Cycling Our Way In The Himalayas - My Trip To Ladakh

When I was growing up, Ladakh was always like a mystical and faraway place for me. My limited visual memory of this place mostly revolved around high mountain desert, monasteries and yaks. 

By the time I graduated, the internet had picked up in general and we were bombarded with visual and written accounts from the many travelers who were visiting Ladakh and coming back with their respective forms of documentation. Gradually, the blue sky and sand mountains became like an obvious visual memory due to all that amount of data I was seeing on almost a daily basis. And I really don’t know why, my interest in being there too gradually diminished with time.

Earlier this year, a friend of mine told me that he is taking a bunch of cyclists from Manali to Khardungla. He asked me if I would like to join him to film the same. I thought- maybe this is it and it’s time to go finally. 

Day 1: Marhi

We started from Manali on the first day and by the time we gained some altitude, we realized that since Rohtang is the first barrier for clouds, naturally this side is always raining. I realized that every time I have passed Marhi in the past, I have found it raining here. We somehow camped on a wet camping ground and waiting for the next day.

Manali From the Top

Pedal up!

Day 2: Sissu

The cyclists hustled against the first high mountain pass on the trip – Rohtangla and other side was not so wet, thankfully. We reached the most beautiful campsite on the entire expedition at Sissu. Imagine camping beside a huge waterfall, that’s exactly what Sissu was.

Sissu Waterfall

Day 3: Jispa

We moved past Keylong on the way. Keylong is the town where the upcoming tunnel from Manali will meet – thus reducing the way by a couple of days (if you are cycling). We took some wood from the villagers nearby and did a small bonfire. When you sit at a place and absorb things, that’s when memories are made. 

Bonfire

Day 4: Zing Zing Bar

Ever since I heard this name, I was intrigued why would a place have such a name, especially in the middle of mountains. Droje runs a dhaba cum nightsay called Peace Café and he told that the Border Roads Organization people had named it such. Don’t know whether it was true or false. I was feeling a bit ill so I slept at Dorje’s dhaba under a thick blanket. It was the best sleep on the entire trip!

Reaching Zing Zing Bar

Day 5: Sarchu

Jammu and Kashmir starts at Sarchu and Himachal ends. On the way to Sarchu, we could feel the landscape change. The images from Ladakh that we had seen all this while finally started to become real. We were done with half of the expedition by now but things had just started to get exciting.

Welcome to Jammu & Kashmir at Sarchu.

Day 6: Biskynala

Once you leave Sarchu behind, you are treated with the Gata Loops. This is one of the most treacherous climbs specially if you are on a bicycle. It’s like climbing a mountain wall. We reached another strange named place – Biskynala. 

Gata Loops

Night at Biskynala

Day 7: Debring

Debring was different from rest of the places we stayed at. After you cross Pang, the duty patch sets in. We reached Debring a bit early that day and spent our whole evening walking around in the fields. We had not taken a bath since one week and the dust definitely did not help.

Debring was full of dust!

Day 8: Rumtse

We finally saw some vegetation as we approached Rumtse. It had been a week since we last saw any trees and it felt like a welcome back to the civilization as we also saw some properly made houses. I finally took a bath in a stream nearby. The water was cold and numbing but felt so good. 

Vegetation at Rumtse

Day 9: Leh

The phones were back in network and the hotel had WiFi. We had left behind an important journey which definitely did change all of us a bit. Being in the middle of nowhere is one thing and hustling with the cycle along with that is an entirely different one. 

Somewhere near Leh

Day 10: Khardungla

The job was only half done. Last day is by far the most treacherous one because it is a single uphill stretch of 40 kilometers. Never downhill, never plain – always uphill. Adalat Ali, who was a 63 years old cyclist from Hyderabad became my hero that day. It was more than difficult for every cyclist for sure, but given his age, I think he deserved a big thumbs up. He might even be the oldest man to cycle to the top, who knows!

Hats off to this 63 years old gentleman!

I have had the opportunity of travelling to different parts of the country but this was one of the longest trips. At the end we stopped at Khardungla finally to take a breath and rejoice what the cyclists had achieved. I felt fulfilled with what I had got as footage and I knew that I have enough to make a good film.

Finaleh!

Following video captures my Cycling Expedition to Ladakh:

About Author:

Ayush Dinker is a filmmaker based out of New Delhi and owner of the YouTube channel- Ethereal. He loves to make films around human condition using travel as a means to engage in a dialogue with the audience.

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