Living my Himalayan Road trip dream - Pune-Spiti-Pune circuit


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Dear All,

I had recently been on a road trip to Spiti circuit. Drove from Pune to Shimla, Narkanda, Sarhan, Sangla, Chitkul, Kalpa, Tabo, Kaza, Hikkim, Komic, Lagnza, Chandratal, Manali and back to Pune. Journey spread across 6 states and around 5000 kms. Loads of memories and captures to share with like minded friends here..

Here is the glimpse of what I witnessed! A detailed travelogue is on its way!! Keep the feedback flowing..



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I heard a loud whistle and that brought me back to my senses! A police constable was looking up high at the pile of boulders and debris on the right hand side of the so-called ‘road’. Once he was confident that no fresh shooting stones were in sight and it was safe for a single vehicle to cross the freshly cleared landslide at Jeori (Beyond Rampur) on NH-5, he was waving his hand to the driver to proceed further. And yes, now it was my turn!!

We took a detour to Sarahan on the previous day due to NH-5 blockage (thanks to this landslide), and waited patiently in Hotel Srikhand of HPTDC for the authorities / BRO to clear the road. However, it was drizzling the entire night and that scared hell out of me. Although we got an update that the authorities had started allowing intermittent traffic on the previous evening itself, I was not sure if that continuous overnight rain had triggered another fresh landslide to add up to the challenge! Also, this would definitely result in slush and might end up in wheelspin on the freshly cleaned area around the landslide!! I was just thinking to myself if we made the right decision to attempt the spiti circuit in early September in spite of fresh landslides in July, August which claimed more than 10 lives.

It all started cooking up just a couple of months back, while everyone was stranded and enjoying stints of ‘Work from home’ due to Covid restrictions. I always wanted to drive to Leh-Ladakh in my own vehicle. But so far all that I had managed was driving to Goa or my native place from Pune, which was around 400 kms. So, planning a road trip of around 5500 kms, drive through almost 6 states, manage RT-PCR reports (within 72 hrs from sample collection) was definitely going to be a challenge at each state border crossing. And then I realized that driving to Leh with a RT-PCR report of a test conducted in Pune, was of no use since it was practically difficult to enter Leh in 72-96 hrs. I was not in favor of getting the test done again somewhere around Delhi, just for the sake of it. So, finally I decided to explore the Spiti circuit since it was relatively possible to enter Himachal within 72 hrs. My elder brother and one of his friends were flexible enough to understand and adapt the flexibility needed for this road trip and hence decided to join me. Not only our families but we ourselves were also very skeptical about the exact start date since the recent news and videos of July - August landslides on Spiti route were very disturbing. We decided to postpone our planned start date from Mid August to early September to minimize the associated risks.

In terms of planning, we did plan for most possible scenarios, including getting stuck on the road due to a landslide :) A drinking water jar of 20 ltr, ready to cook maggi, pohe, upma and coffee sachets, 1 ltr thermos flask with boiling water to assist such 3 minute cooking, were some of the items included in our luggage beyond regular checklist items for such a long road trip.

Day 1: It's time to taste the water!
We managed to start our journey at 5 am from Thane. It was raining heavily and we had no other option but to keep driving through it with the hope that the rains would subside in the next couple of hours. After some heavy traffic on Ghodbunder road, we managed to cross Vasai, Virar amidst all heavy vehicles occupying every possible lane of the highway. It did stop raining and road quality was relatively good once we entered Gujarat. We took a quick breakfast break in Hotel Apical at around 8 am. And we were back on the road by 8:40 or so.


As per the research made around the route, I was keen on taking Vapi - Surat (bypass) - Bharuch - Vadodara - Halol - Godhra - Modasa - Shamlaji - Udaipur route and take a night halt around Udaipur. Fortunately Google maps also showed the same route as per the latest traffic conditions. Godhra bypass was a 4 lane road with good quality of tarmac laid on it. We stopped for lunch at ‘Palate Restaurant’ in Modasa at around 3 pm. This restaurant was on the first floor and was a clean, decent place.


We topped up our diesel tank and moved towards Udaipur. We were soon on a 6 lane smooth highway and driving on it was a sheer pleasure. Since Udaipur was just around 100 kms from there, I was planning to cross it and find a decent place on the highway itself for night halt. Accordingly, we crossed, rather bypassed Udaipur and continued till Nathdwara to reach there by 7 pm. We covered around 786 kms on the first day, which was kind of beating my own record ;-). We stayed in hotel Rajmahal on the highway, which was a decent place for a night halt. The only issue we faced was unavailability of hot water for bath in spite of promising it while paying the booking amount. The hotel has a dedicated and secured parking place, which was a main deciding factor in its favor. There was a vegetarian restaurant in the next premises, where we took our dinner and decided to call it a day.

View from our hotel room at Nathdwara
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Day 2: Just keep driving! Just keep driving!!

Next morning, we woke up at 4:30 am and after finishing our morning chores, we were back on the road by 5:30. Now the road quality was strictly average. Not only that all restaurants along the highway had the same structure, they even had perhaps used the same color and font for putting up the restaurant name board! We stopped at one such anonymous restaurant at 8:10 am. After trying alu paratha, medu wada, we resumed our journey towards Jaipur.


