A Zip Through HP- Spiti-Parashar Lake-Bi


Aj Raina
Thanks friends for your likes!

The drive after Sumdo was pretty picturesque with brown sugar slopes culminating into crystal clear icy waters. Spiti River kept on becoming shallower as we moved on, both due to river bed opening up and our move along its upstream direction. At one point, we saw two SUVs parked in the river bed but dangerously close to water where folks had pitched tents. Caution is a virtue of adventure seekers but many of us tend to take things granted. Water level in snow-fed rivers and streams is neither consistent nor predictable. And then there are events- very short and quick like a flash flood or a cloud burst- that may create a havoc without any warning. Having grown up and lived in mountains, one has seen incidents where an innocent looking stream turned a monster in no time with sun bathing picnickers just able to move aside, losing some assets in the process. Camping, esp, must be at a higher/safer place....just an advice from a greyhead!

The Valley opens up as we travel West

Muddh is the favourite destination these days and even though we gave a lift to a couple till Muddh Bridge, we had no time to spend a night there. Tabo, for the reasons not known, appears frozen in a time wrap and thankfully so. While local shops and some guesthouses have been added over the years, the place has no market that is typical of hill stations. And actually, it is not a bad thing! A camp site, next to the road itself, greeted us at Shego, about 10 Kms short of Kaza. The place looked nice and cozy, esp when there was hardly any traffic on the road. We, by that time, had moved into the network zone and a room had been waiting for us at the Circuit House at Kaza. So, we pushed on!

The circuit house at Kaza is the first thing that greets you as you touch the township and is about half a km short of the bus stand-cum-main market. That area is actually called Kaza Khaas. A nice building with local staff less the main caretaker who was from Simla. And then came the news - some high powered delegation had moved in and all rooms had been blocked for them. We were given an option to move to another guest house (PWD) somewhere in Old Kaza but we decided to try our luck in the town. The first noticeable property as we touched the town, Zostel Spiti (rooms and tents) was all booked and so were many others around the periphery of the town.

Once sleepy and not too active a village, Kaza is a sprawling township now. We found a big parking enclosure inside the market and on checking up, got a room for 900. With hot water, clean sheets and an antique TV, it was a good bargain, esp so since Pearlie would be parked in front of the property. But the room had to be vacated the next morning since it had been booked. The owner, however, promised to arrange a similar room in the guesthouse next door. We checked in, freshened up a bit and went to the market for some grub since we had not had any meal since breakfast. Himalayan Cafe was full and packed but since they have seating options indoors as well as outdoors, we managed to find a table outside. It was getting windy and nip had suddenly come in. We had some really well made snacks and decided to take a walk to some other place for a cup of coffee. Sol Cafe was packed as well and finally, we found a small cafe in the corner of the main market complex. A youngster from Delhi had leased it and had started the bakery-cum-cafe a couple of days back. His staff was competent but he appeared to be struggling with the menu. Coffee and chocolate desserts, however, were pretty well made (this cafe is next to a small jewelry shop and close to the showroom selling adventure clothing and accessories in the new complex)

As we walked around, we realised the stress that was building up on the resources there. Bus and taxi loads of tourists and travellers had begun to descend as the Sun went down. Apparently, there was a change in the demand-supply equation and there were not enough rooms left for everyone. As we sat munching eats at the cafe (pic below), a cousin of the lease owner came around, distributing leaflets for a live music evening at his (leased) restaurant a short distance away. Plan for the dinner was, thus, frozen then and there but with enough time at hand, we walked around and covered whole of Kaza town before heading back to our guesthouse.

Post some rest and calls to folks back home, we wandered off to the restaurant at the first floor in the far corner of the main market (sorry, I am forgetting the name). It turned out to be a spacious, clean and new property. With both chairs and ground seating options available, we chose the ground one. The power went off suddenly while guys were trying to fix music system. It turned out that the guy distributing the leaflets a little while earlier, was a singer-composer-event manager and was now running the place on lease.

Candle light....by default or by design!

