Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Delhi-Kaza- Delhi (Ajay, Avenger and Arpenaz 2)

Day 1:

Delhi - Kasol

Started at 2:30 AM. Ive come to believe that nights are the best time to cross the plains. Good decision too. By 6 in the morning i had crossed Ambala and was in Chandigarh for breakfast. That is when i made my first change in plan, i could go to Kasol instead of Manali. Followed the intuition and turned right from Bhuntar to Kasol.

I was half asleep when i rode for most part of my day, it somehow led me to Kasol, a pristine hill town near the Parwati  Valley base. Found a ground to pitch tent for the night.

Met 2 Israeli car mechanics out on a vacation to India. The conversations were many but it ended with some delicious Israeli Coffee-Elite. I realized a taste in coffee beyond expresso. I did manage to sleep ok though in my Arpenaz 2 tent. It was to be my trusted abode for most of my trip. It was my first use and i woke up to some condensation on the rain cover  but not within my tent. It gained my trust.Desmond, The Avenger, my bike was seeming calm today(The silent damage was done at this point, i was to realize this later). Except for once though it simply fell with the luggage on. The Israeli guy Sharon came down to help. That's how we met. Mostly I was helped by Jimmy a Man Friday at a local restaurant, he helped me with food and ground to camp . Thanks Jimmy!

Day 2:

Kasol - Manali

Woke up and went for a run/walk. It is very quiet here but the birds wont shut up. The river provides continuous rhythm.

The crickets wont stop. Met Amar, the property manager, Told me about a route through Jalori pass, he used to take to Kaza. Route i was taking is apparently more challenging. He treated me with a different Israeli Coffee, this was more milder. After whiling away for a while, i decided to take the bike for a spin. I started it and immediately realized..A puncture.
There was no tyre mechanic around, one guy filled some air and i headed out to the puncture guy 1 KM downhill. His shop was shut. I was to find the next mechanic 5 KMs uphill in Manikaran, the tyre was surprisingly holding good, i went up to Manikaran to find all the tyre mechanics closed. I got some air at a truck guy and was told i would get a tyre guy next at Jari which was 13 KMs downhill. I realized i was midway through my puncture adventure and decided to enjoy the hot water spring pool at Manikaran. Refreshed, i headed to Jari and found the mechanic who told me that i didn't have a puncture. Someone deflated it. I found it quite odd that someone would do that especially in this part of the country. (I was right). Got the air filled, packed my bags on the bike and headed off the Manali. I was riding to attend Rohtang Riders Meet - RRM 2017 which had 150+riders and cars crossing the Spiti Valley together.

Rohtang Riders , a motorcycling group with participants from Lahaul, Manali, Kerala(Yep!), Laddakh, Gujrat, and many parts of the country were riding out from Jispa to Kaza. I was to camp at Conifer Woods, Simsa near Manali. It is my base in Manali where i met riders gearing up to Jispa next morning. Shamass Riders had come to join the ride from Delhi Chandigarh, Dharamshala, and local regions, they were the ferocious Tibetan riders who were fresh back from their Bhutan trip. And then the Kerala team i was part of led by Jo included Midhun, Renju, Bobby and his wife. This was the route plan:
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Sherab Gyaltsen, the silent performer, the leader of the ride for the next 3 days and Tenzin Gombo, the guy to be in the pickup truck travelling last, both were happy to see me and helped me set up my camp and be fed well for the night. Slept in Manali.

Day 3
It is the day to ride to Jispa, the starting point for the RRM. All the riders head out to Jispa which is 100 KMs after the Rohtang pass. My luggage is loaded on the pick up so i ride luggage free :)
As soon as i head out, i realized, it was definitely a puncture yesterday. I bid goodbye to the rest and would meet them at Jispa. Finding a puncture i guy was no easy, finally i did and managed to have it fixed. I left Manali post brunch. I met a group of middle aged Malayali men at Marhi, who were from different careers but their brotherhood was coined by Kothamanglam Badminton club.

Moving on Rohtang, it was the dryest ever, no snow, no water, no slush. It was colorful on the contrary a tinge of orange lay here and there in patches. Beautiful Rohtang.

