An Inclusive Bicycling expedition to World’s Highest motorable road (Manali to Khardungla).
I was fortunate enough to be part of this extraordinary inclusive Tandem cycling expedition M2K this year and would like to pen down my memories on my blog, as you seldom come across people with similar mind set, who dare to walk along The long road…
Introduction to M2K:
We often talk about people living with disabilities and their challenges. We give emphasis on the things they can not do and we conclude of our own, making them not part of our society. M2K is an inclusive platform where people with or with out physically disabilities come together and display their strength and overcome their difference while cycling together to world’s highest motor able road.
Yes you read it right. The cycling is no more the privilege of able bodied. As part of inclusive society the endeavour is towards breaking the barrier between the abled and disabled in a play full manner.
What is required is empathy towards people with disabilities and understanding their core as they poses much stronger focussed mind and will to achieve impossible.
M2K gives a platform to understand human perseverance better and appreciate the differences. While cycling from Manali 6500ft to Khardungla 18350ft as one synchronised team, one feels the power of being human and the valour behind it. The Will to not give up despite all odds and discomfort, remain focused on the goal, celebrating the differences as well as falling together, achieving the impossible together and inspire each other… the list goes on… thats M2K. aahh!!!
The emotions and the take away from the worlds most challenging inclusive bicycling expedition M2K can not be penned that easily, though I am attempting to put some words to it.
The M2K Expedition:
The M2K expedition is conducted by Adventures Beyond barriers Foundation (ABBF) every year in the month of July-August on the pristine roads of Himalaya between Manali, Himachal Pradesh to Khardungla, Ladakh, India.
The Tandem and solo cyclist come together and take on the journey into Himalays, while pairing together in a manner that one’s strengths/weakness compliment each other and inspire each other, cycle to world highest and the most difficult terrain in himalayas.
The expedition is of eleven days wherein covering a distance of 550km into himalayas with maximum altitude of 18350 Ft. Believe me its an experience of life time and cycling on those roads and altitude is not a joke with almost negligible Oxygen level.
The Organisation (ABBF):
M2K is their flagship expedition and brings along people across the world living with disability along with abled bodies to take on adventure sports as a therapy towards understanding one self and achieving heights. Breaking all barriers of society of do’s and don’t for people with physical disabilities.
“Sympathy’s easy. You have sympathy for starving children swatting at flies on the late-night commercials. Sympathy is easy because it comes from a position of power. Empathy is getting down on your knees and looking someone else in the eye and realizing you could be them, and that all that separates you is luck.”― Dennis Lehane
It is the above thought which governs the inclusive events like M2K to instill social change and treat and nurture our society into an inclusive one.
Tag line of ABBF says Come Play Grow
The motive behind M2K is to build empathy among the society and bring people with disabilities (PWD) along with able bodies to celebrate their differences, making them part of our main stream society.
We play together, cry together only to realise the true potential and strength. We compliment each other and celebrate the differences and at the end go back with a changed outlook as a whole with better understanding of circumstances we come from. Realising people with disabilities (PWD) posses much stronger skill sets and ability to handle life and real situation.
The Tandem Cycle:
M2K consist of Tandem and Solo cyclist. many a time people ask me what is tandem cyclist?
The Tandem cycle is a cycle with two sets of saddle and pedal wherein the two cyclist come together on a single cycle and ride together complimenting each other on various counts.
A blind tandem cycle typically consist of Sited Captain at front and a Blind stoker at the pillion saddle. The blind stoker is equally involved in pedalling the cycle with great strength and inspiring the sited Captain at the front to manoeuvre the curves and bend on the road.
Hey do not mis judge the blind stoker at the back. He is equally involved in the activity and keep the cycle moving in Tandem.
I was privilege enough to be part of M2K 2018 expedition this year and made some wonderful life long memories with the ABBF team and M2K riders. The friends I made and the experiwnce I got totally enriched me and will keep guiding my life and has placed me in a better position to understand people and life better.