The plan was to take Udaipur - Rajsamand - Beawar - Ajmer (bypass) - Jaipur (bypass) - Panipat route and take night halt around Panipat. But since we had started early and had a heavy breakfast, we decided to delay the lunch break and continue as much as possible to see if we can go beyond Panipat. After crossing Beawar, Ajmer, Kishangarh we bypassed Jaipur and continued towards Gurugram Bypass. If I am not wrong, we were somewhere on Delhi - Ajmer highway in the afternoon, when Google maps showed Red status on the road ahead. Initially I thought that there might have been some accident which might have caused this traffic jam. But when we reached closer, I saw a huge queue of trucks ahead of us. All track drivers were standing on the road and were casually talking to each other. That made me realize that this was something serious and unless addressed immediately, we might end up spending more than a couple of hours in the same queue. We had just crossed a flyover and I saw that all light vehicles were not following me, which made me curious. So we decided to go back a few meters and inspect a bit if there was any alternative route. There were no cars behind us on that highway. So, it was quite surprising as well. While we took a u-turn, we saw cars gathering on the horizon around the road divider on that bridge. We decided to head back to that point and decide further. When we reached there, we realized that the cars were crossing the divider to go on to the other side of the bridge. Since there was absolutely no visible way of traffic moving in the next couple of hours, the only option we were left with was to follow all other cars by crossing to the other side. Being in an SUV, it was relatively easy to hop on the hump and get to the other side. Many Wagon-R and Honda city drivers were applying different techniques to avoid brushing underbellies on that hump. After getting down from the bridge, there was an immediate exit for the service road. All cars were taking this service road and moving ahead in parallel to the original highway route. And then we realized that the queue of trucks was more than a couple of kilometers and it was mainly the result of road blockage specific to farmers’ protest on the highway. No surprise why the traffic was not moving! We continued for a few minutes on the service road and then reached a junction where the police constables diverted us onto the central lanes of the same highway, going towards Delhi. Fortunately, due to this alternative, we just lost 30 minutes or so. Had it been a regular route, I am still not sure when those trucks would move an inch further :-(

Soon we were nearing Western Peripheral highway which bypasses Gurugram and Delhi to take us to Sonipat, our originally planned destination for the day. And this was where Google map deceived us! Somewhere near the ramp to this highway, it showed a road on the slight left which apparently connected to the same highway after a couple of meters. We thought of asking someone about the right choice but there was no soul on the road to guide us. So, we just thought we would continue as per Google map direction since even this route was heading left, in the overall direction of the highway toward Sonipat. After spending some 20-25 minutes on a single lane road, we ended up near the porch of a bungalow, which was kind of a dead end! I am sure it was our navigation mistake rather than Google. So, we decided to trace back the same route till the ramp we missed. After getting on the ramp, we reached the small toll booth where the lady confirmed the route and handed us a receipt for the journey onwards.

Now this was one terrific six lane highway with a speed limit of 120 kmph. It had started drizzling and the weather was just awesome. I continued on it for some 40-45 minutes when we reached the exit towards Sonipat. Since we still had a couple of hours left, we decided to continue our journey through Sonipat, Panipat. Soon we were near Karnal, where we decided to take a snack break. There were dhaba’s all along the highway and surprisingly all posh dhabas had at least 30-40 odd cars in parking even at that time of the day. It must have been around 5 pm when we took a break and enjoyed another round of alu paratha and sandwich.

From Karnal, we moved towards Kurukshetra. After the initial few kilometers, after crossing Kurukshetra, this road was in a really bad state. There were many flyovers being built on it and at each such place, traffic is diverted onto the service road to mess up the situation. Soon we were nearing Ambala but it was almost dusk. We saw on a map that Chandigarh / Panchkula was not that far from there. So instead of breaking in between, we decided to head towards Panchkula instead of Chandigarh. This would have helped us to give us a good head start towards Shimla early next morning. Soon it was dark and Google decided to play another mischief. I don't recollect the exact location but there were multiple ramps to flyovers towards Panchkula and it looks like we missed the right one. Immediately, without any considerations, Google rerouted us through Zirakpur which appeared to be the next best route towards Panchkula. We continued for another hour or so and soon reached a spot where the traffic was at stand still. There was a flyover and a service road at that junction and vehicles had jam packed all routes from all directions. After being stuck for more than 30-40 minutes there, we decided to take a pause to review our course of reaching Panchkula.

And now there was another twist in the tale. While I tried to set Google maps again to review road and traffic conditions ahead, I chose the location as Kaza itself. And to my surprise, the route shown now was taking us through Chandigarh, Manali, Losar onwards to finally reach Kaza. That was just insane!! Till a few minutes back, everything was looking great and now all of a sudden this change bumped onto us catching us off guard! Something must have happened, but I was not sure what it was. And while we were stuck in traffic, it was impossible to investigate further. The only thing I could think of, was to call up my mentor in Mumbai, let him know about this situation and ask if he could find any inputs. Accordingly, I called him and gave him pointers about the current situation. He promised to look into it and get back to me.

