We were headed for Killar first, which looked to be about 50 miles but we were told would take about 4 hours.
It took longer. The road was bad. Sure, there were stretches where we could get past 2nd gear, but not for long. It was like an old mining or power line road that had been poorly maintained.
We had left early, by 7 am, and made Killar in the early afternoon, ready for a break.
We found a random restaurant and made the mistake of not asking prices before ordering. The five of us did eat a lot, granted, but still 1200 rupees? That’s almost $20 USD. I was outraged.
Luckily though, our Indian shadows had arrived just before we ordered. They might not have prevented the price adjustments, but they did help us order food that we would understand.
The Indian shadows were 4 young men on 2 Enfield Bullets following the same course we were. Being two-up on each bike slowed them down, but they managed to catch up to us on each stop. We lost track of them in Srinagar, but did see 2 of them at the Bullet Wallah in Leh a week later.
From Killar the road became an obstacle course alternating between rocks, mud, rivers and cliffs. There was one stretch about 3 miles long where the road had actually been blasted out of the cliff face. Sheer drops on the side, no guardrails. But also no oncoming traffic. Apparently there weren’t too many people willing to drive that road.
Lots of donkeys though.
Once we crossed the border from Himachal Pradesh into Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) we got our first full check point. We were politely asked to step off the bikes and provide passports, visas, and paperwork for the bikes, all of which was checked in detail and written down in a gigantic ledger book.
After that the road got worse.
Our first stretch of road in J&K was a rock strewn hill climb with switch backs so tight the bikes nearly couldn’t make the turns without scooting back and forth. The road conditions got worse, the cliffs higher and at one point we came upon a little village that had men stationed on the road to warn people not to stop because of all the falling rocks (shooting stones in local speak).
This is where Ian chose to get a flat tire, but he limped it out of the danger zone before stopping to replace the inner tube.
We came upon a point in the road where a landslide had completely blocked it, but there was already a bulldozer there shoving all the rocks off the edge of the cliff.
We didn’t need to wait long. And it was great fun to watch the boulders go crashing down the cliff into the creek below.
My idea of making it to Srinagar that night was so far off the mark it was laughable. We didn’t even make it to Kishtwar.
By the time evening arrived we had just barely made it to a town called Gulubgarh, a decent sized town for the area, half Muslim and half Hindu. We stayed in the Hindu part, with a Chinese family that had converted 3 of their rooms into ‘home stay rooms’.
Their doorways were so small that we all wacked our heads, some of us multiple times.
The nearest restaurant was the Momo place, but it was also something of a social hangout for the locals. After sitting down, and then getting up to leave when the only answer we could get out of anyone there was ‘no, no, no’ Ian and I went for Chana masala and the other guys went back in. Somehow a local understood the problem. They were out of Momos at the moment, but were in the process of making more.
It all worked out in the end.
The next morning Chris and I went looking for a Bullet Wallah to replace the wheel bearings in his front wheel, and the rest of the gang found a mine entrance that had just been rigged with explosive charges. Simon, Rex and Ian got to wander into the mine and see how they had drilled and loaded the explosives.
I was rushing to the mine to see the boom but got caught in 3 different packs of Gujjar&Bakkarwal herds and didn’t make it in time. I sure heard it though.
Apparently there was some confusion as to who would actually get to press the detonator, Simon thought the guy was saying yes, that he could push it, but really he was saying yes, Im going to push it now. It all ended well though, there was a big boom and a giant cloud of rock dust came shooting out of the hole, we were all very excited.
These Gujjar&Bakkarwal folks that slowed me down are a regional people that migrate up into these hills every year to feed their sheep, goats and horses during the spring and summer months. After 3-4 months they head back down to the plains in J&K and the Punjab and then do whatever it is that nomadic people do when not traveling.
Gujjars are found all over India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, but the Bakkarwal tribe is specific to J&K.
You know that famous photo of the young Afghani woman with the green eyes? That’s what they look like. Incredible. Its like someone convinced a group of Parisian models that they would be better off wrapped in shawls and riding donkeys alongside a couple of hundred mountain goats.
They were not friendly. As soon as they would notice that we were foreign men the women would all wrap up in their shawls and the men would ignore us. Well, mostly. There were exceptions, but not many.
Now Chris has new wheel bearings, the mine is not setting any more charges for the day, and we are ready to roll, we are heading to Srinagar, and expect that we should be able to make it that evening if the Senten pass is open. If it is not we will need to take a roundabout route that will add about 4 hours to our journey.
Either way, we are back on the road and will get as far as we can, and do what we need to do to make it to Srinagar.
Unfortunately we only made it a couple of hours before we were escorted to the commanders office at the local Indian Army field base.