Himalayas III: Kinnaur Spiti Valleys

Discussion in 'Global Trip Reports' started by FB666Y, Sep 12, 2011.

  1. FB666Y

    FB666Y Ol'Timer

    Some of the most amazing and toughest roads in Himachal Pradesh.
    Three punctures, landslide, water crossing - the route has it all.

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    Shimla to Kalpa
    With the proper paperwork in hand it was time to hit the road - we stumbled out at first light, and took the serpentine road from Shimla.

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    It gets light very early in summer - around 5am, but it takes till around 7am before your start feeling the sun's warmth. In Shimla, though cold, that wasnt that much of a factor. The sun sets pretty late as well, around 7plus in the evening - it affords you plenty of time to get to your destination and on roads like those in Kinnaur and Spiti you need plenty of time.

    The road rose through the hills, past apple orchards and quaint little villages. The first day's ride was a 200km(ish) jaunt to Kalpa. We had to go through Rampur, a large(ish) town that was halfway and then past the hydro-electric dam works along the Sutlej river. The road was pretty good till Rampur, after which the road fell apart quite spectacularly. The 100km from Rampur till Kalpa was a quilted road of rocks, pebbles, steep inclines and amazing drop off. Sections of roads were scooped right out of the mountainside, with rocky roof overhead and blind corners. Other sections you were travelling on a little thread of a road, with a sheer cliff on one side and a 1000m drop-off on the other side.

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    There's a History program going on at the moment: IRT World's Deadliest Road's and its the same road we took. Here a preview on youtube: . They called it the freefall highway, on account of the sheer drops - however, after watching the show and riding it first-hand, its a pretty accurate account of just how crazy the road can be.

    From the dam, the road was an unfurled ribbon that lay on the side of the mountain, so narrow it was crazy the way the Indian drivers pass each other. Somehow we made it to Rekong Peo, a small town at the base of a mountain - Kapla was above Rekong Peo on a winding 10km jaunt.

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  3. FB666Y

    FB666Y Ol'Timer

    Kalpa to Nako
    Kalpa is awash with apple and apricot trees, and at about 3000m elevation, it's a good way to acclimatise to the high altitutes. However that didnt stop me from feeling slightly queasy till I had a proper lunch around noon after riding for some hours through roads that were steadily deteriorating. After lunch we managed maybe 30km before we were stopped in our tracks by a massive landslide a couple of kilometres outside Poh. A large section of the mountain had collasped, probably blocking the road as much as 30 metres. The slabs of rocks were huge, some as big as a mini-bus.

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    Most people - especially the truckers were taking it in their stride - washing their trucks and checking their tires and chassises for damage. I was getting a bit worried - most people were giving me conflicting reports - some said itll be cleared in an hour or so, some shook their heads and still it'll be nightfall before the road was opened again. I collared some guy in a uniform and he said dont worry, the road will be opened come hell or high water, even if they had to stay the night. Not exactly reassuring, considering we wanted to cover another 100km or so to Tabo.

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    The road was finally opened around 4pm. The explosive expert showed up carting a carton of dynamite-looking tubes of explosives. He tied several bunches together and swung into action. In slippers and jeans he clambered over the rocks, judiciously placing the explosives. Safety is never the highest priority in India - he left the explosive by the side of the road, anyone could have sauntered across and picked up a few sticks!



    Eventually they had to place several charges before the heavy machinery moved in and made quick work of the landslide. I didnt mind it so much - considering it was quite interesting seeing them going about their way. Plus this was my first landslide - Ive been in a mudslide, but that different.

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    Well after that 4 hour plus wait Tabo was out of reach. It had to be Nako - a small village perch on top of a mountain at 4000m elevation. We made pass the landslide, quickly by jumping ahead of the queue. After Poh we turned left at the junction (going straight will take you to TIbet in about 50km or so). More cut-outs, the road is like a tunnel carved into the side of the cliff with a roaring river at the bottom of a 500m drop!

