With sleepy eyes and high spirits we mounted our trusty Royal Enfields in the almost too early hours of the morning. The dusty streets were empty in the small town of Diskit and at the flick of a button, our engines abruptly filled the still air. Mission #1: finding a place with caffeine. Mission #2: Find petrol. With clear advise before our journey, we were mindful that petrol stations were rare, and we’d run out before Turtuk if we didn’t fill up.
Today’s drive was the shortest of the five with only 90 kilometres until our destination. We had time on our side to explore Turtuk, a town that had been recommended my many and defined as the last town before Pakistan with a view of K2. Having recently watched the documentary K2: The Siren of the Himalayas, I was exhilarated at the prospect of seeing this magical and monstrous peak.
Within the first half hour we found petrol and caffeine. At a small corner shop ran by a woman we drank a few chai teas (they come in cups the size of a shot for those wondering why we don’t just drink one). An Indian man sat at the table next to us in noticeable discomfort. After a few glances at our table he asked if any of us had headache pills. Steph, having had a headache the day prior, was able to come to his rescue. It turns out he drove over Khardung-La pass early that morning and was stuck at the top for a half hour due to a rockslide blocking the passage down. As a result from this extended stay at over 18,000 ft, he was suffering from horrible altitude sickness. I wondered what we would’ve done if we had been in that situation. Would we have turned back?
Not bothered with rhetorical questions, we continued onward.
The drive was less demanding than the previous days ascent. We only had one more border stop and the correct paperwork on hand. The open roads winded through the ever changing landscape. We crossed over rapidly flowing rivers fed by boisterous waterfalls and passed by numerous Indian army bases. Delightfully, The HIMANK border roads organization sprinkled the sides of these mountainous streets with signs of both encouragement and caution.
After whisky, driving risky.
If married, divorce speed.
Life is like a photograph, it takes time to develop.
Whenever we passed by one we enjoyed, Eleanor would write it down in the notes of her phone so we could remember our favorites later on.
The road’s infrastructure depleted the closer we got to Turtuk. From wide, paved roads to narrow bumpy hard packed dirt with rivers flowing through the streets, it started to feel like more of a challenge. Entering into a small village we received high fives from the kids walking to school that almost knocked us off our bike and big smiles from the adults. It’s not every day they see women driving motorcycles and we could see their excitement by the look in their eyes.
We still hadn’t had a proper breakfast, and were all a little hangry by the time we passed through this village. With eyes wide open, there didn’t seem to be a place to stop and eat, so we carried onward with hunger increasing the speed of the royal enfield beneath us. When we entered Turtuk just a half hour later we stopped at the first place that mentioned food. Naïve, we should’ve known everything would be made fresh upon order so we sat there in a silent daze as we watched them pick the food from their garden to prepare. Normally I’d welcome this farm to table vibe, but at this point I just wanted food in my stomach, and so did the others.
Just as the day prior, we had no accommodation booked and went door to door looking for a place to stay. After climbing up and down a mountain in search of a bed, we ended up choosing a place and getting two rooms. The group was slightly filled with animosity as Eleanor and I pressured the others to go faster on the way to Turtuk in addition to making everyone wake up early. Simply we had two different agendas for the day and ours demanded too much from the group as a whole. When we finally had beds to crash on, Mollie and Steph took the opportunity in the early afternoon to take a rest while Eleanor and I headed on a hike to the view point to see K2*. On narrow paths, the trail led us past a local swimming hole filled with screaming kids, through a quiet green forest, and up a rocky mountain to a monastery.
The view from the monastery was exhilarating. Golden farm land graced the foreground followed by a grey river flowing rapidly with mountain water. The background housed the Himalayan mountains, adding another layer that was so beautiful it could have been fake. In that mountain range we saw K2*, jagged, snow-capped, and picturesque. Eleanor sat there for a long while taking in the breathtaking scenery. We only left when we decided it was time for me to teach Eleanor how to drive a manual motorcycle.
(*It wasn’t until we returned to service 4 days later that we found out they lied and it’s K2’s sister mountain K13. Close enough?)
Scrambling down the mountain on our motorcycle, I took Eleanor to a flat and semi paved road. I explained the clutch, 4 gears, the throttle and the break. Eleanor thought it’d be easier for her to learn without a passenger, and I agreed (for my safety) so I set her off on her own to do a loop. With each loop, she went a little further, and would always check back with me before heading off on the next. To kill time I climbed on some boulders nearby.
It was the early evening when she felt comfortable enough on the bike- even let me ride on the back as we headed towards the village. The closer we went back to the mountain, the more rocky the road was. Eleanor was able to get us a decent amount of the way back before a man decided to walk in front of us and inevitably stalled. Gloria was a bit sketchy to start, and took time to get used to. This, with the pressure of men watching us on both sides of the street, we swapped places and we began up the rocky mountain where we had a place to park.
For someone just learning how to drive a motorcycle, in the Himalayas, on sketchy roads, and on a heavy bike, I was beyond impressed. Eleanor is a go getter and this is just one of the many things she has done to put everyone around her in a state of awe.
The night finished with the four of us rekindling our friendship forgetting about time pressures and stress induced driving, sitting around a table enjoying our freshly picked mint tea. The cool air calmed our spirits and the thought of the next day’s adventure rejuvenated the soul.
I was excited to be a passenger the next day.