Many years ago, my father happened to stay in Lahaul-Spiti. He told me stories about Spiti’s raw and uninviting nature. Maybe it was his tales that ignited my fondness for the mountains. And those who know me understand my passion for motorcycles and travelling. So when I got a chance to visit Spiti, and that too on a motorcycle, it was enough to whet my appetite. I desperately wanted to get on the saddle of my Triumph Tiger 800Xcx, which I think is one of the best motorcycles to deal with the harsh terrain of Spiti.
So our first day started at 4 in the morning — and I already found myself riding on a perfect highway that let me reach Narkanda from New Delhi (about 255kms) within eight hours. Narkanda welcomed our arrival with beautiful scenery and clear weather. After relaxing for a while, it was time to savour the surrounding vistas.
At a distance of 177kms from there, my Spiti experience began with a ride to Chitkul – the last inhabited village near the Indo-China border, which is not really in the Spiti Valley. However, a local suggested us to visit this place in order to get acclimatised and get ourselves comfortable with broken tarmac, which, thanks to the ‘Tiger’, was not a problem. Of particular interest at Chitkul are its houses with either slate or wooden plank roofs, a Buddhist temple, and a small tower. After staying there for a day, it was time to hit our next destination — Nako.
The road until the town of Pooh was fantastic. Pristine tarmac allowing for high speeds. But after that conditions got worse; the road was under construction and that put my off-road motorcycle learnings to the test and, at that moment, it was like my motorcycle was talking to me, saying, “Don’t worry. You’ll have fun”. Luckily, it became tarmac again after Khab. This was one of the fastest and perhaps one of the best stretches of the ride. It had numerous hairpins and the drops were heart pounding. Once at the top in Nako, I had all the time in the world to appreciate the sights. I had never seen blue skies as deep as they were with a brilliant cloud cover. It was the closest I had been to heaven.
Our next destination, Kaza, was not far from our location, and it allowed us to ride right up to the banks of the Spiti River. As I parked my Tiger on firm ground, I fell into a tranquil state of mind. The Himalaya has that effect on you. It also makes you seem so small and insignificant. After a few photoshoots and some mouth-watering street food, we finally reached Kaza, which is the district headquarters of Spiti Valley and runs the only petrol pump in the area. Now, if you really want to explore Kaza, get yourself off the highway, and ride to small villages like Komic, Koumic and Hikkim (its post office at 14,400 feet is the highest in the world).
The tiny hamlet of Kibber, high above Spiti Valley, has become a unique destination for snow leopard lovers from all around the world. Although, we were not that lucky, we did manage to sight bearded eagle griffons, a herd of ibex and blue sheep, and a Himalayan red fox — a rare sighting.
After spending a day, it was time to move to our next destination, Chandratal, a beautiful high-altitude lake in the Himalaya. After Losar, brace yourself for the ascent to Kunzum La and for another episode of World’s Worst Roads. Tar will occasionally come and go — much like a nasty dirt track situated somewhere far in the Middle East. Despite a challenging drive, Chandratal is a no miss. Situated at an altitude of about 13,900 feet, this is where you’ll find snow-capped mountains overlooking the lake on one side, and a magnificent cirque on the other. Chandratal has no guesthouses but only a few camping sites that can be availed at `1500–2500. In the night, you can see countless stars, and the whole of the Milky Way galaxy with the naked eye. This place is perfect for night photography as well to gaze at the sky, but a chilling temperature of -4°C made us head back to our camps.
After spending a night, it was time to travel back on the same road that you take towards Manali via Batal. But before leaving Chandratal, I made the biggest mistake of my journey. Thinking that the day’s climate would not be anything other than sunny yet breezy, I packed my raincoat in the luggage that was loaded daily in my carry bag. As we reached Rohtang Pass, I was shivering. I was holding the tank with even more vigour. Coming down from the famous Rohtang Pass (it has a well-deserved reputation for being dangerous because of unpredictable snowstorms and blizzards) itself was one of the toughest rides in our journey. We saw it all — bright sun, fog, heavy rain and storm in our 50-kilometre journey till Manali.
As I relaxed in the comfort of my cosy bed in Manali, I thank my stars for what is one of my most memorable motorcycle riding experiences. The bike had remained a faithful companion. Even though I scuffed her, she never whimpered....