Leh’d on a bicycle (Part 4)

Pedal through the largest military settlements at Karu in the Himalayas, then several monasteries and Buddhist installations in small villages along the way to Leh. Finally to end with India’s highest motor-able road and the mother of all climbs – KhardungLa.

Day 09 : Lato to Leh
Good sleep during the night followed by a bright morning with clear sky and pleasant weather enticing us all to start riding, besides the known fact that it would be mostly downhill ride all the way upto Leh. We ride through dry mountain encapsulated terrain all along the way till we got to the signage that said ‘Welcome to Leh’ where we took few snaps before riding on. By 10:45am, we reached a security check-post at Upshi, where we had to declare all the riders passing through. From here, we pedaled on for 14km through dry barren lands till we got to Karu and rode through one of the largest military settlements in the Himalayas. Please adhere to the signage here that says – do not overtake, do not blow horn, drive carefully and do not take pictures. Also noticed a few signage by the road and/or on trucks that read ‘Ki Ki So So Lhargyalo’ that got me curious to know what that meant.

Pedalled on for about 17 km, observed more and more greenery as we approached the village of Thiksey, famous for its large Buddhist monastery build on a hilltop. We keep riding through small villages and towns with great views all around, past several monasteries and Buddhist installations along the road. Was about 3:30pm when we got to Mahabodhi International Meditation Centre (MIMC), an organization that provides comprehensive care to all segments of society established by a Buddhist monk – Bhikkhu Sanghasena. We got to meet him in person and having spent roughly an hour there, bid adieu and continued to ride on towards Leh. There was heavy traffic on the roads and dusty due to road repairs going on all the way to the main circle where three roads converged. Got here by 5:40pm and from here, we were directed by a local contact all the way into the city and the place of stay. Secured the bikes, freshened up and headed out to the city to have a filling dinner.

Caution: Heavy traffic, dry and dusty roads.
Distance covered: 70.55km

View on route from LatoView on route from LatoEntering LehPolice check post at UpshiPassing military base at KaruView on the way towards LehMonastery at ThikseyBuddhist stone sculpture at ThikseyMahabodi Meditation Centre close to LehThree main road converging at Leh

Lesson learnt: 'Ki Ki So So Lhargyalo' (Victory to God) - a war cry commonly associated to The Ladakh Scouts (Snow Warriors or Snow Tigers), infantry regiment of the Indian Army.

Day 10 : Leh to Khardungla Pass
From our group of thirteen – Mandeep, Pradeep, Amit, Tej and Jay opted out of today’s ride. As scheduled to start as early as 6:30am, we had a quick breakfast, checked our respective bikes, refilled our water bottles and rode out by 6:40am. For me, it was a steady gradual and non-stop climb from the city and all the way up to Southpallu. I got there by 10:40am, by which time the others had already reached. There was a visible road block up ahead due to a small landslide which was being cleared up. This took a good 15-20 minutes to clear. So took the time to lie down on the ground and give my aching back some rest, while others had tea and maggi. Guru, our tour coordinator was worried if I would be able to ride any further and even more if would be able to cope up with the rest of the riders.

Later we got going and as we climbed up, kept enquiring of the condition of the road up ahead. Didn’t get very optimistic replies, with one motorcyclist suggesting us not to go ahead as the roads were pretty bad. We discussed and concluded to go ahead up to wherever possible. We kept riding on and kept feeling positive that we could do it all the way provided there was no unforeseen landslides again. Most of the riders were ahead lead by Sharath and while Guru doing the occasional sweeps of all the riders. Heena, Ramesh and I were the slow-pokes lagging behind. Covered half the distance from Southpallu to the top, and about 3-4km later Heena gave up and soon so did Ramesh. Now it was just me being a drag at the very last with the other 5 much ahead of me. Jay, Heena and Ramesh were in the support vehicle. Guru slowed down till I caught up with him. He advised me to stop for a break, eat something and continue. Did so after having a sandwich and juice, when Heena mentioned that I had better catch up with the rest of the riders soon else I would not be allowed to ride further to the top. I had to and wanted to finish the ride all the way to the top no matter what. Continued to ride on and eventually caught up with Sumedha who had a flat tyre and was fixing it. Continued on but soon he caught up and overtook me as well. Despite Guru having repeatedly tell me to switch to a higher gear, I maintained the slow steady pace on granny gears just so I don’t have difficulty in breathing or tire myself out.

Much earlier on, had noticed a few vehicles that had a few cycles loaded on the back. Now, I saw a few foreigners riding down on these bicycles. Another 5km more to the top and it seemed so close to complete. It was deceptive whenever the road curved off from view giving the impression that the end is just round the corner, but the road just goes on and on with the task of getting there never-ending. More and more four-wheelers kept driving down the narrow broken roads passing by, while bikers cheered on with a thumbs up or a salute which was encouraging. These guys on bikes would know the difficulty in climbing up unlike sitting in the comfort of a four-wheeler. One car with youths in it even stopped by and offered water, but refused for I still had enough but thanked them for the gesture.

Another 2-3km, and my bike started to give problems with the chain getting locked on the lowest chain-ring, making the bike go no further. Had to get off, move the chain in the reverse to free the chain and then ride on again. This happened about 6 times which was frustrating enough to think of throwing the bike off the mountain and to walk the rest of the way. Kept pedaling while I repeatedly kept muttering aloud ‘I have to finish this, I have to finish this’ as I rode past vehicles driving downhill. Finally got to the top, where the others waited. Sharath, Arpit, Anag, Sumedha and Guru were already there. There was mixed emotions within – anger, sadness, joy and satisfaction – a weird feeling but was happy all the same. We hugged and cheered for having finished the climb.

