All the meticulous planning failed to see execution owing to fits of excitement and there we were raring to go severly under prepared.What followed were seven days of wrong turns, wrong decisions, un-anticipated adventures and visits to places straight out of imagination and some beyond , making the trip all the more worth while.
- A gypsy king, accustomed to ply on Corbett Park and no mountain offroading experience under its belt. But a gypsy is a gypsy,right? Even when you need to pump the brake paddle to bring it to stop, just, and a full throttle causing it to make gurgling croaks hardly doing any good for the confidence of the first time drivers.
- A 2004 Unicorn: My limited knowledge about automobiles might spare it a few blushes but going by the looks it looked as suitable for offroading as a lady in high heels.
- A 2010 Pulsar 180: Solid and in fine condition, proved very usefule in the trip.
Extra tubes, puntcture kits , engine oils were to be bought on last day but last day unsurprisingly was spent in far more important things like showing off the open and awesome gypsy to un-willing and unimpressed neighbours and trying out newly acquired sunglasses. Foot pump was to be bought on the day of journey itself but it was sacrificed for want of a healthy lunch at Murthal,not a bad trade off I guess.
After some great many miscommunications and healthy amount of confusions we were finally ready to go.
Day 1: We learned why Gypsy is not a succsful city ride first hand when mid June Delhi sun baked us red and black. Murthal provided a respite where we waited for whole team to assemble and by the time we were ready to leave the Dhaba it was already 4 and plan to cross Shimla seemed in serious hazard. And it was so , as after some critical shopping in Chandigarh, we decided to halt at Solan. Plan of home stay was dropped after the first home stay owner, all red eyed, half asleep and suspicious made us realise that we were well past the time normal tourists settle down for the day. 2 rooms in most uninspiring of locations were what we finally got after hunting down lengths and breadths of this sleepy town but by that time we were ready for any thing in name of accommodation.
Total Distance: 315 kms
Stayed at: Some uninspiring hotel at Solan
Day 2: How refreshing are mountain roads. The insurmountable problem of driving 300 kms to Kalpa seemed no problem as soon as we hit the road at 10.Procrastinating at every possible stop and posing for photos at every nook and cranny of the wonderful route, we reached Narkanda at 4 and so plan for a short visit to Sarahan was chopped( although our over excited bikers took a wrong turn and ended up cheking out this beautiful village too).The road till Wangtoo is superb and good part of it runs along roaring Sutlej. We were at Wangtoo at Dusk but wasted some time waiting for the bikers who in a fit of excitement turned to Sarahn from Jeori and had to make an extra round trip of 34 kms. Time was not the only commodity lost as in trying to make up for lost time the headlight of Unicorn faced some serious jolts which proved unsuitable for its age. The handy string patch work did the trick and bike was ready to roll, looking more badass than ever( at least we liked to think so).
At around 9 pm we were brought to our first encounter with water crossing ( nallah). Excitement shot sky high as the bikes made their way supported by Gypsy head light.Sounds of hearty shouts of “Raulaa” accompanied the splashes as Gypsy thundered passed the causeway.
Reached Kalpa in pitch dark at 11 unaware of the beautiful scenes we were passing through. A cozy room perfectly complimented the rough ride of the day, and we all retired to beds, to smugly go over the days events with different vantage points.
Travelled: Solan-Shimla-Narkanda-Wangtoo-Reckong Peo-Kalpa
Total Distance: 295 kms
Stayed at: Some hotel at Kalpa
Day 3: A cursory visit to Kalpa town and monastery, stunningly located against Kinner Kailash looming large in the back drop, started the day. Kalpa was actually a detour and we had to go back till Powari to get back to the route, stopping at Peo for breakfast.The route gets serious from Powari onwards as the narrow roads begin to snake through barren mountains.
The first major (relatively of course) stop enroute is Pooh.We hoped to refill the tanks here after waving past the filling station at Peo for reasons still unknown even when it was duly spotted by our bikers. There is no filling station at Pooh, we learned.We were told of a shop 1 km away which owing to highly complicated sense of distances of locals turned out to be well over 5 kms away. Not a drop of fuel here too. With fuel guzzling gypsy left with only a quarter of tank, ever reliable Pulsar was sent to Pooh village( the part we passed was apparently Pooh market or something) to procure fuel at any cost. 2 cans of 20 litre each were bought at 75/litre (not too bad for someone used to UP prices) and trip was resumed.
