Manali-Leh-KhardungLa Cycling: Aug-Sept 2009 – “The Prologue”

Snow on way to KhardungLa Pass- the highest motorable road on the planet

Snow on way to KhardungLa Pass- the highest motorable road on the planet


There was snow everywhere. All the mountains, valleys, roads…. were covered by snow. I was struggling with virtually everything around me. At this altitude, the air was thin; breathing was a struggle. The final gradient was steep, climbing was a struggle. Snow and hardened ice on the road had robbed me off my traction, biking was a struggle. I summed up my resources, another sip of water, another banana eaten and I was again pedaling. I saw a milepost, KhardungLa 5 km.

I heard the air horn and looked back. An army pickup truck was climbing. It was skidding madly on the hard ice and snow and the driver waved me to get off the road. I instantly knew the guy would not stop. On one side of the road was a sheer drop of 3000+ feet and I had no option but to jump right up to the edge in knee deep snow with my Trek 4300 bicycle.

It was becoming impossible to ride my bike now. There was no question of biking on the vehicle tire marks as it had turned the flaky snow to hard compacted ice which had no traction whatsoever. The option of biking on the snow mass was insane and finally half a km from the summit I just had to give up pedaling. I got down from the saddle and pushed my bike through a maze of stuck vehicles.

The point where I gave up biking and pushed it to the top- 500 meters from KhardungLa Top

The point where I gave up biking and pushed it to the top- 500 meters from KhardungLa Top

I knew that the summit presents itself at the end of a right hand bend. All these days, I had dreamed of biking up the summit and seeing Mausmi, my wife, greeting me on completing the trip. This was not to be. As I took the final bend, I saw the prayer flags, the army outpost, the medical camp, the tea shop and the small shrine of all faiths. It was all covered with snow. But there was no Mausmi.

I was at the KhardungLa top; the highest motorable pass on planet Earth at 18380 feet. It was 5th Sept 2009, 2 pm and I had reached the summit on my mountain bike.

I took a couple of photographs to record the feat and began the descent. It was a lonely descent from the world’s highest road. The pass was closed to vehicular traffic and all vehicles bound for KhardungLa were stuck at South Pullu, 14 km and 2500 feet below the pass. I was the only person allowed to go ahead as I was on a bike, but not before the army guys had given me an astronomical number of warnings and another astronomical number of wishes at the check post the same morning.

Reached the KhardungLa top 18380 feet- Dream of Manali-Leh-KhardungLa mountain biking fulfilled

Reached the KhardungLa top 18380 feet- Dream of Manali-Leh-KhardungLa mountain biking fulfilled

As the downhill unfolded and I again negotiated the treacherous snow, ice, melted ice and water, exposed boulders and gravels I strangely felt a sense of loss than being jubilant. The dream that made me tick for last 11 months was now accomplished. I was there. I had been there, done that. As one switchback after another presented itself I looked back at how this amazing trip played out. It all began when I had a dream.

Part I: I had a Dream (Oct. 2008)

Global economic meltdown had made people alter their plans worldwide. I was no exception. My plans to do a month long European backpacking trip in summer of 2009 with Mausmi had bitten dust. The option to participate in a Himalayan car rally was open but was an expensive call. My plans to learn flying came crashing when I was told that I would need some recommendations from high ministerial berths. In short, I was looking for an avenue to do something.

That was when one day I chanced upon a blog in the internet which told about an amazing bicycle trip from Manali to Leh, the highest roads on the world and then from Leh to KhardungLa, the highest motorable pass on the world. I was immediately bought into it. I had been to Ladakh, Leh and KhardungLa before and knew it was an amazing land. The prospect of biking there was just exciting.

Next day, I announced this to my friends in my office and naturally drew quite a laugh. They were right in a way of course. It would be no child’s play. You have to be physically fit and in top form to be cycling around 600 km with around 300 km of uphill through some bad roads, treacherous weather and most of all at altitudes in excess of 15,000 feet with very little oxygen to breathe. Later I was to learn that one extremely important part was to be mentally fit to take up such a task.

Despite the seemingly tall odds, I went on and purchased my first mountain bike, a Trek 4300. It was a decent bike but most importantly a bike that I could afford.

Now I had a dream and had a bike to ride through the dream. It was autumn 2008 and I was up for a long haul through many Ups and Downs.

