Travelogue; Shimla Spiti Manali

This is a travelogue covering a two week holiday in this region. The entire planning and logistics arrangement of the trip was based on the information published in various posts and forums of India Mike.

Background :
spiti The genesis of this trip dates back to 2008. The original plan was to visit towards end of Sep 08 for 2 weeks , starting in Shimla and ending in Manali , covering Kinnaur and Spiti. Feedback on Ramchand was too great to ignore , hence contacted him and planned the entire trip through him. His advise and knowledge was absolutely top notch , so were his manners and ability to deal with clients. Advances were made via bank transfers and hotel bookings were confirmed , and we were all set to go. The touring party was all of 3 members, my wife , daughter and off course, myself.. It was then that Nature decided to play truant. HP saw un-seasonal rains the likes of which it had not witnessed for the past several years. The region was badly hit and road services were severely affected. Ramchand rang me up with an advise to postpone the trip for a later period. His advise , do not take chances with a 5 year old in the party under the current circumstances. The final bargain – Ramchand offered to host me anytime I planned to visit later , my advance with a minimal deduction for confirmed Hotel bookings would be a deposit with him and he assured me that I can use it anytime I decided to visit HP again. This was an offer I could not ignore , so decided to bide my time till 2009 to make the trip happen.

Planning for the trip :

In the new year 2009 , Ramchand dutifully called up , wished me a Happy New Year and inquired of my plans. The tentative plan was to make the trip during the Summer of 09. Surfing one night in March , noticed that Spicejet was offering Re 1 fare back and forth Delhi during the summer holidays in end of May. Bought the tickets and thus reopened the holidays plans for HP. There was a change in 09 , my wife’s colleague and her family decided to join us , thus we were now a touring party of 6 , 4 adults and 2 kids. Contacted Ramchand and confirmed the dates , we decided to book his Tavera for the entire journey. The plan was for him to pick us up at Delhi Airport on 16th May morning and drop us back at the Airport on 31st May. However his own Tavera would be available at Shimla only on 16th evening , hence he confirmed to pick us up from Delhi using another agency. In 09 , Rohtang was supposed to open early , but we started getting news of un-seasonal snow and opening of the pass was delayed. Called up Ramchand and enquired the possibility of KunzumPass opening up around last week of May , else our plans to visit Manali via Kunzum would fall flat. During April , Ramchand was confident about the passes opening in end May , but as May came along , there was news of more snow. It was grim news to us , in all likelihood Kunzum would not open by end of May. However by this time we were too far committed to turn back once again, and decided to visit any way, muttering a secret prayer for that section of the road to open.
In the meantime , one good news , Spicejet had a new schedule and our flight was to reach Delhi one hour early. That meant that after a pick up from Delhi and a 9 – 10 hour drive to Shimla , we still could make it to the Hotel by 8 PM. The bad news , the return flight on 31st , that was supposed to leave at 5 PM is now rescheduled to leave at 8 PM. That meant reaching home around mid night and the reality of getting back to work early the next morning. But what the heck – lets take it as it comes.
The itinerary planned for the trip was :

Day—– –Date—————Itinerary————————————————-Night Halt
Day 1 — 16/5 Sat ———Pick up from DelhiAirport and arrival
————————————at Shimla in the evening. ———————Shimla
Day 2—-17/5 Sun———Naldehra and Shimla Special Tour
Day 3—-18/5 Mon——– Shimla-Sarahan-via Kufri – Fagu and
———————————–Narkanda night stay at Sarahan.—————Sarahan
Day 4— 19/5 Tue——— Sarahan local sightseeing and
———————————–departure to Sangla —————————Sangla
Day 5—- 20/5 Wed——-Local Sightseeing Sangla, Kamru Fort,
———————————-NagTemple, Local Trout fish farm————–Sangla / Chitkul
Day 6—–21/5 Thu———Chitkool to Kalpa, Shivling View,
———————————–Rogi village, night stay at Kalpa—————-Kalpa
Day 7—–22/5 Fri———–Kalpa to Tabo visiting NakoLake and
———————————–Gheu village on the way.———————–Tabo
Day 8—–23/5 Sat———-Local Sightseeing Tabo Monastery,
————————————MeditationCave, Tabo to Kaza,
————————————Dhankar Monestry—————————-Kaza
Day 9—–24/5 Sun———Kaza to PinValley on the way
———————————–Sagnam and Mudh village.———————-Kaza
Day 10—-25/5 Mon——–Kaza to Hikkim, Comic—————————– Kaza
Day 11—-26/5 Tue———Kibber & Kye Monastery—————————Kaza
Day 12—-27/5 Wed——–Kaza to ChandraTaalLake and
————————————night stay at Batal.—————————–Batal
Day 13—-28/5 Thu———Batal to Manali via RothangPass———————Manali
Day 14—-29/5 Fri———–Local sight seeing of Manali————————-Manali
Day 15—–30/5 Sat———Manali to Parwanoo.——————————–Parwanoo
Day 16—–31/5 Sun——–Parwanoo to DelhiAirport—-

The night halt on 30th at Parwanoo was only there to only make it practical to reach Delhi from Manali by Car. Anyway , this was the itinerary that we started with , it was revised considerably en route , more of it to follow later.
Have never been to this part of our country , hence wanted to see all locations as much as possible. For some places, this was a bit hurried , but it seemed that this was the best that we could fit within 2 weeks.
A small piece of information for all of you planning your visit through Ramchand , gone are the days when he personally drove you through the region , he is more of a travel agent now , a very good one at that !!!, though a bit pricey. He personally makes the tours nowadays only under exceptional circumstances , or for the choicest of his clients !!!! (that is what I gathered from him ) . He has a fleet of Tavera & Innova now and allocates these to the tours with individual drivers. He made it clear to us during negotiations back in 08 and even now , that he will not have time to go with us. He assured us that the person accompanying us will do the job even better than him. We accepted the deal.

Friday 15th May

All set and packed to go , called up Ramchand mid morning , he was to let me have the pickup car details at Delhi . He said he will do so in the evening. Come evening and still no details , called him up , he assured that numbers were on the way , but he still did not have them. I was about to push the panic button around 9 PM , when there were still no details from him. Finally at 9:30 , the magic words, the pick up car details and the driver contact at Delhi for the next day. Since the pickup was through an agency appointed by Ramchand , called them up to verify. Was assured that an Innova would be around to pick us up the next day at Delhi. Now for some well deserved shut-eye for a very early rise the next day.

Saturday 16th May (Day 1)

Journey to the airport and meet-up with our travel partners was uneventful , so was the flight , it was dot on time when it took to the air. About 20 mins from Delhi came theTo Sichling, Spiti dreaded announcement from the Captain , due to congestion , our flight has to hover for 30 mins. When it finally landed and taxied to the parking bay in the spanking new terminal, we were already more than 1 hour past the scheduled landing time. Hopes to reach Shimla early were already receding. Point to note , the new terminal was so far out from the runway , it took the flight all of 25 mins , without stopping, to reaching the parking bay , from the time our wheels touched the ground.
Collected our luggage and called up the driver , meeting place decided was the “Aircel” Advertisement board next to Balaji’s Restaurant.
Finally all set and the journey begins , took more than an hour to hit the highway for Ambala and Chandigarh. A surprise was in store for us , this car will not take us all the way to Shimla , we needed to switch vehicles near Chandigarh. The journey till the bypass for Chandigarh was uneventful and we made good time. At this place a relief vehicle arrived , this was a Scorpio, A very smooth operation of 10 mins ensued to switch us and our luggage to the new vehicle and we were on the way.
Just as we were at Kalka , starting on the mountain roads, our Driver parked the vehicle on one side and raised the hood and loosened the radiator cap – and all hell broke loose – with hot water and steam cascading out of the engine. This was a older model Scorpio with a water cooled engine and it seems that it was acting up. It was nearly 5 PM and hopes of reaching Shimla around 8 PM again started to fade. Our driver started tinkering around but could not find any faults. He said that with the engine heating up , he cannot make it up the mountain roads with this car. Next he made frantic calls to his owner in Chandigarh and we made an equally frantic call to Ramchand narrating our woes. It gradually transpired that the Scorpio was apparently back from routine servicing at M&M that very morning and apparently everyone had forgotten to replenish the water in the radiator. Our driver knocked on a nearby house and after a brief explanation , came back with 2 buckets , which he proceeded to empty into the radiator. The 3rd bucket was splashed on the hot engine and off we were on our way. Light was receding fast and we wanted was to make it to Shimla as early as possible. Ramchand was to meet us at Shimla and he called me every 1 hour to know our latest position. We saw the lights of night time Shimla blinking in the distance around 8:30 PM , thunder was flashing in the sky , though there was no rain. Finally we rounded the Victory Tunnel and met with Ramchand at the HP Petrol pump. Ramchand originally wanted to book us at SukhSagar but it was totally booked till July. This seemed to be a huge blessing in disguise , our accommodation in Shimla was to be “Hotel White” , near the Mall at Lakker Bazar.

