Daily Archives: July 22, 2013

The final test: Rohtang La

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IMG_6656With some regret I cycled away from Keylong. I could quite happily have stayed for longer but the weather and bicycle would not let me. We set off mid morning along the lower road picking up mutton momo, indian sweets and mangos from local shops. A little climb out of the town to rejoin the highway and then down into a left curve. The road went East past the confluence of the Bhagu and Chandra rivers. IMG_6657

The road continued alongside the combined river of Chandrbhaga past the towns of Tandi and Thorang. In time we began to climb again as the road ran on a ledge high above the river. A driver stopped his vehicle to warn us of potential rockfalls from the cliffs above us.

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IMG_6659We stopped for a thali and delicious thick honey pancake at Sissu. Once again the plan was to get as close as possible to the Pass and camp. Past the settlements of Damphug and Khoksar the road began to wind slowly upwards. We camped just beyond the dhabas at Gramphu. Clouds clung to the mountains and the road disappeared above through a long series of hairpin bends. It began to rain.

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IMG_6670I awoke early the next day, cooked breakfast and began the long ride up towards the pass. The sky was clear and the sun began to heat up the road. Although at just under 4000 metres it was not the highest pass to cross it was to be the most difficult and longest climb. Rohtang literally means ‘piles of bodies’ and refers to the number of people that had died having been caught by the extreme changes of weather that can occur there. The road surface was fairly mixed with some sections reduced to rubble. Luckily, and as with the journey from Leh as a whole, the weather held up and the morning sun lifted the clouds away from the summit of the Pass. It was slow hard work and I rested about halfway and waited for Joachim but could still see his tent pitched far below. Once at the top and close to a Buddhist stupa I met an English cyclist heading to Leh on his Trek expedition bicycle. . I asked him to pass a message to Joachim that I was going to continue on past the summit and begin the ride down the other side towards Manali. The Rohtang La itself was extremely busy and crowded with Indian tourists many of whom were on day trips from Manali to visit and play in the snow.

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The road down from the Rohtang pass was in a bad way. Extreme mud made the going difficult. However once past the initial few kilometres it became a smooth fast road leading down and joining the Beas river running towards Manali. At just 51 kilometres from the Rohtang La Manali, the final destination, was easily reachable before nightfall.
It was a great achievement to have completed the 11 day cycle ride from Leh to Manali but at the same time I was a little sad that it was over. It had been the bike ride of a lifetime and felt so, so lucky to have had the opportunity to make this trip.

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Lahaul

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With an early start the crisp blue sky and warm sunshine provided perfect cycling conditions. The ascent was less demanding than anticipated. The Baralacha pass levelled and the road stretched out. It felt as if we were cycling across the roof of the world. The road then curved and dropped down past the beautiful Suruj Tal lake.

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The road then cut through a rock formation and snaked down into an open valley. It was quite a transition from the naked rocks, ice and snow into the fertile landscape of the Lahaul Valley. The easy passage across the pass seemed too good to be true. We had anticipated a rough hard ride through a bleak unforgiving windswept landscape and instead had been treated to a relaxed journey up and across stunning ‘arctic’ terrain and then down into a warm green valley. Brilliant.

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The road dropped further and further and the vegetation improved to include bushes and conifers giving the scenery an alpine appearance.
We reached the encampment at Zinzingbar for morning tea and then went on to the dhabas at Darchu in the Zanskar valley for lunch. We passed through the pretty villages of Rangyo and Jispa before the road climbed and hugged the hillside above the valley. The road became a tough stony track as it fought past high rock faces. Occasionally it turned to smooth asphalt and provided exciting drops down through fast switching turns. It was like cycling in the Italian alps with scenery to match. There was still the occasional fast moving river to cross before the road finally reached Keylong.

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Keylong is a fairly sizeable town with a bustling town centre. It is a place of pilgrimage with an important Drukpa sect Tibetan Buddhist monastery on the opposite bank of the Bhaga river and several other monastic institutions nearby. The murmuring sound of monks chanting at the Kardang monastery floats across to the town early each morning. With the amalgamation of Spiti and Lahaul districts Keylong has become the administrative centre for the area. It is well placed geographically with three major valleys converging at the spot. As a town it has a good atmosphere, relatively unspoilt by tourism and regards itself culturally closer to Ladakh than India. This is much evident in the people and their customs. The town is cut off by snow for almost 6 months of the year with supplies and access by helicopter only.
I decided to stay an extra day in Keylong before setting off again for the Rhotang La. Keylong is an excellent place to visit and enjoyed exploring the town and surroundings a lot. We took an evening meal at the hotel Tashi Deleg. It was one of the best meals I ate during my time away.

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