Northern Tier of America cycling route

An Indian Going West. To Discover America.

At age 40, in the middle of raising venture funding for my second tech start-up, I had a massive heart attack. It’s a long story, but in essence, while I was lying on the cold OT table and wondering why they were trying to freeze me to death, my loved ones were waiting outside desperately hoping and praying that I make it through. Surprise: I did make it through.

In just a few days I will make it all the way through to 50. Bloody impressive, eh! And cycling across America is closest thing to a celebration I could plan. This is kind of a ‘teerth yatra’ (pilgrimage) for an old man. And hopefully along the way I will discover America. Or at least a part of it. Okay, seriously, at the minimum, I will discover if I have the legs and the mindset for long distance cycling.

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Cycling the Sach Pass – 2.0

At 4,420 meters Sach pass is not among the highest ‘motorable’ passes in the country, but it is certainly one of the steepest and one of toughest to bicycle across. A couple of years ago, Punit and I failed to cycle across it (read about the last attempt to cycle across the Sach pass here). What are the chances that I’ll do better on a solo attempt?

It is a little after 4:00 pm and it has already been a tough day of cycling. I still have the energy to push along for a couple of more hours, but am not sure if that would be good enough to get me to Bagota (no, not the capital of Colombia, but the little tarp cluster short of Sach Pass in Himachal Pradesh). Not finding shelter for the night at this altitude and in these inhospitable conditions is not an option. Time to stop cycling, catch my breath and assess my situation.

I have fallen behind on my schedule. I expected to reach Bagota by early evening. The condition of the road, if you could call it a road at all, the relentless steep gradient and the incredible head-winds made progress much slower than I had anticipated. Sometimes the headwind was so strong that it drowned me in plumes of dust and at one time I even lost my balance. Because the gradient was so steep — over 15% in many places— I just had to get off the bike a number of times and push, and that makes progress even slower. Remember, I am fully self-supported and solo. So I have to carry a tent, cooking gear, sleeping bag & mat and the rest of my personal stuff — a little over 20 kilos, I’d reckon.

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Manali to Leh — Route Map

Planning on riding/driving from Manali to Leh? You can explore the route in an interactive map right here and also download a .gpx file of the route for your GPS.

On this 470 km trip you will climb 14,000 meters and cross five major high-altitude passes (called La). If you are cycling, the climb to the pass will seem endless. I have marked all of the passes in the file just so that you know how much more you need to suffer!

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The small village of Losar at dusk.

Cycling the Spiti valley – Nako to Manali

The hardest part about Spiti is reaching there. It took us a 22-hour bus ride to get to Rekong Peo. For the sake of acclimatization we had planned the night stay at Kalpa, which is not so far from there, but much higher. And also much nicer. Having had our fill with the HPTDC’s ‘ordinary’ buses, especially given the quantum of our luggage, we choose to just hire a jeep the next day to take us up to Nako (technically still in Kinnaur) – another five odd hour drive.

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Ready to ride through a stream flowing on the road. Dry bags (waterproof Ortliebs) but wet shoes.

Which is the best cycle for touring the Indian himalayas?

People often ask me what is the best cycle for touring the Himalayas. It is a hard question to answer, mainly because different people define ‘touring’ differently.

For instance, cycle touring may mean cycling hundreds of kilometers self-supported where the rider carries a tent, sleeping bag, cooking gear on the bike, and has the option to stop and camp wherever she fancies. However, many of the well established Himalayan routes can also be toured ultralight, by eating and sleeping in teahouses (dhabas). And then there is the option of riding without any baggage because the support team/vehicle follows the rider(s) closely.

The choice of cycle can vary significantly depending on how you define ‘touring’, which route you pick, and how much road support you have. Consider the iconic Manali-Leh route. I am aware of people who have done this trip on an MTB, on a Hybrid, a touring bike, on a single-speed bike and even on a road bike.

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