2400Km of Solo Spiti Sauntering – Day 6 – Dhankar to Kaza

2400Km of Solo Spiti Sauntering – Compendium – Links to rest of the Spiti travelog

Day 6 – Fri, Sep 8 2017 – Dhankar Lake, Komic, Hikkim and Kaza

Day 6 – Route Map

I snoozed the alarm twice before I woke up. While I wanted to leave early, I was not in a hurry. All I had to do was to get up, brush, dress up and leave for the Dhankar Lake.

Looking at my physical shape, the guesthouse caretaker had warned me a couple of times on the trail being steep and that it will take quite long.

Three dogs who were sleeping just outside the guesthouse door, got startled as I stepped out. They then proceeded to ungrudging accompany me on the walk up to the lake.

The trail starts just outside the large gate on the main road and is well-marked. At first it is quite gradual and then gets steeper – at least it felt so maybe because I got tired.

The altitude definitely had an effect and pretty soon I was huffing and puffing, which made me stop quite often. That was good in a way as it gave me an opportunity to look behind me.

The trail rises straight on the face of the mountain overlooking the village and the valley. The sun was rising behind the mountain I was climbing, spreading golden hue on the hills opposite. The moon was setting over the hills across the valley.

Taking a break on the strenuous hike

Moonset over Spiti Valley. See here.

One of the three dogs who accompanied me to the lake.

A sprinkling of snow on the top of the peaks.

The dogs would dart ahead. Then they would wait for me to catch up with them and give a rub on the head. Then they would dart back ahead and repeat the cycle.

Around three-forth of the way up, the trail turns obscuring the views of the valley.

As I turned around a corner, a small temple showed up with a portion of dried lake bed. I wondered if the lake will be completely dried. However any worried were put to rest as the trail topped over a small rising and the lake came into view. One part of the lake was dried up while the other side had ample water. There were two temples near the lake – one very small and in a run down condition and the other larger and better maintained one. It took me around 1hr 45min to reached the lake from the monastery guesthouse.

As I stood there staring at the small lake nestled among the mountains, the dogs decided not to wait for me. They darted down to the water and jumped in. There were boards on the way advising not to get into the water and I respected that, only putting my hands in to drink some water and wash my face.

The dogs enjoying a walk in the water.

Reflections

A five picture panorama. See here for larger version.

More reflections

The small temple beside the lake. below the temple is where I took a short nap.

I took a round of the and then settled down on the banks near the temple. The dogs lay down near me, occasionally getting up to jump into the cold water. I am guessing the sun was quite hot and they would get into the water to cool themselves.

I had an apple in my bag and bit off a piece to share with the dogs. They did not like it and left it there. So I ate the rest of the apple myself. Lying there in the sun I dozed off in the lullaby of flags fluttering in the wind. Other than that there was absolute silence.

I woke up feeling cold and saw that a cloud had obscured the sun. I lay there lazily before getting up to start on the trail down.

The bigger and better maintained temple.

One of the dogs cooling off in the lake.

The trail back.

Selfie on the trail back.

It was almost 1030 by the time I reached back to the guesthouse. On way back met a a group of two being led by a guide going towards the lake.

After reaching the guesthouse, had a breakfast of bread, omelet and tea. Left Dhankar by 1200.

A 7 shot panorama of the Spiti River between Dhankar and Kaza and the towering hills across. Bigger version here.

Leaving Dhankar, I had two options. One was to take the straight road to Kaza. This road follows the Spiti river and is in pretty good condition. The other is a diversion which goes to Komic, Hikkim, Langza and then Kaza. This second route was recommended by someone on bcmtouring forum and is not well used. Someone had warned that the road may be closed or in pretty bad condition. I would later find out that the warning was quite apt.

As I headed towards Kaza, I was still undecided. Fuel was running low, so I was a little reluctant to take the alternate route. Around a Km after Lidang, the road to Demul takes off on the right. The road looked newly laid and in excellent condition. All doubts were gone and I turned up that road.

Patterns on a mountain.

Lost on the Demul Road

The road quickly rose above the valley through a series of switchbacks. Again the views of the valley below were magnificent. The road was great, so it was fun driving up.

After a few Km, a small trail cut off towards to the left. Next to it a board indicate the way to Komic. The trail was narrow and didn’t looked motor-able. While google maps showed that to be the right way, I was hesitant. I was more eager to ride on the good road which went ahead towards Demul. So ignoring the board and the maps, I went straight. Pretty soon I was at the top of the hill. Couple of Chortens stood there defying the strong winds. The road ahead went to Demul. A small trail went off somewhere to the left.

I was somewhat lost and also the shortage of fuel dawned on me. Decided to take the small trail on the left. A little far ahead was a tractor with trailer parked on the road blocking the way. It gave me confidence that the trail is motor-able.

Reaching the tractor, I found two guys sitting behind the tractor. They affirmed that the trail would lead to Komic. At the same time they warned that the road was bad. One of them then proceeded to reverse the tractor so that I had enough space to pass.

After a km of driving on the narrow trail with pointed rocks, the trail widened with rocks giving way to packed mud.

The trail to Komic.

Wild Horses on the Komic trail

As I settled down on the mud packed road, the ride became more and more fun. The vistas were pleasing and sun felt warm on my back. I was loving it.

After a while the road became worse again. Loose rocks, big and small all over. Fortunately I was wearing padded cycling shorts under the jeans otherwise my bun would have been a toast.

After a short break, I reached a small pass overlooking Komic. The monastery looked so isolated in the middle of nowhere.

