Cletus Sequeira – Pedalling up to ‘Top of the World’
Bengaluru: Everyone in his family and friends’ circles has known him as a successful Bengaluru-based HR professional, an amateur but skilled photographer and a buoyant outdoor adventurer, always bubbling with energy, yet sticking to a strict regimen as a fitness freak.
But when Cletus Trevor Sequeira, hailing from Bappalige in Puttur, announced in his family WhatsApp group in mid-July that “the mountains are calling and I must go… I’m heading off on a Himalayan expedition. Will be cycling from Manali to Leh covering about 560 km in 10 days. Will be back on Jul 26”, many of them, given his sense of humour, may have taken it as a joke.
There was reason enough for the scepticism. It was only during 2015 that he had slimmed down considerably by following a strict weight-shedding schedule. Normally, any weight loss is thought of as something that would lead to loss of vigour and emaciation.
But it was not the case with Cletus. With firm grit and determination, he decided to take a shot. It was going to be one of the toughest cycling expeditions of the world in 11 days, 560+ km on one bicycle and 80+ hrs of cycling to reach Leh from 15 Miles, Manali, the base camp for the expedition.
The expedition started from the base camp at 15 Miles, Manali known as the door to the heaven of Himalayas. The expedition expected one to cross 5 high-altitude passes and each one is unique in its own stature:
Bara Lachha La (4890 mts) – one of the most loopy passes, Nakee La (4739 mts) and Lachu lung La (5059 mts) are like twin brothers standing just next to each other, Rohtang Pass (3979 mts) is the most unpredictable and moody of them all, and the last but not the least and the toughest to cross – Tanglang La (5360 mts).
Well, there was much much more. Gata loops, with 21 curves, can send a fine chill up anyone’s spine when seen from the top, added to which were Moore plains, one of the highest and coldest deserts in the world, snow-capped peaks, rivers like Beas, Chandra-Bhaga and Sutlej and Indus.
The expedition was organized by the Youth Hostels Association of India (YHAI), which holds adventure camps heading to various destinations all round the year.
Cletus had a tough challenge on hand – and legs and body as well. The National Mountain Biking Expedition from Manali to Leh, as mentioned already, being one of the toughest cycling expeditions in the mountains, there were extreme weather conditions to contend with.
This was the first time that he was doing endurance cycling without any real practice or experience of any previous expeditions.
While speaking to this writer, Cletus did not seem to be one having lost or lacked in any enthusiasm. His first-person narrative alone could do justice to the adventure.
Excerpts from his interview:
Can you start from the point ‘go’?
From a challenge point of view, we started at an altitude of about 6210 ft at 15 miles Manali – which, much to my amusement, I found out to be actually located at 15 kilometres from there – and crossed 5 high-altitude passes. We lived in high-altitude camps, as high as 15280 ft in Pang, where the oxygen levels are low, did some very challenging climbs and downhill rides, managed to sleep in freezing temperatures, had a bath in the glacier water – whenever we had a chance – it was fun overall.
Can you specify some thrilling moments?
Climbing the high-altitude passes was a complete challenge and thrill. Each pass was unique and unpredictable. But the highlight of this trip for me, the icing on the cake, was when I cycled up to KhardungLa, through which a road claimed to be the world’s highest motorable road passes.
It was built by the Border Roads Organization, BRO in short. The pass is claimed to be 18380 ft – while the latest GPS data showed 17564 ft – above the sea level at the top. Just before the pass is the traditional Silk Route, also called the Pony Track, which has been used for ages.
How was the climb?
It was a 43-km uphill climb to KhardungLa with average-to-bad roads – maybe ‘off-road climbs’ is a better term – and extreme temperatures.
What made the climb a challenge was that I had to climb from Leh at 11236 ft altitudes to KhardungLa at 18380 ft, gaining an altitude of 7000+ ft within less than 12 hours. The higher you go, the lower are the oxygen levels and it is extremely difficult for the body to acclimatize to the altitude so quickly. I had to sustain high activity levels like cycling at this altitude.
This climb was like climbing the Everest in cyclists’ terms. This was not a part of the expedition, but the organizers agreed to support with medical and emergency care – which made me feel safe during the climb.
How do you feel now after the strenuous trip?
It was overall a very satisfying and humbling experience. The challenge of cycling through this route was such that people who enquired about our expedition were in awe of what we were up to and we got salutes and cheers from numerous motorists passing by, which boosted our morale and confidence.
Many people including seasoned athletes who were on this trip with us dropped out in between owing to altitude sickness and fatigue.
The experience and life in the mountains have given me a lot to think about life and priorities. We lived in tents, many a time away from civilization and enjoyed nature to the fullest.
We cycled around 50+ km every day through the Himalayan mountains stretching across Himachal Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir, witnessing some very beautiful scenes which have left me in awe of the place. I am privileged to share some of the memorable shots with the readers.
Standing in front of those magnificent mountains, I felt so minuscule and insignificant in front of God’s wonderful creation. I still haven’t been able to completely absorb what I have seen. It is real, really beautiful. Everyone should visit the Himalayas once in a lifetime.
What made it possible according to you?
This trip would not have been possible without the unconditional love and support of my beloved wife Michelle and little son Dale. The blessings of my parents and good wishes of my brother Clement and family were always with me.
I owe my heartfelt thanks to my extended family and friends too for their best wishes and prayers.
About Cletus Sequeira
Cletus is the son of Anselm Sequeira, a retired government official and Gratia Rodrigues, a retired lecturer at St Philomena College, Puttur, residing for long at Bappalige, Puttur.
He graduated in Arts from St Philomena College in 2000 and had his Masters in Social work from School of Social work, Roshni Nilaya, Mangaluru in 2002.
Soon thereafter he took up a career as an HR professional and worked for MNCs like EMC and Boeing and is currently with Media iQ Digital as the head of HR.
He is also a fitness enthusiast and is actively involved in helping people get back in shape.