Cycling near Jog Falls

This was one trip that I had been planning to do for a long time. Cycling in the rain through the ghats!

A lot of my friends had promised to come this time around. But, unfortunately, when the day of the trip came many of them dropped out because of some reason or the other.

But, there were still 4 of us ready to go and at the last-minute I managed to convince Mahesh to come with us. He is a photography enthusiast and I was sure that the lush greenery of the ghats would be an absolute delight for him.

So, on Thursday night, after a lot of rushed running-about to get things ready for Mahesh too, we were finally on our way in the vehicle we had hired for the trip with the cycles on top. I was super-excited about this trip because it was the first time we were going to be cycling in nearly constant rain. I wanted to know what it would feel like.

We reached Sringeri at about 7 in the morning. As we expected, it was raining. As I stepped out of the van into the cold drizzle, I had a sudden moment of doubt. “Maybe”, I thought, “this was not such a great idea!”. But, it happens every time and I was already there. So, too late to turn back!

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It is hard to push yourself out into the rain and start cycling when it is so cold and wet!

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Cycling in constant rain is very different from pedaling on through the occasional drizzle. No matter what you wear, the water will eventually get through it. You will never feel hot or dry. The constant spray of water on your face makes you forget the effort of cycling and the fast pitter-patter sound of the rain against your helmet as you speed down an incline adds to the relief and excitement of the effortless speed!

One of the temples we visited near Sringeri

One of the temples we visited near Sringeri

Once you are soaked and on your way you never want to stop cycling except to catch your breath and enjoy the scenery around you. If you come out of the rain once and stay inactive for more than 15 mins then the chill will start getting to you and it becomes tough to start cycling again.

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Never stop, never take breaks, let the rain cool you down, wash your face and soothe your eyes. Rush against the rain drops while breathing in the wet, thick and clean air. After the congestion, smoke and dust of Bangalore, cycling through the rain-soaked, verdant countryside along the empty roads lining the Linganamakki reservoir was really soothing. The terrain with rolling ups and downs and occasional stretches of level road was never difficult. Every few kms we could catch a glimpse of the reservoir.

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Once we reached Talaguppa, we got onto the main highway and continued on our way to Jog falls. The roads were amazing. But, the inclines were starting to get longer and steeper. It was almost 5 in the evening by the time we reached Jog and settled down for a late meal.

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After eating and walking around the view-point(nothing much could be seen because of the heavy fog) we started again for Gundimane where we had arranged to stay for the night.

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It was a good 30 or so kms from the falls through a steep ghat-section.

The roads in the gathering dusk, soaked in the constant rain and lined with progressively thickening vegetation were an absolute marvel. I was starting to get slightly worried as we were a little behind on our schedule. The last 6 kms to the homestay were through unmarked and unpaved roads that went through the forest. Once the light waned it would be difficult to spot the boards and there was also the risk of encountering wild animals to be considered.

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After some harried pedaling, we reached the turn off point towards Gundimane, marked by a police station. The policemen there seemed a little worried about us going through on our cycles. They asked us to be careful and cycle fast.

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The rest of the ride was through the forest and it was very different from anything we had done until then. The weakening sun was subdued further by the towering trees on both sides. The rain fell in big heavy drops from the leaves above us and we pedaled with gathering urgency as the sounds of the forest started becoming louder and louder.

It was with a sense of relief that we came upon the board marking the gate towards the estate. As we rolled into the courtyard, we saw that our hosts for the night were waiting for us. We dumped out cycles outside and rushed in.

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After having a hot tea, we all had a nice hot bath and settled down to discuss our ride as our dinner was getting ready. I was so terribly cold that I was having fits of shivering every now and then. It was only after dinner that I felt comfortable again.

We spent the next morning lazing around at Gundimane before leaving the place.

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What a day it had been!

Ride to Sirsi

Compared to the first day, the second day’s ride from Jog to Sirsi was pretty easy. But, I think that was a good thing. The ride through the countryside in the fresh air on easy terrain was, I felt, very therapeutic.We stopped now and then to eat the snacks we had bought along and chat. Our colleague Krishnamurthi had arranged for our stay, a hotel there and the night’s stay there was very comfortable. The highlight of the second day was the dinner at Krishnamurthy’s place. His whole extended family was there to celebrate Ganesh Chathurthi and they had prepared an awesome feast for us with many sweets and savories that I had never even tasted before.

The next day, we again went to his estate and he showed us around the whole place. Of particular interest to us was the apiculture he practised on his farm.

DSC_9922He showed us many of the hives and explained how he took care of them and the techniques required to get good quality flavor-rich honey from his bees. It was fascinating!

DSC_0030 copyAnother wonderful sight for us was the private waterfall he had on his farm which drained into a river that meandered through the middle of his land. It was simply mind-blowing.