Selfie on the Komic trail.

Panoramic view from the pass above Komic. A larger version of the 7-image panorama.

Another view from the pass above Komic. The small building below the curve on the road is Komic Monastery.

Komic Monastery

Yaks grazing on the hillside

Komic Monastery

At Komic, I skipped going inside the monastery. Opting to take a picture from outside, I proceeded towards Hikkim. Missing out a turn, I ended up on the road to Langza. Wanting to visit the highest post office, I turned back after realizing my mistake.

At Hikkim, one has to park their vehicle on the road and walk down to the post office. There are no markers, so one has to find their own way around. It is a small village, so I walked around till I found the post office. Surprisingly there was no one to be seen in the village.

There were two people at the post office. They didn’t have any stamps. So I couldn’t send a letter. I left after having a picture taken in front of the board.

Village of Hikkim.

Road to Langza

At the world’s highest post office, Hikkim.

Moving ahead from Hikkim, I descended towards Kaza. The views down towards the valley were picture perfect. After several hours I was seeing some vehicles on the road. The last I had seen was the tractor near the Demul Road Chorten. These were mostly tourists coming from Kaza.

Patterns in the Spiti River.

World’s highest fuel retail outlet.

Didn’t take me long to get to Kaza. First thing I did was to fill up on petrol. Subsequently I hunted for a hotel and found one at Kay Cee Lodge. Dumped my stuff in the hotel and ordered for tea/pakora. Seems to have fallen into a pattern. After reaching the hotel I look for tea/pakora. If that is not there, I fallback to Maggie.

I was planning to head out to the market after a short rest. Did not realize when I fell asleep. It was dark when I woke up. Since I was planning to stay in Kaza for one more day, I hung around the hotel talking to the owners son and the cook. Had dinner of chicken curry and roti, before turning in for the day.

Day Stats

Distance: 83.3Km
Start/End Time: 1200-1730
Expenses – Food: Rs600/-
Expenses – Fuel: Rs550/-
Expenses – Stay: Rs800/-

2400Km of Solo Spiti Sauntering – Day 5 – Nako to Dhankar

2400Km of Solo Spiti Sauntering – Compendium – Links to rest of the Spiti travelog

Day 5 – Thu, Sep 7 2017 – Nako Monastery, Gue Lama Mummy, Tabo, Dhankar Monastery and Fort

Day 5 route map

Woke up lazily a little late around 0500. Got ready and stepped out to walk around the village. Wanted to just hang around the place and maybe chit-chat with some locals.

Old houses in Nako Village. The big new one on the top left is of the village head

Nako Lake

A different angle to the Nako Lake. The house behind the green building is Tashi Home Stay where I stayed.

First I walked down to the lake which was just in front of the home stay. The Nako lake is a very small lake in the middle of the village. Nothing much to speak about other than a spot to sit and enjoy the peace. It surely was quite peaceful and cold next to the lake. It was quite early for anyone to be around and I sat on a flat piece of rock soaking in the moment.

After a little while I headed up towards the village in search of the monastery.

Cobbled stone path weaving though the village huts.

A multi-story hut in the village. Notice the low ceiling height and decoration above the door.

I wandered through the village huts and eventually reached the old monastery through the backside. While it was quite early in the morning for the place to be open, an old women gave me a brief tour of the surroundings – what the various buildings were for and the history of the century old monastery.

Then she directed me to the new monastery which was built on a ground below the old one. Thanking her, I went down to the ground and then sat on a some steps to watch the clouds cover the mountains behind the bright new building. It looked like it was snowing far off there.

Prayer Wheels at the Old Monastery.

Twin Chortens at the Old Monastery.

The new Monastery building at Nako

Couple of  more chortens at the old monastery.

I exited the area via the main monastery gate and then walked up the road to the village. Now I was searching for a tea shop – a hot cup of tea would make it a perfect morning. Unfortunately it was too early for the shops to open.

Walking about I found one shop about to open. The shopkeeper and his assistant was preparing tea for themselves and offered a glass to me. I was only too eager to accept. I sat down outside their shop while the tea was being made.

Over tea we started a conversation. In a few weeks they would shut shop and move to Goa for winter where he ran a camp ground. The season was drawing to an end and once the snow falls, the tourist inflow would stop. In winters very few people live in the village. The conversation then drifted to other things like demonetization, upcoming Himanchal elections and development in these remote areas. In general I see that remote areas in Himanchal are more developed than the remote areas in Uttarakhand.

As the morning progressed, the village became alive. Few vehicles passed on the road and several locals went about their morning chores.

I started off to explore rest of the village. After roaming around a little, I took an alternate way to the home stay.

A few fields near the Nako Lake.

Mountains, flags and huts at Nako Village

Returning back to the home stay, I took a bath and packed my stuff. By that time breakfast was ready. Since I had already worn my shoes, decided to have the breakfast on the terrace rather than in the kitchen. The hot alu-paranthas warmed me up all the way down to the core.

Pretty soon I was on the road again.

Cabbages in the Tashi Homestay garden

Breakfast with a view

Morning’s first stop was to be at Gue, but that was a long way away. First I was to drive through some real beautiful and barren terrain

Roadside selfie

All along the Spiti River there are pockets of settlements with their oasis of green.  The village in the middle is probably Leo.

Village of Nako as seen from the road towards Tabo. The red spot in the middle is the new monastery building.

Spiti river in a deep gorge.

Zig-zags descend down to the river near Malling Nala

Weird rock formation carved out of water and wind erosion.

