Day 111 – 13th June, 2014 – Debring to Karu, Jammu and Kashmir (Kanyakumari to Leh Cycling)
Debring to Karu journey (103 kilometers) on 13th June was full of events. Weather was not giving us positive vibes to leave from Debring and that day, we had to cross the highest pass on Manali to Leh highway, Taglang La (5328 meters). Taglang La is also the second highest pass in the world, after Khardung La in Leh. I got us 10 “aloo paranthas” packed for the journey as I knew we would require lot of energy specifically on that day. There were dark clouds towards Taglang La side but we decided to leave at 8:30 am as we saw a little nice weather hoping it to get fine soon. As we cycled five kilometers to the base of the climb towards Taglang La, my other friends decided to buy gloves at the last few tents in Debring.
Tents on complete Manali to Leh highway has beds for travelers to sleep for Rs. 100 per head, necessary items for travelers, food and few of them keep petrol as well with them as there is only few petrol stations on this highway. One is at Tandi and other one is at Upushi. There were bikers who got really excited to see us and told us that they have found more crazy people than them, of course they were talking about us in positive sense. They took pictures taken with us and advised us of the route ahead as road became slippery because of snowfall on previous day.
Taglang La was about 17 kilometers from there and we could see it really very far on the top of a mountain as we cycled a little ahead. We knew that if that is crossed, cycling to Leh is easy. It would almost be like we would reach Leh only. We all cycle with long gap among us at our own pace. Generally it is me who cycle too ahead of my friends as I have been cycling for too long. There came a time when we got really exhausted and one of my friend even told that he would reach pass by taking lift from any truck. He was losing confidence and I had to motivate it. We took numerous breaks in between, had “paranthas”, dry fruits and biscuits.
As and when the road used to turn at the end, we would wonder how long is it on the other side as we had to cycle long to get to the other mountain. Although we could see Tanglang La and also the ‘tiny’ trucks going towards that side but we knew it was not at all near. We also witnessed intermittent snowfalls and I wrapped big polythene around my upper body to protect myself from snow and wind. I loved this improvisation and it really worked as it was protecting my body’s heat from going out.
Road became slushy as we were about to reach Taglang La and we had to walk as cycling was very difficult. I had to walk on the edge of the road and valley on my left side. Just before reaching Taglang La, we saw other cyclist coming from other side. For the first time, we were seeing any other cyclist on this route. We thought he was cycling from Leh to Manali but we were amazed when we heard about his journey. He was from Germany but half Indian and he has cycled almost 20,000 kilometers and his started from Germany only.
After talking for some time, we set off to our most important pass of our journey. It took us exactly six hours to cycle 22 kilometers from Debring to Taglang La, so you can understand the difficulty level and the condition of road on this route. We were really happy to have made on 05th and the last pass on Manali to Leh highway. This whole highway is known for passes and because of heavy snowfall on these passes every winter, Leh land route remains cut off from other parts and it reopens again in summer.
It was all down slope for next 51 kilometers now till Upushi. This is made us much happier. Our cycling journey has paid off and there is no other fun than cycling downhill on mountains.
Road was really bad for 04 kilometers after Taglang La. We thought of staying in Upushi that day and exactly mid way from there was Rumtse, a little village where thought of having some food. This downhill cycling was a complete bliss and I never felt this free. Road was superb and we all were going down really fast but responsibly and controlling our speed if it goes too fast because there were many turns as well.
We reached Rumtse after almost an hour and 15 minutes. We were now into the land of stupas. Rumtse was a beautiful village and there were many places to eat and accommodation. We had food there and rested for an hour. We then moved ahead for Upushi. After Rumtse, many more really beautiful and scenic villages came in line like Gya, Lato, etc. I personally loved Lato a lot because it was situated at the base of a very weird structured mountain and small houses in small green fields. Route was still going downhill. As were about to reach Upushi, there was a board which said “First view of Indus river and Ladakh valley” and ahead was a very picturesque view.
Upushi is connected by a bridge and we found it a very crowded, dusty with honking trucks. There is Jammu and Kashmir police check post where we made entry and crossed the barrier. We were about to become the first cyclists to cycle on Manali to Leh highway this season. As we inquired at every check post, we can say there has been no cyclist gone before us as entry is made to cross every barrier, so they have record.
As we passed ahead, we could not find any place to pitch in out tent and Upushi’s came. There was a place Karu, 14 kilometers ahead of Upushi. We had energy and time. So we thought of going to Karu then. But road was not smooth. There were up slopes which exhausted us. We thought of camping at river side and went there. But soon mind changed and we headed for Karu only. There is strong military presence there.
We reached Karu just before it was about to get dark. We looked for places to pitch our tent. Sad to say, I did not find people much helpful there and many were trying to make money. We found a parking area and took permission to put our tents from the owner whom it belonged to. He agreed and that is where we slept. There are Punjabi Dhabas in Karu where we had dinner. Karu’s temperature was high and we were feeling too hot.
That journey was really amazing as in the morning we were feeling too cold, saw snowfall and crossed world’s second highest pass but in the evening, we were sweating.