In early August I headed for Delhi to start what would turn out to be the hardest adventure I’ve ever done on a bike. Or rather, the hardest adventure I’ve ever done.
The road from Manali and Leh cuts a path through the Indian Himalayas starting in the green hills of Himachal Pradesh and ending up high on the lunar landscape of the Tibetan Plateau of Ladakh. In winter the road is closed due to snow. In summer cargo trucks, oil tankers, tourist jeeps, Royal Enfield motorbikes, convoys of Indian Army trucks and a few nutty cyclists on mountain bikes travel the official distance of 479 km over 4 mountain passes (heights between 3946m and 5350m).
The trip was extreme. Physical and mental highs and lows, from monsoon rain to scorching 36 degree heat, and air so thin it leaves you breathless just getting out of a tent let alone cycling at 5000meters, but the most incredible landscapes, blue skies and night skies as a reward.
It’s hard to convey the scale of the landscape which is VAST. Many of the photographs contain dots in the distance – cyclists or trucks swallowed up by their epic surroundings, but here are a selection of photographs from the trip starting at Delhi train station, up to Manali where we began our ride, and onwards to Leh in Ladakh.
Delhi train station – train to Chandigarh
2 days of driving later, our first acclimatization ride around Manali. Little did we know this would be the first and last time we’d have a dry ride (and dry feet) for 5 days.
Starting the ride, leaving Manali for a two day climb of the Rohtang La pass (3946m).
Descending the Rohtang La – the tarmac ran out leaving kilometers of bone shaking rough road and mud. Green and lush Himachal Pradesh.
One of the things it’s hard to convey was the dust on the rough road sections. I soon learnt that taking a deep breath and holding it while a diesel truck passed belching out fumes and kicking up a dust storm, was a really bad idea. When you can’t get enough breath at 4000m as it is, holding it leaves you close to fainting.
The mess tent
Our camp at night
These guys were also on their way to Leh to see the Dalai Lama who was flying in to Leh in a day or two.
Still raining…but then we weren’t over the pass yet. A long morning climbing the Baralacha pass at 4933m – the main crossing of the Great Himalayan Range.
SUN! Finally!! True to our leader’s word in 20 minutes everything changed – we crossed the pass, the landscape changed, the weather changed.
Room with a view – the view from my tent
The beginning of our longest day – 32km flat(ish) road to the bottom of the Gata Loops then 21 hairpin bends up over 9.4km then another 9.5km to the top of the first pass of the day at 4948m
Finishing the day with a 17km descent through a canyon.
The Mori Plains
Walking back towards camp.
Another room with a view. Camping can be uncomfortable, grubby, and a right old faff packing and unpacking, but there are some beautiful upsides like the sound of the wind, the streams or rivers we camped by, the night skies and the morning light, bed tea and a cheery ‘good morning!’ brought to our tents by Nemo each morning. Simple living makes me very happy.
My bike adorned with prayer flags for safe travels.
At the top of the Taglang pass – the highest pass on the road to Leh at 5350m, followed by a fully tarmac smooth beautiful 25km descent
Our final day riding into Leh via the Thikse Monastery.
I first visited Leh 14 years ago and had a chance to reshoot a familiar shot that once made it onto the front cover of a guidebook.