Mountain biking down Khardung La

16:11 Paul Robinson 3 Comments

We so often see pictures from India of impoverished slums and of stoned holy men, that it is easy to forget that India is a highly developed, nuclear-powered nation. In Nepal, Everest Base Camp is 5364 metres above sea level and is only really accessible by a two day mountain trek. Here in India you can get to the Khardung La mountain pass, at a comparable 5359 metres, in a Ford Mondeo.
The Border Roads Organisation first opened the mountain pass up to vehicles in 1988 and it is now something of a (minor) tourist spot. On top of the pass are the ubiquitous stupas and prayer flags. There are public toilets and a little café which sells cha masala and maggi noodles. Also, there’s a sign which proudly proclaims the Khardung La to be the highest motorable pass in the world. Unfortunately this isn’t true; there are two higher passes in China. But for the sake of a good story, we’ll ignore that fact.
We had driven to the summit in a pick-up truck and were joined by two Israeli tourists. Graham, the two Israelis whose names I can’t pronounce and I were squeezed into the cab. Kate, Arif and all the bikes were in the back.
Once we were at the summit we had a walk round to warm ourselves up and get the blood pumping. I immediately got onto my bike and started to do some skids. The bikes were terrible. They were originally mountain bikes but had been ‘modified’ into some sort of downhill bike – basically by removing all the gears.  I’d been struggling with the altitude since we arrived in Leh and at this height, I felt light-headed and my lips and fingertips felt like they were fizzing. I was desperate to get down the hill and breathe in some of that lovely, life-sustaining oxygen again but everyone else was keen to pose for pictures.
Eventually, we set off on the road back down the mountain. We quickly separated out into a lead group and chasing pack. I say chasing, I just mean slow. Arif is a big lad with gravity on his side and he had bombed on ahead. As it was all downhill there was barely any need to cycle and we were able to free-wheel all the way down. The scenery was breath-taking, which didn’t really help because I was struggling to breathe as it was.
I quickly got used to the limitations of the bike and my confidence started to grow. There were a few hairy moments when I slightly lost control over some rocky patches and at one point I hit a rock square-on and bounced sideways but I managed to not fall off and not get a puncture.
enjoying the view
As we descended the mountain the air became thicker and the sun began to set. The crisp blue skies became golden as day turned to evening; the tingling in my lips and fingers was replaced with jarred forearms and a numb bum.

After about two hours on the bike, the scenery started to flatten out but I looked around and I was alone. Looking back up the mountain I couldn’t see anyone. After waiting for a while, the Israeli girl who we started the journey with turned up. She said she was at the back of the group. Somehow everyone else had got ahead of us. We set off together to find the others. Unfortunately, neither of us knew the way.
"where are they?"
The sun was beginning to dip and we were no longer surrounded by mountains. We were in some half built residential area which was ever so slightly intimidating. Eventually we admitted to ourselves that we were lost. We tried to flag a lorry down to ask for directions, by waving like lunatics. A lorry approached, the driver saw us, smiled and waved and drove straight past. Annoyingly, we just looked like two enthusiastic tourists who were very happy to see an Indian truck driver. We tried to wave another vehicle down but again, the driver just waved back. People in Leh are very polite and friendly but useless at recognising lost tourists.
We found our way to the centre of Leh and finally I knew where I was. Cycling without gears was absolutely destroying. Avoiding all the traffic and cows on the road was enough of a struggle on foot, never mind on a one speed bike with leaden thighs. We turned the final corner and could see everyone else waiting for us outside our hotel. They looked like they had been waiting for some time. We pulled up next to them, filthy and exhausted. The tour guide wanted to check the bikes and I lay on the sandy floor, ready to collapse. My muscles were screaming so I wasn't really paying attention but I think everyone else found it amusing.
The tour guide didn’t even try to rip us off, which was an unexpected bonus. I had a sleep and caught up with the other guys for some food. The numbness last for a lot longer though, it had been a long bike ride. 

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  1. Hello,

    Thanks for providing these useful tips over here. Mountain biking is a pretty rigorous sport and need to be an experienced cyclist or build up your stamina and train for long distance biking. These are available in most towns and hill stations, which offer a variety of routes and services...

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  2. Hey, thanks for your comment. Mountain biking is a great way to see the mountains. I had very little experience but still really enjoyed it.

  3. Really useful tips mentioned. Mountain biking is a very adventurous sport and gives an adrenaline rush!