The Motorcycle Ride to Spiti Valley: Video - https://youtu.be/5B0gmo4bpaI
Day 1 – Delhi to Shimla, 351 kms (Saturday, 10.08.19) I’m up early, super excited, yet nervous. We (me and Eskimo, a Royal Enfield Himalayan) ride out of the city soon taking breaks occasionally. Orange juice by the Delhi-Chandigarh highway acts as good fuel for the body.
Welcoming the misty clouds right before Shimla
My first stop is around 1pm – the simple aloo paratha break. A swarm of around 10-15 people come and start posing with the bike. Around 2:30pm we enter into the mist and very light rain. Shimla isn’t too far now, and I reach my friend’s place around 4pm. Back at his place after 11 years, how time flies.
The evening follows with momos and beer, and home-cooked food to end the day. A good start to the ride.
Day 2 – Shimla to Chitkul, 245 kms (Sunday, 11.08.19)
We leave Shimla at 8:30am, and reach Narkanda around 10:20am. The roads are quite nice so we can maintain a steady pace. Post Narkanda, I take my first break for the day at 11am. We cross Rampur at 1:30pm and end up reaching Sarahan, but somehow change my mind midway and come back down to head to Sangla instead. Reaching Sangla around 4pm, we take an hour long break soaking in the view from the tiny viewpoint hut just beyond the village.
Reached Chitkul around 6pm, and luckily get myself a tent to stay in, just beyond the village. My friendly next-tent neighbours offer me whiskey so I joined them for a couple of drinks. People seem to be genuinely intrigued by solo riders I guess.
We talk about life that night where they tell me about their friendship of almost 25 years, of how they never chased their dreams, never switched their jobs, that I’m lucky to do what I’m doing. To do what I want to, to travel the world and to live a life that they only ever dreamt about.
A simple dinner (dal, chawal, roti, sabzi) follows and I take leave. I warm myself up as much as I can next to the bonfire and I retire for the night.
Day 3 – Chitkul to Kalpa, 70 kms (Monday, 12.08.19)
The next morning, post breakfast, I pack my bags, and head to the army Checkpost about 1-2 kms ahead of our campsite. Made the mistake of wearing my motorcycle gear and walking, and I start to sweat within 5 mins. I can’t make it to the Checkpost because of the heat, so I stop at a distance – from where I can see the end of the road and spend some time with two super naughty / sweetest kids. Walk back to the tent, pick up Eskimo and head towards Kalpa now.
We reach the petrol pump before the detour for Rekong Peo around 12:45, and now Eskimo doesn’t start. Fucking hell. The ignition wire is cut, and it snaps off whenever I twist the handlebar. I end up getting help from another group’s recovery van. Get my bike started, and move up towards Kalpa. There’s a traffic light in the middle of nowhere and I end up missing it, and get fined Rs. 500.
Finally head up to Kalpa and reach the HP tourism guesthouse which is quite a nice property, perched up at the top of hill.
Day 4 – Kalpa to Kaza, 204 kms (Tuesday, 13.08.19)
Woke up early planning to head to the picturesque “suicide-point” at Roghi. But Eskimo doesn’t start again, ignition wiring cutting loose and ending up with a circuit failure blowing the fuse out. I spend 4 hours just trying to fix it enough to reach Rekong Peo where the mechanic is.
Finally reach Peo to the mechanic who gives it a quick fix, and then I head down to the petrol station. Power cut at the station means another 10-15 minutes wait to get the fuel. Finally, start for Kaza at 1:15pm.
Stopping for lunch at 4:20pm at a standalone dhaba – with a group of bikers from Bangalore who are resting at Nako for the day. Their group leader tells me Kaza is impossible to reach tonight, as it’s too far. But instead of backing down, I make up my mind for Kaza, it has to be done now. We cross Tabo around 6:30-7pm, and then we say hello to the rain.
Me and 3 KTMs, we ride together in the rain. There are rocks falling from the slopes, it’s quite dangerous to be honest. But riding with the bikers makes it easier, since there’s company. We leave the KTMs behind and head towards Kaza now. Around 7:15pm, the lights are failing now but I’m riding next to the Spiti river which is shimmering blue in the night sky. Best time to stop and use the night mode for the Google Pixel, right? Surprisingly, I have no fear of getting late, or riding in the pitch black at all. Kaza is just a short while away, maybe an hour or so, so I stop and take as many pictures as I can.
Finally reach Kaza at 8:30pm, the first building on the left has a number of Royal Enfields parked outside, so I stop there, just to find out that it’s an RE service centre with an adjoining hostel, Moustache hostel. Rohit – the super friendly owner of the hostel, promptly gets me a bunker bed while Mohit – another solo traveller walks in, Rohit meets Mohit (haha). Bonfire, beer, live music – that’s how the night goes. I’m fortunate enough to reach the hostel on a night where they are having a bonfire, while singing songs under a starry night bringing in one of their friend’s birthday.
Day 5 – Kaza to Key, to Kaza (Wednesday, 14.08.19)
I decide to rest during the day with plenty of hot ginger and honey tea, sketching and reading for a bit. Around 3pm, I finally venture out till the Kaza market for some hot soup and momos and a trip to the Key monastery. Mohit accompanies me on his bike, but we part ways from the monastery.
Another night of chilling with the locals. I’m sitting next to Durgesh, and we get talking. I ask him – what do you do, brother? Nothing, and he laughs hysterically. He tells me he does nothing, but he codes sometimes to get the money to do nothing. And when he ends up finishing all his money, he goes back home once in a while (gharwalo ki gaali khaane). He asks me my plan for tomorrow and tells me that I can take the route to Chandra Tal via Kibber as well. (It’s important to note here that this entire trip was done without phone or internet connectivity, and such tips are highly important).