It was almost 8:30 pm and there was no point in reaching Panchkula at night and search for a decent hotel for the night. Fortunately, right on that spot (next to Decathlon) there was a mall on the service road on the left and we could see a series of restaurants including KFC, McDonalds and Starbucks. We decided to break out of that traffic and wait there for a few minutes. After requesting fellow cars on our left, we managed to cut out of that traffic and parked our car within the mall campus, bang next to KFC.

While we were waiting for our veg zingers to be served, I tried my luck with Google maps again. This time, it showed me a roadblock just before Shimla. But it was also showing an alternative route to Shimla and beyond. Meanwhile, my mentor called back but he was also not able to identify anything specific during his online search. We were really confused around the next course of action. While I selected Kaza, it still showed me the Chandigarh, Manali route. But now it showed me blockage on NH-5 and perhaps that was something forcing google to recommend the Manali route. I just thought over it for a while. Instead of reaching Chandigarh in a hurry in the middle of the night, we decided to spend that night in Zirakpur itself and then review the situation early next morning for a final decision. Google had tricked us twice on that day so we were not in favor of trying our luck for one more time on the same day ;-) By now, we had already covered 873 kms in a day.

The security guard of KFC was well aware of the locality and asked us to cross the next two signals to reach a series of hotels good enough for the night stay. By now, we had been waiting there for an hour and then we saw a few police constables coming forward to manage the traffic mess. They certainly helped to channelize the traffic and by the time we were out of KFC, the traffic was easy on us. In the next few minutes, we landed in a decent hotel (Hotel Silver Plaza) and in a road-facing room from which we could monitor our car parked on the Service road side. After a quick shower, we decided to call it a day.
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Day 3: Soaking our bodies and souls in clouds and greenery

Now our bodies were getting used to waking up and starting the journey early in the day. We woke up at 4:30 am as usual. The first thing which I checked was Google Maps :-D. The route to Kaza was still being shown via Manali but when checked for Narkanda, it was showing no blockage around Shimla. So we decided to try our luck and started on route towards Narkanda via Shimla. After an hour or so we were on Himalayan Expressway. After entering Himachal Pradesh we paid a toll tax on one check post and continued our journey towards Shimla. We were on a well maintained 4 lane tarmac road and continuously gaining altitude. We took the Solan by-pass and continued to Shimla. By the time we reached Shimla, all streets were full of vehicles, resulting in traffic congestion in all major junctions. We continued our journey to Narkanda through Kufri, Fagu and Theog. Being on overcrowded streets, there was no chance of halting in-between so we just kept continuing till we reached this beautiful restaurant where there was a dedicated parking space available on the side of the road. Being still on the ghat section, the other side of the road was facing a steep valley. Fortunately, it was a bright sunny morning now and we could get a good glimpse of the forest below. We took some photographs and enjoyed our breakfast consisting of different types of parathas. After a casual discussion with the manager there, we got to know that Narkanda was around 40 kms from there and it might take another hour or so.


It started drizzling again but the weather was pleasant. While looking down from the ghat section, we could see consecutive white patches as if something was covered with white cloth or net. Our best guess was that it could be a covered plantation for growing silkworms, the way we had seen it on Roopkund trek.


Soon we crossed a market where many mahindra bolero’s were offloading apple cartons for an early morning auction. Having heard a lot about Kinnaur apples, we decided to try our luck and see if we can buy a few samples. However, upon inquiring there, we realized that it being a wholesale market, not even a single vendor was ready to provide a sample or sale in a few kilos. One of the police constables deputed there to manage the bolero traffic came forward to our help and he arranged to provide us three sample apples through his contacts from that apple mandi.

Feeling very happy, we resumed our journey toward Narkanda. Within the next few minutes we reached one such place, which we had seen from above and had thought it could be growing silkworms. How silly we were! We were in the heart of the Himalayas, famous for its apples and still missed it. We were actually driving through apple orchards on both the sides of the road. Although this particular apple orchard was spread above and below the road level, we were clearly able to see apple laden trees covered with white nets for protection. It being the peak season, apples were almost ripe and ready. It was a magical atmosphere with the clouds slowly moving through apple orchards. We had to stop there to capture that moment in our cameras.



We continued our journey through apple orchards and through multiple such mandis. After a few minutes of driving, we again reached another magical location where a left turn on the road was opening up in a wide valley full of orchards and lush green mountain peaks covered in fog in the background. We did stop there as well to take a few photographs and to acknowledge the beauty of the surrounding.




Soon we reached Narkanda and saw a big, beautiful hotel property on the mountain peak on the right side of the road. We continued for another couple of minutes and reached the most bustling place of that town, which was the Narkanda bus stop. I could barely manage to stop our car for a few minutes since there was a continuous chain of vehicles moving around. By far the biggest issue we had faced was parking in such hilly terrain. We quickly managed to locate a decent hotel and decided to stay there in Narkanda for the rest of the day. By now, we had travelled around 174 kms and we were in our room by 12:15 pm. It was a decent hotel (Hotel Sara) facing the other side of the valley. However, the access road to this hotel and parking was a major issue. The hotel has its dedicated stilt parking. However, it's usually full with the owner's own cars itself. Since all rooms facing the valley were occupied by apple agents (as told to us), we had to settle with a room which didn't have any encouraging view. There was an HPTDC property (Hotel Hatu, which we had seen on the hillock), however we couldn't figure out an access road to it due to traffic and busy bus stand in the vicinity. Our room was on the first floor with one of the windows opening towards the forest. The room was big, clean and was neatly furnished.