I had read in the Net that tourists were not allowed road approach to this Hotel and we had to walk up. In the car we were cocooned with a false sense of security and were wearing no woollens . As soon as we clambered out , the cold wind , which was attenuated by the light drizzle earlier , hit us. Hastily the woollens came out . Ramchand called up the Porter from the Hotel. I was ashamed as well as awed by the next sight. A single porter (looks like a Afghan or Pasthun in his build) hauled up all our luggage – must have been around 70 Kgs for the 2 families together . How he could lash up all the pieces to him and walk up is a mystery. We felt so sorry that we ended up paying double the amount to him. Ramchand bade us goodbye for the night stating that for Shimla sightseeing on the next day , he would be taking us around and our Driver for the trip will meet us on 18th morning.
Since we were travelling the whole day , we had almost no news on the Poll Verdict , it was counting day after all , so we all started pumping the receptionist for the latest news.
2 Rooms with balconies were reserved for us at the Hotel , these apparently were the best rooms. The view even in the night was astounding, all around us , Shimla glittered like a golden necklace. As my family was freshening up , I planted myself and my tripod on the balcony and started snapping night time Shimla.
By now we were famished and tired and wanted to eat and go to sleep , but that was not to be , it seems that many hotels here do not have a kitchen and this was one of them. We had to go out for Dinner. (the Hotel does serve Tea, Coffee , Milk etc.) We trundled out around 10 PM and the receptionist told us that the nearest place was closed today and we should make our way towards the Mall , which was a few minutes away. After walking for a few minutes , we spied a “Sher-e- Punjab” (they were dime a dozen out there) , we threw ourselves in and gorged on the food , which tasted delicious. Our hunger satiated , we decided to see the Mall anyway more so as the kids did not show any sign of tiredness. A few minutes on we came to the start of the Mall, with the Church all lighted up and kids playing cricket around it. It was almost 11 PM now and tourists were few .The ambience felt very good , we saw the cricket for some time and generally walked about and I busied myself by clicking some more night time shots. After spending 40 mins on the Mall , we decided to call it a day and walked back to the hotel .

Sunday 17th May (Day 2)
In the early dawn light I really appreciated much more the location of the hotel and the view it commands. The rooms were quite cosy too. I could visualize the grand view the balcony will have during the winters, when everything would have been covered with a white coat of snow.
As the Sun rose , the haze in the atmosphere , combined with the smoke from the nearby forest fires took over and made photography really difficult. .
All of us woke quite early and we decided to have breakfast in the Mall . Early morning on Sunday the place was quite deserted as most shops open late. We had the place almost to ourselves and under bright sunlight it made for picture postcard scenes. Post breakfast , we loitered in the Mall , in the meantime Ramchand called to remind us that he had arrived to pick us for the day. We marvelled at how clean and litter free the entire place was !!!.
Sightseeing for the day started with Mashobra and the wonderful views around it. We next proceeded for Naldhera. Ramchand took us through a narrow mountain road which is seldom used and which goes above the main road through some stunning scenery and vintage cottages. He showed us his new office along the way , he hails from a village near Naldhera.
We admired the Golf Course at Naldhera and based on Ramchand’s advise decided to take a horse ride around the course. According to Ramchand , if you decided on a horse ride at Shimla , it is better to take it here , where it much more clean , serene and beautiful. Rides in places like Kufri is not likely to be as pleasurable since there is too much horse traffic and the smell from the high density of horse droppings around , could be quite obnoxious. Anyway, we had a memorable jaunt with the horses and spent a very pleasant 1 hour in the tall Deodar and Coniferous forests at Naldhera.
Next stop was Tara Devi, which is a temple atop a hill. The views of the surrounding areas were great from behind the temple. The temple itself was interesting. Again the haze and smoke from the forest fires made a good panoramic shot almost impossible using a point and shoot camera.
Next on the itinerary was the SankatMochan temple and the children had a wild time in the adjoining playground. By now it was nearly 5 PM and Ramchand asked us to hurry so that we could make the Vice-Regal (Indian Institute of Advanced Studies) Lodge before it’s closing time.
The Vice Regal lodge was an imposing building with a magnificent architecture. The museum has a rich collection of interesting and old photographs , and the wood panelling and decoration inside the building was majestic. It’s history itself was poignant, more so with its connection to the partition of India. The well preserved lawns and the flower beds were a photographer’s delight.
This wrapped up our sight seeing tour for the day and we were now headed for an “evening in the Mall” as Ramchand termed it.
We had started pummelling Ramchand during the day on who would be our driver and companion during the 2 weeks and whether he would have the expertise and knowledge of the roads and the on places in our itinerary. By this time we were a big fan of his cautious driving skills and expertise. After a lot of persuasion he finally smiled and said that the person who will accompany us was in fact his “guru” and taught him driving , with an experience of over 22 years – we breathed a sigh of relief.
We had a stroll in the Mall during the evening and checked the shops out. It was a pretty busy time with hoards of tourists around. The church area made for a good stroll late in the evening when the crowds thinned out.
We headed back to the hotel to prepare for the next day that would see us driving to Sarahan.

Monday 18th May (Day 3)
Nako Lake We once again needed the services of the same porter to haul our luggage down to the waiting Car. We again watched open mounted in admiration as the gentleman hauled all our stuff down the slope. We were greeted by Ramchand and a bearded gentleman – Satpal – who would be taking us around for the rest of the trip. He looked stern , knowledgeable and the no-nonsense type , we were however proved wrong at the end of our trip !!!. Satpal looked as if he knew his business and our initial worries on the “Driver” was assuaged.
We stopped for Breakfast on the way , here we bid adieu to Ramchand and actually paid him the advance for the transport and fuel for the rest of the trip. During breakfast , we once again enquired about Kunzam Pass , as we feared , there was no news and little hope that the pass would open in time to let us through. We made some plans there for the alternate route to Manali via JaloriPass. The plan was to reach Kaza and then take the final call. Though we had a planned 4 nights there as per our original plans , Ramchand had cleverly booked us there for only 2 nights and made no advance bookings beyond Kaza. We thus had the liberty to amend our travel plans , once we reached Kaza.
The plan was to visit Kurfi, Fagu and then proceed to Sarahan. Again based on the advise from Ramchand and Satpal , we decided to just stop by these two places and instead , visit Hatu peak on the way. Hatu is 7 Km off Narkanda and approx 10,300 Feet high. Travelling that 7 km narrow winding road is an experience in itself and the views of the snow clad ranges from the top are breathtaking. That day a Gram Panchayat was in progress at the top !!!. A local team of scouts was practicing rock climbing on a hillock nearby. We clicked to our hearts content , again the haze and the bright Sun was on the way of my P&S camera.
The journey onward was through green hills and meadows with wild colourful flowers and tall mountains , we soon had river Sutlej for company. Satpal informed that it will stay with us all the way till we met with River Spiti near Khab. We crossed Sainj before Rampur , Satpal pointed out the long route to Manali at that point . We all secretly hoped that we could still make it via the pass and not travel back the whole way from Kaza. A small hiccup enroute , when we stopped for lunch , my wife noted that the sole of her Nike was coming apart (it was not a particularly old pair). Satpal said noncommittally that there was a cobbler around in Sarahan who could probably fix it. We soon crossed Jeori and started climbing the last 17 Kms to Sarahan.
Our Sarahan experience was completely marred by the Hotel. Ramchand did not find accommodation in his regular jaunts and had booked us in Trehan’s , which is situated just as you enter the temple town. The rooms they showed us in the ground floor were pathetic and looked like remnants from a holocaust. To be fair , they had a major renovation going on and were adding a top floor , that held out promise once it was completed. A lot of negotiations later , the lady doing the duty decided to let us have 2 rooms on the upper floor which were slightly better. However these rooms were being used by the family that ran the hotel and they quickly vacated these for us. The cleanliness and general condition of the room left a lot to be desired . We were out of options and decided to bunk in , as it was only for one night .
I rushed for the date with the lone Sarahan cobbler and on the way, enquired about the temple timings . The temple itself is simple , yet majestic and has an enchanting charm. The best place to stay at Sarahan is the Temple Guest House , provided you can manage a room in high season. It was Bengali High Season for Holidays and all rooms were booked well in advance !!!. We enjoyed the evening “Sandhya Aarti” in the templeSanctum Sanctorum. The errant shoe was fixed for the time being but the looks said that it’s time was near. To spend the evening , we decided to have dinner in the restaurant of the HPTDC run hotel , it looked well maintained and a nice place to stay. It was the end of a tiring day.

