About himalayabybike

I regular Joe who dreams too much.

Is corruption the leading cause of poverty?

During my professional experience in 10 countries across 3 continents, I have had the opportunity to listen to many opinions and beliefs on the topic of corruption and its implications on economic development. One being that the corruption is unacceptable in a prosperous and progressive society. A collective and homogeneous thinking that corruption leads to all sorts of bad things including crime, poverty, diseases etc. is pretty much believed by every faction of this world.

There is a common belief that countries are poor because they are corrupt and if the country stop being corrupt, they will become prosperous. Moreover, the politicians and administrators, irrespective of the type of government, are generally the primary sources of corruption, even at the bottom most level of the society. We do see countless times the leaders of democratic or autocratic government accused of bribe, corruption or crimes against humanity. In Africa, some corrupt mafia dictator ruling the country for years exploiting natural resources to fund wars. In Asia, (especially in India, Indonesia, Myanmar, Thailand and Cambodia) cronies gaming the entire institutional framework to fulfill their desire of a fat Swiss bank account.

As a matter of fact, it does make common sense. If the police stops taking bribe, hospitals start working efficiently, the fiscal budget reaches its intended destination, the infrastructure allows efficient flow of goods and services, the revenue from natural resources is distributed to local communities, the common benefit to the people would start improving. With this idea, many civil society organizations such as Transparency International, publish corruption perception index and lobby with western powerhouses to bring about a worldwide coalition to end the “devastating” impact of poverty by taking steps to establish transparent and honest governments in target countries. Their efforts and hardship in bringing a transparent and efficient governance are commendable. When corruption reaches the stage of anarchy and fragility, it does in fact, lead to extreme human suffering and bone-breaking inter-generational poverty. However, in a relatively stable country, many other factors contribute to sustaining extreme form of poverty.

If we study the history of socio-economic development and indicators across different countries, we start to see patterns, which indicate that corruption is not the leading cause of poverty. First of these patterns is geography. The geographic belt between the tropic of Cancer and tropic of Capricorn is far underdeveloped and poor than the semi-tropic and temperate regions. This climate creates significant barrier to the development of human and economic capital. The tropical climate is ideal for the evolution and spread of life threatening, yet preventable, diseases. Malaria mosquito, for instance, becomes active when the temperature is above 18 C. In this region the temperate is almost always above 18 C, creating an ideal condition for the Anopheles mosquito to evolve over time and become resistant to mosquito replants and malaria drugs. The malaria stain in Africa is much stronger than that in Southern Europe. The socio-economic cost of malaria, of which medicine is just a small part, exceed far more than commonly understood. Malaria and other similar diseases present in this region stunt the mental growth of children and are the leading causes of infant mortality rate in this region. Families tend to have more babies to compensate for the higher likelihood of children dying. This leads to further malnutrition and stunted growth, diminishing the lifelong earning capacity of the child. The physical, mental and economic implications of such diseases on children are enormous.

Many other geographical factors lead to poverty and suffering that we normally associate South Asia and Africa with. I will not go through all of them but explain three more, which will play a crucial role in future. The natural agricultural productivity (without fertilizer and irrigation) in these regions is dramatically lower than that in temperate region. Direct exposure to sun for a prolonged period has deteriorated the fertility of the soil in this belt. The extreme dry weather has reduced the moisture content of the soil. Unlike in temperate climate, the precipitation at night in tropical and sub-tropical is not sufficient to replenish the moisture content of the soil. Both these factors are extremely crucial for producing enough food to feed the high density population in the belt. This geographical challenge is is even more relevant for countries in sub-tropical close to the tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn. Increasing agricultural productivity through artificial measures (chemical fertilizers and irrigation) is a complex topic and requires deep understanding of the fragile ecosystem. The extension services that promote the right use of such artificial measures is missing in areas around this belt, leading to either no use or inappropriate use of chemical fertilizer and pesticides (as we are seeing in Asia), completely destroying the fertility of the soil and complex water ecosystem.

Another important geographical factor is the climate change. All twenty countries most vulnerable countries to climate change are from this belt. Brazil, home to mighty Amazon, has already started rationing water since their water crisis in 2014. In Malawi, one of the poorest countries in the world with GDP per capital of USD 400, many water ponds that have existed for thousands of years have dried out. Country is spending huge amount of money to dispatch drinking water, let along water for irrigation, to remote and inaccessible areas. It is one of the most beautiful countries I have seen. Wild animals still roam around freely in towns and cities. Country’s ecological footprint is close to negligible and is a net carbon sink. It is quite unfortunate that countries such as Malawi are paying the price for the GHG released by rich countries. Under no circumstances can countries such as Malawi mitigate or adapt to the effects of climate change and poor countries are almost certain to become poorer unless drastic measures are taken now.

