Sking To Cha

Luckily I had a solid sleep and woke at 5:30am feeling a lot less sick. My fatigue is much better, headache and ringing ears are gone. I’m still tired, coughing quite a bit and stomach feels bad, but at least I am hungry! Host comes in with hot sugar milk chai and asks what I’d like for breakfast. Potatoes? Gee… that actually sounds good. I pack up and dress for travel, head into the family room and potatoes are just coming out of the pressure cooker. I nibble on one with some salt and as I eat my energy and hunger grow.

Discussing my plans for the day, I’m thinking to head down to Cha. I’m really tired and would like a nice place to rest and I there’s a great homestay in Cha. Host suggests there’s a traditional doctor in Tanze, I should stop there for medicine. Hmm… cool. I’ll do that.

I’m also warned that Cha is a long way to go, need to get going early because it will take all day.

In total I consume 8 potatoes for breakfast. Made up some sort of calorie deficit there.

I head out with host to pack my bike and he has more bicycle questions. The front tire of his bike is slowly losing air so I show him how to investigate. I remove the tire, pull the tube free and find a small pinhole using the nearby pond. I show him how to sand and apply a patch, then leave one of my patch kits with him as well as a presta to schraeder adapter (I brought 2) so he can fill his presta tubes with a truck air pump. It feels a bit futile to do any of this because he has no pump, but I’m sure the knowledge will serve him well in 10 years when there is a road to this village.

After giving each bike another thorough chain clean and lube I bid adieu and ride off down the valley.

The road and trail here are in great shape and I find myself coasting most of the time, having the keep stopping to take the area in because it goes by so quickly. I say goodbye again to Gamuranjan. Sniff. There is a big change in the atmosphere below Sking.

Reach the town of Table in no time and there’s a parked Mahindra here. First vehicle since I left Zanskar Sumdo. Last year I followed the bulldozers on the same day they went past Table. They’d pretty much destroyed all the walls on one side of the trail. The walls were all rebuilt this year to give room for a bulldozer, but they’re still pretty close together.

Table the village is set back away from the road 500m or so, and there are trails to Table from the road, made for people who are happy to jump over the walls. Town is situated on the banks of a large creek and there’s a nice horse bridge. The road makes its own manky way across. I had to depart the road and follow a rough trail to reach the horse bridge.

Follow the smooth doubletrack down to Tanze where I hope to get medicine from the Amchi.

I ask around and am eventually find the Amchi’s house. Am led around back to wait in a line of locals who need medical care. Finally its my turn and meet a smiling man with excellent english.

They’re clear that this is “Tibetan Medicine”, am I ok with that? Yes I am.

He prescribes me 10 balls of cough medicine, and 10 balls of stomach medicine. The cough medicine I’m to take every morning, the stomach medicine every night.

He asks: “You come over Shingo La by bicycle?” “Yes.” “Hmm” he nods. “You alone?” “Yes.” Hmm. He nods. He then smiles and pats me on the shoulder a few times: “Good!!”

He invites me in and has tea with me. We don’t have much to say but I sure do have a good impression of him. Guy is really focused on his work and has a very positive attitude. Strikes me that he is a wise person. I doubt I’ll see anyone’s true colors here because they only come out in the winter. What I see are folks are pretty low key and there’s a lot of laughter.

Bust on out of Tanze, hoping to have lunch in Maling, a lovely town that was “abandoned due to wedding” when I walked through last year. Also notable is that Maling ran out of water in mid August last year, had to harvest early.

Walked up into Maling from the road, sat and napped while a girl did laundry at an ancient looking laundry rock.

Her father is from Nepal and built a fairly unusual house with modern touches and a sun room.

The girl and I share a few packages of biscuits and she tells me about the village and the problematic water supply. There is another stream for drinking water on the downstream side of town that hasn’t run dry yet, but its a total pain to carry water all the time. 2019 was a great snow year so they don’t expect to run out of irrigation.

Finally down out of Maling and back to the road, the next village is Purne. I start what I remember to be some pretty big climbing. The year before the road here was utterly insane and it felt incredibly dangerous as it was going to slide in the near future.

