Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Manali-Leh cycling (June 2015) Part 2

Upper Zingzing Bar to Sarchu via Baralacha-la (53 km)
Last night, the sky was impeccably clear and we could see many stars. Signs of good weather. However, I couldn't sleep properly, guess it was because of the thin air and the altitude and also since our tents were near the road. I could hear vehicles passing by throught the night. Thankfully, I was feeling fresh in the morning. We had to climb the famous Baralacha-la today. The climb started right as we left camp. The climb is gradual and not daunting as I had imagined. The condition of the road was again very bad, but the surroundings around us were were extremely beautiful. The stark, bare mountains covered with snow from the previous winter, winding road, small streams; it all looked so beautiful.

We were riding along the Bhaga river. Suraj Taal, where the Bhaga river supposedly originates, was around 10km from our campsite and it was a gain of around 400mts. Suraj Taal is another beautiful lake. We spent sometime here and headed towards Baralacha-la (16200 ft) which is very close from the lake.

After Baralacha-la, it was all the way down till Bharatpur. The descending was again on broken roads where snow from the winters was melting continuously and we had to wade through water at few places.

We had a quick tea and started for Sarchu. The ride was through some dusty roads initally but after riding around 10km, the condition of the road improved and the surroundings too changed magically. We realized that from here on, the setting would be Laddakh like. The mountains were still barren, but had magically changed color.

The last few kms was the most beautiful stretch of the trip till now. Flat roads,tail winds,good roads and beautiful mountains around. We reached Sarchu around 2:30 PM. Our campsite was couple kms ahead of the town. There is military base here and you can use the phone they have to call up. As it cleared in the afternoon, we could see a beautiful double rainbow. I have never seen something like this before.

Sarchu to Whisky Nala via Gaata Loops and Nakee La (49 km)
It was going to be another tough day today. The initail stretch of around 20 odd kms was rolling amidst beautiful surroundings till we reached base of the Gaata loops.
Gaata loops is a set of 21 hairpin bends and some say it is the Alpe d'Huez of Manali-Leh highway. The climb is around around 11kms. The traffic on this route was really bad and road too is in a bad state. Soon I reached the place where you offer a water bottle to the “Ghost of Gaata Loops”.

The climb did not seem very daunting and we reached the top in little more than an hour. But the job was half done. We had another pass called Nakee La (15547 ft) to climb. The altitude was killing and I guess we were tired as well as it took more than 2 hours to cover the climb of 8kms. I had to take a break after every half a km.

The altitude at the pass was 4700mts. We reached the pass at 1 PM.

Our support vehicle was waiting at the pass.We started our descent and the ride was bone shattering. Finally we reached the camp at Whiskey Nala at around 1:30 PM. We had trouble pitching tents even during this time as it was very cold.

Whisky Nala to Debring via Lachung La and Morey Plains (78 km)
It was another great day for touring the mountains. We had to cross another high point, the Lachung La pass today. We started after breakfast at around 7:45, the climb to Lachung La (16616 ft) was around 6 km and then it was around 24km downhill till Pang.

The route was very beautiful and scenic after the pass. The surroundings looked like they were carved out of sand and placed here. It was drizzling a little as we descended, but it looked like this region was deprived of rain.

There is a large army base at Pang. We stopped at Pang for an hour and started the climb for Morey Plains and I was looking forward to riding in the Morey Plains. Once we reached the start of the Morey Plains, the rain Gods played spoil sport and all the grand views were gone. There were dark clouds all around and the famed views were not to be seen.

The almost flat road in the plains goes on for around 35km and for a change felt almost like a formula one track. I missed my road bike here.

We passed the detour to Tso Kar and I remembered, while planning for the trip, I had discussed with Sandeep on taking a detour here. But since we were short on time, we had decided to give Tso Kar a miss. We finally reached our destination, Debring at around 3:30 PM. It continued to rain throughout the evening and we do not have any other option but to stay in our tents.

Debring to Lato via Tanglang La (55 km)
Since it was raining in the morning, we decided to start a little late and eventually started at around 8:30 AM. The highest point on the trip is Tanglang La (17582 ft) which is a climb of around 25km from Debring. The initial 3-4km were easy rolling, however the road was becoming worse as we climbed up. At one point it was but a muddy trail that we had to negotiate. These bad roads coupled with the altitude was making the progress slower. Also, we could see that there had been a fresh snow fall on all the surrounding peaks. At one point, we had to stop and make way for a long army truck caravan that was going towards Leh. We were making steady progress and were stopping frequently to take pics.

After around 15kmt he condition of the road much better and infact was good till towards the end. The last 6 kms of the climb were really killing.

John and I were riding together and Sandeep was a little behind us. The altitude was taking its toll and were taking break almost every km. After the final section of climb, John said he could see prayer flags and I was so relived. We were about 500mts away from the pass as we waited for Sandeep and three of us reached the pass at around 12:30 PM.

