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Spanafrican Adventures's Blog

The latest news on Spanafrican Adventures operations.

Day 4: The descent to Chamba

Lush and bountiful we relished most of the 113km down from 4400m to Chamba some 3000m below!

 

The next morning, we headed down a seemingly never-ending 113km to the more tropical climes of Chamba. Despite a rainy start we enjoyed having gravity on our side and whizzed through at least 5 vegetation zones: high altitude, flower meadows, alpine, deciduous forest and sub-tropical. Although downhill (mostly) it took a good 7hrs30 of surprisingly hard work. I have always found cycling at lower altitudes much tougher as  besides the much hotter temperatures, the humidity is so high and feels a lot harder than cycling higher, in 02-thin air at cooler, drier temps.

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Day 3: Finally, Crossing Sach Pass (4400m)

Just over half way, another 14km would take me 3hrs to finally summit Sach!

This is the toughest and most epic pass I have ever cycled. Although not as high as many of the other himalayan passes, Sach is steep! So steep that in many instances I resorted to pushing. It took me 7hrs30 to cycle 32km of up from 2200m to 44oom, (although the total days ride was actually 8hr30  (58km) taking into account the first 11km were downhill and then the 14km descent to the police check point over the other side).  While it was supremely tough it was also utterly stunning, and therefore will remain one of my favourites.

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Day 2 - to the Sach Pass (Udaipur to Kilar)

Leaving Udaipur we cycled through magnificent pine forests


For sure this must be one of the most beautiful routes that I have ever cycled.  It took us almost 8hrs to ride the 80km to Kilar for a number of reasons: really tough terrain of unmetaled, stony roads and scenery that we simply had to stop for, every couple of kilometres. The road slithered and climbed along the ever narrowing and harrowing Chandrabhagga river valley.

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Day 1 - On the way to the Sach (Saach) Pass

A few kilometres after Keylong we left the Manali Leh highway and followed the mighty Chandrabhagga river (2400m) which cuts through the spectacular Pangi valley.

The Sach (Saach) pass, one of the lesser known passes in Himachal Pradesh has always had a certain allure since friends Cass and Cara had cycled it 6 years before. They had rated it as the most beautiful and challenging they had ever cycled (and they really know the Himalayas). With a bit of back tracking from Leh, we set-off from Keylong and followed the confluence of the Chandra (moon) and Bhagga (sun) rivers which form the great Chandrabhagga (or Chenab) river which flows into Pakistan.

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Meeting old and new friends on the Manali Leh Highway

Insect-like Janet, negotiates her way down the Baralacha-la pass to the plains of Sarcchu where Chumikgiarsa village occurs dot-like beneath a crumbling mass of mountain.

There is always something to look forward to when returning. It may be small changes, like roadside flowers that you had never noticed before. There is also something comforting  in that nothing has changed either, in this case, no mountains have been moved! Then there is the anticipation of meeting old friends again and meeting new ones too.

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Roaming Rumi: A Himalayan Dogumentary

Rumi our special boy


'Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond' ~Rumi

This is our 4th year of running bike tours in the Indian Himalayas and I have to say that my enthusiasm and passion for this region has not waned, if anything I love it more every time. We are always so fortunate to have fantastic groups of cyclists, all of whom share a similar passion for adventure, making the trips so different and interesting. This year however, we were graced with a particularly special person who became a firm friend of the entire team and crept into all of our hearts. This is his story. Rumtse (Rumi) is a himalayan hound and a very special one indeed!

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Some reasons why I like the Himalayas

It's back to Ladakh and these are some of my reasons...


the landscapes

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Himalayan Hounds raise funds for African counterparts

Himalayan Hounds raise funds for African counterparts

Thanks to everyone for supporting 'Cycling with Himalayan Hounds'. R1,600 was raised for Funda Nenja, our local dog training initiative in Mpophomeni

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Cycling with Himalayan Hounds - fundraiser for Funda Nenja, township dog-training initiative

Funda Nenja roughly translates from isiZulu to “learning with the dog” and that about sums up what an enthusiastic group of people are doing in Mpophomeni just outside Howick. Every Friday afternoon sees a gathering of about 10 volunteers and 65 dogs with their handler -children coming together to share interspecies and multicultural communication.

