A Zip Through HP- Spiti-Parashar Lake-Bi


Aj Raina
JLT---yes, it was a'Just Like That kind of a trip! Till a few hours prior to hitting the road, neither had the plan been finalised nor had Deepika's leave been confirmed and for such rightful reasons, we had decided to play the ball on its merit. A late start -and without a camera, any advance booking and even camping equipment- saw us taking a short break near Garhshankar as the sun started tapping the horizon in the far distance. With mind somewhat made up, during three and a half hour of drive since afternoon, for a breezy drive through Spiti around the long Eid weekend, we decided to call and try our luck for some accommodation at Chandigarh. Marriot apologised for a full house but Taj was an easy case. So, Taj Chandigarh was the destination for the night. Turned out to be a usual Tata place- spacious and neat and a well managed place. We settled down, still not very sure about the next day!

Having grown up on roads and ridges, whenever an opportunity presents itself, Czia likes to grab luxury with both hands. Her concept of a good niche is the one with a pool and, preferably, a bath tub: food and buffet are very low on her priority list.

Room had a grand view of the City Beautiful!

The reason we could get a room with ease at an hour's notice at Taj became amply clear once we settled down for a sumptuous meal- 500m clause had taken the somrasa away from the hotel. A property, irrespective of its enviable location in Sector 17 and its brand name, appeared shed by its fun loving clients! (Heard now recently that rules have been amended and liquor is back there)
It was an evening of peace and some certainty over own uncertainty had begun to firm in by the time we hit the sack. Yes, we would head to hills and then mountains tomorrow! Having forgotten her swim wear, despite packing it carefully, Czia had been upset for a while but in-house amenities did cheer her up and we slept thinking of the day ahead.

Woke up to an overcast sky. Had called up a close friend with a request to fix an accommodation near Karcham the previous evening. It was to be the same place where I had stayed with my friends way back in 2010 during the bike trip that had been disrupted by a landslide that had consumed a dear friend and had left me with an implant in one of the legs. Somewhere deep down, there was an irresistible urge to retrace own steps on a trail that had been near fatal for me and absolutely fatal for a close buddy! An overcast sky made the feeling real since though in June his time, clouds made the setting resemble that of a fateful July of 2010.

Iniially, the road traffic was ok and drive on Himalayan Expressway was just a zip. But then the rut began. With Kashmir virtually shut due to locals practising their throwing skills against police and that too during holidays, a huge amount of footfall had been diverted into the Dev Bhoomi. And for many families, Simla and Manali (as we were to discover a bit later) remain popular and higher on priority as compared to youngsters only destinations like Kasol! Road widening work and some dirty ill-disciplined traffic created a moving speed breaker that appeared to be unending.

Gyani's Dhabha at Dharampur is beyond recognition and stands defunct due to road work. Thought of taking Theog route since we had no attraction in Simla but a signboard at the turn off near Dagshai advised avoiding that link. At Kandaghat, however, patience ran out and we turned right towards Chail. We had camped in wilderness (with three pets in our dome tent) in 2007 at an isolated place ahead of Chail (and towards Kufri) and that too after ignoring advice of locals who had come warning us against a possible leopard visit in the night. This time, we wanted to show that spot to Czia and in a bid to do that, we landed up on the hill that has a resort at that very point.....so much has changed! The place is losing its association with the nature in its raw form!

Kufri was a headache, minor one though, and soon we were on the road to Narkanda-Rampur-Pooh. It started to drizzle and a part of my mind suddenly ran back to 2010. With two of my soulmates with me this time around, a bit of anxiety did crop up but it didn't last long. The drive was pleasant and vistas beautiful and that was what mattered the most at that moment.....

Having crossed Kinner Gate, we spotted a small roadside shack. It was a bit late for the lunch but having survived on a good breakfast at hotel and then some supplies that Czia had been made in-charge of, it appeared to be a good time to take a break. Halted at the kiosk. With rain beating down, the small 10ft x 6ft space (all inclusive) gave a much needed solace. There were some fresh peaches that we picked up and repented later for having picked up only a Kg! Had sizzling hot maggi (even though not my ususal favourite), chit-chatted with the lady who appeared to be as clueless about things inside the shack as she was about cooking. The place is run by her husband who had gone somewhere and she had been minding the place in his absence for a day and that explained her dilemma!

