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Old 1st May 2017, 09:28   #16
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Default Re: To the barren high mountains of Spiti Valley

Awesome pics there. The weather was also perfect. A trip to Spiti valley is on my list too but is yet to materialize. Thanks for sharing
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Old 1st May 2017, 10:18   #17
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Default Re: To the barren high mountains of Spiti Valley

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Awesome pics there. The weather was also perfect. A trip to Spiti valley is on my list too but is yet to materialize. Thanks for sharing
Thanks Raul258. Yes, the weather was very good and did not spoil our plans much. Do plan a trip soon. Its only a matter of time before this region too gets commercialized like Ladakh. Last year saw a record breaking influx of travelers, the primary reason being the ban on self drive rentals in Ladakh, hence people like me who dont own an SUV, are left with this option only to do a self- driving trip in the upper Himalayas. During my trip, I encountered countless rented SUVs from Zoomcar, Myles, Revv etc. on the road.
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Old 1st May 2017, 10:45   #18
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Default Re: To the barren high mountains of Spiti Valley

Hey Shanky11,

Nice write up with some great pics out there mate. How was the drive comfort in Scorpio especially at high altitudes?
Waiting for the remaining part of the log.
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Old 1st May 2017, 11:22   #19
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Default Re: To the barren high mountains of Spiti Valley

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Hey Shanky11,

Nice write up with some great pics out there mate. How was the drive comfort in Scorpio especially at high altitudes?
Waiting for the remaining part of the log.
Thanks buddy. The scorpio was good to drive. However, I do not have a proper reference point for a comparison since this was the first time I drove an SUV at high altitudes. 90% of the time, it exceeded my expectations and only at some tricky hairpin bends and that one time when I got stuck in the sand did I feel this car to be inadequate. Rest of the time, I was satisfied and so were the passengers.
Hopefully, I will complete the rest of the travelogue by the end of the day. It took another mini vacation for me to be able to write this travelogue.
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Old 1st May 2017, 12:05   #20
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Default Day 6- To Kunzum Pass and Chandrataal

By 8 AM, we are ready to roll. Everyone is excited, as well as a little nervous about today. Its going to be the most challenging day of the trip. We are going to see the Lake of the moon. And if all goes well, we will stay in a tent tonight. I make sure that everyone pops a diamox after breakfast as a precaution against AMS. And we are back on the road. As soon as I get out of the town of Kaza, I see a Sumo going down a dirt track to the river bed. I cant resist myself and follow the track.

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We continue soon, since its a long journey. The road is good now, with those occasional broken patches. I spot this somewhere along the way

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Being perched on a mountain top, the statue gives out a very good vibe
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More photo breaks along the way

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Soon, we are at Losar. Its time for a good meal before we head out into the wilderness and away from any proper amenities.
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Old 1st May 2017, 14:55   #21
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Default Re: To the barren high mountains of Spiti Valley

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Originally Posted by SHANKY11 View Post
Disclaimer: This is going to be a longish travelogue and will also outline how the idea of this trip was born and how it ultimately materialized. People who are not interested in these ramblings, feel free to skip to the actual trip posts. Also, please excuse the image quality in this thread. I am still on the learning curve.
I am all for reading a detailed road trip. Your post comes up a good time. We (few BHPians from Delhi) are planning a trip in the month of September this year.

Edit: If you can list the hotels/homestay for your trip it will be very helpful. Also, ours will be 3-4 bikes and a car, most likely Figo. Any suggestions you have is more than welcome.

Last edited by Traveller Nayak : 1st May 2017 at 15:23.
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Old 1st May 2017, 15:16   #22
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Default Re: To the barren high mountains of Spiti Valley

Thank you for the nice narrative and accompanying superbly taken pictures.
Odds are that you drove the vehicle like a good driver, but these red color Scorpios with yellow number boards are generally the most dangerous things that move on our roads. I always make it a point to give them the way, for they seem to be in a hurry.....to go bang themselves!
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Old 1st May 2017, 17:34   #23
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Default Re: To the barren high mountains of Spiti Valley

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Originally Posted by Traveller Nayak View Post
I am all for reading a detailed road trip. Your post comes up a good time. We (few BHPians from Delhi) are planning a trip in the month of September this year.

