Our itinerary is as follows - we get into Manali on the 16th by road (we were supposed to fly but Kingfucker Airlines cancelled the flight, the wankers). So we are all meeting at Delhi airport on the 15th evening and driving over, stopping somewhere en route for the night.
Then, after a couple of days of acclimatization, we ride. The ride plan is approximately as follows, showing distance, meters climbed on that day and the altitude of our stopover.
Day 1 - 40km (1300m) ride to Marhi (3238m)
While not appearing to be that rough, this is going to be the big challenge because of the rapid elevation gain, and that too on the very first day of climbing. I remember the climb to Chele La in Bhutan - it had 1550m of climbing (up to around 3600m) in around 36km and took about 3.5 hours of painful climbing, mainly b/c at that altitude, even getting my HR up to 150 felt as though my lungs were going to explode. This should be hopefully a little easier and I reckon 3 hours of riding ought to do it.
|The view from Rohtang La|
Day 2 - 45km (701m) - Marhi to Sissu (3078m)
The first 12km is a climb and then a long downhill and flat with some climbing to get up to Sissu. Marhi, as Sith Lord Sumit told us (and matching what I remember from past trips), is an absolute dump and I am quite tempted to suck it up, climb the remaining 12km to the top of Rohtang La (4050-odd m) and then descend and stay someplace en route. We'll see how it goes.
Day 3 - 52km (762m) - Sissu to Jispa (3,291)
There is a 300-350m climb initially to Gondla then flat/rolling. This should be an easy day. Depending on how Day 2 goes, we may go all the way to Jispa after all.
Day 4 - 37km (650m) - Jispa - ZingZingBar (4328m)
Today is an easy day for additional acclimatization, but we may combine Day 3 and Day 4. As it stands right now, Days 2, 3, 4 really make up 2 good days of riding, and my preference would be to do it in 2 days and take a day of rest (and wash my bibs). This is something we will wing en route.
Day 5 - 52km (1100m) - Zingzing Bar to Sarchu (4419m)
Now, the pain begins. Today, we climb Baralacha La, the first Big Daddy pass on our way, at 4800m. I remember camping here, back in 2005 to get the photo below, and I really suffered with the altitude all night and in the morning, I could barely walk a few hundred meters to the lakeside to take this shot. The road up is also very bumpy, which is going to make things a little rougher.
Day 6 - 55km (762m) - Sarchu to Whiskey Nallah (4754m) - via Gata Loops and Nakee La
Sarchu itself is a very pretty location, a narrow, flat valley with a deep canyon on one edge and several camps in the area. It makes for a great place to spend a rest day. This place is good for marmots as well as birds, and I plan to carry my binos and scope with me to get some quality birding in. Another benefit of a rest day here is another day of acclimatization, as we will finally break the 5000m mark after leaving Sarchu. First, we have the Gata Loops - 21 switchbacks that gain 350m over 10km. I have done this on a jeep and those switchbacks are STEEP. And at that altitude, we are going to be begging for mercy. After the Gata Loops, we climb some more to Nakee La (5030m) and then descend to Whiskey Nallah.
Day 7 - 53km (650m) - Whiskey Nallah to Tso Kar (4700m) -- via Lachung La & Pang.
From Whiskey Nallah, we do climb a little more to Lachung La (5100m), then descent to the camp town of Pang. Pang is basically bunch of tents which serve lunch and provide a place to sleep. From Pang, a short climb brings us to the Moray Plans - an immense, flat mountain plateau at 4700m, surrounded by high Himalayan peaks all around. This is a great wildlife area - you get the Tibetan wild ass, blue sheep and various other Himalayan herbivores... and this is where I've photographed an extremely rare Tibetan wolf. We plan to get in the car and take a short detour to Tso Kar and stay there for a night or two.
Day 8 - 69km - Debring/Tso Kar to Rumtse/Lato-- crossing Tanglang La
This is the Queen stage of our ride. Depending on who you believe, Tanglang La is either the world's highest motorable pass or the second highest (officially, it is the latter - Khardung La, which we shall climb once in Leh, is the highest. But GPS and satellite data indicates that Tanglang La may be higher by 1m). Either way, at over 5600m, this is going to be one bad mofo to climb. The gradient is a steady 5-6%, which doesnt sound too bad, except for the altitude. This is the day where any altitude-related issues are going to come around and bite us in the ass. Once we cross Tanglang La, it is all downhill to Leh. A long downhill gives us a choice of several villages where we can stay for the night.
|Down from Tanglang La|
Day 9 - 70km - Rumtse/Lato to Leh - flat and easy
A flat road winding alongside a narrow river takes us to our first view of the mighty Indus - from there, it is a gently-rolling road all the way to Leh. Tonight, we Spartans shall dine at a nice pizzeria in Leh (Hell is behind us).
This is the plan, anyway. The distances don't look too bad and I have certainly done longer/harder days in the mountains, but what none of us know is how we are going to handle the altitude. While I have never suffered AMS per se, I have definitely had times when I've felt sick as a dog and completely lacking in energy at high altitudes (and other times, I've been ok). That is going to be the big external variable. I'd like to do this without the help of any medication, so I am going to avoid taking Diamox unless I really need it.
Some Spanish steak would certainly be nice, though!