Indian army attacks ambulance in Kashmir
The tour of superlatives
It was the toughest and most demanding trophy we've driven in the last seven years:
The three toughest daily stages in a row, the highest snow walls, the deepest river crossings, the greatest temperature differences, the double crossing of the highest motorbike pass in the world, the first exploration of the Nubra Valley on the border to the Karakoram, the most brutal and challenging return trip from Ladakh!
A tour that pushed man and machine to the limit of their capacity.
It all started harmlessly: the weather was fine, the monsoon had not yet set in, the temperatures initially seemed ideal. For the first time there was the opportunity to drive the great Transhimalayan crossing from Shimla to Khardung La over the most demanding route: over the notorious Spiti Valley, which prevented us from driving through with landslides in 2016 and which we had to bypass in 2018 due to heavy rain.
Day 1: Sunday 7th July 2019
Munich - Dehli (6000 KM)
Lufthansa flies daily from Munich to Delhi at 12:15 p.m. The flight takes about 7:30 hours. In Delhi the sun sets 3½ hours earlier. When landing, the clock shows Munich time at 7.45 p.m., while on site it is already 11.15 p.m.
Mr Moti, our long-time tour guide, awaits our Munich troop at the airport. In 2019 there are 18 participants. He brings us to the Ashok Country Resort. The night will be short. Off to the hotel and to bed. Wake up at 5:30 a.m.
Day 2: Monday, July 8th, 2019
Delhi - Shimla (340 km)
The bus takes us through the awakening Delhi (216 m) to the main train station. At 7:40 am we take the express train to Kalka (670 m) in 4 hours and then change to the narrow-gauge railway to Shimla. The train climbs 1450 meters in altitude at a leisurely pace.
In the evening we reach the capital of Himachal Pradesh at 2100 meters with 170,000 inhabitants. Minibuses take us to the Eastbourne Hotel for dinner.
Day 3: Tuesday, July 9, 2019
Shimla - Sarahan (170 km)
The weather is perfect. Pleasant 18 ° C, dry.
In the morning we start with our Royal Enfields (mostly Himalayans, occasionally Bullets) through the bustle of the big city and get used to left-hand traffic and Indian traffic rules: the stronger has right of way, holy cows have absolute right of way, the horn is more important than the blinker!
Gradually the traffic becomes calmer. We cruise through the pine forests to Narkand (KM 60, 2770 HM), from there we curve down to our travel companion for the next few days, the river Satluj (also Sutlej or Satlej;) and follow it to Jeori (KM 143, 1400 HM).
Up to Sarahan (2100 HM) we have two alternatives on offer this year: the classic route can be driven over asphalt again after the bridge is completed, for those who want to test gravel, we offer the driveway over gravel. Together we arrive in Sarahan in the afternoon.
Around 4 p.m. we visit the first cultural highlight, the Bhimakali Temple.
Day 4: Wednesday, July 10th, 2019
Sarahan - Kalpa (Hindustan-Tibet Road) (120 km)
First we go down from 2200 m to Jeori at 1400 m and now follow the course of the Satluj on the legendary Hindustan-Tibet road into the Kinnaur valley.
Fascinated, we follow the wonderful curves through the road carved into the rock above the river. Again and again we stop in amazement to admire the construction of this road built into the rock. The road was built by hand around 1850 without the help of modern machines. What a masterpiece!
Most of the Hindustan-Tibet Road runs through the Kinnaur Valley. It runs along the banks of the Satluj River and finally reaches Tibet at the Shipki La Pass.
Reckong Peo, the headquarters of the Kinnaur district, is about 235 km from the state capital Shimla. The district opened to foreigners and the outside world in 1989. The British Governor General of India, Lord Dalhousie (1848-1856), commissioned the construction of the Hindustan Tibet Road in June 1850.
After a tea break near the huge hydroelectric power station Nathpa Jhakri, one of them we approach today's destination Kalpa.