The location of countries within these regions also play a crucial role in the economic development. Counties such as Bolivia, Tajikistan, Rwanda are landlocked and have an unforgiving terrain, making it painfully expensive to connect to the outside world for trade and maintain the basic infrastructure such as rail, road, power grid and also to provide basic services such as health, education to remote areas. The countries are not particularly rich in high worth natural resources (international selling price/volume or weight) such as diamond or gold to compensate for the high trade cost. Not only its expensive to build the basic infrastructure, tropical rainfall (which is usually much intensive), coupled with landslides and soil erosion, depreciates the cost of infrastructure much faster than that in countries in the temperate zone such as Germany, UK, France etc.

Second of these patterns is colonialism. Countries that were previously ruled by colonial powers, mainly western superpowers, tend to be poorer than countries that were not. For multiple reasons, the fundamental building blocks required for socio-economic development were not built by the colonial powers. Before industrial revolution, the GDP per capita in the Europe was around four times than that of Africa, mainly due to geographical reasons. Now it is around 22 times- much higher that before even when it is much easier and cheaper to transfer technology than it was two centuries ago. Colonial powers built infrastructure to support the extractive industry, which gave them huge capital surplus to enjoy higher standard of living and fund wars back home. Railways and roadways carried precious coal, timber, cotton, tea, metal, diamond from the source to the nearest sea-port. Other parts of the countries, that didn’t fall along the trade route, remained largely inaccessible. Additionally, millions migrated to rural areas, particularly in Africa, for the fear of slave trade, further cutting themselves off from accessing infrastructural and other basic services. Thus, as late as 1950-60s, the infrastructure remained largely undeveloped, while colonial powers by then had built roads, rails, communication, urban cities etc. For nearly two centuries, from the time the industrial revolution was started to the time countries gained independence, very little progress was made in Africa and Asia.

The biggest impact of colonialism was perhaps on the lack of human capital. In colonized countries, schools were non-existent and those that did, the quality was as good as nothing. Thus the native population remained illiterate. Post independence, in India, there were a handful of highly educated politicians but the middle management and administration was clueless. Many Asian countries that were ruled under democratic principles post independence, went into protectionism mode for the fear of foreign invasion. African nations, especially the francophone countries, were in complete shambles. No one knew the abcd of social and economic development. The departure of colonial powers created a power vacuum, which was filled, as usually is the case, not by the one who could wield the most intellect but by the one who dominated the most. This lead to civil wars, some liberation front fighting for some sort of freedom they have no idea about, with the support of western governments, which were influenced by big oil companies and banks. This anarchy is still prevalent in many countries and a peaceful environment required to develop precious human capital, in the form of basic schooling and health services, is still lacking.

Many other endogenous factors, which are as important as corruption if not more, contribute to sustained poverty and suffering. Effective Utilization of natural resources, fiscal policy, pandemics (HIV and recently Ebola), access to big markets such as US, China, Europe, all play a role in giving nations competitive advantage. Therefore, corruption is not the leading cause of poverty. It is a set of endogenous and exogenous factors, most of which are out of our capability to rectify, that has lead to the state of poverty we are in.

Here is an example to support the arguments presented to far. Rwanda, a land locked country in East Africa, has no natural resources and no human capital or infrastructure was built when ruled by Belgium. It is very close to the equator and doesn’t have easy access to big markets. Rwanda ranks higher than many European Union Countries and most East European countries in corruption perception index (CPI) published by Transparency International, meaning that Rwanda is less corrupt than Croatia, Italy, Greece, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Albania and Ukraine. However, Rwanda ranks much lower than all these countries in almost all socio-economic indicators such as GDP per capita, HDI, life expectancy, Infant mortality rate, literacy rate etc. We can found many similar examples. Thus, the idea that countries are poor because they are corrupt doesn’t hold true either in theory or in reality.

Does it mean that the countries in this band are doomed to remain poor? The answer is No. We should first stop considering good governance as the magic bullet and accept the fact that such countries will never reach the high standard of living enjoyed by the European countries. Developed countries should stop making excuses of corruption to wash their hands off and must stick to their commitment to contribute 0.7% of their GDP to ODA. Second, it is possible to achieve reasonably good happiness level and well-being (measured in terms of HDI) even with low income per capita. One such example is Sri Lanka, which has HDI close to that of developed countries and GDP/Capital close that of developing, started implementing right reforms three decades ago. Third, the governments is poor countries should develop a comprehensive development strategy based on the competitiveness of the country. Rwanda, for instance, ranks second in the list (after South Africa) of “Ease to do Business” countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and is also a top destination for tourism in Africa. Rwanda achieved this by leveraging technology to remove unwanted bureaucracy, implementing various structural reforms, and restructuring the financial sector. Rwanda has also invested heavily in education and health. The efforts of Paul Kagame, the President of Rwanda, has transformed the country from a war torn hopeless state in 1995 to one of the examples that other African nations can follow.


