The start of the 90 day cycle ride around the Himalayas, covering Spiti, Zanskar, Batalik, Ladakh, Nubra, Shyok, Hanle and Tso Moriri.
Riding in Ladakh has been a long time dream for me. I didn’t want to do a piecemeal fortnight ride, which is the norm. I wanted to ride the entire region (or the most of it) before heading home!
Day Zero: Delhi to Shimla
While leaving home, my dad asked, “Aren’t you going to wear a watch?”
My smart-arse response was, “I don’t need to know the time. A free bird is not bound by time and space. Nothing can contain me!”
A couple of days later, I almost missed the bus from Delhi to Shimla because I wasn’t wearing a watch!
Ride to the Bus
Last minute spares purchases at the cycle store, delayed me. It didn’t matter really, this was supposed to be a vacation! My friend Si, desperate to contact me called a billion times. My phone was on silent! I finally checked my phone while riding to the bus stop and saw the time. That was my cue to start sprinting!
At the meeting point with Si we realised that his rear wheel was jammed because of a long nut!
A nutty start to the trip it was! Fortunately we were standing outside a bike shop and got it fixed in 5 precious minutes.
A bit more sprinting later we reached a road closure. The Prime Minister’s entourage was to pass and we stood around twiddling our thumbs and checking the time. In India we pedestalize our politicians and our subservient to them. A far cry from seeing pictures of the Dutch PM cycling to work!
Fortunately, our PM delayed the bus as well and we reached well in time. We were ready to roll. That is…
…after removing the luggage from our bikes, removing the front wheel, shoving the saddle as low as possible, stuffing it under the bus in the luggage bin, collecting our many bags and stuffing it in the bus, eating, drinking, making merry with friends who had come to see us off and paying the bus conductor for extra luggage without an official receipt. Just a wink and a nod! Then we rolled!
Being cyclists we yapped away into the night about well, cycling! Si studying urban planning quipped that cycling is possibly the best way to see the world, because you are going so darn slow.
The couple in front of us were getting agitated with our constant conversation. Finally the man couldn’t resist it any further and turned to us.
I waited for him to abuse us and tell us to shut up!
Instead he told us about his travel tales on a cycle! And the conversation continued amongst three people rather than two. Only now louder!
As there was a momentary lull in the conversation, the woman whacked her husband on the head and told him to shut up. That domestic violence was reason enough for us unmarried folk to shut up as well!
The bus rolled into Shimla along with the rain. Like wet hens we gingerly removed our bikes and searched for a dry spot to set up our two wheels of life.
It took us (mostly me!) an hour to sort out the luggage and get going. We pulled on our rain gear and the pedals went round and round. For five minutes.
Then it stopped raining and then we removed our rain gear and then it started raining. And this continued for the rest of the day! But that’s a story for another day…
Day 1 Shimla to Narkanda
Climb, climb, climb. That was the order of the day!
After assembling the bikes and luggage, it was time to get the wheels of our bikes and travel plans rolling. The rain stopped, we started, the rain started, we stopped. This game of cat and mouse continued for the entirety of the day.
Shimla is crowded, touristy and big. The opposite of what we were looking for.
It was a Tuesday morning and there wasn’t any traffic at that time and we took full advantage of it. The city roads in the hills are often steep, since a lot of climbing needs to be done in very little distance. The locals have no problem climbing those roads. That wasn’t the case for us. The first few kilometres was heart hammering, as our bodies went into shock at being exposed to the climbing and altitude.
We flatlanders took our time, but the human body is a wonderful machine and soon enough responded to the challenge by settling down for the long haul.
We searched for breakfast in vain. The shops hadn’t yet opened. We trudged into an open dhaba and were immediately reprimanded for mucking up the freshly swabbed floor! We were pushed out, given an expensive cup of tea and told to push off. Another reason to dislike Shimla!
On empty stomachs we climbed Kufri, a long unrelenting climb. Not the perfect cycling plan, not the way you want to start the day.
Breakfast at Kufri was a shot in the arm. The food fueled us up to get us through the day. For Si it was a revelation, a different outlook to food. Where food wasn’t something to fill your stomach or just for taste, but a fuel. From that moment on he viewed food as vital to cycling as gasoline is to automobiles!
Kufri is another touristy place, where seeing people sitting on yaks with an air gun in hand, while wearing a cowboy hat for a photo isn’t abnormal! The good news is that you hear them before seeing them and therefore are easy to avoid.
The Shimla-Narkanda stretch is an arterial road and has a lot of traffic, which at times results in a face-full of diesel smoke from a passing truck.
A thick green canopy of trees covered the hills. Advantage of riding in peak monsoons. Even with all the bits of modernity, the place had its moments of serenity.
A few people did stare at us as if we were mad. But a lot of vehicles would slow down to cheer us on.
The previous occasion I had been to Narkanda, there were just a couple of overpriced hotels in town. So when we found a cheap homestay a couple of kilometres before town, we crashed in.
Because of which dinner was a two kilometre walk and we had digested everything by the time we back! Si was disoriented about the distance he walked, as exhaustion had got the better of him.
Narkanda has two roads to get to Spiti, the boring and the fun road. We opted for fun the next day!
This route is almost entirely on perfectly paved roads. The road climbs from Shimla to Khufri, after which the climb eases off. Food is available along the way at many large and small dhabas.
There is plenty of accommodation available in Khufri and Narkanda within a range of prices.
Bus ticket for two 1900
Luggage ticket for two cycles 500
Food for two 900
Stay for two in Narkanda 700