Day 9 Tuesday 10 June. Kargil - Chandara 56km.

Kargil is quiet except for the men that sweep the gutters and empty the skip bins of the previous day’s rubbish and the occasional vehicle as we sneak away at 6am. I bought some fresh bread and stuff the flat discs into my front panniers. We headed out of town towards Zanskar. The road was sealed and smooth for a few kilometres before becoming impossibly rough.

We headed up the valley steadily climbing, our only consolation was that we had a tail wind. We passed small villages watered by hand dug aqueducts that divert water from the Suru River into small fields sectioned off with stone walls. It’s all about gravity and gradients and they are masters. Clean water is diverted from smaller streams that have less sediment into the village where a pipe runs continuously with fresh water. Women gather around to fill plastic containers for their daily needs. We also drank heartily from the village spouts. We arrived at a small remote village called Chandara and Alan could go no further. It was midday and we had cycled for six hours. We asked and gestured to a group of people that we wanted to stay at the village near the river to camp. It was clear we were not welcome and people directed us to keep going along the road towards the next village. We had no choice but to comply however we planned to look for the first place to stop at the edge of town near some fields and clean water. Further on between the villages where fields aren’t cultivated it is a barren rocky desert not suitable for camping. On the outer edge of Chandara we found a place where clean water was flowing through a field and over a rocky platform to provide people passing by with a drink. There were willow trees, grassy herbs and flowers all around. It was perfect. We stopped and got the stove going and cooked noodles and tea. Alan was in pain so took his shoes off and lay down. His toe is awful. tried to dress it the best I could with Alan’s extensive first aid kit. I swabbed it with peroxide, betadine then wrapped it up in bandages. There was a new blister that had developed and the whole toe was red and swollen. I secretly shed a tear. A tear for all of Alan’s physical problems, his desire and dream to do this trip and now after 10 days I fear he may not be able to make it. I believe him when he says he might lose his toe.

A man came by with two small children. He saw Alan’s toe and was horrified. We tried to explain to him the best we could and indicated we just want to rest and stay there for the remainder of the day and leave in the morning. He seemed to give us his approval then left. Throughout the rest of the day word must have passed around the village because we had a constant flow of visitors. They were all shy but curious. A group of eight small girls stood together by the road and one step at a time approached us. We offered them some peanuts which they gingerly took just a few and refused to take more. We took their photo and showed them the images on the screen. They crowded around for a look. Later a group of boys came after school and discussed everything from the natural beauty of Kashmir to the population of Australia. The map we were carrying of northern India proved to be of special interest. It’s as if they knew their place in the world but had no access to any map.

We were not alone for a minute since we arrived at midday until it was dark at 8.30pm. It was hard work. I have trouble finding time to write my journal. We ate bread, tomatoes and tea for dinner. It was a clear night so we just lay out in the open gazing at the stars. The constellation Ursa Major, the Big Bear or Big Dipper, was clearly definable. It’s a group of stars I have not seen before.