Best Bike Tour

Leh to Manali, Ladakh

Oct 27, 2006
Outside Magazine


I mountain-bike for the downhill, which is why I was thrilled when I heard about riding in the Himalayas: 20-plus-mile descents. So I headed for India's northwestern state of Ladakh, home to some of the most remote bike touring—and biggest downhills—in the world.

At 11,500 feet, the town of Leh—where I met up with a dozen other cyclists on a tour with Aspen-based outfitter KE Adventure Travel—sits over 1,300 feet above the highest incorporated town in the United States (Leadville, Colorado). In three weeks, we would cross 480 miles and four high-mountain passes, including two above 17,000 feet, in a traverse to the border town of Manali. First up was the Khardung La, the highest motorable pass in the world. We pedaled our way up the switchbacks and eventually came to a greasy sign: HIGHEST ROAD IN THE WORLD, HT. 18,380ft.—YOU CAN HAVE DIALOGUE WITH GOD. The only dialogue I was having was internal: What were you thinking? I was enduring altitude headaches, nausea, and total fatigue. But that all seemed trivial compared with the scenery. We spun from wide-open desert to high-alpine vistas with receding glaciers and rocky moraines. We passed fantastically eroded mud-and-rock sculptures and cycled along vibrant turquoise rivers. At one point, we zipped through 22 hairpin turns on tight switchbacks, descending more than 10,000 feet—all before lunch!

On our final day, atop a pass overlooking the Kulu Valley in Himachal Pradesh, we ate cheese sandwiches and boiled potatoes with the Karakoram at our feet. Then one last thrill: We mounted our bikes and flew back down to Manali, a final zinging descent of more than 20 miles. DETAILS: Trips cost $2,795, departing in July; 800-497-9675,

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