SPITI – “The Middle Land”
Major #Throwback to June 2019
Summarizing my experiences of an Epic Journey to the highest places in the world! Hailed as the Middle land between India and China – SPITI Valley is a set of cold desert mountains, Pin Valley & forest terrain! The epic journey that lay ahead was to travel through the world’s most dangerous roads in Kinnaur District of Himachal Pradesh, precarious roads with shooting stones on hillsides, water crossings, slush & the dreaded black Ice at Kaza! What’s the weapon of choice you ask? – A Snow White Royal Enfield Himalayan BS4 aptly named YETI!
The initial plan was a loop starting and ending at Chandigarh via Shimla – Narkhanda – Kalpa – Nako – Kaza – Kibber – Hikkim – Komic – Langza – Kunzum la – Chandra Taal Lake – Rohtang la Pass – Manali – Shimla Chandigarh – A total of 1500+ km circuit! But fate had other plans, but that’s coming up later.
Day 01; 1st June’19 – Saturday
Four of my friends from Bangalore and I landed in Chandigarh and proceeded to Rana Bike Rentals to pick up the bikes. A Himalayan and 4 RE Classic 350’s which we had pre-booked a month in advance by paying a token of INR 5000/- The Himalayan was brand new and had just arrived after its 1st Service from RE service center, I couldn’t take my eyes off her, and as with all my bikes gave her the name YETI! After a short test ride & refueling, I geared up and loaded the Rynox Dry stack on the YETI. The temperature was tipping off the scale at 48 degrees. It was essential to keep myself hydrated and the Kalenji hydration bag served perfectly throughout the ride.
In case any of the readers planning to rent a bike from Chandigarh for their Leh or Spiti circuits; please reach out to Joginder Singh from Rana Bike Rentals on +91 90414 12141.
After about 100 km on the NH5 towards Shimla, YETI faced electrical issues; the ignition would cut off abruptly leading to the engine killing itself & restarting. The NH5 was packed with traffic and road repair work, this was an unexpected setback, I stopped to inspect and found a bunch of loose wires hanging behind the headlight console. This had to be sorted asap but couldn’t find a mechanic. I had no choice but to proceed; as evening approached, the beautiful sunset drastically changed into dark skies and started to rain heavily.
What a welcome by Mother Nature! Reaching Shimla for the night was of utmost importance. I stopped to put on the rain liners and rain cover for the saddlebag while the others went ahead. I rode through the thunderstorm, amidst heavy rain and hailstones hitting me hard, I didn’t stop till I reached Shimla, only to find out that the rest of the gang had stopped 20 Km before Shimla in a small village called Shogi, and had already found a small place to halt for the night. This meant I had to backtrack 20 Km in the rain, all this confusion could have been avoided if the mobile network wasn’t patchy. It is ideal for groups to stay within sighting distance and make use of intercoms if possible. It was a lesson well learned.
Day 02: 2nd June’19 – Sunday
It started with the sweet sound of Shimla’s toy train chugging along through the mountains, though we could barely get a glimpse of it. We started early but didn’t enter Shimla as it wasn’t part of the itinerary, The plan was to cross Shimla, Kufri, Narkhanda, Rampur and settle down at Sang La in Tukpa Valley. We had breakfast at Kufri, from here the terrain changed to thick forests, occasionally sighted Yaks and a few monkeys. The hills were filled with apple trees and lush greenery, I was about to overtake a couple of Squids (with no protective gears) on a Bajaj Avenger when they suddenly veered off into a ditch, the rider was lost in the views and turned too quickly. I braked and stopped a few feet away from them, thanks to the ABS. I quickly parked YETI and helped them and the bike out of the ditch, luckily they didn’t have serious injuries.
Further, the hills grew bigger and valleys got deeper. The River Sutlej flowed alongside most of the way through Kinnaur District which has some of the world’s most dangerous roads. The narrow tarmac carved through the rocks of enchanting mountains and dodged deep valleys with light rain bringing relief in the hot afternoon. The electrical issue haunted me all day & would cut off in the most un-ominous of places, riding like this was nerve-racking, we reached Karcham Dam and refueled our thirsty Enfields. We took a detour after this dam towards Sangla, on the way we encountered light traffic and army Trucks. The twisting roads got narrower and broken, but the view was just beautiful! In the distance, my first snow-clad mountain made an appearance and it kept growing till the destination for the day arrived – Sangla! After settling into a small homestay, we went out on a hike as this is the best strategy to avoid AMS, drink the local cold water and gradually get used to the cold. Fresh hot dinner was waiting as we got back and we hit the sack early.
