Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category

The Good, Bad and the Ugly World Cup……

April 11, 2011

Indian Team: World Champions

Yes folks, it has finally happened. India is the champion of the World Cup Cricket! An incredible feat from the men in blue, a great augmentation of national pride, a long cherished desire finally achieved, an awesome expression of a wannabe super power nation in the world stage!

A lot has been written/spoken/televised about the greatness of this win. We all know the “Good” part of the world cup. I am a huge sports enthusiast and for me it is surely a moment to be deeply satisfied for not only the game was good; my team – my country has won it. We all know the “Good” part of this world cup. I am happy that I saw it in my lifetime and it happened when I cheered for them with my friends- over my favorite pizza and my favorite drinks.

But then if you ask me what is top most sporting success that I have witnessed in my 30 years’ lifetime on this planet as an Indian, then unfortunately I would not be able to rate this world cup victory as my top moment. That would be Indian women’s relay teams’ 4×400 meter victory in the Commonwealth Games of 2010 at New Delhi’s JLN stadium. There is something spectacularly visual about seeing your team out-sprint the much stronger sides (like Nigeria, UK, Canada and Australia). You don’t need 6 weeks and 8 hours each day to see your team through to the podium.

And as soon as Dhoni lofted the final six of the game and a huge pandemonium broke out- an absolute orgy of nationalism and chest thumping. And that is where my gripe with this huge hoopla around the World Cup victory starts to surface.

The winning moment

For last seven days the newspapers, tv channels and every media front end is just catering to this hoopla. This is the “Bad” world cup. When all traffic goes one way, you can be sure there will be a traffic snarl. With every penny, every dime and every dollar going cricket’s way I wonder why would someone ever pick up that javelin, that bow and arrow, that oar, that racquet, that football, that cycle, that running shoes and worse of all that hockey stick (the moronic national game, remember?)!

The money on the table for cricket is a sky-high mound as compared to the other “less than important” sports. Your son plays for Ranji and plays for IPL then his base price starts at 2 million. Your son wins a world cup- gets millions in prize, land in premium locations, frontpage picture, even you get an interview….etc-etc. But if your daughter wins a gold medal defeating all powerful international challenges, gets 500 grands and a place in 11th page of the newspaper. Why would someone play other games?

If we want a sporting nation, a nation that wins sporting events then we cannot afford to keep all eggs in one basket- read just fuel cricket. Money distribution is always a zero sum game. You spend more on clothes; you spend less on food- simple. You spend huge on cricket and miniscule on athletics- you never win athletics. As a sports loving person, I am pained to see that we just got a little farther away from the wholesome sporting culture by going top heavy on cricket.

A friend of mine who trains with Indian national cycling team laughed when I told him that Indian cricket team has million dollar pay-cheque psychiatrists who tells the boys how to cry on his shoulder when they drop a catch to recover quick. He said- “The national cyclists don’t even have their own cycling jerseys which cost a few thousands”.  The “Bad” world cup is this. A nail in the coffin for other inferior sports for they have no money to bury their own bodies.

But there is one part, which completely disgusted me over the past few days. How can we equate a sporting event with national pride? The media and the public attitude towards the game of India vs Pakistan was such as if we were at war. As if losing was not an option. The corporate and the media have played a great hand on the naive middle class of this country. We have been made to believe that it is a matter of national pride to decimate our opponents on the 22 yards. Just 22 yards- never has been the concept of nationalism so narrow.

Indian vs Pakistan: Nationalism or Sports

What about our famed national pride which is battered and bruised and beaten black and blue and made to bleed blue in all the Olympic games for last 100 years? But then why would the guy with the cash care? The more cups Dhoni lifts, the more the middle class will drink, the more will they eat, the more will they wear, the more will the cash counters ring! So, the concoction continued to be passed around, each party pleasurably scratching other.

The great Indian middle class, that has the aspirations of a developed nation and therefore deems it as a right to have a sporting identity in the international arena and is ready to play this dangerous game of nationalistic fervor for a sports run by a body that has no government funding, no democratic process, not even a respectable track record of honesty! Is that what a country needs for its desperate nationalism- a bunch of vandals and corrupt leeches? This is the “Ugly” world cup.

The other ugly part is religion-izing of cricket. To make it look like a crusade. To turn our cricketers into demi gods (one is already elevated to the god’s place); this is dangerous.

Finally, look at this from a neutral angle. We laugh at American University Football’s world cup. But at least there are 200 teams there. Here, a cricket world cup has 6 teams (come on, don’t refute that by citing the fly by night teams like Ireland and Canada etc). Its like a mega soap opera with just a handful of actors (read nations) becoming evil, saintly, great, nasty etc at different times. Can you wear a world-beater image in say Indonesia? China? Japan? Germany? They have never played cricket- and never will.

So, the only place where we can carry our jingoistic world-beater image is Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh? Did you see the ugly nationalism being passed in your blue drink?

Savor this fantastic victory but if we really want to become a sporting nation, the nation that wins medals and laurels in really well participated sports events, we need to cut short this cricket craziness and embrace other sports. Otherwise we give in to this greed of naked nationalism and end up looking as clueless as some Poonam Pandey!

Ponam Pandey: The girl who double guessed everyone


BSA TFN 2010: The 100 Lunatics!

November 26, 2010

The Official Blogger is a heavy tag.

It is supposed to be the guy/gal who does have all the information about the event and can produce it best in writing so that the event is covered fully and no details are missed.

Makes me nervous and makes my palms sweaty a bit.

All these days, my cycling blogs have been about me doing a trip and a simple casual write up of those. If I missed something- no big deal- nobody would complain.

Now, it is a different story.

Now there are 100 other protagonists on their bikes!

These 100 folks are planning to cycle some 900 km in 8 days through the beautiful South India for the biggest and the most coveted cycling event of India, The BSA Tour of Nilgiris.

TFN 2010: Distance - Elevation Profile. 900 km riding in 8 days with 3500 meter of ascent and descent- It is a blockbuster!

One look at the altitude distance profile looks pretty scary and challenging anyway. This is what these folks are up against. Yeah, it may not have the refinements of the GPS coordinates, but it is the closest approximation of what to expect in the tour as far as terrain is concerned. The final recce is on and the final route profile would be up soon.

It would be an amazing challenge to do this pedal powered. These riders must be lunatics! So, I thought to dig a little deeper and find out who are these mad men/women who want to do something like this?

So, I did a bit of earth shattering data interpretation on the participants to find some more about their backgrounds.

Well no prizes to guess, it is still a male dominated event with 90% men and 10% women making up the pedaling contingent. But it is heartening to see the women coming out on the bikes and push the boundaries. Way to go girls!

It is interesting that the average age of the riders is around 37 years. This tells us that it is an event for the people who have started to ask more from life. These are educated, smart people who see the world as a playground of challenges and they are out to surmount those barriers. The youngest rider is 23 and the oldest is 60! After all youth was never measured by number of springs and autumn you have seen, it is measured by how much spirited you are.

Now, that tells you that these 100 lunatics are mavericks in their own way. Mostly employed with great brands and many of them are self-starters and entrepreneurs. The “Others” are the exotic breeds that range from yoga instructors to scuba divers (beat that for a profession!). It is sure that the company would be of great fun loving folks!

A large participation from South Indian states confirms South India as the capital of Indian Cycling movement. A few folks partaking from out of India also give it an international angle and I am sure in years to come the riders’ location distribution is going to get much more scattered than the one here. Rooting for a rider from Antarctica in next 3 years, anyone betting?

And finally, the most interesting of all- the distribution of bikes! It appears a Road Bike dominated event closely followed by the MTBs and some Hybrids also peeping their necks.

All right, so now we know how the ride is going to look like from the terrain’s perspective and also we know what kind of folks we might encounter. Looks like a lot of fun is in the offing!

Thankfully a lot of folks have found it worthwhile to support the BSA Tour of Nilgiris. The title sponsors BSA, the healthcare partners Himalaya (who will also be providing ambulance support), Magazine Partner Outlook Traveller, Travel partner getoff your ass (what a kick-ass name!), Radio Partner Red FM 93.5, Design Partners netbrahma, Print Partner printo, PR partner Galvanize, Online Content Partner MetroMonkey.

The BSA Tour of Nilgiris is supported by the most amazing footrace on planet earth “La Ultra – The High”, a 222 km ultra marathon through the high arid cold desert of ladakh (the highest ultra in the world!). I had the privilege to cover the 1st edition of this wonderful event as a blogger  in July this year. Read the blog here.

