Manali to Leh – A Surreally Challenging Expedition !!
“You NEVER ride the Cycle, OLX par bech dein ?” (Shall we sell your cycle on OLX?)
“Whaaat”, I was shaken, did I hear my husband right?
“Since you don’t cycle, shall we SELL OFF YOUR CYCLE”? This time my husband added that extra stress.
“Nooooooo” I gave a dramatic cry.
I had big dreams of riding to exotic places but over a period of two years the cycle (along with my dreams) was relegated from the Lift Lobby to Balcony to the store room.
Also Read about the Bamboo Bridge Trek
HOW THE CYCLE GOT ROLLING!
One thing led to another and I was soon cycling with a group of Lady cyclists I could identify with.
It no more felt silly that a group of women in their late 30s were going to bed early on friday nights so they could ride their bikes around in circles early Saturday mornings.
It was my first taste of riding in a group at speed, long distance and I loved it.
Take Away Tip for Beginners:
Find a group of people who share your interest and plan your rides with them. Riding in company is not only safe but also encouraging as you will always have someone who rides at your pace, someone you can look up to and hopefully someone whom you can guide !!
If you happen to be at a place where such groups are difficult to find, don’t give up but try cycling on a stationary cycle in a gym close to you.
If you happen to be at a place where there is no gym, look around, you just might be in the mountains!! Enjoy the serenity!
Also Read Mesar Kund Trek with Children
I wanted something more challenging...
Within a month of cycling, I realised that it was getting addictive and I needed a bigger and more challenging goal.
As challenging as cycling from Manali to Leh, traversing through some of the highest passes in the world and cutting across beautiful trails!!
I was all set to cross 5 high altitude passes:
Rohtang-La @3980 m,
then Baralacha-La @4830 m,
Nakee-La @4442 m,
Lachung-La @5065 m
and finally Tanglang-La the highest of them @5328 m. (Just for the sake of comparison and wow factor, Everest Base Camp is at the same height).
Also Read Family Skiing Holiday in the Alps
What does it take to cycle from Manali to Leh?
There is obviously a lot more to it than a six-bullet-point list !
I am no Spring Chicken and here is my Non-inclusive list of what it takes to do the Manali Leh Expedition !!
1) No matter what you do, nothing can prepare you for this! That definetly does not mean do not prepare for it. What I mean to say is that be prepared for it to be tougher than your rides on plains.
Also Read the Tattooed Tribes of Apatani in Ziro Valley
2) 90% is mental strength and 10% is physical ! Coming to think of it, I can’t think of anything in life which is not dominated by mental strength! No matter how physically strong you are, you need to be mentally strong for this expedition : You would come across passes where you can see your destination and yet it takes hours to reach. In such situations the mental strength will pull you through!
3) Incorporating strength and flexibility work outs even for five minutes a day delivers results: The long days and not so friendly terrain demands high physical fitness. To prepare you body, start jogging regularly. You should be able to do 10 km in 75 minutes twice a week for 4 weeks (Well I definitely wasn’t this fit but this is a good benchmark).
4)Try reducing weight by a combination of good diet and exercise.
5) Cycling from Manali to Leh is not about speed but about distance. Try to spend as much time as possible on the saddle : Preferably going for 100km+ rides on weekends
6) Respect and listen to your body : Do not ignore the signs of altitude sickness but respect it. Do not push yourself too much at higher altitudes and respect your body.
Also read 10 tips for trekking with children
TAKE AWAY TIP : On our way we met 170 Buddhist nuns of the Drukpa order who are also known as the Kung Fu Nuns.
They were cycling all the way from Nepal to Leh! What I observed was that their Rinpoche (spiritual teacher) made them take periodic rests and so the brave nuns could cycle their way with ease even uphill .
Eventually, I adopted the same strategy and depending on the pass / altitude we were climbing, I took periodic stops which ranged from every 15 minutes to every 45 minutes. The heart rate decided my pace and so I felt far more in control of myself and situation.
Also Read It is OK to be a Me-Time Mom
THE RISKS INVOLVED!
The Manali Leh route is 480kms long!
While the route is very scenic, in-spite of BRO’s constant endeavours, at many places the rains have damaged the road and one needs to ride on loose gravel!
Even on a proper tarmac road, beware of the tourist vans and travellers, who have no respect for either traffic rules or riders!!
There are turns where the narrow road hangs directly over the valley, and it is here that you need to be doubly cautious on your saddle!!
This is a considerable altitude when coming in from the plains. This is where you will be most susceptible to catching Acute Mountain Sickness.
This can be avoided by going on a course of Diamox : I took half tablet of 250 gms of diamox twice in a day and was not affected adversely by altitude at all!
NOTE: Please take medication after consulting with your Physician.
WHAT DOES IT COST ?
Personally, it cost me close to Rs 70k. This cost includes accessories like cycling gear, cycle spare parts, Expedition operator charges, transportation charges and few other miscellaneous charges.
I own a Merida Matts 20-MD
and so I saved on renting a cycle.
(The 2013 Merida Matts 20-MD is a hard-tail bike designed for cross-country riding. It has 26-inch wheels, an aluminium frame, 100 mm of travel and basic-level components). An overview on this cycle can be read HERE.
One has three options to go on this expedition :-
Self-supported : As was done by Ajay Jaiman and you can read his experience of cycling Self-Supported at Jaiman.org .
Pros : Cheapest Alternative of all the options.
Cons : Going self supported is more for experienced riders who can handle any and all kind of breakdowns (physical, mental and cycle breakdowns) !!
Pros : Incase, of a breakdown, you have a back up to, well, back you up!! You will also be able to carry a spare cycle and more luggage.
Cons : Since, this involves hiring of a vehicle this would be costlier than the self-supported option, however, it will be far more cheaper than engaging a Tour Operator.
Go with a Tour / Expedition Organiser : As was done by me!! Depending on the Expedition Organiser, the cost will vary from Rs 30k to Rs 60k.
It cost me 40k to engage Cycleit.
The cost included Tour Leader, Support Vehicle, Medical Kit, Oxygen Cylinder, energy food, juices, fruits, dry fruits, bottled water, ors, glucose, stay & all meals in hotel/guest house/ camp from manali to leh. Many of the photos posted on this blog post have been clicked either by Cycleit or the talented Photographer Varun Chaudhary.
I must add that the food prepared by the cook was excellent and not even once did we have a loss of appetite due to either altitude or bad taste of food !!
How to reach Manali and get out of Leh
By Road: There are quite a few buses that operate between Delhi and Manali.
Private buses can be booked at htttp://www.redbus.in .
Himachal Pradesh Tourism operates buses that start at 4:30 in the evening from Janpath and reach Manali the next morning. The tickets can be booked at http://hptdc.nic.in
HPTDC Bus Review : The Ticket Checker (for lack of any other name I can think of calling this manager inside the bus) charged us Rs. 20/- for each baggage and Rs. 300/- for each cycle box (No receipt issued).
By Air: Indian Airlines operate flights everyday between Delhi and Kullu.
Getting out of Leh:
By Air: Leh is well connected to Delhi and a number of operators fly this sector. But the tickets are very expensive and a last minute airline ticket can be very steep. Booking a ticket months in advance is advisable.
By Road: you can travel to Manali or Srinagar from Leh and then onwards to Delhi. Many buses operate on both the sectors.
I hope this post inspires you to traverse Trans Himalaya! Don’t forget to leave your thoughts on this blog post in the comments section.