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North West India: Catching our breath on the Leh – Manali Highway

Updated: Apr 27, 2020


Arriving in Leh

After a short stopover in Delhi we arrived in Leh, Ladakah, on 24. August 2019. We fell in love with this town immediately! We met lovely people at the @mettacafeleh and had the best coffee in a long time. They say they run the worlds highest Marzocco Coffee Machine, which we consider as true fact unless someone tells us otherwise. On the second day we joined an Italian couple on a day trip to visit some monestaries. We've seen a lot of Buddhists monestaries in Thailand in the past, but here in the Himalayas it was definitely something different.

In the following days we did some acclimatization rides (incl. the mighty Khardung La at 5359, click here to read about it) and hikes before we headed out along Indus river and towards Manali. We couldn’t wait to discover more of this magical region!


Leh to Rumtse in three days // total 83 km & 1240 m elev. gain

Before we left Leh we made a plan for the first stretch of roughly one week. We all know that plans on the bike are guidelines at best and so instead of arriving at Rumtse on day one, we needed three days to get there: Sara was still suffering a bit from a cold and the weather wasn't ideal either. Maybe it would have been better to stay a little longer in Leh (it was hard to leave anyway), but we wanted to finally start this trip on this legendary 'highway'.

Arriving in Rumtse also meant arriving on 4000m asl. A height we had to get used to for the upcoming weeks.


Rumtse to Pang via Taglang La (5330) // 98 km & 1400 m elev. gain

In Leh (3500m asl) we had climbed to 5300m asl without luggage, so we thought we knew what to expect from the Leh-Manali Highway (490 km), which takes you over 4 passes at 4900m asl and more. But doing so with all the bags was definitely something different. The first one to conquer was Tanglang La (5328m asl). Luckily the roads in India are not really steep, but riding a 3-5% road with under 10km/h is somehow... ridiculous?! Still, we made it to the top and were greeted by @akhilplw He offered to take photos of us (thank you so much for that, it's basicaly the only pictures of the two of us we have from this trip!) and after chatting for a while we said goodbye and prepared ourselves for a long downhill. Descending on the other side was pure fun, good tarmac and open views allowed to gain a good speed. After having the obligatory 'veg Maggie' at a dhaba in Debring we headed into a relatively flat section called the 'More Plains'. Sounds easy but strong head wind made it quite an effort. (Thanks for the warning, @patlanchasumit). We arrived in Pang (4560m asl) just before sunset and found a nice place to sleep in a roadside dhaba run by a lovely elderly couple. The next day we would leave the state of Ladakh behind us and enter the state of Himachal Pradesh.


Pang to Sarchu via Lachlung La (5059) & Nakee La (4930) // 77 km & 1140 m elev. gain

Once again this ride would bring us to a pass thatis over 5000m high. It’s so crazy to think about that fact that you’re riding your bike on a road that is higher than the highest peak in the Alps. Sitting in your saddle and looking down at the people standing on Mont Blanc, you get the picture!

Sara had some problems with the elevation the evening before (headache, slightly low oxygen saturation) so we opted for a rather late start. The part after Pang was one oft the absolute highlights, mind blowing stone formations, crystal clear streams, fresh tarmac and no traffic at all. It was like riding in a dream. After an endless descent from Nakee La via the famous 28 harpins called Gatta Loops we arrived in a peaceful valley, perfect to set up camp, but Andreas didn’t feel like wild camping and so we rode on to Sarchu. To our disapointment Sarchu wasn’t more than a few bad looking shaks and so we pitched our tent next to a military check-point. Maybe the valley right after the pass would have been the better option.


Sarchu to Jispa via Baralacha La (4890) // 85 km & 982 m elev. gain

I (Andreas) felt sorry, but I was just not feeling like talking to anyone when this solo cyclist from Spain appeared on the slopes of Baralacha La. It was our third long day at high altitude in a row and I was feeling totally powerless. The rescue came in the form of a large portion of fried rice a litte further up the road in a dhaba shortly before a truck full of army officers showed up and wouldn't stop taking selfies with us. I hadn't eaten enough in the morning despite years of cycling experience and knowing that a nurishing breakfast is crucial. Struggling uphill made it quite difficult to admire the sceneries along the way that once again were simply breathtaking. And they really were!


Jispa to Keylong // 22 km & 260 m elev. gain

Since we had started in Leh every cyclist we met told us that there was another Swiss couple riding in front of us. Distance varied but it seemed like we got closer and would catch up sooner or later. It finally happened in Jispa. Turned out Bea and Pit slept in a hotel only a few meters from ours and left in the morning at the same time we did. They were quite surprised when we shouted at them in Swiss German not knowing we had sort of followed them for days now. It was a big hello and we agreed to meet for dinner to share our stories. To our big surprise we found two other cyclists when we arrived in Keylong, Klaus and Martin from Germany. We all managed to stay in the same guesthouse and spent a lovely evening together. So far this has been the only evening we spent with other cyclists and we totally loved it. Cycling in North India isn't the same as for example on the Pamir Highway where you meet uncountable other cyclists along the way, so we really appreciated this rare opportunity! Btw: Bea and Pit, as well as Klaus and Martin are all retirees in their 60s and are still doing this shit. Big up guys, you rock and are real role models to us!


Keylong to Koksar // 45 km & 725 m elev. gain

After three tough days we decided to plan shorter stages in future to make sure we arrive sometime in the afternoon rather than in the evening. It was a nice ride to Koksar with spectacular views of glaciers and massive mountains again plus we had the best road side curry so far. People told us the relatively good tarmac would soon turn into a rough gravel road until we reach Kaza, the main town of the Spiti Valley, that lay ahead of us. Nothing we worried about too much, well actually, we couldn’t wait for it. The stage from Keylong to Koksar our last on the Leh-Manali Highway: In Koksar you have to decide to eighter rider over Rothang La and down to Manali or you continue towards the Kunzum La and into the Spiti Valley, which we wanted to do.


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