September Spiti ride

I did my first motorcycle ride in the Himalayas in 2016, when I rode to Ladakh along with another friend. Riding in the Himalayas is a serious addiction as I figured out. Unfortunately, for people from the south of India, it is not easy to plan a trip to the Himalayas. It takes a lot of preparation, commitment and more importantly the number of days off from work. In the early part of the year, I had made up my mind about a ride, either June or Sep. The Spiti circuit was the preferred choice. I had heard good things about it from many of my friends who had been there, even though some consider it a poorer cousin of Ladakh. There was something mystical about this remote place and I was keen to experience it first hand.
A change of job around the middle of the year meant that June was not happening, so it had to be September. I left the planning a bit late and started planning in earnest only in late July.
My Ladakh trip was with just one other co-rider and this was not going to be any different. It always helps to have a fellow rider, to have someone to talk to and also in case any help is required along the way. I checked with many of the riders in my circle. Some were interested, but was too short notice to take that many days of leave, a few others had already visited. Eventually, I was left with two choices - either postpone to next year or go solo. For me, the choice was obvious. The smooth ride to Ladakh two years ago had given me enough confidence to attempt a solo ride on my second outing in the mountains.
Planning a trip to Spiti is not as complicated as planning one to Ladakh. It is a no-brainer to start from the Shimla side, through Kinnaur, Spiti and end at the Manali side. I planned to take my time covering the Kinnaur side adequately, apart from the usual places in Spiti. Beyond that, I did not really plan anything at a minute level of detail and decided to take it as it came.
This time however, I decided to ship my motorcycle to Delhi instead of Chandigarh, as the train connectivity to Delhi is much better and my motorcycle would not have to spend any extra days lying in the parcel office. It would also give me an opportunity to try the Delhi - Chandigarh highway, about which I had heard a lot. Unfortunately, a medical emergency in the family meant that I had to replan my trip at the last minute, after I had already shipped my motorcycle. I eventually flew into Delhi on the morning of 13th Sep and my motorcycle ended up lying in the parcel office for 9 days.

Day 1 - 13th Sep (Thu)
Distance covered: 277 kms

I had booked a ticket on the early morning flight to Delhi. The flight was delayed by 2 hrs, the saving grace being Indigo informed me about it the night before, giving me 2 hours of extra sleep. The flight was uneventful, as was the taxi ride to the New Delhi Railway Station, where my motorcycle was waiting for me. Locating the parcel office, however was a bit of a challenge and I had to search for a while, along with my luggage, before I could find it.
Before you know it, the touts at the parcel office are all over you. After finishing the formalities, I got my motorcycle in about 30 mins. Touts were readily available to unpack the motorcycle and I heaved a sigh of relief to find it intact. For some strange reason, the touts didn’t have any petrol with them, like is usually available in other railway stations, which meant that the motorcycle had to be pushed for about half a km to the petrol station. Perhaps it was a wise strategy from their side, as it cost me Rs.300 to have them do the pushing.
I realised that mid-Sep in Delhi is still summer. It felt like 40 degrees and I was sweating profusely by the time we reached the petrol station. It felt a lot better once I started the ride around 1pm. It didn’t take me long to find my way to the ring road and then towards the highway to Chandigarh. There are numerous dhabas along the highway and many of these are a lot bigger as compared to the ones in the south.

ready to rock.jpg

All set for the ride

Lunch stop was at the very popular Amrik Sukhdev dhaba at Murthal. The dhaba was quite posh as well, something you don’t see much in the south. Each paratha that I ordered came with about quarter kilo of butter on top!

