Manali to Khardung La by bicycle

I was jobless, overworked(by my standards), heartbroken and the place I wanted to work at rejected all my applications. So I decided to cycle from Manali to Khardung La. This solution might not seem very logical but then again I am a huge fan of Steven Spielberg.

Lachung La

Keep breathing, cried each cell in my body while cycling up to Khardung La, the highest motorable road on the planet. At an altitude of 5500 meters, my brain was malfunctioning, my nose refused to breathe enough air and my throat was sucking on freezing air like a vacuum cleaner. I saw a dark green Maruti gypsy car rushing downhill but slowing down just before me. Suddenly an army officer pulled his arm out and gave me thumbs up.

I gathered last bits and pieces of chocolates left and bribed my muscles to generate some torque. The road conditions left no scope of deterioration and perpetually played with my emotions. On the bright side, Sun lord was very generous and helped create many rivulets on the “road”.

Finally, huffing and puffing, I reached Khardung La top only to find myself in the middle of Chandni Chowk. It was crowded and some Santa-Banta had parked his car right in front of the highest motorable road sign.

I have created a documentary about my whole journey from Kullu-Manali to Leh-Khardung La and it is available on youtube. Please feel free to leave comments.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c2o_rhGczRw
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QrP0MNlTnjU
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CgC9_1JQNNg
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T_iNTtWh2NU

Through this expedition I am raising funds to get ten families access to piped water connections. The identification of the people is already done and they are listed on http://www.milaap.org/view-all-projects.

To make a loan please click the contribute button.


Milaap is a social enterprise that enables people around the world to give a loan to the working poor in India. Based in Bangalore, Milaap is the world’s first and currently, the only online micro lending platform that enables non-Indians and non-resident Indians (NRIs) to make a loan to India. Milaap’s loans are aimed towards providing people with access to basic essentials like clean drinking water, sanitation, renewable energy, vocational training and enterprise development.

Your contribution is a loan, not a donation.

  • 100% of your money goes to the end borrower
  • You will know exactly who your money goes to and get regular repayment updates
  • Within 18 months, you will get 100% of your money back.

You can choose to re-lend the same money to another borrower – this way, a small amount of money goes a long, long way.

To know more about Milaap and how it works, read some FAQs: http://www.milaap.org/how-it-works-methodology

10 June 2012 – 41 kms
Kullu (1200 m) to Manali (1800 m)

Today I went to Kullu, from Manali, to get my bicycle though I was expecting to get one here. I caught a local private bus, which took two hours to cover mere 41 kms. With much thinking for about 15 minutes, I bought Trek 3700 for INR 25k – Alloy body, 100 mm suspension, good gear ratio coverage. Sunil, the shop manager, assembled the bike, from a packed box, within an hour and I was good to go. By the way, how do you change the gear? I started my long journey and was excited to cover first 8 kms uphill in no time but the sheer climb subdued my adrenaline. I tried to revive my energy with banana, Maggie and egg. I hoped that the uphill would eventually turn downhill but my expectations were consistently betrayed. Finally I saw Manali entry gate and revived my last muscles to push 2 more kilometres through a road packed with cars and people. It seemed that the whole Delhi was in Manali.

13 June 2012 – 37 kms
Manali (1800 m) to Marhi (3300 m)

I started at 9:30 in the morning. It was a cloudy day and it had rained earlier. I said goodbye to people I came to know in last three days. I started my day with standard Indian breakfast of butter paranta, eggs and masala chai. I started light and swift and covered 20 kms in 3 hours through beautiful, lush green valley. I have never seen such tall trees in my life, 50 meters. It took me much time to push up last 10 kilometres since the air was getting thinner and I was shit scared by the trucks overtaking me on a narrow road. I reached Marhi at 5:30 in the evening and met another cyclist Promod, who was going to Srinagar via Leh, but I couldn’t keep my pace with him. I am taking a day off in Marhi to get acclimatized and to let sensitive areas of my behind heal.