Before we can drive up to the hotel, we have to go to the checkpoint in Kalpa for the Inner Border Permission. Since the office is not permanently manned in the afternoon, we have to arrive in Kalpa by noon.
Foreigners wishing to visit the Lahaul & Spiti Valley and Kinnaur Protected Areas must obtain permission here. We have to register because the region borders directly on Tibet and thus on China.
The passports are collected and the participants are summoned individually to the control office. The procedure takes about one and a half hours.
Then it goes up serpentines to the hotel directly opposite the Kinnaur Kailash, which this year shows itself in all its glory. Its pyramid shape is reminiscent of the Matterhorn.
Shortly before the hotel, Denny had a mishap: It turned 180 ° into the steep hotel driveway. Denny remains standing behind the man in front of him, maximally to the right. He puts his right foot next to the shoulder and there is no stopping him: he loses his balance and falls down the slope with the 180 kg bullet.
Fortunately, the machine breaks down and doesn't roll any further like Denny. He gets away with the shock and a bruised shoulder. With combined forces, the comrades hurrying to help lift the Enfield back onto the road.
Denny quickly recovers from the shock and can continue the next day.
After lunch, some explore the area on foot, others by motorcycle and discover a side valley that is so spectacularly rugged that we explore it together the next day.
Day 5: Thursday, July 11th, 2019
Kalpa - Kaza (240 km)
After exploring the side valley, we go back down to the Satlej. The gorge in which the river digs is getting narrower. We follow it to the Khab Sangam, the confluence of the Spiti River and Satlej. We are now driving into the Spiti Valley. The road first hugs the rock, and finally leads in countless serpentines up to the village of Nako. The view into the Spiti Gorge is gigantic. The group pulls it apart. The photographers capture every photo motif on the sensor. The bikers who love the flow of gliding fly up the mountain.
And suddenly the group is separated: a demolition stops the photographer. Road construction teams are back on the road and repairing the dirt road that was badly worn last winter. After about an hour and a half, the race to catch up starts. Sandra is shot down by a pickup truck that suddenly pulls out while overtaking, flies up the mountain 5 m and, following gravity, down again. The bullet lands on its foot, which, according to an eyewitness report, is crushed until the helpers relieve the poorest of the heavy burden. They help her into the escort bus and bring her to the lunch meeting point in Nako.
Sandra is brave. She limps into the pub, leaning on her husband. Ibuprofen relieves the pain. The accompanying bus continues - non-stop - to our quarters in Kaza. Sandra decided not to visit the world-famous Tabo monastery and went straight to the quarter. After carefully removing the shoe, the swelling blooms over the outer ankle. The investigation shows that the ankle ligament apparatus did not withstand the force. As will be shown later, the outer ligaments are bony torn out. Voltaren ointment and bandage stabilize the ankle.
Day 6: Friday, July 12th, 2019
Kaza - Jispa (209 km)
We start early. The air is still cool. First up to Kibber, the highest village in India at 4270 m, from there over the Chicham Bridge, the highest bridge in Asia. It leads over the Samba Lamba Nallah Canyon. It shortens the journey from Kibber to Losar by 40 km.
The well-developed road initially leads over a plateau with a wonderful view of the surrounding 6000 m peaks.
In Losar the road joins the former main connection axis from Kaza towards Manali-Leh-Highyway. On an unpaved road we climb the Kunzum La at 4590 m over umpteen bends.
We linger briefly at the temple complex with the chortens, before the adventurous road leads in sensational hairpin bends down to the upper reaches of the Chandra River. The pass road thus connects the western part (Lahaul) with the eastern part of Spiti of the Lahaul and Spiti district.
We are now following the Chandra River. From here the route becomes increasingly demanding. The road increasingly looks more like a river bed, which is increasingly flooded as the snowmelt around noon. The ground is paved with large, round stones and requires maximum concentration. Finally, the road leads back along the slope, so that several waterfalls have to be crossed.
