Biking in Himachal Pradesh, Lahul, Spiti, Ladakh, Nubra and Rupshu

There is splendid biking in northern India. The traffic along the trunkroads has become distinctly dangerous but once off the main roads India is a wonderful country for cycling, especially in Himachal Pradesh and Ladakh. Here are some notes from a 2700 km tour we made in 1999.

A better airline carried us to Delhi and then we took a  taxi (4WD) to Manali at 2000 m altitude in Himachal Pradesh with the bikes still boxed up. A bit expensive but well worth the money to be able to start with our equipment in perfect condition. Our route took us first to Lahul and Spiti then back to Lahul and on to Ladakh, Nubra, Pangong Lake, Tso Moriri and back to Manali via Lahul. Nubra and Pangong we visited as excursions from Leh, where we could leave some of the weight and spend some time recuperating between rides and before setting out for the long ride back to Manali. 

Our route was consistently in mountains above 3000 metres. We carried a mountain tent (Hilleberg Namatj) and some dehydrated food and a stove (Trangia Kerosene) that we used some nights, though most we slept in local hotels bringing our cycles into our room and eating the food that was locally available. It would be possible to ride from Manali to Leh without tent but it would be considerably harder, not least becaus of the altitudes, having to spend the night out, or getting acute mountain sickness, could be fatal.
We used mountain bikes, Crescent Ultima, with steel frames, and ancient Tange front shocks. Our panniers were Karrimore‘s largest in the back, and one for the front hanging on the steering bar. We used Tubus chromoly racks, and found them light and durable. Headset and stems were Tioga, bars were Kalloy, saddles Avocet Air Titanium, and the drive train a mix of XT and XTR components. Front deraileur XT, 22,32,44, back deraileur XTR, cassette XT 11-34, Sachs power chain, bottom bracket UN72. Rims Mavic 117, hubs Tioga in front, XT on the back wheel. Tyres were Micheline Wild Grippers and Geax as spares. The gear  mostly held up fine, but we had some problems. A back wheel got out of true and the rim started to come apart badly after our trip to Nubra which involved endless fast descents with consistent breaking: e.g., some 70 km in one go from Khardong La to Nubra. A Swiss MTB group could fortunately sell us a wheel. A front deraileur crashed travelling up the Indus valley to Mahe, where it was used heavily as one  would go in a speed of 40 km one minute, and 4 the next. I had to switch the chain between the front rings manually for some 700 km after that. Surprisingly, it worked quite well. Mainly due to the topography: in Ladakh it is either up or down. The Karrimore panniers were not really up to sustained riding on rough roads: the weakest link turned out to be the bolts that connected them to the mechanism they hung on. They gradually fell apart. Most disappointing was that the aluminium bar that carried one of our front bags snapped at Chang La in the cold of an early morning. The cold had made it brittle. A black smith in Leh made us a new of a disused steel wire.

Culturally and ethnically our route took us through great variations. In Manali the dominant people are Parabatyas, mountain Hindus, who are culturally close to the Chetris of Nepal, north of Rothang Jot people are culturally close to Tibet. They are Lama Buddhists and speak Tibetan dialects, though they are by no means more Tibetan than German speaking Swiss are German. In Ladakh the Buddhists are dominant, but there is also a significant Muslim minority, both Baltis who also speak a Tibetan dialect and Kashmiris. On the high plains one encounters Champas, seminomads who speak Tibetan. There is also a great number of Indians from the plains in Ladakh.

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