Cycling from Manali to Leh – Day 5,6 – Gata Loops

Baralacha La was 14 kms away on the 5th day. Venu was down with altitude sickness and preferred to walk rather than cycle. None of us had a great sleep the previous night due to the cold and altitude. And now, it was uphill until the top. A few kilometers later, mountain sickness caused Venu to retire to the jeep. He would get better only after we reached a lower altitude. Sandeep coughed and cycled all the way. Cycling here is really a test of one’s limits. You start thinking in terms of moving forward by inches.

Pedalling Up Baralacha La

After 3 hours through snow, ice and summer streams; After 2 tyre punctures on 2 different bicycles; And after all the sweat and pain, the reward was here: Suraj Tal. Photos can’t do full justice here.

Road from ZingZingBar To Baralachala Suraj Tal Suraj Tal

Another one hour later, we finally crossed Baralacha La. 2/5 passes passed. 3 more remained; Nakee La, Lachalang La and Taglang La. For today though, we were lucky with just another 30 kms of downhill.

Baralacha La At Baralacha La Tsarap River

Along the Tsarap river, the road feels like a dream. It looks flat but we could rocket through the landscape at mad speeds until we reached Sarchu, our campsite for the day.

Towards Sarchu Sarchu Camp

Next day, we planned to reach Pang, 75 kms away. But there were two big passes to be crossed on a single day if we were to do that. So, we were still deliberating on whether to stay at Pang or close the day at Whisky Nala which was just 50 kms away. Anyway, we packed some Paratha for breakfast and started off.

Sarchu To Gata Loops

We crossed funny landmark points such as Whisky bridge, Brandy bridge and Twing Twing bridge. Through Gata loops, our huge cavalcade of 19 cyclists had become a sight in itself. The Gata loops is a straight climb uphill for 10 kms turning 180 degrees 21 times and is a morale killer. The next 10 kms after Gata loops towards Nakee La though is pure evil. Like a TV mega serial, it went on and on and on.

Twing Twing Bridge Up Gata Loops Gata Loops And Tsarap River

Finally, after Nakee La, we cycled 5 kms downhill to reach Whisky Nala. The unventured group carried on to cross Lachalung La but the 7 of us made a change in plan and stayed at whisky nala.

To Nakee La

At such uninhabitable places stay some of the most happiest people. The tent owner for example lives a nomadic life, doesn’t care much for a distant future and is as cheerful as anyone can be. They didn’t even charge more money than they needed and were always anxious to help. There is plenty to learn from these lot.

Whisky Nala

Cycling from Manali to Leh – Day 3, 4 – Zing Zing Bar

The countryside on the Chandra-Bagha river valley is one of the most beautiful I have ever seen. The river changes color between green, blue, brown, white and even grey depending on the time of the day and the type of mountains around.

CountrySide_ChandraBagha Cycling along ChandraBagha river Cycling along ChandraBagha river

On the 3rd day, Uli was down with a bad stomach. In such situations, it is hard to tell whether the problem is altitude sickness or the change in diet (3 of us south Indians and one German) or whether it is some infection. We had bought most of the medicine for the journey but deciding what to take is the difficult. Moreover, everybody has an opinion in such circumstances and nobody is sure. Our guy though was strong and he persisted with his cycling. After 8 hours of cycling, we were at Jispa at about 6 PM.

Rest at Tandi Jispa

Jispa with its green Bagha river is a really beautiful place in the summer, perfect for chilling out for a few days.

Jispa Cycling at Jispa

Our 4th day destination was ZingZingBar. Although the distance for the day was just about 35 km, it was uphill most of the way. The day saw us through Darcha, a police checkpost where every traveller has to register; then through Deepak tal, a high altitude small lake; through Patseo, where there is one tent serving maggi and dal-chaval; through army transit camps and through a huge expanse of barren dusty land.

Road to ZingZingBar Deepak tal Patseo Road to ZingZingBar Road to ZingZingBar Road to ZingZingBar ZingZingBar ZingZingBar

The uphill appears at some places like downhill due to a lack of reference terrain but the legs were telling me the truth. Finally, ZingZingBar showed itself but there was no bar to be seen. May be there was one during some army exercise or war. The actual camps are 6 kms further or in other words, 2 hours more of pain. Anyway, we were finally there and the only thing on our minds was ‘sleep’. The cold weather though does not support the tired man’s cause and we did not catch much sleep during the night.

At ZingZingBar, we met another group of three cyclists, all self supported and with an impressive journey behind them. One, Satish had cycled from Bangladesh to Tamil Nadu. The other group of 12 also finished with us.

Kitchen at ZingZingBar Camp ZingZingBar

After the fourth day, Leh looked well within reach.

