Czech Paralympian conquers Himalayan Khardung La pass

Czech Paralympic athlete Jana Fesslová has become the first wheelchair user to conquer one of the world’s highest motorable passes – the Himalayan Khardung La pass at 5,359 metres above sea level. During a three-week motorbike expedition around the region, Jana and her friends travelled some 2,300 kilometres along some of the world’s highest roads.

For Czech wheelchair athlete, Paralympian and seasoned traveller Jana Fesslová, the sky is the limit. After winning a bronze medal in the discus at last year’s Paralympic Games in Beijing, this all-round athlete returned to the Asian continent this summer for another sporting feat – a Himalayan motorbike expedition. After a three-week tour, Jana is now back in her hometown of České Budějovice where I reached her by phone and asked her to tell me more about the expedition.

“We flew to Delhi and travelled by train to Kalka where we picked up our motorcycles and my sidecar. Then we rode to Shimla and Sarahan to Leh – that was the longest stage. On August 6 at noon we conquered the mountain pass at Khardung La. Three days later we left for Srinagar and rode all the way to Jammu where we closed the expedition and returned to Delhi by train.”

The twelve-member expedition spent nights in bed-and-breakfasts, garages or tents, depending on the weather and the state of their vehicles. As part of their tour they also delivered several boxes of school supplies and textbooks to a local school co-built by a Czech charity. Jana Fesslová says such a quest is physically and psychologically demanding not only for a wheelchair user like her but for the able bodied, too.

“We went along bumpy dirt roads. In the mountains, you have to watch out for falling rocks and often we had to wade through glacier creeks running across the path. The roads are so narrow that you have to stop whenever a car passes in the opposite direction. Of course, the environment is not ready for people with disabilities so at times I needed to get off and crawl using my arms, or the guys carried me across difficult stretches in my wheelchair if it was safe.”

Jana says she now plans to give travelling adventures a break and concentrate more on her sporting activities. After a short period of rest, she will be taking part in next week’s wheelchair championships in the Moravian town of Olomouc and in November she will be returning to India for the IWAS World Games in Bangalore.