My itinerary for the Great Tibetan Marathon, at Leh on July 21, 2007, is finally starting to take shape.
I hope to leave Bombay on July 11 by train, reaching Delhi on July 12 morning. After which I hope to take a inter-city bus which would take me to Manali, can't book this in advance as these are very basic state transport buses. But this is my only option, to take me to Manali by July 12 evening, as the more comfortable buses only take off in the evenings (there was no way I could waste a full day in Delhi!!).
I decided to stay over at a HPTDC (Himachal Pradesh Tourism Corporation) hotel. I tried using travel portals to book my stay in Manali and Leh, as I did not really have any better option, but to my surprise the experience was quite disappointing (in spite of presence of a huge number of travel portals in India, who have received tons of VC money, I believe they are good mainly for traditional destinations and are not good for advance booking beyond a couple of months). And then I hit upton the HPTDC website with online hotel booking, since it was a government organisation providing great value for money accommodation (which means great cleanliness standards), unlike a travel site giving me uncertified accommodation options. But, the site did not allow me to book for just one night, I had to book for a minimum of two days (and a max of 7 days), their conditions just do not seem to make sense. So finally decided to write to them and mailed a cheque to their local Bombay office & the thing was wrapped up in under a week.
The overnight stay not only gives me some rest, but also gives me enough time to have a hard run on July 13 morning (as Manali is at a reasonable 2000 meters, v/s Leh at 3500 meters). After that I hope to take the HPTDC bus to Leh, its a good 36 odd hour bus journey with some overnight camping on July 13 night. This would ensure that I am comfortably placed in Leh on 14th night, well before the deadline set by the organisers of July 16, 2007. Here again I can't book the bus tickets in advance, the earliest I can do it is in May and would need to courier a cheque or demand draft to make the same, online booking is currently not a option.
The road journey from Manali would also ensure that I have decent amount of time to (gradually) acclimatise for the high altitude. And I could then start with some light exercises as soon as I get to Leh and follow it with some short practice runs in a couple of days after my first day in Leh. And then I just need to gradually get ready for the D day on July 21.
If all goes well I hope to fly from Leh to Delhi on Sunday, July 22, 2007 in the morning (after the marathon and assuming I am in good shape, need to have a backup plan here, but not sure how) and follow it up with a train trip on July 22, getting me back to Bombay, safe and sound on July 23 morning. Now is that a well planned, tight schedule or what.
But the big hurdle in front of me right now is to find some decent, good value accommodation at Leh. It is going to be peak season at that time, as Leh will be hosting a very popular festival from July 14 to July 19. Which is not only going to make accommodation difficult but also expensive, so I need to close that end of my trip at the earliest. No travel site is allowing me to find any accommodation options online, so disappointing, am starting to lose faith in online travel and stay option already. So will try and use some reliable travel agents from the brick and mortar world and use email ids to contact hotels in Leh (using the good old Lonely planet) and source their best offers.