90 Days Cycling in the Himalayas: Day 23: Maling to Purne

On the 23rd Day we rode from Maling to Purne, a grand total of 5 km in the Zanskar Valley! This was part of our 90 Days ride in the Himalayas covering Spiti, Zanskar, Batalik, Ladakh, Nubra, Shyok, Pangong, Hanle, Tso Moriri, Garhwal and Kumaon!

Day 23 Maling to Purne

A day in which we rode an unimpressive 5 km and trekked 20 km!

Maling to Purne was described to us by our homestay host as an hour long ride after which you can go for a walk to the Phuktal Monastery. It sounded like an easy enough day.

Bikepacker’s Evolution!

After being on the road for 22 days my digestive tract had undergone a travellers change. I didn’t need to wake up and immediately go to the loo anymore.Within 5 minutes of waking up we were served breakfast with tea, vegetables and roti. I could eat it all without the pressure of finding a toilet, because none of these villages have ‘proper’ toilets and asking your host for one, eventually becomes an awkward conversation.

They have Ladakhi style toilets which take some time getting used to.

We ate, packed our bikes and bags and headed out of the village in no visible hurry. A couple of kilometres later we would find a suitable spot and go behind a rock! It had become that natural.

I laughed out loud as my left foot was on a rock two feet higher than my right foot. Going to the toilet was to be the biggest adventure of the day for me, I thought! How wrong was I.

Cycling from Maling to Purne
A walk in the park…
Cycling from Maling to Purne in Zanskar Valley
A snake in the mountain!

Biting More, Chewing Less and all that…

We were wondering at the lack of traffic and thanking our lucky stars for it. Till we found the reason.

The road in front of us had caved in, the rocks above the road had slid down and covered it completely. A blocked path was all that we could see.

There were two options, backtrack to the nearest bridge, cross the river and push our bikes along the trekking route or climb over the sliding mountain and risk our necks for those 30 odd metres.

Cycling from  Maling to Purne in Zanskar Valley
The road was flat’ish’!

Daredevil vs Scaredevil!

Driftjockey being of the daredevil variety chose the latter, while I being of the scared devil variety went with the former. He being of the persuasive disposition, we decided to stick our necks out.

For a lot of people what we did might not be a big deal, for us it was walking the thin line of life and death. Literally!

We unloaded all our luggage from the bikes and walked up to the landslide. First we took the luggage across, every step of the way the ground beneath our feet giving way. Loose rocks and rubble were falling from the top on our heads as a gentle reminder of the overhanging cliff.

I am scared of heights and making a decision to cross the landslide with our bikes is the closest I have ever come to knowingly risking my life.

Amusingly, as I crossed first with the luggage and then one bike at a time, I wasn’t thinking about the mountain, luggage, bikes, footholds, rocks, mud, the raging river below or even death. I was only thinking of all the people I love in my life. Nothing else really mattered at that point of time.

Kargyak Chu River in Zanskar Valley
The Karjyak Chu River flows far below us in a raging torrent
Landslide on Maling to Purne path
The landslide. A screen grab from Driftjockey’s helmet mounted action cam
Landslide crossing in Zanskar Valley
A missed step meant certain death as we heaved my bike across the landslide

The Great Crossing…

When we finally completed the great transfer of goods and people, I realised my body was soaked with sweat, my feet were tingling and my mind wasn’t working. It was as if I had floated through the whole event. My nerves were well and truly racked!

We tied up our luggage and descended to Purne. But something was amiss. I couldn’t really ride downhill. Any section which required risk, was dealt with kid gloves. My appetite for risk had taken a nose dive. Driftjockey on the other hand continued as if nothing had happened.

Fortunately we were close and reached within 15 minutes.

Purne top view
A view of Purne from above. Two rivers merging, muddy brown with gorgeous blue!


We setup our tents, lunched at a camp site there and were ready to head to Phuktal Monastery. Driftjockey wanted to ride there, I didn’t. The route was in a bad condition and I didn’t want to risk it. Again! On this occasion my will triumphed and we walked.

