Authors Note: Flandria and her husband have moved from Nepal to Ladakh, India. They are both training for the Manali-Khardungla Cycling Championship that will take place in Ladakh, India starting July 25 through August 4. Flandria is also covering the 8-days adventure mountain bike stage race. Now residing in Leh for two months, she will share a three part in-depth look of what the race entails.
Leh, Ladakh is a city that sits at 3505 m (11,500 ft) and it’s also known as “Little Tibet.” It is also the largest city in Ladakh. Ladakh is divided into states and Leh belongs to the Jammu and Kashmir state which consist of 50% Tibetan Buddhist and Kashmir population. Jammu and Kashmir belongs to India but it’s also divided between China and Pakistan. Ladakh is a strategic trading route and there’s been continuous attempts by China and Pakistan to acquire more land. The borders between India, Pakistan and China are restricted areas so an “Inner Line” permit is required in most places for tourists to track their whereabouts.
Leh is where the final and penultimate stage of the Manali-Khardungla Cycling Championship will start. Right at the base is the busy bus stop of Leh and the Manali-Leh road climbs 39 km to Khardung La (“La” means pass) at 5602 m (18,380 ft). Manali-Leh road claims to be the highest motorable road in the world. Just to give a perspective of scale, it’s just shy 795 m (1,942 ft) lower than Mt McKinley, North America’s highest peak and higher than Everest Base Camp! Imagine riding a mountain bike climbing from 11,500 ft to 18,380 ft in one day.
The road is mostly paved and it was originally used by the Indian Army to move supplies from Manali to Leh. The Indian Army has a large presence with their army base in Ladakh, however the road was opened up for public and tourist travel in 1970’s. This allowed opportunities for tourism especially motorbike tours. The Indian Army has many check points along the road and are maintaining the road throughout the year. Copies of “Inner Line” permits are required at the check points. The Manali-Leh road are frequently traveled by local buses, tour buses, taxis, motorbikes and even mountain bikers. There are many villages to stop with tent eateries and lodging. Some villages will have expensive hotels down to a simple parachute tent with a single bed for 500 rupees ($8) per night. A few places also provide “home stays” or spending a night with a local family.
Mountain biking is still at it’s grassroots in Ladakh. There’s no bike shops around except a couple of touring companies who offer their very basic knowledge of bike repair as needed. Delhi, which is about 3 days bus ride from Leh would be the closest city with cycling shops. Bike touring companies provide guided tours and bike rentals. There are paved roads and highways that lead to other cities like Srinagar or to the many dotted Buddhist monasteries or to the popular Pangong Lake.
The landscape of Ladakh have a wide range of terrains from dirt roads used by locals to trade, desert sands, high mountain peaks and continuous valleys that follow the river. Many mountain bike routes are reached as a multi-day trip on your own which will require being self sufficient and tent camps are available along the way to spend the night. Travel tours with a group will provide tents for camping, meals, bike assistance and a sag for support.
The Manali-Khardungla Cycling Championship or MKCC is a unique adventure mountain bike stage race wherein it highlights the mountain sceneries along the famous Manali-Leh highway sandwiched between Pakistan and China. MKCC is a race with many challenges at high altitude and yet, it has deep roots to history and culture of Ladakh.
There is no other race like it in the world because of it’s location, high-altitude trans-Himalayan cold desert. The race will require some acclimatization before getting to the start line. The average height in Ladakh is about 11,000 ft. The first edition of MKCC in 2014 was also the first ever organized cycling competition on the Manali-Leh-Khardungla circuit. Only two racers finished. The second edition in 2015 will be supported by the Indian Army. There will be support vehicles spread in the race across all stages. Mobile hydration and refreshments for the riders will be provided regularly. Experienced race marshals will be keeping an eye on every racer. There will be a host of support crew moving with the race, including chefs who will prepare sumptuous food with high nutritional value. The diet plan has been prepared with expert inputs from dieticians and fitness experts, keeping in mind the high energy requirement of the riders and the particular environment of the region. There will be advanced medical support and ambulance to take care of any health concerns. The race will have a mix of organised and camping accommodation.
Due to the demands of high-altitude, the stages in 2015 have also been modified to help racers acclimatize better in a phased manner. Not only will the Indian Army provide support for this distinctly rugged and tough race, but they will also send their best cyclists to compete.
The race route is 473 km (296 mi) on the Manali-Leh Road, famous in India for it’s magnificent views on the road crossing four high mountain passes all above 13,000 ft. Each stage will be a highlight of many unique terrains and difficult elements of the high mountains. Weather can be unpredictable at the higher passes. Some sections of the roads are rough and bumpy with stretches of sand, gravel and rocky terrain. The technical high passes will guarantee adrenaline-fueled descents.
Ladakh will bring race participants back in time as it will pass many villages (some nomadic), Buddhist monasteries or “gompas”, stupas or Buddhist relics and chortens. Gompas are ancient place of worship for the Tibetan monks and can be seen up in the hills dotting the landscapes. Chortens are small Buddhist shrines scattered around the valley, up the hills and along the highways. Prayer flags sending prayers as the wind blows can be found amidst the top of each pass signifying arrival to the top.
Northern Escapes and Cycle 4 Change, are pioneers in bringing India’s first ever cycling championship presented to the world. Northern Escapes founder, Gaurav Schimar says, “Borne out of sheer passion and love for the region, MKCC gives you the chance to compete in the highest race on the planet. With MKCC, we plan to wedge India firmly on the world endurance cycling circuit”.
According to MKCC, cycling as an organised sport is still in its initial stages in India as compared to countries like France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Netherland, USA or Australia. Cycling 4 Change aims to popularize cycling in India with challenging, creative and fun events; promote cycling in all its forms across India, leverage cycling as a medium of bringing about change in society and transform India into a cycling-friendly nation.
The MKCC is 8 days of hard racing in tough conditions. The demanding high-altitude trans-Himalayan cold desert attitude will test your mental toughness. Race Director Anil Uchil adds, “The Manali-Khardungla route is highly inspirational for the global cycling community. MKCC will be something that every participant will be extremely proud to be part of and compete in, for all of their lives. And a word of advice for all riders: the route is not so much about physical capability, it is more of a mind game to be won!”
The MKCC‘s second edition also offers two options for non-racers, the 2 days “mini-stage” racing and an ultimate cycling adventure tour. The 2 days “mini-stage” race is perfect for those who want to get a taste of racing up Rohtang Pass at 3,978 m (13,051 ft) then ride the rest of the route to Khardung La. The ultimate cycling adventure tour is an experience of a lifetime. Ride the route at your own pace at your own distance. Support vehicles will be able to transport you to the next stage. More information about the options including the 8-days stage race can be found on MKCC under “Events“.
Race fee is 35,000 rupees (INR), if converted to current dollar conversion it would be around $584. Check out additional discounts at MKCC under “Registration“. Women participants get 10% additional discount.
To find out more information about the race, visit Manali-Khardungla Cycling Championships 2015.
Stay tuned for Manali-Khardungla Part 2 as we talk more about the experience of training at a demanding high-altitude trans-Himalayan cold desert. What will it take to finish the 8-days stage race of MKCC?
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