Edit: If you can list the hotels/homestay for your trip it will be very helpful. Also, ours will be 3-4 bikes and a car, most likely Figo. Any suggestions you have is more than welcome.
Thanks, I am glad that my post will be of help to fellow BHPians. To be honest, we did not book any accommodation in advance since we believe in random plans (Unless it is a city hotel) and it always helps to strike a better deal. Also, nowadays, many of these small hotel owners are posting fake images on their websites, whereas in reality the hotel turns out to be of a substantially lower quality. Hence, it always helps to check out the property first and then strike a bargain. Since all of our stays were random, I dont really remember the names of these hotels. But rest assured, there are plenty of options available everywhere on this circuit. The only stay I remember is Jamaica's camp at Chandrataal, which is quite popular and supposedly the best there.

As far as suggestions go, I am going to list out all my learnings from the trip at the end of this thread, which can be useful for everyone planning a trip here. One important piece of advice, since yours will be a Figo, do not go via Manali route since the road from Gramphu (After Rohtang Pass) to Kunzum Pass is very bad and there are many water crossings along the way, where any low GC car will get stuck. Go via Shimla- Rampur- Kinnaur- Kalpa- Nako- Tabo- Kaza and do the return journey via the same route. If you want to include Chandrataal in your trip, then park the Figo at Kaza, and take the bikes with a day's luggage to camp at Chandrataal. Until last year, the route was very bad and I saw many cars such as Dzire and Ecosport stuck on this terrain. Even the Etios Cross (Liva with raised Ground Clearance) that was accompanying us on our way to Manali from Chandrataal had a tough time clearing those mad water crossings. You will read everything about it in my following posts. That said, this update is from last year. A good thing is that your trip is going to happen in September, which gives you a lot of time to wait for this year's road status updates. If others give a green signal from this year's travels, then you can go ahead and attempt the Manali route.

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Originally Posted by rrsteer View Post
Thank you for the nice narrative and accompanying superbly taken pictures.
Odds are that you drove the vehicle like a good driver, but these red color Scorpios with yellow number boards are generally the most dangerous things that move on our roads. I always make it a point to give them the way, for they seem to be in a hurry.....to go bang themselves!
Thanks for your kind words, rrsteer. And you are absolutely right in your observation, buddy. Not just the Scorpios, I have seen all types of rental cars being driven rashly in almost 90% of cases. What these morons fail to understand is that its their life which is at stake here, and not just a rented car. I on the other hand, drive rental cars much more conservatively for many reasons:
  • It is not my own car, which I drive extensively and with which I am confident since I know how it will behave in different situations.
  • Usually when I rent a car, it is either to go for an outstation trip or it is to travel locally in another city. (I've used Zoomcars in Mumbai, Hyderabad and Bangalore) In both the cases, it is not my home turf and one should always drive more cautiously on unknown roads.
  • Also, these rental cars are usually lower variants, sometimes missing out on safety features such as Airbags and ABS. All the more reason to drive the car safely and responsibly.
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Old 1st May 2017, 18:19   #24
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Default Day 6- Kunzum Pass

Post a hearty meal, we continue the journey. The scenery along the way is so beautiful, its hard to resist stopping

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Soon we are at the mighty Kunzum Top

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The howling winds, large mountains and the desolation lends an eerie vibe to the place
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The customary pic before we proceed
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Road quality deteriorates significantly after Kunzum Pass and its mostly rocks and snow walls and hairpin bends here onwards. I am driving in 2nd gear mostly and the Scorpio complies beautifully. Soon we are at Batal, where we encounter a sign board which says Chandrataal 14 kms, 12.5 kms “Jeepable”
That sends a shiver down my spine, since this will be the toughest drive of my life so far and having family with you makes you extra cautious. Due to this shock, I even forget to click a picture of that board. Nevertheless, we have an excellent steed with us and we trudge gently on the narrow and treacherous track, which is essentially a dirt track, with sand and loose stones. We encounter an Ecosport here, stranded with a broken axle. Do note that this track is quite narrow and once you encounter a vehicle coming from the opposite side, you have to find a wide enough spot to stop where both the vehicles can pass simultaneously. Its very tricky to negotiate big SUVs here. I soon find myself in a deadlock with three cars opposite me but no where to pass. With assistance from a guy from one of the cars, I go in reverse very cautiously to come to a spot from where those cars can pass. I had my heart in my mouth while reversing on that narrow track, since the left side of the car was very close to the edge of the road and even a slight mistake could have been fatal for everyone.

