in Parkachik, we encountered another Himalayan gem. The village, secluded and peaceful, felt like a paradise that had remained hidden from the chaos of the world. The simplicity of life here was a reminder of what truly matters.
Day 13: Parkachik to Kargil
The final leg of our journey arrived. The road to Kargil was both challenging and rewarding. We knew that our adventure was nearing its end, and our hearts were filled with a bittersweet mix of satisfaction and nostalgia.
As we pedalled into Kargil, a town marked by its own history, we couldn't help but reflect on the incredible journey. The Zanskar Valley had not only tested our endurance but had also opened our hearts to the unparalleled beauty of the Himalayas and the warmth of its people.
Cycling through the Zanskar Valley was not just an adventure; it was a transformative experience. The rugged terrains, serene monasteries, and warm-hearted people we met along the way left an indelible mark on our souls.
The valley's isolation and the challenges of the journey made us appreciate the simple joys of life. It taught us the value of human connection and the importance of preserving the pristine beauty of our planet.
As we left Kargil, we carried the memories of Zanskar with us. The valley, with its towering peaks and tranquil rivers, is a place where dreams come to life, and for those who dare to pedal through its rugged paths, it's a place where the soul finds its true rhythm amidst the enchanting symphony of the Himalayas.
All Play & No Work Makes Jack a Dull Boy!
Riding through Zanskar was an adventure and a lifetime memory. But it was not all fun and games. It was also an opportunity for us to test out ViaTerra’s cycling bags. These bags designed by Driftjockey, were tested out in the elements which it was designed to withstand. The prototypes which we used on this trip is what gradually improves step-by-step to become the finished product which you can enjoy.
Because designing bicycle luggage demands a deep understanding of the conditions it will encounter. It's a process that involves experiencing the product in its intended environment. To create exceptional luggage, we take our prototypes on real-world journeys, much like our ride through Zanskar Valley.
Testing prototypes in the field allows us to gain invaluable insights. Riding through the rugged terrains and challenging weather conditions of Zanskar helped us understand the luggage's performance under extreme stress. We were able to assess how it endured in rain, rocky paths, and harsh sunlight, allowing us to see its strengths and weaknesses firsthand.
This field-testing process is a crucial part of development. It helps identify areas for improvement, making our products more resilient, user-friendly, and reliable. As we navigated Zanskar's rough landscapes, our prototypes endured the same challenges as our users might face. Through this process, the designs are fine-tuned to bring better, more durable, and practical products to cyclists worldwide.
It's the first-hand experience and lessons learned from such journeys that make ViaTerra’s bicycle luggage not just a set of products but a reliable companion for those who seek adventure on two wheels.