1st Attempt: Khardung La

It was a beautiful morning and we woke up the usual 5:00 am, exactly everyday.  Doug heated up some hot water and we both got on the internet first thing after making us a cup of hot Nescafe coffee.  It was still a bit cloudy outside but the sun is starting to rise and it looked like a good day to go up to Khardung La.

I’ve invited Otis, our friend to ride with us.  We are going easy to recon the climb up to the pass so a really nice day to enjoy the views and get some fat burning done for the day.  Climbing steadily for a long time would do that.  I’ve estimated about 5 hours to reach the top with the speed we are riding.  Otis just got his bike a month ago.  A very young guy with a lot of interests.  He just finished school and taking a nice stressless summer vacation in Leh.  Right when we got to the guest house, his father Kalzeng immediately talked about his son who lives in Delhi and his big interest in cycling.  Hey, we are into cycling so that is cool!  We met Otis, he got his bike assembled and has been riding regularly around Leh.  I am not kidding, we are staying at 11,880 ft so once you head downhill there is a big climb back up.  The only road that goes up the other way then goes downhill back to the guest house is Khardung La Road.  Otis rides in pretty tough hills.  Also, he is use to the altitude!

We started out the gate around 9:15am.  Otis’s mom, Kuney made him breakfast and pack him some sweet tea for the ride.  Otis shared the tea with us at one stop, he is super nice.  He is a very good and kind hearted person just like his parents.  We climbed easy and stopped a couple of times.  We saw a lot of cows on the side of the road gazing on something, there was really not a lot of green shrubs around.  There are a lot of switchbacks on Khardung La Road and we get a view of cars easily just looking up to see where they are heading.  We saw a group of donkeys along the way.  I must say, they are the cutest animal ever.

As we climbed higher, I spotted a cyclist dressed up in a white kit and his mountain bike tires are also white.  Immediately, I knew he was Italian, a quick hunch.  All kitted out and color coordinated as he huffed and puffed up the mountain – we were at around 13,900 ft.  I yelled at him, “Ciao” and he yelled the same back.  I see Italy written on his jersey and the colors of the flag, I was right!  Another group of strong European cyclists came by and we greeted each other as well.  It really felt like I was in Europe.  They were strong and fast riders.

We made it to the notch where most people stop for pictures because of the view.  Leh is visible and right after going around the last corner to the parking lot, the view opened up into this beautiful and picturesque landscape.  We stopped to wait for Otis while a group of Indian tourists on motorcycles came to us and asked if we can be in the picture with them.  I said, “Sure!”  It sounds like a lot of fun and we’ve done this before on our way to Kargil.  They really love cyclists on the road and would always, honestly always give us a thumbs up when they come around us.  Prayer flags strung out on their handle bars and their motorcycle also had panniers for all their gears.  They bring pressure cookers, stoves to cook on the side of the road.  The guys we met rode that day from Srinigar and is heading up to Khardung La pass down to the Nubra Valley.  They always honk to let us know they are coming and then give us a thumbs up or wave at us.  Some passengers in taxis do the same and some truck drivers, too!  People share the road in Ladakh.  We are not in fear at all from drivers but more from the animals like donkeys or cows crossing the road – they don’t honk nor give us a thumbs up.  Donkeys actually get run over because they are usually black in color and roam the roads a lot more than cows.  Dog’s on the other hand are everywhere as well.  We see a lot of three legged dogs due to being run over by cars.

We passed by a few workers fixing some side road construction and in another 3 kilometers, we reach a village called South Pullu.  This is the first checkpoint for Inner Line permits before the officers let anyone through to go to Nubra Valley which is over the Khardung La pass then down the valley.  It’s beautiful there and many have recommended us to ride our bikes there.  We met three British touring guys who did that and they rode all the way from Srinigar to Leh, a long ways!  They had big panniers and the bikes have seen some mileage.  The tire threads were bald in the middle and knobby on the outside.  One of their riding buddies is a bike mechanic, which helps!

Right about 2 kilometers from South Pullu, Doug said, “It’s going to rain.”  The dark clouds were coming in and the wind started to pick up. We made it to South Pullu and just as I leaned my bike to a road barrier, it started to hail then turned into snow.  The wind blew and it was immediately chilly!  It was quick.  I looked up towards South Pullu and the road on the snow line that was visible just seconds ago were all white out.  We started to put on all our cold weather gear and I took a picture, which made my fingers super numb.  The things we do for pictures.  I told Doug to go ahead and ride down to Otis to let him know that we need to head back down.  No sense in going through the blistering storm – this is not a race and safety is number one on this ride.  Also, it was freakin’ cold!  I was still fumbling around putting my leggings on and finally, I was ready to head down.

The downhill on Khardung La road is so nice.  I love it and Doug told me after our ride that he felt much more comfortable this time around going downhill.  I guess because we’ve been riding these roads a lot so we are use to the bike and the road.  I, too had a fantastic time going downhill even though my hands were freezing and right behind me was Otis!  He rides his motorcycle on the roads of Leh so he knows how to handle the bike downhill, pretty cool.

We got down to the sunny part of the mountain then back to the guest house where Kuney, Otis’ mom welcomed us home.  She is so wonderful.  She was excited to see us and chatted with us about our experience.  It’s a fun filled day and even if didn’t make it up to Khardung La, we have many days still to go for it again.  We have to keep in mind that training is not racing.  Taking risks during training may not get us to the start line.  Injury or some sort of illness really would set us back big time as the older we get, the longer we recover.  I would rather be consistent in my training and get to the start line healthy even under trained.  We plan to ride our bike for many more years!

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