Peaches looked a bit raw but turned out to be great!

Drenched in rain, this gentle mongrel had many uneaten and discarded chappatis lying on one side; his love for cream biscuits, however, was unapologetic!

Maggi preparation turned out to be a team effort in the end - worth the effort though

After stabilisation of project work at Karcham and around, the road between Rampur and Karcham and beyond (say, till Pooh) is now in a very good condition. Gone are the days of slush, mud and heavy traffic of building apparatus and earth movers.In fact, it was because of such a road condition that we were able to cross Karcham well before last light despite an easy start, heavy traffic on Simla Highway and congestion at Kufri.

Reached the beautiful niche (near Powari) where we were supposed to spend the night. The nest takes its name from the imposing feature that could be seen from its verandah. Before halting at Powari, we took our fill at Tapri (and our credit card worked there!), not leaving everything for the last pump at Rekong Peo turn off. One may get surprised if safety margin is not kept. An 'out of order' or an 'out of fuel pump' at Peo would have entailed some long detour in the morning. So, we played safe.
A good, warm water bath, some spirits and very yummy grub preceded a much deserved restful sleep. Got up at ease because destination for the day, Kaza, didn't warrant a very early start. As I sat down, tying my laces, my mind wandered off to two previous trips on this very route when Spiti had refused us the entry - once at Pooh when, in 2008, Maling Nallah had ensured no movement beyond Pooh and then in 2010 when road ahead of Ki Village (ahead) had got washed off. It would be different this time, I told and assured myself as I got ready to load our baggage into our Pearlie (Grizzly, our previous car, has moved on; Pearlie, Safari Storme, is a cousin from the same stable!)

Awed by the magnificient Kinner Kailash, as seen from the verandah of our room

With no camera (not that I am a lensman), we had our phones to shoot around. Sutlej looked slimmer and less violent, absolutely unlike its avtaar during monsoons when it becomes ferocious and grey. In fact, while some kinetic energy could be seen clearly in its waters in and ahead of Powari, its flow beyond Karcham dam is hardly worth a mention. Down stream from Karcham and courtesy dam works, the river has been tamed though monsoons will be different. Some shots from the complex where we had called it a day the previous evening....

A bridge upstream. We had crossed another bridge between Tapri and Karcham last evening. It had not there before. Then I remembered monsoons of 2010 when many parts of this road had been washed off/eaten up by landslides and that stretch had been one such point

Logo of our hosts

An outdoor aquarium added to the aesthetics of the place

A niche perched high across the river

Kinner Kailash.....simply splendid

The Gorge at Powari

Even though the road behind us had changed for good, I was sure there would be hardly any change from our previous visits to area that awaited us ahead! And the gut feelings were proved right. But for the police check-post that has now shifted backwards to a point across bridge at Akpa (from an earlier location much ahead), nothing much has changed!



Aj Raina

The bridge near Akpa was welcoming as ever. The check-post, as mentioned earlier, lies just across the bridge. The reason for shifting it backwards (earlier position meant surveillance over a smaller stretch and , thus, more efficient) was given as issues with communication from earlier point to their HQ at Rekong Peo. They would know better than commentators like me!

Rolling pebbles (no one really minds such happenstances), ugly looking chunks of rocks sitting in the middle or on an edge of the road (better to ignore and not think too much about hows, whys and what next) and mud clouds around the next turn (lump in the throat; fingers crossed and hoping for the best!)....well, nothing has changed on the road that greets you once you are across Moorang turn off and a bit beyond. Surface has been done up but that is actually inconsequential since past experiences in the area force you to keep looking upwards rather than down and front. I have had two instances- of rocks missing my bike narrowly and another one when a chunk actually fell on my luggage and tore the cover of my tent - during past passages through the stretch. Looking upwards, of course, also throws up new things, like Igloo shelters that were not there in the Army camp earlier...

FRG Igloos

Igloo with its Jung Bahadur!