Singer, Saurabh, was from Delhi and he sang some really nice Hindi songs

The service was slow and atmosphere was laid-back kind. But it was nice and cool. Our pizza took a long to arrive even though all other items on the order had been served and consumed. And then finally the pizza arrived with the input that the one made earlier for us, had fallen off the plate and they had to cook a fresh one! Rates were OK but I protested when he billed us 30 bucks for a bottle of the water. When asked about MRP concept, he claimed to have bought the bottle for 25 Rupees even though, as we all know, the wholesale price of such bottles is about Rs 10. We came down, saw an open grocery store and bought two bottles for the night. We were charged Rs 20 (MRP) by the shopkeeper!

In a bid to cater for increasing rush, Kaza has expanded beyond Spiti River. Rangrik and 'New Kaza' are hugging each other and the best or the most expensive property, Hotel Grand Dewachen Earth Retreat, is actually across the river.

The line at the only (and govt run) gas station was long. Service by the lone guy from Keylong, was slow and then some unruly behaviour of the local taxi and govt drivers only made the things worse. Had to finally step out and Czia actually stood in front of a taxi to block it from jumping the queue. The ceiling for the diesel sale was Rs 1000/- that would see us through all the way to Manali in addition to local sight seeing and a detour to Chandertal.

Key Monastery overlooks Key Village and is half way through to Kibber
The first stop for the day was to be the famous gompa at Key. We did it at a leisure and over a couple of hours till the time our stomachs began to churn. The cafe is reasonably OK and gompa is like any other monastery but offers great views around. Lot of construction work inside the complex was on during that time in June. Views from the Monastery...

After a chilled out time there at Key, we drove up another five Kms to Kibber. Enroute, we met a lady from Kullu. She owns/runs a guesthouse at Kibber and was taking her guests to the hospital at Kaza since those guys had fallen prey to AMS.

Kibber....who would believe that the small hamlet that could only offer its guest just a cup of home made tea till a few years back, is now a busy village. Touted to be the highest blah blah, it has as many guesthouses as the houses (at least that is what it appears to a casual eye).

Soldiers always get tested when going gets tough....this is 14,200 ft and someone wants a ride till the car just for fun; daughters are always feather light though!


Enjoying a bird's eye view

I am a mango crazy soul. We had picked up some really good ones somewhere near Rampur and the fruit had been waiting patiently. Peaches, just because of ease of eating, had already been polished off while driving. A small tributary of Spiti River looked too inviting and we took a break. Mangoes almost froze in the water in no time and then we took the numbed ones without any mercy!

The task of collecting fragrant leaves from across the stream was assigned to a member of the team as two others sat devouring the unsuspecting king of fruits!

Next to the SBI ATM at Kaza, there is a small office of a travel agent who coordinates tent accommodation at Chandertal. The last evening, we had no idea as to how things would go today and, thus, even though our guesthouse owner had offered us a booking at Chandertal, we had not taken the call. As we sat down on the banks of a cold, icy but beautiful stream, we had two options in front of us - go back to Kaza and explore Muddh or Tabo or any other place around OR try our luck and aim to hit Chandertal. It was noon time already and even though we were a bit late, we took the turn and crossed the bridge at Rangrik to sweep across the valley on our way to Chandertal. Implications of a late start and of not taking the call last evening were yet to unfold. The only debate in my mind at that very moment was whether we could have tried Kibber-Chicham-Dumley route to hit the main Kaza-Kunzum La road near Kiato! It was, however, just a silent thought and with time running out, we pressed on!


to travel is to live
The only debate in my mind at that very moment was whether we could have tried Kibber-Chicham-Dumley route to hit the main Kaza-Kunzum La road near Kiato! It was, however, just a silent thought and with time running out, we pressed on!
Wonderfully going sir.

As you mentioned, Kibber-Chicham-Dumley route, just curious to know if the bridge is operational for motor vehicles ? I am not able to find any news on the internet about it apart from this.


Aj Raina
Wonderfully going sir.

As you mentioned, Kibber-Chicham-Dumley route, just curious to know if the bridge is operational for motor vehicles ? I am not able to find any news on the internet about it apart from this.
Hi Thanks.
There is a suspension bridge over the river on that route and we were told that that was enough for bikes. The water level at that time, esp during morning hours, was very low. A ford, i believe, is there in the river bed and while the local has assured us that Safari would go across easily, I can't vouch for the same since we didn't really try that.