We turned right from Khab ( actually 3 kms before Khab) to visit ShipKi La which , according to my misplced trust in my memory was 7 kms away, but actually was around 30 kms. After ascending roads with terrifying gradients and even more terrifying vertical drops( actually everything about that route was somehow terrifying) for an hour we found ourselves bang at the center of nowhere. Some passer-byes told us we would in any case wont be allowed to visit the actual border so we decided to return. The seemingly futile journey actually prepared us for even the most treacherous routes and road further seemed like national highways from then on.
Another decision awaited us at a diversion and another wrong decision was taken with striking unanimity. Map was to be blamed this time. The route to Nako is shown as detour in the map and so we took the straight road that led us to Leo. One noble soul ( what he was doing alone in that desolate place is a mystery though)told us our mistake and we duly returned to diversion and then further to Nako. 3 stoppages was one too many for the day and plan to stay at Dhankar was dropped in favour of Nako. Nako is a decent village with many eateris , a beautiful meuseum ( opinion based purely on the exterior of the building, didnt get to see the inside) and a lake which hardly looks like a lake and shouldn’t be a factor in deciding whether or not to stay here. There are many hotels here ranging from decent to very good and overall we were not fussy about not reaching Dhankar.
Day 4: 3 days of driving and we were still in Kinnaur. This was to change today as we prepared to start for Dhankar.A steep ascent from Nako took us to the top where some treacherous roads welcomed us.The roller coaster ride continues downhill taking us through some surreal backdrops to a checkpoint where foreign tourists are required to show their ILP and we were asked to register all our vehicles.Shortly ahead lies Sumdoo with a board declaring your entry into Spiti valley. But we were welcomed with another event , this one rather unpleasant, as the Unicorn suffered a flat tyre as soon as it entered Spiti. There was a repair shop at the check point we just passed and we got the information of another one at Hurling, 8 kms ahead.We decided to go for the wrong option again and ever reliable Pulsar was sent with the tyre to Hurling where the shop was closed. Eventually the tyre was repaired at Lari, 13 kms from Hurling. This episode claimed 2.5 hrs of our precious time and we were forced to cut short plan for the day to Dhankar.
Tabo lies 6 kms from Lari and is one of the major stops in Spiti owing to the magnificent Monastery dating back to 10th century.The monastry has some intricate frescoes and typical Tibetan style architecture.The main prayer hall is a mystical place in part due to the sun light that filters through the translucent roof down to the statue.
The road beyond Tabo is absolute beauty; rising slightly above Spiti river with steep and barren mountains on the sides.This was the place straight ot of imagination and a vast expanse of route ahead was visible.
Dhankar again is a 8 km detour , the route diverging from Shichling. The place bears striking resemblance with places seen in LOTR movies ; the monastery perched precarisously atop the hill overlooking the valley. Just why would someone in 10 centurey establish a monastery at such an impossible place is a mystery solved only when you enter it and take a look around. If there is a place to meditate and connect with yourself , this was it. The view from the top is very fulfilling , its a magical place.
There are accommodation options and we chose a guest house next to the monastery. The service was good albeit a little slow but you cant blame the folks living so detached from the fast paced world, can you?And we got to see a yak too!!A live badass yak!
Route taken: Nako-Sumdoo-Hurling-Tab0-shichling-Dhankar
Stayed at: Guest house near monastery, Dhankar.
Day 5: There is a shortcut to Kaza from Dhankar which our map didnt show but we decided to take the normal route through stunning valley.Kaza is some 30 kms away from Dhankar.Our track record of unplanned stoppages remained unscratched as we suffered another puncture.This puncture episode was rendered much less troublesome thanks to a gentle truck driver who helped us carry the bike right till the workshop in Kaza.
Kaza is the major town of Spiti and is surprisingly large and developed given its remoteness.You can do all your emergency shopping here and refill fuel tanks from the Worlds highest filling station.There are two must visit excursions from Kaza: Key and Kibber. We had planned to visit both of them after replenishing some depleted resources(engine oil, fuel) and energy.
Key , like most of the monastries in Spiti is ancient and located in difficult location, the reason for which , I think, has to do with ascetic lifestyle of monks.We were given a guided tour of the monastery by a gentle and not so monk like monk who seemed high on enthusiasm and low on information.View from the monastery is superb with very large expanse of the valley clearly visible.
