Hemant Albert Soreng
Somewhere, Everywhere, Anywhere

Hi, I'm more of a story teller of my various travels and experiences. This blog is an account of my adventures so far. Hope you enjoy reading it and in a way travel with me...

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Cycling Exploring Travel

Khardung La joyride: Cycling at 5600 m

By on August 5, 2011

Well, its hardly a joyride.  If you are sitting in a packed SUV!! If you are cycling!! Either way, esp. if you are  going up from Leh (3524 m/11,562 ft) to Khardung La pass (5602m/18,375 ft), the highest motorable road in the world.

Well, I cycled.

Crazy !!

P. J. O’Rourke would’ve thought just that when he once said,

“Mankind has invested more than four million years of evolution in the attempt to avoid physical exertion. Bicycle riders would have us throw all this on the ash heap of history.”

Many adventure cycle fanatics from all around the world actually come to Ladakh (and many bring their own bikes) to do just that. They cycle gruelingly upto the top, Khardung La pass and then speed downhill back to Leh.

Well, since I had just climbed the daunting Stok Kangri peak standing 6137 m tall, couple of days ago, (which as you can calculate is higher than Khardung La), I thought why climb again and that too with a mechanical aid, read a bicycle.

So I rode downhill. (Though I was so tempted to put it down as “cycling uphill”. Which by the way, I saw folks doing.)

It all began after the successful Stok Kangri expedition, we had few extra days at Leh, before heading back to Bangalore. The first free day Aravind and George had decided to sign up for the downhill cycle ride. Now both of them are good bikers and sworn MTBers. (MTB – Mountain Bike). It looked tempting. After all, I too am a cycling enthusiast. But I am more of a roadie (road bike enthusiast). So, I decided to go for the white water river rafting on Zanskar, instead.

However, as a typical Libran, that I am, indecisive to the core, I changed my mind at the last moment decided to join them.

We reached the “bike shop” at 9 a.m. to be welcomed by a sea of MTBs of different colors (and frames) waiting for us bikers to ride them down. Trek and Merida brands dominated these MTBs. While Aravind and George chose Trek 3700, I went with a Merida after trying out many Treks.

Then began the long wait as many bikers (some 20 odd) turned up and tested their respective bikes. These were riders from different nationalities – Israel, Switzerland, Canada, France, Australia……

The plan was simple. We and the bikes would be driven up to the pass (it will take 2 hours to cover the distance of 40 km from Leh to Khardungla) and then we and the machine (the bike) would roll down back to Leh. Cycle mechanics would be accompanying with spare bikes, puncture kits etc. in case of any breakdowns.

We waited for two hours as the bikes were packed in the mini trucks.

When the wait ended we were packed into the SUVs, actually an euphemism for the vehicle we were in. There were 9 of us in that vehicle.

We soon began our uncomfortable suffocating bumpy ride.

And right at the first stop, after half an hour, George and Aravind moved to other relatively lesser packed vehicles.

Next one and a half hour to the top was better. However, still not so good for someone who hates these diesel fumed gut wrenching rides on the mountains. However, the breathtaking views along the way compensated for the breath-stopping ride in the packed vehicle. With breaks in between for the bladder easing ritual and for capturing the amazing scenery views, we finally reached Khardung La.

George and Aravind reached a bit later as their respective “SUVs” had broken down. Apparently, the vehicle in which George was traveling was eventually fixed and driven up by a “crazy” Australian rider. So George already had an early dose of adrenaline.

I tried to make do with a large dose of maggi soup instead, at the “highest cafeteria” in the world.

(Anything you do here could be conveniently prefixed with “highest”.)

 

After the snaps with our bikes at the “highest” point we we were on our way down, the last ones to leave the top as other bikers had already sped down sometime back.

And boy, did we speed down too, as we overtook many of them on our way down. We rode in pelotons. We rode solo. As we looked down the road we saw riders cycling down in pelotons a la Tour de France.

The climb upto Khardung La was so steep now that we realized cycling down that more than pedaling, the skill was required to keep the balance, using the right mix of gears at various point downhill.

As we sped down, I saw the two MTBers come out in their true elements and they maneuvered the MTBs with great skill. While Aravind was the fastest, George was definitely the brashest as he took steepest of shortcuts in many a undiscovered dirt trails. I, the roadie, just followed them experiencing this cold high altitude ride laden with unending captivating mountain panorama all around.

Mid-way in our ride to Leh, we met some folks from our expedition group riding up towards Khardung La in motorcycles. Motorcycling is another popular activity here in Ladakh and towards Khardung La as well. (Please ensure that you have permits to go to Khardung La, as our friends in mobikes discovered a bit late in the day.)

