Tag Archives: Biking in spiti valley

Himalayan Rides : Chatru to Batal

In the last episode of Himalayan Rides, we (me and my readers) travelled from Gramphoo to Chatru on way to Chandratal. Now we are travelling from Chatru to Batal. Batal is a very important stopover. Once you move ahead of Batal there is a diversion. A road uphill takes you to Kunzum pass and then to Kaza in Spiti valley and another one moves deep inside the Chandra valley towards Chandratal.

Also see: Himalayan Rides : Gramphoo to Chatru

Moving between the himalayan walls!

Its a very small stretch in terms of the total ride but still I thought to devote a full post to this, as this one was very important in letting me know what to expect on the way ahead and what I need to do to keep myself better prepared.

Spiti valley Dhaba just a few kilometres from Chatru
Welcome to the territory unknown
Towards Chota Dara
Just before Chota Dara
Time for photography is time of rest for the machine!

Batal is just 31 kilometres from Chatru. Chhota Dara is 17 kms from Chatru and Batal is another 14 kms from there. But this 31 kms journey is no pushover, as it tests your riding skills. The route might not be too tough for four wheelers but it is tough one for bikes, specially the stretch from Chatru to Chhota Dara as at many places you have to ride through boulders and stones. This stretch can take a heavy toll on your vehicles, so keep them fit for it. There are few running streams to be crossed and one or two of them can be tricky for the first timers, more so if you don’t want to put your feet into the water.

Chota Dara: On paper this is a village, but there are only stones and stones around. A PWD pesthouse is there. Then there is also a Spiti Valley Dhaba on the way, which can provide you with some tents to stay and also breakfast and meals.

A milestone to announce a village!
Time to check the distances left!
PWD resthouse at Chota Dara
Alongside the whole route is work going on to lay optical fibre cables

I had a bit of uneasy experience on water crossing on the stretch. Actually, it was the first tricky one of the trip. I had brought a pair of water and snow proof shoes with me. But in the morning when I was packing the things at Chatru, I found that the sole of my both the shoes have not just only ripped off, but broken into pieces beyond any kind of repair. I actually tried to use the puncture solution to fix it but it only worsened. There was no alternative other than to how them. With heavy heart, I discarded them to dustbin. They had come to me all the way from Geneva, Switzerland.

Tips on hand!

But now there was an immediate problem for me. Till Chatru, I had not required to cross any stream, hence I didn’t fell any requirement for waterproof shoes and I carried on in my sports shoes. Now, if I required them then I can get a new pair only at Keylong. Till then I had to make sure that I don’t let my sports shoes get wet.

Beauty of the terrain
Along the Chandra River!
Valley widens up at many places
The view around always keeps us energetic!

And, I had a testing time just immediately. After I crossed Chota Dara, there was a stream flowing down from the mountains, crossing the road over to Chandra River. It was a tricky one as it was spread wide and it was tough for me to gauge the depth. Though, I was sure that it was not too deep but I had to ensure that I cross it smoothly so that I don’t have to touch me feet anywhere in between. Since I was bit weary of the stones and pebbles under the water, I was bit indecisive for more than a minute on which side to cross the stream. Luckily for me, a truck came from the behind and as it crossed the stream, I got an idea of the actual depth and concentration of stones, making it easier for me to follow and cross, that I finally did. Was I going to be equally lucky everytime till Keylong? Only time will tell.

Looks normal from a distance
Once I reached closer, I had to be careful
Passing truck guided me through

You can also see the video of this journey and my experience of crossing the stream by clicking below-

But it is definitely thoroughly enjoying as we pass through the beautiful Chandra Valley with snow-capped mountains all around from Indrasan, Deo Tibba, Ali Khan Tibba, White Sail, Papsura peaks and ranges. There is also a trek from Manikaran that brings to Chota Dara by crossing the Sara Umga pass. Stunning beauty around was actually reward for the tough ride.

Rising above everything!
A big glacier!

You can cover this stretch of 31 kms in about three hours, depending on your riding skills as well as on time you give yourself to enjoy the surroundings. Early morning departure from Chatru will give you good time at Batal to eat and enjoy.

Enjoy the journey from the start, read:

Milestones to Ladakh : Manali to Gramphoo

Next: Chacha-Chachi’s Batal!

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Milestones to Ladakh : Manali to Gramphoo

Although the number of bikers to Ladakh is constantly increasing every year, but even then biking to this terrain is no mean business. It is physically challenging and psychologically draining. The human & the machine, both need to be best of fitness. This journey can be divided in different parts. Although few bikers would try to do it the other way by taking off from Srinagar to Leh and then returning from Manali side, but still Manali-Leh is the most favoured route; and, there are various reason for this to be.