Kibber is touted as highest motorable village of the world.While I am not completety sure of this credential, it is certainly pretty high at whopping 4270 mts. The village itself is surprisingly normal , although beatiful,and there is nothing much to do or see.
Road from Kaza to Losar is absolutely beautiful. From very broad valley to some Grand Canyon like structures to grasslands and remote villages, it takes through all. View of Key monastery from distance was particularly gratifying.Our over enthusiastic group ( oh yes the spirits hadnt abated even after 5 days) stopped at every stop worth posing with and some more. Some one in the bus trudging behind us asked what channel we worked for?
Losar is village of a few houses and guest houses.It was already bustling with activity as a group of Israleis travelling ahead us had reached before us(like most of the places). The eating place of Sarchu guest house looked and smelt of like what it should, a place in remotest of village ,and thus was utterly comfy and likeable , at least for me and our group.The dorm like room which we got was equally good and cost us only 400 for 4 double beds.
Day 6: The culmination of our worthwhile adventure and also that of some unanticipated nuisances ( AMS, road blocks) was day 6. Kunzum pass and trek to Chandratal was on platter.Kunzum pass is some 18 kms from Losar.The steep ascent to highest point of the route,4600mts, passes through some pictureseque landscapes.If you dont know what a pass is you might expect something totally different as a pass is nothing but a passage.There is a small temple at the pass marking the highest point and all vehicles passing need to complete a parikrama as a tradition.Do I need to tell that the view from pass is awesome.
Chandratal can be approached via 2 routes: 8 km trek from Kunzum and 13 kms road from Batal. 13 kms road is supposedly jeep worthy in best of its days which, aided by supreme confidence in our driving skills , led us to take another wrong decision. So off we went to Batal and turned boldly from the board depicting the road to Chandratal.
A road block awaited us less than a km into the road.A good part of the road was washed out and rubble from the hill had come on to the road rendering the path impossible for driving.Not for us, we thought.A highly risky plan was carved out which involved digging up some part of the rubble to broaden the road and driving past keeping the right tyre on the hill with left on the brink leaving gypsy dangerously inclined.4X4 gypsy couldnt get enough grip in the trial and plan was dropped, thankfully.Gypsy was parked in Batal and so it was 24 kms trek.Trek itslef is not tough albeit a little long for a single day, but the problem most concerning was the time. We started the trek at 12:30.
Chandratal is fairly large emerald green lake with dramatic backdrop.A board at the lake tells of fauna of the region but all we saw were the urban animals bewildered by the beauty and altitude.And some ponies of course.
The exorbitantly priced tents at Chandratal left us with no choice but to trek back to Batal ( although one of our member had to stay back due to what illness, with one more to support).Another adventure beckoned us as we started the long trek at 6:30.Seemingly infinte trek came to an end finally with a nallah.Thundering nallah was crossed barefoot in torchlight with water so cold that feet went numb halfway.But numbness of feet was overcome by the joy of reaching as we had left 2 bikes there. Considering triple riding unsafe I trekked some 3 miles alone at night.What a feeling that was.
In the whole trip spirits were down only once, in the last stages of the trek, but spirits were lifted by incredible hospitality shown by Chacha-chachi at chandratal dhaba at Batal.They generously offered us place to sleep in the dhaba and a tent.That was the best night spent in the whole trip.
Day 7:The last day of what seemd like an endless journey.Spirits were surprisingly high for last day, in part due to some lovely route that was still left to be covered.And in part due to the attitude of the group , always looking for adventure and enjoying whatever is thrown at us.We quickly drove through Chatru ,Gramphoo, passing some ice tunnells that are characterstic postcard images of the area(remember the song from Jab we met?)Temprature suddenly dipped to uncomfortable levels as we neared Rohtang Pass.Rohtang pass, although much lower than kunzum , had much more snow to boast.This coupled with proximity to Manali and easy route attracts tourists in drones.We crossed the pass and all was changed. Serene, adventurous and slow Lahul valley was left behind and we joined cavalcade of uncountable vehicles in a logjam.
The mad rush at Rohtang and Manali didnt go down too well and we decided to drop the plan to stay at manali and go for a push to Delhi. Surprising even ourselves, stretching our limits further we drove non stop from Batal to Delhi in a canonball run lasting 27 hours.