One of the several shooting stones warnings.

A road construction crew with small kids in tow. These crews are permanently stationed in landslide prone areas so that roads can be unblocked as fast as possible.

After Changjam, the road runs adjacent to the river till Sumdo. The road condition is quite good as from Sumdo a road goes towards Kaurik which has a key ITBP outpost. Also at Sumdo, there is an ITBP checkpoint where one needs to register. From there one road leads to Kaurik and other to Tabo. The diversion to Gue on the road towards Tabo.

View of the Sumdo village from the bridge. The bridge is at the confluence of Spit and Parchu rivers.

Diversion towards Gue

Gue is in a side road around 10Km off the main road to Tabo. The road is not in a great condition though still manageable. The road first goes parallel to a river which was flowing with black water, possible coming from erosion upstream. After a few Km, the road rises up through a couple of switchbacks towards the small village of Gue. The monastery with the mummy is on a hill above the village.

When I reached the village, I did not see a single soul around. I followed the road up to the monastery, which was on a clearing overlooking the village. The monastery area also looked abandoned. The new building was unlocked and I opened the door to step inside. The place was still under construction.

Black river water on way to Gue

Way to Gue Monastery

Small building next to the new monastery building which houses the Lama mummy.

Gue Lama Mummy

The impressive new monastery building at Gue.

The adjacent building housing the mummy was locked. As I wandered around, an ITBP jawan came by with the keys to the building. He gave me the keys and asked me to lock the door after I am done. I opened the door myself and stepped inside. The mummy was kept in a glass case and surprising well-preserved. Being alone in the room gave me an eerie feeling. I quickly took a few snaps and stepped outside.

A few tourists drove up as I was preparing to leave. Giving them the keys I headed back to the main road.

Spiti River on way to Tabo.

The road to Tabo follows Spiti River closely – turning and twisting as the with the river. A little  ahead is the pretty village of Hurling with its small apple orchards. Not wanting to miss an opportunity, I stopped to pluck a few apples. Feasted on a couple and kept some in the bag. Given the heavily laden trees, the owner would not have minded.

Fully Laden apple trees.

Sweet and juicy.

With the river water low, the sandbars made interesting patterns on the riverbed

As I was cruising along, a small truck crossed me at a pretty fast clip and then stopped abruptly. As I slowed down to navigate part it I saw a man and a woman get down. Just ahead was a trail leading down to the river with a rope-way bridge and a broken wooden hanging bridge for pedestrian.

I knew I had to stop to experience the dare-devilry. Both bridges were about 25-30ft above water level. The river was flowing fast. I wasn’t sure which bridge each would use. The wooden one surely was more risky.

I was surprised to see the woman walk towards the wooden bridge. The wooden planks from the 1st 15ft were missing. She would need to walk on the ropes to get the wooden planks. Without pausing, a bag in one hand, she just held the rope with the other and started the tight-rope walk. Within seconds she had crossed the broken part.

The man on the other hand pulled the rope-way chair and sat on it. The pulley wheel rolled over the rope and the chair slid down towards the middle of the river, stopping a little ahead after overshooting due to momentum. He then started pulling himself towards the other end.

In just a little more than a minute both of them were over on the other side.

Tight-rope walk.

Rope-way bridge

Dare-devilry of crossing the river.

Tabo Village

The Tabo monastery. also known as the “Ajanta of Himalayas” is a famous one and goes back to 996AD. The new building is impressive but the old one has a charm of its own. It is kind of nice that there are benches spread around on the grounds.

I sat for a while near the old mud building. While there were clouds spread out in the sky threatening rain for a brief period of 10 min the sun came out as I warmed myself on the bench. There were no more than two groups of tourists of which one was more focused on the curio shop and other in the new building. It was great sitting there enjoying the sun and the peace, relaxing my bum after the rough ride.

The new monastery at Tabo.

Old Monastery with the new one in the backdrop

Old Monastery at Tabo

Tabo Helipad

After leaving the monastery, I did a short detour to the nearby helipad to take some pics and then headed on towards Dhankar.

Couple of Km after Tabo, light rain started. I stopped to put on the rain gear. It was just a drizzle, so I opted against putting the covers on the bags. Fortunately the rain stopped after a while.

Soon I was at the door steps of Dhankar.

Onwards to Dhankar

Road and the river.

Gate to Dhankar

The road to Dhankar rises steeply from the valley floor through a series of switch backs. The views are extremely scenic with the monastery and the fort rising steeply on one side and the valley floor with Spiti river on the other. On the river the sandbars made beautiful patterns cris-crossing with the waters.

Pretty soon I was at Dhankar. The new monastery is first big building as one enters the village. I got a room at the new monastery guest house. After lunch of veg thopka, headed out to explore the old monastery and the fort.

Dhankar Monastery and Fort from the approach road.

Flags, Fort and the Monastery

Helipad doubling up as a cricket pitch

Gateway to Dhankar

 

Lunch – Veg Thokpa

Old Dhankar Gompa on the middle left. Dhankar Fort is the highest building

Closer view of the Dhankar Fort.

Closer view of the Old Dhankar Monastery.

Both the old monastery and the fort are built on top of a cliff with separate approach roads. I first went to the monastery. Initially I could not find anyone at the monastery. The place was wide open. So I wandered around the floors one by one visiting the prayer rooms and other rooms. Couple of floors up, I found one person sitting on the cliff enjoying the sun.

Towards the top I found the caretaker Lama of the monastery. I helped myself to the chair beside him and we started a conversation. Being alone there he was only too eager to chat.