First part of the journey is from Manali to uphill Rohtang La and to downhill Gramphoo on the other side. Rohtang La at 13050 feet is the first mountain pass en route Leh.

It is a scenic journey throughout

Between Manali and Marhi, you may find some little waterfalls emerging out of melting snow and many tourists enjoying them, but bikers rarely get interested in them.

You will find many shops on the way renting out woollens, jackets, gloves and shoes to tourists going to Rohtang and wishing to play some games on snow. Though there is nothing for bikers in it, but it might still remind few of us to check, whether they have rain covers to protect from intermittent rains and shoes to steer them through some running streams on roads.

Shops renting woollens and gloves

Soon you reach to intersection which dissects road to two directions, one to Rohtang (towards the right in the image below) and another to Solang (one going straight in image below).

Solang valley intersection

Thereafter starts the steady climb. Its gradual till the top and enjoyable.

Rohtang is a favourite excursion for all tourists coming to Manali. This has often resulted in an unabated mess at the pass. With things going out of control, NGT (National Green Tribunal) has stepped in. It has made some strict regulations, permits are necessary and green tax has been imposed.

Vehicles lined up to get permits at Gulaba NGT check post

Check post is at Gulaba, which is roughly 24 kms from Manali. After this point, you can’t move ahead to Rohtang without a permit. But for bikers, permits are not issued here, it has to be obtained from Manali itself. Permit is issued for a fees of Rs 100 and you need a photo id card, PUCC for your vehicle, vehicle registration papers and valid driving license. Permits are separate for Lahaul valley (towards Leh) and Spiti valley (towards Kunjum and Kaza). Route has to be mentioned in application form. Permit for four wheelers can be obtained either from Manali or from Gulaba check post. Bikers going to Leh should be very careful about obtaining the permit, other wise one can loose precious time, energy and petrol, as I accidentally did. I missed the permit, was not allowed to go past Gulaba, had to go back to Manali to get permit. I lost almost four hours in the process and as a result could not reach my planned destination of the day.

Check post at Gulaba

From Gulaba we move towards Marhi. Manali-Rohtang is a scenic route of 52 kms and roads are perfect atleast till Marhi.

Just before Marhi

Marhi is an ideal point to have seem break before serious climb to Rohtang starts. You can even see the top from here. There are number of food joints here and lot of things to kill your time. People wary of cold, weather and thin air at Rohtang, like to spend more time in Marhi.

Marhi

After that roads start to deteriorate as we approach close to pass. AT many places, road is also being widened. Lot of construction activity makes riding challenging. Lets see what happens when the roads open this year.

Widening of road

Stretch from Marhi to Rohtang is also known for its traffic jams, prompting authorities to regulate movement of traffic. Narrow roads, high cliffs, bigger vehicles, potholes, streams, all these some times compound the chaos and for bikers it is a challenge to go past this mess.

Traffic chaos close to Rohatnag

It feels quite satisfying once we reach the Rohtang top, as it is first of the great passes on way to Leh.

Rohtang top

Its quite an atmosphere here with people all around, having fun.

Tourist vehicles at Rohtang top

Way to Rohtang is just prelude to the actual tough journey ahead. But it is still a major milestone.

Even army personnel like to pose here

After Rohtang only the locals going ahead or the adventures move ahead. Picnickers normally return from here.

Downhill ahead of Rohtang

Gramphoo is 15 kms downhill from Rohtang top.  Road from Rohtang top till 4-5 kms was good in condition but next ten odd kilometres to Gramphoo were terrible last year (2016) due to widening of road and large scale repair work.

Tough roads

One also needs to understand that road conditions on these two stretches is lot dependent on weather as well as month of travel. Early in the season (June) roads will be worse than what one will find towards the end (September-October). Month of travel will also decide the amount of snow and running water (nallahs) one might find on roads. Thats the reason, September end is considered to be one of the safest time to ride or drive on these roads.

Gramphoo

Gramphoo is the place where roads to Lahaul valley and Spiti valley bifurcate. Those going to Leh continue to move straight towards Keylong. And those going to either Kunjum Pass and Kaza or towards Chandratal lake take right turn at Gramphoo along the Chandra River. My final destination was Leh, but I also wanted to cover Chandratal lake, hence I took the road to Spiti valley.

