Road-trip to Spiti Valley in Duster AWD

shashankjain16

New Member
Brace yourself! This is my first post here and it is going to be a long one - but I am sure you will enjoy as I take you to this paradise on earth.

Also, I have worked hard to capture the stunning beauty of this place in the videos which I have linked in each post - so do watch them too!

Here is a link to our YouTube channel: Born Idiots

Prologue

Spiti Valley had been on our (me and my wife Shalu's) bucket list for a very long time. So much so that we sold our previous car Xcent early this year and bought Duster AWD just so that we could do this trip in our car! Our initial plan was to do it in June. However, since we got hold of our new car in April there wasn't ample time to get a feel of it and so we had to postpone our decision.

Initially, I was convinced that we could do the trip only the next year as I didn't want to dare it in the monsoons! However, I came to know that we can visit Spiti in late September or early October. In fact, it is one of the best times because of fewer tourists and the valley is full of autumn colours.

As it happened, Gandhi Jayanti fell on 2nd October and Dussera on 8th and it was a perfect combination for vacation. Things fell into place and our trip was confirmed from 28th September to 8th October. Ten days of a dream road trip! I was so excited that I found it hard to concentrate on my work at times - I was dreaming of Spiti day and night. I might have watched every single video on YouTube about Spiti.

However, there was still a question - Should we go via Shimla or Manali? Almost everyone recommends going via Shimla but our only reason to go via Manali was to see the sunrise at Rohtang Pass. With Rohtang Tunnel under construction, we thought that if it becomes operational, BRO might stop opening Rohtang Pass and we might never get a chance to see this sunrise.

And till the last day, we could not decide which route to take. I had got all the permits for Manali and even booked a hotel there. But, as it turned out - we took the other route. Read on!

Plan A

Day 1 - Delhi to Manali
Day 2 - Manali - Rohtang Pass - Sissu
Day 3 - Sissu - Bata - Chandratal
Day 4 - Batal - Losar - Kunzum Pass - Kaza
Day 5 - Kaza - Ki - Kibber - Gette - Tashiagang - Kaza
Day 6 - Kaza - Hikkim - Komic - Langza - Kaza
Day 7 - Kaza - Pin Valley (Mudh Village) - Dhankar Monastry - Dhakar Lake - Tabo
Day 8 - Tabo - Geu Mummy - Nako - Nako Lake - Kalpa
Day 9 - Kalpa - Sangla - Chitkul - Sangla
Day 10 - Sangla - Narkanda
Day 11 - Narkanda - Delhi

Plan B - Which was actually executed

Day 1 - Delhi - Shimla
Day 2 - Shimla - Narkanda - Sangla - Chitkul
Day 3 - Chitkul - Sangla - Kalpa
Day 4 - Kalpa - Nako - Nako Lake - Geu Mummy - Tabo
Day 5 - Tabo - Dhankar Late - Dhankar Monastry - Pin Valley (Mudh Village) - Kaza
Day 6 - Kaza - Hikkim - Komic - Langza - Kaza
Day 7 - Kaza - Ki - Kibber - Gette - Tashiagang - Kaza
Day 8 - Kaza - Batal - Chandratal - Sissu
Day 9 - Sissu - Rohtang Pass - Manali
Day 10 - Manali - Delhi

Day 1 & 2
Delhi - Shimla - Chitkul


Our vlog for Delhi - Chikul - Kalpa:


We left in the morning at around at 7 AM with the question still in mind - Shimla or Manali? Well, the plan was to reach Chandigarh and see the latest weather conditions. It was still raining in September and if it rained in Manali, crossing Rohtang Pass would become quite risky. We might as well need to trace our way to Shimla if Rohtang Pass closes.

As we reached Chandigarh, we got the news from the hotel that it was raining cats and dogs in Manali. So, Shimla it was. Indeed, as we climbed up the mountains, it started raining heavily! We had made the right decision in the end not going to Manali.

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Anyway, we soon reached Shimla and took an awesome homestay with a perfect view of Shimla. Their hospitality was also excellent. This is going to be our permanent stay whenever we go to Shimla for sure!

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Next day we left around 8 AM for Chitkul. It was raining on and off but not as heavy as the last day. Soon came the beautiful Kinnaur Valley and then Sangla Valley. We reached Chitkul around 4 PM. However, we had not booked any hotel. In fact, we didn't have any booking for the entire trip and this was the first time we were doing a trip like that.

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My wife posing with Duster, although she doesn't drive

We searched for home hotels/homestays and after one and a half-hour search, we decided on Samaa Resorts. It was a nice and cosy place - the owners there are a couple who gave up their job and live in Chitkul running this hotel. In winters they close it down and go travelling for 4 months! Man a dream life for us! May be someday we will live like that.

