What is bike-packing? Most people have heard of back-packing, in which a person travel with all of their belongings in just one back-pack. Bike-packing or bike-touring is just an extension of that. In this form of travel, all of the belongings are tied on a bike with the help of special bags or anything else you can find. I have been interested in this from my college days when I used to watch videos on youtube of people travelling the world on bike. It was fascinating for me to travel such long distances without needing much, except food and sleep. It felt like freedom.
When I went to participate in a trail running race in Manali, I thought about trying bike-packing myself. With abundance of bike-rental available in and around Manali, I couldn't find a convincing excuse to not try it. Of course, I was scared a little bit about riding long distance alone in a new place. But still it wasn't much different than any other ride. This was the first time, I was travelling solo and I was anxious about everything from where to sleep to where to eat. Finally, I decided to go with it and figure out everything on the way. Soon, I decided on the route for 2-3 days of riding with the help of other experienced fellow cyclists. The route would start from Manali and enter into Lahaul valley via Atal tunnel, stay in Keylong, then next day ride from Keylong to Baralacha La pass.

Route from Solang valley to Keylong

On the 13th of October, starting from Manali I decided to cover the first 10 km from Manali to Solang valley in a bus. What a start to a bike-packing travel in a bus. I decided on this strategy, because the distance of 20 km from Manali to Atal tunnel is a very steep climb of 1000m. Since I wanted to enjoy my first ride instead of fighting for my life, I decided to cover the first half in a bus and prevent myself from exhaustion so early. The second part still did not give me much joy. At some moments on the uphill, I felt that my bike might go backwards instead of going forward. Some travellers passing by offered me help to reach the tunnel, but I had too much confidence in my abilities.
At last, I reached the tunnel after torturing my lungs and legs to the limits. These 10 km were a reality check for someone like me who come from the plains after riding few hundreds of kilometres and think that they can climb. This ascent put me in my place. As I sat there, I enjoyed the sandwich I had brought along for moments like these​​​​​​​. I had never expected that a ride could feel like such suffering yet still be satisfying.
After taking permission from the security guards sitting at the entrance, I entered inside the tunnel. Moving slowly on the left side of the road and breathing a lot of smoke, I came out of the tunnel after 30 min. There, I found a completely different world from the one on the other side of the tunnel. I was welcomed in Lahaul valley by the strong and chilly winds. Views were quite opposite to the one I left behind. Here, I saw barren, desert-like terrain and rugged mountain landscape in contrast to the greenery, forests, meadows in Manali. I was relieved that most of the climbs were finished and further ride was relatively easy.
After hours of riding in this beautiful valley, I reached Keylang. I booked a room to stay for the night on my way. Sunset looked very beautiful when sun hid itself behind towering mountain peaks surrounding the town. These remote towns closes very soon in the evening due to cold temperatures and the dark. Sky was clear in the night. With almost zero light pollution, I was able to see so many stars in the sky. I went for the dinner around 7 PM because the market was about to close. Due to tiredness from the whole day ride, I fell asleep as soon as I reached my room.

Tried documenting the ride on my phone (Google Pixel 4a)

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