Tuesday 19th May (Day 4)
baspa valley Next day morning we browsed through the small local market at Sarahan and ate our breakfast at a shop over there. More snaps of the temple followed in the bright Sunlight.  Satpal drove us to a viewpoint some distance higher up the temple. The views would have been good , but even under a bright cloudless sky , the haze ruined the views . The bright glare from the Sun did not help at all. Then there was the bird sanctuary on the way.
As we left Sarahan , Satpal made a promise , seeing the condition of the hotel , neither he nor Ramchand would recommend it to guests , even if the other accommodations in Sarahan were booked. Let’s hope that they keep it.
We were finally off to Kinnaur and onto Sangla. As we drove down we saw wild trees flaming with Mauve and Purple colours in the bright sunlight. We were onto “Kinnaur Dwar” in no time at all and officially entered Kinnaur. Enroute we passed a massive rock that was completely covering the road , but which had been blasted through to make the road passable , thereby making a small tunnel , the only one enroute.
Along the way we saw several jhullahs or make shift crossings over the river Sutlej. An iron basket dangling on a wire that stretched across the chasm. In several places the wire had red markers , probably as a beacon for low flying helicopters. To cross either men or material , the iron basket had to be physically hauled in by men using a rope and pulley system. In some areas the system was mechanized using a diesel engine , voila , you had an indigenous ropeway.
As we drove along NH22, realty hit us. The majestic river and mountains soon gave way to a denuded , blasted and a dusty landscape. We had hit the construction zone for the JayPee Power projects. Greenery on one bank gave us a tantalizing glimpse on what the other bank might have been. Now it was beehive of activity with Dam and Power house constructions in full swing. It is probably the price of progress that the country needs to pay. We hoped that the benefits would help the locals and far outweigh the destruction to the landscape. I sincerely hope that after all the dust settles , a good sense prevails to plant the area green again . However the scale of the construction would be a tribute to our Engineers who probably faced great odds to build at such a place. Satpal gravely stated that this “Keechar” (dust / muck / grime) will be with us all the way till we nearly reached Sangla , and even later as we proceeded towards Kalpa. We soon crossed the bridge at Wangtu and reached the fork at the road at Karcham and began the climb to the Sangla valley. The road again was narrow and winding and a small roadside temple and a resident Sadhu was at hand to bless our onward and return journey. The dam made the Baspa river nearly non existent in a bed of boulder and rocks.
A couple of Kms before Sangla , we reached Kuppa , which was the site of the reservoir. The scene changed after that with the dust left behind and the wide river roaringChitkul back to life. The river valley could be clearly made out and it was teeming with life. As we neared Sangla, snow clad mountains with bright white snow beckoned us and seemed a mere touch away. Our reservations were at Prakash Guest House , which is outside the main town s you drive towards Rakcham. The guest house was slightly outside the town and offered splendid views. We were famished and immediately delved into our lunch , which was ready and waiting for us , thanks to Satpal and a message from his cell phone. It was when we wanted to check into our rooms that the cat was let out the bag. Ramchand had given a low key warning about this to me earlier at Shimla , however I was caught unprepared. Prakash GH is supposed one of the best accommodations in the area and get a lot of bookings from individual tourists and tour companies. They habitually overbook and in peak season, when you turn up with a confirmed booking at Prakash GH , they then send you to other local accommodation , which they claim as their own sister concern. They normally tend to patronize large tour parties in their own rooms. The owner nonchalantly informed that our lodging had been arranged in “Ravi” , which was quite a way back and in the middle of the Bazaar. An argument and some calls to Ramchand ensured but it seemed that we were small fry in the bigger game of things. We saw a Bengali couple vociferously argue, after being meted the same treatment and they actually managed a room after the heated exchange, but one look inside meant that we better try elsewhere. Figuratively speaking we were down on the mat and decided to check out Ravi. The hotel from the outside looked like a run down dormitory. However we were nicely surprised when we were shown the rooms. It was very nice , clean and newly refurbished. We were given the two best rooms in the top floor (apparently we were their first guests of the season) and it had very good views to boot (nothing compared to Prakash GH though). The switch actually worked out well for us .
It was only early afternoon and we all decided to hike to the Sangla Trout farm, not knowing what we were getting into. Thus started our trekking adventure , the run from Sangla to the farm is all downhill and no problem at all. The distance to the farm would be around 4 kms. We were soon on the Baspa river bed after crossing a quaint bridge. We clambered down the rocks and posed over the rushing water. The journey to the farm was fantastic through a landscape of tall green pine & deodar trees , rushing white water and tall mountains. The walk was long , but we thoroughly enjoyed it . We noticed thunder clouds gathering over the mountain tops. The farm itself was nothing too great ; as we entered the gates , there was not a soul around. A lot of shouting later, a local came out and showed us around. We did see the trout , but the light had started to fade rapidly. We were hastily on our way back and as we neared the river and the bridge , large rain drops were on their way. We soon discovered that the ascent from the river bed to Sangla Bazar would be a completely different ballgame to our out of shape physiques. The kids were doing great for a 5 and a 6 year old. A lot of huffing , puffing and a very slow progress later , we were inching our way to the main road. By this time the rain was on and we made a frantic call to Satpal to collect us from the main road and deposit us at the hotel. This was our first real trek and the sight of the car and its welcoming seats really was a delight. Back at the hotel sipping warm tea, we were really amazed at our feat , we had just walked 6-7 kms and even walked up an incline ( a very steep one to us indeed !!!). The most overjoyed with the experience were the kids.
Initially we had planned to stay at Sangla for ae night and spend the next one at Chitkul. However Satpal vociferously advised us to stay at Sangla the next day as well and instead make a day’s outing to Chitkul. He reasoned that the accommodation and food at Chitkul was not good and its height (11400 ft compared to 8800 Ft at Sangla) meant that as the weather turned bad , as it often did during the night , there may be breathing trouble. By now , the rain was over and the skies were dotted with stars. We decided to take his advise and confirmed one more days stay at Hotel Ravi and turned in for the night.

Wednesday 20th May (Day 5)
Was up early the next day to see the Sun rise over the white snow , the valley was slowly bathed in light and the jungle of green Pines on the mountain slopes burst into bright golden colour. The HPPWD rest house at Sangla looked majestic in dawn and seemed a nice place to stay as well.
We are all set for the days outing to Chitkul and Mr. Satpal had a mission. Our Tavera looked every bit as if it had been drawn headlong through mud and grime and badly needed an image makeover. This was courtesy the construction zone through which it had travelled a day earlier. Satpal knew a stream midway and wanted to wash the car there. He pointed Kamru Fort to us as we started , but we decided to give it the skip as we are all geared up for Chitkul.
As we started towards Chitkul , the scenery awed us , the river valley below , the snaking road , mountains all around and most of them sparkling with snow , ice and tumbling glaciers. Yes we had sighted our first glaciers !!!!!. The climb was gradual and imperceptible. Though you gain more than 2500 Ft between Sangla and Chitkul , you do not seem to climb but follow a picturesque river valley. Satpal pointed to the mountains and said that atop it lies the Rupin and BuranPasses that connect the Sangla and the PabbarValley.
We soon were at the stream and Satpal gave a 10 min break to wash the car. The setting blowed us away , clear cold ice melt gushing down the rocks and over the road. White mountains sparkling in the sun , their peaks peeking through the lush green foliage. The brilliant Sun made the dense green vegetation sparkle like green gold. We madly clicked on and then 10 mins stretched to 30 , Satpal had to literally herd us back into the car. He asked us to look at the volume of water flowing across road and compare it as we came back.
Chitkul was paradise , have come across nothing like it before. The motorable road ended at the village and a dirt track winded down the Baspa valley. We were told that it is a Mule track that goes to the Indian Army outposts and to the border with Tibet. It still leads to various passes and onto Tibet , which was several days walk away and forbidden territory. One look at Chitkul and we collectively realised our mistake of not deciding to spend a night here. The setting was majestic. Most Guest houses were not yet open , some like Thakur’s Guest house was open and in business. We saw waterwheels at Chitkul that are powered by the Glacial melt streams. We decided to walk down along the river on the Mule track as far as we could ( a trek in our terms !!). Lunch was ordered in Thakur’s Guest House and off we went for the walk. Along the way we saw two nice places , one was a brand new hotel called Shensha Resort that had opened in Oct 08 and this was its first season. The rooms were very good and yet unused with commanding views. Next to it was a Hotel run by Bengalis , I forget the name , probably DebBhumi or something.
We soon came across the GovtHigh School alongside the river with students learning on the riverbanks (it had a building though). The setting and views will shame a picture post card. As we walked along , we all decided that no camera on earth can ever do justice to what lay before us – wide angle lenses be dammed. We walked several kilometres along the river that day , merrily skipping over stones and sometimes crossing to small boulders that seemed to be perched in the middle of the Glacial flow. It made for great snaps. At the end we just sat down and drank in the surrounding beauty. A small mishap on the way , my Wife’s Nike decided that the time and setting was just ripe for holy communion and proceeded to ascend to heaven. Both Soles came off leaving a flat clean surface underneath. This was beyond help and called for immediate replacement. Thank God that it was not slippery that day as the pair lost all traction. It was treat to watch my better half carefully traipsing on the boulders with a pair of clean shaven Nike’s !!!!!. Hats off that She still decided to walk on. We finally trundled back well past Noon having put in several Kms of “Trek” along the River Bank , as we called it. Before we partook our Lunch , we all proceeded to chastise Satpal for daring to suggest that we could not spend the night at Chitkul , more so with places like Shensha fully empty. He smiled enigmatically and said that a taste of the food there would have us limping back , but I will still reserve my comments. And to prove him wrong , the Lunch at Thakur’s was not bad at all.
Finally we headed back after spending a rewarding day and all of us made a promise to come back some time again.. The stream across the road was now a gushing rivulet and Satpal let loose another secret. On these roads (particularly in Spiti) , early morning crossings are hazardous since there are innumerable streams on the road and they turn to sheet ice during the Night. If you do not give it time to thaw , the tyres will skid. Once the Sun is up , the ice melts and the water flows for a manageable crossing. Late afternoon and a bright Sun means more ice melting and gushing streams across the road. In particular areas like Chhota Dhara on the Kaza – Manali Road , it means a very hazardous crossing under gushing waist deep water , in case you dare to cross late in the day.
We were back at our Hotel and it was still bright outside. I turned my attention to Shoes , we had spied a couple of shops on the way back and being in the middle of the bazaar helped. There was shop bang next to our hotel that took our fancy. One look and my wife immediately choose a pair for herself. As I was about to pay , she spied a pair for me and pointed me to it. It was love at foot sight and we ended up buying two pairs , one for each of us. We now had a memento of Sangla under our feet !!!!!. Kunzum pass was still on my mind and as there was some free time in the evening I checked out an Internet café that I had spied in the Bazaar. Guess what , I logged into “Road conditions – latest reports HP/Ladakh” thread in IM to see if we were to get lucky. Voyager61’s post that very day stated that Kunzum La was open from Kaza , but the stretch after that was still closed. This was good news as were still a week’s journey off !!!. Satpal was quick to dampen our spirits as we relayed the news to him , he said “Saab hamare liye road tab e khulegi jab regular Manali – Kaza Bus service phir se chalu hogi , jaisa abhi Mausam hai , woh June ka Dus Pandra tarik ho jayega”. These were prophetic words but it did not stop us dreaming. The next day we would be leaving for Kalpa.

