Bikepacking Manali to Leh: 9 things to make yourself ready for cycling in Himalayas
Touring on a bicycle from Manali to Leh is a dream ride for cyclist across the globe. The ride takes you through 5 treacherous mountain passes on the way, out of which 2 are above 5000 mts wherein one is the second highest motor-able road in the world. It generally takes 7-14 days to complete the 474 kms long stretch between Manali to Leh, depending on your pace, motive and time available. I completed the ride in 10 days as I wanted to do is at ease, with comfort of stopping at places I feel like to enjoy the views, a cup of chai, or to make conversation with locals on the way.
How to reach: The best way to reach Manali from Delhi is to take an overnight bus from Delhi wherein it generally takes anything between 12-14 hrs depending on the road condition and traffic. The safest way to take the bicycle on bus is to pack it in a bicycle/TV box which easily goes in the luggage compartment of any Volvo buses.
- HPTDC Buses are best bet as they only charge Rs. 300 extra for your bicycle. If you take a private bus, they can charge anything between Rs. 500 to Rs. 1000 for the bicycle.
- The Bike Shop at Greenpark, in Delhi is a recommended place for getting your bike packed at a nominal charge. They pack it pretty well to ensure the bike is safe.
- I have always preferred touring on my own bicycle and would carry it all the way with me. However, other option is to rent a bike from Delhi or Manali. In the Delhi a decent MTB is available of RS. 500/- per day at The Bike Shop and in Manali, it is available for Rs. 700/- per day. Eventually both come down to same price after the trip as you keep the bike for a longer duration when renting from Delhi than Manali.
- It is next to impossible to find carrier racks and pannier bags on rent, so it is advisable to buy it yourself. Decathlon and Happy Earth has good options at decent price points.
- Once you reach Manali, Naveen at the local Firefox Store in New Manali is always up for help. He has every tool and spares for your bike, and has extensive knowledge of the route.
- Stay closer to bus station in New Manali as you would not like to move around with the big bicycle box.
Physical & Mental fitness: It is a popular saying that no amount of physical training is good for this ride in Himalayas as it all comes down to your mental fitness. Your body will be the last to give up in most of the extreme situations you would encounter in the route. However, anyone who has been regularly cycling and is comfortable on saddle for long duration is fit enough for the ride physically.
Like I said, in the end it all comes down to your mind. You need to be really strong headed to be able to complete the ride and need to have control over your emotions. Since, you will be riding through some of the most extreme terrains and weather, emotions of all kind will be spurting out in abundance. Here are some basic ways you can keep yourself mentally strong and control your emotions during the ride.
- Understanding your route and terrain makes you a lot more confident for the ride.
- Small things like being able to repair you bike, having camping gears to camp, enough food and water to survive also makes you mentally strong.
- Be euphoric and proud for even thinking of doing this ride and for reaching Manali to start your ride. It is the biggest first step towards a life time adventure you are about to experience. Not many get to take that first step.
- AMS/ High Altitude Sickness is reality. To understand it also makes you way more comfortable as you will be able to take care of yourself in extreme situations.
- Make sure you stay in Manali for couple of days to acclimatize and go short rides to Solang Valley and back. Believe me, these extra days and ride in Manali will be a life saver for the next 2 weeks.
Know your bike: The foremost important thing during the ride is to know all about your bike and its mechanics. Once you leave Manali, you won’t find any mechanic to repair you bike till Upshi, Ladakh. There are few shops in Koksar, Keylong & Zing Zing Bar who can help you with your flat tire but nothing beyond that. Knowing the following will definitely be of great help during the ride and will also make you mentally strong:
- Practice repairing a flat tire & replacing tubes.
- Know how to change or remove the chain links.
- One should know how to adjust and change break/gear wires.
- Learn how to change spokes without using the spoke tools (It’s a jugaad)
Beyond this, here is a list of spares & tools you should definitely carry:
- 2 set of Spare Tubes, Puncture repair kit & hand pump.
- 1 set of spare chain link and chain link removal tool
- Basic bicycle tool Kit
- Spare Spokes (2 pc)
- Break/Gear Wires (2 pc)
- Commonly used extra screws and nuts.
- Machine oil or any lubricant. I personally prefer Machine oil over anything else.
Pro Tip: Make sure your tubes are matched with your bike and it is preferred to carry tubes with thicker nozzle.
