Thanks Gaurav. Biking the circuit would have been very different than on four wheels. Sometimes we wished we were on bikes, especially when navigating the water crossings later on.
I think FM is being kind with his description of the roads. The roads were in much worse condition than they were 3 years back (http://www.bcmtouring.com/forums/threads/spiti-may-june-2013-senile-lawyers-in-serene-himachal.62290/) or perhaps it was simply the fact that age was catching up with us faster than we expected!! Yes, the hospitality at Tabo generally and Dewachen Retreats specifically (as you will learn more in the context of Rangrik) is special and unmatched. This was the day when I started hearing from FM for the first time in relation to hills that this place was not worth doing more than once....although his opinion has not changed completely yet, the exuberance with which the next few days will be described will suggest otherwise! I kept telling him that the real reason why people visit Spiti is for these 100 kms between Tabo and Losar. While I was saying so, I silently let my mind absorb it and throw up the question at me too...."is it really worth doing a third time in future". By the time I had woken up with a fresh mind and body, the answer to the above doubt was authoritatively affirmative! More from FM soon....Day 3: June 6th - Kalpa to Tabo (160 km)
I woke up quite early in the morning and went for a stroll while IT was still asleep/lazing. It gave me an opportunity to click a few pictures before leaving Kalpa.
Pics: Random early morning shots at Kalpa
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Unlike Fagu, we got our tea in good time. The Kalpa HPTDC staff is certainly more efficient! We were not planning to leave very early today and so could take our time over tea, enjoying the morning sun and the beautiful vistas one only sees from Kalpa.
Pic: That's me having tea at the HPTDC Rest House
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We had scrambled eggs with toast for breakfast but the highlight of our meal was not the eggs or toast but the decision to skip Nako and proceed to Tabo instead. We had originally planned to spend the night in Nako. The primary reason behind this was that we wanted to limit the number of hours on the road. However, based on our experience of driving up to Kalpa (9 hours, 215 km), we thought we would take on Tabo (160 km). Another reason was that Nako would be a ‘detour’ for us. In hindsight, we were feeling that the diversion off NH22 just to stay the night at Kalpa did not make sense and we would have been better off had we just bunked in the PWD rest house at Powari. We did not want to have a feeling of ‘deja vu’ at Nako. Moreover, Nako itself has nothing exceptional to offer except the small lake, which, according to IT was ‘piddley’.
Pic: Final photos at Kalpa before leaving - The HPTDC Resthouse
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We set off from Kalpa at 09:30 with the aim to reach Tabo in 7 hours. We were not planning to stop for lunch and expected to rely on chips, wafers and Wai Wai! One problem that we had to solve was of accommodation at Tabo. We had booked to stay at Hotel Rio Purgill in Nako, though no advance was paid. We had accommodation booked at Tabo but that was on our return leg, not while going up. However, IT called up Mahi, our contact at Dewachen Retreats and enquired if he could organize a room for us. Mahi told us that his guesthouse in Tabo was sold out, but the great person that he is, he came through with an alternative – a home stay option.
Pic: Amazing waterfall on the way to Puh
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Pic: More 'tunnel' roads...
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Pic: XUV crossing a suspension bridge before Puh
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Pic: And it begins...The world's most treacherous road as certified by the BRO
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The drive from Kalpa onwards was on expected lines. However, the only thing of note that I will mention here (because it exasperated me), was the ‘crossing of the infamous Malling Nala’. The biggest problem I had with Malling Nala was that we had to climb almost a thousand meters just to cross it. And, when we eventually crossed it, I was left wondering what the big deal was. Many blogs and travelogues paint a scary picture of the nala but it really was not that bad. In fact, later on, we crossed many nala’s that were far more difficult to navigate then Malling was.
Pic: The steep climb to Malling starts after this bridge.
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Pic: We climb a few 100 meters in the space of a couple of kms. The road at the bottom right corner of the picture is just after we crossed the bridge
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Pic: The road was a black-top but single track right up to Malling
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Pics: Kazigs continue to take us higher and higher till we cross Malling at about 4,000 meters
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Pic: Just after crossing Malling Nala
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After we crossed Malling, it was mostly downhill till Tabo. We saw many fabulous landscapes and stopped for pictures. Particularly noteworthy were whole mountains of ‘sand’ and sometimes black sand. The desolate ‘brown’ landscape was punctuated by tiny patches of green – like oasis in a cold desert. On one of our ‘breaks’ we met a lone Israeli biker who stopped and offered us chewing gum. We clicked a few pictures for him and he returned the favor before speeding away. The rest of our drive to Tabo was uneventful and we reached the village at around 17:30, taking an hour more than planned.
Pic: The world's most treacherous road continues to become tougher and tougher to drive on as we go deeper into the mountains - like 'stages' in video games
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Pics: Some amazing landscapes on our approach to Tabo
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Pic: Tabo village shot from the terrace of our home stay (terrace of Dewachen Retreat in bottom right corner)
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Our friend, Mahi had arranged for a home stay right opposite the Dewachen Retreat and had allowed us full access to the retreat’s kitchen. We were tired from the day’s drive and had tea on the terrace of the retreat, overlooking the village and the Tabo Monastery. Thereafter, we retreated to the home stay, showered and had a drink. We reported back to the dining room at dinner time and had a wonderful ‘homely’ meal. Mid-way through dinner, a group of Japanese tourists arrived to join a British group who were already housed at the retreat.
Following dinner, we spent some time on the terrace again. It was past 21:00 and the village was mostly asleep. Except for the occasional bark of a dog, we enjoyed complete silence under a dark sky peppered with a million stars. Now that we were 450 km into the Himalayas and had seen the roads, we began to wonder if the plan we had put on paper, for our return leg, was sensible or not. IT broached the topic of revamping everything and put a new option on the table – return via Manali. His argument was a logical one – Kunzum La to Chandigarh via Manali was 430 km and if we went back via Kinnaur it would be 615 km. This was a big difference to consider. The other plus was that we’d have the opportunity to cover a ‘new’ route (beyond Kunzum) which neither of us had done before – and this was the leg that we’d heard was the most adventurous and challenging from a drivers perspective.
The next day, would be the first day we would be driving less than a hundred kms on the trip. Finally, we had time to spend ‘with’ the mountains. We had plans to visit the Tabo Monastery and then leave for Rangrik, covering Dhankar Monastary on the way. But more importantly, we had to find out the state of the road between Kunzum and Rohtang. The passes usually opened later in June and we were not sure if they were navigable yet.