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|5th October 2015, 09:49||#1|
Report & Pics: The 2015 Himalayan Spiti Escape (Mahindra Adventure)
Mahindra Adventure, in the enthusiast & off-road circles, is usually synonymous with the 1 day Great Escapes, where owners bring their 4x4s for an offroad drive. Such 1-day events are something that Mahindra has been organizing since 1996. In recent years, it has added a competitive element too.
Lesser known, yet tremendously enjoyable, are the Special Escapes from the Mahindra Adventure stable. These are the multi-day “arrive and drive” expeditions where ~15 enthusiasts are given Mahindra vehicles to drive with the entire logistics (route planning, accommodation, meals, service support etc.) taken care of by Mahindra. The adventurers, apart from the participation costs, only need to take care of arriving at the starting point, fuel expenses (the first full tank of fuel is provided by Mahindra) & tolls. These Special Escapes aren't your usual touristy type holidays to the most popular hill station; instead, they cater to folks who want a bit of adventure, visit offbeat places and love to drive, but without roughing it out at the end of the day, staying in comfort and not bothering about logistics / safety / vehicle support issues.
There are 7 such Special Escapes ranging from 5 - 12 days that one can be part of, such as Monastery Escape, Goa, Spiti Escape, Tri-Nation Escape, The North-East, Royal Escape and Wild Escape. Additionally, there are a few invite-only Special Escapes, like the Everest Base Camp Escape or the East Asia Escape.
Mahindra Adventure is one initiative from M&M that more manufacturers need to successfully replicate in the longer term. Such programs help the brand to provide regular folk with unique experiences around the products they are selling. The Escapes (1 day & multi-day) are effective brand building exercises. Apart from Mahindra, there have been attempts by Tata with their Full Throttle initiative, but it seems to have ended in 2013, just 2 years after starting out. The other manufacturer trying out this adventure concept is Renault with the Gang of Dusters program. For various reasons, none have been as systematic or successful as Mahindra Adventure. I think having a dedicated Adventure department with its own charter, budget, people, infrastructure, accountability etc. helps, as such events are then not buried under a KRA of some person in some other department. Other than Mahindra, we see such initiatives in the motorcycling world from the likes of Harley-Davidson, Royal Enfield etc.
Mahindra Adventure currently offers:
I had participated in the Royal Rajasthan Escape with fellow Bangalore offroaders in 2011, and the Goan Escape in 2013. Both were awesome experiences and thoroughly enjoyable. I can safely say that it would be impossible to replicate the convenience & experience if I were to plan such a holiday / drive on my own. When asked if I would like to do the Himalayan Spiti Escape, there was no way I could refuse the same.
This travelogue is of my memories from the 10 days...from September 05 - 14, 2015 spent on inexistent, dusty & treacherous roads; night-outs, walks, lunches, dinners, bonfires, tea, smokes and conversations with a great bunch of adventure seekers who I met on the opening night. We became like one big extended family over the course of the event, travelling through the beautiful raw landscape of Himachal Pradesh. Our schedule was as follows:
Day 0 - 05th Sept | Briefing & overnight stay at The Lalit, Chandigarh
Day 1 - 06th Sept | Chandigarh - Narkanda
Day 2 - 07th Sept | Narkanda - Sangla
Day 3 - 08th Sept | Sangla - Chitkul - Sangla
Day 4 - 09th Sept | Sangla - Nako
Day 5 - 10th Sept | Nako - Kaza
Day 6 - 11th Sept | Kaza
Day 7 - 12th Sept | Kaza - Manali
Day 8 - 13th Sept | Manali
Day 9 - 14th Sept | Manali - Chandigarh
Last edited by GTO : 5th October 2015 at 11:20.
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|5th October 2015, 09:49||#2|
Day 0 - 5th Sept | The Lalit, Chandigarh.
Most of us reached Chandigarh by the 5th evening and I saw the familiar face of fellow off-roader & BHPian Vinod Nookala as I walked towards the seminar hall by ~7 pm for the briefing session. I was meeting him after a gap of almost 4 years and we had a small chat before completing the registration formalities. Most of the participants had already completed the registration formalities and vehicles were allotted through a draw of lots.
We had a round of introductions and there were several folks who were coming again for this year's adventure with friends, for some this was their nth Special Escape and some had flown in from USA and planned their vacation to be part of the Great Escapes. Needless to say, the round of introductions was terse & formal with people just getting to know each other. In the days to come, each one would be on first name basis and hand on shoulder / back slapping terms - just like ol' friends.
We then had Manish & Vinod from the Mahindra team brief us about the Adventure initiative, do's & dont's during the drive, convoy driving protocol etc.
Ace rally driver (and a thorough gentleman) Hari Singh then took over and walked us through how the next 10 odd days would be like and what we can expect. He introduced his support team which includes some amazing folk like ace rallyists - Sunny Siddu, Sanam, Rohitas, Trigun etc.
Briefing over, people headed to the dinner table where the adventure discussions were carried over and people started getting to know each other. Vinod, Manish & myself spent time over dinner, chit-chatting about the eco-system that Mahindra has successfully created with the Mahindra Adventure initiative. In between, few adventurers went about checking out their allotted vehicles making sure they had everything they needed for the next 10 days – eg. a working music system .
