Spiti on a bike - by Gayatri Patel
Every biker has a dream to ride to the northernmost parts of India.
I had done Leh-Ladakh 4 times in the past and Spiti once in 2017. The journey to Leh-Ladakh is no doubt spectacular but Spiti Valley holds a closer place in my heart, simply because the roads challenge the rider in me and the places enroute are isolated from civilization with comparatively very few tourists.
Spiti’s virgin natural beauty, spectacular landscapes and divine peaceful aura attract me the most and an urge to ride there again always existed. And I was ecstatic when I got a chance, in June 2019 to join the TVS AOG (Apache Owner’s Group) bike ride to Spiti.
I started my preparation with full enthusiasm.
Reaching Flag Off
Though I had thought I would ride from my home town of Kolhapur, most of my co-riders did not want to ride till Delhi and were transporting their bikes, leaving me with no other choice.
I asked a few friends, researched online, explored the various options of sending my bike. There were many choices in the form of logistic companies, courier services and railway parcel service.
Finally, based on my budget and convenience, I opted to transport my bike and myself by Indian Railways, so that it would be easier to receive my bike at Delhi! Now, Kolhapur has only one train to Delhi that runs once a week and luckily, we were able to get tickets.
Then began the task of getting the bike ready for transportation – removing the mirrors, emptying the petrol tank and few connecting pipes. These weren’t tasks that I could do totally by myself. So, with the help of friends, and a few hours of unscrewing, dismantling, wrapping, packing, my bike stood ready to be parceled.
In the parcel office at Kolhapur station, I showed the necessary documents – insurance, ID proof, driving license, collected the receipt and loaded my bike into the compartment reserved for it.
We then boarded the train, enjoying every moment of the 32 hours of travel. I was traveling along with two of my co-riders and we were more than excited to be on a train journey together. We passed Pune and Manmad Junctions the first day. Getting up on a train has always fascinated me since childhood. When you sleep you are in one state and the next morning you feel magically transported to another. The next morning we found ourselves at Bhopal Junction. We chugged on through Jhansi, Gwalior, Agra and Mathura to reach Delhi’s Hazrat Nizammudin Station a little after 5 pm that evening.
Once we got off, we headed straight to pick up our bikes. They checked our receipts and we got our bikes. It was time to fit in the petrol pipes, mirrors and arrange for petrol. We soon found ourselves riding to our local place of stay for the night. We all wanted to get to bed early, since we were to head for Chandigarh the next morning.
A crisp morning it was, as we got ready to take off to Chandigarh. 4 hours of riding and passing through Sonipat, Panipat and Kurukshetra, we reached Chandigarh where we were greeted by the other riders from across the country. Being together with 25 enthusiastic and energetic riders was all that was needed to start off. And we, thus began our AOG ride to Spiti!
Chandigarh to Kaza
Chandigarh to Narkanda
Our destination for the first day was Narkanda in Himachal Pradesh. We had to reach Shimla first. 65 km further up is this small, scenic town of Narkanda at an altitude of 2708 m. Nestled within fir forests, it is famous as a winter skiing resort.
We were put up in a forest stay that night. All the places we have stayed with through our TVS rides have been extremely comfortable with all our needs taken care of. Be it hygiene, food, convenience, it has always been there. But the Amartya Nivas in the middle of the forest was one place that would remain etched in my memory. Firstly for its approach roads that were extremely challenging. Secondly we reached there at around 8 pm and it was pitch dark, except for the light from our bikes! Many of the guys, normally expert at maneuvering, were finding it difficult.
Finally, we all reached the resort safely.
We were greeted in the morning by clear skies and amazing views of the valley! It was simply out of this world!
It is believed that Sage Vyasa and other sages had performed penance in these very forests and one could feel the energy of the place.
I felt blessed!
Narkanda to Sangla
Later in the day, we took off to Sangla. We were to stay here for 2 days at a truly amazing place called Batseri hotel with breathtaking views and delicious food. I had not met many of the riders before so we all used these two days to get well-acquainted with each other as well as the TVS crew. It was thoroughly enjoyable and a good way to start off the adventurous journey that lay ahead of us!