My experience with the M2K is difficult to express through words as it envisage different emotion at different times along with learning and understanding of human perseverance. i met Divyanshu Ganatra the founder of ABBF at Gurgaon in 2017 during a Paramotoring event, I was quite excited to know how the society is evolving along with the small though affirmative steps taken by organisations like ABBF. Coming from the similar background and same age as of Divyanshu with similar challenges and complete blindness for three years after my Army tenure, I could easily connect with him and the cause. I was fortunate enough to get functional vision with lots of brain training and life risks activities I took during my blind period, but the scars and the past has always made me stronger and a better person. And here i was in front of a blind guy who lost his vision to glaucoma at the same age as mine. The most exciting part was we all, people with same back ground were celebrating our past and flaunting our scars , taking adventure sports as naturally as any person from normal back ground. This guys Divyanshu was trying to build the gap and inspiring young cyclist from Firefox community to understand disabled world better.
After the paramotoring event by ABBF, I got back to my routine with sweet memories and giggle in the stomach. The whole idea of celebrating life with challenged people was so very exciting and enabling.
One fine evening I got a call from Divyanshu as he invited me to take part in M2K event, which is the flagship expedition of ABBF. Divyanshu knew I would be able to handle the challenge and would be excited to be part of the same. I said yes without much thinking about the altitude and challenge I was going to put my self on M2K as I was already doing my treks and photography into the himalayas from 2003 along with my personal challenges and eyesight.
My wife was excited too and was thrilled o know about the challenge. On after thought, after saying yes to the invite the pragmatic mind took over and was trying to put all the situations into my head, like cycling 550km with no recent past of cycling, high altitude Oxygen issues and what not. Soon the inner dimension of mine took the charge and I got started with the preparations.
Preparation for M2K:
The first challenge in front of me was to get hold of cycle and practice. It was just two and half month to the M2K expedition and if i take out my work travel practically left with one and half month.
I borrowed a cycle from my nephew with a promise of returning the cycle in perfect condition after the practice.
I started the practice cycling after 25 years gap of cycling during the schools days and was excited to rediscover self. The early morning ride exposed me to a newer dimension of my own town with sunrising on my back and sweet chill air kissing my cheeks inspiring me to come back each day only to explore new arena and new sports.
Every morning in hot humid month of July at north India I cycled 20km and 60-70km on weekends. The town I come from the cycling is not a preferred sports, infant it does not indulge much into sports as the spirit of Amritsar, Punjab boast about eating, drinking and merry making. The morning roads were perfect for me to cycle all by myself , rediscovering my own self once again, kindled with childhood memories and revisiting the scars of the past, only to race along with cyclist milk vendors and school children on my route back.
Finally August started and I had a big fall from my cycle injuring my knee and leg badly. The injury was deep and painful, but it is rightly said in our Army training”Its all in the mind” and I sincerely believe in the same. Its all about Manifestation of Mind and if it manifest & channelise the energy in the right direction, nothing is impossible for humans to achieve. I came out of my blind past with the grit of my mind and taming the energies only and now this injury was just a small passing hurdle to my next milestone.
The road trip to Manali
The M2K adventure started before than it was expected as Himachal Pradesh experienced flash floods and cloud burst just a week prior to our expedition dates, closing all major national and state highways due to land slides. it was a daily routine for all of us to get updated about the situation as the land slide was jeopardising the entire program along with the safety of the crew / participant of M2K. I was quite sure that the rain god and sun god will be generous enough to come to our rescue as the cause attached with the M2K expedition was too noble and pious. And when you have clarity and determination in mind it culminates into universe coming to your help. It actually happened, just before a day prior to our reporting the alternate Amritsar Manali route was open and same happened with Delhi Manali highway. Only ordeal was 11-12 hours journey to Manali town got converted into 18 hours long bus ride. But the determined and motivated minds of M2K participants were no way planning to look back and pause.
M2K Flag Off
The M2K expedition was schedule to start on 19 Aug 2018 morning from Manali and we all were lined up at rendezvous point after a good night sleep at Manali. Excited and fully charged up. The prior half day at Manali gave us time to know and understand our cycles better. The minor adjustments and the Tandem partner coordination was made. It took less than 10 minutes for me and my partner to sync with each other. Coming from Armed forces background both of us could communicate and understand each other very efficiently and effectively
The flagoff was done from Manali Helipad with national anthem being played from all three countries. i.e.. South Africa, Australia and India.
The newly coined war cry for M2K by me and duly accepted by ABBF was yelled in its true form during the flag off, kindling new josh and fervour..
