So, you cycled from Manali to Leh?

Well, Not really. We cycled from Kalath to Whiskey Nala – a distance of 280km – which is about 60% of the Manali-Leh route.

Who is “we”?

Vivek and I were on the bikes. Shabu was our guide helping us fix our bikes and fixing up our meals, but more than anything else, ensuring that we don’t freeze to death. Susheel was driving along and cheering us.

How did you decide to do this?

Vivek and I were going to Coorg with Prats and Addy, and Prats told us a whole lot of stories of her adventures in the mountains. Not sure how bicycles came into the picture, but as soon as they did, both of us got really excited about it. This was on some sort of a bucket list for me, ever since I read Vatsap’s cycling story many years ago. Soon, after we were back in town, the ball was set rolling…

What is the maximum elevation you cycled to?

We started off at around 1.8km and went up to about 5km in a span of 5 days. We also spent a day in Manali, getting our cycles fixed and acclimatizing. You can see the elevation profile here.

How long did the whole ride take?

Our plan was to finish the whole distance in 7 days. We couldn’t get to our designated camp on the 5th day, and had to use the support car to get to camp before it got dark. We decided to end the ride once we took our bikes off the road.

Was it really hard? Why couldn’t you finish the ride?

We expected the primary challenges to be:

But, cold played a much bigger role than we thought it would. As we got higher and higher, it got so cold that we spent a significant amount of energy and brain cycles on trying to fight the cold, rather than enjoying the views or pushing ourselves to keep going despite the non-cold-related discomfort.

So, you do really need a support vehicle?

Not really, if you were riding in better weather or were better prepared. The Manali to Leh route usually has a lot of temporary shops setup during the season, where you could crash, if it was too cold to just crash in your tent. Since, we were going after the season had almost ended, many of these shops were no longer open, and having the support car turned out to be quite useful on the last day.

How much did the support vehicle cost you?

It turned out to be quite an expense for something we originally didn’t have in mind. We spent about 20k on the vehicle, fuel and the driver’s fee. We also paid our guide + cook + bicycle expert, separately.

Did you carry your own bikes?

Yes.

  1. Flew from Bengaluru to Delhi
  2. Took a bus from Delhi to Manali
  3. Carried the bikes on the support car from Whiskey Nala to Leh
  4. Flew back from Leh to Delhi

Did the flights charge you for the bikes?

The carrier (IndiGo) from BLR to DEL charged us a handling fees of Rs. 1000. The carrier (Vistara) on the return journey didn’t.

Would you recommend me to carry my bike?

You could find bikes on rent, both in Manali and Leh, for about 500 to 700 per day. It would cost about 5-7k, based on how you plan your ride, to rent a bike. You’ll have to make arrangements to get the bike returned back to the place you rent it from – this can get a little tricky.

If you already own a bike, and can it packed in a proper box, I would highly recommend that. The derailleurs, the shifters, and other such moving parts need to be well packed and guarded. Use a box or a cycling bag to put it in. Get professional help from a cycle retailer nearby, if required. This is one thing you cannot take any chances on, or your whole trip may be jeopardized!

We hadn’t paid enough attention to packing our bikes, and one of our bikes took quite some beating on the way to Delhi. On the way back, we managed to get the bike packed in a box and it was a breeze.

What cycle spares/tools did you carry?

We were sort of ill prepared in this department. We only had the following:

Based on advice from Shabu, I think you should also take these things:

What sort of preparation did you do for this ride?

We did a handful of 50-100km rides on weekends before this one. The only real elevation training/trial that we did was the Kalhatti climb, one weekend before this ride. This turned out to be pretty useful, and we found all the other climbs during this ride much less steeper than some of the Kalhatti ones.

Can you share your ride plan?

What we actually rode

Day Start End Distance Elevation gain Comments
0 Kalath - - Fix cycles and acclimatize
1 Kalath Marhi 45km 1675m Prepare to cross Rohtang!
2 Marhi Keylong 80km -210m Crossed Rohtang (3970m)
3 Keylong Patseo 48km +644m Easy ride; Deepak Tal!
4 Patseo Sarchu 64km +522m Crossed Baralachala(4902m)!
5 Sarchu Whiskey Nala 48km +465m Gata loops & Nakeela(4924m)

Original plan

Day Start End Distance Elevation gain Comments
5 Sarchu Pang 73km +225m Gata-loops, Nakeela(4924m) & Lachung La(5065m)
6 Pang Lato 103km -530m Moore Plains, Tanglang La (5328m)
7 Lato Leh 70km -600m Lots of downhill!

What was a typical day during the trip, like?

What was the most enjoyable part of the ride?

What was the most challenging part of the ride?

The cold. (See, the answer on why we didn’t finish the ride).

You keep saying it was cold, how cold was it really?

On the night we camped at Sarchu, the water in our bottles and unwashed cups had frozen. We had gone to sub zero temperatures on many nights, it looks like. The winds during the day were quite chilly, and got worse as we gained altitude.

Did you meet any interesting people en-route?

We probably would’ve talked to a lot more people, and met a lot more interesting people, if we were there in better weather and didn’t have a support vehicle taking care of us. Next time!

Would you do this again?

May be. We feel like we got a taste of the challenge of the ride, and the rest of the route wouldn’t be anymore challenging than what we already saw, if we did it in better weather. But, the better weather would also mean more traffic and noise on the road.

If yes, which part of the year would you do it?

Late August to mid-September might be a better time. We’d also need to look out for rains and land-slides, though.

If not, what other routes would you try?

Do you have any pictures that you can share?

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You can find some pictures and videos here. The album also includes some pictures from our practice rides.