Paratha and butter

The highway was initially moderately crowded and unremarkable. But near and after Karnal it became more scenic with lush green farms and water bodies. A few cranes also appeared along the way, by the roadside. It was easy to maintain a healthy speed on the good, wide highway, even though there was road work happening at periodic intervals.
After a tea break near Ambala, I continued the ride even after dusk, with the intention of getting past Zirakpur (Chandigarh). My original plan was to stop at Solan, but that was too far away and I didn’t want to ride in the winding roads of the hills after dark. Hence I decided to stop around Pinjore or Parwanoo. A brief spell of rain added a 15 mins delay, but I continued on, crossed into HP and stopped at Hotel Paradise at Parwanoo. As soon as you start climbing a hill you know you are in HP.
Day 2: 14th Sep (Fri)
Distance covered: 306 kms

When the day started, I wasn’t sure where I would be stopping in the night. But as it turned out, it was a long day of riding. I started around around 7:15am from Parwanoo. The hotel was very average, but I managed a good hot water bath in the morning after waking the manager and reminding him to turn on water supply. It was a clear morning as I left Parwanoo, but a few kms on the road it soon turned into a drizzle, which prompted a tea break. After a brief stop, I decided to continue in the rain rather than wait it out. The road was quite bad too, with a lot of landslides plus roadwork happening everywhere, leading to a lot of slush. It was just Day 2 and my motorcycle was already covered with mud. There was a Sagar Ratna (South Indian chain) at Solan and I stopped there for a tomato onion uthappam breakfast. There are several of these Sagar Ratna restaurants all over HP, not sure if they are all part of the same chain. The bad roads continued until I slowly made my way to Shimla; the weather also cleared around this time. Another tea break later, I continued past Shimla towards Narkanda. At one point, there was a nice view in the hills across, with a dense cover of pine trees over a large area.


Pine forest near Shimla

The traffic was quite heavy until I crossed the popular tourist destination of Kufri. After that the roads were also wider and smoother, with lesser traffic. It was a smooth ride with lush green views all around. Soon, apple orchards started appearing near Narkanda. It was plucking season, which was perhaps the reason that many of them were covered with some kind of transparent sheets or nets.

View of the hills near Narkanda with apple orchards covered with sheets

After a quick lunch at Narkanda, I rode on towards Rampur Bushahr. A little before Rampur you get the first sighting of the Satluj. It was 3:45pm as I reached Rampur. The next town on my planned route with decent accommodation was Sangla, nearly 100 kms away (roughly 3.5 hrs riding time) and I ideally didn’t want to ride in the hills after dark. At the same time, there was ample sunlight time and I didn’t want to be in a place too faraway from the Kinnaur towns I was targeting. A cup of tea at the Rampur HPTDC hotel helped me decide to go on towards Sangla. The weather was good and the roads seemed to be decent enough, so why not? The roads were still reasonably good, with only the occasional rough patch. After Rampur, you enter Kinnaur district and get the famous rock-carved roads. Some of these roads are made by carving out the boulders on the hillside, with the underside of the rock over the head as you cross. One of them actually goes through a hole drilled through the boulder.



The famous road through the hill photo

The road becomes narrower, but was still smooth and nice to ride on in a motorcycle. There were several landslides that had happened along the entire route, most having already been cleared for traffic to move. However, I got stuck in one near Wangtoo where it was still being cleared. Thankfully it was only a short 15 min delay. JSW runs a couple of hydroelectric projects in Wangtoo and Karcham. They have a large presence including residential areas for the employees. The army also has a presence near Karcham. After Karcham, the road to Sangla is a bit rough but manageable. The last couple of kms to Sangla is in a bad shape. It was around 7:15 when I reached Sangla, with the daylight gone a little while ago. It took me a little while to find the Royal Castle hotel, but soon settled down and had a hearty dinner of chapati with dal and two other dishes.


