Spiti Valley Trip Sept 2016 – 50 shades of brown!!

Sitting in my home in Delhi, I was contemplating about my motorcycle ride to that part of the Himalayas which is yet to be explored by a lot of people around the world and has a beauty which is very unique. I decided to explore Spiti valley as I had seen a lot of people riding to that place and posting photos on their social network. Moreover, life does not give you many chances to explore places and it also depends on your willingness to travel. The right mix of these ingredients and you will be steaming with all the enthusiasm you need!

My intent is to keep this travel blog simple and more informative in order to help motorcycle tourers in the best way possible.

Ride Dates: 3 Sep 2016 to 11 Sep 2016 (I know I am very very late!)

Riders: Initially, it was just me and later on I was being accompanied by Shashank and his wife Ayushi on a Bullet 500

Planning: Do I look like a guy with a plan? πŸ˜‰

Most of the planning was done by the nice couple who were my partners. I give them the complete credit. Hotel bookings, places to visit, route to be followed and intervals to be taken. Everything was planned meticulously.

Motorcycles:

  1. Pulsar 200 NS
  2. Bullet 500

Gears:

  1. Riding Jackets
  2. Riding Pants
  3. Helmets
  4. Gloves
  5. Warm gloves
  6. Riding boots
  7. Face Mask for preventing you from inhaling insane amounts of dust
  8. Sun glasses for preventing you from becoming blind

Medical Kit(s)/Cosmetics/other essentials:

  1. Combiflam/Disprin for headache
  2. Diamox (for breathing related problems) and Stemetil (for nausea) – AMS related
  3. Crocin for fever
  4. Dettol
  5. Bandages
  6. Norflox
  7. ORS
  8. Glucon D
  9. Electrol
  10. 4 Bottles of water
  11. Nivea Milk Cream for dryness (Remember Spiti is similar to a cold desert and dryness is all what you will get)
  12. Honey
  13. Energy bars
  14. Cash (Never trust ATMs in this part of the country)

Motorcycle Spares:

  1. Clutch wire (Because you don’t want to be stuck in a place with a broken clutch wire and no one around)
  2. Accelerator wire (Take it easy but if in case you have a bad day, you should have it)
  3. Sparks Plugs
  4. Fuse
  5. Engine Oil (Bullet friend had it but I did not, because I trust Motul)
  6. Foot Pump
  7. Tubeless Puncture Kit (Pulsar 200 NS)

Clothing:

Although, the valley is a rain deprived area but do keep your rain gear handy because before entering or exiting the valley, you might encounter rain and we did, while on our way back from Manali to Chandigarh. One sweater and muffler will be adequate to save you from the cold in the evening and at night. During the day time, you will not need it because the blazing sun while give you just the right amount of tan. Make sure you take adequate clothing and take care of yourself because you need to.

D-Day minus one, I was packing my bags and so were my friends. Bike was serviced and all the regular checks were done. The meeting point was Dhaula Kuan and the time was 6 am.

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Packing!

Day 1: Delhi to Narkanda (450 kms)

We started our ride at around 6:30 am from Delhi. Getting out of Delhi sometimes is a cumbersome task but it was a breeze this time and we were cruising on National Highway 1 (Karnal Highway). The mandatory morning tea with paranthas and curd was taken at Food Garage restaurant which is 90 kms far from Delhi.

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Breakfast @ Food Garage NH 1

After having breakfast we started our ride towards Narkanda. The highway is awesome but be careful of local people crossing the road and lorries zipping past you. The weather was not that hot, very less traffic, we reached Zirakpur in no time and took a right turn towards Shimla under the Zirakpur flyover. If you go straight, you will reach Chandigarh which was not in our plan. After that turn Shashank noticed that his bike’s speedometer stopped working and then we stopped to have it checked which consumed an hour. Somehow the mechanic managed to fix it! We started moving towards Shimla. The Himalayan Expressway was amazing to ride on and then started the hill climb but to our dismay the widening of the Shimla highway was in progress so the roads were not good, there was traffic and lot of dust flying. Our hunger made us stop at Sagar Ratna for lunch and we still had good 120 kms to be covered.

