Leh’d on a bicycle (Part 1)

This 15 day cycling expedition starts from Manali, Himachal Pradesh and traverses through the lower Himalayan range to reach Leh, the capital city of the Ladakh. The journey includes 470 kms of cycling (90 km additionally to KhardungLa pass in Leh) challenging personal limits apart from the breathtaking views of the vast mountain ranges.

A self-supported cycling journey (carry clothing, some food and possibly a tent, sleeping bag and cooking utensils …all on the bicycle) was on my wish list but on a tough journey such as this for the first time got me re-think again and again. From an online forum, stumbled upon Unventured who organize a supported trip wherein food, stay, bike and medical support are taken care off. Only to-fro Delhi flight and bike transport charges had to be borne by self.

Personally, the entire package was expensive eating away into my full year’s savings but signed up anyway. Why… because this would be my very first tryst with snow and ‘I have to do this’.

Mental – Done months ago.
Physical – Fit but for a nagging left ankle sprain and lower backache.
Practice – Two sets of repeated Nandi hill climbs and one Kalhatty-Ooty climb.
Bike – Rockrider 5.3 with two bottle cages and mini cycle pump on bike frame.
Travel wear – innerwear, track pant, t-shirt, fleece pullover, socks, running shoes.

Packing – over done

Suitcase (17kg)    
Light trousers (2) Casual T-shirts (4) 3/4th trouser (1)
Cycling shorts (3) Half-sleeve T-shirts (8) Warm full arm jersey (1)
Full arm thermals (2) Fleece full arm jacket (1) Hooded fleece jacket (1)
Innerwear (9) Warmers – Neck+arm+leg (1) Fleece balaclava (1)
Lumbar support (1) Ankle support (1) Head beanie (1)
Towels (2) Hand towels (3) Spare tubes (2)
Saddle bag+punchure kit Fleece blanket (1) Trouser clips (1pair)
Backpack (7kg)    
Mobile phones (2) Point-n-shoot Camera (1) Card+cash+tickets
Energy bars (6) Knee+elbow guards Water bottles (4)
Wet tissue packets (3) Toilet paper rolls (6) Rain jacket+pant (1 set)
Hydration bag (2ltr) Cycling helmet (1) Cycling glasses
Electricals kit
– Miners headlamp (1)
– Batteries (8)
– Phone charger (2)
– Camera battery charger (1)
Feet kit
– Socks – woolen (1 pair)
– Socks (7 pairs)
– Water-resistant shoes (1 pair)
– Floaters (1 pair)
– Rubber slippers (1 pair)
Hands kit
– Gloves – woolen (1 pair)
– Gloves – full finger (1 pair)
– Gloves – half finger (1 pair)
Dustbin plastic bags roll    
Toiletry kit
– Toothbrush+paste
– Listerine mouth wash
– Hand sanitizer
– Shaving kit
– Soap + Deodorant
– Shampoo + Conditioner
– Sewing kit (small)
– Scissors
– Vaseline body lotion
– Face wash (2)
– Sun-tan block SPF50+
Bike-cleaning kit
– Wet chain lube (small)
– Spare tubes (2)
– Rim liner (1 pair)
– Brake cables (1 pair)
– Derailleur cables (1 pair)
– Old toothbrush
– Philips screwdriver
– Pliers
– Spanners (4)
– Multitool+Allen keys
– Cleaning cloth
Medical kit
– Bandages+antiseptic
– Tablets – cold/stomach/pain
– Swiss knife+pocket torch
– Tiger balm
– Pain relief spray

What is required or should suffice for such a trip?
Mental – Be prepared. At the very least, please learn to fix a flat tyre by yourself.
Physical – Not advisable if having difficulty in breathing and/or still recovering from any mental/physical injury.
Fitness – Few 50-100km rides per day. Any 2 days of 5 repeated Nandi hill climbs and 1 Kalhatty-Ooty climb should do good.
Bike – A good hard-tail MTB preferably with disc brakes and front suspension lockout. At least one bottle cage and mini cycle pump on the bike frame.
Travel wear – innerwear, chinos/jeans, full sleeve shirt/pullover, socks, sneakers.