We walked and walked and walked through landscapes straight out of the ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy. The amount of walking was also straight from the movie! A pristine turquoise blue river flowed alongside to make it even more enjoyable. Driftjockey took a dip in the ice cold river while I stayed my risk averse self!

After two and a half hours of walking we reached a swinging sensation of a bridge which was over the azure river. Gorgeous and scary in equal measure!

Trek to Phuktal Monastery
The walk started
Trekking along the river to Phuktal Monastery
The beauty of the river didn’t let us tire, even when we were tired!
Swimming in the river
Driftjockey gone swimming…
Dancing on the rocks
Driftjockey showing his best Kathakali pose…
Trekking to Phuktal Monastery
The moment when Driftjockey lost his hat and searched in vain

Phuktal Monastery

As we turned the corner of the hill we were in for a sight. The Phuktal Monastery perched atop a mountain, it was not just one, but a dozen similar buildings stacked together in a gorgeous cluster, inside what was a massive cave. Mr Tolkien would have been inspired!

We walked through the walled mini city till we reached the top, where the prayer room is. An elderly monk took us around the main prayer hall, the statue room and a couple of more interesting places. Photography isn’t allowed inside the premises. The place also has a monastic school and we saw monks from 8 to 80 years old hopping along the mountainside.

The monastery so cut off from the rest of the world was a treat, which I hadn’t expected on this trip. It had a sense of peace and tranquillity which a lot of the other more touristy monasteries have lost over time. The place well worth the 20 km walk!

Sway bridge over river near Phuktal Monastery
The sway bridge made with wood and rock
Phuktal Monastery from a distance
First sighting of Phuktal Monastery
Phuktal Monastery in all its glory
Phuktal Monastery in all its glory
Inside Phuktal Monastery complex
Inside Phuktal Monastery complex
The main prayer room of Phuktal Monastery
The main prayer room of Phuktal Monastery


On the return journey to Purne we passed a French couple. They were impeccably dressed, spotlessly clean, smelling of expensive perfume, not sweating and chatting away as if their were in some hip café! In contrast, we looked like shit and smelt even worse. I need to know the secret of the French!

The light was fading and we were a couple of hours away. Driftjockey and I ran a lot of the path to reach before dark. To borrow more Tolkien references, Driftjockey was wafting over the ground like an elf, while I crunched, bunched and hunched like a dwarf! While he effortlessly floated up the mountain, I wheezed my way up.

Back at camp we treated ourselves to a cold beer. We deserved it! What with risking our lives and all…

Phuktal Monastery Timings
Camp under the stars in Purne
Camped under a starry sky in Purne

Route Profile: Maling to Purne & Purne to Phuktal

The 5 km stretch from Maling to Purne is rather easy when no landslides abound! It is a flattish stretch with a drop to Purne for the last kilometre.

In Purne there are campsites and homestays for food and accommodation. One needs to pay even for pitching their own tent. Food is expensive and it is better to ask the price of everything before ordering. This was one of the two places on the entire trip, where I felt ‘looted’!

The path from Purne to Phuktal is a singletrack for the most part. An enjoyable walk or a treacherous cycle ride/ push. There is a monastery guesthouse in Phuktal, as well as place to pitch your own tent. Food is also available there. One needs to cross a small sway bridge over the river just before the monastery. A tiny challenge with a loaded bike!

My advice would be to not stop the night at Maling, instead head straight on to Purne.

Elevation Profile from Maling to Purne in Zanskar Valley
Elevation Profile from Purne to Phuktal Monastery in Zanskar Valley
Trekking to Phuktal Monastery
A walk to remember!
River on the way to Phuktal Monastery
Serenity in blue

Expenses from Maling to Purne

Food and Stay for two 800
Monastery ‘donation’ 200

4 Replies to “90 Days Cycling in the Himalayas: Day 23: Maling to Purne”

  1. Probably the most scenic and challenging section of everything so far. One gets both goose pimples and tears while reading this part of the journey.

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