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Old 30th December 2015, 21:59   #1
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Default The rarefied air of a high altitude cold desert - Spiti Valley on Motorcycles

In the north-eastern part of Himachal Pradesh lies a spectacular high-altitude cold desert nestled between inhabited villages of India and Tibet called Spiti. Harsh climate, stark landscapes, rugged terrain, barren fields and roaring rivers – Spiti, often known as The Middle Land, is truly a Trans Himalayan paradise.

Home to the beautiful Chandratal, some highest motorable villages in the world and the mighty Kanamo Peak, the spellbinding Spiti valley is often proclaimed by those who see it to be a world within the world. Bordered by Ladakh in the north and Tibet in the east, Spiti is a chunk of Tibet, dominated by Buddhist residents.

The tiny hamlets in this serrated moonscape are dotted with few mud brick homes amidst barley, wheat and pea fields alongside the rivers and streams with monasteries over thousand years old precariously perched over rocky cliffs. Some of these tiny hamlets are certainly the least populated ones in the entire country. The beautiful yet rugged valleys with the occasional flora are home to the Gaddi shepherds and their cattle during the summer months.

Spiti is a fantasy-land. It can turn a traveler into a story-teller, a dreamer into an artist and a spectator into a daring adventurer, such is the stark beauty of this valley.


Spiti is a land of spectacular mountain ranges
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Of stark landscapes
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Of the majestic Chandratal - the Lake of the Moon
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Of Alpine Pastures
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Of the prayer wheels
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And the Monasteries
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Of the toughest roads
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And tiny hamlets
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Of the unusual and striking rocky formations
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And the breathtakingly beautiful valleys
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With its sheer stark beauty, Spiti left us awestruck !

Last edited by //M : 30th December 2015 at 22:01.
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Old 30th December 2015, 22:06   #2
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Default re: The rarefied air of a high altitude cold desert - Spiti Valley on Motorcycles

Three of us had planned to do a week-long trip through the entire circuit from Delhi to Kinnaur to Spiti to Manali and back. Later, bhpian Revvmusic from Bangalore also joined in after knowing the details of the plan.

That made it four people, three motorcycles, lots of luggage, lots of places to see, but too little time !

Kaza, the sub-divisional headquarters and a relatively big town, can be accessed by road throughout the year via the Kinnaur district. However, the entire Spiti remains inaccessible via Rohtang Pass and Kunzum La for almost 8-9 months a year.

We wanted to do the entire circuit on our motorcycles so this meant we could do it only in the months of July, August, September and till mid-October when the roads are open. We chose September because of its relatively low-season status. September is relatively tourist free in Spiti, the ice would have melted making the roads slush-free, the autumn would have set in so the valleys would be more colorful than ever, the onset of winters and low tourist season would also mean cheaper accommodation options, the monsoons would have stopped in the plains by this time and the weather would be very pleasant, making it a perfect time for motorcycling.

So after a lot of thinking and some planning, we zeroed onto a week long motorcycling trip in September.

Last edited by //M : 30th December 2015 at 22:11.
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Old 30th December 2015, 22:08   #3
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Default re: The rarefied air of a high altitude cold desert - Spiti Valley on Motorcycles

5th September 2015, Day 1


Route map charted, stay options marked, four of us met in Delhi on September 5th.

Due to multiple reasons, we could not leave Delhi by afternoon as planned. With a 7 pm start, the destination for the day won’t have been too far. Add to that some serious weekend maddening traffic, high-beam lights aimed bang at our eyes and multiple stops to ensure our luggage is in place, we could not make swift progress. The night riding was stressful !

After a dinner break at Murthal, we made quick progress as the traffic had thinned out. But still the 120 odd kilometers to Karnal took us close to 4 hours. At Karnal, we found a decent hotel along the highway and called it a night.
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Old 30th December 2015, 22:18   #4
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Default re: The rarefied air of a high altitude cold desert - Spiti Valley on Motorcycles

6th September 2015, Day 2


With an early morning start, we were able to munch miles quickly on the well laid highways of Haryana. We took the Pinjore bypass from Zirakhpur, avoiding the Chandigarh traffic, and reached Parwanoo before we even realized it. The winding mountain roads welcomed us.

