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Himalayan rides : Batal of Chacha-Chachi Dhaba

Rarely anybody passes through here without having a tea or something to eat.

Its all about love of nature and adventure that drives you to land unseen. The passion keeps accompanying you in your solo journeys. We have already travelled from Manali to Gramphoo via Rohtang pass.

Also See: Milestones to Ladakh:  Manali to Gramphoo

From Gramphoo, we moved right alongside the Chandra river towards Spiti valley and reached to Chatru.

Also See: Hiamalayan Rides: Gramphoo to Chatru

I was heading towards Chandratal lake. I had no intention to go towards Kaza as I had already travelled to Kaza some time back. From Chatru I had a very tough ride to Batal. As I said earlier, Batal is  a very important stopover. Once you cross the river Chandra at Batal and move uphill, there is a diversion. One road further up takes you to Kunzum top and then to Kaza in Spiti valley. Another road takes you deep inside the Chandra valley towards Chandratal. We will travel that distance next time. This time we are just talking about Batal.

Also read: Himalayan Rides: Chatru to Batal 

Approaching Batal from Chatru and Chota Dara

Batal is located at farther end of a wide fat valley. Valley narrows at this point and then again widens up towards Chandratal after a few kilometres. It also gets important as there is tough climb upto Kunzum pass after here. Chandratal is also further 14 kilometres from here. Hence it makes a good resting point and have some food and fun. But it is also a good place to stay overnight.

Looking back towards the way I came

Batal now has a few dhabas. Some time back there was only one- Chandra Dhaba. Actually Batal has now got associated closely with Chandra Dhaba, both of them have acquired a sort of legendary status. Chandra Dhaba, more so because of its owners Dorje Bodh and his wife Hishe Chhomo.

Dorje Bodh and his wife Hishe Chhomo

44 years is not a small period and this ever-loved couple fondly called as Chacha-chachi has been running Chandra Dhaba for last 44 years at one of the most difficult terrains in the world in most hostile conditions, weather and poor connectivity. Its not a mean business. They do it for the love of their work and this place. They have been providing adventurers- bikers, drivers, passengers, trekkers, et.al. with food and shelter for all this long in their very humble and jovial way. But not just this, they have also been helping and rescuing the travellers and adventures caught in sudden weather, snowfalls, landslides or any other emergencies.

Dorje Bodh serving tea to travellers at his Dhaba

This extraordinary couple is now part of many adventure folklores for decades and deservingly enough, have also been recognised with many awards, including Godfrey Philips bravery award. You can also a watch a video of a candid chat with Chacha Dorje Bodh by clicking on the link below-

Now few more dhabas have come round, although Chandra Dhaba still retains its premier status. In this region, all dhabas also double up as night shelters for the travellers. They are very handy for all those, who have to make emergency halts because of either getting late or adverse weather conditions. Travellers also make scheduled halts at these dhabas when they don’t want to carry tents with them.

Options to choose from

These dhabas are descent place to stay. Mostly there will be beds inside the dhaba on one side, like a dormitory. Dhaba owners will be providing the sleeping bags and blankets. Since the dhaba and the kitchen will also be inside in the same area, therefore it will be cozy and warm in the night, while it would be freezing cold outside. Dhabas provide the breakfast and meals.

Inside the Chandra Dhaba

For all those, who love extreme adventure, there is plenty of place around to pitch tents and enjoy starry nights. Besides, there is also a PWD rest house in Batal, just opposite the Chandra Dhaba, and also some igloo shaped fibreglass fabricated forest huts.

Buses going from Manali or Keylong to Kaza also stop here for some time. Truckers with essential supplies of the region will always make a halt here. Actually earlier, when there was no road connectivity to Chandratal then, people will make Batal as the base and then trek to Chandratal. Even today, whenever that road is blocked, or just for adventure, people will trek for 14 kms from Batal to Chandratal. There are people who will take a bus from Manali, get down at Batal, trek to Chandratal and come back, and then they will either take another bus to Kaza or back to Manali.