Want to see a video of the route. Please click to the link below-

Vagabond in Spiti : Kee Gompa

Kee (Key, Kye or Ki) monastery or gompa commands one of the most iconic views associated with Spiti valley.  It is considered to be the biggest monastery in Spiti valley. It is one of the highlights for anybody and must-visit place for any adventurer or tourist coming to Kaza. Kee gompa is one of the top monasteries in the region which include Tabo, Nako, Dhankar and Kungri (in the Pin valley) to name a few.

Kee Gompa1

Kee monastery is ahead of Kaza. Once you move pass the Kaza town along the spiti river, after couple of kilometres or so comes a diversion. There is a bridge across the river that takes to Loser and Kunjom pass. Loser is 56 kms from this point and Kunjom top is 78 kms.Kee Gompa2

One has to move ahead on the right side of the river towards Kibber and Kee. The view is spectacular and the road slowly drifts away from the river and climbs towards the mountains.

Once you reach the Kee (Kye) village than you get the first view of the monastery overlooking the village, perched on a small cliff.

Kee Gompa5

Moving ahead, there is another diversion, one on the left leads to Kibber village and on the right is Kee gompa. The view keeps on getting amazing- of the gompa as well as the Spiti valley below. The road to Kee from Kaza is generally good in condition, may be because of the high tourist value of the monastery.

 

The monastery of Tibetan Buddhism is located at an altitude of 4166 metres above the sea level. The monastery is more than thousand years old founded in 11th century. Despite being in such a tough terrain, this monastery along with other monasteries of the region has a history of attacks by the invaders and clashes among the different buddhist sects. Walls of the monastery are covered with paintings and murals developed in Chinese influence. It also houses a wide collections of ancient murals, manuscripts, and images. Monastery now belongs to the Gelugpa sect of Buddhism.

This monastery celebrated its millennium in 2000 when a new prayer hall was inaugurated by the Dalai Lama.  Besides this new prayer hall, there are four old prayer halls in the monastery. The monastery is so big that it can house around 450 lamas. Normally close to 150 lamas will always stay in the monastery. Even nuns stay here. The main monastery has three floors. Then there are different complexes for monks to stay, study and other activities.  It is a big teaching centre for lamas. There is also a cafeteria for the tourists.

Vehicles can be parked right at the entrance of the monastery. One has to keep sufficient time to move around, view the complex and enjoy the mesmerising landscape. Monastery holds its yearly festival normally in July every year. The monastery has already found its way into bollywood movies (Highway).

Kee Gompa also has facility for travellers to stay in lama quarters at a very nominal charge (around 200 Rs along with meals). That’s thoroughly enjoying and engaging. Gives a first-hand experience of the lives of the monks here. Worth it, but then you need to have some time in hand.

Vagabond in Spiti Valley : Tabo

Just 48 kms before Kaza is Tabo. Tabo village houses one of the biggest and rare monasteries in Spiti. It is also considered to be one of the holiest. Tabo is right on the left banks of the Spiti river. It is a big valley down there and so much so that you tend to forget that you are at an altitude of 3280 metres and already deep inside the cold desert of Spiti.

Tabo1
First look of the Tabo village

Tabo is just before Kaza. So adventure drivers and riders going to Kaza are often in hurry to reach Kaza as it is the final destination in the Spiti. They are also tired of long journey during the day. That prevents them from spending ample time at Tabo. The other problem is that there travel itinerary is so prepared that they mostly move towards Kunjam Pass and Manali on way back or spend a day at Kaza visiting Ki (Kye or Kee) Gompa, Kibber and Lanza, as I did. One needs time to see Tabo monastery and best way is to come back the next day. It might also be ideal to come back and spend a day visiting Tabo and Dhankar monasteries.

Tabo monastery is said to hide some of the finest of all Indo-Tibetan art. Few people also refer it as Ajanta of the Himalayas for its sheer treasure of art. Tabo monastery has nine temples, stupas and cave shrines. All the ancient temples are made of mud and wood. Due to arid and dry weather of this region, they have survived for so long. Founded in 996 AD Tabo is said to be the oldest Buddhist complex which has been continuously operative since its inception.

Above the monastery there are number of caves carved into cliff face. Having seen such caves in many films, it was adventurous to visit them. These caves are being used for meditation for centuries. There is also a assembly hall in the caves and some paintings, chants on the rock face. These caves look astonishing. They were also used as shelter by monks during the winter. Even today monks will use few of them for meditation. Few other are abandoned and are decaying. Its a small trek from the Tabo village to the caves. While caves look narrow from outside, but many of them have ample space inside. Few also have different rooms inside and have properly laid down walls and smoothened floors.