This might be my last visit to you because the tunnel from Manali to Kokhsar opens this year. The usual patchy roads till Kokhsar and then beautiful road to Gemur Jispa.

At Camp Jispa Journeys, it was around 6:30 that i reached. The party was just getting started, Local music was playing, the registration desk was open and riders and car were coming in hoardes. We were well fed, well drunk and gently put to bed before 11 pm to gear up for the ride tomorrow Aacho, as he is fondly called was our group leader. He guided us through the process at all times.

Day 4

The day of the ride. Everybody woke up, saddled up and rode to reach the Jispa Helipad for formal Flagoff and instructions. The ride was flagged off and we rode to Sissou helipad where we had the first of our many felicitations with tea and snacks. These felicitations were mostly organized by local women community groups.

From thereon we rode to Gramphoo and turned left for the most difficult terrain i ever drove on. From Gramphoo to Batal (Lunch location) is one of the most trickiest paths you could ever ride on. You will find a lot of youtube videos showing the paths and the water crossings (naala) as I Didn't  have a heart to stop and take a photo.

There are at least 10 water crossings that wetted my feet, a slight drizzle always kept company. We rode through Chatru and reached Chacha Chachi dhaba for lunch at Batal at 5:30 PM. The mighty Knunzum pass was scaled in the night and we reached Tapcha for our nightstay. It was just me wet top to feet an open ground on a dark, cold, rainy night. Worse, my tent and gear were in the pick up truck which is running late. In the meanwhile there was worry that the Kerala team had missed the Gramphoo turn and were running late. There were others who were delayed due to bikes breaking down, many lost silencers that day.

There is a man, I dont know his name but he was introduced as MD. I was later told his nick name is 'Patthar' (Rock in hindi). MD is a professional bike tour leader and throughout the journey, he was the one helping the slower ones, the ones who broke down, the one's who go stuck at water crossings. He was basically our safety net on 2 wheels.

At around 9:30 in the night which is very late by mountain standards, MD rode in with the Kerala team, some more riders and the pick up truck with our luggage. It all started feeling better again. I met a fellow from Gujrat who was on an Avenger too. Helped him set up his Arpenaz 2 while i waited for mine. Mine arrived soon and i set my tent up, shifted the luggage, lost my mattress took someone else's, ate dinner and went to bed, i mean ground :)

Day 5

Losar - Chicham Bridge -  Kibber -  Kaza - Rangrik camp

It rained all night, it was cold and windy. Arpenaz 2 did well and so did my Coleman Sleeping Bag(Thanks Maggie/ Nishant/ Abid). we were wearing many layers of clothing to keep us warm outside. Some good man went to the nearest town Losar, got wood and we have a big bonfire going on in the morning. 

With tea, egg bhurji and Bread Jam, we were done with breakfast, everyone packed and saddled up. Aacho took the morning briefing, with rules for the next 2 days. No Overtaking. Speed below 50. Every one was to follow the ride leader. This was good news for us slower plebeians. While the Avenger did the job, the Bullets racing past was a humbling experience yesterday. The line formation will involve lot of discipline on my end as well.
Spiti in September is blooming in color.. The sight cannot be explained. They were simply put, a visual treat

We passed through Chicham bridge, one of the highest bridges in Asia built on top of a 150 meter gorge connecting Kibber and Losar
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We crossed Kibber which was once the highest village in the world connected by motorable road, Crossed Ki Monestary, one of the favorite monasteries of His Holiness Dalai Lama and eventually made a grand entry into Kaza. Lunch was arranged for us at the newly built Circuit house in Kaza. After lunch we headed to the Rangrik camp whis was to be the base for the next 2 nights. The rangrik Campsite was a huge riverbed next to an almost dry Spiti river. There were a couple of streams one had to cross to reach the camp. The camp was a grand affair. It had a huge Main tent where the DJ station belted out songs. There was a kitchen tens set next to the stream, there fere toilet tents set up far far away, there were fire pits for the bonfire. Anyone could pitch a tent anywhere. It was a night of merry making as all the tired riders rested and wetted their throats with Old Monk and local alchohol. I missed it all as i decided to stay in a hotel room and camp next night.
I checked into a Kaza hotel called Old Monk with Tejas, who was to ride with me further down to Shimla. At the hotel, we met 3 guys driving from Mumbai heading out to Manali next day. We both had road conditions, weather, logistics to share. Night at the Old Monk Hotel. I also had a view of a faint Milky Way.