After lunch, we started our journey towards Narkanda, the road became smooth as we gained altitude. Leaning into the curves with the cool breeze touching me gently made me think of the mightier Himalayas more and more. We crossed Shimla and reached Narkanda after sunset. The couple hunted for a hotel and finally we took shelter in Hotel Mount View after rounds of negotiations done by Shashank. We dumped our luggage in the room, had our dinner and slept.
Day 2: Narkanda to Chhitkul (190 kms)

So for me the second day started with a headache which was almost unbearable, so I had to take the medicine after having breakfast and it was time to gear up for the day.

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Initially, I was not keen to visit Chhitkul which is a detour of almost 55 kms from the main highway (NH505) starting from Karchcham Dam. On our way to Chhitkul, we crossed Jeori, Wangtoo, Tapri, Karchcham and Sangla. The beauty of the Satluj valley was out of the world. The tarmac was good till Wangtoo, thanks to the defence settlement in that area. You can easily do speeds of 80 kmph to 90 kmph. Enjoy the slideshow!

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We had lunch at Sarahan just before Bhabhanagar. The greenery was really good post the monsoon season. We went from superb roads to no roads after Wangtoo till Karchcham dam which means dust flying and your butt getting a good massage. No problem, this is a real life biker. Once you reach Karchcham, there is a T intersection from where you need to take a right turn towards Sangla valley.

After entering Sangla valley, the tarmac more or less disappeared and was visible only in fragments. The place is picturesque and takes your breath away. After 30 kms, we reached Sangla and halted for a quick snack. Shashank and Ayushi insisted on having Thupka, the local dish made of soup, noodles and lots of vegetables. After looking at the quantity, I felt already full and had noodles. After having the “quick snack”, we started towards Chhitkul. The vistas were just mind boggling. We reached the place at 7 pm. With the clouds hovering over us and the sound of the river flowing just next to us, we couldn’t have wished for anything better.

One guy approached us to offer tents and to our surprise it was just on the banks of Baspa river. It was cold and the sound of the river flowing through was really soothing. The camp is known as Baspa Camp. The man in-charge gave us the biggest tent available since all the tents were empty due to off season. This was the first time I was staying in a tent and I must say nature’s lap is really comfortable. Dinner was served to us in time and beer (some local brand) was arranged for my dear friend. Lying in the tent I updated the notes in my phone and slept. The sound of the flowing river made me more excited for Day 3.

Day 3: Chhitkul – Reckong Peo – Kalpa – Spello (100 kms approx)

We woke up to a beautiful morning and I was the first one to get up to view the sunrise from China’s side. It was simply mesmerizing and it completely refreshed my mind. I clicked a few photos as well.

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We started getting ready, had our breakfast and clicked a photograph with the guest room caretaker.

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The serious look of the caretaker!

We commenced our journey back to National Highway No. 505 and again entered the bad stretch of road at Karchcham towards Kalpa. The primary reason for us to visit Kalpa was to refuel our tanks, because the next petrol pump was in Kaza which is around 200 kms from Kalpa. After reaching Kalpa, we stopped at a small shop and had noodles with a view of the Kinner Kailash Range. Here are a few photos:

After having an early lunch, we started our journey towards the majestic Spiti valley. As usual the road conditions were not good and we could not stop to click photos because we were being warned by security officials that these are landslide prone areas. The roads were so bad that I had to stop near a bridge to relax my back and butt. Watching me do that a security personnel came and asked me, “Are you alright?” and I said “Yes!”. This gave me a very clear idea that it’s not gonna be easy road ahead and the terrain will get tougher. Around 6.30 pm, we reached Spello, we did not plan to ride further as it was getting dark, also there was no place to stay in Nako. Checked into a small hotel. The room was not at all good, no fan and mattresses still covered in plastic sheets. I could not sleep properly. The hotel owner told us that Dalai Lama had stayed in his hotel which I refuse to believe looking at the condition of the place. Day 3 ends!

Note: Later on, I came to know there were good places to stay in Nako as well. If I go next time, I will stay in Nako

Day 4: Spello – Nako – Tabo (112 kms)

We woke up around 7 am, got ready, had breakfast, loaded the luggage and started moving towards Tabo. The scenic beauty of the place was amazing and seriously can’t be explained in words. We were gaining altitude at a good pace. Then came the board where it was written Welcome to Lahaul and Spiti. Euphoria for me! Enjoy the slideshow!

