“Somewhere between the bottom of the climb and the summit is the answer to the mystery why we climb.”
The famous Leh to Manali highway was a wonderful 500km ride which combined tough high altitude cycling with beautiful Himalayan camping. This ten day adventure took us over five very high passes (including the second highest pass in the world) and led us out of the arid Himalayas and into the green foothills below. Best of all, since this route is so popular amongst world touring cyclists, we met nearly a dozen tourers just like us.
We took it easy during the first two days before climbing our first pass, which, at 5,300m, claims to be the second tallest pass in the world. Though the road was paved (a novelty amongst these passes) on the way up, it still proved to be a slow all-day accent with a very bumpy way down. From there, we entered into a wonderful valley where we passed through many nomad camps.
Since I had cycled the first and third highest passes in the world last year, completing the second means I have now completed the top three! (Though to be honest there are higher passes in Tibet, India just claims these top spots for the amount of tourist dollars it brings in. Never the less, at over 5,000m, they were very high passes.)
Before the pass there were a few scattered villages with typical Ladakhi style homes though nearly all the inhabitants were in Leh for Kalachakra.
After the pass the nomads set up tent-yurts for the summer where their herds of hundreds of sheep and goats could graze.
Since we had met up with an Irish cyclist two days before (a traveler who began touring ten years ago with an eight month tour through Eastern Europe and has since toured for two months every year during his summer holidays from teaching), we followed him seven kilometers off the highway on a dirt jeep track which lead us to a beautiful salt lake and wonderful camping. It was so great in fact that we spent two nights there in which time we met up and spent the day with a lovely Spanish cyclist who has been cycling for the past fourteen months from Spain. We briefly met two Irish cyclists as well who were doing a short tour on a motorbike to change it up, as well as a Belgium tourer who has been touring on and off for the past twenty years. I wasn’t kidding when I said this is a popular cycling route!
Though I took some great photos of the salt lake and of our stunning camping spot during the day I managed to delete them all in a very stupid move on my part. Luckily, I got to redeem myself at sunset.
After a relaxing day at the lake we headed off through a short section of the plains before we headed up and over two more passes the next day.
Thankfully these passes were easier, though not too easy as the roads were rough and we had a head wind.
Nothing like a bunch of switch backs…
After briefly chatting with two women from New Zealand on a one month bike tour we met up with a Spanish couple we had met four months ago in Nepal, a couple who has been cycling around the world for over seven years. Meeting up with all of these two wheeled friends has definitely been a highlight of this highway and has shown me how large the cycling community truly is.
Because everyone (150,000 people or something rediculous) from Kalachakra (a Tibetan Buddhist ritual) made their way down the highway at the same time we were, we got many shout-outs from passing Tibetans of “free Tibet,” and even a few who stopped to thank us for carrying their flag.