Day 3
Chitkul to Kalpa


Last night it was dark already when we reached Chitkul so could not see anything there. But, next morning, when we went out, we got the first glimpse of the beauty of this village.

First of all, there were autumn colours all around. A little bit of green, a little bit of yellow and a little bit of brown! Although clouds covered most of the peaks, we weren't complaining. We strolled around a little and then went to the Baspa river. Clean turquoise water (cold as ice) and that sound of the river flowing were meditating. Watch the video for beautiful views of the valley.

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We sat at its banks for some time and spent some moments of peace. Later we went to take a walk in the nearby forest.

Around 11 AM we came back to the hotel, packed our bags and left Chitkul. We didn't want to leave this beautiful village so soon. But a long journey ahead was waiting for us. Before leaving, we promised ourselves to return here on a vacation someday.

From our hotel's owner, we had come to know about a beautiful spot near Raksham village, which comes just before Chitkul. So, we took a halt there. It was indeed a beautiful and an offbeat place.

After returning from Raksham, we traced our way back a few kilometres till Kharcham Dam which is built on Baspa river. From there we left Baspa river valley and entered Sutlej River valley. How the views changed suddenly left us speechless. While Baspa valley was full of plant cover, Sutlej valley was completely barren with high mountains on both sides. Such a dramatic change in two adjacent valleys was unbelievable. However, this was only the beginning of wonders of nature we were going to see throughout our journey.

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Karcham Dam on Baspa River

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Barren Mountains of Sutlej Valley


We soon reached Kalpa, took a homestay beside the monastery. The homestay had been suggested by someone when we were in Raksham and it was indeed a great suggestion. It was affordable and right beside the monastery.

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We relaxed a little, had some tea and pakoras and then went to the monastery. It was our first ever visit to a monastery.

To be continued....
 

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shashankjain16

New Member
Day 4
Kalpa to Nako



We woke up the next day to a beautiful sunlit morning. We had been praying all these days to god to clear the weather so that we could get beautiful views and finally our prayers had been heard. We were so happy! After having breakfast, we left for Tabo.

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As we went deeper into the Sutlej valley, the views kept getting better and better. As you can see in the video, mountains had started becoming almost barren and valley grander than ever. BRO had been working for expansion of the highway so there was construction going on at few places. But overall the roads were good.

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However, soon we get to know a piece of bad news. A police check-post on the way told us that there is a landslide a few kilometres ahead and it would take around 7-8 hours to clear!!! We had two options - go back to Kalpa and come back the next day or go ahead deal with whatever happened. We thought that going back would waste an entire day. If we continue, we will at least make some progress. When we hit the landslide, we can wait for it to clear. If it clears on time, all well and good. If not, we will return and stay in the nearest village.

So, we went ahead and soon enough hit the landslide. Luckily it was just ahead of a village Spillo. So, we parked our car in the village and waited. A lot of people were stuck there.

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We waited and waited and waited… the landslide was quite bad - it seemed the entire side of a mountain had come down. Interestingly, we saw a lot of people climbing down the river valley, crossing the river and coming to the other side. And they all looked like tiny ants in that massive valley. We could truly see the scale mountains.

It took 8 hours to clear!!! Around 5 PM we were able to cross the site and were finally on the road again. Soon it got dark and we missed Khab bridge - the confluence of Sutlej and Spiti rivers. I am sure it would have been a view to behold if it was daytime.

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Plan to reach Tabo was obviously out of the window. Our target now was to reach Nako. In that dark, all you could see was road as far as headlights reached. It was pretty scary, especially at places where road was still under construction and narrow. Slowly and steadily we were able to reach Nako. We stayed in Lake View Hotel.

For the first time, we saw the clear starry sky in Spiti and man what a sight it was!!! It was hell cold out there - surely sub-zero at night but I was still at the roof of the hotel trying to grasp the beauty of the sky. I could even see a hint of the milky way with my naked eyes. In the end, it was good that we stayed at Nako. Everything happens for some good!

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Day 5
Nako to Tabo


Next day we woke up to a completely different world. Brown barren mountains capped with white snow here and there, clear blue sky, perfect view of Nako lake and autumn colours. It was the first glimpse of Spiti and we were in love with it already.

We had breakfast and went to Nako lake first. Then went to Nako's prayer wheel and captured some magnificent views.

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View from Prayer Wheel at Nako


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We were so in love with that place that we didn't want to leave. But, it was a long journey ahead and we had to continue.

