MANALI TO LEH ON A BICYCLE - ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW

Tapan Jindal and Nikhil Jindal, two brothers joined by 9 friends from all over the country (Bangalore, Pune, Mumbai, Lonavla, Guwahati and Delhi) take the ride from Manali-Leh on their bicycles. 
 

Both of us originate from what we call the "Manchester of India, Ludhiana." Tapan is settled in Delhi after his CA while Nikhil decided to become a first generation entrepreneur in Ludhiana itself, after completing his MBA from Australia. - Tapan Jindal
 

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About the authors 

TAPAN JINDAL

 

Tapan is a chartered accountant currently working with CarDekho.com, the largest auto-portal in India in Delhi NCR says that he is very new to the cycling world.

"My first experience with cycling was a cycling event named Saksham Pedal Delhi in November 2017, an initiative by Petroleum Conservation Research Association (PCRA). Since then I have been regularly pedaling in Delhi covering about 100 kilometers every week. A lot of my friends suggested that I buy a Giant or Scott Cycle but being familiar with Decathlon, I decided on Btwin and purchased the Rockrider 560, my first bicycle. 

From my previous trip to the Manali-Leh highway (on a car, ofcourse) I've met 60-year old cyclists doing the Srinagar-Leh stretch on a bike. I've always wanted to do the same since then.

 

NIKHIL JINDAL
 

Nikhil has done his masters in finance from Australia and currently running his own business of Hosiery and Embroidery in Ludhiana.

"My love for cycling goes back to 2015 when I bought my first bike – Btwin 7.0 – from Decathlon Ludhiana and upgraded to Rockrider 8.0 in 2016. 
I decided to upgrade again this year to the Rockrider 560 because it is 10x2 compared to my previous bike which was 9x3.

In December 2017, I started thinking of doing the Manali-Leh stretch. To test myself, I first did Kalka to Kasauli and Nangal to Naina Devi via Bhakhra Dam. The reason why we love cycling is very simple – it keeps us healthy and focused towards fitness. People normally think that cycling does not help in weight loss. However, I have lost around 5 kgs in 6 months with cycling being the only fitness activity."
 

What is the route?

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We decided to get Leh’d via Manali-Leh highway (National Highway 3). Manali to Leh highway (NH3), a 480km long journey, is a pilgrimage for two-wheel riders – either bikers or cyclists. On one side it is one of the world’s most extreme roads trips and on the other side, it is also one of the most spectacular and scenic drives in the world. 

We started from Manali and passing through Rohtang Pass (Known as Valley of Death), Sissu (a small place where one end of Rohtang Tunnel will open to ensure the route can be accessed throughout the year against only 4-5 months nowadays), Tandi (a place where Chandra River meets Bhaga River to form Chenab, and a place that has a sign board saying Next Gas/Petrol/Diesel station is 365 kilometers ahead), Keylong (a place which serves as administrative centre of the Lahaul and Spiti district of Himachal Pradesh), Zing-Zing Bar via Deepak Tal (ZZ Bar serves a windy campsite for cyclists and from there one can feel the gradual change in the landscape with green valleys started disappearing and dry mountains raising their heads) Suraj-Taal (3rd highest lake in India, and the 21st-highest in the world), Baralacha Pass (at height of 16043 feet above sea level), Sarchu (perhaps the most beautiful place for campsites either for cyclists or bikers or cars going towards Leh; Sarchu is also the border of Himachal and Jammu & Kashmir), Gata Loops and Nakeela Pass (Gata loops is basically 7 kilometer stretch where one crosses 21 hair pins and reaches Nakeela Pass), Whisky Nala (where you won’t find any whisky ☺), Pang (a place where you can find gigantic sand dunes with no signs of any greenery), Morey Plains (a flat landscape of miles of grassland and hanging clouds , and arguably the most beautiful, unique and stunning landscape on this route), and Tang-lang La (amongst in the top five list of highest motorable roads in the world, 17480 feet above sea level), we reached Leh, The second largest district of India. Off the 480 kilometers one covers from Manali to Leh, about 380 kilometers have no civilization.

Distance?

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Total 480 Kilometers from Manali to Leh Main Market via National Highway 3.

What is that one special thing about this route?

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This route is like a pilgrimage for two-wheel riders. There is hardly anything which nature offers and is not present on this route; be it barren and brown mountains or snow-capped mountains. The green meadows, roads somewhere rugged somewhere plain, rocky passes, hard or extreme weather conditions, the enchanting valleys, cold deserts, forests, adventure, thrill, rivers, high altitude lakes, waterfalls, streams on roads, sand dunes. Every few kilometers you see the natural elements changing and what not.

What is the Terrain like?

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About the road – B.R.O has done an awesome job. A big salute to them. Of 480 kilometers distance in mountains with high altitude passes, you won’t find rough/very bad roads for more than 60-70 kilometers in total.

At this juncture, we must mention that the roads undergo a lot of wear and tear through the year due to landslides, torrential rain and heavy-duty snowfall. Thanks to the BRO that keeps them in good shape so that when the route is opened for all, you have a safe ride all along. It is only once you hit the highway, the respect for BRO will increase manifold because you would be able to understand the treacherous conditions the team works in to get the road ready for us all!

What is the landscape like?

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Covered above. I have more than 500 wallpapers in my phone from this epic journey. One can find the mountains and landscapes which he/she has seen in postcards or countless Bollywood movies.

From the lush green forests, picturesque villages, snow-clad mountains, intimidating deep chasms, meandering Chandra Bhaga river at Tandi; wall of snow at least 8 to 10 feet high along the road-side at Rohtang La and Barlach La to the barren Moore Plains where there’s not a blade of grass in sight and the marvelous Gatta Loop, you will be witness to some of the most enthralling views along the Manali-Leh highway. We bet you will not want to close your eyes even for a second because it is a blink-and-you-miss landscape! 
 