Tabo monastery has huge collection of frescoes, thankas, manuscripts, murals, paintings depicting Buddhist pantheon, principles, life and teachings. The manuscripts and inscriptions tell in detail about the idea, history and life of this monastery. This monastery is also unique in this manner that while all other monasteries in the himalayas are perched on hills and cliffs, this Tabo monastery is located at the bottom of the valley on the banks of the river. The monastery still has around 50 monks living there. Dalai Lama has himself visited this place twice for Kalachakra festivals.

Once you are here, this place seems to be from different world. While coming from big metros, one will not believe that life still exists in these areas. But its very enriching and needs to be visited with time in hand. Its a heritage like no other.

Vagabond in Spiti Valley : Dhankar

One of those places which one has to see to believe. In such a fragile ecosystem are preserved some miracles of the nature. Dhankar and its surrounding areas are one of them. On the left bank of the Spiti river at a distance of 32 kms downstream from Kaza, near Shichling at an altitude of 3870 m, nestles the citadel of Dhankar, the erstwhile official capital of Spiti. Needless to say that Spiti valley makes you speechless with its sheer beauty at every step.

Dhankar1
Way to Dhankar
Dhankar2
Working hard in tough terrains

Dhankar has a fort and a monastery. The citadel is built on a spur which projects into the main valley and ends in a precipice. The location of this fort is strategic as Spiti always had to suffer innumerable aggressions by its neighbours.

Dhankar3
First look of Dhankar on the way up

The location allowed the Spitian to keep vigil on the approaches and to submit messages to surrounding inhabitations in case of danger. Whenever the Spitians were attacked, they built huge fires to signal meeting in the safe sanctuary of rocks, i.e., Dhankars. In the meeting all men and women decided the course of action to be taken against the aggressors.

Spiti river flowing down!
Spiti river flowing down!
Spiti valley in its full glory
Spiti valley in its full glory

According to the State Gazetteer, “(The fort) became notorious for housing a cavernous dungeon which the Nono used as prison. It contained a cell without doors having only a small opening at the top through which the condemned person was lowered and received his meals.” The fort of Dhankar now lies in ruins, but still is a place worthy of visit. From the remnants of the fort one can see vast expanses of the Spiti valley.

Dhankar6

Dhankar is also of art historical importance. Founded between 7th and the 9th centuries, Dhankar’s old temple complex occupies the southern part of the steep mountain slope of the village. It is known by the name of Lha-O-pa Gompa (monastery of the followers of Lha-O). The monastery consists of a number of multi-storeyed buildings perched together, giving a fortress like impression.

Dhankar7

Dhankar8
The fort and the gompa on the left edge
How the earth holds up there!
How the earth holds up there!

The whole of Dhankar seems to be based on different spurs. One can just wonder how this structure continues like this for more than thousand years!

Dhankar10

Dhankar11

There are five different halls including Kanjur, Lhakhang, and Dukhang where a life size silver statue of Vajradhara, the Diamond Being, is placed in a glass altar embellished with scarves and flowers. Most interesting at the Lha-O-pa gompa is the small chapel on the uppermost peak above the main monastery – Lhakhang Gongma. The building is decorated with depictions of Shakyamuni, Tsongkhapa and Lama Chodrag on the central wall.

Dhankar (somewhere it is also written as Dhangkar) is one of the five major monasteries of Spiti. But it looks like in imminent danger of collapsing. Built on a 300 metre high spur overlooking the Spiti-Pin confluence, this 1000 year old gompa has been recognised by the World Monuments Fund as one of the 100 most endangered sites in the world. There is even a restoration initiative being taken to preserve the gompa.

How to reach: Dhankar’s main attraction, although least publicised, is said to be a fresh water lake about 2.5 km from the village at a height of 13500 ft. Dhankar is 9 kms from Schichling which is on Tabo-Kaza road. Once you move ahead from Tabo towards Kaza, there is diversion towards Dhankar at Schichling. From that point it is 9 kms. Lake is further 2.5 kms ahead uphill.

Dhankar15

A place worth seeing but agreeably not many normal tourists are able to reach there. Its for those with mighty will and a penchant for adventure. Go ahead!