Soon, it was almost midnight and with an early start planned the next day, most of us called it a night and even the youthful weekend crowd of Chandigarh, queuing up next to the restaurant for entry to the dance floor lounge, wasn't enough to make us stay back.
We had far more exciting days of adventure (of a different kind) lined up ahead of us.
Last edited by GTO : 5th October 2015 at 10:39.
|5th October 2015, 09:49||#3|
Day 1 – 6th Sept | The Lalit, Chandigarh to Tethys, Narkanda
An early start of 8.00 am was planned and that meant most of us had to wake up early. As I walked down by 6.30 am to the parking lot, I saw neatly washed and sticker-ed Mahindra vehicles ready for the adventure ahead. A hardtop Thar, a modified rear coil spring & chipped Thar, a brand new Thar, a Rexton, a Getaway, several outgoing Scorpios and few newly launched Scorpios were part of the fleet:
I got to see the vehicle allotted to me finally – a fresh 4x4 S10 Scorpio, done some 10K kms according to the odometer. Did a quick inspection and got comfortable with the controls and the ergonomics of the vehicle – after all, this was going to be my companion for the next 10 days. Fuel – check, Music – check, Lights - check, Air – check, CB Radio – check. Put in the prayer flags for good luck and we were ready to hit the road.
Fellow adventurers also start arriving after breakfast to load their luggage in the vehicles and get ready for the briefing:
All participants ready, last minute checks done and we were ready for the flag off by 8.30 am. Hari again did a quick briefing and his Dad, who had come to see us off, led a small prayer for the well-being and safety of the group. A quick silent morning prayer was a ritual that we followed every day on the journey:
Hari, in the Mahindra Legend, ready to lead the convoy and soon we had the convoy rolling out of Chandigarh with frequent radio checks to ensure all are comfortable using the walkies installed in the car. (Trivia: During the day, Vinod asked the convoy a quiz question - what was the model name of the lead vehicle. Almost all folks said Thar and one even said Bolero!! No one, apart from the media team, could answer it correctly. We then had a detailed session, from Vinod, on the significance of this vehicle and why it is a "Legend"):
Meanwhile, the advance team had left earlier and secured a lane for us at a toll that we had to cross soon after Chandigarh. Convoy breezed through the tolls and soon began climbing up the hills and we came to a train crossing stop. Yes, that's the toy train from Kalka to Shimla passing by:
At around 10.30 we had a tea break cum bio break at a restaurant on the way:
Soon we started running into some heavy truck traffic, explained by the fact that we were right in the middle of the apple harvesting season, and this traffic stayed with us right till we crossed Shimla:
5 hours and 121 kms later we reached our lunch break at The Wildflower Hall, Mashobra, just outside Shimla. A majestic colonial era property set in virgin woods of pine and cedar and the former residence of a British Lord:
Most of us were very hungry and straight away went in for the food without wasting any time. All of us were unanimous in the verdict that that the food & service was top notch and the taste of those Gulab Jamuns was divine. By now, most people had started warming up to each other beyond the customary hi-hello and discussions had become livelier. (The dining area by the time I reached after parking the vehicle. Apologies for the shaky pic)
Post lunch some of us strolled through the pine & cedar trees to appreciate the natural beauty of the place - so close to Shimla yet far away from the madness that Shimla has become. As an automotive enthusiast, I couldn't help but notice the bold choice of the HP governors car in the driveway of the hotel, a Skoda Superb
Lunch done, we drive for approx 2 hours towards Narkanda and soon reach a diversion / turn for Hatu Peak on the road past Narkanda towards Thanedar. The diversion (actually a tri-fork) has a prominent signboard in Hindi that says Hatu peak is approx 6 kms and only small cars / jeeps / Gypsy are suitable for this road:
Hari Singh let's the convoy know that the road to Hatu peak is very narrow with sharp hairpin bends and switch backs. We are asked to engage 4WD-L and also keep sufficient distance between us and the car ahead. Considering that we would be having tough roads ahead in the days to come, this was our orientation course on hill driving and getting used to 4WD speeds.
The roads were indeed narrow with the width of just one vehicle at most places. Good thing was almost negligible oncoming traffic and whatever was coming our way was stopped by the advance team / Hari Singh to make way for us to pass safely. Soon we reach the top and were greeted by gorgeous view of a hill top with a temple, low clouds, chilly breeze, green meadows and sunlight playing with each other. No wonder Hatu peak is a favorite with the bollywood circuit and many a movie has been shot here:
We pay our respects at the temple and have some hot tea & sandwiches at the temple stairs. We also discuss how we saw Altos, Swifts, 800s etc. doing this narrow hill route and wondered why we needed 4WD at all. (The Altos / 800s were local vehicles and their drivers knew this route at the back of their hand).
After spending an hour or so at the peak, taking a walk to the edge of the cliffs and absorbing the views, we start our drive down to our halt for the night - Tethy Ski Resort, which was just at the base of the hill. As luck would have it, some people didn't take the turn for Tethy and proceeded straight to Narkanda, thus getting lost. This would be a common thing in days to come - few of us taking the Mahindra Adventure caption "get ready to get lost" a bit too seriously by taking wrong turns at wrong places . Anyways, soon the lost folks are shepherded back on the right track, courtesy the radios and reach the hotel.
Tethys - our place to stay for the night. Bonfire ensured some amazing discussions on various subjects before we all proceeded for dinner and calling it a night for Day 1.