Day 6:

Rangrik - Komic - Dankar Monastery - Pin Valley - Kaza - Rangrik
We headed early to the Rangrik campand had a quick breakfast (Chole Bhature). 

Got the bikes checked. The tea this morning was special. It was made of Seabuckthorn which is a local berry and very nutritious. It was prepared by the ladies of the Kaza Seabuckthorn Society. After the morning briefing, by Aacho, we headed out to reach Komic village. It is the highest village in the world connected by a motor able road. This record was earlier held by Kibber till Komic came along. We were served tea and snacks by the local monastery. It was a humbling experience ensuring we cleaned all our steel glasses after use. From Komic we headed to the Dankar monastery where we had lunch. from Dankhar, 

we headed to Pin valley where we had evening tea and it was about 5:30 by the time we reached here and Kaza was still about 30 KMs from here. It was a long day of riding but we saw Spiti valley in its moghtly bloom, Ibex goat, Rosethorn berries, Monks and monasteries, riders performing off-road stunts and some great roads. It was a long road and last night of the ride, we all headed back to the camp where we all checked into our tents and came out to submerge in all form of intoxication s :) There was a presentation ceremony where each rider was felicitated. In the end we were swinging away to the tunes of Lahauli/ Spitian and Laddakhi songs. Gyaltsen was super happy at the close of a successful ride. I was very happy for him and to be a part of this. I spent a lot of time with the Kerala team as well. After bidding them good night, i retired back to my tent. A lot of them were to ride back to Jispa/ Manali/Kullu/ Laddakh while there were many who would drive to Shimla. Night at Rangrik camp.

Day 7:

Rangrik - Kaza - Shego
Morning at Rangrik was slow, no body was in a rush, a majority of riders has already left early moning. I big my goodbyes to Gyaltsen/ Gombo/ Kerala team/ Ajay Verma/ Aacho and many others and headed to Kaza to meet Tejas at the Old Monk hotel. After a quick breakfast and bike checkup, we rode out to Shego which was few KMs outside Kaza to meet, Jeyzer Reynolds. Jezer is an old friend of mine who has set up camps near Kaza and i planned to surprise him. Unfortunately he was not here but i met his crew Kunzung and team who took us in with great pleasure. We also met Peter whom we saw at Jispa camp. Peter, Tejas, Kunzung and me had lots of conversation, i spoke to Jezer on phone and he was happy i visited. We wanted to pitch our tents but we were offered a luxurius tent to stay instead. We didnt nay no :)

After lunch Peter, Tejas and me trekked to a mountain overlooking the camp to click some good pictures for the camp brochure. It was an interesting trek involving lot of conversations and sights. The highlight of it was a huge naturally formed monolith, which Peter fondly called "Pick" starting with a D.

In the evening, Kunzhung and gang took us back to Kaza to attend the last day of the Spiti Festival. It was held in a school ground with crowd coming in from Kaza, Pin Valley, Nako, Tabo and other nearby villages. it involved dance performances by local groups but ended with a fine singing performance by a local superstar Furbu Negi. We headed back late to the camp, had dinner and went off to sleep.  Met Peter who would leave early next morning for Manali and big goodbyes. Night at the camp.

Day 8:
Shego - Tabo - Nako - Khab - Pooh
After an early morning breakfast, left the Camp after bidding goodbyes. 

We were to reach Kalpa today. Crossed Tabo and took lot of photo stops. This was the beginning of the landslide prone are which we were to cross. We were warned regularly by signboards warning "Warning: Shooting Stones ahead". The terrain was magnificent but also had regular construction work going on. 

At Chango, i was stopped by a policeman who wanted a lift. Always willing to help, i made him sit on top of my luggage at the back. He guided us through the way to Maling nala and dropped him at Nako from there he was to make his way to Pooh. We had lunch at Nako, visited the Nako lake also met a couple of Malayali boys riding from Bangalore. They were the last set of Malayalis i met on the trip. 