Only where the road joins the Manali-Leh Highway on the north side of the Rohtang Pass, you get back on asphalt. By then, 100 km of challenging off-road slopes are behind us. We gather again at the check post in Khoksar. From there it goes on a well-developed road always following the Chandra to Tandi, where the Chandra unites with the river Bhaga to form Chandrabhaga. From Tandi we follow the Bhage upstream via Keylong to Jispa, our today's destination.
Day 7: Saturday, July 13th, 2019
Jispa - Tsokar (220 km)
Now it's off to the land of high passes in Ladakh. In wonderful weather we set off for the first almost 5000m, the Baralacha La at 4850 m. After passing the checkpoint in Darcha we follow the Manali-Leh-Highway until Patso. There is a beautiful lake fed by glaciers, which every year tempts one or the other to demonstrate to the group what an ice-cold dog is. This year there are even two swimming in this ice-cold glacial lake.
After this refreshment, it's up to the Zing Zing Bar for a tea break. This section of the route has been completely harmless over the years. But last winter, like in the Alps, so much snow fell in the Himalayas that it broke up the well-paved road and turned it into a wild river bed for several hundred meters.
Suddenly we are in a long traffic jam of cars, trucks and buses. With our motorcycles it is possible to go all the way to the front, but then suddenly nothing works. The fairway is completely blocked by a stuck vehicle.
It takes a total of almost 1 ½ hours until the vehicle is lifted and pushed over the rough boulders with combined forces, but then a huge military convoy follows, which we have to let pass until we can finally continue towards Zing Zing Bar. For a while it goes smoothly until, around a bend, a completely destroyed enflield lies between the boulders at the edge of the road, which is currently being salvaged. Gerd from Munich is completely unharmed next to it. When asked how that happened, he explains that he had come around the curve, had a magnificent photo subject in view and forgot to concentrate on the road. The Enfield continued to drive in a curve position until it finally left the lane. She threw him off in time before she destroyed herself on the adjacent boulder. Total loss. Since we always have spare bikes with us, the unfortunate man was able to continue on another machine. The day was not a lucky star. That should just be the beginning.
As we approach the first almost 5000m pass, the Baracha La with 4850 m, I am amazed: In mid-July we drive from 4700 m through meter-high snow walls as we had never seen them before at this time of the year.
On the pass, Harald notices that he is already struggling with fatigue. He no longer feels like taking off his helmet for a summit photo. He increasingly had trouble concentrating on the way to Sarchu, the next checkpoint on the way to Ladakh. Suddenly he stops at the roadside. He asks Titus to drive up to him. But after a few kilometers it's finally over. He parks the Enfield on the side of the road. He's done and switched to the escort bus. I examine him at the checkpoint. He has the first signs of altitude sickness: He is given oxygen and Diamox.
I accompany the bus over the next 5000er, the Nakee La and the Lachulung La to Pang. Khem, one of our guides from Motorcycle Expeditions have already arranged for a taxi to take our ailing heroes straight to Leh.
Meanwhile, Arne, our young friend from the far north, and Axel, hotelier of the touring driver hotel Sassor in the Ederbergland, are also suffering from nausea and headaches.
In the first aid tent in Pang, the oxygen saturation has already fallen below 80%, so we put Arne and Axel in the taxi with Harald and his wife Sandra. Sandra's ankle swells up again and again, so I want to have her X-rayed in Leh to rule out a fracture.
I have another problem: we have two oxygen bottles on the bus. The first is empty. I need the second one for emergencies, because that day we will spend the night with the rest of the troops in Tso Kar at 4541 m. And it wouldn't be the first time that this night's camp at high altitude has caused problems. In the past year, my friend and medical colleague Ingo had the strongest headache for several hours and all the signs of an incipient high altitude edema, which he just got into the concept of medication.