Understanding your route: We need to understand that cycling in Himalaya’s isn’t even close to cycling in your regular terrains. There will be long stretches with almost no population, places to stay or have food, you will be cycling at an average elevation of over 4500 mts, with thin air, dry deserts, strong head winds and nature around will never fail to surprise you with a new challenge. It is therefore advisable to have some basic plans with destinations for night stays pre identified and also important to understand every places on the way where you will find places to stay or eat at minimum.
The route I took was as per my riding pace, places to stay and availability of food. I did carried my own camping gears but eventually camped only once in Darcha. Here is a route which can be considered for completing the ride in 10 days.
Important Places where food and accommodations are available: Marhi, Koksar, Sissu, Gondla, Tandi, Keylong, Tandi, Jispa, Darcha, Zing Zing Bar (Lower & Upper), Bharatpur, Sarchu, Whiskey Nala, Pang, Debring (Lower & Upper), Rumptse, Upshi, Karu, Thiksey, Leh
Things to Carry:
Clothes: Cycling Shots (2), Jersey/Dry Fit T-shirt (2), Cotton Shot (1), Cotton T-shirt (2), Towel (1), Socks (2), Running Shoes (1), Cap (1), Woollen Gloves (1), Underwear (2), Thermal Top (1), Thermal Bottom (1), Fleece (1), Raincoat (1)
Spares & Tools: As mentioned above in Know your bike.
Camping Gears: Tent, Sleeping Bag, Sleeping Mat, Thermos
On Bike: Headlight, Tail Light, Pannier Bags, Rack, Frame Bag, Saddle Bag, Bungee Cord (3), Bottle (2)
Cooking Gears & Food: Stove, Butane Gas, Burner Adaptor, Utensils, Bowl (1), Fork & Spoon and on food side: Oats, Dry Fruit, Milk Powder, Sugar, Tea & Coffee (Only if you want to be at comfort of your pace and like starting the day early without disturbing others)
During our ride, we tried to keep an average total weight of 15 kgs on our bike distributed evenly in the rear pannier bags, frame bag and on handle bar.
Pack Wisely: Now many would understand the importance of packing if you haven’t been on a bicycle tour before. I have travelled through Thailand, Vietnam and places in India on my bicycle and have learned over the period that packing your belonging wisely is the most important things for any bicycle tour. It not only keeps you less messy but also helps a lot with ride, pace and balance. Here are few things I consider while packing:
- Frame bag should have the entire go-to thing you would need like money, gloves, camera, mobile, food etc
- Both the Pannier Bags should weight same for a good balance.
- One of the pannier bag should have things you use less where as the other one can have more regular things. It helps you with being less messy.
- If you don’t have front bags, do have some weight on the front while climbing or downhill for the right balance and control over your bicycle.
- Solar Chargers should be kept on top as you will be using it while riding for charging the batteries. The best place is on top of rack.
High Altitude Sickness: High Altitude Sickness is a reality and we should never joke about it. Being on a bicycle will definitely help you with acclimatisation over the days as you climb gradually over the days and generally stays at high altitudes. However, it is always advised to take preventive steps to help you complete the ride without any troubles.
- Keep yourself hydrated. Drink as much water as you can and always remember that waters in the stream are safe and good to drink.
- We used to carry a thermos filled with hot black tea. It used be of a great relief when the temperature start dripping en route to the passes. Perhaps best way to keep yourself warm.
- If you have not been on high altitude earlier, it is advisable to take one tablet of Dermox from the day you arrive Manali till Day 5 of your ride. It helps a lot in acclimatisation.
- Always remember the golden rule: Ride higher and sleep lower.
- On Day 0 of your trip, make sure you a do a acclimatisation ride in and around Manali. The ride to Solang Valley and back is most advisable.
Connectivity: There won’t be any good mobile network post Marhi till you reach Leh. You will notice some network in your BSNL Phone in places like Keylong, Darcha and Sissu but those are not of any good. The army camps at Sarchu and Pang has satellite phone and you can call anywhere across India and globe on payment of nominal fees. The rates for domestic calls were just under Rs. 2/- per min.
Navigation: Since there is no network Google Map will not be of much help as even its offline contents need some internet to retrieve information. However, maps.me works flawlessly and is a saviour in this route. It works offline, has extensive details of settlement, places to eat, treks & hikes and more. It even gives you an elevation profile for your ride.