Q: Be cool and cycle easy going through Kyrgyztan and Kazachstan or cycle in Ladakh and Kashmir? Ladakh and Kashmir are gorgious and challenging but also tricky. No visa yet, limited time and not sure if cycling this time of year is even possible. This is the Himalaya mid October. It can freeze up to minus 20 at night on high altitude.
Pakistan and China are uptight about issuing visa, especially from Central Asia. Many travellers have problems with this. So no Karakoram Highway for me which in the end helpes to make new choices. So whether or not I could cycle there, Ladakh & Kashmir here I come. That’s the good thing about cycling, there are no wrong turns or bad decisions, just different ones.
PASS OR CONTINUE ?
Ladakh. Northwest India scrubbing the Tibetan border. It’s called ‘little Tibet’ with many Tibetans here (old refugees). The route from Manali to Leh was my first objective, the 2nd from Leh to Srinagar. Tough ride. Cycling between 4- and 5000 meter with 2 bonus mountain passes over 5000 meters. One pass (Taglang la pass) is the second highest road pass in the world. In itself not that crazy, I mean there are more cyclists doing this trip. But this (dangerous) road might be cut off any moment now according to independent sources that I asked in Delhi. Most people even said it had already been closed. Either way, if the passes close, and I’m in there dealing with some crazy blizard, that’s no good. At the end of September or early October the passes might close, depending on weather conditions. I’m cycling there mid October so I have to hurry. For someone sensitive for high altitude not a good combination.
MANALI – LEH
Complaining doesn’t get you anywhere and in addition cost valuable energy. Especially considering you reach a point where the amount of oxygen on this stretch falls back to 51%. It simply is as it is. Accept it. You can train that stuff, create a neuro pathway that actually helps you. Besides, I get less monkey bizz in my mind when I’m doing 10 hours on a sadle. In this case that energy can go straight to your legs or on the focuss on breathing (which was 3 times a second sometimes).
It’s a climbing trip. Obviously, but had to climb more than I hoped. Which I shouldn’t have done in the first place. Hoping that is. The chart below created expectations and that didn’t really work out. And off road downhills on my roadbike, no fun.
The special camps for mainly travellers along the way were already gone. Cold, end of season, and they all left and went back to Manali or Delhi. There were just 2 stops at serious altitude where I could spend the night and have food. These spots, plastic tents, shacks are being used by truck drivers. Downside: some serious cycling at high altitude to reach these stops. Good thing: I knew where to go, no options left. Camping at minus 15 with strong winds, I kinda wanted to skip that option, but in an emergency I always could.
Going too fast – 5 and a half days – on one of the most beautiful cycling adventures is a bit silly. With more rest in your system, some wisdom even, you wait come back in a couple of years and make it a 2 or 3 week summer cycling trip. That’s how most people do it. Enjoying the ride, not freezing your ass off. But I didn’t have too much options and to tell you the truth it gave an extra dimension to it. I was aware of this extra tension, this excitement. Besides, I had the road to myself.
Overall I was wondering how this little adventure would turn out. Especially when it had been snowing and there was ice on the road. Being all fuzzy in the head pushing it, it’s also about reaching these higher spheres. I like that part of cycling too. It brings me to places in my system I didn’t know I had in me. It’s a state of consciousness. Besides, I’ll cycle those sunset breezes too no worries. I won’t elaborate what happened on the trip too much but intense it was. The road, route, the cycling itself? Blue skies, stunningly beautiful! Grateful I am!
Arriving to Leh felt good. A slight feeling of pride even. Two days of rest. Cause although tired, at high altitude I sleep and dream weird. Besides that the adrenalines and dopamines are still running through my brains after a long day so I stare at the ceiling with these huge eyes for hours.
The 2nd part, from Leh to Srinagar, would normally be a pretty tough trip as well. But after Manali – Leh having these new red blood cells it all went smoothly. Also going off road, mountain passes and cycling in an ice cold valley with strong winds.
In this part of the adventure I also cycled into Kashmir. The religious and cultural landscape changed from monastery to mosque. Kashmir was beautiful too but there was a different vibe. Perhaps just perception.
Kashmir for dummies (and please correct me if I’m wrong)
- Pakistan wants (a part of) Kashmir.
- Sweet water, power, ideology, strategy, geopolitics, and the fact that Islamic Kashmir locals (60%) rather belong to Pakistan.
- India wants to keep this strategic border (the Himalayas).
- Pakistan has lots of extremists and potential terrorists (a.o. trained with US finance in the 80’s)
- Using religion in the Hindu-Muslim mix of Kashmir to create conflict / destabalize #classic
In cycling context this means convoys, working on infrastructure and lots of army. Regarding the different vibe, that’s maybe also because kids had randomly been throwing stones at me on several occasions. Also felt a bit different in Kargil (Kargil war) arriving there in the evening. But have to state that I have met some really nice people too in this part.
Personally, from Leh to Srinagar was also cycling to rest and some peace of mind. Both mentally and physically I had taken a serious trip and I really needed to reset. An other reason was the choas of India. Overall cycling Manali – Leh – Srinagar was one of the most intense rides I have ever done.
The holy city of Rishikesh is where I’m at now. It’s a yoga place, spiritual, where people come to meditate and chill. I’m staying in front of the Ganges (€2,50 a night including yoga class if I’d want to). It actually gets quiet here which is pretty awesome in India.
My next destination will be Nepal. Wanna get back into the mountains allthough we’re heading for December. Won’t cycle too much in India. It’s just not a cycling country for me. Aside from Ladakh and Kashmir of course.
In Nepal people from the Netherlands will cycle with me again. People with good energy. And it involves a social project as well. Great! So for now it’s coffee, writing and eating cakes. To be continued.