In all, it promises to be a great event. With the support of so many fabulous people and organizations, it is headed for a great ride. I will be with the riders covering their great feat at all times. If you are riding, you should spread the word. Tweet about it, post on social networks- let people know who are you biking with, let your friends and family know what are you doing.

If you are not riding (too bad you are missing a lot of fun mate), follow BSA-TFN through my blog or through Neeta’s camera lens (she is the official photographer mind you!).

The stage is set for the BSA Tour of Nilgiris 2010 edition to embark on a great journey. A journey through the beautiful blue Nilgiri Mountains of South India with a crazy-funloving-maverick bunch of 100 lunatics!

-Manasij Ganguli

TFN 2010: It is About the Bikes and the Numbers

October 21, 2010

What it promises to be: A photograph from TFN recce (courtesy Rajesh Nair)


45, 3, 100, 40, 8, 2.5, 1!

By the time you start thinking that you have landed on a page of a mad mathematician going to bowl you over with his silly mindless rants on some bi-quadratic, sinusoidal, esoterically cynic number series, let me set the numbers with some description to create a meaningful context.

So, here it is…

45 million revolutions…

3 million calories…

100 Homo sapiens…

40 ascents and descents of Mount Everest…

8 days…

2.5 times around the globe…

1 ride!

Yeah, I agree it is an odd countdown. Lacks the drama. Totally boring! Right?

But then when you factor in that we are talking about the most anticipated and celebrated biking event of India, the numbers start to fall in place and make sense.

The TFN 2010: India's most awaited and cherished biking tour


Yes, the Tour of Nilgiris is just 7 weeks from now. And hell yes, it is about the bikes and the numbers!

In 7 weeks’ time 100 cyclists from all over the country are going to reach Bangalore to ride for 8 days through the lush green Nilgiri mountains doing a total of 90,000 km (that’s 2.5 times around the globe!), burning 3 million calories in the process (that is the equivalent of keeping a light bulb switched on for 15 days!), climbing 350 km (40 climbs up the Mount Everest!) in some 45 million turns of their wheels – all in the name of one ride: the TFN 2010.

There are no rules what is allowed and what is not as long as it is self-powered and on two wheels. So, expect MTBs to ride alongside super specialized road bikes, hybrids, bamboo framed bikes and what not. It will be a great bike show at the same time being a great bike tour!

So, how does the ride look like? Thanks to Google Earth and the recce details, I was able to piece together a simple route profile. Here is what these 100 guys planning to do. Yeah guys, you saw it first here :-). Take the days marked in red with a pinch of salt, as the organizers are tight lipped about the days’ route- so expect some real drama!

Click on the picture to see the full sized image.

TFN 2010: Distance - Elevation Profile. 900 km riding in 8 days with 3500 meter of ascent and descent- It is a blockbuster!

A look at the rider community is also interesting. It comprises software engineers, lawyers, doctors, ad-world guys, big corporate honchos, self employed, unemployed, students, teachers, businessmen and even scuba divers! The same is true for the volunteers who are making this wonderful event a reality.

And they come from every possible parts of the country, even from Andaman! No, I do not think the TFN guys were trying for a national integration of some sorts, but inadvertently that’s what it is going to be – a perfect symbol if India’s amazing diversity.

Yes, I am also going to be riding this time. And I am going to blog about it. For past two years, the bike has given me some amazing memories and touched my life to some fabulous places in the country. The charming outdoors of this wonderfully diverse country is a goldmine to excavate through- on a bike. You are just fast enough to see it all, slow enough to observe it in details. Nothing beats the serendipity of laboring up a hill and passing through a sleepy village teashop and hearing the boiling tea and smelling its aroma and making an impulsive stop! You just cannot fathom it unless you have biked!

I have done a few multi-day cycling events and put a few blogs around them. Latest was my stint at the world’s highest ultra-marathon blog from Ladakh this year and my own cycling sojourn from Manali to Leh and then to the world’s highest road the KhardungLa pass, last year. I am sure this time it will be fun to report!

So, check out this space from Dec 15th to Dec 25th for daily dosage of what happened at India’s most cherished bike tour. Yes riding and writing do not mix. So, I will be careful not to write when I ride. And it will be fun to write for it is all about the bike, the amazing folks, the great enchanting Nilgiris and above all India’s most cherished bike tour- the TFN 2010.


Manasij Ganguli


Yours Truly- in close up..........

Commonwealth Games Delhi 2010: A City that was Never Prepared as a Host!

October 5, 2010

The biggest sporting spectacle on Indian soil is unfolding in plush stadiums of Delhi today. The largest contingent of international athletes for any Commonwealth Games in the history has descended in India’s showcase capital. With over 15 billion dollars in expenditure, it is the most expensive Commonwealth Games ever.

So one would probably imagine that the stadiums would be jam-packed? There would be long queues outside with impatient spectators? Well, yes it is jam-packed with security professionals and filled with impatient security marshals but no spectators! The stands are empty, the seats are vacant, and the galleries are deserted. The world’s biggest democracy is unmindful of its own accomplishment of holding the biggest sporting spectacle.

Empty Stands of CWG 2010 at Delhi

I do not find it odd though. This is an expected outcome. The international media is speculating on lots of reasons for Delhi’s non-attendance in the sporting arenas. It has placed its bets on perceived corruption related disrepute, high security cover, less number of ticket stalls and difficulty in getting online tickets and confusing information about events on Commonwealth Games’ website etc. I am laughing at these reasons. They are not the real reason at all. These are western world’s reason for non-attendance. The real Indian reason is far more shameful and that’s why no one seems to get it.

The real reason of this shameful non-attendance is not corruption. India queues up in millions to cast votes for people with excellent corruption skills- proven beyond doubt over ages, every few years. We can smell out money making corrupt ways in the most creative ways and we are immune to corruption. Corruption is not the reason why Delhi is not coming to watch the Commonwealth Games. Everyone expected the Commonwealth Games to be a corrupt affair and our great leaders delivered that faithfully just to prove that our belief was not a misplaced one.

The reason is not also the unprecedented security cover. Delhi is immune to it. With close to 5000 pea brained VIPs in the capital, Delhi is used to the security infested tamasha. It is no deterrent.

Neither is lack of ticketing booths and difficulty of information a reason. Come 2011 and Delhi would host World Cup Cricket games where to make money the BCCI will award a ticketing partner and a handful of those booths will dispense tickets to millions. No, lack of ticketing booths is not a reason. Delhi can handle that.

So what is the real reason? Ok, let me help you find “that” reason. Lets play a game and then lets tell you the reason. Ready?

Question1: How many players are there in netball game team? (no don’t go to google!)
Question2: How many sets are there in a lawn bowl game? (Wikipedia is also not allowed!)

Question3: What is the difference between Team Pursuit and Time Trial?

Question4: What are the different criteria based on which a diver’s performance is measured?

Question5: What are the different swimming styles?

Any average Delhite would score a perfect 0 out of 5! They just do not know what the hell are these games about. And that is the real reason; we the Indians are NOT sports conscious. We ignore sports and we don’t understand and relate to more than a handful of sports.

Our great leaders who thought to bring Delhi International fame by spilling billions of dollars from whole Indian taxpayers’ pockets; evaded every rule book to decamp with billions in corruption which after the games will forever meander in blind legal alleys and special parliamentary committees; rounded up the poor and the beggars to throw them in Bawana jhuggis; erected tall structures some of which fittingly came down; turned a city to a veritable fortress; somehow clawed to make things work at the 11th hour and thought the only way to seize the international limelight was through creating a 2 hours’ long wonderful joyous escapism of an opening ceremony, forgot one very important aspect.

They forgot the people of Delhi. They forgot the community integration such a large event needs. It needs the people to be ready for the great event. Where was any community event to build up sports as an exponent of our daily lives? Where was the education needed for people to understand what the 7 players of netball try to achieve or why is the approach, the flight and the entry such critical pieces of diving or for that matter how different is the track bike from the regular ones. Without these awareness these sports means nothing to anybody.

In one of my previous blogs, I had mentioned that we the Indians are not a sports loving country. Now after spending 15 billion dollars and getting the international heckling for shoddy workmanship and corruption charges and a false inflation of national pride through a 2 hours long well planned and executed spectacle, our dark secret is about to be revealed. The secret that we not sports lovers- a big slur on a country which hosts a game like this!