15 June 2012 – 80 kms
Marhi (3300 m) to Keylong (3300 m) over Rohtang Pass (3900 m)

I started at 8 in the morning. The wind was strong and skin ripping. I started my way to Rohtang Pass, the deadliest road in the world filmed on history channel two years back. It didn’t seem that deadly by bicycle but it was muddy. Of course being a cyclist, you receive much respect in this part of the world, unlike Delhi where you get horned and yelled at all the time. So I was given preference over all other vehicles. I reached Rohtang pass in four hours super excited – no word for Rohtang pass. It’s crowded and filthy. A word of caution – Do not go to Rohtang in June or you may die of Claustrophobia. The way down was horrible. I had to drag my bicycle through half foot mud and as I thought the hard part was over my brakes gave up. The rubber of the brake shoe started melting like wax and within an hour the bicycle was accelerating downhill with full brakes on. Of course, as always the last resort, I prayed god to spare my life as my heart kept beating like a jackhammer. Somehow I managed to reach Sissu at 4:30 but decided to cycle on to Godla (another 13 kms). But once I reached Godla I heard that the guard at the government guest house ran away with neighbour’s girl and it was closed down. Phew!! So I decided to move on to Tandi when a dog decided to join me on my expedition. It happily invited a donkey to join as well. So there we were donkey, dog and I strolling through the Leh highway to our destination. Their names were “Dino the dream dog” and “Dony the dufus donkey”. When I reached Tandi, it was 7:00 and was beginning to get darker and the road had turned into piles of stones. I gathered my last strength to pull the bike 7 kms uphill to Keyong, the capital of Lahaul. I have ordered new brake shoes, which will arrive here tomorrow evening. So I will start day after tomorrow.

17 June 2012 – 45 kms
Keylong (3300 m) to Patsio (3800 m)

I started at 8:30 after heavy standard Indian breakfast. The beautiful Lahaun valley landscape kept me distracted from muscle pain. Had my lunch at Jispa and cycled on to Darcha. The road past Darcha was demanding – dust, stone road with a sheer slope. After seven kilometres uphill through this dungeon I reached a smooth road. I met a big pack of sheep and saw a pond, Chandra tal, of crystal clear water. I reached Patsio at 3:30 pm and found a place at government guesthouse. Luckily there was no neighbourhood. It is an old British style guesthouse but looks more like a haunted house. No electricity unfortunately. My last wish before sleep – God if you were to send a ghost it better be of a hot girl.

18 June 2012 – 9 kms
Patsio (3800 m) to Zingzing bar (4200 m)

My legs hurt. Each paddle is a struggle. My brain is playing tricks on me. Each cell wants me to turn back. The road is impassable. Each car passed creates a wall of dust. My heart has lost all desires to go to Leh. The hard part has just started. The altitude is 4200m and every place ahead is above this altitude.

19 June 2012 – 53 kms
Zingzing Bar (4200 m) to Sarchu (4450 m) over Barlacha La (4950 m)

I started at 7:30 in the morning with a heavy standard Indian breakfast of parata, egg, butter and masala chai toward Barlacha La standing at 4950 m. My average speed uphill was 4-5 kms/h, which is equivalent to 20-25 kms/h on a flat ground at sea level. On the way I came across a semi frozen lake, Suraj Tal, and I was hypnotized and mesmerised by its pristine beauty, pure and untouched, like moonshine reflecting on milky white silver. After a few more paddles I reached the top – the prettiest landscape I have ever seen. The beauty had a silent side as well which was a bit depressing and reminded me of desires we can’t fulfil – the sheer power of Mother Nature. I started my way down through gradual downslope, my bicycle rolling down at 40km/h. After 5 days of sweat and dust, I was excited to hear that I could shower. During the process of showering I realized that the bathroom was half open and the sheer wind was literally freezing the water on my body. I made a point not to shower before Leh.

20 June 2012 – 50 kms
Sarchu (4450 m) to Whiskey Nallah (4700 m)

I went to bed really tired and happy but the bastard of a guy next door kept snoring all night long so I didn’t sleep well. I started at 7:30 in the morning and covered 25km of plane quickly. Then came the tormenting part – Gata loops. 21 loops going up turning 180 degrees for a total distance of 10 kms. I was exhausted when I reached the end of gata loops and savoured on snickers and banana. The road was dusty and my nose refused to breath enough air. I was breathing with my mouth sucking as much air as possible and used my monkey cap as dust filter. I paddled another 6-7 kms in thin air and reached Nakeela pass. Though the marker says its 15547 feet but I am sure BRO miscalculated the altitude.  It was definitely harder than Barlacha La. I reached Whiskey Nallah and met another cyclist, Roland (and whom I would meet later again in Leh after 15 days), who has been cycling in India for past 3 years. He started from England 3 years ago and came to India by bicycle. I hope he finds him pearl gem. Sleeping at 4700m is real fun – I am perpetually drunk.