Just after Timber Trails, we stopped for breakfast. Hot paranthas and tea for breakfast was very refreshing. We saw a huge convoy of Mahindra vehicles heading to Spiti for the Annual Great Escape. After a sumptuous breakfast, we thumped towards Solan and Kandaghat. From Kandaghat, we took a detour towards Chail.

We wanted to visit the Chail Palace and also avoid the maddening Shimla traffic so it was wise to take this route to Kufri instead of the usual route via Shimla.

The road was narrow but relatively traffic free compared to NH-22. The winding road meanders through lovely pine & deodar forests and leads to the beautiful Chail Palace. The Chail Palace is popularly known as the Ranchhoddas Chaanchad’s Haveli after the Hindi flick “3 Idiots”.

The Chail Palace has ample parking and is now a heritage hotel apart from being a museum. It was the summer residence of Maharaja Sir Bhupinder Singh, the ruler of the princely state of Patiala. The Palace has lovely artefacts and has a lush & picturesque lawn. We spent some time there clicking pictures around and left for Theog.

The road meandered through lovely pine forests and soon we reached Kufri, a popular tourist destination. Thankfully there was no major traffic around and we could march towards Theog without wasting any time. By the time we reached Theog, we realized that the CBZ’s front disc brake oil had leaked somehow. Luckily we found a mechanic who was able to fix it. We also stopped for a late lunch at Theog so after spending considerable time, we left for Narkanda.

We could leave Theog only by 4 PM and by the time we reached Narkanda, the weather got a little cold. We gulped down hot tea at a roadside tea-stall and proceeded towards Rampur. The sun went down and the cool breeze got colder but as we descended towards Rampur, the weather turned pleasant. It turned dark, a roaring river was flowing by the road and a cool breeze was blowing through our lids, we slowly covered the distance to Rampur and searched for accommodation.

After a quick dinner, we called it a night.


A quick break just after Kandaghat
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The lovely Chail Palace
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Old 30th December 2015, 22:33   #5
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Default re: The rarefied air of a high altitude cold desert - Spiti Valley on Motorcycles

7th September 2015, Day 3


We left Rampur in the early hours of the day, the serpentine roads towards Jeori looked like cut out off from solid rocks. Stunning !

The beautiful roads upto Jeori were a blast to ride on. Till Wangtu the roads were decent, but once past Wangtu, the tarmac turned into a dirt track. We reached the small village of Tapri, it houses the last petrol station on this route till Kaza discounting the one at Kalpa, as it is quite a detour from the main highway.

Just after Tapri, a part of road was washed off due to a landslide so we were made to take a detour via Unri. The road had tar in sections but was mostly a dirt track. To cover the 2 km stretch, we took the 40 odd km detour thanks to the landslide. Due to bad roads, the 35-40 kms detour took us over 2 hours. Finally we reached Karcham, the beautiful bluish green water of the Karcham Dam was a spectacular sight after the dust and clay we encountered on the road.

The roads deteriorated post Karcham and the 40 odd kms from Powari to Spillow via Akpa took us close to 4 hours. The road surface was bad, really bad and the ride was bone-jarring. We knew that when the BRO mentions “You are travelling on the World’s Most Treacherous Road” on signboards along the road, it is not just any other witty quote, they are damn serious about it.

The Spillow to Pooh section had tarmac in some short sections but again most of the road was broken and anything beyond 20 kmph was a difficult task. However we saw road construction work going on in this sector.

The Spiti river flows alongside the entire road and with all the debris and clay, the water was murky. We reached Khab by sun down and the final few kms to Nako had to be done in pitch darkness. The 200 kms from Rampur to Nako took us over 12 hours now and we were still 2 hours away from our destination for the day, such were the road conditions. Surprisingly the road to Nako from Khab is just brilliant, freshly laid tarmac and beautiful curves would mean a delightful ride. But no, it wasn’t so.

