Khardung La

Extreme Everything! A forty five kilometre two thousand metre ascent of pain with hourly crapping.

The first epic bike ride we attempted was up Khardung La. This was a forty five kilometre ascent from 3500 metres to 5600 metres, and then rapid descent back to Leh. It took eight hours to get up and 2two hours to come back down again, with generous amounts of stops both ways. Unfortunately I was in the grip of hourly anal-explosions and by half way my energy was so depleted that I had to take the rest of the uphill journey in the support vehichle. Cycling Khardung LaOne thing India has reinforced in me is that life is too short to get hung up on bodily functions – of which I had a healthy dose of already. I managed to lose all remnants of dignity pissing sh#t on the side of a 4000 metre hill whilst my fellow biking explorers were cycling and waving their way around each S bend. Thankfully the others made it to the top without event and from the looks on their faces it was more than a hard slog – from the comments being made it was possibly the hardest thing any of them had ever done including half marathons. The top of Khardung La is surreal, as most of India is, in that it is primarily a military pass which heads off to the border with Pakistan and near China. The only buildings at the top are military and a fleet of army trucks were parked at the top when we arrived. The view was fantastic with seven thousand metre peaks and glaciers as far as the eye could see.

Cycling Khardung La

The trip down Khardung La was exhilarating to say the least. Safety concerns meant that I didn’t quite open it up as much as I could – during all of the days cycling I saw three trucks lying at the bottom of Ladahki ravines – but it was a crazy downhill experience none the less. What quantifies as the world’s highest (or contestably second highest) pass for the last fifteen kilometres is nothing but a dirt road complete with streams, pot holes, giant bicycle breaking boulders and freakish hair pin corners. Adrenalin city. At one point I overtook an army truck that had left before we began our descent to the cheering and waving of the military men crammed in the back. At the half way base camp I got a few claps and salutes, I must have looked somewhat insane. Given that I had no energy to peddle uphill, the down acted as some form of cathartic release – I am free and flowing through the universe!

Cycling Khardung La

Then the days blurred into each other, lying in bed next to Olly, both of us wondering why the hell we were in India. I half expected the baby from Trainspotting to come out crawling along the roof as we rotated turns with the bathroom for projecting from which ever end was necessary. Having sleep interrupted every hour at a high altitude is prime hallucinatory territory. The first day where I was really sick I couldn’t tell when I was asleep and dreaming or awake, the day became one morass of suffering. Each night at around  two am as people deserted the streets, packs of wild dogs would begin roaming and howling through the town. The screams and death throes of unfortunate old cows or donkeys would peel through the night transporting us straight to the eight circle of Hell. The night after Khardung La, and having just thrown up a mouthful of curry at the dinner table which I had foolishly tried to eat, I decided that it wasn’t something that was ‘just going to go away’. Fran gave me a course of informal anti-diarrhoea medication which had the effect of a Delhi traffic rule. The following morning I went to a doctors who prescribed me what turned out to be ultra-heavy duty antibiotics and after one day I was back to some form of regularity. Just in time as then began the proper cycle: four days and over two hundred kilometres from Leh to Kargil.

Cycling Khardung La


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