It was a nice conversation and he told me about himself, history of the monastery, life in the place and the various things about the lama life.

After about half an hour I left the place and headed towards the fort.

Door of the Old Dhankar Monastery.

Cliff at the Old Dhankar Monastery.

Spiti River in the valley far below the old Dhankar Monastery.

Inside the old Dhankar Monastery.

Inside the old Dhankar Monastery.

Inside the old Dhankar Monastery.

Inside the old Dhankar Monastery.

Inside the old Dhankar Monastery.

Caretaker of the old Dhankar Monastery.

View from the old Dhankar Monastery.

The top of the old Dhankar Monastery.

Inside the old Dhankar Monastery.

As I was leaving the caretaker went back to his siesta.

Small rooms inside the old Dhankar Monastery.

The fort was in a pretty dilapidated condition with the door closed with a wooden baton. Opening the door i went inside and wandered around the vacant room. Later I climbed to the roof. The view towards the valley and river was magnificent.

I wish they were maintaining the fort better.

Window looking out of Dhankar Fort.

Patterns in the river looking down from Dhankar Fort.

Crumbling Dhankar Fort.

After a while I returned back to guesthouse. Playtime had just started for the kids in the monastery hostel. The big courtyard in front of the guesthouse was where everyone gathered. I hing out there enjoying the sun and the controlled cacophony of kids playing.

Sitting there I noticed that many of the elders were gathered in one corner. After a while I realized that the cell phone signals were coming only in that corner. So anyone who wanted to make a phone call went to that corner.

As the sun went down, it became cold. The kids disappeared for their study time and the elder lamas wandered off to their duties. After making arrangements for my dinner, I also retreated to my room

Kids playing with my bike.

A water pipe acting as a kids slide.

Prayers at the new Dhankar Monastery

An old lama

Kids playing.

Study Time

Day Stats

Distance: 122.3Km
Start/End Time: 0815-1500
Expenses – Food: Rs480/-
Expenses – Fuel: 0
Expenses – Stay: Rs700/-

2400Km of Solo Spiti Sauntering – Day 4 – Sangla to Chitkul to Nako

2400Km of Solo Spiti Sauntering – Compendium – Links to rest of the Spiti travelog

Day 4 – Wed, Sep 6 2017

Day 4 route map

The morning ritual repeated itself. Up around 0500 and on the road before 0600. I was going to take it easy today.

I did not vacate the room as I was going to Chitkul and come back. Would pick up the saddle bags at that time. Packed a few things in the tank bag and set off.

The morning was much colder than I had thought.  I was desperately looking for a hot cup of tea.

As I rode out, my fingers were freezing in the cold. Everyone was asleep at the hotel I stayed in and so seemed to be in the entire town. Everything was closed. Inside the jacket I was wearing a sweat shirt which worked well. I also had a wind-proof outer shell which I could use if needed.

Village of Batseri spread out in the Baspa River Valley.

First lights of sun on the peaks ahead.

Village of Basteri looking back.

Apple orchards on the way

Apple tree, though not as laden as at lower altitudes.

Another cut in the rock road marvel.

The road was narrow and in pretty bad condition. Going was slow and it took me an hour to cover 25Km to to Rakcham. I was happy to find a couple of open shops there. Stopped for tea and breakfast.

Over breakfast, talked to a few people from Uttrakhand who were building irrigation canals for a government project there. They had come down for tea from their camp.

Dhabha-cum-grocery shop at Rakcham. The owner is also standing besides.

Breakfast

Traditional wooden houses of Rakcham Village. These used to have slate roofs which has given way to tin sheets.

Rakcham village with the backdrop of Kinnar Kailash

Traditional wooden houses of Rakcham Village with a slate roof.

After a good breakfast, I started again for Chitkul. The sun was out and it was nice an warm. The road condition went from bad to worse. Not in a hurry I made it a relaxing ride, stopping often to take in the views.

After a quick stop at ITBP camp to make entries, I reached Chitkul.

Cultivated fields as the road approaches Chitkul

Approaching Chitkul

Baspa river below Chitkul shining silver in the morning sunshine.

Chitkul itself is nothing to speak of. It is simply a cluster of buildings catering to the tourists with small shops and hotels. There are a couple of temples which I wasn’t keen on visiting. Locals have fields surrounding the village and houses spread all over. Construction activity was in over drive as winter was approaching fast.

I drove across the village till the last point I could go to without a permit. Then took a trail down to the river and chilled for a while watching the water flow.

Last point on the Chitkul road.

Village of Chitkul

Hanging by the river.

By 0945 I was back in Sangla, sitting outside the hotel and chatting with the cook over a cup of tea. The warm sun felt good and I could have hung around for the entire day.

Lazily I packed my stuff, loaded the bike and started out.

Entrance to the Monastery at Sangla

Tibetan Monastery at Sangla

Hotel Kailash at Sangla. This was a nice and cosy place.

The ride down was much more comfortable as I had worn padded shorts underneath my riding jeans. While there were clouds, sun was nice and warm. I enjoyed the ride down to Karcham.

Confidence – a temple below a rocky overhang.

Reservoir on Baspa River behind the Karcham Dam

Selfie Time.

A closer view of the reservoir. Notice the clear water.

Confluence of Sutlej and Baspa rivers. The one on top with bluish-green waters is Baspa coming from Sangla. The black water below is Sutlej coming from Reckong Peo.

Shongtong Bridge.

