Manali to Leh Cycling Expedition – The Last Man Standing
I don’t know if it was by choice, chance or just pure destiny but I always found myself last man standing in the entire and there is nothing real good about it. You are virtually alone on those mountains and when you reach passes by 4-5 pm, it’s almost freezing.
While this is it, I am personally very satisfied with my achievement, not that I had any doubt before embarking on this journey but when you weigh 95 kg, you really need to think.
Our journey started on Sep 26th, bunch young riders had assembled near Talkatora Stadium to reach the start point, Manali. My first impression after looking at the riders was almost like I being a misfit in this group, within minutes I realized everyone was just “Hi & Hello” away, and friends were made immediately.
We reached Manali on 27th evening, yes that was 24 hrs journey and there is no point talking about it, anyway it was fun with friends.
Day 1: Manali – Marhi
Was informed that first two days are going to be tough and I was mentally prepared for it but never realize, your mental preparations is virtual, in reality the world is different. I was on the verge of giving up the whole tour in first 1 hr, I couldn’t just climb. Stopped for some time, took off all my warm clothes and realize the problem was actually my riding gear. I have never done ride 1*1 hence never realized it was an option.
First day was not so difficult mentally or physical, may be because I had a great company of Mr. Vishal Tomar. We were almost last on first day and that was an indication of days to come. This night was also my first experience with sleeping in tents and using sleeping bags. It wasn’t easy night because some weird noise outside the tent but I survived.
Day 2: Marhi-KhokSar-Sissu-Tandi
I had lost track of time of by day and it was all dependent on sun rise and breakfast readiness, never realize when I starting the ride and when it finishes. Anyway, we started riding towards Rohtang Pass, I started virtually imagining the snow. Had never been here and I thought the roads must be like what we saw in “Jab We Met”.
The only important aspect I remember from Day 2 ride was headwind, rest everything I don’t. I know it was getting very difficult for me but somehow just did it, Vishal was cruising ahead and a lot of other riders passed me and there I get my last man standing status. Anyway after riding slowly and steadily, crossed Rohtang Pass and went towards downhill section. This downhill section from Rohtang Pass to Khoksar was amazing, had never done anything like this my life.
I would consider myself fairly good in downhill and as a matter of fact everyone is, was fortunate to catch Vishal and Kaushik and now I had company. Had lunch at kosher, I would probably stop here again in next visit just to eat rice and meat, avoided non veg during ride time.
From Khoksar we started our journey to our day 2 base camp, Tandi and I was told its flat, almost road like our own GFR. Wise men have called it out again and again, on hills there is no flat road and I realized it next few minutes. From Kosher to Tandi, it was mix of emotional ride, I had great company but some really good cycling. The terrain gave all levels of challenges and downhill section just before Tandi was amazing!
Reached our basecamp in evening and it was tough day, I had virtually lost everything on Rohtang climb and Rajiv Dubey called it couple of times, you are looking very tired and yes I was.
Day 3: Tandi-Keylong-Jispa-Darcha-Patseo
Good men again came to my rescue, Mukesh and Vishal had plans to take bath in Kylong as this was our last hope to take shower and I desperately needed that. We left 1 hr early and went to a nice place in Keylong for good warm water shower, it took us 3 hrs for three us to take shower and have breakfast, it was indeed long shower.
I was riding easy on 3rd day and probably it was the shower, had no difficult till we reach our lunch point. Met some lovely people on the way, clicked few photographs and had awesome fun. It all started after lunch, it was uphill with extremely bad road conditions. Reaching our base camp was dream, things started to look easy after 7 km and were told its all downhill & flat now till our base camp, again its never flat on hills and I kept forgetting this fact.
Day 3 was first day when I thought of giving, last 3 kms to base camp after Patseo was extremely difficult, later I was I was told it was the same for all. Anyway just managed to walk down last 3 kms in company of Kaushik and Vivian, I just survived. While I may have survived the ride, the actual pain started when I reached base camp, it was freezing. I tried to lay down in tent for some time, it didn’t help and then I started having breathing problem, wind was also creating problems.
I just went out, grabbed a cup of tea and biscuit and went inside tempo traveller, I just wanted to get away from cold and yes, I was struggling with my breath now. Stayed inside the bus for almost 2 hrs, was worried about the lack of oxygen in bus as well. Managed to get hold of my breath after few hrs, went inside dining hall and got hold of a warm corner, it was all well now. The cold wind had also settled down by then and I had the real experience of high altitude.
Day 4: Patseo-ZingZingBar-Baralachala-Killingsarai-Sarchu-Brandy Nalla
Day 4 was scary, I was told about the Baralachala climb and I would consider myself fool, if I thought it would be easy for me. This was day I was the real test of my body and stamina, last few kms at least till ZingZing bar was fairly comfortable then came the climb towards Baralachala. I had lost it in last 8 km, no energy left now and I was all alone again with sever breathing problems. I was later caught by Kaushik and Vivian, we started walking now. The sweep vehicles started making rounds and I realize our time was up, we decided to take short and that decision fall flat on me, I struggled more on walking uphill.
