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Old 7th July 2015, 11:53   #1
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Default A Hatchback and an epic 2000 kms road-trip to Spiti

Every couple of years, I get this irresistible itch to do something crazy, something outlandish on my travels. My wife thinks it's a mid life crisis; but God knows that can't be true given how many times it's happened!

The last time was in 2012. I flew into Leh for a holiday and while I had an amazing time, it just didn't feel... complete. I felt like an imposter, something was missing. And then I saw this:
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And I immediately know what it was that was missing - I was a tourist and not a traveller. While that isn't always a big deal, it makes all the difference when one is talking about a place like Leh. Anyway, to cut a long story short, come August 2013, I was on a bike headed to Leh. To do it the way it should be done!

But this story isn't about the Leh trip. It's about a more recent itch...
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Old 7th July 2015, 12:43   #2
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Default re: A Hatchback and an epic 2000 kms road-trip to Spiti

The planning:
It was June. The kid was on holiday and as is the norm I had to plan the mandatory Summer jaunt to the hills. Unfortunately May was very busy for work and i barely had time to get through the regular motions of life. When i finally got around to planning the holiday i realised all the places were chock-a-block full and the rentals, tickets etc. were stupendously expensive. Which narrowed it down to a driving holiday. After a lot of thought I narrowed it down to a week in Kasol.

And then a couple of government announcements in late May meant that work became very slow and suddenly leave wasn't an issue anymore. Now that made things more interesting. I initially tried to get the wife to agree to me going off on a bike alone later in July; but she wouldn't even hear about it. She insisted that we do a longer holiday together if I had the time. Given that I've been married for 10 years, I knew I wouldn't be winning this one and so agreed subject to the condition that she doesn't question me too much on where and when and instead just packed as instructed.

I then started on convincing the wife to do a bike trip to Leh which she flatly refused; and with very good reason. It would be real hard to manage a 4 year old on a bike for such a long trip. I went as far as to manage a RE with a sidecar, but no dice. I realised the wisdom of her words eventually and we finally agreed on a drive where we could take a car.

We decided to leave on the 18/19 of June and I asked the wife to pack for 7 days in Leh type weather and for another 7 days in mild hill weather, Meanwhile, I scoured the internet for whatever I could get on Lahaul Spiti. Apart from Team BHP, http://www.devilonwheels.com was the other site that had some very helpful info.

The thing was, the wife wasn't expecting Spiti as she though that after the Leh discussion, i would plan a shorter trip. But given that after we agreed to take the car nowhere did she mention anything about the duration of the trip, and I took the liberty of not clarifying.

Day 1:
We finally decided to leave on the 19th of June 2015. The plan was to leave Delhi as early as possible to beat the traffic. But as is with most best laid plans, this one failed miserably. We were up till late packing (mainly the wife. I can pack in 15 mins flat ) We woke up only at 9:30 am on the 19th and as it was a working day, I decided to leave only after the morning rush hour. We finally left home at 11:15 am. I stay in Dwarka, so took the Inner ring road from Maya Puri. We made good time and were at Jangpura in under an hour after which we hit the GT Karnal Road and headed towards Shimla.

This was the first time I was out on such an unplanned trip. While I'd checked out the hotels, etc. I hadn't booked anything. Given that I had a lot of time on my hands and we had no pressing engagements back in Delhi, the plan was to drive as long as we could and stop wherever we felt tired or anyplace that caught our fancy. The idea was to let wanderlust take over completely and for once not to be dictated by schedules.

It was pretty uneventful drive that day. The roads were excellent all the way. Had paranthas at Murthal, Lassi at the Ambala Haveli and picked up some pickles from the Parwanoo by-pass.
At about 7:30 pm I happened to pass the Club Mahindra at Kandaghat and as I'm a member, we stopped for a cup of tea and a bite. As luck would have it they had one room available for just one night and we decided to stay there itself.

Distance Covered: 336 Kms.
Stops: 1:30 mins.
Fuel: Topped up just outside home and then at Ambala - 19 Ltrs (autocut)
Tip: Watch out for speed traps near Sonepat.

Not too many pics from day one as it was pretty routine, relaxed journey.

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Last edited by Gannu_1 : 5th August 2015 at 14:03. Reason: Smileys = 2 per post.
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Old 7th July 2015, 12:55   #3
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Default re: A Hatchback and an epic 2000 kms road-trip to Spiti

Day 2:

As I've mentioned earlier, this was one of the most unplanned trips I've been on. And in more ways than one. The wife still didn't know I planned on doing the whole Spiti circuit. And I wasn't sure we would make it either. I just planned to go as far as I possible and was clear that I would turn back if I felt that the car / we guys were not upto the next leg. And given that we had no bookings, we could stop wherever and whenever we felt like...