After Karcham, the road was good for a few Km and then the famously dangerous roads of Spiti start. The “shooting stones” boards appear frequently and BRO workers are all over making sure there is no blockage. The terrain also starts changing from tall trees to shrubs and eventually just rock and stones. Road conditions vary from excellent to pathetic.

Board indicating land slide area. The damaged road is seen above the board.

To cater to a large number of hydro-electric plants, tunneling has been done throughout the Sutlej valley. Entrance to a tunnel is seen far below above the river.

The road mostly follows the Sutlej river and crosses back and forth a few times. View of the river from one of the bridges.

Checkpoint to sign in. Non-Indians need a permit beyond this.

One of the good stretches of road.

Dhabha at Spello

After Karcham, the ride was hot and dirty due to the dust and up heating up the rocks. Stopped near Reckong Peo to fill petrol. Going was quite slow. It took me three and a half hour to cover 65 odd Km to Spello.

I was somewhat tired by Spello. Took a break at a small dhabha. Attracted by fresh jalebi and samosas being made, I had them for lunch. Over lunch I looked at the map and decided to stop at Nako for the night. A group sharing the table with me was planing to go all the way till Tabo.

Lunch of Samosa, Jalebi and Limca.

Barren mountains with road cut through.

Roadblock due to a rock fall. BRO engineers are quick to clear and keep traffic moving.

Town of Pooh

Around 15Km after Pooh, we get to the confluence of Sutlej and Spiti River. The road to Spiti Valley crosses the river and enters the gorge of Spiti river and then rapidly climbs up through a series of switchbacks called Kazigs. Similar Gata loops on the Manali-Leh highway are more famous.

Narrow gorge where Spiti River joins Sutlej.

Patterns on the rock across the river.

On top of Kazigs. The switchbacks can be seen behind the sign.

Spiti river far below and the road marks a faint trail on the left.

After rapidly rising above the river, the road follows the river, gradually rising higher and higher. Far away peaks show a dusting of snow. The road is in a pretty bad state with small rock slides everywhere.

A precarious turning on the road with prayer flags to let vehicles pass without accident.

Climb to the Nako Village.

The new monastery building at Nako.

Rising high above the surrounding as the bike climbs to Nako.

By 1630 I was at Nako. Finding a place to stay was easy as every other house was a home stay. After some quick bargaining I settled down at Tashi Home Stay. The house is very near the Nako Lake and the terrace looks over the lake.

Evening snack.

Had a bowl of Maggie to keep the pangs of hunger down and then settled down on the terrace to watch the sun set behind the clouds and mountains.  As the sun went down, it started getting windy and cold. So went inside and tucked under a nice thick quilt.

Pretty soon I was asleep only to be woken up an hour later by a kid’s noise outside. Stepped out to see a big group from Bangalore, staying in the same place. Chatted with them for a while.

Dinner was a simple affair of dal, rice, roti and sabzi. Would have preferred something local but had to settle down what was prepared for the others. Had dinner in the kitchen-cum-dining room of the homestay.

BikeRideSpiti_PhonePics (33)

Kitchen-cum-dining room at Tashi Home Stay.

Day Stats

Distance: 192.2Km
Start/End Time: 0550-1700
Expenses – Food: Rs315/-
Expenses – Fuel: Rs500/-
Expenses – Stay: Rs500/-

2400Km of Solo Spiti Sauntering – Day 3 – Purola to Sangla

2400Km of Solo Spiti Sauntering – Compendium – Links to rest of the Spiti travelog

Day 3 – Tue, Sep 5 2017

Day 3 route map

As usual I was up around 0500 and on the road before 0600. The sky was overcast and I was worried about rain. Given that I was running behind schedule, I decided to skip Chanshal Pass which was the original plan.

Town of Purola spread over a small valley. Purola is on the trekking route to Har-Ki-Dun

Wide river valley which descends down to Tons river.

Excellent road down from Purola to Mori through Pine jungles.

A gurgling stream near Mori

Village of Mori on the banks of Tons River

On the banks of Tons river. Had a passerby help take this picture.

The ride down to Mori was excellent. Roads were good and through my favorite Pine jungles. Mori itself is beautifully located in the valley of Tons River and on the way to several trekking route. I was happy that I had decided to stop at Purola on the previous night. Riding in dark on this road would have made me miss the beauty of the place.

I was looking for fuel, but there was none in Mori. Locals suggested that I try my luck at Tiuni.

Road following the Tons River

Village huts on the way to Tiuni

After Mori, the road follows the Tons river,  first at the river level and then rises up in the hills, still tracking the river. Tons river flows down from Tiuni defining the border of Himanchal and Uttarakhand, later joining Yamuna river at Dakpathar.

At Tiuni, road crosses the river and then follows the Pabbar River up to Rohru.

Leaving Uttaranchal

At Arakot I crossed over into Himanchal. There was a petrol bunk immediately after crossing. Filled up fuel there.

The road from Theog joins at Hatkoti. Having decided to skip Chanshal, I was planning to stop at Rampur Bushahr or Sarahan for the night.

Locals suggested that I go towards Theog and then take the Narkanda route to Rampur B. Google Maps suggested a route through Rohru and then cutting over the hills towards Rampur B through some small and unmarked roads. Seeing the truck traffic coming from the Theog side, I turned towards Rohru.

That was going to be a good and bad decision.

Crossing the river in style.

City of Rohru spread out along the Pabbar River.