Cycling from Manali to Leh – Day 2 – Rohtang

Rohtang: The pass of “pile of corpses”. It was a ominous start with a light rain overnight. Our support jeep driver and the hotel staff did not like the idea of us cycling up in bad weather. The driver woke us up at 3.30 AM and wanted to transport us in the jeep to somewhere safe on the other side of Rohtang. Elsewhere, a few hundred kilometers away in the Himalayas, floods were already ravaging villages and many were dead. The danger of floods and landslides was always present in our itinerary as well.

Started cycling in wet weather

We took a chance and started at 5.30 AM from Kothi. Luckily, the rains stopped just in time. The temperature was probably 10 C, the roads were still wet and it would be uphill for the next 35 kilometers at least. Thankfully, it was a Tuesday when the road is closed for normal tourists due to maintenance. I started with a good pace initially but eventually there was no energy left. We had a short chocolate break at Marhi at about 9.30 AM. Just then, the unventured group of cyclists started from Marhi. It seems that they had a bad night due to their tents getting drenched in rain in the outdoors. Definitely, this should have been one hell of an experience, especially in that cold.

Bad Roads are a possibility Waterfalls and Landslides

For the next 4 hours, I was in a trance state cycling through hairpin turns, land slides, slushy roads, rivers, waterfalls, snow and ice. Every muscle ached and there was a piercing headache, probably due to the altitude. My respiratory system was making a huge noise and my feet were wet from the snow on the road. I cycled and sometimes walked and was thinking if I was really sane to have undertaken this trip.

Whenever tired of cycling, I stop and take photos Cycling at Marhi

At 2 o’clock, I along with Sandeep reached the top some 2 hours behind Uli and Venu. The other group of 12 had already left Rohtang. While we were having noodles for lunch, it started to snow. The camp owner asked us to quickly start off or risk being stranded in the snow clad top. I still wonder why the locals are so scared about rain and snow. The name of the place certainly should have some facts behind it.

Someone from the unventured group Cycling in Yak countryFinally at Rohtang Crossed Rohtang Just before Sissu Rivers on the road to Sissu

From Rohtang till Khokhsar is a maddening downhill and the road, a pain in the ass, literally. Worse, I didn’t have a good saddle. Landslides had eaten up a lot of road. Snow and water were finishing off what was left of the road. I had one tyre puncture on the way. After Khokhsar, the road travels along the Chandra river and is quite good. Occasionally, you will find rivers crossing over the road and waterfalls falling directly on the road.

13 hours after we started, we reached Sissu just before 7 PM. We thought we had crossed the toughest part of the tour. Little did we know..

Cycling from Manali to Leh – Day 1 and Before

6 years back, in 2007, when I was touring at Manali with my family, I saw a lone cyclist between Manali and Rohtang pass. Until then, I had not even imagined that one could cycle in such a road.

Manali-Leh-Lone-Cyclist-2007

That sowed a desire in my head. Subsequently, I had quit my job and hence didn’t have enough money with me for such a trip. Later I joined the old job back again, got married and was always tied up by either work or family. However, 6 years after the dream was conceived, in 2013, dream was to turn into reality.

Task number 1: Permission from my wife. And it was granted. She knew that this was a really big dream of mine.

Task number 2: Logistics for the trip. Four of us had confirmed for the trip; me, Venu, Sandeep and Uli. 3 of us are in Bangalore where cyclists are a fast growing community in spite of the traffic woes. The fourth among us had planned to come all the way from Germany for the trip. A support jeep was planned to carry our luggage and for any eventualities during the trip. Raju (www.magicmountainadventures.com) would arrange the jeep for us in Manali. Sandeep and Uli decided to rent a bicycle from Raju while I and Venu decided to carry our own bicycle in our flight to Delhi. From Delhi to Manali, we would take a bus.

Task number 3: Preparation for the trip: A google docs excel sheet was prepared: Planning sheet for Manali to Leh cycling expedition. And the biggest preparation of all was to gain some cycling miles. We did Mysore-Melkote, Chamundi hills a few times and Bangalore-Nandi hills once. We did not know yet how difficult it would be in the Himalayas and that ignorance kept us confident for the trip.

On June 15th, we all reached Delhi. I and Venu were with our bicycle boxes. You can buy these from Firefox bicycle shops for Rs.20. The large boxes are a bit difficult to fit inside taxis though. You will need SUV type vehicles or better still, you could use public transport. Jet airways staff at Bangalore airport were awesome with their bicycle handling. We were almost accorded royal treatment. We took the airport metro express at Delhi airport and then, used a cycle rickshaw to the bus stand. On June 16th, we were at Manali. We got our other two bicycles from Raju, bought most of the items as per the excel sheet and were ready for the next day. Murari, our driver was also ready with the support jeep.

On June 17th, we started from Manali to Kothi at 9 AM. The excitement to start had kept me awake since 5 AM itself. Our original plan was to cycle upto Marhi which is about 35 km from Manali. However, all the camps at Marhi have been closed down now due to a court order related to environmental protection.