Since the owners were also staying in the same premises on the top floor, they operate a small restaurant catering to internal orders. We finalized our lunch order quickly and told them to be ready with it by 2:15 pm.

There was a big hall on the ground floor. It had a big sofa set and two dining tables, which helps to serve as a restaurant cum reception of the hotel. The food tasted good and appeared hygienic. After lunch, we decided to roam around and explore scenic spots around. As per the owner's recommendation, we took the single lane road heading towards Tani Jubbar Lake, which was around 10 kms from there. The route takes you through another set of apple orchards and was busy due to Mahindra Boleros ferrying apple crates to markets in the vicinity.

Weather was just awesome when we reached the lake. Evening sun rays had turned the landscape into a magical portrait. Being surrounded by tall trees from all sides, the water was pretty steady, holding a stable reflection of trees and the Nag devta mandir along with the only lodge built on the opposite side of the lake.




We roamed there for a few minutes and then went through the trail to the playground built a few meters away from it. The ground periphery was demarcated by apple trees itself. On a slight elevation we could see two farm houses / resort kind of structures in blue color. Sunlight was falling on its walls and windows at such an angle that it appeared as if someone had turned on lights within those rooms at the backdrop of the blue skyline.


After capturing a few photos there, we headed back to our hotel. On the way back, we stopped at one of the apple orchards to capture few more photos of the apple orchards..


On our way back, clouds gathered and it started drizzling intermittently. We stopped at one point where the clouds were marching up from the valley on the right and golden sun rays were piercing them to create an unbelievable mix of colors. See it, to believe it! :)



The Hatu peak trail was in the vicinity, but it was a hike of more than a few kilometers. So, we decided to give it a pass this time. It was too foggy by the time we reached our hotel. The only petrol pump of Narkanda was just a few meters away from the bus stand. So, we decided to top up our diesel tank in the night after dinner. After an early dinner of Rajma masala, paneer kadhai and rotis, we decided to call it a day. Although the room was well insulated and we had good quality bed and liners in the room, it was extremely cold that night.
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Day 4: And there is always a twist in the tale!

We woke up at 5:30 am since the plan was to just drive up to Sangla, which was around 160 kms. We were back on the road by 6:30. Narkanda was completely covered in dense fog when we started. The initial drive was through thick vegetation and greenery filled with clouds. We captured multiple videos on our way to Rampur via Kumarsain. The original plan was to take a lunch break at Rampur. As we crossed through Kumarsain, the route was continuously descending towards the Sutlej river coming from the left. We took another photo break where the river was almost running parallel to us but some hundred feet below on our left.


Against what I had read around the last petrol pump being in Narkanda, we saw multiple new petrol pumps on our way to Rampur. The road quality was pretty average in this stretch. Also we couldn't find any decent place for breakfast and medical store in this patch. Rampur was relatively crowded and we decided to wait further to stop for breakfast.

Weather was not that great now and an overcast sky was visible all along while we approached Jeori. While we were crossing Jeori, we saw a diversion to our right for Narkanda. Narkanda was some 18 kms from there. Since we had not included Narkanda in our itinerary, we continued through Jeori towards Sangla. At a distance, on the opposite side we saw a portion of the mountain faded and washed away. I pointed at it and showed others about how a landslide impacted area looks like. We continued for a few more minutes and then we saw a few trucks and cars waiting in groups on both sides of the road. We drove through it and after a right turn all of a sudden realized that we were on that same road leading to that previously seen landslide. Now we were part of the long queue waiting for the landslide to be cleared. We parked our car at a relatively safe distance and walked up to a point from where the landslide and the machinery was clearly visible.


I took out my video camera and zoomed in on the point of the landslide. It was then we realized that there was no way it would get cleared in the next few hours or so. Upon checking with truck drivers there, we got to know that this landslide struck on the same night when we were searching for a route for Kaza through Shimla. And this was the reason Google was showing us road blockage on NH-5 and suggesting we take the Manali route to Kaza!!

We quickly reviewed the situation and agreed on two points. First: there was no point in waiting at that same spot with the hope that the landslide would get cleared in the next 2-3 hours. Second: It didn't make any sense to drive all the way back to Narkanda and wait there further. The best option was to stay somewhere in the vicinity and try to get regular updates on the situation. So, instead of staying anywhere between Jeori and Rampur, it was more logical to move towards Sarahan and stay there. We agreed on this decision and quickly turned around till the same diversion towards Sarahan. It was a relatively steep climb of 18 kms and we were getting the landslide view from many turns on this route. As we started moving up, we saw multiple cars and bikes parked around homestays and average hotels en route. We tried to check with a few hotels about room availability and realized that they were already full with travelers who had been stuck there for the last 2 days. We decided to move further up since I remembered reading about one temple on the top, which we could visit. After driving for more than an hour through a narrow single lane road, we reached a plateau where there was good parking space on both sides of the road. We could see one huge temple a few meters ahead of us. Instead of getting into another crowded place, we decided to park there itself and explore further on foot.

