Cycling from Kanyakumari to Ladakh with Tahseen and Pankaj as they pedalled the length of the country to spread the message of ‘Be Generous’! This chalk & cheese duo share about their 40 day ride covering 3900 km and climbing 109638 ft.
Those who have watched Lord of the Rings, will recollect Frodo’s journey, fraught with danger, as he travelled from the Shire to Mt. Doom. Imagine if he reached Mt. Doom and some bureaucrat told him, that Mt. Doom has been shifted. Please try again!
Something similar happened to Tahseen Amber and Pankaj Bose as the duo set out from Kanyakumari on their cycles. The ride was the popular K2K route (Kanyakumari to Kashmir). When they did reach Leh, the government notified them and everyone else, that Ladakh was no longer in Kashmir. Please try again…
Cycling Kanyakumari to Ladakh…
On the 14th of June 2019, Tahseen and Pankaj set out from Kanyakumari on their cycles.
The duo couldn’t have been more different. While Tahseen had been cycling regularly for a decade and had ridden in the high Himalayas multiple times, Pankaj had bought his bike just a couple of days before the start of this mammoth ride.
Tahseen planned the entire ride down to the letter, Pankaj was just trying to get to the start line. One goes by the book, while the other believes in improv.
Even when you meet the two, the difference is stark. Tahseen is quiet, unassuming and reserved. Pankaj is a laugh riot, always ready with a quip and witty retort.
Which makes you wonder, how did the two manage to ride together for 40 days…
Raipur based, Tahseen, had been wanting to ride the length of the country for some time. A lawyer by education, she has been into adventure sports for a decade now, having done courses in mountaineering, skiing and paragliding. Which is how she met Pankaj.
The Faridabad boy, was also an avid mountaineer and the two met while trekking up the rather aptly named ‘Friendship Peak’ in 2017. A year later after climbing Stok Kangri in Ladakh, the two rented out cycles in Leh and went up Khardung La.
While struggling up that incredible climb, Tahseen told a panting Pankaj about cycling from Kanyakumari to Ladakh. Even though he was out of breath, he readily agreed!
Convincing oneself, is just the first tiny step. Convincing family is a whole different ball game.
Tahseen bought a bike built for touring. She wanted to do this ride self-supported. But no one at home was going to allow that to happen. They told her to either go ride solo in some other country or ride in India with a backup vehicle.
Pankaj on the other hand took a rather devious route. He LIED! Not a word of truth he told his family about the upcoming ride. Life’s simpler like that he feels. He told them that he was going to be out on a big cycle ride just a few days prior to departure.
Eventually the two rode together from Kanyakumari, with a backup vehicle. A trade off Tahseen made to ensure that she could ride.
“Try to help people and don’t ask for anything from them. That is what #BeGenerous is all about.“
The underlying message for this trip was #BeGenerous
Tahseen had seen her father always being generous in every walk of life. He not only lived a life of generosity, he also convinced others to do so. It was her tribute to spread this lovely message of being generous with people.
Along the way Pankaj and Tahseen would often be quizzed about these words printed on their bikes. They would go to lengths to explain that it wasn’t an NGO or some sort of cause. It was just a message they believed in and hoped others would also take to heart.
In Nagpur they even spent a couple of days interacting with school children to spread the word.
It wasn’t all one way traffic either. Along the way the both of them experienced countless occasions where complete strangers would be generous towards them. Experiencing it constantly made it sweeter to share with others.
Which is why they chose to cycle, rather than use any other means of transport.
Cycling is so slow and non-threatening, that strangers would go out of their way to speak with them. Travelling at snail pace also allowed them to take in every moment as it happened. Any motorised form of transport would just go too fast to absorb the surroundings.
Cycles indeed make for involving experiences.
Ready, Player One
At the start of the ride Pankaj was filled with exuberance and an appetite for adventure. Where he was lacking was in miles logged. After buying his bike just a couple of days before the start of the trip, he went for a 50 km ride. The longest he had ever done!
He suffered from dehydration and a stomach infection.
The first three days from Kanyakumari, he was in agony, popping pills and weakened with illness. He didn’t tell Tahseen about his condition, because he didn’t want to unduly worry her.
But his problems didn’t end there. The saddle had not been setup properly by the store where he bought the bike. And having a grand total of ZERO experience of cycling, didn’t help either.
His saddle problem continued all the way till Nagpur, where it finally got fixed. Pankaj says the bike felt brand new after that!
The Changes while Cycling from Kanyakumari to Ladakh
India is diverse. The experiences collected while travelling from the tip of the peninsula to the highest motorable road, shows the diversity in all its splendour.
Tahseen says her favourite part of the ride was in South India. Pankaj concurs.
The both of them are mountaineers and have seen considerable chunks of Himalayas. What they hadn’t experienced much was the south.
As Tahseen says, “I actually enjoyed cycling in Tamil Nadu. The highways were beautiful. There were a lot of trees. The highways were wide, roads were good. Less traffic. The food was really nice. And it’s clean everywhere and it is cheap as well.“
“As we would cross the state we could see the change in languages. The language doesn’t change completely. There are a few things which keeps on changing, but it is gradual. That was the beauty of the southern states.”
She had also been looking forward to riding the Manali-Leh stretch, but nature had other plans in store…
Pankaj’s Southern Fiesta
The thing he liked the most about the south was the food. He could eat practically anywhere, without worry of falling sick!
As he says, “The heat there is so much, but after some time you just accept it and it doesn’t effect you. Then you feel like you can’t feel the heat at all, whether someone makes me wear a coat or a sweater!“
The highways were empty and a pleasure to ride on all the way till Maharashtra. Once past Maharashtra, when they entered MP and UP, Pankaj didn’t want to see anything and just wanted to rush through.