Backpack (15kg)
Light trousers (1) Full sleeve shirt (1)
3/4 synthetic capris (2) Innerwear (9)
Cycling bib tights full (2) Full arm thermals (2)
Full arm jerseys (2-4) Warm full arm jersey (2)
Hooded full arm pullover (1) Hooded fleece jacket (1)
Head beanie (1) Fleece balaclava (2)
Towels (1) Hand towels (2)
Wet tissue packets (2) Hydration bag (optional)
Rain jacket + pant (1 set) Track suit nightwear (1 pair)
Cycling helmet (1) Cycling glasses (1)
Saddle bag+punchure kit Spare tubes (1)
Toilet paper rolls (2) Dustbin plastic bags roll
– Miners headlamp (1)
– Batteries (4)
– Phone charger (1)
– Camera battery charger (1)
Bike-cleaning kit
– Brake pads (1 pair)
– Brush / GearClean Brush
– Multitool+Allen keys
– Cleaning cloth
– Socks – woolen (1 pair)
– Socks – cotton-acrylic (4 pairs)
– Floaters / Crocs (1 pair)
– Trouser clips (1pair)
– Hand sanitiser
– Gloves – woolen (1 pair)
– Gloves – full finger (1 pair)
– Gloves – half finger (1 pair)
– Toothbrush+paste
– Shaving kit (optional)
– Soap+face wash+deodorant
– Sun-tan block SPF50+
Medical kit
– Bandages+antiseptic
– Tablets – cold/stomach/pain
– Swiss knife+pocket torch
– Pain relief spray

Cramster waist pouch
Mobile phones (1-2) Point-n-shoot Camera (1)
Notepad, pen, pencil Card, cash, tickets
Wet tissues small (1) Dry tissues small (1)
Energy bars (3-6) Lip Balm (1)
Two 1 ltr water bottles fit into the side outer pockets.

On the bike the rain jacket+pant, lip balm and the warmers (full finger gloves, balaclava) are a necessity. Personally though, the hydration bag was a savior of sorts. When off the bike, the woolens (beanie, gloves and socks) kept me warm while the wet tissues/tissue rolls were most useful.

Day 00 : At Manali
Delhi to Manali distance by road is 560 kilometers and travel time by bus is 14 hours. Boarded the HPTDC volvo bus at Himachal Bhawan, Mandi House, Delhi and started out by 7:30pm, however slept through most of the journey and reached Manali by 9:30am. Unloaded the bags and bikes onto the support vehicle and then walked up to a German Bakery. After a filling breakfast, we walked to the hotel to freshen up. Later got down to unpacking our respective bikes, when we realized a few bikes including mine were slightly damaged in transit. The rear derailleur pulleys were pushed in so much so as to touch the wheel spokes and the shifting of gears on lower gears was misaligned. Sorted out the issue and we were all ready by 4pm. Half hour later, we all started to ride out for about 10 odd km through and past the bridge in town. On the return leg, we passed by some heavy traffic back into town and crossed the bridge to stop at a small open-top restaurant for a quick biryani and banana milkshake (which was just tiny bits of banana dunked into milk flavored water)…yeeuuuck! Got back to the hotel by 7:15pm. Secured all the bikes, freshened up and we all took a walk into town for small purchases. People/tourists thronged the city central area while blaring punjabi music played in the backdrop, which made the place seem too commercialized, crowded, boring and in a way disappointing. Had dinner and got back to the hotel as soon as possible. The thoughts of the ride the following day was exciting enough!

Bus journey to ManaliBus journey to ManaliBus journey to ManaliEntering ManaliFresh cherries for breakfastCity market square in the morningView of city along the roadView when doing a practice rideView when doing a practice rideCity market square late evening

Lesson learnt: Greet locals by saying 'Jhulley', which means greetings, thank you, good wishes, bye all in one in Ladakhi. Say it at beginning and end of every conversation.


  • Deepak
    July 4, 2014 - 1:16 am | Permalink

    Good start….waiting for the rest

  • Sharath
    July 7, 2014 - 4:44 am | Permalink

    Nice account, Pavan!

  • venkatesh
    July 9, 2014 - 9:24 pm | Permalink

    Hi Pavan,

    Is carrying GoPro Hero Camera worth on the trip ? I am confused whether a normal point and shoot (6mp) and mobile phone with 8mp is good enough..another alternative is renting go pro.

    any suggestion ?


    • pavan
      July 11, 2014 - 4:20 am | Permalink

      Hi Venkatesh,
      GoPro is just an added bonus of fancy gizmos to capture some videos when on the move. But personally, for the trip I would not consider it worthwhile. I would any day prefer a good point-and-shoot camera and mobile phone with good camera. A DSLR camera if not cycling but just traveling there. Just make sure you have carried along a battery charger, spare (fully charged) batteries and couple of extra memory cards for added measure.

      • Venkatesh
        July 12, 2014 - 1:04 am | Permalink

        hi pavan,

        Thanks!. I was getting carried away a bit and about to ask my friend to buy GoPro from US..I too feel GoPro is good but not suited for cycling trip of this kind and still photography. I think it is good for mounting on cycle/car and for capturing tricky riding actions which i don’t intend to on leh trip.


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