As soon as we crossed the small hamlet of Ka, a huge thud sound came and my bike stopped moving. I realized that in total darkness, in the middle of nowhere, my Enfield’s chain lock had given away. It had got cold by then. Bhpian Revvmusic and a friend headed towards Nako in search of accommodation, while me and another friend tried to brave the cold to fix it. I had a spare chain lock with me, but somehow the cold got the better of us and we were just not able to fix it even after multiple tries.

My friend got back to help us after a couple of hours. We tried all antics, but the lock wouldn’t just go in. So we left my Enfield just along the road and ensured it is parked safely by putting stones and leaves around it and left for Nako. It was already late in the night and we were very tired so we quickly had dinner and slept off soon.


The lovely Rampur -Jeori stretch
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Bee farming, I guess ?!!
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The detour via Unri, thanks to a massive landslide
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The stunning Karchham Dam
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The bone-jarring ride on the World's Most Treacherous Road
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Old 31st December 2015, 19:07   #6
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Default re: The rarefied air of a high altitude cold desert - Spiti Valley on Motorcycles

8th September 2015, Day 4


Early in the morning, all of us took a small stroll around the village. We visited the Nako Lake and walked through the bylanes of the village. We got back in less than an hour, packed our belongings and left. Bhpian Revvmusic wanted to go back from Nako as he wisely predicted that the roads were not too good ahead and being a pillion, it was rather an uncomfortable journey.

We bid him adieu at the Nako bus-stop as he boarded a Recong Peo bound bus. We got back to Ka to fix the bike, found a local mechanic at the village who took almost an hour to fix the lock. We also met an elderly German couple at the mechanic shop who had rented an Enfield from Manali, they mentioned that the roads ahead were scary and we must exercise caution. After getting some inputs from them, we chugged towards Malling Nullah.

Malling was rather dry and not as notorious as we thought. But the roads again deteriorated and it was a bumpy ride till Sumdo. Just after Sumdo, we saw our first landslide. Stones falling over our bikes and helmets and huge boulders piling up just few feet away from us, it was a scary sight.

Thankfully BRO workers were able to get a boulder remover machine to task and the debris were cleared in an hour. We wandered around till then. Once the road was cleared, we jumped onto our saddles and headed towards the Giu Monastery. The Giu Monastery is a 10-12 km detour from the Sumdo – Tabo main highway but the road to Giu is well tarred and very scenic. Giu Monastery houses the mummified remains of Shanga Tenzin, a Tibetan Lama.

After spending some time around the beautiful village of Giu, we proceeded towards Tabo. From Tipta to Lari, there were lovely apple orchards along the way, we took permission and had a great time plucking apples from one of these orchards. Very delicious and yummy apples right from an orchard !

A few miles ahead, we reached the quiet little village of Tabo. We strolled around the place, it was a little cold but not like the previous night at Nako. We gazed at the stars and the constellations and walked around the village till late night.


The quiet little hamlet - Nako
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Lovely roads from Nako to Ka
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My Enfield parked by the road with a broken chain-lock
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The ride back to Nako
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The mountain goats at the Nako Helipad
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The road from Nako to Sumdo were a mix of good and bad
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Landslide sections after Sumdo
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We finally entered the Spiti district
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Old 31st December 2015, 19:14   #7
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The Monastery at Giu houses the mummified remains of a Tibetan Monk
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The road from Giu to Lari
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Apple orchards along the way
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On the way to Tabo
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Old 31st December 2015, 19:32   #8
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9th September 2015, Day 5


It was a beautiful morning at Tabo, we visited the stunning Tabo Chos-Khor Monastery, both the new and the old complexes. The old complex of the Tabo Monastery, built in 996 AD, is considered to be one of the holiest monasteries in the world.

After clicking a few pictures, we headed towards the helipad and played with the local kids there. Post breakfast, we left Tabo and headed towards Dhankar. The views were scintillating and the river along the road was now blue and beautiful rather than brown and murky in the previous days.

The Dhankar village is a 10 km detour from the main road but the road is well tarred, has amazing views of the valley below and has some wide corners making it a pleasurable ride. The beautiful Dhankar Monastery is perched off a crag overlooking the stunning valley below. The prayer flags fluttered with the strong wind and the enchanting sound of the prayer wheels had all of us mesmerized.


