One of the feats that I’m a bit jealous of, is of my close friend Omkar Nerurkar. He cycled from Manali to Leh-Ladakh. At the time our group dismissed the idea as being silly and a waste of vacation, but looking back, it’s pretty amazing. Enough of me rambling on, let’s hear it from him.

Omkar, where did you get this idea to do a Manali-Ladakh cycle journey?

I had a friend, Ashish, we both lived in the same housing society. He used to go for night cycling in Mumbai. Back then I asked my father, I am interested in cycling and should I go for these night trips. Since my friend was much elder to me, he convinced my dad to allow me to accompany him. Also, before these trips, I used to cycle to stay fit, in the mornings I would take out my cycle to lap the local area a couple of times.

My first long distance cycle journey was Goa to Mumbai, again on the recommendation of Ashish. I felt like I could not do that trip. I was in eleventh grade and had hectic college hours, from 6 in the morning. Cycling from Thane to CST is one thing, but going from Goa to Mumbai is no piece of cake. I used to wake up at 4:30 and go out to practise. However, when I did attempt this journey, I found it to be relatively easy. Not as hard as I had hyped it to be, and most importantly, I enjoyed the ride. This further motivated me to take on the Manali-Ladakh trip.

You mentioned practising at 4:30 in the morning for the Goa ride, I imagine you must have practised harder for the Manali-Ladakh ride.

For Goa-Mumbai, my practised involved riding around Thane, I used to ride 12 km daily. But for Manali to Ladakh trip, Ashish warned me that this ride is not that easy. The oxygen levels over there are very low. I remember an incident, a pro cyclist, fittest among our group, was a smoker. He stopped smoking 2 years ago and still wasn’t able to complete the journey due to his habit.

Back to the question, for Manali-Ladakh, I increased my daily quota from 12 to at least 20 km. And on the weekend, I used to ride 40-45 km.

45 kilometers? Wow! If I remember, you used to cycle up Yeoor right?

Yes, I didn’t go there for my first ride, however, for this one the uphill climb was really good practise and showed me what to expect in the ghats of the Himalayas.

Highest Cycle Trail

All that practise needs to pay out, right? Let’s move on to how the ride actually panned out.

Well, we were a group of 4 friends who decided to embark on this journey. We travelled from here to Chandigarh via train, spent a few days there sightseeing and then went to Manali via bus. This journey was conducted by an organisation named Youth Hostel Association of India, we reported at their camp and had breakfast and lunch there. In the afternoon, there was a brief intro about the cycles and how to properly change gears and maintenance etc., after which we were assigned our cycles. Each person was given a cycle based on their physical features.

For the next 2 days, we used to climb 10 km up a hill near Manali and come back down. People unable to do this were asked to leave as the climb ahead would be more treacherous. From third day onwards our journey began. We started out from Manali to Rohtang Pass. Rohtang pass was miserably cold.

Of course, this was actually bugging me, what gear did you guys carry? It is going to be cold up there, so did you carry cold weather clothes like thermals?

When cycling, we usually wear a body stick pant, a less than half pant to be precise.

Don’t you feel cold in that?

Rest of the cyclists opted to wear a track pant over them, however, I felt restricted in tracks so I stuck to the shorts. I regretted that at Rohtang. We met a biker on his bullet up in the pass and I placed my both hands on his bike’s silencer but didn’t get burned. To put it in perspective.

During our journey up there, we faced both the extremes at the same time. To our left is the sun giving us warmth, to the right, ice-cold earth. We used to wear inners, over which came a shirt and over that came another cycling jacket.

Clothing is one thing. You must’ve got some good amount of fats and carbs to keep on going in the ghats.

That we did. Every morning we were supposed to have good amount of eggs, potatoes, cheese and kheer. We used to get packed lunches which again contained a good number of calories.