Traffic and Aggression
The one point which the duo agree on is the traffic and aggression. As you progress from South to North, both get progressively worse.
In MP and UP, nobody had any sense of traffic and no respect to fellow road users. Which was a far cry from what Tahseen experienced in the south.
Pankaj feels that everyone in the north is always super aggressive. “People will be honking for no reason and generally aggressive. People are more hyper here“, says he.
All of this changed as they moved further north and into the mountains. Where once again people were nice, gentle and helpful. “They help you from their heart, they don’t see what are they going to benefit“, says Tahseen.
Ups and Downs in the Mountains
In the mountains what goes up, must come down. Sometimes it is your cycle, at other times it is your spirit. And as Tahseen experienced, when you are terribly unlucky, it can be your health.
After taking a day’s break in Manali. The two set out from the hill town. Their destination for the night was Koksar on the other side of the notorious Rohtang La. With a couple of kilometres to go to Marhi, they were forced to take a break, since the road was under construction.
Even though they were cycling well that day and had made good time, it was all for nought as they wasted 3-4 hours by the side of the road. Only reaching Marhi by 4 PM.
After lunch in Marhi they pressed on to Rohtang La. “The blunder was to leave Marhi at that time. Anything which happened after that had to be done“, says Tahseen thoughtfully.
They left from Marhi by 7 in the evening and reached the top of Rohtang at 9. Needless to say it was freezing up there and Rohtang battered their spirit as much as it messed with their bodies.
It took them 2 hours to descend through the horrendous road conditions with the help of the headlights of the backup vehicle. They eventually reached Koksar at 10 PM. Dead or at least feeling like that!
This misadventure was all the more poignant considering the both of them are mountaineers and better sense should have prevailed. But what’s a ride without a little bit of adventure eh!
It came home to roost the next day, as Tahseen fell ill in Keylong. A tiny high Himalayan village without even basic medical aid. The doctor was unable to help and the duo lost a week because of the sickness.
Keylong Nursing and Call Centre!
With Tahseen under the weather, the responsibility fell on Pankaj, who didn’t quite want it.
He had to make decisions for her in a remote location, where things can go wrong fast. To add to his woes, he was manning the phones. The unenviable job of answering every call, giving everyone an update and worst of all taking unsolicited advice from everyone, rested on Pankaj.
Tahseen even a year later feels indebted to Pankaj, for all the trouble he took for her. He literally took care of her, as a parent does their sick child.
But the biggest cause of joy was that he didn’t abandon her. Ignoring advice from his friends, Pankaj stuck by Tahseen’s side till she recovered enough to ride. At no point was he willing to leave her and go ahead alone to complete the trip.
His reason was simple, if the roles were reversed and he was the one stuck in bed. Then he would be left with a broken spirit if his riding partner left.
Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you.
The ride theme of course was ‘Be Generous’!
For those interested in the numbers. Tahseen and Pankaj rode 3900 km in 40 days. Due to her bad health, they took another 7 days of recovery. While there was a day’s halt each in Nagpur and Manali. The total number of days from start to finish was 49 days.
In the 40 riding days, they climbed a cumulative 1,09,638 ft.
The bikes used were as different as the two riders themselves.
Tahseen was on a Surly Disc Trucker, a bike built for touring the world. While Pankaj was riding a Firefox Vyper D, a simple machine, which he describes as, “A basic cycle built for young kids going for tuition”.
Neither of the bikes gave any trouble, though the Firefox was slow and heavy to ride.
In the plains Tahseen was almost always faster than Pankaj. She would start 15 minutes after him, catch him, pass him and then stop for him. In the mountains roles were reversed, as Pankaj was playing the waiting game.
Since this article is being written a year after the duo actually did the ride. We asked if the ride made any lasting impression on them as individuals.
For Pankaj, the ride was an eye opener, in the sense it helped him shatter stereotypes. Living in the north, the notions built of other communities and cultures is vastly different from what exists in reality.
He also feels he is now more responsible and can help others out.
In the first few days of cycling, Pankaj would find himself pedalling all alone in an alien land, as Tahseen would be far ahead and out of sight. To add to it, he was unwell and new to cycling. A proper cocktail to create oodles of self-doubt.
Overcoming that doubt and accomplishing the ride has helped him understand his capability and what all he can do.
Calm and Patient
Tahseen learnt the art of being calm and patient in face of adversity. When things would get uncomfortable, she realised the best way of dealing with it is to adjust one’s own mindset. She learnt that she could always push a little more, adjust a little more and enjoy a little more than she previously imagined.
She was so patient, that by Keylong, she had become the patient! That is where she learnt what loyalty means.
Pankaj’s actions showed her a different side. “We had our arguments and differences, but when he was required, he was there“, says Tahseen. “When I was unwell, he took care of me 24×7“, she adds.
The Future is Here
With this global pandemic, everyone’s plans have been thrown out of the window. But even while they were riding, both of them were planning for the future.
After this ride, Tahseen went ahead and climbed Kilimanjaro. On two legs, not two wheels of course!
This year she planned to cycle in Bhutan and Sri Lanka. She hopes to accomplish both as and when the universe allows it.
While cycling from Kanyakumari to Ladakh, Pankaj was already making plans for his next cycle ride. He’s ready to ride from West to East after having done South to North.
It is a different matter though, that he hasn’t ridden his cycle since the end of the trip! But he promises that he will get back to the saddle soon. More than touring, he would also like to try his hand at racing. Exploring the competitive side of two wheels.
While the government removed Ladakh from the state of Kashmir, the K2K dream ride was still possible for Tahseen and Pankaj.
The two rode from Kanyakumari to Khardung La, where they finished off the ride on one of the world’s highest motorable roads…
Check out this video trailer from their ride: