Ladakh is an ideal destination for Omar Di Felice. This is because it is hard to spot on a map given its position set between India, Pakistan, and China, and also because it is difficult to imagine someone cycling along these roads when the weather is good, never mind during the ice-cold winter. But these are exactly the characteristics a place must have to effectively become an OmarZone.
An adventure becomes even more suited to Omar's temperament if the original plans need to be revised or even disrupted due to the forces of nature. So instead of starting the journey as anticipated among the Himalayan passes from Manali - at 2624 metres above sea level - because of an avalanche on the Shinku La Pass, the starting point was moved to Leh - at 3500 m.a.s.l.
An additional 900-metre elevation gain in a place known for being “the coldest desert in the world” would concern anyone. But certainly not Omar Di Felice.
Four days to become acclimatised along with the changing of the official start date to 25 February: so began the adventure from Leh, where he took off on his USMA SLR towards the Khardung La Pass, at 5480 m.a.s.l. Cross the pass you begin the descent down to the city of Kashgar in China, a truly epic site described over 700 years ago by the explorer himself in The Travels of Marco Polo.
However, Omar did not cross the border into China. He instead veered south towards another fantastic destination: Pangong Tso, the frozen lake divided between India to the west and China to the East. This was another sudden change in itinerary dictated by the rapid need to adapt to the inconveniences that Ladakh throws at you every day during the cold season.
“I like the fact that nature is determining my route. I had to change the direction of travel: instead of going from Manali to Leh, I went from Leh to Manali, with detours southwest that I hadn't anticipated and having to face new mountain passes that were all over 5000 metres in altitude.
But this is what the adventure is all about: not so much challenging the unexpected as deciding to embrace it. Consequently, I already know that the avalanches that stop you from riding the Shinku La Pass are in no way an obstacle or further complication but a new source of fun and discovery. For instance, I learned first-hand that the Chang La Pass is even higher than the Khardung, but the maps don't tell you. This is what makes even more exciting this adventure in the Indian part of Ladakh or, as they refer to it here, ‘Little Tibet’ ”.
In any case, Omar Di Felice's challenges aren't just an opportunity to try his limits.
“These experiences far from our comfort zone lead me to reflect more and more upon the differences in the quality of life in various parts of the world. Take Ladakh, for example: there I met people who live well below what we consider to be the minimum level for survival. This inevitably leads one to question the reasons why there is a such great disparity in the distribution of wealth. Spending so long on the saddle gives you time to think about these things that, day after day, become increasingly more important”.
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