Manali-Leh-KhardungLa Cycling Day 10 (Sept 5th 2009) : Leh to KhardungLa – “The Final Hurrah…..”


Rains…..Rains….Rains….Rains…………….

2 days passed in Leh with nothing more than just rains lashing us. I and Mausmi remained indoors just when the biblical deluge happened outside. 2009 had been a strange year when it came to rains in India. It was the driest monsoon in 109 years and the rains had come very late. However, so much rain in Ladakh was an unheard of story.

It cleared up a bit on 4th Sept 2009 and we took a cab to see the confluence of Zanskar and Indus through some wonderful terrains once again.

Amazing blue sky and its reflection in the Indus' catchment area near Leh military base

Amazing blue sky and its reflection in the Indus' catchment area near Leh military base

The confluence of Indus and Zanskar river, 30 km from Leh

The confluence of Indus and Zanskar river, 30 km from Leh

Mausmi and I at the confluence. We came back to the same spot after a gap of 2 years

Mausmi and I at the confluence. We came back to the same spot after a gap of 2 years

I still had one last unfinished business, the climb to KhardungLa with my mountain bike and realize my dream which had kept me on the go for last 11 months or so.

Finally the big day arrived. I woke up at 5 am and dressed up. It had a queer feeling inside my stomach; something akin to what I used to feel during big examination days in my school time. Mausmi laughed when I said this to her. We kissed goodbye and I set off.

I would be alone today till South Pullu, 28 km and 3500 feet above where we stayed. At South Pullu the backup vehicle with Mausmi and the guide Raju would join me. We shall have our lunch there and attempt the summit. A simple and neat plan.

It was bitingly cold when I began at 7 am (6 degrees Celsius). I could see the mighty Stok Kangri peak in the background. It was a popular peak for the hikers and it sat at some 6000 meters from the sea level. The rains at lower altitudes mean snow at the higher ones and I saw the whole of Stok Kangri covered in snow. It was an ephemeral beauty to see it snow covered but a breathtaking one.

The Stok Kangri

The Stok Kangri

It was a 42 km climb to the KhardungLa top and I had to climb around 7000 feet or so. The road was in pristine condition on it being a super sensitive army route and the climb was on a steady 5-6% gradient. In fact so even was the climb that I had to just choose one gear combination and I never needed to upshift or downshift it till South Pullu.

KhardungLa pass was the part of the legendary silk route and it got the western world’s attention after Marcopolo travelled through it in 1300 AD. I wondered how tough it would have been for those in the ancient times to conquer such high passes without the aid of technology.

My climb continued and I effortlessly sailed into South Pullu in less than 3 hours covering 28 km. The backup vehicle had not arrived yet. It was then I realized something was wrong there. There was a long serpentine queue of vehicles at the South Pullu army check point. I was told that an accident had happened ahead and the road is closed.

It was such a crushing blow that I almost felt shattered. It was just 14 km from the summit and a climb of 2500 feet away. It would have been cruel to have come this far and not been able to complete the last leg. I loitered aimlessly when an army officer showed up. I narrated my part of the story and got the greatest news of all. The pass was open to two wheelers. He also cautioned me that there was 4 feet of snow at KhardungLa and had bad road conditions. I was overjoyed. I was going to ride to KhardungLa!

The backup vehicle arrived with lunch and I decked myself up with calories for the final assault on KhardungLa. Mausmi remained at South Pullu with the vehicle. I was allowed through the checkpoint and I sailed up determined to complete what I had once dreamed of. There was no traffic on road as all were stuck at South Pullu from Leh side and at North Pullu from Nubra valley side.

It felt a bit odd biking alone on those roads. It seemed I was on some kind of a surreptitious mission on whom invisible cameras were trained to measure how he did. There was of course no one except a few BRO workers on the road side.

I continued my ride and km ticked by and I kept on soaring higher and higher. At 16,000 feet I crossed the snowline. Now there was snow on the mountain-faces and a small curved snow-spine in the middle of the road.

I crossed the snow line at 16,000 feet. Now on there was no escape from snow...........

I crossed the snow line at 16,000 feet. Now on there was no escape from snow...........