Aj Raina
It was well past noon when we crossed the bridge over Spiti near Rangrik. The area across the bridge, as mentioned earlier, is expanding and getting filled up with new constructions. In the present state of affairs, Kaza is not able to handle the rush - not at least the kind of rush that we witnessed there. The natural equation of demand and supply is obviously at play and so the expansion.

Initial drive, though on a gravelled track, was fine with a flat gradient in the valley across Spiti River. We had no destination in mind but with the kind of time available in terms of daylight hours and also since we had saved a day overall, we decided to run for Chandertal. The drive was more or less lonely with countable vehicles on the road. Even upcoming traffic from the other side was not significant. All indications, thus, for availability of tents at Chandertal. Road after Hal Village began to climb and started becoming more winding.

Some more moonscape (between Hal and Pangmo)

Slowly and steadily, road started getting a bit narrower, more rough and switchbacks started to appear. But given the past history of the road, it was OK. As we started to climb into Kunzum La, big chunks of ice started showing up along the road. Time to get down and do a 'touch-see' by Czia...

We were to come across more such ice-packs on the other side of the pass. A halt at the pass saw us paying obeisance at the temple, visiting the washrooms and filling up our bottles from the ever-flowing pipes bringing water from ice melt somewhere up in the mountains.

Kunzum La shows another beautiful facet of our belief system. Kunzum being the presiding deity of the pass, is a Buddhist Goddess. However, the suffix of 'Mata' aligns it with Hinduism because of the way deities are referred to in latter. Travellers, however, seldom care for such nuances and tend to take things at the face value. After all, beauty of the place is something that makes everything else take a back seat. Windy and nippy and yet friendly, it is a beautiful pass!

About five Kms down the road towards Batal, we turned right to take the road (gravel track in fact) to Chandertal that lay about 5 Kms away. Well, the surface was OK but road too narrow to give pass to other cars and, at places, even loaded bikes. After about a Km from the turn off, we came across a small jam over a nullah where a car had got stuck. The driver, in order to be on a safer side, had steered over an unseen boulder under the water, resulting in a jack up situation. With front wheel driven vehicle's front tyres helplessly rotating, situation looked grim, especially so when the ice cold water had steadily been increasing because of ambient heat.Took a while for the jam to clear up and Pearlie got the first opportunity to get clicked!!

Time was now running out but one had to stop every hundred yards to give way to oncoming traffic. One biker told us about non-availability of accommodation at Chandertal base camp. Same was confirmed by a foreigner biker but reason given was exorbitant costs being asked due to rush. Having covered half the distance and with not many points spacious enough to turn around, we pushed on. Chandra River down below looked more aggressive and well fed as compared with Spiti River.

The first camp on the left of the road was packed and so were the others ahead. Our only hope lay in the larger camp area across the nullah that divides Camping area into two, short of the final ascent to the lake on top. As we moved across the last camp and got into the curve that leads into the nullah, we came face to face with a bigger and more nasty jam. So much so that even bikes were stuck on the either side. With sun already running towards the crest line, time looked precious. But we were stuck with vehicles in front, to our rear and even on to our sides!

We stood waiting, waiting for the jam to clear but that never happened. With ground under our feet resting almost 14,000 ASL, we didn't want to spend the night in the car. Fuel (with 1000 INR ceiling at Kaza) was not enough to keep the engine running throughout the night and then take us to Gramphoo and beyond. A few more vehicles had passengers like us who had no booking and suddenly, such population started to swell. Decision was taken to get out back to Kaza-Gramphoo 'Highway'! But we were stuck.

There were, however, a few sensible souls around. A car that blocked the entry into a small space that could have allowed us to turn around, was found to be unlocked, with a AMS victim inside and keys in the ignition. That was a silver lining and about 20 minutes later, we were on our way out of the conundrum that had prevailed over possibility of getting a tent for past few hours.