The road onward was excellent and wider than any other roads I have seen in the hills. As I entered Rohru, I realized this was due to the Rohru being the apple trade center. Hundreds of pickup trucks were bringing apples from the hills into Rohru for packing and then shipping out on large trucks.

After getting stuck in the apple traffic for a while, I asked a traffic constable for direction and he directed me to a short cut which put me on a small road, climbing rapidly out of the mess of the small city.

While the roads were in pretty bad condition, the route was scenic. My mind oscillated between regretting the choice of this route and being happy about the same.

Lush greenery of Himanchal hills.

Lankra Veer Temple at Summerkot

Haven’t eaten anything since morning, I took a break at Summerkot for tea and omelet. I should have waited a little as I was about to enter the apple territory. Could have fed myself on the apples only.

Apples being sorted for sending to Rohru.

While most of the trees were already plucked, some were completely laded. The large number of apples on one tree was a surprise for me.

Couldn’t resist plucking a few apples and enjoying a crispy and juicy one.

Nice well maintained houses in the hills. 

One difference I observed between Uttarakhand and Himanchal is that in Himanchal there are nice big modern houses spread through out the hills. There are hardly any patches of completely untouched jungles. On the other hand in Uttarakhand it is easy to find large stretched of jungles without any houses or any other habitation.

Another apple packing station. Had a small chat with the packers. They also shared a few apples with me.

Deteriorating road conditions.

As I approached Badharsh, the road conditions improved (around 12Km before)

View of the Sutlej River.

Lunch

At Badharsh, I joined NH5 and turned towards Rampur B. The road was wide and well tarred. Few Km before Rampur B, stopped for lunch at a road side dhabha. It was around 1430. Looking at the road conditions, I hoped to cover more distance.

Since both Rampur B and Sarahan was nearby, I decide to proceed further. Was looking to push towards Kalpa or Sangla.

Entering Kinnaur.

The cliche picture of the Spiti Riders.

From Jeori, the road narrows down and condition deteriorates. Now I was doubtful of reaching Sangla or Kalpa before dark. The view also weren’t great. There were too many bald patches and electric poles all around.

Road across the Sutlej River.

The rock overhang road. Road makers in Himalayan are expert at this.

A few Km after Suru, the road was blocked due to construction activity. Waiting there I started chatting with a local teacher. He was going towards Reckong Po. He recommended that I go towards Sangla as the road was better and then I could go to Chitkul in the morning. He was confident that I would reach Sangla before dark. I was not so sure.

I was thinking if I could find a decent place to stay before that I would stop. It was already past 1630. On solo rides 1600 is my cutoff time to start looking for night stay.

Karcham Dam

Not finding any accommodation on the way, at Karcham I headed towards Sangla. From Badharsh onwards the road had been following the Sutlej river. At Karcham, the road to Sangla crosses over Sutlej and climbs up the Baspa River valley.

Between Wangtu to Karcham the road was great, however after turning towards Sangla the road was again narrow and messed up. By now my bum was hurting at every small or large abrasion on the road.

Another cut in the rock overhang.

Entering Sangla.

Reached Sangla a little after 1800. It didn’t take me long to find a decent hotel – Mount Kailash. The place is full of hotels – small and large and it was off season. After dumping my stuff in the room, ordered tea and pakora. The room was nice and cosy, though it was quite cold outside. I started wondering whether I had under packed for cold.

It had been a long tiring day. The bad roads between Rohru and Badharsh had tired me out. Additionally I had covered around 300Km all in the hills. Decided to stick around the hotel and not venture out into the market, which I usually do in the evenings.

Over dinner of paratha and curd, It dawned to me that I was unnecessarily rushing. This was supposed to be a relaxed trip rather than cover-all-places ride. Promised myself to take it easy and not worry about sticking to my itinerary.

Day Stats

Distance: 300.5Km
Start/End Time: 0545-1830
Expenses – Food: Rs390/-
Expenses – Fuel: Rs650/-
Expenses – Stay: Rs800/-

2400Km of Solo Spiti Sauntering – Day 2 – Rudraprayag to Purola

2400Km of Solo Spiti Sauntering – Compendium – Links to rest of the Spiti travelog

Day 2 – Mon, Sep 4 2017

Day 2 route map

From today on-wards, it was going to be new territory. The route I had traversed on the previous day was something I had been on previously. Today was about traversing Gharwal.

Was up by 0500 and on the road by 0600. First task was to get some fuel which I got as soon I left Rudraprayag behind.

The second was to decide on the route for the day.  The goal was to get as close to the Himanchal border as possible. That would mean getting to Tiuni or Purola or Barkot. I also wanted to avoid the recommended route (via New Tehri) which while would have better roads, but would also mean longer distance, more traffic and probably less scenic.

After filling up the tank, I sat down on a ledge overlooking Alaknanda and opened up Google maps to explore the route options. A few minutes of indecisiveness and I settled on the lesser known routes. This would mean cutting across the river and taking the back-roads of the Tehri reservoir.

At the end of the day my camera and eyes would thank me for taking the route while my bum would curse the choice.

View of Alaknanda from ledge where I sat planning the day’s route.

River Alaknanda takes a perfect U-turn as it descends down towards Srinagar. Further down at Devprayag it’ll join Bhagirathi to become Ganga. A 8 picture panorama shot vertically taken a few km down the confluence of Alaknanga and Mandakini.

Town of Srinagar, Gharwal spread across a wide valley.

The road to Srinagar was wide and excellent. After Srinagar, the plan was to turn away from the river and cut across the hills to Tehri Reservoir and then follow the banks of the reservoir to Dharasu Bend.