The "plump" me. I had three layers of insulation. Rain and windproof jackets and gloves. Had a plastic sheet covering my socks so that they do not get wet and my wollen cap that could cover the ears. If you are planning this route, these are absolute must haves

The "plump" me. I had three layers of insulation. Rain and windproof jackets and gloves. Had a plastic sheet covering my socks so that they do not get wet and my wollen cap that could cover the ears. If you are planning this route, these are absolute must haves

With 5 km to summit, I saw motorbikes coming back from the opposite direction. I flagged them down and they told me that they could not reach the summit because of snow. It dented my morale a bit but I was not going to stop.

3 km from the summit, I passed a point called the “India Gate”. It is a strange structure that arches the road with the top part of the arch missing.

The "India Gate" on way to KhardungLa

The "India Gate" on way to KhardungLa

By now I was well over 17,000 feet and the air was very rare. I was again back to my constant heart rate biking mantra and kept on pedaling. I kept scaling, the temperature and oxygen level kept falling and the snow accumulation kept spiking.

Finally at 500 meters to the summit, I had to stop pedaling and start pushing. There was no traction to bike and every 5 meters there was a snow stuck vehicle which meant I had to drag my bike to the heavy snow deposition side and carry it through. The final 500 meters took me 30 minutes to cover.

Finally, I was there. I was at the KhardungLa pass – the highest motorable road in the world. Strangely, my GPS and altimeter measured 17,800 feet a full 530 feet shy of the boards that screamed 18,380 feet.  I knew this was an expected reading as the actual Khardung Pass which nomads used was still 500 feet higher. When the road was constructed it was given the same altitude measurement for historical reasons rather than anything else.

Anyway, a few quick photographs were taken and I headed downhill.

Reached my destination; The KhardungLa Top at 18,380 feet it is the highest motorable pass in the world. However, my GPS and altimeter measured 17,800 feet

Reached my destination; The KhardungLa Top at 18,380 feet it is the highest motorable pass in the world. However, my GPS and altimeter measured 17,800 feet

I rejoined my folks at South Pullu and after a smooth and fast downhill I was back at Leh.

The day’s stats were:

day 10

day's progress highlighted in red

Total Distance

84 km

Total Climb

6200 feet

Total Time on Saddle

7 hours 00 min

Sleeping Height

11,600 feet

Oxygen

65% relative to MSL (mean sea level) At KhardungLa pass: 49%

I was restless at Leh.

Mausmi said it happens to people who cherish a dream for a long time, nurture it, feed it with efforts and emotions and finally when they achieve it, a void ensues as to what next?

Probably she was right. The emotional payload that I carried all along these 11 months was not going to be offloaded so easily. As far as I am concerned, I think I came back a wiser person. I did 570+ km in some unforgiving terrains. 48 hours on my saddle, I braved the sun, the cold winds, the soaking rains, the chilling hails, the punishing snow and the dizzying altitudes but most importantly I braved the daemons in my head that told it was beyond me to do this.

I drew inspiration from people around me; Tom for his amazing spirit of challenging himself where many at his age are mere vegetables and living on pills where he was not only gainsaying the stereotype of age but smashing it to bits; Kuku, for his amazing zeal of biking round the world while still being a greatly lovable guy; Ian for his love to a foreign land, India, and his positive attitude; Russell for his courage and determination of completing the trip despite failing health………

What is my final takeaway? For naives it would be my bragging rights of having passed a difficult physical test. However, there is so much more to mountain biking than just being physically fit. It tests your mental set up and makes it harder for you with environmental setbacks such as rains and cold.

The biggest takeaway was a few shots of “Zest for Life” that I received from some amazing characters and felt within me. It is not about completing Manali to Leh on bike and reaching the highest pass on the planet, it is about understanding that the life can present spectacular rewards for those who dare to dream and care to realize it with their blood and sweat so that they have a huge collection of diverse experiences before they say the Final Hurrah!!!!!

-Manasij Ganguli

manasij.ganguli@gmail.com

+919811041363

Glacial Confluence: Captured by Mausmi from the return flight to Delhi from Leh

Glacial Confluence: Captured by Mausmi from the return flight to Delhi from Leh

All Links:

Prologue : Khardungla and My Conditioning

Day 1 (Manali to Marhi):  Meet the Gang

Day 2 (Marhi to Sissu):  The Big Climb up the Rohtang Pass

Day 3 (Sissu to Jispa):   The Cold Windy Day

Day 4 (Jispa to ZingzingBar):  Awww… Those 7 km…

Day 5 (ZingzingBar to Sarchu): The Box of Chololates

Day 6 (Sarchu to Whisky Nullah): The Beauty and the Beast

Day 7 (Whisky Nullah to Pang):  How Wrong Was I?

