We go cycling up Mana Pass, Niti Pass, and Barahoti in Uttarakhand, along the Indo-China border with Shivangee Rana…
Most of us grew up listening to tales of yore from our parents and grandparents. We would sit wide-eyed in amazement as we heard stories of a time, which are unfathomable. When the world was a different place and unrecognisable.
Such is the story of Shivangee Rana from Dehradun, Uttarakhand.
29-year-old Shivangee is an adventure junkie based in the city of Dehradun. She is a trained mountaineer and skier, who has done her advance mountaineering course in NIM and done all three ski courses from Manali. Cycling and running are the other two sports she enjoys.
Even though she is studying and preparing for getting a job in the state government, she believes that it extremely important to be involved in outdoor activities.
She loves the adventure life and would enjoy having that as a career, but finances dictate otherwise. It truly is a balancing act between passion and profession.
The Seed of the Idea
Shivangee originally hails from the village of Malari, high up in the mountains of Uttarakhand. She had grown up hearing stories of her ancestors, who used the trekking paths from India to Tibet. Open borders then, allowed trade for the brave to tackle high altitude passes. With modern nation borders, we cannot imagine going from one country to another, without dealing with a mountain of paperwork.
She belongs to a trading community, who had a strong trade relationship with Tibet. Knowing that her ancestors walked the routes she planned to cycle, spurred her on. Last year, Shivangee rode to Niti and Mana villages, but was unable to reach the passes. This year in May, she once again tried, but the roads were frozen.
The other reason which made her do this ride solo, was that in these areas you rarely see women in the sport. She wants others to see and get inspired, so that more women and people in general can take up cycling.
Getting outsiders to know about these remote villages was another motivator for her. Many people know Mana Village because of Badrinath, but Niti few people have heard of. Promoting tourism in these villages helps the local economy greatly.
Preparation: Cycling Mana Pass & Niti Pass
All these passes and regions are on the Indo-China border, as such it has heavy military presence. Civilians aren’t ordinarily allowed to go to these passes. There is also no infrastructure for anybody to stay, even if they did get a chance to go.
Shivangee had to get special permission from the Indian Army and ITBP (Indo-Tibet Border Police). She got the permission from the brigade commander stationed in Joshimath. They were enthusiastic about seeing her goal and wanted a team of army cyclists to ride with her. But since Shivangee wanted to ride solo, they kindly relented.
Nonetheless, the army provided her food and accommodation along the way, since nothing else is available. A backup truck was also assigned to her, since they couldn’t allow a solo civilian to ride in these remote regions. Shivangee didn’t want the backup vehicle, she only required accommodation. But you can’t argue with a uniform, especially when they are concerned about your safety!
Barahoti is a small tract of pasture land on the Indo-China border in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand. Since China, disputes this claim, there is strong military presence and, off and on skirmishes.
Civilians aren’t allowed here without special permission from the army. Shivangee started her ride from her ancestral village of Malari on the 14th of August 2022. The first day saw her ride towards Sumna at a distance of 30 km. While the distance might seem less, it is the altitude and climbing which makes it a massive challenge.
Added to the fact, there is no real road. It is all rutted gravel paths, worn out by the military vehicles crossing over.
The next day from Sumna she reached Barahoti at an altitude of 4700 metres above sea level and covering 25 km. Having ridden 55 km from Malari overall. Rimkhim is the last army camp and they don’t allow anyone beyond, but thanks to the permission, Shivangee could go ahead.
And that is how Shivangee Rana celebrated Independence Day!
Cycling Niti Pass
Niti Pass is a high altitude Himalayan pass around 50 km from Niti Village, which is the last Indian village on that road to Tibet. This is the route which would have been frequented by Shivangee’s ancestors many years ago. This pass was sealed off after the 1962 war.
On the 16th of August, she started her ride from Niti Village towards the pass. She reached and stayed the night at the army camp of Goting. The 17th saw her ride from Goting to Niti Pass at a dizzying 5032 metres above sea level.
From the pass, Shivangee could see ghosts of the trekking routes, which her forefathers would have taken. Little would they have imagined, that their granddaughter would one day be cycling up these same routes.
Cycling Mana Pass
Mana Village is the last Indian village on the border of Tibet and is famous for its physical proximity to Badrinath. 47 km north of Mana Village is Mana Pass at 5632 metres. Making it one of the highest motorable passes of the world.
The road to Mana Pass, unlike the others is fully paved. While the others are rocks and pebbles strewn across the route. Here, you can easily drive and ride a vehicle. That didn’t make the challenge any less daunting for Shivangee.
On the 18th of August, Shivangee returned to Malari, before heading to Joshimath on the 19th and finally reached Mana Village on the 20th.
From the 21st, she started her ride from Mana Village towards the pass. On the first day, she rode 19 km to reach Ghastoli army camp. The 22nd saw her ride till Tarai camp and on the 23rd of August she finally reached the top of Mana Pass, covering 58 km in total. Thus accomplishing the mission for which she set out.
Along the way she passed the gorgeous Deo Tal as well, a high-altitude serene lake.
Best time to go Cycling to Mana Pass
In the winters, the villages of Niti and Mana empty out, as people return to lower altitudes. June to August is when the roads are open and you can go cycling to Mana Pass and Niti Pass.
June is a good time to go before the rains start, but there will still be a reasonable amount of snow visible. July is best avoided because of the rains, even though it doesn’t rain heavily at such high altitudes. August is therefore the best time to cycle to these high altitude Himalayan passes.
From mid-September onwards the possibility of snowfall increases, which can be treacherous for cyclists.
Shivangee managed to climb these passes on her third attempt. The first was blocked because of border tensions with China last year. The second because she went in May and the roads hadn’t opened. Third time lucky!
One needs tenacity and commitment to achieve what this young lady did. We salute her adventurous spirit and wish her luck on all her future adventures. Whether those adventures see her following her ancestor’s footsteps or not!
Photos: Shivangee Rana
Don’t forget to read Shivangee Rana’s previous journey Niti Village. Also read, cycling from Goa to Kanpur to trace an ancestor’s wheel tracks!