What are the temperatures, weather, which season is the best to go riding?

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The cycling route is open only for a few months, primarily from Late May/Early June to Mid September. The temperature varies drastically. We started our journey from Manali when the temperature was around 27-28 degrees and just covering 30 kilometers we found ourselves in temperatures ranging below 10 degrees. Nights are generally windy and cold. We witnessed a 2-minute snowfall at Sarchu campsite. During the day, it’s hot as the sun is very close to these high mountains. There were heavy rains for the first 2 days of our journey

What is the culture like?

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Culture is human-friendly. At most of the places, you will find Prayer places of all religion under one roof. Any human being believing in any religion can go to that one place and complete his prayers. People are friendly and helpful. I must put here an incident from Ms. Sonam Pangri, from Pang. We spent about 5-6 hours in the Dhaba after I was found short of oxygen level along with one more friend. We enjoyed about 15 lemon teas and had some maggies and omelets. When we tried paying her she first refused to take money saying, you guys get well soon and that’s the reward for her. Later, when we forced her to accept money she refused to accept the fact that we had 15 lemon teas and settled for 12 only. We were touched. Where in urban areas or metro cities, will we find this kind of people who refuse to take money for selling goods even when they know that their business season is only for 4-5 months in the entire year. I don’t think we need any better example than that for understanding the culture in the mountains. 

What about safety - something to look out for?

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The roads are safe with lots of respect for cyclists by the travelers traveling via motorbikes, cars or buses. I don’t remember if we locked our bicycles even for a single time during the epic journey over 10 days. Roads are good, but one needs to be extremely careful till Rohtang pass because of heavy traffic. After Rohtang Pass, traffic reduced drastically. Mountain people are very honest and one can feel safe as one feels in his/her own home. Even at the Dhabas on the road, you are not worried about any kind of theft incidents. 

But one must carry proper gear for safety purposes. One thing everyone misses and no packing list covers are rubber gloves (which decathlon must keep in their stores). Rubber gloves act as waterproof gloves during rains. We normally carry rain gear in form of jackets and trousers and hands get numb and get frozen during rains. So having rubber gloves will help you avoid unwanted cold on your hands during the journey.

Describe your personal experience on this route? 

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The sheer joy of riding a bicycle up to an altitude of 17-18k feet above sea level was a memorable experience. Mountains were sometimes red, sometimes black, sometimes green, sometimes white, sometimes brown, they were all there. It was perhaps the first time that my phone was in “Camera” only mode for 7 days; it could not get better than that. Time freezes if you are in your own zone. It's a journey that you cover and never finish, instead you leave a part of you there on the route - at the windy campsites surrounded by rocky mountains and flat grassland, on the dinner table on the top of mountains under the open sky, or nature walk in any direction from your campsites, in front of heart-shaped waterfalls in Sissu. Nights spent in sleeping bags in small tents, some steep hairpins, or at the bridges crossing rivers or at the high altitude passes or the star-filled sky and full light moon which we never see in metro cities and lock up its beauty in your memory so that you can revisit it every time your busy life takes over, at least till you plan to come back, which I certainly am.

Any funny or memorable incident?

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It would be cheating if I say any part of the journey was not memorable. We had lots of fun for 10 days since our beginning from Manali. A trip to Leh is not just about the destination but it is the whole journey that makes it memorable. 

What better way than to celebrate your b’day in Leh and Riding your R560 to Shanti Stupa, a place built for world peace. (I, TJ, celebrated my 36th B’day in Leh).

There maybe a shortage of oxygen on this route, but you will surely find Maggi, made in its inimitable, delicious way. One thing I can never forget from this trip is a simple learning – no matter what you do, somewhere someone is working harder than you. We met a guy named Vikram from Bangalore. He was running all the way from Manali to Leh and was supposed to complete his race/journey in 120 hours. Can you just imagine it – 480 kilometers in the mountains in 120 hours. Hell, it is. I used to think before meeting him that we are doing something great covering Manali-Leh on a bicycle. But seeing efforts of Vikram, I realised that my efforts were tiny in front of his. 

Tell us about the bicycle and gear that you used.  

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We both used the Rockrider 560 and it turned out to be the ride of our life. Only one word can describe the entire story – Awesome. Tapan bought R560 as his first cycle on the recommendation of Jatinder from Decathlon. Nikhil was using R8.0 earlier and upgraded to R560 after Tapan asked him to do so.

Be it high rocky passes, headwinds, rugged roads, roads with flowing water streams, R560 did an amazing job easily and the bike was our best friend on the route. Thanks to R560, the ride turned out to be the ride of our life.

What is your chief take back, learning’s from this ride? 

Overall, the experiences we all gained during the 10 days of the epic journey are immemorial. The entire duration of the journey is like a test of stamina, endurance and mental strength. We faced lonely long roads, raging winds, high altitude sky touching passes, whether that can chill you to the bones, rain, a mini snowfall and the scorching sun. But what made all this bearable and absolutely worth it was the changing landscape of towering mountains. Every mountain makes you feel that you are just a little creation in the scheme of things of the world. This epic journey and the rugged roads who led me to fulfill my dream taught some important lessons in life.

- No matter what the conditions are, the roads continue their journey and do not stop for anyone.

- If we experience the life by stepping out of our comfort zones, only then we realize;
a) the luxuries that we have in metrotown.
b) the wonderful life we are leading. 

We live the moment and it’s gone. All that is left becomes the story or an experience. Manali-Leh bicycling was a different experience all together in which I realized sometimes leaving behind luxury and technology and enjoying a simple trip in the lap of nature is more fruitful.
 

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