The Tabo Chos-Khor Monastery
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The road to the spectacular Dhankar Monastery
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Old 31st December 2015, 19:37   #9
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Default re: The rarefied air of a high altitude cold desert - Spiti Valley on Motorcycles

Soon we left Dhankar for Kaza, the road was terrible till Lidang and was tarred in some sections from Lidang to Kaza and the views were stunning all around. The motorcycles chugged though the serpentine roads and we were in Kaza soon. We had very limited time in hand so against all wishes, we had to skip the Pin Valley. After Lingti, we saw the road meander alongside the Pin river into the Pin valley. We rode till some distance but got back towards Lidang after realizing that we really had serious time constraints.

We reached Kaza in the afternoon, got rid of all our luggage at a hotel and immediately headed towards Kibber.

The road to Kaza from Dhankar
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Old 31st December 2015, 19:48   #10
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Default re: The rarefied air of a high altitude cold desert - Spiti Valley on Motorcycles

We stopped at the famous Ki Monastery but due to a Bollywood shooting sequence in progress, we couldn’t spend much time there. So we rode towards Kibber. The road was just brilliant. After the bone jarring ride in all the previous days, the road to Kibber felt like a section of the Nurburgring !

Kibber is a beautiful, quiet village. We regretted keeping all our luggage at Kaza, little did we know that Kibber also has lovely homestays. We walked through the pea farms and chatted with the locals for almost a couple of hours. The small hamlet looked lovely and absolutely virgin. We could see the village of Chicham at a distance, the only way one can reach there is via a ropeway across a ridge. But sadly since it was already dusk, the ropeway would be used only the next morning so we couldn’t experience it.

After a beautiful time at Kibber, we rode back towards Kaza. Sadly we had no time to visit the Tashi Jong village via Gete as the road was very bad and we had ended up spending too much time at Kibber so had to retreat back towards Kaza.

After reaching Kaza, we explored the town on foot, had amazing Thukpa and chaai at a local restaurant, bought some essentials and called our parents as Kaza had a STD PCO booth. We also refueled the motorcycles, Kaza apparently has the highest fuel station in the world !

We met few fellow travelers from various parts of India and abroad and shared our experiences of the trip. It was a fun night, we slept late after having a great time at Kaza.


The stunning Ki Monastery near Kaza
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On the way to Kibber
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The beautiful Kibber Village
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Chicham, a small little hamlet across a ridge from Kibber
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The pea-farms surrounding Kibber
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The World's highest fuel station at Kaza
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Old 31st December 2015, 20:03   #11
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Default re: The rarefied air of a high altitude cold desert - Spiti Valley on Motorcycles

10th September 2015, Day 6


We had delicious momo’s and thenthuk for breakfast, post which we left for Komic via Langza and Hikkim. Komic is considered to be the highest inhabited motorable village in Asia at an altitude of 5150 meters asl. With only a dozen houses and a gompa, Komic looks straight out of a fairytale.

The Tnagyud Monastery in Komic is believed to have hidden treasures including an egg of a dragon, a tail of a pre-historic man, the horn of a unicorn, etc.

The road is decent from Kaza towards Langza for about 10 kms but post that it is all a dirt track. Langza, a beautiful little hamlet situated in the stark Spiti valley was the most scenic place I witnessed in the entire trip. The Kanamo Peak is visible at a distance and there is a giant Buddha statue in Langza, both being the major highlights of this small hidden hamlet.

From Langza, it’s again all dirt track towards Komic but the trail goes through lovely alpine pastures with grazing cattle and snow-capped peaks visible on both the sides making it one of the most beautiful routes I have ever been to.

Hikkim is a little detour so we directly went to Komic. On the way we could see the scintillating village of Hikkim on our right. We reached Komic, visited the Tnagyud Monastery and then headed back towards Hikkim.

Hikkim is popular for being the village that houses the World’s Highest Post Office but sadly the Post Office is open on selected dates and the day we were there it was closed. It was a little disappointing as we wanted to write letters back home thanking our parents for allowing us to travel to such extreme places on our motorcycles.

