Breathless at 5600m: Cycling the Khardung La stretch

A steep, steep climb and one that we could not possibly do, at least not now. So we thought why not cycle downhill.

Before committing to a trip in the Himalayas, I had been meaning to cycle the Manali to Leh stretch which involved climbs totaling up to around 8,000m - almost the equivalent of scaling Mount Everest from sea level and atop barren Baralacha La pass. We were in the phase of travelling where everything was exotic; every climb, no matter how tough and crazy it sounded, we had to do it.

Once we arrived in Manali with barely there roads, landslides, deplorable conditions, we changed our minds. It may have been beautiful but the violent water crossings, abrupt landslides and swerving hair-pin bends required a careful consideration of what could have been at stake.

Khardung La.JPG

Here we were cutting short our trip and starting it off with Khardung La. We reached the bike shop at Summer Holiday in Leh where we had an array of Merida and TREK mountain bikes to choose from.

The plan was simple. We would be driven up to the pass with other riders from Leh to Khardung La covering 40km and we would roll down back at our own pace whenever we were ready.

 Being a construction worker on this road is a fate I wouldn’t wish upon anyone

Being a construction worker on this road is a fate I wouldn’t wish upon anyone

 We could not have been more transfixed by the sight of the Himalayas and the little specs of green shrubs

We could not have been more transfixed by the sight of the Himalayas and the little specs of green shrubs

 Unending panoramic mountain sights. The view of the Himalayas on a two-wheeler is quite a sight to behold

Unending panoramic mountain sights. The view of the Himalayas on a two-wheeler is quite a sight to behold

 Even he seems to think so

Even he seems to think so

It was a far cry from the roads that we experienced on the bumpy bus rides. Cycling downhill was a pure treat as we took in the cold HImalayan air and stopped to gaze at the Stok range, something which we probably would not enjoy if we had chose to cycle uphill.

We came across cyclists who were unrelenting, wild-eyed and determined to reach the top. The slowness, steep inclines and pain were written all over their faces. I wondered if the idea of hitch-hiking had crossed their minds, or they realised a bit of over-optimism may be good in the long run.

In stretches as barren as this, the only reminder that this was not that remote and perhaps the 21st century was when we had tourist jeeps and bullets revving up their engines every now and then.

 Riding as far as we could to get a view of the Stok range

Riding as far as we could to get a view of the Stok range

 Curves, mountains and a green oasis. If only this was a permanent fixture in my life.

Curves, mountains and a green oasis. If only this was a permanent fixture in my life.

 If you are interested on an adventure of any scale, I would urge you get on a bike.

If you are interested on an adventure of any scale, I would urge you get on a bike.

 If only he knew I rode “downhill”

If only he knew I rode “downhill”

 Something so deeply satisfying about riding the roof of the world and stopping to just take a look at the mighty Himalayas

Something so deeply satisfying about riding the roof of the world and stopping to just take a look at the mighty Himalayas

We reached the base in 3 hours (quite possibly the slowest) as we took a lot of time to stop and take pictures, while the fastest person to reach the base was probably in 60 minutes. Most of them maneuvered their bikes with great skill, while I just took on the road with careful precision ensuring never to crash onto an oncoming vehicle on the sharp blind corners.

As I end this post, I am reminded of how entirely achievable it is to do something even if you find yourself measuring your achievements against others, or being fully unprepared (though it wouldn’t hurt to come back stronger!)

Even if you want a feel of riding, without struggling on the road for days, the long downhill ride can provide one of the best ways to admire the ragged peaks of the Himalayan ranges and use this time wisely to daydream. But frankly, with roads like this these, who needs to dream?

*****

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Cycling at 5,600m - Khardung La