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    Beyong the cut-outs the road went on a loopy snaking section called the Karzigs. The road rose about another kilometre through undulating loops plastered on the side of the mountain. Before long the road finally made it to the top, showing a panorama of snowy himalayan peaks that stuck out like a row of jagged teeth across the horizon.

    Coming to the turn-off to Nako I had the first puncture. Due to the strange configuration of the side cover (an aluminium trellis like cage that protected the rim from impacts) it was almost impossible to get the rear axle off to remove the wheel. I finally had to remove the side cover, wasting too much time. By the time I had the tire sorted and the rim back in the sun was dropping behind the mountains, painting the sun in brilliant orange hues. As it disappeared, the sky become a gorgeous dark blue - I wish I had taken a picture, but dam I was pretty miffed at that point!

    Somehow Nako was full, it was green peas season (go figure - who grew peas at this altitute?!) and all the hotels were fulled. Luckily we bumped into a kind soul who took into his house and gave us the master bedroom for the night.
     
  4. FB666Y

    FB666Y Ol'Timer

    Nako to Kaza
    The next morning it was a short jaunt to Kaza by Tabo, and it was biting cold. Doing anything in Nako is a struggle - the thin air saps your strenght real quick. We got started and had to cross our fisrt stream. Even though it was early it was gushing quite a bit. The water was more a foot deep along the side, and about 2 feet deep at its deepest point. And it was ice cold. I had to take of my shoes and walk across barefoot - my feet were blocks of ice by the time I got across!



    All things considered it was pretty tame - we had much worse later on but more of that later. Most of these streams are ice-melts and spring unexpectedly and with varying degrees of strenght - most were the garden variety type, but deeper in the Spiti valley there are some really vicious ones.

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    We reached Tabo before noon. I bumped into a pair of local riders who had been trying to find a pair of front forks for one of their Enfield which had broke coming across the Kunzum Pass. Not very heartening news really. Hopefully the two made it back after welding the forks, though Im sure it was not a very comfortable ride.

    After lunch we jumped back on the road and we made it to Kaza by mid afternoon. Kaza was going to a rest stop for a couple of days so we could do some exploring in the villages nearby.

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    We managed a trip to Ki and Kibber, visiting the Ki monastery. Kibber was at some crazy altitute - 4200m, and the thin-air was merciless. We also managed a trip to Dhankar monastery, located at the mouth of two rivers: Spiti and Pin. Perched on a rocky outcrop the views from the top of the monastery are nothing short of mesmerizing.

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    We also managed a ride up to Langtse, another small high-altitute village surrounded by barley fields. We had our second puncture on that high road, but we managed the second one without any issues.

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  5. FB666Y

    FB666Y Ol'Timer

  6. Rod Page

    Rod Page Ol'Timer

    Absolutely brilliant; keep it coming.
    How did you plan the trip? was a guide involved?
     
  7. David Learmonth

    David Learmonth Ol'Timer

    Good report! Enjoyed the two videos + some more you have on YouTube. Also went through all the photos. I remember very well the multi coloured, grossly overloaded lorries in Rajastan - once they pull out to overtake nothing will stop them till they pass! Goes to show how resillient & tough Royal Enfield are - not the most comfortable of rides but they can stand some abuse & rough going.
     
  8. Ozjourno

    Ozjourno Ol'Timer

    Stunning photography. Excellent report and obviously a brilliant adventure.
    Cheers
     
  9. FB666Y

    FB666Y Ol'Timer

    No - no guide involved. I have already ridden the Manali-Leh route before so this was a natural progression.
     
  10. FB666Y

    FB666Y Ol'Timer

    Trucks, buses, cars, motorbikes - everything is overloaded in India! Its a pretty dangerous place to ride - the only rule seems to be that there are no rules. With the way the buses and cars overtake each other on blind curves you'd think they might have a death wish. The ceaseless horning can get under your skin.
     
  11. FB666Y

    FB666Y Ol'Timer

    Kaza to Keylong to Manali
    The long ride - about 200km to Keylong necessitated an early start. The ride to Lossar, about 50km was an easy ride along rolling fields with the Himalayas looming overhead, cutting off the sun till it was 8 in the morning. The road was pretty good, some bad sections, but overall we made quick time.

