The pecking order - Cyclists , Bikers, Self driven, Hired. And when it comes to conquering heights, the gap gets bigger and bigger. So when you decide to do it, do it at the highest altitude i.e. Himalayas. Leh, Khardung La and Chang La.
For those of you who don't want to read my full blog because of time constratints, just read the short snippet 😆 from my friend Satnam.
Imagine yourself unplugged from the phone and network for a few days and experience the pristine nature and every breadth of yours !! That's what we did... We a group of cyclists from #Bangalore Whitefield Cycling Club went for an adventurous cycling expedition from Leh to Pangong Lake along with the cycling experts Saurabh Kapur from #gomissing. Highlights of the trip included cycling to 17500+ ft Changa La Pass and 160+km of undulating cycling on mountain hills along with adrenaline rush downhills. Enjoyed every moment of the trip with my buddies - Saurabh Kapur, Jaideep F John, Ankur Dang, Bobby Mon, Ravinand Naik, Arjun Nair, Dileesh Onniyil, Abhishek and Madhu.
So what was the preparation all about conquering the highest in Karnataka It was all about preparing for the ultimate mountain challenge. Raid the Himalayas.
Bobby was the main inspiration. We talked about Manali to Leh ride and preparing for it for few months. Getting 2 weeks off a tight schedule was simply not doable. The alternative - give a chance for shorter ride. Who knows may be we will not be cut out for riding for 10 days. May be the altitude will not be favorable.
We reached out to few vendors to help organize a Cycling tour of Himalayas. Saurabh from Gomissing came out on top. All the work on vendor shortlisting, speaking to them, finalizing was done by Bobby. So who is Saurabh. A guy who had the courage to leave his job and chased his Passion. Read this Times news for more details . We were only 2 in the beginning and now the challenge was to get quorum. We needed 8-10 riders minimum. Finally after a lot of push and prod, we had the group assembled. Now for the route, we had intense debate and discussion with Saurabh. Equation was Khardungla = Infinity plus Delta. Chang la was Infinity Minus Delta. But having heard about the beauty of Pangong from my brother, the choice was fairly simple - Leh to Pangong Tso.
Fly out by 24th Aug and return on 2nd Sep.
Preparation : A weekly target of around 200km including net altitude gains of 1000 meters. Strengthening exercises and cardio. Intensity peaks up towards the middle and then ramp down as we get closer to the departure day.
As the days drew closer, the anticipation and the excitement grew.
Day 0/Day 1: After a rush against time we finally made it to the airport 5 minutes before the gate close. First flight from Bangalore to Delhi. We slept at Delhi airport for a couple of hours and then boarded our flight to Leh.
The view of snow capped mountain melting up and forming streams downhill was simply amazing.
At the Airport Dorje (Thinlay Dorje) welcomed us at the Airport. Our Den : Shambala Hotel at Leh.
Saurabh greeted us at the breakfast table, gave us a 1 hour class on acclimatization, route, ride plans. First (and the biggest) piece of advice. don't venture outside, low physical activity. Don't even attempt to climb up stairs. Rest, relax, have a lot of water and acclimatize. Yes sir. as per order we spent the day in house , played (learned to play) 3 Pathi.
The hotel is setup in a green pasture, with flower and apple trees around.
Acclimatization ride through Leh :
If you hadn't got your breath in order, this was your chance to get it in order. We stayed near Zoravar Fort. I managed a walk/short ride to get used to the breathing in order.
The ride up to Shanti Stupa was the first experience of climbing up at high altitude. From there, you get a birds eye view of Leh City (also from Namgyal monestary)
After a few kilometers ride and acclimatization, we decided to go up a few kilometers on the Khardung La route. A few kilometers up and the view of the snow capped Stok range became visible.
We few minutes at Namgyal monastery and we rode down towards the City. We decided to try local cuisine and Saurabh suggested Tibetan Kitchen. Thenthuk, Thukpa was all good. However the runway hit was Trout. If you are in town, I recommend you try try it. Fresh as it can get. Try the grilled and not the pan fry
The rest of the day was spent relaxing and reordering the packing for the main ride.