Which made me pretty relaxed. Unlike on my other road trips, This one was of relax departures and early stops. Except for 2 nights I never drove after sundown and breaks were aplenty.

So, Day 2. We left Kandaghat at 11:15 am after a leisurely breakfast. The plan for the day was to head to Ramput via Shimla and Hatu Peak.

While the road to Shimla was good, the traffic was an absolute nightmare. On top it was a Saturday and a zillion cars from Punjab, Chandigarh & Delhi were on their way up. While the initial going was okay, we really hit the worst of the traffic about 10 kms before Shimla where we were caught up in a long line of cars waiting to get into Shimla. We crossed the 2nd tunnel out of Shimla at 1:30 pm - 1.5 hour for 15 kms! That really sucked.

Once past Shimla, the speeds improved as the traffic thinned out. The roads till Narkanda were excellent with beautiful vistas.

However, the roads to Hatu weren't the best of roads. Narrow, broken in multiple places and very very twisty. One needs to watch out for vehicles coming from the opposite direction and also for vehicles in front on inclines. I got stuck behind a Swift that had 7 people in it and from the looks of it wasn't very well maintained. As a result on every incline (and there are quite a few) I had to wait till they made it up before attempting the climb. 3 times I had to help them push the car up. But given we had no schedule as such, it was all fun and games.

Last edited by maverick1741 : 7th July 2015 at 13:29. Reason: Adding more info.
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Old 7th July 2015, 13:57   #4
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Default re: A Hatchback and an epic 2000 kms road-trip to Spiti

Reaching Hatu at 4:15 pm, we spent an hour on the top after which we headed out. Fuelled up at Narkanda.

The road from Narkanda to Kumarsain is okay. The first 8 odd kms had intermittent potholes which meant request sharp braking which didn't really go well with the wife and the son. I finally stabilised at about 40 mph which made life easier. The road from Kumarsain to Rampur is a mixed bag due to the Rampur Hydro Project. While the road is okay in places, quite a few patches are strewn with medium sized badger which causes the car to skid at high speeds. Also be careful while driving behind trucks. Just before Rampur held up for 30 mins due to a bulldozer that was clearing the road. Finally reached Rampur at 8:15 pm and crashed for the night.

After Shimla
http://www.team-bhp.com/forum/attach...1&d=1436257493
View from the top at Hatu
http://www.team-bhp.com/forum/attach...1&d=1436257493
The roads to Hatu.
http://www.team-bhp.com/forum/attach...1&d=1436257493
http://www.team-bhp.com/forum/attach...1&d=1436257493
This one left me in splits. There is barely enough road to keep a vehicle in the centre. Keep Left! Where is the left???!
http://www.team-bhp.com/forum/attach...1&d=1436257493

Distance Covered: 171 Kms.
Stops: 2 Hours.
Fuel: 21.9 Ltrs (autocut)
Tip: Drive slow even if the road is good as sudden bad / broken patches may appear.

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Last edited by ampere : 4th August 2015 at 20:38.
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Old 8th July 2015, 13:41   #5
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Day 3:
Again a late wake up and we were finally ready to hit the road by 12:15 pm. One of the reasons (apart from us being without an agenda per se) was the fact that the day was heavily overcast with heavy showers. So when we opened the curtains in the morning, the wife thought it was early morning as the sun wasn't shining yet; so we promptly turned abound and went back to sleep. It was a call from the front desk reminding us that the check out time was 10:00 am that finally woke us up. There was another 30 minute delay as I had gone down to the local taxi stand to find any drivers who may have come from Kumzum side to find out whether the pass was open and the road conditions. Unfortunately none of them had a definitive idea of the pass; and after half an hour I simply gave up and decided to press on.

The place where we stayed - This is apparently the Chief Minsiter's bungalow.
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The roads till Jeori were pretty bad and treacherous. There were multiple good stretches interspersed by really bad stretches that took one by surprise.
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There was a big waterfall near Wangtu that provides a great photo op. And that is where the good roads finish. After that it's just one long dirt track with lose bajri till Karcham. I guess a lot of it is because of the big hydro project coming up in the area.
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The road after Wangtu is closed and one instead has to take a bypass via Urni. This is an incredible stretch and equally painful. One first ascends 10 kms on a very narrow dirt kind of road till Urni and then descends 14 kms on worse roads. And when you get to the bottom you realise that all you've covered in straight line terms is about 5 kms. The drive however is very scenic and one comes close to the snowmen on the opposite side. Great photo ops.