We rode on further and crossed Khab a small village near the Tibet border. We cam across a long queue of stationary of army and civilian vehicles. I figured a bridge lay broken due to a rouge boulder hitting it due to a mountain cutting exercise gone wrong. The men from Border Roads Organization were working all hands on deck to fix it. It took approximately 2 hours to fix the bridge. I was too intrigued to see how they fix an iron bridge so quick and was in the front watching the proceedings, Tejas stayed back to chat with the army men in the convoy, I joined them later. it is always reassuring talking to an army man. I have to find a place to go to sleep, but they had to go and stand guard to our borders to keep me and the country safe. Salute dear sirs!

Our plans were cut short due to this and we decided to find a place in Pooh to camp. After an unsuccessful bid to find a decent camping place, we checked into a transit hotel, ate dinner and slept.

Day 9:
Pooh - Reckong Peo - Kalpa - Aucktong

It was a late start. It was not everyday we found a place with running hot water so a bath was due, so was a shave :) All fresh after a breakfast, we saddled and headed to Kalpa. We crossed Reckong Peo and headed to Kapa determined to find a nice place to camp. We checked with the monastrey, a school, local police station but couldnt find a good place to camp. For some reason we kept heading up towards the jungles. The landscape has changed from brown to thick green. The green canopy of trees were giving us an experience we havent had so far. They were different to the the monster brown mountain landscape in Spiti. No place was working out to camp, and i wanted to camp right across the Kinner Kailash range we no obstruction in the view. Someone suggested we take the next left and follow the road to the jungles and camp there. No one would disturb us there. Excited we took the left only to find a trail of big rocks which looked like it would be a road some day but was only fit for 4x4 vehicles now. Here we met a man.

Man was hoping we will give him a lift. I agreed and he jumped on back of my bike. We tried for 10 mtrs and realized this was not going to work. He asked what we were doing here, i told him we were looking for a place to camp. He promptly asked us to keep following the road and reach his apple orchard where we could stay for the night. We were very happy with the offer and went uphill on first gear. Sweating profusely, bike crying out loud didn't stop us from scaling those rocks. The man took a short cut to his house and disappeared soon. It was just the two of us on this road, we were confused if we are headed for any trouble. Soon the man appeared somewhere up above and kept encouraging us to keep moving. I dont know why he believed the motorcycle could come up this road. Then came a point where we decided we cant go any further. At this point the man came close, held us by our hands and said, leave the bike, we'll walk. We walked.

After a few hundred meters of meandering through apple orchards, we were joined by his sister. He introduced us as 2 tourists stuck in the woods. On this seemingly abstract route, i noticed a path which reinstated my faith that we were heading right

They led us to his 2 room house which had a beautiful courtyard overlooking the majestic snowclad Kinne kailash range. 

The little kid in me was bouncing on a happiness trampoline as this was a perfect campsite we could have imagined with a homestay. He offered to let us stay in the rooms by we insisted we camp. The Man's name is Vikram, a retired armyman. Lives with his wife down in Kalpa. 

This was a base for them in their apple orchards and vegetable garden which spread all around us. It was the Apple picking time and they has set up base here while the workers picked apples in the orchard. Soon the sister (Vinod) and her husband ( Bhagat Singh) joined us. After a cup of tea and settling down, we headed back to our bikes to get ours tents and sleeping bags. Soon we had set up the tent and were sitting around a table discussing possibilities of creating homestay options here. I though it could be turned into a good campsite. While in Kalpa, do reach out to the Negis to check out the homestay options, it will be quite an experience interacting with hardworking, well natured Kinnauri men and women. We were served Tea, again with local walnuts, almonds, dried fruits, a very potent apple wine followed by dinner with roti, paneer and mutton curry. 

We talked on many topics, we have been asked to come again next year and do a Kinner Kailash trek. They even pointed out to the exact location to reach to see the Kinner kailash shivling. It was an ideal homestay and was turning out to be the highlight of the trip so far. Simple people opening their doors to strangers and treating them like family. I think i made some friends for life today. They are willing to offer this experience to like minded people, and by means of this post, i will be happy to connect like minded travellers to them. They might be a little low on infrastructure but they offer what you desire. TO stal with the locals, away from the town hustle. I am going to sleep now thinking about the moment i am in. Night in Aucktong.