Last edited by GTO : 5th October 2015 at 10:32.
|5th October 2015, 09:49||#4|
Day 2 – 7th Sept | Tethys, Narkanda to Banjara Camps, Sangla
The next morning we woke up to some beautiful views of the hills & valleys with the dawn just about hitting the horizon:
I decided to go out for a small walk around the hotel after spending enough time sitting in the balcony and soaking in the fresh air and the views. The sun had come out and the parking lot of the hotel seemed calm:
The hotel owner seemed to be a Bullet fan with several of them parked at different places in the hotel. Here are two KL registered Bullets soaking in the morning sun:
Here I must mention that the Mahindra vehicle support team, led by an ever smiling Gulshan (one of the background heroes of the trip), ensured that we don't have to worry about vehicles and they were there for us 24/7 throughout the journey. Any issues (if any), had a ready solution from Gulshan - usko direct kar do.
The support crew topping up fluids in my Scorpio:
Breakfast over, radio checks done, daily prayers offered, we proceeded towards our first stop of the day at village Sarahan, famous for the Bhimkali temple. The radio chatter started becoming lively amongst adventurers by now and the group had started become like friends on a holiday. We stop for tea at a restaurant in Rampur town and also top-up fuel. With a convoy of 20+ vehicles, on narrow hilly roads even a simple things like a fuel top-up needs planning. Hari’s team did a great job of ensuring that all filled up in a peaceful manner without disturbing anyone on the road.
3 vehicles at a time at the pump, regulated by Sunny Sidhu over the Radio:
We are now travelling along the Sutlej river and it will be our companion for days to come. The roads become narrower at places and dustier with construction, landslide repairs and boulders being common sight. Here’s a JCB giving our convoy a salute as we go through:
We take the turn-off towards Sarahan from Jeori and start climbing up. At around 1.00 pm, we reach our lunch break point of “HPTDC Hotel Shrikhand”. Parking was a bit tight here and took some time:
Parking done, some adventurers just gaze at the vistas down below...
...and some go to seek blessings at the Bhimkali temple...
...while some just laze around chit-chatting:
Last edited by GTO : 5th October 2015 at 10:30.
|5th October 2015, 09:49||#5|
Day 2 – 7th Sept | Post Lunch (Sarahan - Sangla)
Lunch over and blessings from goddess Kali taken, the convoy proceeds down from Sarahan but not before few adventurers get lost while coming out of the parking, by going downhill to a village from the temple instead of taking the route back we had come from. They are shepherded back on the right track eventually.
The roads started looking dramatic with rock cut sharp edges & cliffs becoming a regular feature:
Surprisingly, the road surface till Wangtu was smooth and wide at most stretches. Could use a RWD sedan/hatch for drifting on those roads, I say:
And then we had this on the road in front of us:
The convoy stops for a bio break. 20+ vehicles on the roadside is some sight:
...and we notice the roads ahead that we need to climb:
Somewhere after Wangtu the roads just vanish and become a dusty track:
Series of Hydro Power Projects on the Sutlej valley have created a havoc on the roads and I would say the hills / mountains of entire project coverage area have scars of these projects. The roads near the project townships / offices etc. were brilliant, but elsewhere, one can only imagine how the locals go about their daily life. Felt sad at seeing the damage these hydro power projects are causing to the frail ecology of the entire region.
A section of 1 km road is closed and we need to take a detour of ~22 kms through narrow & dusty village roads for that 1 km of road block. Trust me, all of us in the convoy felt that those 22 kms were equivalent to 200 kms. The advance team / lead had to be very agile and keep track of oncoming traffic and inform them about the convoy of 20+ cars coming through. That way, they could park at a safe place for the convoy to go through or stop the convoy before hand and let the oncoming traffic through.
I noticed that most houses by the road in the hills had people park their cars on the roof top. Gives roof top parking a whole new meaning:
At Karcham we leave the Sutlej valley for next 2 days and get into the Baspa valley. Eventually, we reach our destination for the night – the Banjara Camps by the Baspa river in Batseri village, just outside Sangla. The camps / rooms were some 500 odd metres away from the parking spot, through narrow apple orchards tracks. Ah, what a relief after seeing the camp and the awesome property.
Post the bonfire, chit-chats, nice songs sung by an accompanying Mahindra customer insight team member, some leg-pulling and dinner, we all were ready to hit the bed, looking forward to the next day.
Last edited by GTO : 5th October 2015 at 10:29.
|5th October 2015, 09:49||#6|
Day 3 – 8th Sept | Chitkul Village
The plan for the day is a relaxed drive till Chitkul village and back.
Most of us woke up early to see the beauty of the place in the morning sun. The views from our rooms, the camp tracks, the sound of the Baspa river flowing were to be absorbed and be felt. You could get used to waking up to views like this from your room. The dark pink color crop is buckwheat, a black color cereal out of which flour is made. The crop gets different hues of pink depending upon it's readiness and from a distance, the buckwheat fields in different hues, look 'out of this world' among the apple orchards:
The Baspa river by the side of the camp:
All around us, in the camp were the apple orchards and for most of us this was the first time we were seeing apples on trees. And man, they were everywhere – 100s of them on each tree just waiting to be plucked and eaten. Some had both the green apples alongside the red royal apples on the same tree. However, seeing so many of them, the urge to pluck one went away and we just appreciated the bountiful harvest of apple that the trees had.