Welcome to the wilderness....base of Ka Zing

Ka Zings
Together with Hangroo Loops and Gatta Loops, Ka Zings make a trio zig-zags in the land of thousand passes. During earlier times, Lahaul and Spiti area was part of the Ladakh. Once Mughals took over Kashmir and imposed a lop-sided rule on Ladakh whereby Pashmina could only be collected within Ladakh but could only be processed in Kashmir, Tibetans hit this part of Eastern Spiti to smuggle their Pashmina produce into Rampur Bushair township that became an important trading/barter point during those days. Village of Ka belongs to that legacy. The point where a stretch of road had been washed off in 2010, looked good and well reinforced now.

Half way

Honestly speaking, leaving the valley floor to reach out to plateau of Spiti doesn't really awe you, especially if you have had a long association with Ladakh. In a way, such a feeling is good since one gets submerged in the magic slowly and gradually. By the end of the day, one realises that while this area may be a poorer cousin of present day Ladakh, it is distinct and has a charm of its own. Laterals leading to the valleys on either side of the main road open up vistas that are unique and fascinating. This time, however, we had no time for ventures beyond the visible; we were, after all, just zipping through!

Nako is more or less a natural stop after a climb of more than an hour from Khab. The approach road into the settlement, however, is a bit narrow for two biggish vehicles to cross. Traffic, however, is minimal and while an ongoing repair work of a house did create a bottleneck, forcing us to reverse a few hundred metres to give pass to a tractor trolley coming from opposite direction, the village per se also has parking issues except a couple of points. Monastery has adequate parking as also a few guest houses next to the lake.

Post its renovation, the Monastery looks bigger; new buildings in the complex have added to the impression of the erstwhile prayer hole

Prayers ride the Wind Horses

The Holy Smoke....grows in plenty, esp close to water bodies like nallahs and rivers

For the records!

Once you have grown up in Ladakh, this ritual comes naturally to you
At the face of it, Nako has upgraded itself from a sleepy village to a business savvy one. New guest houses are coming up and there are many already up and running. Compare this with previous decade and a lot has changed. We decided to take left from the 'crossing' in the middle of the village and drove on a narrow pavement that led to the govt guesthouse to the North of the lake. There is a small parking for three or four cars outside the gate of the building and one has to climb down a bit to see the lake in its entirety and yet it is uncrowded, peaceful and gives a better view of the lake. On the opposite side, ie if you come from Monastery's side, you are at level with the lake but here, you look at the lake from a higher vantage and the overall vista becomes beautiful with snow clad peaks in the background.

Nako done, we were now on our way to say Mr Maling and possibly ask him why had he played villains to so many of us on so many occasions, ie, before it was tamed (a bit) through re-alignment of the road.

Compliments to BRO for giving us a thing of beauty in such a terrain

Nako onwards, road remained good for quite a while. The old alignment of Maling is now out for the travellers. As we spiral up, road gets narrow and unpaved, esp around the temple that stands watching Maling. Army convoy met us head-on but Mandir bend gave us adequate space to stand and wait. On top, Maling is seen as a dry nallah in the present dry season, a far cry from its monstrous form when snow melt and rains create dangerous cocktail on its bed. At the top-most part, the road is actually very narrow and soldiers control the crossing since the width is good enough for one single vehicle only. Some pebbles were hitting the road in the wake of convoy but as said to the fore, such happenstances are best ignored.

Descent from Maling to Valley floor

A bit of moonscape


The stretch from Nako to Sumdo is landslide prone at many places but weather had been good and rains had not caught up with us yet. Once you start driving along the river, going becomes easy for a few Kms before unstable patches give you company right till Sumdo bridge where you register once again. The data between this check post and the one at Akpa is tallied at the end of the day to ensure that all is well. But actually, anyone halting at Nako without informing either of the checkposts (depending on direction of travel) can cause undue alarms. It would be better to let them know what you have in mind for the stretch ahead.

Sumdo had been hit by hit by cloud bursts some 10 odd years back but the place has regained its shape and size. But that portion is with Army and is on top of the check post. There is a small canteen run by BRO at Sumdo Check post. In addition to functional washrooms (a big thing for many), the small kitchen offers hot jalebis and well-filled samosas (and both yummy!). Wind blows strong and hard through out the day and it would be better to sit inside the unkempt room where some chairs and a couple of tables have been placed for convenience sans glamour and style. After a long, lonely drive, it was a welcome break to relieve, to refill and to stretch a bit.

Sumdo Wet Canteen

The run (and the fun) continues!
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