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The Baltistan village of Turtuk, Ladakh

The region of Baltistan falls within the Karakorum range, K2 being the highest peak, only 100 odd kilometres down the road. Once again stark arid scree littered mountains dotted with splashes of green villages punctuate this striking landscape.


Turtuk is about as close as you can get to Pakistan in India, physically and literally. This delightful village is crunched into the narrowing Shyok River valley in the furthest corner of India, right at the tippy-top of the map. Only when the Indo-Pakistan war ended in 1971, Turtuk (together with 5 other Balti villages) was then included within the Indian line of border control. It remained off limits until 2 years ago and keeping it well off the the beaten track.  It was perhaps one of the nicest ways to end this trip, as Turtuk was in every sense a treat - culturally intact, untainted by tourism and simply delightful.

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Those curious camels


Very obliging and photogenic. Keep at a distance, the breath is baaad!

 

While down in the Nubra valley, we spied a herd of those curious bactrian (double humped camels) munching on seabuckthorn berries close to another curiosity, a sea of sand dunes. Typically these camels are native to the central steppes of Asia, mainly Mongolia and Kazakstan. Apparently the Nubra valley formed part of the old trade routes between China and India, when this route collapsed, herds of the camels were left abandoned in the region and regained their wild habits, before being re-tamed once more, 15 odd years ago as an attraction for tourists.

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The Nubra valley

 
The majority of the Ladakhis living here are Buddhist with a minority of Shia and Sunni Muslims. (Diskit monastery).
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Climbing Stok Kangri (6130m)

Prayer flags adorn the kangri (snow peak).

 

Stok Kangri (6130m),  literally translates as 'snow-peak  of Stok village'. The peak is a perfect A-line that 'watches over' Stok  some 3000m below.  It is regarded as one of the easiest 6000m peaks in the Indian Himalayas, a trekking peak to be precise. Not one for heights, ice and on the-edge-kind-of-stuff, the suggestion to climb it didn't seem like such a bad one considering it is regarded as 'easy'. Besides this gave me an opportunity to beat my highest climbed altitude to date:   Huanya Potosi at 6080m in Bolivia which I managed on my pan-american bike trip some years back.

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Not forgetting the other Passes

Feeling on top of the world, Benjamin and I are pretty pleased that it's all downhill from here.  It was a triumphant moment for us to have shared the exhilaration and thrill we both get from cycling and then reaching the top of this one! (especially that Ben is like my younger brother)
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Himalayan villages: Chumikgiarsa at 4000m

 
We walked alongside the beautifully braided river, highlighted with illuminous green moss. Despite the intense aridity springs sprung from the rocks and is essentially the reason why Chumikgiarsa was built along this ancient flood plain.
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Himalayan villages: Old Manali

A typical homestead of old Manali. Finely hand carved wooden balconies and slate stoned roofs all with a stone courtyard for washing, threshing, playing, fixing bicycles and tethering animals

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Himalayan Hounds revisited

How could anyone possibly ignore such cuteness? He earned himself a packet of Good Day butter biscuits!

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Blooming passes

A campsite in fields of summer flowers as it were (stilll on the wet side of the Rohtang)

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The Nakee-la and Lachalunga-la passes

On the way up the infamous 21 'Gata loops', roadside humour keeps the spirits high on this 23km ascent from 4250m to 4980m to the Nakee-la

Once over the Rohtang, the wet forested pass at 4000m and Baralacha-la just under 5000m, the road climbs out of the Sarcchu plains up the double pass of the Nakee-la (4950m) and the Lachalung-la (5060m).

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The team

14 of us in total including carlos and myself. Charles from just down the road in the Dargle; behind Aulo the italian ragazzo from the south coast; next to him Mike from down under NZ; Alex (next to me) our biathlete and daily input of good humour; Ben our godsend bike mechanic and mygod son!; the spaniard; Caroline our good (physio) friend; Debbie and Viv from wine country; Anthony the tuffy who cycled with broken ribs for 6 days (and a vet) and Caroline with stamina! (Suzanne and Jo follow below).


Before I take you over the next pass, I will introduce you to this years team - both cyclists and support crew !

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