Part II: Ups and Downs (Feb 2009 – July 2009): Preparation Time

From October 2008 till Jan 2009 I used to ride my bike alternate days for some 15-20 km in the evening after the office. Somehow, I managed to forge a group of 4 guys all interested in biking and finally we all coalesced to do our first 50 km+ ride on Feb 1st 2009.

all of us2

We huffed and puffed to complete the 54 km ride in some 5 hours, all in flat terrain. I had a great doubt after this trip whether I had bitten more than I could chew. But one downer did not completely set me wobbly.

I continued my daily rides of 15-20 km on flat and good tarmacs and supplemented it with 50-70 km rides in weekends. I was the only guy who would show up for all the rides whilst someone or the other was always missing.

Then after one month of this routine, we embarked on our first long ride. We went to Nahan from Paonta Sahib (to and fro 96 km) with last 7 km of dramatic climb (climb 1500 feet in 7 km). We somehow clawed our way to the top and were completely spent. My doubts persisted about my state of preparedness for the big challenge.

Then we did some more hill work. We went to Kasauli from Kalka (read the blog here) which was an uphill climb of 4000 feet in 24 km. Then we attempted Chakrata (read the blog here) which was a 104 km ride with 5600 feet climbing.

Gradually, I saw my strength grow. I was now a better rider than what I used to be. The ups were encouraging. We all agreed on the final dates when we would attempt the Manali-Leh-KhardungLa circuit. I took care of all the logistics.

By June 2009 I was riding daily for some 40 km. If I felt good I would extend it by 10 km. I would complete my morning ride and then show up at my workplace. Weekends would see longer rides of 60-70 km. I concentrated on a constant pace biking and my legs became stronger and I became fitter on the bike.

The downers hit us again in July 2009. Suddenly everyone was gone and I was the only guy left standing up to take the challenge. I was undeterred and continued my conditioning rides. The last ride took me to Kasauli once again (read the blog here). This time I came back with a truckload of confidence. I was quick in the climb and was feeling perfect. As I kept losing people like chips in a poker game, the only person who hung with me all the time was the woman who has been in life for one and a half decade now, my wife Mausmi.

Finally, the D-Day arrived. On August 21st 2009, a day when all hell broke loose in Central Delhi due to a thundershower that uprooted countless trees and threw the traffic off gear, I and Mausmi were on a Volvo bus to Manali with my Trek 4300 safely packed up in the luggage trunk.

I had varied messages from colleagues, friends and family. Many thought I was just crazy. Some were sure I was not going to complete it. Some wished me luck and I knew they were rooting for me. Some looked at it as a suicidal trip. The best comment came from a colleague of mine: “Why go to a place on bicycle where the planes can fly you?”

I wish I knew the answer. I knew the next 10 days would be tough. Very tough. But they also promise exceptional rewards. I knew I would be biking with some more guys, all from foreign lands who have come here exactly for the same reason, to cycle the highest roads of the planet.

I was eager to meet the gang.

Read on: The Mountain Biking Trip Begins from Manali- Day 1 – Manali to Marhi – “Meet the Gang”

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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32 Responses to “Manali-Leh-KhardungLa Cycling: Aug-Sept 2009 – “The Prologue””

  1. vandana Says:

    Cool and daring…I m definatelly going to share with my other friends

  2. Parag Says:

    Hi ,

    I really appreciate the great effort you took and congratulations for the achivement, by no means an easy one. Two of my friends also did the expedition, were they with you ? Rajoo and Sujata from Pune !
    I have seen pics !Abs awsome !!! SOme day I dream……..

    Congrates once again.

  3. ashutoshmahajan Says:

    What a hell ride man!!! Congrats !!!
    I am stuck at your posts.It’ll take long to go through entire log,but will do it for sure.

  4. K.V.SRINIVASAN Says:

    fOR SHEER GRIT AND DETERMINATION, YOU ARE THE BEST. GOD BLESS YOU MANASIJ. YOU WRITE SO WELL TOO.YOU HAVE DONE YOUR PARENTS AND TEACHERS PROUD.RELAX NOW AND GIVE YOUR MUSCLES THECHANCE TO RECOUP BEFORE YOU SET OFF ON YOUR NEXT ADVENTURE.

    SRINIVASAN FROM PATNA

  5. Srikanth Perinkulam Says:

    Exceptionally good write-up!
    You’ve strengthened my resolve to ride up these roads yet once again.

