Travel and Learning – Musings from a Trans-Himalayan cycling expedition

Arun Shankar (EGMP 14B), GM Bosch Engineering and Business Solutions

Cycling can get you (into High) Places, literally..

Ladakh: The Tibetan and Ladakhi name La-dwags (historically transliterated as La-dvags) means land of high passes and in order to get there you have to cross many high passes (La), each pass getting progressively higher until the final descent to the Indus valley and Ladakh.

The cycling route from Manali to Leh is something of a legend amongst cyclists and had been on my bucket list (bike-it list as I call it) for a few years now. It is about 485 km long with an average elevation of more than 13,000 ft (4,000 m).

Moving on from Leh, Khardung La is a further 40 km of intense climb into the thin air of the mountains at over 18,000 ft (5,480m) and used to be, until recently, the highest motorable road in the world.

Being able to cycle to and through these high places gives an immense boost to your self-confidence. Surviving and thriving in the harsh environment for extended periods is an experience no out-bound learning can simulate.

So what have I learnt?

  1. The pale blue dot moment: One just DOES NOT conquer the mountains, if you are lucky, the mountains let you pass through them. The vastness of the mountains and the unpredictability of weather is a constant reminder of the relative insignificance of humans in the natural scheme of things.
  2. It is mostly in the mindWhether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right. The quote from Henry Ford is apt here. Barring mechanical issues (bike breakdown) or medical conditions (AMS, falls and/or injuries), it is mostly your attitude which determines if you finish the ride or not. Physical strength will get you to the start line, mental strength will get you to the finish.
  3. Live in the moment: There is no point strategizing for Leh-Khardung La (the last ride), when you have 10 more rides to be done. Breaking into one ride at a time, gives you the mental space to complete the hardest ride (since start) and the confidence of completing the ride gives you the confidence for the immediate next ride.
  4. Preparation shouldn’t be unidimensional: I focussed most of my training on the cycling (with was less than 20% of the time in the mountains). Proper preparation for surviving the time off the saddle would have made my journey much more comfortable.
  5. There is always more than one way to do it: Every one has his/her own way to reach the destination. Some riding on the lowest gears (1-1) for the entire duration without stops; to some riding as fast as they possibly can (to get done with it as soon as possible). In the high mountains and as in Life, the key is to do what works for you.
  6. You can learn from every one: be it the ABC’s of packing (accessible, balanced, compact), to pacing the climbs, to breathing techniques, there is a lot of learning going on. Every interaction can teach you something if you are ready to learn.
  7. You don’t win if the team doesn’t win: While it takes effort to ride out in the front and finish your ride, it takes a lot more effort to be able to ride at the back to ensure your mates also finish the ride.
  8. Age is just a number: It was really heartening to see co-riders well into their 60’s participating and finishing the arduous ride from Manali to Leh. The average age of the cyclists in our batch was around 50 years. Build your fitness as you age, and stay active to enjoy as you get older.
  1. Doubts and fear steal more dreams than failure: Some of us have what I call a “Hanuman Complex”. Don’t let self doubts/fear hold you back from your true potential
  2. Majja barolla maga, thogobeku: Loosley translated as “My boy, one doesn’t find fun/joy, one has to snatch it”. In short, remember to have fun

if you think adventures are dangerous, try routine… it’s lethal

The entire route from Manali-Leh-KhardungLa (MLK) was traversed across 11 days of riding. Distance covered 566 km in 48h of moving time. Elevation gain of 10330 m

Riders from Bosch: Amit Srivastava, Subbaramu G, Jacob Peter, Arun Shankar

The trip was organised by YHAI.