It took us around two hours (with enough “rest” breaks) to reach Leh. The fastest rider that day covered the distance in just 55 min. Well it was no race….it was just pure adrenaline.

This was an amazing journey (this time a ride) in Ladakh…cycling down Khardung La…a must do for everyone visiting Ladakh…a must do for all bikers…!!

As I write this post I am reminded of “Dynamic Equilibrium” I learned in school Physics, which again reminds me of my genius (middle) namesake, Albert Einstein, who once said,

“Life is like riding a bicycle – in order to keep your balance, you must keep moving.”

So true. Isn’t it??

So, fellow bikers, keep on riding…and life will be one hell of a joyride!!

And in Ladakh, it will be accompanied with pure adrenaline!!

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17 Comments
  1. Reply

    Aravind

    August 7, 2011

    Simply my best bike ride Hemant…. well recollected.. :)

    • Reply

      Hemant Soreng

      August 8, 2011

      My best ride too, Aravind….hope to do the long ride on ECR, once I come back from Paris, with Akash, Sunand et al. U are game, right?

  2. Reply

    Babal

    August 8, 2011

    you are truly on a high…..literally and figuratively!!!!…..Keep on doing what your heart desires,,,,Love yor writing…great depth!!!

    • Reply

      Hemant Soreng

      August 8, 2011

      Thanks bro…hope to do the long distance on cycle as you have been doing…hope to read your updates on cyclothons…

  3. Reply

    Aravind

    August 8, 2011

    Ofcourse i’m in.. Sunand was telling me only yesterday.. come back soon.. wen r u btw?

  4. Reply

    Nirmit

    February 19, 2012

    Hello !
    Awesome description of your journey !
    Can you tell me what’s the rent of bike ?

    • Reply

      Hemant Soreng

      February 20, 2012

      Hi – thanks. The rent of the bike was Rs. 800, if I remember correctly.

  5. Reply

    Ratnaksha

    March 9, 2012

    Hi, I am planning to go both ways by MTB to KhardungLa this late May after I do the Markha Valley trek…I would have a couple of spare days. Do I need to get a permit to go up or what. I am gonna be going solo as I don’t really have a group to accompany me….So do you think I should have a mechanic too with me or a support vehicle with me. Btw I am 19yrs old and have experience with MTB in and around Leh cause I did around 60kms last May when I visited with my family. So do you think its dangerous alone or its not a problem. I really wanna do it this time round!

    • Reply

      Hemant Soreng

      March 9, 2012

      Hi – Going uphill is a really tough ask…if you have been there before you know how steep the climb is continuously for some 40-50 km. So think about it whether you want to ride uphill. Yes, you would need a permit to go to Khardungla, everybody does. I rode downhill with a group and we had support vehicles and mechanics along with us.
      If you are really keen…join a group which is riding uphill and go with them…and yes ensure that there is a support vehicle with mechanic in it.
      cheers

      • Reply

        Ratnaksha

        March 17, 2012

        Thanks. Where does one get the inner line permit? I hope its not a hassle cause its difficult managing things alone. Also having a mechanic and a support vehicle could be pretty expensive don’t you think?(not spending my money here :p) It would be risky not having a mechanic or a vehicle right? But yeah uphill is the real deal. I am up for a good challenge(after my IIT-JEE..Goddamn!) and quite some fun…ALONE :)

        • Reply

          Hemant Soreng

          March 18, 2012

          you should ask shop where you will rent the bike to get it for you. Remember it takes at least one day to get a permit…so plan accordingly.

  6. Reply

    Rohit

    April 20, 2012

    Whick bike did you find better, Trek or Marida fo these roads?

    • Reply

      Hemant Soreng

      April 20, 2012

      Liked Merida better…but depends on the condition of the bikes …arrive at the shop early before others to choose the best bike…

  7. Reply

    ankur

    September 8, 2015

    Dear Blogger, where can one hire bicycles in khardungla pass to go to leh. If you can suggest name and numbers it will be great..

    rgds

    • Reply

      Hemant Soreng

      October 26, 2015

      Hi Ankur – you could hire it in Leh.

  8. Reply

    Zarir

    October 25, 2016

    Hi Hemant, am planning to be in Leh from 4/11 upto 7/11. Planning the ride downhill from Khardung. will the cycling tours be on and can you share me their numbers if possible for me to book the trip from here.

    • Reply

      Hemant Soreng

      December 7, 2016

      Sorry. looking at your message now. If you are in Leh you will find it in the main market.

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