So Sandra and Harald, Arne and Axel took a taxi directly to Leh without oxygen. I decided to stay with the troops because of the dangerous night camp with an oxygen cylinder. The wrong decision for 2019! Because this time everyone got through the night in Tso Kar without any major problems - apart from a certain insomnia and minor headaches - the taxi ride to Leh with Khem, our experienced tour guide, turned into a race against time. Axel got worse and worse on the drive. He vomited several times. But after passing the highest pass in the direction of Leh, the Tanglang La 5360 m, Harald collapsed and developed high-altitude pulmonary edema, so that he reached the highest military hospital in Karu at the last minute. On the way, Khem had opened a small oxygen bottle that Harald had inhaled in a very short time. But he got less and less air. His alveoli gradually filled with fluid from the blood capillaries. In altitude sickness, the permeability of the blood vessels gradually changes, so that more fluid can escape into the environment, which in the lungs leads to fluid accumulation in the alveoli and in the brain to swelling of the brain, which is increasingly squeezed in the hard cerebral shell.
The military doctor immediately supplied Harald with oxygen, took a detailed anamnesis, asked about medications that had already been administered and finally injected him again with Diamox, cortisone and a diuretic to flush out the fluid. After Harald had stabilized again, the journey to the hospital in Leh could be continued.
Our altitude sick received a bed and oxygen there after they had been briefly admitted by a doctor on duty and transferred to the tourist station. Sandra was so generous and released Khem, who had taken excellent care of the sick, to sleep around midnight and watched over the oxygen for our patients. As soon as one of the three bottles had to be changed again, she informed the nurse. In the morning Khem appeared again with breakfast. Since only one doctor was available in the hospital for emergencies on Sunday, our hospital decided to leave the hospital at its own risk and return to my care in the hotel, because they assumed that we had meanwhile also arrived at the hotel should be.
Day 8: Sunday, July 14th, 2019
Tso Kar - Leh (153 km)
As mentioned above, the night in Tso Kar passed without major complications. One or the other had slept little and badly.
But the best therapy is actually to get on the motorcycle. The airstream perks you up and presses oxygen into the lungs. It was cold, we start at below 10 ° C towards Tanglang La. And it's getting colder and colder. When we arrive at Tanglang La, there is snow all around.
Also a novelty in 7 years of the Transhimalaya Trophy. After a warm tea it goes down into the Indus valley. It is only slowly getting warmer. Sven, a geologist by profession, is fascinated by the red rock towers that open up when driving through the gorge just before Upshi.
After passing the checkpoint, we cruise on a well-developed road past the huge military camp in Karu, where Harald was so well cared for last night, towards Thiksey. The Thiksey Monastery is one of the most important Buddhist monasteries in the Indus Valley and always invites you to visit.
Then we leave for nah Leh to meet Sandra and Harald, Axel and Arne and Khem again in the hotel. Everyone is up again. The afternoon is free to explore the city. The pedestrian zone - a huge construction site for a few years because of “beautification” - is now finished and well filled. Local farmers from the surrounding area offer their salads and vegetables for sale on the roadside.
Business follows business. Souvenir shops, cell phone shops, travel agencies, bookstores, restaurants. Leh is the tourist outdoor center for mountaineers, mountain bikers, kayak and rafting enthusiasts and of course motorcyclists and other adventurers.
As already mentioned at the beginning, due to the political tensions in Kashmir, we have rescheduled the route so that we want to cross the highest motor vehicle pass on earth, the Khardung La (officially 5602 m), to get into the Nubra Valley. Of course, Khardung La is for motorcyclists something like Mount Everest for mountaineers. For many it is the longing destination of this trip. That is why it is always difficult for me to explain to participants who have just recovered from altitude sickness that this goal is taboo for them and that they risk relapse. Also this year it took a lot of persuasion to persuade Axel and Arne to forego this dream destination.