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After Karcham I took the bridge on the right that leads to Sangla. Mixed roads - takes about an hour to reach Sangla which we did at 6:30 pm. It was getting dark and we decided to stay on in Sangla for the night as it would also be closer on the return journey.

Distance covered - 109 Kms.
Fuelled at Tapri - 5 Ltrs till autocut.
Attached Thumbnails
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Last edited by ampere : 4th August 2015 at 20:37. Reason: Corrected Image tags
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Old 8th July 2015, 14:00   #6
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Default re: A Hatchback and an epic 2000 kms road-trip to Spiti

Day 4:

We'd decided to stay on in Sangla the next day and do a relaxed trip to Chitkul. Left around 11:30 am; took us an hour to Chitkul where we loafed around for 2 hours before heading back. Were back in Sangla by 5:00 pm after which we explored the orchard nearby and generally took it easy.

Distance covered - 50 kms.

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Last edited by ampere : 4th August 2015 at 20:36.
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Old 8th July 2015, 14:30   #7
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Default re: A Hatchback and an epic 2000 kms road-trip to Spiti

Day 5

The plan was to reach Kalpa and stay the night. Left at noon and reached Kalpa at around 5:00 pm with a 30 minute stop at the Temple and an hour at the Gompa.

The road from Karcham to Powari was more of the same - continuously broken with bajri strewn on it. From Powari to Reckong Peo was slightly better in that there were no loose stones on the surface. From reckon Peo to Kalpa was a delight.

Distance covered - 54 kms.
Fuel at Chitkul - 9.3 ltrs.

Yaks on the slope:
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The Karcham Bridge:
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At the temple:
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The Kinner Kailash as seen from the room:
A Hatchback and an epic 2000 kms road-trip to Spiti-img_0194.jpg
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Old 17th July 2015, 10:52   #8
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Day 6

Now this was when the real fun began...

The plan for the day again was to drive till Nako (at least) or maybe Tabo if time and energy permitted. We left Kalpa at 11:30 am fuelling up at Reckong. Surprisingly the tank took on only 4 ltrs till cutoff. Seems like yesterday's drive wasn't that long after all!

Coming off to Powari, we turned left and headed off on the cut going down along the river. The road was pretty bad (or so I thought then... Worse was still to come) till Khabo bridge. Immediately after the bridge the road was silky smooth and a dream to drive on. However, that is all where we first saw this board which read "You're driving on the world's most treacherous road". This really spooked the wife. I think this is when she really realised what she was in for in the next couple of days...

The road was good till Khab after which it deteriorated a bit but was still okay to drive on. The road to Nako was truly spectacular with sheer cliffs and beautiful barren scenery. Especially the Ka Zigs which reminded me of the Gata Loops on the Leh Manali highway. Seeing Nako was like hitting an oasis in a desert - beautiful green and very welcoming.

We spent an hour at Nako and then decided to proceed to Tabo the same day. The wife having become wiser that day decided to do her own research on the net where she read about the Malling Nullah and how it could be really treacherous. this sent her into a tizzy and she was super spooked till we actually crossed it. Given how tame it was, the wife finally agreed that maybe I wasn't as crazy as she thought i was!

We reached Hurling by 6:30 pm where we tried the government guest house which was booked out. Given we had no option, we headed to Tabo. This was the first time on this trip when I drove post sundown...


Reached Tabo at 8:30 pm covering about 175 kms for the day.

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Last edited by ampere : 4th August 2015 at 20:39.
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Old 17th July 2015, 11:32   #9
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Default re: A Hatchback and an epic 2000 kms road-trip to Spiti

Day 7

Woke up to a heavily overcast day. Stepped out of the room to a very heavy drizzle and given the looks of it it seemed that would last the whole day and some more! The temperature had dropped considerably and I realised the need for a jacket / sweatshirt for the first time on this trip.
Left at 10:00 am stocking up on 10 bottles of water. The idea was to reach Kaza the same day which was at a considerable altitude and given my Leh experience I wanted to have plenty of water to combat AMS.

It was raining by the time we left and the drive was absolutely mesmerising.

The first place we hit that day was Schilling. And for the first time I felt wow'ed by the view. Schilling is a very small village on the banks of the river which compels you to stop and soak in the view. Immediately after this was the cut to the Dhankar Monastery.

Now a word about the trip to the Monastery. The road is simply awesome and a dream to drive on. And from what I saw most vehicles simply zoom up as this is the first good stretch they come across after Rampur. But doing this they miss out on the amazingly spectacular views that the road has. My advise - Pull out your cameras at Schilling. And after that drive real slow and soak in the views.