Overload of opinions

I broke three laws today. First, downloading Leslee Udwin’s, India’s daughter, banned by India’s parliamentary affairs minister, M Venkaiah Naidu. Second, downloading it in a country that bans video downloads and third, sharing a banned movie with my colleagues at work.

After watching the movie, I went through some facebook posts and read articles by Kavita Krishnan and Annalisa Merelli. I felt both perplexed as well as intimidated by the rigidity and diversity of opinions especially of those who have never had the opportunity to spend at least some amount of time in poverty or those who were never in or grew out of the normalcy of Indian culture. But first, let’s start with my own view about the movie.

Leslee has done a remarkable job in putting the movie together. I can’t even imagine what she must have gone through in getting those interviews. The documentary does touch upon some of the fundamental challenges that the Indian society has inherited through generations (which I will come later to). Leila Seth and Amod Kanth do, in fact, talk about why such heinous crimes happen. The movie consistently focuses on how the government has suppressed the civic society movements and hasn’t brought the victim and family to justice. However, the movie doesn’t talk about the situations that lead to the making of Mukesh Singh.

The movie presents three categories of people. In the first category fall Mukesh Singh and those two lawyers. In the other category fall Leila Seth, NGO founder, Psychologists etc. and in the third category fall the relatives of the victim and the rapists. The movie seems to sum the whole India up into those three categories. It seems to suggest that the first category is the result of India’s inability to take strict/quick action against wrongdoers/wrong-thinkers. The second category is the result of modern education inherited through the western world. The third category is the poor family whose sufferings needs to be brought on to the international map.

In reality, most of India doesn’t fall into any of those categories and not least in first two. We Indians are caring and tolerant people with a strong sense of belonging to close groups. Most of the fathers would not burn their daughters if she stays out late at night. Most of the men would not rape a woman to teach her a lesson. Most of the people do not receive right education to make gender neutral choices. Most of the men leave for work in the morning, come back home in the evening while a majority of women take care of the house. We eat our bread and salt and sleep peacefully.

So, if most of the men do not belong to the first category then where do rapists come from? They come from every corner of the society – rich, poor, educated, illiterate, north, south. It starts from the moment a boy is born, from the moment he is not allowed to do menial household chores. Every day as a boy grows, he is allowed to come back late and as a girl grows, she is expected to come back home earlier. Such everyday incidences, however small they may appear, create an environment where girls assume a meek and lowlife role and boys assume a dominant role. Such environment is the breeding ground for rapists. This is the story of almost every household in India (and everywhere around the world). The movie fails to focus much on this fundamental problem in the society.

Rapists don’t come from hell. They are born and bred in the same society. The convicted Juvenile lived in abject poverty for 11 years. He was regularly abused by people around him. He left his house when he was 11. He washed used plates for five years in a roadside food stall. He turning into a rapist is the collective failure (or effort) of the human society, which couldn’t provide even the most fundamental human right to education and food. Now the society demands that he be hanged. Who is the real rapist? Those corrupt politicians? Those lazy teachers? or those who chose to evade tax? This is the part that the movie fails to address altogether.

I firmly believe that the civic society engagement is an extremely powerful tool and if not done right, can turn even a stable country like India into a complete anarchy for the good of no one. May we have enough wisdom to be less opinionated and more introspective during such difficult times.

Some Thoughts on Regulations

The more I read and listen to about creating larger social, environmental and economic capital, the further I drift from seeing a solution to the pressing problems the world is facing today. The challenges that we talk about – poverty, political instability, social and economic inequality, unemployment, malnutrition, food shortage, water resources, climate change, terrorism – are huge, complex, interrelated and deeply rooted. In addition to that, if not done right, solving one challenge might elevate other in the negative direction.

As said by one of the professors during my MBA program, Confusion is the start of process of discovery towards insight. But confusion itself has to be structured. You can’t be confused about the confusion. So I decided to put my thoughts onto a paper with the hope that one day I could reflect upon my journey through the challenging times that we are facing today.

The engine of the world economy runs when people earn livelihoods, which is facilitated by public sector, private sector and social sector organizations. These organizations are the representatives of groups of people, commonly called the stakeholders, who have a set of interests and who want their representative organizations to pursue those interests. Generally speaking, it is hard for any organization to pursue and fulfill the interests of all its members. So as a compromise, the organization chooses to pursue the most common interests of those members with the highest voting power and greatest influence.

So far so good. Let us start with private sector organizations. Private sector has played an enormous role in building and shaping overall well-being of the humanity. In addition to creating livelihoods, private sector provides marketable skills, builds infrastructure, catalyzes urban migration, raises economy of scale, provides tax capital, leads innovation and so on and so forth. In addition to that private sector is involved in many CSR activities. For example, Vale, the world’s second largest mining company, provides education and skills to low income families in the areas they operate in. Tata, in India, has built townships that provide education and overall positive environment for the well-being of its employees.