At Maletha, I left the main road and took and arterial road which would cut across the mountains to Molnau on the reservoir.

Before that I decided to take a breakfast break. I shared my breakfast table with a babaji, waiting for the bus, and got into a conversation. I was surprised to find the babaji quite well-traveled across India, from the temples of south to a few in the far north-east, mostly on train, bus and a good distance by foot.

Breakfast of bun-omlete and tea at Maletha

A babaji for good company and conversation over breakfast.

The route, though lightly marked in Google maps, was in excellent condition. The jungles were excellent and small picturesque villages were spread across the mountains.

First view of the Tehri Reservoir. I would spend most of the day in traversing the banks of the reservoir.

A little after Molnau, at Kail Bagi, I took another lightly marked route which crossed the river. The route would completely bypass Tehri Dam and new Tehri. In terms of distance it would be shorter, though I guess it took me lot longer.

There was a board which said, “Small vehicles only”. Should have been a hint to me on the road conditions to encounter.

The bridge at Kail Bagi

On top of the Kail Bagi bridge. Met a student who was took this picture.

Tehri Reservoir and the town of New Tehri on top of the hill.

Terraces farms spread all throughout the route.

The road was in general in poor condition, though in patches the tar was well laid.

Another view of the reservoir with a half complete bridge.

One of the many streams that flow down to join Bhagirithi. The small road is visible on the left.

One of the many small bridge that were crossed on the way.

An 8 picture panorama of around the back-roads of Tehri reservoir. The reservoir is visible on the far right while terraced fields are there in the middle. My bike is on the left side. See here for a full screen image.

On one side of the Tehri Reservoir an elaborate network of infrastructure has been built with roads, power transmission lines, small townships and everything else a growing population needs. On the other side are the back-roads just wide enough to carry a small jeep, nondescript villages, terraced fields and untouched nature. Being solo on a bike gives the flexibility to explore these unknown lands.

In general the means to cross the reservoir are few. On the route I gave lift to 4 people dropping them from one point to other. Given the narrow road, there was no bus transport. Villagers were dependent on private jeeps to ferry them around. Even those were few and far between.

One of the few bridges to cross the reservoir.

At places the road is cut through the mountain leaving rock towers like these. Though this is nothing compared to the dangerously cut roads I would find in Himanchal.

Another half constructed bridge. All the four people I gave a ride to, complained about broken promises around providing connectivity to the other side of the reservoir.

It was almost 1330 when reached Dharasu bend. Took a small break for tea and a packet of cake. The place was full of buses and jeeps loaded with pilgrims going to Gangotri. Apparently the road to Uttarkashi was blocked and everyone was waiting at Dharasu Bend.

The back roads of Tehri had taken a lot of time. By now I was not expecting to reach Tiuni for the night. Purola or Barkot would be the place for night stay.

Beautiful river valley on the Dharasu Bend – Wan road.

Road curving thorough the Pine jungle.

Picturesque Valley from a view-point above Wan village.

The road from Dharasu Bend on-wards was a revelation. After the initial few bad patches, the road is well laid and traversed the western slopes of a beautiful pine jungle. A beautiful river caressed by terraced fields flows down below in the valley.

The road first rises up the hills and then after Wan village, descends on the other side into the Yamuna valley towards Barkot.

It was past 1600 when I reached Barkot. I had already decided to head on to Purola. After Barkot I stopped at a small water fall. Next to the waterfall was a small Aata-chakki and tea shop run by two young boys.

Over tea, has a chat with the boys. Unemployment is a big challenge in the hills. Both of them had tried to enroll in the army and weren’t successful. None wanted to work in the family fields. So one was doing further studies at nearby ITI and other was running the tea shop.

Small cascade

Tea shop and the two boys

After Barkot, the road follows the Yamuna river and then crosses over to rise up the mountains. Again the road follows a tributary of Yamuna at a height with a beautiful green valley below.

Green valley below Purola.

River and valley below the village of Khalari in Purola Valley

It was almost 1730 by the time I reached Purola. It is a small town with one main street and shops all round it. It had been a tiring day and I had no interest in bargaining for a room. Picked up the biggest hotel on the main road, which was Hotel Classic Hill View and took a room there.

Ordered two cups of tea and pakoras which took a long time to come. The food wasn’t good, so I decided to step out into the town for food.

Walking down the main road was nice as it stretched my leg and for a change did not stress the bum. After walking around for a little while, I went in a small dhabha next to the bus stand for dinner. Had an excellent meal of unlimited roti, dal, sabzi and salad for 60 bucks.

Walked back leisurely to the hotel to call it a day.

Dinner

Day Stats

Distance: 266.6Km
Start/End Time: 0600-1730
Expenses – Food: Rs295/-
Expenses – Fuel: Rs400/-
Expenses – Stay: Rs1000/-

2400Km of Solo Spiti Sauntering – Day 1 – Nainital to Rudraprayag

2400Km of Solo Spiti Sauntering – Compendium – Links to rest of the Spiti travelog

Prologue

Several years ago when Google Earth was newly released, I was armchair exploring the hills of Kumaon and Garhwal. At that time I saw a route leading from Garhwal to Himanchal and then to Spiti. The ideas of driving down that route was carefully archived in some corners of the mind and life moved on. Over time other trips happened, but never got a chance to drive from Uttarakhand to Himanchal without getting down into the plains.

The Leh trip in 2015 gave me confidence to go solo. So finally last year I made up my mind to commit to this trip. However, a role change at work in 2016 didn’t leave me with any free time. And that brought me to 2017. I was really committed to making this trip this year.

