The goal and the path

I can choose one of many paths. Most are easy but they give me no joy. The one I like is dead opposite and I don’t know why. It just always is that way.

Sometimes, I am just a dice and the choice is not mine. But that is not always the case. One only thinks that way.

I see a beautiful stretch ahead of me but it does not last long. Yet, a few seconds of happiness is better than none.

Now there is so much of chaos and I’m overwhelmed. I toil through it for some time and it is now past.

This path is better as I see things not many others see. The restlessness of people and a race to nowhere.

Finally, when I see the goal from afar, I realize that I don’t want to stop. So, I pause.

- Thoughts of a city cyclist through unforgiving rain, dangerous traffic, peaceful bylanes.

Cycling from Manali to Leh – Day 9 – Leh

It was day 9, the last day of cycling during this trip. 5 high passes had been crossed, so much pain endured and so much distance traversed, the journey so far seemed quite unbelievable.

(click for larger image)

Each had our own reasons to do this trip. For me, it was just a really big dream and nothing else. For another, it was about discovering India. For many, it was about answering the question “Can I really do this?”. The unventured group had set themselves bigger goals. They call it the Laddoo project. They are trying to raise funds through this cycle ride. This wall street journal article explains more about their project.

Laddoo Project - Unventured

I was a bit sad on this day as there wouldn’t be any cycling tomorrow. I cycled as slow as possible so that it wouldn’t end soon. The landscape as usual changed all the way. From Upshi till Leh, the road goes along the river Indus. Numerous monasteries dot this way. This road also has a huge military presence and we even had Dosa at a military run restaurant at Karu. By evening, we were at Leh and it didn’t feel so special. I realized, the trip was about the past 9 days; Not about reaching Leh.

Chortens Lato Leh Indus Upshi Dosa Karu Karu Leh Thiksey Monastery

9 days was not just about cycling and beautiful places. It was also about new friends, their perspectives on life and also about the happy nomadic people in the camps. For me, this trip was a lesson on happiness.

Cycling from Manali to Leh – Day 7,8 – Taglang La

Lachalang La, the 4th pass in our itinerary was right in front of us from where we were at Whisky Nala. When we started cycling at 6 AM, there was still frost on the saddle and handle bars. I had never before felt as happy when the sun came out as today. The body warmed up and slowly, the energy levels increased. In 1.5 hours, we finished the 7 km, 300m climb.

Lachalang La

The scenery is never the same on two consecutive days and here, after Lachalang La, we seemed to have landed in some alien planet. Looking at these, I felt the Ladakhi architecture is influenced by this landscape.

To Pang To Pang

On the way down to Pang, the tires on mine and Uli’s bicycles cracked. While Uli borrowed a tire from the ‘Unventured’ group, I fortunately found a truck tire repair shop at Pang. The boys there did an amazing patch job on the tire which took me through the rest of the journey. The job took considerable time though and I had to sit in the jeep for 5 kms to catch up with the rest of our team. I repent not having another spare tire now.

Tire burst Repair at Pang Pang Repair

5 kms from Pang, at Moray plains, Ladakh is different again. It is hard to imagine a place like this at 4600 meters above sea level. The amazing Moray plains:

Moray Plains Moray Plains Moray Plains Moray Plains

About 75 kms from our start point, we reached our camp for the day at the Debring-TsoKar junction. This place has a few camps with nomadic people and their hundreds of yaks, pashmina goats, sheep. Here, you may like to think that you have time traveled a few centuries back where horsemen are still herding their huge herds along with the shepherd dogs.

Horsemen, sheeps, goats and yaks

Next day, we left well after the sun came and the target was to cross the highest pass on our route, Taglang La and then reach Lato. In my previous posts, I have used various adjectives to describe the difficult uphill at the various passes. But there can be no adjective for the difficulty of Taglang La. I’ll give some facts though. 20 kms of loose-stone road. 700 meters uphill. 5328 meters altitude. Atmospheric oxygen level half that at sea level. Sunny and dusty with no shade. And the effect was a lungs that worked so hard, it began to ache so much and I could feel it pushing hard against the rib cage. Nobody had enough energy yet most carried on. Today would be the finale in terms of climbing up. Those 6 hours are the toughest 6 hours of my entire life. Half-marathon and 10K runs now look silly. The body’s limits were tested today.

To Taglangla Taglangla Taglangla

And the climb would not have been possible if not for the motivation from Pip, a New-Zealander exploring the charms of the Himalayas. I, Venu and Pip finished together gloriously without pushing the bicycle once through this most difficult terrain.

From here till Lato, it was all downhill. This was reward time. The landscape now was changing faster than ever. One moment, it was snow. Next, it was a river, then rock mountains, then green fields, rivers, gorges, monasteries and we finally stopped a picturesque village called Lato.

After Taglangla After Taglangla After Taglangla TaglangLa to Lato Rumtse Rumtse Rumtse Rumtse to Lato Lato

We had finally made it. What was remaining was just some more feathers in the trophy.

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.

Experiment, Explore, Enjoy