Day 8 (Pang to Lato): The Longest and the Best Day- Size Does Matter

Day 9 (Lato to Leh):   I Will Reach Leh

Day 10 (Leh to KhardungLa):  The Final Hurrah….

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31 Responses to “Manali-Leh-KhardungLa Cycling Day 10 (Sept 5th 2009) : Leh to KhardungLa – “The Final Hurrah…..””

  1. Aditya Says:

    Just read through the entire series of blogs. Dude, great going! Also, i absolutely admire Mausami’s patience and support being with you throughout the trip. Hats off to both of you!

    “it is about understanding that the life can present spectacular rewards for those who dare to dream and care to realize it with their blood and sweat so that they have a huge collection of diverse experiences before they say the Final Hurrah”

    I completely agree with your sign-off statement. Hope your quest for diversified experiences continues, and you have many more stories to share with all of us.

    Cheers!

  2. Vishal Paranjpe Says:

    The only thing I could say is AMAZING AND INSPIRATIONAL. I wish I could have been with you on this as i am also a big lover of mountains.

  3. Rajiv Gupta Says:

    i am sooo JEALOUS !!
    i was initially planning to join manas & his mountain-biking gang,
    but did the manali-LEH route with my friend in JUNE. (in a Sumo)

    MANAS your quest-tale is surely inspiring..
    maybe next year, i do this trail on a mountain-bike 🙂

    by the way, have u heard of the GURGAON MOUNTAIN BIKING thing happening on the 22nd of Sep ’09.. do chk it out!

  4. Ravi Anantharam Says:

    Great to read this. You can literally live the experience with your lucid and vivid capture of the experience with your words. You can surely have two alternate career options – one as a cycling coach and the other as a writer. I am envious of those folks that have been doing world tours on cycles; just don’t seem to have that kind of luck!
    Keep going; may the force be with you. I am planning Leh cycling trip the next year with my buddies.

  5. Krishna Nair Says:

    At last I also finished reading through the entire episode. I kept coming back to finish off the story. You are an amazing writer. I think you should start writing for Travel mags., they will sponser your trip as well as pay you for writing your experiences. You certainly have another career option wide open 🙂 ..
    Hats off to mausmi for being the moving wall behind you, always pushing you forward and never allowing you to fall back.. and of course you.. Congratulation!! Your crazy determination baffles me..

  6. bhaskar Says:

    ur amazing ,while reading i felt i was there with u ,nice presentation i love each presentation ,i am a doctor by profession ,planning for like this in the future ,but i dont have time ,but after seeing those beautiful mountains ,i wish once in my life go there ,thanks for the presentation

  7. tekdude Says:

    Great inspirational Blog! Thanks for sharing..

  8. Saurabh Says:

    Hey Manasij,

    Man, this series of posts on your Leh-Ladakh trip was mesmerizing and nostalgic to me. Even i was on a road trip to Leh via manali from Delhi and then back from Leh via Srinagar. But guess what, i was in a car unlike you in a bike and that’s what makes me feel my feat very insignificant 😦 . I was there from 16th Aug to 27th Aug 09.

    BTW, this is Saurabh from our old BIT days, 212/98, Comp Sc. Guess that may ring a bell 🙂

    Hats off to you!!!

  9. Peeush Trikha Says:

    Hi Manasij ,

    This was a truly awe-inpiring blog . After all those tough days; you still had the energy to write all these blogs . Kudos to your spirits .

  10. yash Says:

    awsome description!!
    loved the pics..

  11. Brijesh Gajera Says:

    Hey Manasij,

    your account of the biking endeavor is trully inspirational and awe-inspiring. Keep dreaming, and achieving your dreams.

  12. Mithun Das Says:

    Dear Manasij,

    read your blog and admired ur pics… thanks fr sharing these adventures with us … inspiring fr all…
    regards,
    Mithun

  13. Ravi Says:

    Nothing less than extra-ordinary…
    This is amazing…
    and imbibes me with great sense of respect for every cyclist on the planet…

    Three cheers to you for achieving this 🙂

    I recently did Goa Biking Expedition with YHAI…
    and i was planning for this manali-leh biking …
    after reading ur blog….i feel as if ….jumping right out ….quit evrythng….take my bike….and go to leh…
    I could almost relive ur whole experience as if i ve done it …
    ur vivid descriptions are just par words …

    M planning for the trip smtime in august start…lets c …

    Cheers,

    Ravi

  14. Nitin Singh Says:

    Hello,

    Thanks for sharing this extra-ordinary trip of yours. The trip was a just amazing and the way you have presented it was just outstanding. After reading it I m feeling like as if I was riding bicycle there with you . 🙂

    I simply love mountains.