Finally, today a friend of mine brought an amazing piece of information. He said that the tickets for 2 games are sold out. They are women’s swimming and women’s gymnastic! Knowing Delhi for these many years, I know exactly why this has happened. I hope we just end here, with the shame that we are corrupt, unprofessional, poorly administered bunch of non-sports lovers and not ALSO with the medallion of Delhi’s most notorious crime statement against women.

Alas Delhi was never prepared to host this event.

“La Ultra – The High” Ultra-Marathon 2010 Race Report: The Prologue to the Race

August 16, 2010

The road to TangLangLa- worl’d 2nd highest road at 17,500 feet. It was dark, it was cold, it was windy and it was 40 hours and 180 km since the race was on…What an experience!

I stepped out of the car and immediately it felt like getting out into the hell. It was dark everywhere and strangely the high Himalayan peaks that surrounded from all directions, wore an inexplicable mesmerizing afterglow of the sunset. The wind was chilly and it was strong and the howl was unmistakable. I checked my watch and it confirmed the conditions. I was at 16,500 feet from sea level, 50 km from any human habitation and it was 2 degrees Celsius at 8:30 pm.

Just ahead of me was Mark Cockbain, the British Ultra-Marathoner- now in the final leg of the run. He had run 160 km by now and was on his feet for 38 hours at a stretch. We were 9 km from TangLangLa Pass, the 17,500 feet behemoth that stood as a blatant challenge to anyone trying to finish the 1st edition of India’s 1st and World’s Highest Ultra-Marathon!

We were a small contingent. Leading the way was Rajat Chauhan, a neat pack of the race director, an acclaimed sports medic and a veteran of many marathons and ultras. Close to his heels was Sonali Bhatia, a designer and a mountaineer who was more or less doing the piloting for Mark and there was Akhil Raina, an eclectic computer engineer.

Rajat Chauhan, the race director leading the way enroute TangLangLa pass

Sonali Bhatia accompanying Mark Cockbain. Mark had great help from his crew in the entire race.

We all had out headlamps and torches out and just one goal in mind- reach the TangLangLa Pass Top with Mark. Mark was in a bad shape (purely from my standpoint). Sleep deprivation, altitude, extreme exhaustion, cold and dryness taking a heavy toll on him. He was complaining of double vision. He had trouble perceiving the depths from the heights and was veering to his right all the time.

But whatever be the physical state, mentally he was as stoic as the mountains surrounding us. “I need to get off this mountain” that’s all he muttered and kept doing what he had been for last day and a half- just plant the next foot.

The nature fought back. One side of the mountain wall was now all packed snow; the road was a minefield of jagged boulders with ice and snow melt streams crisscrossing it like a board of snakes and ladders. The surface was all slushy and traction was tough to come by. But that was the last concern for us; the biggest enemy was the altitude. With only 40% as much air to breathe than at sea level, this was like a walk with your neck inside a plastic bag. And then it was cold.

It was scary.

Just a few hours back I had seen one of most amazing sunsets on our way to TangLangLa Pass. The scene was an ever-changing canvas with each minute being a new painter that would add another brush stroke of color.

Sunset time view of the sky near TangLangLa

More views from the same point

and the view gets better and better…

finally darkness sets in…..what a great sequence of views!

What was beautiful and enjoyable then was now a scary monster. Mark was exhausted but undaunted as he kept taking one more step after another. It was now a duel between the human will and the elements.

The road-ahead was illuminated by the headlights of the 3 cars following us. Finally after a 2 hours 45 minute marathon, Mark reached the TangLangLa Pass, 17500 feet from sea level- on the 2nd highest road in the world!

TangLangLa pass – 17,500 feet – World’s 2nd Highest Road!

Just as we crossed TangLangLa Pass, I jumped back into the car and breathed easy. It was warm, cozy and you need not fight the terrain to plant another step while breathing almost nothing.

As Mark kept taking more steps downhill and kept advancing towards the end, which was 32 km from the pass, I relaxed and looked back how this amazing high altitude ultra marathon spanned out.

For me, it began last year in November when I received an email from Rajat asking me if I would be fine him sharing my cycling photographs of this same region.

I have cycled this whole region last year from Manali to Leh via the TangLangLa Pass and then on to the highest road in world- the KhardungLa pass. Read my cycling blog here.

All vehicles getting ready to move to Khardung Village from Leh

So, I had the advantage of knowing the place pretty well. But when I first heard of the concept of running through this route, my thought was – “wow, this is crazy- running 200+ km in Himalayas in insane enough!”

Later, all pieces fell into their right place and a gang of 25 odd organizers and volunteers descended into the arid cold wilderness of Ladakh, a Northern district of Sovereign India.

The race that would unfold was to be an epic.

It would begin on July 24th 2010 from 12 km North of Khardung Village at 13,500 feet altitude. The course would then run through a 42 km brutal climb up to the highest motor-able road of KhardungLa pass (at 17,700 feet) and then descend to 10,500 feet on the Indus valley floor via the district headquarters Leh. Then the course would take a final dramatic ascent to TangLangLa Pass (17,500 feet) and descend to 15,500 feet into the Morey Plains.

This way the total course would be a staggering 222 km! Here is the route profile:

The Route

I reached Leh on 22nd July, as the last member of the volunteering crew and sensed a prevailing unease.

All were unsure.

This was the 1st time anything of this magnitude was planned. The organizers and volunteers were unsure of the unknowns.

The runners were unsure, as this was their 1st attempt at anything this high!

On July 23rd 2010 all the paraphernalia along with all the volunteers and participants started from Leh for our campsite at Khardung Village.

The campsite at Khardung Village @ 14400 feet

The campsite at the Khardung Village was set up at the nature’s lap. The logistics was looked after by Kaushal from Above 14000 Feet who had the dual responsibility of taking care of all the nitty-gritties and his two beloved doggies!

Kaushal, the fellow responsible behind the event logistics

Our lifelines, read guys with the driving duties caught up with their sleep so as to prepare for the next grueling 72 hours of labor.

Folks with driving duties: Jitin, Susheel and Hitendra AKA Bunty

By that time, the runners were busy dishing out their instructions to their respective crewmembers. The crewmembers were seen with laptops, gps, cameras, medical equipments, pens, papers, scissors and pretty much all sorts of stationeries for keeping track of all the vitals.

Bill giving instructions to his crew member Nischal. All runners have their likes and dislikes, do-s and dont-s and a pre race instruction file is the best way for the crew to remain apprised

The support cars, one designated for each runner, were first loaded, and then overloaded and then super loaded till the time they just had enough space for the crew to wriggle in!

Thats what the cars looked like. These big SUVs were filled to the brim. It was a contortionist’s job to fit inside the cars and the crewmen did that with aplomb!

It would be a full moon night in a day’s time. Thus the moon was brilliant and it shined like a real 200-watt bulb at night.

Next day was big.

Next day was the start of the 1st edition of the La Ultra – The High!

Lots of folks had said that this was an untenable plan, that it was impossible to run at these altitudes…And here we are 12 hours from testing the waters.

The first day would tell us if this was at all doable…

Read on to know about the Day 1 of the Ultra Marathon……

The full moon night at Khardung Village

Also read:

La Ultra – The High : An Introduction

La Ultra – The High : Race Report Day 1

La Ultra – The High : Race Report Day 2 and Finish

-Manasij Ganguli


“La Ultra – The High” Ultra-Marathon 2010 Race Report: Day 1-July 24th 2010

August 16, 2010

View from the starting point of La Ultra - The High: The highest ultra-marathon of the World! The starting point is 12 km from Khardung Village on way to Nubra Valley

The 4 am alarm sounded like a war bugle. Wriggling out of the warm sleeping bag was such an effort….

However, as I stepped outside the tent, the scenery seemed like that of a busy morning at a train station. People running, dogs barking, cars revving…. Amidst all the madness was a huge bowl of porridge lying on the grass while a few volunteers and runners feasted on it.

The early morning breakfast: Runners and Volunteers prepare for the next 2-3 gruelling days

At 5:30 all was packed up in cars and we began a 12 km detour towards Khalsar, Nubra Valley. Finally, we reached the starting point of La Ultra – The High, world’s highest ultra-marathon. Where was it? Actually it was nowhere. One of the important aspects of the race is that it starts and finishes just anywhere, no landmarks required.