Also read: Mesmerising & Captivating Chandratal Lake

During the season time, you will find many tourists here at time during the day

Batal is at an altitude of 3910 metres and it is located in a very hostile terrain. This place remains inhabited for almost six months from April end to October end. Rest of the time it remind inaccessible and even reaching through helicopters might be tough task during winters. Even during so-called summer months of adventure season, occasionally there might be heavy snowfall leading to road blockades. One should always be prepared physically and mentally for any eventuality.

But once you are here the beauty of the nature only steels the resolve to go further.

Way to Kunzum and Chandratal. You can see the bridge on the Chandra River.
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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!

Please feel free to share but not so free to copy and paste!

 

 

Himalayan Rides : Gramphoo to Chatru

Gramphoo is 15 kms downhill from Rohtang top. Gramphoo is the place where roads to Lahaul valley and Spiti valley bifurcate. We have already travelled from Manali to Gramphoo via Rohtang pass.

(In case you have missed it, you can read it hereMilestones to Ladakh : Manali to Gramphoo)

In Spring and autumn times, valley is laden with flowers

From Gramphoo one road leads to Keylong and then towards Leh and another one towards Kunzum Pass and then to Kaza. There is also stark difference between roads on the two sides. Keylong-Leh road is the sort of expressway compared to this one. Road from Gramphoo to Chatru passes through narrow valley along the Chandra river. However once you cross the Chatru village, Chandra valley widens up.

Some areas are barren, while some are rich in vegetation

While moving towards Chatru there are a couple of water falls on the road. They don’t pose any problems for the four wheelers and these ones are not even tricky for two-wheelers as well. But you never know when it is raining heavily, they might pose some difficulties. It is better to be careful as situations will be different in different months and it can always change very rapidly.

Waterfalls look beautiful on other side of the valley
Even waterfalls on our side look glorious from a distance
Seemingly innocent water-pools may suddenly turn into high-voltage streams

Route from Gramphoo to Chatru is comparatively enjoyable because of roads, landscape and bit of inhabitation. Actually one can also say that because of some what better road, this stretch gives you an opportunity to enjoy the surroundings.

Road to Chatru alongside Chandra River

Widening and work on roads is a constant process here. Also the whole area is being connected through OFC network, hence you will always find either BRO or other PWD teams on work at short distances.

Work on roads is a regular process

Networks: In the above image, you can see bulldozers camped at a distance. This spot is around eight kilometres before from Chatru. It is said that while going from Gramphoo to Chatru, this is the last spot where you might be able to connect to a mobile network (that too just BSNL). As soon as you move ahead of this point, you will not find any networks on your mobiles upto Chandratal or Kunzum pass.

Hanging bridge at Chatru that is not yet used

Once we reach Chatru, we cross on the Chandra river to the other side.

Old iron bridge used to cross the Chandra river at Chatru

Chatru is next village from Gramphoo towards Kunzum Pass. Located at an altitude of 3300 metres, Chatru is 17 kms from Gramphoo and in the perspective this stretch from Gramphoo to Chatru has the better roads in comparison to other stretches towards Batal, Chandratal and Kunzum pass.

Chandra river in full flow at Chatru

Actually it is tough to call Chatru even a village. There had never been a permanent village here. It was a base for nomadic tribes and shepherds. Chatru is also an important base as normally this is where Hampta Pass trek will end, if one does not include Chandratal in it. On the other side of river there is a plenty of grounds for camping. Just along the bridge are two restaurants. They have been here for many decades now. Actually for commuters these two restaurants (another one is coming near by) are what Chatru is all about.

Place for camping alongside the river
A view of Chatru and surrounding areas

Night Shelter: As with whole of this route in Spiti or Lahaul valley, dhabas also double up for night shelter

Chandra Dhaba at Chatru

In the above image, you can see the Chandra dhaba with a tent. Front portion of the tent works as store and kitchen and on the other end are beds for commuters to stay. They provide bed and blankets.