Thursday 21st May (Day 6)
Today was to be the shortest hop in our trip from Sangla to Kalpa. We were now headed down towards Karcham and the giant Dumpers of JayPee started to keep us company as soon as we crossed Kuppa. The dust hit us like a nauseating wave, far removed from the refreshing air at Sangla at Chitkul. The state of NH 22 was slightly better as we crossed Karcham , but the dust was all pervasive till we were past Poari. The climb to Kalpa started and we soon left Recong Peo behind. Satpal filled up the Tavera , according to him the last reliable pump before Kaza was to be found here. The climb from Peo to Kalpa was amazing , we were gaining altitude by the minute under a spotless blue sky and towering mountains completely covered in white. The snow dazzled under the Sun and was it was actually difficult to gaze at it. We soon reached “Rolling Rang” , which was booked as our night halt. It is right next to the HPTDC Kinner Kailsah and has a great setting with private Apple Orchards and a great lawn with amazing views. As soon as we went to check our rooms , I realized that our bad luck with Hotels were continuing with a vengeance. The hotel had 4 fully front facing rooms , but we had been allotted 2 rooms at the back. The grand view that the small window in these rooms afforded was that of a blank embankment wall right next to it. I was furious , I was not about to spend my only day in Kalpa staring at a brick wall. The lady in the reception was courteous and explained that the front facing rooms were all kinner kailash booked earlier and while booking, Ramchand did not specify that we required rooms with a view. An indignant call to Ramchand followed , the mix up was traced to me specifying a cut off budget but not explicitly stating that I needed rooms with a view. Since I was on the ground , Ramchand immediately offered that if I found a suitable alternate accommodation , he would take care of the rest. This was easier said than done since apparently there was a great rush and all rooms in Kalpa were booked . This was corroborated by an European lady who just happened to drop in , searching for a room having unsuccessfully knocked at several places on the way. Thus started our search for a room with a view , after several unsuccessful attempts we landed at “Hotel Golden Apple” , which is placed at the end of Kalpa as you start towards Roghi (the hotel is near Kinner Villa). Miraculously their top floor room with the best view around was still vacant and we jumped at the opportunity. We confirmed the choice to Ramchand. The charges here were higher than Rolling Rang . We were really in for a nice surprise , when the manager informed us that we did not have to pay and Ramchand had already Account Transferred the money to him. This was a gesture that we shall never forget , we called him up to explain that the mix-up was not fully his fault , and since we got a room and were occupying it , we would pay for the same. He would hear nothing of it and also told us that the message had gone out to all our other halts on the way to reserve “rooms with a view”. At the end of the trip , we did make it a point to pay him back the charges for the Hotel , however his gesture was sincerely appreciated. The views were astounding from the room , you could lay on the bed and have a ring side view of the Shivling. The only fallout of this entire episode was a loss of 2 and a half hours of our only day in Kalpa. By this time the mountains were covered with clouds and we lost a brilliant Photo Ops window under a clear blue sky. In these parts , during summer , the Skies are mostly a brilliant blue , as the day progresses , it gets cloudy , and occasionally it may rain towards the evening.
By the time we checked into our new accommodation and finished lunch , it was nearly 3 PM. We all decided to walk down to Roghi village which was about 4 to 4.5 kms from the Hotel. Thus began one more “trek” for us. I am already out of adjectives describing the views. Of particular interest was some “sheer drops” along the way. You could actually see the ribbon like Sutlej and NH 22 besides it , these would have been at least a couple of thousand feet below from our current perch on the road to Roghi. Roghi was a quite little village and we walked the streets and spoke with the locals. There were waterfalls to be admired on the opposite mountains (on the other bank of the Sutlej Valley). We actually walked more than a Km past the village as well. Light had begun to fade and we decided to play it safe and called up Satpal for a ride back to Kalpa. Next we proceeded to check out KalpaVillage and roved in the streets and spied the Kalpa Post Office that had a Western Union Ad as well !!!. It was time to call it a day as we had a long journey to Tabo on the next day. Satpal had made it very clear that we must be on the road no later than 8 AM , he forecasted that this would enable us to be in Tabo by 5 PM.