As soon as we hit the road again, we were quite literally left speechless. I didn't know where to look - on the road or all around? Every frame of the view on every turn of the road was a sight to behold for hours! A perfect road that should go on and on and on.

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We reached Gue Village a little too soon. Gue Village has a natural mummy, only one in India which of Sangha Tenzin. It is about 500 years old and has an interesting story behind it. A long time ago, people of Gue village were suffering from scorpion infestation. At that time, it is believed that Sangha Tenzin sacrificed his life to save the village by naturally mummyfying himself. The process of natural mummification is also quite interesting, you should read about it on the internet.

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Gue Monastery


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When we were leaving Gue, we had not thought that we were going to have the most beautiful road trip of our life. That trip was a beauty of another level. You should see the video to get a feel of it - I have watched it a thousand times myself and never got bored of it.

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Tabo is only 34km in Gue and the ride ended too soon. In Tabo, we took the Phunstok Homestay. It was a perfect place to stay - very cosy and well-maintained rooms and Mr Phunstok made us feel like home. He served us an awesome tea, talked to us for a few hours and made us feel home. This too became our permanent stay whenever we would be in Tabo.

We headed to Tabo Monastery next, which more than 1000-year-old monastery. You are not allowed to take photographs in there but it was quite an amazing place to be. Lit only by natural light, there were paintings and idols well preserved for over a millennium.

Next, we went to Tabo's meditation caves which we reached after a short hike. The caves looked like something straight up from an Indiana Jones movie. It felt scary to even look inside, don't know how monks used to meditate in those caves in ancient times.

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The sun was setting and entire view of the valley with Tabo under shadows of the mountains was looking almost like a painting. We returned after the sun had set. We had Spitian Thali in Norbu's Kitchen which is a must-try.

We also met this super cute girl who played "Akkad bakkad babe bo…" with us. It was so lovely watching her. It bought back memories of our childhood. It was so amazing to know that what we used to play in our homes in Rajasthan is played by kids so far away in a completely different world! This is the beauty of India! Meet this girl at the end of the video :)

To be continued....
 

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shashankjain16

New Member
Day 6
Tabo to Kaza



Next day we had to cover a lot - Dhankar Monastery, Dhankar Lake, Pin Valley and then reach Kaza. But, we were very late in leaving from Tabo. It was 10 AM already. Tabo is the last place where you can get homegrown Spiti apples so we bought 2 kgs of them from a local restaurant.

As you continue your journey from Tabo, Spiti River runs alongside the road. Among those high mountains, the water of the river was glimmering in bright sunlight with beautiful blue sky added to the colours of the valley. Driving on that road was so peaceful in itself. When the sound of river water hit our ears, it felt like a part of us came to life, which, living in our city lives, we have long forgotten. We feel connected to it in some way.

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And, when we were lost in all those overwhelming experiences, the Spiti river grew into this enormous valley all of a sudden. Not even in our wildest dreams, we could imagine something as beautiful as that. See the video above to get an idea. As we climbed up the mountain to reach Dhankar village, the view got even better.

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Dhankar Village

However, unbelievably, this was nothing in front of the view we got from the Dhankar monastery. The confluence of Spiti and Pin rivers is undoubtedly one of the most epic views ever to be created by mother nature. If it looks so beautiful in pictures, imagine being there. This should be in "must see before you die" list for sure.

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We spent moments of peace in the monastery. The monastery is quite old too and the hill on which it is built seems to be collapsing and not much life of it is left. So, one day this monastery and this place might cease to exist and you will never be able to experience this. So, visit this place as soon as you can!

After returning from Monastery, we headed for the trek of Dhankar Lake. It is short one hour trek from the village. Trek is not that difficult, except the insane cold winds which give you a headache. It's at the height of about 4300m, so lack of oxygen is also a problem.

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Spot me in this pic

However, when we got the first glimpse of that lake, everything else was forgotten. That majestic water body sitting between those mountains, it felt not less than enchanting. The best thing was the pin-drop silence - you could not hear anything except wind noise. When the wind stopped, you could even hear your heartbeat. It was a little scary, but so, so peaceful!

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Returning from the lake, we continued our journey to Kaza. The weather seemed to be taking a turn with clouds in the sky. So, we skipped Pin Valley. The route was again beautiful.

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Rocks carved by strong winds

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Another starry night
 

shashankjain16

New Member
Day 7
Langza - Komic - Hikkim



Our first day in Kaza and we woke up to bad weather. Mountain peaks that were barren last day were now snow-covered. It was nice to see snow-covered peaks but clouds also hid distant peaks. Snowfall was sure to happen at higher altitudes.