Day 03: 3rd June’19 – Monday
I woke up to witness a snow-clad mountain outside the balcony partly covered by fog. What a view to enjoy the first cup of chai of the day. I decided to find a garage to get the electrical sorted, and luckily found a RE expert who was trained in a RE dealership at Bangalore. The gremlin in the electrical issue was a loose connector, which the mechanic changed & I ensured it was tied up tightly so to avoid any similar issues, while the others also got their bikes checked. Finally, post-lunch, we started from Sangla to Chitkul – India’s last village at an altitude of above 11,000 feet. This part was completely rocky and had a lot of loose gravel, the YETI was at home in this environment and was perfect to ride standing up on the footpegs. Chitkul was the closest we got to the Chinese border where we enjoyed the Panoramic snow-clad mountain range. This was a dead-end and we returned back to Sangla and then to Karcham Dam.
I was descending a rocky section when an Army truck speeding uphill and in a split second I had to stop on the extreme left, I was stuck between the front wheel and a deep river bed on my left. My saddlebag got stuck in the front bumper of the truck, I managed to unhook it without getting off as there was space only for my left foot. I requested the driver to move the truck two meters back so I could pass which was risky for him as the truck could topple. He somehow managed to reverse with the use of brakes and half clutch. This was a near-death experience and I was fortunate enough to survive. By evening we had crossed the Karcham Dam and followed the Sutlej river and high mountains to reach the beautiful hill town of Reckong Peo. We stopped for tea, this place had a fantastic view of Kinnaur Kailash Parbat with the evening Sun making the mountains glow like gold. Later, we found a place to stay called “The Old Monk” – I am not kidding!
Day 04: 4th June’19 – Tuesday
Woke up to the panoramic view of Kinnaur Kailash Parbat, words fell short to describe the breathtaking sunrise. We saddled up and rode to the famous cliff unceremoniously named Roghi Suicide Point suggested by Gokul Kini aka Soul Warrior, we spent about an hour here for photos and then the journey to Kaza began, as we descended from Reckong Peo and joined the main road, which a few km later changed into a scene similar from the movie Mad Max. There were cars parked all over, drilling equipment, and whatnot, this section had no roads, and since they were blasting the mountain to make the roads wider. We barely managed to cross this section before it was blocked for blasting, if not, we would lose about 4 hours. The roads got better after this and while we stopped for some hot maggie, we heard the boom! We paved on towards Pooh via Khab Sangam – the confluence of the rivers Sutlej & Spiti. What lay ahead was a total change in terrain i.e. complete off-road with hairpin curves, loose gravel, soft mud, and madcap taxi drivers all the way till Nako!
We quickly gained altitude and we could see cars the size of ants climbing up from one section. Again YETI the Himalayan shone bright and was a charm here with its low-end torque & soft suspension taking into stride anything that was thrown at her, jumping over potholes and bumps. Post having Maggie for lunch at Nako, the road changed to smooth tarmac and the ride downhill was menacingly fun and challenging with only Tibetan Prayer Flags acting as guard rails and this is where the most corner carving on the YETI was enjoyed with the saddlebags in tow!
As evening approached, the temperature dropped drastically and I couldn’t wait to reach Kaza! But the road to Kaza was engulfed between Pin Valley and the Highest places on earth. This treacherous road had slanting mountain with jaggered rock formations and smooth mud inclines which was prone to landslides and shooting stones hitting my helmet from time to time and on the other side was the epic Spiti River! One wrong move can be fatal here! Reached Kaza at sundown with the temperature dipping to 4-degree Celsius. An epic day came to an end with a hot maggie and a room with a heater!
Day 05: 5th June’19 – Wednesday
It started with the World’s Highest Fuel Stop! That’s right! Kaza has the world’s highest fueling station at 3,800 meters above sea level. Today was the day I rode a part of the famous Raid De Himalaya route towards some of the highest places in the world! And I can’t stress enough how it all panned out! Coming up were the best moments of the epic journey! First up was having breakfast at the second highest village in the world; Kibber at an altitude of 4270 meters, next up was the Key monastery, it was breathtaking since climbing up the monastery in full riding gears was a tough task, but the view of snowcapped mountains, the Spiti River and the landscape, was out of this world! Made way to Hikkim – the World’s Highest Post-Office, and posted a post-card souvenir to my Mom & Wife! Traversing through Komic; the World’s Highest Village at 4,572 meters, and after a small game of football with the locals, the route to Langza – at an altitude of 4,400 meters was beckoning with a few water crossings! On route, we encountered our first snow, and we got into a homestay right next to the Buddha Gompa.