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After seeing all that, we said bye to him and started for bangalore.

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We had our parting dinner at Bangalore.

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All in all an amazing trip! The only thing that could have been better was if more of our friends had turned up. Seeing and experiencing all those things together would have been so much more fun!

Krishnamurthy showing us around his farm

Krishnamurthy showing us around his farm

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Now, when I get fed up of the dust and congestion of Bangalore, for a bit of relief, I look through these pictures of rain-drenched Shimoga and replay in my mind the two days of cycling we did there…

P.S. All photos credits belong to Mahesh. My camera died after the trip because of too much exposure to the rain.

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Cycling from Bandipur to Ooty

This was my second cycling trip with my friends from office. Last time we had gone to Chikmagalur. We started cycling from Jayapura. The route we took was Jayapura- Horanadu – Kalasa – Kuderemukh – Hanumanhundi Falls – SK Border – Sringeri. Most of the guys who were there last-time were there this time too.

This time, we cycled from Bandipur to Ooty via the Kalhatty Ghat. We reached Bandipur by about 7 in the morning. It took 1 hr to get all the cycles ready. As the cycles were getting ready, the first-timers were given a quick talk on how to use the gears effectively.

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Finally, everyone is ready with their cycles.

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The ride through the forest was one of the most enjoyable parts of the trip.

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It was still cool and pleasant and there were so many animals all along the side of the road.

The ride was a short one. 20-30kms. After which we reached Masinagudi. Before starting to cycle we had all had a milk-shake from the CCD at the entrance to Bandipur. After the cycling through the reserve everyone had worked up a healthy appetite.

I just went absolutely crazy during breakfast. I had some 4 double omelettes, 3-4 Dosas and somewhere around 5 teas.

The “Killer – Kalhatty” climb was on top of all our minds. So, I decided to stock up on as much energy as possible. After lazing around a bit, we all started cycling again. After some 10 kms we reached the start of the climb.

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From that point, there were 36 hair-pin bends that needed to be covered to reach the elevation of Ooty. It was one of the most relentlessly steep roads that most of us had ever seen.

23-IMG_0214Of course, I had seen much worse! After all I had climbed from 3500 mtrs to 5650 mtrs to reach the mighty Khardun-La in Ladakh on cycle(I like to occasionally toot my own horn, sorry!).

There were boards at every hair-pin bend counting down from 36.By the time we covered the first few hair pin bends, the Sun had started to bear down upon us harshly. By around 12 it had become so mind-numbingly hot that I could see the water vapor rise from my exposed arms. The heat was making it hard to focus and pedal on.

By the time I finished 30 per cent of the climb I had finished my bottle of water. From then on, it was stopping now and then to get water from vehicles coming down the road.

I must have gone through at least 5 liters of water in the time it took me to reach the halfway point which is marked by a tea-shop. I think it was situated just before bend number 16.

By the time I reached there the support vehicle with a couple of guys who had decided to not continue cycling because of some problem with the gears was already there. Raghu had also reached there before me.

I walked into the shop, got a bottle of cold water, and finished it off in one long gulp. Then I had a couple of teas and decided to lie down till the others caught up. In any case, I decided that I was going to cycle again, only after the Sun let up a little. I then had the idea of asking one of the cars passing by on their way down to carry water bottles for the guys climbing up.

When they eventually showed up, they told me that the water was a big relief for them in the heat!

After the Sun had let up, everyone started cycling again. After a while I too started. The bends started coming faster. Also, the climb became steeper. Towards the end there was an especially steep and seemingly-unending climb. I had decided before-hand itself that I wouldn’t push my cycle for even 10 cms.

When jumping up from the bench on which I was sleeping on at the tea shop, some muscle in my hip had suddenly started to cramp. I had ignored it then. But, now it was starting to act up.

So, I cycled in a zigzag manner to reduce the amount of force I needed to put down on the pedals to allow my legs to relax and feel loose again.

Finally, after a satisfyingly-tough last climb, I started my descent to Ooty. When I got to the police check-post I found Raghu sitting there. We went and had some tea and home-made chocolates and then started to cycle to the YWCA guest-house were stay and dinner had been arranged for the night.

We got there just in time to order dinner for the night. By the time we got the keys to the rooms the rest of the guys except Shailesh had arrived by the support vehicle. Some of them had managed to cycle almost 90 per cent of the way up, but had to stop because it was getting too late.

Shailesh arrived an hour later, just when we were starting to go out to look for him. He had lost his way in the town and had to wander about quite a bit as a result.

The stay was one of the high-points of the trip. Each room was a suite and we had taken a cottage for all of us.

29-IMG_0232The YWCA dining hall was a pleasant and welcoming place and we really enjoyed our dinner there.

Ooty to Kodanad View Point

37-IMG_0248After a hot-water bath and a comfortable night’s sleep and rest, we woke up feeling refreshed the next day.

