Three days of intensive mountain biking in the high mountain desert of Lahaul
Keylong is the district capital of the beautiful high mountain valley of Lahaul. The name “capital” is somewhat exaggerated. Locals even call Keylong a village. I would call it a small town. The name Keylong derives from the Keylong towering snow-capped “killing peak”. Killing means “son of Shiva” in the local language.
In Keylong itself, apart from a market, some guest houses and the authorities, there is not much more. Keylong isn’t particularly appealing either. But it is all the more beautiful in terms of the surrounding landscape: high, glacier-covered mountains, green pea fields, small tranquil villages and ancient Buddhist villages.
Keylong is located on the Bagha River and right on the other side is the eight-hundred-year-old Kardang Monastery, which invites for a visit. Kardang was once the capital of the valley.
The Lahaul valley can be reached from Manali via the 3890 metre high Rothang Pass. As soon as you cross the pass, you are in the much higher and drier mountain region. Keylong itself is located at about 3200 meters high.
The people here are Buddhist and everything goes a little slower here.
On the 115 km long tour from Manali to Keylong by bike, I came across pilgrim nuns and monks, observed villagers in their field work and herds of goats and sheeps, which slowly move with their shepherds to the higher mountain regions and have blocked my way one or the other time.
Here time seems to have stopped and while I was riding my bike along the empty highway, I couldn’t see enough of the many proudly towering mountains!
My bike ride itself was quite ambitious. In just one day I wanted to make it from Manali to Keylong. For this it is necessary to cross the Rothang Pass: from Manali it is 2000 meters of altitude and 51 km uphill till the pass! After the climb it goes downhill for 20 km on a very bad road, which is perfectly suited for mountain bikes. In Kokhsar, the first village in the Lahaul valley, there is a passport control and many small restaurants offering simple meals.
Well strengthened I went (sometimes downhill, sometimes uphill) always along the raging Chandra river for 45 km to Keylong. It was already afternoon, I had sat on the saddle for a good 7 hours and my buttocks, as well as my legs, were already hurting, the weather suddenly dragged on. Dark clouds came up, it became stormy and cold raindrops started to bounce down on me.
Within half an hour, the weather had changed drastically. That is the danger of the high mountains! Severe weather can occur here quickly.
But I kept myself brave on my bike and wasn’t so worried, as people were still working quitly in their fields, so these drastic weather changes can’t be quite as unusual here. In addition, every few kilometres there were villages in whose houses I would have found a shelter. But after 45 minutes, the sky cleared again. White mountain peaks shone in the sun and everything gave the impression that nothing had happened at all.
I dragged myself the last seven kilometers up to Keylong and reached my final destination after nine hours of riding time.
The next day the actual event took place: a 45 km long mountain bike race through the surrounding area of Keylong. The small race with at least 25 participants was organized by friends of mine. I did not know the area around Keylong myself, although I had crossed the region several times on the bike tours from Manali to Leh!
I enjoyed the beautiful race (the most beautiful I’ve been in in India so far). Of course, due to the height of 3000 meters, it offered a very special challenge!
The waving and cheering monks in their red cowls by the roadside were definitely the highlight.
After a nice dinner together, we went out of bed early on day 3. At six o’clock in the morning I made my way back to Manali. Back to Manali it was a bit easier, but the day was still long and exhausting and I was happy when I got to the top of the Rothang Pass, because then it was 51 kilomers downhill only!!!