Foot on the ground, braking is not necessary, taking a deep breath of air is. It seems like we are going uphill forever. It isn’t steep but our legs can’t go as fast as I want to go. Marlous comes standing next to me. I can hear her coughing more each time we stop….again she coughs. ” Lous it isn’t important!”
“We don’t have to cycle everything.”
“It’s just a pass as all he others…..”
Well that’s not entirely true. We are cycling in the Indian Himalayas on the second highest pass of the world. The high route from Manali to Leh is a popular one among travellers. Every year more cyclists try to conquer the mountains and the lack of oxygen to reach Leh.
“Arnold is already outside trying to arrange coffee” , Marlous is telling me and I try to wake up. Today we start our trip which will lead us through high passes to Ladakh. The first pass on the route is the Rotang La, known for its changeable weather and it will be a steep climb from Manali. Today we are hoping to reach the other side of the mountain together with our colleague cyclist Arnold. After this we will wave Arnold goodbye, because he turns right into the Spiti Valley and we will turn left towards Leh.
We start our ascent immediately and the views are getting better straight away. The weather is great, the nature is beautiful and our company of Arnold is special. Water is dripping down from everywhere and sometimes the road has been damaged by landslides. It´s a nice small road and we are looking at the white tops of the mountains and a very green valley. After some hot noodles we feel our bodies are getting tired and when we look at the time we decide to stop cycling for today.
A man from the village points us to a place where we can pitch our tents. This is a beautiful place for the tents, with amazing views of the valley. As soon as we see a cyclist we jump up from the grass and start shouting: “Milan! Nanda!” Arnold received a message on his website from a Dutch couple who where planning to cycle to the top as well on the same day. ” That’s great, there they are!” says Arnold happy. We wait for the cyclists in the village and we cheer for them when they are almost there. A confused Australian guy is staring at us strangely . Together with a Swiss couple he started cycling today as well. He hasn’t seen Nanda nor Milan. We spend the night with four tents on the beautiful spot halfway up to the Rhotang La.
Arnold, Marlous and I leave early today to conquer the Rhotang La. There is more mud on the road and we feel it’s getting more difficult to breathe. The last curve brings us to a small plain where a few dhabas are situated. These little restaurants inside a typical white tent are the perfect stops to catch your breath and treat yourself on something warm to eat. We are at the top after we made some pictures we start our descent. The road looks endless with all the curves it has. There are many bumps and potholes so we go slowly and have to be careful.
Earlier than we expected we arrive at the crossing point with the road to Spiti Valley. Here we have to say goodbye to Arnold. It was great cycling together and Arnold was good company. After a cup of coffee and a big hug for Arnold Marlous and I move on. While we are in the valley we want to continue and make some kilometers. We cycle along a river and after a while we arrive at a little café where we can put up our tent. The locals are watching us while they are playing cards.
The whole night we listen to the drops falling down on our tent. As soon as we leave the tent we see the sky is breaking slowly above us. At the other side we see dark, grey clouds hanging above the Rotang La. The entire day it’s very quiet on the road from the direction of Manali. At the end of the day we hear it has been very bad weather on the pass, so bad it was closed for traffic. It starts raining again and the temperature drops. We pitch our tent on a small field of a farmer.
Again the night is wet and cold and in the morning a cool wind appears. I make breakfast outside and soon I am surrounded by some curious families. We give them some figs and raisins and together we eat. After a big handshake with the smiling farmer we leave in the direction of the second pass, the Baralacha La. Sometimes the road is amazingly good, while other parts are still under construction. They are busy everywhere with the road, but will it be finished one day? We aren’t sure. Today we go uphill all day and I’m having a bit of a hard time. My body tells me to go slower now there’s less oxygen. We are going above the 4000 meter and the coming days we won’t go below it.
Normally we go uphill more easily but here, at this altitude, the same hill is more difficult to cycle. Besides the heavy feeling in the legs we are doing fine with the altitude. We don’t have a headache, we don’t feel nauseas and we don’t talk about silly things to each other. We are very happy with it because one high altitude disease is more than enough. (have a look at Tibet)
The higher we get the more the wind starts blowing. We expect a dhaba half way to the dhaba but we are told to cycle 6 kilometers further for a cup of tea. Finally we arrive at the dhaba where we enjoy a big bowl of hot noodles. After this we push through to the top. It’s getting very cold and we change our short pants for longer ones. We arrive at the top in our rain suits after cycling the last part trough a fog and showers. We built our own stone man at the top like other ones did before for good luck and then we roll down to the valley.
After six kilometers we arrive at a tent camp where we warm ourselves in front of a fire. We find a beautiful place for the tent where we fall in a deep sleep.
Manali (2500m) – Marhli (3300m): 36km;
Marhli – Rhotang Pass (3978m) – Khangsar (3270m): 60km;
Khangsar – 10km before Patsio (3628m): 62km;
Patsio – ssleeping at 4622m 6km after the Baralacha Pass (4830m): 42km