The Starting Point of La Ultra - The High

As this was the 1st edition, the entry to the race was strictly by invitation. There was of course qualifying criterion. Click here to see the profile of the runners and here you will find the qualifying criterion.

In a nutshell, we had 3 highly respected international ultra-marathoners. The distinguished running participants were Bill Andrews, Mark Cockbain and Molly Sheridan. All of them have participated in the other grueling ultra runs across the world and now testing their mettle in this extreme high altitude ulra-marathon.

Bill and his team decided to do a small team huddle. Bill’s team had Jitin as the car driver; Abhijeet, Sabine and Nischal as crew members.

Bill Andrews' Crew: Nischal, Bill, Jitin, Abhijeet and Sabine

They were the noisiest among all the other groups.

Molly’s group had Robert Wier, Rajesh, Sindhu and Susheel was taking the driving duties.

Mark’s group had Hitendra at the wheels with Akhil, Manisha and Sonali splitting the crewing honors.

Rajat was with Kaushal, the owner of Above 14000 feet – the logistics partner in his rugged 4X4 Gypsy to keep tab on all runners.

At the stroke of half past 6, the 1st edition of La Ultra – The High began!

All hands meet at the Starting point

The cameras and videos had a busy time rolling together as the runners started the 222 km odyssey at a more or less brisk walk pace. Ultra –Marathons are never super fast events, but are events of endurance and conservation of resources. Anyway, we all knew this was probably our only chance to capture all participants in one frame and so did we!

And the race begins....finish line? Oh it is just 222 km away!

The first steps of the La Ultra - The High

Off you go guys....

Bill Andrews, Molly Sheridan and Mark Cockbain: The 3 runners

The immediate goal was the campsite 12 km from start line. Mark quickly overtook Bill and Molly and reached Khardung Village as the race leader, a distinction that he would go on to hold on for the rest of the race.

Bill was not in his top form- suffering from mild chest congestion for the last few days. He started slow and steady. I was in Molly’s support crew car at the start and she was going well. Our vehicle would stop every 4-5 km or so and every time Molly went by, Sindhu or Rajesh would run up to her and find out if she needed anything.

Molly Sheridan running through the winding Himalayan roads

Bill Andrews caught up in a miny traffic jam at 15000 feet!

At the Khardung Village- 12 km from start at an altitude of 14,400 feet, Mark was leading the pack by some 5 minutes with Molly and Bill following him in the same order.

Molly reaching Khardung Village, 12 kms knocked off, 210 to go....

At the Khardung Village, the camp kitchen provided packed lunch for all the volunteers – you don’t want to keep the volunteers hungry, do you?

In races like these, the crew is as important as the runner. It is also an endurance activity for the crews who have to be on their toes full time to cater to the needs of the runners. 48 to 72 hours in cramped car space, braving altitude, cold and still keeping the runners on the go – crewing is not a job for the faint hearted. Add to that the group dynamics of staying put with setting sleep deprivation and add the fact that each runner has a different personality trait. The crew has to keep a lot in mind.

Mark was the silent type who did not like being talked to. Bill was the expressive kinds who would always have a few things to tell his crew.

Molly was just happy running and she would smile and wave past he crew on each pass.

However, for pure enthusiasm Sabine and Nischal had my vote hands down. Each time Bill would go past the support vehicle, these two lovely ladies would stand as cheer girls and chant:

“Bill will kill the hill….oh yeah….”

With an unmistakable Rajnikanth styled pelvic thrust!

Yes girls, thats the way to support your runner......

It was just the kind of start a great race required!

The race had one more surprise up it sleeves- something no one had guessed so far. Molly and Bill had planned to get engaged and had chosen Khardungla pass, the highest road in the world, as the ceremony ground!

So it was no wonder see them run the distance together from North Pullu, 14 kms from Khardungla pass.

Bill and Molly running together and having a great time

Meanwhile Mark was relentless in his progress. He was eating kilometers at a brisk pace. However now he had a new problem other than altitude to contend with.

The road conditioned worsened quickly as it neared the Khardungla pass These high passes are always a high altitude battle zone between man and the nature. It snows some 30 feet in a year and has numerous snow melt streams rudely flowing over the road surface. Thus the road surface sometimes completely gets obliterated.

Akhil Raina with Mark. Akhil was a great sport and a big reason behind the success of the event. He also crewed Mark and fittingly looked after Mark's needs at all times. Here Akhil walks up with Mark on way to KhardungLa pass

really bad road conditions nearing KhardungLa pass. But the you have to respect the nature when you are at 17,700 feet trying to carve out a road almost half way up the sky!

Just as Mark was reaching KhardungLa pass, a snow avalanche struck. He crossed over the fresh snow to reach the KhardungLa pass in 6 hours 45 mins for a 42 km climb!

Watch the avalanche crossing video here:

Mark Cockbain at KhardungLa pass. At 17,700 feet this is the highest road in the world and the highest point of the La Ultra race

At the Khardungla pass, Mark and his crew met up with a tribal woman from the far off Batalik who had walked all the way to this place for pilgrimage purposes. It was an interesting moment as one international ultra-marathoner met up with a local long distance walking pilgrim.

one runner meets another......Mark meets a long distance walker local Pilgrim

As Mark was making is way down to Leh, Molly and Bill’s support crew were stuck in the same avalanche created traffic snarl.

avalance created stoppage for support vehicles

Finally Bill and Molly reached the Khardungla pass at 4 pm, almost 3 hours behind Mark.

Bill at khardungla-17,700 feet!

Molly reaches khardungla too....

At Khardungla pass the race was put on the back burner for a while. Molly and Bill walked all the way up the ridge and stood perilously close to the sheer drop and took the plunge…. I mean exchanged the engagement rings while the crew applauded.

The place where they took the plunge.....

There are many worthy places to get engaged, but getting a slice of Himalayas, world’s highest pass and an impossible ultra-marathon is one crazy cocktail not available for made to order engagements!

The run continued again. By now it was getting to the evening hours. The golden glow of the sunrays was making the route look surreal and straight out of a picture postcard.

View while coming down from KhardungLa

Bill was looking strong and was setting a nice pace.

Bill going strong- in groove to kill the hill!

On the other hand Molly started to struggle a bit. She was unable to ingest anything and was throwing up. However, she refused to call it quits and kept running.

The crew came in to support her. Rajesh and Sindhu took turns staying with Molly in her run. She was surely one tough gal as she kept the kilometers ticking despite being in bad shape.

Molly being looked after by her support crew during her rest break

At 6 pm Molly was at South Pullu, 57 km from the starting point when Rajat, the race director and the sports medic examined her. Rajat deduced that Molly was far too dehydrated to continue. He beseeched Molly to pull out for the evening and receive medical attention at Leh Hospital. Reluctantly Molly agreed and she was whisked away in the support vehicle.

Meanwhile it became dark. The temperature dropped dramatically and to compensate for the harsh surroundings, the full moon came out.

Bill and Mark were still on course for more than 12 hours. Mark had a 3 hours’ lead over Bill reaching Leh town, 80 km from the starting point.

Mark reaching Leh

Glowing in the dark....Thats Bill Andrews by the way

However, Bill had his share of bad luck just 5 km from Leh town. He was complaining of chest congestion and he was also taken to Leh hospital. Both Bill and Molly would start from their last position the next day.

Mark had reached the Indus river basin and was now more or less on flat land at an altitude of 11,000 feet. He had almost 80 km to cover in the Indus basin passing though Leh, Choglamsar, Thiksey, Karu, Upshi to reach Rumptse, the base of TanglangLa pass.

17 hours into the race, mark is still on course and still creacking a few jokes during rest breaks.....

It looked like a long night. The question was, would Mark survive the long and cold night running through the crazy altitude? Would Molly get strong enough after a night at the hospital to get back to the point where she left of last night? Would Bill be able to tide over his chest congestion to challenge Mark the next day? The crew was tiring and the full day’s toil was now taking its toll. Will they be able to stitch together another day’s hard work?

While I battled these questions, Mark silently kept his game up. He was still running, it was near midnight- 17 hours on the course, braving the cold, the altitude and exhaustion there was one man still pursuing what he does always- put himself through a suffer fest and keep doing his best.

I wondered what was in store for the next day.

Read on to know about the grand finale of the La Ultra – The High ultra marathon.