When we walked towards the temple premises, we realized how beautiful the surroundings were. This huge plateau gave us a 360 degree view of cloud covered mountain tops. Just across the temple entrance we were delighted to see a board specific to HPTDC property (Hotel Srikhand). In my opinion, all state tourism properties are always located at the best possible location in that vicinity. Although we had not planned to stay at HPTDC there, we decided to just explore it and then decide. It was around noon and many of the guests had just vacated their rooms. We realized that even this place was full of travelers who were stuck on NH-5 due to the landslide. This was one awesome property to spend a day in. The restaurant is located on the ridge with windows opening towards the valley giving complete uninterrupted views of mountain ranges and deep valley below.

Hotel Srikhand, Sarahan


The front one is the restaurant with the windows facing valley on the opposite side. And the one on the right is the hotel building with deluxe rooms facing the valley.

There was an open Bar giving a 360 degree view of the forest and mountains around.


Apart from deluxe rooms in the main building, there were 3 cottages with an awesome garden in front of it.



However, these cottages were not relatively well maintained internally compared to hotel rooms. So, we decided to quickly book a top floor corner room with a balcony, before anyone else could block it. Although they had a decent multi floor parking arrangement below the open bar, local cab drivers had messed up the entire top level parking, at times even blocking the main and single entry / exit point to this hotel. Till Sarahan, we had covered 104 kms on that day.

Since we didn't get an opportunity to have breakfast, we decided to directly opt for lunch this time. Food was ok but the views from the restaurant’s windows were just unparalleled. After lunch, we decided to visit the nearby Bhima Kali temple and take blessings for our safe journey.

Bhimla Kali temple from the main road.

The premises of this temple was huge and one can certainly feel positive and very auspicious vibes in the atmosphere. Since cameras were not allowed in the main temple premises, we spent some time photographing it from surrounding areas. There were two main multistory temples at the center of the premises. The left one is the original building and has a staircase built from within. The actual temple is on the 3rd floor of this structure. The building on the right is sealed and mostly contains ornaments, jewellery and other valuables pertaining to the temple.


Boys peeping out from the 3rd floor window on the left!





After spending some time there capturing beautiful memories, we moved out from the other gate of the temple which took us towards the two beautiful palaces of Sarahan.


After spending some time there, we headed back to our hotel to get the latest updates on the landslide. In the evening, we got to know that the authorities had started allowing intermittent traffic through the cleared portion of the landslide. Obviously, it was worth waiting till next morning to attempt crossing it safely than driving through it at dusk.

Now it has started drizzling again and visibility was reduced to a few feet. We decided to wind up early and take some rest before we attempt crossing the landslide early next morning.
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Day 5: Quick thinking and persistence pays up!

We could hear the sound of continuous rain all night and could not get a sound sleep, maybe just because of the anxiety around next morning's drive! We woke up early and got ready but we made conscious efforts not to hit the landslide spot in the dark. So, we started around 5:30-45 am amidst rain and fog. Since the roads were empty and it was a clear descent all along, we managed to reach the landslide spot by 6:45 or so. It was still raining heavily and clouds had come down covering almost the top half of the opposite mountain. We also saw a big waterfall emerge through the gaps of mountains on our left side.

As we approached the same spot, we could see 4-5 cars already waiting there. There was a police constable deputed to stop the cars from moving further. As per the confirmed news, we knew that they had started allowing vehicle movement through the cleaned patch but we were not sure of this new issue. I was just hoping that no new landslide had hit the highway that night again blocking the road.

When checked with the constable, he mentioned that there had been few fresh stones rolled on the road at night, which needed to be cleared. The JCB operator was on the way and they were planning to open up the road in another 15-20 minutes. We breathed a psy of relief. We just went back a couple of meters to secure a safe parking spot and waited patiently. It continued raining as we eagerly sat in our car waiting for some indication of traffic movement. Finally at around 8 am, they started allowing a few cars from the opposite side to cross the cleared landslide. We saw mainly small cars were moving first while heavy trucks were still waiting on the other side. Now it was 8:15 am and authorities stopped the incoming traffic from the other side and asked cars ahead of us to cross that patch. A police constable was looking up high at the pile of boulders and debris on the right hand side of the so-called ‘road’. Once he was confident that no fresh shooting stones were in sight and it was safe for a single vehicle to cross the freshly cleared landslide, he was waving his hand to the driver to proceed further. And yes, now it was my turn!!

On the right hand side, I could see all the heavy machinery and support staff who had helped to clear the debris. I tried to look up at that spot and it was one hell of scary sight. I felt that anytime soon a big boulder would start rolling and everything would again come to stand still. We all just prayed to the almighty and continued driving slowly through the slush till we reached the tarmac of the unaffected road on the other side. And we realized how fortunate we were against all those who had directly suffered in one of those July - Aug landslides claiming lives!!

Now the road quality was good but since it continued to rain, I was driving slowly. At multiple places, we saw smaller landslides on the road and few builders and debris still lying on the road. But since we were among the first set of cars which crossed the landslide from the Sarahan / Rampur side, there was hardly any traffic on the road. Visibility was strictly restricted to a few meters and we were almost driving through the clouds for most of the time. Soon we were driving through the most famous part of the road cut through the mountain.