There was a minimal traffic but the problem was while people getting out of Chandertal would be conscious of narrowness of the road, incoming first timers were blissfully unaware of the predicament that waited cars every few yards. Also, the incoming guys would be towards the river and the cliff and fear forced them to keep the safe margin, thereby, reducing the space even wherever it was available. As we reached the first nullah that had made us wait on our way in, we found a few cars parked across the nullah and road blocked again. But the reason was different this time. A group of cars, led by a XUV with two big stickers reading Mission Ladakh and Mission Spiti and a Boxer inside the car, had halted there to click the pics. I got down, walked up to the edge of the water and literally shouted over the noise of the water to put some sense into their heads. But they were too many and too clueless. Wasted 10 odd minutes in making them understand that while photography was good, road clearance was more important!

Once back on the 'main' highway, going got easier with absolutely no traffic and lot of ice on turns between Batal and turn off. While it appeared to be quite late in the evening, the clock showed 1700h or so. It was still daylight when we reached Batal. A resthouse was the latest addition and dhabas have also multiplied from erstwhile lonely one. It appeared to be too early to call it a day and with ambien light almost guaranteed for at least two hours, we decided to carry on. The stretch ahead has been notorious for long and we didn't expect much either.

Ice melt throughout the day meant more water on the road. There were stretches where nullahs, descending from top, had simply decided to take the easier route by flowing on the road itself. There were gushing crossings and there were stream covered stretches running for a few hundred metres at places. Two SUVs crossed us from other side, thereby, giving us the confidence that water crossings were still negotiable. In a worst case scenario, I had planned to wait out for water to reduce before crossing a point that might have become nasty. With such a contingency plan in mind, Pearlie moved on.

Water levels keep increasing after noon right till short of midnight when levels start going down due to ice-melt pattern related to sun

Driving on this stretch, as is well known, involves driving through water logged patches, crossing streams and driving in the river bed. We did go through the matrix and took one single break as sunlight left the valley floor. We were about 18 Kms short of Chattru and reality of driving in dark became stark. A few quick pics, some recycling of water and a bit of stretching later, we moved on still undecided as to where would we stay in the night!

Chattru was crossed in dark. The tents were alive with passengers who had decided to take a halt on their way to Kaza and rightfully so. We were probably 20 or 30 Kms away from Manali, as my geographical orientation would tell me at that point, but that distance was the aerial one with mighty Pir Panjal standing in between. The road distance was about 100 Kms or so.

The going beyond Chattru became difficult and water became an issue. Nullahs had become very aggressive and one had to take stock on every bend before fording into water channels that looked ominous and obnoxious at the same time. Just short of Gramphoo, we crossed a group of bikers who had a car in the tow. We had crossed them near Rangrik earlier in the day. Given the water on the road, going would have been more tough for bikers!

At Gramphoo, a surprise awaited us. The road was freshly laid, black topped and empty. It remained so though traffic kept on increasing as we climbed up. A few Kms short of pass, road became slushy because of the ongoing widening work. But it was a far cry from olden times when it used to be hell on either side, from Gramphoo to Marhi.

As we approached the pass, again road became fantastic and even though ice walls welcomed us, the going became pretty good. Surprisingly, traffic from Manali side was considerable even though not too much. Czia had gone off to sleep short of Gramphoo and was still asleep when she was woken up to see the dreamy sequence of driving rough ice walls. Walls were not too high but night time had a magic of its own and we took the scene in at leisure but without stopping!

We must have crossed Rohtang around 2200h or so. Down below, we crossed the HP Police check post that regulates the upward traffic. Obviously, kindness was being shown to many since numbers of bikes and cars going up was reasonably high at that time of the night. We descended into Kothi and drove into the very first eating joint that we found. The place had rooms too but all rooms had been taken. As we sat waiting for the dinner, I saw lights being switched off one by one in another place just across and ahead. Instinctively, I rushed and came back with relief and smile on my face. My dash had ensured we would have a roof on our head for whatever was left of the night. Had dinner, checked in and found the room too well kept, comfortable, stylish and hygienic!

It was a long day and gracefully, it had ended well though nowhere close to a place where we had intended it to! One must be thankful for His mercies and we certainly were as we hit the sack and drifted into dreamless sleep!


Aj Raina
A bright sun greeted us in the morning. Though it was rising and ascending out of our sight, the slopes visible from the window announced the arrival of the brightest object of our solar system with pomp and show. We had got up late after a long previous day.