We first had our breakfast in this awesome cafe called Hotel Deyzor. This is a must-try in Kaza. Their interior is so creative, the owner is a travel enthusiast and their food is the epitome of taste - especially Spiti cuisines.

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After having breakfast, we headed to Langza. As we climbed the altitude on the way to Langaza, the face mountains changed. Now there were almost flat plains for miles, only bordered by high peaks at distances. It was a sight to watch!

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Soon, we reached Langza and the iconic buddha statue stood boldly looking into the clouds. The location of this statue is perfect - looks like it was meant to be here.

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A Cafe in Langza

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A couple of mannerless bikers had parked their bikes right beside the buddha statue, which any educated person would guess, would hurt sentiments of locals. A local argued with them to move their bikes away and park behind like everyone else, but the bikers tried to look some kind of studs and started shouting at the person instead. What a shame! They were from Delhi and I felt ashamed in front of them. People should learn to respect the feelings of the locals when they visit places.

Anyway, soon we left and headed for Hikkim - where lies India's highest post office. When we reached there, however, it was too crowded. So, we strolled around in search of fossils. If you do not know, this place was under an ocean millions of years ago when India and rest of Asia were two separate continents. So, you can still find fossils of sea creatures here. We, however, weren't that lucky.

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Fossil Hunting

When we returned to Hikkim, we came to know that stamps had finished and we could not post a postcard. Such is our luck! We went into the post office anyway and talked to Mr Rinchen Chhering who has been postmaster here ever since the establishment of the post office. It was so nice talking to him. He told that on some days Rs 10,000 - Rs 11,000 stamps get finished. One day Rs 21,000 stamps got finished. I had never thought so many people come here.

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Talking to Mr Rinchen Chhering

Returning from Hikkim, we headed to Komic. As soon as we reached there, snowfall started. And it was the first snowfall of our life! We were so happy to see it.

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Happy as a child to see the snow

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We ate some snacks at the local shop and then continued our journey. Normally, people trace their way back to Kaza from Komic. We, however, went further to a village called Demur. The owner of the cafe in the morning had told us that the road to the village is quite scenic. Unfortunately, as soon as we left Komic, heavy snowfall started and we were a bit scared. Being alone in that noman's land. However, on our way we found people of Spiti carrying on with their lives even in such weather. It instilled some courage in us.

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We cancelled visiting Demur and headed straight to Kaza. And on the way, we saw another awesome view of Spiti which made this ride all worth in the end!!!

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Another epic view of the valley
 

shashankjain16

New Member
Day 8
Key Monastery - Tashigang - Kibber



Next day, we were so happy to see clear weather. Some clouds were still there but it was a beautiful morning. The first thing we did that morning was to go to Spiti River bed. We wanted to be in the middle of that grand valley and see the view around. After a bit of off-roading, we were finally there.

It was such an awesome view. I will let the pictures speak.

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Returning from the river, we headed to the Kee Monastery. Built atop a hill, you can see it from far away. After a short scenic ride, we were there finally.

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When we entered the monastery, prayers were going on and some monks were chanting mantras from ancient texts. Listening to them was a calming experience. We sat inside the prayer hall for some time just listening to them. We managed to record a part of that without disturbing their prayers, which I have put in the video.

As soon as we came out, a monk came to us and asked us if he could see us around the monastery. We said yes, of course. So, very patiently he showed us around and told stories behind all the ancient things in the monastery. It was a great learning experience.

Later on, he invited us to the monastery's kitchen where other monks were there. They all greeted us very warmly. They served us some prasad and some very nice tea. And they talked with us for some time - asked us from where we were and what all we have seen in the valley. We were quite impressed by their hospitality and coolness!

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Monks talking to us

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Playing Meditation Well

Soon, we left the monastery and headed to this small village called Tashigang. Not many people go there, so there was no one else on that route. That ride was a different experience. We were away from everything else - just the two of us in those mountains enjoying beautiful views around.

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On our way, we got the first glimpse of wild animals of Spiti. We first saw Himalayan Horses and they were majestic creatures. They looked straight out of the Lord of the Rings movie. We also saw Yaks grazing on the plains. It is surprising to see that we have been so cut off from nature that even seeing these wild animals is such a majestic experience.

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Vast fields spotted by Yaks

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Up close with a Yak


Soon, we reached Tashigang. It is a very small village with only 3-4 houses and only 15-20 people living there. It also has India's highest polling booth. When we were casually strolling around in the village, an old woman (let us call her granny) called us in their house. This was quite unexpected! We went in! There was also an aunty over there. They warmly greeted us Julley and started talking to us. They served us some tea and a very tasty curd made from milk of local cows. We talked to them for over an hour. Truly, the hospitality of Spiti people is a whole another level - we didn't ever felt they were strangers to us. If you are visiting Spiti, do meet people in one of the villages - it will be an awesome experience.