By now, we had hit another traffic jam but this time it was a flock of sheep, fortunately! Shepherds were trying their best to clear up the way but sheep had their own will. Soon we crossed into Kinnaur and it was easily distinguishable because of the good quality of the tarmac road. We crossed a couple of bridges (built of metal trusses) and could hear almost similar sounds of what one hears in the AC compartment of a long distance train! We were driving along the river for the entire time. We topped up our diesel tank on the way and soon reached Karcham bridge. The road ahead was leading to Kalpa, which was going to be our destination for the night. However, since we had lost a day, we just wanted to take the Karcham bridge towards the right and check out Sangla and Chitkul within the available time, before heading for Kalpa. We crossed the bridge and then on the left we saw a huge water reservoir mostly being used for the JSW hydro project built there. From Karcham, Sangla is around 18 km and Chitkul is at 40 kms. However the road is just a single lane throughout, with some spaces carved out for giving pass to an overtaking vehicle or vehicles coming from the opposite side. Also one has to drive very carefully and with a consistent speed since the elevation keeps on increasing almost linearly. It was our sheer luck that we did not face any Bus or truck coming from the opposite direction at any critical spot. The right side of this road was a sheer drop in the valley of maybe a few hundred to a thousand feet.

Soon we reached Sangla and found a decent restaurant just opposite to the bus stand. As usual, a variety of parathas helped us to finish the breakfast quickly. After a few mandatory photos, we moved towards our next destination, Chitkul.

At Sangla Bus stand

After driving for a couple of minutes, we reached one beautiful spot where there was a pink Gazebo kind of structure put on the corner of the road. The entire Sangla valley was visible on the right hand side. Clouds were moving smoothly across the valley towards Chitkul on the left. We took a short break, captured a few photos and moved on.



Now, the story was altogether different. Although Chitkul was some 22 odd kilometers from there, the road quality was absolutely poor and to add to the challenge, it started raining heavily. Reduced visibility forced me to drive more carefully. This entire route was full of landslides and shooting stones. At multiple places we saw JCBs and freshly cleared landslides, with stones and boulders still lying on the road deceptively. We did see many Maruti Alto’s flying around. And I mean yes, seriously flying around but mostly that's why they had picked up small, lightweight cars to navigate those small, tricky roads. We crossed Batseri, Rakchham on the way but there was nothing much to see there since it was raining and visibility was poor. There were some places where we could see colorful fields with blooming flowers. I tried to capture a few photos but just managed to capture a few trying to avoid my camera and phone from getting wet.

Around Chitkul



After reaching Chitkul, we simply started our journey back to Karcham through the same rough terrain.


After crossing Sangla, rain stopped for some time while we were crossing the same cliffhanger road. But this time, a truck came from the opposite side at a tricky point. I had to reverse my car for a few meters to find a safe spot and the truck driver was kind enough to cross that patch without brushing our car. Soon, we reached Karcham bridge again, took the right turn and headed towards Kalpa. Kalpa was some 55-60 kms from there but the road quality was good again. River was on our left side and we crossed it on quite a few occasions.

Soon, we took the Kwangi diversion towards Kalpa and drove to Kalpa through the hustle bustle of Reckong Peo market. We decided to head to the top of the mountain ranges since that's where HPTDC property was. We just decided to review the HPTDC property and view from there first and then decide. As usual, HPTDC property is located on the top ridge, bang opposite to Kinnaur Kailash ranges.

That's HPTDC Kalpa


When we checked out the property, even with a 30% off season discount, we found it to be expensive for just the three of us. Fortunately the very adjusted hotel was good enough for us, giving almost the same view from the top floor balcony.

Our hotel and top floor corner room

Honestly, there were no tourists in it, other than us. So, we practically had the entire hotel for us as part of that deal :-D It was a small but newly built hotel. So, all the rooms, furniture and accessories were in the best condition. The manager was courteous and helped us quickly to settle us in the top floor corner room, which we needed to witness the most magical sunset of Kalpa.

Though it was raining intermittently and weather was cloudy, this location was perfect to view Kinnaur Kailash range. Not only did I get an opportunity to shoot a sunset timelapse but I could also photograph glowing peaks of Kinnaur Kailash range in golden hue.





And the ever eluding peak finally showed up in all its glory!

Since we didn't get an opportunity to take a break for lunch, we decided to use ready to cook Pohe sachets and enjoyed our little snack break in the hotel room itself. Since we were the only tourists in the hotel, we placed our dinner order well in advance and were in the restaurant at 8 pm. Again, the restaurant was all empty and we enjoyed our hot soup and dinner while the mercury dropped outside quickly.


We had driven some 185 kms on that day but in terms of the challenges it was one of the most challenging drives of this trip.
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Day 6: The day on which everything transforms from green to infinite shades of brown..

We woke up at 5:30 am and as usual it was raining moderately. The hotel premises had a couple of apple trees and fresh red kinnaur apples can be seen all around the premises in apple orchards. We took a couple of photos and then started our journey towards Tabo by 6:30 am.

The weather was beautiful. We were driving through the fog till we got down till Kwangi and took the left turn towards Nako. Sutlej river was flowing along the right side of the road for quite some time and then soon we were on Akpa Bridge. It was a very well constructed bridge leading us to an altogether different and barren landscape. We took a short break there, took a couple of photos and resumed our journey.


