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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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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Cycling: Nandi Hills

The week before last, I had decided to go to Nandi Hills. Febin had also agreed to come with Manjeri’s cycle. But, on Friday, Manerji’c cycle developed some problem and we were in a fix. Febin decided to buy a new cycle immediately. I right away set off on my Trek to Decathlon in Sarjapura which was some 16-20 kms away. We bought a B’Twin Rockrider 5.1 the same day and came back to my place immediately. We rested and had some food. Since, Febin had not ridden a cycle in a long time we decided to leave early.

So, after a light nap, we set off at 1’O’ Clock. It was a little crazy as he had not had any time to get used to his cycle and we were straight away setting off for a 120 km ride, and that too immediately after a 20 km ride. Anyway, we decided to put good sense aside and  just do it.

Before setting off, we had decided on the route using Google Maps. I entered the destination into my phone and used it to make sure that we were not making any mistakes. There was no traffic and riding was an absolute pleasure for me. The night air was cool, the roads were smooth and there was light breeze from behind. Perfect conditions for a good average. After some 26 kms we were past Hebbal. We took a break as Febin started getting back and neck pains. Also, his cycle did not have high enough gear ratios and he was having a tough time keeping up with me.

The day before, he had made big claims saying that he would beat me with an ordinary cycle. I didn’t use the occasion to taunt him a little as I worried about the more than 100 kms remaining. We took breaks every 20 kms. I had some Tiger-On-Steroid balm like spray which he used on his neck. Very soon he started complaining about butt-pain too. Thats the most dangerous an unbearable of all pains.But, like a true soldier he battled on. Stroke by stroke, metre by metre, braving all sorts of pain, through the pitch black night he cycled on and eventually covered the 100+ kms.

It is a pretty neat feeling. Cycling through unknown roads, in the dark, with a light breeze while keeping out a beady eye for speed-breakers.

We stopped at a wayside eatery and had a cup of tea and a bread-omelette and again set off. After some 8 kms, I realized that I had forgotten both my bag and my new helmet. I had to cycle back and get it and come back again. I met Febin on the way and asked him to go on.

By the time I reached the start of Nandi Hills, he was waiting for me there. An accident had happened there recently and because of that they now let people through only after sunrise.  I really wanted to cycle all the way up. But my panicked cycling for the last 16-20 kms had shaken me up a bit. We were drinking only water and we didn’t have anything to eat with us. I was starting to get fatigued.

Anyway, I set off on my cycle and Febin started walking his cycle up. With a few breaks in between I cycled 6.5 kms up. But, the last 1.5kms was really steep and I had to simply give up. As I was walking up, a vehicle drew up and stopped in front of me. Inside, I saw Febin sitting with his cycle. What a relief it was! I put my cycle on board and dragged myself onto the vehicle. We were really too tired to see all the sights. We walked to the very top and bought a pineapple and some biscuits which we ate with great relish. I had not slept in 24 hrs. So, I took a nap on a rock in the strong breeze.

The ride downhill was just awesome!! No pedaling. Just speed. Free, effortless speed… The wind buzzing in your ears, the Bontrager tires making a juicy whining sound as they gripped the road, the sharp winding curves, pulsed braking before, light pedaling after, motocross style leaning in and making turns at crazy angles while perched like an eagle on the cycle… It was like a dream, a boy’s biggest dream(after well endowed girls, of course!)… 8kms of downhill road curving and winding… it was just mind-blowing!!

The confidence that my Trek inspired in me was amazing. I never thought I could cross 50kmph on a cycle. I could have done more if my legs weren’t shaking as much(probably from low electrolyte).

We cycled up to the airport. After that, the dry strong winds against us, the barren desert like road, the heat and the hunger started getting to me. We cycled for some 3 kms more and then caught a volvo bus to Bangalore. We slept soundly for some 2 hrs after which the bus dropped us off at Murugdeshpalya from where we cycled to my place.

After a nice hot bath I ravenously gorged on the chicken and chappathi that our cook had made. Made a lot of hot drinks and lay down in front of the TV to watch the WC final.

All in all, a fantastic trip. My tribute to Kudiyan for demonstrating great tenacity and endurance. But, he definitely underestimated the task and his claim that he would beat me with an ordinary cycle was rather stupid and a little irritating. I am pretty certain that he has learned his lesson though. The cycle plays a very important role on long rides like this. Looking forward to more such trips…

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