Friday 22nd May (Day 7)
As we started towards Tabo , our only regret was not to have planned one more day in the idyllic surroundings of Kalpa. We could not do the trek to Kalpa Khanda. SatpalSpiti and Satluj river at Khab took us through a road that ran parallel to NH 22 and at a height above it , this continued for several Kms , till the road finally merged with the highway. He had warned us to be prepared for a long day with torturous roads and sharp bends . We soon crossed the majestic Akpa bridge over Sutlej , this supposedly has the longest span in the region. As we progressed more into Spiti , the topography began to change dramatically. We had really entered the cold desert. The rock formations and mountains were something you got to see and then gawk at !!!. It was almost completely denuded and devoid of green and had breaks and striations all around . Some were even Horse Shoe shaped. Looking at these shapes , you probably could begin to fathom the immense geological forces that had made such creations over the millennia .Apparently in prehistoric times , this entire area was under the TethysSea and this was the hallmark of underwater erosion over countless centuries. All through , the majestic but muddy Sutlej roared down the Valley. We marvelled at how the road came to be built in the first place. There were cheerful BRO/GREF signs to keep us company along the road. The “Inner Line” was crossed at Spillo and we faithfully recorded our entry. We crossed Puh on the way and stopped by the bridge at Khab to sip on some hot tea. Immediately after, came the confluence of the Spitit and the Sutlej rivers and the road turned sharply left over a Bailey Bridge on Sutlej. The power of current at the confluence was something to watch. Some distance on , Satpal marked a spot where he had chanced upon a Snow Leopard drinking from the river , this was in March. His next secret tumbled out , this was his 11th visit to the same area within 2009 !!!, the trips had begun operating from early March 09 itself. We were soon at the “Ka – Zigs” and the steep ascent to Nako had started. With every bend we soared majestically upwards and seemed nearer to the skies. I will not even begin to describe the landscape – please visit firsthand to experience it yourself. No words or pictures can do adequate justice. After a long climb , we were finally at Nako. It was a simple mountain village. Nako lake was a picturesque Photo Op. But the lake itself is more of a big pond with greenish water and the area around it is not particularly clean. We had lunch there and proceeded onwards for our tryst with the Malling Nullah, which is a fiercely active landslide zone. Satpal narrated its history – the current road was the third version. The original road to Chango went at a much lower height and was a much shorter distance as well, but the treacherous Malling Nullah kept washing it up. The next road was laid at a much higher level to reduce chances of landslide and it connected Yangthang to Chango. Most current maps mark this road , form this road you actually had to climb a further 7 kms to reach Nako. This road too met with the same fate. The current road is laid much higher up , almost at the top of the mountains and near the very top of Malling Nullah. From this road , Nako is less than a Km away . This road was laid fairly recently and hence most maps do not mark it. Even with all of this , Malling Nullah is a very dangerous place and an awesome sight. BRO had permanently stationed a detachment with heavy Earth moving machinery next to the Nullah for emergency clearing operations. One more secret from Satpal , when we boarded the spanking white and very well maintained car at Shimla , we had noted a crack on the windscreen – Satpal pointed to it now and said – “Sab yeh Malling Nullah ka dain hai”. It transpired that shortly before our trip , he was marooned here for 6 days as the road was cut off due to a very severe slide at Malling . Once the same was reopened and he tried to cross , a loose rock had hit the windscreen after rolling down the mountain side. We did noticed that as soon as we had entered Spiti , he always scanned the mountain slopes ahead to check out for falling stones . From Malling to Chango was a steep climb down. There was a group of mountains and hillocks along the way that was a mysterious whitish colour that set it apart from the rest (probably Limestone deposits). According to Satpal , these were the White Mountains. We soon crossed the checkpost at Sumdo. A little further on , we left the main road and took a turn for Gheu village which is about 9 Kms from the main road. There is an Army camp here as it very near the border , but the attraction was a Mummy that is under the safekeeping of the Army. As we alighted from the car , a Jawan came to meet us with the keys to the temple and warned us against taking any snaps of the area. It was too close to the border and a prohibited place. The mummy is actually a human skeleton in sitting posture and draped in clothes. Folklore has it that hair and nails still grow on the skeleton. This was the first time we actually saw and clicked a Mummy and it was well worth the 18 Km detour. The water of Gheu Nullah that flowed in this valley was a very dark in colour , nearly black !!!!. We were back on the main road and past Hoorling we were struck up twice as a road widening operation was in progress. Some Kms from Tabo , Satpal suddenly stopped the car midway and asked us to come down. The mountain slopes here were sheer but silky smooth with loose soil and rocks. He pointed up the slopes and we spied our first Mountain Goats grazing on the slopes. They were quite distant and their colour nearly camouflaged them with the surrounding mountains , however my 12 times Optical Zoom P&S made them stand out. A few Kms farther we met our first herd of Yaks !!!. Before Tabo , we passed through the small Hamlet of Chandigarh – yes you heard me right !!!. Finally at quarter to 5 in the evening , we reached Trozan Guest House , this was our night halt. As usual , Satpal had forecasted our arrival time to a T. We found out during the trip that he could accurately forecast trip times to within half an hour. From his experience he sized up the tour party , and could make an accurate guess on the total time we would spend on the road – actual travel time plus the various halts , Photo Ops and Sight Seeing time enroute .
The skies in these parts are an amazing hue of a deep shade of Blue , almost bordering towards a lighter shade of Royal Blue.
Tabo had a BSNL tower and mobile coverage , but beware , there are long power outages , often days together. If the backup batteries at the BSNL tower ran out , the signal will also die. When we reached Tabo , there was no power for the last 2 days and hence no signal. Within 20 mins of our reaching , the power snapped back to life.
The apple trees were flowering all around Tabo and were completely covered with White flowers !!!! The view of the White Mountains through white Apple blossoms made for a great photographic composition.
We decided to check Tabo Monastery the same day. However it was closed that day as a professional team was given the task to photograph and document the paintings on the walls. We noticed the plethora of caves that dotted the mountainside above Tabo and were told that these were used by the Lamas for meditation and some of them had wall paintings. We decided to walk up and check them the next day. We saw the monastery from the outside that evening and was impressed with its antiquity. Hot Momos followed in the Monastery café and our Children soon made great friends with the 3 year old daughter of the owner.
A small war council with Satpal followed on our return to the Guest House. News in Tabo confirmed that the route to Manali was closed and would not open soon. Initially we had planned 4 nights in Kaza with one more at Batal. There were 2 more nights later at Manli , but one of them would actually be the very day when we would reach there late in the evening. The consensus was to bunk down for 3 nights instead at Kaza.. Satpal confirmed that this was enough to see the area. An extra night was required at Rampur on the way back to Manali and that meant that we could enjoy one more extra day at Manali. This was more than welcome to us and with this agreed plan , we went off to sleep.

Saturday 23rd May (Day 8)
On top of Dhankar monastry We started off the day by revisiting Tabo Monastery in the morning , an unfinished task from the earlier day. Next stop was the climb to the meditation caves above Tabo. We checked out quite a few , they looked abandoned with no sign of paintings in them. You probably need a local to guide you to the right caves. The visit was rewarding in other ways though. The first was the feeling of accomplishment in again making a “trek” up a gradient . The views of Tabo valley from the caves were great too , this was a patch of greenery amidst the cold desert and the valley had a grand setting in the lap of the snow clad mountains all around.
Midway from Tabo to Kaza is Schichling , from here you make the 7 Km climb to Dhankar Monastery. This was to be our “Monastery Day”. I will refrain from describing the scenery as by now I am out of adjectives , suffice to say that as usual , our visual senses were in for a massive treat. There were more Yak herds grazing on the road up to Dhankar. There are some strange rock formations next to the Monastery. The monastery itself is very old and they do not allow you to take pictures inside. What fascinated me were the painted masks and the collection of ancient Buddhist scriptures which were written either on leaf or cloth and stored in a neat collection. The views from the ruined fort, which is slightly higher than the main monastery was like looking down an aircraft window. The confluence of Pin and Spiti rivers could be seem through a bird’s eye view – it was like a map unfolding before our eyes.
On the way to Kaza , we crossed Attargo and Satpal pointed us the bridge over Spiti that would take us over to PinValley – to Mudh and Sagnam . The ride into Kaza was uneventful. Both Tabo and Kaza are valleys and there is no easy way to gauge that you were almost 12000 Ft high in Kaza and had just climbed another 2000 Ft from Tabo (10000 Ft). We needed to pay an entry of Re 50 for our car to the local taxi union. Apparently , all outside cars that traverse Kaza and are not part of the local union need to pay this entry fee. Our place of stay for the next few days was Hotel Khagsar. This was at the end of the town , near the Hospital. The plan was to visit Kibber and Kye , post lunch , on the same day.
Eternal optimists that we were , I again inquired about the Manali – Kaza road from the local petrol pump , which was right next to our Hotel. The pump attendant pointed out to the HPPWD stores on the opposite side of the road and to the main HPPWD building behind the hospital and asked us to get the latest information from there. The store attendant was very helpful. He volunteered that the road was closed and it was not likely to open anytime soon. However the road till Kunzam top from Kaza was open and that very day , the first local Taxi had left for the top with some tourists. With this piece of news , we hurried down to reconfirm at the main office. The news there was the same and they even said that some “Kainchis” (Hairpin Bends) towards the Bataal side were also open from Kunzam Top and the road was motorable for small vehicles. We instantly decided that we should visit Kunzam Top . The problem was convincing Satpal to make the trip. By now we have seen several pictures of Chandrataal and its surroundings at our Hotel , we hoped that there would be a way to make it to the lake from Kunzum top , it was after all part of our original itinerary. We decided not to broach the topic to Satpal until we were back from Kibber and Kye. Satpal had a slightly upset stomach and was not in a particularly magnanimous mood that day.
Post Lunch we started our ascent to Kibber , the road to Kibber starts a short distance out of Kaza , as you pass the RangrikBridge. Kibber is a small mountain village about 2000 Ft higher than Kaza at nearly 14000 Ft. It has its own monastery as well. It was an oasis of green amongst the surrounding harsh mountainside. There are a handful of Guest houses if you actually plan to stay here. Norling guest house looked the most promising. The trek via the ParangPass starts from Kibber.
Kye is one of the oldest seats of Buddhism in the region and Ki-Gompa is the biggest around these parts. It stands on top of a small hill on the same road that connects Kaza to Kibber. We had passed it on the way up , we were visiting it now on our way back to Kaza. There is a motor able road right upto the front gate of the Gompa. It’s perch atop a small hill with a commanding view of the surrounding countryside and mountains were superb. We were welcomed by a friendly Lama who graciously agreed to pose for pictures with our children. He insisted that we all have tea in the kitchen before he took us around , it was a very welcome beverage for us at that time of the day. The kitchen had a giant wood burning stove at its centre , this keeps the room warm in winters. Lama ji said that the monastery is not accessible due to heavy snow for more than 6 months each year. The collections of ancient manuscripts and the wall paintings were fabulous , but photography is not allowed inside nowadays. We saw the collection of masks and all the other statutes . After a grand tour as we were about to leave , dinner time for the Monastery school was announced. Soon a horde of young Lamas in their Red robes had assembled in the main courtyard for their evening dinner. The spartan dinner consisted of a soup , a vegetable and a lump of dough (could not make out if the same was baked , boiled or simply kneaded)
Once back at Kaza , we gently broached our plans for Kunzum to Satpal . Short of going ballistic , he gravely nodded and said that the danger to the car may be too great in the current road conditions. It took a lot of gentle coaxing and some discussions with Ramchand on the phone to make him agree to our plans. Finally we got a consensus to visit Kunzum top the very next day. That meant staying more day around Kaza and loosing the planned extra day in Manali , but it was more than welcome to us.
We went down to the local market at Kaza for a bit of exploration before retiring for the night. Satpal had decreed that we should leave around 9 AM , not too early so that sheet ice on the road had a chance to start melting and not too late so that the melts converted to gushing rivulets.