21 June 2012 – 28 kms
Whiskey Nallah (4700 m) to Pang (4500 m) over Lachung La (5053 m)

Before leaving I met a couple of motor-bikers but one of them was a bit annoying. He was one of those who grow long moustache and think that their random comments are words of wisdom. But I was quite satisfied to learn that he puked a day before. Okay I should stop bitching about others. I reached Lachung La (5053 m) without much effort. I had a photography session with a truck driver at the pass. I started my way down and had another photography session with the drivers. They were sad because their trucks were stuck in mud and we cracked jokes about pulling the trucks with my bicycle. I also met a Swiss couple who was cycling in the opposite direction on a tandem bicycle. I reached Pang. I think I connect better with cyclists than others because they don’t ask me “why cycle”. Well, my usual answer is “I am unemployed”. I found a place run by two local girls. Very pretty 😉

22 June – 50 kms
Pang (4500 m) to Debring (4800 m)

I met three English cyclists in the morning. Two were going towards Leh but I didn’t fancy joining them. I started at 8:00 and climbed first 6 kms without much pain to find one of the most amazing sites. It was an all in one package – desert, river, ice, green lush fields in one snapshot, just before the start of Morey Plains, a plateau stretching 45 kms in length and 4 kms in width. First 15 kms were smooth like butter melting on paranta but it eventually turned into pile of stones and desert sand. It even became wider and less defined. My bicycle and I reached Debring in one piece. For those who want to live in the hardest conditions imaginable, this is the place. The three required conditions of survival – water, air and food are absent. No traces of life at all.

23 June – 73 kms
Debring (4800 m) to Upshi (3300 m) over TangLang La (5328 m)

It was the hardest day so far. I started at 8 in the morning. The sun was shining but the wind had picked up. After a few kilometres I was tired – physically and psychologically. To address it as a road would bring into question the definition of the word – perhaps ruins of a road. The slope was sheer, bone chilling wind against me and altitude over 5000 meters. I thought of going back but decided to finish my food first and then went on. Luckily, after a few paddles the road turned right and the wind was blocked by the mountain. I continued my journey with frequent breaks and finally saw the flags of Tanglang La 100 meters ahead. People say one can see K2 from Tanglang La. I tried but didn’t know which one was it. The way down was no less complicated. It was all muddy. I made my way to Leh valley – green and beautiful. Now on a mission to devour 1 kg mangos.

24 June – 49 kms
Upshi (3300 m) to Leh (3300 m)

I was lazy in the morning and started late. The landscape was extraordinary, gradually shifting from barren to lush green. I stopped many times and took my bike off road to take photos. A cycling trip without a puncture doesn’t sound nice so to fulfil my subconscious desire my faithful bike decided to kiss a sharp nail with its front tyre. Every Indian has a repairman in it and I am no exception. I had never repaired a puncture but I didn’t take a second to rethink. I was good to go after pumping air for 15 minutes. I reached Leh before lunch and immediately fell in love with it. I am staying at Goba guest house (Tanzin rocks) as recommended by a friend and have met really amazing people.

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9 thoughts on “Manali to Khardung La by bicycle

  1. I haven’t been able to push to 80km in one stretch yet but I have managed to go to 60km on my atlas gold. I have booked Trek 3700 for a month. I am leaving from my hometown on 13th June and will reach Manali on 14 evening. I will put up the exact schedule on 5th June.

    Gaurav

  2. there was this fella… fella I wanna tell ya about. Fella by the name of Gaurav Gupta. At least that was the handle his loving parents gave him, but he never had much use for it himself. Mrr. Gupta, he called himself “The Snakes”. Now, “Snakes” – that’s a name no one would self-apply. But then there was a lot about the Snakes that didn’t make a whole lot of sense. And a lot about what he did, likewise. sometimes there’s a man… I won’t say a hero, ’cause, what’s a hero? But sometimes, there’s a man. And I’m talkin’ about the Snakes here. Sometimes, there’s a man, well, he’s the man for his time and place. He fits right in there. And that’s the Snakes. And even if he’s a crazy man – and the Snakes was most certainly that. Quite possibly the craziest of all IITians, which would place him high in the runnin’ for craziest worldwide. But sometimes there’s a man, sometimes, there’s a man. Aw. I lost my train of thought here. But… aw, hell. I’ve done introduced him enough.

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