THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: It was the ‘Into the Wild’ moment for Dilip Nair. At over 17,000 feet, along with his bicycle mates, he was stranded, in a bad hailstorm and a snowfall. Taking refuge in a culvert, a few metres away from the Tanglang La Pass, the group of six was right in the middle of nowhere, with no winter gear suited to brave a snowfall. “You can never trust the weather there. It is very unpredictable. And snowfall was not expected at that time. We were trembling like leaves. We stayed like that, numb and frozen for quite a while,” says Dilip. “The support vehicles could not reach us as it was snowing heavily,” he recalls. After waiting for over 45 minutes, they decided to venture out, sensing that the weather wouldn’t improve.
City-based photographer and guitarist Dilip was part of a team of bicycle riders traversing the treacherous Manali–Leh route in July. The ride saw the group go through all the mountain passes in the much famed route.
For someone who has been riding the bicycle ever since he can remember, the ride through the Manali-Leh stretch was one he had dreamt for long. “It was my plan for years. But I kept procrastinating. It was a decision taken on an impulse. I believe that the mountains need to call you for you to go there. I knew I had to ride this season. And that is how the ride happened,” he says.
The ride started from the base camp in Manali. On a daily basis, the riders would cover over 50 km. “The temperature and the terrain are what make the ride adventurous and challenging. Forty per cent of the roads are heavily damaged. Also, you are in the middle of nowhere, with not even a lamppost to take refuge under,” he says.
The bookings were done with the Youth Hostels Association of India (YHI) in April. One month ahead of the journey, Dilip started preparing for the arduous ride. “I have been riding the bicycle forever. I never depend on any other mode of transport. So that helped. Once you start riding in a bicycle, no other mode of transportation can bring you that sense of joy,” he says.
The 14-day ride including the acclimatisation left Dilip in a state of wonderment. “Every second is a frame. You start taking pictures and then you stop. The landscapes just arrest you with its beauty. It was an experience for life,” he says.