Sangla to Kalpa
From Sangla, our next destination was Kalpa, which was at 2960 m. Our route to Kalpa was via Chitkul, popularly known as the ‘Last Village’ before the Tibetan border. An extremely long and tiring ride, the scenery along the way made up for every second that we spent on the road!
We reached Kalpa late in the evening and crashed into our beds, unaware of what lay in store for us the next morning.
I was up early in the morning and the first thing I did was look out the window and found my jaw drop at a view I hadn’t expected at all. I could see the entire Kailash Mountain Range in front of me. It was indeed a sight to behold. After the tiring ride from the previous day, we were all completely refreshed and charged by this splendid view.
We had breakfast, filled up our bike tanks and set off to Kaza.
Our two days in Kaza were filled with exploring the local sights and sounds.
The Chicham bridge was one place that truly made me feel on top of the world. At 4037 m above sea level, it is one of Asia’s highest altitude bridges that looks down a 1000 ft gorge! It took nearly 15 years to build this steel suspension bridge. I was filled with respect for all those who were involved in its construction. Braving the high altitude conditions and putting up a bridge was no small feat.
Kibber Village, with its beautiful fields and surrounding limestone mountains was picture perfect. We headed from there to the nearby Key Monastery. The Key (or Ki or Kye) Monastery was one of the most serene places I have ever visited. Nestled in the Spiti Valley, not far from the Spiti River, the monastery is more than thousand years old. Praying there was a tranquil experience! There were many children receiving their religious training in the monastery. What struck me there was how the kids and everyone appeared so content and happy in themselves!
Langza Valley was another place we had great fun exploring. Standing at the foot of the huge Buddha statue, visiting the Lang temple, walking around the village observing the Tibetan style architecture, all with the Chau Chau Kang Nilda peak in the backdrop, created some lovely memories.
The Big Surprise & Return Ride
Komic and the Big Surprise
At a distance of 18 km from Kaza, is a tiny village called Komic that is believed to be the highest village with a motorable road. The people of Komic rarely go out of their village and government bus services are less frequent making riding the best option to get there. Upon reaching there, we were told that TVS was planning to attempt a World Record at Komic.
We were all excited and eager to see what was in store!
We got to know that TVS had been building a stunt track in Komic since nearly a month. The first day, there were practice sessions and around 15 stunt riders showcased their skills. However this was not easy, given the effects of low oxygen and extreme cold. Many of the stunt riders needed medication.
The next day, we were to witness three stunt riders set a new record for performing stunts at the highest altitude (14800 ft at Komic) for 1 hour 30 minutes. Their feat entered the Asia Book of Records. It was a herculean effort and I am sure the record will stand for a long long time. Sheer adrenaline and a passion for riding bikes made this possible in spite of the high altitude challenges that they had to face!
The return journey
It was now time to say goodbye to Kaza and start our return journey. This time our planned route was Kaza – Kunzum pass – Chandrataal – Manali. This route was specifically selected as the road patch from Chandrataal to Manali was extremely challenging, mostly covered with snow and breathtakingly scenic. We reached Kunzum pass from Kaza. Unfortunately, there we were told that the Chandrataal route had been closed due to heavy snowfall. Disheartened, we had no choice but to ride back to Kaza and return to Chandigarh by the same route that we had ridden through while coming.
Nevertheless, it was an amazing riding experience during the return too. We saw some of the most spectacular sceneries. In spite of being the same route, the hues of the landscape, shades of the mountains, all kept on changing during the course of the day, thus making it a fresh experience throughout. I will return to Spiti again, hopefully very soon and next time, I hope that I will be able to traverse the Chandrataal to Manali road that we missed this time.
Riding to Spiti was not easy, there were numerous challenges. But that is exactly what made it so special and worth remembering. It’s the things you fight for and struggle with before achieving that have the greatest worth!
Kolhapur to Delhi –By Train
Delhi to Chandigarh – Bike
Chandigarh – Narkanda – Sangla – Kalpa – Kaza