Buddha spreading calm all around the camp:
We soon had tea at the camp site and were ready for go to Chitkul post breakfast:
The parking lot before all of us assembled for our daily prayers (which were led by a local temple priest):
It took some time to get out of the parking lot and soon we were on our way to Chitkul village which is supposed to be the last inhabited village on this side of China. The Indian road ends at Chitkul village and this is also the last place on this side of the border which one can visit without a permit. The way to Chitkul is very scenic and breath-taking:
We reach Chitkul village, a small village with some 100 odd hutments, quite a lot of which are getting converted into home-stays and hotels. It's ironical how far-flung places are changing their look / culture to cater to visitors, when, in reality, the original look / culture is what the visitors go there to see. Anyway, we reach down to the river bed past the village school:
The Thars in the convoy need no second invitation to get close to the water and they navigate the boulders, guided by spotters. And they start playing in the water – boys will be boys, as some say:
Hari with his Legend:
Meanwhile the Scorpios are quietly watching the Thars play in water, parked at the sides:
I saw a young adventurer climb up the slope of a side hill (the one with electric pole in picture above) and did a grave mistake of following him up there. After climbing some 30% I could not decide whether going back down was more risky or going up. I finally decided to go up and had this view:
However, realized that the only way down now was a long 2 km odd walk around the edge of the hill, all the way to village and back down to the river bed. Trust me, at that altitude, it was not a walk that I enjoyed. Lesson learnt and tired, I came back and sat in the Scorpio for some much deserved rest:
After enjoying the place for more than an hour, we start our way back to the camps but not before few people again miss a turn in the village and “get lost”. I mean, how can you get lost in a village with just one cross road? As we head back, we see this Sikkim reg Skoda Yeti and appreciate the courage of the person to come all the way here:
There's no way one can get tired of the magnificent views all around:
We reach our lunch spot – it’s like having a picnic by a riverside in the forest:
The lunch table arranged amongst the trees. Trust me, a simple meal of rajma chawal & kadhi-pakoda never tasted so yummy as it did there along with fresh apple juice to wash it down:
We even had provision of fresh-n-hot tea after lunch. What more could one ask for?
A true priceless Master Card moment. No restaurant or hotel can ever beat this view for lunch:
After a long leisurely lunch and some chit-chat we started back to the camp again and I stopped on the way to soak in the views some more. I mean, how can one not stop seeing such views? Our camp was at the place where you see the river bending in it’s path, at the edge of the mountain. I kept myself towards the fag end of the convoy and stopped few more times to enjoy the views:
Last edited by GTO : 5th October 2015 at 10:27.
|5th October 2015, 09:49||#7|
Day 3 – 8th Sept | Batseri Village
Some of the adventurers plan to catch up on sleep after a heavy lunch and few of us planned to visit the nearby Batseri village before the sun goes down. After much deliberation, to walk or drive, we end up taking the Scorpio in the narrow village roads and luckily found a place to park it at the village entrance.
The village is like any other village, but very neat & tidy and has an old Badri-Narayan temple under renovation which was destroyed by fire, some time back:
The intricate carvings from the remains of the old temple:
The carvings on the renovated temple are quite interesting and they incorporate beliefs from various religions, Gods & cultures. One could see Buddha, Guru Nanak, Jesus, Vivekananda among other obvious Gods carved into the walls of the temple. There are Chinese dragons as the support pillars and carvings inspired from Khajuraho temples at the bottom panels. It was a lovely experience and a nice feeling to see this temple amalgamating influences from all over into it's existence. Maybe this is how places, civilizations and cultures have evolved over time - taking & absorbing what they like from different sources and creating something new in the process:
Another view of the magnificent Badri-Narayan templ:
The village even had a "Ring Road" and proper road signs for a small place:
As we roamed around the alleys, chit-chatting with the locals and kids we observe that the wood houses are becoming a rarity and lie dilapidated all over. It's concrete and tin roofs all over. Locals say that non-availability of wood is to blame for this and we wonder how energy demands will get impacted by the concrete structures:
We get invited to a local house by a lady and she offers us some of the juiciest pears we have had. She shows us the house around and tells about her family and how her kids are now studying in big cities while parents are still in the village. She shows us the room which houses the fireplace and it seems to be the center of the house. In winters this is the living room cum kitchen:
After an exhausting and satisfying walk around the village we head back to the camp to enjoy a session of chit-chat and stories from the day over the bonfire:
Last edited by GTO : 5th October 2015 at 10:23.
|5th October 2015, 09:49||#8|
Day 4 – 9th Sept | Sangla - Nako Village
Customary prayers said, convoy ready to move on to our destination for the day - Nako village. We again get into the Sutlej valley and follow it pretty much the whole day just before reaching Nako where we leave it and get into the Spiti valley.