Day 3: Felt charged, excited about the upcoming ride. Saurabh did the daily briefing. It is supposed to be a breeze through the Leh Manali highway alongside the Indus river through to Karu and then to base camp at Shakti. village, "undulating ride" Leh is at an altitude of 11,000 and we will end up at Shakti which is at an altitude of 13500 feet.
The support staff :
Guide : Angchuk (Masters in Political science from J&K university)
Driver 1 : Raza . extremely able guy, funny, likes riding cycles, every time we had a break, he was riding the bikes
Driver 2 : Chimat (doing his Bachelors from J&K university), extremely helpful, cool dude, talks less but extremely efficient. Wants to be in tourism industry.
Last but not the least , the bike Doctor Mr. Targis. Man he is like a Chota packet Bada dhamaka, extremely capable, knows the pulse of the cycle. Rides the cycle like an aeroplane .
The sequence... One Vehicle in front (Tempo Traveler)... Riders in Single file led by the lead rider (Most Saurabh) at the end the designated Tail rider and the Bolero camper behind..
Motto: Dar ke aage Jeet hai.. humare peeche Jeep hai...
The ride until Karu was pretty easy given that the Tarmac was pretty flat. The landscape is amazing with Indus river flowing through the valley supplementing the green pastures and the dry snow capped mountains on either side. From Karu the road winds up towards the base of Chang La pass at Shakti village. This stretch of the road is pretty bad and completely dug up. As we rode up to our camp site, the challenge for the next day appeared right up in front of my eyes. The winding uphill road through the mountains. Our base camp was located right below Taktok Monastary. One of the oldest monastery. It is amazing to see the a monastery carved into the rocks. This is on route Wari La pass which is yet another road that connects Leh valley to the Valley up north (Nubra river et al).
View of the snow capped mountains from the Monastery.
As the night fell, the chillness set in. Ankur warned that at Pangong it was going to be challenging. As I went to sleep, I could hear the sound of stream flowing. or possibly the wind blowing through the valleys.
Day 4: Sunrise was awesome, the first rays of sun falling on the snow-capped mountain far away, reflecting its luster to the valley down below. The villagers were collecting their livelihood and stacking up for Winter.
We started around 8:30 am and Saurabh briefed us and the word he used was "unrelenting" climb. From 13500 to around 1800 feet. And soon he was proven to be right. A 12 Km climb to Zingral was our first pit stop.
The breath patterns started becoming tougher as we moved up beyond 16000 feet. The gradients were pretty much the same, however the roads became pretty bad (non existent), through the rocks and the muddy terrain. Our pit stops increased from once every few kilometers to few hundred meters.
We huffed and Puffed and finally made it to the top around 4pm.
Chang la is claimed to be the second highest motorable road in the world. The sense of achievement in the riders was something I cannot mention. Months of preparedness, fighting fever, altitude sickness, breathlessness and fatigue, all gone in moments and the face of Victors in each one of us.
The ride downhill to Tsoltak is pretty bad. The sight of couple of Trucks fallen in the Gorge below was frightening.
From there on it is an exhilarating (Trust me) down hill through the valleys and the pristine lake on the right hand side. The lake gets frozen by October/November.
I and Ankur spent few minutes gazing at the valley and the beauty of the mountains. Each one of them different in color and contrast.
After a 25 km down hill, we reached at Durbuk and for another 8 km to our stay point at Tangste . Hotel Pangong Residency. After a hot water shower and a quick dinner we crashed. Before I went to bed, I looked back at arguably the toughest and the longest ride of the trip. Starting around 13500 feet, going up to close to 18000 feet and then the thrilling ride down hill almost touching 70km in some cases. I woke up around 12 noon to find that there was no lights around. I opened the window and found out that the village was in darkness. It was only later that I realized most of the villages in this area don't have power supply and they rely on Diesel generators. I thrust open the windows to get some air supply and slept.