Sunday 24th May (Day 9)
Today would surely rank as the most memorable day of our trip. We were on the road by 9 and soon crossed the Rangrik bridge and were on our way towards Losar. Thekunzum road did not provide any sense that we were slowly climbing. It seemed deserted and forlorn like a long reptile basking in the Sun amidst a truly breathtaking panorama of a deep Azure Blue cloudless sky. Habitation was very few and far between and in some places the sign boards announced grand total populations of 30 to 80 souls. We passed Khurik , Sumling , Morang , Hula , Pangmo , Kyato and Hanse villages (more like minute settlements ) on the way to Losar. The surrounding mountains , the road , the river valley and the gorge all seem like alien landscapes with bizarre rock formations – this is a sort of beauty that will make you wonder about the extreme forces that model mother nature. The valley belies the height , it seems as if it is a level road on a plain , except for the places where it severely twists and turns along the river gorge, from one bank to another , hugging the treacherous mountains. We saw herds of Yaks grazing on the short , stubby and sparse vegetation. Losar is sizeable village in the parts with a grand total of 227 inhabitants. It is the first village on the Spiti side , if you arrive down the Kunzum pass. The buildings had the typical architecture of the region . Luckily 2 Dhabas were open , we were earlier dreading the fact that we may have to forego food for the entire day. The secret was the Kaza to Losar regular bus service , which has been already open for sometime as the snow in these parts were cleared about a month back. We took a welcome rest at a local Dhaba and explored the village. Lunch was ordered to be kept ready for the time we were headed back after visiting Kunzum top.
On the way , we learnt from Satpal that the best way to visit Chandrataal would be a trek down from Kunzum , which was 7- 9 Kms one way and out of question for us with no experience and with kids. Besides,the snow made the trek to Chandrataal impassable now. It seems that the morotable road to Chandrataal is a misnomer , it is really a very narrow and scary dirt track that opens in late June or early July. Most of the time , conditions permitting , trekking is the only option. The moral of the story – it was out of reach for us, in this trip.
Kunzum pass In the last 19 Kms from Losar to Kunzum top , the road gains another 1500 Ft , the top of the pass is almost 15000 Ft high (3000 Ft higher than Kaza) and it is higher than Rohtang as well. We will never forget this 19 Km stretch in our lives. As we left Losar , we soon saw the rocks and ground on the side of the road frozen white , as great mounds of advancing ice. At most places , this was melting and the water was flowing over the roads – “Full of Kheechar” according to Satpal. It was just a wet slush , a mixture of water and ice on an unstable bed. He just hoped that this will remain an “adventure” for us and nothing would break down or happen with the car. Again the climb from Losar to Kunzum is very gentle and almost imperceptible , except for a couple of “Kainchis” or hairpin bends right out of Losar. These were the sections that Satpal was most afraid of. He said that these are steep and the Keechar made life extremely difficult. After crossing the stretch , he commented that the Tavera had just about managed to make it. As we were climbing the bends , the snow and ice slowly seemed to engulf us. The occasional stretches of snow on the road quickly changes to sheets of the stuff and pretty soon it was completely white on both sides of the road. In fact it was completely white under a dazzling Sun , as far as the eyes could see. Quickly all sunglasses were put on as it soon began to hurt our eyes. The car soon entered a stretch that had snow towering on both sides of the road and in most places , the height of the build up was at least 2 to 3 feet above the roof carrier on our Tavera. This was there right upto Kunzum. You could see that the HPPWD Bulldozer or Snow Plough was at work here cutting a path through the snow. The entire road was now like a rivulet , with flowing water over the mud and rocks. Progress was very slow indeed. We soon came across a waterfall of ice. A water source from the mountains was crossing the road and it was completely frozen with long ice crystals looking like frozen stalactites that hung from the rock above. At many places along the way , melting ice on both banks of the road was creating myriad geometrical shapes and sparkling in the Sun. We had by now finally reached the top of the pass and Shigri Parbat was simply dazzling under the Sun. A series of Stone Chortens mark the top and there is also a DurgaTemple there. This is however at a distance of about 100 M or more from the main road and at right angles to it. We wanted to reach these structures by car but as soon as Satpal took a right turn , we saw that ahead was a foot or more high bed of slush – there was every possibility that if we tried it , the Tavera would be mired in the concoction !!!. So we decided to alight and walk up , which was easier said than done , because following the road would have meant wading through ice cold slush , which was knee deep in places. Satpal showed the way , he clambered up the wall of snow to enter the snowfield on one bank of the road and started walking to the top , over the snow. He was dressed in a light jacket , a pair of ordinary trousers and a pair of Sandals. He soon returned , dripping wet , upto his waist. The snow was loose in places and as you stepped on it , you just sunk , maybe upto your Knee or Waist. Remember that unlike the journey from Manali to Rohtang , there are no shops here that provide snow clothing on hire. Not that it is needed anyway !!. We were marginally better dressed than Satpal , with walking shoes and heavy jackets on. We selected a spot that offered footholds to clamber up the 6 -10 Ft high snow wall that was flanking the approach road. The ice formations here were razor sharp , however the shapes etched out by the melting ice was a feast for our eyes. We were soon on the Snow Plain and started walking out. Almost immediately I went down upto my knees as the snow gave way. Since we were not fitted out for trekking in these conditions and did not have a walking stick – a simple strategy was devised. The men would walk slowly forward , reaching out one toe in every step and stamping the snow ahead to test it. The rest followed on these footsteps. We were soon in the middle of an expanse that was white everywhere. Shigri Parbat and its glaciers seemed like a finger tip away. The best part – there was no wind. Had there been a wind , the chill factor would probably have made us beat a hasty retreat. There was nothing living all around for miles around , except us. No humans and no tourists. Only some birds soared high in the distance , in the direction of Losar. We lost all count of time and after spending a couple of hours on the snow playing and posing , we were jolted out by Satpal honking for us. By now it was getting late and the clouds were beginning to cover the mountains with the wind picking up as well. Satpal wanted to safely take us down. The children were the most overjoyed of the lot. After a long time , which seemed only like a minute to us , we started back. On the way down to Losar , at most places, the Sun had already accelerated the melt process for the day and gushing torrents of water were flowing over the road. According to me , what we saw now , could easily compete and surpass the legendary Swiss Alpine scenes for sheer beauty and ruggedness. It will fall far short in logistics though , but to me that leads to the overall sense of adventure. My opinion stems from visiting areas in the Swiss , German , Austrian and the French Alps, but anyway it is a personal belief.
The entire tour party finally reached Losar to partake of the promised lunch at the dhaba. On the way to Losar , our car was pretty sight and I do not mean its outside , which was completely smeared with mud anyway. Socks of all sizes and hues were left to dry on the dashboard and a pair of sneakers was tied to the luggage rack on the roof , and left to dry !!!. Satpal commented that most of the ice cover around Kunzum will be gone by the time the road officially opened and we considered ourselves lucky to get the grand view.
The journey back to Kaza was uneventful and we reached by 4 PM , capping a very memorable day.
We took two decisions that evening , one of immediate consequence and one for the future. The Kunzum visit meant spending an extra day at Kaza , that meant we needed to get back to our original plan of spending only 2 nights at Manali. We decided to drop Rohtang from the Manali sightseeing itinerary altogether , all of us had had our fill of prancing in the snow – sans tourists. The next thought , nebulous plans were already being hatched for a Manali – Leh – Srinagar tour in the future , with a detour to Chandrataal and Kunzum to be thrown in !!!!!