31-IMG_0237After one more “super-charger” break-fast we were ready to start cycling.

The Kodanad view-point is around 40 kms from Ooty.. The weather was cool, the roads were amazing and there were plenty of tree-lined downhill sections with winding roads and amazing scenery.

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48-IMG_0269After spending some time at the view point we started on our way back to Bangalore.

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This was my second time cycling with my friends from office. Being together with people you see everyday in office in such a different environment, doing something completely unrelated to work allows you to see everyone in a different light. I felt that everyone learned something new about their colleagues and that I think is a very important part of what makes trips like this so much fun!

52-IMG_0275Anyway, I am already looking forward to going out with my friends again for our next cycling trip!

The Mountain Lake – Tso Moriri

I know that it’s been a long time since the trip. But, this part of the Cycling tour I undertook with the Bangalore Ascenders in the Himalayas was one of the most memorable ones. After cycling to Pangong Tso the rest of the gang returned from Tangtse to Karu with all the cycles. I had forgotten my bag containing some essential spares, tools and sandals in a shop in Lukung where we had stopped for tea the previous day while returning from Spangamik to Tangtse. So, I got up early in the morning and went and stood near the check-post behind the village hoping to hitch a ride on some vehicle passing by. After a while a truck carrying a JCB came trundling along. They stopped for me and I hopped on for a free ride to Lukung. It was the first time I was travelling in a lorry. It was fun and I was quite impressed by the skill of the driver.

After getting to Lukung I got my bag back, had breakfast and tea and spent some more time staring at the beautiful lake. Then I got onto another truck which took me to Tangtse. There I got off to check whether the others had left already. After finding out that they had gone I went back to the bridge which marked the start of the village and started waiting again. After a long time a Scorpio carrying a photographer came along and after a bit of pleading with him he agreed to take me to Karu. After a long time spent on the hard and unforgiving saddle of my cycle and on trucks it was quite a change to travel in a modern car.

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The second time I crossed the Chang-La it was snowing. It was the first time in my life I was experiencing snow-fall and it simply was magical. I was so excited, I almost didn’t feel the cold.

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Spent some time there and then we started on our way to Karu. After getting there in the afternoon, I soon found everyone at the tea stall there. Neelima was coincidentally visiting a nearby monastery and she dropped in to meet us and have a quick chat.

In the evening, we all got our cycles ready and started on our way to Likche. This was an easy ride and there were no crisis moments at all. But, it was pitch dark by the time I reached the turn-off point towards Likche. I turned my cycle around and waited with my strobe lights on for the rest of the gang. I don’t think I have stood anywhere like that in absolute darkness… just waiting. It felt really weird. After a while I saw a line of three blinking lights in the distance and soon enough the rest of the gang was with me. We rode up to the village and found that there weren’t any commercial places that could offer us a room for the night. We roamed around the village asking where we could get a room for the night. One family, upon seeing us said that it would be hard to find a place at that time of the day and offered us a room in their own house for the night and food. We were quite relieved and in fact pleasantly surprised at this.

We went in and they prepared us dinner and Rajesh told them all about our trip and how we got there. After a hearty dinner we were shown to our room which was a cozy one with lots of blankets, mattresses and cushions. In Ladakh, no matter how rickety a home looks, their bedrooms always look rich and warm. We nestled into the warm blankets and in no time fell into a deep and fitful sleep.

In the morning I  woke up to the glorious sight of a field of flowers in full blossom against a backdrop of towering mountains and a lush green valley with pretty little homes, mills and a stream gurgling through it all.

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It was simply mind-blowing. I walked around the village rubbing my eyes to make sure it wasn’t all a dream.

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The previous night the lady of the house who was a govt. health worker had told us that the sight from the bedroom was a beautiful one. But, that didn’t prepare me for this.

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After breakfast, we said bye to our hosts. When we offered them money they refused to take it. Somehow we managed to force them to take it and left the village with a full tummy and an even fuller heart.

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Rajesh and Jay with them.

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That day our target was a little ambitious. We had to reach Chumathang which is known for its hot-water springs. It was a hard day of cycling.

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The occasional little village nestled in the mountains was quite a sight to see.

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On the way, there was an army base where we had hoped to get lunch from. I was terribly hungry and tired by the time I reached the base. But, I found out that the canteen was closed that day because it was some holiday( or was it a Sunday? I don’t remember…). One soldier seeing my state gave me some biscuits and stuff. After going a little further I realized that it would be impossible for anyone to go any further without a proper meal. My stomach was growling like an angry dog.

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Some soldiers at an army post then took me to their quarters and after letting me sit and rest for a while got permission from their commander to take us to their mess and give us a meal there. I waited there in the mess after asking the guy at the post on the road to watch out for the others and bring them in when they come. They kept insisting that I eat right away. But, I waited and after a while they all came and we had what seemed like the tastiest lunch of my life with the guys there.