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Also met this young fellow - only 3 months old - ready to face first winter

When we returned from Tashigang, we went to Kibber. There is nothing special to see here. Kibber Wildlife sanctuary is there but we could not go into it at that time of day. We could see Chichum village from there. We just spent some time enjoying views and returned to Kaza.

In Kaza, we went to Kaza market and bought a few Himachali things. We also bought dried Seabuckhorns to make its tea at home. We had been served that tea in our homestay in Tabo and ever since we had become a fan of it. We have made it quite a few times at our home now and it always brings back those sweet memories of Spiti.

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shashankjain16

New Member
Day 9
Kaza to Manali


Last day in Spiti. We could not believe we had to say goodbye to this place so soon. We had an extra day in our plan and we could go to Pin Valley which we had skipped earlier. However, since the weather was clear that day, we decided to head on to Manali. It was around 7th October and heavy snowfall could close Kunzum pass or Rohtang Pass.

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Ice sheet on windshield

We left early at around 6 AM. It was a long journey ahead and we also wanted to cover Chandratal Lake.

It was so cold last night that a thin sheet of ice had covered our car's windshield. It didn't wash-away that easily - even after pouring water. So, we had to continue with it and wait for it to melt in the sun.

When we set Google Maps, it was taking us via Rangrik. If went via that route, we would miss the Chicham bridge. So, we added Chicham bridge as one of the stops. It added about an hour extra to our route.

As we were going along the road, the sun was rising and its golden light was falling on the snow-capped mountain peaks. It was a sight to behold for a long time!

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We soon reached Chichum bridge and spent some time there. Then we continued our journey.

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Chicham Bridge

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Trench bellow the bridge



It was a fine morning, and the sun had just risen. It was a perfect time to ride in that beautiful valley. The road till Kyoto was fine but after that, it was mostly broken. Our first stop was Losar where we had some hot paranthas and a hot cup of tea. In that cold weather, it was a perfect combination.

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On our way, we could see black ice at some places on the road. It was only the start of October and it was so cold already! Imagine how cold it would get in later months.

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Last Glimpses of Spiti River

Later as we climbed up to Kunzum Pass, we could see Spiti River bidding us goodbye. We stopped there and bid back a goodbye to it :) with a promise to return soon!

Soon we reached Kunzum Pass and it was perfect weather. My god, it looked so beautiful.

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We were on a tight schedule and had to reach Chandratal ASAP. So, we left Kunzum Pass soon. The road was now more like no road at all. A moment later we were in the valley of Chenab River. At a certain point, the road divides for Batal and Chandratal. We headed for Chandratal. After about one and a half-hour later we were at the parking of the lake. From there it is a short half a kilometre walk to the lake.

When we got the first glimpse of the lake, we were dumbfounded by its beauty. It was huge for one thing. It's calm and crystal clear water had reflections of mountains peaks all around and it looked like a mirror from distance. The calmness around was hypnotic. We spend some good 1 hour around it.

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Little something we built there


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Finally, when we left from Chandratal, it was 1.30 PM already. Strong winds had started blowing now. We knew the weather will soon turn bad. So, we left quickly from there. Later we joined the main road and reached Batal.

We took a quick stop at the Chacha Chachi Dhaba for some tea and Maggi. A lot of people were there. We asked them how much time will it take to reach Gramphoo, which according to maps, was only 50 odd kms. They said 3-4 hours. At first, we thought we had heard it wrong - 3-4 hours to cross 50km? How can that be?

Well, we soon came to know. That is probably the worst road there can be. In fact, there isn't a road at all. You are just driving over debris. Add to that those big rocks that seem ready to fall on you. And what is up with that valley? Rocks and rocks everywhere. It seems like an apocalypse has happened here. Add to that it started raining.

Luckily, we had our Duster AWD and slowly and steadily we breeze through it all. There was very deep slush in many places but we didn't get stuck anywhere.

When we reached Grumphoo and saw that smooth tarmac road, we were elated beyond measure. We were shouting in relief!

But that joy was short-lived as heavy snowfall started as we started climbing Rohtang Pass. There were detours at many places where the road was broken and full of slush. It was scary but fun as well. Our last adventure of the trip! Slowly and steadily we kept going and crossed the pass without any hassle.

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We reached Manali around 9.30 PM after almost 15 hours of riding. And thus ended our wonderful and memorable trip.

In the end, I can only say that this place has occupied a special place in our heart. We will keep returning to this true heaven on earth.
 

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