Kargiakh to Tanso

Discussing with Junior we’re guessing the best part of my trip will be these small villages before Purne. The road isn’t so good yet – hasn’t been fixed up for this season so there haven’t been any vehicles coming up yet. There’s no shops and the tourists are all trekkers.

I’ve always wanted to visit the little side valley on the other side of the river below Kargiakh: a lovely looking village called Sking and apparently there are a few others behind it. So far I’ve always walked on by, looked up and wondered what was up there. I always see a heck of a big water flow coming down from that side valley, must be a large drainage.

I’m sort of bummed that Lobsang wasn’t in town. Busy guy. Word is he took off to Padum to discuss some BRO right of way stuff. I had brought some prints of his town and family, also some sun glasses for him, so I leave this stuff with his son. I’m psyched to see that a photo of Gamburanjan that I gave him last year is now taped on his front door.

So today I’ll make a tiny transition from Kargiakh to Tanso, which is a few miles behind Sking. Should make my total trip distance for the day about… um… 4 miles? 3? So I’ve got no rush to leave Kargiakh.

Two things I’m going to try and help with:

The Legend Of The Broke Bikes

There’s these two school teacher dudes that live in Sking and Tanso who happened into some mountain bikes. I meet one of them who teaches here in Kargiakh. Commutes to work every morning from Sking. Complicated story and I’m having trouble getting a fix on exactly what the problem is. “The tire won’t stay full.” and “The chain is broken.” Best I can understand is there’s two bikes, and something is wrong with them. I’ve got bike tools and knowledge, I offer to help. Finally it is agreed that I’ll see the bikes in Sking and try and work on them.

Installing A New Light Fixture

Junior has some electrical components, a lightbulb, light socket, a single pole switch, some wire that looks like network cable. His dad told him to put a light into the entryway. This is 12v stuff run from a solar powered car battery. Problem is that junior really has no tools. His knife is dull like a butter knife, he has a worn out screwdriver, no wire strippers, no pliers, etc. So the trick to a clean installation is a bare minimum of wire joints.

The night before I gathered them together and got an approximate location for the new light. On a piece of paper I drew out the circuit, careful to put the switch on the positive (though I doubt that matters). We need to join our new circuit into an unswitched segment on the existing house wiring.

I spend the morning connecting the components and installing the light bulb. Junior has lots of good questions, basic stuff that mostly involves the physics of electricity, and why 12v dc is different than 220v ac.

Mostly the right answer for him involves having a proper way to secure the new wire joints. Literally all we have is the ability to twist wire, then wrap with the celophane packing tape that he has, the wire is held in place with some old nails he had, we hammered them in and bent them to hold the wire.

My Leatherman Cinch pocket vice grips were really great. The knife is very sharp so I can make very precise cuts in the wire sheath, then precisely strip the wire ends. The plier-action was great for getting the wires twisted well. Doing this all with the wrong tools takes a bunch of time but after about 3 hours we’ve spliced in the new circuit.

We have a bit of a fright when I find the guest room light isn’t working (that is the wire we spliced into) but then I jiggle the bulb in its socket and it starts working. Finished!

Goodbye Kargiakh

Just as I’m taking off Junior gifts me a sprite bottle of his mom’s Arak. I didn’t mention this before but this Arak is probably the best I’ve ever tasted. I’ve had a bunch of nasty stuff in the past that tasted like the distillation had gotten a little hot, some chemicals that smell like epoxy? The stuff here in Kargiakh is fine sipping arak. Tastes of the wood smoke and the alchohol is soft on the palette. Delicious. I’d no idea such a thing existed. So I’m very appreciative of the gift. But then this is 500ml, is a pound of liquid I’d love to take back to the states, but I’m not keen at all to carry it for the rest of my trip. I gladly accept but thinking I may need to mail it to Leh from Padum?

Road to Sking

I leave Kargiakh around 11:30am, alpine start.

Rocket down the hill and I’m at the Sking bridge in what feels like 10 minutes. Then across and hike up to Sking. Crossing a lovely narrow grassy path through the fields I come across an old women.

