Thrissur: A cycling trip to an altitude of 18,380 ft along rugged mountain paths where unpredictable weather is experienced was a plan that A S Siyad of Vazhani and Thejas Pius of Edathuruthy turned into reality despite apprehensions expressed by those who knew them at their native place in Kerala.
The journey started on the Sampark Kranthi Express to Chandigarh from Thrissur. Thejas had initially wanted to head to the northeast but Siyad felt that they should set out on a more adventurous trip. They soon decided on their destination, which was Khardung La on the northern frontier in Ladakh.
The youths carried their bicycles and boarded the train on June 17. After reaching Chandigarh, they started their bicycle adventure from Sector 21 there on June 21. They first headed to Jammu and Srinagar. There was fear in their minds, having heard about the tense situation in these places. But the youths from Kerala passed those cities and reached Khardung La, considered the most dangerous as well as beautiful place on earth, on the 15th day.
The most difficult stretch was the 39 km from Leh to Khardung La. They started at 6 am every day and pedalled till 4.30 pm. All along the path, water from melted ice, loose earth, rocks and landslips made their progress tough. The youths had to break the journey several times.
The oxygen level is very low at Khardung La (K-Top) and travellers are not allowed to stay there for more than 20 minutes. Moreover, they have to reach downhill within three hours. It was only when Siyad and Thejas reached the area below, that their ears – which had almost become deaf by the altitude – became receptive to sound.
Srinagar and Moonland
As the youths were heading to Srinagar, they were terrified. But when they interacted with the local people, Siyad and Thejas realized the warmth and hospitality of the residents. Many people were eager to come to the aid of the youths from Kerala. Without incident, Siyad and Thajas passed Sonmarg to reach Drass, the most frozen battlefield in the world.
Wherever there was an obstacle, Indian soldiers were ready to clear it. The youths cycled along tiny villages to step into Kargil. "The hills were all devoid of vegetation and dry. It was a desolate landscape. After August, all the hills would be covered with snow. But a surprising aspect is that no local resident could be seen without a smile," reveal the youths. It was a surprise as well as relief for Siyad and Thejas.
Everywhere, they were received with the words 'julai,' which meant 'welcome' in the local language.
From Kargil, the youths from Kerala negotiated Namika La and Fotu La to touch down on Moonland. As the name suggests, Moonland resembles the surface of the earth's lone natural satellite. The soil was dark and marked with craters. The hills were all in a row and had the same height as well as colour.
Another attraction was the Magnetic Hill, where a vehicle in neutral gear would seem to travel uphill on its own owing to some magnetic attraction.
From Leh, the youths cycled back to Chandigarh via Manali.
A striking feature of the trip was the warm hospitality the youths enjoyed, mainly from Punjabis. "Whenever we met a Punjabi, we were asked whether we had tea and food. In all Gurudwaras, food and accommodation were offered free of cost. There were Gurudwaras at regular intervals from Chandigarh to Banihal. Punjabis were ready to receive anybody anytime in these Gurudwaras. This helped us keep our expenses to the minimum. Each of us spent only less than Rs 15,000, including train and bus fares," say Siyad and Thejas.
On the return journey by the same train, Sampark Kranthi Express, they found that the ticket examiner too was the same person. However, the passengers were different. All of them belonged to Kerala and were travellers who had set out to experience Leh and Manali on foot and bikes.