The roads as usual, not there or if there, dusty:
We are still in the apple growing region and Hari on the radio tells us to watch for the truck parked to the side and cable-baskets ferrying apples from the orchards in the hills straight to the trucks for loading. What a sight it was:
The landscape slowly starts to change and the roads deteriorate further with signs asking us to watch out for shooting stones. I mean no way one can watch the non-existent road and watch out for the shooting stones at the same time:
The cliffs get steeper and the roads get narrower. Hari, on the radio tells us that this is the road that has been featured in Nat Geo top 10 most treacherous roads in the world. Well, that's some comforting news:
At times, it seems that rocks were cut for dramatic effects:
Oops...oncoming traffic. Be careful:
Even the road signs get interesting, asking us not to be a Gama in the land of the Lama:
Almost everyone had requested to stop by the sign that says "most treacherous road" for a photo-op and Hari obliged. Ironically, the sign is on the better part of the road after crossing the bridge where you have some decent blacktop:
I notice this plaque mentioning the brave folks that laid their life constructing this bridge. Our salute to these brave folks:
We cross the Akpa bridge, one vehicle at a time, and get on to other side of the Sutlej river:
A signboard that reminds us that we are still on the most treacherous road:
Finally, we reach our lunch spot - by the riverside after getting down from the road. What a place to have your lunch - the mighty Sutlej flowing and windy conditions blowing the river sand around us:
We have packed lunch washed down with apple juice and look at the river bed and the sharp rock edges in awe - cut by millions of years of water flowing down and the sharp winds:
Another view of the lunch place (courtesy picture from a fellow adventurer shared on facebook)
Lunch over, it was time to move on. Still, a long way to go before we reach Nako. By this time, we had left civilization far behind and only an odd biker group or trucker would pass us by.
Last edited by GTO : 5th October 2015 at 10:21.
|5th October 2015, 09:49||#9|
Day 4 – 9th Sept | Sangla - Nako Village (Post Lunch)
The landscape had changed dramatically by now and had become barren. One could see 50 different shades of muddy brown in the mountains on the way. The rocks, some of them had designer imprints:
When you are in such a place, surrounded by gigantic rock mountains, of different colors and hues, on all sides, you can't help feel how blessed we humans are and yet small in the grand scheme of things. At Khab, the Sutlej & the Spiti rivers meet and we crossed over from Sutlej valley and over to Spiti valley. Couldn't take a picture but the rocks / visuals at the bridge over the confluence of the two rivers was surreal and it seemed as if we were (for a short duration) about to get into a rock tunnel wall:
The tarmac is super smooth now, for a change, and the views barren. Spiti area receives very little rainfall it seems:
The sun is sharp and pierces your eyes at this altitude:
The Spiti river seems like a silver line down below:
We have more distance to go...
...and then some more...
...when it seemed almost there, we get to see it's much more to go...
...and looking behind we see how much we have already done:
Eventually, we reach Nako, a small village on the eastern border of Himachal-Tibet, that seems to be wrapped in a time capsule. Quaint little place with nothing to do and miles of open views of the mountains all around.
The roads being narrow and the camp parking unable to accommodate 20+ vehicles we park at the local monastery:
While the luggage reaches in a bolero pickup, we trek through the village alleys with our guide and reach the camp:
We had thought Sangla was beautiful but each day of the Mahindra adventure was turning out to be better than the previous one. This place was amazing. One could seriously get used to those views man:
The stickers at the eat-out place of the camp told so many stories of the visitors who had been there and this was one place I missed having a Team-BHP sticker. I would have put up one for sure:
We have hot tea to get over the tiredness of the long journey and the discussions meander to let's go for a trek up the hills to the stupas:
Yeah, those white stupas, seen as dots in the picture far away is where you need to trek. Some start taking breaks on the way and then move on:
A fellow adventurer and me decide to climb only till the prayer wheel and enjoy the sun setting over the village & the Nako lake:
We climb up to the prayer wheel and what a view we had. Total calm and peace surrounded us and we just sat there admiring the creation of God in front of us:
As the sun set over the village, the lake and the skies turned into colors that were breathtaking and we just sat there mesmerized at what we were seeing:
Another view of Nako village, lake & the prayer wheel:
With the sunlight going down, we both came down to the village and walked around the lake discussing zillion things and what not. It is in those moments, during such adventures that new friendships and bonds are created. With the walk done, my fellow adventurer and me came back to the camp and gathered around the bonfire and listened to stories from folks who had come up the long climb to the stupas. Turned out it was quite an adventure.
After dinner some of us sat down looking towards the sky and seeing stars that we had not seen before or forgotten in the city lights. It was quite an experience but sadly, I could not capture them on camera. Mohit, an ace photographer, accompanying us on the trip on behalf of Mahindra captured the night sky and what an amazing job he did. This is from the same prayer wheel where we had sat down earlier and watched the sun go down. (pic taken from his facebook page):
Last edited by GTO : 5th October 2015 at 10:20.
|5th October 2015, 09:49||#10|
Day 5 – 10th Sept | Nako - Kaza
The tents we slept in were super comfortable and the next morning I woke up early to a chilly morning and decided to go for a trek up to the prayer wheel again. The sun had not come up as yet and I watched the first rays of the sun hit the distant snow clad peaks of the high mountains. The views from the top of the hill made me forget the cold and I just sat there and became part of the landscape:
With the sun finally up, I trekked back to the camp. At several alleys in Nako village and at the camp we saw such prayer wheels. I noticed that they had instructions on which direction to rate the wheel in (maybe for the folks new to the prayer wheel concept?):
Breakfast over, we trekked through the Nako village to the monastery where our vehicles were parked. A local priest from the monastery led the daily prayers and man did he go the full nine yards with the prayers. In the age of 140 character twitter messages and short updates, it was really long; but it was ok as we had long and treacherous roads to go on and as much prayers as possible would help. Here we were also given a white scarf that would become a welcome tradition wherever we went for the next 2-3 days.