We settled in with the family together, cooked dinner, and spent a couple of hours playing and listening to stories. We could sight a lot of fossils in the house collected over the years proving that we were sitting on a land that was once under the seam millions of years ago! Langza; a stargazer’s paradise with an almost clear view of the Milky Way, we sat awake till 2 AM and ventured out in -4 degree Celsius to catch a glimpse of the Galaxy, sitting out in the open under the famous Buddha statue. Unfortunately, it didn’t pan out as planned as hazy clouds played spoilsport.
Day 06: 6th June’19 – Thursday
The hazy clouds made way for light snowfall, the first of the trip and by the time we were saddled up, the snowfall turned quite heavy, there were only 2 options; either get stuck at Langza, for God knows how long, or risk the odds and get down to Kaza! What unfolded next was an enduring ride 20kms downhill under heavy snowfall with low visibility and Black Ice, the ABS on the Himalayan couldn’t help much and the wheels kept locking up! The Visor covered up with fresh snow almost instantly, fingers were numbed out, eyeballs drying up, difficulty in breathing made me wonder if it was AMS kicking in but fortunately, it didn’t. Upfront one of my friends lost the front and wiped out on the road, I was right behind him and braked hard, the ABS failed, and the front locked up, sliding the front wheel and hit the fallen bike. I managed to stay upright and immediately parked the Yeti to help him up, fortunately, my go pro captured this incident.
The ride down took close to 45 minutes and with snow hooded helmets, jackets and bike arrived at Kaza only to find out the route ahead to Chicham Bridge – Asia’s Highest bridge at 4,100 Mtrs, Chander Taal Lake at 4250 meters, Kunzum La at 4,600 meters was blocked due to fresh snow of 6 feet on the road. This cut off Kunzum La and Rohtang La, hence officially cutting off the loop to Manali – Rupnagar – Chandigarh.
We were devastated, I didn’t want to miss Rohtang and consulted Gokul for alternate routes. The only option was to retrace back solo to Narkhanda and then to Kullu, Manali, and Rohtang and make it back in time for the flight back. Sadly riding Solo wasn’t a good idea at the time, and I dropped the plan and we all retraced back to the same way and halted at Pooh.
Day 07: 7th June’19 – Friday
These days were consumed by the 320 km impressive journey from Pooh to Shimla. We were looking for a place to stay from Kufri until Shimla, but since it was a weekend we didn’t find anyplace. Fortunately, after hours of searching, we managed to find a very small place that was about 1000 steps down a mountain slope, we had no choice but to park the bikes on the road and trek down wearing riding gears and carrying the saddlebags.
Day 08: 8th June’19 – Saturday
We visited Shimla mall road for a couple of hours and by evening we finally reached Chandigarh.
Day 09: 9th June’19 – Sunday
As all things must come to an end! We had an extra day and hence decided to drive down to Amritsar and seek blessings at the Golden Temple followed by an evening spent to watch “Beating the Retreat” between India & Pakistan at Attari – Wagah border. This helped bring a close to this epic ride. The journey over 1500kms enduring treacherous roads, ghat sections, shooting stones, thick forests, high altitudes passes, and subzero temperatures are etched in memory forever and I can’t wait to head back and complete the loop as the vivid flashback of the mountain keeps calling me!
Gears: #SOL #UnicornII Helmet, #Spartan #Helios Jacket, #Rynox #Advento Pants, #XDI Riding boots, #Cramster Gloves, #Kalenji Hydration Bag, #Rynox #Drystack Saddle Bags #Royalenfield #Himalayan #Oneplus6T #SPITI #Kinnaur #Kaza #Narkhanda #Kalpa #Nako #Kaza #Kibber #Hikkim #Komic #Langza
That was the travelogue from Shreyas Dhanawadkar writing about his travel experiences from the Spiti Valley.
Also, visit: Road Thrill’s Bhutan Odyssey