The other window opened towards Manali though it lay hidden from the view. In the middle of the night, we had taken the only room available and in the basement of the hotel but morning threw open the beauty of the vistas around. Actually, the hotel rooms have been built on a slope with top storey just about touching the road and with a cafe to begin with. A total of six rooms make this property and our room, if that was a sample, was spacious, beautifully done up and pretty aesthetic.

Breakfast of stuffed paranthas and usual accompaniment was served in the room. Taste might not have been the best in the world but service was full of courtesies and stuff pipping hot. Yes, this was where we stayed at Kothi...

Traffic was heavy and roads were getting loaded by the time we hit the road, about 1000h. At Solang Valley turn off, we went right to visit one point that we had missed out the last time around. There is a beautiful Shivalingam under a waterfall ahead of the project area next to the parking. ATBs and horses are the two options but we took the third option - own legs! Takes less than half an hour at a leisurely pace.

Typical Solang Valley terrain

Showers from a falling water stream during summers; frozen during winters

Just before Monsoons, shower is not very strong and most of waterlets tend to fly off in the perpetual breeze but then suddenly water catches you unaware and makes you wet

We had been lucky to find a place to park in the newly opened unmetalled parking area right at the roadhead at Solang. Getting out, however, was a nightmare. By the time we hit the NH, it was choked and traffic had been crawling. We left the NH at Palchan and crossed the bridge towards Upper Manali area. We had spent some great time in one of the home-stays during one of our earlier visits that side and we drove by the property with minimal traffic. However, short of Manali Club House, traffic was simply awful. Took an hour to cover last 500m before finding a place to park on Hadimba Road. While ma n beti did some shopping, I sat on the footsteps of the shop, freshening my eyes!

We have one Evergreen Cafe in Kasol (probably one of the best food joints there) and seeing this one on the edge of Manal River, we sat down for a quick grub. Good food, it turned out to be!

By the time we finished our meal, it was about three in the afternoon. Passing through Manali was aweful and so slow that I gave up on any plans. There had been no room available in the town and as we crossed over towards Naggar side, we could see tourists stranded and hunting for rooms/accommodation. All of India seemed to have descended on the town on that weekend. Stone-pelters of Kashmir had been the actual culprits and many people suffered the consequences so far away from Kashmir.

It was about sunset time when we crossed Bhuntar. It has taken us more than three hours to reach there. We were now within striking distance of Prashar Lake (our own cottage at Kasol lay closer though but we were headed towards Jammu) and we decided to take our chances. Prashar lake has two resthouses (PWD and Forest) and even temple has enough rooms. A camp, we had heard, had also come up in vicinity. In a less frequented area, so many options gave us great hopes. We left Kullu-Mandi HW at Bajaura and turned right towards Mandi (alternate route).

It was dark by the time we reached Prashar turn off. Kataula, slightly ahead, has a couple of guesthouses and Prashar was still 25 odd Kms away. That stretch had been bad in the past and a thought of taking easier option of driving a few Kms to the nearest guesthouse did cross our minds for a while but just for a while! Having taken left towards Prashar, we came across many cars coming back from the opposite direction. Most of the cars had PB and JK plates and our antennae began to rise in anticipation of another rough night.

We waved one car and checked on accommodation and road status. Report about the road was good but accommodation uncertain. Road was pretty good though narrow and winding till a point about five Kms short of the lake. Road work is going on there and hopefully, it would be completed by this year end or before that. It was very dark and probably past nine when we hit a small parking lot where a few cars stood parked but with no one around. Two boards pointed towards two resthouses on either side of the road. Suddenly, we saw a bike coming from the opposite direction. Waved him down and two guys on the bike confirmed our apprehensions. Both the RHs as well as temple rooms were booked for next three days. When I asked them about the new camp, the pillion rider smiled and said that he was the owner of the camp but against a capacity of 25-30, he already had about a 100 guests in the camp. Obviously, there was no room available.

