Updated: Dec 29, 2022
Back in July last year (2021) I wrote an article about a potential Enduro India Series, in that article, I concluded by saying "It's been too long of a wait for Enduro in India, I guess it's time we lit the match!" Not but a few months later in September of the same year, the first edition of Monduro was announced. Unfortunately, unforeseen circumstances meant that I couldn't attend and race the Inaugural Edition and I had to wait for the following year's race to be announced.
It has now been just over two weeks since the conclusion of Monduro 2.0 and I'm still buzzing from the most enjoyable, most difficult, and best race I've been to in a long long time! Here's what went down:
For those who aren't in the know, Monduro is a 2 day long Enduro race held every November in Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh, India.
"What's an Enduro?"
Well, it's a multi-stage time-trial style race with some very interesting quirks. In most Enduro races there will be multiple Timed Stages of either; fully downhill, rolling terrain, or downhill with climbs in between. In between the timed stages, there are Liaison Stages which aren't timed but do have a time limit, failure to reach the next Timed Stage's start gate before the time limit elapses leads to the extra time taken to reach being added to your final race time. The lowest cumulative time after all stages (of all days in the case of multi-day races) wins! To race an Enduro you need a lot of endurance, technical riding skills, tolerance for sustained high-energy bursts, and all of this while being almost fully self-sufficient.
I shan't go into my Play-by-Play breakdown of both days as it will fill up a novel with the way I write! Instead, I will discuss the overall theme and thoughts that I experienced while at the race. If you do want a brief play-by-play, COMMENT BELOW!
Everyone was welcomed at the race and given equal attention by a very kind and lively organizing team which included Monduro Staff, Local riders, College students who volunteered, and even The Tawang Cycling Association. They took care of our every need and were always there for us when we had an issue. Apart from just being helpful, they are very fun to hang out with! Most riders got to see the majestic Tawang Monastery either before or after the race. I got to see the beautiful monastery a day before practice day 1 since we reached the town a full day before. The Tawang Monastery is a massive Buddhist holy site and is the Largest Monastery in the world outside of Lhasa, Tibet. I would've added more images and shared more information but I honestly feel that you must go there to truly appreciate it. I highly suggest that you add Tawang to your travel list for sure! Tawang itself is a small town with a good deal of elevation to it as it sits in the Tawang Chu valley in the Himalayas, the town itself has an altitude of 3050m above sea level.
The first thing you will realize about Tawang in November is that it's cold, really cold! The days start at 1-3 degrees Celsius and top out at 10-13 degrees, what may seem like plenty of layers tend not to be enough, and eventually, when you walk out wearing 5 or more layers, that quickly turns out to be too many. The days are short as well, Sunrise at 0530hrs and Sunset at 1645hrs. You may experience snow towards the end of the race week and before that, you'll notice how every passing day changes measurably in terms of temperature drop and even useful sunlight hours.
Day 1 consisted of 4 Stages and 2 Liaison Stages, it was the harder and more technically challenging day of the 2. You start around 3500m above sea level where it isn't too cold to necessitate more than 3 layers. The Race started at Liaison 1, a 4km climb to the start of Stage 1 then onwards until Stage 4. It took around 4 hours to finish the race. The top of Stage 1 has a Stupa that houses the footprints of His Holiness, The 6th Dalai Lama, Tsangyang Gyatso embedded in stone.
Monduro aims to reunite local history with the region and spread knowledge of such a vibrant past to the rest of the country and the world. They aim to do this by having certain stages pass through historic trails as Stage 1. In comparison, Day 1 trails were harder and were the reason I had to face many of my inner demons like feeling completely incompetent as a rider. Coming from somewhere that lacks hills let alone mountains, it's hard, practically impossible to nail skills like switchback riding or even tight trail corridors, the rock gardens, however, they were mine for the taking!
The first thought when you get to practice the trails is; "Am I a bad rider or are these trails just hard?" The answer is simply "Yes." When it comes to Monduro, Rajesh Magar, and later Chris Keeling said it best "Most enduro races have 'long and easy,' or 'short and technical stages,' Monduro on the other hand has long and technical stages!" These stages will put your body and brain through the absolute ringer. They are hard, they are technical, and they are EXACTLY what we as a community need right now in India! (more on this in a bit.)
When it comes to Day 2, There were 5 stages and 3 Liaisons, it took just over 4hrs and 45min to complete. While the stages were relatively easier in comparison to Day 1, they were still hard enough to give the riders a tough time on the bike. The second day was significantly colder and also much higher up, the start of Stage 1 was at 4430m above sea level and depending on the weather, could be covered in a layer of snow. We were lucky to miss out on a blanket of snow on race day, however, we did experience very light snowfall at Stage 3. These stages were a test of your mental strength. While they weren't super hard on the body like Day 1, they were so long that your mind had to stay focused else you would hit the deck the moment you lapsed in focus.
I was not only at a race, arguably one of the highest in the World, but I was also a competitor, I was supposed to be racing, yet I couldn't stop thinking about how peaceful and beautiful the location I found myself in was. Due to the altitude and temperature, the views were both figuratively and literally Breathtaking! Snow-peaked mountains, craggy cliffs, freshwater streams flowing as ice formed mid-flow, I could go on frankly. Where I had been was one of the most serene locations in all of India. Nothing beats it.
At Monduro you'll be hanging out with Amateurs and National Pros, Cross Country and Enduro/DH riders, those who came for a good time, and those who set out to win. At that point in time, I was in the best place in the world. With old, and newly-made friends, having fun, racing, and truly basking in the moment.
Earlier in the article, I wrote that I would discuss my views about why not only is Monduro a great race but why we need what it offers as a community. Here's why.
When you go to a race, you expect to be challenged by the terrain, the competitors, and maybe even a few unaccounted-for accidents or mistakes...You don't expect to leave feeling so brutally humbled that despite racing for years, you're left feeling like yesterday was your first day on a bike. That's basically what Monduro was able to do to me. Monduro puts every rider that attempts it through a hard time. While I go on and on about how the trails are hard, the truth is that riders who have started riding mountain bikes only a few months prior are getting down each trail without any major issues, the difficulty of the trails is a manifestation of the challenge in our minds. As an athlete you will fight the physical fight and the mental one, the latter being much harder to win. This race is effectively a turbo-charged boss battle in the center of the mind.
So many riders had trouble with falling and getting, myself included, but the instinct to stand up, brush off the dirt, and get back on the bike time and time again is what matters most.
A friend of mine said it best.
"I did not expect the trails to be so technical and physically taxing on the body. I had at least ten crashes, with one almost knocking me out of the race. But then again, it would've been a waste to sit and watch from the sidelines. The mountain snow peaks, the high elevation, the extreme cold weather, and even the quotations at the side of the road while climbing up the Liaison stages are a few elements that helped my mind stay focused to reach the finish line at the end of the day.
One of the quotes read, "We do not conquer mountains, we conquer ourselves". The mountains in Tawang spoke in different languages, that coincidentally aligned with the nature of racing. Still in awe, and always will be." - Anissa Lamare, The only female Downhill Racer in India.
She fell, got up, fell, got up again, and fell again. Rinse and Repeat. Yet,
She never gave up. Against a field of only men.
That's what we need in India.
We need trails and races that challenge us, tell us to push our boundaries, settle for nothing less than what we see ourselves as, learn from our mistakes, embrace failure, and chase success.
We need more races like Monduro to teach us that,
When everything is hard, and it feels like nothing is going to get better,
never give up.
Thank you Monduro.
I will see you next year. Better, Stronger, and Faster.
Till the next time,