We entered in Lahaul, literally “the land of many passes”, of course mountain high-passes, many and very, very high.
Here begins the road which connects Manali with Leh, the planes of India with the Himalayas, with Tibet; with that other world of heights. A mythical road because it is one of the highest in the world, famous among the long distance cyclist and motorcyclist for its beauty.
Cycling through it, crossing these lands, was the impulse that made us to come to India again, and now finally, we entered after leaving the Spity Valley, through the Kumzum La pass, which made us suffer more than we expected, not much in the ascension, but descending. Due to the snow melting we found many streams crossing the track from side-to-side. We had no other choice than to remove the shoes, roll up the sleeves of the pants and get ready to push hard because the big rocks in the streams under the water and the weight of the bikes makes this task a tough work, heavy and tiresome.
We got desperare everytime we saw that again appeared another stream on the road. But…. What are we going to do? life is often not what you want, but what it is and, it is best to accept it as it comes, then everything become easier.
If there has been a constant on the Manali – Leh road has been the variety which has surprised us every day with different landscapes. There was no place for the monotony due to the great and continuous contrasts.
From the Valley to the mountain and from there to the first pass that we almost got 5000 meters high and that we climbed better than we could never expect. And thus, crossing the Baracha La pass, we entered in the land of the lamas and officially crossed the Himalayas.
Then came the amazing plains of Sarchu.Green and extensive plains that made us feel again in Mongolia, where was really easy to camp because we could choose a place with close eyes.
Camping in these lands is easy because there is water everywherer, the nature is what surrounds you and people, in the rare case that walk nearby, are quiet and peaceful, nothing wrong or bad can happen, just enjoy, and so we did.
And then more passes, one after the other. Something surprising and unexpected has been the enjoyment to climbing them.
Actually in the heights one has to learn to cycle again because it has no comparison with to cycle on the lowlands. Here the oxygen is in short supply and that does not allow the legs to dictate the limit but the breathing that regulates the effort. You have to stay attentive to it, aware and not accelerate, adjust the pace. That’s the key: rhythm.
Breathing, taking the pace, and something important: to stop just when you need to. That’s what I’ve learned at the time of climbing to more than 5000 meters high: stopping the body recovers and after that, the effort to start on the bike again, it is enough to break the delicate balance with your breath. These first pedalling uphill cause not only the pain of legs, but the choking, drowning, and only after 400 m of suffering, again that rhythm between movement and breathing, that balance comes again, and only then you can feel… calmness.
Once all finally going in rhythmic… who wants to lose it? No me, so I even don´t try to stand up on the bike… just continue, soft, continue, not stop, keep on, soft, rhythm… thus passes the kms of these slopes that often exceed the 40kms of continuous up road. Like this everything is smooth and quiet, here there is no another way, here, there is no way of going fast.
Aitor is able, he stands up on the bicycle and I see him up there, waving me with the hand, giving everything also, together in the distance, sharing different strokes in a path. He takes the photos, here at these altitudes “I don’t have time” for shooting, he has time, while waiting for me. One team, everything fits, in the differences, we find the perfect coupling, and so everything works.
You leave behind those moments where you thought you faint, behind the miseries and sometimes even cursing and wanting to give up…but… now… you are on the top!!!. Those moment are behind, now you reach the top and everything is past. That teaches the bike and the life itself: everything ends, always comes to a point at which everything is left behind and another reality comes, everything change constantly and, on the passes this is a reason to celebrate.
Prayer flags, colorful and moving to the wind are the announcement of the Summit. As tradition dictates, they must be placed as high as possible and of course, these passes are high most… where better?.
A couple of times due to the bad weather we had slept in what here is the only place to get food: big and white tents where you can find little bit of everything (biscuits, chocolates, drinks, dry fruits) and where they cook for you very simple but good, and always you are offered a mattress to sleep for a very chep price.
The altitude is tough but tasty, light in these altitudes is different and the colors are more pure, the sky has nothing to do with places where there is more oxygen, the air, flowers, animals and people that one finds here, are completely another world.
To take the body to the limits is what we have been experiencing in recent times, to really experience what is to be “exhausted”. The body literally empty, only to able make one movement: the blinking. It is as if the force of gravity had increased to infinity and everything would weight thousand times more… even drinking water tires, after swallowing a couple of times one gets without breathing as if he had run a hill uphill, it is sometimes even comic and all of these due to the lack of oxigen. The people of this lands walk without any effort, quite and peacefull, always with a smile in their face and normally singing in low voice something, we found some of them tradding with horses or taking care of their animals that now are grassing up here till the weather allow them to stay around.
The end of the party couldn´t be better. After had climbed the last pass and the hights one (Tanglan La 5.300 meters high) a long descend through a amazing valley was waiting for us, it could have been a landscape of a tale. A stream and the both sides of it huge walls of stone follows it until it dies in the Indus river. The colours were changing between red and green to blue and violet. We were breaking all the time because we didn´t want to miss any detail of that amazing road.
Again the world, the earth and its beauty that amazes one, it gives you again that sensation of not being more than one small part of it, a small part of all: The mountain, the snow, the monastery, the river, the stone, the silence, the cloud and we…. one more piece in the puzzle of everything.