Sure enough that section slide in late august of 2018 and the bulldozers rebuilt it with a much better/wider/lower route. The only drama this year were 30 or so yaks on the very narrow road. As I approached they all politely clambered up and away. Incredibly agile for being such big lunky looking things.

As I’m taking in the view I keep hearing booms. Across the valley there are occationally huge dirt clouds exploding. And my eyes finally focus on a lone digger building a road on the other side of the river, almost level with me. The guy is methodically tipping car-sized boulders loose and they’re crashing down and down and down into the river.

This is a new road being built to reach Testa.

I watch for 30 seconds before I realize that this is a real entertainment, a sort of spectacle that I’ve not enjoyed before, which is yielding unexpected fulfillment. Who knew this was a thing?

I lean my bike down and sit back with my legs dangling over the edge to enjoy the show. These enormous boulders are ping-ponging down this steep gully, maybe 5-7 seconds of air between explosive contact with the edges of the gully, which of course knocks more rock and debris loose. A cascade of dust and dirt. And the best part? At the end there’s a big splash when the boulder impacts the river. After about 45 minutes the guy backs up and turns off his machine. Show is over. Wow!

Is interesting that the shallow creek called the Kargiakh-Chu that I crossed this morning below Sking is now a properly terrifying Himalaya River. The boulders make a big metalic ker-plunk when they hit the water and they just vanish in the ripping current, this river doesn’t care about a car sized boulder.

I’m reminded of stories that old-times in my area would tell. They’d go climb local peaks and for sport they’d spend their time trundling. “Trundling”? A sport of pushing rocks down peaks and creating destruction.

Finally a steep downhill of switchbacks and I’m at the confluence of the Tsarap and the Kargiakh rivers. In every year before the Tsarap was a magical blue in the morning, becoming white in the evening. This year it is very dirty. The high water from snowmelt is ripping the shit out of the banks.

Below the confluence the river remains the Tsarap though some maps show it being called the Lungnak.

There was a nice person-bridge in Purne some years ago but it was destroyed when the Tsarap landslide cut loose. It meant that to get from Purne to Cha meant either hiking up-valley, crossing at Testa, then re-crossing below Cha, or if on foot you could hike up and cross the wire bridge at Phuktal (the big bridge at Phuktal was also destroyed by the flood.)

Well… late September of 2018 the BRO installed a modern truss vehicle bridge at Purne. The enterprising Purne people have now relocated a camp to be close to the road. When I passed the Dhaba was closed.

What isn’t so great is… descending into Purne you look across at some horrible road scars on other side of Tsarap. They lead up from the new bridge, over the ridge and down to Cha. And that ridge? Its quite tall! So all the altitude you lose you will work to regain before you reach Cha.

The climb up and away from the Tsarap “Really Sucked”. It was too steep and covered in moon dust. Every step took effort. I’ve always reached Cha via Phuktal so never had to do this climb before. Whew!

And at the ridge about to descend to Cha. I see the trail that leads to Phuktal, and in the distance along that trail a few vans are parked. Tourists getting shuttled up so they don’t need to walk so far. I’m really back to civilization now.

Descend to Cha and directly to my homestay. Wayan and I had stayed here the year before, a lovely place surrounded by Barley Fields. And terrific people. I’m very excited to be back here, but also now sort of sad because of all these new roads. Last year when we were here the road wasn’t visible yet, they were just blasting the rock around the corner to make the road… Sadness!

As far as travel time… the bike makes everything swoosh by too quickly. I left Sking at 8:45am, felt like I lollygagged and played around a bunch, had a nap in Maling and yet I still arrived at my guesthouse at 3:30pm. This area is so tiny.

In hindsite I messed up. I should have spent the night in Tanze and/or Maling. I should have relished the available time I had in the upper valley. Of course at the time I was still trying to plan the next 3 weeks and my planned schedule had my in Cha, so Cha it would be. Sigh… I’d say next time but I doubt there will be a next time – the road is pretty much solid to Kargiakh by now…

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