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There was a Malayalee there and he gave me loads of nuts, juices and biscuits and let me lie down on his bunk. There was a Kannada guy who simply couldn’t stop talking to Rajesh. After eating and resting, it was time to leave. It was quite an experience seeing their quarters, eating their food, hearing their stories and being part of their Sunday fun for a while. Life in the army, especially  in the forward posts serving in hostile conditions with minimum equipment while dealing with the terrible isolation is a challenge.

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After a comfortable bout of cycling we arrived in Chumathang and stayed there for the night. I was hoping to take a bath after a long time. But, the water coming directly from the springs proved to be too hot for a bath and there was no cold water available for mixing. This was one of the places I liked the least in Ladakh. Nothing remarkable about it and very dirty and shabby.

But the route is very picturesque.

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I was glad to get away from the place in the morning. We started very early, even before breakfast.

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That day, we were to do something really crazy. Cycle all the way to Tso Moriri in one day. We had to cross the Namshang-La pass on the way. It was really scary. But, before breakfast we had covered some 30kms and our strategy of starting early looked like it might work.

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After eating we started off again. We reached Sumdoh after that and after waiting for a while there we started our climb up to Namshang-La pass. It was a relatively lower pass.But, I hadn’t eaten much and my hope was that it would be all downhill after the pass. As it turned out, it was a bit of a stupid assumption.

The climb was easy as by then I had adapted somewhat to the low-oxygen conditions. This is a pretty boring looking pass…, that is until you turn a bend and your eyes fall on the stunning Kyagar-Tso.

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One of the highest lakes in the world!

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It looks so unreal, especially at that altitude surrounded by the mountains and the pure white sand. One has to see it to believe it.

I was preparing myself for some downhill fun and had mentally let myself go. Boy! Was I ever so wrong in my life!

As I crossed the pass and approached the lake on up-and-down roads I came across a french gang of bikers. We talked a lot. They were setting themselves up along the lake for lunch. Just as I got to the lake my cycle plunged into the fine soft sand and very soon it became impossible to cycle through it.

A road-gang working on building the new road asked me to take a break and offered me some tea and refreshments.

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Unfortunately the tea was their traditional Ladakhi butter tea. I drank it with great difficulty as I didn’t want to seem rude. Plus, I thought, it might give me some energy to cycle on.

I then started pushing my cycle through the soft sand for what seemed like forever. After the lake, the gradient did not improve at all. In fact there were even more climbs, no roads, lots of sand and lorries roaring through the dust raking up a respiratory-hell in their wake. By then I was also completely fatigued. I looked ahead and all I could see was a vast level stretch of sand and pebbles with a few lorry tracks on it.

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I steeled myself, bowed down and kept pushing the cycle. After several kms of this, I finally came to a relatively stable road surface. I got on and pushed off. The road had a slight negative gradient. But it was full of big, sharp stones and the ride was difficult.

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After some cycling I could see the Tso-Moriri in the distance. A small triangle of blue in the midst of mountains. It looked deceptively close.

I cycled on and on and finally, I came to the lake. By then, I noticed a shocking thing. The rear tire had somehow gotten torn and the rubber tube was sticking out through it like a scary hernia. I was feeling very dull and couldn’t think clearly. I then did something very stupid. Rajesh had clearly told me that once I reach the lake I had to stay to the right. But the road to the right was not very obvious while there was a clean, solid looking road to the left. I missed the turn and cycled on. Turns out it was the road to China!!

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After what seemed like forever, I realized that this road was not leading me anywhere.

But, there was no one to ask for directions. I looked into the lake bed and saw a few tents. I then did the next stupid thing. Instead of cycling back the way I came, I descended into the bed. After roaming through the marshy, rocky bed for a long time I finally came to the tents and found out that they were nomads who don’t understand Hindi and were unaware of even the nearest town. I decided to cross the lake and try to get to the other side. But the bed was full of small streams and some of them were pretty deep. With great difficulty I got through all of them and I finally came upon some North Indian laborers. They pointed me in the right direction and I was on my way.

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I then found out that the bed was surrounded by wire fencing and there were no openings in it. I struggled on and on and finally I came to a hole in the fence and got through to the other side and onto the right road. Just then the others had reached that point.

Feeling a great sense of relief I cycled along with them. I had a ligament strain in my left knee, I was completely out of fuel and my cycle tire was on the verge of bursting. After 7 more dull, terrible and painful kms we finally reached the Indo-Tibetan Border Police Post. We showed them our permissions and then cycled on to Karzog which is the most remote and climate-wise hostile place I have ever been to in my life. It was situated at 4600 mtrs and more than one person there told me that life there was hell.