  6. beyondlust Says:

    Having read your blog in some details, i think i can say with some conviction that this is one o0f the best travel blogs i have come across. Cheers and may you pedal your way to the Everest!

  7. bhutani Says:

    Great work.

  8. ravi Says:

    hey man; BRAVO BRAVO. this was a fantastic stuff. it is really adventurous and thrilling; it seems fun n thrill at first but when it comes to real terms; i know that it is also a tough task. but the sheer adventure which is experienced is uncomparable. people who take shelter in their homes , jobs n family wud not know the taste of such craziness, they just pass on from this world without the real experience. sorry m a bit harsh but thatz the way.u did a tough but thrilling job. well done my freind; itz inspiring for me too. i wud definitely go for such trips.
    WELL DONE, my friend.

  9. Maverick Says:

    Amazing stuff!!!Commendable!! Congrats!!!
    I am also planning the same trip this year.
    Just few quick questions:
    How did you transport bike from Delhi to Manali and then from Leh to Delhi?
    Also can you share some coordinates of Raju guide? The website mentioned is not working?

    • manasij Says:

      The Delhi-Manali bike transport was done in the Volvo bus.
      The Leh-Delhi was done in a flight.
      The overall transport cost was ZERO.
      I think Raju is now available at magicmountainadventures.com

      • Maverick Says:

        Thanks Mansij,
        Did you carry the bike as is or disassembled it and packed it in a
        bike box? If you carried the packaging then did you carry it till Leh
        with the backup vehicle.

        • manasij Says:

          Hey Maverick,
          I had a makeshift carry case to take my disassembled bike in the luggage carrier of the volvo bus till manali.
          It somehow survived till manali and I threw it away in manali.
          From Leh I just had my bike wrapped in a thin plastic sheet and it survived the 1 hr flight with aplomb

          -manasij

      • Maverick Says:

        Hey Manasij,

        I’ll be riding Trek 3700. What all spares did you carry during this
        trip? And any accesories?

        • manasij Says:

          basic stuff….like allen key set, spare tube, spare brake shoes, puncture kit……..this should do it for you

  10. MohammadHazlul Islam Says:

    I would like to go there. could you please guide me from the begeining?
    what things i hae to pack?

    • manasij Says:

      well it depends on which time of the year you are going though…..
      I guess for summers you would need good thermal wears, waterproofing gears, good quality waterproof shoes, warm hats, muffler, wind cheater, gloves and sunscreen
      and you need a good bike and a great spirit 🙂
      happy biking!

  11. MohammadHazlul Islam Says:

    +88 01717001371
    ur contact?

  12. Hazlul Says:

    ive called you but ur no was unreachable!

    I did go up to Manali starting fromCox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. around 3000km.

    ill come again to go up to Khardung La.
    Which time is perfect to go to there?
    +88 01552352388

  13. shitanshu shekhar Says:

    so nice

  14. Arun Thipsay Says:

    Excellent job done! A complete story unfolds!! So exciting!!!
    I plan to take this MLK_2011_Cycling, end July early Aug on
    my new TREK4300. I am Flying Pune-Delhi and Leh-Delhi-Pune.
    Is carrying own bike is easy & cost saving or taking another
    new one on rent? That’s the only decision pending…..

  15. Hazlul Says:

    I did it!

  16. dhananjay vaishnaw Says:

    dear sir,

    i am dhananjay vaishanw. from cg i have dream to ride khardungla for my own adevnture of life pl help me getting the info . and how to apply for khardungla bike expidition.

    mob- 8602202029

  17. guriqbal Says:

    manasij .. are you planning one this year?

  18. Ankita Says:

    Excellent way ot narrating your biking expedition.It might be an inspiration to many who might want to make their dream of cycling in ladakh come true.thanks.

  19. Advait Khatavkar Says:

    Hello Manasij !
    Please suggest me some good organizers names and contact numbers who organize this MLK trek in minimum expenditure. What should be the total minimum expenditure for this trek in today’s date if U have ur own MTB ?

  20. Rohit Says:

    Dear Manasij, We (3 people) are keen to have this expedition in coming july. Just wanted to ask you for transportation of my merida from delhi to manali. We will be going by Volvo bus, wondering if it has got ample space to adjust the 3 cartons for the cycle.
    Thanks in advance.

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