There is a road that goes from Hikkim to Kaza directly without having to travel via Langza but the road was not operational at that time so we took the same route via Langza but with the scintillating views and painted mountains all around, none of us complained !


The scintillating vistas around Langza
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Alpine pastures and colorful mountains on the way to Komic
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The mystical Tnagyud Monastery at Komic
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On the way to Hikkim
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On our way back towards Rangrik
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Old 31st December 2015, 20:14   #12
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Default re: The rarefied air of a high altitude cold desert - Spiti Valley on Motorcycles

We headed towards Rangrik and Hull. The Ki Monastery is visible from this road for quite some time before disappearing behind huge rocky mountains. The road was bad and we reached Losar at about 4 pm. Our destination for the day was Chandratal but it was still quite far away.

There is a checkpost in Losar, we entered our details in the register and marched towards the mighty Kunzum La. The road towards Kunzum La is nothing but a dried river bed with pebbles as big as rocks making it difficult to keep momentum on motorcycles.

It was here when my bike started giving some hiccups. The engine would die as if the fuel is over, and then after a few seconds it will again roar back to life with a kickstart. This continued for sometime, by the time we reached Kunzum La it was about to get dark and my bike wasn’t behaving well.

With a lot of effort, we reached the campsite at Chandratal just after sunset and parked our bikes alongside the tents hoping that we will find a solution the next morning to fix the bike. Though not so touristy, but there were a fair number of people camping around. We threw our luggage into the tents and started enjoying the lively atmosphere there, stars shining bright and the CB13 range shining in all its glory under the moonlit sky.

After a gala dinner, we rushed towards the bonfire. But it was so cold that the bonfire could barely keep us warm. After some photographs and random discussions with the fellow travelers, we crept back to our tents. The night was cold, very cold. We could barely sleep !


Ki Monastery as visible from Rangrik
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On the way to Losar
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The mighty Kunzum La
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The bone-jarring road to the Chandratal campsite
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Our tents at the Chandratal campsite
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A 5-billion star accommodation !
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The bonfire did little to keep us warm on such a cold night
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Old 31st December 2015, 20:44   #13
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Default re: The rarefied air of a high altitude cold desert - Spiti Valley on Motorcycles

11th September 2015, Day 7


We could barely sleep the entire night so we woke up quite early in the morning. The plan was to ride till the maximum point allowed towards Chandratal and then hike upto the lake. I tried starting my bike and brought it to life with the first kick. Cold weather be damned I thought !

But still since there was an issue, I just warmed the engine and then parked it there while we three went towards the lake on the CBZ and the Thunderbird. The parking towards the lake was just 2-3 kms away and from there it’s a 20 min hike. We reached the lake sooner than expected and what greeted us left us awestruck !

In the early hours of the morning, the beautiful Dhaka Glacier and the CB13 range looked straight out of a picture postcard. Chandratal, basking under the early rays of the sun, looked ethereal with clear reflections of the adjoining mountains.

The place was serene, calm and stunning. I just couldn’t take my eyes off the Dhaka Glacier and a small teardrop sized lake before it. Such amazing landscape.

We got back to the campsite after spending some time there, packed our belongings and mounted everything on our bikes. And then my bike refused to start. Not even once after multiple attempts. After a quick diagnosis, I realized the spark plug went kaput. With no spare spark plugs around, the only way was to find a trailer or a pick-up truck. We rode to Batal, the nearest village from Chandratal and were told that there is only one Bolero pick-up truck in the entire region and even that had gone to Manali. The Bolero was supposed to return by afternoon but in the hope of finding some alternative, we waited there for a couple of hours. Tried to convince many people but it didn’t work.

Finally the Bolero pick-up arrived after sometime and we rushed to meet the driver. The driver, Tenzin, was the owner of the Tenzin Camp at Chandratal and the famous Chandra Dhaba of Batal. After a lot of convincing, he obliged but demanded 7000 bucks to transport my bike till Manali which was approximately just 100 odd kms away. I haggled hard but that didn’t work. 7000 bucks was a lot of money for the distance, but since I had no other option I had to agree.

We parked the bike at Batal, came back to Chandratal in Tenzin’s Bolero Pick-Up. We pushed my Enfield into the load bay of the pick-up truck and my friend sat with Tenzin till Manali while I rode his Thunderbird.