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But, it looks awesome, all the same!

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Tso Moriri is mind-numbingly beautiful. I become touchy and sentimental when I am hypoxic and in that state the lake’s beauty and the barrenness of the landscape seemed to evoke a sense of emotional tension in me.

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That night we all slept deeply and I could hear our deep and heavy breathing through the night.

The next day and the journey back was another adventure altogether. But, for now, I think this much is enough. It was one of the most intense trips I had ever undertaken and to this day I still try to remember what I felt when I looked up and saw the vast dusty plains through which I pushed my cycle. My disappointment at finding myself fenced-in inside the lake bed. My anxiety at seeing my torn tire and the bulging tube. My happiness at having finally made it safely to Karzog. It was a complex set of emotions and irrespective of whether I felt good or bad at the time, they are now, all of them,  valuable memories.

Here is a full set of photos.

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Himalayan Cycling Expeditition-Cycling to Pangong-Tso

Leh – South Pullu – Leh

I had returned to Leh after climbing the Khardung-La. But, I had dropped off the cycle at the South Pullu Police station. So, I needed to go and get it back. The next day after breakfast, I went to the start of the road to the pass.

I had gone there with the intention of hitch hiking to South Pullu on some goods-carrier. But, by the time I got there all the goods vehicles had already left and only tourist vehicles were still going up. I waited for a long time trying to wave down one of the vehicles passing by. Just when I was starting to lose heart a bunch of guys on Enfields came along. With some reservations in mind I tried to wave them down.

One guy stopped and I told him about my situation. He readily agreed to take me up. The guy was an IIT graduate and was working in Delhi. A great guy and we had a very interesting conversation all the way to South Pullu. Our trip plans greatly piqued his interest and we talked a lot about it. Once we got to South Pullu, I got back my cycle and checked the damage to it. Then I just sat on it and breezed down to Leh.

It was a nice experience. On the way I met a lot of people who were taken up to Khardung La on vehicles and were cycling down. After getting to Leh, I went and fixed the carrier on the cycle.

The next day I went to see the Leh palace and cycled around town to see the local sights.

Leh Palace

That day I met a Gujarati girl and hung out with her for a while and got her a cycle. She was thinking of coming with us to Pangong-Tso on cycle but the next day decided to not do it. Anyway, the next day was a big day.

Leh – Shey – Thiksey – Karu – Shakthi

No big mountains, no cratered roads awash with ice-melt, no hypoxic deliriums, no need for hypnotic soliloquies, just plain flat easy roads, beautiful scenery and perfect climate all the way.

We all really enjoyed the ride from Leh to Karu. There we took a break, got ourselves some tea and momos and then cycled on to Shakthi.

When I got there I saw a bunch of guys who were on a cycling trip managed by a tour company camping on a meadow.

I went there and spent some time chatting with them. Then I went to a shop there and asked for a room for the night. After going in and checking out the comfortable quarters I asked them to set aside a couple of rooms for us and then sat down for a tea. By then Girish had reached the hotel followed soon by the others.

That night we had a hearty meal made by them and slept soundly in the comfortable rooms provided to us. The next day was a big day for us. We were planning to cross the Chang-La pass on cycle and then go on to Tang-Tse which is a town en route to Pangong-Tso.

Shakthi – Zingral – Chang-La –  Tangtse

We had learned some lessons from our Khardung-La ride. Every attempt at crossing a pass should be so timed that we get there before noon. Else, the place will be inundated with ice-cold water. This together with the non-existent roads can make cycling really difficult, especially if one is in a fatigued state. So, we started really early. We were all on our cycles and pedaling by  6. The importance of covering a decent distance before breakfast should never be underestimated.

By 9 I and Rajesh had reached the Zingral army base which is situated nearly half-way up the road to Chang-La.

We arrived on our cycles to a warm and friendly welcome. I and Rajesh were taken to the living quarters of the soldiers where we were treated to biscuits and sweet-milky tea. Then we were taken to their kitchen where we had some nice Aloo-parathas and curd.

Inside the kitchen

More tea followed. By then the others had joined. After a lot of eating and resting we again set off by 10:30. This time I was feeling strong and was raring to pedal up the mighty slopes.

I went ahead and after a couple of hours of enthusiastic pedaling I came to the dreaded roads just below the pass. Roads rising at nearly 30-40 degree angles with loose rocks, boulders and under ankle-deep water.

But this time The Sabu was prepared. I took off my shoes and socks and tied them to my cycle and put on my plastic slippers and carefully navigated the tricky parts. Behind me one guy’s cycle somersaulted and he fell on his back because he tried to power his way through a particularly steep section. Slowly but surely I made my way up and eventually got to the pass. On the way the Gujarati girl we met 2 days back went screaming by in a taxi waving enthusiastically at us!