Took group snaps here, had maggi and tea, and having spent a good half hour and possibly more, we got set to ride on the bumpy broken road all the way down to Southpallu, doing quick stops to take pictures that we couldn’t take as we were focused on climbing. Got to Southpallu, and from here it was super smooth roads all the way to the base which was extremely fun to ride and well worth the effort put in too. Rode on back into town to freshen up, and out to dinner as we rejoiced for having completed the cycling part of this entire trip.

Caution: Extremely difficult climb.
Distance covered: 74.69km

Southpallu - halfway point to KhardungLa topRoads climbed to KhardungLa topClose to KhardungLa topStill closer to KhardungLa topAt KhardungLa top

Lesson learnt: Khardungla is India's highest motor-able pass which was opened to motor vehicles in 1988 and has since been a strategic route to carry supplies to the Siachen Glacier.

Day 11 : Leh to Pangong Tso
Today was a relaxed day with no cycling at all but just lazing our butts boringly in the van that would take us all the way to Pangong Lake (134 km long and spans across 700 Was a long drive up and through Changla – mountain pass (which is at 17,688 ft.), where we stopped to have tea. Then a drive downhill when it started to snow lightly. Here we stopped quickly to take a group snap and continued on and finally reached the lake by 3:20pm. We had a quick lunch and then spent time sitting by the lake edge looking at the clear waters ripple its way towards the banks. Later, walked along the banks of the lake, taking lots of pictures and admiring the beauty that nature had to give till late evening when it started to get cold.

There were a many other tourists there by the lake too. While I observed that there were a few groups of youths doing the silly ‘Let’s all jump together’ pose for a snap. Wanted to tell them to get over it, relax, shut the f* up and take in the beautiful sights that nature offered. I walked away and after several hours of peaceful aloofness with nature, got back to the main tent for dinner, then chilled out at one tent where we all had fun as we spent a couple of hours playing ‘Dumb charades’ and ‘Mafia’ till sleep was too hard to resist. It was cold night and star constellations filled the night sky making the place out of this world and yet giving a reminder that we are still on planet earth.

Caution: The sight of the lake can induce tranquility within.
Accomodation: Tented resort by the PangongTso.
Distance covered (in 4-wheeler): 180kms

Road covered and leading upto ChangLaChangLaDownhill from ChangLaDownhill from ChangLaReaching Pangong TsoClear waters at Pangong TsoView at Pangong TsoView at Pangong TsoView at Pangong TsoView at Pangong Tso

Lesson learnt: The lake lies in the disputed area between India and China. The Line of Actual Control passes through it with 25% of it in control of India and the remainder to China.

Day 12: Leh to Srinagar
Got up late, freshened up, had breakfast and spent time until noon. Later continued our journey towards Srinagar which was a long long boring journey of about 14-16 hours. While the others had comfortable seats, I got the last row in the vehicle all to myself not that it was great considering the bumpy stretches of road all the way to Srinagar, but made the most of it by stretching my legs straight.

View at Pangong TsoView at Pangong TsoView at Pangong TsoView at Pangong TsoView at Pangong Tso

Day 13: At Srinagar
After a boring night journey, finally reached the outskirts of Srinagar at 7:30am where we stopped by a small restaurant for tea and then continued on past heavy traffic towards the city. Lots and lots of tourism vehicles were rented out and filled with people heading for Amarnath – a place of worship. Thought to myself ‘why why…can’t you humans just leave the place alone and worship what-ever wherever you are’ but it’s no use for humans amongst various faiths and religions do this inexplicably with devotion to the unknown.

Finally got to the town of Srinagar and to the lovely home-stay. Ah! the hot water bath was so so refreshing. Past lunch, Heena, Anag, Sumedha and Sharath set out to the city while the rest of us had a good nap until evening. We then headed out to the city. Managed to get into the local transport bus for some distance, and as it kept stopping at bus stops people kept getting in with no signs of anyone getting off. It got so crowded that we eventually could take no more and got off. There were lots of Indian military personnel providing security throughout the entire city, making the place seem a bit tense while the nature’s beauty puts one at ease. Walked some distance till we got to the Dal lake and waited for the others to meet us here. Spent four bloody hours trying to arrange for a transport and eventually got a rickety ol’ mini bus as a transport for whatever was left of the day. We got to the city and into a good restaurant to have a sumptuous lip-smacking dinner of kashmiri pulao, rogan gosht and the restaurant’s famous mutton delicacy. What a splendid way to end the day and the entire journey amongst delightful people.

On the way to SrinagarEntering SrinagarDal lakeAnother view of Dal lakeView of Dal lake as night falls

Lesson learnt: Visit the city and stay with a known group. Do not rely on local transport. Book a cab much in advance.

One time Mandeep had mentioned “This journey is such that having done it once, you might never attempt it again or you will keep coming back for more.” I would go with the latter choice for sure, only the next time it would be a self-supported trip. Have taken the liberty to share links to accounts written by other riders in this group – Sharath, Arpit and Heena that gives their perspective, their experience and memories of this journey that we shared. A big heartfelt gratitude to members of Unventured, for riding along and being a part of this journey apart from organizing so well that the entire trip was so worthwhile.
And yes, I fruitfully and most certainly enjoyed getting Leh’d!


  • sampad
    September 8, 2014 - 4:45 pm | Permalink

    Very well written, loved all the parts… Its like reading a book, hey… If i herd you right., if u want to do it again, will be glad to join. Drop me a mail if interested, am in bangalore too,

    • pavan
      September 9, 2014 - 4:06 am | Permalink

      Thank you Sampad. Will email you when I decide to do this route again.
      For now, there are so many other beautiful places to cover in India. 🙂

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