Day 1: Shimla
Altitude: 2202 m / 7224 ft.
Arrive in Shimla by air. There is a small airport that services this region. Transfer to the hotel and settle in. Later we head out for a walk to Jhakoo Hill to visit the Hanuman Temple (monkey God museum and advance study hall). You will then head back to the hotel for lunch, followed by a free afternoon to visit the mall road, a bustling market street. Rest well as the ride starts tomorrow.
Day 2: Reckong Peo
Altitude: 2290 m / 7,513 ft.
Today, we take a transfer in a shuttle and reach the capital of Kinnaur, Reckong Peo. The small town consists of a main market street and a fairly populated as compared to the isolated villages that you would have encountered on the ride.
Day 3: Reckong Peo
We take a short ride of 8km to a little green hideout- Kalpa. The village lies at the base of Kinner Kailash in the midst of chilgoza forests, apple plantations and towering deodar trees. Kalpa also has a 100-year-old monastery, which can be explored. Treat this as a rest day.
Day 4: Pooh
Distance Cycled: 63 km
Altitude: 2662 m / 8,736 ft.
The next destination on this circuit is the secret village of Pooh. Also known as Spuwa, this is an isolated village known for its sprawling green expanse of vegetation, apricot orchards and almond trees. It also has an ancient Tibetan temple, Lotsaba-bai-lha-khang, which is said to be from the 10th or 11th century.
Day 5: Nako
Distance Cycled: 38 km
Altitude: 3662 m / 12,014 ft.
The comparatively short ride from Pooh to Nako is filled with topographical wonders. We will ride towards Spiti Valley via Khab, where the Sutlej joins the Spiti River. The two rushing rivers create havoc at the meeting point, an aggressive but marvelous spectacle! Sharp cliff edges hang over the narrow road, as the breathtaking ‘brown’ topography opens out in front of you. After the meeting point of the river, the ride is uphill till the village of Nako. Nako will be a refreshing green from the browns that you have encountered today – the lake is frozen during the winters. The tranquil lake in the middle of the village adds a scenic touch to the backdrop of snow capped mountain ranges and spattering of green fields and colourful houses that lie on the edge of the lake. You can also visit the monastic complex of four large temples here.
Day 6: Tabo
Distance Cycled: 65 km
Altitude: 3050 m / 10,006 ft.
You have enough to look forward to before you reach the famous monastery town of Tabo. Founded in 996 AD, this is said to be the oddest monastery of the region. Known for its exquisite frescoes and Stuco statues, the Tabo Gompa warrants a long stop. You can also see the meditation caves along the hill-sides as you leave the town. Make sure you have a cup of brilliant coffee and some cakes at the German Bakery outside the monastery.
Day 7: Kaza
Distance Cycled: 48 km
Altitude: 3650 m / 11,980 ft.
The idea is to get to the main town of Spiti, Kaza. We start with taking a short hour-long ride to Schichling, from where the road goes up to Dhankar monastery. From Dhankar we follow the road along the Spiti River until we are in the bustling town of Kaza. The route through the day will be a dusty, rubbly one, but nevertheless a fun challenge for cyclists. The town has old and new parts, interesting colourful markets and monasteries to explore.
Day 8: Kaza – Ki – Kibber – Kaza
Distance Cycled: 23 km
Altitude: 4200 m / 13,779 ft.
Keeping Kaza as our base camp, we head to the high villages of Ki and Kibber. Kibber is famous as one of the highest post office in Asia- its likely that you may not find anyone manning the post office, but it makes for a fabulous photo opportunity for sure. It is one of the highest permanent inhabited villages, located in a semi bowl-shaped landscape of limestone rock. It lies at 14200 feet – an excellent vantage point for capturing the setting sun. There is also a small wildlife sanctuary here. What will strike you is the calmness that surrounds this region. It will be a while before you see villagers, other than few specks working in the potato fields. We make our way back to Kaza in the evening.
Day 9: Losar
Distance Cycled: 58 km
Altitude: 4200 m / 13,779 ft.
Losar village lies at the confluence of Losar and Peeno streams and is a picturesque village with its sparse population and surrounding natural beauty.
Day 10: Chhatru
Distance Cycled: 60 km
Today, we start our ride back, looping past Kunzum in the direction of Manali. 9km into the ride we reach the famous Kunzum pass at 4700m/15419 ft. There is a small temple and fluttering prayer flags here. Locals make mandatory stop here to pay homage at the temple. Soak in the last few views of the snow capped mountains before you descent to Batal and then further down Chandra Valley. We make a night stop at the green oasis amidst the rugged Himalayan terrain – this is the village of Chhatru.
Day 11: Keylong
On the second day of cycling, we keep to the same altitude making our way 16 km ahead to the tourist clad Rohtang Pass. Over the last few years, heavy traffic has turned the last length to Rohtang into a slushy mess of mud. You are likely to see heavier vehicles stuck or long queues being managed by the Indian army. Luckily for us, getting past the crawling traffic would be much easier; be prepared to lift the cycle and wade through ankle deep sludge. After a short break at Rohtang, we descend towards Gramphu leaving the luxury of metal roads.
After crossing the gurgling river at Khoksar, its time to turn towards Sissu and the Pir Panjal Range overlooks the entire area. From Sissu, the ride to the last stop for the day is 28 km. You can see potato fields add that splash of green to the comparatively barren hillside in the Chandra Valley below. You can also stop at a small Kulu castle as Gondhla village, built in typical hill style using wood and stone. This was built in the 1700s but the tall tower of the castle still looms above the village.Before you hit Keylong, you will see all motorable company veer left towards a petrol station at Tandi, the last one before 380 kms to Leh. A small guesthouse at Keylong becomes the pit stop for the night.
Distance cycled: ~ 80km/50miles
Day 12: Patseo
Today’s drill is fairly easy! First an easy descend into the wide valley of Jispa and then a short uphill to the lonely village of Patseo.From this point onwards, the enormity of the mountains strike you. The jarring isolation is absolutely gripping. There are few other vehicles or habitation and the topography rapidly turns harsher. In the far distance, the snow topped Himalayan Range starts appearing. We spend a night in the fluttering tents as the nights get windier. The gushing sound of the Chandra river keeps us company for the night.
Distance cycled: ~ 50km/31miles
Day 13: Sarchu
Look forward to your first big pass today – Baralacha La. But before that, a serene large pool of water, Suraj Taal (Lake of the Sun God) warrants a quick stop take in the solitude and beauty of the place. This will be no easy feat as you ascend slowly to a wide expanse of nothingness and probably some snow. The pass stands at 16040 feet and connects the Lahaul district of Himachal Pradesh to Ladakh in J&K. Stunning mass of nothing more than lose rubble, decree and small mounds of stones piled on top of each other manage to make a breathtaking scene. It is advised to stay here no longer than 10-15 minutes. After the short stop, we descend to the flat but extremely windy camps at Sarchu.
Distance cycled: ~ 60km/37miles
Day 14: Sarchu
Also, known as Sir Bhum Chum, Sarchu has developed as a necessary stop for most travellers. Rows of tented enclosures have propped up on one side of the road. This is a good place to relax and acclimatize your body further to the altitude now. Spend a day resting and catching up on stories from the road with other travellers or walk across to the drooping chasms between the mountains to stretch down and see the Yunam River below.
Day 15: Whisky Nullah
An intriguing name to a destination always adds an extra thrill to reaching there. The 21 asphalt loops of Gata spice up the ride even more till you climb up the reddish cliff to reach Nakeela pass and then spiral down to Whisky Nullah. This is where you stat seeing massive rocky conical outcrops along the way – these look like huge anthills and are a favourite with photographers. On reaching Whiskey Nullah, we pitch tents to rest for the night.
Distance cycled: ~ 56km/35miles
Day 16: Debring
We stretch ourselves a little with the distance as the Morey plains allow us a smooth, though dusty, ride across. But first, it’s up to the second highest pass of the route, Lachalang La and then the comforting descent to Pang. A short switchback climb and you are on the Morey plains plateau. Only two things can make you slow down here: the gusty sandstorms or a lone Changpa Shepherd with his yak herd.A ‘middle of nowhere’ feeling is thrilling in the Morey plains. Stop for a quick snap of this vast expanse before you hit the pedal to reach Debring. Camp 20km below the second highest pass of the world; Tanglang La at 5360m! Surviving the hard-hitting wind here is reason enough to feel a sense of achievement. And to share your thrill, you might have herds of Kiang (Tibetan wild ass) by the road.
Distance cycled: ~ 82km/50miles
Day 17: Rumptse
Cross the quivering Tibetan flags at the Tanglang La monument, the next stop is Rumpste. Cycling today is quite demanding, with the massive peculiar rock formations the only respite to keep you distracted. After the pass, the switchbacks swivel you down by 1200m into the village of Rumpste. This is the first permanent settlement of Ladakh on the road from Manali. Take a break at Rumpste to reminisce over the purplish-brown hefty stalwarts you have overcome till now. We stay overnight in tents.
Distance cycled: ~ 50km/31miles
Day 18: Leh
The barren topography soon acquires colour as you start seeing fertile land near Upshi. A fresh scenic countryside replete with villages, bright green patches of green farmlands, large furry dogs lazing around and children making their way to school infuse some interest in the vicinity. We cross the Indus River, towards Thiksey monastery and finally reach Leh by evening.
Distance cycled: ~ 90km/56miles