Being at a safer altitude, we discussed the option of roughing it out in his camp. Seeing the lady and the child, he advised me to go to the camp and look for David and then convey his message to him. Because of poor network, David was out of reach since mobiles worked at only one point at the camp. He wanted me to tell David to go to that point and speak to him. He assured me that something would be arranged even if it amounted to sleeping in the hut where the staff slept. Beggars can't be choosers and we thanked him before moving on. His last words were about the bad road ahead.

Road was OK though and about fifteen minutes later, we drove into the camp. It was overflowing and as we stood talking to David, one Fortuner, full of passengers, also drove in. David, however, assured us of a tent if we could wait even though we were now mentally prepared to sleep in the car. Some kids from APS, Udhampur and staff and a few groups from Haryana had been sitting around the camp fire and having a good time. We also joined in.

David signalled me to follow me and once beyond the line of tents, he told me that he had been able to manage two tents for us. With a family still waiting in the wings, I told him we would be OK in one tent and he could give the other tent to others. Rajmash and rice were cooked twice as David left to bring in some more tents. Hats off to that guy! He is an efficient manager. We had some rice and rajmash (not too well cooked though but understandably so!) while he was away. We had just curled up in our sleeping bags when he came knocking, offering us the food. I thanked him and drifted into the sleep.

Having slept in open and on numerous occasions, it was a luxury for me. Even for my better half, it was OK since she has had many such outings. For Czia, it was the first time in a pup tent without lights and in a forest and she loved it.

With only one makeshift hole as a loo, it would have been tough the next morning. Habit of rising early came to my rescue as I finished my chores as others snored around us. But as the dawn broke, beauty of the place came to the fore. The camp is set (no fixed lines or areas; just tents here and there) in a small bowl that is surrounded by tall trees and raised grounds on three sides. Deepika decided to walk up the nearest hill as I waited for Czia to get moving.

This is the kitchen and the long blue shelter beyond it is the living area of the staff; we were to share that as per the initial plan

From Deepika's vantage point

A lady opted to sleep in the Endeavor rather than the tent....comfort zones handicap us

David had been a messiah for many the previous night. He was half asleep when I asked him for the bill. Rs 500 per head......some appreciation and that was it for a good night's sleep under hopeless circumstances. We drove back towards the lake and realised how fortunate we had been the previous night. Many guys were sleeping next to their cars and on the road itself. Prashar had been raided for a change! A few guys had pitched tents below the road and one could see how irresponsible they had been.....all such points looked littered and dirty in an otherwise serene setting.

Parked our car and walked up and then down to the lake.....beautiful!

The island in the middle is not fixed and keeps moving though not really discernibly so

Orthodox Kath construction

Lake is out of bounds. A bucketful of water is kept next to this gate to enable devotees and visitors to sprinkle lake water on themselves or take it as a holy gulp

Base is stone construction....a variant of Kath-Kuni construction

A walk around the perimeter is worth it

Morning sky was a bit overcast and whole setting looked great

Contact address of Temple Committee Pradhan for those who want to book in advance

By nine, we were on the road again. What had been missed during the night, was now seen and absorbed! Our next stop would be at Jhatingri before we descend into Mandi-Pathankot HW at Ghatasani. Jhatingri is a small settlement from where another road descends into Barot. Aim was to drive up to a small village called Dev Dhar that is three KMs above Jhatingri. The track is unmetalled and just fit for one way traffic but there is hardly any traffic on that stretch. We are exploring an option to set up a small joint in the area around and between Dev Dhar and Fulari Dhar ahead. I have been to this area on three occasions over past nine odd months and have fallen in love with it!

Potatoes and Pea grow in plenty; snow clad mountains watch from distance

Nature has so much to give us....wild berries!

This is how potatoes grow in a fertile soil....Pahari Aloo!

We spent some time on top before returning to have a cup of tea at Green Himalayas Cafe at Jhatingri. It was time for lunch but we decided to move on but were still not sure about the destination for the night! A call to a known hotelier at Mclodganj told us about 4Kms long jam ahead of Dharamshala. We had a day to spare and wanted to take a break somewhere along the way home. Another call to a retired Colonel at Bir (Colonel's Resort) and we were offered the only available room for the day. We were some distance away but now more relaxed with roof over the head assured for the night as the rain started to pour!