” Na rukenge Na Jhukenge M2K M2K” means we will neither stop nor negotiate… winners M2K M2K…
Sneak peak into M2K
The entire M2K 550km was divided into 10 milestones or the camp sites. We were suppose to reach the camp site by evening 1600hrs. The typicall day would start at 0530 hrs followed by morning call, breakfast and medical checkup. The cyclist would start riding by 0730 hrs. The refreshment and water would be served enroute along with the packed lunch. The support vehicles would cover all riders , catering to any contingency be it a medical one or the mechanical attention to the cycles. We would close our ride by 1600hrs approx. The tent were already setup for the riders to rest and fresh Tea along with snacks were ready for riders to close their cycling milestones for the day. Evening would start with a medical round up followed with soup and sharing stories.
M2K has a very interesting concept called “Soup Stories”. This was a casual inclusive platform where the participants would open up, sharing their stories and scars. The platform would invite such a strong vibes that the participant could not stop themselves to touch their inner most past and with no judging audience, a room was created where each participant could get inspired and be proud of the family he/she is part of. The bond made over soup stories would take each participant closer to each other and converts the group of stranger into one big family standing side by side next to each other.
Though there are personal elements to it but as the days passed the participant got comfortable and took pride to share their experience and understanding of life with fellow members.
The M2K cycling journey day wise.
Day 1 Manali. We all reached Manali after a long road trip. This day was kept for resting and recouping our self and get to know the cycling buddies and the cycle. The beast (Cycle) was handed over to us and we were asked to make neccessary changes as per our comfort and requirement like seat adjustment etc… We all took a small ride to ascertain the fitness of the cycle along with getting comfortable with the riding partner. The M2K cycling shirts were handed over and briefing was done to give a fair idea what to expect.
DAY 2 Manali to Marhi. The first leg of M2K was from Manali to Marhi. Marhi is just short of Rohtang pass and the cycling involves steep ascent to the camp site from Manali covering the distance of 37 km. The ride started with lots of josh and all cyclist manoeuvred the busy roads crossing Manali town and opening into lush green meadows. The traffic was intense and involved lots of cautious moves to negotiate the path. Reaching Marhi after the steep ride was overwhelming and to our surprise we were in the advance cyclist group to arrive at camp site. The first very leg of the ride tested our medical preparedness while one of the riders suffered from cramp in the thigh. Below video gives a glimpse of the same.
When the going gets tough…The Tough reports Sick. A M2K rider reports a muscle cramp during the uphill ride.
DAY 3 Marhi to Sissu. The second day of riding tarts from Marhi just short of Rohtang pass which is a steep ascent. On reaching Rohtang Pass every one realises they have covered their first Milestone and the celeberations starts on the first very sight of Rohtang Pass. During my M2K ride we came across a small group of Punjabi movie crew shooting at a water fall. I am sharing this sweet video with you. The cycle ride after Rohtang was pretty interesting as we came accross our first downhill slope to glide on. The cycle flew at a speed unimaginable, though we were taking all precautions. The ride was quick and fast. We crossed the last petrol pump on Manali Leh route and the board cautioned us to refuel. We stopped and took out our energy bars from pocket and refuelled our energy back. The support vehicle came to us to refuel our energy pack too and we were good to go. We reached our second halt Sissu by noon.
Day 4 Sissu to Jispa. The ride started with routine morning warmup exercise and we started riding by 0830hrs. The ride was smooth and did not encounter any major slope or ascent. Reaching Jispa was really exciting as we were told we gonna stay in a hotel with hot water bath. The mere thought of having hot shower kept us moving and we reached Jispa by late after noon.
Day 5 Jispa to ZingZingbar. The ride started on time with morning health checkup and we saddled up for the day along with our energy bars and chocolate. The day would have offered steep ascents and the scenery would have given the extra push to keep us going. On reaching ZingZing bar exhausted the feeling of physically drain out had started to creep in. This feeling do knock all of us, several times during all our adventure activities, That why am I doing this? The argument between mind and soul get triggered each time and the winner always comes out to be the one who gets dominated by the soul.