One of the power projects along the way near Karcham

Day 3: 15th Sep (Sat)
Distance covered: 121 kms

It got a bit cold during the night at Sangla. However, once the sun was up in the morning, the cold quickly vanished.
Today was going to be a relatively relaxed day after two days of long riding.
First up was a walk to the nearby Kamru fort, which offers good views of the Sangla village and the nearby valley. Sangla and the entire valley is behind the Kinner Kailash range, with Kalpa and Peo being on the front facing side. There are treks which start on the Kalpa side and finish on the Sangla side. The entire area is full of apple and apricot trees, wherever one looks. The fort itself is small and has an old structure where the local king once resided and reigned from. There is also an old temple just before the fort. The caretaker insisted that I wear a cloth belt and a cap before entering, as required by tradition.



Rear view of Kinner Kailash mountain from Sangla


Entrance to the temple near the Kamru fort. Interesting slate roofs, typical of Kinnaur.

After breakfast, I rode over to Chitkul. The road is broken in several places and it took me well over an hour to cover the 30 kms to Chitkul. The views were fabulous along the way with the road running on the hill side with the valley to the other side and tall peaks beyond. The Baspa river accompanies the road throughout. Chitkul is marketed as the last village on the Indian side along this route, with the Chinese border being some 50-60 kms beyond, as per the guard at the last ITBP post. The ITBP policemen were engaged in a competitive game of cricket, right next to the checkpost. The views from Chitkul were awesome, with snow capped peaks and the river flowing in full force. There is also a lot of greenery in the village with several types of crops being grown other than apples/apricots etc. At Chitkul, it is also possible to go all the way down to the river, along with the vehicle. After spending some time admiring the beauty of the place, I was back at Sangla for lunch, after which I checked out and started riding towards Kalpa.

View of the Baspa valley near Sangla, enroute to Chitkul


At Chitkul


China is somewhere beyond those mountains


The beautiful, bubbly, Baspa river at Chitkul


Chitkul village

The road from Karcham to Reckong Peo was in poor condition and dusty. The front face of the Kinner Kailash range was visible as I approached Peo. As I started climbing first to Peo and then to Kalpa, the view got better all the time. Finally, when I reached the Monk Hotel at Kalpa, my halt for the night, the view was stunning with the snow capped peaks shining brightly in the afternoon sun, almost felt like within touching distance. The Kinner Kailash mountain is around 20K ft high and has a vertical rock that is close to its peak. The rock is worshipped as a shiva linga and this draws the crowds. It is possible to reach the rock and perform pooja as part of a multi day trek starting near Peo. After clicking numerous snaps, I rode down to Peo for dinner, to draw cash and to fill petrol for the ride until Kaza. Peo is the largest town and the headquarters of the Kinnaur district. It has a small market area that is quite busy. The ride from Peo to Kalpa is a steep climb through a coniferous forest. The temperature drops sharply as one rides up to Kalpa from Peo.


Near Karcham, the road winds down to the bridge over Baspa


Enroute to Reckong Peo


At Kalpa: View of the Kinner Kailash mountain range from my hotel balcony. The Shiva Linga is towards the left side of the pic, see next pic for close-up.


Close-up view of the Shiv Linga (vertical standing rock in the middle of the picture)

Close-up glacier view in the Kinner Kailash mountains
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Great. You're right. For people like us from south to travel to Himalayas need some planning. Good photos.

BTW I've a doubt. Is it possible to send bike through railways if not in our name? Is it possible to book parcel for bike (not in my name but in spouse's who is not travelling) at Railways and collect it at destination railway station? I'm planning the same circuit next year in two bikes. One Aprilia SR 150 and other my BIL in an electra.
Great. You're right. For people like us from south to travel to Himalayas need some planning. Good photos.

BTW I've a doubt. Is it possible to send bike through railways if not in our name? Is it possible to book parcel for bike (not in my name but in spouse's who is not travelling) at Railways and collect it at destination railway station? I'm planning the same circuit next year in two bikes. One Aprilia SR 150 and other my BIL in an electra.
Not entirely sure, but I believe it should be possible to send if you can produce an authorization letter. At the time of collecting, they don't check identity; the person carrying the receipt gets delivery of the vehicle.