Day 5: I was tired, possibly because of the lack of sleep on the previous night, but that was soon overcome by the excitement to see one of the pristine beauties in the world. Pangong Tso.
As usual Saurabh briefed us about the ride, it was going to be "undulating". Net effect, going from 13500 feet to 14500 feet. We took a few snaps at Tangste and were our way by around 9 am.
This stretch was full of green valleys, nomads, wild life and last and probably the least, some shooting spots used in Hindi Movies :).
We stopped at a village, possibly near the Chagar lake and had tea. Interestingly there was Pashmina wool and few other artistic items kept at the place.
After couple of hours ride, we were about 5km from Lukung and we had the first glimpse of the Blue lake.
A downhill wind down and we were at the start of one of the largest endorheic lakes in the world. 40% of the lake is in India and 60% in China. Close to the lake you could see smaller peaks of the Tibetan Plateau and farther away were the snow capped mountains.
These photos of the lake are just to show you why this is India's most beautiful lake! The lake changes it color based on sunshine, cloud cover etc. Changes it texture like someone woke up in the morning and said - I don't like this color combination on my canvas, let me change it. Green to blue to deep blue to brown and if you are lucky, you can see a rainbow.
After a brief lunch break at Lukung lakeside, we headed to Spangmik along the lake. Garam Garam Pakoda and Tea.
I took a stroll around the place to get few more snaps of the lake. I just couldn't have enough of the place. As the night drew near, the cold winds set in, 4 layers were not enough to withstand the chill winds while we went out star gazing in the night.
Day 6: I woke up around 5:15 am to view the Sunrise at the lake. Walk towards Man village for a few kilometers along the lake and took few pictures.
As usual after the breakfast Saurabh briefed us about the last leg of the journey. We were all excited for the down hill from Chang La.
On the way back we got a chance to meet the Marmot family which eluded us on during the onward journey.
As we reached the top, it started to snow. The same place 2 days back was barren like desert, now was like a long bed of white mattress inviting for a leisurely sleep.
A 35 km down hill through the snow and the toil we did couple of days back flashed in my mind. We wound up the ride at Shakti since we were running out of time for Thikshey monastery. A brief stop over at Cafe Cloud and we were on our way to one of the grandest monastery in Leh. Situated along the Indus river basin on the highway, it provides a birds eye view of the valley between the mountain ranges.
Affiliated with the Gelug sect of Tibetan Buddhism. It is located on top of a hill in Thiksey village, approximately 19 kilometers from Leh. It is noted for its resemblance to the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet.
We bid good bye to support staff. Thanked them for all the support and encouragement during the ride and headed back to Shambhala hotel. Are we ready to rest - Hell No. let's try the Trout again, so we headed back to Tibetan Kitchen. And this time the order was simple Trouts and ginger lemon honey. Finally, good rest at the
Day 7 : When you are in the land of high passes, how could you avoid the highest pass? Having conquered the second highest pass, we decided to take it on for the highest one. Khardung La. We had to redo the permit, so that took some time and we were able to head out only by 11am or so. The weather was predicted to be bad. Around 0 degrees and possibly raining/snowing at the top. In these treacherous condition, Bullet bike is the best bet. We hired a 500cc and set out on our journey. Till South Pulu, the roads are descent. From then on there is road widening happening. However from there on, there was no roads and we were severely hampered by low visibility. Finally after a 2 hour climb, we were at the top of what is claimed to be the highest motorable road in the world.
We spent few minutes clicking pics, but the weather turned worse and the hands started to feel numb. The ride down hill had to be slow and steady due to the slippery rocks and the lack of visibility. A few kilometers downhill and a landslide halted our progress. We waited for some time till the BRO (Border roads Organization) came in and removed the rubble from the road.