Monday 25th May (Day 10)
Between hikkim and spiti Unlike the other days in our trip , this day begun as cloudy and overcast and stayed so. The plan for the day was to visit Langza , Hikkim and Comic. Apparently there are 2 motorable roads to reach these heights , from both ends at Kaza. We took the road that started just beyond our Hotel in the Rangrik side. As usual the views were spectacular. Satpal was weary of the roads , some of these were of very recent construction and we was not very sure if these were in motorable shape to bear the weight of our Tavera. The first stop was Langza village which is about 18 Km from Kaza. There is a monastery here and a giant statue of Buddha on the hillside. This area is rich in marine fossils and a palaeontologists’ delight. Next comes Hikkim which is a further 10 Km out. We went past the village for the time being and continued upto Comic which is a further 3 Km away on the same road. The village is situated on a small bowl shaped valley and perched right on the mountain top , 360 degree views are awesome from here. The HPPWD signboard proclaimed the height as 4275 m (14000 Ft) , while the board at the monastery school penned it as 4587 m (15000 Ft). In reality a little difference of 1000 Ft does not matter in these parts. The highlight was the Tangyud Gompa , which belonged to the Sa Kya Pa sect of Buddhism. As usual the Lamas insisted that we first partake their hospitality , have tea and then proceed to have Darshan. We were surprised to see a Guest House next to the Gompa , it seemed to have all basic amenities in place. Next came the biggest boon I could wish for , snaps were allowed in the main complex. The Gompa had exquisite paintings on the walls and almost on all its furniture . There were great deities of Buddha and exquisite figurines. The entrance to the main Gompa complex is guarded by a stuffed Snow Leopard hanging from the wall. Women are not allowed entry in the inner chamber (we noticed this at Dhankar as well). Next stop was Hikkim , it is slightly below Comic. While coming down we spied a local party working on the road. Satpal enquired if the road down to Hikkim was open – and the answer was an emphatic yes. When we asked , he said that this part had a lot of Keechar and hence he was worried. True to his words we encountered some bad stretches but our car managed to cross. The next Keechar looked daunting , the mud and slush was deep with running water and Satpal started manoeuvring very carefully. We entered the puddle and then could not come out. There was a vicious wheel spin , the wheels lost traction and we were struck !!!. We came down and saw that this was a very bad stretch indeed , an alternate culvert was being made next to it and lots of construction material was lying about , but no one was around. Lots of experimentation followed , putting rocks on the puddle and under the tyres , putting wooden planks under the tyre (from the construction material) and even pushing. We soon realised that all out efforts were contributing towards the car digging down more. By now the front axle was in direct contact with rock and mud. The only way out now was to get help and either push the car out or dig the wheels out. Hikkim was several Kms downhill , we were about 20 Kms out of Kaza , and about a couple of thousand feet higher, and it was getting late in the afternoon. There was no option but to walk to Hikkim for help , the walk down was doable as it was a steep downwards incline . The thought of a walk up was not very appealing . We left Satpal to guard the Car and Ladies and started walking down. We walked probably 100 m and came to a bend in the road and voila , we could see a clearing / meadow some distance down on a slope and off the road , where a big road repair party was cooking lunch. Overjoyed, we ran down the slope and asked their help. Soon the entire crew of a few men and lots of women with their shovels and axes started to climb up. Within 10 mins we reached our car and they went to work. Another 10 mins later , they pushed the Tavera out. We posed for pictures with our saviours and graciously thanked them. They were not willing to accept any token of appreciation , so our reserve of toffees and lozenges were distributed to their children and off we went. Hikkim is a small village and has the distinction of having the Highest Post Office in the world. It should be around 14000 Ft high , when I Googled it , it showed up as 15500 Ft , which cannot be true as Hikkim is lower than Comic and Comic is lower than 15500 Ft. The post office looked as if it could do with some urgent repairs. All along the village , there were cultivated green pastures. On our way day down , Satpal suddenly stopped the car and pointed to the slopes on the other side of the road. A herd of wild goats (was it IBEX ?) was grazing on very steep and sheer slopes. They were very near and seemed oblivious to our presence and even posed for snaps. On the way down , we noticed that from up top , the road towards Rangrik was arrow straight as it crossed the RangrikBridge and looked like a runway. From these heights , it actually looked like the view of a runway from a cockpit as an aircraft prepares to land.
As we reached the Hotel , the wind suddenly picked up and the overcast cleared and the Sun began to shine. I chanced to look towards Rangrik and noticed that it was swathed in what looked like a white and grey could. The Valley between the 2 Mountains were completely covered by this mass. The wind picked up some more and soon we could ascertain that the entire mass was moving towards Kaza. Another 30 to 40 Mins and entire Kaza was wrapped in a fierce storm. The wall of white was actually the dust being blown in the air , mixed with some low clouds. Visibility dropped precariously. Soon we could see the Sun peeping out on the Rangrik side. The Storm moved as a mass and passed away within 30 mins and the skies cleared to a bright Sunshine. We later learnt that such storms do very occasionally occur in these parts. We thanked our stars for not being caught on the mountain road in Comic or Hikkim under such conditions.

Tuesday 26th May (Day 11)
The distance from Kaza to Manali through Rampur and Sainj would be roughly more than 500 Kms , compared to the 200 Kms to Manali from Kaza over the the KunzumPass. Kaza to Rampur would be about 318 Kms , with another 33 kms to Sainj , 87 Kms to Aut and another 70 Km to Manali. We still had to see the Pin valley and planned to visit Mudh and Sagnam. Attargo is 22 Km from Kaza towards Tabo , from here you need to cross a bridge on Spiti and the road continues on for another 34 kms to Mud via Gulling and Sagnam. We decided that coming back to Kaza did not make sense. Rather we will continue on and spend the night at Tabo.
Pin valley too was simply astounding. We decided to continue on to Mud and visit Sagnam on the way back. Mud has picture perfect scenery , it is slightly higher than the Pin river that flows along it and faces the lofty snow clad peaks. It is like a wall of white mountains blocking the other end of the valley with the Pin river flowing through it. There are milestones at Mudh which point that Bhaba Top (BhabaPass) is another 34 Km ahead , but there is no motor able road after Mud. Slightly out of Mudh are several streams and Nullahs and the crossing over it is managed by wooden planks , hence no road. As we alighted from the car , we saw a wide open grassy meadow on the opposite valley and immediately decided to trek to it. It was over 2 -3 kms away and the road snaked around a bend in the mountains to reach the opposite valley. Satpal pointed out a shortcut back that directly crisscrossed the valley floor. We enjoyed the walk to the pasture and did it at a very leisurely pace . There was a place where a stream came down the mountain and fanned down below ,but it was frozen solid and looked like a glacier flowing down. We spend a great time on the pasture and even walked out some distance along the trekking tracks. As suggested by Satpal we tried to come back taking the shortcut along the valley floor , but found ourselves stopped by the gushing river with no visible means to crossing. At one point a log was laid over the rocks but it did not look very passable to me , more so as the river had widened and was now flowing around both of its sides. We again had to climb up and walked back the whole way as we had come in. Satpal was watching our ordeal from the car and had thoughtfully ordered a lunch of boiled eggs and steaming Momos. While having a late lunch , we saw that many of the houses here double up as Guest Houses or Home stays. Mudh is trekker’s paradise with the trek to Kafnu via Bhaba pass and to Manikaran via the Pin-Parbati starting here. The later takes you through the PinValley (Great Himalayan) National park. We stopped by Sagnam on the way back and admired the houses and its views. There is also a muumy here , however unlike the one at Gheu , it is not visible. There is a very small hole in the cenotaph but you see nothing if you peer inside , probably a very powerful flashlight is needed . It was getting late and we actually did not have time to visit the Monastery at Khungri. We reached Tabo in the early evening and got the same rooms to stay at Trozan Guest House.

Wednesday 27 th May (Day 12)
This was to be a very long and tiring day when we drove back 270 Kms to Rampur along the same route that we took during our outward journey. We were out on the road by 7:45 AM and reached Rampur by 5 in the evening . This time around there was no sight seeing stops and we safely negotiated the Malling Nullah stretch. Lunch was at a road side Dhaba in Tapri , which was heavily patronized by the traffic and served delicious Thalis. We did not have any bookings made here earlier , Satpal was sure that plently of rooms would be available. His recommendation was North Park or a similar sounding name . It was full. We soon found that almost all hotels were full for the night. After a long search and a lot of persuasion we found ourselves two rooms in Hotel Ratan Regency . This is a hotel outside Rampur as you proceed towards Sainj. The hotel had a good setting through , right on the bank of the fast flowing Sutlej.
We had no hotel accommodation booked at Manali, now that our days of stay were finalized , it was a time to get the bookings done. It seemed that the situation was pretty tight at Manli as hordes of tourists had descended on the place. We got reference of a Hotel in the Log Huts area from the owner at Tabo , this was a possible option. However having spend days out in the “wilderness” our families wanted to be near the Mall. Satpal had an alternate option in Hotel Marble. He said that it was clean and cheap and right on the edge of the Mall at Manali , we were convinced and gave him the go ahead.
Next was the little problem was travelling back to Delhi. Original Plan was to spend 28th and 29th May at Manali and leave on 30th Morning for Kalka / Parwanoo / Chandigarh as a night halt en route to Delhi for a 31st afternoon arrival. Instead of travelling the whole day on 30th , we wanted to squeeze more time in Manali. Two things happened , we checked with Satpal if there was an option that we start at 30th evening using our Car , but he was not particularly keen to take it up . Suddenly from 26th onwards , both Satpal and Ramchand had began enquiring how we planned to travel back and kept on suggesting the Volvo route as the best option. The logic and economics were clear. We could release our car at Manali on 28th evening itself. That saved us 4 days on the car. Since we were not planning to visit Rohtang , a local taxi hired at Manali for sightseeing for 1 day would be less than the per day cost of the Tavera. The cost of a night stay could be funnelled to the bus tickets. And overall we could start in the evening on 30th and reach Delhi by the next day morning. We finally decided to go for it and Satpal ordered for the tickets on 27th evening itself for a Volvo that left Manali at 6 PM. It was good advise indeed , but it had another motive as well. Ramchand is now a very busy tour operator and this was peak season. He had people arriving within the next couple of days and did not have a car or driver to accompany them , hence the need was to have Satpal and the Tavera back at Shimla on the 29th – their next tour to Kinnaur and Spiti was probably scheduled to start on the 30th or 31st. At the end , the arrangement benefitted both parties.