Prem Dhaba at Chatru

Another dhaba is the Prem dhaba that you can see in the image above. This has got more space. On the right is the kitchen and the eating area, while what we see right in front (where you can see my bike parked) is a pucca garage with many beds inside. This shelter prevents better from cold of the night. Besides these two (or may be three this year) dhabas, Chatru also has a PWD rest house where tourists can stay subject to availability of rooms. This PWD rest house is around three-quarter of a kilometre further ahead on a uphill diversion from the main road. Rest house has two sets, but doesn’t have a water supply or electricity. Actually, owner of Prem Dhaba is also the caretaker of this PWD rest house. Normally travellers will prefer (even he too will prefer) to stay at Prem Dhaba only, as it has more space, food, running water and some solar light. Secondly PWD rest house is off the route, while these two dhabas are right on the road.

Way ahead!

Satellite connect: Since I had no prior information about (non) availability of networks here or the above mentioned spot with last signals of connectivity, I was desperate to get in touch after I reached Chatru. Also, because I had lost half day due to NGT permit issue requirement at Gulaba, my schedule was in haywire. I reached Chatru in evening tired. Originally I had planned to end the day at Chandratal. Hence I asked the owner of Prem Dhaba about any chance of connectivity. It was he who told me about the spot some seven kilometres back. I was in no mood to ride back to make a call and then come back here. It was than he told me about a satellite phone uphill in the village.

Road to PWD rest house at Chatru

There was a agro unit uphill, which actually formed the core of Chatru village. I went to PWD rest house, parked my bike there and jumped a few walls to reach to take a path towards some houses and a shed inside the fields. There was a agro unit which produced different crops here in the valley- peas, potatoes and few others and then packed and transported them to other areas. That unit had a satellite phone in its premises, services of which they also lend to commuters for a charge. I was able to make a call back home from there and actually at such height in these conditions it cost me just negligible to make a comfortable call. I might not be able to recollect precisely, but I made call for less than thirty rupees from there.

On to the next destination

My search for the satellite phone also gave me a bit of insight about this place. This valley is said to have one of the best quality of peas and potatoes produced in the entire region. The owner of the agro unit (his is the only private owner of such unit in whole valley) had more than 100 acres of land. He had a fairly descent set-up with a big house for himself (with water and solar lights) as well as place for his staff (of more than 50) to stay, and a power generating unit for his unit to process and pack the agri produce. That was an interesting story in itself.

You can also see a video of the route below:

 

Himalayan Rides : Road from Manali to Rohtang & Gramphoo

Lets take you on a virtual ride to Lahaul & Spiti valley. Every rider or driver or adventurer enthusiast going to Leh or Kaza is very much keen to know about the road conditions on these arguably two of the most fascinating road journeys in the world.

So, in this long and continuing series of road journeys in Himalayan India, I will try to bring for viewers what roads and riding on them is like. Recorded on various devices- explorer camera, smartphone and DSLR, these videos shall hopefully pump up the adrenaline, or atleast rekindle old memories. They will also help a few in planning their future trips.

In the first part is the journey 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. But Rohtang is also a favourite excursion for all tourists coming to Manali. Its a scenic route of 52 kms (Manali-Rohtang) and roads are perfect atleast till Marhi. After that roads start to deteriorate as we approach close to pass. Stretch from Marhi to Rohtang is also known for its traffic jams, prompting authorities to regulate movement of traffic. This has also resulted in some strict regulations, permits and green tax imposed by NGT (National Green Tribunal).

Gramphoo is 15 kms downhill from Rohtang top. Gramphoo is the place where roads to Lahaul valley and Spiti valley bifurcate. Road from Rohtang top till 4-5 kms was good in condition but next ten odd kilometres to Gramphoo were terrible this year (2016) due to widening of road and large scale repair work.

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.

Here is the video

P.S. My explorer camera was on left side of my bike’s handlebar as I couldn’t get time to set it at more appropriate place. Hence videos are a a bit left-angled. Secondly, few videos were taken on the route during return journey. Idea was to get good visuals of the route. They have been merged.