Put in my vacation plans and booked the ticket. Once that was done, I was amazed at the casualness of my planning. Perhaps the many solo trips I have done over the years gave me more confidence or maybe it was mere carelessness. In the kit was my regular biking stuff and rain gear. In fact later I would realize that I was under prepared for the cold and should have packed better for the wind chill.

The only other planning I did was to ask around bcmtouring forums for a rough itinerary. The folks there are extremely helpful and over the years those forums have become my go to place for travel advice.

On Sep 1st took a flight to Delhi and then the night train to Nainital. Other than a flight cancellation and some crazy traffic in Delhi which almost made me miss my train, getting to Nainital was uneventful. Thanks to the heroic driving (some would call it crazy) of the Ola driver I caught the train just in time.

Sep 2nd was a cold and rainy day in Nainital. While driving in the rain is not exactly appetizing, I didn’t have much choice.

Day 1 – Sun, Sep 3 2017

Day 1 route map

Fortunately the clouds parted in the morning. All packing had been done on the night before and all I had to do was load the bike. I was promptly on my way around 0600.

Leaving early would be my routine on every day though out the trip. It allowed me to ride slower and still cover good amount of distance. Plus there is significantly less traffic in the morning.

Early morning start

Nainital lake as I head towards Bhowali

Early morning sun illuminates the rain drenched pine foliage

The route I had planned to take was Nainital-Almora-Someshwar-Kausani-Gwaldam-Karanprayag and overnight at Rudraprayag if possible. On realizing that the Khairna-Almora road was blocked due to a land slide, I turned towards Ranikhet.

The hills were lush green owning to the good monsoon. The roads were in great condition and I had a great time cruising along.

A JCB clearing the road off a fallen tree on the Ranikhet road

A small village cradled in the lap of Himalayan greenery

Faintly visible Himalayas from Ranikhet. The tall peak is Nanda Devi.

After Ranikhet, I had the option of taking the Dwarhat-Gairsain route to Karagprayag or the slightly longer Gwaldam road which would have me join my original route at Someshwar. I decided to take the Gagas-Binta-Someshwar-Gwaldam route hoping for a clear view of Trishul. To my disappointment, by the time I reached Gwaldam, the sky was overcast and there was no view of the snow-capped peaks.

However, I was glad that I took that route for it took me though some beautiful valleys of Kumaon. Post monsoons, the paddy is turning slightly brown in preparation for cultivation. Rivers and streams are full of water gurgling down the hills.

Blue skies, green field and well laid road. Perfect drive.

Two women tend to their field, preparing for cultivation.

A small river flows down a well cultivate valley to join Kosi River at Someshwar.

Paddy fields near Someshwar.

Someshwar valley stretched below Kausani.

Pine jungles below Kausani.

Cluster of 1000 year old Shiv temples at Baijnath

Selfie amidst a Pine jungle near Gwaldam

Mutton-Roti or Shikar-roti, as it is called in the hills, at Gwaldam

It was almost noon when I reached Gwaldam.The road condition deteriorated a few Km before Gwaldam. The bad condition would continue after too.

Decided to take a break and also have lunch. Gwaldam at the border of Garhwal and Kumaon has lots of small eateries. Sat down for an excellent lunch of mutton curry and tandoori rotis.

By the time I started again, the skies were dark. Within a fifteen minutes of starting, a slight drizzle started and it soon turned into a downpour. Couple of minutes of driving in the rain and I took shelter in a small shack. The place was also being used by road construction workers for shelter from the rain and to keep their stock.

After waiting for 30min, the rain slowed down and I started again.

After Gwaldam, the road condition had deteriorated. Now with the heavy rain, the pot holes was full of water and going was slow. The road conditions did not improve till Rudraprayag.

Pindar River before joining Tharali in Garhwal

A roadside seasonal waterfall before Karanprayag.

After Tharali, the road follows Pinder river till it joins Alaknanda at Karanprayag.

Confluence of Alaknanda and Pinder river at Karanprayag. Pinder is coming from right and Alaknanda from the left.

A small lush green settlement on the banks of Alaknanda River which takes a wide turn to flow down towards its confluence with Mandakani River.

It was still early when I reached Karanprayag. Decided to move on till Rudraprayag. The road from Karanprayag to Rudraprayag was in excellent condition and quite wide for the hills. Before 1700, I had reached Rudraprayag. Near Sangam, asked a traffic police for hotel options and he directed me towards the direction of Srinagar. There were several options on that road and I picked up Tulsi Hotel after a quick negotiation.

View from room balcony looking towards Srinagar. The road in the middle is the road to Srinagar.

I ordered two cups of tea and a plate of pakora. After resting for a while, had a bath and then I headed towards the Sangam. At the sangam, there is a Narad temple with steps leading down to the river. Went there and hung around for a while. Water was cold and there were not many people around.

Narad temple on the sangam of Mandakini and Alaknanda river. On the left is Mandakini and on the right is Alaknanda.

An old style manual ropeway to cross the Mandakini river.

Exact confluence of the two rivers.

Dinner

After spending some time listening to the sound of rivers flowing, I came back near the bus stand. Found a busy dhabha for dinner. A good dinner of roti, dal-makhani and alu-matar, and I headed back to the hotel.

Day Stats

Distance: 277.9Km
Start/End Time: 0600-1645
Expenses – Food: Rs505/-
Expenses – Fuel: Rs0/-
Expenses – Stay: Rs700/-