Cycling

A Self Supported Manali Leh Cycle Expedition

Training: This started one evening when after returning back from our swimming session me & my buddy Pankaj were having a beer. After we were a little drunk, the thought suddenly struck. Life is getting boring , lets do something to bring some excitement back. The next thing that came to the mind was lets go cycling from Manali to Leh. Although we had already been to Leh on motorcycles but going on cycles seemed exiting. For a few days there was no discussion about it. But then one day we fixed a time to go & buy cycles. We considered two brands in cycles. One was Trek & the other Merida. Merida was good value for money as compared to Trek. Finally we chose Merida and got my credit card swiped .We bought one Merida Matts 40V for pankaj & other Marida Matts 20V for myself. When we rode them from the Marida Ghitorni showroom to our home in sector 45 Gurgaon, It felt exhilarating. The cycles were class apart from the kind that we have all ridden in our childhood. But after this first ride itself we were convinced that Gurgaon is not a place for cycling. The next question was do we have enough time to practice as we had already fixed the dates when we were going and which could not be changed because that was the only time me & Pankaj both could do it together. It was the first half of July 2012 . We had bought the cycles in may beginning. So practically we had just two months to practice. So we designed a crash course. For the beginning few days we rode on the Delhi- Jaipur highway & Gurgaon- Sohna road. We would ride for around 20-30 kms in a day. We knew that it was not enough at all.One reason for that was these were plain roads & did not pose much of challenge and the other was the road conditions were very bad. The roads are filled with dust & constant movement of trucks and other big vehicles which do not give much respect to cyclist. The scorching heat of may-june was a big demotivating factor too. But we kept on paddling. Finally We chose Gurgaon- Faridabad road to practice as it had some gradient & there is not much traffic if you go in the early hours of the morning. For the initial few days we were regular in practice, but then we started skipping practice as we could either not wake up on time because of last night booze parties or sometimes one of us was just too lazy. So all in all we went to practice for only 20 days in the whole two months time. We had also planned to ride in hilly regions to give ourselves a reality check. One was from Dehradun to Mussourie & second from Rishikesh to Chamba. We did both of them. These rides did two things for us. They boosted our confidence to a new level but they also made us feel deep inside that what if this was not enough & we were just fooling ourselves. But then we were not going back,not after living this dream for two months. So the D-day came. And on 29th June 2012, we boarded volvo bus from delhi ISBT. We packed our cycles in the boxes & put them in the trunk of the bus. We reached manali on 30th june . Did some last minute buying, ate a lot because we knew for the coming 10 days till we reach Leh we were not going to get much options in food & we did not want to miss anything essential. On the morning of 1st July we started riding from Manali .

Day - 1 ( Manali- Marhi) : Our destination for the day was Marhi. It is 35 kms from Manali. We knowingly kept the distance small for the first day as we wanted our bodies to adapt a little to cycling in high altitude, as having done practice for only 22 days were still amateur cyclists. We reached Marhi by 2 pm. Spent time talking with local people and counting with apprehension the number of bends that we will have to negotiate the next day to reach the top of the Rohtang pass. From Marhi it looked so high in the sky. For the night we camped in the premise of a govt. guest house in Marhi.

Day - 2 ( Marhi- Keylong) : It rained all night. I could hear the sound of rain drops falling on our tent. But thankfully water did not penetrate & we had a sound sleep. In the morning after eating a little, we started to climb. One thing we had learned about cycling by this time was not to think much and have a dumb focus. Just one paddle at a time & you can reach anywhere. So we followed the same rule here. As usual Rohtang Pass looked pathetic with its keechad & long queues of vehicles in traffic jam. We had to walk through it. Here we met two other cyclists who were coming from Maharashtra & doing the same route. One of them was 50 yrs old & the other 40 yrs. Sharma Ji & Deepak . From here on we started cycling together. Our destination for the day was Kaylong which was 75 kms from Marhi. By the time we reached Keylong it was dark already. We were tired to our last bone. So took the first hotel that we saw. There was a huge rush of motorcyclists in Keylong as the only fuel station in Tandi was out of petrol. Here I want to mention the name of the hotel where we stayed. It was "Tashi Ghatsal". Its a small beautifully located place to stay. Its very clean and above all food is very tasty. The owner is a gentleman who takes good care of all his customers.