Fabulous camera work by Akhil. Thats a speeding vehicle streaking pasr Mark

Also read:

La Ultra – The High : An Introduction

La Ultra – The High : Prologue

La Ultra – The High : Race Report Day 2 and Finish

-Manasij Ganguli


“La Ultra – The High” Ultra-Marathon 2010 Race Report: Day 2 and 3-July 25th and 26th 2010

August 16, 2010

Molly Sheridan: Gazing at Stok Kangri Range from the road to KhardungLa Pass

It was 24 hours since the first step was taken. 24 hours since the cars and the crew were on the move. 24 hours since the 1st edition of La Ultra-The High, India’s 1st and world’s highest ultra-marathon was underway.

Molly was declared fit in the morning and she started from South Pullu, the place from where she was whisked away to the hospital last evening. It was cold and the air above 15,000 feet altitude was as thin as ever. Molly’s run began and she was looking strong and good. The race was on!

60 km down the course Mark was now fighting fatigue, sleep deprivation and the terrain. But he was still on course! He had just another 100 km between him and the finish line.

Bill began from his last stopped point after a night at the hospital. He was at the moment the last guy in the race circuit.

Bill Andrews with his crew Nischal and Sabine....Noisy supportive crew 🙂

Bill’s vocal crew was back to business, supporting and cheering Bill at each pass.

However, it looked Bill was not at his 100%.

Finally, 7 km from Leh, Bill stopped. He was visibly in pain. He was again taken to the hospital and this time the prognosis did not look encouraging. Bill had contacted some gall bladder infection. He had to pull out.

Bill Andrews' challenge in 1st edition of La Ultra- The High ends with a gallbladder infection 80 km into the race

Bill Andrews is taken to SNM Hospital, Leh

It was heartbreak for Bill and his crew, but then it was impossible for Bill to get back to the race.

By 7 am Mark was at Upshi, the place where the Indus basin ends and the gradual ups and downs begin that would continue for next 40 kms till Rumptse where the final ascent to TangLangLa pass begins through some 30 odd switchback climbs.

Mark Cockbain: Now 24 hours into the race running through Tokpo valley near Upshi, 100 km from starting point

Soon it was warm. The sun was beating down hard and the temperature soared. At one point I noted 36 degrees Celsius (97 F)! At higher altitudes the thin atmosphere creates no barrier for the sunrays that seem like invisible needles going through your body. The lack of oxygen quickens the breathing rate and that accentuates water loss. It was therefore important to keep hydrated.

Runners’ nutrition is also very important. All the crews were keeping a tight vigil at what and how much the runners were ingesting. Like I said, being a crew is a tough job for any ultra-marathon and this was no different.

Sonali an avid mountaineer and Mark's crew for this race, cooking instant noodles- one of the many crew duties to keep the runner fulled and on the go....Sonali was greatly instrumental in Mark's success as was his rest of the crew

Molly was progressing nicely along the Indus basin and the mood in her camp was upbeat. 60 kms ahead, Mark was still going strong and he was now out of Indus basin and scaling heights albeit through some very gentle gradients. He was passing through the picturesque Tokpo river valley.

Mark continues in searing midday heat that went upto 40 degrees C (104 F)

Beautiful Tokpo river valley on way to Lato from Upshi. See the pirple hued mountains, the picture perfect river and a cute wooden river crossing

The midday heat was on and it was very warm in the sun.

By late noon Molly was now running through a searing 40 degrees Celsius (104 F) heat. It was talking a toll on her but she was brave and strong and continued. Her crew- Robert, Rajesh and Molly along with Susheel was greatly supportive and she kept her game up.

Molly Sheridan continues, now 30 hours into the race, 90 km from start point and not giving up despite scorching heat and a night at the hospital

At 1 pm, Mark and his crew reached Lato- the final campsite some 35 km from TangLangLa pass . It was the final campsite before the finishing point- still some 67 km further.

Lato camping site: see the local Ladakhi herdsman weaving yak wool near the pitched tents

As the crew stopped for lunch and Mark took a power nap inside the car, I wandered around. Last year during my cycle trip from Manali to Leh and then to Khardungla, we had camped at the very location and had fond memories of the place.

By 2 pm Mark was on his feet again. He had 67 km to the finish line but up ahead was a real uphill task. He was to scale some 4500 feet in next 35 km to reach the 2nd highest road in the world- TangLangLa pass at 17,500 feet. Then he was to negotiate a wreck of a road to scale down another 2500 feet to finish at the Morey Plains.

This was going to be one long-tough climb and Mark’s pace was conservative at the start. By now he was on the course for 32 hours with hardly 2 hours of sleep in between.

Mark Cockbain: Off from Lato campsite and on way to TanglangLa Pass at 17,500 feet

Molly was now on her way to Upshi and started to worry why Bill had not crossed her yet. She was unaware that a team of doctors in Leh hospital looked after Bill at that very moment.

Mark’s progress was getting slower every hour on the climb to TangLangLa pass . He was suffering from exhaustion and now the altitude started to take swipes. However, he just kept moving.

Mark’s crew was joined by Rajat’s vehicle that was until now playing the role of the messenger car, keeping a tab on all 3 runners spaced out by almost 100 km now!

However, Rajat decided to join Mark for the stint uphill to TangLangLa pass .

on way to TanglangLa Pass

Rajat joins Mark on way to TangLangLa pass

The road from Rumptse to TangLangLa pass is amazingly beautiful. It is flanked by tall mystic mountains, each over 6000 meters and had great views. Amidst this amazing natural panorama was an odd group of cars and people, silently putting one-step after another with one goal- reach the top of the pass! Will Mark have enough left? The race was entering its most crucial phase.

Winding roads up the TangLangLa pass

It was 7:30 pm now and the sun had set. Molly was now at Upshi. She was getting slower too and now fighting some anxiety of not having seen Bill go past her for more than 15 hours now.

Up on the mountain, it was now getting colder every minute. The cold mountain wind was picking up and to make things worse the surface was all powdery and even gentle winds would smear the runners with choking dust.

I met up a few BRO workers who have the glamorous job of upkeep of these crazy altitude roads. They spend 5 months half up in the sky, breathing nothing with just 2 pairs of supplied warm clothes for a measly 4500 rupees ($90) a month. These guys are from poor and backward states of India. It was sad to see such disparity so nakedly.

Yours truly with the extremely poor laborers from Jharkhand. The get $90 for a month, less than what my shoes are worth! Pathetic disparity....

At dark, the roads became dangerous. The surface was all dust, boulders, water, slush, snow-melt stream wades…It was very cold, temperature well below 5 degrees Celsisus (41 F) mark with howling cold winds. The 3 cars lined up with their beams showing the way for Rajat and Mark.

The runners used Respra facemasks to keep away from dust. Its excellent dust filter and activated Carbon filter stood up brilliantly and provided great help all through.

It was a great addition to the race and a must have accessory in case you want to run/ cycle in these altitudes. Read about Respra here.

Mark Cockbain running through the 2nd straight night....

Then the crew had their first scare. Mark was very cold all of a sudden. A frenetic race ensued to get Mark some warm clothing.

Just at the moment when Mark was loaded with warm clothing, Molly had reached Lato campsite and was preparing for a few hours of break. She was focused and optimistic about the last 60 km or so. Little did she know then that she would be pulling out in next few hours…… Yes, it was an unpredictable race.

At 16,500 feet, 1000 feet shy of the TangLangLa pass top the condition were bad. Mark was suffering from extreme exhaustion for he was now on his feet for almost 40 hours. He had trouble perceiving heights from depths and was veering to right all the time.

Riding on pure will and determination, Mark reached TangLangLa pass at 11:15 pm. He was far too exhausted to even manage a smile at the pass’ legendary milestone.

TangLangLa pass - 17,500 feet - World's 2nd Highest Road! Mark Cockbain reached the place at 11:15 at night with frigid temperatures riding on sheer determination and will!

If the climbing up the pass was tough, the descent was equally a painful process. The road surface was shocking- ready to suck unsuspecting souls into 1000-meter drop offs!

It was extremely cold; at 2 am I measured -6 degrees Celsius (22 F)! Add to that the bone chilling winds that felt like some invisible enemy stabbing at you with a sharp dagger.

I headed down some 12 km in our car with Rajat and Susheel from the TangLangLa pass and waited for Mark to catch up. At 2 am a passing by vehicle stopped and they said something that we could not deconstruct, but it felt like something was wrong.