What a feeling it was. The others joined us in some time and we were all feeling very elated. The weather was holding and we got great views all around. But as they say about the weather in the mountains, the fickle nature that it has , it started snowing and we had to we wait for snow to stop before we started our way down. It is one of the best downhills that I have ridden.

It was all the way down from here till as we came to Rumtse, one of the first real village we had seen in a long time. Also it was good to see some green after seeing a lot of brown, white and gray, after a long time. We stopped at Rumtse for some time and then continued to the next village of Lato which was where we set up camp.

Lato to Leh (75 km )
The last day of a trek or ride is always a little sad. You have mixed feelings. On the one hand, you have the joy of completing it safely, but on the other you also know that it is time to get back to civilization and work and emails and pollution and traffic and all those things that we cannot live without. It was a long ride today but was an easy stroll compared to the climbs we had done earlier. We did get our first puncture (on the ride) today.

We were finally riding along the Indus as we came near Shey and the Thiksay. Slowly, the familiar sites of Leh started emerging as I realized that the journey was coming to an end.

Looking back
This was one heck of a trip and I am so happy that I was able to do it. The company of friends makes the trip more memorable and this was the case in this trip as well. I will definitely do it again sometime.
I know the Manali-Leh cycling trip is on the "bike-it" list of many a cyclist so here are my two cents. We did not engage any "agency" for this trip. We organized this trip as a group. The road conditions, weather, time taken each day etc should be taken as a reference only as they may vary for you. Note that this kind of trip is not without its risks. There is always the risk of bad traffic, bad weather and above all the risks of high altitude. You will need to be cautious and careful. Having said this, I say again, this is one heck of a road trip and I am sure you will enjoy it.

"May your trails be crooked, winding, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds" - Edward Abbey

Manali Leh Cycling Part 1 is here

More Photos are here

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Manali-Leh cycling (June 2015) Part 1

"A bad day on the mountain bike always beats a good day in the office." - Mike Brcic

It was almost a year after our last Himalayan sojourn and it was time to head to the mountains again. Sandeep and I had always wanted to cycle the majestic Manali-Leh highway.The challenging climbs, high altitude passes, the ever present risk of weather going bad, rough roads and many such difficulties make this journey even more appealing. We were contemplating of doing this as a self supported ride, however gave up on that idea and decided to do a have a support vehicle along with us. Along with Sandeep and I, there were five other riders who decided to join us. ( Avinesh, Brijesh, Sachin, John and Mrugank -- all of us from Bengaluru). We were an eclectic bunch of riders with some of us a little more experienced with long distance cycling than others, however, we knew that if we wanted to really enjoy the Manali-Leh journey, than we would have to have some practice behind us. We did a few ( couple ) of group rides to Nandi Hills and some more rides of around 70-100 k together. Well, we were to realize later that no amount of practice can really prepare of you for the trials and tribulations, but then this ride of about 500 KM is no picnic trail either.
We sent our cycles to Manali via road transport and the seven of us reached Manali via Chandigarh. We spent a day in Manali to make the preparations for the ride. We shopped for rations, fuel, utensils etc. We also unpacked the cylces, assembled them and fixed minor issues, all a day before we had to ride. We were all set. This was the second week of June and the weather was looking great.

Manali to Marhi (39 km)
What a first day it turned out to be. We started at 9:30 AM. It was warm, but the weather was good and the sky was clear. We knew it was all the way a climb till Marhi. The initial climb after Manali was gradual but I was enjoying being on the saddle. One of our friends, Kieran was training in Manali for his Ultra Marathons and he was planning to run with us till Marhi while we cylced up. He was staying put in some village outside Manali and I met him after about 6km from the Mall. He started his run alongside us and I must say on some steeper climbs he was faster than us. We crossed Kothi soon and then Palchan. Everyone was feeling the pains of the climb and this was the first day. The next pit stop was Gulaba. The ride was fantastic till this point, however I found it a little tough after Gulaba. Finally I reached Marhi around 1:15 PM and waited for support vehicle to come which in about an hour. We pitched the tents a little above the road and waited while rest of the gang followed.

It started raining in the evening and the steady drizzle suddenly turned into a massive downpour. We couldn't do anything but wait it out in the tents. Sachin's bike was giving him a bit of trouble while shifting gears We tried to see if we could get help somewere and checked with a Hungarian biker who was carrying quite a few bike parts to see if anything could be done. But we couldn't fix it and Sachin decided to take it easy and ride the bike where ever it was possible for him. It was still raining when we called it a day around 9:30 PM.