Day 6 – Kaza to Chandra Tal, 90 kms (Thursday, 15.08.19)
Wake up early, as usual and wait for the kitchen guys to wake up and prepare my breakfast. Finally leave around 9am. Riding via Key, we reach Kibber in no time. Stop, take pictures, move again.
There’s a huge crowd at Chicham bridge with a lot of people taking pictures. So I stop and take out my Indian flag (it’s the 15th of August) and try getting a solo picture with the flag and the bridge. Wrong – I’m mobbed by everyone wanting to take a picture with the flag.
We move on, the tarmac roads end, and we start riding on sand and gravel and stones (my favourite). There’s no sitting down now, you stand upright and rip across the pseudo roads. Push hard for a couple of hours and reach a point where everyone’s taking a break.
Meet two boys from Indore, who been having a hard time on the road riding alone and so they stick to a riding group from Indore. We talk about why we do this, and what if something happens to us on the road. It’s dangerous, and it’s easy to disappear around a corner, without a trace. “Why are you travelling alone, bhaiya? Gharwalo ko bataane waala bhi toh koi hona chahiye na”
On we go, ripping through the raw paths, stopping only to take a few pictures, no more breaks. After passing a couple of water crossings, I finally reach the Chandra Tal campsite around 2:30pm. Bali bhai is kind enough to get me one last tent. While drying my drenched boots, I met 3 boys, Shivam, Rishabh and Akshit, from Patna and Jaipur. These guys are super chilled-out and have an extra spot in their cab, so I hitch a ride with them up to the Chandra Tal.
Panoramic view of the Chandra Tal
I retire super early at 9pm that night. Curling up inside the sleeping bag, anxiously waiting for the big day ahead.
Day 7 – Chandra Tal to Manali, 123 kms (Friday, 16.08.19)
Wake up at 4:30, ready to leave the campsite early. Bali bhai feeds me chai and eggs and bread, I say goodbye to the 3 guys, and off we go.
4:30am at the campsite, everyone’s up and about (mostly).
Smooth riding, the sun is still trying to break free from the mountains up ahead – there are small water crossings which serve as warnings as to what lies up ahead. My boots are soaked in the first 30 mins of the ride. Our pace is good and we hit the first water crossing around 8am. The most important bit of this day is to get clear of the water crossings (nalas) before 10am. Why? Because the flow of water increases considerably later in the day.
There are bikes and cars parked on the sides – everyone waiting to take the first steps. I’m really nervous – but I don’t think twice before plunging into the water. There’s another rider in front of me, we cross the streams of water and park our bikes beyond the water crossing. And then we head back to help out the other riders who are slipping and sliding their way through, most of the non-Himalayans have trouble in the water and need a push. Eventually everyone makes it through, and now we’re 3 different groups of riders tackling every water crossing together.
I meet the 3 boys from Chandra Tal for the last time at the next dhaba – and off we go to Manali. Super tired, but super happy to reach Manali during daylight, right before it starts to rain.
At night I venture out towards Old Manali where I head for the most popular bar. It feels strange to have so many people around me, yet no one talks to you, or even looks at you as a fact – everyone’s busy in their phones, or busy getting wasted. Welcome back to civilisation!
Day 8 – Manali to Chandigarh, 300 kms (Saturday, 17.08.19)
One of my hardest rides ever; constant rain, the mud and slush, roads caving in with trucks and SUVs trying to overtake you on a packed highway in the mountains.
I woke up to the constant splatter of the rain – contemplating for a while whether to leave or to stay and then finally make up my mind about leaving. It had drizzled all night, and the downpour was starting to get stronger. I have breakfast and leave around 10am.
The initial 60 mins are fine, we manage to head out of Manali without any trouble, and then it starts to rain, and never stops. No matter what rain gear you have – if you’re riding in heavy rain, the water will eventually get to you. 30 mins in and I’m soaking wet, it’s cold, but there’s no time to stop. There is no road now, even if there was one till yesterday. Riding in a muddy field with rain splattering against my helmet’s visor and my glasses, it’s almost impossible to make out where you’re going – so you find yourself a good car driver at a pace you can keep up with, and put your trust in them and follow the car blindly. It’s a race against time, to cross the roads before a landslide puts all traffic to a halt. We ride for 5 hours straight, finally get out of the high mountains and the muddy roads and stop for lunch around 3pm.
The dhaba owner tells me that there have been landslides, and there is no more movement from here to Manali. All roads have been shut behind us.
We’re off again, the rain is relentless – but so are we. The aim is to cover as much distance as I can before the sun goes down, because riding in the rain once it’s dark with a wet visor and wet glasses is as bad as it gets.
7:15pm, still on the road, I’m starting to feel tired now – everything is pitch black and it’s still raining, albeit very light rain. 3 more treacherous hours and I have made it to the plains, it’s still raining – fuck this rain!
I find refuge at one of those cheap highway restaurant / DELUXE AC rooms accommodations – it’s slightly expensive, and so disgusting. The room literally smells of sex. I have my dinner and pass out, too tired to care about anything else.
BOOM! A loud crash and a splash of water on my face wakes me up around 3am. The wind is blowing the rain right into the room now, I jump up to cover the windows with the heavy curtains, and go back to sleep.
Day 9 – Chandigarh to Delhi, 252 kms (Sunday, 18.08.19)
No more pictures. The boring plains, the top gear, the silky roads are back. Although I am saddened to hit the plains, there’s a sense of achievement and relief – as I speed along the highway, probably one of the handful of bikers who made their way out of Manali yesterday. The roads in the mountains are still blocked due to heavy landslides. The ride back home is safe & smooth, and we’re back home before sunset.
Standing in front of the mirror, I question myself, “why do we do the things that we do?”.
The motorcycle ride to Spiti Valley.