A Self Supported Manali Leh Cycle Expedition

Day- 3 ( Keylong- Darcha) : We woke up late . Last day we had covered a good distance so today we were laid back a little. The map that we were having showed mostly downhill path ahead. But As we started to cycle from here, after some 7- 8 kms we realized that the map was wrong , it was all uphill and it was a tough climb . We felt as if we were cheated. We cursed the person who uploaded that map on the internet. We reached Darcha by 1pm & decided to stay there. Reason for our decision was influenced by many factors.To name a few 1. the steep climb ahead 2. good food here 3. beautiful lady owners of the hotels in Darcha. 4. general laid back attitude. We stuffed our stomach the whole afternoon sitting in the sun, watching the river that was flowing from here & dreading the number of bends which we had to negotiate tomorrow to climb the mountain in front of us. Here we were also joined by our two friends whom we met on Rohtang pass. All four of us booked ourselves in one of the Restaurants there, we enjoyed our dinner together & went to sleep.

A Self Supported Manali Leh Cycle Expedition

Day- 4 ( Darcha- Zing Zing Bar) : I could not sleep properly last night. I had developed something itchy in my throat and nose. I was afraid of this but I told myself that I can ride today , I will think about it tomorrow. We started early today. Temperature was low, air was thin but we kept on paddling and eating bends one by one till the hotel in which we stayed the previous night started looking smaller and smaller and finally faded away as we crossed the mountain in an hour or so. On the way there were water crossings, where we met many motorcyclists from different parts of the world, as they struggled to cross the causeways. For us it was much easier for we dint have engines in our vehicles so there was no fear of water entering inside engine head or silencer. In fact we enjoyed watching those motorcyclists cross the water. We were in their place 2 years ago when we did the route on motorcycles. In our time the crossings were much much bigger in size with lot more water as compared to this. After paddling continuously for 4-5 hours we reached Zing-Zing bar. from there we took a short cut on the advice of one of the BRO workers. This was our first short cut . There is a saying that there are no shortcuts in life. There could be no better example to prove it than this. In high altitude cycling taking a short cut means cutting the distance by half and multiplying the time taken by 4 at least. So here we decided that we will not take any more short cuts no matter how much tempting it is. After cycling for an hour or so we reached at the base of baralacchala pass. Our plan was to stay here for the night. We booked in one of the hotels with our two friends from Maharashtra who reached here 2 hours after us. In the evening we enjoyed watching the Kabaddi match of BRO workers who were playing with lots of spirit and guts as its not easy to play a sport like Kabaddi on such high altitude.

A Self Supported Manali Leh Cycle Expedition

Day- 5 ( Zing Zing Bar - Sarchu ) : This was my second night in a row without sleep. Went to pee outside the tent in the mid of the night. Outside it was Pitch black darkness, clear sky with lots of stars, sub zero temperature & cold breeze. In that moment I felt thankful to something unknown for allowing me to be present in that moment. The morning was chilly as usual. we started cycling after having breakfast. Our breakfast was usually milk or tea with ommlette or parathas. Personally this day was toughest for me as the thing in my throat & nose turned nasty due to lack of oxygen and high altitude. I kept my pace slow but I kept paddling constantly without stopping . This pass (Baralaccha la) gave us a very tough time when we came here on motorcycles 2 years ago. We had very bad memories of this pass. After 3-4 hours and 15 kms of cycling we were finally through it. As we crossed the pass I took a sigh of relief as I knew that hardship for today was over & ahead was all downhill for another 40 kms approx. Till we reach Sarchu. Sarchu is small cluster of camps and is dreaded for the cold high speed winds that blow here. We took tents in Sarchu. In sarchu we met another cyclist from our city. Adhish was from Gurgaon. He reached Sarchu the previous day and was acclimatising in Sarchu. He was riding alone. we asked him to join us and he was happy to do so. So from here we became 5 in total. We talked for a while inside the tents about the day's events and went to sleep early.