The monastery itself is beautiful. There are 2 - the new one at the entrance to Dhankar and the old one at the other end. The new monastery has beautiful rooms which one can rent out; had I known this I would have headed to Dhankar the day before itself. IMO suggest one skips Tabo as there isn't anything much there.

The old monastery is somewhat like Hemis, albeit much smaller. The views from the roof are simply jaw dropping. It was raining heavily when we reached, so I decided against taking the SLR and made do with the iPhone instead. The monks there are very kind and give visitors a guided tour which is a must do. We spent about an hour after which we left. The views on the down were even more amazing and I took plenty of photo stops which meant we took about an hour to cover the 8kms down till the main road.

A couple of kms after we came across the cut to Pin valley. It was just 1:00 pm and on a whim we decided to take a detour. The road looked as if it was in good condition which helped the decision... Little did we know....

A couple of kms in, the bloody road simply disappears. This is where the narrow river also opens up into a broader flow. on enquiring from locals, we found out that this was the site of the massive landslide that happened in 2013. The landslide led to the entire riverbed being covered with debris which narrowed the flow of the river and washed away the road for about a km. Now here there is no road - just a track on the river bed that's routinely cleared by the BRO. It was raining heavily and the track was basically slush hiding big stones that were a pain to navigate. Plus stones falling from the hill sides added to the chaos. This was the first time on this trip (but not the last) when I had to step out of the car multiple times and scout the track for the ideal way to pass. The road then improves somewhat till Sangam where the Mudh and the Pin rivers meet. After Sangam it's just a track littered with stones and slush. It was raining heavily so we couldn't cir too many photographs.

Reached Mudh at 3:30 pm and suddenly the weather opened up. And with the sun streaming down, we realised we were in this spectacular valley that simply took ones breath away. Decided to stay here for the night as it was simply too beautiful to rush through.

Explore the nearby glacier which marks the end of the road (literally!) and spend hours gazing up the hill side to where the clouds were floating past the snow covered peaks.

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Last edited by ampere : 4th August 2015 at 20:40.
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Old 17th July 2015, 11:40   #10
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Some more from the drive...

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Last edited by ampere : 4th August 2015 at 20:40.
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Old 3rd August 2015, 21:55   #11
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Day 8
The morning was even more spectacular. We had a room from where we could see the peaks leading up to the Pin Parbati valley trek from the window itself while cocooned in our quilts (and it was pretty cold). Luckily the weather had cleared and it was a beautiful bright day full of sunshine and promise of greater adventures to come.

Being the lazy travellers that we are, we had a massive breakfast at the guest house itself and then went crazy clicking pictures. Pin Valley is spectacular! To put it in perspective, unlike a drive to Leh where every turn, every nook and corner is like a punch in the guts in that every moment takes ones' breath away, on this trip The Pin Valley was the second instance of such a feeling; the first being the Dhankar Monastery. Not to say that it was the last!

Anyway, back on track - Since we knew we only have a short distance to cover, we Pin valley left at 11:00am. And given that it was nice bright sunny day, the drive seemed much more fun. I guess a couple of factors were at lay here: 1) It was nice and toasty inside the car and we weren't shivering our butts off; 2) The views were much more clear - yesterday was misty and equally beautiful and mesmerising; but today was simply all round spectacular. Especially the approach to Snagam and then the drive back through the landslide area. I sent up a prayer thanking God that today was not like yesterday or we would have missed an awesome drive.
3) We knew how far it is and how much time it'll take, sow ere much more relaxed. And the fact that the road were dry and no shooting stones made life easier.

We reached Kaza at 1:45 PM and checked out the hotels. So when you enter Kaza, there is a fork in the road - one road heads to the main market and the other carries on to Losar. The road to the main market has cheaper (not necessarily shabbier) acco and very limited options; the road to Losar (after the bridge) has much more options and fancier hotels. If you're planning on exploring the town or are taking public transport / taxis, suggest you stay closer to the market. If you have your own vehicle and are okay eating in the hotel itself explore the second road.

We stayed at the Kunjom Spiti Inn in the main market. Room tip - take a room facing the hill on which they're written with white stones as that's where the sun is most of the day.

After checking in the first thing I did was to head out to the petrol pump and the air station. The petrol pump opens every alternate hour and is dependent on whether: a) They have electricity or not; and b) they have enough kerosene for the genes or not. I was lucky as there was a HPRTC bus before me (apparently they are bound to switch on the genset for HPRTC) and I simply was next. It still took about 45 minutes for the whole thing to happen though. Filled in 26 Ltrs. The guys there were pretty impressed and I also think a little bit aghast with the fact that not only had I come so far but was also planning on going onwards to the passes. The interesting bit I learned while queuing up was that Kunjam pass was not only open but was absolutely dry and doable for hatchbacks. Met an Alto that had just crossed over that day and he gave me a lot of hope.