Marhi to Sisu (51 km)
It continued to rain thewhole night but when I woke up, the skies were clear. We had to start with another climb, this time to the Rohtang pass. When we started at around 8:30 AM, the weather again turned bad. The visibilty dropped and it was threatening to rain.

So we decided, we will try and ride together till the top. Predictably just 5km from Marhi, it started raining heavily. There is no place to take shelter on this road and so we didn't have any option but to continue riding. As we climbed up, it started to get very cold. My hands were becoming numb due to the cold as I got completely drenched. I decided to move ahead so that I could reach the support vehicle to get my rain gear out. The climb from Marhi is about 17 km and was easy as compared to yesterday but the rain and cold made it very difficult. Kieran the ultra man was planning to run till Rohtang and then run back to Manali. He and I reached the top of Rohtang pass (13110 ft) together. I was in a bad condition due to the cold and the support vehicle was no where in site. Kieran took my bike to look for the support vehicle and came back with it in a while. I changed my clothes and got my rain gear as well. In the mean time all the other folks arrived and they were all in the same condition, drenched to the bone and cold. We had hot tea here and then bid good bye to Kieran and started ahead and lo behold when reached zero point ( top of the pass ), there was a traffic jam and it was worse than what we see in Marthahalli or at Kundalhaali gate. We managed to negotiate the traffic and started our descent down towards the Lahaul side.

It was still raining and we hoped against hope that it would be dry on the other side. However, we were disappointed. It continued to rainand the condition of the road became more pathetic. After a while as we were about to finish the descent, I realized that my brakes were not working at all. I had to get down and push the bike in some of those scary sections. Sandeep was further down and there was no sign of him. I tried to push my bike for couple of kms and while I was doing that, a kind soul in one of those small trucks helped me. I put the bike in his carrier and went down till Khoksar with him. I thanked the savior and waited for Sandeep and John at Khoksar at a dhaba. I had seen them while coming down in the truck. The rain had not stopped yet. They arrived in a while and immediately ordered for some hot noodles. After a while the others also arrived. Everyone was wet, cold and hungry and in an irritable mood, but then a Punjabi group was playing songs and doing the bhangra to beat the cold and soon others including us at the dhaba joined them. We took a longish break here and started as soon as the rain stopped. The route from Khoksar to Sisu was very secnic ride and it took away all our irritability.

We reached Sisu at around 4 PM, but not without some additional drama. Brijesh missed the campsite and some folks had to go look for him in the vehicle. The place where we had camped was beautiful indeed and the group again broke into an impromptu bhangra. Sandeep had a look at my brakes and fixed them and I was all set for the next day.

Sisu to Jispa (55 km)
It was a beautiful morning and we were all ready to roll again as we started at around 8PM. It was all the way rolling till we reached Tandi, the last place where the vehicle could fuel up.

We were riding along the Chandra river till the Tandi Bridge which is on the confluence of the Chandra and Bhaga river. After the Tandi bridge, we were riding alone the Bhaga river to reach Keylong which is around 7km up from Tandi but the climb was not difficult as the road conditions were good. We reached Keylong at around 11:30 AM. We called up our respective homes (cell phone signal available here), had an early lunch and started towards Jispa Jispa is around 20km from here and the roads were in a much better condition.

A little downhill from Keylong and then a small climb and finally rolling all the way till Jispa..

We had to pay for pitching our tents here ( around 150Rs each). It was windy but the sun was out and some folks decided to go to a nearby stream to cleanup. Spent the afternoon and evening relaxing in this quaint village.

Jispa to Upper Zingzing Bar ( 37 km )
The weather was not looking good when we got up and we didn't want another rainy ride. The ride till Darcha was all rolling and road is in good conditions. There is a checkpost at Darcha and we had to provide our identifications here. The climb from Darch to Patsio is a gradual with the initial 10-11 kms on broken road.

The road was impossible to negotiate at some places what with it being totally flooded. Even the guys on Bullets had a lot of trouble crossing these sections.

Patsio is around 25km from Jispa and it is only a few temporary dhabas that come up in the season.There is a lake here called Deepak Tal where we had nice hot tea at the dhaba. We were expecting to reach Zingzing bar soon, but realized that the next 12 to 15 km is all climbing. The road from Patsio to Zingzing bar was in a good condition and initially it was a rolling terrain.

We had cross another of those water logged roads (reminded me of some roads in Bangalore after a spell of rain) before reaching Z-Bar. As we reached Z-Bar, we realized that this was only the Lower Zingzing Bar and the actual campsite was still a little ahead. We had to actually do another climb of around 7 km before we reached the Upper Zingzing bar.

It was very windy but I guess what saved us was that it was mostly a tail wind. The campsite is at a decent altitude of around 4400 mts and I could feel the thin air here. Also there is a lot of wind from this point onwards. The scenery was stark with treeless mountains with patches of snow.

Manali Leh Cycling Part 2 is here