A Self Supported Manali Leh Cycle Expedition

Day- 6 ( Sarchu - Whisky Nullah ) : I had a good sleep last night. we got up early as for today the distance was on the higher side. Also there were gata loops to be crossed. After 40 kms of plain road we hit the base of gata loops. These are 21 hairpin bends. Each bend is half a kilometer long. The thing which makes it worse is that they are continuous with steep slope and the top is visible from the bottom. You keep counting the bends as you negotiate them. All the time you know how much is left to be done. Trick of cycling in such situation is that you should not stop much frequently. Get to your comfortable speed & try to maintain it. Do not try to compete with other cyclists.First its not a race and its not that the one who paddles faster always reaches earlier but the one who keeps on paddling at his own pace without stopping. When we reached the top of gata loops we felt relieved. Took lots of pictures in different poses. ate chocolates , had rest for an hour. We were convinced that the hardship for the day was over and ahead was downhill. But as we moved along to our surprise we found out that the road never went down. Instead the road seemed never ending with all uphill. Some of us tried short cuts also but with no benefit. I lay down on the side of the road to take rest for some minutes. When I woke up I realized that I had been sleeping for 45 minutes. Finally we all reached Whisky Nullah by around 4 pm . Its nothing but one small camp in the middle of nowhere after you cross nakeela and go downhill for some 15kms. The attraction of this place is the owner of the camp. He is like god to people who are struck there. The most helpful person I had come across. He had helped us 2 years ago when one of our motorcycles had a flat Tyre and we reached his camp in the middle of the night. Obviously he didn't remember us as this was his usual job to help people like us. This time also he was saving some lost biker whose bike' group had left him behind we don't know his name .We like to call him Rajnikant uncle because of his capability of solving every problem just like that.

A Self Supported Manali Leh Cycle Expedition

Day- 7 (Whisky Nullah - Pang ) : Today was going to be easy. After a continuous steep climb of 5 kms we crossed Lachungla pass. Ahead from here was all downhill. The day was easiest by far and did not pose much of challenge. We also saw some water streams after many days. we reached pang by 1 pm an decided to stay there. In pang we met a polish cyclist who was cycling all the way from Poland. Where we were wearing many layers of clothes and still shivering with cold,he was comfortable in a t shirt. There was tv inside the camp in pang. We lay comfortably inside the camp while we stuffed our stomach with food. In the afternoon we saw singham movie and in the evening it was filmfare awards . We also made calls to our homes from the army camps.

A Self Supported Manali Leh Cycle Expedition

Day- 8 ( Pang- Debring ) : After all these days of cycling we were not afraid of distance anymore. For today it was 55 kms. Of this 55 kms, 5kms was steep climb just after Pang. The rest of 50kms was more planes. Its a flat land at an altitude of 14000ft, with very gradual slope. For half of the distance road was like a runway strip of an airport where we must have clocked 50km/hr speed at some points. For the rest half the road was very bad. In this road only, I broke my cycle carrier from one side. As soon as we found out this, the next question was how will I manage to carry all this luggage with a broken carrier for the rest of the trip. Thankfully the distance remaining for today was very less from this point . My team shared some of my luggage & we paddled for another 10kms to reach Debring ( the starting point of tanglang la pass's climb ). In the night sharma ji made a very good jugaad out of one rubber strip & a small piece of wood for my carrier to last through rest of the trip. It worked fine. Hats off to Sharma ji. Of all the nights we had spent,the night was coldest here.

A Self Supported Manali Leh Cycle Expedition

Day- 9 ( Debring - Upshi ) : None of us got sound sleep. Today was our second last battle . It was Tang Lang La Pass. There is no doubt left about reaching leh once you cross this pass as there is downhill of 100kms after this pass till you reach leh. Tang langla is the second highest pass in the world after Khardungla & some claim it to be tougher than khardungla because of the high speed winds that blow here. After we had breakfast, We started paddling. The top was 20kms from the dhaba we stayed in. The pass's climb is very demotivating as the entire road to the top is full with loose gravels and dust. This dust mixed with cold thin air is a deadly combination for your lungs. As we approached the top there was an excitement building as we were eagerly waiting to see how a continuous 100km downhill feels like. As we neared the top snow started falling. It seemed like the god of adventure is himself welcoming us on successful completion of the trip. Yes by this time we felt like we have done it despite of the fact that Leh was still 100kms away and Khardungla was still a big battle to be fought. We reached the top. Took some snaps & started descending . Unlike what we had expected, descent was very boring. Our hands were paining with continuous application of brakes. Our asses were paining due to long sitting hours. After 2 hrs of descent things started to look green. We could see grass & flowers on the both sides of the road. It felt like an oasis in the dessert. Here we realized how much we had missed everything. We just wanted to sit somewhere, drink something nice, eat something tasty. The first town that came on our way was Rumtse, here we had lunch. This lunch was the worse food of the entire trip and one of the worst of my entire life. So we decided to move on and reach Upshi as soon as possible. We stopped at many places on the way. Took lots of pics. With so much vegetation around, our lungs felt the abundance of oxygen which instantly reflected on our faces. Everybody was happy & smiling . We reached Upshi & booked a small hotel room for the night.

