With the growing intrusion of technology in our lives, and the way we stay entangled between our professional and personal lives, there grows a desire to take some time off and spend it peacefully. And what can be better than the mighty Himalayas to escape to and gain inner peace. One such destination in the Himalayas is the Leh-Ladakh region, which has become a hub for thrill seekers, who drive all the way down to the region to see the mountains.
But we at BikePortal love to do stuff differently, and in our quest to find serenity and adventure at the same time, we decided to travel to the Spiti Valley, a remote area in the state of Himachal Pradesh, and more particularly to Kaza, the capital of Spiti. Instead of a four wheeler, we opted for a bike, which took the adventure to a whole new level, and gave the journey, a new perspective.
Here's our travelogue from Manali to Kaza on the Royal Enfield Bullet 500 and 350.
Manali is well connected with New Delhi and one can easily choose from many modes of transportation. There are AC and Volvo buses plying everyday and the journey takes about 14-15 hours. You can also take your own vehicle, be it a car or a bike, to Manali or catch a plane to Bhunter, some 60 kms away from Manali. We took a Volvo bus from New Delhi to Manali, to avoid fatigue.
The actual adventurous road starts from Manali. Kaza is situated 205 kms away from the city of Manali. There are only a couple of settlements enroute, apart from some tents for night stay. The road goes through two passes - Rohtang Pass, situated at 3,900 metres (50 kms from Manali) and Kunzum Pass, situated at 4,600 metres (130 kms from Manali). Losar is a small city, 60 kms before Kaza, Chandratal, a bit off the route area, offers tents to stay.
The difference between Kaza and Leh is that Kaza practically doesn't have any well-built road, and you can only find way through water streams and dirt tracks. We have segregated the road conditions along with the time taken for each region:
Manali to Rohtang: This is the only tarmac road that you will find during the whole ride. Rohtang is situated 52 kms away from Manali and it takes 2 hours to reach to the top. The road starts with some straight and winding roads, like in any hill station, with the last leg turning into hairpin loops. The road is wide enough and you will enjoy the ascent with the view.
Rohtang to Gramphu: Gramphu is the place from where the roads for Leh and Kaza dissect. Situated some 11 kms from Rohtang, the road is in a bad shape and it's a steep descent as you come down from the Rohtang top to the valley. It takes 30-45 minutes to reach Gramphu.
Gramphu to Chatru: While most of the development is done for the road to Leh, the Kaza road is completely neglected and you can see the effect from Gramphu. The narrow mountain-cut road is nothing but a dirt track with water channels passing through various points. There's a lot of gravel on the track too. Chatru is a small establishment where you can find food and beds to rest. It's situated 18 kms from Gramphu and it may take you more than an hour to reach the place.
Chatru to Batal: We found this stretch of road the most gruesome as it is not a road but just a way that passes passes through the middle of a dried river. You will find boulders, stones, gravel and water passing throughout the route, and you have to be extra conscious while driving here. The stretch is more than 35 km long and it takes 2-3 hours to cover the stretch. Batal, like Chatru, has food and beds to stay.
Batal to Chandratal: Chandratal is a small lake among hills and most of the people go there by trekking. There's a road connecting Batal to Chadratal and is off the route to Kaza. If you are planning to visit the lake, you can take a halt in one of the three camps situated near the lake. The route is 13 kms in length and is the most dangerous one in terms of fatality rate. The narrow road can house only one car at a time, and is gravel- and sand-based track. It takes about an hour to reach the tents, though you will have to walk for another one hour to reach the lake.
Chandratal/Batal to Kunzum Pass: If you skip Chandratal, Kunzum Pass is only 8 kms from Batal and if you include Chandratal, it's 20 kms. The road is a steep ascent to the top at 4,600 metres, and is filled with ice, slush and water channels frozen to ice. Be very careful while riding on the ice as the tyres tend to slip. The road is wide enough and yet very dangerous. It'll take you more than an hour to reach the top.