Next, headed over to check the air. I had last checked the air at Reckong, so no wonder the pressure was about 41 in each tyre. Given that I was planning on scaling greater heights the next day (literally and figuratively), got it down to 32. Also cleaned the Air filter - total 30 Rs for all.

When I reached back, I was surprised to see my wife in the middle of the market as she'd planned on getting some ZZZs. As she saw me, she burst into tears and getting into the car told me she's going to die! Apparently AMS had kicked in big time and she had a splitting headache and trouble breathing. Now this was surprising - She'd flown to Leh and had coped pretty well. And on this trip we'd been taking it easy she'd had enough time to acclimatise, plus we'd been drinking tons of water (6 bottles per head per day + soups in every meals and no alcohol / smokes). Hence this severity of AMS took me aback, but then we headed to the civil hospital. Ask anyone and they'll guide you. The hospital is clean and very efficient; and the doctors and the nurses there are extremely helpful and professional. Within 5 minutes of reaching the wife was on Oxygen and we were advised to wait for 3 hours for her to normalise else we should head back to Tabo. I can't express enough gratitude to those exceptional men and women doing such fab work in such difficult conditions. Salut!
After an hour of breaking in the O2, the wife felt better and we headed back to the Hotel. She ate and immediately crashed. The plan was to see how she fares and head back at the first sign of trouble.

By now I had given up all hopes of going forward over the pass and had resigned myself to going back the way I'd come. And I once again realised that Mother Nature can screw anyone any time she fells like it. She's magnificent, she's fierce, she's benevolent, but above all she's unpredictable. Not surprising given She's a she !

Once we were sure that the wife has gone into a dee slumber, The Son and I headed out to the market for a bit. Compared to Leh, it's disappointing form a touristy perspective, but exceptionally well stocked wrt essentials. And most of it (at least the essentialness like water, biscuits, medicines, chocolates, cigarettes, etc.) are sold at MRP. I was amazed at the honesty and integrity of these people - they could have made a killing but unlike their counterparts in the more established hill towns (Shimla, Mussoorie, Manali, etc) these guys choose to be honest! Hats off! I stocked up on water and some munchies for the next day and headed back for dinner and sleep. Met another Alto who'd crossed over that day and he was holding court on how it's doable by any car. I heard him out for a while conjuring up images of the heights I would never see. Finally at 7 PM I called it a day and headed in.

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Last edited by ampere : 4th August 2015 at 20:42.
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Old 4th August 2015, 16:24   #12
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Default re: A Hatchback and an epic 2000 kms road-trip to Spiti

Day 9

Day of Days


I woke up in the middle of the night with the full moon streaming straight in through the window. The silence was surreal and the view was beautiful. This happened a couple of times during the night but overall had a very restful sleep.

Woke up at 7:00 am and checked on the wife. After her morning cup of tea, she said she was feeling much better - her breathing was normal and all she had of yesterday's AMS was a slight headache. She felt she could handle the passes - I wasn't so sure. We decided to load up the car and then decide which side to head for. By 8:00 am we were ready to roll and despite having lugged her luggage down 3 flights of stairs, she was breathing normally. We decided to give the passes a shot.

Now you won't believe the sheer surge of energy and excitement that shot through me when I heard this. The car was fully loaded and ready; so off we went.

The road from Kaza to Losar is a mixed bag. There is some semblance of a road but full of potholes and washed out stretches. 5 Kms before Losar it becomes like a dirt road but nothing to worry about if one drives slowly ~ 20 KMPH. However the scenery is spectacular and the road passes through a beautiful valley which has amazing natural features. This was the second best drive of the trip - and better than the drive to Pin Valley.Throughout the way we were drinking lots of water to keep AMS at bay and had also taken Diamox before starting.

We reached Losar at 11:00 am. To give you a perspective, it took us 3 hours to cover 50 odd kms. That's how bad the road is - one needs to have infinite patience while driving this circuit. Luckily the buildup to this day had taught me enough patience

Spent about 15 mins in Losar. Stocked up on water - we'd drunk about 8 bottles between the 3 of us! Also made the wife walk a bit to check if she was okay. After a quick cuppa tea headed onwards to one of the greatest adventures we'd been on...

