Treading on the tiger’s tail

Adventure sports begins to appeal more and more to me as I grow older. I don’t mean “fairground” adventure rides which all tourists take, like zip lines, bungee jumping, riding a quad bike over sand dunes, or plain river rafting. The motor bikers who rode in from Srinagar in streams, aiming to cross Ladakh, are fit. Riding a motorbike is not too much effort, but keeping it up for hours a day and several days in a stretch on these high-altitude roads takes stamina and basic fitness. They’ll spend most of their trip at an altitude of between 3500 and 4500 meters, with occasional climbs to much higher passes. That’s something that I might like to do, and that’s the kind of fitness level that I could reach with some effort.

On the way to Khardung La, I saw a line of ten bicycles on the road to the pass. They were already at an altitude of about 5000 meters when I first noticed them. Riding from 3500 meters up to this pass at 5500 meters, and then down to Leh (3500 meters) was a four hour drive for us. As we passed this line of cyclists, I realized that they would have to plan to finish it between sunrise and sunset. Summer days here still give about 9 to 10 hours of daylight, but it’s not a lot. They were army sappers. They would have a level of fitness that I never had, and can no longer possibly reach. But perhaps I could walk across the pass.

Later, in Leh, I met a man who had been canoeing across rapids here. He was happy to chat with me for a while. He said that he was definitely out of his league here, but he had been lucky in coming down the Zanskar river. He’d spilled only once! He was transitioning from youth to middle age, and he was frank about it, “In ten years I don’t think I’ll dare to do this.” What he did requires skill and fitness, and youth. And, always, in any sport, a little bit of luck.


By I. J. Khanewala

I travel on work. When that gets too tiring then I relax by travelling for holidays. The holidays are pretty hectic, so I need to unwind by getting back home. But that means work.


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