Below, the team from left to right: Daniel Willisegger, Felix Fröhlich, Gabriel Albertsson and Daniel Grab
The route: We started cycling in the foothills of the Himalaya, in the town of Shimla. First we cycled up the Sutlej river valley (the river joins the mighty Indus in Pakistan). We then cycled close to the Tibetan border up the remote Spiti valley. A dirt road then led us on over the Kunzum La (4551 m.a.s.l.) into the Zanskar region. Another set of passes: Baralacha La (4980 m.a.s.l.), Nuchli La (4900 m.a.s.l.), Lachalung La (5065 m.a.s.l.) and Taglang La (5330 m.a.s.l.), led us to the remote Himalayan region of Ladakh. From Leh we cycled the greatest of all passes - Khardung La (5400 m.a.s.l.). The last few days we spent learning more about the Ladakhi culture and the Buddhist way of life while visiting monasteries along the Indus river, heading towards Pakistan. The Fotu La pass (4108m) on the road to Srinagar, marks the western edge of budhist Ladakh, it was also the turning point on our cycle ride.
Below: Arriving in India, one will first realize how uncomplicated the Indians are. "No problem sir, we can take 3 bikes and all the bags". What one would consider completely impossible in Europe, is usually possible in India. 3 bicycles on top of a small little car dashing through the traffic jam from the airport to the hotel in the middle of New Delhi was the first experience of India. My heart was beating faster than when I am riding up a long hard hill! What an experience! And we all made it, including the bicycles!
Below: Start of our trip was Shimla, a lovely hillside town with a cool climate. It is the place to go and escape the heat if you live in Delhi!
The first stage after leaving Shimla was dominated by terrible monsoon rain, flooding the road and causing rockfalls and landslides. It was extremely dangerous on our bicycles while following the Hindustan-Tibetan road along the Sutlej river. Wherever the road was cut into the rockface on the side of the river, it meant shelter for us.
Below: Hindustan highway cut into the rockface.
As one cycles up the spectacular Sutlej river, the hills become mountains, the mountains rise higher, the valleys get deeper and the roads start winding up the long hills to the mountain villages. That's when you know you are in the highest mountain range in the world - The mighty Himalaya!
Below: The Himalayan town of Rekong Peo. Here one can obtain the inner-line permits to cycle along the road near the Tibetan border.
Below: another landslide blocks the road along the Sutlej river!
Below: Indian kids always wanted to try our things: helmets, sun glasses, bicycles...and always with a smile!
Below: The Kazigs - a road leading you from 2300m to 3800m. It's the road that leads you into one of the most spectacular valleys in the world - the Spiti valley near the Tibetan border.
Below: Rouba and Clement (French cyclists), two of the few cyclists that we met while cycling through the Spiti valley.
The road is not always bad. Some stretches are well paved. Well.... the bad roads were still ahead of us! Felix and Gabriel cycling along at 3600 m.a.s.l.
Below: The ride down into the Spiti valley.
Gabriel filtering the water from a village well. We usually filtered most of the water from rivers and streams.
Dankar monastery (4000 m.a.s.l.)
Dankar monastery on a hilltop in the Spiti valley.
The Spiti valley opened up to tourists in the mid 1990s and is dominated by the lovely Buddhist culture.
Below: Kids trying to ride my bicycle. We camped behind their village.
Below: Gabriel and Daniel Willisegger riding up the Spiti valley
The Spiti valley heading up to the Kunzum La pass. A cyclists paradise. Awesome cycling and fantastic camping spots.
Camping in the upper Spiti valley at 4000 m.a.s.l.
I like my rear view mirror on my bicycle simply because I can not only see the cars coming but I also get to see the scenery behind me and see what Daniel is up to behind my back!
Below: More curious kids wanting to know where we were going.
A herdsmann with his goats and sheep in the upper Spiti valley (4300 m.a.s.l.). He was injured and he was most thankfull for a bandage and plaster.
After Kunzum La (4551 m.a.s.l.), the road is very rough and hard going, even though we were cycling down the valley, we were going at an extremely slow pace, covering 15km in 2 hours of non-stop going. The glacial water flooded the road, making the going slow.
After nearly 2 weeks of cycling, it was time for a rest day and time to wash some stinky clothes...
... and to do some relaxing at the lovely camping spot between 6000 meter high peaks.
After the rest day in the Chandra valley, it was back on the road, past numerous snowfields and through icy cold river crossings.
After another rest day in Keylong (we filled up with supplies for a couple of days), we continued on the road and ascended from 3200 m.a.s.l. all the way up the pass to the top of Baralacha la (4980 m.a.s.l.). The gradient of the road is not too bad but the uphills are very long. The worst thing along the route are the fumes of numerous trucks and army vehicles which go at snail pace up the passes.
Most of the camping spots along the route between Keylong and Leh were superb, offering great views and always plenty of streams to pump water to cook our meals in the evening and to fill the thermos flasks.
Below: Gabriel enjoying the view in the 'Lingti Chu' valley.
The scenery always changes, making the riding really spectacular even though the air is thin along one of the highest roads in the world.
Below: the Gata loops, a set of spectacular hairpin bends takes one higher and higher, leading up to Nachli La (4900 m.a.s.l.) and Lachalung la (5065 m.a.s.l.)
Below: A Ladakhi woman preparing our breakfast in a Daba (roadside restaurant in a tent, where one can sleep as well).
Sleeping in this Daba at 4600 m.a.s.l. after crossing the sandy More Plateau was a great welcome and alternative to pitching our own tent.
View seen through the frame of my bicycle
Reaching Taglang La (5328 m.a.s.l.) was awesome. It was also the highest point that we had ever cycled to. The highest pass was still to come a few days later.
Riding down the northern side of Taglang la is spectacular. One is now in the middle of the Himalayas - Ladakh. The mountains in Ladakh are dry and arid but the valleys are fertile and green. Often the valleys looks like an oasis.
Ladakhi girl holding her brother.
Ladakh - what a wonderful place in the Himalaya!
The Indus valley in Ladakh is full of monasteries and the Buddhist prayer flags blow in the wind.
Below: Thikse monastery
Along the road to Leh, one passes hundreds of 'stupas'. Every Buddhist will pass them by in a clockwise direction. The stupas symbolise the Buddha.
Stupas in the lush green upper Indus valley.
Below: Dani seeking shelter under a rock face during a sleet and snow storm near the top of Khardong la (5400 m.a.s.l).
Prayer flags blow in the wind everywhere in Ladakh. The five colours symbolising the elements of life.
Below: The road leading to the remote Likir monastery.
Likir monastery, truly a marvellous place. The huge statue of Maitreya (the coming Buddha) dominates the monastery. It was built in 1998 and was blessed by the Dalai Lama himself. Note the way Maitreya is sitting - in a position to get up quickly because he is the coming Buddha.
Likir monastery overlooking the mountains in Ladakh.
A friendly Monk in Likir monastery.
Once a year the monks make a sand Mandala (also seen in the film - 7 years in Tibet), Dani and I were extremely fortunate to be able to spend time watching the monks in a closed room in the monastery, working on the mandala. They had already spent about 5 full days making it and it was nearly finished. It is amazing to watch how they make it, especially because it is only made once a year. Sand mandalas are a Buddhist tradition and they are made from coloured sand. A sand mandala is ritualistically destroyed once it has been completed and its accompanying ceremonies and viewing are finished to symbolise the Buddhist doctrinal belief in the transitory nature of material life.
From Likir monastery we cycled on to the wonderful hilltop monastery at Lamayuru. The route took us through a spectacular canyon - the moon valley!
Below: The young monks at Lamayuru monastery
Below: A local Ladakhi man with a prayer mill
Below: The last and final pass on our wonderful trip through Ladakh - 'Fatu la' at 4091 m.a.s.l. marks the western end of Buddhist Ladakh. The road leads on to Srinagar and Pakistan.
Below: Lamayuru monastery - a wonderful and peaceful place!
Below: A roadside restaurant offering delicious Samosas! A typical Indian snack that I love to bits.
If you want to feel the dirt a bit closer.... then come to the slide show!
I can recommend any cyclist to go and visit India - a fascinating country.