Convoy moved on and within few kms we reached the infamous Malling Nallah. It is a treacherous crossing prone to boulder led landslides and has ruined many a travelers well-laid plans. Even in dry weather it looked notorious and one can imagine how it must be in rains / snow. Here we are parked at the Malling Nallah, waiting for some army convoy to move ahead:
A look above the mountain rocks from our vehicles. Looks ominous and you don't want to spend any extra minute below these boulders:
A much needed temple at a few meters before Malling Nallah for prayers. I noticed that all though out the hills there are small temples at edges of the road wherever there's a tricky path notorious for accidents / mishaps:
Ah, an adventurer has low air in one of his tyres. The ever-ready and helpful support crew, led by Gulshan, to the rescue and get it sorted out within minutes:
We move on and by now had become habituated to the dusty gravel and boulder strewn roads. At one spot we see a truck getting repaired. Last place where you would want your vehicle to have any kind of breakdown:
Reason for the convoy to stop now? Oh, folks ahead are busy plugging in dynamite in the rocks to expand the road. Hence a small stoppage. We have a look at the folks playing catch-catch with the dynamites and once the catch-catch stops, we are allowed to proceed ahead:
Somewhere along the way we have a signboard that says "Welcome to Spiti":
Hari, the lead car, tells us on the radio that we will be taking a small detour and going to Geu monastery, where a 500 year old mummy is said to be preserved. Well, bring it on and let's go. Several switchbacks later we reach a hilltop and see the Geu monastery under renovation:
With hills all around and very close to the China border. You have China on the other side of the mountain (on the right of this picture). And yes, no permit for Indian Nationals needed to reach this place:
The beautiful valley below the Geu monastery. We have hot tea here and spend close to 30-45 minutes at this place. Must mention that at each stop, Hari & team had arranged for refreshments before hand and ensured that everyone was comfortable:
Last edited by GTO : 5th October 2015 at 10:17.
|5th October 2015, 09:50||#11|
Day 5 – 10th Sept | Nako - Kaza (continued...)
With quizzes doing the rounds on the radio and questions ranging from automotive to history to geography being asked, the next 2 hours on the road passed pretty quickly and we found ourselves at a historical small village of Tabo. The mountains had acquired a distinct charcoal hue to them and along with the barren mud colors they shone brightly in the sunlight:
We have a quick lunch at Dewarchan resorts (the curd was yummy) and then proceed to see the famous Tabo monastery. Tabo monastery is considered as one of the most important Tibetan-Buddhist centers of learning & preaching, second only to a monastery in Tibet. Founded in 996 AD, felt like walking through the doors of history:
Here's a quick history of Tabo:
As you enter you see a mud bricks structure of thick walls which is the main / old temple. The color of the monastery really blends in with the backdrop of the barren mountains. Imagine being here 1000s of years ago and I bet the landscape would still have been similar. It feels like time has stopped in these parts of the world:
On the left you have a new temple coming up. Folks here said that it is being built for Dalai Lama to meditate and he likes coming here often:
The gigantic stupa between the old temple & the new temple:
A local guide gives us a tour of the main temple within the monastery. Photography is not allowed inside and there are no lights inside so one can't take pictures. We see the insides of the temple using a small torch and some light filtering in through the skylights. However, it felt like being transported back in time after entering the main assembly area and hearing the history and the significance of this place for Tibetan - Buddhist faith. Another interesting thing was the fact that this monastery is on the plain area of the valley as opposed to other monasteries which were mostly constructed on hilltops.
Here are some pictures I have managed to find from a wonderful blog that show how beautiful it is from inside.
The main assembly area as one enters the temple is fully dark with only few skylights giving light to the central part of the chamber. Imagine centuries of prayers / meditation at this same place by generations of monks continuing their tradition:
The central area has the imposing statue of the deity:
On all four walls you have 32 life-size statues of other deities, made of clay, forming a mandla. Each statue is intricate in design, color and life-like form. Every inch of the walls are painted with fresco like murals and no wonder this place is referred to as the Ajanta & Ellora of the Himalayas. Painting these murals & creating these clay sculptures in a dark room must have been something:
One can read more about Tabo monastery on various internet resources, like this blog for example or wikipedia
Last edited by GTO : 5th October 2015 at 10:16.
|5th October 2015, 09:50||#12|
Day 5 – 10th Sept | Nako - Kaza (continued...)
Spiritually satisfied with the tour of the Tabo monastery and with a packet fresh apricots gifted to us by Karan (a very friendly and knowledgeable person who was a former rallyist settled in Kaza and had joined us in Nako), we continue with our journey towards Kaza on the dusty roads. The sun is shining bright and not a speck of cloud in the sky. Skies bluer than sky blue. Radio chatter going on between adventurers over quiz questions. Hari, in the lead vehicle frequently asking the float to keep the convoy “tight”. The landscape barren as ever and the green apple orchards of Sangla a distant memory:
We are now driving close to the Spiti river and the water in the river shines in a million shades of green:
The barren landscape changes ever so frequently and leaves you mesmerized. Here are mud mountains that seem like surface from another planet – carved through centuries of wind erosion and scanty rain in the region:
We stop by the side to soak in the views and take some pictures:
Evening has started to descend on the valley and the shadows get longer. With mountains all around, as soon as sun starts going down, it starts to get dark very fast. We pass Kaza and reach our destination – Dewachen Grand Hotel in a quaint little town of Rangrik by the Spiti river. The hotel has miles of open vacant land around it and one can even see the Key monastery far away. It seems like a 7* property considering the location we are in. The rooms were done in traditional style with a heavy use of wood and low-seating. Most important – running hot water.