Kunzum Pass to Losar: The stretch from Kunzum Pass to Losar is hardly 10 kms and a steep descent. The view is mesmerizing with valley on one side and mountains on the other. You will find occasional water channels on the road. It may take an hour to reach from Kunzum Pass to Losar.
Losar to Kaza: The final stretch of the route is a breeze and measures about 60 kms. It will take you 2 hours to reach the city, while there's some tarmac on the road. The road is relatively easy to ride on as compared to the previous stretch.
Overall, it may take you 10-12 hours to complete the whole Manali to Kaza stretch. Plan accordingly!
While Manali will not be an issue as far as stay is concerned, it's the journey from Manali to Kaza that can cause trouble. You will find beds only in Chatru, Batal, Chandratal and Losar before Kaza. Both Chatru and Batal provide sharing tents at Rs. 100 per bed, while Chandratal has individual tents ranging from Rs. 400 to Rs 1,000 per person. There's no point staying in Losar as it's too close to Kaza.
Noodles, eggs, tea, rice and lentils are the only food you can have during the journey. You can also find biscuits and other snacks to eat. Carry your food if you can.
Places to Visit
While there are many places that you can visit, we decided to stick to these three-
1. Chandratal - A lake situated among the hills, with pristine clear water. You have to trek to reach the lake. A night stay there ensures a clear view of stars.
2. Kunzum Stupa - Situated at Kunzum Pass, the Kunzum stupa serves as a praying ground for travellers passing through this pass situated at an altitude of 4,600 metres.
3. Key Gompa/ Key Monastery - One of the biggest monasteries in Northern India, Key Gompa stands tall on a hill top and is situated 10 kms away from Kaza. A must-visit place to find peace, enjoy the view and pray.
We couldn't even dare to think beyond the Royal Enfield Bullet, the top choice of tourists in India when it comes to bike adventures. While we saw many Bajaj Pulsars, Avengers and KTM Dukes enroute, none could match the sheer numbers of the RE Bullet. Easily available on rent (expect anything from Rs 800-1,500 per day depending on the condition and bargaining skills), the Bullet serves as a perfect transportation mode. We rented out a Standard 350 and a 500cc Bullet, both of which proved to be trustful partners in our journey. There are also options to rent out RE Classic 350 and RE Thunderbird.
1. Blind curves- Since it's a mountainous area, there will be a lot of blind curves. Honk and limit your speed.
2. Drive on the mountain side- The roads are made in such a way that on one side, there's mountain and on the other, the valley. Try to drive only on the mountain side, even if it's a wrong direction. There's hardly any traffic on these roads and nobody drives fast, so it's easy to change lanes. But a single mistake on the valley side can be a dangerous affair.
3. Don't be over enthusiastic- Usually people tend to overdo as soon as a flat road is seen, but you never know what kind of surface you may find in between. If you over speed, braking at the right time can be an issue. Drive steady, be safe!
4. Use front brakes - RE Bullet comes with a front disk brake. Since there's gravel everywhere, a harsh rear brake can lead the bike to skid. Use the front brake to slow the bike, and a combination of front and rear brakes to stop the bike.
1. AMS - Altitude Mountain Sickness is prominent when you climb up the hills at a rapid pace. Take medicines along.
2. Protective gear - It's very necessary to carry all the protective gear with you to avoid injuries. Few protective gear include water-repellent long boots, gloves and balaclava to cover your face and jackets.
3. Avoid early morning ride to Kunzum Pass - Since Kunzum Pass is situated at 4,600 metres, there is an ice layer over a certain section of the road before 11am and after 5 pm, as the temperature is relatively low. Bikes have a tendency to skid on the ice and it is very difficult to ride during this time. Avoid if you can.
4. Money - There are no ATMs from Manali to Kaza and the only ATM in Kaza doesn't operate full-time. Always carry ample cash.
5. Fuel - Fuel is also not available after Manali in Kaza. Calculate accordingly and carry spare fuel if you can.
There's a saying, “A four-wheeler moves the body while a two-wheeler moves the soul!” While this feeling is something we experience all the time when we ride a motorcycle, never has it struck to us with such intensity, making it more literal than before.