Now immediately after Losar there's a drastic change in the road conditions. Till about 2 kms after Losar the road keeps deteriorating till it vanishes and all one is left to drive on is a track. Now let me differentiate between the two: A road means someone smoothens out a track with a bull dozer, etc. and then tries and paves with bajri, stones, tar, mud, etc. till it's somewhat smooth. A trach means someone had hacked out a path and left it as is. The drive up to Kunjam was on one such track - There was path and nothing else - the bottom consisted of stones and boulders left in their places and the track was as rough as they come. But the incline was super easy and the vistas beautiful. I've driven the Srinagar - Leh - Manali circuit and none of the passes therein (except Zoji La) have as bad a road as Kunjam did. Not to say that they are easier or anything - each pass has it's own complexities and needs to be approached with care and caution. Just that none of the roads were as bad as this! Having said that, one needs to drive very slow and very carefully, and it's not impossible.

The good part was that this was the second day in a row when it was bright and sunny and the track was absolutely dry. This definitely aided the ascent and we made it with zero hits to the underbelly.

Reached Kunjam Pass at 12:45. That's 22 Kms in 1.5 hours. It was a relief to reach the top as we were half way through. All through the climb all we saw were an Alto coming our way, and a Bolero and a Terrano heading up with us. Seeing the Alto gave us a lot of hope that we'll make it - till now I was driving on a wing and a prayer - speaking to the Alto driver I could finally turn around to the wife and for the first time tell her with honesty and confidence that even a small car could do the circuit.

Kunjam pass is beautiful. We spent 15 minutes at the top; and after performing the Parikrama, headed on towards the Manali side. Now when we started from the top we thought the worst was behind us and it would only get easier... Little did we know!

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Last edited by ampere : 4th August 2015 at 20:43.
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Old 4th August 2015, 17:32   #13
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Default re: A Hatchback and an epic 2000 kms road-trip to Spiti

Day 9

Day of Days (continued...)


Left Kunjam at 1:00 pm for the onward journey. The descent to Batal was worse than the climb - This side is much steeper and has more big stones in the centre of the track. Given I was in a low GC car, I had to go around these stones which was difficult - The hill side was still covered with snow which made traction difficult and the other side had steep falls that really scared the living daylights out of me. Again, slow and easy was the way to drive and I really didn't have too many options except to sit tight and drive on.

2 Kms before Batal I came across a road heading off to the right which goes to Chandrataal. We stopped at the fork for a while while we discussed where we should head. I wanted to do Chandrataal and then head out the next day while the wife wanted to continue straight on to Manali. Her logic was that 1) Today was nice bright day and we should make the most of it. We would be jacked big time if it rained the next day; 2) She still had a mild headache and wasn't sure if she could hang on another day; 3) the road to Chandrataal wa little more than a narrow track that didn't fill her with confidence - that would add to her stress and she would soon have a full blown headache. I relented pretty easily - I had already pushed the car and the wife beyond their known limits and sometimes it's better to not to push your luck too much. So with a promise to myself that I'll be back (aloud so that the wife could hear), we got into the car and made for Manali.

When we reached Batal, I was thrilled that the worst was over and it would be comparatively easier from now on till Manali.

I WAS SO WRONG!

When you speak to the cab guys and the locals about going from Kaza to Manali via Kunjam and Rohtang, they only speak about how difficult Kunjam is. They never mention that the drive from Batal to Rohtang is even worse!

The drive from Batal to Chhatru via Chhota Dhara is covered on a track. No surprises here. But unlike the track on both sides of Kunjam, this one is a nightmare. The track changes directions depending on what's available - a lot of my drive was through river beds because the main track was covered with ice. Hence BRO created detours on the river beds. Now the thing about river beds is that while the track for the wheels are relatively smooth, there is a huge pileup of stones in the middle which makes it difficult for a car like the one I was driving. It was pure offloading and imagine doing that in a hatchback with 2 adults and 15 days worth of luggage packed by the wife. Plus there were stretches where we went through ice walls and where the surface of the track was still covered with ice. Traction was real bad and we went slipping and sliding all over. There were stretches where the track was so bad I knew I'm going to get hits on the underbelly - just had to decide which approach would result in the minimum hits. And there were water crossings where the focus was on not getting stuck instead of just not getting hit. For the first time on the trip I got multiple hits on the underbelly and also got stuck in 2 water crossings where I had to push the car while the wife tried going back and forth while turning the wheels in all directions to get any traction possible. While doing so in the second water crossing near Chhatru the car came free suddenly and the underbelly bounced on multiple boulders before it cleared the water crossing. The noise itself was enough to tell me that something had been broken. I checked the obvious points and was relieved to see nothing major had come loose. And given that the car was running fine after that and without any unnatural noises gave me hope that we'll still make it.