Once I reached the top I quickly took out my gloves and socks and put them on and got a hot tea. By then Jay had come up.

He went ahead while I hung back to chat with some soldiers and check out the pretty girls there. Nothing like some old fashioned bird-watching at high altitudes to warm oneself up.
Then I set off slowly downhill with one ear tweaked for any weird sounds from my troublesome carrier.

I crossed all the streams and eventually got to the good roads.

What followed was one of the best experiences of my life. Roads… beautiful, curvy, well-proportioned, silky smooth roads winding and weaving its way through the mountains.

Speed, pure, easy, spine tickling speed… It very nearly brought tears of happiness to my eyes. The roads seemed to go one forever and ever. I perched and swooped and posed to my heart’s content. On the road I saw an Enfield guy who had made a landing in a ditch. It reminded me to be more careful. The road went on and on and eventually we got to a small town at the base. Immediately afterwards we ran into some solders in bunkers who gave us lots of juice and nuts. After chatting for a while we went ahead and after 12km of easy cycling got to Tang-Tse. A town which witnessed a sudden flurry of activity after the movie 3 idiots in which Pangong Tso was shown became a hit. That night we halted there.

The next day was supposed to be the day we were going to see the blue-green waters of the Pangong Tso.

Tangtse – Lukung – Spangamik

The next day was an easy one. Only a short distance of some 40 kms with both uphill and down-hill sections needed to be covered.

Just before noon I reached Lukung on the banks of the lake.

The sights were mind-blowing. There was strange aura to the place.

Makes you feel like you are not on earth… The clear waters took on the color of the sky and changed color as the day progressed.

At Lukung, I took a break for tea and to let my mind calm down and stop screaming FAAACCCCKKKKK!!!!

After Lukung the road started thinning and eventually just disappeared. I cycled on along the sandy, pebbly bank of the lake following the jeep tracks.

Eventually we came to a sleepy little village called Spangamik where I halted at the Padma guest house.

There I unpacked my cycle, wolfed down some lunch and then sat by the lake with the book Into Thin Air and just relaxed till the others turned up.

Spangamik – Merak – Spangamik

The next day we cycled to Merak and had tea at a small house there and after some off-road fun went back to Spangamik.

In the evening we decided to cycle to Tangtse from where we planned to get a vehicle to Karu.

Spangamik – Tangtse (Night ride)

This was a decision taken in some hurry. We had barely enough time to make it to Tangtse before sundown. I cycled somewhat briskly and got to Lukung in the afternoon. There I met a Polish guy who was training to be a pro-cyclist for Poland Post. I talked to him about this and that and very soon the others too joined us. We then set off together for Tangtse. As we pedaled on it started getting darker. Now, Ladakh might be a beautiful place. But one must never forget that this is a desert and a very unforgiving place. As the sunlight started to vane in the valley, things started to take on an ominous air.

Very soon a chill wind started picking up. The road was deserted and the light was failing fast.

I cycled on as fast as I could. Suddenly it started raining… Ice cold pellets striking my face! I hurriedly stashed my camera inside my jacket and decided to leave on my woollen gloves in the hopes that they might buy me some time. Then darkness fell and everything fell terribly silent except for the buzz of the wheels whipping up the water from the road. Several times I plunged into deep depressions in the road in the dark. But, in that darkness my adrenaline was surging and I felt a great rush of energy. I pedaled like a maniac. With my feet working like pistons I plowed through the rain and the cold night. The frantic pedaling kept me warm from the inside. In time I reached Tangtse and after fumbling around in the dark for the way I eventually made it to the road where we stayed 2 days back. There was a fancier hotel there which was beyond our budget of 150 rupees. But seeing our state and since it was already very late, they decided to take us in for that much money. It took some 30 mins to stop shivering after taking off all the wet gear and sitting inside their cozy kitchen. We settled in for a mighty dinner and a sound sleep afterwards…

An Aside:

While we were in Spangamik we met several interesting people. I met a woman from Australia who had given up everything to become a buddhist and was living in India. A guy who resigned from a job at Microsoft to travel the world. An elderly gentleman from Sweden(I think) with a cycle older than me who had been cycling and hitchhiking around the world for the past 3 yrs. He had covered some 3000kms on cycle and been in several countries and continents.

All these made me think a bit. In our society and among our circle of friends there is a beaten track that everybody takes. Everyone who is “normal and intelligent”. We study, become engineers, get a job, study more, get married, have kids and work for them till we die. It is what we see all the time and it is what counts as normal for us. But, there is a world of experience waiting for us outside of this, where people do all sorts of crazy stuff, make tonnes of mistakes and collect wisdom and experience that no amount of money or comfort can buy. If we can see and experience all that for ourselves, I think we will realize that when it comes to humans, there can be no “normal”. For that same reason there can be no end of solutions to the problem of human happiness. The permutations and combinations of possible choices in life are so insanely vast that there can be no real reason for loneliness and boredom… Things could be so bloody exciting! One need only order some adventure to get it.