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While ascending towards Nako, we witnessed beautiful gorges and pure blue skies. Every turn was a new story for us.

As the altitude increased, the oxygen level reduced but being well informed and aware riders, we took decent number of water breaks and Shashank’s wife had got Patanjali energy bars (Ramdev baba is everywhere). This kept us energized and hydrated. Unfortunately, the Bullet started giving problems while climbing. It was losing power, black smoke was coming out of the exhaust and finally it broke down at Nako. We asked the locals if there was a mechanic and none of them had any idea. This got us worried but we all kept our calm.

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A group of Bulleteers where coming from Spello and Ayushi decided to stop them for help since we did not have options and to our good luck they had a mechanic with a back up vehicle. The lead of the group was from Gurgaon. He was very kind and helpful. The spark plug had gone for a toss and was replaced with a new one. We thanked the mechanic and the group lead. While heading towards Sumdo, we faced a small road block as BRO folks were were constructing a road and within 30 minutes, the road was done!! Below is the photo:

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BRO at work
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On the way to Sumdo

Never in my life I was so happy and scared to death on the very same day. The death defying moment came just 500 meters before the check post at Sumdo, Shashank was just 50 m ahead of me, meanwhile the BRO labor told me that rocks can fall anytime so don’t wait. The truck coming from the opposite side passed Shashank’s bike clearing our way to move, he had moved just 10 m ahead and rocks came tumbling down. They were not that big in size but big enough to take away a life. Seconds after witnessing this, I slammed the 1st gear, rode over the stones, mud, dust and crossed that shooting stones area in a single breath because there was no going back. We stopped at the check post and for 2 minutes were thinking what had happened with us. After drinking water, we finished the formalities at the check post. Continuing our journey towards Tabo, we clicked more photos:

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We took a detour of around 20 kms to Giu where there is a beautiful monastery. Our bikes started asking for oxygen and somehow we managed to reach Giu village, where a couple of villagers fed us with Maggi and tea inside their home.

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After having our lunch and getting hydrated, we headed towards the monastery. The main shrine was closed but that section was open where the mummy was placed. Shashank and Ayushi went inside and got to see it closely, unlike me as I was wearing boots. Opening and wearing them back again was an upheaval task since it has laces. I clicked the photo from outside the door.

Shashank also had a brief chat session with the ITBP soldier, he told us that the mountain you see on the left, on the other side of it is China. After this visit, our minds were relaxed and we continued towards Tabo. The earth was gulping the sun and it’s rays made the barren mountains look even more beautiful. Here are more photos on our way to Tabo:

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After a long and an adventurous day, we finally reached Tabo and checked into a guest house managed by a Nepali couple. I had never seen such a calm and peaceful place. After dumping our luggage and changing, we went for a stroll in the village. It was magical. All we could see is the locals and Israelis. We entered a cafe where people were smoking up, drinking and playing guitar. All were in a merry mood and I could not see any Indian which is personally good for me, we have enough of them in our metropolitan cities. This a different world all together and you need to enjoy it.

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Dinner time! The couple cooked good food for us. We ordered a Taco and thought that the quantity would be just like the ones we get the cities (peanuts!) but two huge tacos were served to us. There was an American sitting just next to us who suggested us to order Shakshuka (Famous Israeli dish) which normally is served in breakfast but we decided to have it in dinner.

After having dinner, the guest room manager told us to come out and look at the sky. We came out and kept gazing at the sky. Never in my life I had seen so many stars, it was the Milky Way galaxy visible to the naked eyes. Sometimes I just wish life was so simple. With all the good thoughts pouring into my mind, I went back to my room, ducked into my quilt and slept. Day 4 finishes!

Day 5: Tabo – Dhankar – Kaza – Hikkim – Langza – Komic – Kaza (100 kms approx)

As usual I woke up early morning to see the sunrise. The couple was too lazy to get up early but finally got up after I got all animated. We got ready and proceeded to have our breakfast. We ordered bread and omelette. The preparation was good as usual. The food is very rich in this part of the country.

After having breakfast, since we had less distance to cover that day and had time in our hand. We decided to visit the Tabo Monastery. Photography is not allowed inside the premises and there is no light inside the main shrine but it was so peaceful.

“You want to find the lost person in you, come to Tabo!”

