Day 6 Saturday 7 July. Sonamarg - Matayan 48km.

There was a shower in the night and it was a cloudy morning as we boiled water and had black tea and biscuits for breakfast. The army turned up out of nowhere and the soldiers checked out our gear. happy for us to take their photo.

At Sonamarg we stopped for morning tea. Somosas and more milky chai which was great. The bakery was open so I watched the men make Kashmiri bread. One man pulled handfuls of dough from beneath a giant cloth covered bowl and rolled them into balls, one in each hand on a wooden bread board. Another man took the perfectly even size balls and with the heel of his hand pressed each one out into a circle the size of saucer. Quickly and carefully he ran his fingers down the centre of the flat bread with a little water. He then whacked each one inside the dome shaped oven. Another man removed them when they were done with a length of wire with the end bent into a hook. Customers waited with cardboard boxes to take them away. The bakery is small, dark and cramped and the men squat doing their task with tools worn with age. We later found that each baker makes a different pattern with his fingers on the loaves. Bread costs Rs 5 (10 cents) and is delicious.

Local men with ponies take trekkers through the mountains to nearby glaciers and lakes from Sonamarg, their ponies grouped around tea houses or tethered in temporary paddocks.

Our next challenge is to cross the Zoji La Pass at 3,529m. As we climb the road narrows and becomes increasingly rough, dusty and difficult to ride. The Amanarth Cave is just before the pass and the buses, cars and trucks heading there compound the struggle up toward the pass. As we near the site we see a temporary town set up in the valley below with thousands upon thousands of tents, vehicles and tin roof sheds. It is like nothing that I have seen before. Once we are past the turn off the traffic is drastically reduced but not the difficulty of the climb. The roadway is under constant repair from landslides and washouts. Vehicles can barely pass and there are no guard rails along the edge. This is scary stuff. Alan has fallen over a dozen times and is bleeding from the elbow and legs. Even in the lowest gear we are barely traveling walking pace and with all the rocks and holes in the road it is hard to just keep in a straight line. If a vehicle comes along the other way they expect us to just somehow get out of the way. Alan is unable to stand up on his pedals to get extra power so falls over.

It is about 30˚C and we work hard on the track that switches back on itself over and over. People cheer us on and call out as they pass. There was a hold up due to a landslide which was being cleared and the vehicles were lined up. An official said we could go through while the vehicles had to wait. The new work was soft and we resorted to pushing our bikes. Once over the pass it was all down hill on a pretty good road. We coasted for the first time since we left Srinagar heading down into the Drass Valley ahead. The pass is the watershed between the Sindh and Drass River catchments. Ahead we could see a large green flat valley floor with a few vehicles and local tents grouped around the river. We were excited in anticipation of a great place to camp and rest our weary bodies. We cycled across the grass among horses and goats with their owners camped in small groups nearby. We later found out it is an important recreational area for people living in nearby towns to come and picnic or camp. We met some local teachers from Drass with primary school children there for the day. We are the centre of attention once again as they watch us set up the tent. The boys are fascinated by Alan’s bike. Huge snow capped mountains surround us.