The sweep vehicle came and we were recommended to get in till the pass but fellow cyclists didn’t give up and that gave me the moral boost. Started riding again till lunch point, that was Vishal Lake. Hats off to Shubho, he was stationed there from last 6 hrs and I realized this was under extreme condition. Baralachala was 3kms away from lunch point, good man Chiro gave me moral boost here, I started riding again with no company at all and the last man standing.
From Day 4 onwards, the sweep vehicle driver started looking at me like a prey. Vultures hover around waiting for their prey to fell down, exactly the same way I saw at people on sweep vehicles and this I say with all due respect, they were doing what they were expected to do and It was difficult, they couldn’t have left me alone.
This was also the first where I witness snow, the sweep vehicle was stationed at the pass and I driver started to walk towards me, after a km he saw me riding, we exchanged smile J . This is it, I had done it and now the downhill. On the downhill section I met two another brave riders Gagandeep and Rajiv, they are amazing and inspiring. I started to ride with me or started to catch them. Our ride was terminated at Killingsarai because of safety reasons. We stayed near Brandy BR that night, it was almost 30km from Killingsarai and we were transported to safety. I just loved my stop at Killingsarai though, had fresh roti sabzee!
Day 5: Gatta Loops, Nakeela Pass, Lachungla Pass
I started riding with Vishal today and loved our pace, in front of us it was the dreaded Ghata Climb and I was scared, really scared. I was told about the 21 steep loops but hey, we did it without any problem at all. I even didn’t notice when it was done, we just clicked pictures on Ghata end and moved on. The ride from Ghata Loop to Nakeela was difficult but still manageable and here again I lost company because of Army convey, didn’t take any chance while they were passing through.
After few km I got hold of Vishal and Vivian caught up with, and just near Nakeela Pass they both still had good energy, went with zoom for downhill and I was again the last man standing. Managed Nakeela pass as well, had quick lunch and then geared up for another climb.
At lunch point Vishal was ready to go and he simply said, “aa jaa ho jaayega…3 nahee 4 ghante hoga par ho jaayega, 7 km hai bas”. I got my energy from him, started riding again or walking again. This was getting extremely difficult, I would repeat extremely difficult. Almost 5 km before the pass, the sweep vehicle came and suggested to hop on till the uphill, had the power and I denied it.
On this pass again I was last man standing, then caught up with Kamal in last 1 km. Done, I did this climb as well and rest was downhill till Pang. This downhill was extremely dangerous and fearful, some bad thought s were coming to me but I would rather ignore this. Reached our base camp at around 6 with a warm welcome from Mukesh and Vishal, this stay inside the tent house was pleasant, never loved the idea of sleeping bag.
Day 6: Uphill -Morey Plains-Tanglangla Pass – Rumsey – Lato
I don’t know if I really remember anything now, what I know was …I am still up and kicking this 95kg ass. Started my climb till Morey Plains, wasn’t really tough considering it was only 7km and then we had morey plains. I am surprised why we call Morey Plains, this just isn’t by any standards for cyclist. Didn’t had too much trouble here and yes I had company as well, Vishal, Kaushik and Arjun. Reached lunch Darcha without any hassles had quick andaa parathaa and I was raring to go. I was relaxing for 10 min and realize my body is giving up now, started feeling high fever. I know my body, when I push myself too hard, my body breaks and I will have high fever. The idea of giving up was nowhere, had a combiflam and got on saddle again.
Just after 2 kms on road to Tanglangla Pass, I asked few people about the road condition and they said its same for next 10-15 km, the road was full gravels and extremely difficult to ride. After pushing for few more kms, I realize I was again the last man standing.
I continued to ride, suddenly two people from Tata Sumo approached and asked to board the tempo, I was told it was sweep vehicle and no riders left on the road to Tanglangla Pass now. I was surprised but denied to get swept, I continued to ride and my speed was now 3kmph. After 2-3 kms, the tempo traveller again and asked to get on till pass, I denied again. They stopped to have a chat, said, everyone has reached pass and Vishal was waiting ahead to board the bus and I must give up because of safety reasons and Yes I did then, no further question. I was following Vishal on this expedition and if he had given then I had no hope.
Got into bus, just after 1.5 km I realize Vishal is still riding and the sweep vehicle was asking him to board and he continued to refuse and I was shocked, I still had a brave rider out there. Immediately asked the vehicle to stop, got my bike out and I was there again. Vishal simply told, follow me, we will get through it. I couldn’t really catch Vishal but yes, I did complete the pass. Just before 200m the pass I stopped and prayed to god, let me get over this. It was 6 P.M and I was still riding on Tanglangla Pass.
It’s done, I was never so happy in my life….yes I had all the passes and I shared this happiness with Vishal while we took the downhill journey.
Day 7: Lato – Mari – Leh
Fairly easy day in comparison to all others days, in fact first few kms were perfect picturesque road to ride and we decided to click lots of pictures. I also loved the road because we crossed with Trishul regiment, I had never see a military establishment so close. We stopped over at Mari for our lunch and after 4 I had cellular network, spoke to Shaily!
Ride from Mari to Leh was again beautiful, lots of monastery on the ways and it was all going fine till the end, the real pain on the last day was last 2 kms, it was uphill climb