My Manali to Leh cycling experience was so unique and absolutely unforgettable. I cycled through the Himalayas for over 9 days with Unventured and here is how my Manali to Leh cycling blog story unfolded.
Inception of the idea.
I was on a Campfire India trek where Kristopher and I randomly told each other some day we should have a Manali to Leh cycling experience. We had heard of those stories from someone at some point.
I got a bike to cycle to class in Manipal. But then never used it again since I made friends and walked with them. Later, so other students and I made the Manipal cyclists group on Facebook and started with weekend rides. However I got regular only in my second last engineering semester and did rides up to 60kms. I finally had lots of free time in the last semester and a long vacation after college until I went to a new one. So I could now work on my long lost dream.
First dream was going to Leh and second cycling to there from Manali. I started googling for travel companies and the only one giving the cost in ₹ was Unventured. The rest were all speaking of it in $ which meant they weren’t catering to Indians as such. I wrote to them and their brochure blew my mind away. It was the most beautiful thing and they were so transparent about every thing, I was amazed.
I couldn’t believe I was prioritising the German IAESTE internship over this Manali to Leh cycling experience. The moment I got rejected from the first, I wrote to Unventured co-founder Guru again. He warned me that the trip was tough and I took an entire month to decide whether I was actually going to complete it.
I started cycling for two hours in the morning and an hour in the evening with half an hour of yoga and two hours at the gym for strength. I cut down on late nights and sleepovers to once a week and slept pretty early otherwise. I started doing uphill’s twice and thrice unlike never before. All this while Ganesh inspired me, checked on my routines and told me I could do it if I continued to train like this.
I paid the advance and confirmed my ride. Guru kept calling to me to Bangalore and I insisted I would go only after I had prepared enough. I would only go if I would complete the Nandi hills ride. I stayed at the other co-founder, Tejaswini’s, when I went and completed 2 Nandis on day 1 with 2 breaks each and day 2 in one go. That’s when I felt accomplished and that my target had been met. However, I ended that ride with a fall and it was a lesson learnt.
I left for Manipal on the same evening and arrived next morning. Along with some hospital rounds at the emergency centre and a root canal, I rested completely for a week. The next week I started cycling at the gym and did lower body strength training. Another week later I was back on the saddle. I trained once again though for a very short period and then returned to Mumbai for good. I cycled a few times in Mumbai with dad and Anagh.
Starting Manali to Leh
I was super scared when I left for Delhi as I realised that the trip was right here and there was this fear of falling down again. The Manali Leh cycling trip routes were anyway pretty steep. I made it to Delhi Himachal Pradesh bus stand quite late at 6 whereas our bus was at 6 30. I was thrilled to meet a lot of new faces.
We got to Manali, helped fix cycles and did a trial ride. I got my rented bike – trek 3700 and I started the tour on it. I would mostly stay at the back with Arpit pushing me to get to the top and Guru guiding me with the right gear ratios. We made it through Marhi, Sissu, Zing Zing bar, Jispa, Sarachu, Pang nala and Tso Kar lake.
Manali to Leh cycling distance.
We did over 500kms of Manali Leh highway cycling on tar marked roads and very often there were no roads at all. So we had to stand up on the bike, struggle to manoeuvre it and wake up with back aches the next day. I was awfully slow on downhills and Guru would keep telling me to leave the brakes! We rode through sun, rain hail and snow. Crossing a stream without having to get off the bike became an accomplishment. Knowing that the first person was not to far ahead was some relief. Then we could cycle peacefully, enjoy the ride, not worry about catching up and reaching later than scheduled. The beautiful views were our real motivation to finish this long ride. They would distract us while we got tired or were having a headache and kept us going.
Ever since I saw the Manali Leh cycling trip handbook, I dreaded the super steep climb after Rhotang as in the handbook. After Rhotang passed and we reached Sissu, only to figure out that that steep uphill never existed we were delighted. Moore plains were so much fun to ride through. I made it second at Taglang la, the second highest peak in the world; after Pradeep and that feeling was priceless. Motorbike’s salutes were a good kickstart every time we were getting tired. Reaching a high altitude pass was an accomplishment after battling all the decreasing oxygen and climbing up the steep slopes. Gya was a lovely yet small town with super cute buildings. This an indication that I was almost in Ladakh and was extremely close to my final destination while on this Manali Leh highway cycling. I didn’t care about making it to Khardung la and got bored around South pullu to even finish it. Though as planned I had got the Manali to Leh cycling experience and earned the Unventured sweatshirt.
Happiness to our tummy
We survived on boiled potatoes, chocolates and juices on this Manali Leh cycling tour. Chocolates were the best as energy boosts on small breaks so the body wouldn’t cool down. Pa ke zam zam, the local tea, the medicine to every trouble, as the locals say was a hit. Whether we believed that or not, it was definitely refreshing. The hot garlic soup was our go to on a cold windy evening to cure headaches, a symptom of high altitude sickness. We learnt to value oxygen because as we went higher, it would reduce. Wai wai are my favourite noodles. But apart from that, they are thin, spicy and come with soup. Munchies like Aloo Bhujia and Khatta Meetha were things we started to look forward to.
Life on the bike
Hot water showers were rare on this Manali Leh cycling tour and we realised its worth only when we come across these. We would get a chance to bathe only every 3-5 days. All the stickiness disappears after a good hair bath leaving us so fresh. We bombed Sumedha’s selfies and laughed through Sharath’s puns. Guru was now the haseena and I had become Suresh and I had now idea why because I hadn’t seen the ad. Tej and I became room mates and she mommyed me through hotel rooms and fancy tents. We all became a family through our stay at parachute tents, meals and long rides. The sleeping bag kept us warm and cosy in the tent, especially on unexpected cold nights. We started to look forward to the sun to warm up up after a cold chilly night. The snowfall brought a smile to our faces. We played so much of bluff, dumb charades and mafia through the trip. Dumb charades were the sources of fun while sitting on a mattress, munching snacks or sipping soup after a long ride through the day.
Finding network meant goodbye
We were so happy to not have no phone network through out the trip that all of us built such a beautiful bond over real conversations. But since we had been on the road for so long, we got in touch with family and friends the moment we found internet. Telling them about how we did made us so happy.
We drove down to Pangong and experienced snowfall and stayed there for a night. Arpit and I explored Leh palace and had my favourite soupy momos. We drove down to Srinagar through the night and made it to a beautiful home stay. We took selfies and bid goodbye for all good things just come to an end and land in a Manali to Leh cycling blog.