The only kind of traffic jam one can experience in this region
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There are 2 water crossings enroute, which many bikers are struggling to negotiate. The Scorpio with its huge ground clearance however, is able to clear them with ease. We finally make it to the campsite without much drama. Breathing some air of relief, we find a nice camp to stay for the night, and without losing time further, proceed towards the Chandrataal parking in our car. The government has banned camping at the lakeside. Hence, it is only here that one can stay for the night, either at one of the camps set up or pitching their own tents. From here, you can either trek to the lake, which takes about an hour, or you can drive till a spot which is 2 kms away and then there is a further walk of 500 metres to finally reach the lake.
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Old 1st May 2017, 19:18   #25
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Default Day 6- Lake of the moon- Chandrataal

This 2 kms of distance is where I feel that 4X4 would have been good to have since its all loose sand and a very steep gradient. We get stuck at one such hairpin bend, because I did not have sufficient torque to maneuver the steep sandy incline. The rear right wheel is completely stuck in the sand and there is no way to get it out. A local taxi guy stops and asks me to push the car from behind while he takes the driving seat. And in no time the car is freed. We reach the parking, secure the car and start the long walk to the lake.

Many zoomcars spotted on this trip
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Some pics enroute:

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And there it is, the first glimpse:

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Finally our efforts bear fruit and here I present to you, the mighty Chandrataal:

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Truly, it’s the lake of the moon:

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A parting shot
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The wind is getting stronger by the minute, so its time to head back to the campsite

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The closest I have ever parked to my bed
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The campsite:

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By 7 PM, its gotten very cold. We are invited to the kitchen to sit there since they have a tandoor there to keep everyone warm. We are served with some piping hot soup to keep ourselves warm. At this point, Mom is getting cold feet about spending the night in a tent under such frigid conditions. We tell her that it will be okay with all the blankets they have provided. Moreover, it will be risky to drive anywhere in this terrain after dark. The owner of the camp overhears our conversation and assures her that if it gets too uncomfortable for her at night, they will shift our beds inside the kitchen, where the tandoor will keep us warm. That seems to work and she agrees to stay. Meanwhile, other people from our camp join us in the kitchen and we engross ourselves in chatter. There is a family from Jalandhar, and the guy and I become friends instantly due to our mutual love for cars. He has come here in his own car, the Etios cross, and he got stuck at the water crossing while coming. He shares his memory from his ladakh trip earlier and says that Spiti is much more challenging in terms of road surface quality. The mainstream routes in Ladakh are much more easy to drive on. We are advised by the locals to start for Rohtang early in the morning since the water level rises at the crossings after mid morning. Now, I had planned to do a trek to the lake in the morning, to capture the lake in different hues during sunrise and also to explore some other vantage point to take pictures. But the elders of the group, who are already worried after hearing crazy stories about the route we have to take tomorrow, are dead against it and I have to finally give in. I will have to wait until next time to get more of this majestic lake. I agree to follow the etios cross so that we can help them out if they get stuck somewhere. There is another family from Delhi in a duster, who join us in the conversation and soon we are a convoy of 4 cars for tomorrow’s drive, including an innova taxi from Manali. Dinner is served at 8 PM, which turns out to be supremely delicious. And we soon retire to our tents, while deciding to start off at 0630 hrs.
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Old 1st May 2017, 20:20   #26
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Default Re: To the barren high mountains of Spiti Valley

Beautiful travelogue. 5 Stars!

Every single himalayan travelogue I read here makes me want to get off my behind and get there ASAP.

Sometimes, I wonder if I should splurge the extra dough and travel around Spiti and Ladakh on my motorbike (because trekking around the area obviously is much much cheaper). But I sense that traveling by road has its own fair share of thrill and excitement - and just has to be done!
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Old 1st May 2017, 21:31   #27
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Default Re: To the barren high mountains of Spiti Valley

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Beautiful travelogue. 5 Stars!

Every single himalayan travelogue I read here makes me want to get off my behind and get there ASAP.

Sometimes, I wonder if I should splurge the extra dough and travel around Spiti and Ladakh on my motorbike (because trekking around the area obviously is much much cheaper). But I sense that traveling by road has its own fair share of thrill and excitement - and just has to be done!
Thanks a lot. A road trip definitely has its own charm. But, trekking lends a very unique perspective to a place, which cannot be matched by driving through it. I do have plans to trek around these beautiful places someday.
Meanwhile, next up is the plan to do a motorbike trip around Spiti. Maybe a combined Ladakh and Spiti tour might also happen, depending on the number of days I can spare in one go.
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Old 2nd May 2017, 11:48   #28
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Post Day 7- A challenging drive

As planned yesterday, we are ready to depart at 06:30 AM. But not before a picture to capture the first rays of sun:

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After a very very cold night, it is only natural that the passengers fall asleep in the heated cozy cabin of the car. The drive back to Batal is easy, with only the Etios cross needing some negotiating at one of the crossings. We slowly proceed with caution, in a disciplined convoy. Now I assumed that the worst is over and the route ahead will get better. Big mistake! The route from Batal to Gramphu is a mixture of bad roads, no roads, rocks and numerous water crossings. Soon, the track leads us to the base of the mountain, next to the riverbed where there are multiple tracks leading in all directions. A local taxi is spotted soon and he shows us the way to Gramphu. We let the duster lead the convoy, who seems to be an experienced guy. What he does is, stops before every water crossing, gets down and analyzes the situation, arranging a few rocks here and there. Then he eases into the water and the rest of us follow suit. This was a good strategy, albeit a slow one. One Innova taxi driver from Chandigarh, who was following us for quite some time, gets annoyed and honks his way ahead at one of the crossings. We find the same innova stuck in water at the next crossing. The duster guy and me share that wicked look , after which we decide to help the guy, since we wont be able to cross it anyway. All of us join in to help the poor chap, who is unable to utter a word. The length of the cars behind us has increased manifold and after half an hour of trying to get the innova out, we conclude that it is futile. We ask around for a rope and find one instantly. We arrange some rocks here and there and I navigate the duster to cross the innova from the side. Then we tie up both the cars, and with some human effort pushing the innova combined with the duster’s pull, we manage to get it out of there. The rest of the cars manage just fine without any help. It was a clear case of impatience on the Innova driver’s end. Needless to say, he sticks with the convoy after that. At another spot, the Etios cross gets stuck but the rest of the convoy has gone ahead already. I stop and help the guy in getting it out. Soon, we spot another water crossing, where our neighbours from Nako Village are stuck in their Dzire. Hats off to the guy for even attempting this stretch in his compact sedan with family. I and the Etios cross guy stop to help them out. It takes a good half an hour but they are finally out.
We find a dhaba where we stop for maggi and tea. After this break, we enquire about the route ahead and learn that most of the bad roads are behind us and there are just 2 water crossings left to tackle with. Confident enough by now, we resume the journey with the Etios cross guy following us.
While driving, I see a gentleman ahead trying to say something to the cars in the front, which don’t bother to stop. I stop to see what he is saying, and he tells us that some repair work is being carried out on one of the crossings, and all the traffic on both sides is stranded and that we should stop at the shack up ahead instead of going all the way to the jammed area. I see the logic and stop at the dhaba for some tea and relaxation.

Meanwhile, I pass my time clicking:

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After what seems like an eternity, we spot some vehicles coming from the opposite side, which is our cue to start the drive again. Turns out that the wait was worth it, since they have put up a bridge over what looks like a raging water crossing on the way. The next crossing is a tiny one and is crossed without any fuss. In sometime, we reach Gramphu, from where one road leads to Leh and the other to Rohtang. With a heavy heart, I glimpse over the highway to Leh and leave it for another time. For now, its time to get to Manali for the night. Surprisingly, I don’t see many tourists at the usually crowded Rohtang top. There are no traffic jams that are usually encountered here. We carry on without stopping and take a lunch break at Marhi. Its time to bid adieu to our Jalandhar friends in the Etios cross, who will be taking a different route home from Manali.

The greenery of Manali is a welcome change after so much of bleak and barren landscapes.

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We continue towards Manali to encounter the worst of traffic jams of my life. For 4 hours, we remain stranded on the Manali- Leh highway, moving a few inches every now and then. This was a highly disappointing and frustrating end of such a wonderful trip. What made it much more worse was the fact that all the locals and taxi drivers were cutting through lanes, driving on the opposite side of the road, making the situation even worse. Meanwhile, we were in network coverage now and every one in the car was busy with their phones. Only I know how I passed those 4 hours. By 7, the traffic seemed to ease up and I made a dash for it. The new plan is to get out of Manali and drive as much as possible to cover up maximum ground so that the next day can be a little easy on us. Getting a delicious Punjabi meal after so many days sure works wonders on us and we are back to being in a good mood. I carry on till Pandoh, where I start feeling signs of fatigue and decide to halt. At 11 PM, we find a decent hotel on the highway and settle in for the night.
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Old 2nd May 2017, 12:45   #29
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Default Day 8- Return Journey & Conclusion

The last day of the trip is usually dull, since the vacation is coming to an end and its time to get back to the real world. This was no exception. I get ready, and leave to get the car washed and refueled while the gang gets ready. The car wash guy does a brilliant job

Work in progress
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However, I learnt later that it was a useless exercise since a good stretch of road is under construction at Sundernagar and the entire car got sprayed with mud and muck again.