So… story here: Last year as my son and I were leaving Kargiakh there were two old women working in a barley field. I took their picture. One woman was smiling and saying yes please. But then the other one noticed and started telling me to go way and not take any pictures. So I stopped. So it goes. But I really wished they’d let me capture the image.

I brought a print of that picture, hoping to give it to the two women as a way to say sorry. Well… the nice smiling lady was beloved by the whole town and she died last fall. And the crabby one now lives in Sking! And… there she is in the fields as I’m climbing into town.

Hold up I say. I throw down my bike and rummage through my pack, find the print. She takes it, then points at the dead lady and starts smiling and jabbering at me. I motion that she can keep it and she nods happily. Tries to fold in in half and stuff it in her coat. I try to help her store it safely without folding it. Is a nice print, shame to ruin it after I’ve carried it 1/2 way across the globe for her.

I finish climbing and discover that Sking is really dang pretty. So green. So much water.

Nice village. Definately going to stay here on my way down from Tanso.

In downtown Sking there’s some men and women clustered in the shade against a wall, looks like they’re just lounging, slapping each other on the knee and taking in the view. I head over and they invite me to sit. We sort of talk in our best broken language. Nice people and great warmth. I meet one of the school teachers with the bicycle, he says I can stay with him when I return to Sking, and then I can look at fixing the bicycles.

Eventually I head out and up the shallow road to Tanso. For a little while between the villages its a lovely lovely isolated valley. Below Tanso there’s a wide stranded stream with stepping stones, then up a hill and I’m in the town. This is a bigger town than Kargiakh or Sking, some concrete and steel sheds built by the government, a big school with a steel roof.

I’m looking for Kethup-House but the 30 schoolkids that ran out to greet me just wanna mess with me and my bike. Solution of course is to make motorcycle noises and try to run them over. Kids are pretty quick though so I wasn’t able to get any under my tire but that did clear the way for me to ride out of range.

The path to Kethup house is bewildering. The narrow trails lead to what look like dead-ends, but really these are 4′ high reinforced parts of the wall that I must carry my bike over. There are sort of steps on the wall if you want to look but not easy with the bicycle. Gotta be agile to live here. Frankly the wall scaling was sort of tough.

I was expecting to be hosted by a smart english teacher but he’s out of town. Instead there’s three older folks living there, two guys and a lady and none speak any english. I’m put up in a nice room that is mostly taken up by drying yak cheese. Smell isn’t so bad because it is so dry here.

After changing and washing my clothes I head out to explore the town. Above the main part of town is a big wall that splits a field. A pile of kids are playing there so let them play on my bike.

I’ve come such a short distance today but its a very different world up here. Kargiakh is great and precious and this place is too. I had no idea such a big town was up here but should have suspected given that the valley is fed with two bridges.

Around 8pm the second man returns home. He’s the cook at the school. He’s also the only person that can get the tv to work. There are frizzy open bare wires hanging down the wall, and the ‘tv-stereo-receiver’ complex has a pair of bare wires too… He carefully connects one wire, then very carefully forms a small hook with the negative lead and hangs it from the stereo negative wire. Instantly everything springs to life and within 20 seconds there are endless images of the trashiest tv I’ve ever seen.

There’s a cricket match between current MPs and some “Cricket Legends”. Sports and politics combined? Whats not to like about that?

There’s a dance show with kid dancers leading these dramatic 30 person choreographed numbers, and kind polite judges giving praise and giving huge respect to each other.

And the news… everything is emphatic, Moti is great and to be respected, some opposition politician did this bad thing, etc… Mainstream US news can awful but only until you compare it to what is normal in India. The folks up in these towns were given solar power systems and televisions, and then fed endless propaganda.

8 thoughts on “Kargiakh to Tanso

  1. What a great trip, and adventurous pass crossing in the snow. I’m looking at doing this trip on a bicycle too but waiting for the Padum Darcha road to be finished. I read contradicting reports on it. Is is completed?