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Himalayan Cycling Expedition-Part1

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.

Finally got the cycle box and luggage to the airport by bus!!

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.

After the ride I was thoroughly tired.

We all then piled into a hotel on Changspa road and had a hearty dinner.

It was after several days that I was finally sleeping peacefully. I could feel that my breathing had become very deep and fast. But otherwise I was more or less fine.

Khardung-La(5650 m)

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.

On our way to Khardung La

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.

Roads frequently get blocked by landslides

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.

We had ascended some 1000 m and another 1000 m was remaining.

Little by little taking breaks we went up. All the time my eyes were set on the highest point.

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.

I spent some time talking to some Malayalee soldiers there.

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…

The only time in my life I was able to smile at a camera!

A few extra pics…

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Taking the first step

I had gone to Ladakh as part of a cycling expedition from the 4th of July to the 23rd. After getting back there were a lot of things that needed attending to and I haven’t been able to sit down and collect my thoughts about the tour. It was the biggest, most expensive, ambitious and physically demanding trip I have ever undertaken. As a result it is also the one that has had the biggest impact on me.

I wish I could write it all down immediately, but I haven’t been able to even look at the photos properly till now. I thought hat I should first put down all the stuff that happened in the run up to the trip.

It was in May that the mail announcing the the trip was sent out on the Bangalore Ascender’s mailing list by Rajesh PN, who along with Girish Motwani did most of of the planning for the trip. The mail caught my attention as I had been thinking of going to the Himalayas for some time. But, I didn’t have any company and I wasn’t interested in an ordinary sight seeing trip around Ladakh by vehicle.

The mail seemed interesting. But, when I read the plan and saw the distance that they were planning to cover I felt a sudden pang of doubt. Can they be serious? Is it really possible to cover a 1000 kms on cycle at such high altitudes on difficult terrain? How many people are going to sign up for this crazy trip? Even if I did decide to go how was I going to get my cycle to Leh? What are the risks involved in undertaking such a trip? What sort of preparation would be required for it? What if after arranging everything all the other guys pulled out? Is it really not crazy to do something like this without a support vehicle? Questions kept on popping up in my head. The more I thought about it the more the arguments against the idea piled up. I called up Rajesh to ask a couple of doubts. Before that Renjith had sent me a mail, asking me teasingly, why I hadn’t signed up for it.

After thinking for a while, I decided that thinking was not much use. This was not a trip for a level-headed person. There was no brand of logic or reason which would counsel me to do it. For this trip, for once, I would have to really listen to my heart. See if I wanted to do this. Once I went ahead and booked the airline tickets what would follow was difficult training and preparation culminating in a risky and testing adventure.

I was starting to feel that my travels had become a bit monotonous. I needed to push the envelope. To try something that would test my determination and limits. So, I decided, it was time I did something like this and guess what? “I am doing it!”

It was an impulsive decision. I did not think about how I would do it. Just that I would do it! On the same day, I booked the tickets and called up my dad to tell him about it. Suddenly, things seemed different. Everything I did had one more purpose, one more aim. The trip loomed ahead of me like a mountain before a climber.

Both foreboding and exciting. Both terrifying and tantalizing in its possibilities. Before a trip one always feels some inertia and doubt… It is like a sky-diver hesitating before making the jump. There is fear and anxiety. But, there is also the knowledge that beyond the crucial one step lies the unknown, beckoning to him… To listen to that call and step out of your comfort zone, that is what adventure is all about.

Cycling at Munnar: 170 kms over 2 days

Enjoying the downhill sections

On April 30, I went on a cycling trip to Munnar with The Bangalore Ascenders. It was my first trip with this group and I thoroughly enjoyed it. On Friday, I was barely able to concentrate on work because of my excitement. I reached the pick-up point first and waited eagerly for the others to turn up. We started out a little later than planned. We had some dinner on the way and some of us managed to get some shut-eye.

We reached Chinnar by around 11 in the morning. It took some time to untie all the cycles and take them down one by one. After setting up all the cycles, checking tire pressure, filling the water bottles and taking some pics, we all started out. I think it was almost 12 by then. The sun was beating down upon us and though we were at some altitude the heat rising up from the road was merciless. After an initial stretch of downhill roads the climb started. The gradient was not that high. But still it was tough  especially since this was my first time on a hilly terrain excepting a failed attempt at Nandi Hills(6.5/8kms completed on cycle).

But, this time I had steeled my mind and decided that unless my legs fall off or something like that happens I am not going to give up. I kept up a steady/easy pace, refrained from changing gears too often on the uphill stretches, pedalled at 85CPM with one hand on the handle bar in a perfectly upright position, refrained from taking big breaks, used the downhill stretches to give my butt a break even though it was not giving me trouble… yet, and kept myself hydrated and used electrolyte and glucose to prevent fatigue.