    Hats off to you!!!

    Cheers!!!
    -Nitin

  15. Huzefa Says:

    Truly amazing. Could not stop reading. Would love 2 do something similar. Your blog was just the inspiration to push me toward it. Tnx a lot.

  16. Kiran Kumar N Says:

    Hi Manasij,

    This has been one of the most interesting reads of all time for me.
    What you have done is inspirational to many of us. I have just bought an MTB and hopefully will start doing something interesting with my life. Thanks again. BTW, you have a great blogging style as well. Do keep us all entertained and inspired with more of your stories.

    Kiran

  17. Moiz Kapasi Says:

    Hi Manasij,
    Thanks a lot for posting this wonderful, inspiring series of articles. I am avid trekker having crossed the Pin parvati pass, Kalindi khal and summitted mount Yunum (at 6K m) on the same road you cycled (nera Bharatpur). I also cycle daily and have a dream to ride Manali-Leh. Your article is very inspiring and itches me realize that dream sooner than later. More than all this, you inspire me to collect my own set of diverse experiences in life before its the time to go…

    Is it ok to contact you on your published email/phone for any tips etc for mountain biking?

  18. Kamaldeep Says:

    Very neatly documented travel log.
    Awesome work

  19. Raman Says:

    HI,

    Very inspirational…I am going with Raju ji on 6th August and I am glad i read all your blogs…Has motivated me further…..Keep up the good work….very good and motivating write up with great pictures….Hats of to Mausmi for wonderful support….Take care…will send you my pictures once i am back…

    • manasij Says:

      hey Raman,

      i am sure you will have a great time in the tour.
      would like to see your pics for sure 🙂
      and pls do convey my regards to raju
      enjoy!

  20. Arindam Das Says:

    Manasij,

    We drove from Leh to Manali this year in July, exactly a week before the floods. We saw some bikers on the road and wondered how they could ride when we were having enough problems being in an SUV. Your travelogue is exceptional and I relived our journey while reading it.

    • manasij Says:

      Thank you Arindam, its a great land isn’t it? No matter on which mode of transport you were, you are bound to love the place.

  21. Arindam Das Says:

    Oh, I just love it! I am still in awe of the sights and can’t wait for a return trip.

  22. Arindam Das Says:

    Oh, I just love it! I am still in awe of the sights and can’t wait for a return trip.

    Btw, if you want to see some photos from my trip, you can see them at

    http://arindam.smugmug.com/Landscapes/Ladakh-2010.

    There’s a sub-gallery on the drive from Leh to Keylong.

  23. Bhaskar Majumder Says:

    Salute!

  24. The great Dane Says:

    I am planning the same adventure for July 2012. I do not know if we should go your route Manali – Leh or Leh – Manali. What is your take on that.

    Thak for a good job blogging…..

    The great Dane, Copenagen

  25. ujjwal Says:

    u can well imagine how much v ol apreciate u for yor journey, it is so inspirational, i will b leavin tomorow n sure will tell u bout my xperience too, thanx a load amazing blog!!!!

  26. Arun Patnaik Says:

    Superb!!! Enthralling blog… We did this trip in 2014 with breaks at the same spots until Pang and then with a night halt at Rumptse, we cycled down to Leh. I feel you were a lot more comfortable with the low oxygen atmosphere, especially at nights, I was gasping for breath at Whisky Nalla 🙂 …And your final leg from Leh to Khardungla has been a daunting effort..hats off!! and once again great blog, it made me re-live the special moments…

  27. Subhrajit Ghadei Says:

    From: subhrajit.ghadei@gmail.com

    Hey,

    An excellent read. This is Subhrajit from http://www.adventureclicknblog.com and we would love to have your blogs listed in our website. We have also launched a credit system for contributions by which contributors can reimburse the points for cool travel stuffs (adventureclicknblog.com/moreblognearn.php). The credit points are a way of saying thank you for your sincere effort and time for writing.

    Warm Regards,
    Subhrajit Ghadei,

    Co-founder,
    http://www.adventureclicknblog.com,
    Think Adventure, Think Us
    0091 8378997510
    Education: B.Tech (IIT Bombay), MBA (IIM Lucknow)

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