If you like quieter roads and fewer tourists while cycling from Leh to Srinagar and you have a day extra, consider riding the detour from Khaltse to Kangral via Dha Hanu for an interesting cultural experience and spectacular landscape. Coming from Leh, 20km before Lamayuru, National Highway NH1 turns away from the Indus River. This route continues to follow the Indus Valley downstream for another 62km until the police stop foreigners from travelling further north-west towards Pakistan; the next road leading south-west from Batalik in the Indus Valley directly to Kargil is forbidden terrain. The detour via Da Hanu is 97km long versus 61km directly over the NH1 but by-passes Lamayuru and the Fotu Pass (4090m) and involves only 8km of steep climbing through a beautiful gorge. A map of the detour can be found at http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?ie=UTF&msa=0&msid=212498448603127184643.0004db8cef099c519fe39

The road along the Indus is narrow but has good tarmac and hardly any traffic. Water is mostly only available in the villages, there are not many side streams or access to the Indus River. Most settlements will have a general store but only few have a tea house or a restaurant.

The largest settlement of the valley is the idyllic village of Skurbuchan, located on a fertile plateau above the Indus. Skurbuchan has enough to offer for (half) a day of sightseeing. A steep path leads to the white-washed fort on top of a ridge which has excellent views over the plateau and the Indus Canyon; an old monastery clings to steep rock above the village houses; narrow walkways wind along the buildings with drying apricots on the roofs and a trail continues north into a spectacular gorge. In September the fields are covered with white flowers. Children’s toy carts made from milk cans are the most common vehicles on the main street. You are likely to be the only tourist in Skurbuchan.

From Skurbuchan it is approximately 500m up and 670m down to reach the village of Dha Hanu. You keep following the fast flowing Indus River downstream on its right bank for another 39km, ignoring the left turn-off back to the NH1 at Sanjak. The colourful valley walls become steeper and steeper, vegetation is limited to a few side canyons and some irrigated terraces.

Dha Hanu is a rural village up the vertical rock walls of the Indus Gorge. Walnut and apricot trees grow around huge granite boulders throughout the village. The mild climate also favours wine-grape cultivation and cherries. The harvest festival in July is a big happening with the villagers dressing up even smarter than usual, and of course lots of chang (local beer).

The Brokpa people, or Dard people, of the villages Beema and Dha Hanu are quite unique in their Indo-European appearance with brown hair and blue or green eyes, as opposed to the Tibeto-Mongol inhabitants in the rest of Ladakh. Most tourists visit Dha Hanu to admire the original head decorations of the local men and women and to see the monastery. The Tibetan buddhism here includes animistic features.

It is well worth spending a night in Dha Hanu but the village can also be visited as a day trip from Sanjak. There are two routes to reach the village from the main road in the Indus Valley. The easiest to find but far more strenuous route is to follow the main road to the last police check post, then ride up a very steep road until the parking at the end. The only guesthouse found in Dha Hanu is located at the far end of the village, a tough half hour of balancing your bicycle over narrow dikes along an irrigation channel and pushing over stony paths with several difficult sections. When visiting Dha Hanu on a day trip from Sanjak, you’re better off leaving your bike at the parking. Much easier access to the village is over a stone path with only one nasty section, starting 1.3km before the last police check post. The 15-20min walk with a loaded bicycle takes you straight to the guesthouse.

The next day starts with backtracking 7km along the Indus to Sanjak. At Sanjak you leave the Indus and climb up a side valley to the south, first steeply up through a gorge then flat over a wide valley floor. Gradually you penetrate Muslim territory, with more scarves, mosques and Arab writings. The children are not used to seeing bicycles (and don’t see any harm into hanging on to your panniers or handlebar while riding, a firm “No touch!” followed by a smile will usually do) and react super-enthusiastically to bike tourists. Just before the detour ends at the NH1 at Kangral the road passes some impressive rock formations.

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Many thanks to Bernice for this route description.