Day 6 ZingZingBar to Sarchu via Barlachala Pass. By this day many of us had given up on riding and rest were anxious, what is coming next our way? Some of physically challenged riders had shown bigger brave face as compare to abled riders. The mind over matter and the scars kept us all moving despite knowing its an end less road with no respite. Still we all started the ride to reach to our next milestone, keeping the promise made to self “Na Rukenge Na Jhukhege” The ride was strenuous and took lot of energy from us. Finally by noon we reached Sarchu.
Day 7 Sarchu to Whiskey nala. The scenery had changed totally by now. The lush green mountains got swapped with dry peaks with vastness between one range to another. The desert side of the route had started to dominate and the road was endless. We all kept our pace along with the support vehicle covering the ride in three parts. One vehicle was covering the lead cyclist, the second vehicle was covering the the middle section and the last vehicle the party bus was trailing at the end. Fortunately we were in the lead cyclist group. By now the group were made as per the speed and leads. The cycle on roads were shrinking in numbers. The hollywood scenery of Grand Canyon were in front of us. The river and Gorge made a similar landscape as seen in movies. It seem the dunes made by wind and ice are just at a hand distance not realising the vastness and real distance was measuring in kms altogether.
Day 8. Whiskey Nala to Sokar via Lachungla and Pang. The route passes through famous Gata loops probaly 21 in numbers. During my Army training it was popularly said “When going Gets TOUGH… the TOUGH reports SICK’ hahaha. The same was evident by now. The M2K riders were getting truncated in number as the climb was getting tougher and tougher. The rider had an option to pack up any time and board the bus. Whenever they feel comfortable and charged can come back on road to ride. Seeing the arduous climb of Gata loop and Lachungla pass the trailing support vehicle /Bus was getting converted into a party bus. The group was full of party mood and josh to celebrate the camaraderie. We crossed the Gata loops and came across a point where we found thousands of water bottle being offered to a turn on the road. The legend says a soldier died due to absence of water to drink and since then as a homage, passer by offer water to this point.
Pang to Sokar lake. The toughest part was over reaching Pang. Few more kilometers of pedalling would have taken us to Morey plains. Morey Plains is a flat plateau with desert all around. This is the most interesting stretch of M2K. The riders can fly through this stretch with no effort at all. You should not be surprised if you get a tailwind adding to your pace. On reaching Morey plains we decided to carry out an extra effort to skip and cut short the event by one day. Instead of staying at Pang and Debring we decided to cross and stay at Sokar lake at the last end of Morey plains. That saved one day of our ride and giving us an extra day at Leh.
Day 9. Sokar to Lato. The ride was to exciting and by now all participants were aware how the other will react to the climb and mountain passes. After crossing the last major Mountain pass before Leh the ride was downhill and comfortable. The mountains were started to become our friend as the slopes were helping us to ride without much effort and making it easier for us to cover the distance without a single pedal. We entered ladakh ranges and opened into a typical ladakhi scenery. The river was flowing with us and we were about to hit the majestic Indus river very soon the next day. The Lato had a beautiful camping ground along with a small homestay arrangement. The riders chose to stay in the homestay on sharing bais as the journey had become extensive, enduring and exhausting.
Day 10. Lato to Leh. The ride here on was over joyful and ecstatic as Leh was approaching and we could see civilisation around us and Indus river flowing along our side. The first glimpse of river Indus took away all fatigue from us and we felt as the pious river has blessed us with its energy and positivity. The ride was coming to an end and we were ecstatic to be back in civilisation. The gorgeous and massive valley of Leh and surroundings welcomed us as winners. The sight of Leh was so joyful that we all had forgotten the enduring journey we just took to reach this forbidden land. The passer by on road and at village greeted us with a smile. ahhh…little did we realised the altitude we have climbed and descend in last 10 days was to be done again tomorrow in one day in span of 40 kms. Who cares just live in today thats what we had learnt the hard way. Party continues in leh.
Day 11. Leh to Khardungla. The final assault. On reaching Leh we were told BBC was there to cover our ride between Leh and Khardungla. We were happy to hear the same and were briefed in the evening just prior to our last day. The briefing by Doctor was long and descriptive with explanation of High altitude mountain sickness(AMS) symptoms and corrective actions. The M2K rider came with all logical and illogical queries making the briefing too stretched. All sought of fear has already started manifesting among rider;s mind. From almost 10,000 ft to 18500ft to be climbed in one single day and thats too in 40 kms.
