Leh’d on a bicycle (Part-2)

As the road weaves through sparse vegetation and ascends towards snow-capped mountains, we start from Manali and over 4 days we ride past Marhi, then via Rohtang Pass to Sissu, Jispa and then get to Zing Zing Bar.

Day 01 : Manali to Marhi
Sun was up early morning as we set out to ride on uneven/broken roads past quiet village life, then later cross a bridge built over an under-construction road and ride again. About 15km of easy gradual steady climb and we stop at a shop by the roadside to regroup. Pradeep had problem with his bike and so Guru had stopped to help him. By which time, some of us had already binged on a couple of home-made ice-creams. From here Marhi was still 21 km ahead and so continued to ride on broken roads that soon changed to tarmac ones however the winds got colder as we kept gaining altitude. As you gradually ascend along the road, turn back and you get great views of the Manali valley. Much later snow capped mountains began to appear in front as in postcards or pictures but it is for real this time. Eventually got to the top and rode through a gorge with walls of snow on either sides, on the snow-shoveled road past slow moving vehicular traffic. Tourists walking about wearing warm jumpsuits and rubber boots looking at us with an expression of ‘What on earth are you all doing here on a bicycle?’ I was just happy to be perturbed or be bothered in anyway and so continued on with a big smile.

Finally got to the camp site further away that was set at a higher secluded location. Had hot maggi and tea at the nearby stall while our support staff set up the tents. After having had dinner, we were given one litre bottle of water each that we were to drink up by the following morning. Night was cold and despite the warm clothes, could barely get enough sleep.

Caution: Heavy vehicular traffic. Nights get cold and windy.
Distance covered: 35.7km

View while riding from ManaliView while riding from ManaliView while riding to MarhiView of uphill climb to MarhiLunch break on the way to MarhiView downhill while climbing to MarhiWall of ice beside the road, MarhiYaks in the mountain pass, MarhiRide through the mountain pass, MarhiView from camp site, Marhi

Lesson learnt:  Drink up at least 1 litre of water through the night and eat garlic to avoid altitude sickness.

Day 02 : Marhi to Sissu (via Rohtang Pass)
Woke up by 6am to the beautiful view up ahead of the mountains clad in snow with the sun light starting to slowing uncover parts of the mountain sides. The road in front of us climbed up in a zig-zag pattern upto Rohtang Pass (means – pile of corpses), that which has a reputation of unpredictable snowstorms and blizzards. Freshened up and got ready as my bike brakes were not working to its best and needed some fixing up. Having geared up in warm cycling clothes, full finger gloves, balaclava, warmers and rain jacket n’pants, started to ride by about 9am along with the group. Sharath and Tej were ahead keeping a good pace while the rest of us tried to catch up. I kept a slow steady pace, limiting the no. of breaks to just enough to take quick snaps with my point and shoot camera. There were several bad patches of road where water flowed across making crossing a tad difficult just to make sure the feet/shoes don’t get wet. Got past it and rode on to catch up with Sharath and Tej when there was about 8km more to go. Stopped to take a few snaps and have having quickly made a mental note of the scenery and looking down over the edge of the road, could see the other riding on fervently. Finally got to the top by 11:30am, as I rode past walls of snow on either sides of the road and cold fog filled the air ahead.

This place was again packed with vehicles on either sides of the road while tourists were having a good time in the snow. The three of us got off the road, stepped onto the snow leveled plain where few tourists were seated close to a temporary tea stall setup. Cannot really put into words the joy felt within (for the first time in my life) with the view of white snow-clad mountains around and as I walked over snow. To use words like surreal and overwhelming here will seem to cliche and inadequate.
The three of us had maggi noodles and 2 cups of tea while we took pictures of us with our bikes in the snow while some other tourists who sat closeby looked on. I removed my glasses momentarily to which Sharath objected that it could cause snow blindness so heeded to his advice. In sometime, Sumedha turned up and activated his camera for ‘selfies’, meanwhile the rest of the riders turned up and we rode further ahead to stop and regroup for some snaps. From here, it was downhill ride over bad roads with cold biting wind blowing. In a single line formation, we rode down past very bad stretches of road. At one point, we had to stop and wait for 15-20 mins as there was some rock blasting a little further down the road. Later we rode down to stop for quick lunch as we had still 15km to go. From here on, the roads were simply smooth tarmac with lovely green scenery on either sides. At one spot, had to get my feet wet while crossing over water that flowed over and across the road. With wet shoes on, rode quickly up the entrance of the camp site where I met a self-supported cyclist from Delhi. Got talking while the other riders turned up. The camp site (situated close to the Chandra river) had a helipad. We all relaxed in the soft grass laid open ground, explored the place a bit and later had dinner by 9pm and off to bed.

Caution: Bad roads along downhill with light rain and overcast weather.
Distance covered: 49.61km

View of camp site at MarhiView of camp site below at MarhiClimb to Rohtang PassBad stretches of road crossing to Rohtang PassUphill climb to Rohtang PassHeavy machinery parked, uphill to Rohtang PassRohtang PassCrossing bad patches of road downhillView on the way to SissuView from camp site, Sissu

Lesson learnt: Snow blindness (photokeratitis) is a type of temporary eye damage caused by snow reflecting UV light. Wear your riding glasses.