We gathered around in the evening at Shambala for a retrospective on the trip and handed over a small gift of Good Luck to Saurabh.
Day 8 : We had kept this as a spare day in case someone wanted to try out something local. We decided for Rafting through Zanskar, possibly the highest rafting point in India. At the confluence of Zanskar and Indus river. Bobby and Madhu had already done rafting, but this was going to be my first experience with rapids. I was really excited. They take you upstream from Sangam up till 13-15 kilometers and then the ride starts. It had 4 rapids, moderate level ones and we were lucky our boat never capsized.
But first the magnetic hill. The description says it all. We argued whether it was an optical illusion or really there were ferrous contents in the nearby hill.
The drive and the pedal down the Zanskar valley was beautiful. As our guide (Ashish & Lucky) mentioned, the "rock"odiles were like something someone chiseled through ages. This is the pace where Chadar treck happens. In winter the river solidifies and there is an upstream trek that is organized which is called the Chadar Trek.
We were done by around 2pm and we headed out to Alchi. One of the oldest Monasteries in Leh. Culinary habits don't die, so we decided to try Alchi Kichen for pure Ladakhi preparations. They have an open kitchen policy and pretty much everything that they prepare is freshly made right in front of us including the bread.
Alchi Monastery is around 1000 years old and under Archaeological Survey of India for renovation. we had a brief walk around Sumtseg and the Manjushri temple.
By around 4:30pm we headed back towards Leh.
We stopped at Gurudwara Pathar Sahib to catch a glimpse of the holy stone which got melted due to Guru Nanak's super natural powers.
After Tea (langar) we headed towards Leh city and visited Indian Army's Hall of fame. We were fortunate to see the Beating the retreat ceremony of the regiment. I ended up buying few Souvenirs and books on Param Vir Chakra laureate.
Leh is part of J&K, so why not try Kashmiri cusine. Kashmiri Nan, Kawa, Kashmiri Pulav, Rohan Gosht etc. How to find the best place to eat non veg in a new place? Well JD says ask the butcher. And the recommendation was New Wazwan.
After a heavy dinner, we decided to walk back to Shamabala via the busy streets (Fort Road). As I walked back I realized it has been a week since I arrived and Leh had almost got ingrained in me.
Day 9: Fly back to Bangalore, but before that meet up the Shambala folks.
Tips for Leh Trip
- FIRST : Please don't litter Leh. This is pristine beauty. We had collected more than two large sacks of plastics on cycling expedition to Pangong and back. Most of them are plastic bottles from aerated drinks. Just drink from the stream guys.That is more healthy that those sugar supplemented drinks.
- Once you are away from Leh, most of the folks are nomads. Untouched by intricacies of civilization. Water bodies and nature are sacred to them, please do not contaminate. Be sensitive while you use them. Including swimming in them.
- AMS - Altitude Sickness - drink a lot of them - 4-5 liters on day 1 of arrival
- Eat easy on day 1 - digestive system also takes some time to settle
- If AMS doesn't settle in - Nausea, headache, Sinus etc - Diamox may help (get medical advice before)
- Garlic water in smaller quantities also help in acclimatization.
- The key to riding/activity on high altitude is heart rate. Stay around your average number at the planes (for me it was ~150/160). As long as you can hold do it. When it exceeds, stop, listen to your heart. In cycling paradigms, cadence is important not the gear ratio.
- Breathe full capacity, breath through your tummy.
- Hydrate well - since it is high altitude and low humidity, you may not sweat, but you will loose water. Hydrate well. Period.
- At higher altitude the biggest thing that hits you is not the road quality, nor the fatigue of driving up, but lack of oxygen. Be prepared to breath through it!
- Downhill will be thrilling, but you need to be careful at blind curves. The upcoming vehicles will accelerate up. Plan such a way that you can break at the next bend. Don't focus on the next curve down hill, but the next bend.
Salute to Motherland.
Medical tips at high altitude
Some snaps that captured the beauty of Ladakh
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