We went to shop and I bought the prayers flag. The actual story behind this was that I wanted to earn this and not just buy the flag from Delhi. The feeling was amazing to earn that prayer flag in Tabo. My advice to all the bikers, you should always earn this. Ayushi tied that flag on my bike and voila! Here I will leave you with a nice quote from Dalai Lama:

“Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions”

Time to move ahead. We loaded our bags on the bikes, bid good bye to the lovely couple managing the guest room and cranked the bikes to explore more. The road from Tabo to Kaza is picturesque. At every turn you will felt like clicking pictures.

From the main road to Kaza from Tabo, we took a detour of 8 kms to Dhankar Monastery. The road conditions were average which I feel is excellent in such places. The monastery was beautiful but the main shrine was closed. Not sure about the reason. We took a stroll around the complex and clicked again.

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After Dhankar, we headed towards Kaza which was close to about 25 kms from Dhankar. The beauty of the barren land could not be matched. This part of the country is totally different. The dry and cold geographies have their own charm. As a human you need to embrace it and respect nature as always. We kept looking left and right while riding our steeds to enjoy the nature. The road conditions were not that good but not that bad either. You need to be careful of the stones which come in your path. We took those much needed water breaks energized with energy bars. Life savers, I must say.

Finally, we reached Kaza. Shashank had booked couple of tents in Zostel which was just before entering Kaza city on the left hand side, downhill. Due to fatigue, unloading the luggage took our breath away. Here is a photo of our bikes parked adjacent to the tents.

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After looking at the tents, I got excited yet again because it was my second time in a tent. When I entered the tent, it looked comfortable initially but it actually restricted my mobility a lot considering that I am 6 feet 2 inches tall. It was difficult for me to adjust in that small space. Anyways, took hotel manager’s mobile to inform parents the status since we were out of network for more than 2 days and will continue to be till we reach Manali. We inquired about the nearby places to visit around Kaza, the manager suggested us to visit Langza, Hikkim and Komic but before that we had to make sure that we tanked up for the ride ahead because after Kaza, the next petrol pump is Manali. We immediately rushed to the petrol pump but the pump was not working some kind of pressure created in the day time in the underground tanks due to which the pump was not able to pull the fuel. This was the reason explained by the attendant and he requested us to come at 7 pm. The road to Langza, Hikkim and Komic is scenic and you get lost in that beauty. Langza has vast grasslands and a statue of Buddha facing the village in the valley. May his blessings keep the village safe and sound.

After Langza, we went to Hikkim where the highest post office (4440 m ASL) in the world is located. The post office is located down hill, so need to park your vehicle on the road and walk. Ayushi and Shashank were really excited about sending a postcard to their own residence, which they did. The uphill walk literally took our breath away, so much so that one local villager got me a mug of water to drink. We dragged our tired butts on our lovely machines and moved to Komic, which is the highest village reachable by a motor-able road. On our way back to Kaza, it was almost dark, we reached the petrol pump. I got my bike filled first and when the attendant finished filling petrol in Shashank’s bike, electricity went out. Luck was on our side that day! We came back to Zostel, had dinner and slept.

Day 6: Kaza – Key – Kibber – Losar (90 kms)

Our next destination was Nomad’s Cottage located in Losar village. We started riding from Kaza, visited Key monastery and rode around Kibber village. Riding is freedom, which took us to this little village called Losar. We reached the guest room. Bullet broke down again, we checked with the locals if this can be fixed, but there was no hope. Shashank was hopeful that the group helped us in Nako will be crossing Losar. He rode to the main road and unbelievable, he found the group again. The guest house was very cozy and the hospitality was good. This place is a must stay. The dinner was served, there were few more guests who arrived late in the evening, unfortunately one of them was not well. Post dinner, our tired bodies made us retire to the bed. Day 6 over and out.