And the drive is as desolate as they come - The Leh circuit seems like a circus in comparison. I only came across 2 Innovas, 1 bus, 4 bikes and 3 Mahindras on the entire stretch - all heading towards Kaza. While I was loving every moment, the wife wasn't as happy. And the best part were the villages in between - Chotta Dhara has 4 huts and a SBI branch (imagine that!) while Chhatru had maybe a few more huts. It was nature at it's pristine best, untouched by man. At every pit stop we took to stretch our legs, I felt tiny compared to the scale of the beauty around me. It was enchanting and humbling at the same time.

From Chhatru one starts the climb to Gramphu. After the bridge the terrible track you've been driving on for the past couple of hours suddenly gives way to a very decent road. I spent the first 15 minutes just savouring the fact that there was a road again under my wheels and I wanted to savour it as long as it lasted. And good enough, this wonderful road (after the drive from Kaza to Chhatru, it seemed like a dream road) is punctuated by multiple water crossings. Of these there were 6 that were really difficult in the sense that they were deep and long. I was lucky to meet a Tata 407 heading my way and I immediately put the car behind it. The truck driver was a regular on the route and knew where to cross which water crossing. Plus the high stance of the truck enabled me to see the stones when the water parted under the wheels and I was able to plan my crossings better. In 3 of these crossings I again had to take a call on which approach would ensure minimum hits on the underbelly! I met quite a few Innovas that were stuck before the crossings - the water is so deep and so fast that it's difficult to identify an approach by just looking from above. And it's so cold that it's not really possible to step in and explore. I had fun passing these guys by while following the truck. The sad part was that by the time the Innova guys got back in to follow me across, the water had again covered over and quite a few of them took the wrong approach. It was surprising they didn't pay attention to the approach we took - instead the moment they saw that I was half way through they would run back to their vehicles in a rush to cross over.

Like I mentioned, there were 3 crossings where the underbelly took multiple hits, but all of them were mild and nothing compared to the hits we took in the water crossings on the Batal - Chhatru track. And the greenery was a welcome change from the brown desolation we'd gotten used to over the past few days.

From Gramphu I had a clear run to Rohtang. The roads were dry and not too bad, and 2 kms before the pass they turn into a dream. At the fork where one road heads to Sarchu, I was so tempted to head to Leh but the moment I mentioned it my wife's expression clearly told me to drop the idea immediately and head to Manali like a good boy! In a way I choose life over adventure and in hindsight it wasn't a bad choice .

We reached Rohtang Top at around 6:00pm. Stopped for a few minutes for the obligatory photographs after which we moved onto Manali. The wife couldn't quite fathom why there was such a mad rush by the tourists for Rohtang. It was nice, but compared to what she'd been through that day she found Rohtang pretty tame. I guess that's what adventures are all around - they lift you above the ordinary and give you moment only you can cherish and understand!

The drive after Rohtang was a culture shock for me. After having driven for 8 days at 20 mph on roads that were at best tracks and where sighting another vehicle was a luxury; imagine suddenly facing crazy tourist traffic where every guy wants to overtake the next; where breaking is considered a sin and where every other car is full of people drinking and throwing crap out of the car. 15 minutes into the drive I actually had to stop on the side to compose myself! While the beautiful roads were tempting; I was so overwhelmed by the madness that I continued to drive at 20kmph till I reached Palchan at 7:30 pm where I got stuck in the mother of all traffic jams. After being stuck in the same place for 15 minutes, the wife & I decided to get a place in Palchan itself instead of wasting time in traffic. So we turned around, crossed the bridge into Palchan and got ourselves a nice luxury hotel. I figured that after all I'd put the wife through in the past week (and what she still had to face in the next couple of days), she deserved it!

As the night deepened and the stars started to twinkle, I took a long look towards Rohtang, closed my eyes to recollect all I'd seen and done that day, and sent up a prayer of gratitude to Mother Nature for having let us through safely. She could have screwed us in more ways than I can count, but she let us through. Sometimes it's moments like these, when the adrenaline has settled and all is quite again, when the reality of what has been and what could have been hits you and you suddenly fell incredibly grateful for what has been!
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Old 4th August 2015, 18:42   #14
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Default re: A Hatchback and an epic 2000 kms road-trip to Spiti

Day 10, 11, 12
Kasol

The plan was to reach Kasol today where we would R&R for a few days before heading back to the madness of our daily lives. Left at noon and stopped at the Hyundai service centre in Kullu. When I'd opened the hood in that morning i realised that the radiator cap isn't where it was supposed to be and was instead a bit lower. Decided to get it checked - better safe than sorry.

The Hyundai guys elevated the car and announced that my bottom radiator support was shattered and would need to be replaced. They also said that it wasn't too severe and the radiator would hold perfectly well till Delhi if i drove carefully. They further reinforced the existing support with steel wires and off we went.