A Self Supported Manali Leh Cycle Expedition

Day- 10 ( Upshi - Leh ) : We woke up with excitement. We knew that today we will be in leh. The thought of reaching leh on cycle made us think of that day when we had decided to do it for the first time. We had lived our dream.We felt extremely proud of ourselves . The happiness that we felt can not be defined in words. Now we were totally laid back. riding slowly. We just wanted to be in Leh. The thought of taking bath in the hot shower of a luxury hotel room & afterwards sipping beer sitting at the terrace of one of those restaurants in Leh in the evening made us filled with excitement. Thats exactly what we did that day. We dint think much about khardungla by this time. For now we just wanted to celebrate. and that's what we did.!!!

A Self Supported Manali Leh Cycle Expedition

Day- 11 ( in Leh ) : We spent the next day roaming the streets of leh . Eating here and there. Took permission for Khardunlga pass from the govt. office there. In the evening our routine was exactly same everyday. We had our most of the meals in Himalayan restaurant. The food here is very nice. The terrace of the restaurant overlooks the entire city and Leh castle and is a nice place to sit and sip beer. After indulging in luxuries for the last one and half day , the thought of going to khardungla dint excite us much. But we dint want to miss it. Moreover our friends from Maharashtra convinced us in favor of doing it. So we decided to it the next day. We went to bed late in the night with half a bottle of old monk inside us.

Day- 12 ( Leh- Khardungla-Leh ) : The alarm started ringing at its fixed time. It was 5 am in the morning. We were not at all prepared for Khardungla. Still in hangover from last night we dragged ourselves somehow to get ready. We left our hotel at around 7:00 am. By the time there was lots of movement in Leh. The streets were being cleaned. Some shops were opening. Lazily but steadily we started paddling. We just wanted to get it over. Today was like the last day of final exams when you just want to get over with it.Today we were desperate to reach the top so in our desperation we tried some shortcuts too. For that reason we lost lots of valuable time. Today we had one advantage that we were not carrying luggage . we had left all of our luggage in the hotel room. We reached the top late in the evening. We were in a hurry to return as soon it was going to be dark and non of us had lights in our cycles. And off course we dint want to get struck on the highest pass of the world at a altitude of more than 18000 ft. So we started descending back to leh. By this time brake shoes of my cycle had been worn completely. So I tightened them to the maximum till they started rubbing with the rim. I didn't care about the efficiency loss because there was no need to paddle till the doorstep of our Hotel room. It was steep descent of approx. 50kms from Khardungla top to our hotel. We did it in 2 hrs and reached Leh. By the time we reached it was dark already. We celebrated the completion with Gulaab Jamuns from a local halwai. This was it. The trip was over. We had done it.

A Self Supported Manali Leh Cycle Expedition

Day- 13,14 ( In Leh) : For the next two days we stayed in leh. One of these days we spent on the bank of Indus River doing some book reading. The other day we spent in our hotel room drinking old monk,sleeping in between and reading in between. Our flight to Delhi was on 16th morning. We woke up early. Threw away things which were not useful anymore like the broken carrier of my cycle. Finished with all the check in formalities at the airport. While we sat in the flight to Delhi and saw the laddakh from the sky we asked ourselves WHAT NEXT ?

Girish Kumar

I love exploring mother nature in all its forms. I am a keen Cyclist, Hiker & a Novice Kayaker. Curr Read more

Add a Comment

* Your email address will not be published. All fields are required.