    1. I think I covered this. What sort of bicycle? I think its all fine on a mountain bike. There’s a section beneath Gamburanjan (between Lakang and Kargiakh) where the current road goes in the river, in 2-3 feet of water. To avoid that would mean a pretty significant reroute and that road work hasn’t been done as of this year. So in that section you must carry your bike over the big boulders or follow the horse trail. Just a short section though. And if you waited until water was low (mid/late september) then the road would be at least walkable (I doubt ridable because river rocks.)


      1. Thanks! I was surprised also to see so much snow on Shingo La in early July. Do you know if they’re planning to plow the road this year?

        My bike is a Salsa Fargo, which I use with four panniers. No suspension. Two years ago I rode around Ladakh with 40mm tires on it and it was mostly fine except the road to Korzok on Tso Moriri, where the last 15-20 kms were a little too rough to ride and I had to push long sections. Also, were there a lot of nights where you couldn’t find homestays? My plan is to ride from Leh down to Padum and then Darcha and then the Spiti-Kinnaur loop, and make it as far as I can before hitting the monsoon and then take some transport back to Delhi.


      2. Plow this year? Plow isn’t really a thing, they have bulldozers and diggers and are literally rebuilding the track each year. Singo la may or may not be ridable, it was almost all rideable on a Fargo-type bike 2 years ago. This year will be rougher but you can just walk/carry the bad parts. Coming from Padum there is a steep section of switchbacks close to the pass that you’ll probably need to walk because they’re steep and probably rough. The section between Lakong and Kargiakh will have some 1-2km sections where road is rough with 4″-6″ river cobbles, in that area I was really happy to have front suspension and just cruised it. Like I said the road wasn’t passable on July 1st at 6am because of high water but there’s a horse track above the river. If you just go slow and walked where you needed to you’ll be fine.

        Homestays: I had no trouble staying in homestays in every town. The folks love the money. But sometimes there are no towns or tea stalls. At shingo la there were no tea stalls because it was too early in the season. Also later in the trip crossing Parfi-La and Hanuma-La there were no towns or tea stalls. In photoksar there was food but no homestay so I camped.

        I’ll get more done on this blog and cover the later part of the trip. You might consider going from lamayuru->lingshed->hanumir->padum, will be away from the busy road to leh.


      3. I imagine when the road is finished, they might clear it in the winter, like all the other passes on main routes? Even on the Khardung La, it’s mostly free of snow in July.

        It was a little busy on the Leh-Srinagar road but not too bad. I imagine the Kargil-Padum section would be pretty quiet? What is the Lingshed route like? In 2017 I met a guy who had attempted it but had had to turn around, saying it was way too rough on a bike. The Suru valley and the Nun Kun area looks stunning; is the other route as spectacular? I had heard about it but thought the completion of that road was still way in the future.


      4. Oh! I misunderstood. You mean for winter driving, not whether they’d clear it early in the season. There is no way that pass will ever be open in the winter. Similar to Rhotang… its just ridiculous idea. Maybe with a Russian atomic snow melter? I hear the long term plan of record is that the govt will build a tunnel under Shingo La, but theyre just talking about it now, not even really planning it. Consider how long it took to build the Rhotang tunnel.

        I’ll get to the lingshed route eventually in my blog. Hanuma La was tough but the rest was ok. But Suru valley is amazing and easily bikeable. The thing about the lingshed route is you’re getting to see that segment as it was back in the old days. But changing so fast. If you’re interested you need to go soon. Road is on the outskirts of Lingshed now.


    2. Well, I just heard from a friend that rode darcha to padum in late september of this year (2019). He says the road was fine all the way through from Darcha. The area from Lakong past Gamburanjan is now a drivable road because they rerouted the river to make space for the road. Also in September the water level is really low. So… yeah, at least late in the season this route is now a go for a motorcycle or even a car. I’ve not seen photos but I guess this the end of an era that we all feared for so long.


      1. Thanks for the update! For trekkers that’s unfortunate but for cyclists that’ll make things much easier! I’m looking forward to seeing your posts on the other alternate route cutting more directly from Padum to Leh as well.


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