The second day on the trail was the toughest day of the ride. We had to climb 35-40 kilometres continuously. Youth Hostel had permission to set up tents in the military base at the top of the climb where we spent the night. That was the worst day because along with the cold, it rained. We had to make that climb in constant rain. We changed our drenched clothes in the rain, set up tents in the rain and slept while it was raining. Our sleeping bags themselves were wet. Many people were pushed to the breaking point on that day. I almost gave up. I am glad that I pushed on.

Highest Cycle Trail

The trail took you to Khardungla pass as well right? The highest motorable road?

Actually, we went to Tanglang La pass, it’s the second highest motorable road.

And you forgot your wallet up there, didn’t you?

Yes, I had to travel back up there to retrieve it, which was fun.

While climbing Tanglang La, we encountered proper snowfall. We were riding into the wind making it all the more difficult. In between, there was this pass called Baralacha La pass, I climbed all the way to the top of this pass and on reaching the summit I literally let go of my cycle and fell on the ground. I had to spend some time in the ambulance getting checked out by the doctor and was advised not to ride. I didn’t listen to him however and after recovering got back up on my cycle.

By now it was quite clear. Everything we’re going to do on this journey is going to be tough, and we have to do it. No excuses. The one thing that keeps you going is the landscape of the place, the scenery by your side pushes to carry on and not quit. And you cannot do this ride without a group supporting you and encouraging you. If possible have a group of friends with you when you attempt this adventure.

Our last day was very lucky. We had to cycle nearly 30 km downhill. The 3 Idiots road, the one where he says, “Gadi palat,” we passed that spot and cycled over that bridge. When we got to Leh-Ladakh, we even visited Rancho’s school and the lake that’s featured in the movie as well. When we got up there, we had to submit our cycles to the organisation. That officially concluded our ride through the Himalayas.

Did you meet any interesting people on the trail? This trail must be on the bucket list of a lot of people.

A lot of foreigners are interested in this route. We met a Russian couple on the trail. They had sold everything that they owned back home and aimed to cycle all around India. Hauling 25kgs on their cycles, they enjoyed the ride, cycling according to their liking. Some days they would go 70km, some days 10. The people of Leh were very kind and helpful. And I can’t go without mentioning the food. If you get the noodles, you would get these soupy dishes with amazingly long noodles. And one should try the momos up there.

You mentioned the couple hauling their own luggage, did you do the same?

No, actually we had 2 vehicles following us, a truck carrying our luggage and an ambulance to help if anyone got in trouble. On our cycles we carried utilities like a rope, an Allen key, water and everyone carried few dry fruits and chocolates. We also carried camphor for instances when someone’s oxygen level decreased. In between, a lot of people quit as well. We had some people who were attempting this trip for the 2nd or 3rd time.

Do you have any advice for people interested in taking up cycling?

We say that cycling is difficult, I agree. But when you look around and enjoy the nature while you cycle, you don’t realize that you are cycling. You get into a trance. You make new friends on the road and learn new things from them. I met doctors, engineers, CAs from whom I learned a lot. In Mumbai, cycling is crowded, so cycle in the morning when the city is still waking up. Practise makes perfect after all.

You must be planning couple more trips as well right? Surely this was just a milestone in the journey to follow.

I am planning trips, but since I am currently studying its difficult to get permission from my home as along with cycling other things matter as well. I am planning to cycle to my native place Kudal which is in the Konkan area 500 kilometers from Mumbai. That one is going to be a solo ride planned for the coming year. And the friends that I made up in the Himalayas, the ones I shared a tent with, we are planning to do a Mumbai to Delhi journey. That’s a 1500-kilometres ride through the heart of the country.

One thing that I forgot to add. When we reached the Tanglang La pass and realised that after this its all downhill, all of us teared up. All of us reached the summit together, all ten of us. We were so overwhelmed that we started crying and dancing to Zhingat almost instinctively.

Highest Cycle Trail

That was my friend Omkar. The amateur cycle enthusiast that continues to amaze me by his dedication to the act. Hope he does realize his goals for the coming years.