Day 10

Aucktong - Reckong Peo - Karcham - Sangla - Raksam

It was the day when the rains made their first appearance. It doesnt rain to much in Kalpa but it was a constant mild shower, we managed to pack our tents (Its a dirty job in rains with mud and slush. After breakfast, we bid goodbye to the Negi family, we headed to our motorcycles.

All our luggage was intact and we managed to start the bikes just fine. All saddled up, we moved down towards Reckong Peo, from thereon the plan was to go to Chitkul in Sangla Valley. Going downhill through those rocks was a sweaty affair too but the bikes were better once we were on the tarred roads. I did notice a slight difference, the Avenger was not it's usual self. We found a mechanic in Peo who gave us this news, "Sir, your clutch plates are all gone"

Avenger clutch plates are tough to find, luckily the mechanic had some with him. Tejas got his bike's shockers fixed for oil change. He has been very patient through this. 

We spent half our day at the workshop and headed out towards Sangla valley, we were undecided on how far we want to go. He headed towards Sangla anyways. We reached Karchan where we saw multiple Hydel projects which were producing 500 - 1000 MW of electricity using turbines. Massive dams, dried out rivers, regular construction. I wasn't liking this sort of infrastructure development in hills. The dams make the rivers inaccessible to the local public as sudden opening of dams are dangerous and therefore out of bounds. All this electricity produced does not go to the locals, it is all sold to different states. I felt a capitalist stronghold at Karcham, moving on to Sangla was a different ride all together, The clouds come down too low and the mountain tops appear to be protruding out of them. It seemed like a scene from the Movie "Avatar" only in reality. 

The light rain made the mountains dangerous, it was one of the scariest rides yet beautiful rides of my life. We crossed Sangla which looked like a commercial hill town, we swiftly moved on to Chitkul. 10 KMs befor Chitkul is a quint village called Raksham, River Baspa flows next to it and it has a campsite next to a stream near the Jungle. We were guided so by a local (Sunny BhaiG). We managed to find the place and pitched our tents. it was a beautiful location to camp. 

It started raining again and grew dark. Only people we saw were returning from the woods. We biked back to the village to find something to eat. Unfortunately the only eatery in the village closed long time ago. We headed to a local Camp which was being managed by a guy called Sevak along with his staff. He welcomed us in and fed us as well. I met a member of the staff here. His name is Manruth, fondly called as Manu. He is an Engineer from Bangalore who left his job to travel. He does not get paid anything but gets food and accommodation to work here. He makes the tourists comfortable, takes them fro treks, teaches at a local school to keep himself busy. After many conversations we ventured into pitch black night to find our way back to our camps. We successfully reached our tents and went off to sleep thinking of bears and foxes who might come loitering for food. it rained all night. Camp at Raksam

Day 11

Raksam - Chitkul - Sangla - Tapri - Bhavanagar - Ramputr

It was raining in the morning too. It just didn't stop. we were both confined to our tents and we 
didnt know what to do.

 That is when we heard Raju Negi's voice for the first time. We were happy to hear a human voice, i cam out of my tent to find cows all around me. This man was taking his cows for a stroll when he saw our camp and decided to stop. He offered us Beedis, we offered him rum, together we sat in the rain and talked about many things, the then went on further into the woods. The rain was gone, we quickly packed and saddled. I started my bike and it wont start. All night of rain has not bee very helpful for the bike it seems. It was in a puddle and needed to be jump started. That is when i hear Raju Negi's voice again. He was back to ask if he could buys the rum bottle. I gave it to him fro free, he with Tejas pushed the bike and i was all set fro my ride. We bid our goodbyes and headed to Chitkul. It was not far away but it was raining throughout. Chitkul is the last village before the Tibetian border begins. We stopped at Chikul fro breaksfast. We were wet and cold that day, the water did manage to make its way everywhere. from Chitkul we headed back to Sangla, Karcham and had our lunch at Tapri. we 2 me we met on one of our pitstops who 

After lunch we we about to mount our bikes when a young man came up to us and greeted in a familiar tone. Clean shaven well built young man with a cap. I had no recollection of him. That's when he reminded he was the cop i gave a lift near Chango roughly 3 days ago. What a coincidence. He was headed to Bhavanager, i took him again and we were back with Constable Brij Bhushan from Bhavanagar on the back on my motorcycle. At Bhavanager, he treated us with tea, snacks and some essentials we we've been searching for and we headed towards Narkanda.

