On the 4th of July, this year, I had gone on a cycling trip to the Himalayas. It’s been quite a while since I decided to put down my experiences here. Finally, I have started.
First 3 days
It was after a lot of confusion and frenzied running around that I finally got myself and my cycle on to the plane to Leh.
At the delhi airport
Those 2 hrs were the only moments of peace I had in the run-up to the trip. As I looked out of the window as the plane navigated the stunning and surreal-looking mountains, I, for the first time felt relaxed and finally could feel the thrill and excitement building up inside me. As I stepped out of the plane after a bumpy landing, I caught my first glimpse of the surrounding mountains from ground level. I got my cycle from the luggage check-out and caught a taxi to the hotel where my team-mates who had reached a day earlier than me were staying. I was scared of becoming sick because of the thin air. But, luckily, I did not get even a head ache. I just ate a lot, read and walked about Changspa Road taking in the sights and sounds.
In the afternoon I with the help of Vinod put my cycle back together. I then noticed that the rear wheel was a little bent. So, I cycled to a shop where I got the rim trued.
The next day we got all the permissions required for our tour plan from the police station. After lunch we decided to go to the Shey and Thiksey monasteries on cycle to see how well we were acclimatized. It was a 20 km ride(one-way). I thought the monasteries themselves were pretty boring. But the sights and sounds along the way and the experience of cycling in the thin air was something truly new to me.
This was the day that most worried me before the trip. This was supposed to be one of the highest road passes in the world and climbing up to it on cycle with our luggage was a tough proposition. The thought of doing it on the third day of flying into Leh gave me many sleepless nights before the trip.
I want to digress now and mention a little thing that struck me. When I was talking about my trip to a friend of mine after coming back, he told me that I should write it all down as fast as possible or I risked forgetting the details. But, I knew that unless a part of my brain was carved out there was no way of that happening. Every single moment of that trip was written in breathless strokes on a canvas of surreal surroundings and strange experiences and were etched so deeply in my mind that they will stay there for quite a while.
I have never experienced fatigue, pain, cold or breathlessness to the extent I experienced that day… ever! Only the sights around me and the company of people travelling on the road who stopped to talk to and encourage us kept me going.
There were land-slides at several places and it provided me with excuses for much needed breaks.
When I reached South Pullu and somehow stumbled into the little Dhaba there for some much needed food and tea, I thought there was simply no way I could cycle another 14 km up.
As we neared the pass the sun had warmed and melted the ice shelves lining the road. The road was awash with ice melt and in my fatigued state I lost my balance at several places and had to step in the water. My left shoe became wet and very soon I started feeling very cold. Jayakanth had gone on ahead. I and the others were going together. Finally, when I started thinking that the sign boards were tricking us and after not seeing one for quite a while, I saw a board which read
The world’s highest restaurant-500 m ahead.
The sun was starting to go down and it was starting to get dark. Finally mustering the last of my energy I pedaled on and came to the army station at the peak. I rode in and collapsed by the side of a building there. Behind me Rajesh, Girish and finally Vinod came up.
By then the others had moved on. I was starting to become very cold because I was in my cycling shorts and my one foot was exposed. The soldiers advised me to go down on the Leh side as it was easier to get help if I needed it on that side than on the road to Nubra Valley. So, I took their advice and descended on that side. Turned out it was good advice. My cycle carrier broke as I was nearing South Pullu. So, I dropped it off at the police station there and hitched a ride on a sumo. I came down to Leh booked myself a lavish room at The Ladakh Residency and dunked myself in hot water until feeling returned to my hands and legs.
People always ask me why I decided to tour by cycle and not simply travel by vehicle. Why go through the pain and uncertainty? Can’t you see the same things while sitting comfortably inside a car or on a bike? These are good questions.
As you will see over the next several posts as I put down details of the time I spent in the Himalayas on my cycle the answer to those questions will become apparent…
A few extra pics…