The 545 Km Manali-Leh trail is one of the extreme expeditions GoMissing takes serious cyclists on. The 12 day trail is replete with steep climbs, rapid descents, disorienting switchbacks and plenty of gravelly terrain. The beauty of the trail, of course lies in unmatchable landscape under the shadows of stunning Himalayan mountains accompanied by lyrical streams and placid lakes.
Last year alone, GoMissing took four expeditions on this route. With increasing number of enthusiasts taking interest in mountain biking and Manali-Leh in particular, we at GoMissing thought, this was an ideal time to share some of the learnings from the trip with you.
We reached out to Gaurav Rohatgi, Chief Marketing Officer, GoMissing who has been on this trail several times to share his learnings. Read up what he has to say and also check out what some other riders have to say for this expedition here.
Here is Gaurav’s Gyan
1. YE KAALI AANKHEN will Literally go Kaali!!
Most of us leave our sunglasses behind, thinking them as luxury or an unnecessary hindrance on the trip. Snow blindness is a real hazard on this trail. Don’t forget Manali – Leh highway is way above the sea level and UV index increases exponentially at those heights. Without sunglasses, you can expect splitting migraines, touchy headaches and a general sense of bewilderment. So for the sake of your eyes and well being, do carry sunglasses. You don’t need expensive ones, but something practical and sturdy.
2. SO YOU THINK YOUR BIKE LOVES YOU?
You have absolute control on the bike! Even better!
It’s like you and the machine are one when she handles those descents smoothly. It’s like you are having a smoothie!
This is when emotions take over. Beware. It’s a Trap! Your bike is cheating on you!
The route has some very-very serious downhills. Some of those hairpin bends can hamper your ability to tackle the speed. If you don’t want to feel as if you are waltzing on Vaseline, it is advisable to utilise both brakes in tandem and slow down, keeping your speeds as well as emotions under control.
3. AMS- No, it’s not a bike model!
Acute Mountain Sickness, AMS reveals itself in innocent ways. Contrary to popular perception, it is not the general feeling of nausea one gets on a hilly road. It is a potentially life threatening condition which can blow into full scale HAPE or HACE – High Altitude Pulmonary Edema or High Altitude Cerebral Edema. Scary sounding as they both are, they can leave you comatose.
It happens due to the lack of acclimatization to the heights. You see, when you are camping at altitudes of 4000 Mtrs and above, the level of oxygen is lower than what your lungs are accustomed to. (And please, staying at a hill station less than 2000 mtrs is not acclimatizing!) Heights above 3000 Mtrs are hazardous. As your body copes with the lesser oxygen volume in the air it puts up a strong fight. Unless prepared adequately, it will not be able to cope up. The symptoms start with a mild headache, nausea and then delirium and eventually the victim loses the sense of reality and orientation.
Another thing about this mean mother of all mountain problems is that it may strike you whether you are climbing the Everest or an innocent hill. By keeping yourself hydrated (drink loads and loads of water) and eating garlic cloves (a natural prophylactic against AMS and its effects) you can escape this dreadedcondition.
4. Wet sections can be fun.
We all love riding over mountainous streams. However, on the Manali- Leh route, if you encounter a water stream, it’s best to dismount, take off your shoes, hand them on the bike handlebar and then cycle along. Once you wet your shoes, the cold and wind chill is going to make you mighty miserable. Cycling with damp shoes in sub zero temperatures is calling for trouble. Avoid that!
5. LoS – What’s that?
Simply put, LOS or Line of Sight is a technique where you always have fellow riders within visual confirmation range. On the Manali-Leh trail, there are sections with hair pin bends and valley crossings, where you may lose sight of fellow riders. In a group ride, we advise all riders to maintain the line of sight so even if one has mechanical breakdown or a flat, you are assured that someone is there to help you.
On our rides, GoMissing leaders flank the front, middle and back of the group so that each team member is in our line of sight always. In addition, our support vehicles and the ground crew follow all cyclists closely for signs of fatigue and are always ready with drinks.
6. Music on the Move.
Headphones and Cycling? NO NO NO. We do not allow that! You will not be able to hear even the blare of a truck horn and severely compromise your safety. Enjoy the ride with natural sounds.
7. Nine Days Without a Bath!
Nine days of cycling and no bath! Is that even possible? Almost all cyclist on the route, never bathe, relying solely on a sponge bath with a wet towel. Don’t even try immersing your head in the cold water of Indus as will get a hypothermic shock with a cringing chill pain. Instead use the towel to dry clean yourself. Wilderness is all about adjustments.