Although the road quality was good, at many places the road was partially covered with shooting stones from smaller landslides. Pooh was around 25 kms ahead of us. Road quality was deteriorating now and in many places we could see remains of major landslides.



We crossed Pooh and saw a small, beautiful restaurant (Lungta Cafe) on the edge of the road, facing the valley. It was so colorful that it was glaringly standing out from the otherwise dull landscape. We had not seen any decent place for breakfast till then. So, we stopped there to see if they had any breakfast options. This restaurant has an open terrace portion facing the valley and they have also placed a few tables and chairs in case if anyone wants to sit there while having food. From this terrace, we could clearly see Pooh village across the road, while when looking down, we could see the deep valley and river below. It was one beautiful location for breakfast for sure!



After a heavy breakfast, we started our journey towards Khab, which was the confluence of Sutlej and Spiti river. We took a short break at Khab, took some photos and moved forward towards Nako through the road cut through the mountain face.




Now, we were driving along the spiti river and gaining elevation. Now there were 8 to 10 long loops clearly visible on the mountain ahead, when we saw a couple of bikers coming down from it. We decided to wait there for a few minutes to take their photos on these winding road patches.





The road quality was far superior now. Soon crossed the top and started descent towards the left side. We could also see small villages deep in the valley at the backdrop of colorful mountain peaks. Try to zoom in and locate the small car in first photo to understand the scale of the landscape!




Absolute random colors and yet a serene landscape!



After continuing through multiple mountains, we finally reached the dreaded Malling Nallah. The road condition near that pass was very bad and once we crossed it, it was just a single lane road for the entire traffic. After crossing it, the road descended steeply and was a little scary to be honest.

Soon we reached a plateau and saw a couple of dhabas on our right. On our right side, we could also see a road diverging towards Nako village and we could see a small lake across the houses. By this time, we could feel some altitude sickness and started feeling a mild headache. So, we decided to skip Nako interiors and continued downhill further towards the Sumdo Police check post.



Now we were driving through the Spiti valley and the landscape was colorful but dull due to the overcast sky. After registering our details at the Sumdo checkpost, we continued till the diversion, where the right side road was going towards the Gue monastery. The monastery was around 8-10 kms from there. The single lane road was passing through a completely barren landscape. To my surprise, not only the shade of sand was blackish, even the water flowing through the adjacent river appeared to be blackish. It started raining again making the weather miserable. We reached the monastery and saw that there was a colorful new monastery being built. There were few homestays around the monastery but honestly there was nothing around to be seen except the mummy and an unofficial board which mentions some history around it.

Gue monastery in the center.

We quickly completed our tour of the structure and started towards Tabo. We crossed a couple of villages and finally had a glimpse of Tabo from one hillock. It was raining beyond Tabo and simultaneously evening sun rays were making their way through, to make it a magical landscape.

First view of Tabo village

We quickly identified a decent rest house (Siddharth Guest House) for our night stay. Since we didn't get a chance to break for lunch previously, we decided to have some light snacks in the Hotel Tiger Den. Since the monastery was closed, we decided to visit it early the next morning. While we went on to the terrace of the guest house, we could see a magical landscape around. We could also see a Buddha statue built on hills watching over villages in the vicinity.

After finishing our dinner, we again went on to the terrace to shoot the milky way, which was visible even with the naked eyes. However, soon clouds gathered again, and I had to satisfy my thirst of shooting the milky way with just a couple of photos.

We had driven around 190 kms on that day so far. We decided to get some much needed sleep since the next day’s drive was relatively less stressful.


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Day 7: This is Spiti all about. God's random, yet harmonized use of color palette..

We woke up early and after finishing our morning chores, we visited the Tabo monastery. The actual monastery’s entrance opens up at 9 am so we had to just take a tour through available passages taking photos of the old monastery. After taking photos of the stupa and the new monastery, we saw the beautiful apple orchard in the monastery premises itself. And then we were again on the road for our drive to Kaza.








This morning was relatively fresh with sunlight greeting us all along. This was the most scenic drive so far in the spiti valley. We crossed roads through multiple sand formations and witnessed huge river beds on our way to Kaza.



We decided to visit the Dhankar monastery and fort which was on our way to Kaza. It's just some 5-6 kms off the main road. While driving towards it, we could also see one makeshift helipad, which eventually we used to do a small photoshoot :) The last portion of the road to the old Dhankar monastery and especially to the Dhankar fort was challenging. Dhankar fort was closed so we had to settle on taking its photos from the new Dhankar monastery. And then after our quick Cheetah (read XUV) photo session on the helipad, we continued our journey towards Kaza.


New Dhankar monastery

That's old Dhankar monastery


That's Dhankar fort


My cheetah on helipad :)

After reaching Kaza, we finally settled ourselves in HPTDC hotel, which was the most reasonable and decent (read spacious) place out of all the options we explored. After lunch and diesel topped up, we decided to drive to Key monastery and visit Chicham bridge. Key monastery was around 10 kms from there. Fortunately, we could take a few good photos of Key monastery in bright sunlight but the scene changed quickly as the clouds gathered again.