An icy-cold motorcycle seat
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The breathtakingly beautiful CB13 range and the Dhaka glacier
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Chandratal - the Lake of the Moon
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A short walk back to the campsite
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My Enfield was towed till Manali as it refused to start due to a faulty spark plug
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Old 31st December 2015, 20:54   #14
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Default re: The rarefied air of a high altitude cold desert - Spiti Valley on Motorcycles

People warned us that the road is so bad till Rohtang Pass that Batal to Manali usually takes 8 hours for just 100 kms. We could leave Batal after taking the bikes from the Chandra Dhaba at about 2 PM. With an aim to reach Rohtang Pass before sundown, me and my friend rode the Thunderbird and the CBZ with full gusto. The road was pathetic, really bad but we still maintained good progress.

The water crossings slowed us down and after a couple of crossings, we mastered the art. Till we saw the notorious Chota Dhara.

Chota Dhara had water gushing in full flow, an Innova had got stuck and we were running out of time. Somehow maneuvered the motorcycles through the flowing water, our feet were icy cold thanks to the water but we decided not to stop anywhere. With steady progress we crossed Chhatru and Gramphu soon and reached the Rohtang Pass at 5 PM. The road was bad and with zero stops in the last 3 hours over extremely bad terrain, we decided to take a break. With Manali not too far away, we knew we rode way faster than what we had predicted. With a content feeling, we knew the bad roads were behind us. The Rohtang Pass to Manali road was rather knee-scrapping good. We lubed the motorcycle chains and with whatever remaining petrol we had in the jerrycans, we did a top-up for both the motorcycles.

We swung our legs over the saddles and zoomed towards Manali, our destination for the day.

By 7 PM, it got dark and we crawled to reach the hotel in Manali. The Bolero Pick-Up arrived just before us, so since we still had good time we went in search of a decent Enfield mechanic nearby. We found one in the vicinity, but the guy asked us to come at 8 AM the next day as it was already dark.

So we got back to our hotel, parked the bikes safely, took a shower and went out for a stroll around Old Manali. After dinner we got back to the hotel, our bodies were tired so very soon we dozed off.


The stark yet spectacular landscapes around Batal
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Water crossings along the way
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The Chattru to Gramphu stretch
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At the top of the Rohtang Pass
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The brown made way for green during the last leg towards Manali
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Old 31st December 2015, 21:02   #15
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Default re: The rarefied air of a high altitude cold desert - Spiti Valley on Motorcycles

12th September 2015, Day 8


Sharp at 8 AM we reached the garage and in another 5 mins the mechanic was there. He worked on the bike for a couple of hours and was able to fix the issue. As expected it was the spark plug which stopped functioning.

We had a great brunch in the bylanes of Old Manali and left towards Chandigarh. It was all normal highways from here on, so we were very relaxed. We stopped in Kullu to buy some souvenirs for our family and friends.

We wanted to see the Parashar Lake as well, so from Bajaura we took a detour. Without realizing, we got lost and till the time we were back on the right route, we had already wasted a lot of time. So we just continued towards Mandi. The roads were bad and consumed a lot of time. We reached Mandi by evening. From Mandi onwards till Bilaspur, the roads were too crowded and it was already dark. Too much truck traffic meant we could barely keep up with the momentum in the serpentine ghat roads.

From Bilaspur, we turned towards Kiratpur Sahib. The road was badly potholed and had too much truck traffic. By the time we reached Kiratpur Sahib at about 9:30 PM, we were exhausted. Our faces had turn murky due to the dust and exhaust fumes. We stopped at a roadside dhaba and had a glassful of chilled lassi.

From Kiratpur Sahib, it was an arrow straight road towards Chandigarh. All ghat roads were behind us. We maintained a steady speed and were in Zirakhpur at 11 PM. We decided to stay there and proceed towards Delhi the next morning.


An expedition prepared Defender Series 90, probably a participant for the Raid De Himalaya
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Delicious momos and thukpa
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The Kullu Valley
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Guru Gobind Singh Ji Gurudwara at Mandi
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