Thursday 28th May (Day 13)
We started the day early as we had 190 Kms to cover. Breakfast was at Atul Regency in Sainj. The location of this hotel is very good it is right on the junction at Sainj where the road takes a turn and bifurcates for Manali. The hotel is right on the river bank and we saw they were already in the process of augmenting their room capacity. If a detour to Manali is required via this way , this would make a perfect place to stay for the night. You will have a head start of 33 Kms in the morning as distance fo Rampur from Sainj is 33 Kms.
As we proceeded on , the scenery was completely different from what we were used to seeing. The hills and mountains were all green and did not seem to be very high. There were lush green meadows with flowing rivers and streams and an abundance of wild flowers. The region was heavily cultivated. The main emphasis seemed to be on garlic cultivation and there were scores of lorries being loaded with garlic on the way. The road was narrow and through most of the way only broad enough to allow one vehicle at a time. That meant progress was slow. Whenever a bus , truck or a van materialized from the opposite direction , depending on the terrain , you may need to drive quite a distance in back gear to let a vehicle pass. It was scary during some steep ascents.
We passed Behna , Ani and Khanag on the way up to JaloriPass. Past Khanag , the last few Kms to Jalori was a steep ascent. We stopped at Jalor Jyot which is at a height of 3120 m(10200Ft) and it has a temple at the top. The top has commanding views of the surrounding countryside. The setting was unmistakably that of high Alpine Pastures , complete with sheep grazing on the meadows. The road on the other side from Jalori to Shoja was very bad and it was a very slow progress as the gradient was very steep indeed. In fact signs on top of the pass warn of the gradient and its dangers. For those interested , Serolsar lake is a 11 Km trek from the pass. Shoja at 8800 Ft had a few guest houses and resorts. This setting is perfect for a idyllic mountain holiday amongst green and colourful nature. We stopped for Lunch at Jhibi , which has a couple of Dhabas for the purpose. The flowers were amazing , there were roses of all colours and sizes , plus other flowers as well that made the entire country side a treat for the eyes. Apple orchards abounded and we soon made a grand discovery , there were already small apples (or shall we call these as applets?) growing in the trees. The diversity in the topography was too great – apple orchards in Kalpa and Kinnaur were Barren , at the same time Apple trees near Tabo were under full bloom , out here the fruit had already started taking shape on the trees !!!!. We crossed Banjar and headed towards Larji. Larji has a power project and is renowned for Trout fishing. Larji is also the confluence of the Parvati and the Tirthan rivers. From the place that the two rivers meet till the concrete wall of the dam , you can see that the water has 2 distinct and separate colours signifying the two rivers within the common flow itself . One was dark green and the other was greyish , it was almost a physical division right through the middle of the channel. We were soon into the almost 3 Km long Aut Tunnel , another 70 Kms remained till Manali. We now joined NH 21 towards Manali. As we approached Kull and went past it , the scenic beauty of the BeasRiver flowing through the KulluValley was awe inspiring and it had the lofty white Himalayan peaks towards Rohtang to compliment the scene. At most places along the river , there are spots where you can indulge in White water rafting , most of these were doing brisk business. As a first time tourist in the region , we did have a peek at a Shawl outlet outside Kullu (Kullu is famous for its Shawls). We reached Manali in the late afternoon. I will second most of the opinions posted in IM , Manali is a much better Hill station than Shimla , both in terms of scenic beauty and overall ambience. Though it was quite crowded , we loved it from the first look. Hotel Marble was a 5 min uphill walk from the Mall , towards the NaturePark end. It is right next to Johnsons Café. As expected , the place was clean & decent , overall an excellent budget option if you want to stay close to the Mall. Except for two rooms at the very top , there is not much of a view from most of the rooms but at this part of Manali , you are not after the views.
Next was the parting with Satpal and his beloved Tavera , it had grown to be our own beloved Tavera over the past few days. Satpal was more than a friend now and we reluctantly said our goodbyes. He would leave within the next couple of hours back to Shimla for his native village in Naldhera to be there by early morning on the next day.
The evening was reserved for exploring the Mall , which by now was literally teeming with the multitudes. It was a great sight , people from most parts of India and tourists from across the world mingling together.

Friday 29th May (Day 14)
Our penultimate day of the tour was reserved for local sightseeing. An Omni Van was arranged from the local Taxi union to take us around for the day. We had already excluded Rohtang from our itinerary earlier. We visted Naggar castle , the ArtGallery and Museum (Roerich) , SolangValley , Vashist and Hadimda temple and also toured the Log huts area in general. The children had a wild time at Solang – Zorbing , working on the Trampoline and even a short Paraglide down the slope. It seemed a very busy and touristy area but an ideal place for such adventure sports, but the charges for these activities seemed to be a rip off. . In winter , this turns to a skiing arena. The place could be better maintained though , maybe the tourist pressure is just too high. The road that leads to Solang , continues to the Army Project base that is in charge of construction of the tunnel under Rohtang pass – Project Deepak if I recall correctly. The evening was again reserved for the Mall.

Saturday 30th May (Day 15)
We had time till about 5 PM on this day before we needed to report for the bus to Delhi. Our families had already earmarked the time for shopping and they really seemed very pleased with their efforts at the end of the day. The Tibetan Market at the other end of the Mall seemed a good place to bargain and shop for jackets and the like.
The Volvo was a big letdown. The bookings were on “Raj National” , we were under the impression that their services were generally good. This particular coach reeked of antiquity . When we entered the bus , it was not that bad , just shabby and rundown interiors. . As we had booked late , we were unfortunate enough to get seats right at the back of the bus. There was something broken in the suspension system and it started to make a grating noise as the bus moved. The suspension on the roads till we reached the plains reminded us of a roller coaster ride. The driver could control the AC with only 2 settings either off ( and it grew warm) or on (when there would be a chill) . Some of the seats of our co passengers refused to recline. None of the reading lights worked , nor did most of the speakers. Anyway we just meant to sleep , but for the fare they charge , they seem to be completely duping their customers. Later on the conductor confided that the demand was so great in peak season that it meant running buses long past their prime.

Sunday 31st May (Day 16)
Past dawn we were nearing Delhi when the skies opened up. We were in for a shock , water was dripping down the skylights in the bus. It is then I noticed that the glass was held in place by a maze of duct tape. On being told , the conductor tried to tape it some more but soon ran out of options. I was unfortunately seated right under the skylight – the last refrain from the conductor was – Kya Karen saab , Pani hai , jab Barish bandh hoga tab e a mushkil hal hoga. By now I had made a mental note of staying away from anything run by Raj National. Last stop was a petrol pump at CP , next to the Imperial hotel , we were there at 08:30 in the morning. The fun began , we did not have a plan and needed to bunk down for the day , freshen up and have some sleep. The idea was to find a couple of rooms in Paharganj and turn in. We had to approach a tout in the pump to arrange a van, the experience was not bad and not very “touty” at all. A van was arranged at a reasonable rate and the driver took us to a hotel (Saya). The mistake we made was not to check out the hotel options ourselves. But by that time the oppressive heat of the plains were making a mockery of us and we wanted was to have an immediate clean shower. We had to make do with this hotel only. We were initially planning to move around Delhi but the heat made us drop the plans immediately. Next came the bombshell via an automated call and a SMS from Spicejet , our flight was now scheduled to leave at 21:40 a far cry from the ETD of 19:50 (this was actually 17:50 as per the original schedule). We resigned ourselves to fate and wondered why everything had started to go wrong towards the end. The next misery was inflicted by the hotel. While checking in we had said that the plan was to leave by 4 for our flight. Since the flight was now at 21:40 , we planned to leave around 8 PM. The staff were not willing to have us beyond 4 pm , though we paid for the full room for the entire day – the reason -they had already booked the rooms to another party in the evening. After a lot hassle and argument we finally managed to hold on to the room.

The new terminal 1D at Delhi was a welcome change, it looks like a photocopy of International Airports in Europe and we were very pleasantly surprised to see such a Terminal in operation in India. After some more delays , our flight finally took to the air at 23:15. When we finally rang the doorbell of our own front door it was already 2 AM on 1st June. The trip was officially over and was now a memory to be cherished.

Location Hotel Rate/Night (INR)
Twin Sharing + Child

Shimla Hotel White 1350 (Great views)
Sarahan Trehan GH 600
Sangla Hotel Ravi 800
Kalpa Golden Apple 1540 (Great views) / 1320
Tabo Trozan GH 1200 / 800
Kaza Khangsar 1000
Rampur Ratan Regency 700
Manali Hotel Marble 800 (good VFM)

Arrangements were made through Aarattrika Tours & Travel
Contact Email : |
Contact Person Name : Ramchand
Contact Phone Number : +91 94180

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4 Responses to Travelogue; Shimla Spiti Manali

  1. Amazing details. We are making a website called for the area around jalori, Sainj , Great Himalayan National park and would love to give a link to your amazing travelogue.

    Ankit Sood September 4, 2010 at 8:54 pm Reply
  2. Pingback: Travelogue; Shimla Spiti Manali 3rd sense

  3. Pingback: Travelogue; Shimla Spiti Manali | DEEP PURPLE

  4. Pingback: Travelogue; Shimla Spiti Manali · China Best Tea

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