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In Manali - Waiting to Start Cycling

We stayed in Manali for 8 days before setting off. There were a few reasons for this:

1- We were tired
2- We didn't feel ready
3- We were waiting for our friend Jochen to join us from Germany

We met Jochen in 6 years ago in Srinagar Kashmir and travelled with him for over a month through Ladakh. We had since kept in touch quite regularly and had asked him to join us on for this trip. Jochen had seemed interested but we hadn't heard from him for a few months until receiving an e-mail from him 4 days before departure confirming that he was coming. It would take him a while to secure visas and plane tickets, we agreed to wait for him in Manali.

Manali is not a very attractive place (although apparently it once was). It is overdeveloped, overcrowded and pretty filthy. We made our way to the nicer Old Manali, where we found a family-run guesthouse set amongst apple orchards. We spent most of our eight days lounging there eating home-cooked meals and sitting out on our balcony overlooking the surrounding mountains. After a few nights we realised that by ordering dinner we were determining our host family's meal as well. We had been ordering chicken until the old grandfather informed us "my family really likes mutton. Chicken ... not so much". He also informed us that "you really like mixed vegetables". So we began requesting mutton and mixed vegetables, much to our host's delight, whose eyes would light up every time we placed our evening order. Other than a crazy American evangelist who would pop by to preach to us every other day, we had an extremely peaceful stay.


We cycled most days along back-roads through surrounding villages which had yet managed to escape the madness of Manali (with a new road being built, this will soon no longer be the case). We passed women heading to-and-from their fields, setting out wheat on the road to dry, and weaving famed Kullu-Manali textiles on their balconies.
On days we didn't ride we ventured out to some of Manali and its surrounding areas' sights. 
Despite riding without our saddle bags the cycling was exhausting. On our first day we rode 6km before turning back to our guesthouse. Was it the high altitude or my lack of training? I argued the former, but it was becoming fairly clear that we had rough ride ahead of us. We did build confidence with every day as we lengthened our rides, but many of our discussions centred around the first official day of riding: 54km from Manali to the top of Rohtang Pass, a 2,000 metre altitude gain. Yann was as excited to set out as I was scared. 

Following multiple e-mail exchanges with Jochen we agreed that we would begin cycling without him, over Rohtang Pass, to the next major town of Keylong where he would meet us. His visa woes had forced him to postpone his flight and we were getting bored with Manali. Despite our nervousness we were ready to start.