We turned back and headed up expecting the worst and a few switchbacks later saw the most amazing sight one can see instead.

In the crisscross of light and dark of the headlights of the cars and the boulders was a tall shadow of man running. The footsteps were sure and lofty enough to suggest that the runner was back in his elements. There was Mark.

“How much more?” he asked as he stopped for refilling some water.

“18.6 km more”. I told him.

“Lets finish this….” He was off again.

We saw him slowly disappear behind another turn and it felt amazing to see the man nearing the finish line.

In the meantime, Rajat and Susheel turned back from here to Lato to check upon Molly’s progress. Rajat met Molly at the campsite at Lato at daybreak. Molly was told about Bill’s hospitalization and she decided to rush to Leh to be at his side. Everyone knew, she had it to complete the race but respected her personal commitments. She would come back here next year to settle her score with TangLangLa pass for sure!

Morey Plains: the 1st edition of the race is about to finish

It was a cloudy early morning. It had been 48 hours since Mark was on the course. The crew and Mark had a last meeting. Akhil told him that only 4 km separates him from the finish.

“We will see you at the finish line” and we drove off.

The point of finish was in the middle of nowhere. It was almost halfway into the Morey Plains, an accident of geography that has carved out a 40 km flat land strip at 15,500 feet!

The car stopped at the final finish point, 222 km from the start. We came down and unrolled the finishing point poster.

“Here he comes…..” Akhil exclaimed and suddenly all our senses were heightened. And then it seemed all magical. Mark appeared in our vision range. First it was just a silhouette, then slowly you could see more detailing and finally there he was! The finish line buoyed his spirits for sure and he took some nice confident strides to hit the finish line.

The finishing line of the 1st edition of La Ultra-The High: Mark Cockbain's 48 hour 50 minutes' hurclulean effort ends in the middle of Morey Plains

Here is the video of the finish line. It was in a way funny as I realized that my camera mode was garbled and therefore could not get the video first time right. So we had Mark come back again and retake the finish line video.

Mark joked that he had to run 222 km and 50 meters 🙂 Sorry Mark, we made you run just a bit more!

The race was over.

No there was no chest thumping, no fist pumping, no overjoyed beaming smile….

Mark just sat in the chair and as the crew wrapped up everything, he spoke in a tone as if he was just back from a morning stroll!

Then as we loaded him in the car and made our way towards Pang, the makeshift camp for finishers. Mark just dozed off.

I was far too overwhelmed by the man’s achievement to let it sublimate over a REM cycle. It was an incredible experience seeing Mark do the almost impossible. Just look at the stats below to fathom the scale of his achievement:

Total Distance 222 km
Time Taken 48 hours 50 minutes
Average Altitude 13500 feet
Max Altitude 17700 feet
Min Altitude 10500 feet
Max Temp 40 degrees C
Min Temp -6 degrees C
Min Oxygen Level 40% of Sea Level
Max Oxygen Level 65% of Sea Level
Total Ascent 11000 feet
Total Descent 8000 feet

I am no expert at running but my little experience of cycling in the same region tells me this is an incredible feat. It was greatly inspiring to see another human being push the limits, put himself through so much just to achieve the objective. You could brush past him, or for that matter Bill or Molly in a bus stop and you could never guess what these guys are capable of. It is physical fitness conjoined with extreme mental fitness that lets one complete such overwhelmingly difficult tasks.

Finally, that evening when all the team and the volunteers came together at the final camp at Whiskey Nullah, the award ceremony took place.

This time of course Mark and his team Akhil, Sonali, Hitendra and Manisha all had broad smiles. The cute trophy, designed by the Happily Unmarried group was a great result for the amazing journey.

Mark Cockbain: the undisputed victor

Mark with his crew (Sonali absent in the pic). There is Manisha, Hitendra and Akhil with Mark

And the 1st edition of La Ultra – The High, world’s highest ultra-marathon came to an end.

It was am amazing event, an event that many thought was impossible to organize, let alone for someone to finish. Yes, there were a lot of unknowns, lot of challenges, lot of room for improvements, but then now Mark has shown that it is doable- though in his own admission it was one of the toughest races he has done.

So, what happens next?

I am sure next year La Ultra – The High would be back with more runners from different parts of the world, all with one goal- push the limit, reach the next km, complete the next switchback, go over the next pass, kiss the finish line…..

Get inspired now!

Every step counts

Also read:

La Ultra – The High : An Introduction

La Ultra – The High : Prologue

La Ultra – The High : Race Report Day 1

-Manasij Ganguli


La Ultra – The High: The Highest Ultra-Marathon of the World

July 18, 2010

La Ultra - The High: The Highest Ultra-Marathon of the World!

5395 meters !

Not a soul…..

Not a sound….

just the runner and the road!

Oxygen Content: 40% as compared to Sea Level

Terrain: Cold Desert

Surface: Rocks, Gravel, Ice, Tarmac

Total Ascent: 3107 meters

Total Descent: 2704 meters

Distance: 222 km

Average Elevation: 4115 meters

Where: Ladakh, Himalayas, India

When: From July 24th 2010

Cut-off Time: 72 hours

Mind boggling?????   Shocking????    Challenging?????    Inspiring?????

Well, it depends from where you are viewing it.

Presenting, the highest ultra-marathon of the World- “La Ultra – The High” !

A unique extreme high altitude foot race that runs through the two highest roads in the planet transecting the high Himalayan cold desert of Ladakh, India.

The Route

The Route

The route starts from a moderate altitude of 14,400 feet at Khardung Village of Ladakh. It crosses through the highest road in the world, the legendary KhardungLa pass (5395 meters).

The Khardungla Pass- The highest road in the world

It then goes downhill to join the beautiful Indus valley basin. Then it passes through a string of magnificent Buddhist monasteries to begin the ascent to the 2nd highest road in the world, the TanglangLa pass (5359 meters).

Thiksey Monastery: One of the most beautiful monasteries in Ladakh

Down to Indus Basin

TangLangLa Pass: The second highest road in the world

From the TanglangLa Pass the route again descends to an amazing accident of geography- the Morey Plains, a 15,000 feet high table top of 40 kms length! Yes, the race finishes in the middle of nowhere- somewhere in those plains!

Race Finish Line: In the middle of nowhere on the Morey Plains

Why Run This?

If you are an ultra-marathoner you already know the answer!

It is not about getting from place A to place B, neither it is about the bragging rights for accomplishing what looks a real tall order but it is about pushing yourself to the next limit. Yes, the terrain is hostile (remember it is a cold desert), yes the altitude is sickening (oxygen content never more than 60% at sea level) and the weather would be unpredictable (things change before you can ever imagine at that altitude), but then there is the spirit of the runner partaken into a ever lasting duel till the finish line.

If you are an ultra-marathoner, this is one of the “must do-s”, for there is no event in the world that is organized at this altitude.

Also Ladakh is a charming land. It is barren and scarce in resource, inhospitable and harsh but at the same time has one of the most spectacular views of the Himalayan landforms.

While you run through the 222 km, you will be kept company by the tallest mountains in the world, by the mighty Indus River and of course the highest roads in the planet!

Who Are Organizing It?

Back2Fitness group of New Delhi, India are the primary torch bearers of this maiden event.

Rajat Chauhan, an acclaimed sports medicine expert and the primary catalyst of Back2Fitness is the race director is pretty much the nerdy professor behind the invention. A veteran marathoner/ultra-marathoner his vision is more of a by-product of a runners aspiration than anything!

Naturally an event of this magnitude needs supportive hands from all quarters and there are enough crazy people out there to support the cause. The people who are supporting the cause are:

Back2Fitness, Himalayan Heli Adventure, Above 1400 ft, Adventure 18, Happily Unmarried, Desert Sky Adventures, Chlorosoul and

For detailed information on who are supporting La Ultra- The High please click here .

Who are Running?

This year, being the 1st event- La Ultra-The High is organized on an invitation basis. There are certain qualifying criterion of course but the most important criterion is probably the will to complete something of this scale!

This year La Ultra-The High has a few very distinguished participants. Check out who is running this year here.

Sign Off

Well that much for the introduction to a race which will surely earn its name among the legends in near future.

In less than 7 days from now the introductory version of La Ultra-The High would begin from the most virgin landscapes of Indian Himalayan region of Ladakh. The runners would have 72 hours to beat the altitude, hypoxia, cold, snow, high winds and most importantly- the clock!

How would it be to run in the cold nights in a cold desert on a full moon lit night sky with billions of starts from all far flung galaxies gazing at the runners and the snow capped peaks of Himalayas giving them company?

I have no clue.

But I know it would be a hell of a ride for sure.

Watch out this space for live blogs from 24th July onwards to know what is happening in Ladakh, the deserts in the sky, while the 1st edition of the highest ultra-marathon of the planet unfolds.

I shall be cycling along with the runners in this event to bring the up close and personal stories of the runners. I have no idea about how one can run such a long distance in such unforgiving terrains but then that is what La Ultra-The High is all about!

Get set…Go!

La Ultra - The High

Cycling to Lansdowne: The Triumph of Will Against Heat, Thirst and Terrain…..

June 14, 2010
Road to Lansdowne: A beautiful hill station in Garhwal Himalayas, 250 km from Delhi

Road to Lansdowne: A beautiful hill station in Garhwal Himalayas, 250 km from Delhi

31 km done, 10 km to go…..

2700 feet climbed, 1400 feet to go…….

I looked at the thermometer and it said 42 degrees Celsius (110 degree Fahrenheit) in the sun!

I took another deep breath and pounded on the pedal.

And then all of a sudden I felt a funny taste in my mouth. Seemed some sort of a warm brackish liquid was reaching my mouth.

I stopped, a bit confused and realized with horror that I was having a nose bleed and the blood was oozing into my mouth from the nose!

I got down from the bike and suddenly all started to go fuzzy.

It seemed as if a red curtain was pulled over my eyes making me literally see red and I realized I might be minutes from getting a sunstroke.

I frenetically pulled the water bottle from by bike holder and emptied the contents on my head.

I sat in the shade for a few moments and spotted a water tap some 50 meters up ahead.

I labored to the spot and turned the tap.

To my immense relief, the water came out gushing.

I sat under the tap and a big sense of relief filled me.

The water soaked me to the bone and ‘poof’ the heat exhaustion was gone.

The tap that saved my life. It was insanely warm and the bath cooled me down and saved me from a sunstroke for sure.

The tap that saved my life. It was insanely warm and the bath cooled me down and saved me from a sunstroke for sure.

Cooled down and feeling better, I re-calibrated my bearings.

I filled up my water bottle from the tap and called Mausmi from my cellphone.

Her sweet voice made me feel great and when I narrated my latest adventure ride with a possible sunstroke she did not get alarmed or showed any nervous tension.

She just calmly said “Don’t kill yourself for a ride, come back if you think you can’t do it.”

And then she paused and said “But I know you will do it”

I was smiling after I ended the call, you don’t remain happily married unless your woman knows what salts you are worth.

I mounted the saddle and muttered “Lets do this”!

Let’s Do This

It had been a while that I climbed up a mountain on my bike.

I was getting itchy to ride in the hills and the first weekend I got for myself in Delhi, I decided to ride to Lansdowne.

Lansdowne is a quiet hill station in the Garhwal Himalayas, 250 km from Delhi.

Last time my bike trip to the same place was washed away in a torrential downpour of Monsoons and I decided to give my ‘old flame’ a second try.

This time I had a new biking partner.

Roopak Suri: A crazy biker who aspires to be n amateur racer and the guy is very capable to become one for sure!

Roopak Suri: A crazy biker who aspires to be n amateur racer and the guy is very capable to become one for sure!

Enter Roopak Suri.

Roopak is a free spirited talented young bloke and a great rider himself.

He has done Delhi-Agra (220 km) in one day’s biking and regularly goes on Time Trials and easily clocks 40 km/hr average speed on his Bianchi Road Bike.

So, when I broached the plan to ride to Lansdowne, all he said was “Lets do this”!

So, on 11th June we found ourselves on a train to Kotdwar (a nearby railhead to Lansdowne) with our bikes safely stowed at one end of the railway coach.

I added a bit of drama by first running a fever (100.6 degree Fahrenheit) in the evening and second by forgetting my bike saddle at home which made me travel up and down between my home and the station in a 45 minute time window to catch the train. Finally a little bit of debate with the railway staff later, our bikes were safe and we were comfortably perched in our sleeping bunks.

Our bikes: safely kept in the railway coach. We paid Rs. 100 to the attendant to keep an eye on our bikes and he did the job superbly.

Our bikes: safely kept in the railway coach. We paid Rs. 100 to the attendant to keep an eye on our bikes and he did the job superbly.

We reached Kotdwar early in the morning.

Kotdwar is really a sleepy railway station with only one platform.

Somehow it reminded me of hindi flick Sholay’s Ramgarh station where bounty hunters Jai and Veeru got down to face off with the fugitive Gabbar on Thakur Saab’s insistence.

Kotdwar railway station

Kotdwar railway station

We assembled our bikes and went into the city to find a hotel.

We checked into Hotel Ambey which was a decent option.

A couple of bananas and a few energy bars made for our breakfast and we were off to Lansdowne.

Off to Lansdowne

Lansdowne is some 41 km from Kotdwar at a moderate altitude of 5700 feet.

It has a big military presence and is home to the Garhwal Rifles of Indian Army. In fact the town’s only claim to fame has been the army base for a long time. Now with personal mobility with the middle class Delhi becoming an easy meat, the town is growing as a popular hill destination for lots of weekend travelers.

Our staring altitude at Kotdwar was 1600 feet and we were supposed to take the National Highway 119 via Dugadda to Lansdowne.

The road condition was excellent throughout with a fabulous tarmac quality all along till Lansdowne.

We set off from our hotel at 07:45 am.

Ride starts and off goes Roopak in his Livestrong gears!

Ride starts and off goes Roopak in his Livestrong gears!

The road was good and the climb was very gentle, in fact it climbed just 1000 feet in the first 16 km till Dugadda.

Buoyed by the nature and the tarmac my racer friend Roopak just flew off and the next time I saw him was back at the Hotel at 4 pm! Apparently, Roopak did the climb in 4 hours and came back to Kotdwar.

The road scenery changed after Kotdwar.

I was on NH 119 and climbing along the River Khoh.

I would see a lot of step farming fields which were largely unplanted in the summer months.


Step farming. Pretty green but not as much one sees post monsoon when this whole route turns to a riot of green

and the road turns beautiful too

and the road turns beautiful too

I reached Dugadda effortlessly and stopped for refilling my water bottle.

As soon as I stopped, I was mobbed my curious onlookers.

They descended in a big number asking questions about me, my bike and so on.

As always, I patiently answered all their queries.

My celebrity status was unmistakable and many folks brought out their mobile cameras to click me with my bike.

I also, got myself clicked with the locals- it is an invaluable perk of traveling in India on a mountain bike and I always love it!

People are inquisitive about cycles and the geared bikes makes them go bonkers.

Often people ask me about how costly it is.

This time I drew a huge audience around my ABC (Alimeter-Barrometer-Compass-Thermometer) Sunnto Vector watch and it was fun to get so much attention!

Yeah....I am a star! I always take time to explain the cycling stuff to guys, it is what al bikers should do, educate people as much as they can.....

Yeah....I am a star! I always take time to explain the cycling stuff to guys, it is what al bikers should do, educate people as much as they can.....

I ditched the NH 119 soon after Dugadda and took a state highway that would travel 25 km and climb another 3100 feet to reach Lansdowne.

The state highway was in equally pristine condition and very light on traffic.

Except for a few local passenger vehicles and a few Delhi based weekend travelers, it was all empty.

Pretty soon the road was all twisty and curvy and was climbing at a steady 4-5% gradient with a occasional 6-7% sections.

Emply roads from Duggadda

Emply roads from Duggadda

However, my problems began right as I hit the 10 am mark.

The temperature by now had soared to 37 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit) and I ran out of water. I had just one bottle holder in my bike and it was clearly not enough that I could bike to watering points with just 1 liter of water reserve in the daytime heat.

Soon I realized that I will not get to the next village/town without water and that made me go on a quest to discovering water.

Throwing away all concerns of getting bottled water, I tanked up at a local run off stream’s collection point.

It feels great to get water when you are thirsty on a bike ride, no matter where the water comes from!

Alright, there comes a time when thirst tides over your finicky choice of source......this one was one of many such watering points that kept me going

Alright, there comes a time when thirst tides over your finicky choice of source......this one was one of many such watering points that kept me going

I reached Fatehpur town and filled water from a local shop.

The guy told me that Roopak had stopped here a few minutes earlier.

Later on I would continuously hear “here comes another one”, “one more crazy cyclist”, “lunatic number 2 going up the hill” and all these comments which assured me that Roopak was well and truly setting the hill road on fire while I stalked him.

From Fatehpur, the ride’s scenic quotient took a quantum leap.

Yes it was hot and the climb was unrelenting but the road was beautiful.

Tall trees grew by the road side and the only sound I heard was the rustling leaves.

much better scenery after Fatehpur

much better scenery after Fatehpur

and it got better

and it got better

a beautiful ride, only if it was not that warm that I could have enjoyed it more

a beautiful ride, only if it was not that warm that I could have enjoyed it more

I was again out of water and this time there was no stream and no taps in sight.

I flagged down an incoming SUV filled with Sardars and asked if they could spare some water.

The guys were sipping cola in an air-conditioned vehicle and listening to music.

The driver said that there was a tube-well dispensing clean water just a stone throw away and they drove off rudely.

Punjabiyan de shan vakhri” (pubjabis have a different style) I said to myself and went ahead to find the prized tube-well.

And it was there, but it was dry.

So I stopped for another vehicle to pass by me.

This time I got lucky.

A family gave me their full water bottle and appreciated my spirit of riding in hills in the heat.

I thanked them and moved on.

Soon I reached the “First View of Lansdowne” signpost, which told me the end was near.

First view of Lansdowne, the end was near yet so far

First view of Lansdowne, the end was near yet so far

I had no clue that the last stage would be the most punishing part of the whole climb.

It was 11 am now and I was some 12 km from the summit.

The temperature by now had soared to 40 degrees in the sun and I was running out of water every 2 km or so. Sometimes a stream would help me, sometimes a vehicle, sometimes a small village hut or sometimes I was just riding without water.

The climb? The heat? The thirst? Or the next watering point?

At times I wondered what would get me first.

What would get me first

At the 10 km from summit mark I had my nose bleed and brush with getting a sunstroke (as mentioned at the start of the blog).

The tube-well saved my life and from there on I decided to ride slow so that the core temperature remains low and I don’t fade out in a place where I might not find any help.

Every tube-well or a watering point would see me taking a mini bath.

I would pour water all over me and fully wet my cap to ensure that I keep a cool head.

This is how I looked after a mini bath when I would soak myself in water and soak the cap. Thanks Bear Grylls (the presenter of Discovery Channel's 'Man vs Wild' series for teaching me how to remain cool in sun)

This is how I looked after a mini bath when I would soak myself in water and soak the cap. Thanks Bear Grylls (the presenter of Discovery Channel's 'Man vs Wild' series) for teaching me how to remain cool in sun

I would stop after every 100 feet of ascent and hydrate myself and if possible take those cooling mini baths.

Those stops were excruciating. I had set a 5 minute stop regime and the 5 minutes seemed like an eternity.

At times I would just watch the ants or see far of mountains or just sit there blankly and wait to get my core temperature down.

In one of those stops, I just threw a few small pebbles at a cow and when I rode my bike the cow would see me coming and start running. Then it would stop and still see me coming and it ran again.

Amused me for a while.

Run Lola Run”, I said and pedaled.

managed to scare a cow somehow :-)

managed to scare a cow somehow 🙂 Spot the cow running ahead!

I never quite understood why, but the last bit of climb to any hill station saves the best of the gradients.

This was no exception and the last bit of the climb was the steepest.

The only thing that fueled me was the thought that the soon it ends!

Almost there, just a few short steep sections to go

Almost there, just a few short steep sections to go

Beautiful NH 119 and the state highway, no potholes whatsoever made the climb a lot easier than doing the same on a minefield type highway

Beautiful NH 119 and the state highway, no potholes whatsoever made the climb a lot easier than doing the same on a minefield type highway

And it Ends

12:45 pm, 5 hours and 41 km and 4100 feet of climb later, I was finally at Lansdowne.

It was surely not an express climb and my progress was slow.

Blame it partly on the excessive heat, frequent water quests, fastidious approach to avert sunstroke and mostly my unconditioned state (hardly any biking in frequent times for a host of reasons).

But the end result was great and I loved the feel of completing the arduous climb.

After a short visit to the Renuka Lake (which was a dull place), a short lunch and one pic at the city center and I decided to head downhill.

reached Lansdowne! Heat, thirst and terrain conquered by will power and pedal power :-)

reached Lansdowne! Heat, thirst and terrain conquered by will power and pedal power 🙂

The downhill was a fast affair and all the places went by in a jiffy and I was back at the Hotel.

The stats of the day were:

Kotdwar Lansdowne Climb Profile

Kotdwar Lansdowne Climb Profile

Distance 82 km
Time on Saddle 7 hours
Starting Altitude 1600 feet
Finishing Altitude 5700 feet
Total Climb 4100 feet
Average Gradient 3.50%
Highest Gradient 7.00%

This ride came on a day I was informed that I am riding in the Tour of Nilgiris 2010, the most prestigious biking event of India and the climb to Lansdowne served as the icing on the cake. So, how was the ride? I guess it was very tough because of the heat and the thirst involved in the whole climb. But as it goes, the will is stronger than many forces and it triumphs over the oddities. I came back wiser for I did tide over the forces with just a few ounces of will.

Am I riding again to the hills?

Yes, I will!

my trusted partner: Trek 4300

my trusted partner: Trek 4300

Manasij Ganguli



Why I MUST do the TFN 2010?

May 5, 2010

TFN: India's biggest and best biking event


In a month’s time the registrations for the TFN 2010 opens.

How will it be?

I guess it would be very much like the 90th day before the Diwali festival when all tickets from Delhi to North Indian cities officially go on advance bookings and gets filled up in an hour’s time at all the Indian Railways’ reservation counters across India.

You can hardly blame people for that. After all, after a back breaking work year who would not want to spend the biggest festival with their family?

Quite the same way, the Tour of Nilgiris (popularly the TFN) has the same status in the Indian Cyclists’ circuit as the Tour de France has for world bikers and Diwali has for the migrant laborers!

Yes, there is Himachal MTB, there is Sikkim MTB (sorry no weblinks available- the official site has been hacked!)  and there are numerous fabulous rides in Ladakh and the Northeast, but when it comes to sheer scale of enthusiasm, the glitz and glam quotient, the numerical mass of number of eyeballs, the TFN is the leader.

Last year I missed out on doing TFN though I did my most memorable bike tour of Manali-Leh-Khardung La sector but this year I am ready to make amends. I am doing the TFN 2010 no matter what. Wanna know why? Well here are my reasons.

Reason#1: The Ride Beautiful and the Ride Epic

TFN: Ride through the beautiful Ooty roads

900+ km, 8 days, lots of hills and a transect through the lush green South India, that is in a nutshell what TFN offers!

You ride through the beautiful blue Nilgiri mountains through 3 states each with its own distinct and unmistakable regional flavor…..

You average more than a 100 km each day, day after day, till you do the full 900 km on the saddle. You brave the climbs, the rutted trails, the winds, the mist, the cold and sometimes an occasional tusker too!

So, if you are up for an epic ride, you should be visiting the TFN home page on June 1 2010 to sign up!

Like I said, I will be there for it really promises to be the ride beautiful and the ride epic!

Reason#2: Where Else Would You Find These dudes?

TFN: You would meet with some great bikers and people full of zest for life

Take a peek at the participants of the TFN last year and you would be amazed to see the diversity. Diversity in ethnicity, in profession, in age but united by passion-Biking!

Your shoulder rubs would range from the corporate honchos, to the geeks and the techies, to the wannabe Armstrongs and you would share the space, the banter, the chit chat, the disappointments and accomplishments with the likeminded affable fellows for a good 8 days.

Zest for life is an infectious disease and TFN promises a real pandemic! Don’t miss it for where else would you find these dudes?

So if you are a biker and fancy yourself doing a great ride in India with some of the most amazing folks, you should be looking forward to doing the TFN 2010.

What good being a F1 driver if you haven’t driven the Monaco Grand Prix?

What good being a footballer if you haven’t played at Wembley?

What good being a tennis player of you haven’t played at the Wimbledon?

What good being a biker if you haven’t done the Tour of Nilgiris?

Now I guess you know, why I MUST do TFN 2010.

[ Photo Credits: ]

Manasij Ganguli


%d bloggers like this: