Kevin Swains
Travel Website
This is Kev's Travel Blog

Manali-Leh 1

17km would in the morning saw me joinig the Manali-Leh highway. The highway is a ledgend in cycling circles having two 5000m+ road passes and crosses the Great Himalaya and Zanskar mountain ranges. It's also wild country with few towns and all accomodation is temporary and packs up over winter.
Generally this is'nt the time to be in this area and most wait till mid July. But now it's relatively quiet and the weather is perfect, it's like these guys are having an Indian summer!
I join the road at Grampu and I'm greeted by a massive truck convoy. I see more traffic in the next 20 minutes than in the past 2 weeks. From Gramphu it's a twisty downhill to the police checkpost at Khoksar. The road is norrow and only one-way traffic is allowed, hence the traffic chaos I'm in the middle of! But I enjoy the occasion, drafting the fume belching trucks into the corners and nipping on the inside on the hairpins.
I duck into a chai shop in Khoksar and wait for them all to pass....

Big Tuff Guy
I'll be off then! Sign at the base of the Baralacha La.

The landscape turns green again. I cycle along a valley dotted with small villages. On my right hand side are farms and on my left a mountain ridge with glaciers way up on the tops. At the bottom of the mountains lie impressive terminal morrains, giving a hint of the past gloryof these now small glaciers and a reminder of worldwide changing weather patterns.
I head on towards the major town of Keylong, the only town along this route. I need to clean myself up a little and this is the only place for me to do it. My clothes are filthy, smelly and scummy and I have enough paneer to feed a small village! I find a room with hot water and wash it all away. Afterwards I find a small metal workshop and have a bracket made for my front cycle pannier. It only cost U$0.50 and is 10 times stroger than the origional.

From Keylong the traffic slacks off a little and the racing local busses dissapear. I feel a little more relaxed.
I was knocking along up a steady climb to Patseo when all of a sudden I heard "ow-is-ee". I looked around and way-way in the distance I saw a cricket match happening on a small pitch of the hillside. I had to laugh because it's very
India indeed:)
I move onto Patseo and a noisy night in a chai stall that is all of 4mx4m and no protection from the cold. It only costs me U$0.75 and I get the only bed, a charpoy (Indian rope bed). The locals tuck into the local plonk and the volume rises. The Indians are very noisy at the best of times but when they hit the turps things always turn nasty. I pop in my earplugs but they do little. Tomorroww is a big day and I get little sleep.

Army Convoy up the Baralacha
A 30min army and civilian convoy cause unbelievable noise, dust and diesel pollution in the pristine morning Himalaya air at the start of the Baralacha La.

I head of for what is probably the hardest day of the route, over 1000m climbing on poor roads. It's bloody freezing and I blow my fingers counting the minutes to the approaching sunlight.
I hit the Baralacha La. Things seem great until.....a massive convoy of army and then civilian trucks roars past. There is dust everywhere, it mixes in with the masses of diesel fumes and I'm deafened from all the engine noise. I can't belive this is the
I take it easy up the climb. I can't take risks with the altitude because I'm travelling solo. In fact it's arguable that I shouldn't even be here at all alone!
The viewing has changed again. Now everything is big, brown and bare but no matter how I try I can't make it look like one! I ammuse myself on the thought for hours:)
Eventually make it to the summit and get a free chai from some Indians. I look way into the distance and see the
Kunzum La. The views are mesmirising!

Baralacha La Views
Looking back down the Baralach La.

Head down a poor downhill for 15km before the roads becomes good and I pick up speed and begin to swerve from side to side enjoying the smooth tarmac.
I'm heading to the parachute tents of Darcha and pass some great accomodation with great views in the kms before reaching Darcha.
Arrive at Darcha and can't belive it. It's crap!
About six grotty tents and I have to choose one. Costs less than U$0.50 so can't really complain. Fill my face with more bland dal and rice and spend the night sharing with Indian truck drivers.
Go for a morning wash in the river. I walk to the rivers edge only to find turds to greet me. I can't believe in this day and age the Indians still don't know very basic hygene.They use this water for drinking!
I wash and filter the water for drinking. I prey my filter is as good as it says!

Baralacha La Summit
Incredible  weather and views at the Col De La Baralacha (4883m).

Head off for the Lachlang La at 5060m. After 15km I'm only 2km away from Sarchu having looped around the wide and impressive river valley.
Soon hit the 21 Gato Loops (hairpin bends) etched into the hillside. I count them as I climb and end up with 25:) Maths was never my strong point. The loops are hard but I enjpy them, picturing myself in the Tour De France climbing Alp Duez (which I think only has 13?).
At the top of the loops it's a further tough climb to the windy Nakeela pass. I reach it pretty tired, do the photo thing and head of downhill to Whiskey Nullah, a dry riverbed where I plan to spend the night. I set up my stove but it fails to light. Theres' no dhabas anywhere so I decide to move on, doing the next days ride today. I'm tired and hungry and try my best to eat dry 2 minute noodles. I give in and throw them away and eat a packet of bourbons and a small bar of chocolate instead and set off up towards the
Lachlang La.

View up the Lachlang La
Looking up the climb of the Lachlung La, my first 5000m+ mountain at 5060m.

For the last few days I've had incredible wind. It must be all the curry? I enjoy it but it always leads to one thing....PILES! Every fart brings more and more pain:(:(
But thats not all my problems. I have nasty saddle sores as well. As I climb the Lachlung the wind situation gets worse and things are-a-stingin more with every outburst! I clench hard and push on.
I look up the Lachlung La and I can't belive I can do it in my tired state. It's head down and concentration time. I make good time and with 6km to go tuck into my boiled sweets for a sugar rush.
The next time I look up I see the summit and can't belive I've done it. I feel good on the top.
On the summit I walk over to the prayer flags and swear to the gods that I'll never tell any Frank Bruno jokes again, now I know what it's like to be hammered around the ring....
A passing van load of Napalis stop, greet me and shake my hand, congratulating me on my acievement. I leg it before they break my wrist!
Make it to Pang. More paractute tents, fortunately slightly better than Darchas!
Unfortunately the toilets are far worse, or they would be if they were any!
I go for a wash in the river. The whole area is a huuuge turd. I head upstream to find slightly cleaner water. I wash and filter some drinking water.