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    After the checkpoint in Lossar the road fell apart - it was 15km to the top of Kunzum La Pass, and the first 8km or so it was loose smooth pebbles. The bike drifted like it had a mind of its own. The bike kept sliding on those pebbles, and going uphill it felt like riding on ice. We could only manage a measly 15km/h or so, and it took us an hour to get to the top.

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    Somehow the little Enfield got to the little gompa with its multitude of prayer flags strung across the spires and fluttering madly in the wind. The Himalayas were laid bare - all you could see all around were the jagged peaks reaching into the skies.

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    We rode down the other side - the road was roughly hewn, scrapped from the bare rocky mountain, with deep runnels. Calling it a road would be a misnomer. It was tough going on the Enfield - you had to keep the brakes covered and avoid the sharp granite (or is it shale) rocks. Fortunately we were going downhill, and after slowly crawling for more than an hour we made it to the rest stop at Batal.

    From Batal it was another mind-numbing 50km to Gramphu (the turn-off to Manali), with another rest stop at Chattru at around 30km or so. We started tentatively in the alien landscape - the wind was howling and snatching at our clothes and the road was an ant's trail gouged into the side of the mountain. We could barely travel at any speed beyond the 15km/h we had been doing and we had about 5 more water crossing - most of them quite tame, but the last 2 were killers.

    One was on a downhill slope, the water was easily about 3-4 feet high. The Enfield made it over easily - I saw a line across the gushing water and gunned the little 350 over. I had the impression the bike was rolling over boulders, but then I was out of the water, and onwards to the next crossing.

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    The final water crossing - about 15km from Chattru was almost our undoing. It was uphill and the water was roaring - it was a river of ice cold water. It started with small rocks, and pretty soon the Enfield was stuck in big football size rocks. The water was muddy and flowing so strongly it hid all the rocks. I almost burn the clutch trying to get the bike out. Finally we had to pull the bike backwards about 10 metres, scrapping it against rocks. Once again we had to walk the course, feeling the boulders under our feet, trying to find a suitable path across. My eventual line was to put the bike to the left, where the rocks were smaller, then cutting to the right over several smooth boulders, and that put me right in the path of the gushing water at the highest point. But we didnt have much of a choice, and hopefully the water didnt drown the little Enfield. Somehow we made it across - the water came up to the thighs, and some broke over the tank, but it didnt have any lasting effect.

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    However my pants were drenched and I was standing in squelchy shoes! Good thing I had my flip flops and made like a local and rode with my flip flops the rest of the journey. Chattru showed up, and we had a well deserved chai. From Chattru the road improved, the scenery got more green, and pretty soon we made it to Gramphu. We made it into Keylong by late afternoon, and reflecting back I realized it took us something like 7 hours to do the 80km stretch from Lossar to Chattru.

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    The following day it was time to sample the Rohtang Pass. It had been closed in late July on account of all the rain and mud, and we were going to have a first hand look at it. Coming up from Lahaul side it was easy going up (I remember it being a much worse road back in 2007). The top was covered in clouds, and the problems really started on the downhill stretch towards Manali.

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    Mud - plenty of it. There were trucks stuck. Traffic builds up very easily - our little Enfield was luckily small enough to make its way around most of the trucks. In some places the mud was thick and squelchy, it others it was watery, but the worst when there is just the right amount of water and sand and it creates an amazing mud that is super slippery. In some places the mud was so thick the only way was to ride in the truck's trail.

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    After crawling and sliding our way down we burst into sunshine and Manali was but a stone's throw away.

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  12. helbob

    helbob Ol'Timer

    Hi,
    good pics!! Very interesting place, because i been nepal 3 weeks ago and there also many fantastic places. Can you give me some informations:
    -Where is the best place (Airport?) to start and rent a motorbike?
    -How much the motorbike?