Vagabond in Spiti valley : Nako

On way to Kaza in the Spiti Valley, Nako, at an altitude of 3660 m is the highest village in the valley of Hangrang surrounded by barren and dusty landscape. Nako village is just 20 kms from Ka, once the zigs end. It is roughly four kms before Malling (Nullah) towards Kaza. Kaza is around 110 kms from Nako.

Nako Village

Nako is almost a customary stop-over for all adventurists (read: bikers, riders, drivers, tourists) going to Kaza. How much time to spend here? This is upto each traveller because there are different time constraints for everybody coming here. Those who are on a mission to complete Shimla-Kaza in a day, might even give this a miss. Others with more time may stop here for couple of hours and that will also depend on there last stop over and time left for them to reach to Kaza. But still there are few more like me who chose to stay here for night. And in hindsight, it is a wise decision actually to stay in Nako before reaching to Kaza, more so if you are planning to go ahead of Kaza towards Kunzum pass and don’t plan to return the same way. Because from Nako to Kaza driving itself will take atleast three hours. Besides, on the way before Kaza there are three spots that you will not like to miss- Mummy at Giu, Tabo monastery and Dhankar monastery. You will like to devote some amount of time at all these places. Hence, if you stay overnight at Nako then it will be late evening by the time you reach Kaza after visiting these three places. And then there are numerous other photo-stops.

Nako village2

Nako is known for its lake and the monastery as well. Lake is adjacent to village. Obviously, in the winters this lake is completely frozen and often used for ice-skating. Around the lake you can find willow and poplar tree plantations. It looks beautiful in summers when birds flock here and one can even find some boats to enjoy a ride in the ice-cool waters. Right behind the Nako village is Reo Purgyal mountain which, at an elevation of 6816 metres, is said to be the highest mountain in Himachal Pradesh.

Nako village3

The monastic complex in Nako is situated at the western edge of the town and comprises four temples apart from other buildings. Following the Tibetan school of Buddhism, Nako mastery is dated back to 11th century. The artwork in the monastery is related to Vajrayana Buddhism. Some images from the monastery and the surrounding areas.

From outside, the monastery exude a very simple appearance, but this is in contrast to what you will see inside. Two temples are of utmost importance here, the Main temple and the Upper temple. Both these temples are considered the oldest amongst all the structures and still preserve their original clay sculptures, murals and ceiling panels. Many paintings here still have the golden work on them preserved for centuries. The largest temple or the main temple is also called the Translator’s Temple. It also happens to be the oldest monument in the village. The third structure in the complex is the Small White temple, which though not in a good state, is worth visiting for its wonderful wooden door-frame with scenes of the Life of the Buddha carved on the lintel. The fourth structure is quiet the same size as the Upper Temple and is also situated besides it. The temple is today known as the Temple of Wide Proportions (rGya-dpag-pa’i lHa-khang). There is a lot of preservation and restoration work going on here with many international collaborations. Few years back a cultural centre was also established here by constructing a new building. All big monastic events and festivals are held here. Some images from this-

Nako village has beautiful surroundings which will change colours as per season. Although this is normally a barren and dusty landscape, but the area around the village will go green post summer. It rains here barely few times in July. Life gets tough here in winters when everything is frozen. Then you can feel the harshness of a cold desert.

Nako doesn’t have big hotels but there are a few budget accommodations and few luxury tents (below). Their availability depends lot on the season. Tents like this (Kinner Camps) come up only during the biking & driving season (May-October). I was a bit early in the season and that day only tourist to reach here.

Nako village17

A place worth a visit and a longer stay perhaps. I will be doing the the next time.

Monastries of Spiti- Nako

Nako is a high altitude village in Hangrang valley (Himachal Pradesh, India) on way to Spiti, situated at more than 3200 metres. It is a historical village known mostly for its monastery. Part of the Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh, Nako is on the way to Kaza, just before Malling and almost eight kilometres after Kah zigs. Location wise this is one of the most beautiful villages of region. Village also has a beautiful small natural lake. Nako is one of the few important stops for bikers going to Spiti valley..

Historical monastery of Nako was established in the first half of the eleventh century by Lochen Rinchen Zangpo popularly known as the great translator Ratan Bhadra. This monastery has four chapels. On entering the main gate and walking clock-wise one can see an ordinary single storey chapel which is occasionally used as kitchen and is called Jan-Khang. After crossing the roof of the kitchen is the first chapel of the monastery called Kar-Jung. Second chapel of the monastery is called Lochavai Lakhang. It is the biggest and main chapel in the monastery. Walls of the whole monastery are painted with pictures of various deities of Buddhism. There are also many ancient stupas outside the boundary of the monastery.