Sunshine with thunderstorm in the background!


Key monastery


View from the Key monastery..

From there, we drove to the Chicham bridge, which is built on a gorge of around 1000 feet. Till the time one actually sees the bridge, it remains completely hidden being built in a deep valley. The view of the gorge from the bridge is really scary and makes one realize why it took so many years to build it.

Standing at 13596 feet, Chicham bridge is really an experience in itself!


It was raining the entire evening. So, we decided to call it a day early to prepare ourselves for the next day’s journey of high mountain villages and areas around. We drove around 113 kms on that day.
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Day 8: Not all days are meant to cover hundreds of kilometers! Few are meant to experience records ;-)

Since it was going to be just local sightseeing, we decided to sleep for an additional hour :) We also decided to finish our breakfast in the hotel itself before hitting the road. In terms of route, after starting on NH-5 for a few minutes, the route branches to the right hand side. We opted for visiting Hikkim first, then Komic and then Langza. The first part of the route was a set of winding loops just above Kaza itself and we continued to see tiny houses below till we reached the top plateau. Try to zoom in and locate the white tempo traveler in first photo to understand the scale of the landscape!


There was a lot of road construction going on on this entire route. I was pretty surprised at this since each of these villages have a population in few hundreds max, and apparently none of these roads were connected to any other villages / NH-5 making it useful for regular commute.

After reaching the top plateau, we could see one village ahead of us. On our backside, we could see clouds mingling on top of the opposite mountain indicating thundershowers throughout the day. We stopped there for a few photos and then continued further.



After driving for the next couple of minutes, we crossed those houses on our right and we saw a board indicating the world's highest post office in the vicinity. Since we had still started relatively early, there were hardly any vehicles and people on the road to confirm our location.

That's the view of Hikkim after crossing it. The nearest building is actually the post house, down the trail from the main road.

So we continued further on the same road till we reached a diversion towards Komic. After few minutes, we reached almost at the fag end of the road. On the right hand side, there was a homestay cum restaurant proudly bearing the signboard confirming we had reached Komic, the world’s highest village connected by motorable road. There were three bikers sitting in the verandah of that homestay sipping a hot cup of tea. By that time, it had started drizzling but we still decided to step out to take a couple of photos at that location.


We were trying to locate the post office, about which we had read previously. When checked with those bikers, they mentioned that it was at the same spot where we had seen that board, just that it's not located on the road. One has to take the trail going down toward the village and then it's visible. So, we decided to head back to the same spot and pay our visit to the most marketed post office of that region :)

So, we parked our car next to that board and took the trail going down the village.

After walking for a couple of minutes, we saw the post office building but the main door was closed. And apparently, it opened for only an hour in the morning.


However, we saw a few folks coming back from the right side of the building. So, we decided to explore further and got to know that there was another entrance to it. It looked like the entrance of some house, where perhaps the postmaster had asked his daughter to sell postcards and postal stamps to customers. As a customary ritual, we also purchased three postcards and stamps for sending messages to our beloved ones back at home. After dropping those cards in the mailbox on the front side, we came back to our car and started towards Langza.


As mentioned previously, the road condition was pretty bad on this entire route and the approach to Langza was no different. The route was scenic though and we could see snow capped mountains at a distance. It was mostly snowing on the higher reaches. Soon we parked our car on the slope towards the Buddha statue of the village. There were few innovas already parked there. Looked like most people had started their journey from Langza side.




While we decided to take some selfie shots of us, I kept my SLR bag on the ground and placed my SLR securely on it. The moment we started looking towards our phone, something happened and my SLR bag moved a bit. That was good enough for my SLR to start rolling on the slope from that hillock. After 4-5 jumps, it paused a bit and it gave me an opportunity to grab its belt. However, the moment I rushed further, the sand below my feet started skidding. So, I just decided to keep faith in my luck. My SLR somehow again gathered momentum and started hopping on the slope. After 20-25 hops it stopped but now someone has to go down and get it. There was no visible trail on that slope. So I decided to walk down from the most safe place from the left. Somehow my brother could figure out a relative shortcut to go down and he managed to reach the SLR much before I could even try. For someone like me, who loves his photography gear like anything, just imagine the feeling! Fortunately, since the SLR had the smaller landscape lens affixed to it and its cap was securely tightened before I left it on the bag, there was no visible damage to the SLR beyond some scratches and yellowish powdery sand in a few places. I powered it on carefully and it was functioning as usual, proving the investment made in such pro bodies worth :)

I had read that on clear nights, one could see clear views of the milky way in the sky across Langza. However, since it was already raining in that region, we just took a couple of photos around Langza and headed back towards Kaza.

After driving for maybe 10-15 minutes, my brother spotted something on the ridge on the right hand side so we immediately stopped to check it out. We saw that there was a pair of Ghoral (Himalayan Blue Sheep) grazing around on the steep slope on the right side of the road. We also found one baby ghoral running wildly around its mother on that slope. It was simply a breathtaking view! I quickly took out my tripod and affixed my video camera on it to take some stable footage of it. We managed to take a few beautiful photos and some video footage of a total 6 ghorals on that slope.




After they finally moved into the deep valley, we decided to head back to Kaza. We just drove around 50 kms on that entire day.
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