We reached Rampur, and as soon as we crossed Rampur, I had a puncture. It took close to 3 hours to find a mechanic and fix the puncture. Tejas was in this real element convincing the puncture guy to come out in the night when its raining. He was the hero of the night. We decided to stay back in Rampur for the night. We found a room in Hotel Satluj. Night at Rampur.
Day 12

Rampur - Narkanda - Shimla - Solan - Panchkula

We started from Rampur and made our way to Narkanda effortlessly. Ony highlight were the 2 men we met on our pitstops, who gave us an idea on how Himachals economy, people , education are progressing. How girls education takes importance over boys education here. They also gave us few sticks of Meswak. We headed to Narkanda and were crossing the town when my bike suddenly switched off. It just wont start, i cam back to Narkanda searching for a mechanic who was nowhere to be seen. There were customers who were waiting for him. One of them was a nepali trader and an old retired HP transport uncle. I had a long chat on how convenient it is in Winters to travel to Kaza. his only advise was, dont get your wife and kid here in the winters. Ok sir. Understood. I decided to go back to Tejas and check on him.
I turned back and when i reached, i saw my bike was lost in a crowd of people trying to figure out whats wrong with the bike. They couldn't find anything but they offered to help me push it uphill to the mechanic.  All boys were back on their bikes and mine was pushed by Himanshu, a solo rider from Dwarka Delhi. Somewhere midway, accidentally, my gear changed and the bike started. We all rode to the mechanich. I was introduced to all the boys, apart from Tejas, Himanshu, Nitin and Madhur, all were solo riders travelling ahead. it was a coincidednce that 5 of us made a group. It was a moment. We chatted for a while. Bid our goodbyes and they left for Sarahan, their next stop. Me and Tejas decided to have lunch and drive as much as possible tonight.

We were having lunch at the Negi dhaba in Narkanda when i saw this sight:

If i reckon right, they would be travelling to Spiti with a kid :)

That night was the night of mountain riding. We averaged a speed of 50 on beautiful roads. All our experience of mountain riding came in handy and we crossed Shimla, Solan, Parwanoo and were nearing Panchkula when that happened. My fall. I fell on an unexpected bump and hurt my knee. 

I was still of to ride on though. We rode further and decided to stay the night at a Panchkula Petrol Pump. We piched tent there and rested to resume our ride further.

Day 13

Panchkula - Delhi

I woke up late, Tejas bid goodbye early as he had to head far. It was a very successful partnership. I think we made friends for life. 
After a little extra rest i packed my tent.

This is when i realized my trip was about to end. This dent in reality is to remember for life. Reality awaits me at home and soon we'll confluence. With mixed feelings, i made my way to Delhi. Office awaits me tomorrow morning, i'll embrace it as normal and normal will never be enough.

With more i will return. Till then, take care.


Kapsi 🐬 said...

Memories posted beautifully;Looking forward to Read More ✔

Pheno-Menon said...

Thanks man

Unknown said...

Beautiful Ajay... just by reading i felt i lived that ride and stride. Thanks for sharing and good luck for many other such trips.

Prateek Babbar said...


Shruti Sharma said...

I really like how you’ve described every single detail. Pictures make it more engaging . Super!

Richa Joshi said...


How wonderfully this has been written!

Navneet Chundawat said...

This is Awesome Ajay. I was experiencing the thrill and adventure while reading. These are lifetime memories.

Pheno-Menon said...

Thanks Anup.

Pheno-Menon said...

Thanks man.

Pheno-Menon said...

Thanks Shruti.

Pheno-Menon said...

Thanks Richa.

Pheno-Menon said...

Thanks Navneet, I remember our Spiti conversations. Some of the roads were real bad.

Deidre van Rooyen said...

Thanks for sharing Ajay. You have a wonderful talent for story telling. I felt like I was a pillion, experiencing every moment with you. Brilliant!

Shilpa K said...

Ajay, your articulation and visuals have brought the entire journey to life! May you adventure more and write more! Kudos!