Extreme solo travel in the Indian Himalayas

Solo travel expert Shirine Taylor shares her tale of total solitude while cycling in the mountains of Northern India

“If you’re bored with life, if you don’t get up every morning with a burning desire to do things, then there is more to life than you have yet to realize.”

The morning light finally hits my tent and I poke my head out for a look around. The sun has risen above one of the many 6,000m peaks in the vicinity, warming the high altitude air considerably and tempting me out of my sleeping bag.

I put on wool socks, long underwear, and a large down jacket before venturing out. Mornings above 5,000m are never warm, even in the middle of summer.

I start my stove and prepare my daily breakfast of oatmeal as I munch on a few Indian crackers. I am starving – yesterday was one of the toughest days of cycling yet, but by the time I finished setting up my tent I no longer had the energy to make a proper dinner.

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After sleeping twelve hours I feel refreshed and alive. Plus, every moment cycling is always worth the effort and the exhaustion I endure. Every single painstaking breath I take at this altitude is worth waking up to the rocky and desolate beauty of the Indian Himalayas.

There are no trees, no birds, and no humans. The only sound I hear, beside the quiet hissing of my stove, is coming from the small trickle of water running along the rocks beside my tent. I know I am the only living creature for kilometers around. The altitude has created a stark rocky landscape where nobody and nothing can survive, and with it, a haven for mountain loving cyclists.

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It’s late, just past 11am by the time I pack up my tent and slowly start on my way, but I don’t mind. I would spend months camping here if I could.

I continue climbing the pass I spent all day inching up yesterday, cycling on the dusty unpaved switchbacks they laughingly call a road. My speedometer occasionally flickers to a depressing zero, the device doesn’t believe a cyclist could seriously be going slower than 4km/h.

Little does it know that this snail’s pace has become my new normal over the last few weeks while traversing Ladakh and Spiti, the high altitude mountainous regions of northern India, where I’ve reached an altitude of 5,600m while cycling over the highest motorable pass in the world.

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Though I only have a few kilometers left on my journey, I know it will be another hour or two until I make it. I’m no longer shocked how long a few measly switchbacks can take in these conditions, and I couldn’t think of anywhere else I would rather be.

Just before I reach the top I come to a nala, a small stream that flows easily over the rocky road as if it wasn’t a road at all (which it’s most definitely not).  I have encountered many streams such as this one along the way and I usually push my bike across, soaking my socks and shoes as I walk through the ice cold water.

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This time I decide to cycle through the stream in order to stay dry.

I’m halfway across by the time I feel my bike tipping dangerously, and suddenly my bike and I take a plunge straight into the freezing water.

So much for staying dry.

I eventually reach the top of the pass, wet but content, and decide to dry off in the sun as I prepare a noodle soup to go along with my cookies and peanuts.

It is late in the afternoon, so after eating quickly I pry myself away from my relaxing picnic site and head on down the path’s steep descent.

Though I have always envisioned descents to be the “fun part” of cycling, in reality, going downhill is mentally taxing and the death grip I use on my handlebars leaves me with hand and arm pain that lasts for days.

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There are definitely more enjoyable descents than those done on rocky cliff-side unpaved roads, but probably none more astounding or terrifyingly thrilling.

There is no one and nothing around, I’m alone in the middle of the Himalayas. In fact, the region is so peacefully quiet that I sometimes forget that I’m not alone in the world. It is the feeling of solitude, blissful, wonderful solitude.

 

Shirine Taylor is a regular contributor to The Happy Passport and is a currently cycling around the world. Follow her journey at awanderingphoto.wordpress.com.

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One comment on “Extreme solo travel in the Indian Himalayas

  1. RebekahVoss Post author

    There are so many different kinds of ‘brave’ – you have to be brave to travel solo, but you also have to be really brave to face yourself in times of solitude. It’s so awesome how you’re brave in both ways! And what’s more, you’re one of those rare individuals how ENJOYS solitude and thrives upon it. Great post Shirine!
    RebekahVoss recently posted…Extreme solo travel in the Indian HimalayasMy Profile

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