8. Packing List! Don’t forget the most Basic things
Packing list checklist is done….you have kept extra batteries, charging cables, memory cards, jackets, raincoats, sunscreen, towels and the usual. But wait, what about the toilet paper roll? Almost every time someone or the other forgets this bare bones basic necessity on the trip. And you are left asking your tent mate for some. (Not on GoMissing trip though! Our ground staff is remarkably equipped for all kinds of requirements….and toilet paper roll is just one of them!)
The other important thing which can save your life is a garbage bag. Keep a bag or two and you will be surprised what all Jugaads you can do with it. From a raincoat to a shoe cover to an even better laundry segregation bag. It’s versatile. Add to it a duct tape. And you are set to conquer the universe.
9. Train People Train
The Manali Leh route is known for its demanding uphills. It is a challenging and daunting ride. If you have never attempted that kind of a climb, you need to train. Take into account the fact that oxygen is rarer at those heights. Even with fab fitness levels (after all you have just won the local gym Mr Universe), it is strongly advised to follow a training plan. For Manali-Leh and out other rides at Bir Billing and Bhutan, we have a comprehensive plan that we follow with the riders so that everybody is as prepared for the ride as we are.
10. Do we really need the helmet?
Can we not get into this domain please? Leave aside the endless excuses and just buckle up.
11. ILU my jaan! Where have you been? I could not reach you!
Your girl friend/boy friend loves you, so do your parents, spouses and children. It’s your responsibility to tell them of network constraints beforehand. Leave aside cellular network, Manali-Leh route is off basic telephony grid.
Pre-paid numbers are completely off the network and postpaid numbers work full strength only till Rohtang and then at Tandi near Keylong , if you are prepared to cliff hang, you may just get a whiff of it.
You will only have connectivity to outer world at Pang at the Army satellite phone center. Your mobile will be operational only after your cross Rumtse and on the way to Leh.
Adequately advise your families and share your schedule. Tell them not to panic if the itinerary shifts by a day or two.
12. I love my drink!
So do we! Alcohol is not bad. Infact in moderation it can do wonders. But a swig too much and you have a problem at hand. Once alcohol passes through your system, it gets converted to acetaldehyde (the name itself is scary, isn’t it?) which causes the feeling of dehydration. It blocks a vital hormone known as Anti Diuretic hormone that controls your bladder function. So apart from dehydration, the spirit compels you to pee more. Now we have already mentioned what AMS can do to you.
So figure this equation – Alcohol + dehydration +High altitude+lack of water = AMS!
The same is true for smoking. Your lungs are already working overtime to extract all the performance they can from the air and excruciating climbs. Smoking simply does not help and will just slow you down or may even make you call it quits if you have not trained for the trip. Do yourself a favour and put a pause to all the activities. It’s a trip of a lifetime, why do you want to ruin it?
13. Cold ears, forehead, nose
It’ll happen, and you might as well be prepared for it in advance. Carry a buff and wear it while cycling. It’ll help keep your ears warm and your nose NOT feeling like your dog’s cold wet nose! Perhaps another one to wear around your forehead to keep your head warm!
14. Pig out!
Eat to your heart’s content. Your energy reserves need to be up. And staying hungry is not a good idea. The combination of cycling all day, on a bike and on to some pretty steep climbs through barren landscapes in the full sun and temperature dipping every not and then burns an insane amount of calories.
15. Night calls
Staying hydrated is as important as letting go! Make it a point to hit the loo before bedtime, trust me whn I say this, after a hard day;s climb, you don’t want to leave the warmth of your sleeping bag and venture in sub zero temperature at night. If you de need to go, notify your tent mate so that they are aware you are out and carry a torch- this single piece can be crucial in case you venture off too far.
16. Silly Poses
For all those photobombers and instapic fans, yes it’s a fantastic route and you simply cannot capture all of it in your lifetime. Just don’t go overboard by doing silly stunts on one of those low hanging cliffs and endanger your lives. One slip and you will be mentioned in the past tense. That said, be free to click as much as you can.
You can thank us on the trip 🙂
Gaurav Rohatgi, an MBA in Marketing from Symbiosis figured out early that comfy careers are way too drab and life is better in the mountains! An avid endurance cyclist and an MTB rider, he can be found carving out exciting MTB tracks and planning crazy trips. When he isn’t doing that, he is usually in the office executing equally crazy marketing plans.