The rest of the journey is pretty uneventful, barring the exception of a Punjab Police official harassing us unnecessarily near Ropar. By 9 PM, we are home, unloading the car, post which, I have ample time to drop the car off at the Zoomcar location by 11 PM. On calculation, I discovered that we were only 20 kms above our distance covered in the booking. The entire experience with Zoomcar was great, and our vehicle was quite reliable during the whole journey. Needless to say, driving in Delhi the next day was such a pain. Bad air quality, hot weather and those crazy traffic jams.

To conclude, a few learnings which can also serve as advice for people going to undertake this trip:
  • If you are going to do this circuit in a sedan or hatchback, its better if you go via Shimla- Rampur- Kinnaur and come back via the same route. Do not attempt Kunzum Pass from Manali side in a low GC car. You will definitely get stuck at a few of the water crossings and there are high chances of the vehicle suffering underbody damages too. Also, if you do plan for the Manali route, put it in the return trip in your itinerary. Because, going from Manali (2050 mtrs) to Kunzum Pass (4590 mtrs) and Chandrataal (4250 mtrs) is a recipe for a deadly AMS. Going via Kinnaur will give you ample time to acclimatize for the higher mountains.

  • For people going or coming back via Manali, try to plan your trip in such a way that crossing Manali does not occur during a weekend/ public holiday. The whole experience of crazy traffic jams is simply not worth it. The drive from Manali to Delhi or vice versa will also be much more relaxed and pleasurable if you do it on a weekday, when this route is considerably less busy than on weekends.

  • Unless your vehicle has a big fuel tank (Read 70 litres or more), its always advisable to carry some extra fuel in the boot. You never know what kind of challenges one might face in these regions and getting stranded here due to lack of fuel will not be such a good idea. We were lucky to have enough to reach Kaza but it was still a very close call.

  • The entire region is very well mapped in google maps. I downloaded offline maps of the entire region in my android and it worked like a charm on the entire journey, even when we were out of cellular coverage.

  • Even after regular applications of an SPF 30 sunscreen, my face got badly sunburnt at the end of the journey. Make sure you carry a higher SPF sunscreen for this region. While at it, carrying a box of the usual medicines is always advisable on such journeys.

  • Avoid heavy meals in high altitudes and make sure to remain hydrated at all times in these regions. AMS can be very deadly if you are not properly hydrated. We drank generous amounts of Glucon D water whenever we stopped for photo breaks. Also, taking a diamox pill as a precaution is always a good idea, but do consult your doctor for its possible side effects to each individual.

  • We did the entire trip in 8 days due to lack of time and the constraints of booking a rental car on the last moment during holiday season. But, a lot was left to be desired. For example, we had to skip Key- Kibber monasteries, Dhankar lake, etc because we did not have ample time at hand. In my opinion, its better to have at least 12-14 days to enjoy this region properly. Even if you don’t cover all the places, its better to enjoy these regions at a slow pace. Due to circumstantial delay, we were forced to spend 2 days in nako, which I later realized I had enjoyed a lot and which also gave me a break from all that driving. But we had to give up a night stay in Pin Valley (which seems exciting after experiencing the place for a few hours) due to this delay. A few extra days at hand is always a good idea to make spontaneous plans and also to have a marginal night or two to account for unforeseen delays. Next time I plan for this circuit, I will make sure that I have 15 days with me.

  • If you are planning to rent a car for the trip, then make sure that you book it as early as possible before the trip, because then you get the luxury of choosing your preferred car and also your preferred dates. Also advisable is to pick up the car one day before the journey. Spending a day while driving it locally will give you a fair idea of its condition and one can always ask for a replacement if you see any possibility of a breakdown. We were quite lucky that we got a very well maintained and reliable vehicle, but its not the case everytime and I have read about many people who faced a tough time getting a bad car. Always better to be safe and sure than being stranded in the middle of nowhere.

  • Lastly, one should always be a responsible traveler in these regions and avoid littering and creating any kind of ruckus for the locals. We always made sure that all our garbage was collected in plastic bags and kept in the car. And we always disposed it off at the proper garbage dumps or in the hotels where we stayed in.

Thanks a lot for reading my story. Hope you liked it and hope it is of help to fellow travellers.


*** THE END ***
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Old 2nd May 2017, 21:04   #30
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Default Re: To the barren high mountains of Spiti Valley

Awesome photographs. If you are on a learning curve, you sure are getting there.
Please share to details of photography gear you use.
Amazing vistas, sure ignite a wanderlust in us plain wallahs
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