Day 9: Monday 15th July 2019
Leh - Hunder (120 km)
Only 12 of the 18 participants are still on their way to Khardung La, soon there will be 11 of us going to the Nubra Valley. The view of the pass does not bode well. It threatens to rain. Gray clouds hang low. It's getting colder and colder. When we reach the roof of the world, we are in a snow storm. A few climb the viewing platform with me over rugged rock that is treacherously smooth through the snow. No economic place that day. I do without a further ascent to the nearby summit like last year and make sure that I come back. I promised Denny this short high-altitude climb because he and his friends Udo and Paul from the Himalaya Trophy 2016 are planning to climb Kilimanjaro. Denny was, along with Sven, one of the 2016 participants who didn’t let it rest that they had missed the “summit victory” at the time. They wanted to know again. And the gods were kind to them. Both stood on the Khardung La in 2019. However, Denny, a well-trained cyclist, had already found out on the Tso Kar what altitude means to him: He was repeatedly breathless and could hardly sleep the night. Now he should experience what it feels like to climb a rugged path at over 5000 m. He succeeded quite well.
But psychologically he was not up to this sudden fall in the weather. At Khardung La, he broke off the tour and immediately turned back in the direction of Leh, fearing that he might be trapped in the Nubra Valley because he could no longer cross the pass the next day. All persuasion didn't help. The pass would have been closed - if only for a few hours at all, then the military would have cleared it again. He really wanted to turn back.
The rest of them struggled down the pass in the fog and blowing snow on the north side towards the Nubra valley. It was an amazing experience. A few hours ago we were standing in the snowstorm on Khardung La, but shortly afterwards we found ourselves having lunch in a green oasis on the Shyok River.
In the afternoon we visited the Diskit monastery before we continue to the luxury camp in Hunder and there in the late afternoon we walk in short pants between camels over the sand dunes in beautiful weather.
Jens stayed with the rest of the group in Leh. In the afternoon they visited the most famous monastery in Ladakh: Hemis Monastery.
Day 10: Tuesday, July 16, 2019
Hunder - Leh (120 km)
What a turning point: Today the Khardung La presents itself in the most beautiful weather, immersed in wonderful white that harmonizes so wonderfully with the blue sky, like our beautiful white and blue in my Bavarian homeland. What a view back into this beautiful Nubra valley and over into the high mountains of the Karakoram on the other side of the border. Finally this Nubra valley - to have reached my valley of longing makes me forget the Switzerland of India, Kashmir. How happy the decision was not to travel to Kashmir this year remains to be seen.
Back in Leh we enjoyed the afternoon in the city again.
Day 11: Wednesday 17th July 2019
Leh - Lamayuru (115 km)
If the weather is nice, we will go on the Leh-Srinagar-Highway. This is well developed and yet offers such wonderful views as here at the mouth of the Zanskar into the Indus.
At Kalatse we leave the Indus and follow the Yapola (also Wanla) upstream into the Moon Valley. The legendary Lamayuru Monastery towers above it. After lunch we take a trip to the legendary Hanupatta Gorge.
It is on the trek in the Zanskar to Photoskar Richtum Padum. We return to Lamayuru deeply impressed.
Day 12: Thursday, July 18, 2019
Lamayuru - Leh (115 km)
Before breakfast I lead the group to a viewpoint above the Lamayuru monastery, from where we have the whole Moon Valley in front of us.
After breakfast we cruise comfortably back to Leh and end the trip there with a joint dinner with our motorcycle crew. Now it's time to pack. Tomorrow I should go back to Delhi by plane.
Day 13: Friday, July 19, 2019
Leh - Manali (473 km)
5 a.m. breakfast. Off to the airport. Rain. Scheduled departure 7:40 a.m. The airport is filled with tour groups who want to leave Ladakh today. Like me, many have booked a return flight to Europe the coming night. It will be 8 o'clock, it will be 9 o'clock. Rumors waft through the hangar that no aircraft will land or take off as long as it is raining. Suddenly excitement at the gate. An airplane is supposed to fly. False alarm. Around noon, the certainty gradually matures that there are no more planes flying today. Some want to take a taxi to Srinagar, so maybe they can fly to Delhi from there. What a madness: We planned the route specifically for security reasons in order to avoid this conflict region, especially because the Foreign Office had issued a travel warning. We return to the hotel. Chaos. New rumors every 15 minutes: There will be no flights for the next few days. Suddenly there is a flight tomorrow, only a few places left. Our group is in the process of disintegration: The first are trying to book flights through relatives in Germany. Which doesn't work. As I learned from my daughter, according to the Internet, our flights between Leh and Delhi are on schedule, others report that the computer suddenly breaks off while trying to book.
At some point, things get too colorful for Adalbert from Regensburg: He orders a taxi and takes the overland route to Delhi; he offers interested parties to come along. The first group forms and takes a taxi to Delhi. We are waiting. But even our guide, who is constantly on the phone with the office in Manali, cannot give us any binding information as to when we can get a flight from Leh to Delhi. Finally, by 3 p.m. in the afternoon, two more groups form and charter a taxi.
Some choose to stay in Leh. You are in no hurry because your intercontinental flights to Europe are not booked until the next few days. They originally wanted to do some sightseeing in India.
You will finally fly from Leh to Delhi 3 days later on Monday 22 July 2019. Sandra and Harald also stay behind because they no longer want to take the risk of an overland trip back over the high passes.
For our groups, the adventure begins at 3:30 p.m. Two taxis pick us up. You fill up just behind Leh. And then there is an adventurous night drive over the Leh-Manali Highway in a train back to Manali: 473 km via Tanglang La 5365 m, Lanchulung La 5065 m, Nakee La 4750 m, Baracha La 4850m, Rohtang La 3980 m non-stop, the route that we normally drove in 3-4 days in a single night.
I sat in the passenger seat. I barely closed an eye. I now know the route inside out. I wait tense for the passages where the cars got stuck and couldn't go any further. What made us nervous at the beginning of the night drive was the fact that our driver had already started rubbing his eyes in the late afternoon, as if he was already struggling with fatigue. I had offered to relieve him if he got too tired. But what a miracle: He drove outstandingly over stick, rock and stone and we reached Manali at dawn.
Day 14: Saturday, July 20, 2019
Manali - Delhi (530 km)
6 a.m. in the morning; The next taxis are ready. We reload. And the day continues. And we drive and drive. Another 290 km of curves over curves out of the mountains to Chandigarh. North India in fast forward. Towards the afternoon, the traffic on the six-lane motorway towards Delhi comes to a standstill several times, so that concerns arise again as to whether we would still be able to reach the rebooked intercontinental flights.
But everything turned out fine. We reached our hotel in Delhi at around 7.30 p.m. There was still enough time to shower, bite to eat, and say goodbye. At 9:30 p.m. we went to the Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi.
Day 15: Sunday, July 21, 2019
Delhi - Munich
The first to travel back to Germany via Munich landed back on home soil with a delay of 24 hours. What an adventure. The seventh Dane Transhimalaya Trophy had topped everything I had been able to experience on this tour since 2013.
On August 5, at 8:00 a.m., the message reached Germany that the situation in Kashmir was threatening to escalate. All telephone and internet connections were cut. Panic broke out. Tourists didn't leave for days.
On October 3, 2019, I phoned the two participants again who had been hit hardest on this tour:
Sandra and Harald
As a reminder: Sandra was swept off the street by an Indian pickup truck and had broken her outer ankle, Harald would have choked to death from pulmonary edema. I wanted to know how they judge this trip after almost three months.
Both agreed: They would not want to miss this trip. In the aftermath, the positive memories already predominate. Neither of them regretted taking this great trip to the top of the world.
And you are not alone with this assessment:
"I found the tour absolutely awesome, even if there were sections that weren't always pure joy."
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