Manali: An Indian Army officer and his fellow have made their way into the Guinness World Records by covering the arduous 427-km long rugged and inhospitable terrains of Himalayas from Leh to Manali by paddling on their cycles by braving harsh climatic conditions with snowfall, extremely low oxygen and temperature.
They are Col. Vishal Ahlawat and Sepoy Ravi Kumar of the Corps of Electronics and Mechanical Engineers (EME Corps) who made a world record by covering this stretch in record 31 hours and 45 minutes on one of the toughest mountain bike expeditions in the world.
The challenge was to finish the expedition in 40 hours to make it into the Guinness World Records.
After crossing three high mountain passes in the cold deserts of Himachal and Jammu and Kashmir - Tanglangla Pass (17,480 ft), Lachungla Pass (16,620 ft) and Baralacha Pass (16,020 ft) - they reached the picturesque resort of Manali on October 31 at 11.15 pm.
The duo started their journey from Leh at 3.30 pm on October 30. They were riding Trek Sports V bikes.
They avoided the Rohtang Pass (13,050 ft) and used the 9.2-km-long Atal Tunnel, beneath the majestic pass, to reach here.
"We started our expedition from Leh late in the afternoon as we wanted to cross the treacherous Baralacha Pass in the morning. Though the height of Baralacha Pass is slightly less compared to two other passes, it normally receives heavy spells of snow. So we decided to cross it in the day time," Col. Ahlawat, 44, who scaled the Mt. Everest in 2016, said.
He said this was the first time he cycled while snowing.
"We were expecting to encounter high velocity icy winds while crossing the passes. But the onset of snowfall has subdued the wind velocity. Secondly, the movement of trucks and heavy vehicles was halted by local authorities owing to onset of snowfall," he explained.
He said they faced oxygen deprivation while crossing Tanglangla Pass and Paang.
"In fact, it is my mountaineering experience that really helped me battling the nerve and selecting the clothing and logistics amidst the challenging mountains," he said.
He said this kind of expedition was a good beginning and a lot of lessons were learnt.
For this officer, who has created a national record in 2007 for cycling from Leh to Kanyakumari in 18 days 17 hours and 35 minutes, no terrain is tough.
"The toughest terrain is that in which you fail to protect your vehicle from certain break down and harm yourself too."
"For the first time we were travelling on the snow-laden, slippery mountainous stretch. With patience and presence of mind, we decided to cross the Baralacha Pass at an extremely slow speed. At slightly high speed, there were chances of slips. At that time, the temperature hovers between minus 10-15 degree Celsius and the water we were carrying in bottles was frozen," Col. Ahlawat said.
He has also created a world record for the longest journey in a single country on bicycle by covering 25,337 km in 107 days, 23 hours, 34 minutes.
A technical team of five soldiers were accompanying both the riders in a vehicle during the expedition.
"All expedition really tests one's nerves, patience and determination. Surviving in extreme cold with low oxygen plus treacherous terrain in high mountain passes is really challenging for a biker," he said.
The strategic Manali-Leh road reopens for vehicular traffic every year in the first week of June after remaining closed for over six months due to heavy snowfall.
The non-stop journey in a four-wheeler between Manali and Leh takes 16-18 hours.
Backpackers descend in Manali from August to September every year. Most of them prefer to drive down the Manali-Leh highway.