We go to our pre-allotted rooms and what a view we have from the room. The best view of the hotel - here is the Key monastery in the evening after the sun had gone down.
Few of us decide to go to Kaza town – some to just check out the small town, some to recharge their BSNL phones and call their homes. Kaza has BSNL coverage. We drive down to the town and I see this Team-BHP sticker-ed Gypsy in the town. How can I not stop to take a picture of it?
Many bikers / hikers / trekkers comes here to ride / trek in the nearby areas making Kaza as their base and the town is bustling with energy and vibrant colors of goods / woolens in shops. And yes, like every other town, it has its own German bakery.
Last edited by GTO : 5th October 2015 at 10:10.
|5th October 2015, 09:50||#13|
Day 6 – 11th Sept | Hikkim / Komic / Key & Water Fording
This was going to be the most action-packed and scenic day of the adventure. We had plans of visiting one of the highest inhabited villages, highest post office in the world, some out of this world views, visit a historic monastery to see the monks dance and to top it all, offroading in water after lunch by the riverside.
First rays of the sun hitting the Key monastery while rest of the hills wait for their turn of sunlight. What a sight it was! Just for the views, this hotel is worth staying in Kaza:
Convoy ready and we take the switchbacks and head towards the high altitude villages. The roads are super narrow and little to no traffic is a boon. Soon we see sights like this. This is the Langza village and what a scenic village it is. Some million shades of green against the backdrop of barren landscape and black mountains with their peaks capped in snow:
Soon we are asked to engage 4WD-L and get off the road and take dirt roads up the hills. Now, that's more like it and we (and our vehicles) enjoy it to the fullest. The advance team / photographers are much ahead of us and this is how they see us from where they are:
We meander along the dirt tracks on the mountains and the sight of the Scorpios against the backdrop of snow capped Chau Chau mountain peak was something to be treasured forever. Tried capturing it in camera but this is not even 1/100th of what it actually was:
Here's a better pic of the same place, taken by a fellow adventurer and shared on Facebook:
Thar coming up the dirt tracks. Doesn't it look at home and saying that this is where I truly belong?
Here's a view of the village from the top. As if painted by an artist in one of his moods:
Meanwhile some folks try poses from their favorite Bollywood flicks:
Getting the vehicles lined-up for the customary group shot:
Again we take the dirt tracks and the Thar of the "float" shepherding the Scorpios into a line:
Soon we reach our first destination - the Komic village:
A small village with maybe 3-4 structures in it - a monastery, a school & few others:
The monastery of Komic village:
The huge central courtyard of the monastery with vibrant colors on the mud walls. Have to say that the combination of white / rust-red and yellow at those altitudes and barren landscapes looks surreal. We do a quick walk through of the temples inside the monastery and appreciate the murals on the inner walls:
Boys will be boys. Give them a ball and they will either kick it or start playing volleyball:
We have a quick cup of hot tea and then proceed ahead to Hikkim - a village with the highest post office in the world:
For me, Hikkim village has an unusual charm that one can't describe in words. It has to be seen to be felt, to be appreciated and one feels blessed at seeing places like this on earth.
Adventurers trekking down to visit the post office. Too bad it was closed. That meant one batch didn't go down to see it and asked the batch that went down to take pictures and share on whatsapp:
Some of us stayed back to soak in the views of Hikkim village:
Not a soul to be seen in the village. Empty village tracks:
One can't get enough of Hikkim:
So, here's the picture from the folks who went to see the post office:
We again take the dirt tracks and they start becoming a bit trickier now and one has to be careful of not damaging the vehicle from the strewn small rocks / boulders on the track. At times you needed to make your own fresh track:
Finally, we get off the dirt tracks and onto the "main track":
We head back to Kaza and the river bed where we will be having lunch:
That's our hotel, bang in the center, at the cross roads and at the bottom right on the river bed are the camps where we will have lunch:
Last edited by GTO : 5th October 2015 at 10:06.
|5th October 2015, 09:50||#14|
Day 6 – 11th Sept | Hikkim / Komic / Key & Water Fording (continued...)