I drove slow (approx 40kmph) the whole way till Kasol. As it was a Saturday we got stuck in a traffic jam 4 kms before Kasol which took us almost 2 hours to get through. reached Kasol by 5:00 pm and checked in.

All in all a very peaceful, non eventful day.

Spent the next day soaking up the atmosphere in the local markets and on a long walk on the other side of the river. Karol was beautiful and peaceful. For the first time on this holiday we got to do what we all in the family loved to do on holiday - eat. We went to Little Italy where we gorged on Italian food and then back to the resort where we again gorged on Israeli food. Finally the wife felt like she was on a holiday after all.

The day after was overcast with constant heavy rainfall. We visited the famous Manikaran Sahib Gurudwara. After an hour spent there we moved on towards Tosh to see the most famous offering of the region .

The roads towards Tosh were pretty potholed and became progressively worse as we neared Tosh. 2 Kms before Tosh where the Dam is being constructed the road finished and what was left was a track - it was like the worst stretchesof the drive from Batal to Chhatru. Drove about 100 meters on it before I decided to stop. Not only was the track full of big stones that were rubbing / hitting the underbelly but it'd also been raining and the track was slippery with slush that in places was as high as the knee. We decided to cover the remaining distance on foot but just then the heavens really opened up and we decided to turn back. But not after another promise was made

Kasol is heavenly. It is cheap, extremely beautiful with amazing walks and scenery; and has the most awesome food of all hill stations I've been to barring Leh. And one gets to see some amazing things like Israelis backpacking or partying in a grove in the middle of the forest. And they're very welcoming people - ask nicely and they'll immediately invite you tot their dos.

It's my new favourite haunt to chill.

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Last edited by ampere : 4th August 2015 at 20:46.
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Old 4th August 2015, 19:13   #15
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Default re: A Hatchback and an epic 2000 kms road-trip to Spiti

Day 13

The scariest day of them all!


So the idea was to hit Shimla for a night because I wanted to avoid the Bilaspur stretch which is in terrible condition. I scoured the net for reviews on the best route but didn't get much. I spoke to c couple of cab guys who told me to take the route via Ner Chowk & Chail Chowk.

Big Mistake as I was to find out as the day progressed!

We left Kasol at 1:30 pm. The drive down to Ner chowk was as usual - nothing exceptional. At Ner Chowk we took a left towards Chail Chowk. The road was smooth as silk and the views were spectacular.

After Chail Chowk is when the nightmare began. The route is very twisty which means one cannot drive more than 15/20 KMPH. And the road progressively deteriorated. We went through Rohanda till where the road was in fairly good condition but as mentioned, very twisty. After Rohanda, it deteriorated further and speed came down to 10 KMPH. It was 6:00 pm and we still had 130 kms to go till Shimla. After Bakrote and till 15 kms after Chindi, the road was a mess - it was under construction an there were piles of stones scattered everywhere with just a narrow track for vehicles to pass through. And there were hardly any vehicles and no signboards whatsoever. As night fell, it became even more difficult to drive. I think it was mainly because we weren't prepared for it. Till now every route had been thoroughly researched and planned - I didn't expect this one to turn out so bad or long. As a result we only had 1 bottle of water left and nowhere on the way to buy more from! While the vistas were good, the road made it impossible to concentrate on anything but the road itself. And I also had a broken radiator support - every hit to the underbelly made me jittery about a breakdown and it wasn't a comforting though with night approaching and all. This was the first day on the entire trip when I felt really scared. I know it sounds funny given the roads I'd been on, but being unprepared (mentally, physically and materialistically) really messes with your head.

We crossed Chindi at around 9:00 pm and the bad stretch was over 15 kms after that. But by now it was absolutely deserted and we had no-one to ask directions from. And I was tired! We finally crossed Tata Pani at 10:00 pm and headed to Mashobra where we were booked into the Club Mahindra. Reached at 11:15 PM and crashed out.

Advise to all - Skip this route even if someone holds a gun to your head. That way at least it'll be quick!
http://www.team-bhp.com/forum/attach...1&d=1438695646


Day 14

We stayed on in Mashobra as we felt it was well deserved after the unintended adventures of the previous day. Explored locally and generally chilled out.


Day 15

Back to the grind

Left Mashobra at 11:00 Pm and fuelled up at Shimla. An uneventful drive back to Delhi with multiple pit stops. It was a pleasure to hit 100KMPH plus again for an extended period of time without encountering a curve or a pothole or a water crossing or wild Yaks for that matter. Reached home at 8:45 PM with a smile on my face, incredible memories and 2014 Kms on the Odo.

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Last edited by ampere : 4th August 2015 at 20:47.
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