Manali to Kothi Start

Kothi is 14 kms from Manali. It is situated 600 meters above Manali at an altitude of 2500 meters. This would be an easy climb and a rest day at Kothi would also be good for acclimatization. As expected, we took less than 2 hours for the climb. The ride was not difficult but the traffic was. There are two or three hotels here and finding a room is not difficult. If you do not find accommodation here, you could go back 3 kms towards Palchan and find something there. We stayed at Hotel Sagu valley for Rs.1250 per room. The evening was spent playing Frisbee on the mountain tops.

Manali to Kothi Cycling - Byas river Manali to Kothi cycling - Uli and Venu Manali to Kothi cycling - Sandeep Frisbee at Kothi

At Kothi, we also met a group of 12 cyclists, most of who were from Bangalore. Gurudeep from Unventured.com was leading this team and we were happy to find another bunch of people to travel with. They headed off to Marhi where they would pitch their own tents. They had their own kitchen and hence did not have to rely like us on hotels or camps.

Real cycling had not yet started.

Mobile App to detect (and then warn about) speed bumps

As part of my MS project, I have been working on an android app that can detect and subsequently predict speed bumps. Although it is still a work in progress, I was able to get the detection part to work. Following image shows the speed bumps when travelling from Bangalore to Mysore:Speed Bumps from Bangalore to Mysore

Based on GPS data and accelerometer data from my android app, I could detect using R scripts (run offline) if a bump has occurred at any point in time. These were then plotted over a lat-long map. Google maps integration is still not done. So, I have just overlaid my image over google maps using gimp.

Next target is to upload the data points to a server running Python scripts to create a database of speed bumps.

For me, the motivation to do this is simple. Speed bumps on highways are just frustrating. If a database of such speed bumps exists, then it is easy to get warnings on the phone based on GPS location. Building the database is the tough part.

 

Bicycle – Best means of transport in Bangalore

First, let me compare some travel times here from my experience:

  1. Distance from my home to office – 9 kms (Jayanagar to Bommanahalli via the dreaded silk board junction)
  2. Travel time by bike – Average 35 minutes (Considering all kinds of shortcuts possible in a bike)
  3. Travel time by car – Average 50 minutes (30 minutes in the morning but upto 1.5 hours in the evening)
  4. Travel time by bus – One hour (But I like this one as I make good use of the time reading something)
  5. Travel time by bicycle – Exactly 35 minutes (traffic or no traffic)

However, cycling has its own set of problems but all of them have solutions. Here are some:

Masked Man

  1. Pollution – I had stopped cycling for a long time before I found the solution - An activated carbon cloth filter mask from Decathlon. I have been using this for some time now and it only needs a couple of days for you to get adjusted to it (just as you would get adjusted to a seat belt or a helmet). And it does its job well. If required, buy some glasses as well.
  2. Too much traffic – The distance from my home to office is 9 kms. However, I take a 9.5 kms route in the morning and a 10 kms route in the evening. These are entirely residential routes which the larger vehicles cannot take as most of these result in a road-divider or they are too narrow. In one section, I have a short 50 meter stretch that I have to push along the footpath as the road is a one way. But this keeps me away from the traffic. The advantages only available to cycles.
  3. A sweaty affair – This I must admit is a problem if your office does not have a shower facility. I take an extra shirt with me to office everyday as the shower room is not well kept.
  4. Crazy night traffic – Better planning helps. I start early and try to finish early from office. I either leave before 6 PM or leave after 8 PM. Also, I always carry a couple of LED lights with me.
  5. Office laptop/Other luggage – This one is easy. A saddle bag (not the old carrier type) can carry a lot of stuff safely.
  6. Rains – For this, I still haven’t found a good solution. I just ditch my bicycle and take my car on rainy days. Sometimes though, I have gotten unlucky and ridden in the rain.
  7. Some bad drivers/riders on the road – Patience is the only solution to this problem. Every time I start cycling, I tell myself that I will ignore anyone who behaves bad on the road.

Now, the good things:

  1. A lot of exercise for me and it is almost free.
  2. Faster commute and it is again free.
  3. For the environmentally conscious, nothing can beat cycling.
  4. And personally, it has taught me a lot of patience.

All I wish is that there will be dedicated cycling lanes and a little more respect for cyclists on roads. Just so that I’ll find many other cyclists on roads.

 

Technology entrepreneurship

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These and more are not ideas compiled from various places. These are ideas created in just 3 months of spring 2012 at Venture Labs.

Some 40,000 students from around the world participated and worked in teams together in the online course offered by Stanford during Spring 2012.  A total of 155 plans are shown in that website. Of course, all of them are technology related.

Technology has made its own growth exponential!

Experiment, Explore, Enjoy