    Thanks
    helbob

    Edit: Here is a map for everybody who don't know india, same me :)
    The tour on the map is 420km. Klick for a big size
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    OSM Map, Lizenz CC-BY-SA
     
  13. Rhodie

    Rhodie Ol'Timer

    Great report and pix. Thank you for posting I had missed.
    Having watched the Deadliest Roads series with the memsahib,
    it has mercifully put her off visiting India completely.
    Not for the state of the roads, but how intrusive everyone is & the insane driving.
    I thought Pakistan was bad but India appears more intensive.
    Cheers
    Rhodie
     
  14. Rhodie

    Rhodie Ol'Timer

    Great report and pix. Thank you for posting I had missed.
    Having watched the Deadliest Roads series with the memsahib,
    it has mercifully put her off visiting India completely.
    Not for the state of the roads, but how intrusive everyone is & the insane driving.
    I thought Pakistan was bad but India appears more intensive.
    Cheers
    Rhodie
     
  15. FB666Y

    FB666Y Ol'Timer

    Helbob:
    I rented from Delhi at http://lallisingh.com/home.htm.
    The shop is located in Karol Bagh. It takes a full day to get all the paperwork sorted.
    They will also run you through the bike in case you need to change tires, replaces fuses, etc.
    The bikes (either the Bullet or the Thunderbird) comes with a topbox with every conceivable spare the bike needs.
    However having rented from them twice, in 2007 and 2011, the bikes have run flawlessly save for the odd puncture.

    You can also rent from Manali - they are several shops doing a brisk trade. Even though I dont have first hand experience most of the guys who do rent from Manali complain about the bikes condition.

    The time to go is between June to September. The main Manali-Leh road opens in mid-June (depending on the snow).
    This is a good site to get real-time wheather/road conditions: http://www.indiamike.com/india/ladakh-and-zanskar-f31/

    The map you got there is lovely but we actually carried on to Keylong from Kaza.
    The section from Lossar (50ish kilometres from Kaza) to the Ladakh junction (right to Keylong and Leh; left over the Rohtang Pass to Manali) defies belief.
    It took us almost 6 hours to cover 60km. There are buses that run from Manali to Kaza, and they take about 12hours to cover that 100km stretch.

    Having done both Delhi-Manali-Leh-Srinagar-Amritsar-Delhi and Delhi-Shimla-Kaza-Manali-Delhi, the Spiti valley is way more taxing. The Manali-Leh route is pretty straight forward, and if you have some experience riding on dirt and stone it'll be easy-peasy. The Spiti-Kinnaur is a different kettle of fish. At times you have to be a trials rider, navigating boulders and water-crossing that go up to your thigh. Its more remote, and just as gorgeous as the Manali-Leh route. Note that you will need an Inner Line Permit from the authorities in Shimla if you do decide to go this way.
     
  16. FB666Y

    FB666Y Ol'Timer

    Well the Deadliest Road series paints a pretty accurate picture of the driving conditions.
    However once you cross into the Himalayas either from Shimla or Manali the traffic mostly disappears.
    Plus its like riding in Bangkok x10! Strangely you get used to it after a while and with the a bike its easier to manouver and get yourself out of trouble.

    From what I remember from the series the trucks went from Shimla to the dam and the furthest they went was Kalpa.
    But the roads really get bad/spectacular further on down that road.
    From Manali they went as far as Keylong. From Keylong the roads goes higher to Tanglangla and Barachala.

    Dont let the traffic put you off - its an amazing place to ride.
     
  17. thirtyone

    thirtyone Member

    Very nice and sharp pictures. May I ask what camera are you using? :wave:
     
  18. FB666Y

    FB666Y Ol'Timer

    Well I have been using the Panasonic Lumix for the longest time, and it was getting a bit long in the tooth.
    So I bought a Nikon D3100, an entry level SLR, and its quite startling the difference in picture quality.
    All these were taken with the D3100.
     
  19. thirtyone

    thirtyone Member

    Thanks for the info, again, very good quality prints. Give us a shout when you are riding in Malaysia!
     

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