Day 03 : Sissu to Jispa
Having freshened up, we all got to work on cleaning the muck off our bikes. Later had our breakfast and started to ride by 9:15am. Was a bright sunny day with the fresh smell of grass in the air and a smooth rolling terrain to ride on. But it wasn’t for long, than the roads turned all dusty and broken. We stopped by a bus stop shelter to regroup and then continued to ride on the muddy roads with face masks on. Dust filled the air each time a vehicle passed by making visibility bad. After wading downhill on broken roads, we got to Keylong to stop for a quick lunch that comprised of a veg sandwich, boilded potato/boiled egg, chocolate and juice. From here on, it was a gradual climb towards Jispa as we gained altitude along the way. After a good climb, it was downhill ride on smooth tarmac towards civilization. Sighting the hotel of stay ahead, the first thought that came to mind was a hot water bath. The view around the hotel was quiet serene and lovely. Sharath, Tej and Sumedha had reached earlier. So we waited for the rest to show up, while we started to feel the air getting colder. Soon after all turned up, we got in to have enjoy some pipping hot tea along with big heart shaped biscuits. Later a hot bath, dinner and good sound sleep under warm blankets.

Caution: Bad roads along downhill.
Distance covered: 52.30km

View while riding from SissuBus stop on the way from SissuView while riding from SissuView while riding from SissuView on the way to KeylongBad roads on the way to KeylongRoad to the right leads to Keylong, we take left oneView on the way to JispaArchway on the road to JispaView from hotel of stay, Jispa

Lesson learnt: Stop for few minutes, sip on water at regular intervals. Wear  the face scarf/balaclava to keep warm / keep the dust away / prevent sun burns.

Day 04 : Jispa to Zing Zing Bar
Was 6am and had to reluctantly get off the now warm n’ cozy bed, get ready and have breakfast by 9:15am. We rode through the small town and soon out into the open tarmac where but for a few locals fixing up the broken patches of road there was no habitat of any kind. Tej had a fall at a narrow road curve, but she was back on the bike again. Soon roads got bad to worse and dusty till we got to the Tandi Bridge and stopped to take snaps at the road side signage indicating the distances to places ahead. From here, the climbs started and the roads worse. In just 7km, before we could realize it, we had gained much altitude. The view around was just rocky mountains and sparce vegetation that which would make anyone consume more water than usual. After some distance and hours, the roads got better and so did the scenery around. There were a few stretches of road where small rocks and clear pebbles levelled the road and really cold waters from the mountains flowed over and across the road making crossing a tad difficult. Get your shoes wet and it will make your feet go numb. This made it a bit exciting, but we crossed it will full gusto.

We kept riding on further, till we could spot a shed of some sort at a distance of about 20km, which we were told was the lunch point. When I got there, my eyes were fixed on the beautiful sight of a lake with frozen ice bordering it. We took snaps here, had our lunch and continued to ride on as we noticed three foreigners on their bikes with panniers on them. After a good amount of riding, we past a military base. The scenery there was amazing with snow clad mountains at a distance. Rode on till I reached the base of ZingZingBar from where the flat leveled road took a turn to a climb. Ramesh had stopped by the signboard for while. I stopped to take a photo here, drank some water and started the climb and continued to do so. Despite much temptations to stop and take pictures of so many beautiful views, I continued to ride on and reached the top by 4pm, with a feeling of extreme satisfaction of having done a non-stop climb upto here. Waited for a while and then Sharath turned up, then Sumedha and Anag. Our friendly local guide, Virender got here on his motorbike and told us to ride a km further and so we did till we got to the camp site. The air was getting colder and breathing slightly difficult. I had a running nose and a light headache. Many others too had started to feel the heaviness in the head, due to the altitude. Freshened up and we all had hot soup, then at dinner Guru, our tour coordinator gave a brief on tomorrow’s ride.

Caution: Steep ascends and dusty roads.
Distance covered: 31.2km

View from hotel at JispaStart of climb from JispaView while on the climb past JispaWater crossing on the road past JispaDeepak Taalview of mountains on the way to ZingZingBarBase of ZingZingBar, start of climbClose to the top of ZingZingBarTop of ZingZingBarParachute tent stay for the night at ZingZingBar

Lesson learnt: With less oxygen at higher altitudes breathing becomes difficult. Take deep breaths in from the nose and breath out from the mouth.


  • Mandar Gadre
    July 8, 2014 - 3:28 am | Permalink

    Excellent write up and motiviating.
    I read the part I preparation also.
    Complete the remaining part asap.
    All the best

    • pavan
      July 8, 2014 - 4:30 am | Permalink

      Thank you Mandar,
      Am currently working on the next four days of the trip in Part 3.

  • Amar
    July 20, 2014 - 8:31 pm | Permalink

    Hi this is a very well written post on the Manali to Leh tour Pavan.

    Can you please share more information about the organiser of this tour Mr Guru and his contact information etc….

    Maybe you can put a link of their site here in your blog so anyone who wants more information can contact them.

    Thanks in advance

    • pavan
      July 20, 2014 - 11:45 pm | Permalink

      Many thanks, Amar.
      You will find a link to the organizer of this trip – ‘Unventured’, in the very first part of my adventure.
      Please check here.

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