Ladakh & the Indian Himalayas

Past World Cycling Tour - 2011 & 2016

Ladakh is the NE district in the Indian state of Jammu-Kashmir, nestled into the high Himalayas in a touchy, disputed border neighbourhood (active border disputes with Pakistan & China, as well as ongoing civil unrest in Kashmir). Ladakh - Sparsely populated and very high altitude, though, remains peaceful.

I enjoyed Ladakh so much the first time round, that I went back for a 2nd visit. On my first trip I did a big highway loop from sweltering Jammu to Srinigar (Kashmir), Leh (capital of Ladakh), Manali (Himachal Pradesh), then back to Jammu. I loved this trip. So I went back, for a longer trip (3 months), but this time only to Ladakh, and I focused on getting off into more remote side valleys. Wow. Real big country with astounding mountains and wild camping and hardy, dignified people. And small Leh (30,000 residents, swelling with summer tourists) has all the tourist comforts one can wish.

In the map below, you can see the circled areas of my 2 visits. The smaller circle was much the longer visit, but was more focused on getting into out of the way corners. Very rewarding. As with my earlier ride into north Pakistan, you can see how the borders in this area are all dotted. Google is trying to steer clear of the long simmering (and occasionally flaring) border disputes between India, China and Pakistan. 

Check out below the slide show for a routes map. There's also a couple of (soundless) video clips from my 2016 trip below the slide show.

World location map | cycle touring Ladakh | cycle touring Indian Himalayas | cycle touring Kashmir

Check out the SLIDESHOW

If you hover over the picture below, you'll see forward/backward arrows for navigating.  Click on the slide to open in viewer mode (good to see text when viewing with small mobile screen). Some of the comments were packaged after my visit, and may no longer be current. Given that this slide show combines the two earlier trips, it's longer than the others. 

Ladakh Videos

I'm still exploring the use of video. Alas, it seems I cannot get sound without buying another plug-in (so you'll have to imagine).  Here's a couple of short videos from my recent Ladakh trip.  There are (dim) forward/back page navigation arrows at the sides of the box. The quality may be a little low, but I hope you'll find them interesting.  Alas - athough these videos work on larger screens, I was not able to get them to work for smaller, mobile (cell-phone) viewing.

This clip is from my "donkey trek" from Pidmo (Zanskar) north to find a road south of Leh. That's my bike & gear on the backs on the donkeys. Approaching the remote village of Lingshed, we met this flock of sheep.

Jammu & Kashmir routes map

See the routes map below. My 2011 route is in light blue and the 2016 route in magenta /purple. Jammu & Kashmir is one big (and incredibly varied) state. The winter capital is in sweltering, lowland Hindu Jammu, where I started & finished my 2011 ride. The summer capital is in higher elevation Srinigar, the main city in Muslim Kashmir, with long-simmering border disputes, and ongoing violent civil disorder (and military repression). Buddhist/Muslim Ladakh, one of our planet's highest areas, is only a 'District' due to the sparse population

I've shown a handful of the major mountain passes over 4,500m that I tangled with. I've attached names to those I rode that are over 5,000m: Khardung La, Tanglang La, Chang La & Lachulang La. 

  • My 2011 ride was a big highway loop (highway being a deceptive term as most of the ride through Ladakh was on dirt track). For time reasons, I started and finished the ride with my bike on a bus: from Jammu to Kashmir, and then again from Manali in Himachal Pradesh state back to Jammu. So, the ride was from Srinagar NE to the Muslim centre of Kargil, site of the 1999 border war between India and Pakistan. Then east to Leh, Ladakh's small capital city (~30,000 population). I couldn't resist a side trip up over Khardung La pass, which calls itself the "highest motorable pass in the world", into the Nubra Valley, then back. Then it was riding the famous Leh - Manali Highway, a cycle touring icon.


(continued after map)  

Cycle touring route maps | cycle touring Ladakh | cycle touring the Indian Himalayas | cycle touring Jammu & Kashmir
  • When I returned for a longer holiday in 2016, my plan was to get into more of the small, remote Buddhist valleys of far flung Ladakh. From Leh, I headed west, with side trips north along the Sham Trek, then north again down the Indus River as far as Sanjak, where I was turned back by a military checkpoint. On to Kargil, not a favourite tourist destination, but which made an impression in terms of bustle and dynamism. Then a long, fabulous ride up into remote Zanskar Valley, followed by a 5 day trek out to the north - my bike and gear on the backs of two naughty donkeys (loved it!). After some R&R in Leh, it was up and over Khardung La again, but this time I explored the Nubra Valley, heading NW as far as Turtuk, seized from Pakistan in the 1971 border war. A heavily militarized area, but India wants to strengthen its claim by allowing normal activities like tourist visits. Finally, 3 long weeks riding into the remote (and cold!) high altitude lakes of Panggong Tso and Tso Moriri, along the contested border with China/Tibet. Absolutely one of my best trips ever.

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