Cycling trip is not as easy as you think.
A lot of sweat and determination defined the cycling trip Dr Shridhar Iyer and his son Kartik recently undertook. They were joined by Dr Iyer’s cousin, Mr Ravi Krishnamoorthy, on what is best described as a bicycle expedition of Himalayan proportions.
Dr Iyer, 46, a senior consultant at National University Hospital’s Hepatobiliary and Pancreatic Surgery and programme director of its General Surgery residency programme, wanted do something different.
That was when his 15-year-old son Kartik and Mr Krishnamoorthy, 50, a Singapore citizen, came on board.
They had done just sightseeing in previous holidays and they wanted to make this trip “special” and “memorable.”
So they registered for a 10-day cycling trip in the Himalayas. It would take them on a 550km journey, climbing heights of up to 5,600m in the difficult Himalayan terrain.
To prepare, they charted out a training schedule to build stamina and muscle.
Mr Krishnamoorthy has always been an ardent cyclist. His favourite route is through the park connectors from Punggol to Changi beach via Pasir Ris and Loyang. But Dr Iyer “was never really into fitness”.
Kartik, a keen cross-country runner, tried hard to fit in time for exercise even as his IGCSE loomed.
The trio focused on incline training by cycling up and down Mount Faber.
When the humidity got to them, they went to a cycling gym that simulates road biking and terrain resistance. It was gruelling and all three had to juggle busy schedules.
Dr Iyer, who is married to an anaesthesiologist, also made sure he and Mr Krishnamoorthy underwent medical tests to check for cardiac fitness before embarking on the trip.
The trio left Singapore for New Delhi in June and met the rest of the group there.
All from Bengaluru, the group knew each other well but warmly welcomed the trio. They became “one big family” quickly.
The group was led by a woman, who also happened to be the only female on the trip.
According to Dr Iyer, the tour company left nothing to chance.
They had their bicycles, safety gear and clothes in place. They were accompanied by a support vehicle, which carried their luggage and provisions. A cook travelled with them.
The first day was spent getting used to their equipment and bikes.
Over the next 10 days, the route took them from Manali (1,900m) to Leh ( 3,500m) – the capital of Ladakh – via Marhi (3,330m), which boasted scenic views of snow-capped mountains and greenery, Zingzing Bar (4,080m) and Khardungla (5,400m).
The terrain was often challenging to navigate and the weather conditions were difficult, but for most part, the group did not have any major setbacks.
The Khardungla-Leh section was the toughest as the air had less oxygen.
And as the days went by, the landscape became barren and deserted. It was only on the seventh day did they reach Tso Kar Lake, where they had a glimpse of colour in the form of fluttering multi-coloured Tibetan prayer flags.
The culture changed from being predominantly Hindu to Buddhist as they climbed up.
The beautiful Buddhist gompas, spectacular views and a sense of adventure kept the group enthralled.
On the third day, they lost network connectivity on their mobile phones.
With this, they symbolically disconnected with the real world to connect with nature.
“We never missed the mobile phone signal and I felt personally recharged by not looking at it for over a week,” said Dr Iyer, who is a Singapore permanent resident.
The downside was that their families back in Singapore had no news about them for the rest of the trip.
The sun rises early in the mountains and they were up at the crack of dawn.
They cycled to their next destination after a quick breakfast. Toilets were usually holes in the ground and they had no showering facilities for the first four days.
Kartik, who was the youngest in the group, told tabla!: “These were minor discomforts and the least of my worries. Before I left Singapore, I was concerned about the back-to-basics lifestyle, but once I got there I just focused on the cycling.”
In the afternoons, the group stopped for pre-cooked meals of khichdi (rice and lentil mash) and pickles. Occasionally, they ate food popular with the locals, such as rajmah (kidney beans) and rice, omelette or noodles.
Their only indulgences were chocolate bars and dried fruits to boost their energy.
They would reach their destination by around 4pm and proceed to rest.
“People would fall asleep all over the place,” said Dr Iyer with a laugh.
“We were dog tired but still enthusiastic about the next day.”
There were some astronomy enthusiasts in the group and they would point out constellations in the pristine night sky, but Kartik would crash out and dream of the food he was craving.
Every day, after being briefed by the team leader, they would set off at their own pace. But they waited for each other before crossing streams together.
They also crossed as many as five high altitude passes.
One of them was the Rohtang Pass (which means “pile of corpses”). Another, the Taglang La, is the second highest motorable pass in India.
They crossed these passes as a group in order to motivate and look out for each other.
Kartik would occasionally pedal off excitedly, but his father was at hand to reign him in.
Despite that, the teenager said he and his father grew closer after the trip.
But not all went according to plan.
Mr Krishnamoorthy was feeling unwell by the third day. His blood pressure had shot up and the medicines that he had carried with him were not able to control it.
He met with a local doctor and was advised not to cycle.
“Not for a moment did I think about coming back,” said the engineer, who is self-employed.
He kept his spirits up by cheering the other cyclists even as he completed the rest of the trip travelling in the accompanying vehicle. He would cycle for short spells whenever his blood pressure was under control.
The keen photographer made the most of the opportunity by taking hundreds of pictures of the magnificent views on offer.
The high altitude was a challenge – all three of them took medication to battle altitude sickness.
Also, the water they drank was collected from streams and filtered.
Food was cooked daily and they avoided soft drinks and fast food. They ate on steel plates so almost nothing was disposed of in an effort to protect the environment from pollution.
Dr Iyer had only praise for the small wayside temples they passed, which had idols from all religions.
“We should have more such places. It would go a long way in bringing down religious barriers,” he said.
Kartik added that the drivers of the Indian army trucks, a familiar sight on the mountainous roads, “were polite and would stop and give way to cyclists”.
Motorcyclists would cheerfully give them a thumbs up sign to warn them that the terrain ahead was hard.
If they gave a salute, it meant they were about to face an enormous challenge ahead.
One would have thought that they would be happy when the journey ended at Leh.
But even though the presence of their wives, who had flown in from Singapore to spend time with them, was a relief and comforting, Dr Iyer insisted it was over “way too quickly.”
Was it tough?
All three agree unanimously agree it was, yet it was fun.
On most days, they woke up with aching muscles, but all three agreed they never once regretted making the journey.
Asked if they would do it again, they say that they are already planning their next trip!
When asked what his key takeaway from the trip was, Mr Krishnamoorthy felt overwhelmed to have developed a lifelong friendship with the ten people in the group.
Dr Iyer felt humbled by the magnificence of nature.