Most private sector organizations, especially those that contribute significantly toward running the economic engine, are represented by those that have above average wealth. To a large extent the objective of the private sector organization still is to maximize the value of its shareholders in short to medium term. Of course there is nothing wrong with that per se. We human, by nature, are greedy and perhaps we are better that way. The problem starts to arise when the private sector organizations create value at the expense of non-member individuals by direct misappropriation or by imposing negative external costs.

Fortunately, direct misappropriation has become less common (though not that much so as evident through the recent financial crisis) but most non-members still continue to pay the cost of externalities without receiving the benefit in any form. For example, the communities living close to the coal power plants often breath toxic gases such as carbon monoxide. They pay enormous costs with shorter life. The early demise of sole bread earner in such communities further perpetuates the poverty trap. The irony is that they work hard to light millions of houses at a very high personal expense while their own homes have no access to electricity.

Let us have a sky level view of the public sector organizations. One can argue that a democratically elected government, in true sense, is a representative of every citizen of the country and is thus bound, legally or morally, to fulfil the interests of its citizen. So if we compare the representation of the bottom half of the population of a country in public and private institutions, the public sector would fare better. Public sector, by choice or necessity, corrupt or honest, efficient or bureaucratic, is the system that the bottom of the population puts its trust in to vanguard its interest.

It has been well establish that it the bottom half of the population that pays for the costs of externalities. So the first step for the organization that represents the bottom half of the population is to transfer that cost to its origin. How do we transfer the cost back to where it occurred? I see three ways by which the external costs can be transferred back to the entities that created those costs in the first place.

1. Self-correcting behaviour of the private sector organizations
2. Lifting the social and economic status of the individuals to become influential in the private sector so they can demand the internalization of the cost
3. Regulations to transfer the cost from the bearer to the producer/consumer

The possibility of option two happening anytime soon is quite unlikely. And this option would require high degree of social and economic equality, which would be hard to achieve without bringing democracy, capitalism, peace and innovation into the danger zone. So let us focus on option 1 and 3.

Should the government and the bottom of the pyramid leave it to the moral or economic judgement of the private sector organizations to make this transition or should the government regulate the private sector to adopt more responsible practices and take on the additional cost?

Some experts argue that the private sector industry exhibit self-correcting behaviour and that the non-sustainable practices, in long term, would weed out any competitive advantage that they enjoy. This would force them to adopt sustainable social and environmental practices while creating value for shareholders as well. This is commonly known as shared values or triple bottom like – People, Plant and Profit. We have seen the example of many organizations, such as Unilever, Proctor & Gamble, that have taken significant steps towards achieving sustainable production. However, such examples are limited both in terms of number of firms and scale of adoption and impact. Secondly, even though the consumers are becoming more environmentally conscious, Green Washing still remains a common practice even in many reputable multinationals.

As we have seen in a recent CEO study done by Accenture, the businesses have reached a plateau (or Nash equilibrium) and they find it significantly harder to create social value without compromising on the business value. We understand that to get out of this Nash equilibrium, the private sector needs to collaborate within a legal framework. But doing so would require long term thinking, mutual trust and moving out of “you first” attitude. Unfortunately, the pressure on the private sector to perform well in short term undermines any long term strategy that managers dare to envision, leading to the classic problem of market failure. Thus solution 1 doesn’t seem to be that viable.

The solution to this problem is not that complicated, at least I would like to believe so. We need to tackle sustainability on the supply as well as on the demand side. The current practice of buying and trading carbon credits is simply not effective enough and can easily be gamed. Sector wide regulations on firms need to be imposed to internalize the cost of externalities. Such internalization should be in the form of carbon tax, water tax, fair wages tax etc. This internalization would affect the bottom line and thus would ultimately be reflected in the share price. To financially sustain, the firms would need to innovate keeping a long term vision. Such regulations would immediately align the short term interests of an organization, i.e. maximizing shareholders value, with the long term interests of the society as well as the shareholders.

The demand side of the equation is somewhat difficult to correct. While making the buying decision, we tend to ignore the external cost of the product. A temporary increase in production cost would be passed onto the consumers, which might create a societal backlash. Therefore, such measures must be accompanied by educational campaigns. The democratic governments need to get out of the populist mindset and take bold steps even though it might temporarily slide the economy downwards.

The challenges we face today have reached a level that can not be reversed. In a recent conversation with a high level official at the UN, I learnt that such a well informed and powerful agency as the UN, never imagined that such events could ever unfold. But they did. The one and only thing that could save us from the dangerous unknown we are heading towards is greater global cooperation.

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.


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.