All these days of riding and practicing for M2K I had always manifested that I will cover the entire Manali Leh stretch on cycle and I actually did it successfully without taking to support vehicle. I shared the same to my buddy Srinivas sir that all these months I have been manifesting to complete Manali Leh, now this stretch Leh to Khardungla I am not very convinced. But that evening listening to the questions and answers during the evening briefing session we both faujis got charged at the last minute and I said to my fauji partner “Sir we will complete the last stretch to Khardungla come what may and will set an example.
The Fauji Gaadi…
The last leg from Leh to khardungla was really stress full. Each mile we rode seems to be a endless pedalling with no air/oxygen to breathe. Each turn got us into even harder terrain which was not getting finished by all means. Then came the sweet young voice of a fauji girl Namrita from support vehicle, yelling on us… “Come on Fauji gaadi’ The voice was so propelling and persuasive that we fauji duo kept pedalling and moving. The name Fauji Gaadi was given to us by this girl as we both Srinivas sir and I comes from armed forces background. Now the fauji izzat was at stake and the entire M2K team knew that fauji duo will complete the ride fully on cycle. We both peddled for “Naam! Namak! Nishan!.”
Last 9 kms of M2k was the toughest and we realised the road was washed away due to snow and wind. We decided to walk, dragging the cycle along with us as it was not possible to ride the cycle on pebbles. We kept ourself motivated by singing songs. Mere Karan Arjun Ayenge was the dialogue i uttered to Srinivas sir on every bend realising the bend is just another turn with no sign of finishing line. Most of riders by now had packed and had reached the Khardungla top but we decided to give the last push to the finishing line. People enroute were amazed and delighted seeing us and cheered us to reach our destination. The road was never ending and we gave our best, putting into practice all the army training and endurance tactic into this last leg of M2K. At this point we realised the riders giving their last shot were middle age riders. I was 41 years of age, Srinivas sir was 52 and another rider from Australia, Trevor was 64 years. It left me thinking life experiences make you more forcefull and robust mentally. Physical capacity and age has no relevance in difficult situations. Anyways I am glad we did it and finished the M2K on cycle without an inch riding on support vehicles.
Day 12 The Celebrations. The M2K has come to an sparkling end with all its fervour and camaraderie. The group was beaming with joy of completing the toughest ride of their life and discovering a new perceptive of life. The companionship, the learning and the takeaways would guide the riders all through life making them a beautiful being and thanking god and life for all the goodness. We departed for our respective destination the next day.
Itinerary for M2K
|Day 1||Manali||2050 Mtrs||0 Km|
|Day 2||Manali-Marhi||3354 Mtrs||37 km|
|Day 3||Marhi-Sissu||3150 Mtr||59 Km|
|Day 4||Sissu-Jispa||3400 Mtrs||48 Km|
|Day 5||Jispa-ZingZingbar||4400 Mtrs||37 km|
|Day 6||ZZ-Sarchu via Barlachala pass||4845 Mtrs||65 Km|
|Day 7||Sarchu-Whiskey Nala||4400 mtrs||39 Kms|
|Day 8||WhiskeyNala- Pang via Lachungla pass||18 kms|
|Day 9||Pang-Debring via Morey plains||4835 Mtrs||40 Kms|
|Day 10||Debring- Lato||4700 mtrs||53 kms|
|Day 11||Lato-Leh||3462 Mtrs||58 Km|
|Day 12||Leh-Khardungla||5602||40 Kms|
Breaking the barriers.
Generally we are surrounded with lots of stereotype notions attached with people living with disability. When I was preparing for M2K and I told my friends that there would be participants with single arm,Obe leg or with blindness, the first reaction was if they can do it then it would be definitely easy for us to do. Whereas the reality is other way round. People with disability poses much deeper courage and strength that a able body may not posses. The barriers are being broken and events like M2K are perfect example of the same.
Below is the video showing a sited M2K Captain explaining route to a blind stoker.
Route Map of M2K.
Below is the Google route map Manali to Khardungla we took during M2K cycling expedition.
The take aways.
Life will change forever after the M2K event. Some will start appreciating life with all its odds and some will start looking at life with a newer perspective. I felt really humble and grateful to God for all the good things he has blessed me with. Despite all odds I am able to appreciate life and make friends. I see a more inclusive society coming into being and the most important respect and empathy growing around us.
