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An attitude for altitude! Manali to Leh

Manali to Leh Cycle Ride
Manali to Leh Cycle Ride

Cycle ride from Manali to Leh

Since time immemorial, humans have had a fascination with reaching the top. Every mountain top must be climbed, every ceiling breached. It is as such no surprise, that automobile enthusiasts consider the Manali-Leh route one of their dream destinations.

This obsession with crunching our wheels over the highest passes of the world, takes an even more extreme obsession with pedal powered bicycles. For most cyclists of India, riding from Manali to Leh is a journey beyond the ordinary. This altitude attracts, to the point where, cyclists from different countries of the world, visit India, just to ride these remarkable mountains. Recently, one of the highest bicycle races of the world, La La Land Ultra, was held in this frozen desert.

Life at this altitude requires a different attitude when compared to the plains below. An attitude of overconfidence might lead to a setback down here, but it can be lethal up there. These high mountains teach us humility and the magnanimity of nature.

Preparation for this arduous route begins a solid 6 months in advance. It’s not just the spirit that should be willing to undertake this journey, but the body as well! Regular bicycle rides and training, will ensure that you are well equipped to take on the daunting task at hand. You end up not just changing your physical regimen but your entire lifestyle. From eating healthy, to sleeping properly to being a part of Fit India.

Cycling to the top of the world, Khardung La
Cycling to the top of the world, Khardung La

The route from Manali to Leh is roughly 475 km. If you look at this number, it doesn’t seem such a daunting task. Unfortunately, for cyclists, distance is not the best parameter, we need to look at the massive elevation to be gained. Starting from Manali, we first climb Rohtang La at 3980 metres above Mean Sea Level, from a paltry 2000 metres of Manali. After descending to Tandi, we once again climb to 4890 metres of Baralacha La, before descending to Sarchu. The climb continues to Nakee La and Lachung La at 4740 metres and 5079 metres respectively. The final big pass before Leh is Tanglang La at 5328 metres. When you reach Leh, it is still not over, as you are left to climb the jewel in the crown, Khardung La. K-Top as it is known amongst enthusiasts sits pretty at 5359 metres. This is one of the highest motorable roads in the world, as the Border Roads Organisation signpost proudly states.

The Leh monastery stands pretty overlooking the city
The Leh monastery stands pretty overlooking the city

The route itself provides excellent vistas. From the greenery covered Himachal, where there is a tree in any direction you look. To the entire section post - Darcha, where the world is brown in every direction you look. Except if it is covered with snow, then it is white in every direction. The people of the place are supremely helpful and have gentle demeanours. They are soft spoken and humble in these harsh terrains. The majority of this route is uninhabited, except in the summer months, where camps spring up to cater to travellers. Ladakh is predominantly Buddhist, and there are plenty of monasteries to visit in the region around Leh. The calming influence of these sacred places is soothing for us urban dwellers.

Cycle: Scott Scale 940
Cycle: Scott Scale 940
Himalayan Ibex, a rare sighting in Ladakh
Himalayan Ibex, a rare sighting in Ladakh

For the adventurer, the road varies drastically. From billiard table smooth asphalt to non-existent roads to tumultuous water crossings. Every time you think you have experienced it all, the land throws up another curve ball. The flat for miles More Plains, is a sight worth beholding as it sits in the bowl of high mountains. The ruggedness of Baralacha La and the campsite of Bharatpur can make or break the spirit of a rider. You are tested with every pedal stroke of the way and rewarded with views that you will never forget for the rest of your life.

Leh Palace lit up at night
Leh Palace lit up at night
Snow covered peaks are just a stone's throw away
Snow covered peaks are just a stone's throw away

There is a reason that Ladakh is popular the world over. Because nothing else on earth can match up to the splendour of what this place has to offer. Stop wondering what the world above all else looks like, and start planning a journey of a lifetime today.

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