We arrive at the camp and see local folks waiting for us to perform a cultural dance:
Meanwhile the barbecue smell draws us to the food:
The cultural dance starts:
Soon adventurers also join in at the persuasion of the local folks:
Cultural event over, boys get on to setup a volleyball court and start playing:
While others just laze around having a leisurely lunch. Have to mention the awesome lunch arrangement done by Karan Bedi (from Deyzor Hotel). The taste of the food was so authentic and nice that we all ended up having more than we would have planned. The Aubergine, the simple daal, the succulent barbecued paneer were just too tempting:
A fellow adventurer and I went to ask the relevance of this red cross style tent. Come to know it was from a movie shot on the life of Dalai Lama - The Great Escape and the producers left it here:
Lunch over, we proceed towards Key monastery but not before having some fun doing water fording. The track has been recee'd earlier and presents no danger to participants or vehicles:
On our way to the Key monastery. Looks imposing from the village nearby:
The history of Key monastery:
It's a long uphill walk from the parking lot to the entrance of the monastery:
The river down and the fields from the monastery look beautiful. That's the road we came up:
We do a quick tour of the monastery. These skull figurines at the roof, looked eerie against the barren backdrop:
We come down to a small central courtyard:
And soon the monk dance starts. Very colorful attire and simple rhythmic moves. The dance symbolized how a monk killed a devil, who had killed several monks, while dancing. Couldn't help but notice the obvious skull patterns on their headgear and the skull depicting props used in the hands while dancing. As opposed to the Tabo monastery, which felt very calm and settling, I personally felt the Key monastery having a bit of a voodoo/occult touch to it:
Dance over, we head back to the hotel. Lot of us had to fill fuel in our vehicles and with only one fuel pump in Kaza we knew it could be a mess. To make things worse, the pump opens / closes according to availability of electricity / kerosene for genset etc. But to make things a little better, it is supposedly the fuel pump at the highest altitude in the world (pic courtesy: fellow adventurer. taken from his facebook page) Predictably, the pump was choc-a-bloc with vehicles and it was one nightmare to get our vehicles fueled up.
With that, ended one of the most action-packed days yet of the adventure. A long day ahead and a very early start of 5.30 am awaited us the next day.
Here's a night shot from Kaza, taken by fellow adventurer and shared on Facebook. That's our hotel lights in the background:
Last edited by GTO : 5th October 2015 at 10:03.
|5th October 2015, 09:50||#15|
Day 7 – 12th Sept | Kaza – Manali
Today was going to be LONG day; Hari had warned us last night itself and asked us to get up on time. The plan was to have breakfast at Kunzum top, take a detour and visit Chandrataal lake, then have dhaba lunch at Batal and then finally dinner at Manali.
An early start of 5.30 meant waking up very early and as I came out put my luggage in the Scorpio, I see Venus shining brightly in the sky just over the mountains. For a moment I thought it is some light on top of the hills but then realized its Venus. What a magical start to the day:
Ah, comforting to know it’s only 3 degrees outside:
The habitation between Kaza & Manali is sparse with only few villages in between. Infact, the whole of Lahaul & Spiti district is one of most sparsely populated places in India. Radio chatter is dominated by discussion on the rally scene in India with Sunny Siddu & Hari Singh sharing their stories & anecdotes.
We cross Losar village and the views are as / more beautiful as before and the roads as horrible, if not worse, as ever:
At around 9.00 we reach Kumzum pass – connecting Spiti valley with Lahaul / Kullu valley:
The advance team had left an hour earlier and made arrangements for breakfast, which included piping hot aaloo sabzi & parathas, hot tea & bread butter jam. These are the simple yet priceless benefits of being part of a trip like Mahindra Adventure Special escapes. One just needs to drive, enjoy the views and every small thing is magically taken care of, in the most wonderful & thoughtful manner, by the support team:
Support team lining up the vehicles for a photo-shoot. The mountain tops here had a distinct charcoal black color / texture to them and one could almost mistake them to be coal quary mountains:
Far away in the horizon we see a truck ferrying a JCB with a Dzire in tow. Traffic on this road at this time of the day was almost nil:
Trust me, one of the most satisfying breakfasts at one of the most awe inspiring places one can have. Kumzum top, with the glaciers on the CB (Chandra & Bhaga) mountain range in the backdrop. To our left was the Spiti river valley, that we were leaving and on the right was the Chandra (or Chenab) river that we would now get into:
After spending some 45 minutes having breakfast and enjoying the high altitude pass, we move on - but not before trying our luck at the temple to see if a coin sticks on the wall and our wish gets granted:
Hari, on the radio, tells us that there is a trek route from Kumzum to Chandrataal – our next stop and Vinod, looking at the tracks is planning an off-road expedition up to kumzum via the dirt tracks. At some point, just before Batal we take a turn off towards Chandrataal. The road is super narrow and this road does have some tourist traffic of tempo travellers / taxis. One has to be super careful as the turns are sharp and narrow. Eventually, we reach the end of the road where we have parking for the vehicles and the lake is a further 2 km or so trek in the hills. Much before the parking area, there are many places that offer tents for campers / bikers to stay for longer duration at Chandrataal:
Trekking for city slickers, at that altitude is no joke, but we trudge along:
Ah, the first sighting of the lake. Looks cool - it better be, after the trek at this altitude:
As I trek further, I could notice a flurry of activity down at the lake shore and looks like people were having fun:
Meanwhile, on the other side of the ridge you see more glaciers and lakes in the distant horizon. Somewhere, F-A-R away there is the Baralacha pass & the Zanskar range:
We have fun by the lakeside and have several group pictures taken:
The Mahindra Adventure duo of Vinod & Manish:
Hari, has plans of pouring water on all those who haven’t put their feet in water and few scurry away to a safe distance. We enjoy the serene, but windy, calm and meditative feeling by the lake side and after an hour or so get back on the road:
A panoramic view of the lake & glaciers nearby:
The switchbacks from Chandrataal to the main road (if it can be called as one) needed quite a many 3-point turns:
Last edited by GTO : 5th October 2015 at 09:58.
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