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Day 7: Losar – Kunzum La – Chanderatal – Gramphu – Manali

This was the toughest part of the journey simply because after Losar there were no roads. Literally, no sign of any kind of tarmac whatsoever. We woke up at our own pace, got ready, had our breakfast, bid adieu to the gentleman who served us and headed towards Chandratal lake. This time it was just riding on stones and rocks. We reached Kunzum top and Shashank rode till the Kunzum stupas, while me and Ayushi were waiting on the main road. On my downhill ride from Kunzum top, there was a truck coming from the opposite side. The driver got animated and asked me, “Bhai maza aa raha hai?”. I just smiled. We even encountered a lot of small water crossings on our way to this famous lake. There was a stretch where even the non-metaled road finished and I was left clueless about the direction to ride. Somehow we managed to reach that place. Again the bullet broke down, so the couple parked the bike on that spot itself and walked for good 1.5 kms to reach the lake’s parking lot, from there the lake was another 1 km walk. With no energy left in our bodies, we just glanced at the lake from the top, clicked a few photos and did not go down hill since we had to reach Manali before it was dark.

So back on our bikes, we started our ride towards Manali. We reached Batal and had our lunch at Chacha-Chachi ka dhaba. My friend Lovish Juneja, who has been to Spiti, I don’t know how many times, had told me how dreadful this Batal-Gramphu (50kms) stretch is. Yes! It was scary, fun and exciting. We literally were riding on a river bed with stones hitting under the belly of my bike. Then, Ayushi got hurt on her foot while Shashank tried to save the bike from crashing into a big rock. I am sure that was painful and it was decided that she should not take her shoes out. Next up, was the Chhota Dhar (water crossing), which we crossed easily but the mad nallah was really mad. I thought it is the river flowing across and there is an alternative route but no we had to cross that. I managed to cross it with ease but unfortunately, the Bullet got stuck, so I had to go back into the water and Ayushi had to get down from the bike and push it from behind while I pull it from the front. Oh man! It was crazy! The water was very cold. After reaching Gramphu, when we turned towards Rohtang and saw our bikes moving over tarmac, I yelled in joy! Finally!! We reached Manali somewhere around 8.30 pm and straight away went to the hospital for x-ray to ensure that there is no fracture and fortunately, it was a sprain. We searched for a place to stay and found Oyo rooms. We had our dinner, did not talk much, may be we were still thinking about the experience which we had and slept. Day 7 comes to an end!

To be very honest with you guys, I did not click a single picture of that horrific Gramphu stretch as I was very tired and a bit scared about reaching late. I will be doing this circuit again and I will be better prepared.

Day 8 & 9: Manali – Chandigarh (320 kms) & Chandigarh – Delhi (260 kms)

I will merge these two days since nothing significant happened as we were returning home. Yes of course, we had that feeling of nostalgia. We left late from Manali for Chandigarh. It was dark by the time we reached Swarghat, the roads were not good and then we took a short cut to Pinjore via Baddi since our guest room was in Panchkula, so it would not make sense to go around Chandigarh and then enter Panchkula. So the road from Swarghat to Baddi was really bad and the weather was moderately hot. We thought we were lost because we could only see lorries, but I knew we were on the right path. After taking a beating of the bad road, smooth road began and we took a halt for dinner. The tired and broken couple were wanting to book a stay nearby but I told them just hold on for some more time, the guest rooms which were booked are worth it and you wont regret. After eating dinner, we carried on and after 20 odd kms, finally we hit a T point on the Himalayan expressway from where we took a right turn to Panchkula. Out of happiness for no reason, we literally ripped our bikes on the expressway. We reached our guest room around 11 pm. Shashank and Ayushi liked guest room very much. Next day, my old friend Harsimran surprised me with a visit. We studied together in Army School, Kirkee, Pune. It was nice meeting him after so many years and thank you for coming.

After a good night sleep, we left our guest room in Panchkula by 11 am continued our journey back home. In the complete journey, there were no puncture and after the Panipat toll, the Bullet got punctured twice. Luckily, the puncture shop was not far and the attendant told that it is not easy to take out the rear wheel of this model plus we had to unload the luggage as well. Anyways, things were sorted in an hour’s time and we were on track. Around 4 pm, we reached Delhi, safe and sound. I felt a sense of achievement after I parked my motorcycle and just kept looking at it for a minute. This trip taught me a lot of things and I will be better prepared next. While the Bullet was plagued with issues, my Pulsar 200 NS performed exceptionally well and did not break down even for a second. Kudos to Ayushi and Shashank for being patient and contributing for majority of the photos. Thank you to my parents for believing in me and my brother for bugging me while I was packing my luggage before the ride began.

Regards,

Adhip

2 thoughts on “Spiti Valley Trip Sept 2016 – 50 shades of brown!!

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