The M2K will have a different take aways for a different individual. Its a basket full of rich experiences and one can pick any or all of them to make and understand each ones life beautifully and humbly.
I had promised to myself to complete the entire stretch of M2K on cycle and I proudly did it. proving to self that its all mind over matter and Veren you need to move on, despite the present may not be that comforting and rewarding. Life is all what we manifest.
The life after the event is more satisfying and beautiful. I started giving importance to my inner voice more than the external noises. It was great to connect and celebrate life with people with similar challenging past. The participants are now family to me and I can call on them any time I am feeling low.
Events like M2K are the best host to learning the life’s true meaning. The inclusive society is an ideal place to be and events like M2K would help all of us to inch towards its real sense. Inclusivity in all respect, be it a sports or be our routine life. Inclusive society was a far off dream few years back, when I suffered my injury and linked prejudice along with it as I come from visual impaired background, but its changing and changing fast.
There are still a part of society who thinks having a disabled child or member is an outcome of a past sin they have committed in their previous birth. I am confident endeavours like M2K will help break this notion and lay founding stone towards an inclusive world..
We are privileged to be born in supportive families and have great friends around us from events like M2K. I am thankful and delighted to be part of society which is inching towards the real inclusive spirit. Thanks to endeavours by ABBF and making the dream world into a reality.
At the end I sum it up with the war cry I deliberated upon for long.
“NA RUKENGE NA JHUKENGE… M2K M2K” ( We are unstoppable and non negotiable.)
Photo credits: Arvin https://www.facebook.com/arvintakesphotos/
Special thanks to Arvin for taking these beautiful Photos while riding along with us on M2K 2018.
General FAQs for M2K
Below are some frequently asked questions typically put to me to answer about M2K. Though a detailed FAQs will be handed over by ABBF to the participants on enrolling to the event.
Any person with or without disability can participate in M2K. Disability like visual impairment and orthopaedic are majority in numbers among participants.
Abled people can also participate as cyclist or support crew. The abled body person will be the captain for the person with disability.
M2k has two sets of cycles Tandem cycles and Solo cycles. Tandem cycles wherin able and challenged person can ride together in Tandem. Solo cycles are used by able body people or person with special needs.
Ideally it requires 11 days of cycling and two additional days of transit to and from starting and ending points.
ABBF is not for profit company and work on voluntary contribution. M2K may cost roughly 50,000INR to 100,000INR per individual The event is voluntary based and the cost may vary as per actuals. You need to speak to ABBF team to ascertain the same.
Let me tell you ABBF makes sure the safety and security of participants as their first priority. Their is a qualified experience Doctor who accompanies the cyclist during the entire event. Regular health checkup every day in morning and after you finish day’s ride is conducted and the records are maintained.
Cycling in mountains is an adventurous activity and all adventure comes with some unforeseen events. The crew of M2K is fully equipped to handle any unforeseen event wich may arise.
Yes you can participate in M2K with your own mountain bike. You need to take a prior permission from ABBF and need to maintain the spares for the same.
The M2K ABBF crew consist of cycle technician along with all important spares in the support vehicle. In case of any break down the rider need not worry for the same and just look for the support team to take on.
M2K is an cycling event and yes you need to pedal all the way up. In case you feel tired or you are not in position to cycle after some time, you can always pack up and sit in the support vehicle. But it will be really great if you do not give up as its all in the mind and we need to battle it out.
There are patches where BSNL and Airtel works but it is not very reliable. The major towns enroute like Manali Rohtang pass, Keylong, Jispa and Leh has connectivity. BSNL s the most preferred network in the hills.
M2K Participants are given clean hygienic vegetarian food enroute which is freshly prepared by the logistic staff every day.
Accommodation will be primarily in tents and camps during the event except for the day one in manali and on the last day of the event at Leh.
HOW TO PARTICIPATE IN M2K
- Reach out to ABBF (ADVENTURE BEYOND BARRIERS FOUNDATION.
Reach out to ABBF with your interest and status at the following address.
- Fill in the the necessary registration.
Fill up an easy M2K registration form and enrol for event.
- Make your Travel Bookings
Book your mode of transport to reach Manali and backward booking from Leh.
- You are good to go.
Thats all. Rest every thing will be managed by M2K ABBF team.
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