Still, I was going through my water supply at a fast pace. The heat also was starting to get to me. Luckily there were plenty of wayside shops from which I kept refilling my water bottle. There was also a small waterfall where some of us took a shower under the cascading water. On the way a guy in a tour bus asked me whether I was crazy. I answered, “a little…”  and pedaled on. Very soon the others had started to fall behind as they took a few big breaks and also stopped for a big lunch. I opted for tiny breaks of 5-10 mins and energy bars and biscuits. After a while the sun started going down and the heat eased up a little. The landscape started changing. The air started getting cooler. The tea gardens with water fountains started appearing on both sides of the road. I started enjoying the ride. But still the thought of more than 30 kms remaining weighed heavily on my mind. When I reached Marayoor, I took a bigger break and decided to wait for some company. After some 20 mins I thought that I would go on.

Again, the pedaling resumed. But, the thought of having covered more than half the distance provided me with some comfort. Every now and then, some kids would cycle alongside me and ask about my cycle and whether I really did think that I could make it to Munnar. I enjoyed the company and the occasional chats. After a while, the climb started becoming a little more steeper. There were no more breaks with downhill stretches. One friendly chap ran alongside me and told me that I had to cycle only some 10 kms more. After that the rest of the road to Munnar was downhill.

The landscape around me now had a scenic touch. As a child I always loved Munnar more than the other hill stations. Somehow, the seductive green tea covered hills, dripping with dew and draped in a light mist with the occasional shade tree touched and inspired me. Also, there was something about the place that made it distinctly Malayalee and I loved being in Kerala. That last climb was starting to drain me. I saw a neat scene with the sun peeking through the clouds just before setting. I decided to take a break and wait for company. After a while, to my great relief I saw Nitin cycling up the winding road at a terrific pace. He caught up and we cycled on together. He soon got ahead of me. But after a few more kms we reached the top and the remaining 12 kms was downhill.

I just let lose the fury of the painstakingly collected potential energy in one orgasmic 25 min climax. My Trek handled the 60kmph speeds with confidence and poise. When I leaned in to reduce wind drag I could hear the music from  the tire and feel its magnificent momentum. It was like the handle bar was set in cement.

We reached Munnar by nightfall, had dinner at Sharavana Bhavan and booked ourselves into a cosy little two bedroom place for the night. I was expecting the next day to be easier. But, Neelima had said that it would be worse than day 1 as the 110 km distance contained both uphill and downhill sections.

Day 2:

The next day after breakfast we set off from Munnar a few at a time. After a few kms of uphill cycling there was a never ending stretch of downhill road and that too rubberized for the most part. I went at a terrific speed on those stretches and was entertaining fantasies of downhill roads till Thekkady. But they were to be cruelly slaughtered. After a while the roads evened out and then they started going up and down. It was extremely difficult after a while. If the roads are flat, then you can cycle on forever. But, if they are hilly, they will kill you slowly. But, the lush greenery around me, the knowledge that I was on familiar territory and the breaks that I made at wayside eateries all gave me the strength to go on.

But, then, disaster struck. I stopped at a tea shop, had 2 cups of coffee and set off. After about 6 kms of grueling climbing, I realized that I had forgotten my helmet. My heart was crushed… I had no choice but to turn back, After getting the helmet back from the shop, as I was cycling uphill again, I started thinking of why I was doing this… my left brain was ominously whispering, “This is MADNESSS!!”. But, then my right brain screamed back, “This is SABBUUU!!!” Boom! One stroke! Like that stroke by stroke, I made 40,000 of them after that…. I reached the last town before Kumily…

By then all the hypoglycemia induced crazy thoughts were driven away by several stout Snickers bars. I was feeling confident. The thought of having completed about 80kms made me happy. I remembered the reason for doing this. I considered this to be a test of character. I want to be a person who finishes things. I want to do things well and complete them. Thats why it was important that I reach Thekkady on my cycle… I thanked myself for not having called up the tempo. After leaving the town, I was suddenly overtaken by Nitin cycling at a healthy pace. By then, I had recovered my energy and enthu and I kept up with him. We reached Kumily, made our way to Thekkady which was 4kms away and came back to Kumily to wait for the others as the road to Bangalore was different from the road to Thekkady.

There was a last 8km downhill ride on bad roads which I thoroughly enjoyed before packing up and leaving for Bangalore. We had food on the way and I slept fitfully in the tempo.

All in all, a fantastic trip! Thanks to Ambareesh, Rajesh, Nitin and everyone else who made the trip possible and took great pains to make sure that cycles were safe. It was a pretty intense experience for me and made me understand myself a little better…

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